A/N: Love your responses; thank you so much! (One needy question from the author: was slayer of destiny the only one who thought Harry lisping from a bitten tongue was funny? Cuz I laughed like hell when I wrote that scene, and now I feel insecure. Love you, slayer!) Back to the podium: 99% of you totally get where I'm coming from. 1% - well, maybe not so much. Skip ahead if you like, but here's my soapbox moment of the chapter.

I DO appreciate attention to the story. I LIKE that you care enough to offer suggestions and ask valid questions. Don't be afraid that I take rabid offense at everything; I like your questions and reviews, I just hate "ath-holes". BUT, I will not be addressing every single, possible detail in this or any story. That isn't reasonable or desirable, in fiction or in life. Does it really matter precisely why the orphanage complied with the Potters? Because I may or may not tell you. Do I really have to validate why Sherlock wanted to jump Dame Grenadine? Because I may or may not tell you. Do we care (except possibly in a future story, which I am totally planning) how and why Sherlock got wind of Grindelwald's plot and travelled through paintings to get to Hogwarts? Really? C'mon, folks, work with me here! I could fly an F-22 through the plot holes of "Harry Potter", "Lord of the Rings", "Pitch Black" and all of the Holmesian stories, just to name a few. The point is that I don't want to, unless it is for the joy of finding alternative plots for stories such as "Schooled." Right?

Someday, I'm going to accept one of the occasional offers I get to teach creative writing at community college. I love to see those moments when people figure out they can use language to create something that others appreciate and enjoy. One of the best aspects of writing is to learn and employ the theory of the "Willing Suspension of Disbelief." It was first coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was a poet and a philosopher. I wrote a few papers on his theories in college. What I remember most clearly is that he believed – and I completely agree - that if a writer could infuse their work with a modicum of truth and a reason for readers to care about the subject or plot, the reader would then be willing to relax their judgmentalism and their need for rigid adherence to reality and logic. Basically, if you write a good enough story, the reader willingly goes along for the ride. Furthermore, those readers who allow themselves to get swept away will then be the next group of writers to create wonderful worlds and stories for others to enjoy. I think fanfiction is the very best example of those truths, don't you?

Ha! Didn't realize I'm actually smart, instead of just pompous, huh? I are quite educated, u no! Take that, you snobs who dismiss us fantasy-only, fanfictiony types as "mostly illiterate, uneducated, emotionally stunted individuals with a weak grasp on reality and an underdeveloped understanding of the rudiments of literature." (That was a quote from one of my professors, back in the day when fanfiction was still mostly only available at Star Trek conventions. And, for the record, I kind of vilified him the way Hadrian attacked the Lions in chapter 1 of "Schooled." Such a great memory! Totally worth the failing grade.)

Anyway, the point is, keep your questions and reviews and ideas coming, but please don't expect me to dot every 'I' and cross every 'T' – that way lies madness, and a too-tight plot that won't let me work with it anymore. I think that's why so many fanfiction writers end up abandoning their stories; they get lost in the minutiae and, literally, lose the plot. For those who can't stand my lack of anal-retentiveness on this, perhaps I will give you permission to write your own fanfic of my fanfic, and you can either blow me out of the water or concede my point. Pretty much a win/win for me!

Today is 3/26/12, and this will be the last update to "Schooled" for about ten days (unless I can't withstand the pressure of a chapter that demands to be written), because I need to focus on "Did You Know", "Food for Thought", "Demon Team" (Pikachumomma, I swear it's coming!) and "Bright New Day." I promised that I would never abandon a story, and I won't. But I re-affirm for y'all that this story, "Schooled", is an endless story. Don't worry about it ending too soon, or being abandoned. I will throw in new chapters every time I feel the need or desire. I may even open up the universe to other writers who want to join in, although expect me to be kind of Big Brotherish over that possibility. (That's another phrase I like – "literary oversight" – which says others can write in my world, but I get to poke and prod until it fits my world according to my specs. Now I've done my part for the education of our population – although I'm certain most of you already knew this stuff from College English – and can officially return to rotting your morals and minds with my purposeless fantasy porn. Hi, Professor Herbert, you "ath-hole"!)

Happy Reading! Blessed Be.




Fortunately, words were unnecessary, as was evident by Marvolo's immediate, fierce response to his little lovers whimper of need.

Although, Hadrian tried to convince himself it was a profound roar of demand. Sending his tongue questing deep within the tempting mouth that opened eagerly beneath his own, Marvolo smiled to himself and allowed his Consort his illusions.

Anything to make Hadrian happy.



Weasley, Day 1, After the Owls Went Out

Molly heard the telltale crack of apparation just as the family clock moved her husband Arthur from "work" to "home." Smiling pleasantly, she began to dish up the large meal she had prepared. It was so hard for her to keep the portion size down when the kids were gone! She had cooked for a group of nine for so many years that her movements in the kitchen were almost entirely automatic. It didn't help that all of her best cookware was large enough to accommodate roughly three dozen eggs or twenty sausages at one time. The single, two-pound slice of beef looked lonely and ridiculous, all alone in the middle of her huge frying pan. Sighing mournfully, she transferred it to a serving platter and looked up cheerfully as her husband walked into the room. Her pleasant expression immediately morphed into one of worried concern as she took in Arthur's pale complexion and slightly staggering walk.

"Arthur! My goodness, what happened? Are you ill? Sit down, sit down!" Molly rushed over to guide her wan-looking husband into his chair at the end of the long kitchen table, then poured him a glass of water from the pitcher she had just set down and sank into a chair next to him as she gazed at him worriedly and waited for him to speak.

He didn't seem inclined to do so; in fact, he seemed markedly disinclined to give voice to whatever was troubling him. He was clutching a heavy letter in his sweaty grip, and his eyes shifted wildly around the room in an obvious effort to avoid meeting Molly's shrewd stare. This woman was the mother of seven, mischievous children and managed her husband's penchant for hiding muggle objects he was technically not supposed to own (much less enchant) with all of the cunning and force of an Auror Training Officer. The odds of Arthur Weasley concealing information from Molly Weasley were infinitesimal. He glanced quickly at her from the corner of his eyes, then sighed heavily in resignation. He'd better just tell her; otherwise, she'd pull the information from him piece by painful piece and make him suffer for every single one.

Drawing a shaky breath, he faced his master … er, wife …. and offered a tremulous smile. "Hello there, Mollywobbles. Doing all right, then?" Her narrow-eyed glare was enough to hurry him along. "Err…. Molly, my love… did you get any owls this afternoon?"

Molly's eyes did not move from her shivering husband. "One did arrive about an hour ago, but I was making dinner. Since it was a Hogwart's owl, I thought we could read it together over our meal. I imagine it's something about Ron or Ginny. Why?"

Arthur ran his handkerchief over his sweaty forehead and decided to stare at the table as explained. It had everything to do with cowardice and he was not ashamed of that. Molly could be right scary when she had cause, and this situation definitely qualified. "Well… Dear," he tried ingratiatingly. Her gimlet stare told him it didn't work. "This afternoon, I was in my office and heard shouting from the Head Auror's office. I looked out, and three – three – of his own people were trying to hold him down while he shouted and tried to throw them off. It seems he had just gotten an owl from Hogwarts. Now, I don't know exactly what his letter said, but he was furious at his son, Cormac. You know, the large, blond boy who shares a dorm with Ron? I would have stayed around to find out more, but I was intercepted by an owl of my own."

At this point, Arthur's courage briefly failed him as he clutched and twisted his handful of parchment. Seeing Molly's work-roughened hand reach for it, he hastily drew it back and tucked it into his robe. Smiling nervously, he avoided his wife's glare and shakily continued, "Well…. it seems that the seventh year Gryffindors got the results of that writing contest Albus insisted on. You know, the one Ronald was moaning about last month, until suddenly his letters were full of good humor and hints of a grand prank against young Mr. Morgan? Well …. um …," he cleared his throat, then forced himself on. "The letter was from Mr. Morgan himself. He announced the winners of the contest and provided a copy of the … submission. From what I can gather, Mr. Morgan did not take well to the nature of the prank and … er… retaliated." Here Arthur had to be honest, even if his wife killed him. "Honestly, Molly, I must say I admire Mr. Morgan's cleverness! Although, the repercussions to the families of the winners will be… profound."

Seeing that Arthur's throat had apparently closed in an effort to secure his own safety, Molly leaned forward and set a comforting hand on his arm. He welcomed the warmth, but the nails that dug in to his skin rather negated the effect. Still, it got him talking again. "Molly… Mollywobbles … dear one?" Her nails and glare ended his efforts at sucking up. Sighing heavily in resignation, he rubbed a tired hand over his face and said roughly, "Fine. Here it is. Ron and the Marauders apparently got everyone to submit a pornographic story to Mr. Morgan. Rather than reacting as they anticipated, Mr. Morgan assigned first place to each student, after some effective shaming in the Combination Tactics classroom. He even warned them that if they did not accept the galleon that was the first of several prizes, then they would not be considered winners, and they still accepted the galleon – every blasted one of them! What are we teaching our children today? Ridiculous!"

He risked a glance at his wife when all he heard was her breathing hissing in and out between clenched teeth. After a moment or two of this, Molly rose to her feet and went to retrieve the letter that had arrived earlier. Seeing what she was doing, Arthur hurriedly told her the rest. "Every first place winner's story is being published in the morning editions of The Daily Prophet, The Quibbler and this week's Witch's Weekly. They are all also now prominently displayed in the Ministry building, right at the wand check desk." That had been particularly humiliating to try to brazen his way past, as he refused to meet the eyes of the sniggering co-workers and visitors who had gathered around the display. If Molly didn't kill Ronald, Arthur definitely would.

Of course, he would have to beat Charlie to the honor. Thank Merlin his second-oldest son was at the Romanian dragon preserve! Perhaps the boy would cool down a bit before he saw Ron in person. As it is, the howlers from Romania were going to be legendary!

Molly's eyes had widened in horrified understanding. She stood in the kitchen, holding the unopened letter in her hand as if it were a deposit from their goat. Trying to control her temper until she had all possible facts, she stared piercingly at her husband and said threateningly, "And what else, Arthur, dear?"

Tightening conscious control over his bladder, he flinched back from his beloved angel's death-glare and muttered, "Well …. It seems that Ronald chose to write about … er …. molesting Charlie in his sleep." He covertly brought his wand to his hand under cover of the table, and then whispered hoarsely, "And every family member of each winner received a copy by owl this afternoon."


Arthur did not dare move, except to try to will himself into a smaller target. The Weasley household was always loud and rambunctious. Molly expressed her good humor vigorously, and her bad humor at a decibel level that would frighten a troll. For Molly to be so angry that she was silent … was bad. Very, very bad.

Arthur had just enough time to think to himself that this situation could not possibly get worse, when the floo in the living room fireplace flared and the furious shout of an enraged dragon handler boomed through the Burrow. "I'll KILL HIM! Mum! Dad! Where the hell is everyone? Come to the floo, NOW!"

There was no way in hell Arthur was going into the living room, but Molly was already moving. Furious, courageous Molly! As she passed through the doorway, Arthur dropped his head onto his folded arms and shook in reaction. Thinking wrathfully about his youngest son, Arthur allowed himself to consciously wonder for the very first time if the Malfoys were correct about whether too many wizarding children in a family reduced the power and intelligence of the latest to be born. Because, honestly, Ginny wasn't the brightest match in the box, and Ronald was …. Well. Arthur's innate loyalty as a father prevented him from voicing, even in the privacy of his own mind, his true opinion about Ronald Weasley, but the man's inability to find any adjective that was in any complimentary, or at least not insulting, to his youngest son was revealing enough.

After a few moments, Arthur jumped at Molly's bellow of rage, and ran to her side before he could prevent himself. She was staring in abject horror at the parchments in her hands, the envelope cast onto the floor carelessly. In the floo, Charlie's distinctive, scarred face and red hair seemed considerably more vivid than the flames that surrounded him. "Arthur! Oh, Merlin, Arthur! Did you read this? Do you know what it says?" Molly's shaking, shocked tone pulled Arthur back into functionality. Placing a careful hand on her back, he said quietly, "Yes. I did. And, yes, I have already been gifted by my co-workers with numerous rounds of cheese. At least we'll eat well!" For the glare he got from Charlie and Molly, Arthur would have been much better off keeping to the facts. Levity was not appreciated at present.

Charlie breathed heavily through his nose, fanning the flames around his head and giving him the appearance of being one of his beloved charges. "I applied for emergency leave. Actually, I shouted at my boss that I was leaving as soon as possible to murder my youngest brother, and he was laughing too hard to say no. Ronald is DEAD – eventually." The huffing, hissing growl of their second oldest further enhanced the man's draconic impression. He was remarkably frightening, even without the sheer rage in his eyes, and Arthur lost his last, tiny inclination to protect his youngest son. He would have tried to defend stupidity, but perversion? Well, all right, that was often acceptable in the magical world, but not of this magnitude. Bad enough that Ronald had sexual urges toward his unbonded brother (a consideration Arthur allowed himself given his suspicions regarding the nature of bonding between his twin sons Fred and George), but Ronald's fantasy involved assaulting and molesting his brother! His unconscious brother, no less! He could only fervently hope that the cheese thing was a sign of stupidity, rather than a food kink. As it was, he would never touch fondue again.

Searching for something to say to distract Molly and Charlie from their vicious planning, Arthur paused as he saw Charlie flinch at something. After a moment, his irate son said quickly, "Just a mo. Got another owl. If it's about Ronald, I'll kill him twice." Charlie's head left the floo, and they heard him talking gently to what had to be the owl. No matter how upset their son was, he was always calm and careful with animals of any kind. Regardless of what message the owl carried, Charlie would not hurt the messenger.

Ronald, however, was unquestionably screwed. Molly's howler alone was certain to be eardrum-shattering. Ronald could probably begin the countdown on his own life starting from the moment if and when Charlie managed to get to Scotland. Arthur gave him a week, maximum.

Charlie's darkly grinning face reappeared in the floo. They could just see the corner of a green parchment he held in his scarred hand. "It seems I have an anonymous friend. Or, more likely, Ronald has an anonymous enemy. Either way, I am now the proud holder of an emergency international portkey set to bring me to Hogsmeade tomorrow at 8 a.m. Meet you there, Mother?" His malicious grin did not falter once.

Molly's expression clearly revealed where Charlie had learned it. Arthur could not have managed such vindictiveness on his angriest day, but Molly was more than equipped for such a moment. No one commented on the fact that Charlie didn't even bother to invite Arthur; they all knew that, even if the man did not have to work, he would not be found within a hundred miles of Hogwarts tomorrow. Molly said with calm, and therefore completely terrifying, rage, "I'll be there."

Without bothering to say goodnight, Charlie's head disappeared from the floo and the connection was severed. Arthur warily looked at Molly, uncertain of her temperamental stability, and was relieved at her brisk, "Well! Now that's set, let's have dinner, shall we?" Arthur followed his wife's bustling form as she returned to the kitchen. She seemed to have regained her temper, at least for the moment. He felt the first stirrings of appetite as he allowed himself to smell the aroma in the kitchen, now that he no longer had to sniff for danger.

"What wonderful meal have you prepared, my dear?" He knew he was sucking up a bit, but Molly really was a wonderful cook and Arthur felt that any effort to keep her happy and content was an effort well-spent. He inhaled deeply with an appreciative smile on his face as he shoved the wrinkled letter aside and sat down to enjoy his meal.

Molly, however, had frozen rather abruptly as she reached to dish up their meal, a somewhat nauseated look on her worn but still pretty face. After swallowing with an effort, she said reluctantly, "It's a recipe I just got from Evelyn Potter…. Saucisses au fromage."

Forty minutes later, the two Weasleys were still sitting at the table, staring at their untouched plates. Heaving a sigh of surrender, Molly eventually waved her wand and sent the congealing mess out to the pigs' pen. Neither of the two said a word as they spent the remainder of the hour sipping tea and eating buttered bread.

Cheese and sausages were bad for ones' health, anyway.


Patil, Day One, After the Owls Went Out

Having scurried from her classroom in mortification, Parvati Patil had not even managed to get all the way down the hall before she was accosted by her twin sister Padma. At her friend Lavender's squeak, Parvati looked up and saw her Ravenclaw sister standing at the end of the corridor, arms folded and a look of cold judgment on her pretty face. Clutched in her hand was an opened letter, the thick wax of the seal cracked and peeling beneath the sharp nails that dug into it as Padma gripped it.

"Can you run? I'll cover you if you cover me later," Lavender whispered. Padma's eyes narrowed, and Parvati swallowed heavily.

"No. Might as well face her now. Rather this, than have her and my father get me at the same time." Lavender just nodded numbly. Merlin, they were all so incredibly screwed.

Padma's icy, expressionless eyes monitored every step her sister made toward her. Not even a flicker of sympathy showed in her chocolate gaze at the obvious dread Parvati was feeling. Only when her twin reached over to drop their traditional kiss on the cheek did Padma show any emotion – and it was revulsion. Drawing back in deep hurt, Parvati stared shocked at the twin who had always been affectionate and supportive, even when Parvati was sorted into Gryffindor rather than the House of Intellect.

"You cannot possibly believe I want your lips to touch me, considering what the entire world now knows you do with that mouth. Expertly and frequently, according to your own claims." The disgust in Padma's voice practically throbbed through the velvety tones. "I sincerely doubt Father will ever let you even touch him again." Parvati could not help but flinch, unable to meet the familiar brown eyes that stared into her own.

Padma's gaze swept up and down her sister's form, taking in the twisting hands and shifting feet. She felt frozen, completely unable to feel compassion or sympathy. There was only one possibility that might redeem this situation. "Parvati. Look at me." It was in no way a request.

As brown eyes met brown eyes, Padma searched out the twin-bond and touched it lightly, asking, "Was it a lie? Did you make it up to fit in with the others?" Feeling the truth reverberating through the bond, she did not even need to hear Parvati's shamed whisper of denial. Stepping back reflexively, she could only stare, appalled, at the twin she had thought she knew as well as herself.

"How could you? You are betrothed, Parvati! Your purity is not just a matter of honor and virtue, but of legal obligation! What were you thinking? And to admit such a thing so openly? Are you truly that stupid?" The words burst from Padma painfully, striking off her sister with each question. Parvati could only stare at the floor, utterly ashamed.

The two stood still, unable to move closer, unwilling to separate further. It was agonizing.

Eventually, Parvati began to talk, her normally vivacious voice flat and low. "I didn't want to be betrothed. I didn't want to be tied to a man so much older than me. I just … I wanted to live a little, Pads. I wanted to be popular, and have fun." Her expression was pleading, begging her sister to understand and support her.

It was not to be.

"So, rather than behave honorably, you chose to betray Father, and your betrothed, and me, and yourself, by giving fellatio in exchange for popularity." Her condemning stare was unrelenting as she watched her beloved twin wince.

"I …. Yes," Parvati whispered miserably. She had no defense. She knew – had always known – that her purity, not just her virginity, must be without question. She was not an aggressor, not motivated to a career or an independent life. Had that been true of her, as it was of Padma, she would not have requested that her Father seek out a betrothal for her. She would have been mostly free to live her life and make such choices as she saw fit. But Parvati had always known, in her heart, that she wanted nothing so much as a happy marriage and children of her own. To gain the best possible husband, her purity was a matter of great value. And she had agreed to it, had accepted the terms of betrothal and the wizard who offered for her. She had pledged to honor the few points required of her – purity, good grades, supervised outings, chaperones whenever in the presence of males, honoring the Sabbats, etc. Not very much, really. Her betrothed, in exchange, had offered so much more. And he was handsome and dignified and kind! He had seemed to truly enjoy Parvati's company, the few times she had been in his presence. She had liked him.

"I'm still a virgin, Pads," she offered quietly. She flinched at the withering stare Padma gave her.

"A virgin, maybe. But not pure. Of the two, your purity is more important and you know it. Can you possibly think that a refined, honorable wizard like Tarik Marani will want anything to do with you, knowing that you have willingly had multiple penises ejaculate in your mouth? That you have swallowed the cum of many different boys? Would you want anything to do with such a person? Fool! You have thrown your life away, all for the false popularity of being the Gryffindor's 'guaranteed good time'!' You disgust me, Parvati!" The words were vulgar, harsh and horribly, painfully, true.

Stifling a sob, Parvati broke and fled. Padma remained still, staring after her fleeing twin with cold, sad eyes. Although she appeared icily calm, her exceptional mind was whirring and snapping, finding and dismissing the various options and opportunities that remained for Parvati. It was a certainty that Sheik Marani would break the betrothal; it was even possible that the Patil Patriarch would offer Padma as an alternative. She would even agree to such a betrothal, if Tarik agreed that she would remain independent and able to pursue a career. Padma was considerably more ambitious than her slightly younger twin, although she was not opposed to making a good marriage. She had no illusions about romance and other such foolishness; marriage would be much more likely to have success if negotiated properly and arranged on the basis of compatibility and possibly affection. Padma was nauseated by her sister's actions, unable to grasp how anyone, much less her own twin, could have willingly engaged in such promiscuity. Despite her own career ambitions, Padma had remained pure and virginal; content with the possibilities and potentialities that life might hold upon graduation. She would not sully her own chances for lifelong happiness for the ephemeral, false joy of adolescent popularity – especially if it is based on the adequacy of blow jobs.

As repulsed as she was, Padma was still her sister's twin and would try, as much as she could, to help Parvati find a path in life that she could live with. Possibilities of a noble marriage were now gone. The remaining possibilities for matrimony included one of the boys Parvati had 'serviced', one of the more desperate lower caste wizards, or an aging widower who was more concerned for his wife's ability to care for his existing children or her talents in bed than her purity. The other possibility for Parvati was to establish a career, and possibly meet someone with a more modern approach to such things.

Shuddering in disgust, Padma turned and walked to the Great Hall, hoping to have a last, angst-free dinner before their father exploded onto the scene. She was certain that the elder Patil would not send a howler, preferring always to maintain discretion.

She was equally certain that Parvati would be summoned to their father's side, and would probably not return to Hogwarts soon, if at all. It would fall to Padma to manipulate their father into thinking it was his own idea to send Parvati back to graduate Hogwarts and then on to university or apprenticeship, as punishment for her indiscretions and disobedience. Parvati had a day at most before her summons. And Padma, as a possible alternative betrothed, would be summoned as well.

Too bad for old-fashioned wizards like her father that she would not be complying. She was no servant, to simply obey. She was an intelligent, talented witch with good career prospects and equally good marital prospects. Sheik Tarik Marani would accept that, or would not marry a Patil. Especially not Padma.

She obeyed no one.

In the flickering candlelight, her small, wicked smile could be mistaken as gentle – assuming one did not see the fangs that lurked figuratively beneath the surface. Parvati may be a Lion, but Padma was probably the fiercest member of the House of Ravens.

Obey? Screw that! She wasn't called a 'claw' for nothing.


Brown, Day One, After the Owls Went Out


The blue-eyed brunette froze at the familiar, silky purr of Severus Prince. Looking around cautiously, Lavender realized that she was now almost alone in the second hallway from the Combined Tactics classroom.

Alone, with the exception of the stalking figures of Severus Prince and Lucius Malfoy.

Lavender could not repress a whimper. Merlin, she was screwed.

Hoping to just get the torture over with, she squared her shoulders and turned to face Severus, only to find herself standing far too close to the tall, whipcord-and-silk body of the Prince Heir. Taking a hurried step or two backwards, she summoned her inner Gryffindor and said bravely, "Mr. Prince, Mr. Malfoy, I sincerely apologize. I should not have participated in that debacle at all, nor should I have involved the two of you in my efforts to embarrass Hadrian Morgan. He did not deserve my behavior, either. I will issue a formal apology as soon as possible to you both, and I vow never to engage in such speculations again."

She tried very hard to ignore the slow, gliding stalk of the two boys that circled around her predatorily. She knew full well that she deserved retaliation, but hoped it would be more in the form of a public apology and perhaps even greater personal humiliation for Lavender, rather than anything – painful. She hadn't thought that either Prince or Malfoy would get violent with a female, but as she stood trembling slightly in the center of the slowly circling Slytherins, she was not so sure.

Lucius Malfoy's deep drawl shivered over her left ear, "Never again? Truly? You don't want to think of us that way anymore? Tsk tsk. Lavender, I'm wounded." She could feel the heat of his powerful body pressed close to, but not touching, her back. Taking a step forward, she was drawn up sharply at the sudden, looming presence of black silken hair and fathomless onyx eyes. She could not repress a shiver as Severus Prince gazed down at her expressionlessly, his distinctive voice murmuring low, "Your story does not read as if it is a simple attempt at a prank, Ms. Brown. You seem much more – personally invested, than that."

What was going on? Oh, Merlin, what were they doing? As far as embarrassment and confusion went, it was working! Lavender tried to smile confidently, but felt it probably looked more like a grimace, and said with false bravado, "Well, be that as it may, it was a simple prank. I must go to dinner now – my friends are waiting. They're expecting me within a minute or two, in fact."

Lucius leaned forward enough to press very lightly against Lavender's shoulder. "Oh, I think not, Ms. Brown. Ms. Patil is fleeing back to her bed as we speak, and the others are most probably – occupied – with their own worries at present. No, indeed, I think you will not likely be missed for quite … some … time." His warm breath against her ear forced a deep shudder from her slim frame.

In front of her, Severus tipped his head slowly to the side, staring piercingly into her frightened eyes as he leaned forward slightly and ran his straight, Roman nose lightly against Lavender's cheek. Inhaling appreciatively, he said silkily, "Your scent matches your form, Ms. Brown. Divine."

Trapped between the two, Lavender's mind stuttered beneath the force of the two young men who had starred in so many of her fantasies. Nevertheless, she knew full well that this was not interest; this was payback. She raised her hands and shoved against Severus' chest, briefly surprised at the firm strength beneath her palms, and stepped to the side. Sharply turning to face them, wand raised threateningly in her small hand, she glared at the two and said angrily, "I get it, okay? Very clever. Bravo! If you think I'm embarrassed at appreciating you aesthetically or sexually, you're wrong. I'd have to be dead not to notice you. That doesn't, however, make me stupid or gullible. You will keep away from me. I will still apologize publicly, but you will not try this again or I will file charges. I made a poor choice in writing that story, even though neither of you should be anything but flattered; after all, I think an awful lot of people will actually believe that you two can go for hours at a time and not, oh, I don't know, DIE! But a poor choice will not lead to you victimizing me for it. I'm better than that, and I would hope you are, too. But perhaps I'm wrong."

Their surprised expressions were more than worth Lavender's distress. 'Imagine that, little Lavender Brown managed to shock the big, bad Slytherin's into an actual facial expression!' she thought somewhat hysterically, not lowering her wand or her sharp observation of the two in front of her.

She watched as Severus and Lucius exchanged glances, masks once again firmly in place. Despite her anxiety, Lavender had to admit that Slytherins were interesting people. They were like icebergs, with 90% of their true selves hidden beneath an icy surface.

It was Lucius, surprisingly enough to Lavender, who finally relaxed just a bit and offered her a small bow of respect. "Well done, Ms. Brown. I'm not certain many students would have responded that way. I believe it is fair to say that most would be in our beds with us right now, and even those who fled would not have reacted with such a clear head."

Severus only said coldly, "Who is the real Lavender Brown, I wonder? The strong, intelligent woman before us, or the shallow little follower who tormented a thoroughly decent boy to fit in with the crowd?"

Although she lowered her wand slightly, she did not relax her guard, a fact that the two Slytherins observed with approval. In answer to Severus' question, Lavender quietly replied, "I believe they were both me, but the little follower has learned her lesson and grown up a bit. We'll see if I can maintain any momentum in that direction, but I will thank you to keep your predatory natures away from me and simply accept my apology. I will even word it in such a way that it flatters you and further embarrasses me. But I will not be your victim. Understood, gentleman?"

Deep within the implacable masks and emotionless eyes of two of the senior-most Slytherins, respect dawned. Lavender accepted their small nods and slight bows of respect with a quiet nod of her own, before she gestured them away with her wand. Their amused approval was clear as Severus and Lucius moved off down the hallway.

She didn't lower her wand until they rounded the distant corner, and even then it remained clutched tightly in her hand. She took several moments to simply breathe deeply and regain her shattered composure. She used the time to begin to word the apology that she would have published as soon as possible. It certainly helped that her mother was one of Witch's Weekly's chief editors. Knowing Viola Brown, Lavender suspected that the woman would spin this whole thing into a wonderful publicity stunt, using her own daughter's story and apology to boost sales that much more. Given the situation, that possibility did not bother Lavender at all.

No, what had her truly perplexed was the fact that she had managed to resist and deflect the determined seduction of two young men who she wanted passionately. Lavender knew herself well; she was not given to self-sacrifice and grand gestures. It wasn't the fact that the two Slytherins would have been using her that she had rejected. It was the fact that it almost seemed as if it would be a reward for her actions against Hadrian Morgan. During the seconds when she was pressed between the two sexiest Slytherins ever, she had a tiny flash of self-disgust. Even knowing that they would be using her and humiliating her, she wanted that experience with those boys. But she refused it, because she would not allow herself to be rewarded, even obscurely, for bullying Morgan. And it was clear, from what Severus and Lucius had said in reply, that they considered Hadrian someone to respect and protect. In retrospect, Lavender wasn't even sure why she felt so – contemptuous – of Hadrian Morgan. He had never been anything but civil to her, or to anyone, until today. And certainly his retaliation had been more than justified – and brilliant. She had to respect him. She could even like him. So, why didn't she?

Lost in thought, Lavender wandered toward the Great Hall for dinner, wondering if she would have to eat her own words along with whatever cheese-heavy meal the Slytherins had arranged.

Grinning wryly, she took her seat. She could not resist a cheerful, "Bonsoir, mes amis! Vive le fromage!" and joined the dark laughter that circled around her at Ronald Weasley's indignant glare. She watched in amusement as the redhead tried to find a food – any food – that did not have cheese in it. Considering the extensive varieties of cheese suddenly on the Gryffindor table, she didn't think he would meet his goal anytime soon.

He was so screwed!


Headmaster's Office, Day One, After the Owls Went Out

Albus Dumbledore was a remarkably shrewd person. He intentionally cultivated an image that was nearly bipolar at times. On the one hand, he was a powerful wizard and politician, one-half of the formidable team that had destroyed Grindelwald and his forces. On the other hand, he was the aging, eccentric, grandfatherly, lemon-drop loving headmaster. Occasionally, he had difficulty separating one persona from the other, but for the most part, very few people seemed to notice that he was never what he seemed.

Regrettably, those who saw him most clearly were also his strongest opponents and, occasionally, enemies. Very few Slytherins or Ravenclaws were taken in by his antics, for example. And certainly, since Tom Riddle had met the portrait of Salazar Slytherin and conducted the blood test that confirmed him as the Lord of Slytherin and a Founder's Heir, the pompously re-named Marvolo Slytherin had stolen a great deal of Dumbledore's thunder.

It never occurred to Dumbledore that, regarding names, all Riddle had done was drop his first name and accept the surname of his true magical Line. He missed the fact that "Lord Marvolo Slytherin" sounded considerably less pompous than the unwieldy "Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Supreme Mugwump ICW, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Order of Merlin First Class, Inventor of the Twelve Uses of Dragon's Blood" with which Dumbledore belabored every piece of correspondence he touched. Had Slytherin wanted to, his own signature could probably have been longer than Dumbledore's, but the younger wizard used his clean and simple signature to highlight the old politician's arrogance. Frankly, it worked.

Nevertheless, although Dumbledore had worn the persona of eccentric old man long enough that it was truly a part of him, he was not to be underestimated. A cunning intellect and master manipulator lurked behind the twinkling blue eyes, and with the assistance of his portrait allies and the ghosts and elves of the castle, Dumbledore was rarely caught off-guard by anything.

Today was one of those exceptions. One moment life was normal, the next he was hearing portraits whispering and giggling about Hadrian Morgan, and the next thing he knew, young Tom had walked into his office and stolen his Hat. And Dumbledore felt certain that somehow, Hadrian Morgan was responsible for the theft.

The last he could recall regarding Hadrian Morgan was the day he met with the young Ravenclaw. Hadrian had been finally released from the Healing Wing, having suffered what Dumbledore masterfully leaked as being greatly-exaggerated injuries. The truth of the matter was that Hadrian should have been transferred immediately to St. Mungo's, and Healer Cherish Pomfrey and her apprentice niece, Poppy, had been furious at Dumbledore's refusal to do so. They had even tried to notify the authorities, an action that Dumbledore immediately stopped by reminding the women of their oath to always respect the confidentiality and safety of all of the students of Hogwarts. Had the truth of Hadrian's condition gotten out, young James Potter and Sirius Black would have been subjected to very harsh retaliation, and that would have backlashed against Hadrian in numerous ways. Although it was convoluted, Dumbledore managed to twist his words enough that the confused witches unintentionally tightened their oath to confine them to Dumbledore's wishes in this instance. Their anger had been quite remarkable. Dumbledore had no need to remind himself never to enrage a Healer who was protecting her charge ever again. Apprentice Poppy Pomfrey had issued a reverse-Healer's hex on the Headmaster that caused all of his body hair to become ingrown, a tremendously painful and irritating situation. When Dumbledore had sought relief from Cherish Pomfrey, the older Healer had cast a rapid-growth hair treatment upon him, and smirked a blatantly-false apology when the old man screeched like a banshee. He shifted anxiously in phantom pain at the memory of all of his ingrown body hair suddenly doubling and tripling in length beneath his skin.

Worse was the fact that the two, vengeful women had ensured that he could not be healed magically, resulting in the slow, painful plucking of each body hair, one at a time. His skin had been bright red and dotted with blood for weeks. He flinched away from the memory of Fletcher, the viciously-grinning house elf who had been assigned the task of plucking those hairs Dumbledore could not reach himself. He had not seen that particular elf in the Healer's Wing before, nor since, and he didn't want to. Besides, the elf seemed far too fond of the portrait of young Henry Fitzroy; it made Dumbledore uncomfortable, even though he was certain that there were none in the castle who would, or even could, oppose him. He was Headmaster, after all. The portraits, ghosts and elves all answered to him.

Ingrown-hair-plucking incident aside, the old wizard did regret having to keep young Morgan repressed and downtrodden. It was a necessary evil, however. Lord Charlus Potter had been irate at his illegitimate nephew's admittance to the school, and had railed for days at Albus. Evelyn Potter had even gone so far as to send him a howler – HIM! The Supreme Mugwump of the ICW had gotten a howler from the middle-class wife of a noble who held the Lordship only through the actions, or more accurately, the inactions, of the Headmaster himself.

After all, if not for Albus carefully looking the other way, Charlus Potter would never have managed to destroy his brother's deathbed will that named Hadrian to the Potter Lordship. Fortunately, Caleb had trusted Dumbledore to witness the will and serve as its Executor. Albus truly believed he was obeying the spirit of his role, rather than the letter, as he was simply protecting Caleb from his last-minute need for forgiveness from the son he had abandoned. Albus was the Executor of the deceased Lord's former will, as well, and simply chose to administer that one rather than the one he was quite certain Caleb would have regretted in the afterlife. In truth, that was the day that the surviving Potters learned of Hadrian's existence, when the boy was five years old and Caleb died. The child had already lived in the muggle orphanage for two years at that point, and Caleb's wish to have the boy retrieved and brought into the family was roundly rejected by Charlus and Evelyn. Their angry reaction had caused Caleb to write a new will, the one that Albus had simply overlooked. All the old Lord had truly wanted was to see that his son, Hadrian, was safe and well. Albus and Charlus had personally gone to the orphanage and inspected things. While the bastard child had been quiet and thin and poorly clothed, they saw that he had a bed, he had clothing, he had food – disgusting food, but food nonetheless – and there was very little that needed to be done. Having honored their duty to the boy, they had simply let him be, and moved on with their lives.

Hadrian's sudden reappearance had stunned the Potters. In truth, it had stunned Albus, as well. One day life was rolling along, and the next day he was being summoned to the Ministry to address the issue of a discovered lost Pureblood – a meeting he could not suppress, as for some reason, the room was riddled with reporters. Even the portraits had seemed inordinately interested in the boy's story. Given that kind of publicity, there was nothing to be done but welcome him into the world and admit him to Hogwarts. He had assured the Potters that the boy would be no competition for James, considering the fact that he had been, to all intents and purposes, a muggle until his seventeenth birthday. Hadrian's knowledge of magic and immense intellect, as well as his burgeoning career as a freelance writer on a wide variety of topics, had stunned them once again.

The only course of action left to them was to somehow suppress the boy's talents and abilities and try to keep him so downtrodden that he rejected the Wizarding World, rather than the reverse. Given young James and Sirius' vicious cooperation, even Albus was surprised that Hadrian had remained. Still, although the young man endured, he did not stand out. James was bright and popular, always laughing and sparkling brightly. Hadrian was shy and quiet and vaguely …. creepy. As if he knew so much more than one could ever truly grasp. He also had a knack for acquiring allies in unexpected places. Flitwick, for instance, had always been a staunch member of the Phoenix Party and Albus had every reason to anticipate that the halfbreed would follow his subtle hints and cues and offer no support to Hadrian. Instead, the part-goblin had emerged as a fierce defender of the boy, even going so far as to threaten the Marauders when Albus had simply given them a gentle slap on the wrist for the prank gone wrong.

Frankly, Albus did not believe the boys deserved worse than the 25 points he had taken from Gryffindor. Yes, it was true that Hadrian had suffered devastating injuries, but the prank had not been intended to cause that. James and Sirius had been a bit too eager and had disregarded Remus Lupins' concerns. They had caused the railing on the ninth floor staircase to vanish just as it began to shift, having ensured Hadrian's schedule and used their remarkable map to confirm the boy was on the stairs at the proper time. It would have been amusing, just a small scare and a drop to the next lower staircase, but they had neglected to take into account the probable actions and reactions of Hadrian himself. Although not powerful, the boy had used that ridiculous cleverness of his and cast a sticking charm on his own shoes, which kept him in place long enough that the next-lower staircase had already moved past by the time Hadrian's too-large shoes gave way and the boy fell. He had only plunged to the seventh-floor staircase, but had landed on his shoulder, which had then dislocated and caused Hadrian to fall to the next staircase, and the next and so on. In the end, he was found on the ground level, having impacted eight times on stone staircases. His injuries were extensive, and had to be healed progressively rather than concurrently because of the effects of a lifetime of malnutrition.

Now that fact really had surprised Albus. He had not known that a magical child could not heal his own inadequate nutrition. Well, the child could do so, if he knew it was necessary. But, as all of the orphans ate the same food and were equally malnourished, Hadrian had not realized that he – all of them – were not in the same condition as most other British children. Albus had felt genuinely sorrowful about that. He had not wished for the boy to suffer; it had only been his intent to keep the boy away from the Wizarding World. He should have done more for the child, but retrospect is the clearest vision, as they say. Albus did go back to the orphanage and make a large donation, spelled to be spent entirely on good, healthy foods for the children. The manager of the orphanage had tried to tell him it was enough to feed the children for roughly five years, but Legilimency had revealed that the man intended to take half of the funds for himself. Thus, Albus had ensured that only the children would benefit. He had even assigned his own account goblin to keep an eye on the orphanage and replenish funds as needed.

True, he had used Hadrian's charitable funds, which were sitting unused in the Hogwarts accounts. He had simply neglected to inform the boy that he was entitled to funds for all seven years of his magical education, even though he was attending only one. Given the rate of interest that would have been earned, and the fact that Hogwarts was an expensive school and that Purebloods were allotted charitable funds to secure the child clothing and supplies suitable to their station, Hadrian could have bought a small, muggle farm or the equivalent with the money that moved automatically into his school account. Additional funds for having the blood of two Founders almost doubled that amount.

It was exceptionally lucky that each charity student's financial situation was considered highly confidential. Albus had always been very careful to keep as many secrets as he possibly could with regard to the Headmaster's Charter, which was a separate entity to the Hogwarts' Charter. The Headmaster's Charter dictated numerous responsibilities that would be potentially harmful to have broadly-known – items such as ward manipulation, certain discretionary funds kept secret (including a bribe account set up by Salazar himself that would never show anywhere as anything other than maintenance for the squid), entitlements for Founder's Heirs, etc. He knew that Tom was aware of most of those, but was certain Tom did not know about the true extent of the orphan's fund. He had kept Tom on a short financial leash during his time as a student, too, and had not revealed anything about funds for Founder's Heirs. When Riddle had come to him and demanded that Hadrian be given his proper funds, Albus had pretended to be mortified at the oversight and immediately released enough funds for the boy to replace the clothes he had lost to blood and other damages during his fall, and to replace some of the books he had lost during his impromptu trip from one stairwell to the next. (Albus suspected Peeves for that theft, but didn't mind enough to pursue it.) Tom had been irritated by the paltry amount, and Albus knew it was only a matter of time before he figured out how to get more money to the boy without offending the pride that seemed evident in the bastard. For a Slytherin, Tom was sometimes remarkably chivalrous.

Given that Hadrian had suddenly gained the interest of a publisher who had immediately signed the boy to a long-term contract and provided a small amount of funds upfront, Albus believed Tom had used his extensive contacts to aid the Ravenclaw. Although, why the Head of Slytherin would do so was something of a mystery to Albus. According to all of his information, Tom had nothing more than a simple professor/student relationship with Morgan. Perhaps he had simply felt empathy for the boy, having spent his own childhood in similar conditions and struggled through his first two years of Hogwarts on his own before Salazar discovered him talking to the portrait of his Familiar.

Albus had initially tried to contest the Naming of an Heir, having no wish whatsoever to share his power within Hogwarts, but Riddle had simply held a long, chilling conversation with Salazar and his Familiar in Parseltongue, which proved to the Board that a blood test, at the very least, was indicated. The rest, as they say, was history, and Albus had lost over half of his authority at the school. Worse, Tom had springboarded his nobility to a successful political career that rivaled Albus in all ways. They had managed to balance each other and provide a platform in which most magical beings found a home with either the Phoenix or the Vol de Mort Parties. After Grindelwald, Wizarding Great Britain had settled contentedly into the two-party system, grateful for the tangible proof that the diametrically-opposed groups and leaders would close ranks to protect the nation.

Still, Albus had no wish for another Heir to be formally declared, which was a distinct possibility in the form of Hadrian. Albus had done extensive research deep into the ancestry of Rowena Morgan, and had been appalled to discover that she was not only a direct descendant of Ravenclaw (as opposed to the indirect blood that everyone knew she had), but also had a blood connection to Gryffindor. He had immediately arranged for that information to be suppressed. He had declared Hadrian an indirect heir of both Founders in the hopes that it would not occur to anyone to order an Heir's blood test (which could only be done through the auspices of the Headmaster or another Heir, as the actual blood of the Founders was kept under powerful stasis charms in the Hogwarts' vault for just that purpose). But after all, why would they order such a test? Albus had already declared him an Heir; why prove an obvious truth? But if an Heir's blood test was performed on Hadrian, it would reveal that he was a direct Heir of Ravenclaw, and that he had a direct tie to Gryffindor. Add the latter to his tie to Gryffindor from Caleb, and the boy would also be considered a direct Heir of Gryffindor. A double heir.

Albus would not let that happen. He would not. The very thought of it chilled him. If he took in the small amount of interest that Tom had shown in the boy, it was enough to give Albus nightmares. The remotest possibility of the two somehow discovering Hadrian's Lines and then working together for any reason sent the Headmaster into a sweat and made him reach into his bottom drawer for his medicinal Ogden's and a shot glass. He had done his very best to keep Hadrian well away from the Slytherins, which was more difficult to accomplish with Ravenclaws than with the other houses. His most effective tactic, in his own estimation, had been his determined efforts to keep the boy showing obvious signs of his own poverty. The thrice-owned clothing was enough to keep most of the snobbish snakes well away from Hadrian, and the boy's intense shyness had done the boy's continued poverty was essential to keep the boy separated from all avenues of support and the Headmaster's – and the Potter's – plans on course.

Fortunately, as Headmaster, he had the right to use his own discretion to protect his children from their own inexperience; as such, he had placed a freeze on Hadrian's school account, and had only drawn out enough to pay the boy's tuition and give him funds for second-hand books. Perhaps he should feel guilty about that, but it was almost a certainty that the boy would try to remain in the Wizarding World if he knew that funds were available for him. However, the boy had outwitted him somewhat, by earning enough money through his writing to pay for clothing, potions supplies, etc.

Dumbledore had thought Hadrian's decision to use a galleon of his own money as reward for first place in the writing contest was a remarkable testament to the boy's character, and so had allowed it. Besides, it helped to reduce what the boy had to work with.

Regarding the donation to the orphanage, though, Albus was at least able to spin that into good publicity for himself. He had ensured that his 'private' donation to the orphanage that had succored the poor, lost Pureblood was 'discovered' by a fortunate reporter who just happened to stumble on the truth. He would like to have used the greater funds in one of the Potter vaults that belonged to Hadrian, as they were sitting unused and unusable anyway, but magical law prevented that. Because the boy was a Pureblood, his blood family could not seize or reduce the vaults assigned to him – vaults that were assigned by Magic, upon his birth, equaling whatever percentage of the family fortunes that a single child represented. As there were only four living wizards with Potter blood, Hadrian being the illegitimate fourth, Hadrian's vault equaled one-fourth of the Potter fortune. (If his double heirship were to emerge, Hadrian would immediately become tremendously wealthy.) The fact of the Potter vaults alone should have convinced Charlus to welcome the boy into his family and lull him into handing over his funds, but the Lord was unreasonably stubborn and was determined to find another way to gain access. It was foolish and impossible; because even in death, assuming no will existed, Hadrian's vaults would pass to his heirs and, if the boy had no heirs, would remain secure and untouched until ten generations had passed or Hadrian's own ghost had dictated otherwise. It was simple, straightforward magical law; even children understood how it worked, and yet Charlus Potter was determined to find a way around it. Utter folly.

Nevertheless, Albus had managed to think of a temporary solution. By Charlus providing minimal funds for Hadrian at the orphanage, in this case enough to provide the library with a small, unnamed wing (in truth just a former 8 x 10 office now lined with bookshelves) – the origin of which the boy had no knowledge, in order to ensure he did not learn that there was someone out there who held him in any regard – magical law allowed for the fact that Charlus was Hadrian's guardian. Not only did that prevent Hadrian from being adopted and gaining support that way, but it also granted Charlus the right to lock down Hadrian's accounts, assisted by Caleb's Executor. So, for now, even though Charlus couldn't touch Hadrian's vaults, neither could Hadrian.

Up until now, all had been going according to plan. But today, a great deal seemed to have changed. Albus did not yet know the entire story, but from what he could gather thus far, young Hadrian had taken extreme exception to a simple prank played by the Gryffindors regarding the writing contest. If he admitted the truth, Albus would have to confess that he had forgotten completely about it; at the time, it had simply been another way to oppress Hadrian and keep him aware of the power of the Marauders and at their mercy. He didn't enjoy seeing the child tormented, but it was necessary if he were to succeed at forcing Hadrian to make the choice to flee the Wizarding World. But, against all probabilities, the painfully-shy, eager-to-please, somewhat cowardly boy (at least by Gryffindor standards, which Albus claimed, true or not) had retaliated. By the hearty laughter of the portraits of former Headmasters and Mistresses, most particularly Phineas Nigellus Black, Hadrian's actions had been brilliant, vicious and devastating. Even worse, by Albus' standards anyway, he had earned actual applause from the seventh-year Slytherins, as well as Professor Malfoy, Professor Prince and – Merlin, please, no – Professor Marvolo Slytherin.

There was also something about young Longbottom, but he was certain that was a misunderstanding, especially as Hadrian had apparently also given a first place ticket – well, galleon - for public humiliation to Longbottom. The details of what the so-called "prizes" were had Albus shaking in a blood-pressure raising mixture of worry and rage. The snickering account of what his mischievous children had written left Albus reaching for another shot of Ogden's. Just the fallout of young James' teasing portrayal of a Professor Slytherin who was too familiar with his familiar was enough to cause long-range repercussions throughout the Phoenix Party. There was little chance that the unreasonably vindictive and power-hungry Slytherin was going to miss this opportunity to cause further damage to the present Lord Potter and his Heir. Ridiculous, really! The very idea of someone taking offense at (much less taking legal action over) a child's poor joke – particularly over bestiality – was remarkably immature. Besides, why would the Head of the House of Snakes be offended at the idea that he loved snakes? True, it was perhaps more literal than good taste allowed, but these were children, for heaven's sake. Harmless fun. Albus would certainly not be mortally offended should someone have written something concerning the rumors about his brother Aberforth's reputed fondness for goats! Merlin, what was the harm? It's not as if anyone would believe his brother actually humped a goat.

Blinking for a moment, he shifted a bit to accommodate the surprising erection that he was suddenly sporting and wrinkled his hairy, white eyebrows, wondering what he had been thinking about that would have caused a sensation he had thought long ago lost to age and excessive magic. All he could remember was snakes… and goats ….

He flinched briefly as his cock twitched at the last thought, and hastily redirected his mind back to the primary topic. He most definitely did not want to go there – not again. Those memories were safely stored in his private pensieve collection, to be viewed only during late-nights when loneliness and Ogden's had made the old wizard maudlin. Youthful misadventures.

Blinking again, he shook his head in frustration at his wandering thoughts, and tried to focus. 'Come now, old man, get your mind off of goats and get to the bottom of the issue at hand!'

He then stared angrily at his lap, deeply regretting his choice of words. Clearly, he would not be able to focus until he resolved this issue. Rising with all the dignity he could summon, considering that he was sporting his first erection in a decade, he excused himself from the cackling portraits, avoiding a knowing sneer from Phineas, and went into his private quarters. Ten minutes later, newly cleaned and frantic panting slowed to normal breaths (and really, was he now so out of shape that he should worry about death-by-wanking?), he returned to his office and focused his vast intelligence again on the actions of Hadrian Morgan. Merlin, the fallout was going to be fierce.

At that moment, a furious pounding on his office door sent his startled gaze to the spy-mirror that sat decoratively atop Fawkes' perch. He was rarely surprised by the arrival of someone at his door; that was part of his apparent omniscience, after all. Peering at the small mirror, he suppressed his look of surprise and instead assumed a friendly, I've-been-expecting-you expression. "Come in, gentlemen!"

As Head Auror McLaggen and two of his aurors entered the office, accompanied by the Head of the MLE Marcellus Flint, Albus genially offered tea and biscuits and his ever-present lemon drops. All were abruptly rejected by a glaring McLaggen, who abruptly gestured to Flint and then stood, legs apart and arms crossed, glaring. With a sigh, Flint placed a supportive hand on the Head Auror's shoulder and then turned to Albus with a familiar-looking form. Accepting it, Albus looked in surprise at the Authorization to Arrest a Minor, and the attached Authorization to Imprison a Minor as Adult. Although he was shocked by the forms, he was stunned by the name written upon it.

"Your son, Head Auror? You are truly here to arrest and imprison your own son?" The falsely-gentle condemnation in Albus's voice immediately gained him the outraged glare of three aurors and the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Despite himself, he flinched beneath the condemnation that was sent back to him fourfold. "I apologize if I seem surprised, Auror McLaggen. I am simply – surprised. What on earth could Cormac have done that would earn him a public arrest by his own father?"

The intensity of the four, outraged glares doubled. It was the youngest auror, surprisingly, who leaned forward and placed both hands upon the Headmaster's desk, staring menacingly into the twinkling blue eyes. He waited until the twinkling faded into surprise at the young auror's failure to be in any way intimidated by the magically and politically powerful old wizard, and then growled, "Can you not read, Headmaster? I always thought that would be a requirement for your position. Perhaps I assume too much."

At this, it was Albus's turn to glare, and once again, the young auror was unimpressed. A moment or two passed in silence, which was finally broken by the young auror's mocking, "Can't take a hint, however blatant, either, eh? Let me help you out. You see, my mocking you for not being able to read was a big, damn hint for you to READ. Preferably, the form in your hand that you seem to think gives you the right to question the Head Auror and the Head of the DMLE on their official business."

Albus stood up, outraged, and demanded icily, "I want your name, young man. You seem to misunderstand the dynamics of authority here."

The young auror simply smiled mockingly as he drawled, "No, I understand them fine. Here, in this office, you are the headmaster of a school. I am the an auror, which means I have every right to question you, challenge you, and even arrest you if I feel that you are in any impeding my duties. Apart from YOU, I have the least authority here, but compared to you, I have a great deal of authority. The combined authority of the four of us, compared to you, is roughly equivalent to comparing your phoenix to a canary. We win. But, because you apparently also can't read the name on my badge, let me help you out. My name is Auror Alastor Moody. I am not your student, not your lackey, not a member of your Party and not in any way intimidated by you. I am here to help arrest Cormac McLaggen, the seventh year Gryffindor who committed a sexual assault on a twelve-year-old student last year. In case you need a refresher, he is the boy who was found at the scene of the crime, supposedly 'helping' the victim. He is the boy you refused to allow the teachers to question, under the apparent law of your little world that 'Gryffindors wouldn't do such a thing.' He is the boy whose name you refused to release or allow to be released to us, using the very limited scope of your authority as Headmaster to protect the identities and privacy of the minors in your care, although you apparently employ that authority with deplorable whimsy. He is also the boy who wrote a detailed, written confession of the assault, including information that was released to no one but we four. In case you are wondering, Headmaster, the reason I am included in that is because, not only was I the investigating auror, but I am also the victim's uncle and godfather! Are you entirely clear now? Or is there something else that you don't understand, that you should understand even if you can't read?"

Dumbledore just stared at Auror Moody, feeling a shiver of genuine intimidation run down his spin at the dichotomy between the man's icy control and the almost unbearable rage in the eyes that stared him down unblinkingly. Merlin, if the Auror was this frightening at roughly a quarter of a century old, he could not begin to imagine what Moody would become in another fifty years. It would be best to get on his good side, and quickly.

With that thought, Dumbledore smiled sadly and said gently, "I do apologize, of course. I was startled, and acted ungraciously and with a lamentable lack of judgment." His disarming smiled dropped at Moody's uncompromising, "Yes, you did. Now, summon McLaggen – without any warning or I will arrest you, old man – or we will go down to the Great Hall and arrest him right in the middle of dinner. Your choice."

Dumbledore huffed in irritation and turned to look at Flint. "Surely, Mr. Flint, this hostility toward me is unnecessary? And can we not discuss this situation rather than summarily arresting young Cormac? Are you entirely certain that none of the evidence has been … tampered with, perhaps by Mr. Morgan in his effort to retaliate against the harmless antics of our Lions?" He had just spotted a wonderful opportunity to control Hadrian Morgan and was employing his vast experience in manipulating people through his harmless, grandfatherly persona. He had done this literally thousands of times in his life, and had every confidence that he would be successful here. Hadrian was as good as arrested.

Which is why his jaw literally dropped in shock as, with a single gesture from Flint, Moody had cast a disarming and cuffing spell on him. Before Albus could do more than sputter, Flint shoved him back away from his desk and stood nose to very long, crooked nose with the old wizard, glaring all the while. "No chance, old man. Four Slytherins here. Now, you have a choice to make. Summon Cormac, or get marched through the Great Hall with us while we arrest him and you. Your call; make it now."

Dumbledore stared helplessly into the venomous eyes of one of the most frightening men he had ever met. He seemed to be meeting a lot of them lately. Perhaps he was getting too old for all of this. Striving for wounded dignity, he raised his chin and said quietly, "Please release my hands so that I may write the note."

At a nod from Flint, Moody expressionlessly released the cuffs, but did not return the Headmasters wands, portkeys or charms. Privately, he thought to himself that at least the old wizard showed intelligence regarding his plethora of weapons and means of escape. Visibly, however, not a shred of emotion or opinion passed any of the four faces that stared coldly at Dumbledore. He would have felt much better if at least Moody had smirked a little in triumph. This cold control and lack of desire to either impress or cow Dumbledore was unsettling. They were Slytherins; they should either want his favor or his defeat.

Sighing heavily, he seated himself and wrote in his familiar, loopy scrawl,

My dear boy,

Please come to my office immediately. I require your assistance regarding your submission to Hadrian Morgan's writing contest.

Albus Dumbledore.

PS: Meltaways are my choice of the day.

A sneering Auror Moody seized the note and sealed it in an evidence spell, confusing the Headmaster. Placing another piece of parchment in front of the old wizard, Flint said commandingly, "Write exactly what I tell you. One word out of place and I explain to your students exactly why I am arresting you along with Cormac." Albus noticed that neither Flint nor Moody used Cormac McLaggen's, but the silently enraged Head Auror's presence explained why. The second auror remained silent and stalwart, a strong, shadowy support to the Head of his department.

Albus took up his quill again and wrote the simple order that Flint dictated. Summoning a house elf, he was angered when Flint took the note from him and inspected it before giving it to the elf and ordering, "Take this to Cormac McLaggen. He is to come here immediately. Keep him under watch the whole way, and if he tries to run, jump him here to us."

Albus was on his feet as the elf flashed out, shouting, "Now see here, Flint! I will not allow you to manhandle my students! I…." He stopped in shock as the cuffs were once again spelled on his wrists, his bony old arms secured behind his back uncomfortably. Gaping, he scrambled for words, but only managed an appalled, "What…?" On the wall behind him, Phineas Nigellus Black was laughing uproariously.

Flint simply waved at Moody, who promptly told Dumbledore, "Albus Dumbledore, you are being detained until such time as we have secured the suspect by the order of Marcellus Black, Head of the DMLE, due to your attempt to assist suspect Cormac McLaggen to evade arrest and escape justice." His smile at the astonished old wizard was not comforting.

"How do you justify this? When I sue you for false detainment, what can you possibly say that anyone will believe of me?" Albus was smug, certain that this was simply a ploy to intimidate him. His certainty faded somewhat into vague unease when Moody issued a harsh laugh. To Albus's surprise, it was Head Auror McLaggen who clarified.

"I am here to ensure that everything is done correctly, Headmaster. As Head Auror, I am an Incorruptible Legilimens and Occlumens. My memories will be pensieved for trial. One of those memories now includes your detainment for attempting to render illegal assistance to the suspect. Your actions were enough to raise suspicions; the note you wrote secures your legal detainment and possible charges. Really, Dumbledore; you insult us greatly. Explaining precisely why he needs to run immediately? 'Meltaways are my choice of the day?' You might as well have just said 'melt away is my best advice to you, Cormac.' How much more obvious can you possibly be? How can you be so insulting as to underestimate us this badly?" He glared at Dumbledore, who, after considering everything, had to agree with him. But how could he vindicate his own intelligence by explaining that he had to take into account the extreme thickheadness and slow wit of Cormac? Even with what he had written, he very much doubted the boy would have taken the hint. He had intended to charm the parchment with a covert compulsion to run, but had not had the chance before he was taking dictation like a clerk and then being re-cuffed.

He was just opening his mouth to try to talk his way out of this mess when the house elf popped back into the office with a securely bound, screaming, struggling, crying Cormac. The boy took one look at the aurors and sank to his knees, snot running down his face from the pressure of his sobs at the sight of his grim, tightly-composed father. Pleading blue eyes turned upon the Headmaster, widening in disbelief at the sight of the cuffed old wizard.

Dumbledore looked pityingly upon the poor child, who after all was merely a victim of his own hormones and the unwise flirting of an enamored twelve-year-old. To a strapping young man like Cormac, whose popularity led to frequent liaisons in the shadowy alcoves and closets of Hogwarts, even the naïve attempts at flirting by a boy new to puberty would naturally lead to intercourse, or at the very least, fellatio. After the incident, Dumbledore had tried to explain the concept of apologizing to Cormac's unwitting young paramour for the older boy's lack of self-restraint, but the twelve-year-old had hysterically refused to even accept the older boy's presence, much less his apology. Dumbledore sighed heavily, saying gently to Cormac, "Oh, my dear boy. Remember, the course of true love never runs smooth."

He did not see the incredulous looks aimed at him by Flint and the aurors, as he was lost in thought, thinking of another pair of boys, long ago, when he was simply Albus, and he misunderstood the innocent flirting of a golden-haired boy named Gellert.

Behind him, Phineas offered a succinct summary. "Cormac, you deserve everything that's coming. Straighten up and act like a man. As for you, Albus – pardon my vulgarity, gentleman – you either have a screw loose, as the muggles say, or you're just, plain screwed."

Moody's snort as he released the barmy old git from the cuffs was agreement enough.