- o -Friction
"While there was initially substantial resistance to this revolutionary way of crafting wands, it swiftly became clear that Ollivander wands were infinitely superior to anything that had come before. His methods of locating wand woods and core substances marrying them together and matching them to ideal owners are all jealously guarded secrets that were coveted by rival wandmakers." (sic)
- Pottermore - Mr Ollivander
www pottermore com writing-by-jk-rowling mr-ollivander
- o -
1995, October 20th, Friday, in a Wizarding World…
The corridor was long.
He meandered down its length aimlessly.
The corridor was dark.
He found his surroundings familiar.
The corridor ended with a door.
His scar prickled.
He reached for the doorknob. As he did so, he realized he was in a hallway in the Department of Mysteries. Dumbledore had taken him through here over the summer, and-
-the doorknob did not turn. It was locked.
It was open last time he was here. That should not have happened.
It really should not have happened.
He found this all familiar.
Because this should not be happening. Someone got in and-
Harry jerked awake at the familiar sensation.
- o -
Sitting in a dark room converted into a meditation chamber, Voldemort frowned. The boy knew Occlumency. This was the first night in months that Potter's defenses were down, but the boy was still able to push Voldemort out once the dream's unnaturalness became apparent.
He would have to be more subtle next time. And given that Potter found the corridor familiar, Dumbledore must have already taken the boy to the Department of Mysteries. There was no guarantee that the prophecy was in the Ministry, or even intact, anymore. That meant the old man was yet again one step ahead of him.
Chances were that Potter actually knew the prophecy if Dumbledore brought the boy there. Perhaps in the future Voldemort should aim for that memory instead.
- o -
It was the sensation of Legilimency.
Harry looked out the window of his dorm room and saw that the sun had yet to rise. He reached for his glasses to see if anyone nearby had tried to read his mind in his sleep. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, Harry opened the Marauder's Map and activated it.
No one was in the room aside from his sleeping dorm mates.
He double-checked it and especially kept an eye out for the name Medusa in his surroundings given what he saw the night before in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. But the map showed nothing. Exhaling deeply, he thought about what had just happened. He had suffered from enough Legilimency attacks at the hands of Mad Eye and Snape that he was absolutely certain the sensation he had just felt prior to waking was indeed that spell.
He highly doubted one of his roommates pried open his eyelids and cast the spell on him. Someone invisible? Harry had seen no evidence on the map, but he triple-checked it again anyway to no avail.
So he dreamt the feeling? That might be possible.
- o -
"Good morning, Hermione."
The addressed witch looked up from her breakfast and turned around to see Luna Lovegood standing behind her. "Good morning, Luna."
Fiddling with her radish earrings, the blonde asked, "May I keep your Biology book for a while longer?"
Hermione hesitated. It had been over seven weeks since she had lent the book to Luna. While Hermione wanted more wizards and witches to understand science, she needed the book for her own personal studies that she began over the summer. She still had physics, chemistry, and trigonometry books to work through, so she certainly had plenty to keep herself busy for the time being. Nonetheless, as a bibliophile, she loved her books and was reluctant to loan them out for too long.
"You are still reading through it?"
"Well, there is a lot of muggle terminology I don't understand, but mainly I wanted to use it as a reference for the extra credit assignment."
"Oh, well, that makes sense." Hermione would not begrudge her teammate that. "I think I will be using it too for citations."
"Would you like to work together on it?" Luna queried.
"That… yes, I think that would be a good idea," Hermione answered, thinking aloud. She was finding out the hard way that two weeks of diligent research on a topic often lead to more questions. "I can help with muggle knowledge, and you can give a pure-blood perspective on things."
"That sounds swell," the Ravenclaw said with a smile. "I'll bring the book to class."
When Luna left, Ron finished swallowing his juice and asked, "Extra credit assignment?"
Hermione nodded. "For Formalcraft. Professor Tohsaka asked for us to research ways to make a magical bloodline stronger."
"What? That makes no sense. Pure-bloods and muggle-borns have the same potential," Ron said definitively. He may have been pure-blood and relatively ignorant of the muggle world when compared to his two best friends, but his parents had raised him rightly when it came to things like this.
"I don't think Professor Tohsaka agrees with that. She said some bloodlines are stronger than others."
"And Dumbledore hired her?" Ron frowned. "You think maybe Malfoy senior got her into here?"
Harry, who had been stirring his porridge listlessly the entire meal, perked up at Ron's question. "Wait." He leaned in, causing both of his friends to do the same. The hubbub of the Great Hall sank into meaningless background noise. "I remember Lucius Malfoy and Professor Matou walking out of a restaurant together at Hogsmeade."
Hermione's eyebrows shot up. "Really?"
"Yeah, it was the first Hogsmeade weekend. After we had our meeting and you two left to do homework."
The two considered the implications for a few seconds. "But I don't think Dumbledore would hire them even if Malfoy pushed for it," Hermione stated. "And he seems a lot more excited about Runic Magic and Formalcraft than Umbridge's class. Besides, they clearly understand the muggle world which the pure-blood bias faction doesn't."
"Hmm…" Ron mused. "Using muggle methods to prove pure-blood supremacy. That's really cunning if you think about it."
"And hypocritical," Hermione remarked dryly.
"So prove her wrong," Harry suggested.
"Write your essay with proof stating that it's not possible to make a bloodline stronger. It's extra-credit, right? So if she doesn't accept the paper, it shouldn't matter if you get a T on it."
"I am not going to get a Troll on my essay, thank you very much." Seriously, how could he even suggest such heresy?
Ron suddenly perked up. "Blimey."
He pointed to an area behind her.
"Ron, it's rude to point at someone."
Sighing at the admonishment, the redhead gestured with his chin in the aforementioned direction. Turning around, Hermione saw what nearly everyone else was staring at: Albus Dumbledore had entered the Great Hall wearing the Sorting Hat on his head. Dismissing the event as unimportant, she looked back at her friends and noticed that Harry was staring at the headmaster with a serious expression which jarred with his earlier exhausted countenance. "Harry, are you okay?"
The addressed young wizard frowned and rubbed his eyes. "I didn't sleep well. I forgot to clear my mind last night."
"Oh, yeah, I found that practice made my sleeping a lot more soundly as well."
"Really?" Ron asked. "Maybe I should do it more often too."
The other two looked at him in consternation. Hermione accused, "Ron, do you mean to tell us that you haven't been practicing?"
"Err… okay, so I kind of forget a lot and just go to sleep."
"Well," Harry interjected before they could get into another argument, "that means I can't tell you about the dream I had."
From the stress placed upon the word, Hermione immediately grasped what her friend meant.
"Dream?" Ron asked, clearly not making the connection as quickly.
"Yeah. It's like some of the other dreams I've had in the past," he continued.
"Wait, what happened?" Hermione demanded.
Harry lowered his voice yet again and made sure no one could overhear them. "Remember that spicy soup that Mad Eye forced me to 'eat'?"
They remembered that lesson. The retired auror had constructed a fake memory in his Legilimency attack.
"Wait, so it wasn't a vision?" Hermione asked, quickly leaping from clues to conclusion.
"No, not like before. This was an intentional one."
Ron leaned in. "What was it about?"
"I can't tell either of you. It's related to the thing that you have to… clear your mind for. I'll tell you when you two get better at it."
Frowning at being temporarily kept out of the loop, Hermione said, "You should at least tell Professor Dumbledore."
- o -
The headmaster managed to make it to his chair and finished pouring his tea before anyone addressed him directly.
"Albus," McGonagall started with not an insignificant amount of hesitance, "why are you wearing the Sorting Hat?"
"Ah," he replied as he scooped some scrambled eggs onto his plate. "I believe that is what one does with a hat. One wears it."
The witch gave him an expression that perfectly conveyed her thoughts on his joke. "It is too early for this," she muttered.
"Come now, Minerva. It was merely a small jest. Did you know muggles hypothesize a correlation between smiling in the morning and an improvement in one's overall day?"
"Perhaps if you were actually amusing, then others could benefit from that piece of muggle lore," the Sorting Hat said.
While the nearby professors marveled at the Sorting Hat's unusual and unprofessional demeanor, Dumbledore merely began cutting up his breakfast. "In that case, I shall take that as encouragement to further my endeavors at humor."
McGonagall sighed and facepalmed. "For the love of Morgana, please don't."
The headmaster beamed a smile at his deputy headmistress.
"Something wrong, Saber?" the Sorting Hat asked in an amused tone.
Everyone nearby glanced two seats down at Saber who had paused in her task of consuming her breakfast. Taking a deep breath of patience, the blonde gave the Sorting Hat a stern silent glare.
"At least she did not say Merlin's pants," the ragged headwear said jovially. "I recall that one time he didn't wear any, the boy traumatized everyone with his hairy-"
"Stop," Saber commanded. "You met Merlin?"
"Yes, he attended school here in the charter class, and I had placed him into Salazar's house. I thought he was just a boy named after Merlin of Camelot; I did not know he would travel to the past in his future."
"So, Merlin attended Hogwarts in this dimension," Saber mused.
Spectators of the exchange slowly realized the potential scope of knowledge and experiences within the ancient artifact. Dumbledore spoke first. "Merlin's attendance is one source of pride for Hogwarts. Perhaps Sorting Hat could regale us with a tale or two."
"Well, his crowning achievement would be when he seduced Rowena and Helga simultaneously. It was his fifth ye-"
"What?!" McGonagall shrieked in a scandalized manner.
"Oh, you want actual details on the forbidden teacher-teacher-student affair?" the Sorting Hat asked. "Well, one night, Merlin put on a robe and me..."
- o -
History of Magic.
Today's lesson did not cover a battle but instead focused on a treacherous event in 1357 during the Fourth Giant War. Thus, Harry did not find it as exciting as the other lessons involving miniatures, but the occasional insightful question from Saber made things somewhat less than utterly boring.
"And so, both sides met at the agreed location of the parley," Binns droned. "However, the wizard Alden O'Leary, who was the human representative, violated protocol and set up an ambush on the other party which included Onkus, the son of the Giant King."
"How reprehensible," Saber commented.
"Indeed, Scimitar," Binns replied. "When the general of the army discovered this, he immediately released the imprisoned giants and handed over O'Leary as reparation for the crime. The giants, in turn, commented that the wizard gave them indigestion."
Several students grimaced at that fact.
Seamus Finnegan raised his hand. "Weren't they at war, though? Why would the wizard be punished for capturing the enemy?"
"Parley is sacred, Mr. Finley," Binns stated gravely.
"Indeed. Such an act would be considered a war crime," Saber added with equal solemnity.
From her seat at the front, Saber turned to address the young wizard. "A force which violates parley cannot be trusted. This untrustworthiness would then be extended to other matters. They cannot be trusted to adhere to a peace treaty. They cannot be trusted to treat prisoners humanely. They cannot be trusted to uphold their part in a negotiation in times of peace afterwards, such as trade and territory management. There are rules to war; if the rules are not followed then it becomes nothing more than barbaric slaughter."
Harry never thought of it that way; he could not imagine himself entering a parley with Death Eaters since he would never trust them. After considering that specific viewpoint a bit more, he raised his hand. "So what happens if the other side does not follow the rules of war? They get to break the rules we cannot."
"Always prepare for treachery," Saber stated.
Binns said, "And if they violate the rules, you can request help from foreign powers as such an act allows for international intervention."
Hermione raised her hand. "You mean the International Confederation of Wizards?"
"Yes, Miss Gardener," Binns confirmed. "Five points to Gryffindor. It also means you can declare that no quarter will be given because the other side has demonstrated they cannot be trusted to properly surrender. So by violating parley, they are giving up the right to become prisoners of war."
- o -
Shirou walked up to Snape's desk and handed over the Hair Coloring Concoction. While he initially thought the potion to be glorified hair dye, the magical color stays effective for months and continues to affect newly grown hair, preventing the roots from showing the original color. He supposed if he wanted to slow down his white hairs, this would be a reasonable method to do so.
Snape swirled the iridescent potion. "Exceeds Expectations," he declared from behind his desk.
Behind Shirou was Harry Potter who had a similarly looking potion. When Snape took the vial from the student, his eyes fell upon Shirou for an instant before he analyzed the concoction. With a huff of exasperation, the professor said, "Exceeds Expectations."
Shirou wondered what Snape was upset over.
- o -
Double Defense Against the Dark Arts.
"Please read chapter fifteen of your textbook."
After the Boggart incident, Defense Against the Dark Arts had reverted back to the boring routine of reading from the horribly dry books. Maybe Harry should read these books before sleeping; they would definitely clear his mind. When the bell rang to indicate the end of class, he discreetly looked at the Marauder's Map.
Saber was really Arturia Pendragon.
And behind Sakura Matou was the individual named Medusa.
However, Harry could not see the latter, and he could neither confirm nor deny the possibilities of a Transfigured person or a ghost. It could be a beetle like Rita Skeeter hiding on the back of Professor Matou's shirt. Or it could be a ghost that the off-worlder had cast a Disillusion Charm on. After all, she was able to heal Then-Nearly-Headless-Nick, so casting other spells on a ghost was not out of the realm of possibility.
Wait a minute… An invisible person hanging around the off-worlders that can go through walls… Could it be a house-elf?
They generally try to stay unseen. Furthermore, they can Disapparate in Hogwarts; moving through walls was not a far stretch from that. And in the company of Dobby, Winky, and Kreacher, the name 'Medusa' was not all that strange. Well, it was strange, but in a different way.
Mulling over the idea, he put away his map and left the room.
- o -
After his last class, Harry walked to the study wing to begin his homework. Given that he wanted to speak to Dumbledore about last night as well as his need to attend the Occlumency lesson after dinner, he would have little time later in the evening for his assignments. So with quite a bit of effort, he deliberately set aside those troubling matters and concentrated on his homework. Lately, he had chosen the study wing over the Gryffindor Common room because there was a small chance Cho might find him there again after Formalcraft ended.
Tremble before the might of teenage hormones. Even the fear of mental attacks from a Dark Lord cannot fully stem their effects.
Finishing his diagram of a Chinese Chomping Cabbage, Harry moved onto his essay on the Inanimatus Conjurus Spell for Transfiguration class. Apparently the spell was so difficult that McGonagall required the class to research it first before attempting it. After completing twenty-four inches of the assigned thirty inch essay, Hermione entered the classroom excitedly.
"Harry! Guess what?"
Seeing the elation on his friend's face, Harry blurted out the first thing on his mind. "Oh, Ron finally asked you to the Yule Ball? About time."
"No, Professor Tohsaka stated she will be taking on an apprentice and if we want that position our Head of Houses will have to recommend us and we have to pass a series of tests and… Wait, what did you just say?"
"Uhhhh…" Harry answered dumbly. He waved his wand and incanted "Pack" to magically pack his supplies. "So, you're going for the apprenticeship?"
"Wow, you're going to be even busier than before," he continued, deliberately glossing over his slip. "Prefect. OWLs. Clearing your mind. DA. Now an apprenticeship…"
"Don't ignore my question," Hermione demanded. "What do you mean Ron-"
"Sorry, gotta go tell Dumbledore about getting mind-raped," he declared hurriedly as he dashed out of the room.
"Harry James Potter! Get back here!"
- o -
The smoke from the incense formed random patterns. Over there, it curled into the shape of a goblin's ear. On the other side, a ribbon tied upon itself.
So that meant Neville would soon meet a goblin wearing a ribbon around its ear. Or was a goblin symbolic of gold? A golden ear? An ear of corn?
He jotted down his interpretations onto paper using a pen. The writing instrument felt odd in his hand when he used it, but he had forgotten his supplies and had to borrow from his Divination partner, Mr. Emiya. Fortunately the security guard seemed to be a really nice guy. Normally Neville would have put off his Divination homework until Sunday, the evening before the class, but Emiya chose not to wait until the last moment, somewhat like Hermione. And unlike Harry and Ron from previous years, the magus took the Divination course seriously.
There was, however, one thought that kept nagging Neville. It was somewhat impolite to ask, but at the same time not really that rude because it concerned something said in public. Curiosity had been building for the past few weeks, and Emiya had been nothing but civil and friendly. After a few minutes of deliberation, Neville made his decision.
"Mr. Emiya, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure. Do you need help with something?"
"No, not that. I was wondering about what you said last month in Defense Against the Dark Arts. You told Professor Umbridge that you were a horrible magus."
"Yes, I am."
Neville blinked at how Emiya said the statement with no hesitation or shame. "But you beat an auror in a duel." Given his job, Dawlish was a cut above regular magical law enforcement.
"Being good at fighting is not the same as being a talented magus." Confusion clearly showed on the student's face, so the security guard continued. "For example, are there any complicated spells that takes a powerful and talented wizard to cast that are unrelated to combat?"
"Yeah, there are." The Fidelius Charm that Flitwick lectured upon in third year came to mind.
"So it's possible for someone who is talented to spend their time working with really complicated spells and researching new ones, but as a consequence spends no time on combat training. This means a second person who is less talented but specializes in combat could beat the first person in a duel."
Nodding in understanding, Neville asked, "So you specialize in dueling?"
Emiya smiled self-deprecatingly. "That's right. I'm only good at a few spells, and my training and magical education is primarily oriented towards combat."
"But I thought aurors specialize in dueling too," the young wizard pointed out. "So if you were bad, then wouldn't they be better than you?"
"I would not know," Emiya replied with a shrug. "I'm not from this dimension, so I do not know the capabilities of aurors."
"Oh…" Neville replied hesitatingly, realizing he made a rather unintelligent statement. He felt a combination of sympathy and envy towards Emiya. Sympathy because Neville himself was a weak wizard who struggled with all of his spells. Envy because Emiya clearly rose above his limitations even if it was only in one aspect. Sure, Neville was confident in his skill in Herbology, but he wanted something more than that.
Another thought then occurred to the student. "Why are you taking Divination then?"
"I'm interested in Divining about the past, and in a convoluted manner that can actually help me in combat." Emiya said nothing more after that, so Neville assumed he would not elaborate. A half minute later, the security guard queried, "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I wasn't sure how Divination applied to dueling."
"No, I mean why did you ask your first question?
"Um… well…" Neville stammered. Nervously, he confessed, "I'm not a very good wizard, either."
"I see," Emiya responded simply.
The young wizard blinked in surprise at the lack of follow up. Most reasonable individuals would say something encouraging. Emiya simply accepted Neville's statement as fact. There was something odd about that.
Odd… and refreshing in a way since there were no expectations.
The non-sequitur threw the young Gryffindor off. "Sorry?"
- o -
Aside from the muted ticking of a clock, silence reigned in the headmaster's office for a few seconds. Harry had just finished explaining his dream and his theory about Voldemort's attack. Now he sat there waiting for Dumbledore to address the situation.
With the Sorting Hat still on his head, the elder wizard stroked his beard. "That's good then."
"What?!" Harry exclaimed, sitting up straight. In what manner was this "good" at all?
"Pardon me, I must apologize - I seem to have gotten ahead of myself," the older wizard placated. "Let me state this first: I agree with your hypothesis that Voldemort sent you that vision. It is most likely his intention to trap you at the Department of Mysteries with the objective of having you personally acquire the prophecy."
"I thought you said he would use someone else to get it?"
"That was conjecture on my part," Dumbledore patiently explained. "He could very well have predicted my plans to have the orb switched with a trapped one. Or perhaps he is demonstrating prudence and wariness in light of the defenses that are, at best, only vaguely known at the Department of Mysteries. Predicting and outmaneuvering him is a daunting task."
Harry slowly came to the realization that even the great Albus Dumbledore could be wrong. Or at least not all-knowing.
"Now, what I meant by my ill-timed remark was that despite the somewhat high severity of the issue, you are already well on your way towards the solution."
The young wizard nodded in understanding. "You mean Occlumency."
"Indeed. You managed to detect the intrusion and, with your own prowess I might add, eject a wizard who possesses great skill in the more deplorable usages of Legilimency. This is no small feat."
Sighing in frustration, Harry leaned back in his chair. He had been hoping for the headmaster to provide a miracle solution to put the matter behind him. "You're not worried at all?"
"It would be incorrect to say that I am brushing off this issue, but I do believe my confidence in you is not misplaced."
"Really?" Considering the fact that Voldemort could reach into his mind without eye contact, he was not as confident.
"Yes, Harry. If I had deemed your skill in Occlumency to be inadequate, then I would be having this conversation while staring at the ceiling due to the necessity of avoiding eye contact." Dumbledore then proceed to do just that, and the Sorting Hat on his head moved slightly to maintain its grip. "Not only is this awkward, I am certain the old bones in my neck would protest after a few minutes. I might even have to conjure a sofa to rest upon while we converse."
Harry's lips twitched into a slight smile, but it melted away in light of the gravity of the situation.
The headmaster lowered his gaze from the ceiling. "However, if you wish for a more objective evaluation of your progress, I know just the thing."
Before Harry could ask what that meant, Dumbledore stood and removed the Sorting Hat from his head.
"You know I cannot teach Occlumency," the Sorting Hat said as it was handed over.
"But you can at least determine how strong he is, yes?"
Harry took the proffered hat. It seemed much smaller than when he was eleven. Mentally bracing himself for a Legilimency attack, he gently placed it upon his head.
"Terrible. Your defenses are atrocious," the Sorting Hat immediately declared aloud.
"Wait, really?" Harry asked in shock at the unexpectedly harsh criticism. He did not even feel a probe.
"An opening!" the Sorting Hat shouted as it commenced a Legilimency attack into the student's now less-than-focused defenses.
- Lying on his bed, Harry scanned the Marauder's Map - Near the headmaster's office was Albus Dumbledore - And walking next to him was someone named Arturia Pendra-
After realizing the initial assessment was a blatant lie, Harry gave a mental shove. The Sorting Hat's intrusion was easily repelled from that memory. His mindscape changed to one of complete darkness. "That was dirty…" Harry thought indignantly.
"Fairly good when you are paying attention," the artifact's voice echoed in the mental void, ignoring the accusation. "But if your focus shifts, your defenses are notably lowered."
Deliberately recalling the lesson of Mad Eye explaining how the shields get stronger after repeated attacks, Harry stood in the memory with the Sorting Hat on his head as an outside observer of himself. "So does this mean I need to have more lessons with Snape?"
"I do not possess the knowledge of how you humans learn."
Harry thought over his more recent 'remedial potions lessons'. He had reached the point where Snape could not enter his mind without a wand; on the other hand, half the time the Potions Professor could enter despite handicapping himself by casting silently. Harry knew that he was progressing, but logic fell before the might of emotion because the fact that Voldemort could read his mind while sleeping simply terrified him.
"No need to panic," Sorting Hat reassured. "You're almost there."
"I have no reason to lie to you. You can recognize an intrusion and can effectively defend against it at will."
"But Voldemort can get to me when I'm sleeping and not aware."
"He could also send an assassin at you when you're sleeping, right? So which is more terrifying? Someone reading your mind while you sleep, or someone stabbing you in the face while you sleep?"
… That comparison was quite morbid.
"While I have never taught Occlumency," the Sorting Hat continued, "I will assume that you will naturally progress to having automatic shields. Your lesson with Alastor said as much, and you have definitely improved over your lessons with Severus from what you have just shown me."
Harry sighed, both mentally and physically. It was not complete reassurance, but at the same time the situation was not entirely bleak either.
"On an unrelated note, congratulations on discovering Saber's name," the Sorting Hat said.
Blinking in realization, Harry sat straight up and unknowingly startled Dumbledore who was observing intently. "Of course! You read her mind! You know she's lying about her name."
"It is not really a lie. Saber is a title."
"I cannot tell much more on pain of dishonor, if you recall."
"She's not a danger to the school?"
Sorting Hat suddenly laughed loudly in his mind. It was the same laugh from when the hat was placed on Saber's head on the evening of the Opening Feast. "I can say that the school is at least a hundred times safer with her here."
"Oh," Harry thought. That's a good thing of course. "Does that mean Medusa is also okay?"
Harry's next set of thoughts came out in a rush. "There's someone invisible named Medusa who follows them. I don't know if she is an animagus or a ghost with the Disillusion Charm on her or a house-elf. I don't even know if it's even a her."
A few seconds of silence passed before the Sorting Hat telepathized again. "I cannot claim to have any knowledge of this Medusa individual, but I am willing to place my faith in Saber's abilities and judgment regarding this."
That was… a very big endorsement. To be truthful, it was quite also relieving for Harry Potter because quite frankly he had enough things to worry about this year especially given what happened last night during his sleep. So having one less thing of concern eased him a bit.
"If you would do me one small favor, Harry?" the Sorting Hat asked.
"Please don't tell anyone, including the professors, about Arturia… or Medusa."
Harry frowned "Why not?"
"Because I predict things will be much more amusing that way."
- o -
Following the dinner of barbecue spare ribs and corn on the cob roasted in its husk, Hermione returned to the study wing alongside Luna Lovegood. McGonagall and Sprout alongside their respective Formalcraft teams happened to be in the classroom they chose. After acknowledging the professors with a polite nod, the two young women found a table and sat down. As they began pulling out their stationary, the Hermione considered the somewhat awkward meal. Given what Harry had told her after classes before he ran off like a coward, she had eaten dinner with the anticipation of Ron asking her to the Yule Ball.
Instead, Ron had eaten dinner with gusto.
Not surprisingly, Harry had been of no help. After summarizing his meeting with Dumbledore with a simple "It's fine. I got this." and nothing else by way of explanation, he had more or less avoided Hermione's gaze in order to pretend he did not slip up earlier.
"Do you know what you will be writing about?" Luna asked, interrupting Hermione's thoughts.
"Parselmouths and Metamorphmagi. You?"
Hermione paused in the process of inking her quill. Frowning in confusion, she asked, "How does that work?"
"Well," Luna began enthusiastically, "did you by chance buy a wand from Ollivander's?"
"Do you remember how he chose the wands for you to try out?"
As it was one of the more odd moments of her life, she recalled it just fine. "Yes, he measured my arm and other parts of my body. Even around my head and my nose."
"Okay," Luna said. "Now, do you know how pure-bloods traditionally acquired wands?"
"Well," Hermione began, taking the change in conversation in stride, "I know that some wizards and witches inherit wands. Ron said his first wand was from his brother Charlie."
"Yes, that's one of the two typical ways," Luna confirmed. "The other is that a wizard brings the materials - wood and core - to a wandmaker. The wandmaker then just makes a wand out of those materials."
"Wait, there's no matching?" Hermione asked in surprise.
"No matching," Luna confirmed. "This traditional method still works for making wands, but it may not be the most suitable match. Garrick Ollivander, the current owner, changed how his family shop operated by having his customers match a wand."
"Really?" She had assumed wand matching was the normal way to acquire a wand.
"Yes. My grandfather interviewed him for the Quibbler once over forty years ago. It was still radical at the time, and only recently do people seem to believe him. Garrick, I mean." Luna took out the Biology book. "However, there are still families that do it the traditional way, and before Garrick, the Ollivanders Wand Shop also serviced its patrons the old way for over two millennia."
Hermione thought of her experiences with Ron first year. He seemed to be able to use his wand fine then. It was only after it had been snapped in second year that he had issues with it. Was his second wand better than his first? "So how does this all fit in with Professor Tohsaka's assignment?"
Luna began explaining the next part with more energy. "Assuming Garrick Ollivander is correct, then he has a system to determine which wand or set of wands matches you best. But I also remember him saying that certain wand materials and their properties, like length of wood, indicate a strength or weakness for certain spells. Some are good for Transfiguration and some are good for Charms."
"Wait!" Hermione gasped in realization. "Are you saying-"
"Yes!" Luna interrupted excitedly. "Garrick Ollivander has a system that can determine if a person will be potentially good at Transfiguration or Charms before that person even casts a spell with a wand."
"Now," the blonde continued, "Your Biology book says that whether you are right- or left-handed is a phenotype that is determined by genetics, and other traits like height and body structure are also affected by genes. So that means you can marry someone with the specific physical traits to encourage your children and descendants to become better at a certain branch of spellcasting."
The Gryffindor witch took a few moments to reevaluate the convoluted chain of logic. Tilting her head in thought, she said, "I believe there is a correlation between ethnicity and average human height, so that would also matter."
Luna's eyes brightened. "Oh, wow, I had not considered that. That would mean wizards should be racist in who they marry if they want to do this."
"Uhh… 'should' might not be the right word to use there, Luna. In fact, you may want to avoid suggesting racism altogether."
"But if I have a citation supporting it, Professor Tohsaka should accept it, right?" the Ravenclaw witch asked.
"I'm not sure," Hermione replied. "So you have more information on the system Ollivander uses?"
"Unfortunately not," Luna said with a pout. "He did not go into much detail in the interview with my father. And I sent an owl to Ollivander, but he said he would not reveal his family secrets."
"Maybe the person running the Hogsmeade branch would share something. You might be able to at least ask about which materials and properties are good for which spells."
The blonde considered the suggestion. "That sounds like a grand idea. Thank you, Hermione."
"You are welcome." The Gryffindor witch considered her study partner. Despite the somewhat dotty personality, Luna was quite focused when it came to schoolwork. While she did often bring analogies and comparisons of rather fanciful ideas found in her family newspaper to the team discussions, she also understood the intricacies of Formalcraft and Runic Magic better than Hermione's other two teammates.
This proposed theory was actually similar to the other notions Luna had set forth in earlier discussions. However, Hermione took it more seriously than normal because she herself had acquired a wand through Ollivander, so she knew firsthand what Luna spoke about. Perhaps she should give the blonde the benefit of the doubt more often since this idea was particularly clever if incredibly convoluted.
- o -
Sprout and McGonagall exchanged a heavy look. Luna had explained her theory with a bit of excitement, and both professors had paused their teams' activities to listen in.
If Luna Lovegood was right, then the implications could be far-reaching.
- o -
"How about you, Hermione? You said you were researching Parselmouths and Metamorphmagi?"
"Yes," the Gryffindor witch answered. "I'm basically writing about magical abilities that you can inherit. Wizards descended from Salazar Slytherin are Parselmouths. That doesn't really mean much in terms of being powerful, but it's an example of an ability that can be inherited. So what about other abilities?"
Luna nodded. "Like a Metamorphmagus."
"Right. I met one recently, and she said that being one is also something that can be passed down. That's opposed to Animagus magic which can be learned by anyone."
Hermione paused, waiting for Luna to make the obvious connection. When the blonde said nothing and simply stared at her, Hermione continued awkwardly, "Err, so by marrying people with these abilities, you can introduce 'magical strength' into a bloodline. It's not spellcasting strength, but given two people of equal spell abilities, someone being a Metamorphmagus can be said to have a magical advantage over the other."
Luna frowned. "That's… so simple."
"Oh, you don't think Professor Tohsaka would accept such a simple idea for the paper?" Hermione bemoaned. "I was worried about that too. I mean-"
"No!" the blonde interrupted. "It's… right. I mean, it's so obvious that this can be done to strengthen a bloodline. Brilliant, actually."
"Really? I think your idea is so much more clever," Hermione said.
"My theory is just that: a theory based on what Garrick Ollivander believes is true. His ancestors have done things differently for centuries, so who knows if he is right," Luna countered, surprising the Gryffindor witch greatly with her apparent humbleness. "I was just surprised that families which value blood purity don't do what you suggested."
"That's because they are doing it incorrectly."
Engrossed as they were, the girls failed to notice the two eavesdropping teams blink owlishly at Hermione's blunt declaration.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, they are focusing on blood purity," Hermione began explaining. "In terms of the bullet points that Professor Tohsaka wrote on the board, they are trying to 'prevent decrease of positive traits'. However, there is no proof that blood purity makes one stronger at anything magical, so is it even a positive trait in the first place?"
"Oh, right, that's why Professor Tohsaka was asking for a graph of magical growth over generations."
"I think so, too. Furthermore, by keeping blood 'pure' by only marrying other pure-bloods, they are failing to decrease the chances of negative traits. That is to say, inbreeding. Ron showed me his family tree once, and apparently he's actually related to Harry and Draco Malfoy if you look far back enough. According to… a pure-blood I met, nearly all pure-bloods in Britain are related somehow."
"Wait, half the people here are my cousins?" Luna inquired. "Or aunts or uncles?"
"Something like that."
"Then that means…" The Ravenclaw witch frowned. "... that I have been missing out on many Christmas presents."
"... Sure," Hermione allowed. "Anyway, blood purity doesn't seem to achieve any of the four-bullet criteria that Professor Tohsaka laid out, and in fact it violates one of them. What I am suggesting is different. Metamorphmagi might be rare in England, but if you can find others around the world, you can avoid the issues with inbreeding."
Luna nodded in understanding. "So you would measure success by how many children inherit the ability?"
"Yes, as well as the level of capability of a Metamorphmagus. Some can fully transform their bodies while some can only do it partially."
"So your entire paper will be about Metamorphmagi?" Luna asked.
Frowning, Hermione said, "I want it to be about more, but I have not found any other inheritable abilities aside from Parselmouth. Is not really that impressive of a power aside from being able to speak to basilisks."
"Weren't you Petrified by one?"
"… Point," the young witch conceded to the rather logical counter. "I meant that it's illegal to raise a basilisk so practically speaking you cannot utilize the Parselmouth ability to the fullest extent."
"Inner Eye," Luna said suddenly.
"The Inner Eye. It's an ability that's passed down, I think."
Hermione opened her mouth and raised a finger… and then closed her mouth after a few moments. The memory of her rather dramatic exit from Divination her third year came to mind. She remembered the vivid emotions of anger, frustration, and resentment that had coursed through her when Trelawney had stated patronizingly that those who were born without the Inner Eye could not perform as well in that class. To be told that one cannot accomplish as much academically because of how they were born?
That had grated on Hermione. Very much so.
But then how did her extra credit assignment factor into this? Harry had told her of the prophecy made in third year regarding Pettigrew, so presumably Trelawney was not a fake in terms of possessing the Inner Eye. Did that mean Trelawney was magically superior to other witches and wizards because of her innate ability? That was, after all, what Hermione was proposing in her paper.
Was she correct now and wrong then? Or was she correct then and wrong now?
She hated being wrong.
- o -
At the call of his deputy headmistress, Dumbledore looked up from his Runic project he was working on with Draco Malfoy and the other members of their team. Having known her for decades, the headmaster recognized an underlying tone of displeasure in McGonagall's voice.
Turning back to his team, Dumbledore said, "Perhaps we should take a small intermission." As the students placed their quills down and relaxed for their break, the two professors left the study area. Finding a nearby empty room, the two closed the door behind them.
"Is something amiss, Minerva?"
McGonagall breathed in deeply. "Do you realize what Tohsaka is doing to our students?"
Preparing himself, Dumbledore suggested, "Perhaps, you could elaborate?"
And so she did. McGonagall gave a faithful summary of the discussion between Luna Lovegood and Hermione Granger which she had just overheard.
When she finished, Dumbledore nodded calmly and asked, "You think this is wrong?"
"Hermione Granger is one of the most talented witches I have taught, perhaps brighter than Lily Potter," McGonagall said sternly. "And now, despite being muggle born, she is formulating plans that would make blood purists drool! Yes, I think there is something very much wrong with that."
"So you see potential in their plans. That is the real reason why you are upset, yes?" the headmaster conjectured. "Miss Granger's and Miss Lovegood's theories actually seem plausible."
As the witch responded with a denial that was fueled more by emotion than logic, Dumbledore considered the most dangerous aspect of these theories: they were based entirely on aspects of their own magic. Even if the off-worlders were to suddenly disappear tomorrow, Luna Lovegood and Hermione Granger could still propose these ideas.
He sighed internally.
So it begins.
- o -
Carefully stepping away from the door, Draco Malfoy considered what he had just overheard. The off-worlders seemed to be succeeding where many pure bloods have failed before: convincing mudbloods that bloodlines do actually matter.
Even the muggle-loving wizards were finally seeing the truth of things.
The Dark Lord will be happy to hear about this.
- o -
1995, October 21st, Saturday, in a Wizarding World…
Over half the audience cheered as Katie Bell scored for the Gryffindor team. The Lions currently led against the Snakes by thirty points.
"So, you are not allowed to cast magic during a Quidditch match?" Sakura inquired, huddling into her jacket as she experienced firsthand the chill of a Scottish autumn.
"Broom flight itself is magical, but otherwise no other Mysteries are allowed during play," Flitwick explained from his conjured, elevated seat. "Some spells are allowed beforehand, such as the Impervius Charm which protects eyewear from water."
Sakura nodded in understanding. To her side sat Shirou who was staring upwards. She asked, "Do you see the Snitch?"
"What?" Flitwick exclaimed, drawing the attention of those nearby. "You see the Snitch?"
"It's up there," Shirou said as he pointed. His finger moved slightly downwards, clearly tracking the movement of the walnut-sized object. Sakura Reinforced her eyes to search for it.
"Perhaps you should try out the game, Mr. Emiya," Flitwick suggested. "If you can follow the Snitch so easily, you would make an excellent Seeker."
"I'm using magic," Shirou explained.
"Is that so? A tracking spell of some sort?"
"Ah, no. I'm enhancing my eyesight."
"Really?" the Charms Professor said with obvious interest. "Would you by chance be teaching that spell to us at some point? I would wager there are more than a few wizards and witches who would rather go without spectacles, myself included."
"Actually, I'd rather not. It's fairly dangerous and is not a permanent solution to poor eyesight."
"I knew it was too good to be true," Flitwick lamented. "How is it dangerous?"
"You can cause your eyes to atrophy if you miscast the spell… or explode"
The elder wizard nodded in a rather unfazed fashion despite the gruesome description. "I suppose that is comparable to our Disapparition. If performed improperly, a wizard can easily Splinch himself."
"It is a portmanteau of 'splinter' and 'detach'. It can happen with any external body part and potentially organs."
The comment was unusual enough to garner Sakura's attention from her search for the Snitch. Apparently this world had its share of finicky magic as well.
- o -
Seemingly standing alone near the exit of the Quidditch seats, Saber watched Harry Potter ascend to avoid a Bludger, execute an Immelmann turn, and then perform a high-speed dive to catch the Snitch.
"Not bad," an invisible Rider said.
Saber nodded in agreement.
- o -
In another universe, a certain altercation occurred after a certain Quidditch match, and as a result a certain Educational Decree was passed which allowed the High Inquisitor to have "supreme authority over all punishments".
This was not that universe.
After personally meeting the Dark Lord, Draco Malfoy changed his priorities in life.
- o -
Having left early from the celebration within the Gryffindor Common room, Harry went up to his dorm. With Ron and Hermione sort-of-but-not-quite staring each other, he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to check the Marauder's Map. He would have normally told his friends about his findings on Saber and Medusa, but he decided to humor the request from the Sorting Hat.
That being said, he himself was still curious about this unknown being. Lying on his bed alone in the room, he scanned the map through the myriad of names. After seven minutes, he almost gave up until he found Medusa's name.
Next to it was Luna Lovegood.
- o -
1995, October 22nd, Sunday, in a Wizarding World…
The bright morning was filled with fresh air, the aroma of falling leaves, and the chirpings of the few birds that had yet to migrate south. Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked along the path towards Hagrid's hut. Ron and Hermione had noticed the hut had been lit the night before during their patrol, but for some reason he was not present during breakfast. So the three had rushed through their morning meal to get a head start on meeting their friend. Afterwards, they planned to go to Hogsmeade for another session in DADA tutelage with Sirius and the others.
Harry raised his hand and knocked on the large door.
"Comin'!" After some shuffling heard through the thick wood, the door opened. A wave of heat from the interior hit the three Gryffindors. "Harry! Hermione! Ron! Good ter see yeh! Come in, come in."
However, the three students stood in shock at the doorway. Hagrid's face looked like one giant bruise with a sprinkling of cuts here and there. His swollen eyelid hid most of his left pupil. He held a large slab of raw meat to his face.
"Hagrid!" Hermione exclaimed in alarm. According to Sirius, Hagrid had gone on a diplomatic mission to the giant colonies on the continent. Had he been injured there?
"What happened to you?" Harry demanded.
"It's nuthin'," Hagrid said, moving somewhat gingerly out of the doorway. "Don' worry abou' it."
"Come off it," Ron said. "You're in a right state!"
"Told yeh, nuthin'... Uh, oh."
Seeing that Hagrid's gaze was on something behind them, the three students turned around. Over a hundred feet away, McGonagall, Saber, and Matou were walking steadily towards the hut. The last held a basket in one hand. Hermione turned back at Hagrid with a serious expression. "I'm sure Professor McGonagall will agree with us when we say that it's not nuthin'."
Hagrid visibly despaired at the situation, but the other party inexorably arrived. McGonagall's expression darkened considerably when she saw Hagrid's face, and her pace increased, leaving the two off-worlders behind. The three Gryffindors stepped considerably out of her way.
"Rubeus, you must see Poppy right now," McGonagall declared. Clearly she felt asking "What happened?" was of lower priority.
"I'm fine," the half-giant replied sullenly.
"Of course you are," the witch humored dryly. "And that is why you are applying a piece of rancid meat to your face."
"It's not rancid. It's dragon steak. Juices kill mos' infections. Ev'ryone knows tha'," Hagrid responded, gesturing to the meat that possessed a greenish tinge to it. Unfortunately, that act caused him to twinge and slightly bend over, indicating deeper injuries. "Err, righ'. Nuthin' goin' on here. 'Sides, yeh know spells an' potions don' work on me so well."
McGonagall heaved a deep breath in vexation.
"Perhaps I can be of assistance?" Matou interjected, having caught up.
As Hagrid looked at the newcomers, McGonagall made introductions. Harry and his two friends waited at the side uneasily as the Transfiguration professor confirmed that these two were indeed from another dimension, but that fact held far less importance than Hagrid's health at the moment.
"Would you like some medical treatment, Mr. Hagrid?" Matou offered.
"Just Hagrid is fine," he said. "And, well…"
With a sigh, McGonagall explained, "Due to his… heritage, Hagrid is a bit resistant to magic."
Matou nodded. "I have experience healing individuals with high magic resistance. May I?" she asked politely.
"Err… sure," Hagrid replied, uncertain as to what type of agreement he was making.
- o -
While Hagrid, Matou, and McGonagall were inside the hut for privacy purposes, the three students stood outside with Saber. Hermione had insisted on waiting to ensure Hagrid would recover with no issue, and Ron and Harry decided to stick by as well since they too cared about their friend.
The security guard was standing straight, holding onto the basket. She seemed comfortable in her formal posture while the three Gryffindors held themselves somewhat awkwardly. Breaking the silence, she asked, "Did we interrupt something between you and the professor?"
"Oh, no, we were just visiting," Hermione quickly assuaged. "Did we?" she returned nervously.
"Not really. We merely came for introductions and to thank Mr. Hagrid for lending us space to park our motorcycles." Saber lifted the basket. "We wished to show our appreciation with some homemade muffins, and Professor McGonagall was gracious enough to allow us to witness her modify the Extension Charm in there."
"Oh, that's a difficult charm," Hermione remarked. She knew that the Charm was heavily controlled by the Ministry.
"I imagine it would be. To be able to distort spatial reality is quite challenging in our universe."
"Distort spatial reality?" Ron parroted. "Is that what you call it? It's not that fancy. Wizards use that spell everywhere."
Saber nodded slowly. "I think the approach to magic in our universe is fundamentally different. Hopefully Professor Tohsaka and Matou will learn your method soon enough."
The three students looked at one another, unsure what to say regarding the off-worlders' inability to cast spells of this world. Eventually, Hermione settled on politely changing the topic. "Saber? Is Professor Matou a medi-witch?"
"It is not her magical specialty, but she is versed in some healing spells," the security guard answered. "Furthermore, she is also a trained paramedic."
Hermione nodded. "Oh, okay."
Ron leaned toward Harry and whispered, "Is that a type of doctor or nurse?"
However, apparently Saber heard the question because she answered, "Paramedics handle on-site, emergency response situations. They secure the patient until they can reach a doctor and a facility for more professional care."
Digesting this information, Ron frowned. "So Professor Matou is not actually a doctor?"
"Correct. Her training is not as extensive compared to medical doctor or nurse."
"Oh…" Ron trailed off as he looked at Hagrid's hut with concern.
"But she has saved lives in the past. Rest assured Mr. Hagrid is in good hands."
That seemed to mollify the Gryffindors. To no one's surprise, Hermione continued with her questions. "So how will Professor Matou handle the magic resistance?"
Saber looked at the young witch with an unreadable expression.
"Uh," Ron said quietly to his friend, "I don't think she would know."
Hermione realized her error. Saber was a squib, after all. "Oh, um… I'm sorry. I guess I should ask Professor Matou herself, then."
"You will find out soon enough," the blonde responded. As if on cue, a huge surge of prana flooded out of the shed. All three students straightened up in shock at the amount of roiling magic in the air.
"What's going on?!" Hermione exclaimed in slight panic.
The security guard continued to carry herself in an unperturbed manner. "Professor Matou is overpowering Mr. Hagrid's magic resistance."
"That's impossible," Harry said, entering the conversation. "It takes multiple wizards to take down a giant."
Hermione nodded. "Right, Professor Binns said so in History of Magic."
"So… Mr. Hagrid is a giant?" Saber inquired.
The question, of course, made Harry realize what he had just revealed. Still, Hagrid's ancestry was technically public knowledge due to Skeeter's article last year, so the mistake was not really a big one. "Yeah, he's half giant," he clarified. He frowned at a sudden thought. "Is that a problem?"
Ron and Hermione noticed the unexpected and inappropriate sharpness in Harry's tone.
"Why would it be a problem?" Saber returned.
Harry took a moment to formulate a reply. "Did you subdue giants before?"
"One or two," Saber answered evenly.
"Wow, that's really impressive," Hermione commented.
Ron nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I'd be terrified if I met a giant or two."
Saber and Harry continued staring at each other, not responding to the statements of the others. Before anyone could say anything else, they heard Hagrid's shout come from the hut. "Wow, yah fix'd meh!"
- o -
1995, October 24th, Tuesday, in a Wizarding World…
Nearing the end of October, about two months had passed since Cho Chang learned the truth of Cedric's fate. It was said that time heals all wounds, and seeing the events of the graveyard within the Pensieve had certainly given her some measure of closure to her emotional summer.
Was it wrong that part of her had moved on?
She watched as Harry ended the DA session. While he was the focus of her thoughts, he was not the person she intended to seek out this evening. Glancing around, Cho located her goal: Hermione Granger. She approached the Gryffindor witch who was at the moment speaking to Neville Longbottom.
"Are you okay, Neville?" Hermione asked.
The wizard in question was laying on the ground panting in exhaustion. Cho smelled the sweat and body odor from the young wizard. While not pleasant, it was nonetheless a familiar smell given all of her Quidditch practices and games.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just did some H.I.I.T. before the DA meeting," Neville answered, saying each letter of the acronym.
"High Intensity Interval Training."
Hermione blinked in confusion. "What is that?"
Neville waved in a hand in dismissal. "Don't worry about it. It's a muggle thing."
"... But… wait… what?"
"Hermione?" Cho interjected.
The Gryffindor witch turned at the inquiry. "Oh, hi, Cho."
"Hi," the Asian witch returned. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but could I talk to you for a moment?"
"Sure, that's not a problem."
Cho pulled out her fake galleon. "Can I ask you a few questions about the Protean Charm?"
"Of course. What do-" Hermione stopped herself. "Wait, I think Harry wants to say something."
As Cho turned, she heard Neville groan softly as he laboriously sat himself up from the floor. Indeed, Harry was trying to get everyone's attention.
"So, I'd like everyone to do something before the next DA session."
"You're giving us homework?" one of the Weasley twins complained.
"It's easy," Harry qualified. "Find someone you trust to cast an Unbreakable Charm on your wand. Like a prefect or an older student. Or someone in here. Preferably a Permanent Unbreakable Charm, but if you can't find someone to do that, just use the normal one before our next meeting."
"Why do they have to be Unbreakable?" Zacharias Smith demanded with suspicion. "Are you going to do something to our wands?"
"I'm going to teach the Reductor Curse next." Harry swiftly flicked his wand in a movement that Cho could not make out. "Reducto." A bright blue light flew from his wand to a table across the room. The table exploded into fine mist.
"So anyway," Harry continued, "I figured it'd be safer if everyone's wands are protected from backfire or someone else's miscast or something like that. Besides, I heard this is common practice for most wizarding families. It's not like I came up with this idea."
"He's right, Smith," Padma Patil confirmed. "All of the adults in my family do this. Harry's not asking for anything out of the ordinary."
- o -
1995, October 26th, Thursday, in a Wizarding World…
"I can't imagine how she will evaluate us," Hermione said worriedly as she skimmed a chemistry textbook. She had eaten her dinner very quickly and began studying as her friends ate.
"I'm sure you'll do fine, Hermione," Harry encouraged at her side. He ladled some split pea soup into a bowl. "Won't you be too busy, though, if you become Professor Tohsaka's apprentice?"
"That doesn't matter," she insisted. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
"I think it's weird," Ron commented from across the witch. "The professors get to sit in on the lessons?"
"Just the Heads of Houses," Hermione clarified. She opened her mouth to continue, but something caught her eye. Naturally, Harry turned to look.
To his horror, Umbridge sat down next to him. "Good evening, students."
Merlin, he hated her whiny voice.
"I hope everyone is enjoying dinner this fine evening." She pulled out a folded newspaper and placed it on the table to the side of her plate, near Harry.
Seeing the headline, his eyes narrowed. Despite keeping to himself regarding Voldemort's return, the Daily Prophet still ran some nonsense lambasting him and Dumbledore about twice a week. Typically Umbridge would give both of them a smug smile on those days but otherwise said nothing. Apparently she wanted to step up her antagonism against him.
With no one sitting directly in front of him, Harry deliberately stared ahead, ignoring the High Inquisitor beside him. He could feel her gaze on him for a half minute before she reached for her food. Unsurprisingly, nobody else made a sound around them. Harry began eating his soup with the intention of finishing as soon as possible.
Then, to his greater horror, Snape took the empty seat across from him.
"... That piece of parchment belongs to Potter. I have seen it before, I recognize it! Potter is here! Potter, in his Invisibility Cloak!"
Harry shoved the Legilimency probe away. Despite becoming genuinely angry, he nonetheless kept his temper in check since Umbridge was one of the last persons he wanted to know about his Occlumency lessons.
"It appears, Mr. Potter," Snape drawled, "that despite several remedial Potions lessons, you still have room for improvement."
Another probe came, but Harry mentally batted it away.
"Is that so?" Umbridge said. "It is too bad students do not fully appreciate the toils that the professors go through. Perhaps if he focused more on his studies as opposed to… delusions of grandeur, he would perform better."
The statement successfully aggravated him as it was designed to do. Consequently, when the next Legilimency attack arrived, it penetrated his defenses.
Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs
Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers
Harry knocked Snape out of his mind before he could find more information about the Marauder's Map. Umbridge's statement had distracted him and… Oh, he understood now. Remembering his conversation with the Sorting Hat, he realized this was practice with Occlumency while flustered or agitated. Dumbledore probably asked the headwear after the meeting and subsequently informed Snape. Being the greasy git that he was, Snape simply ambushed him without warning.
He was so, so tempted to return the favor with his own Legilimency, but Harry knew he could get into real trouble if Moody got wind of it. There were other ways to annoy Snape, though. At the next attack, Harry did not parry it but instead redirected the probe to a specific experience, one that related to a previously exposed memory.
"... Potter, in his Invisibility Cloak!"
Snape stretched out his hands like a blind man, and began to move up the stairs…
It took all his discipline to refrain from cracking a smile at the image of Snape so clumsily groping the air. Across from him, Snape's sneer morphed into an ugly snarl. A second later, the Potions professor regained his composure.
The attacks came more viciously after that.
- o -
1995, October 28th, Saturday, in a Wizarding World…
"Thank you." Holding a dress up to her body, Sakura looked at her reflection in the mirror. "This is lovely."
"I knew you'd like it," Rin replied with a smile. "Since I was in London, I decided I may as well shop for our Yule Ball dresses."
"What did you get for Saber?"
"She insists on wearing her suit."
Sakura considered that. While Saber could only be described as incredibly handsome in that formalwear, they did not often have the opportunity to dress up the blonde Servant. Perhaps next year. "That will garner a lot of attention."
"That will happen in any case," Rin responded in a mischievous tone. At the questioning gaze, she elaborated, "I am not planning on anything big. We certainly will not be making waves like when Saber went as Barthomeloi's date."
"I wish I had photos of that," Sakura lamented. "In any case, did you get what you needed in London?"
"Yes," Rin answered, gesturing to a pile books and several folders filled with papers. "Found everything we needed at a discount bookstore and made enough photocopies."
Sakura picked up a heavily damaged book. "Wasn't there a better one than this?"
"When I tried to copy it…" Rin's eyes darted to the side. "The copier malfunctioned."
- o -
1995, October 29th, Sunday, in a Wizarding World…
Under the new moon, the ancient witch began the last set of incantations. Copious amounts of magic flowed around the rock formations of Stonehenge as she performed the ritual.
At last, after an hour of non-stop casting, the witch finished and lowered her wand. Four down. Eight to go.
- o -
1995, October 31st, Tuesday, in a Wizarding World…
On occasion, the human mind did not make certain connections until a significant amount of time had passed after the puzzle pieces were available for fitting. But in hindsight, there was no surprise in the direction of Harry Potter's thoughts this Halloween: he reflected on his parents. The fact that his parents died on this holiday was not the entire reason for his rumination. Unlike previous years, this time he had a memory of them. Their spirits, or some facsimile thereof, had exited out of Voldemort's wand during Priori Incantatem and had aided him in that critical moment in the graveyard.
Despite their deaths over a decade previous, his mother and father had spoken to him.
The memory was not the same as the fake image from the Mirror of Erised nor was it similar to the Dementor-induced nightmare of his parents' death that was drenched with hopelessness. It was real, or as real as spirits can be.
And so Harry barely registered the fact that the House tables in the Great Hall were replaced by smaller circular tables much like during the Yule Ball. The music playing on the speakers had no effect on him, and the floating decorations in the Great Hall remained ignored. And so Harry sat at a table to the side with only his memories for company.
- o -
With a small amount of reluctance, Rin walked along the hallway towards the Great Hall. Being Halloween, tonight's dinner was to be more festive in nature. Unfortunately, due to certain events in the past, the magus found this particular holiday to be something of an annoyance. Sighing exaggeratedly, she entered through the open doors of the Great Hall. As expected, she acquired the attention of some of the attendees in there. Not all, though. After all, it was a party in a large room.
At least this year she should technically fit in.
The cowl over her head hid the top portion of her face, but Rin knew others would easily recognize her. Making sure she did not accidentally hit anyone with the long staff, she walked with as much dignity as possible through the Great Hall. She veered toward one of the tables with staff members.
"... Professor Tohsaka?" Charity Burbage asked uncertainly from her seat as the magus approached.
Lifting the cowl off of her head, Rin revealed her face as well as the fact that her hair was done in a simpler style compared to normal.
"Dear me, that is quite a beautiful dress and robe there," Aurora Sinistra commented sincerely.
Rin looked down at her outfit. Perhaps it was a bit daring for this society given the formfitting one-piece dress and the show of her slim ankles. With a convincing but nonetheless false smile, she said, "Thank you. I am dressing up as a witch for this holiday."
"Oh? You are guising?" Dumbledore interjected as he stood from his seat. As he was wont to do lately, he had the Sorting Hat on his head.
"Yes. I met a witch once in my universe, and this is the outfit she wore. A bit elaborate, but I suppose she was a wealthy individual," Rin said as she raised her left arm to inspect the purple and black outer robe and staff. The latter had a large ornate circle on it. She lowered her hand, and the staff touched the ground with a soft thud.
"You definitely look like a witch. Perhaps a bit fancy for casual wear, but otherwise you fit right in our world," Dumbledore said pleasantly. "However, the staff may be a bit bulky." The elder wizard politely pulled out a chair. "Please, have a se-"
"Excuse me?" the staff responded indignantly.
All eyes nearby turned towards it. The long staff floated out of Rin's hand and contorted itself to float directly in front of the headmaster's face.
"Did you just call me fat?" Ruby demanded.
"Uhh…" Dumbledore hesitated in his reply. His eyes darted left and right for help from the female professors, but they immediately avoided eye contact and hid their smiles behind their hands.
"Oh, he totally called you fat," the Sorting Hat interjected.
"My body weight height proportions are stellar!" Ruby declared loudly. "You're a dupe of society's unreasonable expectations on the female figure."
"I never said-"
"Really, Albus, how can you be so rude to our guests?" the Sorting Hat said as it shifted its gaze downwards. "For shame, to be cursed with such an uncouth porter…"
"I bet you're bulky under those robes," the wand retorted. "And by bulky I don't mean yoRAAA-"
"That's enough out of you," Rin snapped as she reclaimed her transformed wand. "If you are going to force me to wear this stupid outfit, you should at least accept criticisms gracefully."
"Such male chauvinism…"Ruby grumbled quietly. "Objectifying women in this day and age…"
The magus rubbed her forehead in exasperation. "I apologize on behalf of my wand, Professor Dumbledore."
Recovering with grace, the headmaster smiled indulgently and then placated, "No need for apologies. I spoke thoughtlessly." Stroking his beard, he continued jovially, "And I must say I have not experienced such a crushing defeat in quite some time."
Sensing the incident was over, Rin released her wand and sat down with the professors. In addition to those who greeted her, Severus Snape sat at the table as well but kept to himself. Ruby hovered near her chair.
"So you did not choose this outfit?" Sinistra asked, having caught Rin's words earlier.
The addressed magus failed to suppress a sigh. "I… made a wager against Ruby several years ago. Now, on every Halloween, I must wear whatever costume she selects."
"Ah, I see. I was wondering why you referred to such a lovely outfit so negatively," Dumbledore said. "It is not the outfit itself but instead the nature of the wager that bothers you."
Rin turned around to the sight of Ruby struggling and failing to free itself from Saber's grasp.
"Uh… hi-i… S-Saber…" the wand stuttered nervously.
"Kaleidostick. Ruby," Saber said evenly. "Why is Rin wearing that outfit?"
Amongst the natives of this dimension, only Dumbledore had heard that tone before; she had used it when he implied she would fail at her security duties. Nonetheless, he too was unprepared for such intensity from Saber. And merely over a dress and robe?
"Heh, heh, because it's funny?" Ruby explained weakly. "I mean, it's poetic or ironic on four levels! Maybe five if you squint and tilt your head sideways."
Saber was not amused.
- o -
Where was it?
- o -
Harry looked up at the voice. Standing near the seat next to him was Cho Chang. "Oh, hello," he replied, somewhat surprised at her presence. The witch wore a slight amount of makeup which made her face glow softly. Her lips seemed fuller and redder than normal, and her lashes perfectly splayed outwards from her almond-shaped eyes.
"Can I sit here?"
"What? Oh yes, of course," he answered clumsily, realizing he was staring.
Cho brushed a lock of hair out of the way as she sat down on the chair to his left. "Enjoying the party?"
"Er, well, it's okay. At least no one is bothering me," he said. Then his eyes widened. "I mean, you're not a bother or anything!"
An amused smile appeared on her face, but it faded just as quickly to be replaced by an expression of concern. "Are people still bothering you?"
"Just stares," Harry answered indifferently. "Not as bad as the Hufflepuffs last year."
The witch nodded as she poured herself a cup of pumpkin juice.
"How about you?" Harry asked. "I mean, how are you doing?"
"I'm…" Cho trailed off. She fidgeted with her cup slightly. "I'm alright."
The signs were quite obvious. "What's wrong?"
With a sigh, Cho said, "I feel a bit lonely." She tilted her head with a frown. "No, not lonely. Isolated? Sort of."
"What do you mean?"
"It's just… I can't talk to anyone about, well, that person returning," Cho explained. "Or the children of… you know."
Instinctively, Harry glanced at the Slytherins in question.
"I'm scared," the witch continued, regaining his attention with that confession. "Malfoy is a prefect. He might be up to something, or he could be covering for any of the others. I mean, it's proven that over twenty students can sneak around together without getting caught."
The Death Eaters' children did not have the Marauder's Map, but nonetheless Cho had a good point. Was Malfoy up to anything? That of course led Harry to remembering Professor Matou meeting up with Lucius Malfoy that one day in Hogsmeade. Though, to be fair, she did heal Hagrid, and that act put her in Harry's favor.
"Sorry," Cho apologized. "I didn't mean to just dump this on you."
"No, no, it's okay." He tried to think of some way to solve her problems. Unfortunately, he was in a similar but slightly more ideal state in that he could at least discuss things with some of his friends. At the same time, he empathized with her because he had his share of secrets that even Ron and Hermione were unaware of. In fact, he was keeping secrets from Dumbledore as well.
How did he deal with it?
"You get used to it," Harry blurted out. Wincing at his own tactlessness, he hastily said, "I mean… ugh… that came out wrong."
Cho stared at him for a moment before unexpectedly giggling. He found the sound quite pleasant. She said, "I was hoping for a different response."
After a few seconds, Harry caught on to what she implied.
- o -
Everyone politely ate in silence. Dumbledore noted that some of his staff were still wary of Saber's display of displeasure. She had released Ruby, but nonetheless the fact that she was consuming her meal in a spectacularly efficient manner indicated her irritable mood.
Naturally, Dumbledore felt an all-consuming desire to figuratively tickle a sleeping dragon. "What do you think of Hogwarts' meals, Saber?"
He just did not realize it was figurative for only two out of the three.
Cutting her pork chop into several precise pieces, the blonde replied, "I find the quality to be significantly higher than the meals I consumed when I had first lived in Britain."
Out of the corner of his eye, the headmaster noticed Tohsaka's quick turn of her lips which disappeared just as swiftly.
"You have visited Britain before?" Sinistra asked.
Saber paused in with her fork in midair. She turned to the Astronomy professor. "I was born and raised in Britain."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I hadn't realized," the witch apologized.
Deliberately placing her fork down, she asked carefully, "Do I strike you as a foreigner?"
"Ah, well," Sinistra flustered, "I don't quite recognize your accent, so I assumed you learned English outside of Britain."
"... I speak English with an accent?"
Tohsaka hid her laugh by softly coughing into her first, but Dumbledore easily saw through the ruse. And was it his imagination, or was Ruby quivering in amusement behind the magus? Well, in that case he had no choice but to find the source of the merriment! "I must agree with Aurora. I too have difficulty placing your accent."
Exhaling a subtle sigh, Saber said, "I suppose English was not amongst the first of the languages that I had learned as a child." She then resumed eating as everyone attempted to digest her statement.
Not because it was earth-shattering in meaning.
But because most of them there did not fully comprehend it.
"Was that Latin?" Sinistra asked.
"Classical Latin," Dumbledore confirmed before translating the statement for everyone else's benefit. However, by the time he finished, his thoughts had already chased down a secondary observation: Saber had not explicitly stated Latin was actually her first language. He had to admit he may be reading too much into it, but the memory of their conversation at the Sundial Garden triggered instincts of mystery and suspicion. Why did she refrain from revealing her first language?
"That is an unusual language to learn as a child," Burbage observed. Then her eyes brightened. "Ah, you were taught Latin on the chance you would exhibit accidental magic? To have a better pronunciation of incantations? That makes… no wait, that makes no sense at all. You said your dimension did not use Latin for incantations."
"Correct," Tohsaka said with a nod.
"Then what type of incantation did the witch use?" Severus Snape suddenly interrupted, moving the conversation off its original course. "The one you are dressed as."
Both Tohsaka and Saber turned towards the Potions professor, all humor gone from the magus. A few seconds of silence passed before Tohsaka answered, "Ancient Greek, though her thaumaturgical system greatly differed from ours."
Unable to resist his curiosity, Dumbledore added his own question. "How so?"
"For example, she could cast a spell with only a single word incantation, and she could perform feats such as Spatial Transportation. That is, teleportation."
How suddenly interesting this has become!
Sinistra blinked at the explanation. "That sounds like our magic. Except we use Latin."
Burbage queried, "Could you give other specifics of what this witch could do?"
"With all due respect," Tohsaka said politely, "we would rather not go into details."
"Oh?" Snape drawled. "Are you not here to interchange ideas?"
"Severus," Dumbledore admonished. "If the ladies wish for privacy, then…" the headmaster trailed off when the magus raised her hand.
"The witch captured and magically enslaved Saber."
"Caster then commanded Saber to kill me."
"With all due respect," Tohsaka repeated politely, "we would rather not go into details."
- o -
With not a small amount of franticness, Luna went through her trunk of belongings a second time.
Where was it?
- o -
His crush had approached him with worries about being lonely and had wanted someone to talk to, and Harry's response had been for her to "get used to it". He wanted to slam his head against the table at his own idiocy. Fortunately, her statement meant that she was amenable to actually wanting to get to know one another better, so he managed to salvage the opportunity and successfully offered an ear to listen to her concerns.
Her response was a shy smile of acceptance. And then she gave him a two-way mirror she enchanted. Unlike the one he already possessed, this mirror did not grant the ability to show images onto the other of the pair. Cho stated she needed more research before she could add in that feature, but for now she knew enough about the Protean Charm to allow audio communication.
"Is it hard to make or add to an existing pair?" Harry inquired.
"It's difficult," Cho said. "The Protean Charm is already N.E.W.T. level, and it becomes much more complicated if you want to charm three or more objects together. Basically, three-way mirrors are very rare."
In other words, there was a logistical issue. "So then if you want to talk to four friends, you would need to carry four of these on you?"
Cho nodded. "Couples and best friends sometimes make these, but for groups of friends it's not really practical."
"But," Harry said, "if it's that hard, how did Hermione make, you know, the coins? I thought those used the Protean Charm too."
"They do," the witch confirmed. "However, it's different creating a master and multiple slaves. You have the master coin and can set the time on it and send it out to others, but no one else can. These mirrors are basically two masters; otherwise, only one of them can communicate with the other."
Taking her explanation at face value, Harry thanked her. After examining it for a few more seconds, he placed it in a pocket. He then remembered her earlier admitted fears. Leaning in closer, he said, "Don't hesitate to call me if something happens. You know, with Malfoy or something like that."
The scent of perfume wafted towards him. Freezing up, Harry realized he was leaning into Cho's personal space. The light blush on her face indicated she too was cognizant of this fact. He noticed her slightly parted lips that glistened with juice.
Jerking back to a suddenly perfect sitting posture, Harry turned to the voice. "Neville! Hello!"
The other Gryffindor gestured to a chair. "Mind if I sit?"
Harry risked a quick glance at Cho. She was looking steadfastly at her drink, the same drink that was also moistening her lips. That only gave him a profile view of her face, some of which was obscured by her hair. "Uh… sure?" he responded awkwardly. Apparently the tension in the air was lost upon Neville as he simply sat and began ordering his dinner. No one said anything as he started eating.
"Where's Ron and Hermione?" Neville inquired.
The question managed to penetrate the mood. "Hermione wanted to ask Hagrid a few questions about her extra credit assignment, and Ron went with her."
Neville nodded. Another half minute of silence passed, and the tension slowly bled away in that time.
"So, Harry, do you have a date yet for the Yule Ball?"
And just like that, it returned full force.
"Uh… no…" Harry very carefully kept his focus off of the lovely witch sitting to his left.
"Yeah, me neither." Bite. Chew. Chew. Swallow. "I'm just as nervous as before."
"... I know what you mean."
Neville paused in his eating and leaned forward. He asked in a quieter, almost nervous voice, "Is Ginny dating Michael Corner?"
"Yes," Harry and Cho answered simultaneously. Reflexively, they looked at each other.
They immediately averted their gazes.
Sighing, Neville said, "I guess I should look for someone else. And, Hermione's probably not going to go."
"Wait, what?" Harry responded distractedly.
With a slow shrug, Neville explained, "Well, she was crying last year at the Ball, so I figured she wouldn't go again."
"That… she's actually sort of waiting for someone to ask her." The tension with Cho was now compounded with regret at what Harry had unintentionally revealed to Hermione regarding Ron.
Seeing the contemplative and hopeful look on Neville's face, Harry realized the ambiguity in his statement. "Someone in particular."
"Ohhh," the other wizard said in understanding and with a small amount of gloominess.
"Is she," Cho interjected softly, "waiting for you?"
Harry turned to her, but she was still avoiding eye contact with him. "Um, no, not me."
Perhaps it was his imagination, but a fleeting smile appeared on her face.
"Hold on," Neville said. "Cho, do you have a date to the dance?"
Harry swiveled back to his friend. Where was he going with this?
"No," Cho answered slowly.
"And Harry doesn't either…" Neville continued, eyebrows furrowing in thought.
Harry stilled completely. Was his friend going to act like a wingman? Sirius had explained the concept to him over the summer, but nonetheless he was not prepared for this.
Neville leaned forward.
Seriously, he really was not prepared for this!
"Can we have an extra DA session that night?" the other boy asked earnestly.
Harry's eyebrow twitched. "An extra DA session?"
"Yeah! I mean, even if it's just the three of us, we can get some practice in."
The conviction his friend displayed sent a pang of guilt down Harry's throat. Nonetheless, he began crushing Neville's hopes. "Sorry, but I kind of want to go to the Yule Ball."
"Oh, right," the other conceded. "I guess you wouldn't have trouble finding a date like I would."
Except for, you know, the awkwardness in the air. Harry internally sighed. Maybe he should delay asking until later. Yes, procrastination sounded really good right now.
"Wait," Neville said. "Didn't someone say no to you last year?"
"Uh… yeah, but I was hoping this year might be better…"
"So are you going to ask her again? Who was it, anyway?"
And then Cho started giggling softly, acquiring the attention of the two young wizards. With a more pronounced and mesmerizing smile, she turned to Harry and took a deep breath.
"Would you like to go to the Yule Ball with me?"
- o -
When one of her fellow fourth years returned to their dormitory room, Luna glanced at the clock and realized she had missed most of the Halloween celebration. Sighing in frustration, she came to the obvious if unwanted conclusion regarding the missing item: someone had stolen it. Normally she would ignore the petty thievery of her belongings in order to prevent the escalation of confrontations. However, this item differed from the others.
Moving to one side of the room, Luna pulled out her wand. Making an arch movement, she cast the Summoning Charm. However, aside from a confused glance from her roommate, nothing happened. Accepting the result, Luna grimly walked purposefully to the fifth year girls dormitory to repeat the process.
- o -
Despite the Halloween celebration, the curfew did not change for the students as Hogwarts would hold classes as usual the following day. Alongside Ron and Hermione, Harry walked through the castle hallways back to their common room. The dinner party ended on a high note for him given that he now had a date to the Yule Ball with his crush. And she was the one who had approached him!
Perhaps he should thank Neville after all.
"I still say you're crazy."
Dragging his attention towards the present conversation next to him, Harry looked over at Ron who was shaking his head.
Hermione, on the other side of the redhead, rolled her eyes. "Honestly, t's really not that hard to understand."
"Actually, it is," Ron retorted. "Everyone who is not stupid like Malfoy knows that bloodlines don't matter and marrying only other pure-bloods doesn't help."
"I know that," Hermione explained somewhat testily. "My idea of a breeding with non-humans is different from the pure-blood ideology since the children obviously won't be pure."
"What?" Harry interrupted. "Breeding with non-humans? What the heck is your assignment about?"
Taking a deep breath, the young witch began her explanation. "Like I said before, the assignment is about improving magical bloodlines. And one way I just noticed is to introduce inheritable traits by breeding with non-humans, like giants."
"Giants?" Harry said with an eyebrow raised.
"Yes. Superior physical strength, magic resistance, and yet the offspring would retain the ability to cast spells. So there are no negative traits."
"Think about it," Ron interjected. "Human female. Twenty foot tall male giant. Do I need to draw a diagram to explain why that's a negative thing?"
"Sorry, Hermione," Harry apologized with a grimace, mentally cringing at the image, "but I'm going to have to agree with Ron here."
The young witch pinched her nose in frustration. "Fine, the… mechanics might be a little daunting-"
"Not little," Ron interrupted. "The opposite of 'little."
"-but that's just one example. There are other non-human races."
The redhead snorted. "What, like merfolk and centaurs?"
Hermione gave him a flat gaze. "Veela." At the silence of her two friends, she soldiered on. "Fleur Delacour proved that having Veela ancestry does not have a negative impact on her magic, given that she was champion of her school. Furthermore, she has the allure which is a hereditary ability, and I suspect her Charm spells are better too because of her Veela blood. I doubt it's a coincidence that she used a Charm to put the dragon asleep in the First Task last year."
The frown on Ron's face indicated he was actually giving the argument some thought.
"And since you obviously care about these things, she's also physically attractive," the witch added. "Not that it matters for power generation in bloodlines."
"Sorry, Ron," Harry apologized with a smile, mentally admiring the image, "but I'm going to have to agree with Hermione here."
"Laugh it up," the redhead said with some annoyance. "I'm not the one here who's acting like a bigot."
"I am not acting like a bigot," Hermione snapped.
"Oh really? Who's the one suggesting that part-human, part-Veela witches are superior to full human ones?"
Growling in frustration, the witch stalked ahead and turned around, walking backwards as she faced them. "I… that's not what I'm saying," she insisted.
"It's not?" Harry asked honestly. "That's what it sounded like."
"What you're saying," Ron continued on, "is that if I marry Fleur Delacour and you marry Viktor Krum, my children would be superior to yours because they would have Veela abilities and yours wouldn't."
"Don't bring Viktor into this!" Hermione hissed sharply.
- o -
Nearing the Gryffindor common room entrance, Harry parted ways from his two friends as they were scheduled for yet another after-curfew patrol. Given that the argument had devolved into a tangled mess of pure-blooded bigotry, varying opinions on the Triwizard champions, and dangerously skirting the forbidden topic of last year's dance, Harry was quite glad to leave the two to their own devices.
Reaching portrait of the Fat Lady, he said, "Mimbulus Mimbletonia."
"Cutting it close to curfew now, aren't we?" the Fat Lady commented as the opening appeared.
Harry merely shrugged and entered. Nodding to various members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, he made his way through the common area and up the stairs to his dormitory. As he glanced at the empty room, he realized that he had neglected to inform Ron and Hermione about Cho. Well, it was really their own fault for focusing on their own bickering. In any case, he decided to take a shower instead of beginning his homework since he was quite certain his mind could not focus on anything complicated at the moment.
After finishing his ablutions and changing into sleepwear, he heard a buzzing sound from his robes. Searching it, he found the communication mirror that Cho had given him. He was surprised at the fact that she was contacting him so soon, but then he did not really know the social rules regarding these matters.
Tapping the mirror with his wand, he then raised it to his ear like a cordless phone. "Hello?"
A voice whispered, "Harry?"
"Harry… I was hexed."
"Shh… Not so loud. Someone Petrified me."
A chilling sensation of surrealism overcame Harry. "Are you okay? Where are you now?"
"I'm fine. Madame Pomfrey gave me a Calming Draught which I think is working since I'm not panicking. I'm in the Hospital Wing bathroom right now because I don't think she'll let me contact you."
That explained the need to whisper. "Okay, that's good at least. What happened?"
"Um, whoever Petrified me closed my eyes and carried me through the hallways. He or she then stopped when we neared the Ravenclaw common room entrance. I think it's because we started to overhear Luna's fight and the attacker didn't want to get noticed."
"Wait, hold on." His mind was still processing the information. "Luna was fighting?"
"She was having some sort of confrontation over a book. My attacker released me and left because after a minute or so I was no longer Petrified. I stopped the fight and tried to find my attacker but couldn't. I then took everyone to the Hospital Wing. Well, originally we went to Professor Flitwick's office first, but he wasn't there."
"Is Luna alright?"
"She was jinxed and hexed by the other girls, but I think she's okay after Madame Pomfrey looked at her. She's more upset her biology book was destroyed."
Taking the Marauder's Map out, he said, "So you're safe?"
"I think I'm safe for now. I told Madame Pomfrey what happened, but she doesn't believe I was attacked. She thinks Luna's accidental magic brought me there to help her. But I felt hands pick me up instead of magic like the Mobilicorpus Charm."
He heard Cho inhale deeply.
"I… think it's.. you know."
Death Eater children.
That's why she was telling him all of this. Was it because she sat with him at the Halloween party that they targeted her?
"Hold on," Harry said. "Let me check something. I solemnly swear I'm up to no good." As the ink on the map coalesced into the blueprints of the castle, he homed in on the Hospital Wing. Finding the small bathroom, he saw Cho's name in there.
As well as the name Medusa.
"Up to no good? What's going on?"
"It's… don't worry about it. Cho, I need you to do something for me."
"Slowly pull out your wand."
"Alright… now what?"
"Do you know the Human-Presence-Revealing spell?"
"Hominem Revelio? No, I don't. Wait, why are you asking me this?"
Harry was not surprised. Even Snape did not know the charm given the events last year with the fake Moody. Before he could say anything else, Medusa's name left the bathroom. It did not stop until it left the Hospital Wing entirely.
"Just thought it would be useful. Can you stay in the Hospital Wing tonight? The hallways obviously aren't safe."
"You believe me?"
"Yeah, of course I do. I don't think it was one of the Death Eater children though."
"Really? Then who?"
Harry pulled out his Cloak of Invisibility from his trunk. "I'm about to find out."
- o -
According to one of my sources, the magi have met an actual witch before who had, at one point, placed Saber under the Imperius Curse. What is of importance is the witch's name: Caster. I do not believe that the two odd names are coincidental, so there is probably more than meets the eye with regards to Saber.
As for the apprenticeship, I am confident I will be selected. With Dumbledore on my team, my performance in their classes has been stellar so far. Furthermore, they clearly respect the purity of blood. As for the actual testing process itself, I asked in private, and they revealed to me that they would be using standardized tests appropriate for students my age.
- o -
If Harry had a chance to discuss the situation with Hermione, perhaps he would have made the more level-headed decision to inform a professor about the situation. But someone had Petrified Cho Chang, and thus emotions instead of logic fueled his actions. Besides, if she (?) was just a house-elf, he should be able to handle her. Definitely not a ghost since she could use magic. Well, she could be a poltergeist, but those haunt locations instead of individuals and this one clearly was associated with the off-worlders. As for a Transfigured individual… that was still a possibility.
Creeping out of the portrait hole with his Cloak on, he began making his way down the myriad of stairs towards the first floor. Checking the map, he saw her within Moaning Myrtle's bathroom with the resident ghost herself.
He wondered if she knew that he could track her?
Recalling that night a week and a half ago, he concluded she would have noticed his obvious usage of the map to locate her. Given that Medusa left the Hospital Wing after he tried to get Cho to cast the detection spell, she more than likely overheard the conversation and thus knew that he knew of her presence there.
Yeah, she knew he was coming.
Eventually, Harry found himself outside the bathroom entrance. Opening the door, he saw that the interior lacked any lighting. Even the windows provided little illumination. As quietly as possible, Harry entered and moved laterally, hugging the wall.
"Who's there?" a female voice called. "Peeves, is that you?"
"Wait, is it Harry Potter?" While he was unable to see Myrtle due to the darkness, he heard her voice moving towards the door. "Need to open the Chamber of Secrets again?"
He stopped breathing, hoping she would not detect him.
"Because you can open my secret chamber any time."
"You or Draco Malfoy. Mmm…"
"The two of you together, wearing only your House ties around your necks, clutching each other's sweaty bodies and-"
In a deliberately low voice, Harry harshly cried, "Voldemort!"
"Ahh!" Screaming in panic, Myrtle flushed herself down a toilet.
After about ten seconds of silence, Harry checked the map. No one was running to the bathroom to check on Myrtle's scream. Knowing there was no point in hiding himself, he took off his cloak and moved to cast the Bluebell Flame Charm at the various sinks. The mirrors reflected the light, providing a dim illumination to the bathroom.
After finishing, he looked around expectantly. "Well?"
Ten feet in front of him, a shapely figure materialized from a hazy mirage of purple.
Dress. Stockings. Gloves. Blindfold.
But what struck him hardest, what he felt entering every pore of his body, was the feeling of utter danger.
Definitely not a house-elf.
"Shall we take this downstairs?" she queried casually despite the tension filling the bathroom. He gripped his wand tightly as she walked sinuously to a particular sink. Without waiting for an answer, she dematerialized into another haze of purple before disappearing completely.
- o -
After waiting stupidly at the base of the pipe for a minute, Harry stalked down the corridor, grumbling to himself that there was no need to meet up all the way in the actual Chamber itself. He wondered briefly if this woman was leading him into a trap. But Harry Potter was the type of person to finish through with an action, such as the Third Task last year, so he forged onwards.
Reaching the main area, he saw the woman standing near the preserved basilisk and looking up at it. Well, not really looking since she had a blindfold on. Blind-looking? Sure, let's go with that. Deciding upon more light, he activated the charm that lit the surrounding torches.
"Not bad, wizard," the woman commented on the basilisk before turning to him directly.
Harry pointed his wand directly at her. "Who are you?"
Unfazed by either the wand or the threatening tone, she replied, "Rider."
"What are you doing at Hogwarts? Why did you curse Cho?"
Medusa tilted her head slightly. "You are quite a demanding fellow."
Of course the interrogation would not go smoothly. This would be a lot easier if he could force some Veritaserum down her throat. "And you're trespassing here. What's your point?" he retorted.
This was going nowhere.
Medusa continued, "Let's play a game. You ask a question. I ask a question."
Harry glared at the woman. "Why should I answer you? You're the one that's going around cursing students."
"Alright," Medusa said in a calm tone. "Let's do it your way then, wizard."
Harry frowned. "... What do you mean?" he asked.
"Make me talk." A chain with a dagger materialized in her hand. "Clearly you want to beat the answers out of me."
"I'm not like that," he declared, somewhat disturbed by the suggestion. His eyes focused on the dagger. Was that an Azoth dagger? Probably. In that case, Medusa was a magus.
"Not going to avenge your girlfriend?" she inquired blandly. "How disappointing."
Harry narrowed his eyes.
- o -
It was for research.
Even if the wizard was young, Rider nonetheless did not want to pass up an opportunity to see combat wizardry in action. While some might disapprove of her goading, she had givenhim a chance to talk things out peacefully.
- o -
The three spells had washed over Medusa harmlessly.
Immune to magic? Harry mentally shook his head. She probably circulated prana like Tohsaka did to resist the Silencing Charm. Either way, it meant he had to alter his selection of spells.
Quickly making a sideways V with his wand, he silently cast the Reductor Curse at the ground beside Medusa. Immediately following, he silently cast the Incarcerous Charm at her. A simple two-spell combination to force the opponent to deal with multiple directions of attack.
An explosion of stone shrapnel sprayed outwards from the ground. Unfortunately, the shrapnel had no effect on the woman. Despite this, she did nothing as the ropes wrapped around her. It was only when they finished tying themselves that she calmly sliced through them with her weapon.
She was toying with him. This person had the ability to become invisible, yet she did not even bother to do so. Scowling at the condescension, he raised his wand again. "Inflecto Telum!" Two arrows shot forth. Before they reached her, he pointed his wand to the side.
Medusa caught the arrows in mid-flight with one hand.
"Oppugno!" Two boulders about three feet in length launched themselves from the ground towards the woman. Dropping the arrows, she sidestepped one and moved to deflect the other with an open palm. Pointing his wand at the boulder, he incanted, "Reduc-"
He stopped himself.
At that distance, an exploding boulder with a full strength Reductor Curse could cause serious damage to a person. While anger and self-righteousness certainly fueled his actions, Harry had enough self-control to refrain from excessively harming a person.
"You're holding back, wizard," Medusa commented.
"Don't," a voice whispered huskily into his left ear.
Spinning around in a panic, he cast the Incendio Charm at her. The fire splashed against her ineffectually. As he backtracked awkwardly, Medusa leapt over twenty feet in the air over him and landed lightly atop the basilisk's head.
Nothing was working. Despite his better-than-average casting speed, he had accomplished nothing so far. What the hell was this woman? Can turn invisible, was immune to magic, can leap around like a superhero, and on top of all of that she was doing everything blindfolded.
Harry made a decision.
"Expulso," he incanted calmly. Unlike the other spells, he had less practice with this one, so he cast it more carefully. A blue light zoomed from his wand towards her. Surprisingly, instead of letting it hit her, she whipped her chain out at the light. The spell exploded prematurely, well away from her position.
"Almost Rank B spell. One word and a wand," she commented. She stepped off the basilisk and landed on all four limbs. Her head and chest almost but not quite touched the ground while her bum was raised upwards. In a sensual manner, she slowly raised her torso and stood up straight. "Rin will be jealous."
He was unsure if that was sarcasm or not.
"Nonetheless," she continued, "I'm surprised you use Dark magic."
Barely suppressing a grimace, Harry countered, "Says the person who Petrifies random students."
Medusa's lips curled up ever so slightly. "That wasn't Dark. That was Jeweled."
"A Jeweled spell?" Harry asked rhetorically. He knew she was trying to toy with his mind. "You expect me to believe something like that?"
Another slight head tilt from the woman. "A spell… you think I am a magus."
"... You're not? You Petrify people and Disillusion yourself," Harry said. "If you're not a magus, what are you?"
The words from the Sorting Hat came to mind: "It is not really a lie. Saber is a title."
Before he could reply, a second dagger and chain weapon appeared in her empty hand. "Ready?" In an instant, she crossed half the distance and threw her dagger, the long chain trailing behind it.
Barely reacting in time, Harry brought up his wand. "Protego!" The blue shimmering shield formed just in time to intercept the dagger. However, instead of blocking the weapon, the shield shattered into motes of light from the impact. The dagger continued onwards a few inches before being jerked backwards. That was when he realized her other chain was wrapped around his ankle. "Relashio!" he yelled, pointing his wand at the instrument of bondage.
For some unknown reason, the chain did not unravel itself.
Before he could cast the Revulsion Jinx again, he felt himself being yanked up by the chain. Flying in the air upside down, he lost all sense of orientation before he felt arms cradling his body. When he came to a stop in a bridal carry, he saw her blindfolded face next to him and reacted instinctively.
He punched her on the nose.
"Really?" she deadpanned while blind-looking at him, utterly unfazed by his attack. Next thing he knew, she released him to fall to the ground. Ignoring the small jolt of pain to his hip, Harry scrambled to stand up. He pointed his wand at-
Wait, where was his wand?
Confused at his empty hand, he looked around quickly before turning back to Medusa who had hopped away a few feet. She stood there calmly with his wand twirling dexterously in her left hand.
- o -
As Rider had expected, the young wizard was not at the level of the auror who had tested Shirou. His power was not as high. Despite this, she recognized that Harry did at least choose spells that combined well together. That demonstrated a level of tactics a step above simply throwing Mysteries at a target.
Holding out the wand with an open hand, she asked, "Finished?"
The wizard gave her a petulant look. "Isn't that up to you? The fight was your idea."
Deciding not to call him on his spite, she tossed his wand over. Catching it, Harry waved it up and down. Sparks flew out of the tip. She said nothing, waiting for him in silence. The wizard attempted a stare-down, but against Rider that was even more futile than combat. After two minutes, he caved in.
"So, a question for a question?"
- o -
Author's Note: Crosswinds Discussion Forums created. Link in profile. Swing by and leave a message or ask a question!
Disclaimer: Fate/stay night and other elements of the Nasuverse are owned by TYPE-MOON. Harry Potter and related elements are owned by J. K. Rowling.
Special thanx to Dignity and WhatWindDoes for idea bouncing, and ThirdFang and Datenshi Aoi for beta read.