If I owned Harry Potter, I wouldn't have had to retcon some practice Harry has done in this chapter.

A/N: You know, I've always rolled my eyes at the classic fanfic author excuses. "We moved!" "My computer broke!" "Holidays!" Come on, you just deal with it, right?

Then I found out my family was moving. The whole process was incredibly chaotic—one day, we thought we'd be moving on Wednesday, then it was going to be Thursday, then Friday, then Saturday, then it was going to have to wait for three weeks because of travel schedules, then the people selling to us decided they could let us in early, then the movers couldn't work on a weekend…

At the end of it all, we determined on Sunday that we were moving on Monday. You can imagine how well that went. Then, during the process of actually moving in, I managed to crack my MacBook's screen. I ended up ordering a replacement Mac and making do with an iPad for a couple weeks—not the best way to get a lot of writing done. Soon enough, Thanksgiving was upon us—and a family vacation with it—and Hanukkah at the same time…

(Plus, Chapter Ten—I'm still writing a little bit ahead of what I'm posting—was fighting me tooth and nail. The draft I have now is satisfactory, but getting it out was tough.)

Suffice it to say, in all the chaos, I fell off the writing wagon. We'll see if I can't do better in the future.

On an unrelated note, the conversation with McGonagall in this chapter has been planned for a while, but given reviewer reaction to the last couple chapters, I've expanded it somewhat.

Chapter Nine
The Discovery

"It's out of the question, Potter," McGonagall said.

"Professor, two weeks ago, I was attacked by a troll loose in the castle. Then yesterday I was nearly thrown to my death by a Dark curse. Hogwarts isn't safe."

"You would never have encountered that troll if you'd followed instructions," she said sharply. "And even if what you say is true, and Hermione Granger saw an upper-year student jinxing your broom, how would a knife have helped?"

"It wouldn't have," Harry said. "But Hogwarts seems to be trying to kill me in loads of different ways, and my weapons would help me with many of them."

"Potter," McGonagall said, taking off her glasses and rubbing her temple, "two weeks ago, you said you believed you did what was right on Halloween. Have you given that statement any thought?"

Harry shrugged. "I still stand by it," he said.

"Then let me explain what I had hoped you might realized on your own," she replied. "Firstly, a teacher or prefect could have handled this situation more ably. Why didn't you speak to one?"

"I tried to tell Percy, but he cut me off," Harry said. "So I decided to stay behind in the Great Hall and wait until I could find a teacher. But by the time the Hall cleared, they were all gone."

"I looked over the Hall as the last students were leaving. Why didn't I see you?"

"I hid," Harry said.

"You wanted to speak to someone, but you hid?" McGonagall asked.

"I didn't want one of the prefects to frog-march me out without listening to me."

"I see," McGonagall said skeptically. "I suppose then you went to find Miss Granger. Was the troll there already?"

"Yes," Harry said.

"And what did you do?"

"I threw several knives to try to pierce its heart."

"Immediately?" McGonagall asked.

"Yes," Harry said. "I know better than to hesitate."

McGonagall leaned back in her chair, regarding him carefully. "Did you not consider stopping it without lethal force? For instance, distracting it and retrieving Miss Granger, or crippling it and escaping, allowing us to heal the troll and release it unharmed into the wild?"

"If something tries to kill me and mine," Harry said, "I see nothing wrong with trying to kill it back."

"That is not a responsible use of violence, Potter," McGonagall said. "In truth, that is the aspect of this affair that has disappointed the Headmaster the most. He told me that, during your conversation this summer, he got the impression that you'd handled violent confrontations with...those people using minimum force. He was very impressed by that, and very disappointed that you failed to show the same restraint here."

Harry frowned. We didn't talk about that, did we? he wondered.

She leaned forward again. "You should have asked a teacher or prefect for help; you didn't. You should have handled the troll without killing it; you didn't. And you certainly shouldn't have addressed the teachers disrespectfully, attempted to conceal weapons from us, ran out when you knew I was likely to discipline you, and insulted me while you did so—but you did. I was not the one throwing a tantrum in that room, Potter."

Harry's jaw tightened.

"If you had done any of those things, Gryffindor would have gained points on Halloween, and I might even have allowed you your weapons—or never discovered them at all. But you chose the most reckless, violent, and disrespectful course available to you. So the answer is 'no', Potter. I will not make an exception to an eminently sensible school rule so you can stab at shadows. If you're worried about trouble, perhaps you should try staying out of it."

"But Professor, the school is already full of deadly weapons. Every wand is a weapon, and every wizard can kill with one."

"Then pull out your wand and kill me," McGonagall said.

Harry's jaw dropped. "What?"

"You can't, can you? Even the most precocious students are not deadly with a wand before fifth year; most could not kill until seventh year. But by that time, they've already witnessed, perhaps even suffered from, dangerous and painful accidents that have taught them to treat magic with appropriate respect. Older teenagers can be rash and temperamental, but they do understand the gravity of deadly force. Hogwarts is equipped to handle them. It is not equipped to handle eleven-year-old assassins."

"But—"

"I won't say it again, Potter. You're dismissed."

Harry left her office, hands balled into fists. Not twenty feet from the door, a silky voice called out behind him.

"Turn out your pockets, Potter."

Harry sighed as he turned around. This had become a once- or twice-a-day occurrence, and he was getting very tired of it. With Snape checking so frequently—and seemingly able to see into his mokeskin pouch to boot—Harry hadn't dared carry anything. Harry dully pulled everything he was carrying out of his pockets—keyring, money pouch, a couple quills and an ink bottle.

Snape looked disappointed. "You may go," he said reluctantly.

Wordlessly, Harry left, walking in the general direction of Gryffindor Tower. Long after Snape had been left behind, he turned right instead of left, and arrived at the abandoned classroom he'd taken as a training area.

He opened the door and saw a blur, a flash of silver, a blade plunging into a chest—the thud of a body hitting the ground—

Hermione stood, breathing heavily, over the last in a line of five anatomical dummies. As she watched, the dummy's skin faded to match the white of the others, indicating that a real person would have bled out.

"You're getting good at that," Harry said, and she jumped.

"Harry!" she said. "I started practicing without you, like you said."

"Good," he said, closing the door and picking up a dagger from a table.

Since Snape had started harassing him, Hermione had been carrying all the weapons—one for herself, one for him. She'd also waded through the library to find the charms to control the dummies, something he was very grateful for. They were much better than shadow fighting.

Harry looked over at the line of dummy corpses. "No blood?"

Hermione looked down at the floor. "It's so messy…" she said.

"It evaporates after a moment," Harry pointed out. "It's not real blood."

She shook her head. "It's just…"

"Disgusting?" Harry asked, and she nodded. "That's why you need to practice with it. Best to be grossed out in training so you'll be adapted to it in a fight." He drew his wand from the holster at his waist and flicked it at the dummies, saying, "Resumitote Sanguis."

"Yes, sir," Hermione said. Ever since that first training session, she had continued to address him as "sir" in this room. He didn't think she knew she was doing it; it was apparently an ingrained reflex to anyone who was teaching her.

Though it sounded pretty weird only a few weeks ago, Harry was beginning to like it.

"How did things go with McGonagall?" Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head. "Gave me a load of tripe to justify it, but she didn't even consider it."

"Ridiculous," Hermione said. "Troll aside, that broom incident was a clear attempt on your life. You're not safe here. We're not safe here."

Harry shrugged. "You can't count on anyone to protect you but you."

"There has to be something we can do," Hermione said.

"Well, I don't know what, except wait out Snape. And I bet the first time he stops checking will be a trick. Maybe more than that."

Hermione hemmed. "Maybe there's another solution—something so you wouldn't have to break the rules."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

"I'm not quite sure yet," Hermione said, starting to get excited at the prospect. "A spell that would let you conjure one? Free conjurations are NEWT-level, but there are some easier spells for specific conjurations. Carrying something you can Transfigure quickly? Some sort of concealment charm?"

"The mokeskin pouch already has a charm to conceal its contents," Harry said, "and that didn't stop Snape."

Hermione frowned. "I'm still not sure how he did that," she admitted. "There's so much we should look into…maybe some research in the library…" She strode towards the door.

Harry's voice stopped her. "Later. We haven't finished training."

Hermione looked disappointed for a moment, but it was soon replaced by determination.

"Now," Harry said, grabbing one of the dummies and standing it back up on its feet, "you've practiced three different fatal wounds. I want to see you use each of them, as quickly and smoothly as you can manage."

"Yes, sir," Hermione said.

After training and lunch, Harry and Hermione spent the afternoon in the library. Harry grabbed a stack of books from the Transfiguration and Charms sections and started looking through them. A few moments later, an ancient leather-bound volume the size of one of Dudley's smaller presents landed on the table with a thud.

"What's that?" Harry said, looking up at Hermione, who was panting with the effort of carrying the book.

"The Rules and Regulations of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: The Complete, Unabridged, and Ridiculously Verbose Edition," Hermione said. "We can't find a way around the rules unless we know what the rules are, right?"

Harry shrugged. "Better you than me," he said, and he turned back to his spellbook.

A few hours later, Harry tossed the copy of Armaments for the Unarmed he was skimming to the table. "This one's just a list of creative ways to use the Disarming Charm. I don't think I've read anything about working with Muggle weapons."

"I'm sorry," Hermione murmured, squinting to read the tiny text.

"I should probably work on combat magic anyway," Harry mused. "But that'll help me in six months, not now."

"Well, if we can't find anything better, that might...be…" Hermione's voice trailed off, and she leaned towards the rulebook.

"Hermione?"

"You might not have any," she murmured to herself, "but maybe…I'll be right back!" she said, and ran off into the stacks.

Harry blinked bemusedly, then picked up the next book in his pile. A moment later, Hermione hustled back to the table, clutching another huge book. This one, though, looked much newer, and had a title on the cover in silver foil: Black's Magical Law Dictionary.

"A dictionary?" Harry said. "Do you get this excited every time you come across a new word?"

"A law dictionary," Hermione corrected as she set it down. "A lot of words have different meanings in law. Now let's see...looking for H..." She flipped through the pages quickly, muttering to herself. "Yes! I think this'll work!"

Harry sat up. "What? What'll work?"

"Take a look," Hermione said, pointing to a line in the thick rulebook.

Harry looked at where she was pointing. Then he squinted. Then he leaned forward. Then he took off his glasses and quickly rubbed them clean on his robes. Then he leaned forward again. Finally, he could read it: "'Notwithstanding any other Hogwarts rule, students may wear or openly carry any magical heirloom, provided it does not carry any Dark taint, and is not used to harm or threaten any student or staff member.' That must be the rule Char—that lets me carry the Invisibility Cloak," he hastily corrected himself. "But I didn't inherit anything else from my parents. I don't have any heirloom daggers."

"Yes," Hermione said, "but that's the common definition of an heirloom." She shoved the dictionary into his hands. "Here, take a look."

Harry quickly scanned down the page until he reached the definition in question.

heirloom: Any object that:

(a) has been owned by members of at least three consecutive generations of the same family, or

(b) was crafted by a member of one generation of a family and then given to a member of the next generation, or

(c) was crafted by inhuman hands and then gifted or sold to a family line, or

(d) was bestowed upon a wizard by magic beyond the ken of any who live.

"Okay?"

"'Inhuman hands', Harry," Hermione said. "Goblins craft weapons—amazing weapons imbued with all sorts of powerful magics that are completely inaccessible to human wizards. And if the Potter family bought one, it would immediately become an heirloom. The only problem is, they're very expensive, and pretty rare..."

"I've never shown you my Gringotts statements, have I?" Harry asked.

"No," Hermione said. "Why?"

"Because if I had, you'd know that expensive isn't a problem," Harry said. "You'd have to buy a house to even put a dent in my trust vault. I have no idea why my parents set it up that way."

"Maybe they thought you might need to," Hermione suggested. "Your parents fought Voldemort, right? If he hadn't fallen when he did, your guardians might have had to go into hiding with you."

"Not that they'd have bothered," Harry muttered, and Hermione frowned. "Anyway, I think I saw a place in Knockturn Alley that sold them."

Hermione gasped and nearly shouted, "You've been to—"

"Shhhh!" They both looked up, and Madam Pince was glaring at Hermione.

Hermione colored under her gaze and turned back to Harry. "You've been to Knockturn Alley?" she whispered harshly.

"Yes," Harry said.

"But it's the most dangerous place in Britain! Why would you go there?"

"To see what was there," Harry said.

"But—but—how did you not get hurt? An eleven-year-old boy, there?"

"Oh, you have much to learn, grasshopper," he said with a grin. "Let's put this stuff away and I'll show you."

Hermione copied down the rule and definition while Harry shelved the books. A few minutes later, they were walking through the halls of Hogwarts, heading in a direction Hermione didn't recognize.

"Okay, we should pass groups walking from Ravenclaw Tower to the library. Try to pay attention to them, but don't be obvious about it."

Hermione nodded and followed him for a couple minutes. Soon, they heard unfamiliar voices echoing down the hall. As she watched, Harry's normally straight shoulders sagged; one of his arms came up to grasp the other; he averted his eyes to the floor; his long, steady steps became a shuffle.

Two girls—one Chinese, the other with reddish-blond curls—and two brown-haired boys, all older, appeared down the hall. They noticed Harry immediately.

"Look, it's the Boy-Who-Fell," the taller of the two boys said.

Harry's shoulders tensed.

"Congratulations," the Chinese girl said. "Of course, most Seekers only need one broom to win the game."

Harry's steps quickened, and Hermione hurried to follow. The four Ravenclaws behind them laughed.

"What was that?" Hermione asked, but Harry shushed her. Another group of Ravenclaws was coming. This time, Harry returned to a more normal posture and gait; he made eye contact with the students and smiled a little.

"Nice catch yesterday, Potter!" a boy said.

"Thanks," Harry said with a friendly wave.

Once they'd passed, Hermione whispered urgently, "What did you do?"

But footsteps were already sounding from up the corridor. "One more," Harry said. "Stay with me—this won't work if you're attracting attention…"

Harry slipped over to walk near the wall. He put his eyes on the floor, not the approaching students, and took slightly shorter, slower steps. This time, the Ravenclaws passed them without comment.

"That's enough," Harry said, turning back towards the main stairs. "I think you've gotten the point."

"I got the point that you can—can control how people interact with you," Hermione said. "But how?"

"I'm sending different signals with my body language," Harry explained. "With the first group, my posture and gait suggested I was vulnerable, and they pounced on that. For the second, I went for confident and friendly, and they responded in kind. Just now, I took steps to ensure I was easy to overlook, and they obliged."

"So you just used...body language to walk down Knockturn Alley without anything happening to you?"

"Yes," Harry said.

"What sort of body language does that?"

He shrugged. "Just walk like they should be afraid you will happen to them."

"…an attempt on his life, that much is certain," Snape's voice said from down the hall.

"At least someone believes me," Harry muttered. Then he swore in a whisper, grabbed Hermione's elbow, and dragged her down a corridor to their right.

"What is it?" Hermione whispered.

"I'm still carrying my knife from training!"

Hermione didn't swear, but the words she used were less polite than her usual choices.

"Loath as I am to admit it, I'm afraid I have to agree," said Dumbledore's voice.

Harry and Hermione came to a locked door.

"Oh, hell," Harry murmured. There weren't any other doors in this corridor, and Snape was getting closer.

He dropped to one knee and thrust his hand into his money pouch, drawing from within a length of bent wire. Harry had practiced picking the locks at Hogwarts, and though they were of an old-fashioned design that was normally easy to defeat, they also tended to have far more tumblers than ought to fit in an ordinary door. Still, what else could he do?

Hermione drew her wand and murmured, "Alohomora!" The lock clicked and she turned the knob. "Come on!" she whispered, pulling him to his feet and through the door.

"I have got to learn that spell," Harry said.

Once inside, Harry and Hermione leaned against the door, listening closely.

"…would do anything but come here and try to steal it," they heard Dumbledore say. "Linger in the shadows, gathering information, perhaps, but this? Attacking a student in broad daylight, in front of hundreds of bystanders? Not in my worst nightmares. It makes me wonder if we should rethink the entire endeavor."

"But where would we move it?" Snape said. "The obstacles we've erected will slow him down enough for you to catch up, but only if you can respond quickly. If we put it anywhere else, it would be too late by the time you arrived."

"Yes," Dumbledore responded with a heavy sigh, "I suppose there is no alternative. We will simply have to ensure he doesn't have another opportunity to endanger a student." The two of them walked off.

"I think they're gone," Hermione said, sagging against the door in relief. Then she gasped. "H-Harry?"

"Yes?"

"We might have been better off with Snape."

Harry turned to see what she was looking at.

It was an absolutely enormous dog, a dog that made all other dogs look like puppies. It was drooling. It was growling. It was snarling. It was doing all of this with three separate heads.

Hermione drew her knife, and Harry exchanged his pick for his knife. "We try to retreat first," Harry said. "Only attack if we can't."

"Yes, sir," Hermione said, and she reached slowly for the knob.

The dog padded towards them. Hermione fumbled for the doorknob. Harry flipped open his knife. Two of the dog's heads growled, and Harry could smell their foul breath on his face…

The latch clicked and Hermione pushed the door open. They both ran through it. The dog barked and Hermione slammed the door in its face. They both ran, Harry's hand on Hermione's arm.

A few minutes later they stopped, gasping for breath. Harry folded his knife again.

"What was that about?" Harry said.

When Hermione didn't answer, Harry looked over to her. She was swaying on her feet, holding her hand over her heart and trembling.

"Oh," Harry said, and he wrapped an arm around her. She leaned heavily against him. "It's okay, Hermione."

"I was so scared," she said.

"You did great. Kept your head beautifully. Couldn't have done it better myself."

She smiled tremulously. After a moment, she broke away from him, and he let go of her.

"That was the right-hand third-floor corridor," she said, slipping her dagger back into her pocket.

"The one Dumbledore mentioned at the opening feast?" Harry asked, handing her his knife. Best not make the same mistake twice. "No wonder he wanted everyone to stay away."

"It's not just that," Hermione said. "The dog was standing on a trap door."

"Really? Well spotted," Harry said with admiration, "I was too busy looking at its heads to notice."

"Thanks," she said, blushing. "Anyway, I think it must have been guarding something."

"Guarding something…maybe it's the first of the obstacles Snape was talking about!"

"So it's really true, then," Hermione said. "Dumbledore hid a gold-generating, immortality-inducing Dark wizard magnet in a school full of children."

"Behind a lock a first-year could charm open—nice spellwork, by the way—and a dog that would happily eat any first-year who managed it," Harry reminded her.

"And they think you're a danger to the school?" Hermione grumbled.

That night, the Twins approached Harry with a set of techniques to render him perfectly stealthy. It involved a half-dozen spells—everything from Silencing Charms on your mouth, shoes, and the inside of the Cloak to a Scentless Spell to a Disillusionment Charm on your shoes to keep them from appearing beneath the hem of the Cloak. There was just one problem with their plan.

"Impervius!" Harry cried, tapping his wand on the sole of his left shoe. The spell was supposed to keep anything from sticking to the sole of his shoe so it wouldn't leave tracks. Unfortunately, just like the others, it was doing nothing at all.

"I'm sorry, guys," Harry told the Twins. "I don't think I'm good enough to cast this one yet, either. Looks like your work was for naught."

"Don't worry, Harry," George said. "We'll put our heads together and see what we can come up with."

"I'm sure we'll think of something," Fred continued.

"Thanks," Harry said. "Well, you've kept up your end of the bargain, so if you need to borrow the Cloak, just let me know."

Both boys grinned devilishly. "We will," they said in unison.

A/N: Thanks to my friend Tan, who suggested that the locks at Hogwarts are probably quite a bit more special than they at first appear.

Can they just change the rules to ban heirloom weapons? Nope. I couldn't find a good place to fit the reason into this chapter, though, so I'll get into it later.