Hope you readers had a merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year. Enjoy this long overdue chapter.

Beta'd by: MarktheBob & Scottken

"Truly can't thank them enough."

Book II :: Chapter 18 :: Bonds and Allies

As Harry snuck back into the Slytherin common room, he ignored the terrified cries of the first years who were lounging there studying. In the coming days, they would grow used to the secret entrance opening to greet no one and more often than not, say nothing about it.

As he slumped back wearily into his room and down into his trunk he threw off his cloak and disrobed before his welcoming bed and warm comforter. Stripping his underwear off he slid into the embrace of his Gryffindor-styled sheets and welcomed sleep.

"Busy day?"

Harry turned his head and found Ginny, equally naked under the covers smiling convincingly beside him. "No busier than yours was." Harry retorted, poking her nose with his finger.

"Oh, now that's a lie." Ginny choked back with a repressed chuckle. "You and I both know a certain someone gave you a workout."

Using her arm to hold her up she looked down on Harry as the comforter fell down to reveal her petite form. Her pinkish skin was pale and shimmering in the golden candlelight of the room. "So? Did you rock her world?"

Harry sighed but relented, reaching over he, in a single motion, pulled her towards him. With a yelp, Ginny giggled but fell into the warmth of his exposed chess and wrapped herself around him. He stared into her eyes and whispered. "Legilimens."

Instantly Ginny was pulled into her memories but as suddenly as it happened the world flipped and she fell back into his. In his mind she watches Harry work his magic. Melt into Tonks and became one with her; multiple times.

She watched from start to finish and began to squirm as she became excited and eager to receive the same treatment. In the final moments she was reminded of how caring Harry was, but also how much she missed him and how much he had grown as a wizard after her death... or departure she supposed.

As the memory ended, Ginny was left panting and more than a little excited. Staring up at her, Harry smiled teasingly. Suddenly Ginny realized what Harry had just done.

"Ohhhh... you're playing a dangerous game Mr. Potter." Ginny said realizing he intentionally was trying to provoke her reaction.

"Whatever could you mean Ginny? You asked how my evening went and I showed you." Harry said casually with no attempt to hide his teasing ways.

"Oh, that's it. If you're going to play it like that, then maybe I should show you what I'm capable of." Ginny threatened. The response she didn't expect was for Harry to lift his arm up and wrap it around her, pulling her head down to his chest. His hand felt so much bigger than it did in her memories.

"We both know you're not ready for that yet. You're ready mentally, physically you could, but we both know physically you wouldn't fully enjoy it and magically you're not ready."

Harry held his hand still against her hand but that stillness proved comforting. "I know." she said softly. "Is what I'd like to say but I don't know why I don't feel ready. Mum says it's because I'm so young which physically she is correct but mentally I should be fine with it. Merlin Harry, I do want to. I just don't... feel ready."

Harry listened to her concerns and as she finished complaining he gave her his thoughts. "I don't know about the reason completely but I do have a thought."

"A thought. Not a theory?"

Harry chuckled at Ginny's snark. "Not a theory. I can't call it that because it's too vague in my opinion. Plus I haven't even bothered testing it yet." he admitted.

Rubbing her head he continued. "My thought is that we, well your magic is still growing and developing. Right now it's like a cup being filled with water. Liquids of all kinds, ambient magic if you will, are just flowing into you to fill up the little voids our growing bodies have. When puberty hits and our magic starts to blend into ourselves it creates a mess. Sometimes spilling out or compressing to become more concentrated."

"Making more gaps." Ginny added as she followed along. "That's why most people don't suffer Muk for most of their early years until Hogwarts. But why wasn't this a problem during our first time around?"

Harry couldn't answer that. "I don't know but I do have a theory." Ginny snickered at that but Harry pressed on. "This time around I knew where the heart of Hogwarts was. When I went there I found the school's protection had been dormant and deactivated. This includes a ward that openly nurtures magic."

"Nurtures magic? How does a ward nurture magic?"

"You know what a vaccine is?" Harry asked to which Ginny nodded. Even without a deep understanding of muggles even wizards used vaccines.

"Some magic is dangerous. If it is too concentrated it can harm the body. And magic influenced by harmful emotions can be harmful itself if left alone. The school's wards absorb all the ambient magic that flows around the school into its barrier and breaks down that magic into a dispersed state. It defuses the concentration and then collects it within the school. This also includes magic we as students perform too and why certain classrooms don't have a dark or toxic presence despite what we might do inside it." Harry explained.

"You think the reason Muk wasn't an issue before was because those wards were down." Ginny rationalized to which Harry shook his head.

"You're not wrong but not correct either." Harry stated before he began to explain. "I'm sure that is one aspect but…" Harry paused in thought before continuing. "I'm not one hundred percent sure of this but I think the wards were suppressing the growth of magic within the school. This made Muk less of an issue but stunted the growth of students. The problem now is with the wards that resulted in that are now gone-"

"-and the problem of developing magic is becoming a thing again." Ginny finished understanding what was happening. Harry nodded before becoming remorseful.

"The school felt dead when I came here Ginny. Completely different from how it was during my time when I lived here. I spent years ruling over this school's ruins, its empty husk, and learned many of its secrets. I think without the wards, magic wasn't gathering as it should have and as a result, it felt cold and dank magic-wise. Without the influx of magic nor the ward to break down the residue that existed none of the students could grow magically."

"Not until we were either too old to grow magically or knowledgeable of Muk to realize something was wrong." Ginny realized.

Harry nodded.

"Damn him." Ginny cursed. "Dumbledore. Why does it always come back to him."

"It doesn't". Harry said, surprising her at his defense of the Headmaster. "Don't get me wrong. I found some wards that were definitely harmful to the school. But those were new, and most of the problems seem to have existed for at least a few hundred years. Even five hundred years in some places. Like myself, I think most of the problems stem from a lack of understanding or in Albus's case a belief he knew better. Perhaps caring too much. I don't trust Dumbledore, but his actions are formed because he wants to do good."

Even if those intentions don't do anyone good, Harry thought to himself.

"So back on track, you think the reason I'm not ready is because magically, I'm empty."

"Yes and No. My thought is that Muk is a result of stagnant magic. Our magic alone isn't enough to stir the cauldron so to speak. By interacting sexually, our magics link together, blending together, and stirring each other. This act removes any congestion or air pockets within our developing magic. Pockets and congestion formed as the magic within us tries to reform into our own identity."

Smiling Ginny relaxed against Harry. "So I'm not ready because my magic doesn't want to be influenced by your magic just yet. It hasn't found its own identity yet and is still filling me up." She giggled at that before lazily drifting to sleep. "I kinda like that. It means... when I'm ready... my magic will be me..."

Her sentence ended as she fell victim to Harry's ministrations and warm embrace. With a flick of his wrist, Harry levitated the comforter over the both of them. "Good night Ginny. We'll have a busy week."

With that said, Harry too fell asleep knowing his words were right on point. The next three days alone were a careful dance of caution. Using the Time Turner he had to carefully balance their hours with their activities. Spending the ordinary hours of the day going to classes and performing school work. A hard task considering the heavier load that some of his teachers were now giving him.

At the end of the day came the two who disguised themselves, and with the magic of the time turner began the tedious process of negotiating with the shop owners in Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. The two became quietly famous in both alleys. With time being the most pressing in the business, the two had to flaunt their gold to grease the dealings. For those in Knockturn Alley, this resulted in thousands of galleons being exchanged per deal. When that wasn't enough, strong-arm tactics and threats were usually enough for them to sign the Geass scrolls even knowing what was written.

However, knowing and believing were two different things, and Harry made full use of this aspect of the deal, stripping these individuals of everything while owning their silence. With Ginny, she found Diagon Alley to be rather receptive to their deals. While at first, they feared the contradictory contracts would strip them of their businesses and success, she was able to convince them with both coin and assurance that if they worked for Harry instead, they would be looked after even if their businesses went under due to Lucius liquefying their assets. And as more apothecaries signed up, word spread silently among those who secretly hated their current situation. Their whispers even found the ear of the cautious and skeptical Lord Greengrass.

On the first day, Lord Greengrass caught wind that someone was making moves through Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. The next day his connections informed him that a Lady Red and a Lord Return Returner were the ones responsible, but he didn't know what their intentions were. By that night, Greengrass had learned that they were making connections and transactions with businesses under Lucius's Thumb.

This sparked a hint of hope within him, that a chance out was possible. However, realistically he knew this wasn't possible. Even if this unknown individual was trying to move in on Malfoy's control, they wouldn't be able to take him down by buying out the businesses. No one had that kind of money.

Nor did these two have his connections to keep them all in line. Even if the shops weren't bought out, the less scrupulous individuals he controlled would keep them in line. So long as Malfoy was politically powerful and clean, his claim would remain firm. As he thought this, he couldn't have known that the very next day that hope he so quickly ignored would become a beacon he couldn't ignore.

On the second day, Hogwarts would be greeted by an unusual visitor.

In an abandoned classroom, Ginny and a group of friends consisting of some classmates in charms were trying to prepare for the levitating charm that would be shown to them in the coming week. With Halloween right around the bend, Ginny wanted to get a head start in case her exploits with Harry got busier than they already were. When she said this, she got a gaggle of friends to join her in practicing ahead of time.

One of these students was Astoria Greengrass who along with her Slytherin classmates silently joined to leech off the session without really exposing themselves to any public pressure. If anyone asked, they were in the empty classroom first.

"No, no, no." Ginny countered, getting up to help a Hufflepuff girl in her grade. "Try exaggerating the flick. Your wrist is too stiff." The girl nodded and tried again, the quill before her twitched on the desk.

With another attempt, the girl twirled her wand with greater flair and the quill lifted for a moment before falling back onto the desk. Ginny cheered as the young Hufflepuff grew excited. "See!" Ginny cried out. "Keep practicing."

Astoria waved her wand and tried to perform the spell too. She was able to get it to float but it fluttered about as her spell seemed to lose grip on the feather with every other twitch of her wand.

"No, no, no." You're doing it all wrong." An uptight and exasperated Hermione said across from the table of a more stubborn and irradiated Slytherin. "Didn't you hear Ginny? Your wand movement needs to be looser. Swish and Flick."

When Ginny asked if she wanted to help out some first-years learn the spell, Hermione was excited. It tickled that little itch no one knew of and boosted her confidence. She always wanted to help, and this offer seemed like an opportunity to try and help without being criticized by her classmates for helping.

However, Hermione didn't take into consideration the politics of their houses when she agreed. So like the Gryffindor she was, she charged in to help a boy from Slytherin who wasn't having any of it.

"This is complete bollocks." a boy next to Astoria said, a fellow first-year who struggled with his own feather. "Shut up already. I didn't ask or want help from a bloody Gryffindor. Piss off." He ignored the shocked look on Hermione's face as he turned to his other Slytherins. "Why are we taking the risk of associating with these no names?" he asked in frustration.

Ginny smirked as she overheard him along with everyone else in the room. With a confident wave, she swished and flicked her wand toward his feather and made it drift into the air toward her. Ginny had no problem performing the spell, but she had learned recently how useful it was to master.

"You're here because we offered to help anyone who wanted help learning the spell." Ginny replied. "And ego aside, you clearly haven't mastered the spell and wish to learn."

"Yeah, well screw that." He shouted back. "You both suck at teaching. More twist, loosen your wrist, you're saying it wrong. Sounds more like you just want to publicly criticize us."

The vitriol and spite in his voice surprised almost everyone in the room. To most, it was just standard Slytherin behavior. They were the house of vile snakes and terrible people.

"Rather than throwing insults about you should just leave then." Harry said, surprising everyone.

Walking into the classroom Harry stood confidently and proudly in his Slytherin robes looking far more decorative than usual. Only Ginny noticed the cause for this change was his hair. The usual crow's nest upon his head while still wild was more directed in its messiness.

"Shouting out like that just exposes your frustrations to everyone and makes you seem less respectable." Harry added as he left the door open behind him.

"Nobody asked you Potter. Get lost."

Harry smiled at the boy and snorted. "No, I don't think I will." The young boy snarled at the fact Harry didn't back down and instead glared at him. "I already told you. No one is keeping you here. If you don't want help then leave."

Astoria, for her part, was a bit torn by Harry's arrival. The-boy-who-lived prowess with the levitation charm was so legendary that it was practically forgotten. Even so, everyone knew about how he could cast the charm silently despite being a second-year student and even wandlessly. Everyone had seen him do it in the Great Hall while he worked, read multiple books or levitated dishes towards him.

His skill was so good that every time the charms professor tried to catch him in the act, Harry would stop whatever he was doing to make it look like he wasn't levitating anything at all.

All of this was proof that Harry was magically very powerful and skilled. However, because he was viewed as harmless Daphne had told her to try to keep her distance, at least for now. While he could be a powerful ally and was actively against Malfoy and the Darker families in Slytherin. He didn't have the threatening presence or danger that would protect them should they publicly side with him.

She had to remain neutral. Keep her distance while keeping from burning any possible bridges.

She paused at that thought. Technically speaking, if she received help without asking for help during a study group she would technically be building up a relationship without committing to anything. By that logic, it would fall under not burning the metaphorical bridge.

Harry likewise was all for helping without directly dealing with said politics.

"What are you even doing here Potter? Did Malfoy run you off again?"

Harry smirked at the skiving comment as if he hadn't been insulted. Technically he hadn't. The words of a first year meant nothing to him. "If you must know, I came to remind Ms. Weasley to remember the time."

Ginny looked up at this and her gaze darted to the nearby window which showed the sun high in the sky.

"She's assisting me with a Potions project and the ingredients I'm working with can only be interacted with at a specific time."

Harry frowned a little as the overall thoughts grew depressing. Most of the students here were upset that Ginny wouldn't be able to stay to teach them. The unspoken word among them was that Ginny was a much better teacher than Hermione.

"Relax," Harry said. "I'm not taking her away yet. Ginny still has plenty of time to continue this study group." As Harry was about to leave the stuck-up Slytherin who was still pissed at his own failings grumbled away.

"At least the mudblood is more useful than you taking up our time."

The warm room vanished as a cold and dark chill overtook it, scaring everyone. The source was clear to all.

Harry Potter's shadowy figure cut through the icy air as his eye's pupils carried a murderous green highlight around them.

"May I remind you, Russel Derrick, that Ms. Weasley is a pureblood and even if she wasn't, you should never use that word in either of our presence."

"O-o-o-or what?" The poor boy's trembling form stumbled out. "You can't do anything."

Harry smirked at this and the room's atmosphere returned. "I'm sure at least one of you wondered why bother mastering such a lame charm, yes? Wingardium Leviosa. All it does is make objects float." Harry said deliberately off-topic.

"Levitate a book over here. Levitate a brush over there." Harry suddenly turned abruptly with a wand jabbed directly into the poor boy's chest. "Levitate an eighty-pound sack of meat in the shape of a careless boy off the astronomy tower without a broom." He declared coldly.

Everyone in the room was now terrified as Harry glared daggers into the boy. Hermione was particularly torn as she wasn't expecting Harry to act like this. Though she was still worried about what she saw on the pitch not long ago. She turned to Ginny thinking she too would find this abnormal but was surprised as she smiled warmly at Harry as if she knew what he was doing and that it was a good thing.

Harry smiled at the boy and put his wand away. "For the record, Ginny sometimes helps me practice and she can personally tell you that being levitated by your sternum is very unpleasant."

Pointing his wand at a feather he silently cast the spell and lifted it up.

"For those who wish to do good, know that power is only that. Power. No matter what hand it lay in, there is no good or evil in regard to magic. Magic is only as good or as evil as the one who uses it."

He let the feather fall.

"I can just as easily use this charm to force you to fall to your death." He pointed his wand and again silently cast the spell catching the feather.

"And I can just as easily use it to catch a person in free fall." Harry chuckled at that.

"Although I hear there are better spells that are less harmful to do that. The trick isn't that this spell is powerful, its virtue lies in how it's used and envisioned." Turning to Astoria he spoke to her with a smile.

"Ms. Greengrass, may I ask you to try levitating your feather for me?"

Astoria was uncomfortable at the attention but with every eye on her and fearful of what Harry Potter might do she did as she was asked. Levitating the feather it hiccuped every other second.

"Nicely done Miss. Greengrass." Harry declared while clapping. "Now, do you know why your feather tittered every so often while you were levitating it?"

Astoria shook her head. She didn't know, in fact, her sister said it was because she lacked practice.

"It's not a lack of practice if that's what you're thinking." Harry said with a soft smirk. Placing the feather back in front of her he instructed her. "This time don't think of the feather as falling upwards. Point your wand, close your eyes and picture a flat and thin wood plate under the feather. Imagine the two as one object. Once you're done with that image, open your eyes and cast the spell as you would."

Astoria was uncertain about this but did as she was told, her eyes catching sight of the wand in his hand. She closed her eyes and imagined it as Harry whispered aloud. "Imagine a thin, light plate, solid and rigid. Imagine it's a part of the feather and rising up as directed."

She opened her eyes and spoke. "Wingardium Leviosa". She cast the spell and for a second the feather hesitated to move but then with a smooth ascension, the feather levitated without hesitation or falter.

Astoria was amazed and grinning madly as she was performing the spell even better than her sister did.

"Magic is all about intent." Harry stated in experienced wisdom. "All spells function off of three principles in their most rudimentary level. Power, Focus, and Will. You will always need to have the necessary magic to perform certain spells. Focus is a bit more of a variable as some spells simply need a solid memory to be performed while others will require eye contact."

"This charm-" Harry said as he levitated the first-year charms book from behind him to his open and awaiting hand, "does not. Despite what the book says, eye contact isn't needed. A firm special awareness yes, but not eyesight."

Putting the book down he continued while everyone looked on in awe. "But the most important thing is your will. The thoughts and images of magic you put into the spell. A spell you think will fail, usually will. A spell you cast while hoping it doesn't explode in your face, most likely will as you are, in that moment, thinking of it failing."

Harry thought of one classmate in particular. "Ms Greengrass. When you performed the spell you were probably thinking of how a feather falls and was performing the spell with that image but in reverse. As a result, your magic was trying to match that image even while your marvelous control kept trying to hold onto the feather. You cast the spell perfectly. The problem lay in the image, what you expected."

Harry looked at them all as the fear they once had was converted into rapt attention. "Would any of you like to know the simple trick I used to master the spell?" he asked innocently.

The twelve or so students that nodded in the affirmation also spoke for those too hesitant to show their interest publicly. Be it pride or ego, some didn't respond but internally desired to know.

"The trick I use is simple. Imagine your target, the feather in this case, in an empty box. Visualize the feather as being stationary within the box. Wherever you move the feather it will stay there unless the magic is released. The size of this imaginary box is as big or as small as the space you wish to move the feather in."

As Harry said this he levitated several quills to form the corners of an imaginary box. Within said box, a lone feather was hovering in the center and as he explained the box's properties he moved the feather within its confines never letting it exit the box. With his last statement, he moved the outermost quills to make the size grow and shrink to show them what he meant.

"Don't imagine gravity or objects in your path just yet since that's a bit more advanced. Practice with this first and try keeping the feather aloft nice and steady for a minute." Harry started putting everyone back down where it belonged.

"First a minute, then two, then five and so on. Afterwards, try moving it freely within the box. Then increase the weight of the object. If it's too heavy you most likely lack the magic to do so. If so, that's fine. Just keep practicing, it will help improve your power and control of magic. Do this whenever you can. Move utensils slightly around the table. Turn the page of a book slowly. Hold up a book you're reading with the spell. The more you practice it the more ingrained the spell and the feeling of casting it will take root. Eventually, you will have it so ingrained that you won't even need the words and then not even a wand."

As he finished his mini-lecture he concluded with a personal display of magic, levitating thirty items in the room including books, quills, and a piece of furniture or two around the room in a controlled deliberate form before letting them all rest where they originally resided.

All the students looked up in awe as the items all but waltzed in the air, sometimes picking up up a dance partner as Harry talked. When it all settled down there were no longer eyes of fear, pride, or frustration. Everyone was lost in wonder and entranced by Harry's words and eager to learn.

"Would anyone like to give it a try?" Harry questioned with a warm smile.

A few broke free of the entranced state of awe and picked up their wands. Several of them, including a few who were struggling, tried casting the spell as he instructed them to do. While it was clumsy all of them performed the spell to varying degrees of success. Some danced with only the tips still touching the table, while others gained the same twitch in the air that Astoria's feather had. One even seemed to bang its head on an invisible roof that showed they had a good image in mind.

One even went up only to drop back down onto the floor. Likely having left the box that was imagined.

Even if it wasn't perfect, not one failed to get their feather off the table for at least a second.

The grins and shocked smiles came with each success. Even Ginny and Hermione grinned in awe at this. Harry too was pleased with the result and he wasn't the only one.

"Bravo Mr. Potter, Bravo."

Everyone turned to face the door, where Professor Flitwick clapped merrily at the sight. "Twenty points to Slytherin Mr. Potter. For helping out your fellow students and for a spectacular display of understanding on charms. Bravo."

The small Professor waddled his way into the classroom with a cheer that was radiating. "While a bit simplified in places, that was a spectacular display and instruction of a most rudimentary yet essential wizarding skill."

Harry smiled at the professor. "Thank you Professor."

"It is always a welcome sight to see young students studying but even more welcoming to see them helping each other. Well done."

Everyone preened under the praise.

"Just remember Mr. Potter. Usually, I am not very pleased with students threatening each other to prove a point." Flitwick declared with a stern gaze at Harry. Harry shyly nodded but held his small grin. "To be fair, it wasn't intended to be a treat as much as an unhappy example."

"Be that as it may, see you avoid using such examples if you please Mr. Potter." The stout professor insisted.

"I will." Harry assured. "Though I am curious as to what we owe your visit to, sir."

Suddenly remembering why he was here, the Professor jumped with concern. "Oh yes. Mr. Potter. I was looking for you actually."


"Yes," The professor repeated. "Including myself, Professors McGonagall and Snape are also looking for you. Your presence is needed at the Headmaster's office."

"The Headmaster wishes to see me?" Harry asked with a frown. Concern and worry etched over his features created an arch of distrust.

"Not exactly." Flitwick said hesitantly and with his own uncertainty. "You have a guest from the Ministry who wishes to speak with you."

Harry's eyes went wide at this. It was the second day and he was worried that the deal would fall through or would take longer to implement. Harry internally grinned at the thought. Amelia Bones worked fast.

"I'll head over there right away sir." As he left he turned back to Ginny. "Don't forget about my Potions work. Take care of the last of the ingredients well before night lights out. We'll have to do a great deal more tomorrow." Harry said with the masses around them unaware of the message's cryptic meaning.

Ginny nodded and waved goodbye as Hermione looked on curiously. "Oh yeah. Hermione."

Hermione perked up at Harry's sudden focus on her. "I was wondering if you could help me look up some legal references. Stuff pertaining to that topic you learned of last year. During the troll incident."

Hermione looked confused before realizing what he was asking. "Sure." She muttered awkwardly. "I'll see what I can find."

With a glowing smile, Harry thanked her much to her own joy even as he rushed out, the stout Professor departing with cheerful words of encouragement.

Let alone again the room bustled with activity and words of gossip.

"What do you think that was about?"

"I don't know. Did Potter do something wrong?"

"He's a Slytherin. Clearly, he did something. I mean they can't be trusted."

"Yeah but I mean, that was Harry Potter, right? The Harry Potter. I mean, he did just help us right?"

"You mean after threatening us."

"He didn't threaten us, he threatened that idiot who said that word."

"That word?" The girl sitting next to her whispered it into her ear drawing a gasp. "He didn't"

"Malfoy said the same thing."

"But didn't he just walk off and do nothing back then?" one of the Ravenclaws asked, getting caught in the conversation.

"He did." The Slytherin boy who insulted Ginny said aloud. "Potter's a coward." he bit out in annoyance that he had appeared weak in public because of Harry.

"Harry is many things but he isn't a coward." Hermione firmly declared drawing all eyes onto her. Memories of the troll and his figure glaring angrily towards her looming threat. "Harry is kind and brave. I'd like to see any of you stand up against a mountain troll and defeat it in your first year." She challenged the crowd.

"That's a lie." another Ravenclaw student shouted. "I heard. A first-year can't beat a mountain troll. My brother said so."

"Harry did." Ginny cut in humming happily. "And it wasn't a fluke. Harry's powerful and skilled." She looked at Hermione as she continued talking. "He's also kind, too kind." she said with a hint of sadness.

"You called him a coward because all of last year the fourth through fifth year Slytherin's tried to hurt Harry but couldn't catch him. Harry didn't fight them because to Harry it wasn't a fight. They weren't even worth his attention."

She looked smugly at her fellow Slytherin and added, "When a fly bugs you, do you fight it? No. You wave your hand and ignore it, in the hopes it leaves you alone."

The boy was about to say something but before he could Ginny's tone grew harsher as she added. "Then there's Malfoy. When a bug goes out of its way to annoy you and doesn't get the message-" Ginny clapped her hands firmly, eliciting a loud slap that reverberated loudly. "You squish it."

"Yeah well, Potter hasn't done that, has he? Malfoy's still in one piece." The boy countered. "If Potter was as good as you two claim he is, he would have put Malfoy down already." he said letting slip the fact he wasn't a fan of Malfoy. Not surprising seeing the current company he was currently keeping.

Ginny chuckled at this. "Harry isn't like that." She turned around and started practicing her spell work, displaying skill that was clearly above a first-year student.

"Harry is kind to people, but he isn't kind to those who make themselves his enemies. Harry will bend over backwards to help you if you ask him to. He's loyal, brave, and smart, but most of all he's cunning. He won't fight you head on, on your own terms and when he fights you he does so with the intent that you won't recover. He won't play with you, or even let you know he's fighting you. And when you become away from it," she slowly paused to make the moment feel more ominous, "it'll be too late."

"Harry won't kill or hurt those he makes himself his enemies." Ginny said coldly, turning to the listening Slytherins. "He'll force you to suffer, and wish for death."

She looked off into the distance a bit. "Death is a kindness in Harry's eyes. A cold yet comforting thing. Death is a gentle end to the cruelties of the world. A conclusion to a proper life lived. For Harry, Death is something that shouldn't be gifted to those who hurt him or his."

The first years and fellow classmates sat there sitting on that last statement. A cold draft flowed around them as the stone walls sheltered them. "T-then what about Malfoy?"

Ginny turned to look at the Hufflepuff she spoke up. "What about Malfoy? Doesn't that mean Harry doesn't view him as an enemy?" she asked softly but hesitantly.

Ginny smiled warmly, "It's like I said, they won't even know he's fighting them. By the time he realizes it, it will be too late."

Far from the discussion and ominous tones laid bare by Ginny, Harry made haste toward the Gargoyle that guarded the headmasters' office. Behind him, the stout Professor was keeping pace. The stone statue stood at attention before moving as Flitwick sputtered the password, Sherbet lemon. As the statue moved aside Harry ascended into the Headmaster's office.

Climbing up the staircase Harry entered the Headmaster's office where Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape all awaited his arrival.

In his disproving drawling tone Snape fixed a glare on Harry. "Late again Potter."

"I would have been on time Professor, had I been informed I had a meeting to attend." Harry retorted back with enough politeness to sound mocking. Ignoring his Head of House's twitching angrily, Harry smiled towards McGonagall while ignoring Dumbledore.

"Evening Professor. May I ask why everyone is here and why I was asked to be here?"

"A particularly important individual has requested to meet you, Harry."

In the corner of the room just to the side of where Fawk's stand stood two individuals awaiting this introduction. Stepping forward in her professional attire Amelia Bones greeted him.

"Mr. Potter. I am Amelia Bones. Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for the Ministry of Magic. Beside me is one of my most capable Aurors and long-time colleague, Alastor Moody."

Offering her hand Harry accepted her greeting with one of his own. Despite her harsh and intimidating professional determiner, Harry stood slightly cheerful as he shook her offered hand.

"A pleasure madam, if not a bit confusing one. I can only hope this meeting is a personal one rather than a business one." Harry stated.

"A bit of both." Amelia said curtly. "An acquaintance of yours requested a meeting at your behest."

To Amelia's shock, Harry's smile grew to that of a thousand suns. "I will have to thank him then. While I didn't ask for it, I have wished for this meeting to happen at some point."

"I am a busy woman, Mr. Potter. Please be curt. Why do you wish to speak with me?"

"Perhaps we should give our guests a place to sit before we get started." Dumbledore supplied, cutting in. Magically moving some chairs into position for those standing before him. McGonagall also transformed a few random objects into sitting chairs for herself and her frowning colleagues.

Harry looked at the Headmaster with a frown before nodding with a smile of his own. Neither could tell the other's smile was genuine. "While I won't take up her time I agree some decorum of hospitality will be necessary."

Offering the chair given Harry sat down while Amelia hesitated before accepting the chair offered. Alastor remained standing in the corner but was almost completely focused on the boy before him. In the back of his mind, he swore something was off about Harry Potter. Something he couldn't quite put his wand on. A mix of familiarity and discord swung back and forth between his reason and instincts.

"Madam Bones. As the last son of House Potter, I wish to meet with Sirius Black personally."

The quieting and comfortable mood quickly flew into the ravages of chaos as those present took this blunt statement in wildly different ways. Professor McGonagall gasped at this with a look of dismay. Snape looked like he bit into a particularly sour yet delicious lemon. Dumbledore frowned with concern as to why Harry would ask for this.

"Mr. Potter. Please understand that setting up an appointment with a condemned prisoner is not for the light of heart. In order for you to meet Sirius Black, it would require you to be taken to Azkaban itself." Amelia warned.

"Out of the question." McGonagall chimed in. A child being taken to Azkaban was madness. What's more, she knew about Harry's condition and what that meant for his history. Dementors prayed on the happiness of people, and the darker their backgrounds, the less happiness within them, the more a Dementor affected said individual. "Madam Bones. We're talking about a second-year student being taken to Azkaban. What you're suggesting isn't the same as a trip to Hogsmead or Diagon Alley."

"But it is my request." Harry cut in looking over his shoulder towards McGonagall. "Thank you Professor, but I know at least enough to understand the situation I am requesting."

"Harry." Dumbledore chimed in with a soft worried tone. "Why do you wish to meet with your Parents Murderer?"

Harry looked toward Albus to see the concern in his eyes. More shocking was that legitimate concern and worry in him.

"Closure. I suppose." Harry answered. "The rest of the world has accepted the situation for what it is. Sirius Black, a friend of my family betrayed them and in doing so left them to die at the hands of their true killer."

He folded his hands and gripped them tight. Trying to hold back the outburst he wished to shout inwardly. At the injustice, he knew had befallen Sirius. At the concern presented by Albus Dumbledore who knowingly ignored his parents' will. In fact, because he did so, not only did he himself suffer unnecessarily. At his own ignorance for being unable to rationalize the meaning behind this duality within Dumbledore.

Harry shook his head. He would think about it later. He would for now chalk it up to having good caring intentions but none of the self-awareness to recognize the evil of his actions. This discussion was more important, for now.

"I need to know what happened that night." Harry added looking directly into Amelia Bones' eyes. Amelia was surprised at this stare. This wasn't a child's stare. No, before her was a warrior. He had the eyes of a veteran who had seen battle and conflict.

Curiously probing, she stated, "That is quite the gaze Mr. Potter. You don't see that kind of look in ordinary children."

"I am glad." Harry stated with a smile. "If what I endured was anything ordinary I would be fearful for the future of our world."

Standing up he removed his outer robe before folding it on the Chair. "Please pardon me for a moment and bare with me." He said. Ignoring the sputterings and outcry of shamelessness Harry removed his shirt to reveal a very well-toned and fit twelve-year-old."

"This summer." Harry stated as he pulled his head free of his shirt's collar. "I came to learn that I have a particular skill that is very rare in the wizarding world. A skill I have been subconsciously using for most of my life."

Amelia watched as slowly his skin morphed from the prim Greek-inspired statuesque sculpted child to that of an honorific tale of torment and suffering as scars, burns, scratches, and tears emerged from beneath his skin.

"I learned that I'm a metamorphmagus. Not a particularly skilled one mind you, I can't change my appearance all that much. At most I can change my hair and hide my scars." Harry explained as shock overtook his audience. Alastor alone was the only one whose eyes tightened up at the sight of the boy's body. Suspicion and anger rolled up in one old volatile basin.

"How did you get these injuries?" Amelia asked with horrified boiling injustice. Some of the injuries looked like torture wounds. In fact, a lot of them were. Some even looked almost like war scars that some of her Aurors had endured and suffered. Many still carried them. Alastor behind her definitely did.

Putting his shirt back on and bringing the curtain down on his showcase Harry curtly replied. "If I wish for you to bring that law down on those responsible Madam Bones I will ask for your aid. Otherwise, I do not wish to look back on events I have already gained closure over." He declared with a finality to his ends.

"I want one thing. Can you take me to meet Sirius Black Madam Bones?"

That one question was an easy one to answer but ethically not one she wanted to answer. Could she, yes. Should she, was another question entirely.

"How do we know those aren't fake scars?" Alastor chimed in gruffly.

"Alastor!" McGonagall shouted out appalled at the man's indignant and disregarding claim.

"I know war scars when I see them, girl! The boy just admitted to being a Metamorph and I'm currently working with one. I know what they can do. How do we know that boy isn't trying to manipulate us by pulling our heartstrings."

"Besides the fact we know you don't have a heart?" Harry smugly countered drawing the eyes of everyone to his cheerful mocking. Pulling his robe back over his clothes Harry chuckled as he received a burning glare from Alastor. Everyone else is trying to come to grips that Harry just had the gall to insult a trained and famous Auror.

"To answer your question, Sir Alastor Moody, you don't" Harry abruptly admitted. "You either believe my words or don't. I will admit. Some of these injuries simply appeared on my person and I know not where they came from. Lifting his shirt to show a trio of bullet wounds on his right hip Harry stated honestly, "These for example are here, yet I never once have been shot at by a muggle firearm."

A true statement. That particular trio was from a magic gun. Plus, he hadn't been shot this time around yet either.

"However, a majority of these scars are real and not fake. Even if you don't believe that, you can always ask the headmaster about my condition."

Albus's eyes shot up at the admission and was about to speak before Harry added, "What I am, what my condition is, and how I beat a mountain troll last year is something you can ask him at your own time. Whenever you wish it, I can prove to you his claim is real and these scars bore fruit of some nature. However, my question still stands."

Harry returned his gaze to Amelia Bones. "Will you take me to meet Sirius Black in Azkaban Prison?

Amelia waged a small war internally before she answered.

"It will take time, but I will arrange a meeting. Just remember, that Azkaban is not a hospitable place to visit."

Harry smiled and nodded, "Neither was my home for the last ten years." he muttered.

"Thank you Madam Bones. That is all I can ask for."

Amelia got up and was going to make ready to leave before she asked Harry a question she had been eager to find an answer to. "Before I leave I have something I wish to ask of you Mr. Potter."

"What is it?"

"One of my Aurors informed me that you are knowledgeable about an obscure field of magic that was recently used… by some dark wizards. Would you know anything that could help?"

"I don't see how I could help but if I can I will." Harry answered while wondering which magic that he used during his raid on the ministry that left the Aurors befuddled.

"What do you know about spirit users?"

"Summoners or Channelers?" Harry inquired.

Amelia was taken aback. She didn't know how to answer because she didn't know there were multiple variants to the term. Taking a gamble Amelia decided to slip a bit of confidential info.

"Several Aurors were enclosed in ice during an attack in the ministry. Witnesses saw what appeared to be vials being thrown before the surge of magic trapped them."

"Channeler then." Harry concluded. "Channelers use catalysts or mediums as focal points for magical reactions. These catalysts are basically pseudo or proto wands. They're limited to single use reactions but depending on the catalyst can be highly potent magically."

"I've never heard of this." Amelia muttered with intrigue. "How did you come to learn of it?"

"An old notebook." Harry said flatly to the befuddlement of those present.

"And where did you find this notebook?" Amelia asked to which Harry pointed down at his feet. "An abandoned room on the sixth or seventh floor. It was last year and a lot happened."

Amelia tapped her chin as she considered that.

"A notebook?" Amelia pondered aloud. While it was Hogwarts what were the odds of such a book finding its way into Hogwarts. "Would you be willing to let us borrow this book for our investigation?"

Harry shrugged but nodded. Putting his hand into his robes Harry pulled out the book in question.

"Do you always just carry around obscure objects like that Potter?" Alastor suspiciously asked.

"Yes." Harry said flatly as he opened up his robes to reveal a medley of items ranging from school books, potions, notes, and quills. Amelia even though she spotted a dark magic detector coiled up in his robs nearly hidden by his chest.

Closing his robes Harry shrugged. "Call me paranoid."

"May I ask another question Mr. Potter?" Amelia asked before Alastor could interrupt again with his own brand of paranoia.

"Of course." Harry replied.

"Do you know who Mr. Returner is?"

Harry and the professors noticed the odd question and looked at Harry with curiosity, some with suspicion. "I know of him." Harry admitted.

"What can you tell me about him?"

"Has he caused some kind of trouble?"

Amelia considered this for a moment before speaking, "For now he hasn't done anything that goes against the law."

So she's looking for answers about my alter ego's identity. Harry smirked inwardly as he realized he might have to stay hidden for a while till he was no longer being hunted down. Ginny may have to do the same. Whatever the reason being, it seemed his appearance might be making bigger waves than he intended.

"Well, I don't know him personally. I know him about as well as I do a fresh on the street shop owner. I know that the Goblins tolerate his presence and even smile at him. I know he's a hermit of sorts and works as a handyman of sorts."

"A handyman?" Alastor cut in with a raised brow.

"Yes." Harry confirmed. "He doesn't work in any one field. From what I understand he'll do anything from sweeping the streets to managing a bank account if he so chooses."

"And may I ask how and what he is working on for you?" Amelia asked carefully.

"Since I'm stuck in Hogwarts I asked him to perform some business for me in and around Diagon Alley." Harry admitted. "In particular, I asked him to look into the real estate of Diagon Alley as well as the local businesses."

"To what end?" Amelia pressed.

"To establish my own income." Harry said sternly. Amelia raised her own brow at this as Harry explained. "I am a minor Ma'am. Most of my family's wealth is locked away in Gringotts."

"Your parents left you with more than enough to make a living for yourself Harry," Albus added softly knowing the love his parents had for him.

Harry admitted that there was truth to that statement. Everything he had heard about his parents pointed to them being loving individuals. A bit foolish and reckless maybe in events pertaining to his father, but loving all the same.

Still, "While they may have left me well off I fancy myself an industrialist and independent individual. While I can use money given to me, I prefer to use money I myself have earned or worked for." Harry said firmly.

Taking a breath Harry carried on while trying to take in the depth of Amelia's thoughts while under Albus Dumbledore's careful gaze.

"As far as I know, hiring someone to look into potential investments and looking into the real estate market isn't a crime. At least, I hope he hasn't committed any crime that would reflect poorly on my interests."

Amelia nodded. "I see. Still, you should be careful in any dealings with suspicious individuals Mr. Potter. While Hogwarts is as safe a place you can find, the rest of the world isn't."

Harry smirked. "Madam Bones. The mere existence of your job tells me that." Ignoring his cheek with a smile from herself she listened as Harry continued.

"Even so. I would like to think I have some control over the events in my life. So long as they do not betray my interests or do harm against others I will continue to place my trust in those who offer their services willingly. If that changes, then I will offer what help I can in ensuring you can arrest such individuals without trouble or injury."

"Let us hope that isn't necessary. Thank you Mr. Potter for meeting with me."

"Of course Madam Bones."

Harry smiled as he shook her offered hand again. In mid-shake, a thought came to him. "One more thing."

Amelia looked at him as he pondered a question. "I'm not particularly well informed on this topic, but if one wished to make a donation to support a particular department of the Ministry, how would they go about making said, donation?"

Harry could have laughed at the look on everyone's faces. McGonagall and Albus looked both intrigued and curious at my question. Snape for the first time was lost in his own head trying to make sense of the point and goal of asking how to make a donation. Even Alastor looked confused and curious at the request. Even a significantly bit interesting.

"Well Mr. Potter if you go to the Ministry you can inform the clerk there that you wish to make a donation to a specific department if you so desire to make a donation." Amanda answered.

"And if I wanted to make sure my donation goes to said department and not to some other corrupt department in the Ministry?" Harry countered much to the gall of everyone but Alastor who broke out laughing.

"GyaahAHAHAA! Boy you have balls to say that to the Head of the Department of Law Enforcement." He mirthfully bellowed out between gut-wrenching laughs.

Harry smirked and shrugged. "She's the Head of Law Enforcement. Last I checked the Ministry didn't make a law for donations to make it easier to steal money into their own wallets."

This brazenness drew forth even more laughter from the aged Auror who was entirely interested now. "You think Bones here will let such corruption happen under her watch?"

"Honestly I'm more surprised she has eyesight at all with how much she probably has to swim through to reach her desk." Harry jokingly said. This killed Alastor as he broke into an uncontrollable fit, slamming his cane into the floor, having never met someone with such gall to speak to him without backing away. It was nice to deal with someone who had a backbone and didn't bow down to his reputation and gruff appearance.

Getting himself under control Alastor chuckled. "I haven't had a good laugh like that in a long time. Don't put too much thought into it lad. I hear you write to Nymphadora Tonks. I'm currently teaching that brat to be a true Auror. If you're worried just tell her you plan to make a donation and she'll make sure we know to expect it."

Harry smiled. "Excellent. Sorry if that was rude, but I've come to believe that if you want to be successful in the world you have to be constantly vigilant to all possibilities."

This got another series of chuckles from Alastor which sounded like rolling grunts. "Damn RIGHT!" he cheered gruffly. "It's like I said, Constant Vigilance!"

Harry cheered in with him and the two jokingly laughed together.

Amelia Bones only hung her head at what she had just heard. "Just what I need. A second Alastor."

Albus, while surprised at the boy's quick bonding with his old friend, just smiled at the honest joy Harry was expressing. While still concerned about his future plans, he was glad that Harry could laugh and smile honestly like this.

Clearly, the bridges he had intended to build would be hard fought as he clearly lost the boy's trust and faith. However, seeing this brought ease to the old man's mind. This honest showing at least alleviated his fears of a second Tom. After all, Tom had never laughed, and certainly not out loud like this.

Of a similar mindset, McGonagall was also pleased to see Harry was enjoying himself. While still worried about him visiting Sirius Black she could discuss that with him later during one of their weekend sessions. Perhaps it would be a good time to tell him what she knew about Sirius Black. The boy seemed to already know the story and while worrying as that was, it meant that she had no reason to hide it anymore.

Silver lining, she would have many more stories to tell.

"Thank you, headmaster, for setting up and offering your office for this meeting." Amelia stated as she headed toward the exit, Alastor, close behind her, his magic eye never leaving its focus on the boy he had shared a laugh with.

"Not at all. Please have a safe trip. Minerva, Filius. Would you both kindly escort the Head of the Department of Law Enforcement to the nearest floo. The two nodded and followed out of the office leaving Harry with both his Head of House and Headmaster.

"Well that was quite the interesting meeting, wouldn't you say Harry." Albus warmly spoke aloud. Ignoring him Harry simply kept his focus on the door that had just closed.

"Can't help but cause trouble, can you Potter." Snape sneered with his oily vocal tone.

"If there is nothing else Headmaster, I'll be going back to my studies." Harry said curtly not wanting to be in the presence of two individuals he didn't fully trust.

"Twenty Points for your disrespect, Potter." Snape sneered out.

"Take another fifty Snape. I'll give you two the respect shown." Harry snapped back.

"Severus." Albus placatingly called but to no avail.

"Another twenty points Potter. You're just as disrespectful as your father."

A loud Bang shattered the tense moment as a crack tore apart the weighting table and into the floor. The two pieces fell apart and left a loud thud upon the cold stone floor. "I also have my mothers temper, Severus." Harry said with a bitingly chilly tone.

Snape opened his mouth to retort but Harry wandlessly silenced his mouth with his own magic, his eye glaring into the professor. "If you wish for my respect, Professor, and I use the term loosely, then you will show respect to me in turn. Even the other instructors have the courtesy to call me Mr. Potter when addressing me. Neither you nor the Headmaster are my friend, nor do you have my trust or faith." Harry spat out. Turning to the Headmaster he asked with finality and no shortage of impatience, "I came because Professor Flitwick requested my presence for Lady Bones. Since she has left. Am I permitted to return to my studies? Or am I to be accosted here by yourself and this man-child who can't tell the difference between a twelve-year-old and his dead father?"

"Har-" Albus started for he recalled himself and spoke anew. "Mr. Potter, while your presence to remain is requested, you are not a prisoner here." With a flick of his wand, Albus opened the door behind Harry. "You may leave if that is your wish. However, I humbly request you to remain for a quiet discussion."

Tearing his gaze back from the Headmaster and then towards his Head of House who had finally broken his spell and was about to speak-

"Severus. I believe the next round of classes is starting. You should go tend to your students. As according to you, they have much to learn." Albus voices gingerly.

Snape looked like he was slapped and betrayed but he understood the intent. Shut up and leave. With a subtle cold sneer and overall controlled expression, the grim professor left with a flourish of his cloak. Taken aback at this behavior Harry remained tense but observed silently for now as the Professor left the room without a sound.

When the door closed Harry held his gaze for a moment before accepting the man's departure and turning to Albus who until then waited and hadn't moved.

Seeing he now had Harry's attention he gestured for Harry to sit. "Come have a seat Ha-Mr. Potter."

Harry silently did so, sensing no treat yet. "Of course sir." As he sat down Harry took note that all of a sudden the chair he sat in was much more comfortable than the one he was seated in before.

"May I call you Harry?" Albus asked. Harry instantly tightened his focus. Albus raced his hand to pacify, "This is a request. I will respect your answer."

Harry considered this and nodded slowly. "For this discussion only." he answered to which Albus smiled cheerfully. "I'd offer a lemon drop but I assume you're not one for sweets."

"While on occasion I do, this isn't one of them."

"Ah, a shame." Albus picked up a candy and popped it into his mouth. "Did you have a good summer, Harry?"

"I did." Harry answered. "I would say it was the best summer to date."

"Ah." Albus murmured with sadness, "Yes, I suppose that would be the case considering your condition. I assume that particular ailment hasn't been causing you many problems Harry?"

Harry shrugged since he hadn't really had any problems since the Troll appeared. "Aside from last year, it's been quiet. I'm sure Madam Pomfrey could inform you of this."

"She could. Unfortunately, she and I have been a bit at ends with each other as of late. She came to me with a proposal that, unfortunately, the wizarding community at large would never accept."

"This wouldn't happen to have something to do with MUK, would it?" Harry asked, to which Albus chuckled.

"You really are very bright for your age Harry. Just like your mother and father." Albus said cheerfully while directing the conversation away from the topic. As quickly as that cheer arose, it then gave way to a sad look.

"Harry. On a more serious note, I would like to know where you disappeared too this summer."

Harry frowned and raised a brow at this. "I may be a Slytherin professor but I'm not willing to play verbal swordplay with you. Why do you wish to know about my whereabouts this summer? "Headmaster," Harry said suspiciously, the hostility thick in his tone. "Why should I tell you? Historically you don't have a good track record of picking out good homes for children."

Albus remained silent but looking into Harry's eyes he saw two things. The first was a boy who had come to distrust him and secondly an intelligent young man who apparently knew more than he should.

"I won't read your mind Harry, you can look me in the eyes."

Harry snorted at this but his retort was cut short by Albus.

"With all due respect, I fear my feeble mind would crumble under your capable defenses, Harry. After all, Snape is capable enough to keep out Voldemort's, Harry, and last year I assume you repelled his rather rude invasion of privacy."

"And the law." Harry cut grimly. "Why hasn't he been fired for breaking the law."

Albus paused for a moment before he answered, "That is a tricky question to answer. At its simplest, I made a promise to Severus Harry. He is a troubled man with many past mistakes. I have already warned him that such behavior won't be forgiven again and that I would have to break my promise if he is caught doing so again."

"A law unenforced doesn't exist sir."

"I suppose that is true. Even so, I will give you my word and magic if that is what it takes to earn your trust, Harry."

Harry considered that for a moment but took note that the Headmaster was being honest in his attempt to promote dialogue. At the very least he could not sense any deceit or misdirection in his intent. The man almost seemed defeated.

"I bought myself a place of residence through Gringotts." Harry explained. "It is a quiet homely place that no one knows the location of."

"Oh? Such a purchase couldn't have been cheap." Albus said with a hint of pride in his words. An honest mix of being both impressed at Harry and curious about this action. Inwardly, Albus was curious as to how Harry made such a purchase. To his knowledge he hadn't. The monitors placed around his vault remained inactive since his first visit last year. So unless Harry had an income he was unaware of he shouldn't have been able to make such a purchase.

Then again, Harry did make a mention about earning his own income. He would have to look into it later; discreetly. For now he would have to proceed cautiously.

"I won't return to my relatives, Professor. And I'm not stupid. I know I am famous and if Draco has taught me anything, it is that I have far more enemies than I do friends at the moment. That is why you left me with my relatives. To keep me safe."

"Yes Harry." Albus admitted. "I left you with them believing that as a family they would take care of you. Honestly, I never expected nor heard that they were harming you to such a degree."

Harry accepted this, at least for now. While still suspicious about Albus' actions in regard to his parents' will at the moment, Harry wasn't going to press him for answers. After all, he would likely get nothing but lies if he did. Half-truths at best. Besides, Harry was pretty sure it was something like, I thought it was for the best, or others couldn't be trusted.

"Well if you are concerned about whether my new residence is safe or not, I can inform you that it is. If you don't believe me, you can always try to find me again during the upcoming summer."

Albus didn't flinch guiltily at this, but he almost did. He had already lost the boy's trust and was regretting it. Harry was not Tom, that Dumbledore was confident of. There were similarities but plenty of important differences. In order for the best possible outcome to come to pass, for the future of the wizarding world, for the greater good he needed to regain Harry's trust.

In hindsight, trying to track him down against his will wouldn't help him in this endeavor. "I don't think that will be necessary, Harry. I just hope that in case you are wrong you have a place or someone who knows where you are so that if anything happens you can rely on them."

"Ms. Tonks knows where I live and the Tonks family I would like to believe would be more than willing to take me in should my protections be breached and fail me." Harry declared confidently. In hindsight, Harry thought that perhaps he shouldn't have said that but he had already admitted it.

Well, thinking positively at the very least it didn't burn the fragile bridge between him and the Headmaster. Who knows, perhaps it would make the old man less nosy and make him back off a bit.

"Is there anything else, professor?

"Is my presence that unwelcoming Harry?" Albus asked. If not for the chuckle in his voice Harry would have thought he had come off insulting.

"That isn't it sir. Rather, I've been busy studying and to be honest, I've been meaning to have a proper discussion with someone."

"Ah, would this perhaps be the young Ms. Weasley?"

"Close." Harry chuckled seeing the old man's love for gossip and information come out just a bit. The only time the collected poker face facade ever collapsed just a little.

"I have found myself becoming distant from Hermione. Being in different houses hasn't helped, rival houses at that, but I have been meaning to talk with her and I was planning on apologizing today for my, um, lack of presence I guess."

"I see." the Headmaster mutters with a knowing grin. "Then let me not hold you up. Oh, and might I suggest making a right upon leaving instead of a usual left towards the dungeons."

Harry nodded but didn't say anything as he politely left the Headmaster. Not quite sure of what to make of their discussion. If the old man hadn't been as polite as he had, Harry wouldn't have even considered even offering his time. Seeing him make a concerted effort that went against what he believed to be a controlling nature was both unsettling and unusual.

As he left Harry made a mental note to keep his distance but not ignore the headmaster's actions. Something had changed and Harry didn't know what it was. While that left the possibility of hope for the future, Harry wasn't willing to bet on it either.

He already had his mind made up. He would give Albus the benefit of ignorance. Not excusable but forgivable. If he repeated that same mistake for some Machiavellian scheme.

Harry was about to turn left to head to the dungeons when a stray thought hit him. His name specifically. Harry smirked as he looked over his shoulder in the opposite direction.

"Turn left, he says." Harry mockingly chuckled before he walked down the hall and to the corner.

"Hello Hermione."

Hermione jerked up when Harry turned the corner to face him. "Harry! I, um... wanted to talk with you."

The poor girl's mind was racing a mile a minute, so much so that it actually hurt a bit. "Want to take a walk with me?" Harry offered. Hermione looked up and nodded.

The two walked down the hall in silence. While comfortable it was also awkward as neither was sure how to start off.

"I should apologize for what happened at the field a few days ago." Harry abruptly said.

"You didn't do anything wrong. In fact, you stopped Ginny from breaking the rules and attacking Malfoy." A confused Hermione countered.

"But I did scare you."

Hermione said nothing because while she should have been terrified, she wasn't..

The Harry she saw facing down Malfoy was scary. The twisted distortion and contradiction of his courage clashing with the kindness she knew was inside him was terrifying.

But she had time to come to grips with that. Thanks to Ginny she knew that Harry was, even angry, kind and caring. He was scary, because he cared so much about her.

Even though that still left her feeling uncomfortable around Harry, that was more to do with how she felt, not whether Harry was dangerous.

Harry's sudden chuckle confused her still before he explained why he suddenly started laughing. "Sorry, I guess it just hit me that I now know what I got from my mom."

"Your mom?"

"Yeah. McGonagall told me stories of how scary my mom was when angered." Harry explained sadly.

"I'm sorry they died, Harry. I'm sure she was a great witch."

"I would say you're a better one myself." Harry countered much to her embarrassment and pride. "My mom was considered the witch of her day but not even she was as good at magic as you are."

"I'm just books and cleverness Harry. I don't think I'm that great."

"You are." Harry quickly countered, shocking Hermione at the firmness in his words. "Don't get me wrong, you have your flaws. But your talents and gifts matter more in the long run, especially since you can outgrow your flaws."

"Like my inability to make friends?" Hermione bit out harshly more at herself than Harry.

"I was thinking more along the lines of 'stickler for rules', but I think after our last discussion before the pitch incident made you realize that." Harry added.

And in truth it did. A lot of what Hermione thought was now in question as she tried earnestly to see the reasoning behind a rule or law rather than simply what it was and blindly following it. She had already spent a lot of time going into the rules of the school and was beginning to realize that she might have been viewing the rules wrong from the very beginning.

Harry saw all of this as her thoughts rang out like a bronze bell, clear and loud for all. He knew she was trying, but in doing so, her faith and confidence in herself were collapsing as the name Hermione was being overtaken by the word egotistical. Not in the manner that she was better, but that she was always right to follow the rules.

Something she learned Harry rarely did and for good reasons. Had he not broken the rules to save her, she likely wouldn't be alive.

Harry could understand it. She had grown up alone, different, and socially awkward. She clung to the things she loved, books and rules. When she learned she was a witch she had the bright hope of a new beginning, of being accepted.

But while teachers acknowledged her, their words fell hollow when contrasted by the contempt her peers directed towards her.

"Is my thinking wrong? Is it wrong to believe in those who are supposed to teach and help us? They're teachers for a reason. I mean, they're better than us." Hermione contemplated.

Even earlier, Ginny and Harry were better at helping others than she was and they feared Harry. Some in his house even seemed to hate him. Yet this hadn't prevented him from helping teach them how to improve and be better.

"I look at it this way." Harry said, breaking Hermione out of the potential death spiral of negative thoughts about herself. "Teachers and students only have one difference. A teacher has failed more times than a student has tried. Sure they hold positions of power, but they are still people."

Turning to Hermione Harry carried on as he took her hand. "There's nothing wrong in placing your faith in them. Belief based on truth isn't wrong. They have experienced more than us. They enforce rules that are in place for reasons that should make it safer for us to learn as well. But we shouldn't be blind to either of those things. We live our lives and do what we want to do. If we break the rules we will have to endure the consequences of that. Regardless of whether or not we get caught, we'll have to accept our actions and the consequences of them. Personally, the wizarding world so far reminds me of the Catholic Church.

"Why? That's a bit of an odd comparison." Hermione exclaimed. "How are any of them like the Catholic Church?"

"Know anything about Galileo Galilei?"

"Of course, he was an astronomer who helped prove the heliocentric model of astronomy."

"And was put under house arrest and caved under the Catholic Church, an authoritative power that was presently on the defensive against the reformation and anything that contradicted their doctrine."

"Well, they were wrong to do so but what does that have to do with-"

"Remind you of how the wizarding world treats MUK? Or perhaps what they consider dark magic? Don't you think the Ministry's response seems highly reminiscent of them? How about how legilimency and occlumency aren't even learnable in the Hogwarts library."

"I-" Hermione began hesitantly, "guess I can see what you're saying, but that shouldn't give people the excuse to break rules."

Harry shook his head. "What if the rules hurt people?"

Hermione froze upon this thought. There weren't any rules that hurt people. She read a great deal about the subject after her argument with Daphne.

"The law states that you can't use magic outside of Hogwarts." Harry stated harshly. "Do you think that those from magical families don't practice magic or their studies outside of Hogwarts?"

Hermione couldn't say they didn't. She didn't know, but she could rationalize that they did.

"Would you not agree that law hurts those born to muggle families, or those who live in muggle communities." Harry asked.

Hermione couldn't argue because he had a point. "But breaking the rules is still wrong."

"If it hurts someone then it's wrong. If it doesn't hurt anyone but myself, should it be illegal?"

Hermione wasn't sure how to answer that.

"What are you really after Hermione?" Harry asked, closing the distance between them. Hermione hadn't noticed but the two had walked all the way down to the dungeons. An empty hallway where no one could see or hear them.

"I know you cling to the rules and figures of authority but that's not what you really want to ask or do. You're fishing for something. You want me to justify something. What are you hesitating about?"

Hermione swallowed at the closeness between them. Her mouth was dry and her tongue felt heavy. She opened her mouth but for the first time, nothing came out. No argument or agreement. No answer or question lay waiting to be presented. She was speechless. Why was she arguing this? This wasn't what she wanted. Why was Harry even arguing this with her?

He said she had her charms, hell why would he bother hanging around her otherwise? She could believe in that right?"

"Come on Hermione, use that smart brain of yours. I know you talked with Ginny. I know we've been growing distant and you're afraid. I can see it in your actions and eyes."

Hermione blushed and cursed. Damn him, he was too close. She wanted him to back up, to step away. Why was her heart beating so fast? It was starting to hurt.

To her surprise, Harry pulled back and gave her room. Hermione blinked and took a breath calming down and thankful that Harry backed up a bit. His eyes however still bore into her. She felt his gaze covering her like a shroud. She felt naked. Like even her thoughts were exposed.

She squeezed her legs together to try and relieve the uncomfortable pressure she was feeling.

"This entire time you've been saying why you believe in the rules. I already know why you follow them. Faith, belief, admiration, a sense of justice. These are traits that you have. You believe rules exist to keep people safe, that those that break them will either be hurt or hurt others. You admire those in authority because you respect and admire their accomplishments. You have a sense of justice because you are kind and caring to the point some people find it overbearing or threatening."

Harry pointed a finger at her chest, directly over her heart without breaking eye contact. "So what is it you are really trying to justify? Why say any of this to me who already knows about these great aspects of Hermione Granger."


What did she want?

Harry smiled, "You know that I break the rules."

Hermione didn't move. She knew he disregarded the rules.

"You did too, trying to stop that thief from stealing the stone last year." Harry stated.

She did. It was the reason he broke the rules in the first place. He had to save her because she was foolish.

"You're not trying to justify last year. Had you not gone, the stone would have been stolen. Even if you failed to stop the thief, it motivated me to act."

Hermione recalled something Ginny had told her. 'Harry cares about us. Me and you.' Yet, Harry and Ginny were far closer than she was. She felt like an outsider. The two of them were so close. Ginny knew more about him and understood him better than she did. How was she supposed to deal with that?

"Ask me." Harry suddenly said. "Draw out that Gryffindor courage of yours and ask me what you really want. Ignore reason and rationality. What does Hermione Granger what from Harry Potter."

"I want to hang out and be friends with you" Hermione blurted out before she could utter a thought. The sudden outburst caused a burning flush to light up her face as she sputtered wordlessly and cursed herself internally. Even Harry was dumbstruck by the sudden admittance he didn't expect so readily.

Hermione for the first time truly wanted to hide under a rock and die. This was so embarrassing. She all but made a fool of herself and in front of Harry of all people. Years of isolation and social neglect were now hounding and insulting her for her stupidity but Harry's laugh confused and scared her.

"Well, I did ask for you to be blunt. You really are a Gryffindor. Hahahahaha"

Harry cut off his laughter tightly and glared directly into Hermione's eyes. "You want to hang out? Even knowing I break the rules in pursuit of my own goals."

"Y-yes." Hermione muttered hesitantly now regretting everything she had just done.

"Okay." Harry said flatly again, confusing Hermione.

"Okay?" she managed to eloquently blurt out.

"Okay." Harry repeated, pulling out from his robes a silvery cloak. "Wear this."

Hermione nodded dumbly but curiosity roared to life as she realized the cloak was magical in nature but she didn't recognize it. "It's a family heirloom." Harry explained quickly.

"I doubt you would believe me if I said you were now my friend. So... let's make it feel more tangible. Stay close, stay silent, and follow me."

Hermione covered herself in the cloak and followed Harry. "Absolute" Into the common room Harry proceeded at a walking pace towards his room. Thankfully the common room was empty and Hermione silent. Once she crossed the threshold and Hermione fell in behind him he closed the door and locked it. The shimmer flashed over the door and Harry turned around and pointed his wand at his trunk. To Hermione's shock, the chest flew open after the three locks clicked open.

Even having seen it before, this time it felt completely different. She had seen him enter it before and she knew that it must be an expanded trunk. Somehow this felt more personal than it did last time. Almost like she was being accepted into something.

Back on the train it was just a trunk to transport his belongings to school. Even now this was true but it still rang false. It had changed somehow over the course of that year.

That trunk represented his secrets, locked tight and hidden far from prying eyes. It literally represented the enigma that so many ponder over day after day now. The thing that made her classmates whisper and ask, who is Harry Potter really?

Harry smirked and walked to his chest and proceeded to climb into it. "Come in." was all Harry needed to say for Hermione to realize what was happening. In the back of her mind she had to squash the thought that sprouted from his smug confident tone. One which Hermione would never admit was a little attractive.

Ignoring that simmering thought, Hermione followed him into what could only be described as entering another world. She was actually going in. He was welcoming her into his trunk, showing her what laid beyond that enigmatic facade.

Inside was a completely different world. Completely changed from the barren test she had seen on that train ride last year. It was now completely full, a library filled to the brim with knowledge but not the neat, calm, orderly library's she had come to love.

This was a living breathing laboratory. A lively research lab where everything revolved around magic. Food was eaten here, sleep was gained and lost here. Life was lived in this cluttered room all so that every second could be devoted to studying magic.

This was a stark contrast to the quiet cold stone halls of Hogwarts where magic would only be practiced at certain times. Nor the Library where you could only participate under certain conditions and where only books mattered. In here, nothing was restricted. Everything was alive.

There were books, notes, papers, and diagrams scattered everywhere. At first glance one would think a typhoon had ravaged his trunk. Cauldrons were bubbling, simmering, mixing their contents. Some on the floor, others floating in the air. The walls had notes and references pinned like plaster with strings webbing back and forth between points like a prismatic spider nest of color.

It was active, inquisitive. Every inch of the room showed something new, different, or seemingly unconnected. Shelves with books with colored tabs denoting their contents and marking important sections. It was messy, lively, and lived in.

She felt like she had just wandered into Diagon Alley for the first time again but this time it wasn't the same. It wasn't a community, this was Harry. This room she realized represented him to a tee. On the outside, he was a trunk. No one knew what contents lie within him. Unassuming but recognizable from a distance.

Inside, he loved magic, explored magic, studied and tested magic. He researched, questioned, and poured himself into it with no regard for anything else. This trunk radiated his love for magic. From the brooms leaning against the shelves, to the potions floating about. Everything here felt very Harry-like.

And she was inside.

Hermione was inside his trunk. Symbolically, he had invited her into his world. Invited her to see the world that he saw. For a second Hermione began to choke up at that revelation. No one had ever accepted or trusted her like this.

Harry wanted her here. Was showing her, his true self. Not the mask she had always seen on the outside that he showed her classmates. Not that his kindness wasn't real, it just always felt distant.

There were no more walls between them now. She was inside. She was now a part of a group. His group. Someone who rivaled her intellectually. Someone who loved magic just like she did but expressed it differently.

This… this was what she always wanted. His friendship, his trust.

And she could rationalize that trust. She could see many things that should have given her cause for worry. The notes of the human body, questions penned on the wall contemplating how much the body could take or endure under magic.

Mentions of dark spells or creatures including the nature of a Dementor soul stealing capabilities.

A knee-jerk response inside her told her to tell someone about all this. But everything else screamed at her not to. She looked at Harry, at his false smile that hid the worry behind it.

He was also worried she would reject him. That was the same face she had this morning. She realized that they were the same... and that meant something important. Harry was just like her. He had his secrets for sure, but he wasn't evil.

"What now?" Hermione asked, too overwhelmed to come to a conclusion on her own.

Harry's fake smile slowly gave way to a real one. "Well, we seemed to have a good time making this little toy." Harry said, picking up the messenger snitch they made last year. Harry turned his head to a large chalkboard and flipped it over.

On the board, Hermione's eyes went wide with shock as she read what was on it. She recognized some of the formulas written on it. E=mc^2, velocity calculations, mass and acceleration formulas. Each equation wasn't alone but surrounded by notes and references running from advanced transfiguration calculations to what looked like rune formulation.

All of it encircling the image of a large castle inside a glass orb hinting at the objective Harry had in mind.

"I don't plan on making it public, but how do you feel about tackling someone more complicated on our own?"

For the first time, Hermione felt something new within her. An excitement far greater inside her then when she first broke the rules to stop a crime in action. Far greater than the first time she impressed her parents by reading one of their dental books and sharing what she learned.

No, excitement was too tame a word. This was closer to passion. She had awoken to a passion she didn't even know she had.

To learn something new. Something that was really new. This wasn't like reading a book, something that someone already discovered. This would be the birth of something revolutionary and secret between the two of them.

This was what Hermione Granger wanted. This room resonated with who she was and wanted to be. It wasn't a library that simply held knowledge. It wasn't a school that shared known knowledge. This was the birthplace of something new, something different.

"Well?" Harry asked but he wasn't seeking an answer. He didn't need to. There beside him wasn't the young girl who would be the Hermione he knew. That smile was one that he would never forget. A grin that he didn't think he'd see for another twenty years.

Feeling more whole than ever before Harry smiled and spoke softly. "Let's go."


In the department of Magical Law enforcement, Amelia and Alastor had entered her office, having remained silent the entire time.

Even as they departed Hogwarts they stayed silent. Even as they exited the raging green flames of the floo network the two knew they shouldn't speak yet

All the while they traveled through the ministry they didn't speak a word, nor acknowledge those who spoke to them. An unsettling notion as many were terrified by the sight of a cheerful smiling Alastor.

It was only when they entered Amelia's office did the head of law finally dare speak.

"Well..." she began hesitantly, "That wasn't what I was expecting."

The sight was still fresh in her mind. She crashed down into her chair. The papers on her desk cast aside to flutter onto the floor as she rested her head in her hands.

Harry Potter.

The son of James and Lily Potter, was the victim of abuse and possibly even torture. The savior of the wizarding world... How could this have happened?

"So what now?" Alastor grunted, ignoring the emotionally crumbling head to lean against the wall beside the door. He took a swig of his flask and smugly asked, "Plan on giving the brat a tour of Azkaban?"

"How could a child have scars like that?" Amelia mumbled to herself. She couldn't help but imagine her own niece with those scars and that sickening feeling sat in her stomach and made her almost vomit.

"Suck it up, Bones. Nothing can be done about it."

"How can you say that after what we saw! Do you think those injuries were lies Alastor!" Amelia shouted. It was moments like this that she couldn't stand her old war-beaten friend. Even after seeing that, how could he be so callous?

To her further indignation, annoyance, and confusion he merely shrugged and answered, "Hard to say." He took another swig.

"What?" Amelia asked, more taken aback at the honest answer than what it meant.

"Hard to say." Alastor repeated. "There were quite a few injuries there, Bones. Some of which would take ten years to earn let alone heal. Time wise a lot of them don't make sense. Notice the ones on his upper arms. I know what a decapitated arm injury looks like. And he had a scar on both his arms. And those bullet wounds. Logically it makes more sense to think the boy was faking those scars. He showed us he's a metamorph. Just makes more sense."

And that was the problem, Alastor thought. Those scars were war wounds. Impossible for the kid to have. Yet they were too real to be fake. The kid said they were but despite his gut saying otherwise them being real was impossible.

Alastor took another swig. His third swig since he entered her office. "I've seen a scarce few bullet wounds in my work Bones. But I 'ave seen 'em. If they were fake they were damn close to the real thing. Plus,"

A fourth swig.

"My gut isn't screaming at me like usual."

"Your gut?" Amelia asked with a cocked eyebrow.

"Yeah, I trust my instincts, but this whole mess is confusing the fuck out of me. Logically it says those scars are fake. But my instincts aren't saying a thing."

"So which is it?" Amelia asked in irritation. "Do you think they're real or fake?"

"Weren't you listening girl, I don't know! My instinct isn't saying one or the other." He looked down contemplating which was worse. "Not sure which to be more worried about." Alastor admitted before he went to speak but stopped before a word left his lips. He took a fifth swig.

"Okay what's bothering you." Amelia abruptly demanded. Alastor froze and glared at her. "Don't give me that look. Five swigs from your flask. You haven't binged drunk like that since that caper five years ago. What's bugging you?"

"The Potter boy is experienced." Alastor finally admitted abruptly. A shocking change since the man seemed unable to contain it anymore. "His movement, the way he walked. His wand never left his reach at any point in that meeting. The boy is skilled Bones. I'd even say he's killed before."

Amelia's eyes shot up at that. "You think he's a fake."

"No." He bluntly stated. "It's how he walks. The kid is still a kid. It's like an experienced man is walking around in a schoolboy's body. Besides, I know he had McGonagall take the boy to Gringotts during his first year. I do my homework lass. While possible, it's highly unlikely those rotten buggers and Hogwarts got it messed up. There's a good chance that he is Harry Potter."

He took another swig. Six now. "Not sure which is scarier to think about. That boy having actual experience, somehow, or is somehow a savant who literally fought to live his entire life. This isn't a question of trust Bones. Right now, I don't know what we're dealing with. I don't think the kid lied but that doesn't make sense to me."

Amelia contemplated that as she recalled Harry's last-minute joke. "I think he might take after you."

Alastor nearly coughed into his flask as he gasped for air after a horrendously poorly timed sip. "What?"

"What's the possibility that Potter is a seer? It could explain the experience?"

"You actually believe that stuff."

"Do you?" Amelia asked. Alastor hesitated as the memory of a talk he had with Albus over ten years ago flashed momentarily. He also flinched as he knew Amelia saw him hesitate. "Not sure... honestly" he grumbled out, desperately trying to avoid looking his boss in the eye.

"You do."

"Don't put words in my mouth lassie. Whether or not I believe in prophecies or not, your idea... is possible."

Calming down Amelia sighed as she looked at her other work around her. From her desk, she pulled out a small basin and from her coat, she pulled out the vial she had received from the man calling himself Mr. Returner.

"Watch the door Alastor." She commanded and Alastor did so, hearing the unspoken command to monitor her as she dived in.

Placing her head into the swirling silver vein of memories she dove into the bronze basin.

Twenty minutes passed and finally, she came out. Her eyes opened wide before they focused on Alastor who had his staff pointed and ready. "Well?"

Amelia's facial expression twisted through several emotions before finally settling on one Alastor recognized well. The look of pride and maddening glee at having finally caught a dark wizard. At the looming doom of some poor bastard who was about to get his comeuppance. Alastor could feel his own grin itching to spread forth. That look was contagious and usually meant only one thing.

"Alastor, have your apprentice Tonks pull up Sirius Black's case file. Keep it quiet, if anyone asks, tell them you're training your brat to perform case research or something."

"Fine, but what the hell did you see?"

Amelia grinned and grew wider. "I don't want to get my hopes up but that young man was right. If we didn't know this beforehand we would have found nothing at Malfoy Manor even if we performed a raid.

Alastor's grimace grew at that but didn't have long to stay there as Amelia looked her friend in the eye. "If what I just saw is true, we might just have to consider everything that man said as true."

"Candice! Candice!"

The office door opened to reveal a thirty year old woman with flowing brown hair. "Yes ma'am?"

"Get Shacklebolt in here now. Tell him I want an update on suspect Faith."

Candice's eyes widened and nodded rapidly before turning around to follow the command. A few minutes later a tall broad shouldered bald man stepped into the office. In a stern voice, he answered. "Ma'am?"

"Shacklebolt. Give me an update on the movements of suspect Faith."

"Ma'am. I'm not sure how to answer that ma'am." he replied.

"Have you been slacking off Shacklebolt? I want an answer. What updates can you give me in regard to Faith."

"Suspect movements have changed drastically ma'am. As of two days ago, suspect Faith has made multiple expeditions into muggle London."

Amelia and Alastor both looked surprised at this. "London? In the back alleys?"

"No ma'am. City Hall, their hall of records, and policy buildings."

"Policy Shacklebolt?" Amelia asked for clarification.

"Their Auror centers ma'am."

Amelia fought back the desire to roll her eyes. "Police, Kingsley, Police."

After a moment of silence Amelia thought back to what Returner said to her. "Auror Shacklebolt, would you describe Faith's actions as being distracted or abnormal?"

"That is one way to describe it."

That was all she needed to hear. "Alastor, Shacklebolt, get your Aurors ready for another raid. Keep the target secret until the last second. We are raiding, subject Faith, tomorrow."

"Is that wise?" Alastor grunted having more knowledge to speak out then Shacklebolt.

"You trust your gut Alastor," she declared with her returning grin. This was her gut telling her it was time. "We'll strike tomorrow."

Harry Potter and Return Returner could wait. Both were enigmas but neither were a threat. At least not yet. She would keep an ear open but that would have to wait for after tomorrow. Tomorrow she had a snake to catch.