AN: Chapters from here on out will be shorter - somewhere in-between 6-8,000 words and up. This way I might actually be able to get something out once in a while.

As for the poll from last chapter I've decided to say the hell with it. I'm just going to write from here on out. No more writing scenes just to give certain characters screen time. If I feel like the girl fits with Harry she'll be in the group. It can be caging and completely awkward and unsatisfying to write someone in when you feel trapped into doing so.

I'm going to be straight up with all of you, I really don't like parts of this chapter. While it's true I've struggled with finding the time to work on it, for the most part I've tried again and again to make this chapter flow as I wanted. It's still not where I want it to be, but it'll have to do. On the bright side I have started the next chapter, so that's good news.

Thanks, as always, goes out to Lawyer Joe.

With eyes a shade darker than they should have been, Harry trailed his gaze longingly over his sister's frame. Her short, jet-black hair hung loosely in her jade colored eyes, as they danced with amusement. Iris, along with tiny, little Ivy was laid out on the lounge floor playing with the pets Harry had gifted them only minutes before. Giggling, Iris tickled the stomach of her baby red panda, unaware of her brother drinking in the sight of the alabaster skin of her neck, and the innocent way her Christmas day dress had fallen across her form.

"Be mindful of those around you." Lily said in a pale whisper, nursing a cup of eggnog as she slid onto the sofa next to him. To the rest of the room it looked as if the youngest male Potter was lost to the world, his attention focused solely upon one of the books his grandmother, Dorea, had gifted him for Christmas, but to Lily it was easy to see where his attention was really focused. "You wouldn't want anyone to see the emotion hidden in your eyes." Harry smirked at the lack of disapproval in his mother's voice that until recently had made itself known anytime the subject of his feelings for Iris came up.

His reply was slow in coming, too busy were his eyes trailing over the small expanse of creamy thigh exposed by Iris' dress riding up to respond right away. "I have no idea what it is you're speaking of." Not knowing how far in the book he appeared to be, Harry flipped to the next page keeping up the facade that he had been reading the entire time. "I'm simply sitting here enjoying my book."

"I can see that." Lily replied blandly. Bringing the mug she was nursing to her lips, she took in a deep drag of the cinnamon scent of her seasonal beverage. "Are you going to tell me why it is you didn't give Iris her other gift?" she asked suddenly, her voice lowering to keep from being overheard.

"I have to figure out what it is that's going on with her, and why she was attempting to drug me." Dragging his eyes from the recipient of his affections and current dilemma, Harry fixed his mother with a bemused look. "Did you not enjoy my gift to you? I know it's not exactly new..." he trailed off, enjoying the way Lily's entire manner had lit-up at the reminder of her gift.

"I absolutely love it." she said with true joy in her voice. "I must know how you were able to get a hold of one of the personal journals of Rowena Ravenclaw."

"For a time I wasn't sure what to get you or any of the others, then one day after one of our mirror training sessions I was musing over what to get you and the others, when I realized where I was." Harry pulled out his wand, giving it a flick summoning a length of purple ribbon that he used as a bookmark. "Instead of going to the place where things are hidden, I called for the room to take me to the place where forgotten and lost items were held. Surprisingly, the rooms aren't the same."

"When you come to the school to help me end Salazar's attempt at overcompensation, we'll have to stop by the Room of Requirement and let you see just how many magical objects and personal items the founders and past students have left within the castle's walls." Growing silent, Harry gained a pensive look that had Lily watching him closely, despite her growing excitement at the prospect of searching the room she had only ever visited in his memories. "I had an idea... but I'm hesitant to try it, even with your help."

"Go on." she prodded softly.

"Well, if the founders are the ones who created the castle, do you think it's possible they created a connection between the Room of Requirement and their private studies? I'm well aware that the chances of, arguably, the strongest witches and wizards to walk the halls of Hogwarts creating such an apparent and accommodating entrance to their personal areas of study or bedchambers is astronomical, and would be undoubtedly deadly were they to exist, but the secrets that could be learned would be invaluable."

"I'm happy you second guessed yourself," Lily admitted grimly, setting her cup on the side table next to the chair they were occupying. "The only individuals alive I could imagine who would have the necessary skills required to breach the type of protections the founders would have employed to protect their secrets would be Dumbledore or the Flamels. And even then, I'm not certain they'd make it past all of the wards, curses, and enchantments unscathed. The thought of you attempting something so deadly makes me cringe."

Harry nodded, conceding her point, but was unable to let the subject drop. "What are the chances that only one of the founders knew of the Room of Requirements?" he questioned, leaning in toward his mother as he spoke. "What if one of them took it upon themselves to create the room without letting the others know – similar to what Slytherin did with the Chamber of Secrets? Would it not be possible to bypass all of the protections left by the other three?"

"That could work," she admitted grudgingly, if a bit skeptically. "But you have to take into consideration the possibility that more than one of the founders, possibly all four, had a hand in its creation. Then there's the chance that the inside of their studies and private quarters have also been guarded against any who were lucky enough to get past their protections alive."

Harry huffed in annoyance, knowing that he looked childish at the moment and the fact that she was right in everything she said. At times like these, he couldn't escape the feeling that he truly was eleven again.

"Given time we may be able to figure out a way to enter their private domains, but for the time being it's simply too dangerous and an unnecessary risk." Meeting his eyes that were so like her own, she spoke, "I'm going to ask you not to attempt breaching anything you know I wouldn't want you trying on your own."

Harry pursed his lips, unhappy with his mother's request that he knew she gave him as a way to protect him.

Even before she knew of his true past, Lily had only given him a few simple rules to follow, a drastic and welcomed change from his time with the Dursleys, but after she learned of how trying his previous life had been she had only set forth 'rules' when she was training him, the rest of the time she had trusted his judgment. Now however, there must have been something about the way he looked as he spoke of unlocking the founders' secrets that made her set down guidelines when he was using the Room of Requirement, or doing anything else for that matter.

"Alright," he reluctantly relented, without trying to mask his discontent with her suddenly imposed boundaries. "You've been beyond understanding with all that's been happening around me, the least I can do is accept and try to follow what you have to say." Lily smiled happily at her small victory.

As time had passed around them, the mother and son had gone on to discuss some of the items Harry had found during his brief exploration through the room of forgotten items, when from his peripherals Harry spotted Iris rise to her feet leaving her new pet with Ivy before daintily making her way upstairs.

"Where are you going?" Lily asked, watching him as he rose to his feet, her eyes going to the stairs where Iris had just disappeared.

"To get some answers." With his book in hand Harry quickly ascended the stairs sending a small, reserved smile to his grandmother, who for reasons unknown was trailing his movement with a knowing look from her place next to Charlus.

"Iris," he called, lightly tapping at her bedroom door, Dorea and her troubling gaze pushed from his mind for the time being.

"Give me just a minute!" From his side of the door Harry could hear the opening and closing of drawers and the hurried shifting of clothing. "I'm changing, I'll be right out."

Pushing down the sense of loss he felt knowing she wouldn't be wearing the same dress he had been enjoying all evening, Harry propped himself up against the wall waiting patiently for Iris to open her door. With flashes of ivory skin swimming through his ever advancing mind, the young Potter was unaware of how the enchanted ink embedded upon his skin danced across the plains of his neck and face, playing off of the thoughts that were consuming him.

"Sorry for the wait." Iris said in way of greeting, as she pulled the door open to reveal a pair of baggy sweat pants and a cotton tee in place of the dress Harry had liked so much. "What's...?" Iris trailed off, surprise flickering across her face as she gazed inquisitively at him.


Iris gained an impish smile as she grabbed his hand dragging him into her room. As he crossed the threshold Harry was quick to make sure the door was closed - casting a locking spell that went unseen by the young girl pulling on his arm. He didn't want any distractions for what he was about to do.

"Take a look at yourself," she ordered through her soft laughter, leading him to her vanity. "You look as if Ivy's been using you as a canvas." Gazing into the mirror Harry was vaguely reminded of the mask he had purchased the day before.

Stemming from inside the lining of his collar were thin, emerald vines streaking up the right-side of his neck, up on to and across his face before disappearing into his hair. More shocking than the sudden addition of a tattoo on his face was the way the ink affected his eyes and hair. The magical-ink based vines flowed into the whites of his eyes, blended with his irises that were the same shade of green as the ink, and across the blacks of his pupils, creating the illusion of the vines traveling over the windows of his soul.

The same illusionary effect had taken place in his hair. Where once there had only been waves of shining, healthy hair the shade of freshly spilled blood were now streaks of emerald 'vines' flowing with the red. It was quite easy to see the green in his hair wasn't actual vines - it looked as if he had simply dyed his hair in such a fashion - but was nonetheless impressive, especially when one considered he hadn't been aware of what he was doing when he had made the change.

Running a hand appraisingly through his long tresses, Harry let off a small chuckle. "Contrasts nicely, if I do say so myself." he quipped, as he thought, 'If I use this gift the right way, there are untold amounts of fun to be had with it.'

"Hair, yes - eyes, no." Stepping to his side Iris peered up at him. "The eyes are just a wee bit freaky." she admitted. "The ones on your face should go as well, but leave the ones on your neck. They..." she trailed off for a second time, looking thoughtful and if Harry's eyes weren't fooling him, slightly embarrassed. "I guess the best way to put it is that they somehow fit you."

Concentrating on the magically altered ink upon his face, Harry closed his eyes willing the ink into his eyes. When he next opened them gone were the emeralds he was so well known for, in their place were blacked out scleras, and irises and pupils that bled together in a haunting gold.

"Are these more to your liking?"

If the dainty hand placed gently against his chin, lightly forcing his head upwards and his eyes out of her line of sight were anything to go by, then he would have to assume she didn't.

"Eww." she said dryly, making Harry laugh at the rare moment of grisliness.

Iris was by no means a tomboy. She, like most girls her age, enjoyed looking nice, and had from time to time played dress up with Ivy using their mother's dresses and makeup. But neither was she overly feminine like Harry had come to associate with Lavender Brown. Iris enjoyed flying, spending hours in her mother's potions lab, and passing the time with those she cared for and a good book, not spending hours in front of a mirror prettying herself up - not that she needed it. If anything Harry found her to be the perfect mix of feminine and... What he liked to call 'Irisness'. She was very much like their mother; she could play around without being overly dainty, yet still retained a natural beauty that was hard to ignore. So when she had said something that was so unlike her, Harry couldn't help but let out a teasing laugh.

"Don't do that, I like that we have the same eyes." she said honestly.

"As do I." Harry said, all traces of the humor he had shown moments before gone. Gazing down at her he realized just how much taller he was than her 4'4, as he captured her eyes with his own, black and gold bleeding back into their original white and green.

A small 'oh' escaped Iris' shiny pink lips as she found herself frozen in place by the loaded gaze her brother had fixed her with. Her mouth went dry and her heart felt as if it was attempting to escape when Harry's smoldering pools of liquid emeralds found their way to her lips, tracing over them with a look of intense, unyielding longing. As impossible as it sounded, Iris could feel his gaze traveling over her lips – tenderly caressing them, absorbing every minute detail that he could possibly take in.

With her lips trembling like a leaf caught in a gentle breeze, Iris felt truly beautiful for the first time in her short life.

As quickly as the feeling had come it disappeared, broken by the soft, musical sound that was Harry's throaty chuckle. Blinking rapidly - and she was sure stupidly - she found him looking away from her, leaning toward her vanity, balled fists braced against the edges of its wood as he gazed into the mirror, looking for all intents and purposes as if he was searching for someone inside the reflective surface.

Iris didn't know if it was a trick of the light, or the presence of the magical ink buried in their depths, but from where she stood it appeared as if his eyes had darkened a great deal in the amount of time it had taken him to turn away from her.

"Sorry about that," he chuckled blithely. "I lost myself for a few seconds there."

Iris swallowed deeply, attempting to regain her composure. "It's fine, happens to everyone..."

Pushing fluidly off of the vanity, Harry pulled his wand out holding it up loosely, earning a confused look from his sister for the sudden and random action.

"Harry, what are you-" She stopped speaking when she felt the training wand he had gifted her for her birthday slip from her pocket. Before she could find where it had fallen to she watched it sail into view and her brother's waiting hand.

Ignoring her inquiring eyes Harry pushed magic through his wand once more, sending it in search of what he knew – guessed – to be hidden somewhere in the room. Choosing to pay Iris' sudden in-take of breath no mind, he turned to see a teddy bear twice as big as the hand of a fully grown man flying from the direction of her closet.

"Please don't mess with that." Iris whispered, her voice breaking as it fought not to fall over the cusp it was teetering on and into outright pleading.

Harry didn't listen.

The light brown bear came to a stop in front of him, suspended just before his eyes. Reaching out with his wand he tapped one of its stumpy legs, turning it in midair and exposing its back and the line of tiny buttons that trailed from the base of the head down to the brown, cotton ball-like tail. Running his wand over the trail of buttons, each one loosened as the tip of the ash-colored, rune engraved wand slid over them.

Iris' panicked breathing played loudly and torturously in his ears as he reached into her childhood friend and pulled out a crystal vial full of what could have passed for water, but that he knew to be Veritaserum. Examining the vial - not noticing how the labored breathing of his sister slowed almost to a stop - he saw that had the seal on the stopper not been broken, it would have looked unused and full. It was a sign that she knew not to add too much of the truth serum to his tea - too much of the substance would have resulted in him spilling every secret he had ever possessed, both his own and those that he kept for his friends in both this life and the last, as he died a slow painful death - as was expected of someone who loved potions as much as she did.

"I don't know how-" Harry raised his hand, cutting her off by showing her the ring she had witnessed their grandfather gift him only months before.

"Knowing you would try to drug me is hurtful, to say the least. Don't add insult to injury by trying to fool me with such a thinly veiled lie. You're smarter than that Iris – you and I both know it."

Watching her fidget and squirm under his gaze was almost too much for the oldest of the Potter children. Delving into her mind and taking his answers was a temptation he would have given into had she been someone he didn't care for – only his inexperience and the untold amounts of pain he would cause her with such a reckless and cruel action stilled his magic-laced mind probe.

"Is it that even after all this time you still find yourself unable to trust me?" Even with his shields firmly in place and his emotions hidden away, he was unable to keep the hurt completely from his voice.

"NO!" she exclaimed, finally meeting his eyes again, the panic his words created in her clear for him to see. "I trust you completely. I just… I wanted answers."

"What questions could be so important that you would break the law? I'm really hoping you got that vial from mum's private stores and not from dad."

"I'd rather not say – and of course I got it from mum's stock – I'm not stupid. Dad would notice instantly if the single vial of Veritaserum he always carries with him was suddenly missing."

Harry gave her a searching look. "Iris, unless you tell me why you did this, I don't think I can trust you." At this, the panic that had been etched into her visage was washed away by a regretful, hurt look. And still, she did not reveal why she had tried to drug him.

"If you tell me what it is you wanted to know so desperately, I may answer your questions." Harry offered, grasping at straws to find a way to know what was going on.

Wide eyed, Iris stared at him in shock, relief shining in her large expressive eyes. "But only if the questions are within reason." When Iris nodded that she was okay with his solution, it was Harry's turn to be relieved. One way or another he was going to get his answers. Even if it had meant that he would have been forced to make her take some of the very potion that had led to this encounter.

"Deal," she agreed, quickly.

When it became clear she didn't know where to start, Harry knew she was having trouble by the lost, almost panic stricken look; he took her gently by the hand, pulling her flush to him. "I promise I won't be upset, all I want is for you to trust in me."

Iris shivered, leaning into his embrace. Goosebumps spread across her skin at the feel of his breath ghosting on the bud of her ear – the feeling was foreign to her, and all she really knew was that she liked it.

"When we lost you, after you had traveled through the barrier at King's Cross, I saw you reappear on the platform out of thin air, almost like you had just apparated. You said the reason you disappeared was because you were helping someone with their luggage, but I don't believe it. What were you really up too?"

The only indicator Iris had that her question had taken her brother by surprise was the slight tightening of his hold on her.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't feel like it." she told him in a small voice. "I'll understand if you don't want too. We all have things we want kept secret. All I ask is the same as you – don't lie to me."

"You want honesty, but what would you think of me if I told you I was doing something others frown upon?" The all too familiar need to give her what she wanted was rearing its head once more. Despite knowing he shouldn't reveal what he had done that day to her or anyone else for that matter, he felt his resolve slipping the longer he held her. And yet, he could not force himself to let her go.

"…It would depend on what you had done." she answered honestly.

Harry nodded into her hair. "That day I asked to go through the barrier alone, was so that I could illegally apparate to Hogwarts, sneak into the castle and my future head of house's office, so that I could steal a Time Turner from his desk."

Iris pulled back slowly, being sure to stay within his arms as she fixed him with a dubious look. "You do realize how farfetched that sounds, right? How could you have done all that in such a short amount of- Time Turner, right." she nodded, seemingly unfazed that he had just admitted to stealing a very rare and powerful ministry controlled magical object.

"You believe me?"

"If you were lying you would have taken longer to answer, and would have told me something more believable. Not to mention your heartbeat didn't change when you answered me." Seeing his questioning look, she answered, "Gran has been teaching me how to read body language since you've been away. She says everyone has a tell when they lie. The hardest to reach, but the easiest to read, is a person's heartbeat. Yours didn't change in the slightest when you answered."

Harry chuckled at the simple, yet clever way of reading him. He recalled his grandmother telling him the same during the few times Dorea had been available to teach him about reading body language. He had forgotten most of what she had taught him since they had only been able to have three lessons together before he had gone off to school – a fact he was going to have to remedy.

"Here I thought you let me hold you was because you liked it. Who knew my dark little-flower was such a Slytherin at heart." It was to the sound of her chiming laughter that he pulled her back into his chest. "Come here. Let me make it easy for you to know if I'm telling the truth."

Iris hummed into his chest, enjoying the feel of his strong arms caging her to him. It was a shock to her that she didn't care he had stolen something, let alone an item as important as a magical device created by the Unspeakables. Not that she was in any position to reprimand him. She had, after all, stolen one of the most dangerous and highly controlled substances in magical Britain.

Either way, when this conversation was done and behind them, she was going to have to once again try and evaluate how deeply her feelings for her brother went. She knew she was smitten by him, a fact she had never admitted aloud, though she had an inkling that at least Astoria had figured as much out, but was it possible that she felt something even stronger than the effects of a first crush?

"Are you angry with me?" he hazarded, pulling her from her musings.

"Are you angry that I tried drugging you?"

"No… I admit to being hurt at first, but I can honestly say, had I been in the same situation I would have done the same. Possibly, something far, far worse."

"Good, because I'm not mad – just surprised and a little impressed." she admitted sheepishly, a small blush overtaking her dusting of freckles, not that her brother saw this. "How many people can say they've broken into Hogwarts undetected?"

"I think I may be a bad influence on you." Iris giggled at the thought. "Now what was the other questions eating away at you?"

Instantly Iris' laughter died away. Pressing her head deeper into his chest, she was sure he'd feel the heat coming off her face, but couldn't seem to bring herself to care. Anything was better than looking him in the eye as she asked her second question.

"Can I see the Time Turner?" she requested in an attempt to stall for time. "The closest I've ever come to seeing one was in a book."

"You wouldn't happen to be planning to steal it from me, so you can go back and try and put a stop to this conversation?"

"Time meddlers tend to end up dead – so no, no paradoxes for me." Harry chuckled.

"I'm sorry, but I can't show it to you. It was destroyed not too long ago. Every shard and grain of sand has become lost to me." After letting Iris process this bit of information, Harry pressed on. "Now why don't you stop attempting to distract me, and tell me what's going on in that beautiful mind of yours."

Iris' rushed reply was little more than a jumble of words that even Harry's advanced hearing couldn't decipher. "Mind repeating that in a way that I can understand?"

"I asked," she repeated, her tone imitating a leaf caught in a strong wind, "if there was anyone at Hogwarts you care for?"

"I care for all my friends: Daphne, Blaise, my housemates, most of the Hufflepuffs as well." Harry felt that he knew – hoped he was right – where this line of questioning was going, and decided to play ignorant until he could be sure.

"No, not your friends – I know you care for them. What I mean to ask is… are there any girls you fancy?" she finished in a rush.

Harry was ready this time for her the swiftness of her words, paying close attention so as not to miss a thing she had to say. Like Iris' blush before, the smile that lit up the Potter heir's face went unnoticed by his sibling. If there had been any doubt before that Iris was at the very least interested in him more than a sister should be – a little sister no less – it was gone now.

Unfortunately for him, it was a smile that died away as quickly as it had made its appearance. Harry had agreed to be honest with the witch in his arms as long as it was within reason. If he were to keep his word to anyone, it would be her. And here is where his dilemma laid.

The honest truth was that there were witches he cared for at Hogwarts. He could easily see himself dating either Cho or Katie. It was clear to him now, after looking back at his first term at Hogwarts, that the girls felt the same, that is, if their constant and steadily escalating bickering was anything to go by. How would Iris react to hearing that he had not one but two witches that came to mind. And more important still, why was it that a certain stoic housemate of his stood out in his mind the longer he thought about the subject, more so than both of the older girls.

"I said I wouldn't lie, and I won't."

Dreading what she was going to hear, Iris gripped the front of his shirt. Listening raptly, she noted the gentle tone he spoke with, as if he was aware of what she was truly asking him and how easily his answer could hurt her.

"There are a few that stand out in my mind – one of which I'm only just realizing that I have a soft spot for. But more so than-" Harry's attempt to hint at his true feelings for the one he was holding, was brought to a sudden and jarring halt when said witch roughly pushed away from him.

Iris fixed her crush with a gaze filled with jealousy and hurt. "Then what about what happened the day we came to visit you in the infirmary? What about m-" Gasping, Iris clasped a hand to her mouth. She hadn't meant to say any of that. Revealing she had felt how his body had reacted to her hug that day was bad enough, but she had, in a moment of overwhelming jealousy, all but admitted her own uncertain feelings to him – her brother. He'd probably see her as one of those disgusting pureblooded freaks, who got their jollys off 'keeping it in the family.'

Harry, much like his mortified sister, was facing his own earth shattering crisis. First his mother, then his best friend – that he now knew he felt more than a strong sense of friendship for – and now the girl he could scarcely go more than a few minutes without thinking about knew he had been aroused by his almost eleven – admitting that a ten year old had that effect on him was too much for the young Potter – year old sister's hug. He was sure the only way more people could have found out about his embarrassing reaction was if the loose-tongued Astoria had witnessed it.


"I-I didn't mean it that way!" Harry stopped her from denying her words further by once again wrapping her in a hug. His hold was enough to set the young girl's fears at ease. He didn't hate her; the way he held her told her as much. She felt safe enough and loved enough in his arms that she no longer feared asking of him what she was so unsure of herself. "Harry, how do you feel about me?"

For the briefest of seconds Harry considered telling her that he was unable to answer that question until she was older, but before the words could form on his lips, his mother's advice on how to keep Iris for himself came to mind.

"Do you recall what I told you about mum and dad that day at the Leaky Cauldron – how he knew she was the one for him, even at such a young age?" Iris nodded, meeting his emerald gaze with her own.

Taking her by the chin, the feel of his body flush against her small frame driving him forward, Harry softly pressed his lips to her cheek – purposely catching the corner of her soft lips with his own. "Without a single shred of doubt, I know how he felt when he laid eyes on her." The corner of his mouth burned from the brief contact they shared, and his soul soared at the sight of understanding and pure elation lighting her eyes.

"I-" What words Harry was going to express next would forever be a mystery to Iris – for at that moment a silver stag ghosted through her bedroom floor causing the two to break from their embrace, handily destroying their shared moment.

It was as the Patronus spoke in their father's voice, her eyes trained on her brother as he lowered his wand an angry sneer upon his lips, that Iris understood two things. The first being that her feelings for him were far stronger than she ever realized. The second, and the more jarring and upsetting of the two, was that no matter what happened between him and her from that moment on, they would forever be forced to keep their feelings a secret from the world.

"Your grandmother and grandfather are headed toward the floo. Come and tell them goodbye. You don't know when you'll see them next." Though the voice stayed strong throughout the message, the Patronus had dissipated leaving thousands of glowing particles to drift lazily around the room well before their father's words faded.

As had become habit for him when he was feeling stressed or any other strongly powered emotion, Harry ran a hand absentmindedly over his head and through his hair, as he took in the room and the girl it belonged to. Spotting the vial of potion and Iris' teddy bear lying on the floor where he had dropped them, he shook his head trying to get a grasp of how things had changed so much in a few short minutes. Summoning both items to his person, he slowly made his way over to his fidgeting sister, making a show of placing the potion back into her hiding place.

"I believe this belongs to you." Taking the bear Iris pulled it to her chest. "I know you're young, and probably not sure about how you feel, and that's fine – I understand. Take your time and really think about what you want to do from here on out."

It was as he left the room that he heard Iris' surprised intake of breath. She had found the simple yet elegant black, Venice-lace choker he had placed on the bear – her second Christmas gift from him.


"Fight back!" Lily commanded, sending another spell chain at her rapidly dodging son.

Spinning away from a large, slow moving red spell, Harry raised his wand ready to fire off his own curse, only to be forced to drop to his knees or be hit by a much faster green-gray hex headed for his chest. Scrambling to his feet, he fired an Accio at one of the training dummies located along the wall of the dueling chamber, pulling it into the path of a second green-gray spell. As the training aid was engulfed in constricting vines, the younger of the two Potters dived out of the way of a fourth spell, firing his own hex as he rolled to his feet.

Even though he had finally gotten off his own spell, Harry wasn't so arrogant as to believe the Paralysis hex would hit its target and kept moving while looking for an opening. However, what he witnessed next brought him to a stop despite knowing better.

Lily seeing her son's retaliation, pointed her wand at the incoming spell, using a charm Harry had never witnessed before to seize control of his attack – making the blue, sizzling haze that was the spell, spin around her body slingshotting it back at her frozen-in-place son. Knowing he would dive out of the spell's path before it could hit, Lily pulled a vial of murky green substance from her pocket and banished it to where she was sure he would roll to.

Her prediction of his movements proved to be correct – just as Harry's shoulder hit the ground the vial shattered against the platform releasing the gas it contained into his face. Pulling a second vial from her pocket, this one holding a light-blue liquid inside, Lily quickly made her way to her now violently coughing, green faced son.

As a wave of nausea passed over him, Harry was sure he felt like Ron had looked the time his wand had backfired in their second year. If it wasn't bad enough that his slave driver of a mother had forced him to duel her while being under the influence of pre-cast hexes – spells that made his muscles both cramp and spasm, because as she had pointed out "you never know what form of handicap you'll face in battle" – now she was unexpectedly introducing the use of potions into their duels.

Just as his mother reached him, Harry lost the fight to control his stomach. Lily winced at the painful sounding retching coming from her son. Squatting next to his hunched over form, she swiftly applied the antidote before he could get anything else up, quickly following this act of kindness by casting the counter-curses for both of the earlier applied hexes.

Breathing heavily, more so from the sudden bout of sickness than the strain from their workout, Harry sat back on his haunches, banishing away the sour smell that polluted the air and the contents of his stomach littering the floor. Moving silently his mother folded her legs under herself, taking the spot next to him. Though it was a simple gesture, the feel of her hand rubbing circles on his back was enough to distract him from the raw, burning plaguing his throat.

"That was evil, you know that." he commented, anger or any other signs he was upset with her absent from his voice.

Lily smiled apologetically at him. The cold, detached, and most notably, ruthless persona she wore when pushing him was noticeably absent from her visage at the moment. "As cruel as it sounds, the best way to learn a lesson is to reassure that the consequences of our actions are well learnt" Harry nodded at her explanation, waiting for her to continue. "Many see potions as nothing more than remedies to be used to cure ailments. When in reality, they can be used for so much more – especially when one capitalizes on their benefits in battle."

Harry watched as his mother summoned a thick dark-green article of clothing that had gone unnoticed by him up until this point from across the room. The expertly crafted, dragon hide belt possessed holsters for potion vials and test tubes all along its length, along with two pouches for other items he could find use for that would set upon his hips when worn. Knowing it was a gift, he let it fall into his lap, examining it and the potions already slotted into the holsters as his mother once again began to talk.

"When an enemy takes or finds you without a wand, they assume they've won or have the upper hand and will let their guard down. It's then that you use their arrogance against them. Or, instead of using potions as a last resort, you can incorporate their use in battle as I just showcased."

Harry nodded, going over the possibilities that had just been laid out for him. "I can see how they'd be helpful. Throwing something that isn't a spell at an enemy could serve to throw them off – giving those who wish you harm more to worry about than enemy spell-fire. And if you possess a potion that has a wide area-of-effect, you could take out more than one opponent at a time or even bypass shields meant to protect solely against spells and their affects, not potion vials and other tangible items."

"Excellent, you've grasped the concept so easily." Lily beamed.

Grunting, he replied, "Not hard to miss after that little demonstration you so kindly gave me."

Slowly, the smile she had been wearing gave way to a smaller, less enthusiastic imitation. "My method of teaching is effective, no matter how much I dislike employing it with my own son." she admitted softly. "However, to make up for pushing you as hard as I have, I'm going to teach you a Potter family shield."

Wearing a surprised tinged smile, Harry set forward. "What type of shield is it?"

"It was created by your grandfather during the last war, as a sort of counter measure against the killing curse." Harry's eyes widened hearing this. He knew the occupants of this world were stronger than the one he originated from, but hadn't thought such a feat would be possible. "It uses debris and anything else you can find to block incoming spells – this of course includes the killing curse. The spell uses a variant of the Levitation charm on objects around you – causing said objects to orbit around you as you duel. When an incoming spell is detected the shield throws whatever it has in its pull into the path of the oncoming spell."

"As you can guess, this doesn't protect you from everything. Blasting curses or any number of high powered spells can cause the debris that's shielding you to become ammunition for your enemies. And while the shield does try to stop all incoming spells, it's not a hundred percent. Those moving at too great a speed to be intercepted or a multitude of curses all at once are capable of breaching its domain." Lily informed him, recalling the fight with Death Eaters in which Charlus had learned the hard way his shield wasn't impenetrable. "If relied on too heavily, it'll only be a matter of time before it gets you killed. This would be a shield you should use sparingly. Since you use a style of dueling that relies on fluid and graceful movements to dodge and turn your opponent's spells against them, this would be more of a hindrance to you than an actual aid in battle." Harry nodded in agreement.

"I can already see a number of spells that could easily render this shield ineffective." Staring off into space pensively, his mind raced through the ways he would counter such a spell if he were to ever face it. "Fire spells, water based spells, transfiguring or summoning a pit, destabilizing the footing of the caster. And as you pointed out, banishment charms could be used to turn the objects used to protect one's self into ammunition for your enemies. This shield comes with as many risks as it does perks. Though if used in the same manner…"

Seeing the look of deep concentration he was wearing, Lily couldn't contain her curiosity and gave voice to her inner Ravenclaw. "Perhaps you've devised a solution that can counter the shield's many drawbacks?"

"Yes and no. It's not really a way to counter the shield's flaws, but a way to turn it into a deadly last resort. Employing a wide-range banishment charm or a spell that possess similar effects could be used not only to stop more spells than the shield normally would, but also as a type of – wide-reaching shrapnel spell." he finished, struggling with himself to find a term that would fit his idea. "You couldn't use it if your allies are near, but if you're alone and surrounded by enemies…"

"You can use the shield as a devastating and more than likely lethal wide area spell." Lily really liked his solution. Even though the Death Eaters didn't possess massive numbers during the last war, those who were willing and able to fight Voldemort's lapdogs and the monster himself were far outnumbered by the blood supremacists and those who wished for nothing more than to watch the world burn around them. She could name a number of occasions where his idea for Charlus' shield would have been of a great help to her and their family.

But more important than reliving past experiences where her son's plans would have been of help, she felt a deep, all encompassing pride that he had not only recognized the shield's flaws, but had come up with a way to improve upon its use in a matter of minutes of learning of the spell – and this was before he had even learned how to cast the spell. It seemed impossible for this version of Harry – "her precious son", she told herself, despite not being the one to actually give birth to him – to not meet the high expectations she had grown to hold him to.

"Before I start teaching you the shield or we attempt to incorporate more of your ideas, I need to inform you of things that are different from the magical world you came from. Things that will affect you and possibly all of the Potter family greatly in the future."

Falling back into a more comfortable position, Harry nodded. "What's going on?"

"In this world there are a number of organizations that have their wands in everything. Sports, betting pools, businesses, loans, investments, the muggle world, and even students who they – these 'groups' – see as having potential in one form or another. If there is something to be gained by being a part of it, or a person they can find some use for, they'll do all in their power to persuade and lead them to join their respective causes. And once they have you, they're like a severe case of dragon-pox – almost impossible to get away from truly unscathed."

"How do you know there weren't such groups in the other world?" he asked curiously. To him it sounded like these groups were similar to the Death Eaters, minus the obligatory hatred of anything that was different than it was a thousand years ago. Not to say they lacked the same bigotry as the DE's, organizations like those his mother spoke of weren't the type of thing that could just appear – making a name for themselves overnight. It took old – "pure" – blood, large sums of money and connections that had been established for generations to gain that kind of control. That some of them would be anti-muggleborns, playing up their lineages and any type of progress in the rights for anyone different than them was a given.

Lily gave him a thin lipped smile that let him know she was upset by something or someone. The person or persons, or the thing that had gained his mother's ire became clear when she next spoke. "With no one taking the time to teach you the traditions and laws of the wizarding world, if there had been any such groups they would have swooped in and ensnared you in a contract that would have you in a situation that could have potentially been worse than that with the Vega girl."

"As I'm sure you've worked out for yourself, these groups are filled with the most powerful and gifted, the richest and most valuable individuals Magical Britain, and as is often the case, those lands that lie beyond her borders, has to offer. Including Death Eaters who would like nothing more than to get their claws into someone like you – the son to one of Britain's four great families."

"You've made quite the name for yourself these past couple of months. Your perfect grades, the way you were able to fly circles around Cedric and capture of the Snitch – even your recent duel against Gryffindor has all caught the eye of those who pull the strings of our society." Looking as if she was trying to choose her words carefully, she pressed on. "I'm warning you, so that you're prepared when the offers start to roll in. There will be those who will approach you bearing gifts, those who will expect you to jump at their offer; some will threaten you passive aggressively, while others will do so outright. Be cautious in how you respond to these advances, for anything you say and do will have long lasting and far reaching consequences."

"I'll take any offers I receive with a grain of salt. Though if I joined with an organization that is well known for having Death Eater members I could get in close to them sooner rather than later." He had expected his words to be met with the same look of approval he always seemed to receive from his mother, but before he had even finished speaking she was shaking her head.

"Harry, since I started your training you've improved significantly, but the Death Eaters of this world far exceed those you're used to facing. Voldemort as well is vastly different here. In your original world it was clear that he ruled with fear – punishing those who failed in his eyes, even when it was not their fault. In this world he was known for taking a far greater interest in the advancement of his followers' abilities." she revealed, her tone etched with worry. "When his servants failed him they would be punished, much like they would be in your world. But he didn't stop there. He would oversee their training – pushing them until they met his expectations. As for his closest followers – his inner circle – they were showered with his attention. He took natural born killers – the scum of the world and turned them into his personal weapons; extensions of himself."

As one would expect, this news was met with a less than excited response. The thought of Voldemort putting his followers through hellish training, both those who pleased him and those who gained his wrath, was a frightening thought. Already, with their training to duel at an early age, this world's inhabitants were much stronger than those of his world. What would it be like to face a Bellatrix Lestrange who was trained by Voldemort personally?

Ignoring the old part of himself that wanted to mope and brood about how they were all doomed, and his newer self that was raring for the challenge that such enemies would undoubtedly bring, he turned his attention back to his mother, who had been sitting patiently waiting for him to surface from his thoughts. "I'll keep that in mind for the future."

"Be sure that you do." Lily grew quiet after saying that. Fighting the nervousness that was plaguing her – her heart beating as wildly as it had the first time she had accepted James' offer of a date – she steeled her resolve, knowing that Harry wouldn't like – maybe outright hate – her plan.

"I've made plans that can counter most of the offers you'd receive – those offered by the organizations with the weakest of wills at least, and that will allow you access to vast amounts of knowledge that the masses will never be privy to. Whether or not you wish to take this offer is up to you. Know that if you do take it you can still accept additional propositions, as well."

"These "plans" of yours sounds tempting, very tempting. But for some reason I sense there's a rather large 'but' coming my way."

Lily nodded grimly. "If you were to accept you and I both would be forced to make a costly sacrifice."