A.N.: Hello and welcome, once more, to the latest installment of "Hadrian Potter: Darkness Returns"! Happy/Merry Christmas/New Year/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Hogmanay/Makar Sankranti/Dongzhi/Losar/winter solstice/Mayan apocalypse/winter holidays! First, a moment of silence for those readers who proved natural selection to be real by committing suicide to avoid suffering in the apocalypse. Seriously though; I know that my story has roots in suicide, so I feel compelled to remind you, my readers, that suicide very rarely results in superpowers. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

But you've waited long enough: on with the story! Please read and review.

Chapter 3: Summer's End

Darkness. Darkness everywhere. Every direction, every angle, no matter which way he turned, there was nothing but an endless void of black. Actually, that wasn't quite right: the ground at his feet seemed to be a very dark gray just barely visible against the backdrop of nothingness. Oh, yes, and he was moving. There was no breeze on his face, there were no large objects in the distance that seemed to be shifting, and despite having no visual reference to focus on, he didn't feel dizzy. And yet, a feeling in his heart told him that he was going somewhere very fast; going somewhere, and going with purpose.

There! On the edge of the horizon was a dot of light in the void, shining like a star. Suddenly, he was standing right in front of it, the only indication of just how fast he'd been going. And now he stopped, as if prompted by some force on high to be here, now, to witness what was happening. Towering in front of him was a gigantic stone archway that looked as if it had been here since the beginning of time. Its vast stony surface was etched with what had to be thousands of tiny runes, most of which he couldn't recognize. Hanging from the archway, and covering its opening, was a translucent veil fluttering in a non-existent breeze. He thought he could hear whispers on the other side, but when the wind moved it enough to see past it, there was nothing but more of the void.

Finally, his ears detected something in the silence that filled this void: a soft, rhythmic tapping, like a person walking. Suddenly, something passed through him. A person, perhaps a man, stood just in front of him. As he could only see the back of them, all he could see was a long black cloak, the edges of which seemed to blur at times, making it completely indistinguishable from the emptiness on the horizon before they sharpened back into visibility. The figure stopped, staring up at the monstrous arch that stood before it. The cloak seemed to shrug, as if the person beneath it were shifting. A soft sigh pierced the cold air (was it really air?) before the sounds of chanted incantations began to emanate from the cloaked being.

In a slow wave, the runes that covered the archway lit up, glowing in more colours than were contained in a rainbow. The unfelt wind that spurred the veil picked up, whipping it back and forth. Behind it, flashes of color could be seen; no longer simply an eternity of black. Instead, green fields, blue rivers, rocky mountain tops, and underground chambers could be seen just beyond it. Suddenly, the veil fell, motionless, as if the wind had suddenly abated. The figure stepped forward, but stopped. It turned around, as if to face him.

It wasn't much to look at, even from the front: the long cloak covered most of its body all the way to his heels. The boots were the blackest of dragon-scale, or perhaps some other large scaled creature. Its clothes appeared as silk; at least, where they could be seen beneath the armour that covered its form. The armor itself was of a weird metal that seemed to absorb the light coming from the runes. A hilt for a sword could be seen at its belt, as well as several belt pouches of various sizes and. The being's most noticeable feature was its face, or rather, the mask that covered it: the monstrosity was constructed to appear like a dark grey hellish skull with literal emeralds for eyes.

A short rod, or perhaps a particularly long wand, appeared in its hand—he jerked away to avoid a spell, only for no spell to fly towards him—and was waved back and forth a few times, as if sweeping the area. Apparently satisfied, the being sent the rod back wherever it came from and spoke in a deep voice. It sounded quite metallic, as if it was a robot...or perhaps the mask simply disguised its voice? It said "I may not be able to see you, but I know you are there." He moved, preparing to be attacked. "No, no. That won't be necessary, although your caution is admirable; I mean you no harm." It seemed to be contemplating him. "While I could tell you of the barriers you will face, I won't; to be honest, you will probably fare a bit better if you don't overanalyze them beforehand. Indeed, luck can be a powerful ally," the being mused. He felt like scowling, but that it would be pointless. "Quite. While I would love to chat, I have places to be, things to be doing, and people to be ruining," it said with a slight chuckle. It turned back towards the veil and walked forward. As it reached the veil, it paused and said "I look forward to meeting you when you embark on your next great adventure. Good morning, Harry Potter." It continued, passing through the veil.

Good Morning?

—July 31, 1992—

Hadrian Potter awoke to find a small red-headed little girl shaking him awake. "Good morning, Harry!" she said. "Happy birthday!"

He gave a grin, though inside he still pondered his dream. "Thank you, Ginny. Now, if you don't mind, would you please leave so I can get dressed in peace?" His grin widened as she blushed, muttered a quick apology, and darted from the room. Chuckling, he grabbed his a shirt and some pants and, noting the time as a quarter to noon, left to use the shower. Given that it was his birthday, he'd decided to have a bit of a lie in. Quickly finishing his shower, lest the twins begin enacting yet another convoluted revenge plan, he slipped into his clothes and made his way downstairs after dealing with other hygiene issues, stopping in his room to pick up a small potion vial he'd been preparing the past week or so. As he left the room, his thoughts turned to his dream: it was not the first since his visit with Luna, but never had anything been able to detect him, at least of those few visions that contained people.

"Who—or what—was that being?" he thought as he descended the stairs, passing the master bedroom on the third floor. "Were they some sort of Death Eater? Makes sense, since they said they wanted me dead. Some sort of mercenary or assassin, perhaps?" As he reached the ground, a new thought came to him: could the being be Death's Hand? Was the void he'd seen the afterlife? And to have such a vision on his birthday—

"Good morning, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said with a smile, missing his slight jerk. The kitchen was filled with dishes of food ready to eat, while the stove was covered in pots and pans, all busy cooking. "Happy Birthday."

"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said. "I suppose there'll be a party, like you've mentioned? I told you already, you didn't have to go through the trouble."

"Nonsense," she replied. "It's been wonderful having you here, dear. Now go on: I'm cooking a nice feast with cake to accompany the party, and you aren't to lift a finger to help, and I won't take no for an answer!" she said, brandishing a wooden spoon, the smile threatening to break out on her face opposing her near-violent words and actions. He gave a placating smile, before moving on outside, where the party had already started. The Weasleys were milling about, making up the majority of the crowd present. Neville was talking with Percy, while the twins were spiking Ron's drink with something. Luna was busy talking with Hermione (she'd made it!), who appeared to be getting a bit frustrated talking with the odd blonde. Near the tables that housed his presents and the various dishes Mrs. Weasley had prepared, the Weasley parents were in a discussion with a regal-looking old lady who was probably Neville's grandmother. Near the gate, and looking like they were a bit uncomfortable being here, were a middle-aged couple dressed in formal formal wear, deep in conversation with—Dumbledore! What was he doing here?

"Ah! Good morning, Lord Potter, and Happy birthday!" the Headmaster said in greeting, smiling broadly; Harry managed to contain his flinch at the words from his dream repeating once more, as he knew the old man was sure to notice.

Harry shot him a small smile—the kind that doesn't come with teeth—and said "And a good morning to you, too, Professor. I confess myself surprised at your presence here; care to explain?"

"I assume you remember the discussion we had before school let out for summer break?" the man asked. At Harry's affirmation, he continued: "Well, I wished to make sure that you were still safe enough for the holidays."

"Unless the forces of darkness decide to try and get at me by going deep undercover as gnomes, I think I'll be fine," he replied a tad sarcastically. The couple gave him a mild glare, which he ignored.

The headmaster looked inexplicably troubled. "I shall look into this theory of yours, Lord Potter; such a cunning act has, no doubt, been considered by those wishing you ill." Harry gazed at the man in astonishment; the adults he'd been talking to seemed as surprised as he was by the man's serious reaction to what was clearly a joke.

"Er...yes, well..." Harry said, trying to think of what to say, when he heard a commotion over his left shoulder: two raised voices, which he recognized as Hermione and Ginny, were emanating from near the punch bowl "If you'll excuse me, Professor, I should probably go do something about that before it gets out of hand," Harry said; receiving a nod from the Headmaster, who returned to his previous conversation with the couple, Harry made his way over to the punch bowl, where Hermione and Ginny were almost coming to blows, while Luna looked on serenely, occasionally sipping on her cup of punch.

"Well at least I'm not being used for my brain!" Ginny said, narrowing her eyes at Hermione as she balled her hands into fists.

"Well of course not; that would be quite pointless, wouldn't it?" Hermione shot back.

"Oh, and what's that supposed to—"

"Hermione! Ginny!" Hadrian snapped, startling the both of them. Rather than stop their argument, they started trying to get him to pick a side.

"Harry, this little—"

"But Harry, she called me—"

"Silence! Both of you!" When they complied, shocked, he continued. "You are both good friends of mine, and are here to have a good time; Hermione, Ginny has been a constant companion since I arrived at the Burrow, and has become an even better friend than the twins."

"Oi!" two voices cried in unison.

"You know it's true," he called out over his shoulder. Turning back, he continued: "Ginny, Hermione has been my friend for almost a year now; I know her better than I know you and we've been on multiple adventures together. If you're going to fight, fight, but don't try to drag me into it and make me pick between the two of you. Besides, this petty arguing is beneath you both of you. Just...find something that you can agree on, okay?"

"Who invited Loony Lovegood?!" an indignant voice cried out from behind him. Sighing, Harry turned around to find Ronald Weasley once more attempting to jam his foot as far into his mouth as possible.

"I did," he said with a sigh. "Being that it's my birthday, I can invite who I want." That statement wasn't entirely true: Draco had been unable to attend, citing his father's displeasure at him going to the Burrow, but that couldn't be helped.

"But she's crazy!" the ginger git cried out.

"No she's not!" Ginny retorted.

Hermione joined in: "Luna's a bit odd, but she's a very nice girl. What's she done to you to deserve such treatment?"

Ginny snorted. "She told him once his head was infested with Wrackspurts. He was so scared that he tried to outrun them," she said with a laugh. "Ended up jumping in the pond to escape them!" she continued with the story. Harry and Hermione started snickering, while Ron turned redder and redder.

"Do you have any other embarrassing stories about your youngest older brother you'd be willing to share?" Hermione asked with a wicked grin.

Ginny returned the grin, and Ronald's face whitened a bit. "As a matter of fact, I do," the ginger girl said slyly. "Tonnes. Any requests? He's done a lot of stupid...stuff over the years." As she spoke, Ronald face grew paler, and he began backing up slowly.

"See? You can agree on something," Harry said. "I'll leave you to it: have fun!" With that, he walked off to greet the other guests; he had a short conversation with Neville, asking about his summer; with a bit of prodding, he began talking about what he was growing in his garden, and about how his grandmother was so proud of his academic progress.

A short bit into the conversation, his fellow second year-to-be let slip that his grandmother was teaching him the subtle art of politics, supposedly in preparation for when he became Lord Longbottom. Harry smiled and nodded, while inside of his head he was marking off a box on his mental checklist: Dowager Longbottom was a political force to be reckoned with, and had played this game, whether as Lady Longbottom or as Dowager Longbottom, for nearly 50 years. Her knowledge, which was being passed to Neville, would be a great asset, which Hadrian could hopefully use to his benefit.

All of a sudden, their conversation was cut short by a cry of "Time for presents!" by Mrs. Weasley. Harry acquiesced and, after excusing himself from the conversation politely, went over to the small pile on a table off to the side, and began picking out gifts as everyone gathered round. Hermione's gift was a book (of course) on general Defense, filled with spells and various tactics to use in combat against another wizard; there were moving pictures and diagrams of several forms and strategic positioning. His eyes alit as he saw what she'd given him. As he looked up at her, she gave him a small smile, just before he gave her a huge hug. The next present, brought by Draco's eagle owl, Mordred, was "Potions and Poisons: The Magical Science", a book filled with potion theory at least a few years above his age level. He made a note to send Hedwig with a thank-you letter before moving on to the next box.

The twins had pooled their considerable talents together, along with some of their father's knowledge of muggle technology, to create what they called the "Ultimate Swiss Army Knife". It was supposedly enchanted to contain any tool he could think of; the small handle would create a hard energy tool up to 75 cubic centimeters in volume, created entirely by the mind of whoever held it. The handle itself was smooth steel, making it nearly resistant to magic, so that the energy wouldn't be able to do much to it, in the unlikely situation it accidentally touched the handle. The possibilities were threatening to cause an evil grin to break out on Harry's face.

Luna had given him a small box that contained a necklace made of butterbeer tabs; it appeared to be enchanted, according to his magical sight, but he couldn't figure out how. When he raised an eyebrow at her, she shrugged, smiled, and motioned for him to put it on. He did so, before moving on.

Ginny came over to present her gift personally, handing it to him with a smile and a "Happy Birthday." It was a small black book, nothing too special about it...actually, looking at it magically, there was a simple charm on it to transfer ink to some other source. Looking up at her, he asked what it was. She said "It's a diary; you can write down your thoughts, take out your frustrations...anything."

"Thanks for the gift," he said softly, getting a small blush. Mrs. Weasley smiled, as did Dumbledore, which made Hadrian narrow his eyes a little almost imperceptibly.

His next present was from Neville, and was exactly what Harry had expected: a book on Herbology, filled with information on various flora and fauna from around the world. As he was thanking his second Gryffindor friend, a white dot appeared over the Burrow; as it got closer, the image sharpened into his owl familiar, Hedwig, carrying a small brown package. She dropped the package into his hands and landed on his shoulder, hooting softly as she rubbed against his head. He opened it, revealing a long knife. It was some 24 centimeters or so, and appeared to be made of silver, unless he missed his guess. The handle was a dark metal shaped into the appearance of a swarm of bats, with a blood-red jewel in the pommel. The stylized handle was subtly inlaid with a few runes that his basic knowledge of the subject told him, laid out the way they were, would slightly increase the physical abilities of its wielder. A small note wrapped around the blade read "If you're going to insist on walking in the forest outside of the school year when I know where you are, you should at least carry this when you do. -S.D."

Ginny, who was looking over his shoulder, asked "Who's S.D.?"

"A friend I made at Hogwarts," Harry replied as he marveled at the craftsmanship of the weapon.

"I didn't see anyone with those initials on the list of people you gave me," Mrs. Weasley said with a frown. In the background, Dumbledore was pondering the situation.

Harry stared at her, a slight frown gracing his features. "Her coming would have caused issues...much like why Draco isn't here. It's just for the best; Sable being here would cause problems." Harry noticed Ron blanch at the name, while Neville just raised an eyebrow.

"Who's Sable?" Ginny asked, a note of concern in her voice.

"A friend," Harry said, his own tone of voice indicating that the subject should be dropped.

"You're friends with that—" Ronald started to say in a trembling tone of voice.

"Not that it's any of your business, Weasley, but yes," Harry snapped, annoyed at the redhead's virtually baseless fear.

"If I may, Mr. Potter," Dumbledore spoke up. "I imagine some of Molly's concerns regarding this gift are the possible dangers; it could be cursed, and without knowing the source, her concern is understandable. If you would allow me to—"

"With all due respect, Headmaster," Harry interrupted, to both the professor's and everyone else's surprise. "As you and I both know the source of this particular gift, we both know that they couldn't afford to have it cursed; the consequences would be too high." He noticed, out of the corner of his eye, the Grangers stiffening at his callous treatment of the esteemed headmaster; he made a note to improve his behavior.

The old man's eyes twinkled, and he acquiesced: "I do believe you're right on that point, Lord Potter. My mistake." Although he appeared quite calm about it, Hadrian could sense a touch of annoyance coming off of the man, which provided him a small bit of comfort and amusement.

Mrs. Weasley wasn't so subtle about her annoyance at this behavior. "Harry James Potter!" she said, raising her voice. "Don't be so rude to the Headmaster! He was only trying to help."

"I'm more than aware of that, Mrs. Weasley," Harry replied. "The Headmaster and I have a...working relationship. Every once in awhile, when we're talking, he'll get an idea in his head that's not quite up to his normal standards. He has a tendency to overlook a few small details in his quest to fulfill the big picture. Those small details usually turn out to be rather important; having someone who can point out the mistakes, the small flaws in his logic that are nevertheless crucial to his conclusion, can save everyone a lot of trouble."

Dumbledore nodded at this. "Please Molly, let it slide; I'm more than aware of my faults, as is Lord Potter, and two heads are usually better than one." Harry noticed the Grangers relax at his confirmation; they were at least accepting of him if Dumbledore wasn't completely against him, so that was something.

"But if you don't recognize the mistake, how could he?" Mrs. Weasley asked, apparently still not convinced.

The old man smiled. "Harry's point of view is...different enough from mine that we tend to notice different things. Besides, it goes the other way as well: there are occasions when his path is clearly wrong to me, but right to him, and he needs to be set straight." Harry bristled at this, though not visibly: had to keep up appearances, after all.

Molly seemed to accept this explanation, and the party continued. Soon enough, everyone returned to what they'd been doing, whether it was eating cake, engaging in conversation, or spiking the punch (in the case of the twins). As Harry made his way over to Hermione, he was sidetracked by Ginny, who wanted to talk. "Harry," she said, a bit nervously. "About Sable...why was Ron so—"

"Because he is ignorant and biased against things he doesn't understand," he snapped. At the sight of her downtrodden look, he sighed. "I apologize. I understand your curiosity on the subject, but it's unlikely that the two of you will meet, especially if your brother is able to keep you from leaving Gryffindor tower at night, so as not to be caught going where you shouldn't."

Ginny's nervous demeanor didn't leave and, if anything, appeared to have worsened. "Okay...if you're sure," she mumbled, walking away. Harry sighed, before continuing towards Hermione.

As he got close, he said "It's good to see my best friend; I was afraid you weren't going to make it."

"Harry!" she exclaimed, smiling at the sight of him. "It's good to see you, too." Her expression turned pensive. "You know, I almost didn't. I've been arguing with my parents about you for a week. I guess I wore them down enough."

He smiled. "That's good. They look like they're enjoying themselves," he said, gesturing to the two muggles, who were deep in conversation with Mr. Weasley, who was likely asking every question he could think of regarding dentistry.

"I imagine so," she said. "I think they're warming up to you, especially after that little disagreement between you and Professor Dumbledore." He nodded in agreement, happy that she'd noticed that as well. They stood there, observing the rest of the party in the confortable silence only good friends can manage. After a while, Hermione spoke up: "I see you invited Neville. Any reason why?"

"He's nice enough...for a Gryffindor," Harry answered, shifting his focus to the slightly pudgy boy, who was speaking with Luna at the moment with an odd look on his face. "Like you. He seems to have some confidence issues, but I can sense a greatness in him: he's more capable than he seems."

"Oh, yes, he's quite skilled in Herbology, and that's a rare skill in the Wizarding World. Did you know there's only..." and on she went, going off on a tangent, discussing the relatively low number of Herbology masters in the world, their various accomplishments, who they'd studied with, and so on. Eventually, Harry was able to pull her back to reality, and they began talking about their summers, and more importantly, their plans for the year. When they'd talked on the Express before the summer, Hermione had suggested they each choose some sort of project to work on for the year: she'd decided to introduce herself to the basics of Runes and Arithmancy, as she planned to take them both as electives for third year. Harry had a sneaking suspicion that she intended to take all of the electives, and while he was pretty sure there were some scheduling issues, he also knew she wouldn't let something that simple stop her from doing so.

Harry, already having some theoretical and practical knowledge on both subjects, had decided to look into wandless spellcasting. Hermione had admonished him, insisting that it was supposed to be ridiculously difficult; she had been shocked speechless when he'd cast a couple spells wandless on the platform. She'd almost admonished him for using magic outside of Hogwarts against the rules, but had held her tongue; a sure sign, to him at least, that he was getting through to her. That he'd been able to use his meager skills to frighten the Dursleys was an added bonus; now, though, he could cast most of the first and second year spells wandless. The twins had been right to be awed: it was quite an accomplishment, and one that Hadrian wanted to keep secret for the time being.

Hermione had been more than aware of this and had immediately begun pleading with him to share his discoveries. You see, wandless magic was one of the hardest casting methods to master, or even practice, for reason unknown to the majority of the wizarding world: they were told it was close to impossible, and most never tried. Harry did admit it was difficult, although he had started out trying to control his magic without the aid of a focus, so he had a slight advantage in that his first conscious use of magic didn't force him into a limited mindset. One thing they were both aware of is that wandless magic required a similar focus to some of the higher forms of magicks, such as offensive runic and arithmantic spells, Divine Magick, and summoning. Of course, they wouldn't likely be learning anything on that level of power and skill until long after Hogwarts, unless something came up that made such demanding training necessary.

They chatted for awhile, talking about their individual progress (Hermione had memorized several Egyptian hieroglyphics already), before splitting off with promises to write. Harry continued his walk around the party; as the day went on, he had several interesting conversations, played some party games, and observed the guests, filing away any useful information for later. Soon enough, Mrs. Weasley announced that the cake was ready. As everyone gathered around, she levitated a masterfully made confection out of the house and onto the table in front of him.

First off, it was enormous; with the number of people present, there would be enough for everyone to get a large slice with plenty left over for seconds. It was decorated to appear as if it was a stack of three presents wrapped in black and green wrapping paper, complete with an elaborate bow on top. He was invited to "Blow out the candles and make a wish", which he took pleasure in doing; rather than blowing them out one by one, he physically blew out the one on top, while using a small bit of wandless magic to snuff out the other ones. A few sharp intakes of breath from behind him indicated at least three people had noticed this: Hermione, of course, and Dumbledore, and...Neville's Gran? Interesting.

As his friends sang him "Happy Birthday", and he pretended to enjoy the song (remembering the only times it had ever been sung to him), Mrs. Weasley cut off nearly a third of the present on top and the bow and put the piece on a plate, handing it to Harry. "Go on, dear," she said. "How's it taste?"

He picked up a fork and took a bite. Distantly, he felt something prick his wrist as the world around him seemed to take on an ethereal quality, as if he was dreaming. Struggling to remember what that meant as he took another bite, he suddenly realized what was happening. He took a swig of his drink and the world returned to normal. "Excellent cake, Mrs. Weasley," he said, and she seemed to relax. Inwardly, he was plotting her demise: his symptoms matched the description of those administered diluted Amortentia, a love potion powerful enough to be illegal. As no one else (not even Dumbledore) seemed even slightly disoriented, he concluded that she had tried to make the potion into an Assassin's Poison version of itself.

This style of potion-making had been around for a few millennia; it complicated the brewing process exponentially, but made it so that, no matter how many people ingested it, and no matter how spread out it was, it would only affect the first person to eat or drink it.

As the next few hours passed by, the found themselves running out of things to talk about; with the party winding down anyway, Hermione agreed that it was time to leave. She collected her parents (who were still in conversation with the Weasley parents) and the three of them left; from the looks of it, Professor Dumbledore had Side-Apparated them here, if their method of departure was any indication. As the name indicated, it was most often used by assassins to poison their targets' food subtly without having to ensure that their food was the only food so poisoned, so long as they made sure that they were the first to ingest it. A few customs came about because of this: in ancient Egypt, the pharaoh would have someone else taste all his food so as to detect all poisons magical and non contained within. The other custom is toasting: generally, the person who cooked the meal, or who employed the person who did so, would be the first person to taste anything; as drinks were the usual thing so poisoned, it became customary for that person to propose a toast, to ensure their guests that the food and drink weren't poisoned.

Harry had suspected that Mrs. Weasley had started to catch onto his little game, and concluded that today was the most likely day for her to strike, and strike she did, with a slightly diluted version of the most powerful love potion available on the market—love potions that were dangerous, and illegal to boot. Fortunately, as he'd considered this a possibility for the past week, he'd brewed a powerful enough antidote to allow his watch, his strong immune system, and his iron will to resist the now severely diluted love potion. Still, he had to keep up appearances; since the cake had already been ingested, the rest of the potion permeating it was now inert, and he could eat without fear of enslavement. The party continued on, and Molly didn't once suspect that Harry still yet remained virtually unaffected by her potion-based manipulation.

The party began winding down, and soon enough, people began to leave one by one. Once all the guests were gone, the cleanup began; Molly had insisted that Harry not help, since it was his birthday. He went into the twins' and his room and proceeded to practice using his new utility knife: he quickly discovered that using the twins' gift as a weapon was almost pointless due to the level of concentration required, not to mention the small size of anything he could possibly create with it. He was thankful, then, for Sable's present: it truly was a marvel of craftsmanship, and functionally sound to boot.

After he found himself going through his known set of small tools for the third time, he decided to look at the books he'd gotten; Ginny's present was still a bit of a mystery, but the other books were quite informative. The Potions book he'd received from Draco contained detailed tables of ingredient reactions: Potions was vaguely similar to muggle chemistry in execution, but not so similar that there was one table that could tell you virtually everything about an ingredient.

There were simply too many factors: the amount of an ingredient used could have a different reaction from expected if too much or too little is used; the temperature used to heat the potion could be very finicky depending on the ingredients necessary to that particular potion's creation; even the time of day, week, month, season, or year could affect the magical properties inherent to the ingredients, as could the area of the world in which they were brewed. In truth, Potions was more like cooking than chemistry, and while science could potentially be used to calculate the best method of making a potion, it required more scientific knowledge and understanding than is possessed by the entire of the wizarding world.

A knock on the door drew him out of his reading. Opening the door carefully, in case it was Fred or George with a prank waiting for him, he was a bit relieved to find only Ginny, who looked a bit tired, but happy. "I didn't want to say anything in front of mum," she said carefully, "But the journal is...linked to another journal, which I have. So whatever you write in your journal will disappear, and I'll be able to see it, and vice versa." She grew a bit shy once more, obviously a bit nervous about giving him this present. "Do you like it?" she asked.

He smiled. "It's great," he replied, eliciting a small blush from the girl. They stood there for a minute, not saying anything. "So," Harry ventured eventually. "Want to see how many pranks we can put on the twins' beds before they get up here?" Her face lit up at his suggestion, and the two of them got to work, a small snicker escaping from them every once in awhile as they proceeded to turn the bedroom into a minefield.

—August 9, 1991—

Hadrian Potter was starting to get annoyed. Mrs. Weasley had figured out quickly that he wasn't falling inexplicably in love with Ginny, as she'd expected, but was treating her like a friend rather than the precious, fragile jewel Mrs. Weasley suddenly seemed to think she was. The red-headed girl was kept too busy to go on walks anymore, in an attempt to keep her from doing something stupid out there and breaking something (never mind that Mrs. Weasley knew a number of healing spells for broken bones). What's more, she had decided to begin drugging everything she could in an attempt to get him under her control; fortunately, most of what she used was negated by his watch's built-in defenses, only requiring a sip of his home brewed antidote whenever she slipped him something more powerful.

As soon as he'd caught on to what she was doing, he started insisting on cooking for himself as politely as possible while others were present; so long as Arthur or Percy was present, she'd acquiesce, albeit reluctantly, but other times, he was stuck taking a sip from his home brewed antidote to counteract whatever she'd tried to slip in. He was running out quicker than he'd expected, but that was okay: today was the day they would go shopping in Diagon Alley; he'd be able to slip away and buy the ingredients necessary to make some more, as well as enough store brewed antidote to cover him until he could make his own. Regardless, he was looking forward to seeing a couple of his friends in the Alley.

Breakfast today went by quicker than usual; rather than the usual spread, there was just a few plates of pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs. While Ron moaned about not getting enough to eat, the rest of the Weasleys seemed a bit anxious; they, like Harry, were waiting for the Hogwarts owls to arrive with their supplies lists for the next school year. Suddenly, a group of three owls flew through the open window and landed on the table; the first landed in front of Percy, bearing a letter that did not bear the Hogwarts seal. Opening it, he perused it quickly, nodded, and set it down before returning to his breakfast, deep in thought. The owl with the most letters—five in total—landed in front of Mr. Weasley. He untied the bundle and sent the owl on its way after giving it a treat.

Everyone's attention was on the final owl, which had landed in front of Ginny. She took the letter with a shaky hand; opening it, she read through it at breakneck speed, before smiling and announcing she'd received her Hogwarts letter. As congratulations came from around the table, Mr. Weasley busied himself with passing out the bundle of letters he'd received to those already enrolled at Hogwarts: Percy, Ron, Harry, and the twins.

After breakfast, everyone was getting ready to go: according to Ginny, they had always received the owl post containing Hogwarts stuff on (?), and had always gone out afterwards to get school supplies. After some 20 minutes, everyone was gathered in the living room around the fireplace. Mrs. Weasley was busy praising Percy as she picked up a small sealed flower pot resting on the mantle. Harry asked "What's that about?"

Fred replied "Oh, Perfect Percy just so happened—"

"—to get his O.W.L. results—"

"—this morning at breakfast. Unknown—"

"—to mum at the time, he had—"

"—managed to receive—"

"—a whopping twelve O.W.L.s!" George finished.

"And most of them in the O and E range," Fred added. "Even History of Magic," he said. They exchanged a look that spoke of how disappointed they were in their older brother's devotion to his studies. "He made prefect last year, and McGonagall decided he didn't suck too badly, and did it again. If we're not careful, we'll have another Head Boy in the family." They shuddered at the idea. "I doubt we could bear the shame."

"That's nice," Harry said as Mrs. Weasley began chanting something under her breath. "But I was actually asking about the dust she's throwing into the fireplace."

"Oh," George said. "That's just Floo powder." As if on cue, the fireplace burst into green flames, crackling merrily, although it gave off no heat. Harry nodded; he'd heard all about Floo travel from Draco last year, and was more than familiar with how it worked.

"Percy, why don't you go first," Mrs. Weasley said. The lanky teen shrugged and, stooping, fit himself into the fireplace. Grabbing a handful of Floo powder, he cried out "Diagon Alley!" in a loud clear voice as he dropped the powder at his feet. The flames surged up, engulfing his form for a split second, before dying down again; he was gone.

"Fred, George: take turns," Mrs. Weasley said. Fred walked up, closely followed by his twin. They each took a handful of powder; George went first, and was shortly engulfed in flames, with Fred right behind him. "Alright, Harry; your turn," she said. He walked up, taking a handful, and made his way into the fireplace. The green tongues of flame licked around him, but didn't burn at all. There was still smoke and ash though, and it was making it a bit difficult to breathe.

Throwing the dust down he started to speak just in time to get a mouthful of smoke rising right into his face. "D-dia-gonally," he coughed out. The flames rose to consume him and off he went. It felt like he'd gone down the loo; he was spinning like a top, passing what felt like hundreds of fireplaces, hearing small snippets of conversation as he did so, which were, unfortunately drowned out by the roar of the floo fire that surrounded him Finally, he toppled out of a fireplace, covered in soot from head to toe, only to find himself in some dark, grimy antique shop. He groaned as he realized he was probably in some shop in Knockturn Alley; there were no windows, he noticed, but then, they probably didn't want anyone wandering by to be able to look in and see who shopped there. As he cast a small charm to clean away the soot, he idly wondered why they just had a Floo fire going already.

Making his way through the shop, he actually saw a few things that interested him: there was a large black cabinet up against one wall that might have been a Vanishing cabinet at one point...namely, the point when it had been in any sort of state of repair. There was a bloodstained deck of cards that supposedly was used for summoning powerful demons, although he'd never heard of the any wizard by the name of Yugi Moto; the fact that such a clearly Japanese person had mastered Egyptian demon summoning magic was even more confusing, but he let it go. In one corner of the shop was a severed hand in an upright position that could hold a candle; it was advertised as the Hand of Glory, giving light under any circumstances, and only to the wielder, if a candle was inserted. There was a glass cabinet full of skulls preserved at different points of time after their owners' deaths so as to be used as a material component in ritual magick: the top shelf was skulls removed the day their owner died; the next shelf down was a week later; the next a lunar cycle later; the one after that a season later; the next a year after; the final shelf on the bottom bore skulls more than a year old, with most being at least a decade old, and the oldest getting close to 250 years past its expiration date.

The wall to the left of the door that presumably led out into the alley was covered in masks shaped into various twisted shapes, likely intended to terrify the viewer. A counter set up near the far back of the store was mostly covered in display cases: one contained a disembodied eye that seemed to be watching him, while another held a necklace of luxurious design; there was a note on the case, but he only make out the word 'caution' from the distance, since it had been written in such large red letters. A lengthy rack of weapons sat next to the Floo he'd tumbled out of; it bore a few daggers, a great big two-handed sword, what looked like an executioner's axe, and a twin pair of scimitars, to name a few. Most of the weapons seemed to ooze darkness, or just felt a bit off, in his opinion.

His perusing was interrupted by the sound of footsteps getting louder. Drawing his invisibility cloak out of his pocket, he quickly threw it around his shoulders and pulled up the hood, just as the Floo behind him flared up. Through it came two figures: Draco and his father, with the latter in front. The older Malfoy looked around, before saying "Touch nothing, Draco." Said Slytherin bristled at being talked to like a child, but did as ordered, simply looking around.

A wizened old man came out of the back, rushing through the aisles at a pace that belied his apparent age. "Ah, Lord Malfoy! So good to see you. I'm sorry if I've kept you waiting. Please take your time and, as always, everything is for sale...for the right price, of course."

"I have little interest in buying, Mr. Borgin. Rather, I have several items for sale," Lucius said in his usual arrogant tone of voice, as if expecting to be immediately obeyed. Mr. Borgin, probably the owner, Harry thought, looked curious at the man's words. "As you're probably aware, the Ministry has been doing a number of raids as of late on ancestral homes. While I have nothing of suspicion, of course, I have several items within my manor that are, unfortunately, no longer useful...at least for their intended purposes." The blond lord pulled a roll of parchment from a pocket in his robes and handed it to the old man, who took it. Mr. Borgin pulled out a thick pair of reading glasses and began looking the list over as Mr. Malfoy continued.

"While these items may have served the Malfoy family well, they are only taking up room now. As I don't want to simply destroy them, I thought perhaps we could come to an arrangement to ensure that they go to those that could make good use of them and could properly care for them," he said in an off-hand manner. "Thankfully, the Malfoy name still earns respect in the Ministry, else I would've already found Aurors breaking down my door and searching my home on an anonymous tip. These raids are a disgrace; allowing blood traitor Aurors to ransack ancestral homes...and this infernal Muggle Protection Bill. No doubt that muggle lover Weasley is behind it, but he shouldn't be a problem for too much longer."

"Yes, yes," Mr. Borgin muttered. "Blood traitors...disgraceful..." He trailed off. Looking up, he squinted through his glasses. "I believe we can come to an arrangement. I will send a few boys to pick up these items tonight, if that's acceptable with you. We can negotiate a price in the back. If you'll follow me." He beckoned, turning towards the back of the store.

"Of course," Lucius said with a smile. "Come Draco," he snapped, catching the boy reaching for the deck of cards. "What did I tell you?" he hissed a he dragged Draco away from the display case. "Half the shite in here is cursed and has felled better..." his voice, soft, but filled with anger, grew distant as he reached the doorway behind the counter and passed through it, the door shutting behind him.

Harry removed the cloak from around himself and, stuffing it back into his pocket, made his way out into the alley. Pulling up his hood, he made his way through the crowded alley. Suddenly, some old crone latched onto his arm. "Knockturn's no place for a youngun like yourself, mister. Let ol' Gertha help you out of here," she said in a voice like sandpaper.

"Sorry, but I'm doing just fine," he replied, unsuccessfully trying to pull his arm free.

"Now, now, that's no way to speak to your elders, sonny," she replied, tightening her grip. By now, the woman's words had started to draw a crowd. A few were snickering at him, while some jeered. None looked concerned for him, though; it looked like he'd have to get himself out of this.

Allowing his aura to flare out at the woman, he spoke in a voice filled with venom: "If I require your assistance, crone, I will ask for it. Until such a desperate time as that, release me...unless you wish to go into a long distance relationship with you right arm." The woman quickly released him, as though burned and disappeared into the crowd, which was muttering discontentedly. Ignoring them, he pushed through the crowd for a while, until he found the entrance to Diagon.

Making his way back into the more familiar alley, he couldn't see the Weasleys. Deciding he'd catch up with them when he found them, he made his first stop at Gringotts to pick up some money. A short, pleasant conversation and several minutes of goblin-made roller coaster later, his Gringotts bag was filled with gold and he was ready to start shopping. A quick meeting with his account manager ensured that his investments were flourishing, and that they were still investigating the Sirius Black issue, trying to find some overlooked evidence that might make a trial prudent in Dumbledore's eyes. Thinking things through, he asked if they knew of some good legal counsel, and was referred to Abbott & Tonks, a law firm run out of Diagon Alley that often represented the goblins-and well, at that.

Thanking Thrashgrab, he made his way out of the bank and walked down Diagon Alley in search of the law firm's office. He found it a short distance from the entrance to Ollivander's wand shop. After a half-hour of rather heated conversation with one of the firm's founders, a Mrs. Andromeda Tonks (who had been born a Black and thought he was dragging up old news), he had enlisted their services in investigating the circumstances surrounding Sirius Black's arrest once he pointed out some of the discrepancies surrounding his capture by the Aurors, his peculiar lack of a trial, and no small amount of appealing to her family ties. Returning to the alley, he saw a glimpse of Weasley red hair coming towards the bank. The small mob of Weasleys reached him, and was shocked to see him standing there.

"Harry!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed loudly. "What—how—never mind. Are you alright?"

"Just fine, Mrs. Weasley," he replied with a small smile. "A slight detour, but I'm no worse for wear."

"Alright, then; let's go inside," she said distractedly, ushering him to the doors of the bank he'd just exited.

Extracting himself from her hold, he said "I'll just wait; I've already dealt with my finance issues. Would you like me to wait here, or should I just get started?"

She looked a bit put out. "Go on, we'll probably be a bit," she responded. He nodded and set off down the alley. In truth, he would have done this anyway; he preferred doing things on his own. The Weasleys were nice enough, for the most part—Ronald was still an arse— and Molly's scheming was limited to dosing him with potions and feeling good about herself, not knowing his watch prevented virtually everything she'd done, so he didn't have to worry about that. Still, he needed a bit of a break from them. Besides, Mrs. Weasley would surely object to some of the purchases he intended to carry out.

He topped off his top-notch potions kit with the ingredients he'd need this year, both for class, and for...extracurricular brewing. He also purchased a better scale so as to measure his ingredients more accurately and precisely. He picked up some owl treats for Hedwig from the pet store; nothing for Cheshire, though: he couldn't actually remember feeding the purple nargle at any point, but he knew the cat-like creature had to eat. Shrugging, he exited to go find True Vision. Returning to the eye healer's store, he paid for one of the upgrades he'd passed up the year prior: a mode of vision that would allow him to see through solid objects. The healer who ran the place seemed a bit nervous about modifying his eyes in this way, but he was insistent, and his gold was good, so the man let it slide. A mere fifteen minutes later, his X-ray vision was in place, and he was a hundred galleons poorer.

By the time he'd emerged from True Vision, the Weasleys had finished their business in Gringotts and were once again searching for him. He snuck up on Ginny and tapped her on the shoulder. "Excuse me, miss," he said, getting her to give out a small shriek. she turned and, seeing his amused smirk, whacked him on the arm.

"Don't scare me like that!" she said insistently as he rubbed his arm.

He smiled good-naturally. "How would you like me to scare you, then?"

She blushed so deeply her face was almost as red as her hair. "I-I..."

"Only kidding, my dear. I didn't mean to imply anything," Harry said. Switching his attention to Mrs. Weasley, he said "So, I suppose we should go get our books: the line's only gotten longer, so we may as well go in now." She nodded, a bit upset that he'd continued on without them, where she couldn't keep an eye on him and his purchases.

As they approached the bookstore, Harry remembered why he'd been avoiding this: Gilderoy Lockhart, the author and main character of over half of his Hogwarts booklist, was selling signed copies of his newest book, "Magical Me"; apparently, this book was a complete biography of his early life, a brief overview of his education, and a detailed account of what he'd done for most of his adult life, skipping over his adventures: didn't want to reduce profits coming from the other books, now did he?

The roar of the crowd, which seemed to mostly consist of middle-aged housewives and teenage girls, was deafening as they approached the store. The line stretched out the door; they got in line and waited. And waited. And waited. It took nearly an hour to actually get into the store, and Harry was getting a bit annoyed by the crowds of fangirls. Even worse than that, most of them recognized him and started fangirling over him, too. Hiding his annoyance at their attentions, he smiled and nodded and shook hands—no reason to make enemies by rejecting people—and eventually they calmed down and returned their attention to the blond man at the makeshift stage near the center of the main part of the store.

Bored out of his mind, Harry looked for something interesting to read while they waited in line; the book that caught his eye was called "Harry Potter and the Loch Ness Monster". Amused, he pulled it off of the shelf and read through it. The book itself looked like a child's storybook, telling of how Harry had defeated the terrible serpent and saved the inhabitants of a nearby fortress with nothing but a sword and the aid of a phoenix. "Really, the odds of surviving such a fight, even at my current age, are ridiculously low," he thought to himself. There were two things about the book, however, that caught his eye: the first was the date, which marked the book as having been published in the year of '84; the second was a stamp on the inside cover that read "Skeeter Publishing Co. Stamp of Authenticity: The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth!" "Pure shite."

"What's that, Harry?" Ginny asked from behind him, before she saw what he was looking at. She looked surprised, especially when he expressed his displeasure at being portrayed in the brash manner the main character tended to express.

"This book is full of it," he said. She looked a bit surprised.

"But I thought—" she started to say.

"The sticker means nothing. I've never used a sword in my life. Plus, just think about it: this 'true story' came out in 1984. Forget slaying sea serpents, it's impressive that I managed to talk in complete sentences." She looked shocked, as if this hadn't occurred to her before. "I apparently had already mastered magic at the age of four, and had already been sorted into Gryffindor," he said, the sarcasm dripping out of his voice. She blushed a bit. "This so called "stamp of authenticity" is nothing more than a hoax used to sell books by slapping my name on it and calling it a true story."

"So all of the books—" she blurted out, before stopping, a blush spreading across her face.

He raised an eyebrow at her. "I take it you have the full set?" he asked amusedly.

"No!" she exclaimed. At his questioning glance, she sighed and said "Yes..." rather quietly

"Was that so hard to admit?" he teased. She gave him a small smile at his prodding, and they shared a small laugh before being interrupted.

"Great Scot! Is that...Harry Potter?" a voice cried out from just behind him. Harry winced at the voice and, turning, groaned when he found Lockhart beaming at him. He was quickly dragged up to the front of the line before he could protest; a man toting a bulky camera took a picture of them, insisting "It's for the Daily Prophet!" in response to the multitude of outcries from people he ran over getting to another angle. He was followed around by a tall, thin woman who wore brightly colored blue robes who was herself being followed by a floating piece of parchment and an acid-green quill that seemed to be writing without her saying anything to it. She looked positively gleeful, which held with what Harry'd heard about her; this was Rita Skeeter, a Slytherin Hogwarts alumni who had a talent for using half-truths and misunderstandings to ruin reputations.

"Yes, yes," Lockhart said grandly, still holding Harry uncomfortably close.. "Young Harry came in here today, intending to purchase my newest book, "Magical Me!". He had no idea that, not only will he be receiving a full set of my books, signed and free of charge—" Here, the obnoxious man dumped a large pile of books into the cauldron Harry was carrying with him, "—he and all of his classmates will be getting the real magical me this coming term. That's right, ladies and gentlemen," he said, raising his voice as the crowd's volume increased. "This year, I have decided to accept the gracious offer extended to me by Professor Dumbledore to teach at his prestigious school in the newly open Defense Against the Dark Arts post." Harry felt his stomach turn a bit as the crowd of middle-aged women swooned and cheered.

Harry managed to tear himself away after a few minutes and returned to Ginny. Dumping the books in her cauldron, he said "I can get my own copies, and you can use them better than I can; we have the same booklist for that class, anyway, so it won't matter that we're a year apart," in response to her questioning look. "Come on, let's go find the rest of the things on our booklists, and anything that catches our eyes: I'm buying, so don't worry about the cost." She smiled and they fled into the stacks behind the pompous man's makeshift stage.

"Well, well, well," a cultured voice drawled from the stairway ahead of them. "What have we here?" Around the corner came Draco Malfoy, Hadrian's Slytherin ally and tentative friend. "Famous Harry Potter: can't even go to a bookstore without making the front page."

"Leave him alone," Ginny said defensively, a hint of steel in her voice.

The blond boy regarded her with a touch of amusement. "What's this, Potter? Got yourself another girlfriend, then? I hope her bite matches her bark, else she'll make little competition for Sable...unless you're building a harem, and she's just going to be number three?" He smirked as her face turned red.

"Perhaps, but I think in that case you'd be even more upset, because no matter where she goes on the list, she'll still bump you down to fourth place," Harry responded with a smirk of his own.

"For the last time, I am not gay!" Malfoy hissed, his composure lost as his pale face turning a shade of pink that Harry had learned to associate with embarrassment.

"Draco, Draco..." Harry said slowly, as if reprimanding a child. "There's no need to be so adamant in your denial, as it only serves to strengthen my belief in its veracity; besides, it's not healthy. I mean, for Merlin's sake, you use more hair gel in the morning than Pansy and Millicent put together, and you always have to rather large men following you around. And let's face it: it's not for their brains, but for their brawn, if you know what I mean," he added with a chuckle. Frowning, he looked around. "Speaking of which, where are the twin wonders?"

"Oh, get stuffed, Harry," he said with a scowl, his face still pink.

"Harry..." Ginny said uncertainly.

"Where are my manners?" the dark-haired snake said smoothly. "Draco, this is Ginny Weasley. Ginny, this is Draco Malfoy, my...ally inside Slytherin House."

"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Weasley," Draco said, stepping up and giving a slight bow with his head. "Or would it be Scion Weasley?"

"Scion Weasley," she responded hesitantly. "Until I turn fifteen. And you're Scion Malfoy, right?" He nodded. "Then why should we get along? Shouldn't you hate me on principle?"

"Hating, disliking, or disapproving of anyone on principle is bad; I only hate people who earn it," Draco replied. "For instance, how do you feel about your brother Ronald?"

Ginny scowled. "He's an arse."

Draco smiled. "While I applaud your taste in people, you'll never get into Slytherin with an attitude like that."

"W-what?" she stammered. "I-I don't—"

"Don't want to be a Slytherin?" Harry finished. "That's not a problem, but the bad part is that you don't really get to pick your house unless the Sorting Hat thinks it's a toss up. And I have to agree with Draco: a Slytherin hides their feelings,opinions, and motives. They do so, while trying to figure out everyone else's feelings, opinions, and motives, because they know that such things can be useful tools to use when that person is present to get what you want. They can be used to benefit you, whether building you up, tearing them down, or using them to tear someone else down."

She stared at him, thinking. "Were you thinking like that when you came to my room that first time?" she asked.

"Going into prepubescent girls' rooms, are you, Potter?" Draco said, chuckling.

"Stow it Draco," Harry said, not taking his eyes off of Ginny. He eventually said "I intended to make friends with all of the Weasleys present at the Burrow—with the exception of Ronald—as a matter of principle. That I was presented an opportunity to present you with an offer of friendship after you were embarrassed by your brother for being a Boy-Who-Lived fan...well, when life throws you an opportunity right down the middle, you've got to swing." They both looked at him strangely. "Purebloods," he muttered. "It was the perfect opportunity to do something I'd already planned on doing eventually. If I hadn't, the next week would've been filled with you fan-girling all over the place."

She stared at him some more, going over what he'd said in her mind, before finally offering him a smile. Draco gave out a small sigh. "If you two are done flirting, I need to go find my father. See you on the Express, Hadrian." His eyes lingered on Ginny for a moment. "You, too, Scion Weasley...unless I may call you Ginny?"

"You may, good sir," she said with a giggle. "But only if I may call you Draco." He nodded with a smile. As the blond took his leave, she frowned and turned to Harry. "Who's Sable?" she asked demandingly.

"A friend I made while at Hogwarts," he answered.

"Who couldn't come to the Burrow." Not a question. "Who you haven't met up with here in the alley." Not a question either. "Who Ron's deathly afraid of." And that makes three for three. She glared at him frustratedly for a bit as they made their way deeper into the recesses of the bookstore. After a while, she relented and switched topic on him, asking "Did you have any other motive for befriending me?" in a rather careful manner.

Harry considered the question as he perused the shelves of tomes before him. "At first...perhaps not," he eventually admitted. "As time went on, I considered you for a select group...more than a friend: a confidant."

"What's the difference?' she asked, pulling down one of the books on her list out of the discount section.

"The twins are friends," Harry said. "But I can't trust them too far, as their loyalty is set in each other, as well as to...other sources that I don't want getting the information a confidant might be privy to. Draco, for instance, is a confidant."

She stared at him like he was crazy. "You trust him? Over the twins?" she asked incredulously.

"It's all relative," Harry said, remembering the looks of apprehension he'd noticed at times gracing Draco's face when the blond aristocrat-to-be didn't think he was looking; after the duel with Marcus, or learning of Harry's Animagus form. "Besides," he continued, his voice level, "Draco's a Slytherin, like me. What Slytherins want is power, and they get it through outmaneuvering their opponents in the fight to control the power." He paused for a moment to pull down an interesting book on the magical side of South American rainforests. "And that's why I can trust him. I know I'm the more powerful of the two of us, and I know he knows it...and that he knows I know he knows it."

"He is a sneaky, conniving, self-centered, dishonest man," Harry said, smirking at her expression. "And a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest." He grinned as she looked pensive, considering this angle. "It's the honest one's you've got to look out for: you never know when they're going to do something extremely..." He stopped. Up ahead in the row was a pissed off Ronald Weasley with his wand in hand. "Stupid," he finished.

"Don't insult me, Potter," he spat, raising his wand.

"I wasn't," Harry replied. Turning back to Ginny, but watching Ronald out of the corner of his eye. "Here's a perfect example: this fool wears his heart on his sleeve. He has an opinion on everything...and he will tell you what it is, if you stand still long enough to listen. He is the perfect example of a brave, noble, stupid Gryffindor. Charging into every situation without thinking it through."

"I TOLD YOU—" Ron started to yell; Hadrian drew his own wand out of his holster and moved to put himself between Ronald and Ginny. "—NOT TO INSULT ME! INCENDIO!"

"Protego," Harry intoned, a bright red shield absorbing the flames spewing from Ron's wand. "Expelliarmus." Ronald's wand was forced from his hand and scattered onto the floor. Roaring, the enraged redhead charged at him with his fists raised, only to stop in horror when his foot went down and the sound of his shoes hitting the floor was accompanied by a sharp 'Crack!'

Ronald looked down, his face screwed up in fear. "My wand..." he whispered hoarsely. "Look what you did to my wand."

"What HE did?!" Ginny exploded. At Harry's disapproving look, she schooled her face into a mask of disappointment. She continued with less heat: "In case you didn't notice, he just defended the bookstore, me, and himself, while ensuring that you couldn't cause anymore damage. And if you think you're getting away with this, just wait 'til I tell mum about this little fight: it'll be awhile before we go to Hogwarts, and there's always more chores to do. And when she finds out you broke your wand..." she left the threat in the air.

He paled. "You wouldn't tell her, would you?" he whispered, mortified.

"Maybe...maybe not," she answered smugly. "The wand might be salvageable, depending on how badly you crushed it. Spell-o-tape might hold it together just fine. But this fight...well, what mum doesn't know can't hurt her."

Ronald's expression darkened. "This is blackmail," he said.

"Bravo, Weasley! You figured it out!" Harry said, amused with how events were coming to pass.

"Harry, please let me handle this. Now, unless you want to be working from now to September with no dessert, you'll do whatever I tell you to until we get to school."

The ginger prick turned red, snarled a bit under his breath, before finally spitting out "Fine." Picking up the two halves of his wand, still held together by a single strand of what looked like unicorn hair, he stalked off into the bookshelves. Ginny turned towards Hadrian with a hopeful look on her face. He gave her a brief small smile before continuing to make his way down the aisle of books. She followed, and they continued talking until they eventually went full circle and found themselves at the front once more. Spotting Rita Skeeter making her way through the crowd, Hadrian excused himself and made his way over to her.

She must have seen him: "Hello, Mr. Potter! Care to give me a statement about what you think about Mr. Lockhart's announcement?" she asked with a wicked smile.

He smiled back at her, although his smile matched hers in its sincerity. "Good afternoon, Ms. Skeeter. Unfortunately, I am unavailable for comment at the moment, on account of the pressing need to shop for school supplies at the moment. However, if you're willing, we can meet tonight at the Leaky Cauldron and discuss...things...over a small meal?"

"Oh, that would be lovely, Mr. Potter," she replied. "Perhaps even an interview? No one's been able to talk with you before...none of the media, at least. It would be an excellent opportunity to properly introduce the wizarding community to you; they could find out what you're really like, rather than just going on what stories and rumors have built you into."

"That would be most useful Ms. Skeeter. I'll see you tonight, then?"

"Of course, Mr. Potter," Rita said. "And please, call me Rita."

"Only if you call me Hadrian—at least in private; it might be best if you refer to me in writing as Lord Potter, my true title. Wouldn't want to give people any reason to suggest that we are more...familiar with each other than we are, don't you agree?" His smile widened a fraction at the sight of her face paling a bit at his statement.

"O-of course, Lord Potter," she said shakily. "Have a good day." She walked away quickly, glancing over her shoulder a few times in his direction. Smiling a little evilly, he walked back over towards Ginny, thinking about the interview to come, when he saw that Ginny was standing with Mrs. Weasley and the rest of the Weasleys, including a glowering Ron, although Mrs. Weasley didn't seem to have noticed.

"Hello, dear," Mrs. Weasley said when she saw him. "We've got everyone else's books for school, so on to the next shop."

"Actually, Mrs. Weasley, I've completed my shopping. If you don't mind, I'll floo back to the Burrow and get started on lunch." Getting no real objections, other than a brief tightening of Mrs. Weasley's lips, he smiled and bid them goodbye before heading for the Leaky Cauldron. He made his way in, and returned to the Burrow. Putting away his things inside his locked and warded trunk, he went down to the kitchen to begin preparing lunch as he'd said he would.

Later than night, a tall shadowy figure appeared silently in front of the entrance to Knockturn Alley; it glanced around quickly before making its way down the dark street. It seemed to glide over the stones as it moved, its advance as silent as a ghost. The thin crowd, in those few places that people were out on the streets at this time of night, parted before it, likely because of the feelings of fear and terror the being was exuding. Reaching its destination, the thing entered a small shop called "Borgin and Burkes", taking the nightmares its presence evoked in people with it. Murmurs of Expecto Patronum, whispers of Dementors, and the sound of chocolate being broken into pieces spread through the crowd in a wave; as they dispersed, all became silent.

Meanwhile, inside of "Borgin and Burkes", the being was looking around the dark store in interest. The shop was so different now: a necklace containing a dark spirit, several skulls that still carried a hint of their previous owners' souls, a sword glowing a dark gray that called out to his spirit...just about every item in the store called out to him in some way or another. But he was only here for a few items.

The being slowly shrunk down into the form of one Hadrian Potter, who had only disguised himself to avoid another unpleasant encounter within the alley. Drawing up his hood and cast a quick Notice-me-not on his face with his free hand, he rung the bell on the counter. Extending his aura a bit as the owner of the store rushed out to greet his customer,his efforts were rewarded by the man taking an involuntary step back when he saw him. Finding his voice, the man said "H-how can I h-help you, Mr., er..."

"My name is unimportant," Harry said in a smooth tone, lowering his voice to a pitch he didn't normally speak at to disguise his voice. "I am here to purchase a few items for...Tom Riddle," he said. According to his research, Tom had gotten a job here after leaving Hogwarts; he was counting on the old man running the store to be in the know about the Dark Lord's true identity.

Sure enough, the old man paled, grimacing at the mention of his old employee. "But I thought he was dead! Killed by the Potter boy."

"Perhaps. Even if it were true, he did not truly die, and has been in hiding for over a decade now. You heard about the break-in at Gringotts last summer?"

"Of course I did. It was in the Prophet, who hasn't heard about it?" Borgin replied.

"One of his servants penetrated the goblins' defenses and would have made off with Flamel's legendary stone, had it's vault not been emptied a mere hour before they arrived. It was hidden at Hogwarts, under Dumbledore's watchful eyes. It took the whole year, but it has been retrieved, and now my lord is simply waiting for the winter solstice to return to life."

Borgin eyed him shrewdly. "Your lord? You seem a mite young to bear the mark."

"Should you ask the denizens that fill this alley, they will tell you they saw a Dementor enter your shop. I assure you that I am neither a dementor nor a child, but such disguises are necessary to throw off my pursuers. Incidentally, we must hurry this transaction up a bit, or the undercover Auror hiding behind the bar three doors doors down will have time to call in reinforcements to bring in the rogue Dementor," Harry said carefully. The bit about the Auror wasn't a lie: he spotted the man, who had immediately run off in the direction of Diagon, presumably to get some assistance in subduing a "Dementor", so they did have to speed things up a bit.

Borgin nodded, before asking "What do you need?"

Harry thought for a moment, feeling around for the items that gave him the strongest feelings. "The eye, the Hand of Glory, and the sacrificial dagger," he said, gesturing to the items as he spoke; he thought the list was long enough to warrant a visit by someone of his obvious power, but not so long as to seem greedy or suspicious. Borgin nodded and fetched the items in question.

As he came back over to Harry, he said "Be careful about the eye: it's called the Eye of Vecna, and is a very powerful divination tool...if it doesn't drive you insane. I assume that this will be charged to his usual account?" he asked.

Harry nodded. "Your assistance is appreciated. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be going." Turning, he made his way out of the shop, transforming back into his Reaper form as he crossed the threshold, putting down his purchases beforehand so they wouldn't be melded into his form: no reason to tempt fate with such dark items, especially the eye.

Seeing a small group of approaching Aurors with a pair of Patroni up front—a mule and an eagle—Harry concentrated and shadow-travelled temporarily back to the Burrow to put away his new items before going to the muggle-side entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. He transformed back (he was getting quite tired, as so many transformations in such a little time was rather taxing for him) and entered the pub, which was about as crowded as usual. He spotted Rita waiting up at the bar, looking around anxiously. He moved up behind her and said "Evening, Ms. Skeeter. I assume you're looking for me?"

She spun on the seat, a plastic smile plastered across her face to hide her surprise. "Hadrian! So good to see you!" She looked around conspiratorially. "I have to say," she said in a low tone, practically whispering "I wasn't sure if...certain people would allow you to come."

"My dear Rita, who says that anyone has any say in whether I could come here or not?" Hadrian asked, taking a seat at her table. She cast what he recognized as a silencing spell over and around their table, before pulling out her quill and parchment, which floated into the air. She stared at him as if examining him, a small smile crossing her face.

"So, Hadrian," she said. "You wanted to talk to me. What's on your mind?"

"Well, as I wasn't raised in the magical world, I wasn't sure how things were done here," he said. "I've spent a year learning about how things work in the Wizarding world, and am now ready to prepare for the future. To start, as I'm sure you're aware, I've been petitioning the Wizengamot to give Lord Black a trial for the crimes he's been imprisoned for." The look on her face indicated she was not aware of this. "I'm also looking into how certain people have been using my name and image, without my knowledge or approval, to make a profit by selling supposedly true stories of my fictional exploits. These stories have given the public a false image of me, and I want to ensure that people get to know the real me, rather than a false image created to make money." Rita was still smiling, although she looked a little pale.

"Of course, as a minor, I couldn't do much, especially since I knew nothing of the magical world. Now, of course, I'm Lord Potter, and will be able to sit the Wizengamot in a few years. I could very well ruin those responsible...unless it became profitable to let them off with, I don't know, simply having to give me a cut of the profits, maybe a favor or two..." he trailed off, enjoying the now obvious fear evident in her features. "These two issues are both rather important, and I think you'd be able to help me with both of them. Tonight, even. If it makes a difference, if we can cooperate tonight, we'll have a working relationship, and I can promise you the story of a lifetime." He shifted in his seat to get comfortable. "Let's get to it, shall we?" he asked, smirking. She gave him a weak smile, before settling into her own seat, her position in this relationship having been made clear.

They talked long into the night, and soon Rita relaxed enough to start trusting him again—a big mistake. By the end of the night, she had a story worth a fortune, and he'd gained a political pawn, as well a goldmine of information and dirt on various people; she was quite loose-lipped when she got a bit tipsy. He watched her leave, before making his way back out into Muggle London. Finding an alley to duck into, he shadow-travelled back to the Burrow, making his way undetected back to the twins' room. He quickly prepared for bed: he'd had a long day, and was looking forward to getting some sleep. Laying down, and hoping for no prophetic dreams, he drifted off to sleep.

A.N.: Well there you have it! Another long chapter, filled with a birthday party, shopping, blackmail, a strange being, and magical lawyers. I think that's enough for one chapter.

Next chapter should include the trip to Hogwarts, a recap of the aftermath of Hadrian's discussion with Rita, and maybe a class or two. Also: yes, the eye is an artifact belonging to the same D&D deity I've named myself after. He's an evil god of secrets and magic, for those of you too lazy to go look it up.

Please read and review! AV out.