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 for free download.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.

Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game

Chapter 16: Blast-Ended What?!

2 September 1994
(Harry and Ted Tonks)

Before heading to breakfast, Harry decided to bite the bullet and drop by Ted Tonks's new office, which was conveniently located adjacent to the Hospital Wing. As he knocked on the door, Harry briefly wondered if Madam Pomfrey had any reservations about a fully licensed Healer intruding into her domain. He'd never been entirely clear on what the difference was between a "Healer" and a "Mediwitch" or, indeed, which term best fit the Hogwarts Matron.

"Then again," he thought, "I'm sure Madam Pomfrey's professional enough to be fine with Ted's presence, especially if he sticks to …" Harry suppressed a shudder. "counseling!"

"Come in!" said Ted from inside the office in response to Harry's knock.

The boy entered to find a surprisingly cozy office. Healer Tonks was sitting behind a desk with two chairs facing him. On the other side of the room were two additional stuffed chairs and an actual sofa. Harry had seen enough Muggle television to be familiar with the trope of patients lying on sofas while pouring their hearts out to psychiatrists. He fought down the urge to roll his eyes.

"Professor Snape sent word that you wanted to see me, Ted … er, Healer Tonks, I guess."

"Ted is fine when it's just us, Harry," the Healer said amiably as he pointed his wand at the door. He uttered a word that Harry didn't recognize, and the door lit up in a bright flash.

"Privacy wards," Ted explained. "The Headmaster and Severus both assisted in setting up the strongest privacy wards we could think of. Most magical folk have no awareness of mental health counseling, which is more of a Muggle thing. And I doubt any Pureblood would ever agree to counseling unless they were assured that no one else could listen in. Please, take a seat."

With some trepidation, Harry sat down opposite him.

"Now then, the reason I asked you here is to discuss the counseling services I'll be providing. Basically, I'll be giving Hogwarts students the chance to speak to a healthcare professional in a safe and totally confidential setting, with all our discussion bound by a Healer's Oath of Confidentiality, which is one of the most powerful secrecy oaths in existence. My hope is that students who have suffered traumatic events that they're not dealing with properly will avail themselves of these services so that proper treatment can be provided, even if only in the form of someone with whom they can talk candidly about their feelings."

"Uh-huh," said Harry, who had absolutely no desire to talk candidly about his feelings to anyone.

"With that in mind, I asked you here today because I have a favor to ask of you."

"Oh?" Harry replied while bracing himself for Ted's request that he submit to a session.

"Yes, I was hoping that I could prevail upon you to speak to your friends Hermione and Theo and encourage them to come see me for counseling."

At that, Harry blinked in confusion. "Hermione and Theo?"

"Yes," Ted said. "As you know, both of them suffered harrowing experiences at the Quidditch World Cup barely a week ago. Hermione was forced to kill a werewolf in order to save her father's life, while Theo was responsible for causing his birth father, who had previously been abusive to him, to lose his magic and then die rather unpleasantly. They're both only fourteen years old. To have killed another person, even under completely justifiable circumstances, can be deeply traumatizing. Hermione's parents had concerns about even letting her return to Hogwarts, but the promise of counseling availability persuaded them that it was the best solution for everyone. And, of course, poor Theo suffered from abuse long before his father's unlamented demise. I think treatment of the sort I'll be offering will be of tremendous benefit to them both, don't you?"

"Uh, yes, I'm sure," the boy said. "But why are you telling me all this? What about all that confidentiality … stuff?"

"Well, confidentiality only applies to the conversations I have with my patients during each session, and anyway, you know as well as anyone what they've been through. I'm asking for your assistance because you're a very close friend to both of them, and I thought a suggestion to come see me might be better received from you. You also know all the pertinent details about what they've both been through, details of which very few others have even a clue."

Harry nodded slowly. "Of course. And … you're right. I think counseling would be helpful. For them, I mean."

Then, he chuckled. "To be honest, I'd assumed you summoned me here because you wanted me to attend a counseling session."

"Do you think you need one?" Ted asked. "I gather from Severus that you're a remarkably skilled Occlumens for a person of your age and experience."

Then, Ted smiled. "But please don't tell him I said that. He specifically said not to as—oh, how did he put it? Do not give the boy any reason to become even more arrogant and overconfident.' Or words to that effect."

Harry chuckled. That did sound like something Snape would say about him.

"Anyway, I gather you're somewhere between a level three and level four if not higher," Ted continued. "So I would assume you're perfectly capable of attending to your own mental and emotional health. I mean, you do meditate and go through an emotional self-assessment at least twice a day, right?"

The boy coughed slightly. "I … certainly try to."

In point of fact, while that had been Snape's recommendation since Harry's Occlumency training began, the boy had been a bit lax in recent months. With everything he'd been through, one meditation session every few days had been the best he'd been able to get in.

"Hmm. Well, try harder. Your ability to regulate your own emotions is incredibly useful in maintaining good mental health, but only if you make proper use of it. I'm sure I don't need to remind you of what turned poor Tom Riddle into You-Know-Who, after all."

"No," Harry said quietly. "Not at all."

"Good, good. Mind you, if you're interested, I believe these therapy sessions might well be beneficial to an Occlumens such as yourself as a form of psychometric decompression."

"Psycho … metric …?"

"Decompression. It's a technique useful for an Occlumens in allowing himself to feel complex or difficult emotions in a controlled setting. Think of it as the psychic equivalent of getting a therapeutic massage to relieve strained muscles. After all, just because a man can carry 500 pounds, that doesn't mean it's a good idea for him to do so all the time. Psychometric decompression allows an Occlumens to simply let all of his psychic defenses down for a brief period so he can experience genuine emotional responses. This alleviates the strain on his psychic architecture and allows him to go longer without buckling in response to stress overloads. Severus can probably explain the process better than I, so you should ask him about it if and when you resume training under him."

Ted took a deep breath. "Still, while that's something for you to consider, it's probably not as big a priority for you as therapy would be for Hermione and Theo. After all, each of them is responsible—in some sense of the word, at least—for killing another human being. That's a profound mental trauma that can damage the minds of even an experienced Occlumens, let alone someone with little or no training."

"I've no doubt," said Harry, as he tried not to think about bloody chunks of Remus Lupin sliding down the wall of the Shrieking Shack. Granted, Lupin got better, but still! Suddenly eager to leave the room, Harry looked at his watch.

"Ooo, look at the time! Listen, I really need to get to breakfast. But I promise I'll talk to Hermione and Theo. You're right. I'm sure counseling will be very helpful. For them, I mean."

Ted nodded as the boy rose and headed towards the door. "Thank you, Harry! I appreciate it."

The boy paused before opening the door as a sudden thought struck him.

"Ted? Out of curiosity, are you a Legilimens?"

The Healer chuckled. "Only to the extent necessary to have a good bedside manner."

Harry nodded thoughtfully at that. Then, he turned to open the door only to be surprised at who was on the other side about to knock: Ron Weasley. Harry took a step back in surprise.


The Gryffindor was equally startled by Harry's presence.

"Um, sorry? I can come back later if …"

"No, no," Harry said quickly. "I was just leaving."

With that, he stepped past Ron and strode down the hall. Meanwhile, Ron entered Ted's office and closed the door behind him. Ted was both surprised and pleased to see him.

"Why good morning, Ronald! What can I do for the young man to whom I owe my life?"

Ron blushed at that description. "Uh, before we get into that … what can you tell me about your Healer's Oath of Confidentiality?"

(Harry & Friends in Ancient Runes)

Later, Harry and Blaise made their way to the Ancient Runes classroom, where they were joined by Hermione, Anthony Goldstein, and Sue Li. Susan Bones of Hufflepuff was also back for the second year, as was Daphne Greengrass. Immediately, Harry felt the temperature drop when Hermione and Daphne noticed one another, but neither said anything. Michael Corner, Terry Boot, and Lisa Turpin (all Ravenclaws) rounded out the group. The class was smaller this year, a fact that Professor Babbling remarked upon at the start of class.

"Welcome, students, to Year Two of Ancient Runes. Last year, we began the course with twenty-three students. As you can see, we are now down to ten. While I hope you all persevere, I must warn you that the demands of this class will only increase from here. In year one, we explored the thirty-six Elder Futhark runes used in the practice of European spell-crafting. However, our studies included only the most superficial understanding of those runes."

With a flick of her wand, Babbling drew several flaming runes in the air, a sequence the class was familiar with after the previous year: Eiwaz, Raido, Ehwaz, and Sowilo.

"Mr. Zabini, I trust you haven't forgotten the common symbolic meanings of these four runes?"

"I have not, Professor. Eiwaz means wood, Raido journey, Ehwaz horse, and finally, Sowilo means power. When used in that sequence, they can enchant a broom to fly."

"Correct. Three points to Slytherin. But tell me, class, can any of you tell me what effect it will have on our flying broom if we do this?"

With a flick of the teacher's wand, the runes began to change. The Ehwaz, which normally looked like a jagged capital M, flipped upside down. The Raido, which looked like an equally jagged "R," rotated 180 degrees instead of flipping. The Eiwaz flipped on its vertical axis so that it looked like a mirror image of itself. Finally, the lightning-shaped Sowilo rotated 90 degrees clockwise so that it rested horizontally rather than vertically. Babbling pointed at each rune in turn.

"Runes depicted in the standard setting, as you have spent the past year studying them, are referred to as being normal. When a rune is flipped on its horizontal axis, it is said to be inverted. If flipped on its vertical axis, it is reversed. One rotated 90 degrees clockwise is sunward, while one rotated 180 degrees is merkstave. Continue rotating it clockwise until it is 270 degrees—or simply rotate it 90 degrees anticlockwise, which yields the same result— and it's said to be widdershins. There is, of course, some overlap. Some runes look identical when presented in different settings. For example, the Ehwaz looks the same in both its normal and reversed settings, and when presented in its inverted and merkstave settings, both of those look the same and also have the same meaning. An upside-down Raido, on the other hand, looks different depending on whether it is reversed or merkstave.

"While you have already learned the basic concepts associated with the normal runes, each of those varied settings also brings a different meaning to the affected rune. In some cases, the meaning changes only slightly, while in others, the meaning is seemingly unrelated to the normal interpretation. To make matters even more confusing, the meaning of a given rune also changes depending upon which runes are adjacent to it in the rune scheme. That is, the meaning of Eiwaz in any of its six settings might differ if it is positioned between Sowilo and Uruz or between Kaunan and Wunjo. And of course, each of those adjacent runes can also be set to any of those six positions, which means that just these four simple runes can be arranged in several thousand

formulations. Consider also that there are thirty-six Elder Futhark runes and that the most powerful arrays may incorporate as many as forty-nine interlocking runes. The possible combinations run into the millions or perhaps even billions!"

Babbling turned back to the floating rune scheme.

"Now, let us study these runes in this familiar array but in the new positions. Ehwaz normally means 'horse,' but when inverted, means 'fish.' Raido means 'journey,' but a merkstave Raido means 'home.' Had we inverted Raido instead of rotating it to merkstave, it would have meant 'prison.' Eiwaz means 'wood,' but in its reversed position, it means 'iron,' or more generally, 'metal.' Finally, a sunward Sowilo for purposes of this discussion means 'sunset,' or more broadly speaking, any diminishment of power."

She turned back to the class.

"So with all that in mind, would anyone care to venture a guess as to what this scheme is intended to accomplish with these four runes in their current settings?"

There was silence for several seconds as most of the students concentrated on trying to think of a spell that combined the concepts of fish, home, metal, and sunset. Then, Harry slowly raised his hand, and Babbling called on him.

"Could it possibly be something involving an aquarium? I mean, that's a place where fish live, and they often have metal components as well as glass. Maybe something to clean out a fish tank every night?"

Babbling laughed. "No, Mr. Black, that's not it, although you do win three points to Slytherin both for a clever guess and for being bold enough to guess at all. To be honest, this was actually an unfair challenge. You see, this particular array means … nothing at all. While there may be billions of possible combinations of runes, not all of them have a coherent meaning when put into an array together. Indeed, the overwhelming majority are, magically speaking, gibberish, just as most random arrangements of letters from the English alphabet do not form recognizable words. Or, I suppose I should say that arrays such as this are gibberish as far as we know. Every ten years or so, some gifted researcher puzzles out a meaning to an array previously considered meaningless and figures out how to use it to enchant an object. So yes, Mr. Black, it is entirely possible that these four runes might form the basis for an enchanted self-cleaning aquarium, though it would likely take more than just four runes to achieve that effect.

"But more importantly, every fifty years or so, a truly brilliant Runologist goes farther than just enchanting an object with a runic array. Instead, they combine the principles of Runology with those of Arithmancy, reduce the array down to a series of wand movements, and marry it to a linguistically and mathematically appropriate incantation to create a new spell! Theoretically, then, one could use these four runes as the basis for a new Charm that might let you instantly clean an aquarium. Or not. It is quite possible that there simply is no true meaning that can be divined from that particular array. The Ministry oversees experimentation in spell design and publishes a yearly catalog of Runology experiments. The vast majority of them consist of simply entries listing a sequence of runes subjected to a Runological study, followed by the word NAMU, which stands for 'No apparent magical utility.' The British Journal of Ancient Runes is kept in the Hogwarts Library in bound form and presently contains 287 volumes dating back to the 17th century, and the NAMU entries make up about 90% of each book."

The teacher slashed her wand again and the flaming runes disappeared.

"Because of the truly vast number of potential meanings that can be ascribed to the Elder Futhark runes in their varied settings and combinations, true mastery of this field generally requires either a lifetime of study or else access to the Elder Futhark language potion. And usually both. Through a grantfrom the Wizengamot intended to promote the study and advancement of Runology, the language potion will be available for free to any Fourth Year Ancient Runes student who wishes to take it. Raise your hand if you have ever taken an educational potion before."

To Harry's chagrin, nearly all of his classmates had done so, as educational potions were commonly available for Purebloods and magically-raised Halfbloods. In fact, Michael Corner was the only other student to have never taken one. Even Hermione had taken a language potion the year before, though she'd used it to master Italian rather than Elder Futhark. Then again, Harry's mild jealousy was offset by the queasy looks he saw on the faces of some of the students who had taken educational potions before, and he recalled Hermione and Anthony's descriptions of the unpleasant side effects of learning an entire language out of a bottle.

"The potion will be available from Madam Pomfrey beginning in October. It can be taken throughout the year, but Madam Pomfrey advises me that she will only provide it on a Friday and not one preceding Hogsmeade weekends or other weekend activities. Also, she will not allow more than one person to take the potion on a given weekend as she does not wish to see the Infirmary overrun by ill students. You see, many people have adverse reactions to the Elder Futhark potion and may find themselves bedridden for a day or two. This is an unfortunate consequence of taking the free potion which, to be honest, is free because it's an older formula that hasn't been updated in over a hundred years. But there has been little change to the knowledge conveyed through the potion in that time. The newer formulas simply have some additional NEWTs-level information and are less likely to cause physical illness. They are also harder to brew and call for more costly ingredients, so if you wish to incur the personal expense of one of the newer potions, you should probably wait until after completing your OWLs."

Babbling suddenly grew more serious.

"I should add that taking the potion is not a requirement for Year Four and, to be honest, will not be especially helpful before January. And while taking the potion will certainly make things much easier for you in the long run, the Ancient Runes OWL can be passed without it if you commit yourself to vigorous self-study. That said, in my time teaching this course, no one has achieved an Outstanding on the Ancient Runes OWL who has not taken the potion, and NEWT-level Runology will likely be incomprehensible to those who have not done so. Of course, many of you will see no need to continue the course past your OWLs. The vast majority of job opportunities in the field of Runology simply involve analyzing and copying existing arrays, and the NEWTs curriculum is geared towards future curse-breakers, Aurors, and spell researchers."

Harry made a note of Babbling's comments about the Elder Futhark language potion, but he was hesitant about taking it. In particular, he had discussed the matter over the summer with Regulus, and the older wizard gave him surprising advice.

"Before you take the official Ministry-sponsored Futhark potion," Reg had said somewhat cryptically, "talk to George Weasley."

(Harry, Hermione, and Hagrid)

"So, explain to me why I'm coming along for this meeting?" Harry asked irritably. "And skipping most of the lunch period to do so?"

Hermione huffed. "Do you really need to ask after what happened in Care of Magical Creatures?"

"Well, in that case, I assume it has something to do with those Blast-Ended … thingies that Hagrid threw at us today."

"Skrewts," Hermione supplied.

"Whatever. I'm pretty sure that's even less of a word than Cryptohedron."

The young witch slapped his arm and then looked around to make sure no one was around to hear. Technically, neither of them was under an oath not to reveal the existence of the Cryptohedron, the Time-Turner, the DOM's possession of both, and the fact that they had both time-traveled a few months before. But they had both agreed that doing so was probably a bad idea.

"And you would be right," Hermione snapped. "There's nothing about Skrewts or anything remotely like them in any of the magizoology books I've read so far. But they look like creatures that are part Manticore and part Fire Crab. As if someone had been breeding them together!"

Harry crooked an eyebrow dubiously. "By someone, can I assume you mean Hagrid? Even though the International Ban on Experimental Breeding would make that an Azkaban-worthy crime?"


"Uh-huh. Still waiting for the part that explains why I'm here."

"Moral support?" Hermione said hopefully. Harry just looked at her.

"Oh alright," she continued. "I wanted you here because … you're so good with people!"

The Slytherin snorted. But then, he narrowed his eyes, as the familiar kaleidoscopic whirr-click in the back of his mind supplied the answer.

"You want me to legilimize Hagrid. To get him to reveal the truth about whether he illegally bred the Blast-Ended Whatsits…"


"Whatever! And then … Hermione, are you expecting me to use my powers to manipulate Hagrid out of continuing with … well, whatever the hell he's doing?"

"It would be for a good cause," the girl said hopefully.

"Which, with a slight variation, is what's inscribed atop the gates of Nurmengard!" Harry snapped. "I do not want to use mind-control on Hagrid or anyone else! It's … unethical."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "As opposed to using it on your friends? Like you did with me on our first train ride together when you talked me out of being an obnoxious know-it-all with my hand stuck up in the air all the time just with a few well-chosen words about Pureblood culture and etiquette?"

Harry looked away suddenly. "I didn't know what I was doing then," he said softly, almost as if ashamed.

"And if you had, would you have refrained from giving me that extremely useful advice? With the end result that I probably wouldn't have made a single friend that year? Harry, I'm grateful for what you did that day, even if it was unintentional."

Harry swallowed and still wouldn't make eye contact. "Well, you would say that. On account of, you know, being mind-controlled and all."

Hermione stopped walking and sighed loudly. Then, she took Harry's hand.

"Harry, you're my best friend, and always will be. I don't believe you would ever use your powers to make me do anything I felt was morally wrong or bad for me. And no matter how good a Legilimens you are, I'm still not sure you could if you tried. As for Hagrid, if it makes you uncomfortable, I'll do all the talking, and you only step in if you feel it's necessary. Otherwise, you really will just be there for moral support. You helped us keep Hagrid out of trouble over Norbert. Just think of this as more of the same."

Harry regarded his first friend intently before finally relenting. "Okay, okay. Let's see what the CoMC instructor has to say for himself."

Moments later, Harry and Hermione were seated in Hagrid's hut drinking tea and pointedly ignoring the rock cakes. And to the surprise of them both, it turned out that Harry's Legilimency was entirely unnecessary.

"Well, ah course ah bred the Skrewts meself!" Hagrid said proudly. "And let me tell ya's—tweren't no easy feat milkin' a Manticore of its …!"

"Hagrid!" Hermione exclaimed, both in surprise over Hagrid's casual admission of a serious crime and to stop any further discussion of what, exactly, had been milked from a Manticore as part of this magical breeding project. "Interspecies magical creature-breeding is illegal!"

The half-giant let out a belly-laugh. "Tosh, 'Ermione! It's only illegal if'n you ain't got permishun from the Ministry!"

At that remark, Harry nearly spit out his tea.

"The Ministry … gave you permission … to cross-breed Manticores with … anything?!"

Hagrid puffed up in pride. Then, without answering, he stood and moved over to a cluttered desk in the corner and started shifting items around (and eventually just tossing some things over his shoulder). Finally, he gave a loud "A-Ha!" and returned to the table with a crumpled brown parchment, which he placed on the table. Harry and Hermione crowded together to read the document with increasingly astonished expressions.

While the parchment had several grease-stains and one large circle that looked to be from where a coffee cup had been resting on it, the writing was still clear. It was an official approval form from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures granting "Rubeus Hagrid, a Hogwarts Gentleman" permission to crossbreed Manticores and Fire Crabs for research purposes. It was signed by some functionary whose name Harry didn't recognize, but below that, it was countersigned by "Amos Diggory, Assistant Director for Regulatory Enforcement."

"That's … that's HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!" Hermione finally shrieked.

"Well, ya see," Hagrid began while completely ignoring the girl's outburst, "I had ta put in a perposal fer me Mastery, an after all the muckity-mucks at the Ministry looked it over, they signed off on it. I started the breedin' experiments last summer! It's all very exciting!"

"M-Mastery?!" Harry stammered. "Forgive me, Hagrid, but … weren't you expelled as a Third Year?!"

"Oh, that! Well, they did expel me from Hogwarts, that they did. Way back in the Spring of '44, it was. And they snapped me wand! But the ban on studying magic was only fer fifty years, and that ended last May! But even if'n I couldna study wanded magic, I hadn't been sittin' on me …"

He paused suddenly as he remembered the two were still students.

"Well, les jus say 'sitting around all that time.' Bein' expelled don't stop ya from reading books, after all! So the week after the Hogwarts Express left last June, I went to the Ministry and sat me CoMC OWLs! And got an Outstanding! Then, I studied fer a month and went back ta take me CoMC NEWT and passed it as well! So now, I'm workin' on me Mastery!"

Harry and Hermione sat gaping for several seconds.

"So … who is your master?" Harry asked cautiously.

"Mina Grubbly-Plank from Beauxbatons! Lovely lass! She was Wilbur Grubbly-Plank's oldest girl and a firstie the year I got expelled. She'll be here most of the year as a judge fer the Tournament, and she'll spend part of that time overseein' me and mah Skrewts."

Then, he coughed in mild embarrassment. "That's … kinda why I gots all my classes workin' with 'em to see what ta feed 'em and figure out how they work afore she gets here. Ta be 'onest, they don't rightly look like what I was expectin' when I started all this."

"I should hope not," Harry muttered under his breath.

"Alright, I suppose I feel a little better about all this," Hermione said aloud. "But Hagrid … why Manticores and Fire Crabs?!"

Hagrid just laughed. "Well, it's like this ya see. Manticores is XXXXX-class beasts—way too dangerous fer most wizards ta handle, but their venom is really useful and really expensive, and their stingers can be used as wand cores. And Fire Crabs is an endangered species cuz their shells make good cauldrons for some difficult potions, their blood is also a valuable potions ingredient, and, well, I'm told they taste delicious! A bit like snapping turtle but with a spicy kick!"

"Sooo," Hermione said slowly. "You're trying to create a creature that has some or all of those benefits but is easier to breed and handle? That's … surprisingly logical now that I think about it."

"Pfft!" Hagrid said while puffing up his chest in pride once more. "D'ye think the Ministry O' Magic would let just any old wizard breed deadly monsters together and give 'em to school children ta handle?"

"No, of course not," Harry said with barely concealed sarcasm. "Who would ever expect the Ministry to do anything like that!"

(Harry and Snape)

Harry waited patiently by the door to the Potions lab as the Sixth Year NEWTs class exited. Or most of them did, at least: Adrian Pucey, Cedric Diggory, and several older students Harry didn't know personally. Adrian stopped to make small talk with Harry for a moment, but they were distracted when the last member of the NEWTs class stormed out. It was Fred Weasley, who stalked off angrily down the hall. After sending Pucey on his way, Harry entered the Potions lab and closed the door behind him.

"Trouble with one of the Weasley Twins already, Professor Snape?" he asked good-naturedly.

Snape snorted from behind his desk without even looking up from the papers he was reviewing.

"I'd been hopeful that after five years, I would at last be free of them. But Terror #1 received an Outstanding on his Potions OWL, so I must persevere it seems. Unless, in a fit of pique, he drops the class."

"He did seem angry just now. If I may ask, what did you say to him?"

"Aside from the usual threats to send his mother a Howler if he set one foot out of line in my class, I also made clear my disdain for the thought of wasting my valuable time on someone who sought NEWTs level instruction but had no higher purpose for it than … pranks. Furthermore, I made continued participation in my advanced class contingent on him providing me with copies of formulas for all of his experimental compounds he has developed so far so that I could review them for safety. He took umbrage at the insinuation that he might be marketing dangerous and untested potions and mixtures to minors, even though that is patently what he and his twin have been doing for years now."

Harry thought about that for a moment. "I can see how that would have upset him. Though I get the feeling you have an ulterior motive for wanting to double-check his work."

"One point from Slytherin for using Legilimency on me and being arrogant enough to be obvious about it. But if it will satisfy your curiosity, I am reliably informed that the Terrors have devised a means to effect human-to-animal Transfigurations through the innovative and experimental use of candies and, on at least one occasion, in an aerosolized form. I want to see how they did it."

"Ah, the Canary Creams. They mentioned the product a few times last summer, though I never got to see them in use. Am I right in thinking that sort of potion is hard to brew?"

The Potions Master finally looked up with an expression of visible consternation.

"No more so than any other potion which someone might brew as part of a Mastery level project! Human-to-animal transformations are beyond the scope of standard potioneering techniques and generally require a knowledge of an obscure and specialized and, in some nations, illegal field of magic known as biothaumaturgy, a term which Fred Weasley had never even heard of before I mentioned it to him just now."

Harry blinked a few times. "Wait, so Canary Creams are forbidden dark magic or something?"

"There are likely no specific laws on the books regarding it, but that is why I wish to review his formula—to determine whether he is engaging in magical research of the sort that often has unsavory connotations and might attract unhealthy attention from certain segments of our government."

Then, he gave Harry a pointed look. "And by the way, the only reason I am telling you any of this is because you have taken it upon yourself to provide the Terrors with financial backing for reasons that elude me. Potentially, you might be exposed to some degree of liability if their activities draw unfavorable attention."

Harry shrugged. "I owe George a life debt, and the family's too Gryffindorish to just accept a big lump sum payment. Of course, if their joke shop is going to get raided by the Unspeakables …"

"An unlikely outcome at the moment, but I wish you to keep me advised as to just what sorts of … jokes they are presently able to mass-produce."

Harry nodded. "Of course."

"Good. But you didn't come here to talk about the Terrors, I don't have Fourth Year Potions until later in the week, and we are not fielding school Quidditch teams this year, so I can only assume you're here to discuss some illicit business. What is it?"

"Well, it's nothing too dramatic. Or at least, not compared to getting assassinated by the Unspeakables over forbidden dark sweets. It rather ties in with what you just docked me a point for. I was wondering if we can continue meeting regularly for some Occlumency and Legilimency lessons this year even with all the Tournament business going on."

"I do not anticipate my time being any more limited than it was last year. Any tournament-related activities will involve interaction with foreign dignitaries and will require a degree of diplomacy that the Headmaster realizes I do not possess and have no desire to cultivate. Now then, we have previously discussed several useful psychic arts which you should be capable of developing at this stage of your journey. What specific areas do you wish to prioritize? Beyond, of course, an introduction to secondary personality development, which is the obvious next step in your psychic training."

"Oh … it is?"

"Honestly, Black," the man snapped. "You have come this far in the study of Occlumency and are party to multiple secretive conspiracies of at best dubious legality. Do you mean to suggest that you don't have any desire to learn how to lie convincingly while under Veritaserum?"

"Well, obviously I have desires about that sort of thing. I take it the secret to beating Veritaserum lies in being able to shift to a different personality that doesn't even know the secrets you're afraid of revealing?"

"Essentially, yes. The technique begins with small, carefully constructed alterations to your own personality. Review chapter 32 of Pathways of the Mind and chapters 7 and 9 of Moste Hidden Arte. Then, begin small by creating a secondary personality which differs from your true personality in only a single, unimportant detail. Your preference for desserts at supper, for example."

Snape then gave him a 'don't be an idiot' look.

"I recommend writing down exactly what changes you are making to your psyche before beginning the process. Until you become proficient, there is a nontrivial chance that you will be unable to remember which personality is the original. While it would be relatively harmless to accidentally turn yourself into a vegetarian, other personality alterations have a far greater potential for damage to your mind."

Then, he gave Harry a pointed look. "And speaking of damage to your mind …"

Harry put up a hand. "I spoke to Healer Tonks this morning first thing." Then, the boy hesitated. "He indicated that so long as I meditated and did emotional self-checks regularly, I wouldn't need a counseling session with him … though I'm pretty sure that was an attempt at reverse psychology. He also said I should talk with you about the benefits of psychometric decompression."

Snape nodded. "There are benefits to that practice, certainly. Personally, I have not undertaken decompression of the kind Healer Tonks recommends for many years. Then again, I am not the paragon of a mentally healthy Occlumens and so should probably not be your role model in such matters. I take it Healer Tonks's presence at Hogwarts is at the instigation of your godfather?"

"Yes," Harry replied somewhat pensively. "Though to be fair, I think there are plenty of other people who could benefit from counseling with a Mind Healer."

"But not us?" Snape asked somewhat sardonically. "You are a talented Occlumens and Legilimens. If you think you might benefit from the services Healer Tonks is offering, sign up for a session. If you start to feel uncomfortable at the thought of exposing too much of yourself, you are certainly capable of persuading him that you are actually a perfect specimen of mental health and that future sessions are unnecessary, which, even if patently untrue, will at least reassure those members of our little club who do not understand what it means to be either an Occlumens or a Slytherin."

Harry nodded again, though slower this time. "A Slytherin counseling another Slytherin to lie to the Hufflepuff in order to reassure the Gryffindor. Right. Got it." Then, he looked at Snape somewhat suspiciously.

"Unless, of course, everything you just said was you using reverse psychology on me to get me to accept counseling and you're just better at it than Ted."

Snape sighed in annoyance. "I should note for the record that a paranoid belief that everything another Legilimens says to you might possibly just be an exceptionally subtle form of manipulation is itself powerful evidence that you might need counseling of some sort. That said, I understand your ambivalence about opening up to anyone else about deeply personal matters. Fortunately, you are at or near a level of proficiency where an alternative approach is available. Tell me, Mr. Black—how much progress have you made on developing your Advocatus Diaboli?"

Harry winced. "A little, but it's been slow going. The reading material you gave me for that was … difficult. I have the framework ready to activate—I think, anyway—but I didn't want to proceed to the next step until I felt more confident about it."

Snape crooked an eyebrow. "Confidence has never been an issue for you before, not even when it should have been. Are you quite certain your reticence isn't because you are afraid of who your Advocatus might end up being?"

The boy grimaced. The Advocatus Diaboli (or "Devil's Advocate") was an artificial secondary personality that, once activated, would basically live inside a discrete corner of his head. Based on Harry's personal understanding of the mindset of one of his most trusted friends, his Advocatus would provide advice and perspectives that Harry himself would normally not consider. However, while Snape had been evasive on his own Advocatus, Harry (in one of his usual flashes of deductive insight) had realized weeks before that Snape's Advocatus had almost certainly been a teenaged Lily Evans.

Aside from Harry's general horror at the thought of a Gryffindor permanently living in his mind (let alone any member of his birth family!), the boy was also troubled by the fact that he would not consciously pick his own Advocatus. Rather, he would create a mental framework and then allow his own subconscious to pick the best person to serve in the role. From what the Occlumency books had said, he could attempt to guide his subconscious towards choosing a particular person, but ultimately, the Advocatus would be whoever would be the best person for the job, and there was absolutely no guarantee that it would be someone Harry would want to take advice from.

"It's … a concern, sir," he finally said. "But if you think this should really be a priority right now, then …"

"Only you can answer the question of whether awakening your Advocatus Diaboli is a priority at this time," Snape interrupted. "As the first teacher of Occlumency, Thales of Miletus, said: 'Temet nosce. Know thyself.' That maxim lies at the heart of all the psychic devotions, but especially Occlumency. If one is to truly master Occlumency, one must first know one's own mind."

"Even when you're using Occlumency to deceive yourself?" Harry asked.

For just a second, a strange look passed over Snape's face. It was gone in an instant, and only a Legilimens of Harry's caliber could have noticed it at all. But for a fraction of a second, Harry's blunt question left Snape stricken.

"Yes, Mr. Black," he said gravely. "It is because of our power to deceive even ourselves that truly knowing our own hearts is so vital. For without self-knowledge, we are lost."

(Harry and George Weasley)

"Hello, Harrikins!" George Weasley said cheerfully while walking up behind Harry and clapping him on the back. "Hermione said you wanted to talk to me. What's up?"

"Just wanted to offer, well, an exchange of ideas between friends, George," Harry replied with a grin as he led the older boy into an empty room. Then, he reached into his bookbag and produced a fairly thick set of parchments bound up into a scroll, which he handed over to George.

"For you and your brother to play around with. That's the complete spellwork that went into the Marauder's Map."

George gasped, and his eyes widened in delight. "Blimey! I thought that bit of magic had been lost forever! Where did you get it from?"

"Remus Lupin gave it to me last spring."

The Gryffindor looked at him in confusion. "Why did last year's school caretaker and later emergency fill-in DADA instructor have the spellcrafting notes for the Marauder's Map?"

"Because he was a Marauder, maybe?" Harry replied with a grin. "I believe you might also know of him under the name Moony."

George's eyes widened. "Get out! Professor Lupin was Moony?! That bloke who stalked around the halls for most of last year, yelling at us for tracking in mud and whatnot up only to take over DADA classes after Scrimgeour died, was actually one of the Marauders?!"

"Yes," Harry said while suppressing a twinge of sadness over the reminder of Rufus Scrimgeour's death. "Lupin first came to Hogwarts undercover as the new Caretaker, Malachi Sturgeon, in order to help protect Jim. And apparently, he thought it would be funny to do a continual Argus Filch impersonation as part of his assignment."

George made a sour face. "Yeah, but now he's gone, and we've got the original back and as surly as ever!"

Harry nodded in commiseration. While Ted Tonks and Alastor Moody had each gotten a round of applause after Dumbledore introduced them, the announcement of the return of Argus Filch and Mrs. Norris had been met with stony silence.

"So whatever happened to Lupin … or Sturgeon or Moony or whatever he's calling himself nowadays?" George asked.

"He's somewhere in the Far East, I gather," Harry said. Then, he blinked a few times as a sudden thought flitted around the edges of his awareness. But before he could focus on it, George spoke again, and the thought was lost.

"And you're just giving this to us?" he asked.

"Well, you're the runes prodigy, and you and Fred both are geniuses in general. I honestly have too much else going on to work on it, so if you two can get a new Map working, I could just ask you to make a copy for me."

George nodded as he put the bound notes away. "It would be a pleasure. Thanks for this, Harry. It means a lot to me, and I know Fred will feel the same."

"Don't mention it," Harry said. "And besides, I kind of have a little favor I was going to ask for in return."

"Name it."

"Well, it's been suggested to me that you might have access to a version of the Elder Futhark potion that's better than the one offered by the Ministry. If that's the case, I was wondering if you could set me up with a sample. I'll pay for any ingredients … of … course …"

Harry suddenly trailed off uncertainly in response to the look on George's face. The Slytherin's natural Legilimency usually enabled him to read other people like a book, but he could still be surprised from time to time, usually when Harry used his power with incomplete information and the person with whom he was interacting reacted with emotions that Harry had not meant to trigger. For example, he recalled his first conversation with Lucius Malfoy, which had almost gone very badly for them both. Harry had innocently mentioned the name Tom Riddle without realizing that the former Death Eater might have recognized that name for other (very dangerous) reasons.

He was reminded of that encounter as George's face went pale, and the Gryffindor literally took a step back in shock.

"Who … who told you about that?" George asked in an intense whisper. Harry blinked once, and then dilated for a single heartbeat while he pondered how to respond.

"I … can't exactly say, to be honest. Honor among Slytherins, I guess you'd say. But it was someone who saw how quickly you adapted to Ancient Runes without ever taking the Ministry potion yourself. No offense, but am I right in assuming you probably couldn't have afforded one of the newer potions two years ago?"

George didn't respond for an uncomfortably long time.

"I need to talk to Fred," he finally said. "Before I can … before I can talk about any of that. Is that okay?"

Harry nodded slowly. "Of course. Take whatever time you need. I didn't mean to put you on the spot or anything."

George shook off his disturbingly pensive mood and his usually gregarious smile lit up his face. But this time, Harry knew it was an act.

"Not a problem, Harry. I'll get with Fred and let you know as soon as we can, alright?"

The two exchanged a bit of banter before George made his excuses and practically fled the room. Harry just shook his head.

"Dammit, Regulus!" he thought to himself. "What have you gotten me into now?"

(Harry and Moody)

As the Sixth Year DADA class let out, Harry waited patiently to enter, but he was delayed for a few minutes by an odd interaction with the Weasley Twins. Fred and George had left the classroom together, both with serious expressions for once. And those expressions only grew grimmer when they noticed Harry at the end of the hallway. Intrigued, Harry held back, and as the two passed by, Harry distinctly heard Fred whisper "Room 227, 9 o'clock" even though his mouth never moved. Impressed with this bit of ventriloquism, Harry watched as the twins moved on, having given no indication that they'd noticed Harry at all. Somewhat nonplussed by how the two Weasleys were acting—'cloak and daggery,' he'd have called it, since Blaise wasn't here to object—Harry moved past the other students and into the classroom.

"Good evening, Professor Moody," the boy said jovially. "Welcome to Hogwarts."

Moody, who'd been wiping the blackboard clean with a flick of his wand, turned to face the boy.

"That's quite enough sentimental claptrap out of you, Potter. Got enough of that last night. I'm a bit surprised, actually, that you'd out yourself as a fan of mine to the point of getting most of Slytherin House to give me a standing ovation. Do you know how many students at that table have Death Eater relatives either dead or in Azkaban because of me?"

"Sixteen by my count, most of whom are ambivalent if not actually happy at having those people out of their lives. Also, the name isn't Potter, anymore."

"Oh yeah, I'd heard something about that. It was hard to get a Daily Prophet in the backwoods of Eastern Europe, but I gather there was some ridiculous spectacle you made in the Wizengamot, during which you changed your name. So what should I be calling you now?"

"Officially, it's Hadrian Remus Black Lord Wilkes, but I prefer to go by Harry Black."

Moody snorted. "Yeah, that is a bit less of a mouthful, I reckon."

"So, how was your trip to Albania? You were gone for eight months. Some mission for the Headmaster, as I recall. Was it successful?"

"Not just Albania; I ended up taking a tour of the whole misbegotten Balkan Alliance. As vacations go, I've had worse. The mission for Dumbledore, however, was a complete bust. No signs of Death Eater activity anywhere in the region."

The man barked out a laugh. "Ironically, while I was off in Eastern Europe, Fenrir Greyback and his whole damned pack were back here the whole time until the Aurors took 'em all down. Shoulda stayed home."

Then, Moody looked at Harry speculatively. "So, Lord Wilkes, dare I ask what sort of exotic bequests you got from claiming the Toymaker's estate?"

"Nothing too exotic, I'm afraid. I got a lot of galleons and an incredibly creepy painting of the prior Lord Wilkes, but that's been it so far."

For a second, Moody's magic eye whirled wildly. "You actually talked to Erasmus Wilkes's painting?"

"Once. It was unpleasant. I was lying about everything, and he was cryptic and deranged."

Moody tilted his head slightly. "I look forward to hearing more about it. I can say from experience that talking to the man himself wasn't much better. And in other news, I read something about you making a big show at the Paris Dueling Championships, too. Could have sworn I told you to keep a low profile."

"I did! Well, relatively speaking. I mean, I didn't use hardly any of the spells I'd have cast if it was an actual life-or-death situation. And I didn't really show off until I was in the finals against a Junior Death Eater!"

Moody sighed almost in disappointment. "Well, what's done is done. Just remember that if you ever have to fight that same Junior Death Eater for real, he'll know some of your tricks and be able to guess some others, and so will any other Junior Death Eaters he might have traded stories with. Remember!"

"CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" they both yelled in unison before each of them laughed at the catchphrase.

"I will, Professor Moody. And that's kind of why I'm here. I wanted to know if you might have time for some private lessons during your time here."

"Hmmm. It would have to be in secret and also later in the year. Aside from accusations of favoritism, I don't want anyone to know there's a pre-existing connection between us, and I don't want to put a target on your back. Or vice versa. I have quite enough enemies of my own without attracting any of yours."

"Mine? I wasn't aware I had any enemies worth worrying about. I mean, You-Know-Who and his remaining Death Eaters, but they're pretty much everyone's enemies, aren't they? I can't imagine any of them caring about who I might be taking private defense lessons from."

"Then you should broaden your imagination, Pot—Black. You do realize, I hope, that everyone and his brother thinks that Wilkes left behind a hidden treasure trove of dark artifacts somewhere. And as his heir—well, for some definitions of heir—you're the person most likely to know where it is."

Moody paused and his whirling eye suddenly fixed itself on Harry. "Do you know where any such hidden trove might be? Or any clues?"

Harry grimaced. "Well, I have a clue. Sort of. But nothing I can share at this time. I promise to let you know if I make any progress on that front."

Moody shook his head. "See that you do. Anyway, there's another reason I can't give lessons, at least right now. In addition to my DADA classes, I'm also keeping an eye on that damned Goblet that's sitting in the Great Hall waiting to do … something."

Harry's eyebrows rose. "You're worried about the Goblet of Fire being a danger to the students?"

"No, but Albus is, and he's decided to put my overdeveloped sense of paranoia to good use."

Moody narrowed his one good eye. "You planning on entering your name, Lord Wilkes? I assume if you've claimed that title, you're adult enough to beat the age line."

"I have no immediate plans to get involved in the Triwizard Tournament in any fashion and can't imagine the Goblet of Fire picking a Fourth Year. Besides, I really have too much to do this year to worry about it."

"Sensible. Anyway, let's get through the end of October. That's when the Champions get picked and also when I hand over the reins of the DADA position to Albus's posse of 'special guest lecturers' and we get to see just how broadly the curse interprets the term 'DADA professor.' I might have more free time after that. In the meantime, you might find my first class for the Fourth Years interesting later this week."

"Oh? What are we covering?"

Moody gave a grim smile. "Unforgivables, Black. We'll be talking about the Unforgiveables."

(Harry & Ginny in the Prince's Lair)

"So what you're saying is—I'm permitted to study out of a copy of that Animagery book I was clever enough to blackmail out of Jim Potter, but only if I come in here to do so?" Ginny said with obvious annoyance.

Presently, she and Harry sat alone in the Prince's Lair where he'd asked to meet with the girl just after dinner. That was when he had returned to her the original copy of Animagery: The Deeper Mysteries and also showed her where the Lair's copy was stored. In response to her complaint, Harry set aside the Ancient Runes homework he'd been working on when she arrived. It was getting frustrating anyway; he was having trouble telling apart the inverted Uruz and the widdershins Kaunan, as both of them simply looked like a badly rendered letter-V. Since the first meant protection and the second meant inferno, it would probably be bad to confuse them.

"Yep," Harry answered. "It's now officially a part of the Prince's Library and can't be taken from here without my consent or that of some future Prince. It's too dangerous to allow it to be caught in the hands of … well, anyone I actually like."

Ginny snorted softly. "But you don't mind Jim getting caught with it?"

Harry started to respond sarcastically, but then, he caught himself and closed his eyes. After his earlier conversation with Ted Tonks, he'd resolved to be more mindful. So after a quick self-scan to assess which of his current emotions were legitimate and which were the result of his magical enmity against House Potter, he filed away his initial response of "Stupidity is its own reward" in favor of a more nuanced response.

"Jim is apparently already a full Animagus. I assume, or at least hope, that if he gets caught with the book while still a minor he'll be let off with a fine and conscription instead of …"

"Azkaban?" Ginny finished. "Do you really think they'd ever put the Boy-Who-Lived in Azkaban even for being an unregistered Animagus?"

Harry cleared his throat somewhat hesitantly. "I was going to say 'instead of quietly murdered by the Unspeakables.'"

Ginny's eyes widened at that blunt remark, while Harry continued.

"The issue isn't the Animagus stuff per se but rather some of the general magical concepts from the book that underlie the Animagery process. Apparently, according to Lucius Malfoy and Professor Snape, futzing around with that book can lead to an understanding of certain theoretical magical principles that our current government considers 'politically dangerous.' Which is why I would appreciate it if you could return it to Jim in a way that will discourage him from sharing it with others and, ideally, result in him just hiding his copy away forever. And while I won't do anything to prevent you from studying the Lair's copy—I think you've earned my trust by now—I do want you to remember why I don't want the book getting out of here and to be incredibly cautious about reading from it."

Ginny crooked an eyebrow. "By 'the book' that's 'politically dangerous to even read,' you're talking about the same book that you've added to your personal library and that I know for a fact you've been reading yourself, right?"

Harry glanced down at the copy of the forbidden text sitting on the table in front of them.

"Yes, yes, I know. I'm an awful hypocrite. But for me, it's just for research purposes, since I don't want to become an Animagus. I'm doing Metamorphmagery, and the two are apparently mutually exclusive. I'm just studying the general principles in hopes of getting some insights into what I can expect from Peter Pettigrew if we have another run-in. And, I suppose, preparing myself for when Jim's studies of the book go horribly wrong, and I'll have to clean up the mess."

"And also," Harry thought ruefully, "preparing myself in case my godfather's studies of his copy go horribly wrong as well."

Ginny looked at him in consternation. "But … the general principles are the part that's dangerous to know and might get you murdered by some shadowy government cabal, right?"

"Exactly," Harry replied without concern. "Which is why you and I are only studying from a copy we're keeping here, in one of the most secure rooms in Magical Britain and which is also protected by a magical secrecy oath so powerful not even a master Legilimens can see our memories of what goes on here."

The girl nodded slowly. Put that way, Harry's paranoia made a bit more sense.

"So do you plan to study from the book?" Harry asked. "Study and eventually become an Animagus?"

The youngest Weasley considered the question.

"I don't know. I may study it like you are—not to learn Animagery but just to understand the underlying concepts. I may even study it enough to learn what my form would be. But I'm not sure I want to go all the way with it."

"Oh? Why not?"

"Well for one thing, the animal I'm most likely to associate with is probably a weasel, and I'll be damned if I get stuck with a weasel-form just because of my family name. That would just be … humiliating!"

Harry laughed. "And the other reasons?"

She hesitated with a look of mild embarrassment on her face. "Despite everything, I'm still the baby of the family and the only girl. And so my whole life, I've had girlish things pretty much thrust upon me by all my relatives. So I have this fear that my Animagus form might be, I dunno, a sparkly pony or something ridiculous like that."

"Not a unicorn?"

"Oh, I considered it, but I'm pretty sure they're too magical to be a proper Animagus form. But a horse? One that would make someone like Lavender Brown squeal with delight? Yeah, that would be completely dreadful!"

"Fair enough. Though I would definitely try hard to get Jim to keep the book a secret. Even if Ron has no interest, I'm sure Fred and George would seize on it if given the chance. And I shudder to think what their forms would be."

"Penguins, I think," Ginny replied instantly. "Identical Emperor penguins. So anyway, what do you want me to tell Jim to get him to hide his copy away and never show it to anyone?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. I'm sure you'll come up with something clever. You're very manipulative."

"I beg your pardon!" Ginny said, somewhat offended.

"We're Slytherins, Ginny. I meant it as a compliment."

"Hmmph. Then as a fellow Slytherin, I suppose I'll accept the comment as you intended."

Then, she grew thoughtful. "Speaking of being manipulative Slytherins, I've been meaning to ask: Are you trying to use me to make Daphne Greengrass jealous? I mean, I'm not exactly opposed to the idea—watching her reactions to it has been hilarious—but I can go to Hogsmeade weekends this year, and to be honest, I'd like to date around a bit. I suspect getting caught up in some weird love triangle with two older students would probably get in the way of that."

"Go right ahead, then," Harry answered. "I'm not actively trying to make Daphne jealous. That was just … an experiment."

"Ha. You hardly needed to an experiment to figure out that she's got a crush on you. I could have told you that much from the start."

"Oh, Daphne's interested in me … for some reason. But I doubt it's a crush."

Ginny gave a long-suffering sigh. "Harry, you're brilliant in a lot of ways. But when it comes to romance, you really need to defer to Amy and me."

"I thought we just established that you haven't even started dating yet. What makes you the expert on romance?"

"Six older brothers, all of whom have had their share of romantic complications. Well, five—so far, Ron's not interested in girls so long as there's Quidditch, food, and his never-ending adventures as Jim Potter's sidekick. Plus, I have a mother who could have been a professional matchmaker if it paid well enough, and I also several years stuck at home alone with nothing to do but listen to radio dramas on the Wizarding Wireless. Young Mediwitches In Love was Mum's favorite."

"I withdraw the objection. Obviously, you're fully qualified to manage my love life."

"Well, someone needs to," she said with authority. "I think sometimes you're too wound up in Slytherin intrigue and Wizarding politics and saving the world from, what was it, the Dark God? Anyway, you're amazing at handling all that stuff, but when it comes to something like just asking a girl out on a date, no offense, but you're a bit clueless."

Harry didn't reply at first. He simply stared down at the table for a few seconds before turning to look at Ginny eye-to-eye.

"Maybe it's not that I'm clueless," he said quietly but intensely. "Maybe I'm just trying to figure out exactly how to approach the one girl I really want. Someone who's been by my side for some time now, only I was too dense to see it until we both grew up a little more. Someone who really understands the burdens of sitting in this chair. Someone who knows me better than I know myself."

Harry paused to adjust his glasses with his hand, and Ginny's attention was drawn to the vivid green of his eyes. She'd always thought Harry's eyes were as beautiful as they were intense. The young girl flushed slightly.

"Oh … Harry …!" she gasped.

But before she could say anymore, Harry abruptly broke eye contact and leaned back into the Throne.

"BOOM!" he said loudly. "And just like that, I've got you!"

Ginny blinked in confusion. "… Wait, what?"

"I look you straight in the eye while talking softly and then adjust my glasses to get you to focus on the green of my eyes. You think my eyes are my most attractive feature, so that's enough to get you to go all … gooey."

"Excuse me?!" she said, her anger starting to rise. Harry just continued as if she'd not spoken.

"Of course, not nearly as much as when Draco Malfoy tilts his head slightly and runs his fingers through his hair now that it's gotten longer. That's what really gets your attention!"

Then, Harry actually ran his fingers through his own hair in a perfect imitation of how the Malfoy scion did it.

"Dammit, Harry!" Ginny almost yelled. In response, Harry just broke into a broad grin.

"Ginny, I'm a natural Legilimens who specializes in reading the tiniest hint of body language in order to understand the emotions of others and instantly know how best to influence them. If you're ever under the mistaken impression that I am clueless about some form of social interaction, you may safely assume that I'm probably just occluding heavily to block my own Legilimency because I've found myself surrounded by a large group of people in the grip of strong emotions."

He frowned suddenly in annoyance. "Case in point: Apparently, I'm going to have to occlude constantly in all the classes we have with Gryffindors this year because over the summer Lavender Brown developed breasts and it's all the Gryffindor boys can think about!"

Harry paused while Ginny absorbed that.

"As for me being able to ask someone out on a date, let me assure you that with my abilities, I could have any girl in this school I wanted. And probably a third of the boys! If, that is, I was willing to be an absolute creep! But since I do not wish to be an absolute creep, I intentionally block myself from using my own psychic abilities to influence people that I might be attracted to."

Ginny looked at the Prince of Slytherin with a mixture of consternation and sadness (and also, strangely, fondness). The most eligible bachelor of her generation was apparently too gallant to pursue dating opportunities because he feared accidentally making someone fall in love with him against their will.

"So what about Daphne Greengrass?" she finally asked.

"Ah, her. Yeah, what you said about her at the Quidditch World Cup got me thinking, so yesterday, I made a big show of helping you into the carriage in front of her so that I could drop my Occlumency for a bit and thoroughly read her responses. It was quite illuminating. I have to tell you, though, that your conclusions are completely wrong."

At that, Ginny blinked in surprise. "Are they?"

He smiled and nodded. "You saw Daphne become visibly distressed when you gave me a gift at the Cup and later when I helped you into that carriage. From that, you inferred that Daphne has a bit of a crush on me and she was unhappy that you'd drawn my attention."

"… Go on."

"In point of fact, Ginny … it's exactly the opposite!"

Ginny's brow furrowed in confusion as she tried to figure out what Harry meant. Then, she actually did figure it out … and blushed brighter than before.

(Harry, George & Fred)

At the stroke of nine, Harry stepped into Room 227 to find the Weasley Twins already waiting for him. They seemed more relaxed than during the earlier encounter, but there was still tension in the air. As soon as the door closed, both Twins started putting up various anti-eavesdropping Charms, and they invited Harry to do the same. Bemused, he complied and added some of the special wards from the book of secret charms Lucius had pointed out in the Lair.

"Okay, before we get to the big stuff," George began, "we need to know: Do you plan to enter the Triwizard Tournament? You know, since you're legally an adult and all?"

Harry was surprised. "Certainly not. And the Goblet would never pick a Fourth Year anyway!"

"Okay, then. If you're not officially entering, do you have any plans to secretly enter your name? You know, just to see if you can do it?"

The Slytherin looked back and forth between the Twins in confusion. "Why would I even bother if I don't think there's a chance I'd be picked?"

Fred grinned. "Because there's going to be a betting pool, of course! You might not be experienced enough to get picked, but we both reckon a sneaky snake like you could beat Dumbledore's age line if you put your sneaky snake mind to it. If you do decide to put your name in, please let us know because we'd like to put a few galleons on you."

"By a few," George added. "We're thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty or so."

As the Twins went on to explain, Lee Jordan was in charge of this "betting pool," which had payouts based on who correctly picked the Hogwarts Champion and smaller payouts for whoever correctly guessed the most underage students who successfully got their names into the Goblet. Harry looked at them both in consternation.

"Setting aside the fact that every bit of this is already against school rules, isn't it cheating for you to ask me if I'm planning to enter my name?"

They both laughed. "Harry, half of Gryffindor has already announced their plans to try and enter their names. Jim denied it when we asked him, but he was looking really shifty about it, and Ron's pissed off at him for no apparent reason. So we both reckon he's got some scheme to enter his name, but he doesn't want anyone to know what it is."

Harry shook his head. "The idiot. Surely he can't be so arrogant as to think he'd get picked over NEWTs level students?!"

George shrugged. "Even if he gets his name in, there's no way he can get picked at all unless either his mum or dad signed his entry form. If you're not a legal adult, a parent's signature has to be on the paper as well as the student's."

"Well," Fred added, "unless some weird Boy-Who-Lived thing happens. We reckon that's what he's counting on. But the odds of him getting picked as Champion are only 20-1 at the moment. You're actually a much better bet at 10-1."

Harry was dumbstruck. "People are actually putting odds on me to be the Hogwarts Champion?!"

"Well, not great odds, but you are a dueling champion," George said. "And you're kind of a weird case because you might enter legally as an adult and either get picked or not, you might try to enter illegally just to see if you can do it now that you know about the betting pool—and get picked or not—or you might decide to just stay the hell away from it. Anyway, there's people with much better odds of actually getting picked than you even if you do enter. Right now, Fred and me are both running at 6-1, Angelina Johnson is 4-1, Adrian Pucey is 3-2, and Cedric Diggory is even money."

"Yeah," Fred added. "Right now, the smart money's on King Puff."

"King … Puff? Do people actually call Diggory that?"

"In Gryffindor they do. That or Sky Badger."

Harry filed that away for later consideration. "Wait a minute. You're both running 6-1? How? There's no way your parents would consent to you entering!"

"Yeah, but the oddsmakers don't believe it. Everyone's convinced that if either of us got picked, we already have some scheme in place to get parental consent."

"The funniest thing," Fred said with a laugh, "is that Luna Lovegood put a galleon down on both of us getting picked. She said she figures that because we're twins, whatever we do to get past the Age Line will end up confusing the Goblet so that it spits out both our names as a single competitor. Jordan gave her 100-1 odds."

Harry narrowed his eyes. "And are you working on a plan to get both your names entered in such a way that you both get picked?"

"Honestly, Harrikins," George replied. "We're still working on a plan to just get either of our names in, let alone some kind of joint entry."

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose for a few seconds at the absurdity of this whole Triwizard Tournament business. He was sure it would end in tears, and he only hoped they wouldn't be his own.

"Okay, right now, I have no plans to try to enter my name, legally or illegally. If that changes, I promise to let you know. Now, can we get to the real reason for this meeting? Namely, the Elder Futhark Potion that George here is treating like it's some kind of state secret?"

Fred and George looked at one another, now suddenly serious. George nodded for Fred to take the lead.

"That's because it sort of is a state secret. Or the closest thing to it, anyway. The summer after our Second Year, we didn't want to take Ancient Runes because we thought the class would be too hard. But we also knew that we needed to know something about runes for the kind of magic we wanted to work. Some of it could be done with potions, but magical joke items mean enchanted items, and you need runes for that."

"At around that same time," George picked up, "Bill had just started as a curse-breaker for Gringotts. And even though he'd taken the Elder Futhark potion back in his third year, Gringotts made him take their version of the potion."

"And," Fred continued, "being precocious little shits with more ambition than sense, we snuck into his room, nicked the formula for the potion—plus a lock of Bill's hair while he was asleep—and brewed it ourselves."

Harry's eyes widened in surprise. "After just two years of Potions, you were able to brew something as advanced as an educational potion? And not just that, but a specialized one designed for Gringotts curse-breakers?!"

Fred shrugged. "It's not quite as impressive as it sounds, Harry. I mean, do you know how educational potions really work?"

"Broadly speaking. I know you drink one, and it fills your head with knowledge about a particular topic."

Fred shook his head. "That's what they do. I'm talking about how they work. You see, when you start talking about a particular educational potion, there are actually two potions involved: one for the expert who's providing the knowledge and another for everyone else who wants to gain that knowledge. The first potion is the one that's insanely hard to make, mainly because of a few very particular requirements. Most notably, you need an eyeball from the person who's donating the knowledge for the potion!"

Harry blanched at that ghastly detail, while George continued.

"And not only that, the process also permanently strips the expert of all their accumulated knowledge about the subject of the potion! We think, well, hope that the people who brew these potions are taking volunteers who are already near death. That or they got paid a lot of money to give up both an eye and all their accumulated knowledge of a field in which they used to be an expert. Anyway, once the first potion is brewed, you feed it back to that same expert—who, by the way, is drinking their own liquified eyeball!—and they instantly forget everything they knew about the subject! But the knowledge instead becomes a part of the donor's physical body!"

"The second potion is actually fairly easy to brew," Fred said. "But one of the ingredients is a single hair from the person who donated the knowledge to be transferred or a hair from anyone who's ever taken that particular potion in the past. In that way, the information contained in the potion is passed down to future drinkers, potentially forever. We reckon that actually explains why these potions so rarely get updated. It must be hard to find someone who's an expert in a field that's willing to pay the personal price for creating a new potion when the older ones are good for most purposes."

Harry nodded. "Unless the potion doesn't require a willing volunteer. In which case, it only requires that someone be a ruthless bastard."

"So let me get this straight," he said aloud. "You found all this out the summer after your Second Year, brewed the second potion for yourselves, and used the hair you stole from your brother Bill, who must have already taken the improved Futhark Potion by that point. And that's how you learned Elder Futhark better than any of Babbling's NEWTs students?"

He turned to Fred. "And why is it only George who's the runes prodigy if you're twins and you both took the potion?"

"We're twins, Harry, not clones. We both took the potion, and I'm not half bad at runes. But George here just took a stronger interest in the subject. Specifically, in the way the runes fit together like puzzle pieces. I'm actually the same way about potions ingredients. But after that summer, we thought it best to specialize a bit, so I focused more on Potions and him on Runes."

"Okay, that makes sense. But why are you both acting so paranoid? Is it just because you technically stole the information from Gringotts and you don't want to get Bill into trouble?"

The twins looked at one another again as if silently communicating.

"There's … a bit more to it than that. The potion gave us the most up-to-date understanding of the Elder Futhark runes in all their settings and major combinations as of 1991. But … we learned something else about Elder Futhark. Something that's … maybe dangerous to know?"

Harry's eyes narrowed as George continued.

"Harry … we both like you. And on one hand, we're both worried about passing forbidden knowledge that might just be some sort of Goblin state secret to you. But, on the other hand …"

Both twins suddenly grinned. "On the other hand, we're both genuinely curious as to what you might end up doing with the information!"

There was silence in the room as Harry absorbed all that. "Fine. I'll swear a secrecy vow. It won't be an absolute one. I reserve the right to share whatever I learn from this if I think I or someone else might be endangered as a result of it. Is that satisfactory?"

The Twins both agreed, and Harry swore the oath.

"Okay, here it is, Harry," George said with an oddly excited expression. "You've been in Ancient Runes for a year now and done pretty good at it. What Elder Futhark runes do you know?"

"All of them," Harry answered easily.

"Are you sure?" Fred asked innocently. Harry frowned.

"Last year, we covered all of the Elder Futhark runes. The twenty-four runes known to Muggles, plus another twelve known only to wizards. Thirty-six in all."

"Thirty-seven," George corrected.

"… What?"

"This is what we learned from the Gringotts potion that kinda scared the willies off of us both once we understood the significance of it. There is a 37th rune that is not in any of the Ancient Runes textbooks and that Professor Babbling has never addressed or even hinted at in class. Unlike all the other runes, it only has a standard setting and none of the others and only one meaning we know of. I have never seen a rune scheme incorporating it and have never been able to figure out how to use it. Though to be honest, I've kind of been afraid to try."

Harry swallowed. "So what is this mystery rune?"

George pulled out his wand, and with two flicks of his wrist, he wrote a flaming letter in the air. Harry was suddenly reminded of his earlier confusion about two runes, the inverted Uruz and the widdershins Kaunan, both of which just looked like a badly-drawn letter-V. Hanging in the air before him now was a perfectly rendered letter-V.

"It's called Vohldo, Harry," George said almost reverently. "And it just means … Wild."

Next: Return to the Chamber of Secrets. Also, Ted Tonks gets an unexpected counseling patient.

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 (all on AO3):

The Double-Blind Fix-It by sandeep777. A time-travel fix-it in which an intensely bitter Slytherin Harry is sent back in time to redo his school days and is furious about it.

The Heir to the House of Prince by Ada_Lovelaced and elph13. In the summer before Fifth Year, Harry learns he's adopted and is actually the Heir to the House of Prince. Meanwhile, Snape, Lord of the House of Prince, learns he has an unidentified Heir. Things get even more complicated from there. Harry/Theo. Snape/Lupin. Some degree Dumbledore and Sirius bashing. Yet somehow, I really like it.

Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times by Serena_Sers. Year 3 of A wizard in the family. Dudley is a wizard and a Gryffindor. Harry is a Slytherin, as is his best friend, James Black, son of the man who betrayed the Potters and who has just escaped from Azkaban.

AN3: "Rubeus Hagrid, a Hogwarts Gentleman" is from Lessons With Hagrid by NothingPretentions here on ff.n. "King Puff" and "Sky Badger" are nicknames for Cedric Diggory in My Life as a Background Slytherin.

AN4: Special shout-out to all my Discord editors: _Paryanoia, Aelia Aeldyne, cheesecakeowl, Duuude!, EssayOfThoughts | Aich, Idefix, justanotherrandomhuman, kean, Krisni, Leonidas Jesus, PrettyPinkCupcake, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, and Snarky guys!

AN5: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 17,658. Followers: 19,180. Favorites: 17,451. Communities: 249. Discord followers: 5,047! Go Team POS!