Joe's Note: Let me start by congratulating Mari Wollsch for becoming the nine hundredth reviewer for the version of this posted on FF.N. Had a few more squirt in after her to bring the grand total of reviews on the story - as of this posting - to 951. Not that I'm any less thankful for each and every person who chooses to review my story… but I'm also a big fan of momentous numbers. I'll thank the thousandth reviewer too. Moving on… you may have noticed that I'm slowly pruning the cast of characters. To be honest, I removed some outright when I reclaimed the cowritten version from my ex-girlfriend but others I left alone because I was largely indifferent to their roles. As I move forward, though, I'm finding that some just… don't fit with my vision of the future any longer. So I'm doing my best to narrow things down so it's easier to figure out who you should give a fuck about and who just doesn't matter in the grander scheme of things.
Dedications & Thanks: To Nicholas, Howard, Daniel, Alexander, Tibor, Alonsis2, Haematite, Charles, Marc, Morgan, Samuel, PbookR, Andrew, Jason, Jade, Jacky, Stephen, ridillin, RileyWestfall, Beverly, Mikey, Subtle, Fablesrogue, Edward, Charles, Daniel, Roofcrawler, Christopher, Wil, Joseph, Ziryo, bloodylord, William, Chris, Koby, George, Crygon20, Devin, Gavin, Mauday, Lookshy, JJbelle, David, Paul, TheTenthAncestor, John, Warren, and Roman for sponsoring me on , and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.
June 30, 2006
12 Grimmauld Place
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
'SIRIUS BLACK CLEARED OF ALL CHARGES!'
'MINISTRY ANNOUNCES PLANS TO GROW AUROR CORPS BY 300%!'
'HOGWARTS CHANGES UNIFORM CODE FOR FIRST TIME IN THE LAST CENTURY!'
The first article was relatively interesting, Hermione mused, especially when it came to the Ministry's attempts to skirt around the fact that they'd imprisoned an innocent man for over a decade… and then spent a further two years failing to recapture him after he rectified their mistake. The second was welcome news but ultimately short on any real details or substance, while the third… the third managed to capture Hermione's attention well enough that she found herself reading the entire thing twice.
The following was Dumbledore's official statement on the matter. "After careful deliberation with both the Board of Governors and the Ministry of Magic, we at Hogwarts have decided to allow our older students a bit more leeway with their uniforms to promote both individuality as well as personal and fiscal responsibility. Even though they will be able to modify their uniforms as they see fit, they will be held accountable if they decide to overstep the bounds of propriety. However, this shall be a privilege and not an across the board change to the uniform code. Accordingly, only students who have sat their OWLs and passed at least half of what they attempted will be eligible."
"In addition, in deference to the increasingly diverse magical population of today's wizarding Britain, those students who wish to wear a uniform that reflects the styles of their cultural heritage are welcome and even encouraged to contact the school. While I cannot promise all students will have their ideas approved, we will do our best to work with them to find an acceptable compromise. This program, unlike the upper year modification program, will be open to all students including those starting their first year this fall."
The newspaper was rather abruptly yanked out of her grasp as Ron took possession of it, reading over the article remarkably quickly given his overall lack of reading comprehension skills. "Huh. New uniforms. Hey Ginny, looks like you're missing out. People who have taken their OWLs only. Looks like you have to wait until next year. Tough luck."
Ginny scowled and tore it away from her brother, glancing down at the page. "Yeah, and we're poor. I don't think you'll be taking advantage of it either, Ronniekins." Ron glared at her and Ginny smirked. "Not so funny now, is it?"
"If you two are quite through baiting each other, I was in the middle of reading that." Hermione held her hand out and a sheepish Ginny returned the Daily Prophet to her possession. "Thank you." The end of the article referenced an 'conceptual illustration' buried deeper in the section, and Hermione flipped to the appropriate page of the newspaper. It turned out to essentially be a full page advertisement for Madam Malkin's, but Hermione tapped her wand against it dutifully anyway. After all, she reasoned, it wasn't underage magic to activate an existing enchanted object, she reasoned.
The brunette gasped and dropped the paper onto the kitchen table as an ethereal figure rose up into the air, quickly resolving into a foot-tall version of herself. Her doppelgänger rotated slowly over the paper and Hermione poked the tip of her wand at various words that floated to the right, watching as the jumper turned into a vest, then disappeared to show the white blouse underneath. There were also a couple different kinds of ties, tights in red and gold to replace the knee socks, and a couple other ways the store offered to customize the uniform. Through it all, Hermione couldn't shake the feeling that there was something a little… off… about the spell's representation of her. Had her legs always been that long?
"Hoot." Hermione looked up and found herself face-to-face with Hedwig, causing her to let out a screech and jerk backwards. "Hoot?"
Ron looked up from his breakfast and his eyes widened. "Bloody hell! When did Hedwig get here?" He looked over at Ginny for confirmation. "I'm not seeing things, right? She wasn't here a minute ago, right?" Ginny shook her head. "Thought so. Hey look, she's got some letters. Looks like Harry wrote to us."
Before she could warn them, Ron reached out toward Hedwig only to receive an angry screech and a peck for his trouble. Letting out a bark of laughter at her brother's misfortune, Ginny decided to try her own hand at retrieving a letter only to receive a similar reaction. Sighing, Hermione rolled her eyes before reaching out to relieve Hedwig of half of her payload. "You should know Hedwig by know, guys: she won't let anyone take a letter that's not addressed to them. One of the letters is for me, and the other is for…" She craned her neck, brow furrowing in consternation as she got a good look at the other letter. "Narcissa Black?"
"What the bloody hell?" Ron gave Hedwig a baffled look, as if the owl might have something to offer in defense of her master's decision. Unsurprisingly, she didn't. After a few seconds, he shook his head in disbelief before turning her attention back to Hermione. "Well, it's probably a letter for all of us and just addressed to you because… I don't know why. Don't care. Go on and open it up already."
She was planning on it, if he would give her a moment to think. Hermione glared at Ron and then opened the envelope, pulling out the letter inside and unfolding it. The script was unfamiliar; looping, cursive writing in bright blue ink. Hermione had a good idea who the letter was from, and it wasn't Harry. Unfortunately, that just raised more questions in her mind.
Before we go any further, let me assure that this letter has been charmed to appear as one from Harry to anyone else who sees it because these words are for you and you alone. With that being said, you are one of the few bright spots of hope that I have found in this diseased and otherwise unremarkable society that I emerged into. Your potential is being wasted among those you currently call friends and I believe you know it all too well. If you would like to be among those who would truly value your intellect and abilities, and become a part of the betterment of the society you so desperately wish to call home? You are invited to join Harry and I when we leave Privet Drive and begin our campaign to defeat Voldemort and restore order to the wizarding world. If you are amenable to my offer, send a letter at your earlier convenience; I will respond with a second missive with details of where and when to join us.
God-King of the Primordium, Shaper of Things
Hermione had just barely finished reading the letter and scarcely begun to process what she was being offered when Ron decided that both what was his was his and what was hers was his, wrenching the letter out of her grasp. His eyes flicked back and forth quickly, the tips of his ears growing steadily redder. "The nerve of him! Bragging about getting to go all over the place with Illyria while the rest of us are stuck in this filthy house. Asking us to clean it up a bit more because it'll officially be his soon and it's a mess." Scowling, Ron threw the letter down in front of Hermione before turning and stomping out of the kitchen.
Ginny eyed the letter maliciously for a few seconds before ultimately tossing her hair and following after her brother. After her harshly aborted encounter with Illyria on the train, the younger redhead wasn't nearly as big of a fan of Harry as she'd previously been, made worse by the revelation that she'd been unconscious through his impromptu autograph session. Their departure worked just fine for Hermione, though; she needed time to process Illyria's letter and how any decision would affect her relationships with Harry… with Ron and Ginny… and with the members of the Order among dozens of others that she could think of.
Sighing, Hermione used her fork to spear a piece of sausage and held it out to Hedwig so she could nibble on it. "What do you think I should do, Hedwig?"
July 1, 2006
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
"A ten and a half inch wand made of unknown wood, with a… Harry Potter hair core. Unlike literally every other wand to have passed through my hands over the years, I have absolutely no idea what such a wand is best suited for. Save, perhaps, to be wielded by you or your Qwa'ha Xahn." Ollivander bowed his head in due deference before holding out a box with both hands. "Give it a wave for me, if you would?"
Illyria obliged and removed the wand from the box, extending tendrils of her own magic into it. She quickly determined that this new wand was far, far better suited to her magical core than either Luna's wand or any of the others that she'd tried in the shop the previous week. Far too seasoned and stable to experience accidental magic the way that incoming first year students did, there was no spontaneous eruption of magic as she gave the wand a casual wave. Instead, the corner of her mouth quirked upward as she fired off a Bombardment Curse at the far wall. The bolt of blue energy leapt across the distance and smashed into the charm-reinforced wood, blowing a hole big enough to fit a dragon through.
Grinning as Ollivander sputtered at the wanton destruction, Illyria put her old wand into the box still in his hands and turned away. Taking Harry's hand, she lead him out of the store as she called back over her shoulder. "A very satisfactory wand indeed."
July 1, 2006
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
"Sorry I'm late, I had a competing commitment this morning that I just couldn't reschedule. Which might have been avoided if you'd let me know about this meeting sooner than yesterday afternoon." Breezing into Carnac's office, Narcissa reached down to squeeze Harry's shoulder before brushing a kiss against the top of Illyria's head. Unused to receiving affection from anyone other than Harry, the God-King went rigid before turning to look at Narcissa with wide eyes as the dark-haired woman settled herself into the seat next to Harry. "Not a criticism, my lady, just a… helpful observation. I'm not terribly behind schedule, though, so it shouldn't be hard to catch me up on what I missed."
Carnac chuckled lowly before gesturing to the folders spread out over the top of his desk. "I was just informing the apparent Lord Potter and his companion that there are numerous options available to them in terms of establishing a family seat, of varying degrees of suitability when it comes to location, condition, and size. All of this, of course, is contingent upon Harry taking up the headship of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Potter. And for that, today I do in fact have a ring that you shall need to try on, Harry."
After eyeing the box dubiously for a few seconds, Harry sighed before extending one hand and making a beckoning gesture. Carnac nodded in approval before opening the box, removing the ring within and carefully sliding it onto Harry's finger. He'd been intending for the goblin to hand him the box but… either way worked, he supposed. There was a faint tingle, and then a rubbing sensation against his skin as the ring resized itself to fit his finger. Arching an eyebrow, Harry held up his hand. "I take it this means that I'm now officially Lord Potter?"
"After a fashion, although nothing in life comes without the requisite paperwork. In your case, dozens of forms worth to cover not only your investiture as the head of the House of Potter, but your ascension to Lord Rashleigh, Lord Boscawen, Lord Tremayne, and Lord Peverell as well." Carnac patted a thick folder sitting off to one side on his desk before offering a toothy grin. "But I can enjoy your misfortune some time before you leave for the day. You scheduled this meeting primarily to address your housing situation, correct?"
Illyria offered a sharp nod in response to that, arms crossed over her chest as she leaned back in her seat. "I grow tired of the banal bleating of Harry's muggle relatives, and my desire to do them harm grows with each passing day. It would be in everyone's best interest if we could relocate soon; even if they are powerless before me, I have no desire to interact further with either muggle or wizarding law enforcement. Their impotent threats bore me."
Brought up short by that - not that Harry could blame him, given that the idea of taking on the DMLE was probably laughable to the goblin nation as a whole much less a single goblin - Carnac opened and closed his mouth several times before ultimately shaking his head and continuing on. Opening one of the folders in the middle of his desk, he gestured to a picture of a towering white brick house. "If I may be honest with you, this will largely be an exercise in deciding among the least of evils. Thanks to the disinterest and neglect of several generations of Potters, not a single family seat is wholly suitable for your occupation at this point. Not that the Peverells ever had one, mind you, but that's beside the point at the moment. Your ancestors focused wholly and solely on the Potter family assets and Potter Manor… and, well, I'm sure you know how that ended for your grandparents."
Actually, Harry had no idea what had become of his paternal grandparents - or the former family seat for that matter - but that wasn't a failing that he was expecting his family's account manager to rectify. "Of course. Moving on?"
"First and least suitable - beyond the wreckage of the former Potter Manor, that is - we have Heligan Estate, the ancestral home of the Tremaynes. It's located in Mevagissey, roughly eight kilometers south of St. Austell." Carnac tapped the picture of the white brick house with one finger before sliding it sideways to reveal another picture of a rather elaborate garden. "While you are the sole extant member of the family and therefore could easily seize control of the trust that currently manages the property? The so-called 'Lost Gardens of Heligan' have afforded the property some degree of renown in the last decade; I am obliged to warn you that having a local tourist attraction directly adjacent to an active wizarding household would be an unacceptable risk from the perspective of the Secrecy Statute. Meaning that you would be required by law to obey the same rules and restrictions as wizards who live in blended areas in terms of belongings of an overtly magical, casting spells in the open, et cetera and so forth."
Given that Harry was used to living under those same limitations at Privet Drive? He doubted it would cause him any inconvenience in the least. Illyria, on the other hand, tended to be a walking violation of the Secrecy Statute waiting for a place to happen. And while Tracey and Morag would likely be nearly as tolerant as him of the restrictions, Narcissa might have a harder time of it. Or perhaps not; she seemed reasonably comfortable with the muggle world. Perhaps more than he was, at times. But Illyria… she was his sole concern at this point, and she likely would react poorly to anyone trying to put constraints on her behavior. And so he ultimately nodded in agreement before pushing the pictures back together into a neat pile and closing the folder back up. "Agreed. That leaves us at zero for three on my families, counting the Potters and Peverells. What else do you have for us?"
Opening the next folder in the series, Carnac spread out a series of pictures of a sprawling stone manor that reminded Harry of a smaller - and perhaps saner - version of Hogwarts's distinct architecture. "Up next… Tregothnan, the current seat of the Boscawens. It's located a bit further west along the coastline, near the village of St. Michael. Unlike either of the other two houses available, it would put you within five kilometers of a major metropolitan area, in this case the city of Truro. However, it's equally - if not more - unsuitable for your purposes than Heligan Estate. Unlike the various families of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, your family had a habit of using squibs to build bridges with the neighboring muggle community, and many of them went on to become individuals of some renown. While you are the sole extant magical Boscawen, the squib-descended muggle branch carries on the tradition of being the Viscounts Falmouth. George Boscawen, ninth Viscount Falmouth, currently inhabits the house and has established a tea plantation on the grounds. Again, your claim to the title and lands both supersede his, and we can take the house for you if you wish. But while it is possible… it is potentially more attention than you wish to bring to yourself, especially in the muggle world."
A faint snort escaped Harry as he nodded his agreement; displacing a member of the muggle nobility and a large business - or at least he assumed that anything calling itself a 'plantation' was a fairly sprawling enterprise - would definitely draw the sort of attention that a teenager with a dubious legal existence in the muggle world should seek to avoid. "Agreed. So what's left? Illyria's mentioned a Menabilly; is the house inhabited by the only dragon in Cornwall or something?"
"Nothing quite so intimidating, no." Carnac carefully gathered the pictures of Tregothnan back into their folder before moving onward, dumping a few photos of a sprawling stone estate partially covered in ivy onto his desk before spreading them out so that Harry and the others could get a better look. "Last but not least before we get into the lesser and vacation properties… Menabilly, the Rashleigh seat. Located in Tywardreath, which sits between Par and Fowey in Cornwall. While you have muggle members of the family remaining, none of them are aware of Menabilly and so it's gone uninhabited since the last magical Rashleigh passed on just after the turn of the twentieth century."
Which meant that the ivy was symptomatic of a larger problem that would show on the inside of the house, Harry realized. "So in other words, it's been empty for a while and is showing its age, am I right?"
Carnac nodded, repositioning the photos so that he could add a pair of grainy photos of the house's interior. "You would be right. Both the house proper and the outbuildings are in a questionable state of repair… from a muggle perspective. A small team of dedicated house elves could make the entire manor safe to inhabit in a matter of hours, and have things looking refined enough to invite others over in perhaps a week or two. It is also yours outright at the present time, unlike the other two houses that technically would come with your various inheritances."
Given that Illyria had repeatedly stated her preference for taking the seat of the family whose name she was claiming as the family's new home? That was… fortuitous, to say the least. "What do we need to do to claim Menabilly as our own, then? I can think of at least two house elves that I can ask to help us refurbish the house, one of them extremely enthusiastic. And Cissy, you've got to have at least one house elf you can donate to the cause."
"And here I thought that I'd been invited just to provide you two with advice." Leaning in against Harry's side, Narcissa batted her eyelashes playfully at him. "Asking me to move in after the first date, though… isn't that moving a little fast?"
Harry sighed before rolling his eyes, wrapping one arm around the visibly surprised Narcissa's shoulders just to make their current position a bit less uncomfortable for them both. "Well according to Illyria, she doesn't just see the future the way Trelawney and other seers claim to, she can visit it. And there, you're Lady Potter. So if that's the truth-"
"You doubt my word?"
"-doesn't it make sense for me to include you in housing decisions? It's going to be your house someday too. Likewise, doesn't it make sense for you to help us bring the house up to your standards? Whether you move in today, a month from now, or a year from now?" Harry waited for Narcissa to nod in acquiescence to his point, before returning to his original question. "Now that we're on the same page… elves? Do you still have any now that you're no longer a Malfoy?"
Narcissa nodded as she pulled the folder off the desk and onto her lap, snuggling up against Harry as best they could given they were seated in separate chairs as she began leafing through additional shots of the grounds, the surrounding area, and eventually a floor plan and other pertinent details on the property. "I took Lulu with me when I left since I'd paid for her myself, and Kreacher just sort of followed me since he's bound to the Black family. They'll both be available to help you with this; I'll make sure they understand that your word is as good as mine… for now, at least. After all, as you politely edged your way around, I have no desire to live like a Weasley." Pressing one knuckle to the scale guide, she frowned softly as she began figuring out the exact dimensions of the house in question. "Hmm. The master suite is a bit smaller than I'm used to, and that's before you take into account that we're hoping to have at least three of us living in there and potentially as many as seven. On the other hand, I somehow doubt that we'll ever be popular enough to need six guest rooms simultaneously. Perhaps we can mix in a bit of remodeling with the restoration?"
That seemed sensible enough to Harry, both when it came to needing more space for their personal quarters and in terms of it being sensible to take care of such a thing now while they were working on the house anyway. Carnac cleared his throat, drawing Harry's attention back to the goblin for the moment. "To address your earlier concern, Lord Potter? The title and deed are part of the assets awaiting release to the Rashleigh head; all you need to do is take up the Rashleigh headship ring, be acknowledged by it, and become Lord Rashleigh. The wards - such as they are at this point - will recognize you and allow you to enter the property." Pushing himself to his feet with a faint groan, Carnac gestured to the door of his office. "With your leave, I'd like to call a brief recess while I go and retrieve both the additional headship rings that you're entitled to as well as all of the paperwork that you'll need to fill out to make your desires a reality today."
As Carnac slipped from the room, Narcissa straightened up and pulled a watch out of one pocket of the rather smart-looking blue jacket that she was wearing. It was not only distinctly Illyria's shade of blue, but just as obviously of muggle design and possibly manufacture, leaving Harry wondering exactly what the woman's 'prior commitment' had been… and whether it was rude or expected of him to ask at this point in their fledgling relationship. Flipping the watch open, Narcissa frowned down at it before offering Harry a nervous smile. "Seeing as how we're not doing anything terribly confidential this afternoon, would the two of you mind if I brought someone else into the room? I don't exactly have to worry about her wandering off or anything, but it'd still be rude to leave her out in the hallway for hours on end while I work on this."
Her? Harry groaned in dismay, having a sinking suspicion that he knew exactly who Narcissa was talking about. "Please tell me you didn't." Narcissa whistled softly before looking away, and he loosed an even louder second groan. "What happened to us talking about this? I distinctly recall saying that we'd talk about this before you did anything."
"I recall you saying something like that, yes, but I seem to recall that I told you that I would do it with or without your help, didn't I? Your help or your approval, for that matter." Narcissa crossed her arms over her chest defensively, making Harry struggle to keep his eyes locked with hers and his irritation at the forefront of his mind. "So when Draco snuck away from Malfoy Manor to visit me in Diagon Alley, and told me all about how my idiot of an ex-husband had invited Voldemort into my former home, and that Draco was being expected to take the Dark Mark sooner rather than later? Of course I acted on the opportunity that I was being given. Just like I said I would."
Leaning forward, Harry buried his face in his hands as he fought the urge to scream. He'd been hoping to talk Narcissa out of her insane little plan. Evidently, that hope was for naught now because he no longer had time to. Looking up, he nodded in the direction of the doorway. "Fine. I'm not happy, but I'm also not going to be rude. Go get her."
Narcissa darted in to press a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth before rising to her feet. "Thank you." Scampering over to the door, Narcissa opened it and stuck her head out, speaking in hushed tones with someone outside for a short while. Inevitably, though, she opened the door wider and made a beckoning gesture, turning to face Harry and Illyria as a petite, almost elfin-looking blond girl stepped into the room. "Harry. Illyria. May I present to you… my daughter."