"I'm glad you were able to meet with me, William." Dumbledore said. "I've heard rumours of your talent, and I have a special task I was hoping you could do for me."

"It's Bill, actually, and I could hardly turn you down given that you offered to cover my travel expenses. Mum can be overbearing at times, but it's nice to be able to see my family again."

Bill Weasley had no idea why Dumbledore had made such a generous offer, but it really was nice to have a chance to catch up with his younger siblings, especially Ron and Ginny.

"So, what can I do for you, Headmaster?"

Dumbledore steepled his fingers. "There is a… certain task that I have attempted to tackle every year. It has earned me no small amount of infamy with Gringotts, as no cursebreaker has been able to even identify the source of the problem. Normally, I would not bother trying again with one as young as you, but I have heard glowing rumours of your incredible skill. As such, I would like your help in attempting to break the curse on the Hogwarts Defence position."

Bill blinked. Whatever he was expecting, it wasn't that. "Do you have any idea where to start?"

"At this point, we are ninety percent certain that the curse is woven into the wards somehow. We have thoroughly swept all of the locations where Defence professors spent frequent time — the classroom, the office, various staff quarters that have been used by the numerous professors over the years, and the Great Hall. No such location has shown any object capable of initiating the curse. That does not mean that it is not bound to such an object, but it does mean that any such item would be capable of evading the attention of dozens of cursebreaking teams."

Ah, that explained it. Even objects that could mask the curses on them were unlikely to evade that much attention. It wasn't completely impossible, but it was extremely unlikely. Still… "Are you sure that there's an actual curse on the position?" Bill asked. "I mean, the application of spells to abstract concepts is a very new field, and this curse has been here for, what, three decades? Not to mention that it even persisted after you attempted to dismantle the class and recreate it under a new name, and the teachers still left after just a year. It really stretches my imagination that a curse so adaptable can be placed on an abstract concept."

"I understand your skepticism." Dumbledore said plainly. "And I might be of the same school of thought under different circumstances, however…" Dumbledore paused to push up his glasses. "This curse started after Voldemort interviewed for the job and I turned him down. I'd be remiss to assume that those events don't have any correlation."

Bill reflexively flinched at the sound of the name. He'd been old enough during the war to hear about the horror stories of what Voldemort did to those who uttered his name.

"I can already tell what you're thinking, and I can tell you that Voldemort is not in fact his true name. I taught him during his school days, and I can assure you that his given name, the one he so despises, is not Voldemort. I can tell you his true name if you wish, but bear in mind that he has been very thorough in attempting to erase his past, and knowing his name would certainly make you a target."

"I'm good, thanks." Bill said, eager to change the subject. "So, you want me to look at the wards? Are you going to take me to the wardstone?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "Alas, the location of the Hogwarts wardstone has been lost to history. Several headmasters have tried to search for it, myself included, but none of those efforts have borne fruit. Finding lost locations in Hogwarts is never as easy as one might think due to how twisted the space in here is."

Now that was something Bill knew from experience. Hogwarts was far from the only non-euclidean space in the world, but it was one of the oldest surviving ones, and it was one of the most expansive even by modern standards.

"So no, I cannot show you the wardstone. Instead, we will be looking at a representation of the ward schema. It is for this reason that I suspect you might have greater success where others have struggled."

"Ah, that." Bill was a favourite among most cursebreaking teams for dealing with anything involving spatial charms. He had an innate ability to visualise higher dimensions that most people lacked. Ward schemes had to be inscribed in the same dimensions as the space they protected, so for an area as complex as Hogwarts…

He'd read a Muggle science journal a few years ago that talked about a type of extradimensional space called a Calabi-Yau Manifold, and he wasn't even sure if that sort of space could fit something as complicated as Hogwarts into it.

"Indeed, that." Dumbledore replied. "As you might imagine, cursebreakers capable of dealing with something this complex are hard to come by. Once I heard of your skills, I knew that you would be one of the best bets towards solving this problem for good. Now then, stand to the side while I pull up the ward scheme."

Bill pulled his chair to the side of the room and watched as Dumbledore stood in the middle of the room. Slowly, the room darkened as the windows became opaque and the lamps in the room extinguished themselves.

Threads of light began seeping out of the stonework, slowly coalescing into a projection in the middle of the room. It was enormous and far more complicated than anything Bill had seen before.

"This is not all of it, of course." Dumbledore said. "It cannot all be represented at once in three dimensional space."

Bill nodded. "Right. I can interact with this, right?"

"Of course. I suspect this may take some time, so I'll just catch up on work at my desk while you attempt to track down that curse."

The Hogwarts ward scheme was enormous, and this was just the superficial layer of protections. Bill tapped on one of the buds at an end of a runic branch, and it unfurled into a mess of branches all its own, the previous branches folding down into a bud of their own.

Well, this was going to take some time. Bill scrolled through cross-section after cross-section from the wards. Around half an hour in, he found a more recent addition to the scheme.

"Sir, there appears to be a new section here. It looks like a… possession alert ward?"

"My own doing." Dumbledore explained. "We had a bit of a debacle around Quirinus. He was possessed and attempted to murder several students near the end of the year. While I cannot enable any sort of anti-possession wards without access to the wardstone, I can at least set an alert to let me know if anyone is possessed, as well as a general idea of where in the castle the possessee is."

"Well, that's one way of doing it." Bill muttered to himself. "Do you honestly expect to have any future possessions in this school?"

"I certainly hope not, but once was already one time too many. Better to be safe than sorry, in this case."

Bill continued to work his way through the different runic schema. He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but it must have been a while, because Dumbledore interrupted him for lunch. The two ate together and engaged in small talk about their professions, as well as a few academic conversations. Bill eagerly threw himself back into the work once they were done, though. This was a rare opportunity to examine the oldest ward system in the British Isles, and that sort of opportunity could be once in a lifetime.

Bill continued for what must have been hours. He was about to look at a new cluster when something caught his eye. He stared at it for a while, noticing the odd bend of the branch. That couldn't be right…

"Sir? I think I found something."

Dumbledore perked up immediately. "Did you really? What is it?"

Bill squinted at it, looking at the nature of the runes. He'd never seen them in this configuration before, but… "It's a part of the wards that's been redirected. It should be protecting the castle, but its direction has been forced inward, to target something inside the castle."

"That's the most promising lead I've heard. What does the ward do?"

Those runes could only be read as… but that couldn't be right. "It seems to be a luck manipulation ward."

Dumbledore's brow furrowed. "But that's impossible. Luck isn't real."

"You don't have to tell me that." Bill said. One of the first rules taught to everyone studying wards and arithmancy was "Luck isn't real". The notion of something as abstract as luck simply didn't translate to the modern understanding of the world.

"Well, this does seem to be the most likely candidate for the curse regardless, although it is concerning. I had assumed that that curse was hijacking on the wards, not twisting an existing one against the professors. That Voldemort somehow had access to the wards without my knowing… Still, it is the best lead I've had since we started looking, even if it's supposedly focused on luck."

"I might be reading it wrong." Bill offered. "I've never seen these runes configured this way before."

"Still, it's the first sign of anything amiss after decades of surveys. What courses of action can we take?"

Bill looked at the wards for a while, trying to figure out how they all fit together…

"There's not a lot we can do." He admitted. "This isn't a curse placed on the wards — it's an actual part of the wards. In order to get rid of it, you'd have to tear most of them down."

"And then we couldn't reactivate them without access to the wardstone." Dumbledore concluded. "Could the curse be removed if we hypothetically had access to the wardstone?"

Bill analysed the situation further. "I don't think so. I mean, this seems to be a load-bearing part of the wards, although… that raises another question, doesn't it? If this is such an important part of the ward scheme, how has it been warped like this?"

Bill traced over it, trying to find anything amiss. There wasn't anything obvious, but a curse this devious wouldn't be… although if he looked there, it did seem that there was a faint line…

Bill snapped his fingers. "I've got it! The curse is being anchored by an object in the school. See that line there? That indicates that there is a magical object masking its presence. It must be a sentient construct — something that can discern which teacher is filling the defence spot — and then it turns this one ward against its target. That's why changing the subject didn't work! Because the whole curse is being controlled by something intelligent!"

"I hate to interrupt your celebration." Dumbledore said. "But how was such an object able to hide itself so thoroughly? I could understand missing the attention of one or two cursebreaking teams, but dozens? I struggle to believe that such an object could evade any scrutiny if it was hijacking the wards."

Bill turned to face Dumbledore, unable to keep the giddy expression off his face. "But that's the thing! Before you were looking for objects that were directly influencing the professors, so you were limiting your searches to areas where they would have the necessary proximity to the professors. However, since we now know that the curse is being enacted by proxy through the wards, then that means that the object could be anywhere in Hogwarts!"

Dumbledore frowned. "Well that might be a problem."

What? "Oh, uh, sorry Professor. I got a bit wrapped up in the cleverness of it all."

"Don't fret over it. I know how it feels to lose oneself to the thrill of discovery. Do you think you can track this object, now that you know it exists?"

"That depends. Can this thing pull up a map of Hogwarts?"

"It can, though I'd recommend against looking at it too long. It tends to give me headaches."

Dumbledore altered the projection of the wards so it was displaying the interior of Hogwarts rather than the ward schema. Bill found it easy to see why Dumbledore got headaches from it — even a representation of Hogwarts did not fit neatly into a finite, three-dimensional, euclidean space.

Still, Bill knew how to tune out the noise. "Can you set it to highlight any self-concealing dark objects, then narrow it down by searching to only show sentient objects under those same parameters."

Dumbledore hummed contemplatively. "I believe I can do that, though it may take some time. This system is… tricky to work with."

Bill watched as Dumbledore fiddled with the settings on the projection. Similar systems for ward and area projection existed, but Hogwarts had the most sophisticated version he'd ever seen. Bill could spend the rest of his life researching Hogwarts, and he doubted he'd ever come close to fully understanding its magic.

Half an hour later, the projection flared, and several spots glowed bright white. Fortunately, they were all in the same room. Unfortunately, that room was completely disconnected from the rest of the map.

"Well, it seems we found our answer." Dumbledore said. "Alas, I must confess that I haven't the slightest idea where that is or how to get there."

"It looks to be in a state of dimensional flux." Bill observed. "It's a part of Hogwarts, but it's not spatially connected to the rest of the building. Given that the object we're looking for was placed there by you-know… Voldemort, I can only conclude that the room is conditionally accessible. I couldn't begin to hypothesise what those conditions are, though…"

"Well, even if we were not able to break the curse, we have made considerable progress in identifying it." Dumbledore mused. "Thank you for your time, Bill. I'll be sending my commendations to your superiors and monitoring for any change in that room. If I figure out how to access it, I hope I can rely on your help in dealing with whatever cursed object was left behind. Now, you had best be getting back to your family — I've already availed you from them for long enough."

Bill nodded. "Of course, and thank you for the experience, sir."

He smiled. "Hogwarts is an experience all of its own. I wouldn't trade being its headmaster for anything."

Harry was surprised to see Helen and Richard in the kitchen when he woke up that morning.

"Um… Today's Monday, right? Is everything okay?"

"Oh, everything's fine, Harry. We took the day off since you and Hermione need new clothes and it's easier to hit the department stores on the weekdays."

Harry froze at that. "Clothes shopping?"

"Yeah, you know. It's pretty obvious that your wardrobe could use some shuffling along. We'll split up once we hit the store. Rich will help you with your shopping while I help Hermione. Hermione is very picky about her clothes and it easily becomes an ordeal getting her an entire wardrobe. Luckily, the two of you being at Hogwarts does limit the amount of shopping we have to do for muggle clothes, but it never hurts to be prepared."

"So long as we make it out of the store early enough to have dinner at a reasonable hour, I'll be happy." Richard said.

"We should get them at least seven warm-weather outfits, plus three cold-weather ones in case we get any unseasonable temperatures." Helen added. "Oh, maybe we should get more, actually, since I assume you two will be coming home for Christmas?"

Hermione nodded while Harry just shrugged. He guessed coming home for Christmas was normal?

"Got it, so we'll get them a dozen outfits or so with at least a week's worth of summer clothes." Richard said. "I'm ready to go, so I'll go start the car and wait for all of you."

Hermione's eyes widened. "No! I'll, um, we're already ready too, right mum?"

Helen sipped her tea. "I suppose I can put this in a travel mug. You three head out and I'll join you in just a minute."

As they made their way to the car, Harry leaned over and whispered in Hermione's ear. "What was that about?"

Hermione let out a small sigh. "You know what mum's like in the kitchen? Dad's like that in a car. Never let him be the one to turn the ignition or the whole thing breaks."

"Is this… normal?" He asked.

"I have no idea. Being around magic has skewed my sense of weirdness, so I can't say for sure. I just have to make sure that neither one of them forgets."

"Right…" Harry was pretty sure that this wasn't normal, but it was kind of refreshing, if he was honest. The Dursleys had given him enough normalcy for one lifetime.

Department stores were big. Harry had never been inside of one until now, So he was somewhat taken aback by the sheer scale of the place. Hogwarts was bigger, of course, but he'd never been inside a muggle building this big until now.

"Do you have any idea what size clothing you wear, Harry?" Richard asked him as they made their way to the boys section.

"Not really, sir, um, Richard. I've never been clothes shopping before."

He looked down at the hand-me-downs Harry was wearing and sighed. "Right, of course your guardians wouldn't have taken you shopping for things. Any idea what kind of clothing you prefer, at least?"

"Um… comfortable ones?"

Richard sighed wearily. "Okay, looks like we'll have to start from scratch. I'll pick out a few sizes of shirts and trousers and have you try them on. Once we figure that out, it should be fairly easy to get you a full wardrobe."

"Thanks. Um, I'm sorry to trouble you with this."

Mr. Granger waved his hand. "It's no trouble at all. I mean, if we're going to be housing you, it's only right that we make sure that you're properly clothed as well."

Harry really didn't understand what it was that made the Grangers so different from the Dursleys. If the Dursleys had to buy a full wardrobe for him, they'd do nothing but complain about it for weeks, talking about him as a burden on them and making him do extra chores to pay them back.

Harry was reasonably certain that the Grangers wouldn't do that to him, but he couldn't figure out what it was about the Grangers that made them treat him so differently. Sure, it made sense that they'd be nice to him, what with him being Hermione's friend, but he was currently living with them full time, eating meals with them, and now they were buying him a full wardrobe. Petunia tolerated having Dudley's friends around for a few hours, but he doubted she would have treated them so kindly if they had to live there full time.

It was a puzzle that Harry doubted he'd have an answer to anytime soon, but he did find himself thinking about it every time they willingly did things like this for him.

It didn't take very long for Harry to find a size that fit him from the selection Richard had picked out, though Harry did realise that he had a preference for baggy clothes. Not as baggy as Dudley's hand-me-downs, of course, but clothing that was too tight felt suffocating to him in a way that he couldn't put his finger on. Harry decided to avoid jeans for the same reason, being uncomfortable with the tightness of the material.

Harry eventually settled on tracksuit bottoms and khakis of varying lengths for his trousers, and an assortment of t-shirts. Richard took the pile and began to look them over.

"Just making sure that none of these are stained or ripped or anything." He said. "I ran into that problem once, and it was enough to make sure that I'm always careful about it happening again."

Harry didn't say anything, just watched as he inspected each of the garments and neatly folded them. Once he got through the last one, he nodded and picked up the whole pile.

"Alright, let's go pay for these and check in to see how the ladies are doing."

Harry nodded and followed along, his mind returning to the earlier puzzle when he saw that the total cost of the clothing was over a hundred pounds, yet Richard seemed unphased and paid for it without griping.

Helen and Hermione finished up not too long after. They made a brief stop to change, and Harry got to go around in new muggle clothes for the first time, let alone ones that fit. Helen insisted that they eat at an Indian restaurant afterwards, and as they ate, Harry continued to ponder the adult Grangers.

What was it that made some people so different? Maybe he'd never have an answer, but he couldn't stop himself from wondering.

If there was any advantage to Parvati being grounded, it was that Padma had free reign of the house. No having to squabble over the wireless or Parvati being a weird gremlin to her just because she could. It was the first time Padma could recall having a long stretch of peace in her own house.

Padma wasn't even sure exactly what it was that Parvati was trying to do, but she did know that it was grounding-worthy. As best as Padma could figure out, she was running some sort of bribery and blackmail business right out of Hogwarts. Why the teachers didn't do anything about it, she didn't know.

Maybe the teachers had been bribed too! Clearly, it was for the best that their parents did something.

Parvati disagreed, of course, but she had obviously turned evil. This was for her own good.

This did not stop Parvati from making a fuss about it whenever she could, but doing so just got her further grounded.

Padma was reading a book in the sitting room, enjoying the quiet. Her parents had gone out shopping, and Padma was very much appreciative of having the entire house to herself.

This peace was destined to be short-lived, unfortunately. A loud thump on the window behind her caught her attention, and when she turned around, she was greeted with the sight of Parvati climbing down from the second floor on what looked like a makeshift rope of blankets.

Padma groaned. And the day had been going so well, too.

She put her book down and ran into the yard the moment Parvati jumped off her blanket rope. "Get back here, Parvati!"

Parvati didn't say anything in reply — she just snarled and chucked something her way. Padma stopped and flattened herself to the ground when she saw sparks coming out of it. Whatever that was couldn't be good, and her suspicion was confirmed when she felt dirt being blasted over her back.

"You… you bitch! Are you trying to kill me!?" That blast had left an impressively sized, but not deep crater in the yard.

Parvati had already started running, completely ignoring Padma's entirely reasonable question.

For a moment, Padma was worried that Parvati might actually get away, but that worry vanished when a house elf appeared in the air above her and bodily tackled her.

"Miss Parvati is not to be leaving the house! She must return to her room immediately!"

"Fuck off you overgrown imp!"

The elf actually gasped at that and stood agape. "Such foul language…"

Parvati actually managed to throw the elf off her and tried to make a break for it again.

The elf recovered with remarkable speed, and with a snap of her fingers, Parvati was screaming in pain as electricity arced up and down her body.

"Miss Parvati must return to her room." The elf sniffed.

"I'll give you clothes for that once I take over!" Parvati yelled.

"Miss Parvati will not be inheriting at all if she keeps this up!" She said smugly.

Padma watched the entire spectacle in muted fascination until the elf took them both back to the house with a snap of her fingers.

Was it just her or had everything gotten weirder lately?

Albus quickly tidied his desk. He'd been busy catching up with his work, but he had an important appointment soon.

This year, there was only one applicant for the Defence Against the Dark Arts professorship. That applicant was famous worldwide and was incredibly skilled, but Albus still thought a job interview was important. After all, even the most skilled people weren't necessarily the most suited to teaching.

Albus remembered this student well. He was a modest Ravenclaw, hardworking but rarely exemplary. Albus was amazed at how much his skill and demeanour had improved in the fifteen years since his graduation.

Albus really hoped that he was up to the job, lest he have to start calling in personal favours to fill the post. He knew he'd have to start doing that soon, but he was hoping to avoid it for as long as possible. Still, if anyone was skilled enough to be the defence professor, then it was-

The door slammed open. "Someone dashing! Someone adventurous! And, dare I say it, someone gentlemanly! Someone who's always where he needs to be! Someone like me,

𝔾𝕚𝕝𝕕𝕖𝕣𝕠𝕪 𝕃𝕠𝕔𝕜𝕙𝕒𝕣𝕥

𝔊𝔢𝔫𝔱𝔩𝔢𝔪𝔞𝔫 𝔄𝔡𝔳𝔢𝔫𝔱𝔲𝔯𝔢𝔯!"

Albus raised an eyebrow at that. He'd encountered a lot of synaesthetic charms in his time, but this was the first time he'd seen one that let someone speak in a specific font. Gilderoy finished his introduction by having his cloak flutter in a gust of nonexistent wind and giving a smile that twinkled brightly. If this was an interview for the Charms position, Albus would be tempted to hire him right away. "It's a pleasure to see you, Gilderoy. Please, take a seat."

Gilderoy stepped over the chair, one leg at a time, to sit down in it. "Well, let's get on with the interview, shall we? Both of our time is very valuable, so we'd best not dilly-dally. Let the interview commence!"

Straight to the point. Albus mentally marked that down as a point in his favour. "Well, I suppose I should start by congratulating you. I wouldn't have expected you to become a famous adventurer, yet here you are."

He laughed. "Well, I can hardly say I was remarkable back in school. I can't give away too many details — a man must keep some secrets, after all — but suffice to say that a few years after I graduated, I discovered a little trick to help me reach my full potential, and that made me into the man — the gentleman — that I am today."

Albus was intensely curious, but he didn't push the man any further. Gilderoy Lockhart was famous — or infamous — for his natural talent. He had had no training, no apprenticeships, yet his combat prowess was unrivalled by anyone of his age. He'd invented spells, picked out new weaknesses in magical creatures of all kinds, and had slain beasts that had felled hordes of men. Albus had long suspected that he must have some kind of secret, but he wouldn't push Gilderoy to talk if he didn't want to. "So, let's start with the basics. Why do you want to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts?"

Gilderoy leaned forward. "You see, Albus — may I call you Albus?" He laughed. "What am I saying, of course I can call you Albus. You see, Albus, I may be amazing, powerful, skilled, and, of course, a Gentleman Adventurer the likes of which has never been seen before, but even someone as great as I cannot be everywhere at once. I have protected people from all manner of dangerous beasts, yet what have I done to protect people from lesser threats? I thought it important to ensure that the next generation knows how best to fend off the lesser beasts, and how to properly defend oneself from the greater beasts. Do you know how many people have injured themselves trying to replicate the great feats of yours truly, Gilderoy Lockhart, Gentleman Adventurer?"

"I can't say I do." Albus admitted.

"None, and that's because I am going to nip this problem in the bud before it even starts! After all, not everyone is as amazing as yours truly, and it's important for the students to understand when to fight and when not to fight. I may not have any limits, but that can hardly be said of most people, and it's important for students to understand their own limits before they enter the wider world. I can think of no one better suited to that task than myself, who always knows exactly when to fight."

Well, Gilderoy certainly had an ego, that much was without doubt. "So your class will be mostly focused on dealing with threats from magical creatures?"

"Of course! I daresay that through my experience I have fought every beast known to magekind and even a few that aren't known! I know each of them inside and out, every strength and weakness. There is no one more qualified than myself to teach this class."

"And how would you format this class? I certainly hope you have at least a bare outline for how you expect it to be run."

Gilderoy snapped. "Ah, I have just the thing." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a substantial sheaf of parchment. "I whipped up this curriculum before I came here."

Albus wasn't sure what to expect when he looked at the curriculum, but he was blown away by what he saw. It was more in-depth than anything Minerva had given him during her entire tenure as a teacher. Each lesson was meticulously outlined and had a list of questions students were likely to ask. Each class was neatly divided into study and practical sessions meant to flow from one topic to the next. Several days were kept free in case additional time needed to be spent covering topics. To call it comprehensive would be an understatement. There was only a single problem Albus could see with it…

"You'll be referencing all of your books for this class. Wouldn't that be prohibitively expensive for some of the students?"

Gilderoy laughed again. "Oh, that won't be a problem at all. Given that most of the books are only going to be referenced a few times, I'll have copies ready for the class to use. No, if you look…" He flipped through several of the pages in the curriculum. "Here, you can see that each student only needs to purchase two of my books. As I'm sure you know, most of my works are fictionalised accounts of the real adventures I've had. These two are nonfiction instructional books, perfect for any young Gentleman Adventurer in the making."

"Is that your goal for the class, then?" Albus asked. "To teach the children how to become 'Gentleman Adventurers'?"

"Of course!" Gilderoy said as he gave another twinkling grin. "Sure, they may not be as amazing as yours truly, but I'm sure that each of the students has the potential to be great in their own way."

"And what of the girls in your classes?"

"Why I don't see any reason why they couldn't become Gentleman Adventurers, too! I'll have you know that it's a nondiscriminatory occupation."

…Against his better judgement, Albus had to admit that he was starting to like this man. "Well, I can't seem to find any reason not to hire you, Mister Lockhart. You've got the job. I'm sure this will be a very unforgettable year."

Gilderoy laughed. "Believe me, Headmaster. With me around, this is a year that no one is ever going to forget."

Gilderoy Lockhart hummed to himself as he walked through the halls of Hogwarts. He couldn't keep the grin off of his face even if he wanted to.

Securing that job was all too easy, and now Gilderoy had direct access to Hogwarts for an entire year.

Something big was going to happen at Hogwarts this year, and now he was right in the heart of it.

Gilderoy pulled a note out of his pocket and immediately burned it. He then pulled out a blank sheet of parchment and wrote a new note before putting it back into his pocket.

Hogwarts wouldn't know what hit it.

Harry jumped when someone knocked on the front door. He knew that nothing was wrong, but he couldn't help but feel nervous when someone knocked. Someone knocking at the Dursleys was never good news for him.

Harry wasn't at the Dursleys, and he didn't need to panic, but instinct prevailed, and it was going to take him a long time to get to a point where he didn't react reflexively. Even now, he kept feeling nervous that someone was going to show up at the door and drag him back to his aunt and uncle.

Helen got to the door before he or Hermione could, and he was surprised to see that he recognised the person knocking.

"Mrs. Granger, I assume?" Dumbledore said genially. "My name is Albus Dumbledore, and I'm the headmaster of the school that your daughter is attending. I had hoped to make a stop here earlier, but my summer has been very busy."

"Oh, hello!" Helen replied excitedly. "Please, do come in! I hope Hermione isn't in trouble or anything? She's a stickler for the rules, but once she decides that they're wrong…"

"Muuuum!" Hermione groaned.

Dumbledore chuckled. "No, no, nothing of the sort. It's just that Hermione has become friends with someone who's something of a celebrity on our side of the world, and I'd be remiss if I didn't ensure that your family has some degree of protection. It will take some time to set up, but I have the next few hours free."

"Of course, come in!" Helen said, excited as ever. "Can I get you anything? A spot of tea, perhaps? Let me just go put the kettle-"

"NO!" Hermione shouted, interrupting her mum. "That won't be… I'll-I'll put the kettle on. Just give me a moment."

Dumbledore entered the sitting room and waved at Harry. "Hello, Mister Potter! What a completely unexpected coincidence that I happened to visit the Grangers while you are also visiting the Grangers! No doubt engaging in one of those 'slumber parties' that the children are so fond of. How is your family doing?"

The Dursleys weren't Harry's family, not as far as he was concerned, so he decided to answer truthfully. "Better than ever, sir."

Dumbledore smiled, eyes twinkling. "Glad to hear it, very glad to hear it. Well, I've got work that I need to get to, and I'd rather not distract you from your precious time here, so I'll leave you back to what you were doing. Enjoy the rest of your summer, Harry!"

"What were you thinking, Parvati!? Were you trying to kill your sister!?" Her mother shouted.

Parvati brooded, a skill that she picked up when she realised that dark ladies needed to be broody. She had gotten very good at it. "I was not trying to kill her. I was just trying to… maim her or something."

"That does not make it better!"

"Actually, it does. See, if you compare the sentence lengths between murder and assault, you'll see that assault is generally given a much lighter-"

"You are so grounded, young lady!"

"You can't keep me grounded forever! I have to go back to school sometime!"

"We will pull you out if you do not fix this attitude!"

Parvati grinned maniacally and laughed. She'd been practising her laugh while she'd been grounded, and she had finally managed to minimise the coughing fits. "Well, good luck with that. It's not legal to homeschool students in magical britain. You have to enrol me in a school."

"Then we will enrol you elsewhere!"

"Then I will get myself expelled until Hogwarts is all that's left!"

"Then we will get you expelled from Hogwarts!

"Good luck with that! Dumbledore has never had anyone expelled during his tenure as headmaster!"

"Then we shall see if you'll be the first."

Parvati grumbled to herself, but this was all going according to her plan. They had to understand that the only option they had was to send her back to school. All according to plan. All according to her evil plan.

Lucius brooded in his study. Another day, another raid led by Arthur Weasley. Lucius was sick of it. Sure, he'd kept his more… dubious belongings away from their attention for now, but how much longer would he be able to keep it up? They were increasingly thorough on each subsequent visit, and he doubted that any of his hiding places would be good for much longer.

Perhaps it would be wise to… liquidate most of the objects. After all, it wasn't as though Lucius was using any of them, nor did he expect to at any time in the near future. Borgin would buy almost any magical object, and Lucius was certain that he would pay a fair price with a little… persuasion.

Lucius opened a very carefully concealed safe that was hidden behind a false wall. It was where he kept the darkest of his objects, those dark enough that one needed training to even handle them. He put on a pair of dragonhide gloves and began carefully removing the objects and putting them in a magically insulated sack. He only stopped when he got to the very last item, carefully examining it in his hands.

It was a book. A simple, undeniably muggle diary, belonging to a certain "T. M. Riddle".

Lucius didn't know what this was, but his father had told him that the Dark Lord had entrusted it to their family before his fall in eighty-one. Abraxas had since passed, meaning that whatever secrets it may have held were long-since lost. All Lucius knew was that it was not only undoubtedly dark, but that it was capable of masking itself. One had to actively search to find the undeniable stench of evil contained within.

As Lucius examined the diary in his hands, an idea began to occur to him. He doubted that even Borgin would be interested in an object such as this, but that didn't mean it was useless. Far from it, with a little bit of work, perhaps he could make it into the solution for his problems.

The Weasleys were sure to be doing their shopping soon enough. In a crowded public venue like Diagon Alley, it would surely be easy to slip the diary into the belongings of one of their numerous children. A simple confundus charm would lead the child to believe that they had found it among their father's belongings. Once the child was caught with it on their person, the scandal would positively ruin Arthur Weasley. Sure, there was always a risk that the artefact in question would cause some damage, but surely that was worth the…

Lucius paused, gazing down at the diary. Once he got ahold of his senses, he threw the book back in the safe and slammed it shut. He didn't even notice the haze over his mind until it began to lift from his senses. While Lucius was far from an accomplished occlumens, he was certainly capable enough to notice things attempting to influence his mind. That diary, though… It was warping his thoughts without him being aware of it.

Lucius shook his head, closed the false wall, and left the room. Whatever that thing was, it was far too dangerous to even be handled. If he ever got caught with it, he'd just throw together some sob story about how he'd been trying to dispose of it for years.

Draco had been outside his father's study, about to ask him a question, though Draco couldn't remember what it was. Nor did he care. The moment he saw it, all other thoughts vanished from his mind. Draco had no idea what made the leather bound book special, but he knew that it was the key to getting whatever he wanted. He'd be able to embarrass Potter with the secrets it contained and show everyone who was really special.

Draco watched as his father hid the book back in his safe, then hid behind one of the nearby curtains. He waited until his father left the study, then slowly snuck inside. Draco wasn't certain how to open the safe, but knowing his father, he had a good idea. Father had given him a small phial of his blood, so that Draco could access several of the blood magic sealed objects Lucius kept in case of an emergency. It took no more than ten minutes to grab it and bring it back to father's study. He carefully poured some of the blood into his finger, then smeared it over the surface of the safe, which opened with a click. Draco reverently removed the book from the safe and sealed it back up. It was his now — his and no one else's. He'd show them all what Draco Malfoy could really do.

Unbeknownst to Draco, he was not the only one spying on his father's study. A large pair of green eyes had discreetly seen everything that happened in the room, and quickly realised that whatever had happened, it was very bad. Dobby was forbidden from telling others of what happened in his Master's house, but he wasn't prevented from acting. Dobby knew all about Harry Potter from the tales of how he defeated the Dark One, and Draco's word on Harry Potter's behaviour further cemented Dobby's view — anyone who could draw such ire from his masters was certain to be a good person. Dobby couldn't tell anyone, but he could act freely, until someone realised that something was amiss. All Dobby had to do was find a way to alert Harry Potter without actually telling him anything!

Dobby would still have to punish himself for hindering his master's plans, of course, but it would still be worth it. Anything to save the great and amazing Harry Potter.

Unspeakable messenger Pigeon was making her way through the halls of the Department of Mysteries, delivering the day's memos to Director Croaker. It was a menial job, but it also meant that she was abreast of almost all knowledge in the entire department. She couldn't tell anyone what she learned, but just knowing was still worth it. She stepped into Croaker's office and waited for them to be free.

The unspeakable cloaks really were a work of art. They hid all identifying aspects about a person, including gender and voice. Complete operational security, apparently introduced after too many agents went rogue and unleashed anomalous phenomena on the public.

Eventually, Croaker looked up at her. "Report, messenger?"

She jumped to attention. "Several memos for you, Director." She shuffled through the papers. "Um, the prophecy department is predicting that they will be over budget next year due to foreseen circumstances."

"Tell Prophecy that they better start foreseeing a way to lower their expenses. They do this every time they think they can get away with it."

"Of course, Director." She shuffled to the next memo. "We have several memos from the Conceptual division. Um… Someone tried to recognise the bodies in the water."

"I do not recognise the bodies in the water, and neither should you, if you know what's good for you."

"Of course sir. Um… our attempts to neutralise Inside have Become Inside."

"Keep trying until they Go Inside."

"Of course. Um… They have determined that the antimeme is not round."

"We have an antimeme?"

She handed over the papers on it.

"Huh. Where did we get this thing?"

"No one remembers."

"Of course. Anything from the other departments?"

Pigeon looked through her stack of papers. "Um… Spacetime reports positive progress on fixing the Broken Entry class wormhole that the Gate has been stuck on for the past fifty years, with a possible fix coming in the next decade."

"That is good news. Anything else to report?"

"Oh, um… let's see… There's been a major shift in the readings for Unidentified Anomaly Number 2281."

The Director raised an eyebrow at her. "I don't bother memorising the numbers on the unidentifieds. Give me the documentation."

She passed over the papers that had been included with the memo and gave them a chance to look it over.

"Ah, the abnormally high lepchon field. What's changed?"

"There was a major decrease in the lepchon readings, and prophecy predicts that if it continues on that trend for several months, then we can make a move on it as soon as next May."

"That does sound promising. Where will it be when that happens?"

Pigeon flipped to another page. "Hogwarts."

Croaker sighed and leaned back in their chair. "Damn, that's a problem. Dumbledore hates letting us poke around — there's no way he'll let us bring in a full containment team."

Pigeon shuffled awkwardly in place. "I know it's not my place to say, director, but perhaps it would be worth contacting the DLE about this."

"The less we involve those bureaucrats, the better. Besides, they'll need an excuse. An acceptable excuse that doesn't involve them knowing the full scope of work we do."

She shuffled through more papers. "Don't we have a sleeper agent in Hogwarts? We could activate them."

Croaker laughed. "No way that Agent Rabbit could handle containing something of this magnitude by themself."

"Espionage, then? At least, Rabbit might be able to find us an excuse to feed the DLE."

Croaker gave her a look. "Stick to delivering messages, Pigeon."

She bowed her head. "Yes, Director."

"I'll take your suggestions under advisement, though. Enjoy the rest of your day."

She perked up immediately under the praise. "Of course, Director! Thank you, Director!"

The advantage of knowing everything was that one never knew when it would come in handy.

A/N (Tendra): I am really hoping that later chapters of this story will be less troublesome to write, because dear gods, this one gave me so much trouble.

Gilderoy Lockhart and Lucius Malfoy were incredibly hard to get right, and even now, I don't think that I perfectly capture exactly what I want 𝔾𝕚𝕝𝕕𝕖𝕣𝕠𝕪 𝕃𝕠𝕔𝕜𝕙𝕒𝕣𝕥, 𝔊𝔢𝔫𝔱𝔩𝔢𝔪𝔞𝔫 𝔄𝔡𝔳𝔢𝔫𝔱𝔲𝔯𝔢𝔯! to be.

That said, he's still really something, and if you thought that Parvati and Tracey were stealing the spotlight of year one, you are not ready for Gilderoy's role in year two.

One of the big things I'm trying to do with this story is make all of the adults more competent than in canon. This means that Dumbledore takes safety more seriously and kept Harry away from the Dursleys, but it also means that Lucius is smart enough to not send a dark artefact of unknown power into the school his son attends, at least not without said artefact making him do it. Lucius was able to throw off the compulsion here, but only because the diary found a much more easily manipulated target.

I'm really fond of the unspeakable department being similar to the SCP Foundation in terms of operation and role, although their MO is less focused on obfuscation and containment, and more about harm reduction. We'll get more into them later. I couldn't resist referencing a few specific SCPs, though, so in order we have SCP-2316 (Field Trip), SCP-2719 (Inside), SCP-055 ([REDACTED]), and SCP-3001 (Red Reality).

I don't actually have much more to say about this chapter that isn't a spoiler, so look forward to future updates (assuming I get around to them, lol)!

E/N (Xgenje): I was having so much trouble reading this, I was laughing and crying too hard. The wait was entirely worth it and I really can't wait to see what new forms of Madness Ten has concocted.

Join us on the Diskworld to read new chapters earlier! I promise to be… Less insane. /6YwQewK

E/N (MANNAT): I can already tell that Gilderoy is going to monopolise every scene he's in. Can't wait to see more moulding of 𝔊𝔢𝔫𝔱𝔩𝔢𝔪𝔞𝔫 𝔄𝔡𝔳𝔢𝔫𝔱𝔲𝔯𝔢𝔯s. I also love the kids just being characterised as…kids. Draco is a little idiot, Pavarti and Padma are melodramatic little creatures, and Harry has no idea how to deal with actually competent authority figures. Can't wait for more!