A/N: This is dedicated to a very dear reader, Toni L. You KNOW I'll keep the candle burning, my friend.

The newest crossover mention in this fic goes to the incomparable Mercedes Lackey's Herald of Valdemar series, which I've been reading voraciously for well over two decades now. What an incredible author! (You know the drill – not mine, except what is.) Also, a tiny little nod to David Bowie. (You know, in Texas, we say "boo-ey" knife, named after Jim Bowie – pronounced "boo-ey"—so if you ever hear a Texan mispronounce David Bowie's name, just offer a pitying "bless your heart" or two and hesh up.)

Blessed Be, y'all!



SCHOOLED - CHAPTER 18: New Connections

Timeline: The day of the Hogwart's School Board Meeting (which takes place late afternoon), early to mid-morning


Baron Antonin Dolohov did not consider himself a nice man. A good man, perhaps. A strong, Dark wizard. A loyal Knight in Lord Slytherin's service. Marginally dedicated to the future goal of creating an heir by either blood adoption of some worthy halfblood – burning out the tainted portion with his own, of course - or allowing the Dolohov line to die away and merge his vaults and privileges into those of his Lord. He was a stern man, serving his own body's needs of food, liquid, sleep and sex impatiently and efficiently, resentful of the time it took from his responsibilities and his true passion.

So very few people knew the full truth about the last Dolohov. And so few would believe it, anyway.

Antonin Dolohov was only one of three wizards in recorded history to attain the status of Adept Weaponscrafter within the hidden world of the goblin kingdom. Even the concept of a living wizardborn Weaponscrafter of any caliber was unheard-of, as the other two Adepts were long since ash in the forge, having passed into legend and myth. Although the goblins in general knew that the Baron was a goblin-trained Weaponscrafter, only King Jareth Evernew, Master Goldsmith Gringott Fortunebuilder and Master of the Forge Ragnok knew that Dolohov had undergone Trial and then Apprenticed directly under those long-dead Adepts, through the rarer-than-rare efforts of the mysterious soul-bonded immortals Bardic-Mage Vanyel Demonsbane and Bardic Adept Stefan Phoenixsong.

(Interestingly enough, the two bards had accepted as compensation a private introduction to a magical child somewhere in London, just about four years ago now.)

The Goblin Nation had so much more beneath the surface of the land than simply gold and goblins. Their true fortune, apart from their children, was history. They were the keepers of skills and knowledge and abilities lost to time and to the vainglorious reworking of historical events and beings by politicians and bigots. They alone held the ability to power the portals and gates created by Vanyel and Stefan's people. They alone could request the bards to awaken the ensouled statues of deceased Masters and Adepts. In fact, they alone knew the secrets of creating such statues, and left most of the Wizarding World to their portraits. They granted the privilege of post-Veil ensouled statues only to those few non-goblins who truly had knowledge and training that must not be lost. To date, Antonin Dolohov only knew of two of those elite beings – his own Masters, Tom Pendragon and Helga Hufflepuff.

It still amused him when he thought of how shocked the Wizarding World would be to learn that the smith who forged Excalibur was a near-squib blacksmith who may or may not have been Arthur Pendragon's real father. And Antonin's own Lord Marvolo Slytherin, when granted the insights into Hogwart's history and founders, had laughed long and loud when he learned that the supposedly-petiite, delicate, close-to-nature Helga Hufflepuff that Dumbledore liked to describe to the young badgers was in fact a six-foot-tall Viking with a battleaxe, a strong dislike of bullies and a forge-hardened right hook to back up her antipathy with extreme prejudice.

Antonin had yet to share with his Lord the fact that Helga Hufflepuff could consume more ale in one sitting than Gryffindor's entire house. Circe, that woman could brawl!

In light of the revelations of Heir-Lord Neville Longbottom's bloodline test, the goblins had agreed to publish through the auspices of Filius Flitwick's respected writings a few of the truths about the Four Founders. Although the news and results of the first few bloodline tests wouldn't be revealed until the School Board Meeting later today, the truth was already known to the majority of the people conspiring to correct the behavior and actions of the supposed 'Lord Phoenix' and several members of his Party.

The fact that Neville was the first of the line to be chosen by Helga's own magic as her true Heir – bypassing his father, his Uncle Algernon and his harpy of a grandmother - said much to that young wizard's strength and character. It was true that Godric's house had the reputation for bravery, due to the skewed machinations of Dumbledore and many other headmasters before him who had chosen to disregard the fact that Godric Gryffindor was best known for honor and fierceness in both battle and friendship. But it was also true that Helga Hufflepuff was known for incredible courage under fire and unparalleled refusal to surrender – ever. There was a very good reason that even a lion hesitates to attack a badger in defense of its home.

Young James Potter and his ridiculous Marauder friends were about to learn that lesson the hard way, having repeatedly attempted over the years to attack young Neville, most recently firing curses at the wizard's back as the boy – well, young man – walked away. Young Neville was now both Heir-Lord Longbottom and Lord Hufflepuff. The quietly powerful young man shared a brotherhood bond with - and had declared Protectorate Privilege for – the reputedly brilliant young Slytherin Consort Hadrian Morgan, now recognized as Lord Ravenclaw-Gryffindor (and who, in the minds of many, was Heir-in-Contention to the Potter Lordship).

Essentially, James Potter and his friends – and his parents! – had been actively harming in a variety of ways each of the living Lord Founders. And Dumbledore was in it up to his newly-regrown eyebrows.

In other words, although they may or may not have known it – and Antonin was betting at least Dumbledore most certain did know it – the fools had been repeatedly defying Hogwart's motto and were not just tickling but outright attacking all four heads of the Hogwart's dragon. Frankly, Antonin was looking forward to a crispy conclusion. What could he say? He had spent much of his life at the forge; despite his cold demeanor, he was quite fond of fire.

But, although this all crossed his mind as he waited, that wasn't where the majority of Dolohov's thoughts were at present. Although he was very much looking forward to the Hogwart's School Board Meeting later in the day, which would be preceded by a "war council" of Lord & Consort Slytherin and their allies, Antonin Dolohov was for perhaps the first time in decades unable to keep his mind on business. Instead, he had three more pressing topics on his mind.

The first was the fact that in the space of just a few days, he had gone from vague future plans of acquiring an heir before his death to suddenly being called 'Pater' by five young men whom he respected, liked, and felt an inexplicably fierce and protective pride in claiming as his own, true sons.

The second was the certainty that not one, but two of those sons would pass the Trials of Antonin's own mentors and would possibly become goblin-certified Weaponscrafters in their own right. He sensed that William might well progress to become the fourth wizardborn Adept of the craft, following Antonin's lead, but he was also undeniably proud of the assessment by Ragnok that Charles may just become both a Master Weaponscrafter and a Master Dragonsinger.

But, as he leaned back in the high-end, so-called 'husband's chair' in the viewing portion of the private fitting room of Amelie Ogden's personal clothier, the third subject vying to share his thoughts took center stage. Standing on a small, slightly-elevated runway before him was the vibrant, elegant, Titian-haired, newly-renamed Margeaux Prewitt, with an almost-shy smile on her spa-treated face and anxious eyes fixed entirely on him.

For a few moments, he forgot to breathe. Circe, the woman was … luscious.

His sudden, close attention and approval must have shown on his own face, as Amelie Ogden bounced slightly and clapped her hands in happiness, and Margeaux's smile gained confidence and just enough of a teasing, flirtatious light to make the dignified, stern, thoroughly self-contained Baron Antonin Dolohov growl.

He growled. Like a beast, like a predator eyeing a particularly tempting bit of prey. Which, come to think of it, he was.

Meeting the warm hazel eyes of the woman formerly-known as Molly Weasley, Antonin rose to his feet and approached her, slowly stalking in a circle around her as she tracked him with eyes that were both amused and apprehensive. He greatly appreciated the color of her eyes, and wondered which of his sons shared it – something they would determine as soon as the offensive glamours set into their eyes were broken. As his dark gaze swept over her form, admiring the generous curves and proud posture, he barely noticed the exquisite bronze robes she wore except to appreciate the manner in which they set off her lovely, peaches and cream complexion and caused her hair to fairly glow like burning embers in his forge.

She was not youthful. She was not slim. She was not toned. But she was lovely and appealing and exquisitely womanly. And Baron Antonin Dolohov had a sudden, deep appreciation for the manner in which his Lord had recognized and immediately seized his Consort for his own.

Antonin was feeling very, very possessive about Margeaux Prewett, the remarkable mother of his remarkable sons.

Ignoring the smirking Lady Ogden, he finally stopped his deliberate pacing and stared down into Margeaux's uptilted face. She knew he was testing her, he could see it in the defiant set of her chin and the flare of temper in her eyes. But he knew that she would pass. She was perfectly capable of refusing to play his game. She resisted the silence that normally forced very vocal people to ramble and chatter and dig verbal holes for themselves. She refused to drop her eyes submissively as he stared impassively down. And she returned his challenge without saying a single word… and without fidgeting or shifting or otherwise behaving like a Weasley.

His small smile of approval seemed to trigger her own, bright smile that lit up the room. Or, so it seemed to Antonin, anyway.

With a slow nod, he finally spoke, his normally cool tones somehow warmer for her, although his words were somewhat shocking. "I have decided that Arthur Weasley is going to suffer twice as much as I had already intended. At first, the punishment was for what he did to my sons. But now, it will be greatly increased, because what he did to you is so far beyond unforgivable as to be unthinkable."

His forge-hardened hand raised to gently, carefully touch her chin, which was trembling slightly as her eyes filled with tears she had fought like a warrior. His gaze never wavered from hers as a calloused finger ran delicately along her jaw, as if handling finest porcelain. "You should never have been clad in less than the finest silk and softest cashmere, Margeaux. You emerge from this experience like the finest blade I have ever crafted, tempered by force and by fire into someone utterly original and beautiful and strong."

One long, fire-darkened finger lifted to brush away the tear or two that escaped Margeaux's iron will, and Antonin's eyes darkened to an impossible black, his own fires carefully banked. He leaned down, slowly, allowing her all the time in the world to stop him. When she didn't, he closed the distance and pressed his lips delicately to hers, sipping at her taste and breath with the appreciation of a connoisseur of the finest things in life.

When he drew back, after just the barest moments of accepting her tentative response, he stayed close enough to share warmth for a few more moments, his work-hardened hands continuing to touch her skin with gentleness no one but her had ever seen from him. Although his face bore the practiced lack of expression he had honed over the decades, she could easily read the somewhat feral look in his eyes and the taunting quirk of lips as he said, "Shall we go introduce the Dolohov Family Matriarch to the world, my dear glowing ember? I confess I am rather eager for my Lord Slytherin and his Consort to meet you."

She took a moment to appreciate that he wanted important people to meet her, not for her to meet them. He was a remarkable man.

With a dignified nod of gratitude to Lady Amelie, who pressed her lightly powdered cheek quickly to her new protégé's as she handed her a lovely little handbag, Antonin accepted the velvet cloak she offered him and turned to place it carefully around Margeaux's shoulders, being certain to not wrinkle the expensive fabric of her new robes. Offering his arm for Margeaux's newly-manicured hand to wrap around, he escorted her with his customary dignity from the private clothier and out into a bustling mid-morning in Wizarding Moscow.

The elegant couple immediately drew attention, the contrast of the gentleman's dark clothing and eyes a perfect foil to the woman who seemed to glow like the embers in a fire. More than one person fell silent and simply stared as they passed by, although the few males who took a too-close look of appreciation at the Lady were treated to the reality-check of dark, dangerous eyes glaring a clear warning at them. No one was stupid enough to challenge that look.

For her part, Margeaux Prewett clung to her new composure, grateful for Lady Amelie's conspiratorial advice that wonderful clothing made excellent emotional armor, and allowed herself to be escorted by Antonin past expensive stores and well-dressed people with more courtesy and care than Arthur had shown even when she gave birth to his first son.

Knowing what she knew now, she was truly thankful that her boys and Antonin had been so tactful and sympathetic as they broke the news of Arthur's enormous betrayal and criminal actions against them all. That they did so in Dolohov Manor after luring her out to lunch with her boys, and then showed her directly to a luxurious suite of rooms decorated just for her, was more kindness than she felt she deserved. Antonin Dolohov had every right in the world to treat her with contempt and disdain, but he had not. He had never once faltered in dignity nor courtesy, despite his cold and stern nature. He had recognized her as perhaps the most victimized of them all through Arthur's actions, and he had reacted with honor to – as he had coolly described her – the mother of his sons and the woman who had managed to shape them into fine young men despite the mockery of their lives.

Somehow, his dispassionate evaluation of her had done more for her self-esteem than the finest clothes would ever do – although Amelie was certainly capable of presenting an excellent second-place! Antonin had not given the newly-christened Margeaux an option, simply treating all of the niceties and luxuries and such as what should have been hers all along.

He had even reprimanded the twins when they made mocking reference to her meltdown in their store the day they ended their 'guilt tithe' to her and Arthur. Molly's shame had been evident on her face and burning in her heart, but Antonin had cut it off immediately when he said coldly to the twins, "Your mother was finally in a position where she could publicly receive some recognition for the excellent job she did in raising you. You knew when she walked into your shop with the man who could not even contribute his own sperm for his family, much less a decent income, what they were there for. You were reasonably certain your mother had no knowledge of what Arthur was doing regarding the finances, and yet gave her no warning nor option for a graceful exit. You chose to make public mockery of her and air private business as if it were another of your pranks. You acted not like Dolohovs, but like Weasleys."

The boys had been brought up short, chagrined and suddenly seeing the whole thing from her perspective – and from that of their true father's. Their apologies had been sincere, as had her own, and Antonin's small nod of approval for them all had been more rewarding than all of Arthur's compliments combined.

As they walked down the street, she mused over the fact that he had called her the Dolohov Family Matriarch. She wasn't, really. She was, of course, the oldest female. Goodness, she was the only female. But, as of 12:01 a.m., thanks to Dolohov influence and Gringott's legal team, she was no longer a married woman. Glancing down at the pale line on her finger where she had worn her ring, she was unaware of the shadow that crossed her face – but her companion was not.

Antonin leaned over just slightly, to murmur for her ears alone, "Wedding rings are very much a mudblood custom, you know. Even the children from the Recovered Heritage Schools are choosing the older ways now. I, myself, much prefer bonding bracelets, thus making it quite clear to all exactly who shall be doing most of the maiming and killing when necessary." His hand, resting on hers, lightly traced her wrist where such a bracelet might rest.

Despite her best efforts, Margeaux could quite prevent the light blush that rose to her cheeks as his meaning sank in with the warmth on her wrist. It was already patently obvious that Baron Antonin Dolohov, despite his very recent status as a childless bachelor, was very protective of his new family. It was a remarkable change for Margeaux; as Molly Weasley, it had been up to her to fight the battles on behalf of the family. Antonin had made it quite clear that such was now his role and that he would soon be conducting a great deal of such maiming upon Arthur's person, as well as a few other key people. Her mind shied away from the subject of her youngest two children – the pain of that betrayal was so much worse than her former husband's. Once again, however, Antonin seemed to follow her thoughts easily, and his hand smoothed over hers in a subtle, comforting gesture that felt wonderfully protective and gentle. She could not help but marvel that such a seemingly harsh man could have such gentle hands.

Feeling the muscles in Antonin's arm tighten and his hand resting on top of her own clench slightly, she looked up to see another deathly glare aimed at a young man who was ogling her as they walked past. She could not keep back her throaty laugh as the intimidated man abruptly turned away and walked directly into a street sign, and felt suddenly remarkably happy when Antonin's hand patted her own and she saw an amused quirk of his lips at the incident.

Just as they paused in the small courtyard set up as an outgoing apparation point, Antonin leaned down to glance at her and said with dark amusement in his deep voice, "If all of your laughter is like that, I must request you remain solemn and somber today, lest I embarrass myself publicly with my reaction to it. You have a remarkably seductive laugh, my dear ember."

And with a barely audible crack, he apparated them away to help ruin a scheming old man's day.


5/10/13 AN: See bio for reason for delayed updates BEFORE sending me a nasty-gram, please. For all our sakes. Thanks.

Original AN2: Next chapter is continuation of the School Board Meeting; however, I will post the new chapter to "Little Thief" first. I was going to have it ready by morning, but am getting that damn migraine halo again. Toni, it'll be waiting for you when you resurface!

I have a couple new polls on my bio, although I've learned only one shows at a time. FFN logic! The one shown is especially important to me. Namely, it concerns the maximum length you prefer for stories (specifically "Schooled"). Please take a second and help me out? Thanks.

Love to Marksmom; slayer of destiny; TDLV666; Ellie, Sara & Lydia; Hortensia, Winter Mother & Circle; and all of you wonderful readers. (By the way, out of over 160 reviews for last chapter, only one was negative and that person was pissed and derogatory about my supposed "big buildup" and their extreme letdown. I consider that the percentages speak for themselves, and ask that rude, unkind people stare into the photo or imagined face of their favorite person – your spouse, your mom, your child - and spew the things they like to say to volunteer writers such as myself. Just don't do it to the actual person, because I would never want you to say to someone who loves you the kinds of things you feel free to say to total strangers.)

For all of you, ath-holes or not, Blessed Be!