Author note: Thanks to all the people who reviewed this story or marked it as a favorite. Your opinions are always welcome.
Thanks to Narsil for betaing this chapter.
Kuriboh1233: there will be more explanation on Ginny's situation (and nature) in this chapter. I see your points about 'history over and over' and Hermione.
Zakath1: well, I won't comment on what various factions are scheming, though this chapter will give you some answers. What I will say is that Ginny will indeed provide a Yokai Academy PoV.
Suzululu4moe: Ginny going to jail would have been a possibility but once I took the decision of Harry calling on Mikogami, it became invalid. Tenmei was not about to let an asset such as Ginny rot in prison.
Nomad-117: the process used by Voldemort to transfer himself is indeed similar to the one Khany used, putting a soul in a clone. Regarding Lockhart, I see him as a successful con man. He was competent enough at making people believe his lies, but overestimated his own capacity to fake acts matching what his public persona should be capable of, particularly when facing hardened veterans like Snape in the Dueling club attempt. McGonagall point of view regarding the life transfer spell comes from the fact that she first sees the intent of the spell's creator: to kill and steal life. She doesn't see it as a neutral 'tool' that can be used for good or evil. Mikogami gave her quite a few things to think about with this.
See Chapter 1
Sirius felt again like that time when James' mother found the two of them doing something monumentally stupid and glared them into silence and contrition. Well, he had been twelve then and Ageha did not look at him the same way, but it was just as awkward. She had just hinted that now was the perfect occasion to do something they had agreed upon during the war. It was just that this was a really delicate matter and… he saw his wife's left eyebrow twitch.
"Fear is the mind-killer," he said while passing a hand through his hair. "I saw him go down to the dungeons, so he must be back in his rooms. I'll go now."
"Good," she replied as she opened her purse and retrieved a paper bag from the expanded space within.
"18 years old Talisker… that should help," he said as he looked inside the bag. "What would I do without you?"
"Don't thank me yet. Gozu said he wanted to resume your hand-to-hand training."
He briefly hesitated to wince but instead found himself grinning. He really needed to get back in shape after sitting for so long in prison and the minotaur was a very good friend. He had been his 'Aniki', his 'big brother' when he joined Ageha's organization… he suddenly sniffed a little as his nose registered a peculiar smell. It was very faint, far below the ability of a human to sense it, but he was a little special in that area. His enhanced earing caught other signs and he blinked toward his wife in a peculiar way that she caught immediately, blinking back in their code.
"You can come out, Harry," he said.
"How did you know?" asked Harry as he removed the Invisibility Cloak, revealing him and Neville.
"I used that cloak several times with James when I was here in Hogwarts," he replied with a smile. "I know its limitations… and I have good ears. So! What made you two decide to get out of Gryffindor tower?"
"This is my fault," said Neville. "I asked Harry to help me to see you before you left Hogwarts. Lady Black, I… I want to ask you a favor. It's about my parents. The Death Eaters… I have seen what you did for Parvati and for Ginny… can you do something for them?"
He was interrupted as Ageha put a hand on his shoulder and crouched to put herself at eye level with the boy.
"Your parents are my friends, Neville. Sadly, your grandmother did not know about it and she did not allow me to try to help them."
"For some people in this country, I'm just a dark creature, not a person and my place should be among the beasts, far below the one of the wizards. Those people spread their lies for so long that many decent people believe them, people like your grandmother. One of the lies they told is that wizard magic is necessarily superior to anything we Fae could come up with. The Healers in St. Mungo are firm believers of that one and they're convinced that I wouldn't be able to do anything."
"That's barmy! One of the basic principles of Herbology is to find the right plant for the right task. Your people are mind magic specialists, able to connect directly with a person's soul… how can they not see that we wizards just can't compete with you, because we lack your specialized organs?"
"It's not that they don't see," replied Sirius. "It's that they don't want to see, because it wouldn't fit with how they think the world should be, reality be damned. Neville, I will go talk to Augusta as soon as I can arrange it. Write her a letter and tell her to check the diaries of Aloysius Longbottom. He was one of your ancestors from the sixteenth century with an interest in Magizoology. I remember that Frank told me that he made quite a few interesting remarks about the 'specialist versus generalist' problem when comparing Magical Beings, for example succubae and wizards."
"I will, thank you, Sir," replied Neville.
"Your parents are my friends too… and now, I have another old problem to fix. A-Chan?"
"I will make sure those two go back to the Gryffindor tower, now scoot," replied Ageha with a smile.
"Black?" said Snape as he opened his office's door.
Sirius was standing there, holding a small paper bag. Snape briefly thought about slamming the door on his nose. He had not forgotten the incidents of their common school time and the role Sirius Black played in them. He put the thought in the back of his mind. Today had revealed quite a few interesting things about this man that he was eager to know more about.
"First, no prank. You have my word, Snape-sensei," said Sirius with a bow. "I came to apologize."
Snape's left eyebrow twitched. He had to be dreaming or maybe some of the fumes of his last brewing… his iron mental discipline crushed that delusion in mere seconds. Something had changed and with Sirius Black using Japanese honorifics, he had an idea of who was responsible for that change.
"I think it's better if we do this inside," replied Severus as he let him in his office and closed the door behind them. "There are still a few students in the castle."
"Yes," replied Sirius as he got a bottle out of the bag and set it on his desk.
Snape gave a quick glance to the bottle. He was far from being an expert on Muggle scotch whisky, but he remembered McGonagall saying something about a distillery called Talisker in a moment of Scottish pride and the 18 years old mention on the bottle was a good omen.
"Not sake?" he asked with a little smile.
"Sake… needs some training. Listen, I want to apologize for the things I did while I was a student here. It was mean and stupid. In particular, I apologize for the day I lured you in the secret passage under the Whomping Willow. I know now that if James and I had not been such insufferable prats… a lot of things would have happened differently."
Snape looked at him. Sirius Black was bowing again. Bowing to him. There was a part of him that wanted to take advantage of that moment, to humiliate Black so thoroughly… the fleeting image of a woman rushing through his memories banished the thought. Lily would not like it, not when Sirius Black was finally acting like an adult and owning his faults.
He went to a cupboard and took out two glasses. He poured some of Black's whisky in them and handed him a glass, then went to sit in his chair while Sirius did the same in the one in front of the desk.
"One question: how much did your wife have to push you for that?"
"A lot, but years ago… and a little recently, but it was just the matter of pushing me to take advantage of the occasion rather than wait for summer. Before that… there just never was an occasion before, with you being… officially on the other side then. I intended to if a battle gave me the occasion however…"
Snape looked at him silently for a few seconds, taken aback by the statement. Sirius would have apologized to an enemy… Severus knew that it was not a matter of being soft-hearted. Some of the members of the Order of the Phoenix had told him how ruthless Black could be and why they had little difficulty believing he had gone 'dark'. No, it was a matter of doing the honorable thing.
"How did you meet her?" he asked, curious about the woman who could trigger such a transformation.
"One Friday night during the war, Lily decided that we needed to unwind, and she roped James, Frank, Alice and me into going to a Muggle nightclub and dance. Just buying the right clothes so that we could fit in was a big moment of fun. After that… chance, fate, who knows? The club we went to was Ageha's first one… and Serena Dolohov decided to crash the party."
"Antonin always wondered what happened to his cousin," replied Snape after savoring a swig of single malt, remembering discussions with that particular Death Eater.
"I spotted her as she was rather badly trying to fit in. She feared breaking the Statute enough not to attack directly in that place. Little did we know that Ageha's people had been keeping an eye on us and on her too. When she went outside, maybe to call in for reinforcements, I followed and discovered that Ageha and her bouncers had already neutralized her. Ageha told me that it was just normal, that protecting her customers was part of the job. I was smitten and I came again to the club to see her. As I was without a job, I also accepted when she asked me to join her organization."
Snape nodded. The reason why Black became more ruthless was clear now. He had indeed been influenced by an external force, but it hadn't been the Dark Lord. It had been the Fae organization he joined.
An organization that has likely no problem killing wizards and getting rid of the bodies, as Serena Dolohov was never seen again…
"Severus, I know we'll never be friends, but I would like your help with something. I want Harry to come live with Ageha and me. I know that Dumbledore is not going to like the idea."
Snape looked at Black. A few hours ago, he had witnessed something completely unexpected: Potter not behaving like an immature brat, but instead showing cunning. From some things he had observed, he thought that the Baron was at least in part responsible for that. This had forced the Potion Master to reconsider his opinion of Potter in the old 'nature versus nurture' light.
"Will you tell him what his father and you did when in Hogwarts? That you bullied people?" he asked, looking at Sirius straight in the eyes.
"Perhaps not in those words, but I will definitely tell him I was an idiot who didn't care about the consequences of his acts but just about how 'fun' they sounded. I will do it to make sure that he can compare my version of those events with other ones he could hear. I will make sure that he understands that one must take responsibility for his mistakes and learn from them. And you, will you stop treating him as if he was James?" replied Sirius, knowing all too well why Snape had such a problem with Harry Potter.
Snape started to think. It was true that Dumbledore would not like it, but the traditionalists in the Wizengamot would take the 'godfather's duty' point very seriously if things went public and there was the matter of Dumbledore using some legal tricks to seal the Potters' will, which was against tradition too. A possibility could be for Albus to play with public opinion. He could claim that with Sirius' wife being a succubus, it wouldn't be a morally sound environment…
But if he does that, he will both lose political capital with the neutral Wizengamot Houses by showing that he's ready to meddle in their internal affairs and alienate the Blacks. The latter point will make things a lot more difficult in any negotiation with the Fae, which I don't think he can afford right now. The Dark Lord being back will actually help Sirius, by making things more pressing.
"He had reasons to put him with those Muggles. Specialized wards relying on Lily's blood."
"They did not protect Harry from being abused by his relatives. You of all people should know how it is to live with magic-hating Muggles," replied Sirius with a snort.
Snape clutched his chair's armrest, his knuckles blanching as he fought to not let his control slip. Yes, he remembered his Muggle father and how he treated his mother and himself when he was a child. He also remembered how a neighbor called Lily Evans had often been his ray of sunshine in those dark days. He poured himself another whisky glass and made the amber liquid swirl, looking at the candlelight's reflections play on it. Sirius was waiting for a reply.
"You have a point," he finally replied. "I promise you to judge Harry on his own merits and to not see him as James'… image. I will also remind Albus of some points he may have forgotten while paying too much attention to the big picture. In exchange, I want you and your wife to promise me you'll make sure Harry does not become like his father… was when we were here."
"Agreed. Severus, I know that my marriage with Ageha will raise some eyebrows among the old coots once they understand that she's a succubus. They cannot attack it frontally because I'm within my rights as the clan chief and there are precedents, even if the most well-known current ones like the Delacours are on the other side of the Channel. But they will keep us under scrutiny, look for missteps. I will make sure that Harry understands that our happiness is something we have to work for. Things like that incident with the flying car is not something we can afford… at least not without a hell of a good reason."
"I see we understand each other. One last question: you said that Miss Weasley is a dragon Animagus. Is that the truth?"
"An unlikely possibility at best. You know as well as I do that Animagi are still fundamentally wizards and witches. They just acquired a new trick, though it can have some minor consequences while in human shape. What happened to the kid is different. Her essence was rewritten when she swallowed that pearl. How much? I'm not sure and Mikogami will have to do some testing. It could very well be that Ginny is now the first dragon with full human intelligence and sorcerous powers, including the ability to take a human shape. Telling that to Molly would not have gone well. As for the Ministry…"
"Even worse. Sending her to Japan indeed seems to be the safest."
Albus Dumbledore felt like he desperately needed a vacation as he prepared for his meeting with Sirius on Tuesday morning. Once he had dealt with that, he would think about resigning as Supreme Mugwump. With the way the various magical factions were moving now, the posting needed someone who could devote all of his time to it and had the means to gather a skilled team of diplomats to assist him. Thankfully, the affairs he had to arbitrate recently allowed him to make some useful contacts and opened possibilities for successors he could sponsor.
The easy way would be to let the Incas handle it, but I am ignorant of too many things about their plans…
His thoughts went back to the events in Hogwarts. Minerva and Severus had managed to reach him the evening before and told him how the crisis was resolved with Mikogami's help. Their messages had been full of surprises, some of which would be very useful this morning, like the true nature of Ageha Black.
"12 Grimmauld Place!" he said while throwing a bit of Floo powder into the fire.
The flames of his office's fireplace turned green and he stepped forward. He was a little startled as he emerged on the other side. He was in a bare room with concrete walls and a floor covered with a metallic grate. The only door was heavy and metallic… he felt the wards brush his mind. Without Minerva's warning, he would likely not have been as alert in maintaining his Occlumency shields and not have noticed it.
Fascinating… so little is known about succubus Dream Magic. It feels more like a living mind permeating the whole… maybe some kind of bound spirit.
The armored door in front of him opened, revealing a House Elf. Albus knew what it meant. If Sirius had wanted to keep things informal, he would have come greet him in person. The clothes the elf was wearing were a little surprising… but he could quickly guess the reasoning behind it as he remembered Godric Gryffindor mentioning something about 'elves wearing their master's livery, so that one knew which House they belonged to' in an old chronicle. He filed the thought. This was maybe something he would be able to apply to the Hogwarts elves, though it would likely need some convincing.
"Welcome to the Black House, Sir," said the elf. "Kreacher's masters are waiting for you."
"Thank you, my good elf. Please lead me to them."
He saw that the elf gauged him for a second. Again, the whys were evident, to the headmaster. The elf was old and likely to have served the previous owners of this house as well. He was likely used to Pureblood wizards treating him like dirt.
As he followed Kreacher through the house, he took a few mental notes. First, was the 'Floo room'. Setting the Floo-connected fireplace in a separate room was a common practice in Pureblood houses that had the space for it. In this case, it was set in the basement. Albus was betting that there were several nasty surprises that awaited intruders coming this way.
As he reached the ground floor, he could not help but have a little smile. He also remembered a visit in this house some decades ago and how he thought it to be a dreadful place. The person who remodeled the Black House changed a lot of things. He knew some Wizengamot members who would be horrified at how 'Muggle' the place now looked but it wasn't what interested him. He had traveled enough in his long life to see many architectural styles and trends in interior design.
Yes, Sirius hated the place. His wife likely decided to change it so thoroughly both as a 'two-fingers salute' to the traditional Blacks and to please her husband when he came back.
Had he still believed that Ageha was a Muggle, he would actually have been a lot more alert. As a Muggle, there would be no way that Sirius' wife could have accessed the house and remodeled it, which would have led him to wonder about puppet masters. This would likely have made the discussion that was about to start much more difficult. Now that he knew that she was a succubus and linked to Mikogami, he could fill enough of the holes to feel a bit more comfortable.
He appreciated the art pieces he passed, thinking about what they revealed of their owner's personality. He particularly noticed how expertly they were placed so that the light made subtle plays with their shape and colors.
Ageha Black does not seem to be a woman leaving much to chance… which fits with what Severus told me about her leading a Fae organization.
He was led to a comfortable sitting room whose main piece seemed to be the Black Family tapestry. He noted with interest the changed motto, which likely reflected the new nature of the House of Black. He didn't want to be caught looking too intently at it, but a detail caught his interest: the name of Alphard Black had been restored while a nearby one that he remembered being a 'proper' Black was marked as banished.
Sirius and Ageha were already there. Sirius was wearing formal black dress robes, the kind a Noble House Lord would wear for business appointments. Ageha had opted for a backless, floor-length dark red dress and wore gold bracers with Babylonian motifs. While it would have been scandalous on a witch, the backless part was fine – as per European wizarding fashion rules – on a succubus because of the wings and tail. Now that he thought about it, he actually remembered some drawings of the succubus companion of an Elizabethan wizard wearing a similar dress. Dumbledore also knew that the clothes were a statement: they were ready to play by the rules…
…or at least to use them to their advantage. Caution is needed.
"Lord and Lady Black," he said, deciding to stay formal for now.
"Professor Dumbledore," replied Sirius while Ageha gave him a short bow.
"I would like to thank you both for the assistance you provided in resolving the recent events."
The Blacks sat on the couch while Dumbledore took an armchair in front of them.
"We were just lucky to be there when the Headmaster received Harry's message," replied Ageha. "Did you already meet him?"
"I didn't have the time yet. My first priority this morning has been to meet Amelia Bones and get Hagrid out of Azkaban."
"That's good. I'll go see him to give him a few tricks to shake the Dementors' influence faster… what's the official version?" asked Sirius.
"Almost the truth. A cursed artefact left by Voldemort was the reason behind all this. We'll hint at Lockhart having played a role in this until things backfired very badly for him. We'll let the public decide which role."
"And given the things the Baron told me about how Lockhart stole his fame, it won't be a good one once the DMLE starts to disclose their findings," added Sirius. "Concerning 'Tom'?"
"We'll keep that secret for now. Had he come back in… his public guise, I would have disclosed it, but there are too many unknowns right now, like how this version of Voldemort and the undead one who visited Hogwarts last year will interact. What will the Fae do about his return?" asked Dumbledore as he looked at Ageha.
"None of the clans in the Alliance will join him, but we will not side with the Ministry either. Too many of us have been wronged too many times by the wizards to care about what happens to your society. In fact, several clan leaders think that it is time to declare our independence. If you want our help, you will need to treat us as an allied nation, not as a part of Wizarding Britain."
Dumbledore nodded. He had feared something like this for long and confirmed it during his stay in Istanbul the week before. Discussions he had with some of the diplomats there showed that the wizarding nations in Europe were facing similar problems as the ones Muggle Europe had with decolonization. Britain was in a particularly bad place in this area, something confirmed by both Snape and Moody's sources. In the Wizengamot, Voldemort's influence effectively silenced the moderates who could have allowed the necessary reforms to pass. Even after the war… things had looked too fragile to rock the boat and people had preferred to come back to a comfortable status quo ante.
"I suppose that if the Ministry tried to force the Fae clans, it will be war?"
"Yes. We're prepared for it. We have studied you for decades."
He took the cup of tea Ageha offered him. He knew how bloody the Goblin Rebellions had been and he had little doubt that it would be much worse this time. For centuries the European wizards had taken advantage of the disorganization of the Fae clans, playing 'divide and conquer' very efficiently. Not anymore. Better worldwide communication – likely using Muggle channels that the wizards could not control – allowed the Fae to talk to each other and unite in their contempt of the wizards.
In the end, Tom only managed to get a few supporters there, like Greyback's werewolf pack…
"We can still prevent it," said Sirius. "We need to remind the common wizard that the Fae exist and that they're not dark creatures."
"Definitely," replied Dumbledore, who had reached a decision regarding the main point he had to discuss with the Blacks.
There was just too much at stake for him to be petty about it, particularly after what his early morning trip to Privet Drive revealed. The Dursleys were gone and the house sold, bringing the wards down. He could likely force the issue and have Harry placed with the Weasleys, but it was now clear to him that such a move would mean making Clan Black an enemy. Graciously admitting defeat on that point would on the other hand allow him to obtain some much-needed concessions.
Also, with Tom being back, Harry will need bodyguards, something Sirius is now in a position to provide far more easily than I am…
"I suppose you want Harry to come live with you?" he asked.
"Yes… but my godson is not a pawn," replied Sirius with a frown.
"No, but he is still the Boy-Who-Lived, whether you or even Harry himself wants it or not. Him living here means that the wizarding media will care."
"We will not change our way of life to please some Pureblood elitists," replied Ageha as she put a hand on the arm of her very tense husband. "They are however not our target. Our target are the people who believed their lies for too long. In preparation for this, we are setting up our own newspaper, which will have a mix of news from the magical world – emphasis on world – and the human world. The first issue of the Watchman will go out in May."
"A good idea. I can make sure that you have the necessary license. Cornelius may decide to revoke it later, but he will be slow to react, and we can work the Wizengamot in the meantime," he replied as he thought that Mikogami definitely trained her very well.
"There is another thing," said Sirius. "I think that having some Fae kids in Hogwarts will help."
"I agree on principle," replied Dumbledore. "The Board of Governors… actually, Lucius' recent antics to get me out of Hogwarts will likely make them more amenable to that idea. The wand ban is a problem though."
"Finch and Blackrose studied that law and came up with a solution, actually," replied Ageha. "There are some old, fine points in that law and how it intersects with the Hogwarts charter that we can take advantage of, while we work to repeal it fully."
Dumbledore could not help but smile. Dealing openly with the Fae would be a decidedly refreshing change.
Hong Kong, 16 Apr 2003
Dear Harry, Ron and Neville,
Grandfather told me about the things that happened on the 14th of April. First... I am happy that everybody is alive and well. Please thank Sir Peter for me and tell him that I owe him a debt of honor. As for Him, we will discuss more about it once I am back. I have to agree with Grandfather on this, He will need time.
He also told me that he would bring Ginny to the Yokai Academy after the Easter weekend. I'll arrange to go see her there during May or June, but I don't know when yet. Grandfather insisted that I give her some time to find her feet. She will probably have a lot to adapt to and Grandfather told me that he had a person in mind to be her senpai (that's a Japanese word for an older schoolmate who's helping you).
I will be back in England at some point during June. We will have to set up a catch-up party during summer. It will be a lot easier as my family is moving to Ottery St. Catchpole. We need a more magical house now, so we bought the old manor next to the Lovegoods. It's currently being refurbished, and it should be ready for us to move in when we're back.
Take care and see you soon,
Ginny was putting the contents of her trunk in the room's wardrobe, cupboards and on the shelves. The Yokai Academy dorms were very different from the ones in Hogwarts, but she rather liked them. Instead of a bed in a common room with other girls like in the Gryffindor tower, it was a small one-room flat with its own bathroom and a kitchen corner. It was also very Muggle in her opinion, something she would have to adapt to.
The appliances were not complicated to use and there were explanation leaflets everywhere, often using schemas. From her point of view, it made good sense as the Headmaster had told her that Yokai Academy was mostly aimed at helping magical Beings to fit into the Muggle world.
Not Muggle, human. Better to get used to that way of thinking. It's not like I can say that I'm human anyway,
She could not deny that, at times, she felt more dragon than human, as if that human appearance was just a disguise she donned. The Dragon Pearl had really done a number on her, burning her nascent 'general' shapeshifting abilities to change them into something more specific. From the quick test she had done before leaving Hogwarts, she was stuck with her dragon form, her human form and hybrid stages in-between. Also, her human form had some problems. Its senses, while inferior to the ones of her hybrid and dragon forms, remained a lot sharper than they used to be… before all that. Her sense of smell was the one she noticed the most as it was now probably on par with the one of a dog.
It was not the thing most people would notice, however. What her family surely hadn't missed were the consequences of a little bit of shapeshifting she did a short while before swallowing the Pearl. She had then morphed to look slightly older – she had aimed at roughly fourteen years old – because it would be the first time Tom would see her. When the Pearl reshaped her, it integrated this factor and she could not morph back into her original age.
I'll manage… I'm getting competent help now.
She looked at her left forearm and the chain wrapped around it. It was a Holy Lock, a gift from the Yokai Academy Headmaster that would prevent her from 'dragoning out' by mistake, at least until they could be sure that she was mastering her abilities well enough. The Headmaster was preparing tests for her and told her he had a place where she would be able to fly without causing a problem for the Statute.
She sighed as she went to lay on her bed, looking at the ceiling. Saying goodbye to her family had been very awkward and, even if she knew that she would miss them, she was glad to be here. The Yokai Academy offered her a chance to start over and she intended to take full advantage of it.
"Coming!" she said, rising from her bed as she heard a knock on her door.
She went to open the door. A petite teenage girl who did not look much older than her was standing in the hall. She was holding a sketch pad where the words "Hello. I'm San Otonashi, but please call me San. I'm in high school and the Headmaster asked me to show you around." were written.
Ginny briefly wondered if it was some kind of prank, but… no. The Headmaster had told her about someone called a 'senpai' who would help her settling in. She had been a little too overwhelmed by the sights at the time to ask questions, but she was now putting the pieces together. San had to be that 'senpai', an older student who knew the place.
Makes sense. In Hogwarts, the Head of House would have told one of the prefects to help a transfer student like me… The sketchpad is a little weird, but why not…
"Hello, San, I'm Ginny," she said, trying to be as cheerful as she could. "The Headmaster told me I would need some more clothes," she said while pointing the wizard robes she was wearing. "Do you know where I can find some?"
San replied with a smiling nod and Ginny briefly went inside to get her brand-new wallet and her wand. Her scholarship included something called 'settling funds' and the Headmaster had told her that it was this way because the ayashi benefitting from it often came from places that didn't use human money.
"You know it's funny… humans are using paper for money and it's so easy to duplicate with a Doubling charm."
San seemed thoughtful for an instant and then Ginny noticed that the ink on her sketchpad was reorganizing in new words, probably using a variant of the charms on a Self-Writing Quill. It now said "I don't know much about sorcery, but money is a complicated item. Lots of special ingredients in the paper and the ink. Also, each banknote has a unique identification number."
Ginny nodded. Again, it made sense. Even without magic, the humans had to find a way to prevent someone from making duplicates. A unique identification number meant that the Doubling Charm was useless as two banknotes with the same number meant that one was fake. The special ingredients also complicated the matter as copies created by charm were improper for things such as potion-making, as Tom taught her. In the end she was thinking that the copies would probably pass casual inspection, like how some people ended up fooled by Leprechaun gold in the wizarding world, but no more.
Not that I intend to try it… I promised Nodens I would be a good girl…
A few hours later, Ginny was smiling as she put the clothes she bought in her wardrobe, including some things that she knew that her Mum would disapprove of but were perfectly fine by the standards of modern, human Japan. San had showed her a thrift store in the Arcade – the Academy's shopping district – where she could get nice things for cheap. This had helped Ginny not to feel guilty when spending her yens.
She had also learnt a few things about her new senpai. San was an orphan and had lived most of her life on the Academy campus, first at the Yokai orphanage and then at the various schools, which was why she knew the place like the back of her hand. She had just started her second year of high school – Ginny had also learnt that the calendar was different here, with the school year starting in April, and a separation in three years of middle school and three years of high school rather than the 5 OWL years and the 2 NEWT years from Hogwarts – and she was the president of the Yokai Academy Journalism Club. San had introduced her to the members, and they all seemed to be nice people.
And also, San-senpai can talk… but it's barely a whisper. I wonder why… maybe it's related to the kind of magical creature she is.
She took out some paper and her brand-new pen. She really liked how the item had its own ink reserve and she made a note to get one for her Dad. Right now, she had a few letters to write. She had a little smile as she thought that she was going to like it here.
"Sedpek!" said Hermione as she pointed the Rod, now in staff mode, on a nearby bus.
A small, orange ball of light exited the tip of her staff and rushed toward its target. She twisted her grip a little bit and the ball's trajectory adjusted to strike the vehicle on the side, violently exploding in flames that covered a zone roughly twenty feet in radius. The flames then continued to burn, covering everything they touched like napalm. The Mirror Dimension was decidedly very practical when she needed to train on flashy stuff.
Can't wait to tell Dad I can cast fireballs now, she thought with a smile.
Not that she intended to use that spell unless she really needed it, of course, but she had needed a month to get it right. The spell was not that complicated, but Lemurian battle magic relied on different methods than either European wizardry or the Taoist-influenced sorcery Touhou Fuhai was teaching her. After peering on Khany's books without too much success, she had decided to call on the ultimate fire specialist to help her with this one.
"What do you think, Anael?"
"It's fine for now, Mistress Blackstaff, but we will have to check how you can use it in a combat situation," replied the elemental. "What do you think the main problem will be?"
"Targeting the right area," she replied, thinking about how easy it would be to be caught in her own flames if she miscalculated the distance.
"Correct. This spell was originally designed for the open battlefield and fights against regenerators. If you have a doubt about space, Fire Arrows will be less risky."
She nodded as she took some bottled water out of the expanded spaced in one of her utility belt's pockets. The belt was a gift from her Dad, something Mandjet Industries' magical R&D department – now led by a Gorgon called Akira Ishigami – developed for the company's security forces.
Harry and Moka should be able to master it without problem. Ron… will need more work, but it's mostly a matter of making him stay serious about it. The spell is not too youki-intensive, no more than a Bombarda. Compared to that one, you don't risk sending shrapnel everywhere… but you have the incendiary aspect to consider.
One thing Hermione had quickly understood was that Lemurian battle magic had been designed by the Fomorians for their own usage, and during a time without a Statute of Secrecy. Amusingly, they often managed to be less 'dark' than wizard battle magic. Wizards often resorted to curses, which meant having a very specific intent about your victim, like how the Cruciatus relied on sadistic thoughts. On the other hand, Lemurian battle magic was based on elemental manipulation. It was flashy, it was incredibly destructive, but it didn't care about intent, just as fire didn't care what it burnt.
Then came the 'for their own usage' factor. Hermione remembered very well how she had to relearn casting after her transformation, how she often put too much power into things like a simple Cutting charm. The fireball she had used was considered a low power spell, something to use in squad-level combat. She could cast dozens of them before she started to get noticeably tired. The battle magic book she had read had spells that would exhaust her… and kill any wizard attempting to cast them.
If they cast it alone… one of the great strengths of Lemurian magic is its ordered, systematic nature. The rituals allowing for group casting or using sacrifices as a power source will work on all of them. My ancestors used that technique during the war to create city-razing effects and wizards could reach the same results by pouring more resources into the ritual…
She had read about battle spells doing things like calling down the lightning or provoking a rain of fire and brimstone… and then there was Kraken magic. As an original Starstone people, they had similar magical capabilities to the ones of the Fomorians. Their magic was too alien to be easily learnt by land-dwelling creatures, but the Fomorians had observed its effects many times and they had been mentioned in the book on battle magic for a reason: At its most destructive, Kraken magic could create typhoons and tsunamis.
"You look thoughtful," said Anael.
"Just wondering what will happen when the Krakens decide to do something about what the humans are doing to the oceans."
"They did not intervene during the Maighe Tuireadh War… they only accepted some refugees, changing them into Merpeople so that they could live in the deep. But it is true that what's happening is different. Do you want me to ask Suriel to gather some intelligence on the matter?"
"Yes, please," she replied as she started to use water charms to extinguish the fire.
"It will be done, Mistress Blackstaff," replied the elemental with a bow.
Hermione looked at her watch as she saw Moka coming down the deserted street, likely homing on the smoke. It would soon be time for their common lesson with Touhou Fuhai. Hermione could not help but smile as she remembered the party they had for her adopted sister's fourteenth birthday a few days before. It had been a rather boisterous affair, with Feihong taking care of the organization… at least until Tiantian put her foot down.
"Hi, Mina-chan! I see you had some early morning fun," said Moka with a smile.
"Hi, Moka-chan! Have you seen Fangfang?"
"Yes, but he was delayed by one of the retainers. It seems that there is a group of visitors who just arrived… by the way, there was a postcard from Khany in the mail," she replied, showing Hermione a card with a picture of a crocodile. "She's in Australia, near a city called Darwin."
Hermione had a little smile. It had been a month since Khany got her new body and she had decided to travel a bit. She told them that she needed to feel connected again with the world.
"Yes, she told me about it. The old family lands are in the area and Khany made sure to buy them through a proxy when the area was colonized. She likely went to see how her tenants are doing with the farm… looks like Fangfang is here," replied Hermione as she saw her cousin's nimble form taking a shortcut by running on the top of a wall and then jumping from roof to roof.
"Sorry to be late, cousins," said Fangfang as he landed near them. "We have around twenty-five guests who just arrived and asked to see 'Las Maestras, vástagos de Aztlán', which Great-Grandfather says means Hermione and her Mum. They said they wanted to pay homage to them. Father is with them now."
Pay homage? Didn't they mean resp… no, they mean it in the medieval sense. Mum is busy in Nepal, scouting for her Everest thing… so it has to be me.
"As my mother is absent, I will receive them," replied Hermione with a firm nod. "Thank you for warning me, cousin."
"No big deal," replied the young Danaean.
Hermione had a quick look at herself. She was half-covered in soot and wearing exercise clothes. That wouldn't do. She had no time to go back to her room to change. If she let the Rod take care of her clothing, she would probably end up with something supervillainy… she knew. When she received the belt, she put the shrunk items from her first trip to the Hermitage into its pockets and she was betting that she forgot to… yes it was there. She smiled as she took a few items out of her pocket.
"Anael, I will need a little help and you're savvier with those than I am," she said, holding the shrunk clothes in her hand so that the elemental could see them.
"Of course, Mistress Blackstaff. This dress is an apt choice. It will actually do most of the work itself."
She went behind a wall and quickly stripped before using some cleaning and grooming charms to simulate a shower and shampoo. She then unshrunk the Lemurian dress and jewelry Khany gave her. The enchanted dress immediately reacted to her aura and the black, velvet-like 'fabric' brushed sensuously against her skin. It flowed on its own to dress her, snuggling against her body like a sleeveless, floor-length cheongsam. She once again wondered about the specifics of the form-fitting dress's fabric. Khany had told her that the nearest modern equivalent would be a velvet made from mohair. It was mostly black, but reflected red depending on how the light fell on it.
Then came the ankle-high black leather flap boots. She smiled as she remembered that Khany never understood the human fashion of high heels… though humans would probably never understand the many rules a Fomorian woman had to follow to make sure that her horns looked presentable. Desdemona had been rather tense when Khany filed off some offending bumps from her granddaughter's horns.
She finally considered the jewelry, starry black Fomorian metal forged in jagged angles. The bracers folded themselves around her forearms and she put on a ring with a single ruby that was probably worth more than their old house. Anael put the three-quarter circlet on her head, making sure it held her hair correctly and was set symmetrically around her third eye. She decided to dispense with the necklace and earrings. As nice as they were, they would hamper her if things went badly. She put her finger caps on and concentrated on the Rod, making it take its now customary belt shape, but with a little twist. Its normally green jade bits turned red as it weaved itself around her waist.
"So, what do you think?" she said as she came out from behind the wall while Anael finished packing her workout clothes in the utility belt and handed it to Moka.
"Wow… I mean, you won't go greet them in human shape?" asked Fangfang while Moka nodded appreciatively.
"No… I have a feeling that right now I need to be Princess Blackstaff more than Hermione," she replied as they started to walk back to the portal.
"I suppose that their credentials are all right?" asked Moka. "I doubt that your Dad would entertain them if it wasn't the case."
"Yes, sorry for forgetting to tell you. From what Mr. Zhang said, it looks like they just joined your family's company."
Hermione nodded and they passed back in the physical world after saying goodbye to Anael, as the elemental was not allowed to pass through the wards of the Huang Mansion. They took a roundabout route to reach the main hall, so that she could make her entrance from the top of the main stairs. Hermione took a deep breath as they reached the upper gallery. She could feel a vast amount of youki in the hall. While the last months had somewhat prepared her for that moment, she could not help but have some stage fright.
She peeked down in the hall and saw that the large group of ayashi – all in human shape – had turned in her direction, having probably felt her aura just as she felt theirs. She steeled herself to walk calmly as she observed them with her three eyes. Feihong was standing on the stairs' midway landing and there were several Huang retainers along the sides of the room. The group of guests was standing in the middle of the hall.
They were a mix of men and women, all of them dressed to look like tourists and she had heard some conversations in English and Spanish before they all stopped to look at her. Thanks to Tiantian's training, however, Hermione perceived a lot more. They had the auras of warriors. She recognized the woman standing at the front of the group, her picture had been in the dossiers Dad sent to her Mum about the company. It was Xochitl Villareal, a werewolf her Dad hired as the company's security chief.
By comparison with her aura, most of them seem to be werew…
Her thought was interrupted when the twenty-six guests all put a knee on the ground and bowed their head toward her, right fist on the heart and the left one touching the ground. Feihong moved back to let her take his spot on the center of the landing.
"Your Holiness!" said one of the werewolves, emotion vibrant in his voice as he lifted his head briefly to look at her. He was crying.
Suddenly it hit her. Moka had told her about her first encounter with her Mum and how her aura affected her. However, Moka had received a rather liberal vampiric education from Akasha and the Shuzen. Mexican werewolves were a lot more traditional. To them, she was a living goddess. Hermione called on all of her courage not to stagger from this realization. She could not afford to appear weak.
"We have come to pay homage to your House, to renew the ancient bonds," said Xochitl. "I am Xochitl Villareal and I lead the Blood Claw pack. We are forever your devoted vassals, your Holiness."
"I am Angyalka Keresztes, formerly of House Bathory in Transylvania. You may have heard of me as Angelica Delacroix. My life is at your disposal, your Holiness," said a pale woman with black hair in a bob cut kneeling on Xochitl's right.
"I am B'alam de Luna, Elder of the Smoking Mirror Clan. My tribe was born after the fall of the Fourth Sun, when werewolves allied with the Olmecs and delved into the mysteries of the jungle. We have come to put ourselves at your service, your Holiness," said the old man kneeling on Xochitl's left and whose aura felt almost like a werewolf but not quite.
Thoughts raced through Hermione's mind. Intellectually, she had known that things like that would happen. She had read the reports about how the Fae clans worked. Even if they were more integrated into the human world than Wizarding Britain, they had their own values. To them, oaths of fealty were not something from the past. They were a cornerstone of a clan-based society that valued strength and honor. They would die for her, but their loyalty would not be blind, because this was not how her ancestors educated theirs, shaping their culture even millennia later. They would just as easily turn on her if she became unworthy.
She quashed the embarrassment she was feeling at their devotion under her nascent Fomorian pride. Her hunch was even more correct than she had thought. Right now, she needed to be the Princess Blackstaff of House Ra-Mu. Later, she would see how she could change things, but she knew that it would be neither quick nor easy. Khany's story was here to remind her of what could happen if she rocked the boat too hard and too fast.
However, she knew that she needed to make a decision about disclosing a certain point of her background right now, without having time to discuss it with the rest of the family. She knew that her Dad had not disclosed anything, but they had known to come here. It went beyond… her Third Eye fell on B'alam. His magic… unlike the werewolves and the vampiress, he and the other ones that she supposed to be were-jaguars were strong spellcasters. She vaguely remembered something about jaguars often being linked with the Underworld in Mesoamerican myths and… she thought that she knew.
"I hear your homage," she replied, "but first, B'alam of the Smoking Mirror Clan, were you the one to lead them to me?"
"Her Holiness's sagacity is truly as vast as it was foretold. When the young Xochitl came to convince warriors to join your House, I read the omens for her and I saw Her Holiness burning with the light of an eight-rayed sun and hiding in a city guarded by nine dragons. Then I knew my duty. We sent our families ahead to your father and we came here."
It was just as she had thought. The were-jaguars were sorcerer-priests and once Xochitl came to them, they made a lot of divinations. The nine dragons were obviously a reference to Kowloon, the area of Hong Kong just south of the Huang Manor. The reference to the eight rayed sun meant that her decision just became a lot easier. The old jaguar already knew. She was also thankful that her Grandfather had her make a full study of Ar-Edzi's Analects recently, as it described ways to do that kind of thing properly.
"I am the Princess Blackstaff, daughter of Titania and heir of House Ra-Mu," she replied, switching to Naacal as she removed the finger cap from her left index. "Do you and your families pledge yourselves to the service of our House? Will you stand with us in peace and war?"
"Yes! We swear it! May our blood and souls be counted among the ones of House Ra-Mu!" they all replied in Naacal as they raised their heads to look at her.
She slashed her right palm and softly chanted a quick spell she had read in the 'clan magic' section of Ar-Edzi's Analects. A thin stream of blood rose above her palm, spiraling and separating into twenty-six droplets.
"By my blood, in the name of my mother Titania, I welcome you in our House. I will lead you, fight with you the enemies of our House and stand by you in your time of need. Through my blood, you will know the truth of my words. This is my will!"
The blood droplets darted toward the brows of her new vassals, soaking through their skin as they briefly formed an eight-rayed sun before disappearing. She muttered another quick spell to close the wound on her palm. Thankfully, she was getting used to that whole blood magic stuff.
"Rise, vassals of House Ra-Mu!" she said as she walked down the stairs to mingle with her new clanmates.
"... so, I didn't mess up too badly?" asked Hermione in Naacal, looking expectantly at the images of her family members as she finished recounting her morning encounter.
She was in her room with Moka sitting on the chair next to her to offer some moral support. She had managed to get everybody in an emergency videoconference to discuss the recent events. Thankfully, Xochitl had been eager to set things in motion as quickly as possible and most of the delegates were already on their way to the UK. Angyalka and the tall werewolf who cried when seeing her, in fact one of Xochitl's older cousins called Lucas Villareal, had stayed behind as an honor guard.
"For me, you did fine, Hermione. I think we all knew that The Ra-Mu name getting out was just a matter of time," replied Ross.
"Yes," replied Desdemona. "I would have preferred that you discussed it with us beforehand, but I agree with your father: there was no time and the circumstances needed you to be solemn. I don't think our new vassals would have settled for less, not with what they called you."
Hermione felt a bit of her tension leave her as she saw Khany and Tenmei nod at what her Mum just said. It was true that she had to use a trump card, but the family thought it had been well played. As their new vassals had agreed to keep the name Ra-Mu secret for now, damage was also limited, though the risk of leaks had increased significantly.
"If I may," said Azrael who was standing behind Ross in the Canary Wharf CEO office. "I would like to remind you that the bonding spell Mistress Blackstaff used needs the caster to be true of heart."
"Was its use common in the old times?" asked Desdemona.
"Quite the contrary, it was very rare, even more so for an imperial princess to consent to it. There is little doubt that many among my new Housemates will gladly lay their lives for Mistress Blackstaff now, not only because of what she is, but because of how she honored them," replied the butler.
Hermione fidgeted on her chair. She had people ready to die for her. She had people who would likely not even think to question if she asked them to kill for her. She caught her father's gaze and she knew that he had understood. He would help her to not abuse that power.
"I will see those who stayed tomorrow," said Desdemona. "There is not much more I can do around here before the actual attempt, and it will have to be on the day after the winter's solstice."
"Solar symbolism?" asked Ross, obviously not reassured at the thought of his wife climbing the Everest in winter.
"Yes, dawn of a new age, Sixth Sun and all that… speaking of Mesoamericans: The jaguars seemed to know a lot of things. Khany, Tenmei, anything you can tell us?"
"I heard about them, but I never met one," replied Mikogami. "They're quite secretive, rarely leaving their villages in Central America, but the rumors I heard say that they saved a lot of the magical knowledge of the Mayans and the Aztecs from the Spaniards' destruction."
"Not much from the Society either," said Khany. "Their existence however explains why some incidents in Central America were rather brutally quashed without our intervention. In the Mayan myths, the jaguar can cross between the world of the living and the dead and guard its frontier. Anyway… they're children of Lemuria and it is good that they decided to join us."
"How well does divination magic work? The jaguar elder made frequent references to omens and 'things being foretold'," asked Moka.
"It's a mixed bag, my Masters," replied Azrael. "First, if you saw the Terminator movies, the idea of 'There's no fate but what we make for ourselves' is correct. Trying to divine the future will give you probabilities and then, forewarned is forearmed, as usual. Of course, there are always some people believing so much in a prophecy that they take actions to make sure it is realized. More annoying is a point that most people seem to forget: You can also use Divination to observe the present and the past, and that's a lot more accurate. Of course, the manor will be correctly warded against such scrying. So is this office."
"Desdemona and I are likely easier to detect than Tenmei and Khany… what of Moka?" asked Hermione.
"The Rosario protects her against this kind of indiscretion," replied Tenmei. "We will have to integrate into our plans the fact that other factions are trying to divine our moves. I definitely underestimated this factor…"
"Azrael, how advanced is the work on the manor?" asked Desdemona. "I feel that we shouldn't impose on the Huangs much longer."
"We will need until early July to finish everything, Mistress Titania. The Canary Wharf penthouse only needs a week, however."
"We'll move back to the UK in a week then and use the penthouse in the meantime. Tenmei, could Hermione come see Ginny?"
"Yes, I will arrange that."
Yokai Academy, 26th of May 2003
Things are really different here at the Yokai Academy, but I think I'm settling fine. The hardest part is the language of course, as everybody speaks Japanese here, but I have special classes for that and Professor Nekonome says that if I work hard, I will be able to attend a regular middle school class this fall. I really hope so but kanjis (they're kind of Japanese runes) are driving me barmy.
As you can guess from the above, they don't have Houses here, just classes of around twenty students of roughly the same age (it can get complicated as not all ayashi age the same way). Each class has a main teacher who is kind of like the Head of House in Hogwarts. Our class is smaller, however, as we're only a few special students in need of more Japanese classes. Our homeroom teacher is Professor Kagome. She teaches mathematics and I have to catch up a lot there too. Ah yes, classes are different from Hogwarts, a lot less centered on magic. We learn many more human things but it's really fine. Dad would love the science classes.
Yes, I know, I said 'human'. It's another thing that's different here. Here they don't say 'Muggle' but 'human'. Wizards and witches are magical beings… not quite like the others, but almost. Some ayashi (that's the catch-all word we use here for magical beings) look down on wizards because they consider them half-humans. I can reassure you: the teachers are not like that and neither are the friends I made.
Speaking of friends, I included a picture I took of the three friends I made with the letter. First, there is San Otonashi on the left. She's not in my class, but in High School. I actually met her on my first day. The Headmaster asked her to be my 'senpai' (that's a word for an older schoolmate who helps you around). It could have been just a job for her, but we became friends. She's really nice and a bit shy (she usually 'talks' by having words appear on her sketchpad).
Before you ask, I have no idea what kind of ayashi she is and neither does she know what I am. That's the rule here. Everybody is in human shape and we don't talk about it. It's a little harsh, but that's the only way that the teachers have found to make sure that all students learn to see their schoolmates for who they are and not what they are. It's as if in Hogwarts, you were forbidden to disclose your blood status… and now I'm giggling at how annoyed Malfoy and Pansy would look if that rule existed. Anyway, from what San-senpai says, it mostly works. Good friends can decide to disclose their true natures, but it has to stay private.
Next, the tall girl with blond hair is Aslaug Thrymsson. She's from Canada, but she says that her family was originally from Iceland and that they all defaulted to 'Thrymsson' – a name base on the family founder from what she said – because it was easier for paperwork with Canadian authorities. She's in Japan because her Dad recently got a job at a place called the Hokkaido University Arctic Research Center. She told me that he's a scholar specializing in animals living in very cold areas. We bonded during our common sorcery classes (she said that her gran was a völva and that she wanted to be one too). She's a little too serious at times, but I like her.
Finally, there is Saori Ryuzaki. It's funny that she needs Japanese lessons because she's pretty much a classical Japanese beauty – hime-cut, delicate pale skin and all – from what San-senpai said. Saori told me that she slept for a very long time and that the lessons are needed so that she doesn't sound like someone from an old tale. I suppose you wonder how we can talk then. That's actually the reason why we bonded. Apart from old-fashioned Japanese, she mostly speaks Parseltongue and I'm the only other student in our class that speaks it, so Professor Kagome (who speaks it too), asked me to help her. She's funny and we can relate because she's discovering a new world just like me.
So, that's it for now. I'll write again soon to give you more news. I hope you're having some fun on your side.
Ginny neatly folded the letter she had just finished and put it in an envelope with the picture. She would post it in the morning. She had intentionally left out the Hermione's visit the week before. It wasn't that it hadn't been good. In fact, she and Hermione understood each other a lot better now. No, she just wanted them to have the same kind of surprise she did.
"Even if, with their limited wizard senses, they won't have the full Hermione experience…" she said with a chuckle.
She remembered tensing when she felt Hermione's aura. Something in her, likely her dragon part, had a kind of 'I've been good, please don't kill me' gut feeling. That prompted Ginny to concentrate a little bit and… there was just no way that Hermione was a witch, not with power like that. The only other person she knew with that kind of power was San-senpai, who was said to be the Academy's strongest student.
That's likely why she didn't come back. She needed time to master the human shape technique and she likely still has issues hiding her aura, as I surely didn't feel like that with her grandfather. I wonder what her true shape is…