SHAMELESS PLUG!

My first original novel, Strangers In Boston, is now available on Amazon under my pen name, T.S. Mann (get it?). It's free to Kindle Prime members and $4.99 to people who want to download the Ebook. Paperback copies are available for $12.99. The audio book version will be available soon. Check it out, and if you like it, please leave a review. Work on the sequel—Strangers In Dallas—proceeds apace. Chapters will be uploaded to my website and available for preview to patrons on the first of each month.

Sam Gabriel, the voice actor who is performing the audiobook of Strangers in Boston, is also reading Prince of Slytherin as a side project! The goal is an eventual (and 100% free) POS audiobook. More details on that later as they become available. The full backlog of raw recording sessions are available as a free download.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.


Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game


Chapter 15: The Long Night

Hogwarts
1 September 1994

The ride to Hogwarts was uneventful, at least compared to years past. Indeed, the biggest hurdle was the torrential rainstorm that struck Hogsmeade upon their arrival. As Harry and his crew made their way from the train station to the waiting carriages beneath the protection of Umbrella Charms, Amy gasped in surprise at the sight of the thestrals. Harry and Theo both looked at each other. While none of them had personally observed the death of Tiberius Nott, Amy had seen the man's incapacitation and then heard his death-screams and the sounds of a Barghest tearing him apart. Apparently, that counted as "witnessing death" for purposes of the strange magic of thestrals. Of Harry's closest friends, only Neville and Ginny were still sheltered enough to not be able to see the eerie steeds.

Harry helped Amy into one of the carriages and then paused to look around. Nearby, he noticed Daphne and Astoria Greengrass boarding another carriage along with Pansy Parkinson and Drusilla Crabbe. He was surprised to see a somewhat sullen Tracey Davis board a different carriage farther back and wondered what sort of argument had split her off from the Greengrass sisters. Then, a sudden impulse seized the Slytherin.

"Please, let me help you up," he said somewhat loudly while holding out his hand to Ginny Weasley. The youngest Weasley nearly said something sarcastic about not being an invalid when she noticed him glance surreptitiously off to the side. She cut her eyes in that direction and noticed Daphne glaring at them.

"Why thank you, Harry!" Ginny said with what she hoped sounded like a coquettish laugh. "You're a true gentleman!"

Harry followed her into the carriage, where Theo and Amy were both looking dubiously at the pair. Ginny just smirked.

"Are you actively trying to make Daphne Greengrass jealous, Harry?" she asked.

"Maybe," Harry answered with a smirk.

The Sorting went off with only minor hitches. First, most of the student body was unpleasantly damp. While the older Slytherins and most Ravenclaws were quite familiar with the Umbrella Charm, the Hufflepuffs were less so, and the Gryffindors seemed to relish getting drenched in the rain. To make things even wetter, Peeves went after Jim and Ron with water balloons, and young Dennis Creevey (who seemed even more hyperactive than his relentlessly cheerful brother, Colin) had managed to fall into the lake. Naturally, young Dennis followed his sibling into Gryffindor, which was good, because it meant he had to walk past Hermione, who was the first person with the presence of mind to cast a Drying Charm on the poor boy.

As Harry took his seat, he noticed that the Head Table seemed a bit longer than usual this evening, complete with a few extra chairs for guests. In particular, Bartemius Crouch and Ludo Bagman were both present, presumably for Dumbledore's announcement about the Triwizard Tournament. Percy Weasley was also present, sitting next to his boss and looking distinctly uncomfortable to be sitting at the Head Table. And speaking of the Triwizard Tournament, the fabled Goblet of Fire was already in position on a pedestal directly in front of Dumbledore's chair. A circle of faintly glowing runes surrounded it. Presently, Bagman seemed engaged in a hopeless effort to converse with Professor Snape who resolutely ignored the fatuous man. Harry also noticed that the chair on Dumbledore's right was empty at the moment.

Another unexpected addition to the Head Table was Ted Tonks, who Dumbledore introduced as a new faculty member. Ted would be teaching introductory healing courses, acting as the official Healer for the Triwizard Tournament, and assisting Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing as needed. According to Dumbledore, Ted had some degree of training as a Mind Healer, and he would also be on call to act as a counselor should any of the student body wish to meet with him in that capacity. Harry's eyes narrowed at that, and he privately suspected this was more of Sirius's scheming to get him "the help he needed" after the various traumas of the last few years. What sort of counseling a 4th level Occlumens might need was beyond Harry, but apparently, his godfather was not letting the matter go.

At the conclusion of the feast, Dumbledore rose to make his closing remarks, which included his announcement that the Quidditch House Cup would be cancelled for the year on account of the Triwizard Tournament. However, there would be Quidditch after a fashion. Hogwarts would field two interhouse teams that would play against Quidditch teams from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang later in the year. The Hogwarts teams would be captained by Adrian Pucey and Head Boy Roger Davies. Both Pucey and Davies were Seventh Years and also captains of their House teams, and the opportunity to lead the interhouse teams had been offered as consolation for their lost seasons.

"And now," Dumbledore continued, "to give you all some more information about the Triwizard Tournament, I am pleased to introduce—"

Suddenly, the Headmaster was interrupted by a deafening rumble of thunder, and the doors of the Great Hall banged open. A man stood in the doorway, leaning upon a long staff, shrouded in a black traveling cloak. A man that Harry Black was delighted to see: Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody!

A dull clunk echoed through the Hall as the retired Auror made his way to the Head Table where he shook Dumbledore's hand. The two spoke quietly for a few seconds before Dumbledore directed Moody to the empty seat. Nearby, Crouch rolled his eyes at the dramatic entrance.

Dumbledore turned back to the student body. "And on that exciting note, allow me to introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Professor Moody."

At first, there was silence in response to the announcement, but then the applause of Dumbledore and Hagrid was swiftly joined by that of Harry and his coterie, followed by most of Slytherin House (who were all confused but generally eager to curry favor with the new Lord Wilkes) and then the rest of the students. For his part, Moody nodded towards Harry but otherwise ignored the applause in favor of dinner, as he speared a few sausages with a knife he pulled from his jacket and then poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice.

As the applause died down, Dumbledore spoke once more. "Actually, my introduction was not completely accurate. While Professor Moody is the official DADA professor for this year, he will only be teaching classes until the end of October. The other classes will be divided among several instructors—both professors from the visiting schools and also several of the Triwizard Tournament judges—who will be teaching DADA symposiums throughout the year. Rest assured, however, every effort will be made to ensure the highest level of education for all students and especially those preparing for your OWLs and NEWTs."

At the Slytherin table, Harry crooked an eyebrow.

"Clever," he muttered just loud enough for those nearby to hear. "Dangerous. But potentially very clever."

"What's clever?" asked Blaise, as the Headmaster listed the names of the various DADA lecturers the students would study under in the coming months.

"The DADA curse. Dumbledore's experimenting to see whether it can be beaten by not actually having a formally-structured DADA course. If it works, he can probably just arrange for a succession of Aurors to come in for a few months at a time in future years."

"Do you think that will actually work?" asked Theo.

Harry shrugged. "No idea. I hope so. Because otherwise, that's a lot of DADA instructors for the curse to tear through in a single year."

Up at the lectern, Dumbledore continued.

"And now, with that matter out of the way. I shall turn things over to Directors Crouch and Bagman. I would, of course, have explained all this myself, but Director Crouch was concerned I might inject some levity into this solemn occasion with a risqué joke."

"Which one?" asked Fred Weasley loudly.

"The one about the troll, the hag, and the leprechaun who all go into a bar …"

"Albus!" interrupted Crouch sharply.

"Ah, well," Dumbledore said. "It was worth a try. And with that, please give a warm Hogwarts welcome to Bartemius Crouch, Director of the Department for International Magical Cooperation, and Ludovic Bagman, Director of the Department for Magical Games and Sports."

The welcome wasn't particularly warm, but it was polite.

"Thank you," Crouch began. "The Triwizard Tournament was first established some seven hundred years ago as a friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. A champion was selected to represent each school, and the three champions competed in three magical tasks. The schools took turns hosting the tournament once every five years, and it was generally agreed to be a most excellent way of establishing ties between young witches and wizards of different nationalities."

"Until, that is," Bagman interrupted with a cheery grin, "the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued."

No one laughed at the poor attempt at humor, and Crouch fixed Bagman with a gaze the Basilisk would envy.

"To continue," Crouch said acidly. "There have been several attempts over the centuries to reinstate the tournament, none of which have been very successful. However, we at the Departments of International Magical Cooperation and Magical Games and Sports decided that the time is ripe for another attempt. I assure you all that we have worked hard over the summer to ensure that, this time, no champion will find himself or herself in mortal danger."

"That's right, Barty!" exclaimed Bagman, who didn't seem to notice how Crouch's lip curled at his use of the older man's first name. "Representatives and students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving in October, and the selection of the three champions will take place at Halloween."

At the Slytherin table, Harry frowned. He and Halloween did not have a good history together.

"To ensure that the Tournament will be conducted with the utmost fairness," Crouch said, "an impartial judge will decide which students are most worthy to compete for the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand Galleons in prize money. It will also decide the nature of the challenges so that no champion will have an unfair advantage due to information obtained on the sly from a contest organizer or judge."

He pointed towards the Goblet of Fire.

"That is our impartial judge. The Goblet of Fire. For untold centuries long before the commencement of the Triwizard Tournament, it was used to settle disputes between ancient wizarding nation-states that might otherwise have gone to war with one another. Each side's ruler would submit a list of potential champions. The Goblet would choose the best champion for each side and generate a list of challenges in which they would compete. Whichever side's champion won would also be the winner in the conflict. By invoking the Goblet's power, the rulers themselves along with their subjects would be magically bound to accept the outcome … and also to do nothing to interfere with the competition. That same magic will bind all the judges and other signatories of the Tournament, including all the competitors, thus ensuring that everyone involved will be magically compelled to comply with the Tournament rules and eliminate any possibility of cheating on anyone's part."

"cough—Durmstrang!—cough," Bagman said while pretend-coughing into his hand.

That finally got a few laughs from the students, though Crouch fumed visibly. Ludo blanched at the other man's expression before speaking up.

"To further reduce the chance of harm, it has been decided to limit participation to those who are of legal age as of Halloween or to younger students whose parents have consented. We warn you, however, that the three challenges will be geared towards NEWTs level studies, and it is highly unlikely that any student who has not yet passed their OWLs would be chosen."

"The visiting schools will arrive at the end of October," Crouch said, "one week before the drawing. For 24 hours prior to the selection, eligible students from the three schools will have an opportunity to enter their names. Those of age can enter their names at any time. Those who are underage will only be allowed to enter their names after presenting a permission slip signed by a parent or guardian to Professor McGonagall or Headmaster Dumbledore. Any approved underage participants will then be allowed to enter their names under supervision just before the Goblet makes its final selection. The reason we're doing things this way is because the nature of the Goblet's magic requires a 24-hour window during which the names of potential champions can be submitted. So to prevent any students attempting to enter the tournament through chicanery of any kind, there will be a series of wards around the Goblet that will prevent anyone at all from approaching it before the evening of the 30th, at which time all the wards will be disabled except an age ward designed to block anyone under the age of 17 from entering their names. Naturally, the wards will also prevent anyone from entering someone else's name! The age line will be deactivated at the Opening Ceremony, at which time the approved underage competitors will be allowed to enter their names."

"That's assuming none of you bright lads and lasses under the age of 17 can figure out how to get past your Headmaster's age line, eh?" Bagman said with a booming laugh. "Even if you're not picked, after the Champions are chosen, the Goblet will provide a list of everyone who was entered, so at least you'll get the bragging rights, wot?"

Crouch's head snapped in Bagman's direction in a sudden fury. Behind them, Dumbledore suddenly leaned forward in his chair, his eyes decidedly not twinkling.

Meanwhile, out in the audience, Jim Potter's eyes lit up. "So there is a way around the age line," he muttered to himself.

"What's that, Jim?" Ron asked.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," Jim said with a cheeky grin. "Just … thinking to myself."

Ron didn't reply, but his eyes narrowed.

Meanwhile, at the Slytherin table, Theo leaned in closer to Harry. "So, just between us, as an emancipated adult, are you not fully eligible to enter the Tournament?"

Harry shrugged. "Probably, if for some reason I was dumb enough to care about this Tournament. The phrase 'we promise it's not going to be as deadly as it used to be' isn't very encouraging if you ask me."

After a few more perfunctory announcements, Dumbledore finally dismissed the students to their dorms before quickly ushering Crouch and Bagman out a back door.

"Ludo," the Headmaster said in a tight voice, "might I ask you why you thought it a good idea to encourage underage students, likely without parental consent, to try to enter their names into the Goblet of Fire?!"

Bagman swallowed in response to Dumbledore's fierce gaze. "Well, I don't see any harm in it! I mean, how many underage students could even figure out a way past an age line you put up? Or get selected if they did? It's just another little something else to encourage interest in the Tournament. And besides, Barty said it would be okay!"

"I … said … WHAT?!" Crouch roared in a fury. Bagman looked at him in confusion.

"Yeah, just this morning. I said 'Wouldn't it be fun if we hinted that a clever underage student could get around the age line just to see if any of them could manage it,' and then you said 'Oh yes, Ludo, brilliant. We should absolutely do something like that!'"

"THAT WAS SARCASM!"

Ludo Bagman blinked a few times. "… Oops?"


Later in Gryffindor Tower …

Jim looked around his small bedroom with mixed emotions. For his first three years at Hogwarts, he and all his male year-mates had shared a single dormitory. But starting this year, all Hogwarts students now had the option of private rooms. Jim had not requested one himself, but it seemed that all four of the other Gryffindor boys had, with Molly Weasley signing Ron up for a private room without even asking him. While Jim's newfound privacy was perhaps welcome, his individual room was rather spartan: just a bed, a dresser, a small armoire, and a desk. His room at 4 Privet Drive was homier, to say nothing of the spacious bedroom he'd once had at Potter Manor.

"Or Blackstone now, I guess," the Boy-Who-Lived thought ruefully.

But more than that, Jim already missed the camaraderie of a shared living space. Among the Fourth Year Gryffindor boys, Seamus and Dean stuck mostly to themselves, while Neville spent more time with Harry's inter-house network of friends than with his fellow Lions. Which was a shame, Jim thought, because after all this time, he was still grateful for how Neville had stuck with him two years earlier when the whole house had rejected him over that Heir of Slytherin nonsense. Now, without shared sleeping quarters, he wondered how much time he and Ron would get to spend with the other Gryffindors.

And speak of the devil …

There was a soft knock on Jim's door, and he heard Ron's voice from the other side. "Jim? Can I come in?"

Jim opened the door to admit his best friend but was immediately struck by Ron's pensive expression.

"Ron? What's wrong?" he asked as the redhead stepped inside.

Ron hesitated before bracing himself and diving in. "Jim? Are you going to try getting into the Triwizard Tournament?"

Jim looked at him in surprise. "Um … maybe? I mean, you heard what Ludo Bagman said. There's ways for underage competitors to get into the Tournament. We just need to figure out what they are!"

Ron started to speak but then Jim's words registered. "We?"

Jim grinned at his best mate. "Sure. Wouldn't you like a shot to get into the Triwizard Tournament? A chance for fame and fortune and all that? Plus 1000 galleons?"

The other Gryffindor shook his head. "Jim, there's no way I could get picked even if I got my name in. And to be honest, I'm not as interested in fame and money as I used to be. Besides, you heard Dumbledore. This competition is for NEWTs level students. Do you really think you can get picked? Or if you did, that you could do as well in the competition as an older student? This could be really dangerous!"

The other boy scoffed. "Relax, Ron. It's me, the Boy-Who-Lived, remember? I've been in and out of danger since I got to Hogwarts and I've always come through."

Ron didn't reply at first. Indeed, Jim's comment had rendered him temporarily speechless.

"Jim," he finally said slowly. "Just because you've come out of a lot of dangerous situations in one piece, that doesn't make it a good idea to go looking for them! And aren't you famous enough already?"

Jim shrugged and turned away. He had not been expecting Ron to be so opposed to the idea. "It's not just about fame, Ron. I mean seriously, it's not like anyone remembers the names of any of the past winners. But think about it—a thousand Galleons! That could make a big difference for my family right now!"

Ron frowned. "I suppose so … if you win. But still, what makes you think you can win a competition full of NEWT level tasks? And what even makes you … think …?"

He trailed off and then his face darkened somewhat. "Jim … are you just assuming that if you can just get your name in the Goblet, you're automatically going to get picked just because you're the Boy-Who-Lived?"

"Honestly, Ron?" Jim said with a laugh. "The way my life usually goes, I half expect my name to get put into the Goblet whether I want to enter or not. So yeah, I reckon that whole 'Chosen One' thing will make up for me not having finished my OWLs yet."

Ron sat down in a nearby chair and massaged his temples for a few seconds.

"Waitaminute! Even if you get your name in, you'd need your parents' permission to compete. There's no way your Mum or Dad would let you enter. I mean, you were complaining about it all last summer!

At that, his friend just smirked. "Yeah, well, luckily for me, my Dad can get easily distracted when you catch him at the right moment. I got him to sign my entry slip by telling him it was my Hogsmeade Permission Form!"

Apparently, Jim had been expecting Ron to be impressed with his resourcefulness, because he was quite surprised by the look of shock and even disappointment the other boy showed instead.

"Seriously, Jim?! You actually tricked your own father into giving you permission to enter the Triwizard Tournament?!"

Jim stiffened defensively. "Well, why not?" he spat. "It's not like lying to one another isn't a proud Potter Family tradition at this point!"

Ron just shook his head angrily. "That's no excuse! You're being dishonest to your own father. And worse, you're going to try to enter your name through some sneaky trick because there's no way your Mum would let you get anywhere near that Goblet. And you're counting on the fact that you're the Boy-Who-Lived to make up for the fact that you're not as qualified to be the Hogwarts Champion as probably a dozen or so older students!"

At this point, Jim started to get angry as well. "I am every bit as qualified to be the Hogwarts Champion as anyone else! Do you think Diggory would be a better choice than me? Or Pucey? Angelina? How many of them killed a Basilisk?"

"I was under the impression," Ron said through gritted teeth, "that you fought the Basilisk to save me and to defeat You-Know-Who! Not for fame, fortune, and a thousand bloody galleons!"

"That's not fair!"

Ron jumped up out of his chair angrily. "You're going to lie to your parents, cheat your way into the Tournament, and put yourself into deadly danger … again! Only this time you're doing it because the Boy-Who-Lived and the Heir to House Potter can't stand the thought of being poor! Because for you, not having a big fancy house or a new broom whenever you want it is the worst thing in the world!"

"WE LOST EVERYTHING!" Jim bellowed. "Everything that's been my birthright since I was in nappies is GONE! And it's because every single adult in my life has let me down! So yeah! I want to compete in this tournament and get a thousand galleons and maybe get my name in the papers again for something other than yet another Potter Family scandal! Because if I don't look out for my future, NO ONE ELSE WILL!"

Ron said nothing. He just stared at Jim for a long moment. Then, without another word, he turned towards the door.

"Are you going to rat me out?" Jim asked sullenly. Ron whirled around angrily but caught himself before saying anything he might regret.

"No, Jim. I'm not going to tell anyone about what you're doing. And what you've already done. But I'm not going to help you either. You're on your own this time." He opened the door and called back over his shoulder. "Good luck in the Tournament, Jim."

Then he was gone, leaving the Boy-Who-Lived alone once more.


Meanwhile in the Slytherin dungeons …

After the Sorting Feast, the Slytherin students adjourned to their Common Room for a meet-and-greet overseen by the House's prefects. Unsurprisingly, most of the Snakes were exceptionally cordial to the young Lord Wilkes, though Pansy Parkinson was as snotty as always. Most of the Slytherins were also guardedly polite to Blaise Zabini and, perhaps to a lesser degree, to Theo No-Name, with any lingering ill will engendered by Theo's "No-Name" status and Blaise's "foreigner son of a suspected serial killer" background outweighed by the patronage of someone as rich and influential as Hadrian Remus Black Lord Wilkes.

As he looked around the room, Harry noted that Pansy's small clique now included Caroline Avery (who, according to Ginny and Amy, was dating Peregrine Derrick), which meant that the Seventh Year Prefect wouldn't be setting foot inside the Prince's Lair any time soon. And while Parkinson's group also still included Cassius Warrington, he wasn't sitting with them at the moment. In fact, to Harry's surprise, he saw the Warrington Heir making his way over to where Harry was standing with Blaise and Theo. The Carrow Twins followed close behind Warrington.

"My Lord Wilkes," Cassius said with a respectful bow. "Well met. May I have a moment of your time?"

Harry crooked an eyebrow and then cut his eyes over to Theo who stood beside him observing the scene. It seemed to Harry that Cassius was intensely trying not to even look in Theo's direction, presumably because his conduct towards Theo the previous year had been so awful that any current interaction would probably turn out badly. On the other hand, for once the boy wasn't sneering.

"Tracey Davis was right," Harry thought. "Cassius isn't bad-looking when he's not looking at you like something to be scraped off his shoe."

"Well met, Heir Warrington," he said aloud. "How can I help you?"

Cassius took a deep breath. "I wish to take this opportunity to apologize for the many offenses which I have given you over our time together at Hogwarts. In the past, I have shown you much disrespect, which I can only attribute to immaturity on my part. I have, hopefully, matured somewhat, certainly enough to feel shame over my prior conduct. We are both scions of Ancient and Noble Houses. It is … unseemly for us to be at odds."

Then, Cassius actually did look over to Theo.

"Indeed, as I reflect on matters. I am proud that my family and our patrons, House Selwyn, could join with House Wilkes and your alliance to repeal the Ultimate Sanction that afflicted your friend, Theo No-Name. Now that I am no longer under the influence of that baleful mind-altering magic myself, I find myself quite embarrassed at my actions. I understand if you do not wish to accept it, but for what it is worth … Theo, my apology extends to you as well."

Theo's eyes widened at that. He glanced over to Harry, who nodded almost imperceptibly. "I … accept your apology, Heir Warrington. I hope that this marks the beginning of a new and more positive … relationship between us."

"As do I, Theo. And please—I would be honored if all three of you were to call me Cassius."

"I also accept your apology, Cassius," Harry said cautiously. "And I would likewise be pleased if you called me Harry."

"I'm Blaise, by the way," said the third member of the Silver Trio with a cheeky smile.

Cassius smiled with some degree of convincing warmth. "Of course, Blaise. It's good to finally introduce ourselves after three years of school together."

Then, Warrington gave a somewhat forced chuckle. After a few more moments of small talk, he finally bid the three good evening and departed. The Carrow Twins followed behind silently.

"That was weird," Theo said.

"Yeah," Blaise added. "But well-scripted. And for the most part, convincingly performed. What do you think, Harry?"

Harry said nothing as he watched the three departing Purebloods with an intense gaze. Then, he stiffened in confusion. Suddenly, the young Legilimens had the oddest feeling in the back of his brain. The familiar sensation of a kaleidoscope whirling into focus to reveal some important Legilimency deduction. Only this time, the kaleidoscope kept spinning and spinning without ever giving the expected insight. Even more disturbing, Harry had the strangest sense of déjà vu, a certainty that he'd experienced this sensation before, though for the life of him, he couldn't recall when.

"Harry?" Theo inquired while nudging his friend in the arm. "It's ten o'clock. We really should head to … um, to bed, I guess."

Harry jerked slightly and turned to Theo, and whatever odd thoughts had been troubling him were instantly forgotten. "Right. To bed."

The trio made their final rounds and wished all their Slytherin friends a good evening. Then, they each made their way to their separate bedrooms. Once in his own room, Harry looked longingly at his bed. After a very long day, it looked inviting, but as a Muggle poet once wrote, he still had miles to go before he could sleep. With a sigh, Harry stepped over to an armoire set against the wall with a full-length mirror mounted on the front. He paused to check his appearance and especially his hair. A few strands were out of place, so he reached up to adjust them only to pause his hand. Then, he stared at his own reflection with a look of concentration. There was a slight tingling sensation in his scalp, followed by his hair spontaneously grooming itself into a perfect coif.

"The benefits of Metamorphmagery," Harry thought to himself. "I'll never have to waste money on a comb or brush again."

His "Potter hair" tamed once more, Harry opened the armoire and slid his hanging clothes aside to reveal a small circular knot in the wood of the armoire's back. He tapped it three times and then twice more. There was a click, and the entire armoire slid to one side, revealing a small hidden area with a ladder leading downwards.

Two minutes later, a trapdoor within the Prince's Lair opened up, and Harry Black entered up a short flight of stairs before taking his seat on the Hydra Throne. Blaise and Theo sat on either side of the Throne, with Ginny and Amy one seat down from them on opposite sides. Adrian Pucey was not in attendance, as he had prefect duties. And in any case, there would be topics for discussion at tonight's meeting that were not for his ears.

"Right," said the Prince of Slytherin. "Welcome to the Inner Circle."


Two hours later …

Just before midnight, Harry wrapped up his meeting with his Slytherin peers and sent the others on to bed while he remained behind in the Prince's Lair. It had been a productive first meeting with each of his four associates. (He refused to call them "acolytes," which was Regulus's term for the members of his own Inner Circle, let alone "lackeys," which was the term Lucius had recommended.) In the coming weeks, Harry, Blaise, and Theo would use Cassius Warrington's invitation as a pretext to join Ginny and Amy at the meetings of the Cultural Preservation Society, with the eventual goal of staging a "soft coup," as Blaise put it, and directing it away from Pureblood bigotry and into more socially beneficial pursuits.

Meanwhile, Blaise and Theo would continue to attend SPAM meetings as well to be Harry's eyes and ears in that group. Harry assumed Jim would remain a member, and the Oath of Enmity between House Black and House Potter made being in the same room with his twin outside of class more trouble than it was worth. He hoped that Hermione would be understanding about it, though her strange hostility towards Daphne Greengrass and the rest of the CPS leadership was troubling.

Happily, he would have opportunities to interact with Hermione outside of SPAM, as they had agreed to spin-off the "magitech research" aspect of SPAM from its "Muggle culture" side. Tentatively known as "The Innovation Club" (though Harry was open to suggestions for a cooler name), this group would include himself, Hermione, Anthony, Sue, the Weasley Twins, and, somewhat surprisingly, three Third Years: Ginny Weasley, Colin Creevey, and a Muggleborn Ravenclaw named Jacob Harrison. Ginny, through dint of hard work—plus two years of tutoring from Percy, Fred, and George in all her core subjects—was sixth in her Year. Colin wasn't quite so high but had demonstrated a knack for Charms and, of course, a Muggleborn perspective on magic that might be helpful so long as they could keep him from trying to Transfigure anti-matter.

In fact, it was Harrison who was at the top of Ginny's class, much to the chagrin of the Pureblood Ravenclaws who, while not as openly bigoted as the worst of the Slytherins, still took umbrage at being shown up in class by a Muggleborn whose father programmed "com-pewters." Harry had been surprised when Jacob had personally sought him out on the Hogwarts Express to ask if Eye-Spy Inc. had any openings for interns. The Innovation Club would continue the work of Harry's brain trust, but under a new name because Sue Li had balked at having yet another wizard's name attached to her work. Naturally, Anthony had proposed that the entire enterprise be called "The Goldstein Group" (to loud boos from everyone else).

Finally, Ginny and Amy would both be joining Theo in the informal Wu Xi Do defense lessons that Padma Patil would be giving to Jim Potter and Ron Weasley. Ginny had wanted to spend time with Ron doing something fun, while Amy admitted to Harry that she would like to spend time getting to know her other cousin, since she wasn't disposed to hate the Boy-Who-Lived because of the Oath of Enmity. When he found that explanation somewhat dubious, she huffed a bit and then added that she also wanted to learn self-defense for its own sake.

"You've saved my life twice, Harry," Amy had said. "And I'm grateful. But I don't want to go through the rest of my life as a damsel-in-distress. And since being your de facto little sister means that I'm a target for every Death Eater, werewolf, and general weirdo who wants to kill you, I need to learn how to save myself for a change!"

Harry found that depressingly logical, and it was decided that, after each week's lessons, Theo—who had shown a real flair for the magical martial art—and the two girls would hold follow-up training sessions with Harry to teach him what they'd learned. It was not the ideal environment for learning a magical martial art, but Harry's experience at the Paris Open dueling competition had persuaded him that he would need an edge if he wanted to succeed in open class, and Regulus thought that Wu Xi Do might be it.

And speaking of the boy's dueling coach, Harry was suddenly distracted from his thoughts by the sound of a chime emanating from the nearby fireplace. He glanced at his watch and stood up to toss a pinch of Floo powder into the flames.

"Malfoy Manor," he said. Instantly, the flames rose higher, and seconds later, two figures emerged from the fireplace: Regulus Black and Lucius Malfoy.

"Welcome home, Princes-Emeritus," Harry said with a smile.

"Princes-Emeriti," Lucius corrected absently as he regarded around the Lair somewhat fondly. Then he turned to the Hydra Throne almost longingly before taking a seat to its left. Regulus took the seat opposite, pausing just long enough to tickle Delilah's chin and cause her to utter a soft "Ki-ki-ki." Harry took the Throne once more.

"So why did you both want to meet with me here tonight?" he asked.

"Mainly so that we can discuss matters best kept secret by the strongest protections," Lucius answered. "And there are few protections stronger than the magic of this chamber."

"Okay. What sort of secret matters?"

"Well first of all," Reg said while withdrawing a parchment from an inner pocket, "I wanted to give you this. While not as impressive as the Marauders' Map that my brother helped make, you may find it useful. It's a map of the school with notations of which portraits are in each room, as well as a list of every portrait-serpent in the whole castle. You can pass a message to any of the portrait-snakes by way of the Throne and direct it to hide in a portrait and spy on your behalf."

Lucius chuckled. "Well, it's not always that easy. The people within most animated portraits will often notice if a strange snake slithers into their frame and will frequently cause a scene. So I would recommend sticking with smaller, more innocuous snakes for espionage purposes."

"Yeah," Reg added. "Siobhan's really good for that, as I recall. Also Egbert."

Harry's brow wrinkled in surprise.

"How were you able to use the portrait-snakes for spying on people if you weren't Parselmouths?"

Lucius pulled out his wand and flicked it silently towards the bookshelf. A weathered tome flew off the shelf to land in front of the Prince.

"On page 217 of this grimoire you will find a Charm that provides a limited form of Parseltongue for brief periods of time. It lasts for no more than an hour or so once cast and only works with snakes found in portraits or otherwise magically animate. It will not work on real or even summoned snakes, but it can allow communication with other Parselmouths. Indeed, as a practical matter, it is of little utility outside of Hogwarts, as few other places have such a large quantity of enchanted serpentine iconography. It is through that spell that most Princes not descended from Salazar Slytherin attained the Hydra Throne. I found a copy of it in my family's library the summer after my Third Year when I contemplated how useful portrait-snakes could be as spies, and that eventually led me to the Sentinel."

Reg nodded. "I actually found it in the Hogwarts Library." Then, he suddenly looked embarrassed. "Um, Narcissa mentioned it to me when I was a Third Year. She said it might help me to impress the Dark Lord if I could speak his language when I got older. I imagine Tom Riddle knew of it during his school days, and as Lord Voldemort, he passed the idea on to her."

Then, Reg paused and suddenly looked at Harry with alarm. "Speaking of the Dark Lord, you have instructed the Hydra to order all the other snakes in the castle to listen only to you, right? We don't want a repeat of what happened in your Second Year if any more Horcruxes somehow find their way into the school!"

Harry scoffed. "Please! I did that ten minutes after taking the Throne. Neither Tom Riddle nor Jim Potter nor … any other Parselmouths lurking about will be able to talk to any of the castle's magical snakes."

"Good," said Lucius. "That said, you may find it helpful to share this Charm with your Inner Circle so that you may discreetly send messages to them by way of portrait-snakes. Annoyingly, most of the dormitory rooms do not contain portraits, but you can have Tweak relocate a smaller portrait suitable for snakes into the private rooms of your allies, now that Hogwarts offers such private accommodations."

Harry turned to him with a curious expression. "If I may ask, who was in your Inner Circle?"

"I kept my council small," Lucius replied. "Just Wilbur Crabbe and Clotilde Goyle. Both were the heirs of their respective houses at the time, and we grew up together. Both of them were far more intelligent than their younger siblings, whose sons are in your year. And neither of them had any great love for my older brother Claudius. The summer after we graduated, I was able to help Clotilde flee an unwanted marriage contract to a distinctly repulsive Pureblood some twenty years her senior. Last I heard, she was living in South Africa. Sadly, Wilbur died in Azkaban after being convicted as a Death Eater. Which was sadly ironic, as he really was a victim of the Imperius Curse."

Reg crooked an eyebrow. "And you didn't take any steps to get your good friend out of Azkaban?"

"At the time of his death, Regulus, I was in the next cell," Lucius said quietly. "I had not yet been freed by Narcissa's machinations and the false confession of your brother. Wilbur went too quickly. He was a good man."

Regulus winced. "Sorry. My apologies for bringing up unpleasant memories."

Malfoy sighed. "It is the past. Let us return to the present and the future."

With that, he reached into a satchel he'd brought along, and from it, he produced two copies of the bound manuscript that Harry had provided just over a week earlier. The one that bore the title Animagery: The Deeper Mysteries.

"Here," he said. "The original to return to your estranged sibling and one copy to be kept here and added to the Prince's collection."

Harry frowned. "I'd promised Ginny that we could get her a copy since she was the one to bring it to me."

"And she can read it in here since you've given her access," Reg said grimly. "But we strongly encourage you not to let it out of the Lair. It is not something that should be floating around in public. To be honest, I wish there was a way to keep Jim Potter from getting it back, but I suspect that might cause more problems than it's worth."

The boy frowned at the books. "Merlin's pants," he thought. "What has my idiot brother done now?"

"What's the problem with it?" he asked aloud. "Beyond the general problem of Animagery being a ticket onto the Conscription List?"

"Well for starters," Reg continued. "That book didn't come from Remus Lupin like your brother said to Ginny. We think it came from Peter Pettigrew!"

Harry's nostrils flared in anger. "Do you mean to say that Jim Potter accepted another cursed book from that rat?!"

"No," Lucius answered. "Well, the book is not cursed, though obviously, it did come from 'that rat.' In fact, the tome has no spells upon it whatsoever. It doesn't even contain any spells other than those specifically used in mastering the Animagus transformation. But according to Sirius, it did indeed come from Pettigrew."

"Yeah," Reg added. "He turned into a big black dog, sniffed it for a few seconds, growled at it menacingly, and then turned back into a man to confirm it. I thought for a second he was going to chew it up or piddle on it in his dog form, but for once, he showed some restraint."

Harry rubbed his eyes. "Okay, so other than the fact that it came from Pettigrew—which is bad enough, in my opinion—what's so bad about the book?"

The two older men hesitated and looked to one another. Finally, Lucius spoke.

"Do you recall a conversation we had in this very room at the end of your Second Year, Harry? One in which the term Wild Magic was broached?"

The boy's eyes widened. "Yes, I do."

Regulus looked down at the book as if it were a coiled snake. "Animagery: The Deeper Mysteries is, for lack of a better word, a philosophical treatise on how to pursue an Animagus form through Wild Magic rather than through the well-known and well-established Human Transfiguration techniques used by most Animagi. Or at least, most registered Animagi. From our study of this tome, we believe it can aid in mastering Animagery with incredible speed. But more than that, it potentially allows the Animagus to develop additional abilities related to his form accessible without fully transforming, abilities related not to the physical nature of the animal form but to its symbolic nature."

"I … don't understand," Harry said.

"Well, to be honest, I'm not sure I do either. I went the Metamorphmagus route, so I know little of Animagery. But this book suggests that instead of just turning into an animal, you can invoke the idea of that animal to perform, well, free-form magic not dependent on wand movements or incantations so long as they in some fashion invoke the cultural ideas associated with the animal."

"Indeed," Lucius added. "Having perused this book, I now feel I have a better understanding of why the Ministry, and especially the Unspeakables, have such a strong interest in conscripting Animagi. I had always wondered why they would insist on conscription for all Animagi, even those with innocuous or even seemingly useless forms. But I now suspect that the true reason for conscription of Animagi is to either monitor them to prevent them from exploring these magical avenues … or to coopt them so that such innovations can be put to use by the government."

Regulus continued. "And since our government is deeply, deeply paranoid about anything that smacks of Wild Magic, this book is absolutely something that neither you nor any of your friends should be caught with. The penalty might be Azkaban … or worse."

Harry shuddered as he recalled Serena Zabini's warning from over two years before that those caught practicing la Magia Caotica or even suspected of doing so might be flung straightaway through the Veil of Death (whatever that was).

"But what can an Animagus do, even with Wild Magic, that is so dangerous that it could trigger so much paranoia?"

"We can only speculate," Lucius said. "But consider: Peter Pettigrew started out able to transform himself into a harmless rat. But during his notorious rampage through the Ministry last spring, he was able to command entire hordes of rats and, I'm told, to use the Gemino Curse to cause them to continually replicate, something that should be impossible with living organisms. Indeed, I have heard rumors that when he killed Rufus Scrimgeour, he did so with some form of magical disease, one he was able to generate due to the widespread belief that rats were responsible for the spread of the Black Death in the Middle Ages."

"They weren't?" Harry asked in surprise. Lucius hesitated to a degree that the boy found suspicious.

"The origins and workings of the Black Death were … complex. And also not ripe for discussion at this time. But to the extent that the illness had a mundane vector, it was actually spread by the fleas that the rats carried. And yet, the symbolic connection between rats and the Black Death is so strong that Pettigrew was able to manifest an imitation of the disease that was almost instantly fatal."

"Sirius and Severus both have copies of the book," Regulus said. "Severus is a Dark Arts specialist, and Sirius is, well, the only Animagus we have on board."

Harry's eyes narrowed. "Is it really safe for Sirius to be mucking about with a super-illegal book on Wild Magic Animagery?"

Regulus grimaced. "He is a grown man and the Lord of my House, Harry. I can't get you to listen to any of my concerns about your mental and physical health. What makes you think I can do so with him? But I must admit, I am concerned, mainly because I am not certain exactly what sorts of symbolic connections Sirius might invoke."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

"I mean that Sirius can transform himself into a big black dog, and from what we know about Pettigrew's techniques, Sirius should be able to learn how to communicate with and control other dogs and to perform seemingly impossible feats of magic with them."

Regulus paused and looked back down to the tome in front of him uneasily.

"But some people might look at that big black dog and see a Grim. And a Grim, Harry, is an omen of death. So what kind of magic do you think Sirius can work with that?


Blackstone, Wales
Sirius Black's Room
1:30 a.m.

Though the hour was late, Sirius Black was still wide awake as he studied the books on his writing desk, pausing only to make occasional notes in a journal he'd begun. Nearby sat a fresh pot of coffee that Buttercup, Harry's kitchen elf, had prepared for him. One of the two tomes was a copy of Peter Pettigrew's Animagery: The Deeper Mysteries. The other was Newt Scamander's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The latter book was open to the section for magical beasts whose name started with the letter G.


Harry's room
2:00 a.m.

After meeting with the former Princes for nearly two hours, a thoroughly exhausted Harry finally and gratefully made his way to his bedroom and changed into pajamas before climbing into bed. Among other topics of debate between Lucius, Regulus, and himself had been where the Azkabal could find more Basilisk venom, and the two older men were visibly shocked when Harry casually mentioned he might have a source depending on whether the newest version of Slytherin's Monster had hatched yet. While Harry was confident that he would be able to communicate with and influence the Basilisk (assuming it was up and about) so long as neither Voldemort nor any of his Horcruxes were on hand, that confidence did nothing to reassure his alarmed co-conspirators. The meeting ended with Harry promising not to revisit the Chamber of Secrets alone until after they'd discussed the matter and made some contingency plans.

His verbal agreement said nothing about visiting the Chamber and taking a friend or two with him.

The next day promised to be just as long and tiring. Herbology with the Puffs first thing, followed by CoMC with the Gryffs. The boy was quite worried about the latter. For one thing, it would be the first time he'd been in close quarters with Jim Potter since the last school year ended. For another, he'd noticed at the Sorting Feast that Hagrid seemed really excited about something. Seeing as how the year before had started off with learning to ride Hippogriffs on the first day, that felt ominous.

Furthermore, he wanted to find time during the day to speak with Professor Moody, and he'd received a note from Professor Snape directing him to meet with Ted Tonks at some point. The note did not mention anything about 'counseling,' a thought that filled Harry with near-revulsion, but Snape was one of the few people he couldn't just flat-out ignore despite being an emancipated adult. So he resolved to meet with the Healer first thing so that he would have the excuse of Herbology to cut the meeting short if necessary.

With that, the boy laid back on his pillow, closed his eyes, and waited for sleep to come. His eyes shot open a moment later in response to the odd feeling of his upper body rising up into the air. But a quick, panicked glance around showed Harry he was wrong. His body wasn't rising per se. Rather, the head of his bed was lifting up, tilting the entire bed from a horizontal position towards a vertical one and rather swiftly. Alarmed, Harry grabbed the top of his bed to keep himself from sliding down (and hopefully, brace himself before leaping to safety), but that quickly became difficult.

As Harry struggled, his cover sheets and quilt slid off the mattress, which was now at a steep angle, and fell through a large trap door which had inconveniently opened up just below the foot of the bed. Desperately, Harry scrambled to hold on, but it was no good. With just a foot to go before becoming completely vertical, the bed suddenly gave a lurch and then slammed upright, the force of the impact knocking Harry loose and dropping him unceremoniously through the hole in the floor.

"GAAAAH!" the boy screamed as he fell onto a steep slide that sent him rocketing downwards at an alarming speed. It reminded him of the slide from Myrtle's bathroom to the Chamber of Secrets. Odd that he'd just been thinking of how best to navigate that slide safely just before he'd gotten into bed. The slide continued to twist and bend like a rollercoaster. It even had one harrowing corkscrew turn that reminded Harry of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril from his disastrous trip to Disney Paris. Somehow, Harry slid through the turn without losing a bit of momentum. Harry's Gryffindor side would have enjoyed the experience under different circumstances.

Finally, with one last terrified shriek, Harry shot out of the slide's end to land unharmed in a pit of some kind. After a brief moment of panic where Harry thought he might be drowning despite there being no water, the boy finally calmed down and stood up. It was at that point that he realized he'd landed in a pit of multicolored plastic balls of the sort that Muggle children might play in while at a carnival or perhaps at a higher end McDonald's.

Harry looked around in utter confusion. The first thing he noticed was that there was no sign of the slide he'd ridden to reach this strange place. The second thing he noticed was the nature of the place itself. The children's ball-pit was in the middle of a garden of some kind, complete with what looked like oversized plum bushes. Except that the plums were enormous, orange, and growing upside down. As he watched in amazement, one of the strange plums came loose from a branch only to float gently away on the breeze. Overhead, the sky was bright blue with a brilliant noon-day sun. There were several clouds resembling white balloon animals, and a brilliant rainbow traversed the entire sky from on horizon to the other. Then, Harry jumped at the sound of a horse's whinny from behind him.

The young Slytherin whirled about and then did a double take. It was not a horse that had whinnied, but a unicorn. Only this unicorn had a golden horn and rainbow-colored wings. And presently feeding a large orange plum to the winged unicorn was Luna Lovegood, who was dressed in equestrian gear complete with jodhpurs, a brilliant red coat, and a black riding helmet. She turned to Harry and gave a bright smile.

"Oh good!" she exclaimed. "You wear pajamas to bed! I couldn't remember if you preferred to sleep in the altogether. How embarrassing that would have been for us both! Tee-hee!"

With that giggle, Luna walked over to help pull Harry out of the ball-pit. Another of the floating orange fruit wafted by, and she snagged it out of the air and offered it to him.

"Dirigible plum?" she said.

Harry glared at the proffered fruit in annoyance. Then, he looked around the peculiar scene more carefully and with all of his Legilimency senses active.

"This is a dream," he said with authority.

"Yes," Luna replied with a nod "You were dreaming, and I was dreaming, and then we started dreaming together. Just like before."

Harry's head snapped back around. "What do you mean 'before'?"

Luna shrugged and took a bite of the orange plum. She chewed thoughtfully for a moment before answering.

"Well, I think the first time it happened was November of last year while you were in that coma you put yourself into. You know, after all that business with the werewolves and your wand and all the other shenanigans and goings-on. That's the one I most clearly remember—well, for some definitions of remember—but I think we might have had a few more last year. None over the summer, but then, I spent most of it in South America, so even assuming range isn't a factor, I doubt we were ever sleeping at the same time."

"Uh-huh," Harry said flatly. "And how and why are we sharing a dream, Luna?"

"Well, the how is obviously Heliopathy. Or at least I assume so. I mean, we don't really know what Heliopathy does because no one remembers what it is. So it's possible that 'dream-travel' or whatever I'm doing is just a completely unrelated superpower I happen to have in addition to seeing nargles and wrackspurts and all the rest. But I think it would be silly for me to be blessed with multiple incredible superpowers. That's more your thing, right?"

"Um, what?"

The girl gave a mischievous smirk. "Occlumens, Legilimens, Metamorphmagus, Genius, Champion Duelist with an unnaturally good vocabulary, a preternatural ability to summon wands at will, and an expertise on the works of Oscar Wilde. Have I left anything out?"

The boy coughed with an odd feeling of embarrassment. "I'm, uh, also studying Wu Xi Do."

"Of course! Mastering an ancient mystical martial art would certainly be right for your idiom!"

Harry narrowed his eyes at that remark. "Yeeeah," he said slowly. "My idiom. So now that you mention it, I suppose that is a lot of, um …"

"Remarkable achievements for a boy of fourteen? Quite so, I should say. Plus you're a millionaire and Lord of an Ancient and Noble House!"

He stood silently for several seconds. "You know, I don't think anyone has ever quite described my … lifestyle in those terms before."

Luna took Harry by the arm and led him over to a nearby park bench that hadn't been there a few seconds earlier.

"Actually, Harry, I am nearly positive that you were the one who pointed out how improbable your life story is during one of those shared dreams I barely remember. I seem to recall it was something you found alarming at the time once you really thought about it. And that was before the whole millionaire-lordship-dueling champion thing."

"And we've had lots of these … shared dreams?" Harry asked weakly.

Luna shrugged. "Not lots. Just a few, I think. I mean, that involved you and me. I'm pretty sure I've had dreams like this with other people. Hermione, Neville, Theo, Ginny. Even a few with Jim, though those don't go well, what with all the disturbing death imagery and the feathers everywhere. I just have trouble remembering what happens in my dreams from one to the next, though I've gotten better. But I still can't remember any of them when I wake up! Most vexing!"

"I can imagine," Harry said drily. "Can I help?"

"That depends. Do you feel up to teaching me Occlumency during our shared dreams? Hermione mentioned that once as a possibility. You teaching me in dreams, I mean."

She paused and frowned. "Or maybe it was Neville who suggested that you teach me but for some reason he was wearing a dress. Oh well. Anyway, the idea was that it might be possible for us to remember the important bits of our dreams by using secondary thought-streams."

The Slytherin rubbed his face with his hands. Then, with some annoyance, he plucked a dirigible plum out of the air and took a bite out of it. It was surprisingly tart. Then, he sat up straighter.

"For us to remember our dreams?" he asked suspiciously. Luna nodded rather somberly.

"Yes. Because the dreams aren't the only thing you've forgotten, are they?" She leaned forward. "Harry, think. Really. Think. What have you forgotten that you really should have remembered by now?"

He swallowed nervously before closing his eyes and Occluding, searching his memories for something that wasn't quite right. Almost immediately, he recalled his earlier conversation with Cassius Warrington, as the two discussed settling their differences and starting fresh. Something about this scene suddenly made Harry feel deeply uncomfortable, and he remembered the disturbing feeling of his Legilimency failing him … and how he'd promptly forgotten all about it. He reviewed the memory again, more slowly. Warrington's glib remarks. Blaise's sarcasm. Theo's bemusement. The Carrow Twins, Flora and Hestia, standing nearby, observing the exchange with wide, unblinking eyes.

Suddenly, Harry shuddered uncontrollably. Then, he redoubled his efforts and reviewed the memory again, this time focusing on the Carrows while listening to Warrington drone on in the background. Harry shuddered once more and fought to maintain his Occlumency in the face of what he now realized was a powerful compulsion to just stop thinking about things. Aware now of the compulsion, Harry neatly stepped around it, abandoning the memory of his conversation with Warrington in favor of other memories. Specifically, every memory he had of Flora and Hestia Carrow. There weren't many, as he rarely interacted with the Pureblood twins.

Flora and Hestia at breakfast. Flora and Hestia sitting together in the Common Room. Flora and Hestia following him down the hallways. Always together. Never talking. Always watching.

Never blinking.

With a gasp, Harry opened his eyes and turned towards Luna.

"The Carrow Twins! Their eyes! They don't blink … ever!"

Luna nodded sagely. "Good! You can see it. Well, in your dreams, at least."

He snorted angrily. "Well fat lot of good that does me! So what the hell are they?!"

"I don't know, Harry. I can't research them because when I'm awake, I can't remember that they're something deserving of study. I just know two things."

"What?"

"That they're important, Harry. Important … and very, very dangerous."

Before Harry could respond, he jumped at the sound of a loud crack of thunder in the distance. He turned in that direction and saw that the previously blue sky was darkening rapidly, with the fluffy white clouds thickening and turning black and the rainbow fading from existence. The air around him grew colder as the wind picked up rapidly. Then, lightning lit up the sky, accompanied by an even louder and more menacing thundercrack. Harry looked around in sudden alarm.

"What is this?! What's happening?!" he yelled over the growing storm. Luna just sighed and patted him on the shoulder.

"It's okay. Don't worry, Harry. I'm pretty sure it's just your alarm going off."


Harry's Room
7:00 a.m.

Harry's eyes shot open, and he gasped loudly at the sound of his alarm clock's clamor. With a snarl of annoyance, he reached over and slapped the top of the clock to silence the alarm. Then, he yawned loudly and rubbed his eyes.

"I was having the strangest dream," he thought to himself. "Something about going horseback riding with Luna Lovegood during a thunderstorm. Weird."

He took a moment to think back over the odd dream and wonder if it had any significance, but the details were already fading. Harry shrugged and groggily rose from his bed to start the day, putting the dream out of his mind as he did.

It probably wasn't important anyway.


Next: Blast-Ended Skrewts!

AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is begin written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.

AN2: What the Sinister Man is reading:

Parallel Journey by InkVirus. One of those stories where an older and deadlier Harry gets shunted into a parallel universe. Except in this one, he has to team up with Tom Riddle, a spy for the British government, against the forces of Grindelwald in a world where the Statute of Secrecy has all but collapsed and Grindelwald's magical fascism threatens the whole world.

Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos by ACI100. Which I've mentioned before, but it's now progressed into Year 3 after a brief hiatus.

Chasing Ghosts by DictionaryWrites. Post-Battle of Hogwarts, a traumatized Harry wanders the castle and reenters the Room of Requirement, where he finds a McGuffin that sends him back to the 70's.

AN3: Special shout-out to all my Discord editors: _Paryanoia, darkphoenix31, Forge, Jennifer the Green Chaos Duck, kean, king prawn, Krisni, Lanina, Norégveldi, PrettyPinkCupcake, ProgKingHughesker, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, Sandyna (Melanie). Thanks guys!

AN4: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 17,451. Followers: 18,755. Favorites: 17,003. Communities: 247. Discord followers: 4,845! Go Team POS!

AN5: Props to anyone who understands my use of the word "idiom" in the Harry/Luna scene.