Harry Potter and the Witch Queen
by TimeLoopedPowerGamer

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.

Author's Note: I'm not even talking about update schedules. I've got enough for another chapter, but it isn't really chapter-shaped yet, and I'm also doing NaNoWriMo this year. Not expecting to have another chapter up before December, but I might sneak one in next month.

So yeah. I'm still updating, this story isn't dead, and I'll post a notice if that status ever changes. So unless that happens, just assume I'm being a lazy asshole. Looks like another two chapters to end of Year One and the first part of this story. More on this after the chapter.

See my Profile page for details on my social media presence, including a FFN forum for public discussion of the story, and the increasingly inaccurate update schedules.

Chapter Thirteen

Hermione burst through the folded-space tunnel leading from the magical extra-dimension of Platform 9 ¾ to the mundane Kings Cross station at a run, pushing her trunk on a rickety trolley at a quite frankly reckless speed. Spotting her mother waiting nearby, talking to a tall woman with long, light brown hair, she skidded to a halt. Abandoning her trolley, she dashed into her mother's arms.

"Mum! I'm fine and I'm back!" Hermione shouted, squeezing her mother in a crushing hug. Dr. Tonks – the tall, beautiful young woman standing with her mother in the mundane-styled (if a little subdued) skirt and blouse – smiled and moved away to give them space for their reunion.

"Welcome back, dear," her mother said, returning the hug. "It's so good to have you back with us again. We're fine as well." She ran her hands over Hermione's once-again bushy brown hair and then stroked her shoulders.

"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, realizing she'd been a little rude. "And hello, Dr. Tonks."

"Hello, Miss Granger," Dr. Tonks replied, smiling but still standing slightly apart from them. The distance meant something – everything the Hogwarts Slytherin house alumni Dr. Tonks did meant something – but Hermione didn't care to decipher it this time. Something about emotional and physical space and her reunion with her mum. It didn't really matter right now.

Ron finally made it through the barrier, his trolley almost colliding with Hermione's abandoned one. "Hey, Hermione! You left your..." he started to say, then trailed off as he saw mother and daughter, still locked in a close embrace.

Turning around in her mother's arms, Hermione waved Ron over. "Mum, this is Ron Weasley, one of my classmates. He's also in Gryffindor and a new friend of mine. Ron, meet my mum, Rose Granger."

The gawky red-headed boy had slowed his trolley to a stop, staring between her and her mother with an open mouth. Rose Granger stood just under five and a half feet tall, and had a beautiful mess of dark brown, shoulder-length hair. It was thick and tightly curled, even more so than her daughter's, and framed the narrow, delicate face of a model – striking almond-shaped eyes with huge, long lashes; high, sharp cheekbones; and plump, emotive lips.

Hermione was used to anything male having a similar reaction to her mother, but there was still a small, uncertain, hard feeling growing in her chest. Glancing down at her mum's hands where they rested on her shoulders, their milk-chocolate color contrasting against the pale skin of her neck, Hermione started to frown, the old familiar fear surfacing once again.

"Hermione, your mum...she's..." Ron stammered, searching for the words, his face growing redder by the second. The other Weasley kids started filing through the barrier, gathering behind the youngest son.

"Yes, what about my mother, Ron?" Hermione asked, her voice colder than the chill December air of the station. The twins were eying her mother as well, and their eyebrows rose at Hermione's tone.

"She's...bloody beautiful," Ron finally stumbled out.

Hermione relaxed and sighed. "Yes, Ron. I know."

"I mean, she's got the same hair as you-"

"Where do you think I got it from?" Hermione asked with growing annoyance.

"Sure, but she's also really pretty-"

"Yes, Ronald, I know."she hissed. Not being that stupid, Ronald shut his flapping mouth with a snap.

"Smooth, Ronniekins," a Weasley twin said, rolling his eyes as they both pushed their single shared trolleys past the group, moving towards the exits. Percy followed, shaking his head at the scene the youngest son was making. Hermione knew from asking earlier that the Weasleys were, as usual, going to find a quiet spot outside to call the Knights Bus for the trip home.

"A pleasure meeting you, Mr. Weasley," Hermione's perfect mother said with a patient smile. A small, red-headed girl, Ginny if Hermione remembered correctly, was peaking out from behind the newly arrived Mrs. Weasley with a wide-eyed, confused look on her face. She seemed to be searching for something. When her mother spotted Ron, the girl frowned. She let herself to be lead along behind her mother and away from the Platform 9 ¾ entrance with obvious reluctance. The entire way across the station Ginny was still craning her neck looking around.

"Ronald Bilius Weasley!" Mrs. Weasley said with a growl, hustling up behind the so-named young man. "Are you bothering these poor Muggles?"

Both Grangers, mother and daughter, winced. Dr. Tonks continued to watch everything silently, eyes subtly scanning the station as the two females met and made brief but awkward small talk about their families. Mrs. Weasley was expansive and gushing and Hermione's mother was, as always, smooth and refined, but they had little in common to talk about. Though Rose Granger knew little of the practice of jam making (let alone magical jam making – though whether it was the jam or the process itself that was magical...), she accepted a jar. And the magical matron knew probably less than nothing of mathematical analysis (Mrs. Granger's hobby), so her mother clearly couldn't share that and simply inquired after how many redheads had been added to the total world population by one woman. The answer shocked her mother, but she gracefully (of course) didn't show it.

"Your children appear to be alive and not at all dying of any plague," one mother didn't quite say to the other.

"Oh my yes, that seldom if ever happens in my family," the other basically responded. "Your young lady is not at all suffering from fatal diseases and seems quite smart, compared to my cultural standards of not teaching calculus at all, and the basics of algebra only to late teens, with no formal post-secondary education to speak of." And blah, blah, blah.

It wasn't at all interesting to Hermione, just the usual social fluff. Mind wandering to other, more important things, like magic and homework – or, best of all, magical homework – Hermione tried to ignore how Ginny was interspersing looking around the station with suspicious glances at her. Hermione felt she almost knew what the girl was looking for, but it seemed to be held just out of her mental reach for some reason. Either the situation of half-remembering or the fact itself unknowingly impinging on her emotions made her frown at the little girl.

After escaping from the friendly Weasley matron and her brood – who went off to hail a simply impossible sounding magical bus which Hermione just had to see for herself one day – Hermione, her mother, and Dr. Tonks (non-magically) waved down a perfectly normal cab. She tried not to look disappointed. After throwing open the cab door with uncharacteristic childish abandon, she moved to the back and helped put her trunk in the boot. Hermione then jumped in the cab and sat in the middle and her mum squeezed in on her left, leaving the seat on her right empty while the doctor rode in the front.

Chatting away a thousand words a minute, asking about all the things that had happened in the neighborhood and at home while she was away, Hermione casually slipped her hand into her mums and started tapping out a confirmation to her earlier "all safe" codeword, this time in more detail using Morse code. Which she'd known since she was nine, because really, it was a very simple character sequence and took no time at all to memorize. Hermione was, of course, able to both carry on the verbal conversation and tap out her code at the same time.

Her parents hadn't been very happy with the idea of their only daughter going to a boarding school; they'd been even less happy after a few extra books she'd purchased along with her assigned school books had hinted at various magical threats. Normal people being targets of dark magic, something used by the magical government that erased memories of mundanes called a Memory Charm, and magicals using charms to look like other people was only the known tip of the iceberg, they'd decided. Taking basic precautions (at least, for her family they were basic), the Grangers had made the words "fine" and "back" a code on her returning from Hogwarts to mean their daughter was herself and under no duress. That also was the same all-safe return code from her parents if used similarly (but not exactly the same) in sentences in the reply.

Straightforward, really.

If, however, she was (grammatically questionably) "doing good" and "safe home again," then she was in danger or being coerced somehow. In that case, her mum would have been covertly alerted to the situation and then have used some plan (that Hermione was purposefully not informed of) to get them both away. If Hermione had not given any codes, either she was being a silly little girl and had forgotten (not likely, as they knew) or the girl her mum was talking to wasn't really Hermione Granger in control of her own body and mind. Either an imposter or her suffering from a mind control curse – or, she now knew, collateral damage from a mind wipe.

As for the other side of the spy game they were only half-playing (one her parents wouldn't forget, Hermione had been sure), her mum seriously flubbing the code exchange would have resulted in a very scary flight from someone perhaps only looking like her mum. This was something Hermione had approached in a similar way to Harry's paranoid plans to escape from Hogwarts in the case of various dangers.

Her wand was tightly strapped to her arm under her loose sleeved blouse. There was a traveling cloak, a small bag of coins, a small wad of bills, a large bottle of water, and a thoroughly squished sack meal in the book bag over her shoulder. She was all ready for possible needs while making her way through the mundane world to a currently off-season, magical-run hotel resort in Brighton. Harry had told her about it, so her destination was unknown to both her parents and the theoretical non-parental person who was wearing their face and trying pick her up at the train station. A location where she'd be able to hide and maybe have a mental breakdown for a bit, if it came to that.

A silly little game compared to what real spies did, but good enough for her family's piece of mind. It was turning out to be only partially successful at that for Hermione.

She had been so stressed out over everything all day that she hadn't been able to stay still on the train, only taking her seat when Neville had threatened (uncharacteristically forcefully) to use the Body Bind curse she'd just taught him to get her to stop pacing and wringing her hands. Then she'd almost immediately fallen into an exhausted sleep.

It had all been sort of fun in abstract before leaving for Hogwarts, talking and planning with her family, but was terrifying now that she'd been dragged into the reality of things. The magical world was dangerous. She had almost been killed once already; her best friend scored twice that just so far this year. To add to that, now Hermione knew about the extent of magical mind affecting magic, so she realized her family's precautions were almost worthless – she knew about them, so anyone who read her mind would, as would anyone reading her parents' minds, and paranoid etc, etc. Given time to consider what it would mean for her mum or dad to fail to give the correct response had been worrying enough. Knowing they could have been under the Imperius curse and she'd never even know had resulted in several sleepless nights before the winter holiday break.

Even thinking about it now ran shivers down her spine. She could only hope that Dr. Tonks would be able to successfully run the scans required to detect that sort of thing. And, she reminded herself, Imperiused people required very exact orders, precise goals or actions, and could take only one at a time.

Someone didn't wander around all the time under active control, only after the curse triggered. The power requirements went up the longer the task would take and the longer a sleeper agent might have to wait. Subduing someone once triggered would allow the spell to simply run out, eventually freeing the target. So it wasn't like her mum would be lost forever if she was under a dark mental control curse. The situation was recoverable. Hermione tried not to hyperventilate. She'd only been in the car for three minutes and was already a mess.

After her mum tapped out another response message ("fine dear love you back"), which meant very little really but was the correct counter-sign, Hermione tried to enjoy the rest of the ride. Helping to point out interesting London landmarks and other places their family had visited to an attentive Dr. Tonks helped distract Hermione, and all were safe subjects around the mundane cab driver.

"Do you have any children attending my daughter's school, or perhaps starting soon?" Rose Granger asked Dr. Tonks.

The young woman smiled back. "Actually, my daughter, our only child, is just starting on her training as an Au-" the doctor caught herself, "-err, in law enforcement. Um, MDP. Just completed her, uh, A Levels this last year? Did quite well. We're very proud."

Everyone, including the taxi driver, turned to stare at Dr. Tonks, who appeared maybe in her late twenties at the oldest, not a mother with a daughter who was already a young adult. "I am older than I might appear," she added, answering their surprise with another smile.

The cab pulled up to the Granger's address after what was (for that part of London) a relatively short ride. Everyone piled out, Dr. Tonks helping Hermione grab the trunk. Once inside the spacious ground floor of the London terrace house, Hermione turned to the doctor with an expectant look on her face.

Drawing a long wand made of some dark, almost black wood, the older witch started muttering under her breath, occasionally thrusting the wand in some apparently random direction, sometimes pointing at both of the other women and a space beside them. Both Grangers watched the magical display, her mother in some interest as this was only the second (or was it now third?) time she'd ever seen magic done – the first being Professor McGonagall's visit on her birthday, of course.

"And now the one from earlier, yet again?" the doctor asked, looking at Rose Granger expectantly. Her mother nodded and squared her shoulders. Dr. Tonks muttered a couple of long, guttural words that sounded like German, swishing her wand in large motions in front of her, then the black wand was suddenly pointed at her mum. It twisted and dipped just so, then stilled. Hermione counted in her head, wand held in her hand next to her leg, her knuckles turning white. Everything was silent for almost three minutes.

Both women gasped and the magical tension in the room that Hermione hadn't even noticed eased significantly. Dr. Tonks nodded once, then continued with another long series of spells aimed at the local area.

After several more minutes of work, Dr. Tonks finally finished and tucked her wand back into her sleeve and addressed Rose Granger. "I have informed the Ministry department monitoring underage magic that, for this school break, they are to ignore any magic performed at this location that does not directly threaten the Statutes. This is allowed as it may be required for a student to use some minor spells for medical reasons while under my supervision. If Miss Granger's...agreement with Headmaster Dumbledore is filed with the Ministry before next summer, that will provide similar exceptions for underage magic use, provided it is not performed around any Muggles other than immediate family.

"Also, at this time, your house is clear of detectable magical traces of spells, other than some vague, months-old evidence that Hermione, a magical person, has lived here. This happens even without fully expressed accidental magic. As for the rest, Headmaster Dumbledore checked me himself before I took his Portkey to meet Mrs. Granger at this house. All of us are free of surveillance charms or...other unexpected charms. "

One of her mother's eyebrows quirked and she stared down at Hermione, who winced and started to closely examine her feet. "I'll explain everything, mum. I promise."

Grinning dangerously, the elder Granger nodded in agreement. "Yes, you will. But as we seem to be safe and sound now, I suggest you introduce me to your new celebrity boyfriend."

Knowledge tightly wrapped unfurled in a mind suddenly much more expansive. She remembered and Hermione's heart skipped a beat as-

Harry whipped off his father's invisibility cloak. Hermione gasped, did a double-take, then took a deep breath and started whining at her mother's teasing. He started folding the cloak into a neat and impossibly thin bundle before shoving it into a pocket in his oversized, second-hand trousers before addressing his hostess.

"Hello, Mrs. Granger. Thank you for having me over."

"Welcome, Mr. Potter," she said, smiling brightly. "Good to finally see you."

They shook hands, Mrs. Granger accepting his perhaps overly-adult gesture without blinking. Harry then looked around, feeling as awkward as Hermione now appeared to be.

"You, uh, you have a beautiful home. I'm sorry about all the nonsense getting over here. We're still not sure who's been attacking me, so it seemed like a good idea."

"I understand, Mr. Potter, and it was no imposition," she said, looking closely at him as he fidgeted in the entryway.

He was embarrassed by his clothes and unkempt hair, especially compared to Mrs. Granger's natural, casual-looking beauty. The elder Granger had a very familiar and unnerving way of stripping him to the bone and measuring him up with a single glance. He'd never actually met Rose Granger before, but his little-kid instincts were now making him very nervous as he wondered what she thought of him and how shabby he looked.

Despite having clearly seen him for what he was, Mrs. Granger smiled at him again. She then offered to take their coats, not exactly a clear answer to his fears. After leading them all down the hall and into a richly decorated sitting room, she offered them seats. "We've heard a great deal about you from Hermione's letters. It's good to finally meet you, Mr. Potter."

Harry nodded and tried to smile, but missed that expression and sort of grimaced instead. He then gave up after realizing his face's failure and sat down on the couch.

"Good to meet you, too, Mrs. Granger. And thanks for helping out, Dr. Tonks," he added to the tall, quiet woman, who was sitting off one side.

"You are most welcome, Harry. And please, as I've said before, call me Andromeda."

Mrs. Granger was still standing by the doorway with her daughter. She gave Hermione a quick hug then pulled back again, hands rubbing fondly up and down her daughter's arms. "Hermione, dear, do you want to show Mr. Potter your room while I sit and have a quick talk with Dr. Tonks? We can all have some tea after. You can both unpack later."

Hopping in place with a tiny squeal, Hermione quickly grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him to his feet. Leaving her trunk behind, packed with both her and Harry's stuff, she raced them out of the sitting room, back down the hall, through a door, and had started pulling him down some stairs before he was able to properly react.

"Wha-," Harry started to say.

"My room is in the basement," she said excitedly, then she jerked to a halt as Harry stopped dead, halfway down the stairway's carpeted steps.

"They...they have this huge, lovely house, and they're making you stay in the basement?" he said slowly, his hand starting to grip hers tighter.

Hermione looked surprised for a second, then she took a slow, deep breath, and unexpectedly smiled. Standing on the stair under his, turning to look up into his eyes, she clasped his hand in both of hers and hugged it to her chest.

"Thank you Harry," she said softly, still smiling, "It isn't what you think. But it makes me so happy that you'd feel that way, if it were."

Then, to his immense surprise, she pecked his knuckles with a quick kiss, turned, and started dragging him down the stairs again. Too shocked to resist, he let Hermione lead them around a curved bit at the bottom. He then skidded to a halt again, staring around the airy, open space with confusion. Hermione left him there and started buzzing around the room, talking rapidly while running her hands over the spines of various books, seemingly choosing them from the room's numerous shelves at random.

"...and these are my mystery novels. I love this room. My parents wanted something unique, so they built this and the bedrooms as an addition to the small garden flat, which they also purchased. It's a terraced house, obviously, and we've got the ground floor and now full basement, while the neighbors have the second and third floors. Isn't it nice?"

Harry was gawking at the walls, which were covered in bookshelves, and at the pair of soft, squishy looking overstuffed reading chairs. There was a thick carpet covering the floor and everything seemed very cozy. Looking up, he saw a huge skylight spanning almost the whole ceiling. It let in the afternoon winter sun, painting the room in a bright, cheery light.

Hermione was standing with her hands clasped behind her back, grinning at him. "My parents have a problem around magic, which I'm leaking out all the time it seems. But they haven't exactly shoved me into a dank, manky old hole in the ground, have they?"

He silently shook his head, still feeling a little dazed.

"What do you think, Sal?" she said, moving to an expensive looking corner table that was covered in neatly stacked books. The long, sleek black and silver adder crawled out of her right sleeve and onto the stacked books.

"Very nice," Sal said with a hiss. "Lotsss of booksss. Lotsss of interesssting shadowsss"

Hermione didn't look to Harry for a translation, apparently happy with what her growing familiar link told her. "Well, Hedwig should be along tonight Sal. She is quite beautiful, but far too obviously a link to Harry. Keep an eye out for her, would you?"

Walking over to a tall shelf built into the wall, Hermione put a hand up and pushed, effortlessly swinging it inward like a door. She looked over her shoulder and grinned madly at him. "Look! A hidden passage, Harry! It's just like Hogwarts, isn't it? Come on, my room is just through here."

It was obviously a girl's room, but it was still all Hermione. More bookshelves (of course), a bed covered in decorative pillows, and what he eventually figured out was a slightly scruffy, gray plush otter. The walls were covered in posters – but this was Hermione's room, so instead of boy bands, they were of things like the periodic table and the constellations. There was one of the solar system, a huge color print of that brilliant shot from the Apollo missions of the Earth from space, one of the Earth rising over the Lunar surface, a labeled diagram of the human brain, a blown up picture of a microprocessor, and the famous da Vinci piece of the human body inside a square and circle, along with other of his detailing human anatomy and strange machines; overall, it still looked like a princess's bedroom. Assuming the princess was also a tenured professor with eclectic interests.

Hermione flopped down on the bed on her back, spreading her arms wide and letting out a long sigh.

"I wasn't sure I'd ever make it back," she whispered. Harry wasn't sure she knew his keen ears would catch that, so he pretended not to hear. He looked around at some of the titles on her extensive shelves. Most were on scientific topics, of course, but there were also a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels. They looked well read.

"I want you there," Hermione said, sitting up suddenly.

"Wha?" he said, not understanding.

"I want you to be there with me when I explain everything to mum and dad."

"Oh. Okay, sure."

Relaxing the death grip she'd had on her skirt, she took a deep breath, then let it out and smiled. A warm breeze ruffled his hair, but when he looked around, he saw there wasn't actually a window in her room. Instead, she had an odd, bright hole over the secret door entrance and some low air vents on the walls.

Seeing him looking at it, she said, "A mirrored light tube to the skylight in the other room. Provides natural lighting and wakes me up when I oversleep during summer hols. Oh, and I was trying to clear my mind. Sorry about the draft – magical expulsion reaction, you see."

"No, that's okay. It's been a long day. I'm just glad you have a chance to relax."

Hermione fidgeted some. "You know, I really am going to tell them everything. Except for your...I'm telling them you have visions. About the future. I know you wanted that information to be limited..."

Harry sighed and sat on the bed next to his best friend. The bed was huge and there was plenty of room. "I told you before, I'm fine with that. They are your parents, Hermione. They deserve to know. And Dr. Tonks knows anyway. Professor Dumbledore insisted."

"Okay. Good. Well. I just wasn't-"

Harry put a hand on hers, where it was starting to clutch at her skirt once again. "Hermione, you're getting worked up for nothing. Your parents will understand and everything will be fine. I'm sure of it. It'll be fine."

She snorted, but also started smiling again. "You always say that, Harry."

"Well, it was last time, if you remember."

Hermione stared back at him incredulously. "No one died, but it was almost a complete disaster. Things with the Headmaster could have gone very, very wrong. We got lucky."

"You make your own luck, Hermione. I thought you'd know that, being a genius and all."

His surprised shriek when she playfully shoved him off the bed wasn't at all high-pitched and girlish.

The small gold ring, mounted vertically on a dark wood block on a shelf behind the Headmaster's desk, whistled with an almost silent, extremely high-pitched tweet. Hermione had absolutely no idea what it was doing or what it was for. In fact, she considered, could the older wizard even hear something that high-pitched? Maybe he didn't know it made an audible noise at all.

Throughout the Headmaster's office, various other items squeaked, clicked, or hummed quietly, none of them quite loud enough to be called annoying but certainly qualifying as distracting. Hermione idly wondered if that was meant to make people slightly off-balance when they met with the Headmaster, but couldn't come to any conclusions without more information.

It was the day after Halloween, and she hadn't had a chance to meet with Harry in private yet. She had been briefly interviewed in the Hospital Wing by Professor McGonagall and the Headmaster on what had happened, during which she did a very good impression of a scared and tired little girl.

Which hadn't been much of an act at all, really.

Then Hedwig had visited the hospital wing that night in secret, sent by Harry to check on her after she'd failed to return to the dorms. Hermione had no idea how the owl had gotten into the ward where she was sleeping. All the windows were closed and the door had been locked. Odd.

While she had written a note to Harry, the lovely snowy owl had sat on her headboard and preened her, barking softly and making her hair stick up in all sorts of unusual ways. That had been strangely calming. The moment she was finished, Hedwig stuck out a leg for Hermione's message. It had a prearranged codeword inside saying she was fine and not to do anything stupid and boy, like rushing down to save her from a quiet night away from Fay's snoring.

She also told him, without naming names or details, that she'd had a chance to talk (well, stare at) Sal, who told her (felt at her) that all the snakes had the place scouted out and would warn her if anything unusual – well, more like usual – happened anywhere near her or Harry. Or if Quirrell so much as sneezed.

The upshot was, she was working entirely from their previous plans. And there was something weird and extra-spatial-dimensional going on with Harry's familiar. But all that was history. She needed to focus on the now. Fidgeting on the large, quite expensive looking upholstered chair, she knew she needed to stop avoiding thinking about how to handle her impending talk with The Albus Dumbledore, the most famous wizard in the world.

Before heading to Hogwarts, Hermione had wanted nothing more than to be like the wise and powerful old man, as well known for his work on advancing magical knowledge and social rights for magical beings as he was for his martial prowess and skill in magical combat. Being in Gryffindor House was her dream, as that was where he had been while in school. Soon, she would be speaking one on one with her hero. She should be thrilled.

She was terrified. She squirmed in her seat, looking at the portraits on the walls of former headmasters. They were pretending to sleep, but she would occasionally catch one peeping out of a half-opened eye at her.

The Headmaster's fame had faded into the background in her mind when she learned what had happened to Harry, what little she'd been able to get out of him. It was all the Headmaster's fault, even if it was only the result of difficult decisions and the best of intentions. And now she had to figure out how to lie to him, without getting caught or otherwise somehow making things worse. Because she no longer trusted the Headmaster's decisions when it came to Harry.

Over the last two months, Harry had talked with her about various strategies for getting the Headmaster on their side, to help with the hunt for the soul containers and begin the fight against Voldemort's forces early. Harry had also gone over the numerous ways the most politically powerful wizard in the world could interfere with their plans if he thought Harry had gone evil or was possessed by Voldemort. Showing strange abilities and impossible knowledge would be a good way to bring that sort of suspicion down on them. Something she had just done the other night.

She was in a tight spot now, not knowing what would happen if she honestly said what she'd done. Her secret studies with Harry were not exactly illegal, but they were unusual and she had no idea what her Head of House or the Headmaster would say about that. And not even Harry knew what the Headmaster would do if he discovered Harry's time travel experiences.

They were split in opinions right now, and it wasn't something to be debated over notes delivered by owl. Harry thought the Headmaster would likely help them train to fight against Voldemort, using the knowledge from his future to find the soul containers and deal with them. The only hard part would be proving Harry was really from the future and not crazy or possessed or something.

She thought, however, that the magi-temporal concerns themselves were the primary threat. If the Headmaster knew of Harry's future knowledge, he might read everything from Harry's mind and then simply Obliviate both of them, under the idea that Voldemort finding out such things over Harry's scar-connection (or a silly little girl babbling and gossiping) would outweigh the violation of their minds and memories.

And that didn't even account for what would happen if the Headmaster thought future knowledge was dangerous to the timeline, or some kind of magical threat to the universe, or something else equally scary. The Hat's conversation with Harry suggested that something like that wasn't outside the realm of possibility. They just didn't know how that sort of thing was handled by either someone in the Headmaster's position or by the Ministry – in the latter case, it was most likely the completely opaque Department of Mysteries. The fact that Harry didn't know anything about them, even with his future knowledge, worried Hermione greatly.

So Hermione's argument boiled down to them not knowing enough about the threats of time travel in the magical world, or how Headmaster Dumbledore would react to Harry (and now her) having such knowledge. She thought that until they knew more, they should keep quiet and only pass on hints that they could reasonably have gain through other means.

That didn't mean she didn't believe Harry in all things. That didn't mean they didn't have others plans. And she was about to implement one of those, without consulting Harry. Hermione really, really didn't want to act unilaterally like this. For all his possibly misplaced trust, Harry was actually an adults in mind, if not in body. And if she screwed this up, they would both be in almost unimaginable trouble. And worse, Harry would be furious with her. Assuming they still even remembered each other and their friendship after such a screwup.

She needed to be a specific person now, filled with both truths and lies made out of unspoken words. She needed to focus on the three goals she'd worked out for this meeting:

First, protect her and Harry's minds and personal autonomy from heavy-handed interference through whatever means necessary, including lies, subterfuge, and even (as if it would work) violence.

Second, so long as it did not interfere with the first goal, work on how to get information on Voldemort's current plans and future threats to the Headmaster.

And last, where it did not interfere with the first two goals, set the political stage with the Headmaster's for helping to free Harry's godfather.

It might not all be possible in this one meeting, but so long as she did not mess up too badly she could start to set the groundwork. The last was the only one with immediate time sensitivity – the idea of someone suffering like that made her feel sick – but it was also the hardest to do safely. She had to trust that their developing plans with the student letters in the Daily Prophet would work.

A brush against her senses, then the door clicked open and Professor McGonagall walked in. Closing the door after herself, she then took a seat beside Hermione. "Miss Granger, I hope you are doing better now?"

Hermione swallowed and nodded, staring at her lap and concentrating on her Occlumency for both emotional control and to hide...whatever it was she didn't want people to know. She didn't know what that was now, obviously. In a few seconds, she herself wouldn't even know there was anything to hide. She only wished she had a well thought-out plan for this meeting, but there simply hadn't been time.

"Good," her professor said straightening the robes in her lap. "Yes. Well. I was asked by Professor Dumbledore to attend this meeting. He thinks, quite rightly, that meeting alone with a young woman isn't proper."

Hermione's eyebrows scrunched as she considered whether a boy, or more specifically Harry, would have received the same...consideration. For some reason she couldn't quite grasp right now, she suspected he hadn't. But if Harry had been in private meetings with the Headmaster, not that there was anything wrong with that, no one would see anything wrong with that. No, it was that she was female, so it wasn't proper for her-

But her annoyance could wait, as Professor McGonagall was still talking. "After examining the bathroom and getting your statement the night of the- that night, the Headmaster was very worried. Some of the magics used were decidedly odd. He wanted to speak to you about that. But right now, I want to know in detail how you are doing now that Madam Pomfrey has released you from the hospital wing."

Other than missing Harry, Hermione felt fine. A little tired, sure. She was feeling a little feverish and had the start of what might be a monstrous headache. Madam Pomfrey had told her to come back every day after classes, and not to do any magic outside class until she was cleared as healthy, which would cut into her practical study time something awful.

"I feel much better today, Professor. No dizziness, nausea, or sudden weakness. Thank you for asking." Hermione hesitated. "Do you know what the Headmaster is worried about?"

The older woman's well-lined face was unreadable, her gaze on the opposite wall, and her hands clasped loose in her lap. "The accidental magic incident was interesting to him – that is all I know of his thoughts on the matter."

They sat in uncomfortable silence for a while. Hermione was starting to feel a little overheated and light-headed, and was having to consciously control her breathing to keep from hyperventilating. It was just a teacher, and she hadn't done anything wrong. Why was she so nervous all of a sudden?

"You are to be congratulated, Miss Granger," the professor finally said, breaking the tension. "You and your friend Mr. Potter have been doing very well in my class. I have heard similar reports from several other professors."

"Th-thank you, professor," Hermione stammered out, blushing. She was surprised to still be affected by her old feelings of pleasure at being praised for her academics. That obsession she'd thought thoroughly smothered by having to deal with the serious and immediate problems she and Harry now faced. Apparently, that was not the case.

Professor McGonagall smiled over at her and continued. "Though not class related, I have also noticed your exploration of beauty charms and glamours. So far, you have done well not to allow those experiments to interfere with your classwork. I hope you continue to maintain this level of academic professionalism in the future. And be careful to avoid any human transfigurations, of course. Such advanced work should be left until late in your education, as they are very dangerous."

"Oh, uh, yes professor," Hermione said, searching for a more expansive response. That dental charm she'd already used wasn't technically human transfiguration any more than a hair lengthening charm was. But no need to mention that. "Ma'am, if you don't mind my saying, yours are very good as well. I haven't figured out which ones you're using, though."

The older woman stiffened slightly. "Miss Granger, I am not using any beauty charms."

Hermione immediately panicked and started babbling. "Oh! I'm so sorry! I thought, I mean you look fine without- but I'm sure I see the tell-tale...I was sure you...ah, sorry. I'm sorry professor, I..."

Watching Hermione trail off with a sour look on her face, Professor McGonagall sighed, then took out her wand. The younger witch hunched away, into the overstuffed cushions. This put her right arm over the arm of the her chair, out of sight of the professor. By the time Hermione realized what she'd done, her wand was in her hand. Surprised at herself, she gripped it with tense fingers.

"I do not normally inform students of this, at least not before their seventh year, but...I do, in fact, use appearance altering charms. Ones which you, apparently, are able to detect merely visually. How very perceptive of you."

"Wh-why?" Hermione asked, again without thinking. "I mean, what reason do you have to- oh, how rude of me. I'm sure it's personal. I just-"

The professor shook her head. "Miss Granger, it's perfectly alright. This isn't exactly a secret."

She waved her wand in front of her deeply lined face (Hermione's wand hand, still hidden, twitched). The older woman's face flickered and shimmered, the illusion falling away and leaving a much younger looking woman in its place. Professor McGonagall still had the same frown, though.

"I am well past fifty years old. I have been told by my Muggle-born students that I do not look it. Many professionals use a charm to appear older. Sometimes, much older."

"Like the professors at Hogwarts?"

"Yes, Miss Granger, though I won't discuss with you anyone's specific use of such charms, as that is rather private."

Hermione nodded, listening attentively.

"Age in the wizarding world culture is strongly linked to power and knowledge, so someone in an important position needs to look the part. Personally, I started using them because those only familiar with Muggle aging speeds had a hard time with a teacher who looked to be younger than some of her Seventh Year students – which was the case when I started teaching, if not today. This minor deception smooths many Muggle-born students and their parents' introduction to the magical world. It also adds a certain gravitas since I became a senior administrator at this school."

A quick glance showed things Hermione hadn't noticed before. Her eyes flicked from unlined hands to the (previously undisguised) dense and healthy red hair on her scalp. Only the color was different now. Her memory recalled a strong gait and upright stance. Glasses sometimes, but not always used in either reading or teaching, suggesting...not corrective? Enchanted, maybe.

"When did you start teaching, professor?" Hermione asked, mind still buzzing.

"When I was in my early twenties, Miss Granger."

"But...if you were in your twenties, and the seventh years were in their seventeenth or eighteenth years..."

The professor sighed again. "The use of magic affects the human body in strange ways, Miss Granger. I started using very advanced transfigurations and charms at a very young age."

"I was told I was born with a really strong magical core," Hermione said, almost in a whisper. "Were you, ma'am?"

"Hmm," the older woman considered with pursed lips. "I was not tested, myself, though I was made aware of your situation as your Head of House. But that is not what resulted in my unusually youthful appearance as a young woman. You must be careful not to assume too much from modern Magical Core theory – it is a controversial area of medicine, and not a soothsaying method for predicting future success or even the mature magical power of a student.

"Though children are born with different inherent levels of magic, that cannot and should not be held against them. They are not somehow naturally presaged as either dunces or magical prodigies. It is also interesting to note that variations in initial core size do not follow so-called 'pure-blood' lines. The cynic would say this is one reason it is not regularly tested in First Year students. Muggle-born, such as yourself, often show higher initial levels of magical core strength than those born to magical families centuries old."

McGonagall shifted in her seat, putting her wand back in her sleeve. "The more and the longer you use magic, the more it becomes...a part of who and what you are. Your use of it is reflected in your mind and body. Emotional stress also affects how and how much one is touched by one's own magic. My own youth was a troubled time, and I had to use magic in self-defense from a young age. As have you, Miss Granger, even before joining Hogwarts and these recent unfortunate events. I wonder how your magic will touch you, in time."

Hermione stared at her teacher with shock. She knew.

Sad, old eyes in a much younger face met hers. "I was born with the caul, a very rare sign many old families hold to and consider indicative of a close connection to magic," Professor McGonagall said. "Growing up with a wizarding family, I had a great deal of support when my unusually strong accidental magical expressions occurred. Once at Hogwarts, I used my natural-born abilities to push harder and further in my studies than most of my peers."

She paused, staring down at her lap, playing with what Hermione recognized as a wedding band. Odd that she had never noticed that before.

"One of the follies of youth is the desire to remain youthful forever," the professor said. "A belief one is invincible. Though this unconscious wish was not quite met, it did have long-term effects. As you can see."

It added up, of course, but that wasn't the interesting part. Slowed visible aging linked to mental state had significant implications on lifespan for magicals. Implications she'd need to review later. For now, Hermione realized she needed to put away her wand and sit up, because a huge presence was-

The door swung open behind them and in walked the Headmaster, dressed in a bright orange robe with little tassels on the bottom. He took in the entire room in a single glance. "Ah yes. It was a shame when you decided to cover up your natural youthfulness with premature lines and gray hairs, Minerva. I wear mine with pride now, but would not wish anyone to seek them before their time."

Professor McGonagall pursed her lips as she turned in her chair to glare at the Headmaster.

He smiled back, walking over to sit behind his ancient-looking desk. "Always good to see your natural face, Minerva."

"Thank you, Albus," the professor said dryly, tapping her finger impatiently. "Likewise. However, this meeting is not regarding my appearance, nor yours. And I need to get Miss Granger to the Great Hall in," here Professor McGonagall seemed to check an internal clock for a moment, "just under two hours for supper. Hopefully we will not run over that much."

Folding his hands over his beard and leaning forward, the Headmaster nodded earnestly. "Quite right. On to it, then. Miss Granger," here he turned to look her in the eyes. She met his gaze, her hands shaking slightly. "I hear you had a very interesting night yesterday and had to spend some time in the hospital wing. I am very sorry such a thing happened here at Hogwarts. The troll was able to enter the castle through a poorly secured side entrance, one of several we have taken significant measures to secure. Please be assured that such a thing will not happen again."

But it wasn't an accident, was it? The troll was let in by...someone. The Headmaster had said the side entrance wasn't secured well, and that it took "significant measures" to correct that issue. If a door was simply broken into or left unlatched...He also didn't call it an accident, and instead used neutral, passive language. She assumed that was because he didn't want to alarm her, or other students, with the fact that someone – a witch or wizard – let an artificially maddened troll into the school for some unknown purpose. Or rather, an unknown person with an obvious purpose.

She assumed whoever it was did not fear a "very painful death," or at least not a three-headed dog. Hermione felt briefly that she ought to know who that was, then that feeling passed. There were only protections on that third-floor corridor that school children can detect and overcome. In fact, that seemed almost expected. Really, a such a simply spelled door, and then a dog, though large and scary looking, that will instantly fall asleep to music. And was apparently owned by Hagrid and trained not to hurt children. It beggared the imagination. She was missing something. Hermione thought the Headmaster's office seemed better guarded, just by having a password, so there had to be a reason not to simply hide it there.

As she had many closely related oddities, all connected to the Headmaster, it seemed likely that the troll, the strangely low-level protections, the package Harry had seen taken from Gringotts, and the use of a location other than his office to hide the package were related. Though not to that other mysterious attacker who had ambushed Harry.

"Thank you, sir," she said, taking another deep breath. "Is Harry well? I had not had a chance to talk to him yet." Her head was starting to feel hot – she wasn't sure why, but she wasn't surprised.

"Your friend and housemate Mr. Potter is fine. Though placed in grave danger, I do not believe this troll was part of a well-planned attack on him." He was watching her closely with his flashing, brilliantly-blue eyes.

Her head started to ache. There were likely two different forces at play. Trying to hurt Harry in secret didn't work as a distraction tactic. That would only have been discovered later; if she had not-

She swallowed, unwilling to complete that hypothetical. The troll itself was a good public distraction for someone attempting to reach whatever is in the third-floor corridor. The actual attack on Harry was as sloppy as the first, a chance taken when an opportunity presented itself. The troll was prepared ahead of time, for that specific night. But the identity of the troll's master seemed less important to her than the other attacker, for some reason.

She nodded in reply. "That was my conclusion as well, sir. It is most likely that the attacker from before merely took advantage of the situation. A plan quickly formulated and set into action after the announcement of the troll's presence. Whoever let in the troll seemed to have another goal in mind. One on the third floor."

Sitting back in his seat, the Headmaster stroked his beard thoughtfully. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione could see her Head of House's eyebrows raised in shock.

"It seems your intelligence and perceptiveness were not exaggerated, Miss Granger," the Headmaster said, patting his chest with one wrinkled hand. "You are, of course, correct. I cannot speak further of the security issues, as that weakens them, or about other issues with the castle. Be assured that I take the safety of everyone in this castle very, very seriously."

The Headmaster took a deep breath. "You do your House credit with your bravely, young lady. Though I know you and other of Harry's friends are attempting to keep him safe, an effort I strongly applaud, I must still make sure you do not attempt to seek out possible perpetrators yourselves. The staff of Hogwarts are well aware of the threat and are doing their best to bring this situation to a speedy resolution."

Hermione shifted uncomfortably, seeing the holes in the logic as soon as the words were out of the Headmaster's mouth. If he was a threat himself, she was treading on thin ice now. "I understand. What chance would we have against a skilled, full-grown magical?" Especially the Headmaster. "I will do what I can to keep Harry and myself safe, sir. But I don't understand one thing. You have apparently not brought in the Aurors or any other members of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to investigate either attack. And you have also not used your office to secure whatever the troll plot instigator was after. The situation and the actions you have taken indicate that this is not a normal thief, after Gringotts gold or a simple magic item, and you do not merely wish them to be discouraged or thwarted in their attempts."

The Deputy Headmistress was gripping the arms of her chair, her mouth hanging slightly open, her eyes flicked back to the Headmaster as he responded. "That is accurate, though I suspect you misunderstand the wider situation. The senior staff here do not believe that bringing in more outsiders would help in this case, as the evidence of what has happened, or even that there is a threat, is minimal – circumstantial at best. The property in question is private, and does not fall under Ministerial purview – nor would I wish it to. Unable to help us find the culprit or even solid proof of a plot, the DMLE would not be able to provide protections at a level better than Hogwarts already possesses, for either the students or the castle's merely material contents. Which again, I will not discuss with you.

"Official attention might also result in a more dangerous situation for him if they decided Mr. Potter was to be removed from Hogwarts for his own safety. Which could easily happen if the Minister for Magic learned both of Mr. Potter's previous trials with his relatives and this current situation. Facts which an official investigation would surely uncover. Mr. Fudge is greatly swayed by public perception – if he decided Mr. Potter was better kept in DMLE protective custody, it would be difficult for me to prevent such action."

Hermione frowned. That seemed possible. But the Headmaster was intentionally distracting her from the odd choice of hiding spots for something so clearly very important. Preying on her feelings for Harry.

"I know you have great influence with Mr. Potter, as perhaps his first ever friend," the Headmaster continued. "With your quick mind and apparently great devotion to the young man, you could unintentionally put him in great deal of danger if you attempted to take certain actions without understanding the true state of affairs. Actions you might feel necessary to prevent some looming disaster at the cost of risking your own safety. Please, take a while to consider any such course of action. Go to your Head of House to discuss your fears if you would rather not discuss them with me, or if I am unavailable. After all that has happened, I would certainly understand if you felt hesitant to reach out to adults for help."

Sighing into his beard, he added, "Especially as you seem to blame me for his deplorable home life up to this point. A failure I am most guilty of and regret greatly, as I am entirely to blame. I can only implore you to see fit to give us a chance."

Well, that was about what she'd expected him to say and didn't tell her much about his intentions. She looked over at Professor McGonagall, who looked a down sadly at her lap. No clues there. Hermione was feeling trapped and cornered, unable to figure out if the Headmaster could be trusted or not. Looking up at the wise-looking old man sitting behind his ornate desk, she grew angry at the whole situation. She should be able to trust adults. She should be able to trust him. This wasn't right.

"Miss Granger, I also wanted to speak with you about the magic you used in your admirable defense of Mr. Potter."

She looked up again, blinking away half-shed tears of anger. "Of course, sir."

"You used a spell to create sodium from seawater," he said, running a hand over the top of his desk as if feeling for the grain of the wood. "That is not a standard transfiguration. In fact, it appeared to be something else entirely. Would you tell me what that spell was, and where you came across it, Miss Granger?"

How the Headmaster reacted to this meant a great deal. And it was relatively safe, she thought. "I've spent some time hunting around the empty rooms at Hogwarts, sir." (True) "I found," (in Harry's pile of used books), "a very old introductory guide to alchemy. I have been doing some of the most basic exercises. The ones that looked safe."

The Headmaster's kindly face looked at her across the desk. "Ah, interesting. Finding a good book is always cause for celebration. But I sense you had practiced something like that before. Sodium from saltwater to make a boiling hot fire. Perhaps, as a measure to defend your friend Mr. Potter?"

Wow. That had been fast. But she...she had nothing to hide. "Yes, sir. I practiced it in empty bathrooms, which I know from Hogwarts, A History have the best ventilation. I also used a spare personal potion station air filter stone, just to be sure."

The old man nodded, pleased by what he heard. "Good, very good. Still not exactly a safe exercise of the craft, but enough for limited experimentation. Combat application, though..." Here he trailed off, looking at her expectantly.

"That was foolish and dangerous, I know sir," she said quickly, terribly embarrassed. "I...I also used it in a bathroom that time, so the poisonous gasses would have minimal time to damage lungs, but still. It almost...I could have hurt Harry! I almost hurt myself. And worst of all, it didn't work. But then there was an explosion of power, and I felt...I felt like it was completely out of control!"

"And yet, you in fact kept in control well enough that neither of you were badly injured," he added softly.

She continued to stare at her lap, hands twisted in her skirt.

"Miss Granger, you saved a life. With the knowledge you had, you did the best you could. And it was enough. You won the day. And it is time to look forward and plan for tomorrow. But first, there is a matter I must resolve."

She looked up, confused and with tears in her eyes again. "What do you mean, sir?"

"Might I see your hands for a moment, Miss Granger?" he said.

Hermione blinked at the non sequitur, but stood and walked over to the Headmaster's desk. She hesitated and almost stopped when he took a long ruler from a desk drawer. Images of various possible barbaric school punishments ran through her mind, but seemed to disappear almost immediately into a black hole somewhere. She was calm. If this was what it took, she would walk to her fate gladly.

He turned his chair and beckoned her around to stand in front of him. Professor McGonagall stood and peered over his desk, a quizzical look on her face.

"Please hold out both hands in front of you," the Headmaster said, reaching for the long wooden ruler.

Hermione gulped and a stray tear slipped down her cheek. She wasn't going to cry. She refused to cry. Pushing down on her roiling magic, she tried to tell herself that striking out with wild, wandless magic would be less than useless in this situation. It burned inside her, insistent and angry. An old, twisted anger. What right did he have to punish her? Why shouldn't she strike back, now that she had power?

Lifting her shaking hands, she looked away, reading the titles of the books on one of the many shelves that covered the office walls. Trying to forget past incidents, and the shame and humiliation. At least this time, there was no one else her age to see her senseless punishment. She always tried her best to follow the rules, but the adults never understood. Eventually, she'd given up trying to explain why things exploded or caught on fire around her, and simply tried to keep her head down and follow every rule she could find.

And once again, she'd somehow failed. She waited for the ruler to come down.

Instead, warm wrinkled hands pressed into hers, palm to palm. She could feel how they flickered faintly with power. In an instant, she felt:

His power.

Strong, male, old.

Something else, familiar, like from Harry. Shielded- no, controlled and enclosing. Guarding. Protection. Between all else and danger.

And flickering, warmth. Black coals banked but glowing. A forest blaze long burned out, but still able to leap to life in a moment.


She jerked away and stared back at the Headmaster in surprise.

"I believe there has been a misunderstanding, Miss Granger," the he said sadly. The ruler was back on the desk and he was holding out his own hands still, palms up. "There will be no wrapping on knuckles with rulers, or any other striking of students in this school. Forever more."

There was a wet sniffling behind her, but Hermione's attention was entirely on the Headmaster. "I...I'm sorry," she spluttered. "I just thought..." Then her curiosity overcame her nerves. "Forever? But how is that possible, sir? You will not be Headmaster forever. I mean, no offense..."

The Headmaster's smile was back. "Certainly none taken, young lady. Every Headmaster has a single issue that they can enshrine in Hogwarts' history. A single issue which they can enforce for all future generations."

"But rules can be ignored or changed, sir," she said.

"Just so. Which is why, so long as the Hogwarts founding principles are not violated, these new projects or precepts will become magically enforced within the castle walls and grounds."

There was a noise that might have been the wiping of a nose, then Professor McGonagall spoke, and Hermione turned to see her Head of House's reddened eyes. "You should know, Miss Granger, that though we do not advertise the fact to them, no student can be...fatally injured while within Hogwarts' protections. That is one reason we are the most celebrated school of magic in the world. That protective geas was laid down by the Founders themselves and will stand as long as Hogwarts does. Any plan to severely injure is discouraged, any plot to kill is foiled. That is the power of the Founders, and why they are hailed as heroes around the world to this day.

"Each Headmaster has a right to lay down their own powerful new charms and protections, changes to the school's function or structure, or even minor geas of their own – if they have the personal power to enact them. Things such as the point system, the change to add prefects to assist in student matters, the location and protections of the dorms, and even the new lighting and plumbing systems are the projects of past Headmasters. Some Headmasters were powerful, with powerful ideas that still echo in these halls. Others, less so – or perhaps simply more subtle in their choices."

"And yours, sir?" Hermione asked with a wavering voice, turning to the powerful old wizard seated behind the desk.

The Headmaster looked grave. "No student enrolled at Hogwarts shall fear corporal punishment ever again, in any form. Light work assignments and lines remain as punitive tools, but no teacher shall strike a student as a behavior correction measure again."

Hermione blinked in surprise. "That seems...very minor, if you don't mind my saying sir."

The Headmaster nodded wisely. "That is true. However, I was very careful of the exact wording and method for enforcing my mandate. It is also intent based, with strict allowance for the immediate safety of the children, and covers all adults when relating to the students – not merely teachers at Hogwarts. Thus, this geas will also serve to protect all students while they attend school...even when they return home."

Eyes widening with recognition of the scope of the magic Headmaster Dumbledore had worked, Hermione's jaw fell open. Not just Harry, but all her new friends were safe from that sort of abuse. She was as well, but that was less important than Harry not having to fear his horrible relatives. She struggled briefly with the concept of the power required to protect hundreds of students even after they left the warded area around Hogwarts, then gave up and closed her mouth with snap.

"Thank you, sir," she said simply. Her eyes were wet again, she found to her disgust. She pulled a hanky from a pocket and attempted to rectify that and other snot-based issues.

"You are most welcome, Miss Granger. I could do no less."

They stared at each other for a long moment. Old, but still sharp, wrinkle-set blue eyes into young, clear, and brown. Hermione thought she should look away, but it didn't seem right. He wasn't going to hurt her. Something deep grudgingly agreed, and she smiled. The old man softly smiled back.

"Now, as for this," the Headmaster said, gesturing to the ruler on his desk, "It is a little device that I enchanted for reasons that will quickly become apparent. To activate it, it is simply placed on both hands at the same time. It produces no sensation, let alone a painful one. I wish to use it to measure the possible damage done from using your hand as a magical focus the other night."

"What? When did I do that?"

"When you used wandless magic to hold together a spell while casting another. A risky but effective technique, though one I advise strongly against using in the future in any situation but one of most dire need. Madam Pomfrey would have checked for gross tissue damage, but this device can be more subtle. And she would not have expected it or known to look for such, given your age and apparent level of training. There are treatments available if you have suffered such an injury."

"That can happen?" she asked, clutching her left hand to her chest protectively.

"It is one reason more wizards and witches do not attempt to learn the skill, Miss Granger," Professor McGonagall said. "Magic wands focus through magical materials, plant and animal parts configured just so. But a witch's flesh and blood is also magical, and can function for the same purpose, though imperfectly. The damage done to oneself can be quite severe, including nerve damage and loss of bone density. This can weaken and twist and one's hands permanently."

Holding her shaking hands out, Hermione watched closely as the Headmaster placed the ruler against her palms. She noticed it had imperial units, so it must have been quite old. The wooden stick flashed all over briefly, then a dim light crept up to just below the one-quarter inch mark by her left hand. Her right palm had only a very faint glow over it, not even reaching a tick mark.

"Ah, hardly any residual magical damage at all. It was your left hand you used, Miss Granger?"

She nodded, still shaken but also relieved she hadn't somehow maimed herself.

There was a loud cry from a corner of the room and Hermione jumped, her wand slipping into her hand. The old wizard deftly caught his enchanted ruler as it fell off her hands.

"Oh, do hush Fawkes," the Headmaster grumbled good-spiritedly, slipping the magical ruler back into his desk. "Nothing is wrong. You can go back to sleep."

Hermione stared in shock at the goose-sized, bright-red bird she'd somehow missed in the corner of the room. Facts she should have considered blazed through her mind. Familiar. Phoenix. Fawkes.

Of course the Headmaster's lifetime companion would live in his office – Hedwig spent most evenings and all weekend hunting Harry around the grounds and even inside the dorm rooms, swooping down to alight on his shoulder with a growling cry. The other Gryffindors seemed amused by what they thought was an overly affectionate family post owl. But strong familiars like Hedwig needed regular physical and emotional contact. Fawkes would be the same.

The beautiful bird briefly spread its wings wide, trilling a short arpeggio followed by a bright chord (it sang chords?!).

"Fine, fine," the Headmaster said. "Come my friend, meet Miss Hermione Granger, first of her line."

Fawkes' riffled his feathers, then his gaze turned to her and she felt a sudden hot pressure. Somewhere in her head, alarm bells were going off. As the large bird bent down slightly, seeming to glare at her now, every instinct screamed that Fawkes was dangerous. Very, very dangerous.

Author's note, supplemental: I originally wanted to get the entire x-mas trip in one chapter, but this is going to take two it seems. Had too much fun writing Dumbledore and Hermione in that flashback, but I also wanted to show the story was moving. Things are still on their way to wrapping up.

Interesting thing to note: in canon Ron and his brothers do not go home first year for winter break, but there is a reason that's happening this time. And they say they are using Arthur's car the first time when Harry rides with them third year. So how do they get to the station all those other times? The Knights Bus makes the most sense to me. I know other people have invented complicated Floo systems, and I'm sure the Malfoys don't ride it over, but the bus makes sense for the Weasleys given their number of underage kids.

Maybe the Malfoys always just side-along or have an expensive legal Portkey make for them. Maybe a house elf? Anyone have any other ideas on that?

Oh, if it wasn't obvious: in my Magical Britain, racism isn't really a thing. At least, not based on the color of one's skin. Wizards can travel far and fast, bringing lots of different cultures and peoples together very early in their shared but secret history. Also, those foreigners can throw fireballs just as well as you can. So classism, sexism, and certainly "bloodism" exist, but not racism per se. Classism, because the poorly educated are at distinct disadvantage. An odd flavor of sexism, because of ongoing shared historic reasons. And blood purity for reasons that shall be explored more in Year Two.

Oh! And the French. In Magical Britain, everyone hates the French. Naturally.

I'm not sure racism as the mundane US and UK know it will ever come up again, though. That was just Hermione being self-conscious. She's clearly encountered that issue before in the mundane world. She's also got some body image issues she needs to work out. But that's what being a "tween" is all about.

Speaking of birds: Fawkes has a strange relationship with fanfic. A lot of the time, he's just a prop or almost more of a magical item than an actual character. If he's smart, really smart, then what does he want? What are Fawkes' goals? Why is he with Dumbledore, and when and why did they meet?

I think those are some of the most interesting unanswered questions in the series. I've already got my Fawkes kitted out with a back story. What's everyone's personal head-canon on Fawkes, and phoenixes in general?