Yes, yes, I know it's late, but neuroanatomy takes precedence over fanfiction. Also, I want to give a special shout out to RRW, who brought this story up to 1,000 reviews. We've hit a milestone, people!

Disclaimer: Did Dumbledore deny that Death created the Hallows while he and Harry were standing on the DOORMAT of the AFTERLIFE? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whoever else she sold the rights to.

Chapter 21

After a bit of groveling to cheer Hermione up, the train ride went smoothly. The brunette walked them through the month she had spent bouncing around Australia, describing each museum, art gallery, historical landmark, and architectural beauty in such detail that Harry was sure he could write a highly accurate travel guide despite never leaving Britain's shores. More important in his eyes was that she had repaired the somewhat strained relationship she had with her parents, even strengthening it due to her increased years and maturity. As dusk settled over the countryside and Hermione ran out of words, Luna jumped in and swept them away to chilly Siberia. Unsurprisingly, the Lovegoods' expedition was less safari and more comedy of errors, and he suspected more than once that Luna wanted to make them pass out from laughter. He also resolved to avoid yaks at all costs; who knew they were such ornery creatures?

Though if Xeno really had tried to force them into burlap diapers, Harry supposed he couldn't blame them too much.

When the whistle blew, indicating five minutes until they arrived at their destination, the trio changed into their school robes, glad for the space the half-full compartment provided them. A basic avoidance charm provided them solitude, not to mention a bit of entertainment as Ron, Ginny, and Malfoy had swept past multiple times. The two boys had most unfortunately not started dueling in the middle of the corridor, or at least not in front of them, but their pursuers' confused expressions prompted increasingly outlandish voice-overs courtesy of Hermione and Luna, which were just as funny in his opinion. They waited until the train car was empty before they departed.

"I am so glad I'm not in charge of this mess again," Hermione sighed as they walked the short distance to a line of thestral-pulled carriages. Taking a moment to pat the highly intelligent beasts of burden, they climbed in. "So, what's the plan for the school year?"

Luna shook her head. "Silly Mione, that one's obvious. We're going to sow utter chaos, break students' and teachers' spirits left and right, skip class, have lots of kinky sex, and generally join Harry as public enemies. It's going to be so much fun!"

"Don't forget stealing several dozen fortunes," said public enemy added. "Since we don't have to be in classes until Monday, I figured we could go ahead and hit Rookwood's place tomorrow. That will be the last of the empty manors, and then we can start on the occupied ones. Speaking of that, did either one of you design the mark we're going to be leaving?"

"Finished it in Siberia," Luna stated. "I'll show it to you later."

They sat in comfortable silence for the few minutes it took the black, winged horses to pull them to the castle's doors. Once stopped, Luna picked up Clyde's crate, Hermione did the same to Crookshank's basket, and Harry smirked, Hedwig's cage sitting empty in Potter Manor. There was a definite benefit to having an owl as a familiar.

After the girls set their carriers in the corner of the Entrance Hall where all the other pets waited to be whisked to the dormitories, Luna drifted to the Ravenclaw table and claimed a seat separated from her housemates. He and Hermione joined a waving Neville and grinning Lavender and Parvati at the middle of the table. The other students were eerily silent as they passed, only to resume the rumor-monging even more intensely. He mentally shrugged; much to his displeasure, he had not stopped being the object of wild tales after Voldemort's second defeat. They had, in fact, gotten worse, leading him to just ignore them and those who spread them. He could find far better things to do than concern himself with brainless babbling.

"Toad present and accounted for," Hermione muttered as she looked around, drawing a curious look from Neville. "Goat, bat, and ferret, as well."

"Kitty's busy, but bear's missing. You think he's enjoying cheese and wine again?"

She nodded. Unless this timeline had diverged drastically from their own, they wouldn't see Hagrid until early November. As much as he missed his large friend, this was probably for the best; Dumbledore's word was gospel to the half-giant.

Hermione, who had continued scanning the room while he ruminated, suddenly snorted. At his confused look, she mouthed, "Look at Greengrass."

Barely hiding a scowl, he turned in his seat to examine the Slytherin table. He had had an issue with that family ever since the eldest daughter, Daphne, attempted to seduce him after the Second War and her father prosecuted the trio when she failed. That's strange, he thought as he glanced over the Snakes more slowly, I can't see her any… Oh.

He spun back around to glare at his snickering lover. "Well, at least I won't have to worry about him chasing after me." Hermione just laughed; at long last, they had found evidence that they had not, in fact, simply traveled back in time. "We're still getting them, though."

"Oh, absolutely."

McGonagall set a three-legged stool and a frayed hat in front of the staff table, cutting off all the whispered conversations around them. The next twenty minutes were taken up by the crop of first years being divided into their Houses, and he clapped automatically for all the new Gryffindors. It was impossible to feign any enthusiasm.

The students applauded as Rose Zeller became the latest Badger, most because they could finally get to the important task of stuffing their faces. While the Great Hall was full of noise, Harry felt a tug on his robes. He quickly cast his eyes around only to find no one there. Confused, he patted the section of clothing that had been disturbed, then slipped his hand into his pocket. Someone had slipped him a roll of parchment? Resolving to read it later, whatever it said, he grabbed the platter of roast making its way past him.

Once the last of the desserts had faded from the table, Dumbledore stood, effortlessly attracting everyone's attention. "Now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your time for the usual start-of-term notices. First years ought to know that the forest on the grounds is out of bounds to students… and a few of our older students ought to know by now, too."

Harry rolled his eyes. Let's see: rebellious teenagers, mysterious and potentially dangerous forest, no adult supervision whatsoever… whose bright idea was it to plant the Forbidden Forest around the school again?

"We have had two changes in staffing this ear. We are very pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons; we are also delighted to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."

He glared at the squat woman in the awful pink cardigan. Enjoy your time in the spotlight, Dolores Jean Umbridge, because we're going to make your life a living Hell, and only after you've fallen off the edge of sanity will I finally grant you the mercy of death.

Unaware of his dark thoughts, Dumbledore continued his announcements. "Tryouts for the House Quidditch teams will take place on the —"

"Hem, hem." Umbridge stood, not that it made much of a difference in height, and the old man frowned faintly before sitting in his seat. Harry wasn't sure if he should enjoy this or not; on the one hand, it was always amusing to see Dumbledore taken down a peg or two, something interrupting him had definitely done, but on the other, he despised the toad.

"Thank you, Headmaster, for those kinds words of welcome." Her squeaky voice made him cringe, and a glance at Hermione showed she wasn't taking it any better. In fact, she was glaring at Umbridge with even more hatred than she had at Molly. "Well, it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say! And to see such happy little faces looking back at me! I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all, and I'm sure we'll be very good friends!"

Clearing her throat again — Harry wondered if, not for the first time, if that was an affectation or if speaking in so high a pitch was truly that rough on her voice — Umbridge forced her face to an expression that was vaguely businesslike. "The —"

What came out of her mouth next was not what he expected. An actual ribbit, surprisingly deep for her small size, echoed through the silent hall.

Harry lost his battle for self-control, but he wasn't the only one. The entire student body, even the Slytherins, cracked up as Umbridge repeated her annoying tic and tried to continue speaking. The same thing happened again, the school laughing even harder.

After the third time, Dumbledore rose from his chair and ushered her to her own. "Well, I'm sure Professor Umbridge will be more than willing to continue her speech after a visit to Madam Pomfrey. As I was saying, Quidditch tryouts will be held over the weekend, so approach the various Captains if you wish to join your House's team. Now, I'm sure you all wish to head to your nice, warm beds, so I will bid you all good night."

Standing proudly, his prefect badge polished to a shine, Ron called out to the first years. "Hey — hey, you lot! Midgets! Come on and follow me!"

"Again, so glad I have nothing to do with this," Hermione huffed. "Discipline in the House this year is going to be totally nonexistent."

Harry frowned and looked to her. "Surely the other four prefects can keep order, can't they?"

"No, or at least, they didn't; they were too used to following Percy's lead. I'm sure you weren't paying attention last year, but no one was willing to step up." She leaned in and whispered, "Why do you think Ron and I were in charge fifth year? We were the only ones who wanted to be."

"Makes sense, I suppose, given wizards' natural tendency to follow the loudest voice," he sighed.

Walking out with the rest of the crowd, he cast a Notice-Me-Not around them and pulled Hermione into an empty room just off the front hall. "Was that really necessary?" she griped. He shrugged and pulled the parchment from his pocket.

Well, that was amusing, wasn't it? It's amazing what a minor compulsion can do in the right hands. Anyway, you need to call Dobby, then go back two hours. Umbitch's door has only a minor alert charm, so disabling it wasn't a problem. Set the compulsion into her deep subconscious; Poppy or Dumbles will be able to undo it if you don't.

He stared at the note in shock; he'd know that scrawl anywhere. Patience exceeded, Hermione took the slip from his hands. "What in the world does this mean?"

"I thought it was perfectly clear." His eyes shot to the other side of the room, where an invisibility cloak was being pulled off of… himself.

"Harry?" Hermione flicked her eyes between the two of them. "You're not supposed to be seen by your past self. McGonagall stressed that during third year."

Future him shook his head. "Seeing yourself doesn't cause the universe to unravel or anything. The trick is to not be seen unless you already know that you can travel back in time. Then you just have to ensure that the other you is really you and not an impostor."

"That's not hard to do. What did I and spiders have in common before Hogwarts?" he asked.

"We both lived in the cupboard under the stairs."

"You're you. Or me, rather." Only eight people knew that fact. Three were dead, one raised bulldogs, two were in the room, one was on her way to the Ravenclaw dorms, and the last was likely still in the Great Hall. "Thank goodness I enjoyed maths as much as I did; there wasn't much room for any other form of fun."

"Except I hated maths," the other Harry said with a smirk.

And only one person knew that. An answering smirk appeared on his own face. "Can't blame me for double-checking. Is two hours enough time?"

"Would I say go back that far if it wasn't?"

"Good point."

"Wait, wait, wait!" Hermione shouted. "What in the world is going on?"

Future Harry sighed. "It's not that complicated. He's going to go back in time, mess with Umbridge, pass his younger self a note saying to go back in time, answer the younger self's identity question, and hopefully walk to the dorms and sleep with a minimum of trouble. I'll tell you if he succeeded in that last part tomorrow."

"Funny, very funny. Harry, you'll explain what this was all about in two hours." She moved her finger from pointing at him to the older him. "And here you are. Explain."

"He has to leave first."


The Harry from the present grinned. "Because obviously I already did."

Hermione glared at them. "Just get this over with. I don't need two of you around any longer than necessary."

"Dobby." The house elf appeared and looked at Harry. Then he turned his head to look at Harry. "Ignore him. I need you to bring me the time turner in my study and my invisibility cloak."

"Master, Dobby already bes bringing you your cloak." Dobby popped away.

"Really?" Harry turned to his counterpart. "Why didn't you get your cloak before going back?"

The other him shrugged his shoulders and handed the cloak to him. "There can only be one instance of the Hallows at a time. I think it has to do with them being made by Death rather than men."

"So if I can't take it back, you're giving it to me… Why?"

"Because obviously I already did."

"Ha. Ha. Ha." He took the time turner from the newly returned elf and draped the cloak over his shoulders. Slipping the chain around his neck, he twisted the dial twice and watched the hourglass spin.

Everything around him distorted and twirled for a moment before returning to normal. He looked down at his very visible body. "Bloody future selves always have to be right. Dobby!"

After the elf brought him the cloak from this time, he slipped out of the room. Deciding to bespell Umbridge during the feast, he made his way up two flights of stairs to her office to see why he had had been there. Magesight allowed him to identify the lone warding on the door. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. After all, if I can't trust myself… He applied the counter-charm and slowly cracked the door open.

"Don't worry, Cornelius; I'll make sure the nasty little blighters know their place. When I'm done with them, there won't be even a hint of rebellion against the Ministry."

"Just don't foul this up for me. The last thing I need is Dumbledore convincing people that You-Know-Who is back. Lucius is sure he's angling for my job, you know."

"I know, dearie. You finish your work, and I will do mine. Do you want me to come back to the office afterward, say later tonight?"

"NO! I mean, no, but thank you for asking, Dolores. I'll let you go back to what you were doing."

Umbridge giggled to herself. "Oh, Cornelius, I'll get you eventually. Maybe when I'm done here, you'll finally let me get rid of that silly bint you married." She exited the room, frowning as she pulled the door closed. "Blasted castle's going to fall down around our ears one of these days."

Only after the toad was out of sight did Harry let out the breath he had been holding. "Great Merlin, not even Lestrange was that creepy." Opening the door again, he walked in an was immediately assaulted by pink. "Yeah, that's got to go."

Charming the walls a dull beige let him focus enough to poke around. He pulled out the drawers of her desk and quickly found a wooden box containing three long, black quills in the bottom-right one. With a grim smile, he tossed the box into the fireplace. "Incendio." The merry crackling of those vile instruments of torture raised his spirits immensely.

He next surveyed the plates hanging on one wall; as if they understood that they were in danger, the kittens decorating the porcelain scrambled to the edges. "Much as I would love to destroy these things, that would just warn Umbridge that something's wrong. Maybe something more subtle…" Thirty spells later, he turned his attention elsewhere. How long will it take for her to realize her imagination isn't the reason she's seeing pictures of werewolves on her plates?

A glance at his watch showed him that he had used up half an hour of his time; he wanted to get to the Great Hall so he could put the spell on Umbridge as soon as possible. Restoring the walls to their ghastly hue, he dashed off a note to himself, the original having been left in Hermione's hands, then left the room. He pulled the Hallow tighter about himself and shifted into his falcon form.

He had discovered an unusual trait of the artifact during the Third Voldemort War. The Animagus transformation caused whatever he was wearing to be absorbed so he didn't have to worry about coming back for it, but with few exceptions it also nullified whatever effect he had placed on his clothing. Donning Death's cloak, however, caused him to remain invisible and even removed the chance for it to slip off.

It took only minutes for him to return to the feast. He glided to the front of the staff table in the middle of the Sorting before resuming a bipedal shape; pointing his acacia wand at the woman's head, he pondered exactly what the compulsion should be. I know she'll croak, but what should I designate as the trigger? Saying 'detention', certainly, and perhaps 'point' and 'punish'? That would prevent her from lashing out at the students, at least for a while. She threatened the staff with Fudge as often as Draco does Lucius, so 'Ministry', 'Minister', 'Cornelius', and 'Fudge'. 'Undersecretary', too, since she takes so much pride in it. 'Lies', 'dead', 'defense', 'Headmistress'… Remembering how she tried to curse him at the end of the year, he added the incantations for the Unforgivables as well.

Keeping all that in mind, he gazed unseen into her eyes, slipping his mind just the tiniest bit into the cesspool that was her own. A gentle twirling of his wand and soft whisper of "Compulso" launched the magic.

Compulsion charms were considered to be nothing more than a minor hazard; they were normally quite easy to fight off, and a simple Finite Incantatem Mentis was all that was needed to purge them from the affected's mind. Harry, however, had learned never to fight fair and instead stacked the deck in his favor. The passive Legillimency he had employed, his natural talent for mental magics, the motion and incantation for one of the half-dozen spells he had mastered to the point of wandless and silent casting, the sheer power at his disposal, and a new wand adept at this branch of magic combined to force the command into the deep, dark recesses of her mind. From there, it would activate, forcing her to do nothing but croak until someone assisted her. The mental finishing charm would merely stop it until she said one of the trigger words again; actually removing it meant letting someone into the very center of her being, something he doubted she would ever permit.

Was it any wonder the Death Eaters had feared him? He had taken a charm taught at the end of second year and twisted it into a weapon as devastating as the Imperius.

The students suddenly applauded, dragging his attention back to the real world. Harry used the noise to cover his escape, pausing to slip his note into his younger self's pocket, and made his way out of the Hall to the library. He had a little over an hour before he had to meet Harry and Hermione, which meant plenty of time to visit the Restricted Section while Pince was stuck in the Great Hall.

Hermione stared at Harry as they walked to Gryffindor Tower. His family's cloak had fallen to the ground when the younger him vanished, allowing them to huddle under it and converse without anyone else being the wiser. "Merlin, that's quite a story to swallow."

"You don't believe me?" he asked, acting like he was hurt by her words.

"Of course I do. I've been at your side for fourteen years; I know exactly what you are capable of when you set your mind to it." She chewed her bottom lip slightly before continuing, "I just wonder how long it will hold."

"Several months at least, provided she lives that long. Spells seated in the subconscious are notoriously difficult to shake off," he assured her.

"So couldn't you, I don't know, hit her with enough compulsions that she supports us? Kind of like the Imperius but without the need for constant upkeep."

He shook his head. "No matter how much I overpowered it, the spell she's under is still a compulsion; it has a definite trigger and a definite effect, and the trick to it isn't that she can't fight off the effects but that it will constantly reactivate. To change her personality like you're suggesting would require months, maybe years, of work: viewing, removing, and altering her memories followed by gauging her responses in a systematic manner. I mean, I could do it, but it would be obvious something was wrong when neither one of us showed up until after Easter, and that's assuming we weren't found out before I was through. No, if it was that easy, I'd remove Ron's jealous, Ginny's fangirl, and Molly's domineering natures. Merlin, I'd rewrite Dumbledore into the grandfather figure he wants us to think he is! Unfortunately, while magic can do a lot, you can't just wave your wand and change someone's personalities."

She nodded sadly. They approached the entrance to the Tower, and Harry pulled off the cloak. "Do you remember the password, Mione?"

"It had to do with Neville's cactus and being quiet. Mumble… mimble… Mimbulus mimbletonia!"

The Fat Lady, her pink dress frillier than Hermione recalled, nodded with a sly smile. "I was wondering why I hadn't seen you two yet, but it seems my question has been answered. In you get." The portrait swung out, granting them entrance.

"There you are!" Dean Thomas exclaimed. "The twins have been going on about how you two are together, but they're just fooling around again, right?"

"Mione love, shall we lay to rest any doubts about us?" Harry asked, a mischievous grin emerging.

Her eyes widened. "Don't you dare, Harry James —" He swept her into a dip, his lips pressing against hers and cutting off her words. With a mental sigh, she wrapped her arms around his neck and relaxed into the kiss. She wasn't a fan of gratuitous affection in public, instead preferring to keep their expressions of love to themselves, but it would be hypocritical to chastise him considering she had done the exact same thing on the platform at the start of the summer.

All good things must come to an end, however, and eventually they remembered their bodies needed air. Whistles and catcalls caught their attention, causing her to blush; this was exactly why she didn't generally engage in this behavior. She raised herself up to give him another kiss, though just a quick peck this time. "It's late, and we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."

"I know," Harry muttered. "Goodnight, love."

She smiled and walked up the stairs to the girls' dormitories, sure she would soon have company. Sure enough, a giggling Lavender and Parvati were right on her heels.

Since we're talking about Death and his Hallows' powers, now's the perfect time for you to visit apAidan's page and read Death and a Butterbeer Chaser, Hold the Cat. And, you know, all the rest of his stuff, too.

Do yourselves a favor and don't think about temporal physics too hard; it just gives you a headache. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be going to have taken some aspirin.

It's amazing to me how many people on this site have seen the movie Se7en, especially since I know only a couple of people personally who ever have.

Wrathkal: Ah, but stealing from Harry isn't something Dumbledore told Molly to do; that's her own greed coming through (hey, Ron had to get it from somewhere, right?). As implied in chapter 11, Dumbledore wants Harry's gold for himself. There are a number of plots surrounding Harry, and not all of them are connected…

Topaz Dragon: Hermione's rejection of Luna's creatures never made sense to me, either, though thankfully a number of authors have hit on that same point. You'd think after centaurs, skrewts, bowtruckles, and phoenixes, she'd get the idea that extremely little is impossible with magic. Sheesh, we're still discovering new species all the time in the real world!

blackg: Physically, Harry and Hermione are 15 and 16, respectively; mentally, they're 25 and 26. Harry said he had lived with the Dursleys for 16 years, which is canon counting from age 1 when he was dropped off to 17 when he came of age.

Silently Watches out.