Voldemort was frustrated.

No, that wasn't the right word. Voldemort was downright furious.

That raid had been months in the making. When Potter had deigned to drop in, he had thought Lady Luck was finally smiling on him once more. Potter was only a second year, all uncanny dueling skills aside. There was only so much a wizard could do with tickling charms and Petrificus Totalus against several fully trained crack teams of very lethal Death Eaters, after all. Even if their skills were a little rusty from Azkaban, there should have been no question as to the victor of that match.

And yet, someone had managed to waltz in and ruin the raid that he had spent so long planning, batting his Death Eaters around like they were Ping Pong balls.

No, there was definitely a new player in the little game between himself and Dumbledore.

That was unaccepta-

Voldemort's eyes narrowed abruptly. His wand instantly trained on the poor soul who dared interrupt his solitude.

"Show yourself." he snarled. "My Inner Circle know better than to disturb me in my study."

The figure in the shadows- how long had he been there?- chuckled derisively, but acquiesced.

"I'm afraid I can't say too much for your security, Tom. Your guards are sorely incompetent, even if I do say so myself."

Voldemort's eyes widened, even if his pupils dilated in rage.

"You!" he spat, eyes fairly glowing in fury.

"Yeas, me." the figure said amicably, pushing back his hood to reveal suspiciously bright brown eyes and a mass of brown curls that could only be described as "bushy."

A wave of mingled anger and humiliation swept over him, so powerful that he actually rocked back into his chair for a moment.

A girl. His top Death Eaters had been bested by a little girl. He had been held off by a little girl. This was beyond humiliating.

Then the rage and humiliation passed, and for the first time in years, Lord Voldemort allowed himself to feel a trickle of fear.

Someone had bested him for the first time since Dumbledore. Not just anyone, either- a Hogwarts student, not more than a Third Year by the looks of it. Such a thing should be impossible, and yet... The proof stood in front of him, completely unharmed and even cheerful by the looks of it.

She was a complete unknown, and she knew far too much.

The girl smiled, holding her wand loosely by her side. Her eyes never left his. She was, Voldemort realized, completely at ease in his presence.

"Why are you here?" he demanded.

The intruder grinned impishly. "Nothing terribly important. Honestly? I just dropped by to see how my favorite Dark Lord was doing. Planning another attack on Dumbledore, I hope? "

Voldemort gritted his teeth, eyes never leaving the girl. "Get to the point."

She smiled magnanimously. "As you wish. I heard you were recruiting?"

Voldemort's brain shut down for a moment as he considered the implications of that statement.

When he spoke, his voice was flat and utterly unamused. "You ruined a raid months in the planning, killed my wizards, allowed Potter to escape, and broke into my study just to join my side in the war. Forgive me if I'm a little skeptical."

The chit had the good grace to wince. "Well, I originally intended to contact you on more amicable terms after the raid ended, for all that's worth." she offered. "Unfortunate circumstances arose."

"I... see." Voldemort said faintly.

"You don't, actually." she said dismissively. "I rather expected that, though."

He felt his eye twitch. "You don't say."

She ignored him, rushing onward. "Yes, well, you've never been very sensible where Potter was involved. And for the record? Your precious Death Eaters aren't dead, just... in suspended animation. One of the many spells I've learned over my illustrious career."

Voldemort decided to push his anger away long enough to hear the girl through, at least. Appearences could be deceiving, after all, and this wasn't the first time an unlikely-looking ally had offered vital aid.

Besides, from what he had seen of her on the battlefield, she was a formidable enemy already. She couldn't be older than thirteen, at the most. Such a dueler would be invaluable to the cause- if she could be properly controlled.

"Do tell."

The girl met his eyes calmly, no trace of revulsion or disgust at his scaly appearance apparent in her gaze.

"I propose an alliance. My aid in destroying Dumbledore for Potter's safety."

"What is Potter to you?"

Her face closed down, eyes shuttering. "That is none of your business, now is it?"

Voldemort considered. "What guarantee will I have that Potter will not interfere, as he did today?" He argued harshly. "Potter will hardly be safe if he continues to charge in recklessly. I will not risk my men over a suicidal idiot."

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Potter will not be an issue. I will swear it on my very magic, if need be."

Voldemort leaned back in his chair, weighing his options.

On the one hand, a powerful ally. On the other... Well.

"If we are to be... allies, then there must be a proper... introduction." he stated. "You know my name already. It is only fair that you share yours."

The cold expression on her face melted away as if it had never existed, replaced by a satisfied smile that unnerved him even more than the anger had.

"Hermione Granger. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Riddle."

He eyed her outstretched hand dubiously, opting to ignore the (obviously insane) girl's mood swings.

"You may address me as Lord Voldemort. I'm afraid I can't say the same."

oOoOo

The next day, Harry could barely concentrate in class. He fidgeted his way through Charms and Herbology, squirmed through Defense, and was so distracted in Transfiguration that he actually turned his rabbit into a bell pepper and set it on fire, instead of turning into the pair of fluffy bunny slippers it was supposed to be.

Professor McGonagall eventually gave up any semblance of trying to help Neville with his hopelessly botched transfiguration and wandered over, her eyebrows rising into her hairline when she saw the formerly green- now quite charred- vegetable.

Harry hastily canceled the transfiguration, pepper reverting to a badly scorched rabbit rolling about in agony on his desk, trying to put out a few last smouldering patches of its charred white fur. He yelped as it rolled off the edge, narrowly missing his lap as it plummeted to the floor and bolted desperately in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

McGonagall briskly sidestepped the fleeing animal, swishing her wand and sending it soaring up into the box on her desk.

"Potter, what on earth is the matter today?" she demanded. "I declare, that had to have been the sorriest excuse for Transfiguration I've seen out of you all year."

Harry ducked his head sheepishly. "Sorry, Professor. I'm just a little... distracted today, I guess."

McGonagall gave him a long, not-quite-convinced teacherly stare that drilled uncomfortably into his head. " Distraction mid-Transfiguration can prove fatal, Mr. Potter. If you're not prepared to concentrate in class, you should leave now."

Harry's gaze flickered to bushy brown hair for a millisecond. "I'll try harder, ma'am." he lied through his teeth.

McGonagall's gaze narrowed. "See that you do, Mr. Potter."

After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably only a few seconds) McGonagall moved on, pausing to compliment Granger's perfectly formed bunny slippers. Granger's eyes slipped over the classroom, focusing on him for a second.

Unconsciously, his jaw clenched and his fingers tightened around his wand until the wood groaned.

Then she winked. Winked!

She knew.

She knew he knew.

She knew he knew and couldn't do anything about it, the bi-

He took an ragged breath and forced himself to calm, eyes flashing briefly in fury.

Silently, he began to plan. He hadn't lost his grip like this in a while. Oh, he would enjoy hunting her down after this.

Yes. He would corner her after class, before she could skitter off somewhere like she did after Charms, and one way or another, he would get some answers.

Transfiguration couldn't end fast enough.

oOoOo

Two seconds after the bell rang, Harry was out of his seat and down the aisle. Sure enough, Granger was surreptitiously inserting herself into the stream of chattering students pouring out the door.

Harry grabbed her sleeve and frogmarched her out of the door, sparing only an instant to grab his things. He quickly located an empty classroom nearby.

Close enough to be convenient; far enough that professors or other students likely wouldn't stumble upon them by accident. Perfect.

Harry slammed the door shut, quickly locking it behind him and hastily erecting a few basic anti-eavesdropping wards.

"What. Was. That." he demanded.

Perched on a nearby desk, Granger stretched languidly. She looked entirely too unconcerned for his taste.

Her eyes glinted with dark amusement as she twirled her wand lazily. "Pardon? You'll have to be more specific than that, Potter."

Harry growled in frustration. "That. The raid. Everything."

She laughed. "Can't a girl go out for a nice, private nighttime stroll anymore?"

Something in him snapped, and Harry slammed his hands to either side of where Granger was sitting, pinning her to the desktop.

"Stop bullshitting me!" He fairly snarled, his magic swirling agitatedly about him.

Granger's eyes narrowed, hardening into chips of amber glass. That was the warning that Harry got.

Half a breath later, she was gone, with only a soft whoosh of air rushing in to mark the place where she had been.

"What the-"

Harry froze as a hard point poked the back of his head.

"I'd suggest you don't move, boy." he heard Granger say coldly as her wand prodded his head harshly. "There's a million and one things I can do from here, and I guarantee none of them will be pleasant."

Harry released a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding when her wand left the back of his head a few seconds later.

"At ease."

He gratefully collapsed onto a nearby desk.

"You should be grateful." Granger informed him matter-of-factly. "Some people would have blown your head off for such insolence."

Harry took a few minutes to calm his racing heart as he struggled to craft a suitably respectful question.

"...You apparated."

She inclined her head. "So I did."

"We're in Hogwarts."

"And?"

"How? I thought that was impossible- the wards don't allow..."

She considered this thoughtfully for a moment, then spoke.

"What makes you think the rules apply to me, Potter?"

"But that's insane! The only way the wards wouldn't apply to you is if you... made... them..." Harry trailed off. "...A Founder. You're one of the Founders."

Granger looked up, and Harry felt his heart stutter to a halt as a set of bright green eyes pierced him, seemingly pinning him where he stood.

"Took you long enough." Was all she said, her eyes inscrutable as ever. "I am the great Salazar Slytherin. A pleasure, I'm sure."


A/N: Hahaha, I know, I'm horrible. Months without updates, and now a cliffhanger?

...Honestly, though, I couldn't resist. That... Setup...

So, yeah, I'm really happy with the last scene. As always, I'll be plugging away at a new chapter whenever I get a chance (although Junior year really is as hectic as they say. I'm supposed to be working on an application right now, but hey! Procrastination is the name of the game, right?)

Well, things should be on the up and up for Harry from now on. Previously, he's been dealing with discovering a parallel world that he knows next to nothing about- he does need some time to adjust. But he's beginning to find his feet, so we should be seeing the effects of that soon. Of course, there'll still be some bumps in the road (and maybe a cliff or two) but Harry'll start dealing out some punches of his own.

Meh, that's probably enough of my rambling for now.

Signing out,

~K.R.B.