A/N: Cedric has some alone time; Harry gives him an update on the Wizengamot. Various other characters put in appearances, and the story moves forward. This is unbeta'd and a bit rushed; I've got several other projects that must be done in the next couple of weeks, and I wanted to get this up now rather than wait another two months to update. I promise you, I am trying hard.

Disclaimer: no ownership or profit is being claimed or made by this fic.

Chapter 14

Cedric spent an enjoyable day with first Professor Flitwick and then Professor Moody. As he'd promised, he went straight from Professor Sprout's office to Flitwick's. The Charms Professor wanted to see how far he had come on his large communication mirror project, as well as generally check up on him.

Flitwick was quite pleased with Cedric's work on his project. He had initially considered using conjured or transfigured mirrors, but rejected this as he considered that starting with an unaltered item would make the enchanting both easier and more stable. He had begun working some of the equations to demonstrate this, which the Charms Master promised to review and return to him.

Flitwick was a bit surprised when Cedric told him about the new dueling salle that had been added to the Lords Hall. Of course, that led to an impromptu trip to the room, followed by a quick summons to Mad Eye Moody to join them there.

"Well, this does look familiar," was Mad Eye's comment. "I was wondering just what you'd come up with, between you and the other. Yessir, this'll do just fine."

With Flitwick's help, the room was warded and shielded in the space of a single afternoon.

"Now, we've only got to restore the old Dueling Room, and we're set," Flitwick said happily when they were done. "I should feel quite bad to go to this much work for only a small group of students, and leave the rest without."

"Oh, we'll get there," Mad Eye growled. "If nothing else, we'll nick Potter's coin purse and then do the spellwork ourselves before anyone's the wiser."

"And just who would that 'anyone' be?" Cedric asked easily.

"Never you mind," Moody grinned.

Cedric was relaxing on the couch in Harry's sitting room when the Lord Potter himself—looking considerably the worse for wear—came in.

"If I NEVER have to go through that again, it will be too soon!" Harry proclaimed, staggering over to sit beside his amused boyfriend.

"Bad day?" Cedric guessed.

Harry's only reply was to make a 'hurmphing' sound and throw himself back on the couch, slouching against Cedric's side.

Cedric chuckled, and let Harry have a moment to relax. He knew that he'd get the full story eventually, but he'd learned to read Harry pretty well in the months they'd spent together.

Finally, Harry spoke.

"The investiture wasn't bad. It was only Neville, Sirius and I; there were no objections to any of us taking our seats. We had to stand down front and repeat the stupid oath—good thing it's not a binding magical contract, the 'serve and defend the Wizarding World with honesty and integrity part' would have killed off most of them long ago—and then take our seats for the first time."

"Then, it got crazy. The first thing was to elect a new Chief Warlock, and we spent a couple of hours arguing over just how and when it could be done. Finally, Dumbledore took effective control, stated for the final time that he wasn't interested in the job, and moved that an emergency election be held immediately."

"Dumbledore didn't take back his old seat, then?" Cedric asked.

"No, but when he nominated Sturgis Podmore it was pretty much over. By that time, I was glad to see him do something. No wonder the Government seems so confused all the time, if that's our leadership!"

"So, Dumbledore's nominee is now the Chief Warlock?" Cedric clarified.

"Interim Chief Warlock, until a regular election can be held not less than three weeks but not more than three months from now," Harry answered in a sing-song voice that let Cedric know he was quoting something.

"And then?"

"And then, the Minister announced that he was accepting all of the foreign offers of assistance for the Hogsmeade disaster, and asked the Wizengamot to release the Emergency Fund."

"You say that like there were problems."

Harry sighed. "There were those who questioned the foreign offers; Fudge presented it as one great big magical cooperative effort. That led to the question of whether or not Voldie's really back; Fudge hemmed and hawed and finally announced that he was creating a commission to 'investigate the matter'."

"Well, that's something, I suppose," Cedric murmured, moving his hand so that he could play with Harry's hair.

"It's more than he's said before, which is a good first step," Harry agreed. "He didn't say when this commission would be reporting back to him, but everyone expects it to be soon."

"Mmmm." Cedric's noise of agreement was soft.

"Oh, I haven't gotten to the best part yet," Harry half-laughed. "Someone, I forget who, brought up the topic of werewolves working in Hogsmeade. That turned into 'let's all debate Lord Potter's sanity' for the better part of an hour."

"And what did they decide?" Cedric teased gently.

"Pfft. Nothing." Harry snorted. "Neville finally reminded me that I could call witnesses, so I called in Remus and let them grill him."

"You put a known werewolf before the Wizengamot?" Cedric gasped.

"Sure, why not? After all, he's my Seneschal, isn't he? I pay him to work out the bloody details, and then spill said details on command."

"But...when you two talked last night, on the mirrors...I thought that nothing had been decided as of yet; the two of you were still looking at different options." Cedric's distress was enough to make his hand go still in Harry's hair.

Harry immediately noticed. "More fingers on scalp, thank you very much. Oh, don't worry, Remus did fine. In fact, I think he may have charmed a few of them over to our side. He told about being bitten as a child, and the others like him who are victims of Fenrir Greyback's rampages; how most of them are good, decent folk who only want to live normal lives. Sirius has apparently already hired two to begin work on his place there in Hogsmeade, so Sirius had his turn on the floor, too."

"So, what did they decide?"

"Decide? Only to let 'Potter's Folly' play out, at which time they can demand that I be shipped off to Azkaban for life, or something."

"WHAT?" Cedric sat bolt upright at that, jarring Harry out of position.

"Oh, calm down, Ced," Harry groused, irritated that he'd lost his comfortable spot. "It's just how things work, apparently. If we pull this off, then the Wizengamot can claim that they supported me all along. If it fails, then it's my head on the block. Business as usual," he shrugged.

Cedric shook his head. He'd known what would probably happen, but hearing Harry say it so coldly...he didn't have to like it.

"So, what other miracles did the Wizengamot work today?" he asked, desperate for a change of subject.

"Not a lot. A small increase in funding for the Aurors was approved; Madam Bones' request for a larger increase was denied."

"Any particular reason?" Cedric was calming down, the normal stupidity of the Wizengamot having a therapeutic effect on him.

"They'll wait to hear from Fudge's committee first, or so they said," Harry sighed, shifting so that he could lie back and pull Cedric down on top of him.

"Typical," Cedric answered, coming easily into Harry's arms. "Do nothing until a crisis occurs, then overreact."

"I'm just happy that we've gotten their stamp of approval to move forward with using the weres as a labor force in Hogsmeade. Later on, if Madam Bones can get the funding for a separate Auror office in Hogsmeade, I'll support her."

Cedric rolled around, getting comfortable. "Was that what she asked for?"

"Among other things," Harry said, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend. "She got most of the extra Aurors she wanted to add, so she's not terribly put out."

"Did she say anything about your wand?" Cedric asked quietly, taking Harry's hand in his own.

"We didn't have a chance to speak in private," Harry answered. "Neville and I wound up staying together out of necessity, because every member had to come and shake our hands. I haven't had a moment's rest since I left this morning; not even in the loo."

"The loo?" Cedric couldn't help but chuckle.

"Apparently a great deal of the Wizengamot's work is done at the urinals," Harry's voice was dry.

"You're joking," Cedric snickered.

"Actually, no," Harry sighed. "The debate just keeps on going."

"Now that, I didn't really need to know," Cedric sighed.

"You aren't the only one," Harry agreed.

The only other item of importance from the Wizengamot had been Delores Umbridge's appointment to the newly-created position of Hogwarts High Inquisitor. Despite opposition from Dumbledore (as well as Harry, Neville and Sirius), Fudge had managed to corral enough votes to pass the bill, which contained Educational Decree 23, creating the position of High Inquisitor. In what was described as a move to 'protect our children', the Ministry flunky—appointed to the position only moments after the bill passed—would now have status equal to that of a Professor. She would, in theory, answer to the Headmaster, but also to the Minister equally. Her portfolio was rather vague, but Fudge assured the Wizengamot that she would only have a 'very limited' role in the day-to-day process of the school's operations. She was there 'only to observe and report back', to be 'vigilant for signs of Dark influences', and to 'assist the faculty and staff whenever possible."

Cedric told Harry what Sprout had shared with him, and Harry only agreed.

"It's too convenient, Ced," he said. "Mad Eye beats her to one post, so Fudge creates her another one, just like that. Does he think we're so blind we can't see that she's a plant?"

"More that he doesn't care, so long as she's here, I should think," Cedric answered. "We need to be extra careful around her...I know, I know, even more than we are now," he groused, hearing Harry's sigh behind him. "We'll manage. And, we'll just do a lot of what needs doing in the open, and let her squeal to Fudge all she wants." The Hufflepuff went on to tell Harry about his conversation with Sprout that morning, and her suggestions about making the faculty aware of their transport.

"Rides around the lake for the faculty isn't a bad idea," Harry said. "Since I've got a valid medical reason to need the carpet here, it shouldn't be too much of an issue. If it comes to it, we take it to the Board and let them decide."

"Knowing that the Board will almost certainly back the Boy Who Lived over the Headmaster," Cedric snickered.

"Something like that," Harry snickered back. "So, you got Flitwick and Moody to finish the wards on the salle. How did that go?"

"Quite well, actually. It was a treat to see the two of them working together. They were able to get it finished in a few hours, so it's ready to use at any time."

"Not tonight," Harry grumped. "Not even if Voldie's coming to call tomorrow morning for breakfast."

"All right," Cedric grinned, giving Harry's hand a squeeze. "How about a shower, and then a soak in the hot tub?"

Harry momentarily froze, then hissed dangerously in Cedric's ear. "A Japanese-style hot tub?"



"Honestly, love, I haven't been holding out on you! I might have mentioned to Winky about how much you loved the baths in Japan, and I guess that Tiffy overheard, and..."

"So now you have a Japanese-style tub in your rooms. You realize that I now have an official reason to bathe in your suite, don't you?" Harry asked.

"Oh? And why would that be, when you have a perfectly adequate shower all of your own?" Cedric smirked, knowing he was living dangerously and loving it.

"I'll show you 'perfectly adequate'!" Harry pounced, and the tickle fight was on!

Oddly enough, the fight continued that very evening in Cedric's brand new bath.

Lord Voldemort pulling himself out of the pensive and leaned back in his chair, a neutral expression on his face.

He'd always preferred to review actual memories of the Wizengamot whenever he could; fortunately, there were several sympathizers who were all too willing to send copies of their memories of the event. He'd searched—unsuccessfully-for a spell to allow him to combine several memories of the same event. He'd been hoping to be able to create a multidimensional pensive experience that would let him pick up on details that a single memory would often lack. As it was, he had been able to alter a pensive to play single memories at greatly increased speed, but that was about as far as he had pushed the magical device.

Oh well...he supposed that after a few centuries, he'd need little conundrums like that to keep him occupied.

"My Lord?" Pettigrew simpered from somewhere around Voldemort's ankles. "Could I offer you some refreshment? Perhaps a nice cup of tea...?"


Voldemort held the curse for a count of three, then released it. "Yes, Pettigrew, tea would be lovely. Also, some biscuits and scones, with butter and jam, strawberry if we have it," he said in a normal voice. Really, he thought as Pettigrew scurried away, I simply must develop a better punishment spell one of these days. After all, he had been using the same old pain curse for years; it was almost pro forma with him. Witness how easily Pettigrew had recovered just now! All right, he reassured himself, he really hadn't put his heart into it, but still...didn't that make his own argument stronger?

Pleased to have won himself over purely on the strength of his own logic, Voldemort turned his thoughts back to the Wizengamot session he'd just seen from the third point of view.

The investiture of the Lords Black, Longbottom and Potter had been expected, and he welcomed all three. The additional status that the new Lords Wizengamot carried would make his destruction of them all the more difficult for the sheeple of the wizarding world to bear.

He was a bit surprised that the Old Man had refused to retake the Chief Warlock's slot. If he'd needed any more confirmation that Dumbledore was up to something, that was it. The power-hungry old bastard had obviously pulled the strings to get his crony installed in his place. It had been one of the more likely scenarios he'd anticipated, and the Dark Lord had told his supporters to put up only the usual token opposition to what the Old Coot's crowd were supporting. Now was not the time to actively push someone like, say, Parkinson for the job; that would come later. For now, it was basically immaterial who held the gavel, so long as the Ministry's official position was that he was still dead.

Of course, that wouldn't last, nor should it. Fudge's new Commission would almost certainly see to that; he'd need to speak with Lucius about just when to have the commission make their final report. A few weeks ought to be time and enough, for him to make the appropriate arrangements.

He was a bit concerned about Fudge's sudden decision to accept the offers of foreign aid. He'd expected the man to once again refuse to do anything which might make him seem weak, or imply that Great Britain couldn't manage her own affairs without assistance. The abrupt reversal of the Minister's usual stance had Dumbledore written all over it. Obviously, the Old Coot was leveraging the fact that it was his castle the refugees were currently sheltering in; Voldemort knew full well just what a strain that would be on Hogwarts' resources. He'd briefly contemplated a second strike against the castle itself, while Dumbledore and his minions would be stretched thin; the fact that the castle's wards were still at full strength had stayed his hand.

Thin, lizard-like lips pursed as the Dark Lord considered just how to work this new situation to his favor. Perhaps a strike against the relief forces? Each country was bound to send a small detachment of workers with their supplies. Kill them, and send a message back that it might be prudent to leave the UK alone? Given how hard Fudge had actively worked to alienate almost every other Ministry on the planet, that would almost certainly be how such an act was perceived.

And as for the werewolves? Well, he reminded himself to speak with Greyback at the earliest possible time...

"Master? I'm afraid that all we have is orange marmalade, or fig jelly..." Pettigrew carefully set the tray with the tea set and assorted pastries on the table beside his master.


Albus Dumbledore sat in his office, sipping firewhiskey and humming to himself. Yes, it had been a good day in the Wizengamot, as such things went. Oh, how he'd savored the pleas for him to take up the gavel of Chief Warlock once more; almost as much as he'd enjoyed the looks of despair and fear as he, once more, refused. He knew full well that most of those who were bleating the loudest today had also bleated loudly for his removal only a few days before; now let them stew in their own juices!

Sturgis was an old crony from years back; he'd do exactly as Albus 'suggested' without asking any bothersome questions or wanting unnecessary explanations. It was the next best thing to having the job himself—better, even, in some ways, because now he had the control he needed without any of the bad press or stress of having to make nice-nice with that great pack of fools.

A part of him wondered just why had hadn't done this years ago. Ah, well; he supposed that he'd enjoyed his trifecta of titles too much to give one up. Besides, now that he didn't have to concentrate so much of his time on those damned Peruvians in the ICW (and where, by the way, were THEIR offers of aid to stricken Hogsmeade?), he could concentrate on running the war against Tom from this very office. Hogwarts always had been, and always would be, the seat of his power. So, let the Peruvians play their little games—and perhaps, now would be the time to send a suggestive owl or two to various friends in other parts of the world with his 'concerns' about the 'new direction' the ICW was taking—and let Sturgis take the heat in his new job. He, Albus Dumbledore, was still Headmaster of the most revered school of magic in the world! And, from here, he would tirelessly work for the Greater Good.

Pity that most of the sheeple wouldn't see it that way. Oh well, that's why they were the sheep, and he was their leader.

Let Cornelius think he'd won a victory by having his toady named 'High Inquisitor' of his school. Delores Umbridge was a horrible person in so many ways, he couldn't wait to see just what kind of trouble she'd be stirring up. As things stood now, he could only stand by and observe as she tormented his students and faculty alike. Then, when she finally overextended herself—as she inevitably would—he would be there to see her carried from his school in defeat and shame. Preferably in shackles, too; now that he thought about it.

Yes, it had been a good day at the Wizengamot for one Albus Dumbledore.

In her office at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Delores Umbridge smiled nastily as she read—for the fourteenth time—the letter which conferred upon her the office of Hogwarts Chief Inquisitor. It described her mandate as one to "observe and when necessary, correct, the proceedings and processes of instruction at our most revered institution of learning", to "uphold the highest and best traditions of British wizarding education", and on in that vein for some three paragraphs.

Reading between the lines, Delores recognized the position for what it could become, with just a bit of effort and a few select 'decrees' from dear Cornelius: a license to bring the entire school very sharply to heel!

And then, once she had Hogwarts firmly under her control, she could proceed as she and Cornelius had so often discussed. No longer would Albus Dumbledore be looked to as the de facto leader of the British wizarding world, oh no! No, that position would rightly be accorded to her dear Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic.

Of course, as his most trusted deputy, Delores wouldn't be forgotten, either...

Had anyone been there to here, her titter of laughter might have sounded just a touch mad just then.

The next morning, Harry and Neville decided to sit at the Gryffindor table, leaving Cedric "to fend for himself" amongst the "Hufflepuff Hordes".

Snickering, Cedric bumped his boyfriend's shoulder and peeled off from the two Lords as they entered the Great Hall.

Of course, there was no shortage of animosity at the Gryffindor table as the pair approached.

"Oi, look who's going to join us today! It's the two Lords themselves!" Deans's voice carried loudly over the usual noise of people at breakfast.

"So, Harry! You slumming today, or what?" Ron demanded, making no move to make any room for Harry or Neville on the bench beside him.

"Honestly, Ron, they have every right to be here. Harry, Neville, sit with me," Hermione chastised, shifting over a bit. "So, how was your first session of the Wizengamot?" the bushy-haired girl demanded.

"Horribly boring, for the most part," Harry answered, most of his attention on how he was going to get the bowl of scrambled eggs away from Ron.

Neville just shrugged. "Not nearly as exciting as you'd think, Hermione," he half-smiled.

"Oh, I can't believe that! After all, there must have been some very exciting debate as to what had to be done vis a vis the Chief Warlock's position..." Hermione said all in a rush.

"And I'm sure that you can read all about it in the Prophet," Neville said agreeably. "Personally, having to listen to it once was quite enough for me."

"Here, here," Harry harrumphed, which made both he and Neville dissolve into giggles.

Fortunately for both of them, Hermione's impending rant was cut off by the arrival of the morning post, including Hermione's copy of the Daily Prophet. So, instead of a tongue-lashing, Neville and Harry only had to endure her own snort of disdain before she dived into the paper.

Hermione's concentration on the Prophet, along with the rest of the Gryffindor's general apathy towards the subject gave Harry and Neville a few minutes to eat undisturbed. A few shared glances and an eye roll were all the commentary that either of them have for the general snubbing that most of their housemates were giving them. Naturally, Ron muttered under his breath the entire time, but neither Neville or Harry really cared enough about his whingings to pay any attention to him.

Just as Harry was finishing, Hermione gasped, her head spinning to look at the Head Table just as Dumbledore rose and cleared his throat.

"If I could have your attention, please," the Headmaster began. "By now, several of you will have read in this morning's paper that Madam Umbridge as been appointed to a new position here at Hogwarts." Dumbledore paused long enough to give a small nod to the hideous woman in pink before continuing. "My understanding is that she is to observe our regular goings-on here at Hogwarts and then report back to both the Minister and myself. During this period, she will be accorded the rank of Professor, so please address her accordingly. Also, she will be able to take points and assign detentions just as if she were a regular member of the faculty."

Dumbledore paused once more, sipped from his cup, and smiled out at the students. "I'm confident that Madam Umbridge will have nothing but good things to say about all of you," he said, eyes twinkling madly. "Also, I'm please to report that Minister Fudge has agreed to accept our neighboring country's offers of assistance. This means that hopefully within the next few days, our refugees will be able to leave the castle for more suitable accommodations while Hogsmeade is being rebuilt. I'm sure that you are all as eager as I to return to a normal class schedule." Ignoring the groan that answered him, he sat and sipped his tea once more.

"Honestly, Harry; you could have told me about that woman being appointed High Inquisitor of Hogwarts!" Hermione snapped.

"Mmm, yeah, I could have," Harry agreed, chewing his eggs carefully. "But, you wouldn't have believed me until you read it in the paper or heard it from Dumbledore, so where's the point?"

"Too true, old man," Neville nodded sagely.


"Wouldn't have been cricket either."

"No, not cricket not a'tall," Harry smirked at Neville, the two of them working their bad accents for all they were worth.

Hermione's snort made it all worthwhile, especially when she snapped her paper up, cutting both of their smirks off from her view. Harry and Neville exchanged winks.

At the Head Table, Madam Umbridge stood to make some remarks, only to stop abruptly as both Mad Eye and Snape stood abruptly. Immediately, Sprout, Flitwick and Vector also stood, followed by the remainder of the staff other than the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress. Within seconds Umbridge found herself standing alone as the students also began getting up to leave the Hall.

"Well!" Delores spat, before taking her seat once more. "I like that!" she finished, looking at the departing students furiously.

"Oh, did you want to say something, Delores dear?" McGonagall asked sweetly. "I think you'll find that if you have any morning announcements to make, it's best to make them early. Albus has trained our students quite well that any announcements from him always come just as the meal is ending.

"Quite right, Minerva, quite right," Dumbledore nodded, smiling. "That way even the dawdlers have a chance to be informed. I believe that I learned the trick from Headmaster Fortescue's portrait."

"I...I was merely going to inform the children that they should see me in the halls and in their classes from time to time," Umbridge sputtered a bit as she tried to recover.

"I shouldn't worry, Madam," Dumbledore said, rising to leave himself. "I daresay that they will not be at all surprised to see you."

"Not unless they're bloody color blind," McGonagall groused as she too left the table.

Despite the Headmaster's announcements, the next few days were generally unexciting. Nothing more was said about the castle's extra residents going anywhere, and the students were still confined to their dormitories except for meal times. There had been a certain amount of grumbling as the teachers kept piling on more and more assignments, but no more than might be expected. Madam Pomphrey did see a modest rise in hex-related injuries in all of the houses, but so far it wasn't anything that she or the Prefects couldn't handle.

Harry and Cedric spent most of their time writing essays, and not nearly enough (or so Harry frequently complained) using the dueling room or going over new spells from their laptops, or researching any of the hundred and one things that they desperately needed to be looking into to; how to rig a fireplace to divert an unwanted floo traveller to some other destination, just to name one example. Neville occasionally joined them, but he spent most of his time going through Harry's and Cedric's gift to Pomona Sprout. The Herbologist had come to him with her box of Japanese seeds and cuttings, and the two of them had been working on plans for the new greenhouses that Harry had promised to build.

Determined to get the trip in before they resumed a normal class schedule, Cedric and Harry took the carpet to Paris one morning, slipping out of the castle under the carpet's built-in concealing charms without incident. The trip went quite well; Dr. Latour pronounced himself satisfied at the rate that Harry's blocks were dissolving themselves, and told him to continue only with one sip of a 'regular' nutrient potion every morning. He compared it to a muggle vitamin tablet, and told Harry that he expected even that to not be needed in another few months.

The pair met the Delacours for ice cream, dropped in to say hello to Little Jacques, and were back at Hogwarts in time for the evening meal.

In the Great Hall, Hermione was the only one who seemed to have noticed that the pair had missed lunch. Fortunately, she believed Harry's explanation that they were working on a project for Cedric's Charms apprenticeship, and lost track of the time.

Hermione had only sniffed, made a comment about how he shouldn't be skipping meals, and gone back to her Arithmancy text.

Of course, it wasn't all work and no play. Along with the studying and dueling practices had been a fair amount of cuddling time, with just a bit of snogging mixed in for variety.

Sadly, Cedric's 'absolutely we will both be wearing bathing suits while in the hot tub' rule only lasted only long enough for him to become drowsy from the heat. Since Harry never took off his bracelets—the things had been designed and charmed by Little Jacque LeGrande to be practically indestructible to start with, and then Harry had found a technique on his laptop to imbue magical foci with addition protections tied straight into his core—a little soap and hot water presented no risk at all.

Harry and Cedric had quickly mastered the protective ability once Harry had discovered it in a file marked "Very Useful". Basically, it involved wrapping a small bit of one's magical core around your own personal wand or other item, and then 'pinching off' that tiny bit of energy in such a way that it remained bound to the magical core of the wand. Since the energy would be quickly replenished, it was a very safe thing to do; that the two bits of core energy would always be magically connected meant that it was even more difficult for another wizard to use your wand. The fact that it made the wand (or Harry's bracelets) virtually indestructible was only a happy side effect of the process. In short, for the paranoid wizard who always felt better showering with his wand, it was the perfect charm.

That it would also come as a rude surprise to anyone who managed to snatch Cedric's wand or Harry's bracelets (or LeGrande wand) away to either use or destroy them...well, that would just be too bad for them!

Since neither Harry nor Cedric were truly paranoid—Voldemort WAS out to get them, along with other parties as of yet unknown—keeping bracelets on and wands near even while in the hot tub was Standard Operating Procedure.

The end result was that Cedric was enjoying his soak when his boyfriend joined him and took his own seat a very proper and respectable distance away on the far side of the tub. This distance slowly melted away until Harry was sitting in Cedric's lap...and then someone wordlessly vanished both of their suits.

"Harry!" Cedric yelped as the contact between them suddenly became much more personal. "Put those back!"

"Put what back?" Harry answered, the most innocent expression he could manage plastered across his face. Then, he wiggled just a bit, and smirked. "Oh, the suits? No, I don't think so."

Cedric sputtered, suppressed a moan when Harry wiggled again, and reached for his wand. "Harry..." he began, only to be cut off by Harry's lips on his. "Mmmpgh."




"Harry, we're both naked."

"Yeah, I kind of noticed that. Nice, isn't it?" The Gryffindor was smirking, his green eyes flashing.

Cedric pulled him down for another kiss, then released him. "Yes, it is," he sighed. "But the fact remains that you're still only fifteen, and I can't forget that."

Harry shifted slightly to a more comfortable position. "I know, and as much as it irks me, it's also one of the reasons I love you," he said. "So, there are things that we're not going to do right now. Snogging naked in the hot tub is NOT one of those things." Leaning forward, Harry captured Cedric's lips once more.

Faced with the inevitable, Cedric sighed and gave in.

He supposed that he could always deal with the guilty conscience later. Assuming, of course, he remember to feel guilty at all about naked snogging of his technically of-legal-age boyfriend.

Unlike Harry, Cedric and the rest of the Hogwarts students, Remus Lupin spent those few days going from dawn until long after dusk.

The Prophet had carried his testimony before the Wizengamot in gruesome, lurid detail; now each morning seemed to bring a fresh flock of howlers along with a huge amount of other correspondence. As owls couldn't find him behind the Fidelius charm on Number 12, Grimmauld Place, it had initially presented something of a problem for the entire neighborhood. Even the stupidest of muggles could see that something odd was going on, with the large number of owls that were flying back and forth over Grimmauld Place; the Oblivators that contacted Eddie Spindle were none too amused.

The mail problem was solved by having a notice put in the Prophet that all correspondence to Mr. Lupin or the Lords Potter and Black should be sent in care of their solicitor. Eddie and Poly's offices were well equipped to dispose of the howlers, and Remus found that his morning correspondence was greatly aided by receiving the post already sorted into general categories.

The Ministry was dragging its collective heels in giving him any clear way of checking the past histories of those werewolves who were writing to him, some actually begging for jobs. A partial solution came from Eddie Spindle, who suggested that Remus use muggle investigators as much as possible. As his office typically worked in both worlds, he had experience with this, and (for his usual fee, and with his customary quiet competence) he was more than happy to help.

Sirius 'surprised' Remus by going to Gringotts and having the wolf made Seneschal of the Black estates. Remus' only remark about this was that at least the Goblins wouldn't make an announcement about his new post in the Daily Prophet.

"I really don't want to know what the Prophet will say when they find out that not only Harry, but now you, Padfoot, have made me your Seneschal," he grumped.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about it too much, Moony" Sirius said around his tea. "After the way they lambasted you for having the gall to actually speak before the Wizengamot—what with you being the dangerous dark creature you are, and all—I rather doubt that there's much else they can say about you."

"Well, I suppose there is that," Remus nodded, going back to his own morning paper.

One of the problems that Remus had already found a solution for was the next full moon's supply of Wolfsbane potion. An Italian apothecary had been able to supply him with almost 50 doses for a reasonable price, and were open to being a regular supplier, in volume. He was still hoping that the Goblins would allow him to rent a vault or two for the night, but he was also still keeping an eye out for other options.

"Madam Rosmerta sent an owl," Sirius said, interrupting Remus' thoughts. "She says that she's been getting more and more inquiries about jobs for werewolves. She's telling them to contact Spindle's office, like she read in the Prophet, but says she's tired of being your secretary."

Remus snorted. "I completely understand how she feels. Remind me to send her a thank you gift," he said.

"Why don't we take it to her in person?" Sirius asked, leering across the table. "Give you a chance to chat the old girl up, get out of this old pile, and see where the new house is going to be."

"Because you'll wind up doing most of the chatting—and drinking—yourself, I've much too much work to do here today, and you've already seen the site. I doubt that much has changed, even with your two men working on it."

"Oh, Moony, you're not fun," Sirius pouted.

"Exactly. That's why I'm the Seneschal, and you're the Lord," Remus smiled.

"Well, there is that..."

Percy Weasley was having the time of his life!

Say what you will about one Cornelius Fudge, the desire to micromanage is not one of the man's faults. He is a master of delegation, and one of the first things he did after leaving the Wizengamot was to pass off managing pretty much everything that had just been decided.

"I'm going to my office to have a nice cuppa, Weatherby. See that I'm not disturbed," he'd announced, before stomping away.

Thus blessed by the Minister, Percy went to it with the same Gryffindor spunk and determination that had made him Head Boy. That evening, he was in emergency meetings with the magical Ambassadors from around the world, and speaking 'as a Special Assistant to the Minister', and with the Minister's voice.

The Ambassadors, for the most part, knew just what Fudge was all about, so being told that they'd be allowed to send humanitarian aid by a junior flunky was about what they'd expected. They came, said the proper things, gave a small smile, nodded politely and left, without causing any international incidents.

Percy was quite surprised when the American Magical Ambassador gave him no trouble at all. The woman could be a bit difficult at times, but it seemed that all she wanted from him at the moment was a number.

"How many people are we talking about here, Mr Weasley?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Just exactly how many people are displaced and in need of assistance? In other words, how many people survived the attack?" The Ambassador asked once more.

"I...er...I have that number right here, just a moment," Percy began fumbling through the parchments of his desk.

The Ambassador sighed, then leaned back in her chair.

"It's between fourteen and nineteen hundred, isn't it?" she asked.

"Be pardon?" Percy said, looking up, confused.

"The intel reports I've seen put the total Hogsmeade population at somewhere between eighteen and nineteen hundred, with another few hundred in the surrounding environs that come in on market days and such," she waved her hand to indicate the general inaccuracy of her data. "Our best figures are that the attack killed between fifty and one hundred people, but the only real sources we've had have been the popular press. You're housing the survivors in Hogwarts castle and you need to get them out. So, the question is," she leaned forward intensely. "How. Many. People."

"I...see," Percy said. "I'm afraid that...I don't have that information close to hand, but it is in the range of one thousand, eight hundred people."

"Good enough," the Ambassador nodded firmly, then stood. "A number, and permission to come, were the only things we were waiting on. I'll be in touch, Mr. Weasley," she finished, rising to leave.

Percy couldn't let well enough alone. "I say, Madam Ambassador..."

The Ambassador paused, looking back at the much younger man. "Yes?"

"I, um...thank you?" Percy stumbled, then recovered as best he could.

The Ambassador took pity on the young man, and had a brief flashback to what it had been like to be that young and forced by circumstances to deal directly with those far above you in the ranks. "Mr. Weasley, you don't have to thank me, but it is appreciated. I know that your Ministry and my office don't always see eye to eye, but you've got people who are hurting and in need. Just remember this: the American people, muggle or magical, will find a way to help our friends when tragedies like these occur. All we need is permission to do it." She smiled warmly at Percy. "Now, I'm going to go make a few calls, and get you some help on the way. I'll be in touch."

She was gone before Percy could speak.

Well now, he thought. That was not what I expected at all.

Hermione Granger was at her wit's end. Having already read the books for the upcoming year, she suddenly found herself at something of a loss when the entire school was penned in their House dorms for day after day after day. Yes, she understood the necessity of doing so, and she completely agreed with the Headmaster's reasoning; that she was bored out of her mind with even the ability to access the library was still beginning to wear on her. And, she being who and what she was, on those around her.

McGonagall had helped matters a bit (and probably prevented a lynching, or at least a savage pranking) by convincing Madam Pince to take requests for books, and have them delivered by house elf. Hermione's feelings about house elves weren't enough to stop her from taking advantage of the service with a vengeance. After all, she had OWLS to revise for, and only nine months left to do it in!

As usual, most of her House did their best to ignore the irritating girl. Sadly for him, Harry's living in the Lords Hall had left Ron completely at Hermione's mercy; without Harry to help distract her, Hermione was a force of nature unleashed.

Just to make things extra special hellish for Ron, the essays the teachers were assigning were all at OWL level; something that he really didn't appreciate. Between having to do his own work by himself (no Harry around to help) and Hermione's insistence that "when a Professor says two feet, you should really not settle for anything less than four", the youngest male Weasley was being forced to study like never before in his young life.

Ron didn't much appreciate THAT, either. Yet another reason to be mad at Harry Potter...

Meanwhile, the twins were rarely seen out and about, and people were starting to wonder just when the other shoe would drop.

After all, it had been far too quite for almost a week now.

When it dropped, it wasn't a shoe.

It was a box.

The morning flight of owls was in the process of arriving. Letters were falling everywhere, hands and arms were reaching out and waving, the more health-conscious students were shielding their plates from owl poop, and with everyone restricted to the dorms there hadn't been any encounters that would merit a Howler, not even from Molly "Mad Howler" Weasley. There was the usual scramble for the bacon and leftover sausages, along with the sounds of a school full of children opening their mail all at once.

Over at the Slytherin table, Draco Malfoy found himself looking at a small wooden box. It was about the size of a two packs of Exploding Snap cards, one on top of the other. It hadn't been delivered to him per se, just been rather gingerly dropped onto the table in his general vicinity—along with Parkinson, Greengrass, and Zabini. It was made of a fine-grained wood, stained (Draco thought he could detect the slightest whif of tongue oil, it was a common potion base) a rich, deep brown. It had four small square legs, and the top overlapped the body by a fingers-width. Other than than, it was as plain as plain could be, without the slightest bit of trim or ornamentation to be seen.

And it radiated just enough magic to draw Draco's attention to it, and that immediately put him on his guard.

"Blaise...box," Draco said quietly, catching his frind's eye, then cutting his gaze sharply to the object on the table.

Zabini's long, slanted eyes immediately snapped to the box, and his previous conversation died in his throat. That was all it took for Daphne and Pansy to go quiet and begin to cautiously watch the box.

"Anyone's name on it?" Pansy finally asked.

"I don't think so, the owl just dropped it off," Draco said. Then, with a nervous grin, "rather gently, too. And, it wasn't too keen on staying around afterward."

"The owls know there's never any leftover bacon here, Crabbe and Doyle always clean it up right before the mail arrives. That's why they don't hang around this table," Daphne shrugged. "I don't know that I blame them, but I'm not sorry that the flying rats don't hang around to defecate on me all during breakfast."

Draco palmed his wand under the table. "So...prank?"

Three sets of eyes agreed with him. "Our response? It appears we have a few seconds, at least," Draco asked.

"It's probably trigged by motion away from it, so if we dive away it goes off." Pansy said with certainty. Then, seeing her friend's reactions, she shrugged. "What? It's what I'd do."

"Yes, and that's why you're the evil genius we all know and love, Pans, darling. So, suggestions?" Draco smiled thinly at the dark-haired girl.

"Finite Incantum?" Blaise asked. "Maybe from two or three of us at once."

"I'd have a restraining hex on the activation spell that would be the first thing pulled off by Finite. Depending on the timing, multiple Finites could disarm it, or just start it earlier." Pansy was staring at the box intently. She was biting her lip in concentration, but almost certainly unaware that she was doing it.

"Pansy?" Daphne asked, prodding her friend. "Time, remember? As in, not a lot of...?"

"I don't think it's nasty, or bad," Pansy said carefully. "It doesn't have that icky feeling that most pranks have...it's more...airy?" she finished, confused. "Light?" She shrugged once more. "I don't know how to describe it, but I don't think it's bad. Like, evil bad."

"Like, red and gold hair bad, or vomiting slugs for the next six hours bad?" Draco asked, looking away from the box at and Pansy. Parkinson had always had the most peculiar gift, in that she could "see"-although it was, for her, a multisensory experience—the intent of some magical things. It wasn't everything, and it seemed to wax and wane by some pattern they hadn't quite worked out yet, but Draco had never known her to be wrong.

"No, not at all like that. More like...candy floss, or maybe the magic on a chocolate frog."

"So...nothing bad."

"No, nothing."

"Candy floss can still be embarrassing," Blaise pointed out.

"Voice of experience, Blaise?"

"You were the one who tripped," Blaise reminded Draco calmly. "I got a new robe out of the deal, ultimately."

"Can we beat the dead thestral some other time?" Daphne cut both of them off. "Pans, you're sure? Last chance to say differently."

"I'm sure," Pansy said, then relaxed, her features curving into a smile. "I think...we might actually enjoy this, if we just relax and go along for the ride."

"You're kidding, right?"

"As if!"

"*snort* Sod that!"

"Language!" she snapped. "No, seriously. And, I think that whoever gifted us with this took pains to give us time to figure that out. It's like...a prank that you're in on from the beginning, so it's not really bad, just funny when you get doused in slime, or something."

"It's still slime," Draco said. He looked and sounded as casual as if he were discussing the weather.

"At worst, we all go shower, and skive off the first half of the day," Pansy smirked. "Seriously, that's all I'm getting from it. There's quite a bit of magic that's been dumped into it, that's for sure. Somebody's good."

"We'll debate that later, as we plot our thanks or revenge, as appropriate," Draco sighed, but his expression never wavered. "Well, then, Pans, do just wait for it or...?"

"I'd say wait for it. It shouldn't be too much..."

click whirr click click whirr click click click

Pansy was interrupted by the sounds from within the box. Immediately, the lid began to lift, revealing a complicated bit of clockwork done in shining brass.

"It's a music box," Daphne breathed.

"It's beautiful," Pansy grinned.

"The craftsmanship is...quite good," Draco said, looking closely.

"It's the spell work that worries me," Blaise answered. "My fingers are tingling...does anyone else feel that?"

"I...I think I might," Daphne admitted.

"No, Blaise, you're not the only one with tingly fingers...this time," Draco grinned. "It rather tickles."

"It's not bad, but I think it'll get better," Pansy said. Just then, the music box began to play. A tiny brass cylinder began rotating, and the notes ticked off as thin metal tines were plucked by holes in the cylinder. The tune was bright and tinkly, and several feet around the table began tapping in rhythm with the enchanted music box.

A muggle box would have wound down after one or two plays of its song, but this was certainly no muggle device! As the tune continued to play, various other instruments began to join in, as if from the very air itself! Heads all over the Great Hall were turning towards the Slytherin table as the music continued to grow.

Draco sat there, unaware he was swaying in time with the music, enjoying the gentle feeling of relaxation that was washing over him...when suddenly he had the urge to sing just one note.

So, sing that one note, he did.

And then he noticed that every Slytherin was sitting in their seats, occasionally half-standing then sitting back down, and singing! One note, one Slytherin. The next effect was that they performing along with the music box, popping up and down out of their seats like some demented hyperactive pipe organ.

Be bop beep bop be bop beep bop, beep be beep bop bo...

It was humiliating! It was degrading! It was...possibly the most fun that Draco had ever had, because it was so totally UN-Malfoy, and he was tingling all over.

Be bop beep bop be bop beep bop, beep be beep bop bo...

There was the main theme, which they were now repeating. Then there was a bridge, before the tune segued into what was apparently a trio section...and then they were done.

Exhilarated but tired, the Slytherins slumped down into their seats as silence claimed the Great Hall. The silence stretched...then was broken by clapping from the high table.

"Bravo! 50 points to Slytherin for that most excellent choral performance!" Flitwick was clapping madly, and the Sonorus he'd cast on himself made his voice ring out through the hall. Just down from him, Severus Snape—who had been frozen in place as his house was made to perform such a ridiculous act—found himself smirking as he realized just what Filius was up to. His hands joined the Charms professors in clapping slowly but firmly.

There would be time enough later to find out who had cast the immobilization spell on him.

"Bravo!" At the Gryffindor table, Cedric Diggory stood, clapping loudly. Harry Potter jumped up on one side of him, and Neville Longbottom the other, each of them also clapping. Not to be outdone, several of the older Hufflepuffs also came to their feet, cheering and whistling.

In seconds, the entire Hall—except for, of course, the Slytherins—were giving a standing ovation to the Snake House. It went on for almost a minute, before the Headmaster rose to his feet.

"Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin, well done. I must say, that was an impressive display of talents on many levels. I look forward to discussing those magics with the Prefects over the next few days. And, I think it only fair that you be allowed some time to recover from that most excellent performance. Consequently, and for today only, all Slytherins are excused from your morning assignments. Of course," Dumbledore twinkled. "We would like for you to complete your other work, beginning after lunch. Now, if you will excuse me," he finished, turning and leaving the Hall.

It was the signal for the students to leave for class. All over the hall, the sounds of benches scrapping back and bags being shouldered were heard.

"Well, it got us fifty points," Pansy pointed out, still a bit flushed.

"It made us look like idiots," Daphne growled.

"We're going to be laughing stocks, you know," Blaise said. He sounded almost resigned to it.

"No, you won't, because it was brilliant!" Harry Potter's voice shocked all of them, and heads whipped around to see the Boy Who Lived striding to their table. He was flanked by a mix of Gryffs and 'Puffs, and he was grinning from ear to ear.

"Potter, what are you playing at?" Draco hissed.

"I'm not playing at anything, Malfoy," Harry smiled back. "We all know that you were pranked, but it was a brilliant prank, and you all went along, which is what made it even more brilliant."

"Malfoy, it was the funniest thing I've seen in years. Besides, it looked like fun." Neville grinned down at the blonde. "I bet it'd be a right bugger to try to do without the spell, though."

"I'd say so," Draco let himself smile back as he agreed. "I'll let you know when I figure it out," he said, gently closing the box and putting it into his bag.

"Stealing the evidence, Malfoy?" a voice—Draco thought the boy was a Ravenclaw, but couldn't be sure—called out.

"Preserving it, more like," Pansy answered, leaning on Draco's shoulder. "You'll see this little gem again, in due time...trust me on that," she said, giving the loud-mouthed Ravenclaw a look that promised pain and agony in his future.

"Just remember, Parkinson, the spirit of the original," Cedric Diggory stood there, a stern look on his face. Pansy felt a tiny thrill run through her as she realized just how hot Potter's boy toy was when he went all Righteous Hufflepuff-y.

"Oh, we will," Blaise said, rising and leading the rest of his group of Slytherins away. "In the meantime, you lot have to be off for class, while I," he grinned, "am going back to my bed for a few hours of well-deserved lie-in."

Smiling into the grumbling that followed him, Blaise led the Slytherins from the Hall.

"I'll say this, it's ingenious."

"More like evil genius."

"No, not evil...twisted, certainly, but definitely not evil."

"So, it's twisted genius?"

"That'll do as well as any, I think," Blaise drew back with a sigh. Around him, Pansy and Draco all had their wands out and were twirling them over the box, using different combinations of revealing spells. Daphne was off to one side, quill and parchment ready to take down any notes that might be needed.

"So, can we confirm that it was the Terror Twins who did this?" Draco asked quietly.

"No, we can't," Pansy said firmly. "Strongly suspect? Oh, yes! Confirm...no."

"They really are quite good, aren't they?" Daphne put in. "Just transfiguring the parts, much less getting them to work in that way..."

"They didn't transfigure the box. That, they made by hand," Draco shook his head. It must have taken hours.

"Almost all of the clockwork is transfigured, but I get the sense that they started from brass and silver stock. It would have been much easier to use transfiguration to make all of those little parts if you weren't changing the base metal as well." Pansy was peering into the device.

"So, a handful of knuts and a sickle or two? Doesn't seem like a lot, does it?" Blaise sighed. "See how they used a silver rod and plate, here and here? Since silver is a better medium for enchanting than brass, I'm betting the charms are carried there, and only released when the box begins playing."

"So, what is our response going to be?" Draco asked quietly.

"You will give that infernal box to me at once! I will find out just who made it, and see to it that they are expelled from this school!"

Severus Snape swept down on the group, robes billowing. The anger that twisted his sharp features usually only came from encounters with Gryffindors, one Harry Potter in particular.

In truth, Severus was still fuming from what had happened to him in the Great Hall. As he was leaving, Aurora Sinistra had had blocked his way, a feral grin on her face.

"Calm yourself, Snape; I know what you're angry about. I was the one that kept you from making a fool out of all of us just now," she'd said. "You may be Head of Slytherin House, but you're not the only Snake here. I, for one, am tired of my House always being the villains of the piece; why Albus keeps you on as an alleged role model for young Slytherins I'll never know. To anyone objective, it seems like the old goat fornicator wants the Snake house to be hated and reviled. Now, for once, my old House is getting not only points, but applause from the other Houses; it's about damn time. Mark me on this, Snape," she'd leaned in close and hissed. "Screw up this chance for the House, and I'll fry you in your own grease."

And then, she walked away, looking for all the world like a woman without a single care.

Having been physically blocked once already, Snape was not prepared when his students also moved to subtly protect the small box with their bodies. Draco—his own godson!-actually stepped in front of him!

"Professor, we'd like to keep it, and use it ourselves. It's really a fascinating bit of work; let us show you what we've already found out about it," Draco was speaking rapidly, trying to control the situation before it got out of hand.

Snape wasn't in the mood to listen to reason. "I'll have that box now, Mr. Zabini," he growled.

"Professor, I really think we should keep it for study purposes," Pansy put in as she moved to support Draco while Daphne shifted to stand on his other side.

"We already have a plan to use it to get back at Gryffindor," Draco lied smoothly.

"We were just trying to decide on the perfect song to use," Daphne improvised, a dazzling smile lighting her face.

"I think we should use 'A Wizard's Staff Has a Knob On the End'," Theodore Nott called out from a seat to one side. Draco looked over just in time to see him nod fractionally back. Obviously, Nott had been close enough to hear, but out of the way of their examination of the box. Well, that fit, Draco thought; Nott's magical analytic skills weren't a tithe of Blaise's, but he was much stronger on theory. He'd also, Draco recalled, had music lessons as a child, and continued them over the summers.

Snape paused, seeing his charges massing ranks against them. While he could overrule them, he had no doubt that he'd be having to deal with their parent's ire. He could just hear Zabini's mother laughing at him in that particularly irritating way she had. "Why, Severus," she'd titter. "Afraid of one little charmed music box? I'd have thought that standing before the Dark Lord would have made you immune to that kind of weakness."

Glowering, Snape took a single step back. "Have you managed to identify the creators of the vile thing?" he asked.

"Not definitely, no. We have a strong suspicion, but..." Pansy shrugged.

"It's enough to justify our making them the targets for our reprisals," Draco said firmly. "And, as long as we're careful with the verses we choose, Nott's suggestion has much to recommend it."

"Clearly, you will have to account for the younger ones," Snape nodded, his brows creased in thought. "Very well," he said, reaching a decision. "I leave it up to you to uphold the honor of Slytherin in this matter. Do not disappoint me."

And with that, he spun and stalked from the room, leaving a trail of sighs and relieved students behind him.

"Well, that went better than I'd expected," Blaise exhaled, moving back from the box he'd been partially sheltering with his arm. "A Wizard's Staff, Teddy? Are you sure?"

Theodore "Teddy" Nott stood and stepped closer, grinning like a loon. "Well, why not? Okay, so we won't use the worst verses. It's not like the little buggers don't know it already, is it?"

A general murmur of agreement went around the room, except for confused looks from one corner where the firsties huddled together.

"One way to find out," Pansy said, then craned her head and called out. "Oi! Firsties! Show of hands! All those who know more than two verses of 'A Wizard's Staff', put 'em up!"

The now terrified youngsters quivered a bit, then one, then a second hand went up. The rest of the group either shook their heads or looked like they were about the cry.

"Well, sweet Merlin!" Daphne laughed, having pity on the group. "We certainly can't have that, now can we?" she asked, looking around at her fellows. "All right, priorities. Draco, Teddy, Pansy, Blaise...you four get to work on the box. Crabbe, Goyle, fetch us a load of supplies from the kitchens; take a pair of firsties with you and show them the way. And as for the rest of you," she laughed, rubbing her hands together. "It's time for your Hogwarts education to really begin!"

It was a testament to the fortitude of the current crop of Slytherin firsties that none of them fainted just them.

The next morning, a nondescript owl dropped a small wooden box in front of Fred and George Weasley at the Gryffindor table. Immediately, those around it went silent as the box just sat there. Finally, Lee Jordan reached out and gently touched it with his finger.

Immediately, there was a clickety-whirring sound, followed by a number of softer clicks and other clockwork sounds as the box opened. Then, before anyone could run screaming or dive away in terror, a lilting melody began to play. It was light, and not too fast, and quite the toe-tapper. In fact, in short order every male within a dozen feet of it was humming along with it, tapping his toes or swaying in rhythm with it.

At the head table, the entire faculty looked on curiously, but no one moved to stop what was happening. Across the Hall, people were beginning to turn and look to see what was happeneing.

The music continued to grow until it easily filled the cavernous Hall, and then—with a suitable fanfare—Fred and George Weasley, Lee Jordan and Kenneth Towler sprang to their feet and began dancing and singing.

"A wizard's staff has a knob on the end,

It never will buckle, it never will bend.

He cherishes it, and calls it his friend,

And he frequently takes it in hand."

The quartet brandished their wands, and bells and ribbons appeared at their wrists and ankles. Another quick gesture, and their faces were all painted in the gold and crimson of Gryffindor. Linking arms, the group formed two pairs, leaped the table, and began dancing in the open space between the tables.

"A wizard when young has a staff that is small,

It's puny and weak, ineffective withal.

It grows with his power until it stands tall,

As his fame and his glory expand."

As the four danced, other older male students stood, transfigured their robes to match the group, and joined in.

"The staff of a wizard can do mighty deeds

It protects him from harm and attends to his needs,

Provides him with banquets upon which he feeds

And potions on which he gets canned."

By now, students all over the hall were laughing and clapping in time with the music. At the high table, McGonagall turned to Sprout and quirked one corner of her mouth.

"Morris dancing?"

The tubby Herbologist smiled back. "So it would seem."

"A wizard's staff can do manifold tricks

To puzzle the nobles and fuddle the hicks.

It rescues the wizard from many a fix.

It is totally at his command."

Most of the Gryffindors—including Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom—were now dancing in the middle of the hall, stepping and twirling and bowing in a fine display of magically-choreographed mayhem. They all gathered, arm in arm, for the last verse, which was considerably slower than the others.

"When a wizard is old, and is starting to fade

He looks on his staff that with cunning he made

The crown of his life and the tool of his trade

And together they make their last stand!


A wizard's staff has a knob on the end,

Knob on the end, knob on the end.

A wizard's staff has a knob on the end.

A wizard's staff is the wizard's best friend!"

And with a flourish, the group bowed as one, their performance done.

The Great Hall went wild with applause as the impromptu dance troup caught their breath. Then, they turned and bowed, again as one, to the Slytherin table, where Draco and his friends were leading the standing ovation.

Harry and the Twins all caught Draco's eye as he smiled and nodded back. The rules of the prank war had just changed; the invitation had been accepted, and the new rules agreed upon. No more harmful or shameful pranks; only those with good intentions would be allowed. The challenge would be to amuse, and to show off new magics; not to hurt.

As Flitwick's '50 points to Gryffindor' illustrated, the new rules weren't without their own reward.

It promised to be an interesting year, indeed.

A/N: nope, don't own the Discworld, either. Thank you, Mr. Prachett, for many hours of enjoyment. The verses of 'A Wizard's Staff' are those of Heather Wood (fanfiction ate the link, you can search for it, it's quite fun), don't own them, either; also thanks to her for that. Apologies for not updating sooner, RL continues to demand my writing time (which is good). Many thanks for the reviews, they keep me motivated to keep working on this piece.

A lot of the last few chapters has been set up; my hope (he said laughingly) is that the story will begin to move faster in a couple of chapters. I love it, but I really want to get it finished in as reasonable time frame as possible.

Also, you might want to check out The Bits Box, it's where I'm dumping little pieces of various things that really don't go anywhere else. Yes, I have been thinking a bit too much of Disney lately, as HP and the Alternative Tournament show; many of you will recognize just where the Slytherin performance came from after that little hint.

Next Chapter: International Assistance arrives.