AN: Thanks in no small part to my own laziness and penchant for inspired ideas, this chapter was greatly delayed. At one point during my mad process, I had this chapter at over twelve thousand words. Then, unfortunately, I reread what I had done so far, found it to be wanting, in my own tastes, and scrapped almost the entirety of what I had. It was during this time that I came to have a… ambitious idea. What said idea is will be explained at the end of the chapter. Until then, however, enjoy the chapter.

Also, I just uploaded two Naruto fics just yesterday. I'm really more known for my HP fics, and wanted to test my Naruto chops. Check them out if you like.

Chapter Two: The Key

"For a bloke who just discovered that he can change the size of his bits with as little as a thought, you seem pretty down in the breeches." Nymphadora Tonks, auror in training, and as recently as the previous evening, Europe's only known Metamorphmagus, laughed mischievously as her words drew the teen from his stormy thoughts and succeeded in turning him into a startled, blushing mess. Pulling her steady and reliable Comet 260 alongside his vastly more impressive Firebolt (a broom she had stopped to gaze longingly at each time she found herself outside a broom shop), she found herself impressed by his skill on a broom. That her carefully chosen words, which had obviously flustered the poor teen to the point that he was scarlet in the face, hadn't affected his flying in the least, was further testament to his talent in the air.

"Add in the fact that you could bed just about any witch that knows your name and story and that you already have the broom even professional players are having a difficult time getting their hands on, I can't see why you're not strutting around like a proper Malfoy." she added teasingly, her amusement growing as she spotted the telltale signs that his embarrassment had shifted just enough to include a bit of annoyance with her. Obviously the kid wasn't on the best of terms with her slick haired cousin, a positive, if she was going to be forced to spend as much time with the teen as required for him to even somewhat master his newly awakened ability.

"The day I start acting like Malfoy is the day that I fly straight into the Whomping Willow, full speed," Harry shot back, failing miserably to appear unfazed by the attractive, pink haired, pixie-like witch that had suddenly appeared at his side. She had a pretty, heart shaped face framed by bright bubble gum shaded hair and wearing clothing that made her look as if she had just walked off a stage at a punk rock concert. The young woman, who really couldn't have been much older than your average Hogwarts seventh year, smiled flirtatiously at him in response, causing the warmth burning on his face to intensify.

"And that, my heterochromic friend, would be the appropriate response," the strange woman quipped cheerily. "I would have also accepted any other form of suicide or extreme example of self-mutilation. I wouldn't want to waste my limited free time training up a bigoted wanker who does nothing but spout off about how superior their blood is to my own, now would I?"

"Training," Harry mimicked slowly, unsure of what to think of the pretty girl and her rather dark sense of humor. It only took the Potter heir a few seconds of glancing between her wide, mischievous smile and abnormally colored hair, his gaze kept diligently away from the seemingly painted on jeans she wore and how they perfectly hugged her sculpted thighs and hips as she straddled her broom, to realize that the stranger before him was the person Dumbledore and the other professors had spoken of. One… "Nymphadora—"

"Tonks!" she cut him off rather abruptly, all amusement instantly disappearing from her rather enticing features. Harry watched in amazement as the pink hue of her shorter than average locks (for a female that was) took on a shimmering, angry red tint. "Just Tonks! Anything else and I might just decide to take on your appearance for a while and indulge in a completely starkers stroll through the Great Hall during dinner." Proving her threat was possible, Tonks' features from the neck up transformed into an exact replica of his own, including his lightning bolt scar and the slight lengthening of her hair down past her—his chin, to the same length which Madam Pomfrey had trimmed his hair the previous evening.

"T-Tonks it is!" Just the thought of such an intimate exposure of his body, and the endless ridicule and heckling he would undoubtedly receive as a result for a long while after, was more than enough to ensure he never made the mistake of using her first name ever again. The thought that one day he might be able to carry out that threat wearing her body, never occurred to him.

"Good!" she chirped happily, instantly reverting back into the persona, both physically and personality wise, that she had arrived in. "I'm not one for making a big deal out of introductions and the like, so let's get all the formalities and the rest of that hogswallop out of the way first, shall we?"

Nodding jerkily, completely out of his element around the boisterous metamorph, Harry politely introduced himself to the auror in training. "Wotcher, Harry. My name is Tonks, as you well know by now, and I'll be seeing to your metamorphmagus training."

"Nice to meet you," he offered in return, sounding as uncertain as he felt in that moment. Without their owner's permission, Harry's eyes drifted toward the protruding logo upon the witch's shirt. Forcing his gaze upward to the safety of the woman's face, the teen found himself locking eyes with those of his newest teacher, silently praying to any deity that might have a hand in pulling the strings of the universe that she hadn't caught him acting like an overly hormonal teenage boy, even if that was exactly what he was.

It was as he fought the urge to further check out the extremely attractive, older magic user, continuing to look into the depths of her light blue gaze, that a deep sense of foreboding overtook him, causing him to feel as if he were somehow… exposed in some intimate and vulnerable way that he couldn't dare hope to begin to comprehend. It was this same inexplicable feeling that was telling- nay, screaming at him to break eye contact with the future auror. As he had ever since entering the Wizarding World, Harry followed his instincts, knowing that many more times than not they hadn't lead him astray; maybe not in the way he had originally thought, but in one form or another they had often lead to positive outcomes or the avoidance of even worse ones.

Trying to be inconspicuous in his efforts to end their eye contact, not that he was even sure why he felt the need to do so, Harry set his eyes firmly on the picturesque snowcapped peaks far off in the distance, the mid-day sun ghosting through the heavy set clouds that hung low overhead creating a view that was as enchanting as it was familiar. Almost as soon as the unsettling feeling had come, it disappeared, leaving in its wake a confused teen who, not for the first time since waking from his mysterious coma, was left wondering what in the hell was going on with him.

"So, you're going to teach me how to control… it?" he asked, unsure as to how he should refer to their shared magical ability.

"I'll be more of a knowledgeable guide of sorts than a true instructor. The ability to alter our appearance to any form we wish, including partial animalistic transformations," here she shifted her small nose into a pig's snout which caused him to choke on his laughter, "isn't something that you you'll learn, control or master overnight. You're just lucky that you have someone here to help guide you. For me, it took years of standing starkers before a mirror painfully experimenting with various changes before I gained any form of real control."

"Meaning I won't have much of a handle on this by the time the rest of the school shows up for the return feast tonight, will I?" he asked, apprehensively. After the rubbish the Daily Prophet had printed about him defeating the man Dumbledore had long ago bested, Harry could already imagine the varying extreme reactions his classmates were going to greet him with. Just the thought of it was enough to make him resemble a cherry and want to bury his head in the sand, whether that was from embarrassment or anger was unknown. That his least favorite Slytherin would have prepared an endless diatribe of insults for him was as certain as the sun rising in the east.

"I've had my meta ability since the day I was born, and even now there are times when my emotions overwhelm my ability to maintain control of my physical appearance. Be prepared to have your body and emotions working in tandem to humiliate you at the most inopportune moments." Seeing his resigned look, the female metamorph sighed internally, preparing herself for the conversation that her mother had had with her after the incident that had irrevocably altered her course in life, leading to her desire to become an auror in the first place.

"I know that with you being as famous as you are, you must be accustomed to all kinds of attention."

"I wouldn't say accustomed," he replied dryly, thinking back on all the unwanted and negative attention he had received over the years, since he first learned of his magic and was reintroduced to the wizarding world.

"I take it from your tone and body language that there's been more of the negative sort than positive?" Getting a nod, the morose woman gave her own nod of understanding. "Good," she sighed tiredly, making him give her a double take, looking wholly affronted. "I'm afraid you're going to need a rather thick skin if you're going to make it through the rest of your Hogwarts years with your sanity intact, especially now with your gift active. Excluding a few places such as France's magical community, Magical Europe as a society is often intolerant and extremely prejudiced. Anyone or anything that is different from what is considered human 'normal' is seen as an abomination, and is therefore, in the eyes of the majority, less than human."

"To many of the older, more influential families, metamorphmagi are seen as little more than glorified whores, only a step up, if even that, above how they perceive veela. And while it's true that not everyone will see you in such a degrading light, a majority of the public will come to see your name as being synonymous with terms such as freak, someone who is an oddity to be leered at and ogled and asked to shift and turn into their favorite celebrity as if you're some kind of muggle sideshow act." Seeing his disgruntled look, Tonks felt a bit of relief shoot through her. If his discomfort was anything to go by, it was clear he wasn't going to be exacerbating any of the more negative views and lust driven misconceptions the public had of those who possessed their unique ability. "In all honesty, not everyone will take such a degrading stance on your newly awakened ability. There will be many, in fact, who will wish to become closer to you because of it. Unfortunately, it'll be up to you to discover who truly wishes to be friends with Harry Potter the person and not Harry Potter the metamorphmagus."

"Also," she said in way of interrupting his thoughtful look, "there are those who will seek to capture you. Not for your connection to the Dark Wanker or Gild-a-lily, but because of your potential as a sex slave."

"S-sex slave?!" Harry parroted hesitantly, rightfully sounding horrified by the prospect.

Eyes shifting to a darker, stormier hue and her pale shaded skin taking on the striking transition to a more ashen tone, Tonks nodded tersely, conveying the seriousness of what she was saying. Refusing to meet his gaze, she trained her sights off into the distance, reliving horrors that were a startling contrast to the view they shared. "Who you are, your blood status, your age…even your bloody gender, none of it will matter to them. Make no mistake, when word finally spreads of what you're capable of, they will come for you."

"I..." he began uncertainly, unsure as to what it was he was trying to say. "And there's no way for me to control this right away, now, before anyone else discovers what I can do?" Even before he had finished asking, Tonks was shaking her head sadly, a look of understanding shaping her features.

"The best advice I can give you when around a crowd is to focus solely upon the form you wish to hold. Let nothing else, no person, no insult or snide comment, no matter how cruel or belittling, affect you emotionally and thus trigger an unintended physical change. Given how recent the awakening of your meta ability is, you should distance yourself from everyone as soon as you possibly can or risk exposing yourself."

"Focus on my appearance, not what others have to say," Harry nodded uncertainly, his grip unintentionally tightening upon the handle of his broom. "Any better ideas?" he asked as he gave a weak chuckle, a feeble attempt to frame his inquiry as a joke to mask his anxiety.

A soft smile took the place of her uncharacteristically (or so he assumed) serious look that she had been wearing during the latter part of their conversation. Tonks gave a small laugh that somewhat eased the tension he was experiencing but that could'nt succeed in completely erasing his, or even her own, misgivings. "No, not really," she answered bluntly, making him sigh in resignation as her smile made the transition from a tentative tilt of her pillow-esque lips to an outright grin. "Oh, come on, boyo, cheer up! We have plenty of time before everyone arrives for me to give you some basic advice that will come in handy when trying to keep a single form…"

A Gift, an Unkindness

"Seeing as you've both arrived upon the legendary birthing grounds for gossip, commonly known as the Hogwarts Express, would I be correct in the assumption you've been made aware of the further notoriety Mr. Potter has attained in the last forty-eight hours?" Trailing quickly behind their head of house, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley shared a brief, loaded glance with one another before they acknowledged that she was indeed correct. "For this, amongst other reasons you shall be made privy to soon enough, I'm allowing the three of you to take your dinner away from the rest of the school's populace, within the confines of the infirmary. An arrangement Madam Pomfrey was all too eager to agree to. Perhaps doing so will grant the three of you the privacy you rightly deserve and that you would have undoubtedly have been denied had your reunion taken place before the eyes of your watchful peers."

Inquiring about Harry's health having been the first words to pass her lips upon coming across the Scotswoman after disembarking from the carriages, Hermione beamed at the briskly moving witch's back, her relief and gratitude for this consideration was plainly visible upon her features and present in her tone. "Thank you, Professor McGonagall. We greatly appreciate your consideration."

"I, uh," Ron began hesitantly, "I thought it was a rule that we had to attend all of the school feasts?" Catching Hermione's reproachful look that clearly conveyed that now, of all times, wasn't the place to be recalling school rules, the redhead blushed indignantly. "What?!"

"Honestly, Ronald," Hermione sighed, sounding resigned. "Now isn't the time to be thinking with your stomach." If possible the youngest male Weasley's blush managed to intensify to the point that he unwittingly resembled the young metamorph he was heading to see.

"Oi! I'm not talking about my stomach!" he nearly shouted, quelling instantly under the disapproving glance the cat animagus sent his way.

"Inside voice, Mr. Weasley, or dare I say Madam Pomfrey will bar you from entering her infirmary," the elder witch warned.

"Sorry, Professor," Ron added hastily, earning an accepting nod from his head of house. "But I wasn't talking about my stomach, honest. I was actually wondering why, if we're allowed to skive off if we have your permission, that Harry hasn't been allowed to skip the Halloween feast in the past?"

"Pray tell, Mr. Weasley, why would I give him leave to do that?"

"Well, his parents," he answered slowly and uncertainly, looking exceedingly guilty as he did so for some reason. His misgivings about broaching the subject were made all the more intense when both of the witches whose company he resided in stopped walking and turned their undivided attention upon him.

"What of his parents?" McGonagall asked, even as Hermione gave a horrified gasp. "Ms. Granger, do you have something to share on this subject?"

"Halloween is the anniversary of their murder," she whispered, as if she feared her tone could make the revelation more horrid, her quivering hand pressed disbelievingly to her lips.

Realization blooming within her stern gaze, McGonagall silently cursed herself yet again for just another way in which she and her fellow colleagues had failed the boy.

"Ron, why didn't you say something sooner?" Her gaze sparkling with unshed tears, Hermione attempted to comprehend how she, with her love for significant historical dates and knowledge in general, had failed to make the connection between her best friend's suffering and the annual celebration.

"He asked me not to say anything," Ron feebly attempted to defend himself, feeling as if he had betrayed his best mate's trust even as he did so, a feeling that was only reinforced by Hermione's and the professor's reactions. "I didn't even know until last year when I caught him looking at that photo album Hagrid gave him the Christmas before… He was crying—and I didn't know what to do! It was bloody awkward, and then he realized I was there before I could leave—he asked me not to say anything! Even though it's obviously not really a secret bit of information."

"Oh, Harry, you're far too self-sacrificing for your own good," even as she spoke Hermione buried her face in her hands, ashamed of her failure to notice her best friend's yearly suffering.

Forcing her normal persona of stern, stoicism into place, McGonagall placed a comforting hand upon the upset girl's shoulder. "Enough of that, Ms. Granger. Harry will require all the support he can get. You'll need to be strong for him, you both will," she said sending Ron a look that the teen himself failed to comprehend, though he did gain the sense from it that she approved of his actions, or perhaps it was the concern he had displayed where his friend was concerned. "The last thing he requires at the moment is a reminder of his parents or the insensitivity we've all shown him. And rest assured, come next Halloween, Mr. Potter will be under no obligation to attend any celebrations. Nor will you, his friends."

Dabbing demurely at her moist eyes with a handkerchief the professor had graciously summoned for her during her attempt at reassurance, Hermione gave her thanks before turning her attention upon her other best friend. "I apologize for my being cross with you, Ron. If Harry really asked you not to say anything, you did the right thing by keeping your silence."

"Now then," McGonagall said, wearing a knowing look as she turned from the red eared boy and the girl who was bewildered by the reemergence of the Weasley's fiery flush, continuing on toward the infirmary and the teen who awaited their arrival. "Let us not keep Mr. Potter waiting any further. I'd imagine he's as anxious for your reunion as either of you."

Reaching their destination, McGonagall suddenly halted her progression and that of the two teens at her heel, much to their disappointment. "Before we enter, I feel I must remind you both that Mr. Potter has been through a lot in the past twenty-four hours. You should keep that in mind as you pursue the answers to any questions you may possess now or will come to have. Go too far and Madam Pomfrey will see to it that you not see Mr. Potter again until he leaves her care."

Receiving serious nods from the duo of young Gryffindors, McGonagall led the pair into the infirmary where they found the sole surviving member of the Potter family sharing a pleasant conversation with Hogwarts' head healer. Before any kind of greeting could be made by either of the now silent parties, a bushy haired brunette blur closed the distance between her and the object of her most recent bout of anxiety. Engulfing the teen in a tight hug that was as desperate as it was sincere; Hermione and Harry both were unaware of the silent amusement shared by the older witches and the resigned, good natured sigh of the third member of their well-known trio as he followed after his bushy haired friend at a much more reserved speed.

"You're going to strangle him if you squeeze any tighter, Hermione."

Ignoring the redhead's quip, a once more misty eyed Hermione pulled back just far enough to give the now flustered metamorph a frenzied once over, searching for any signs of lingering injuries that Madam Pomfrey may have missed in her numerous scans, no matter how unlikely a possibility that was. It was the sight that greeted her, however, that gave her and Ron, once the former's hair had ceased to obscure latter's view, significant pause. Seeing a shocking, unnatural shade of red and the alteration to one of his enviable emerald green eyes had both teens more than a little taken aback.

"Madam Pomfrey?!" Hermione beckoned breathlessly, sounding more than a bit panicked as she missed said healer's mischievous smile.

"Give Mr. Potter a moment to collect himself, Ms. Granger; I'm sure he'd be willing to shed some light on his colorful display of emotion." Harry sent the woman an annoyed glance as she motioned for the Deputy Headmistress to follow her into her private office. "Come, Minerva, let's give them some privacy, shall we? Would you care for a cuppa? The elves have only just brought up a fresh pot of a simply lovely Darjeeling."

Leading her longtime friend away from the awkward silence that had arisen between the three teens as quickly as Tonks' advice on holding a form had failed Britain's newest metamorph, Poppy quickly closed her office door behind them. "It would appear as if Harry may harbor some feelings for Ms. Granger, no?"

Allowing herself a soft chuckle, Minerva accepted her tea with a rarely seen smile. "If what I witnessed on our trek here is any indicator, Mr. Potter isn't the only one harboring such feelings."

"My, my, that is concerning." Poppy mused aloud. "Rare few things can complicate a close friendship like matters of the heart… And the girl, who do you think will catch her eye first?"

"I believe we both know the answer to that question, Poppy, if the scene we left moments ago is anything to go by." Having taken a sip of the dark, bitter beverage, McGonagall laid her cup before her on the desk separating the two witches. "While Mr. Weasley has shown his heart to be in the right place where his friends are concerned, at least much of the time, he lacks any form of ambition and drive concerning the future, whereas Ms. Granger is always striving to prove her worth as a witch. Frankly, outside of their shared friendship with Mr. Potter, I fail to see any common ground between the two. Were it not for his presence, I doubt the two would have any cause for associating with one another."

Growing silent, Poppy nursed her tea, enjoying the comfortable atmosphere that one could only experience when sharing time with one whom you share a close bond with. "Do you think, perhaps," she said, speaking her thoughts aloud, "we're far too interested in the ever changing relationships and melodrama of our charges?" This earned her a raised eyebrow and a mischievous half smile from the witch sitting across from her.

"There are only so many books to be read my friend; one must find one's entertainment where they can."

Laughing heartily at this response, a scene many of Hogwarts' past, present and future students would have never thought impossible, Madam Pomfrey sent a mirthful, suggestive wink at the transfiguration professor. "Are you speaking of us, Minerva, or of Ms. Granger?" she asked knowingly, earning a groan that quickly faded into very girlish giggles from McGonagall.

"Will you never grow up, Poppy?"

"No chance!"


Harry could only smile fondly as his friends had reacted to his tale, both the less than enthralling story behind the entire Grindelwald fiasco and his newly awakened meta-ability, exactly as he had expected they would. Hermione seemed captivated by the very idea of his new ability, going off on a tangent about the numerous possibilities and applications such a skill could possibly grant him, while Ron seemed to be somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of information he had dumped on them.

"So you didn't kill that Grindel-fellow everyone was going on about?" The redhead confirmed, after finally regaining his ability to speak.

Harry answered by shaking his head. "It's all a blank after I entered the woods. Why the Prophet thinks I beat someone who even Dumbledore had trouble with in his prime is beyond me."

"True or not, it was all people were talking about on the train," Ron informed him absently, the greater part of his attention held captive by the food that had appeared during Harry's explanation.

"And you're sure you're alright?" Hermione asked for possibly the hundredth time, still looking somewhat unconvinced that he was truly okay. Harry smiled at the witch, who couldn't seem to decide if she should focus on his health, despite his repeated attempts to assure her that he was fine, or to ask as many questions as she could possibly come up with about the magical ability she had never before even heard of, let alone encountered.

"I'm right as rain, Hermione, honest. Madam Pomfrey and Monsieur Delacour, the ICW healer and representative, both gave me a clean bill of health," he reassured her, feeling a pleasant warmth spread through his chest at her concern for him. "The only reason I'm still here is that I was unsure if I would be able to maintain a consistent form throughout the return feast, which obviously, I wouldn't have been able to."

"How do you intend to keep what you're capable of a secret if you can't fully control it?" Hermione asked while thoughtfully eyeing the small, yet notable alterations to his appearance. "It's not as if you're an unknown, and with everything that has been printed in the Prophet about you lately, your every action will be scrutinized far more closely than ever before. That includes what you faced during our first and second years."

"From what I've been told so far, I have to clear my mind of all but the physical form I wish to maintain," he explained, despite one half of his audience, much to his amusement, finding their meal to be far more interesting. "Tonks says it's how she went about holding a single appearance when she first began trying to learn control. It is the first step to learning an obscure branch of magic that deals solely with the mind."

"Mind magics?" Sensing that the bushy haired witch's attention had momentarily found its way to him, Ron met her curious gaze with a look of hesitant bewilderment, momentarily taken aback by her sudden fixation on him. "Have your parents or family ever mentioned such magics around you, Ron?"

Wearing a thoughtful expression, the redhead shook his head as he laid his sandwich to the side. "No, although something my oldest brother, Bill, said to Percy right before our first year does come to mind now that you mention it. Percy had just gotten his prefect badge and was of course being a right pain about it, going on and on about how big an honor it was, and just being his normal, mental, git of a self."

"Being a prefect is a big honor," Hermione cut in, looking offended that there might be someone who didn't see the position as such. Ron rolled his eyes and waved his hand dismissively, humoring the bookish Gryffindor.

"Anyway, I can't rightly recall what it was he said to shut him up, something like 'Hogwarts only scratches the barest surface of what's possible with magic,' or something along those lines. Whatever it was, I guess it doesn't really matter now. I just remember it sounded like he was hinting at there being powerful magic that Hogwarts didn't teach. You know, outside of really dark curses and the type of stuff Malfoy and his poofer of a father would be into."

"Language, Ron," Hermione reprimanded him absently, looking far more intrigued by the tidbit of information he had shared than she was by his choice in language or Mr. Malfoy's questionable sexuality. "I've known since my first trip to Diagon Alley about enchanting, a slowly dying branch of magic that one can only learn properly from one the few masters that are alive today, but I've never come across mention of other magical arts that are taught solely outside of Hogwarts… Though, honestly, I really shouldn't be surprised by that. It's incredibly shortsighted of me," she murmured, sounding both excited at the prospect of an, as yet, unexplored branch of magic and disappointed in herself for not discovering the existence of such sooner.

"We'll just have to ask Percy then, won't we," Harry suggested, silently grateful for the transition to topics that didn't involve Grindelwald. For some unexplained, yet rather understandable reason given recent events, he felt a deep seed of unease given birth in the pit of his stomach each time the subject of the war criminal was breeched. "Mind magic has his name written all over it."

Before anymore could be said by the trio, an uncharacteristically flush looking McGonagall returned, doing her best to once more project an air of authority as she brushed away at a nonexistent wrinkle upon her robes. "Mister Weasley, Miss Granger, the two of you shall return to the tower tonight, while Mister Potter will remain here so as not to tempt the revelation of anything he may wish to keep secret at the moment."

Receiving a "see ya, mate" from Ron as the redhead made for the door with their head of house, Harry once more found himself immersed in a warm hug from his favorite Gryffindor. "It was so good to see you," Hermione softly whispered into the shell of his ear, not even noticing that her normally bone crushing hug had lessened in force to something that made both occupants of the embrace feel a bit strange. Yet both found themselves unwilling to break from the contact, feeling a swell of nervousness and strangely eagerness, flooding through their veins. "You, all alone in this infirmary on Christmas was all I could think about these past two weeks… I really missed you, Harry…"

"Madam Pomfrey was here with me the whole time, not that I was actually conscious enough to appreciate her company," he lightly joked, earning a watery giggle from the brunette. "Even so… I missed you as well, Hermione."

Unsure of who or what was the guiding force behind his actions, the young, normally reserved Potter, for the first time since she had been revived from being petrified by the basilisk's gaze, actually returned the witch's hug with one of his own. However, much to the collective surprise of them both, the placement of Harry's hands upon her back was much, much lower than they had ever gone in any previous hugs Hermione had ever received, especially from her first real friend. Not that the overachieving bookworm had ever been the recipient of all that many hugs to begin with. Excluding her mother and father, neither of her parents had any siblings and both of their respective parents were long since deceased; in fact Harry was the only person to ever hold her, not that she would need more than one hand to count the number of times he had hugged her back. Even so, the warmth of his larger than she ever realized hands resting upon her lower back, less than an inch above the waist of her skirt, pulling her closer into his chest, was more than enough to get the young girl's heart racing.

Fortunately for them both, Harry was just as affected by the embrace as his maiden companion. More than a little flustered by the teen's sudden display of unusual affection, a secretly disappointed Hermione took a few steps away from her secret crush only to release a wave of very un-Hermione-like giggles as she caught sight of the now literally cherry shaded face of her best friend. If possible, Harry's complexion did the impossible and became even more flushed as Ron's braying joined Hermione's rather pleasant-to-the-ear laughter.

"Shut it, you two," Harry snapped, the lack of heat or any type of anger easily audible for all to hear. "Now do you see why I want to keep this a secret from the rest of the school?! I can't control it! Soon enough people will purposely be trying to embarrass or anger me, all in the hope that they can get me to resemble a quaffle!"

"Oh Harry, but it's so cute," Hermione giggled, before the horrifying realization of what she had just said settled in. Doing her own impression of a quaffle, the female Gryffindor gave Harry a hurried wave goodbye, pointedly not meeting his or anyone else's gaze as she hastened to leave the infirmary.

Sending him a look that Harry couldn't decipher beyond showing a knowing smugness, McGonagall led the still laughing redhead from the room, her companion blissfully unaware of the emotionally loaded moment that had just transpired between his two best friends.

The door to the infirmary closed with a near inaudible "click" that took with it the sound of his red-headed friend's laughter. Falling back onto the cool, inviting surface of his temporary bed, Harry groaned nosily into his hands as he recalled the feel of having his arms wrapped snugly around Hermione's dainty form and the sudden urge that had threatened to nearly overwhelm him, the one that said to let his hands drop just a few more inches to his bushy haired friend's tight…

Harry gave a second, more pronounced sound of distress that was only slightly muffled as he flipped over, burying his face into his pillow. Since late last semester, just before their return "home" from Hogwarts, Harry, much like many of the other boys his age, had begun noticing the girls in their year. Needless to say, those who were older and thus more developed, were now being looked at in an illuminating and quite stimulating new light. It was a physical change that had grown even more pronounced over the summer within the confines of Privet Drive, where the fashion style of the opposite sex were decidedly more bold than that which Magical Britain's female residents normally adhered to. Nowhere upon Hogwarts' grounds or the many twisting turns of Diagon Alley would he find something as eye ensnaring and utterly brain deactivating as Claire Polkiss', Piers Polkiss' older sister, skimpy two piece bikini, or at least he assumed as much. He admittedly didn't know much at all about what the wizarding world did for adult entertainment after all. But since waking up, or to be far more specific, since finding himself in the company of Tonks and Hermione, Harry found himself to be almost overwhelmed by his own traitorous hormones. It was a deep seeded longing that had almost seen him do the unthinkable and touch his dearest friend in way that went well beyond the boundaries of even close friendship and into the realm of sexual assault.

He in no way saw it as overreacting in saying that he would rather die than betray Hermione's trust in such a way, and would likely beat any person, be they male or female, within an inch of their life if he were ever to learn of someone forcing themselves upon her. To think that he had almost succumbed to such disrespectful behavior… Well, it was unnerving to say the least.

So lost was Harry in his own thoughts that he never even heard Madam Pomfrey's approach until she had nosily cleared her throat, startling him from his pensive silence, much to the healer's obvious amusement. "Dreamless Sleep Drought, you seem like you might have some need of it." Placing the full vial on the table next to his bed, Poppy sent him a kind smile before she made for her office, the lights in the infirmary dimming until only the light of the moon softly illuminated the room.

Giving the draught a long look, Harry shrugged his shoulders and grabbed the glass vial. "Why not? I don't want to end up having the types of dreams about Hermione and Tonks that Lee is always claiming to have about Alicia... at least I think I don't…"

Shaking off any second guessing, he deftly downed the contents in a single motion. He had just enough time to place the empty vial back from where he had taken it from, before he passed into the land of Morpheus and the horrors that awaited him.

A Gift, an Unkindness

"Voldemort did your mother a favor the night he slaughtered her like a pig." Gellert said, chuckling as the teen stilled beneath his hand's grazing touch, the boy not daring to even breathe for fear of drawing his kidnapper's wrath. "Better her dead than have to see the pathetic excuse for a son she gave birth to."

The same broken, vacant eyes that had stared back at Gellert countless times during his reign of terror over half a century prior were in front of him now. These eyes were identical to those which had haunted Albus' infuriatingly serene gaze during the entirety of their hours' long epic duel, but now they resided within the emerald depths of the broken teen before him. The sight of it sent trills of pleasure down his spine the likes of which he hadn't experienced in far too long.

"I'd be willing to bet anything that Voldemort's men would have made her squeal and moan like a two knut whore as they gang raped her. Her torture would have been endless, the Lords and Ladies who make up his followers would have seen to as much. That a filthy mudblood would dare to show a brilliance that hadn't been seen in their own lineages for centuries—that she possessed the sheer gall to be so overwhelmingly beautiful as to make men of such noble birth and pure blood lust for her flesh. Her punishment for such travesties would have been continuous, agonizing, and degrading, until inevitably, they would have made the perfect mindless slave of her. You, weak as you are, would be utterly helpless to oppose them and free her from such an existence—nor to save your brilliant and beautiful little muggleborn girlfriend from sharing the same fate or any other female unfortunate enough to share even the smallest of a connection to you." To emphasize the truth of his words, the decrepit man drew a symbol upon his flesh with a blade, just another to match the multitude of runes littering the entirety of his nude and bleeding form.

"Of course," he breathed, voice heavy with a perverse eagerness that was as frightening as his blade, "it's a given that such a fate will befall all those who come into contact with you. One can only rely upon luck for so long before she turns her back on you and leaves you to your fate. Narrow escapes and blundered victories won't always be the outcome of your little adventures. Eventually… somehow, someway, Voldemort will rise once more, his most loyal at his heels, eager to rape, pillage and bring about hell on earth… and it will be entirely, your, fault. You will be the boy-who-lived yet failed to save all those who needed him the most… Not that you'll be all that dissimilar to Voldemort and his followers in the end… given enough time and the proper motivation. It is, after all, your destiny."

"Even as cold as it is right now, it's still possible to differentiate between the chill of the night and that which your kind is known for." Pushing aside the most recent incarnation of the nightmare that continued to haunt his every slumber since the night of his classmates' return to Hogwarts, Harry turned to cast a discerning eye about the Astronomy tower's highest level. Keenly aware that he was the only living being present, he searched for the soul imprint that, much like himself, had chosen to occupy this tower the past few nights, long after the scheduled classes had gone and the earliest signs of dawn's first light made its appearance.

"As flattering as it would be to have a postmortem ethereal stalker, I believe our time shared has much more to do with the location than it does my presence."

Like a quickly encroaching fog atop a lake, a semi-transparent beauty appeared before his eyes. Looking as if she had just stepped from the pages of a gothic novel set in the thirteenth century, the Grey Lady, or as she was known in the pages of history, Helena Ravenclaw, fixed him with an emotionless gaze, her once dark eyes were now, in death, a stormy grey, a color that was only a few shades darker than the rest of her appearance. "You do yourself a disservice, Scion Potter. What lovely maiden wouldn't covet an evening alone with the one responsible for the defeat of the Grey Plague?"

Harry frowned as he turned to stare out over the edge of the tower, his stance now stiff and unwelcoming. "I don't know what you're searching for, Lady Ravenclaw, but I'm afraid I may disappoint." The small trace of humor that had been present in his gaze moments before was now replaced with a look of annoyance that was mirrored in the now scarlet tips of his hair. His misgivings quickly died away as the silence that followed his words stretched on.

"Please explain it to me," she prodded, earning a look of mild confusion. "Why is it you fail to see what is so obvious to your peers? There is indeed something special about you, Harry Potter, and all but you are seemingly capable of seeing it."

Harry sneered at the praise, unconsciously taking on the resemblance of the Malfoy Scion for a moment. "You, like all the others in this castle, bar those who I'm closest to, believe I'm some kind of dark wizard slayer. Yet I'm not even the head of my year!" Some of the anger that had heated his tone died away as he met his companion's stoic gaze, giving birth to a sense of acute disappointment in himself. When did he become the type of person who used others as a release for his angst? "Tell me," he began in a small voice, that, despite the harsh winds attempting to silence their conversation, still reached the intended recipient, "how someone who's failing Potions would go about defeating a man who very nearly succeeded in bringing the world to its knees?"

For the first time since he had laid eyes upon her eternal, otherworldly beauty, the ever present look of nonchalance gave way to something none in living memory had ever bore witness to, the amused smile of one Helena Ravenclaw. "That may be a bit of an overstatement, child," she drawled dismissively, surprising Harry with her change in demeanor. "Now you tell me, child-who-overcame, was it the exaggerated tales of schoolchildren that allowed you to defy Tom and his host during your first year? Or in your second year? Was it whispered half-truths that-"

"Fawkes," Harry interrupted, exasperated, shaking his head. "If not for Fawkes, I never would have survived the Chamber of Secrets. He's the one who destroyed the basilisks' eyes and saved me from its venom! If not for him my bones would still rest in Salazar's chamber."

"Of course," Helena nodded demurely, her demeanor unexpectedly turning challenging, if not a little condescending. "I, along with the few I hold as my dearest compatriots, know full well what transpired within the confines of Salazar's private domain—just as we know all of what you've faced as a resident of Europe's magical community."

"If you and the other house ghosts were in the know all this time, then why have none of you ever come forth? Why didn't any of you say something when I was being accused of petrifying students, or when we had to save the stone?!"

"Correct me if I'm wrong, my dear, impudent mortal, but I've made no mention of my kind." Giving a predatory smirk at his bewilderment, she continued. "As you've portrayed yourself as all knowing, perhaps you can see it in yourself to enlighten me? Who amongst your peers would have continued on into Slytherin's lair, knowing what manner of beast laid in wait for you in Slytherin's chamber? Perhaps you can name a single wizard who would have continued to defy Riddle and his pet with but a sword?"

With Ron and Hermione in mind, the memory of the twins' loyalty throughout second year and Neville's display of bravery in their first, Harry made to answer her question. However, as grey met the pleasant mismatch of green and blue, he found himself unable to voice his answer, the certainty that had driven him to challenge her no longer as absolute.

"Your silence says more than any vehemently spoken denial ever could," Helena broke in, drawing him from his momentary reprieve. "Besides, given your own lack of self-worth, I have no doubt you'd find some way to downplay or invalidate your bravery in the face of overwhelming odds."

"Humility can be an attractive trait. Low self-esteem, however, especially when faced with the truth of one's own considerable accomplishments, is quite the opposite." Harry chose not to reply, but to instead send her an irritated glare.

"What is it about embracing your fame or notoriety—of utilizing your status for your own self-gain or the betterment of others—that repulses you so?"

"I don't like the attention!" Harry exploded, pushing off the rampart he had been resting against to stride toward the smug sprit before him. "Not only because of how people project their hate and unreasonable expectations on me, their equally beloved and scorned poster boy, but because every whisper about something I've somehow accomplished, every exaggeration and embellishment to the rumors that surround me—including the latest nonsense that I defeated Grindelwald—can and will reach those who want nothing more than to cause me and mine harm…" An unpleasant stirring gripped his stomach as he recalled the nightmares that had haunted him every night for the past week. "M-my friends are already targets because of me… and… and, 'one can only rely upon luck for so long before she turns her back on you!' One day, someone who wants to hurt me will succeed. Which fate will befall us first, will it be a slow, agonizing death for me at the hands of some psychopath, or the capture and… torture of my friends, I don't know. What I do know is that the more codswallop that reaches Voldemort—and even that bastard Black—the more relentless they'll be!"

The last of his words crossed the threshold of his lips as little more than an enraged, wholly desperate growl filled with despair, one that succeeded in draining the last remaining vestiges of strength from his sleep deprived mind. Embarrassed by his outburst and far too exhausted to really care that he was panting as if he had run the length and breadth of the Forbidden Forest, Harry met the antagonistic, enigma of a spirit and was shocked to find approval in her dark gaze.

"Then be done with this ridiculous belief that the cloak of mediocrity will protect you from all who would harm you! Be done with this utter fantasy that feigned mediocrity will shield you and your loved ones from the sight of your enemies!" Her voice like honey upon his ears, Helena glided over to him, invading his personal space while wearing a knowing, superior look that succeeded where the brisk winds had failed and gave birth to goosebumps atop his exposed flesh. "Accept the changes which you've felt since your awakening!"

"How?" Harry demanded, without giving context to his question.

"Dumbledore may be a prominent figure within the ICW, particularly here in this bigoted, backwater country, but he is in no way a member of her highest echelons, no matter what he likes to think. Dear Sabastian, or as you knew him, Monsieur Delacour, is one of the few here in this small minded part of the world to overthrow the shackles with which magical Europe," here she smirked in a way that made Harry feel as if he had missed out on a particularly cruel private joke, but he remained silent, "keeps her few residents leashed with. On top of being one of the world's most renowned healers, he is counted amongst the ICW's most important. Knowing the esteemed headmaster's complicated history with the Grey Plague, Sabastian deemed him too emotionally compromised to make the correct decisions given your unique situation."

To say his mind was racing like a chased snitch that had overdosed on Pepper Up potions would have been an understatement. He was well aware that the ghost before him had just dropped a lot of important information on him while simultaneously having given very little away. Frustratingly enough, it was also clear that she would only be expanding on one subject she had made mention of. "And what is it that's so unique about my situation?" he hesitantly asked, his exhaustion temporarily forgotten.

"What transpired between yourself and Grindelwald isn't as big a mystery as you and your government were led to believe." As she revealed the ICW's trickery, at least where he and Magical Britain were concerned, she slowly brought her index and middle finger to hover before her right eye in a manner that made the Potter heir decidedly uncomfortable, despite the fact that no real harm could be brought to the incorporeal woman before him. Or so he believed.

"What he left you with was a curse that we intend to see become a boon for you. Not only for the world that lives in the shadows of the mundane's sprawling society, but that which thrives upon the edges of Magical Europe, the true Magical World." Before her words could fully register with the quickly becoming overwhelmed teen, the sprit before him plunged her fingers deep into her right eye. In the span of a single heartbeat Harry's mixture of repulsion and worry for the ghost faded as the rational part of his mind caught up with the rapid pounding of his heart, only for him to once more plunge into a downward spiral of terror as he registered what was happening before him. Where her fingers should have ghosted through her eye socket, there was now an inexplicable faded, colorless, bloody mess.

Her single remaining eye remained fixed upon his horrified expression, betraying the slight elation his reaction had given her. "Why so squirmy, Basilisk Slayer? You can't even begin to fathom the manner of creatures and terrors my kind, beings trapped between the living and the dead, encounter continuously. Residents of hellish realms where abominations you know nothing of, but will come to be intimately familiar with, if you're actually destined for greater things as my companions believe you to be." From her eye, as easily as one would go about picking a flower, the creature, as he now saw the being before him, withdrew a normal, albeit soaked in ghostly blood, key, from the depths of her skull. "My only intention is to bestow upon you a gift."

Like sugar dissolving in the freshest cup of hot tea, only in reverse and far more gruesomely, Helena's eye reappeared within its socket to join the other in leering almost perversely upon him.

"What is it?" Harry asked in a surprisingly steady voice. Though the collected air portrayed by his tone was ruined by the way he stared fixedly at the ghost's reborn eye.

"A portal," she answered smoothly, unabashed by his continued leering. "Or, at the least, the key to one. Either a gateway to greatness or your own agonizing death." Giving an airy wave of her transparent hand, the same hand that had penetrated her skull, Harry noted nervously, the open trapdoor leading into the tower sealed shut. "Use this gift from my compatriots upon that door and you will be given a chance to have the answers to all your questions, and the key," she said with a smile brimming with a devilish mirth, "to protecting your friends. Don't use it, however, and you will seal your own fate. One in which you give into something far stronger than yourself, a path of destruction where you are the conductor to a symphony of madness and death."

Positive his features were taking on a sickly green hue that matched the turmoil of his stomach, Harry reached out to take the key from the emotional rollercoaster that was the Grey Lady. Stopping before the trapdoor, he sent a furtive glance over his shoulder at the now annoyed looking ghost.

"I know brats your age tend to be hard pressed to think beyond getting out of doing your homework and keeping your grubby little hands off your even smaller equipment, but surely you know how to use a key."

His own annoyance returning at her harsh words, Harry shoved the key into the lock and gave it a turn that had all of his current anger behind it. Subconsciously aware of the magic the key and the trapdoor were now both emitting, Harry sent the smug looking ghost a look of deep contempt.

"To be so beautiful, yet you're really nothing more than a crazy bitch." Feeling his horror set in as he realized what he had just said to the potentially deadly, wholly creepy being behind him, he quickly jerked the door open, intent on fleeing the area, only to stop at what greeted him below. Instead of the normal ladder that led into the shadowed interior of the astronomy tower, Harry found himself faced with a large and inviting, well-lit office. His view of the room, however, was quite disorienting. Instead of staring down upon the office as he should have been, given the fact the trapdoor was on the floor, it was more like he was gazing through an open window of the office that he only just realized was occupied.

"I look forward to working with you in the future, young mortal," Helena hummed into his ear, causing the teen to stiffen as he realized just how close she had gotten. Before he could offer her a hasty apology or attempt to resume his fleeing, an invisible force collided with his back sending him careening into the office headfirst.

In the millisecond that passed between the vast expanse of nothingness that greeted his forced descent into the room and the sound of the trapdoor sealing noisily behind him, the teen tried and failed to prepare himself for the painful landing that he instinctively knew to be rapidly approaching. So it came as quite a surprise to him that rather than landing in a pile of broken bones and pain, as he had expected, that his descent ended as little more than a tumble onto the brilliant and unexpectedly welcoming floor.

"Destination keys," said an accented and somewhat familiar voice. Attempting to maintain some semblance of dignity as he rose onto unsteady feet, Harry was taken aback as he registered just who the voice belonged to just moments before he laid eyes on the man and his two unknown companions. "By far the easiest and most pleasant method of magical travel, if I do say so myself. Though, given who it was that introduced you to it, I'm not surprised she found a way to entertain herself. Helena, despite her macabre and oftentimes devious sense of amusement, means well."

"M-Monsieur Delacour?" he murmured almost silently as he regained his balance. "What's going on here? Where are we?"

The handsome, broad shouldered Frenchmen smiled politely at the English-born teen. "We are currently within the office of two the ICW's highest ranked, and at present, unknown members. Monsieur Potter, it's my pleasure to introduce you to Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel."

"…Flamel?" Harry slowly repeated, eyeing the unassuming, and all around average looking, middle aged couple (or so they appeared) with blatant suspicion. "But the stone? Professor Dumbledore said the Flamels would…"

"Would what, exactly? Die?" supplied the woman with a look of amusement. Harry flinched as he realized how he had phrased that last line. "That's our little bee for you," she said, speaking to her husband as he gave an almost bored roll of his eyes. "Far too inflexible in his old age to ever entertain the possibility of us creating contingency stones, oh in what, only many hundreds of years."

"Of course he would assume that something as inconsequential as the loss of a single stone would succeed in ghosting us away before we could complete our goals." Making a sound of annoyance, the legendary alchemist sent him a glare that seemed to stem more from the monotony that was the day-to-day for an individual who had lived for the better part of a millennium. "Hopefully you'll prove to be more promising in your twilight years than your headmaster."

Harry wasn't sure how he was supposed to respond so he chose to remain silent.

"Enough of that," chuckled Sabastian Delacour, waving a chiding hand at the two immortals. "Perhaps it's time we explained ourselves to our young guest."

"I'd, um," Harry began, sounding entirely uncertain of himself, "I'd appreciate that."

Smiling reassuringly at the boy who was only a few years younger than his eldest daughter, Sabastian moved away from the high reaching windows he had been admiring to sit on the edge of the lone desk that occupied the Flamels' shared office. "You've been brought here to discuss my findings during your latest examination, or more specifically during my search of your mind."

"My…mind?" Harry parroted.

"Correct," Sebastian nodded morosely. "Your mind. And how Grindelwald made it… and you, a means to an end."

AN: I ended this here for one major reason. I want your, the readers', opinion on where we should go from here. I had the idea of having the wizarding world connected to a number of different ones, meaning a number of crossovers with other series that deal with the occult, magic, demons and other such themes. If a majority of you are up for it, you'll see hints of other mythologies as quickly as the next chapter.

In the long run, the story won't be all that different either way. However, if I include other series it'll negate the need for me to create tons of OCs. And seeing as a good portion of this story will take place outside of Hogwarts, more characters than are present in the HP universe will be needed. Rest assured, any character from the other series will be introduced properly, and will have a bit of info about them, such as their series of origin, included at the end of each chapter.

To ensure your choice is taken into consideration, please go vote on the poll I've created for this.

I hope you've all enjoyed this latest chapter and will leave a review. Until next time!