Storm clouds gathered over Harry's return to Hogwarts after the Winter Festival Holiday was over.
Many people tried to stop him.
Lord James Potter was the first, hiring a group of hit-wizards to intercept Harry at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. This didn't work, because he wasn't there. But he certainly got off the Hogwarts Express at Hogsmeade Station.
The second people to give it a shot were the Magical Department of Family Affairs. They stopped Harry's coach as it made its way to the gates of Hogwarts, making their intention to escort him back to Potter Manor perfectly clear. For their trouble, they got three wands shoved in their faces, a quick nap on the icy-cold ground, and a new appreciation for what a trio of noble witches could do, even if the girls in question barely stood up to their chests.
Finally, there were the teachers of Hogwarts themselves.
Harry was, technically, no longer a student.
"I'm sorry, Mister Potter," Professor McGonagall said at the front doors. "We cannot allow you any further."
The problem with barring Harry from the school though, was that Lord Slytherin had taken back control over the wards just a few weeks earlier in defence against a free house-elf. And Lord Slytherin had granted Harry Potter asylum.
What followed was a rather ridiculous game of cat and mouse, where the mouse was more of a whisper on the wind.
Severus Snape and Lily Potter were the primary frustrated antagonists of this little game. Polyjuice potion, notice-me-nots, self-transfiguration, secret passageways, the Marauder's map, disillusionment charms, the actual invisibility cloak of Death, and general access to the wards, influencing such things as staircase direction and which doors led where — between all of these, Harry was about as hard to pin down as the last sliver of soap in the bathtub.
This gave him plenty of freedom to accelerate many plans in many directions. He even went to classes sometimes, usually in disguise and signing himself into the register afterwards. For fun.
And so, storm clouds gathered.
This went on for nearly four weeks.
And now the storm clouds that gathered were not nearly so metaphorical.
Blackness rolled over the country like a blanket — black clouds from what had, only an hour before, been crystal blue sky.
In a grand manor house in Wiltshire, many hundreds of miles away from Hogwarts, a wizarding wireless was urgently giving a warning that was being repeated up and down the country.
…Winds of up to 100 miles an hour are expected for the next few hours along with random bolts of magic. The Department for Magical Disaster Control has issued a statement that all magical beings should under no circumstances leave shelter during the event, and that the muggle Prime Minister has been informed of the storm's nature and that it poses no direct threat to muggles, outside of the wind. Again, we highly advise wizards and witches not to venture outside, especially to aid muggle relatives.
Rome is also responding to the emergency. A special team of ICW obliviators has been dispatched from Paris, where they were on training exercises, and is currently flying over the channel. The Minister says the British Ministry of Magic welcomes the aid and again urges the population to remain calm during the unexpected magical event—*click*
Lord Lucius Malfoy flicked his wand away from the wizarding wireless and stared up at the darkening sky through the large windows of his private study.
He sighed. A lot of property would need repairing soon.
"Dear?" Narcissa opened the door wearing a very respectable robe. "Lord Potter has arrived. Shall I show him up?"
"Yes." Lucius sneered. "I hope you warmed him up for our discussion."
Narcissa smiled. "I made sure to mention how much of a disappointment Virgo was three times."
Not long after, the door opened again and Lord Potter entered like an explorer investigating a booby-trapped ruin.
"James," Lord Malfoy intoned.
And that was it… for the next five minutes. They sat opposite each other at the office's low desk, silently taking tea while a collection of house-elves fussed around them.
Eventually, the door closed, and they were alone.
Off in one corner, an ancient grandfather clock audibly ticked away the passing time. Far off in the distance, a deep rumble heralded the nearing of the coming storm.
Lucius set his teacup down with a clink. "You got my owl."
"Obviously. Lily was not at all happy."
"Really? I would have thought your wife of all people would jump at the opportunity to sully her husband's house with more muggleness."
Lord Potter scowled. "Let's just cut to the chase. You want Virgo taken off your hands. How much do you want?"
"Whoa. Whoa. Whoa," Lord Malfoy said in a patronising tone. "Calm yourself, James. There is a proper way these things go. I'm sure even you know that. Virgo may be proving to be a massive disappointment for her attitude and the company she keeps. But there is no denying she is a powerful and talented witch. She will be a great asset to your house and make a superb betrothed for your..." he smirked, "…son."
Lord Potter scowled. "Heir."
Lucius shrugged. "She also mastered many of our traditions incredibly quickly upon her return to our world and has taken to occlumency like a fish to water. Then there are the Malfoy family magics she will bring to the union. There hasn't been a Malfoy/Potter match for over three hundred years — since before the time of the great arithmancy revolution. The potential new combinations are legion. She is top of her year at Hogwarts, and her scores would even be record-breaking, if it weren't for your heir's scores last year."
Lord Malfoy chuckled. "I'm sure you understand why Virgo is among the most valuable commodities that I possess. There are many houses who would gladly pay top galleon for such a match. I can think of many off the top of my head. I doubt they would be so 'accommodating' to her eccentricities. Lord Slughorn is still looking for a new bride."
Rain started to faintly patter against the windows.
Lord Malfoy shrugged. "Virgo is worth far more than Daphne Greengrass was, of that there is no doubt. As such, I could not possibly accept anything less than a bride price of…" He looked Lord Potter squarely in the eyes. "… twenty-thousand galleons."
Lord Potter sprayed his tea clear across the room.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Lightning flashed across the sky. It arced upwards from the ground before crackling out across the clouds.
"That doesn't look good," muttered Nymphadora Tonks.
"It isn't good," answered her partner in a gruff voice. A magical eye swivelled in its socket to focus on her through the back of its owner's head. "C'mon girl. The obliviators will need every hand on deck. And I'll be damned if we're shown up by a bunch of foreign memory fiddlers."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Lightning flashed across the sky.
But at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, all was deathly calm, deep in the eye of the storm.
"I don't like it," said Professor Minerva McGonagall, up in the headmaster's office. "Why now? Why here? These storms are not to be treated lightly. Odd events can happen. Strange creatures can be born."
"Oh, don't be such a worry wart, Minerva," replied Lockhart.
"I'm sure it will all be fine," he continued. "Don't you think so, Miss Davis?"
Tracey took a parchment from the top of the stack she was carrying and slid it over the desk towards Lockhart. "Yes, Headmaster," she chirped. "This one needs to be signed and charmed in triplicate."
"Right you are."
Professor McGonagall's frown deepened.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Lightning flashed across the sky.
Thunder rolled across the heavens.
But deep down beneath the earth, it may as well have been a balmy afternoon. The only signs of the tumult above were the occasional ripples in random pools of chilly water.
"Wicked," whispered George Weasley, staring in awe around the massive chamber. In particular, his eyes kept sweeping over the gigantic statue of Lord Salazar Slytherin, where five dozen steel rods still clamped the old wizard's mouth firmly shut.
"That's the fourth time you've said that," Ginny replied in a teasing voice.
"It's just… wicked," George said again. "I wish Fred was here to see this."
"He'll get his turn," said Daphne. She was standing in front of a massive clay pot that she had hand-turned all by herself. All of them were. Five girls and two boys. Seven in total. Each of the pots was half as tall as the young wizard or witch standing before it, and each was covered in intricately carved runes from top to bottom. A heptagram of phoenix ash on the floor connected all the pots together. And right in the middle of the subsequent heptagon sat a pensieve. Daphne turned to her left. "Harry?"
Harry nodded. "Alex, Hermione, George, and Luna. Welcome to the Chamber of Secrets — Salazar Slytherin's family ritual room, deep beneath Hogwarts where not even the faintest of magical interference can reach. It was here that Lord Slytherin re-discovered the Stella Benedictio ritual, and it was here, fifty years ago, that the last heir of the time started his work on the ritual that we, today, are going to perform — the ritual that I now dub Septem Anima."
He reached into the pocket of his robes and pulled out seven smoking pipes, one after another.
"Each of these is filled with mandrake. The ritual is simple in theory, but the effects will be extensive. Once we've climbed into our respective pots, we will all take as large a pull as we can and channel our magic into the runes. I imagine this will be quite a trip."
"I imagine it will," said Luna.
"Eventually, there will be enough magic in the ritual space to trigger the ritual effect. The phoenix ash and the pensieve in the middle of the circle will then give us a pathway to commune with our spirit animal — our animagus form — much like animagi in Magical America do to achieve their forms. Except we will achieve our forms almost instantly. Or in minutes, anyway. At least on the outside."
"And on the inside?" George asked.
"A lifetime — until the ritual believes that it is time for each of us to die on the claws of our fellows."
Alexandra chose this moment to speak up. "What I want to know is how you learn a ritual when no one has ever done it before."
"Oh," said Hermione. "That's simple. You see, there's this thing called the aether unpacked, which—"
"Hermione," Daphne interrupted.
Harry chuckled. "You'll learn more about it in third year. Until then simply know that magic discovery is dangerous and you shouldn't try it if you don't know what you're doing."
Hermione averted her eyes.
"The nature of phoenix ash is the warping of space and time," Harry continued. "The nature of a pensieve is the storing and recalling of memories. The combined effect in this ritual will be unusual. We will all live our lives separately and the others will hunt us — all at the same time. In that one moment, there will be seven Harrys, seven Ginnys, seven Daphnes, and so on. But in your pot, the only one of us with an animal mind will be you. Once the ritual is over, we will have achieved perfect balance with our forms and will be animagi."
"Sounds complicated," Ginny said.
Harry smiled. "It will all be a lot clearer once we're in." He turned to Luna. "Still not going to tell us what your form is?"
Luna smiled back. "It's okay. I'll tell you now."
She told them.
Hermione said a bad word.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Rain lashed the windows of Gryffindor Tower. Sitting in one of the old castle's alcoves, Susan Bones stared out with wide eyes. At least, she was until she heard her name thrown up behind her.
"Look, John, all I'm saying is that she's a Hufflepuff. I know we're open to them, but she can't be up here all the time. There has to be a limit to these things."
It was one of the older female prefects. Isabel something, wasn't it?
"I don't see why," John replied with his arms folded. "Dumbledore always talked about inter-house cooperation and reaching out the hands of friendship. You wouldn't go against Dumbledore, would you?"
The prefect sighed irritably. "John, you're missing the point."
"No, I don't think he is," Virgo stated from where she sat buried in parchment at one of the common room desks. She didn't even look up. "I think it is you, Banister, who is in the wrong."
Banister! That was her name.
"How is it me who—"
"—It is you," Virgo interrupted, "because you have an ulterior motive. Don't think we've missed the looks you've been shooting Heir Potter."
"—And don't think I don't know about the arrangement your father made with you at the start of the year."
The older girl's face went chalk white. "I don't know what you mean."
"You were ordered to seduce John before you leave Hogwarts."
"So this isn't your handwriting on this letter?" Virgo held up a parchment, still not bothering to look up.
Susan slipped off the windowsill and stepped forward. "Duel me," she said quietly.
"Huh?" The prefect looked around.
"You want a shot at John? Duel me," she repeated, louder. "If you win, I'll go back to the Hufflepuff common room."
The girl stepped backwards. "Are you crazy? I'm not a duellist! I'm in the gobstones club. And I know all about the insane training Potter puts you through. I know about how good you are. And you're the niece of the head of the DMLE. I'm not going to fight you."
"Then stop bothering John and leave us alone," Susan snapped. "If you can't fight, then you have no business pursuing the boy-who-lived. You have no idea the enemies he has. Just go back to getting spat on by stones and stop trying to dig gold from a boy four years younger than you."
The girl's face rapidly went from chalk white to embarrassed red before she turned and beat a hasty retreat up the spiral staircase towards the girls' dorms.
A flash of lightning chose that moment to silhouette Susan against the window, casting her form in shadows. It lasted for only a moment and made little lights dance across the eyes of all who witnessed it.
There was a moment of silence.
"Holy crap," piped up one of the first-year boys. "That was so badass!"
That broke the tension. Some people laughed. Others turned back to their homework.
Susan herself smiled shyly and turned back to gazing out of the window.
Only Virgo continued to stare. She hadn't just seen what she thought she did, had she? In that brief lightning flash? No, it must have been a trick of the light. It must have been.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Down in the Chamber of Secrets, magical power thrummed throughout the ritual circle. The seven participants stood behind their respective pots, each one as naked as the day they were born.
"You're not going to look, are you?" Ginny called to her brother. "I'll hex you if you do."
"We aren't going to look," Harry said. "Go right ahead, girls."
"You can look, Harry," said Ginny and Luna in unison.
"No, he can't," shot back Daphne, Hermione, and Alex.
It took a few moments for the girls to all climb in, followed shortly thereafter by the two boys. At a spoken command, they all took a lung-full of mandrake essence and pushed as much magic as they could into their pots.
At first nothing visible happened.
Then the circle started to faintly glow.
Suddenly, a flash of magical light shot around the circle, up through each of the lines of phoenix ash connecting them all, and ending in a small supernova around the central pensieve.
Then everything went quiet. Another soft light in the middle began to pulse. It slowly made its way up one of the trails of ash until it reached the pot containing Ginny Weasley. The pot made a resounding, BONG sound.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Lightning flashed, again, and again, and again.
In Ravenclaw Tower, Sophie Roper stared intently at the school-wide academic leaderboard that hung over the common-room fireplace where absolutely no one could possibly miss it. Her name was rising, slowly but surely, up the ranks. Soon, she'd be in the top ten. That would be great. Top five would be even better.
Of course, top position would be best, but that would mean beating Hermione — an absolutely impossible task. Before the holiday, it would have meant beating Harry Potter too, but his position as number one had been removed when he'd been withdrawn from school. Not that that stopped him from showing up to lessons, incredibly.
"Did you know," started Padma, who was sitting beside her, reading from a third-year book, "that chimaera are born into magical storms?"
"I did, yes."
"Oh." The disappointment in her voice was clear. "Well, did you know then that chimaera are some of the most dangerous magical creatures that exist? They inherit many of the properties of their component animals, and sometimes can even be magical. They have human-level intelligence, are magically resistant, and eat people. Some can even speak! The ICW has to hunt down a rogue one every decade or so, and it's always a huge fuss."
"Actually, I knew all that too."
Padma snapped her book shut.
"What I don't understand is why aren't they evacuating us from the school? What if one was born here?"
Sophie continued to stare at Hermione's name, right at the top of the board. She'd had a very intense conversation with her mum and dad over the holidays about Lord Slytherin, the Muggle Protection Act, and the dangers of the Wizarding World. "I don't know," she eventually said. "Survival of the fittest?"
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
The air was dry — the shadows, long. The sound of curious insects buzzed on the air. A tall silhouette could be seen against the shimmering horizon — a giraffe of the African planes.
And the sun rose.
Underneath a clump of bushes in a patch of scrub, a female cheetah licked the head of her week-old cub.
The cub could not see. Born blind and immobile, she was completely dependent on her mother. She didn't know who she was, or what she was. All that she knew was that so long as that tongue kept licking her — so long as that musky smell was near, she was safe.
The cub didn't think. Not actual thoughts. Rather, a stream of senses passed through her mind like water through a funnel. The breeze in the air. The wetness on her fur. The smell of safety. There was no time for consideration. No storage location where the meaning of sensory input could be pondered on.
And then the tongue was gone — the smell, fading. A new sense passed through her, one that came not from without, but from within. Fear.
She cried out.
And the smell was back. As was the tongue.
The fear faded.
The cub opened her eyes.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Water. The cub could smell water. She easily followed her mother down the embankment to the small stream to drink. She was much bigger now. She'd grown — now coming up all the way to her mother's chest. Together they drank their fill.
They'd move on to a new place to sleep before the sun went down. And then her mother would hunt.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"No, you fool! Leave me alone!"
The cub darted forward to sniff at her quarry before darting back as her prey tried, and pitifully failed, to slither away. It was a tiny black snake, no thicker than a human finger.
"I will destroy you, girl! I will kill you and all you love! I will—No! Put me down!"
The cub pounced and grabbed the snake in her jaws, pinning its little head with a paw. Something about this dangerous wiggly-thing didn't feel right. It felt bad in a way she couldn't understand, different from normal dangerous wiggly-things. But a part of her — a part she also didn't understand — wanted it dead… badly.
There was a loud BANG that ripped through the air of the grassland and caused several nearby birds to give flight.
The cub jumped in surprise, looking around for what had caused the noise. This allowed the snake to slither away again.
Not seeing any immediate threat, the cub easily caught back up to her quarry and once more pounced on it.
"You can't! I will be the greatest! I will rule the Wizarding World! I will—"
The cub took its body in its jaws and, with one clean snap of her head, ripped the creature in two. It fell to the ground, dead.
She didn't eat it. The part of her she didn't understand felt disgusted at the idea. She instead trotted in the direction of her mother. Except, it wasn't only her mother that greeted her.
"This one's a beauty, isn't she?"
"Sure is. Hold the head up so I can get a good photograph."
Her mother was dead. Two humans crouched by the body.
Fear. Anger. Loss.
"C'mon. Help me get her up on the truck."
The cub lay deathly still under a bush, not daring to move until the two larger predators left. When they finally did, she crawled out of her hiding place and looked around. She walked over to the spot on the ground, sniffed at where her mother had fallen, and let out a long, drawn-out moan.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
The one feeling overruled all others.
In the grass ahead sat a hare, nibbling away at breakfast.
The cub raised herself on her hindquarters, trotted forward, and broke into a sprint.
The chase was over in seconds.
The hare struggled under her paws.
But something stopped her from delivering the fatal bite.
That part of her she didn't understand.
The hare fled.
And the cub continued to go hungry.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
The cub could hardly even be called a cub anymore, but whether she could be called an adult cheetah was still up for debate. In the time since her mother's death, she hadn't completed a single successful hunt yet. She lived by scavenging, getting to a carcass first, and eating her fill before the vultures and hyenas turned up. A few times she had managed to steal a kill off a smaller predator, which gave food for days, but in general, things were not going well.
And the situation was about to get worse.
A smell on the breeze caused every muscle in her body to freeze in fear.
"Just going to use the ol' washroom, chaps. Won't be a tick."
A party of humans walked through the brush.
One split off from the others and walked off in the opposite direction.
The young female kept her head to the ground as boots marched on.
Then the one that had split off turned around, and the part of her she didn't understand roared. It was the same human from before. The one that had taken her mother.
"Just be sure to keep your gun with you!" one of the other humans shouted. "Don't want to be caught with your pants down if you get jumped!"
Most of the young female wanted nothing more than to hide, but the part she didn't understand, the part that had kept her hungry most of her life, suddenly wanted to hunt — wanted to kill — even if the predator was bigger and stronger than she was.
"We'll meet you back at the lodge!"
Quietly, the young female picked herself up and crept around the circle of bushes, through the long grass. She didn't dare approach through the foliage. The wind was all wrong. She'd be spotted. And if she was spotted, it was all over. She knew, instinctively, that if the human had enough time, it could hunt her, even without getting close.
Eventually, she spotted her target — crouched down in the grass ahead, easily within sprinting range.
Unfortunately, she wasn't the only one.
"Alright, girl," the human said, picking up its weapon. "Enough of that. I can see you. No getting any closer, you hear?"
The part of her that needed vengeance screamed. She felt a power surge through her the likes of which she never had. She crouched down to the ground, muscles coiled.
The human sighted down the barrel. "Don't do this, girl."
She lunged. From a crouching start to a full sprint in the blink of an eye.
The human cursed, aimed, exhaled, and fired.
But she wasn't there anymore.
The world changed, and where before had been a young cheetah, hurtling through space, now there was nothing but a stone, falling to the ground. It hit at about the same time as the cat crashed into the human's back from behind, sending him to the ground in a melee of teeth and claws.
Normally, a female cheetah wouldn't be much of a mortal threat to the average grown male human, but she had surprise on her side. Oh boy, did she have surprise. The look on the hunter's face was one of pure, unbelieving shock. Her jaws closed around her target's throat. She gave one quick snap of her head. And the man fell dead.
She howled her victory.
And the part of her she didn't understand fell silent.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Now fully grown and strong, the once-underfed cheetah stared around her domain with the certainty that comes from a lifetime of overcoming the odds. Sure, there were threats she couldn't directly fight, but she'd learned that anything she couldn't kill, she could simply run away from. They got bored eventually.
Strangely, for an adult female, she never had cubs of her own. That part of her she didn't understand usually stayed silent when she went out to hunt and kill, but the one situation it certainly would make a fuss was when male cheetahs came sniffing around.
She yawned, jumped down from her rock, walked over to her favourite watering spot, and lapped up the refreshing drink. As she finished, she suddenly perked, every sense in her body now alert.
The wind had changed, bringing with it a new smell — one she didn't recognise, but which she had to investigate.
It wasn't long until she found its source. Every hackle on her neck rose.
The massive dog stared at her with bright violet eyes. It was much larger than she was. Still lean, but clearly built for raw power.
It didn't look easily intimidated, but nevertheless, she rose and hissed loudly.
The dog just continued to stare at her.
So she tried walking forward while growling softly. That often did the trick.
Unfortunately, this only caused the dog to match her behaviour. Soon they were circling each other, a rare face-off on the African grasslands.
She didn't give the dog any more chances. She lunged.
This did not have the result she expected. Just before she hit her target, it changed into a dog-shaped mist, causing her instead to pass right through and crash into the ground beyond with a yelp.
The dog turned back into dog.
And that was that. Fight hadn't worked, so the next option was flight.
Except the dog didn't appear to want to let her go.
She ran fast and the dog followed slowly.
She stopped to pant and the dog caught up.
She trotted away and the dog just kept on coming.
Eventually she could run no further. Her legs were shaking. Her breathing laboured. She felt so hot. Slowly, she collapsed on the ground.
The dog trotted over and put its strong jaws around her throat.
The last things she saw before darkness took her were those violet eyes, and in them, something similar to the part of her she didn't understand.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Ginny gasped, bolting up in her pot, clutching at her throat. But everything was okay. She was alive. She was Ginny Weasley. She was…. The inside of the pot was pitch-black and the mandrake fumes were still overpowering. Her eyes slowly closed again as she started to drift back off. Even if it was needed, she would really pay Alexandra back for that.
The glowing around the circle faded for a second before flaring right back up. Another line of magic shot up another line of phoenix ash. And another pot went BONG.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"I don't care about licensing opportunities from your stupid hair care empire," said Lord Malfoy sharply. "I insist on open floo access to my grandchildren."
"They will be my house's sons and daughters," shot back Lord Potter. "It is my prerogative to see them raised as Potters."
Malfoy sniffed. "You are traditional only when it suits you."
"And you are greedy only when it suits you!"
Both lords glared.
Listening in through one of the walls, Narcissa sighed. The problem with being a powerful staff like her husband, she considered, was that every problem inevitably ended up looking like an incredibly tempting skull to crack.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
An ice floe sparkled in the blindingly bright sunlight like diamonds sprinkled on a mirror.
The rockhopper penguin that housed the impression of George Weasley's soul hopped across the frozen landscape, vaguely feeling, as it had for its whole life, that a singularly important part of it was missing.
Hop, hop, hop — it bounced from crevice to gulley and up.
It didn't see the odd collection of animals hidden absolutely still behind the nearest cliff, all pressed up against the wall of ice like prison escapees caught in a floodlight.
It also didn't see the golden eagle overhead. Why would it look? Such predators didn't fly this far south. Nevertheless, the eagle that shouldn't have been there started to dive.
The rockhopper only realised the danger a split-second before a sharp talon ripped straight through its brain.
George Weasley bolted up in his pot, gasping and panting. "Greengrass!"
The Weasley twin's pot dimmed and another lit up.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"You can't add the profit from magical artefact crafting onto Virgo's bride price if you don't even know if crafting them will be possible!" James shouted.
"Yes, I can," Malfoy snapped. "I did have the odds checked by a spell-hunter and valued by a financier. Have you never heard of probabilistic investment analysis?"
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
High above the frozen steppes, a golden eagle sighted down her perfect vision to lock onto the perfect prey — a rabbit poking its head up through the crystalline grasses. There was a rather odd pack of animals also moving across the terrain, but they didn't matter. By the time they reached her, she'd easily be off with her prize. No land predator could come even close to her speed.
Mighty wings spread, she leapt from her rocky crag and swooped across the landscape, quickly reaching the perfect position from which to launch her deadly dive.
The rabbit never saw what hit it.
And neither did the eagle.
Daphne gasped upright in her pot. "Ginevra Weasley!"
Her pot slowly dimmed.
And another pot lit up.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Wind whistled through the trees. The sounds of crashing waves roared nearby. The sky was completely black, illuminated only by the occasional crash of faintly green lightning.
"Is this really a good idea?!" Emma Granger shouted up at the roof of Granger Cottage, clutching her coat around her shoulders, soaked to the skin.
"We're muggles!" Dan Granger shouted back down. "The storm isn't dangerous to us!" He was holding onto the chimney, affixing the ghost gem to a long pole. "And we've tried everything else to get a bead on this thing! Clare doesn't have the magical reserves for our next test. This is by far the easiest way to get it."
"The lightning might not be a danger!" Emma shouted back up. "But I don't want you to trip and fall!"
"Do you want to tell our patron we weren't able to find out anything in the whole month we've had with this thing?"
Emma cursed under her breath. "No, I guess not! Just please be careful!"
"Of course, dear! Everything will be fine!"
It travelled in slow motion from the cloudy sky above, hit the very top of the Granger Cottage chimney, coiled around the stack three times, and struck a very shocked-looking Dan Granger, still holding the ghost gem in both hands. The bolt then leapt from him and grounded itself in a nearby magical birch tree, which promptly turned into a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower.
"DAN!" Emma screamed.
The head of house Granger tottered, slowly twirled, and fell.
There was a faint pop sound, almost unheard over the pandemonium of the storm. Plato appeared in an explosion of rain-drops, held out his hand, and slowly levitated Dan Granger to the ground. Mud was everywhere. The elf glared at Emma. "These are being Plato's best robes. I hope Slytherin Vassal is being good at cleaning them."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"Magical Merlin," Lockhart whispered.
The sentiment was clearly shared by everyone else in the Great Hall, students and teachers alike. The roof above showed the full spectacle of the encroaching storm. Long gone was the eye of calm. Now the tightening walls of clouds circled closer and closer around Hogwarts like a raging noose, flashing lightning in a near-constant stream of crashes and booms.
Groups of huddling girls shrieked at every new display, while elsewhere on the benches, boys sat alone, putting on brave faces, but still not managing to avoid flinching.
"Where is Black?" Nott asked Draco at the Slytherin table.
"I don't know."
"You know these storms are supposed to birth chimaera!" Nott shouted over the din.
Draco waited for a break in the noise before replying. "I know," he said. "I wouldn't want to be the first to meet it."
"What if Black did?" Nott said. "Would solve our problem nicely."
Draco fixed his friend with a deadly serious glare. "Don't even joke about that. Black running into a chimaera is the last thing we need."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Deep in the darkest part of what looked like a typical English graveyard, a large spectral grim whimpered, hiding in an old badger set with her paws over her eyes. She was being hunted. She knew it. It had been a long time now. This was not the way things were supposed to be. She was the hunter. She stalked prey throughout the graveyard. She didn't cower hoping to be missed. She was a killer. She crushed bone and ripped tendon. She was a killer!
And right now, she was terrified of what lurked outside.
Her spectral form flickered out, her body now too tired to maintain it.
The night was clear and silent.
The moon was full.
Heavy footsteps neared.
The grim lay absolutely still.
"Come out, Alex," said a voice like the rumble of rocks being crushed together. "I promise you I will make it as quick as possible."
The grim couldn't understand the voice, but it could feel the intent. This predator would kill her — no matter how calm it sounded. She desperately tried to work her way further down into the set, but her body was simply too large. There wasn't anywhere else to go.
"Hard way it is then," declared the voice.
The grim went cross-eyed as something heavy smashed onto its head.
The predator outside had used a massive paw to collapse the roof in on her, leaving her exposed and vulnerable. A large jaw clamped around her foreleg. With a yelp, she was dragged out. It was then, for the first time, that the grim got a good look at the predator that before she had only smelled.
If she had been fully Alexandra at that moment, she might very well have wet herself again. Instead, she simply whined and whimpered.
It was a chimaera, that much was obvious — its head and body those of a giant lion, its coat a dull golden sheen. Such a beast would be easily recognisable by any magizoologist worth their salt: a Nemean lion — a highly magical creature whose coat could shrug off even high-calibre muggle armour piercing rounds. Not invulnerable to physical attacks, as some would say, but definitely not weak either. Its tail was that of a thestral. But it was the chimaera's third aspect that most struck primal fear.
Where one might normally expect a lion's mane to be, instead writhed a nest of jade-green snakes — hundreds of them. They weaved and darted and flicked their tongues out to the night sky, tasting the air in every direction, before focusing all their attention, in perfect synchrony, on her.
The chimaera pinned the grim to the ground with one large paw.
"Good luck, Alex," it said. "The chimaera's birth is here. I don't know if you will remember this round when it is time for you and the others to hunt me, or if you might have already done so. I hope you will. I can feel the chimaera just below the surface. He is a proud and territorial beast. You will need every ounce of teamwork to take him down. To be honest, I'm not sure what will happen if you don't manage it. The ritual feels rather ambiguous about that point."
The grim whimpered under the heavy weight of the paw on its stomach and felt raw terror as those massive jaws closed over its whole head, twisting in one firm movement, and instantly snapping its neck.
Alexandra woke in a puddle of sweat, skin cold and clammy.
"Lord Slytherin," she whispered. "Harry Potter. So cool."
She then slowly fell back into trance.
Her clay pot dimmed.
And the pot containing Harry Potter lit up with a loud…
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"What the hell is this storm?!" shouted Robert Pike, chief meteorologist at the London Met Office. The windows rattled as winds not seen since the great storm of 1987 buffeted the office building, while the phones constantly rang. It was all the relatively small staff could do to keep the tide of panicked questions at bay.
His assistant stared at a fax readout in bewilderment. "Can't say, sir. It came out of nowhere. One second clear sky, the next, an actual hurricane."
"Don't use that word!" Pike snapped. "Britain does not get hurricanes! You need warm tropical water!"
"Well, with respect, sir, what do you call this?" one of the female assistants butted in, thrusting another grainy fax in his face. It was a satellite image which showed a massive storm whirring around the British Isles, brushing the coasts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark, with a large eye focused on, of all places, the Scottish Highlands.
"Can I see that?" asked one researcher calmly. He took the printout from the assistant's hands.
"Well?" asked Pike. The thought crossed his mind that the man was dressed rather oddly for a research assistant, especially one so new who'd only been seconded from the Ministry of Defence a few hours ago, or so he'd been told… What was his name? Bob? Richard? Oliver?
The man looked up and smiled. "Everything will be fine. I have informed The Ministry of the situation."
Pike frowned. "I'm sure we're all relieved to hear that the army will be on hand if needed, but that doesn't solve the mystery of what this thing is. I'm sure they don't know either."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"What the hell is this storm?!" shouted Ian Mikenther, junior unspeakable, and right now, the most interesting person in the Department of Mysteries. Artefacts and measuring devices were going haywire all around the room. Five of his colleagues were crammed into his little office while another three had their heads poking around the door. "The readings are going nuts! There hasn't been this great a jump in the Albion Magic's influence in… forever! It has to be some kind of channelling effect into whatever foci the Albion uses, but why now?"
"Why here?" asked another unspeakable.
"The upper floors will want answers soon," said another.
"We don't have answers!" Ian shouted.
"Well, how fast is it spreading?" asked Mary. "That seems like a good place to start."
Ian paused for a moment before sweeping a pile of parchments from his desk and starting to scribble. "Fast," he concluded.
"For Merlin's sake, Mikenther!" snapped one of the older unspeakables. "Stop beating about the bush!"
Ian swallowed. "About a hundred years of spread in a single hour kind of fast."
The room went deathly silent.
Mary paled. "That's fast."
"Yes," said a new voice. "It is." The crowd hastily parted to allow a tall, thin wizard to stalk into the room, closely followed by two field-unspeakables, piercing eyes scanning the room with carefully honed situational awareness.
"Chief," said Ian, getting quickly to his feet.
Saul Croaker stared at the haywire instruments. "Lock away the artefacts and throw all the records in The Deep Library. None of you are to speak of this. If anyone asks, the story is that a chimaera was born, but we haven't yet located it. Other than that, we know nothing." Croaker glared at each face in turn. "I declare this — officially — to be a Department of Mysteries Family Secret."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled. Rain beat on stonework, a thousand years old, crumbled and piled-up around half-destroyed castle walls.
Inside the old throne room, the cause of the castle's downfall lay on a rug surrounded by broken bones, listening to the sounds of the storm with great suspicion.
It really was a powerful storm tonight. Such a storm couldn't have graced his lands since his own birth, all those years before. Did this herald the coming of another of his kind? The chimaera let out a low growl. A female would be welcome. He'd long sought a mate, but never found one. A male, of course, could not be tolerated.
The snakes that made up his mane all hissed in agreement.
All except one — one with emerald-green eyes and a small lightning-shaped scar on the top of its head. §No. Not another chimaera,§ it hissed cheerfully into his ear. §But the storm does have purpose, soul animal.§
The chimaera snarled. "Passenger. What do you want?"
The snake dropped away, quickly replaced at his other ear by one wearing a tiny black and green mask. §Your power for our purpose,§ it declared in a hissing voice of steel.
The chimaera snorted. The presence that he'd come to think of as his passenger had been a constant throughout his life — neither understood nor appreciated, beyond it obviously being one not two. Sometimes the passenger would show up at the most annoying times, often pushing an agenda in total contradiction to what was right and good in the world. He was the king. He had a complete right to rule and dominate any creature in his territory. Their lives were his playthings. Mercy was not a concept he welcomed. "I will never allow you to lead, Passenger," he growled. "I am the master. You are less than a servant."
The first snake rose back up to his other ear and together the two snakes hissed, §The choice is not yours to make, soul animal. You are a vehicle of my power. My hunters come. If you will not allow me to lead, they will bring you to heel.§
"You dare speak to me so!? I do not care what you are! I am the king!"
Lightning flashed. Thunder boomed.
The chimaera's black thestral tail flicked back and forth in agitation. But from the passenger, there was no more.
The storm continued to rage.
Eventually, the chimaera could take no more.
He rose on his four legs and prowled towards the large, oak double doors to the courtyard he'd smashed down so long ago.
The outside world was more sea than land. Rivers of rain flowed across every surface. Ponds of roiling mud filled every depression and gulley. A constant spray of water smacked into his face, putting his whiskers on edge, and his snakes in a frenzy. They fought with each other to all be at the bottom of his mane nest.
The chimaera looked around warily. Any hunters the passenger sent would not be small fry. Not that they stood a chance against him, of course, but an intelligent creature would be cautious and he was a supremely intelligent creature. So naturally, he would be cautious. That was the only reason he was being cautious, and not for any other.
A cry from above caused him to search the pitch-black skies.
There! Up in one of the many courtyard trees sat a golden eagle, staring down at him with piercing blue eyes. The tree was frozen solid. Ice crystals were forming and growing even as he sized up what was clearly no normal bird.
"This is my kingdom!" he bellowed before charging right at the tree, connecting with a force that caused the entire plant to shatter, bringing down trunk and branches like a massive inverted chandelier.
It crashed to the ground and smashed, causing the bird to take to the rainy sky and fly up to the top of the castle's tallest tower.
"Flee, weakling!" The chimaera roared, shaking water from his coat. "Some hunter, Passenger."
A pair of growls caused him to turn. The rain was playing havoc with his snake's ability to pick up on threats.
"A dog and a cat," the chimaera scoffed, staring at the grim and cheetah stalking towards him together. "I am insulted."
And in less time than it takes to blink, the cheetah was on his back, snapping madly at the snakes around his neck, trying to find some way through. He roared and flung his weight to the side, throwing the feline off and turned to deal a killing blow.
Every instinct in his body screamed at him to move. He continued his turn and fell to one side, just time to see the grim in spectral form fly straight through the space where he'd been only a split second later. The grim turned back solid and the rain falling through its form exploded outwards like bullets. What would have happened if he'd been where the grim was when it turned back solid?
"OH NO YOU DON'T!" he roared.
One perfectly timed swipe was all it took.
The grim's neck snapped and its corpse fell to the ground.
The cheetah scrabbled back to its feet, hissing and spitting, and quickly retreated.
Oddly, instead of staying on the ground, the grim's corpse slowly vanished.
"IS THAT ALL YOU'VE GOT, PASSENGER?!" bellowed the chimaera to the stormy sky.
A swoop attack by the eagle alerted him to the fact that he still wasn't alone. The bird alighted on a tree closer to the gatehouse entrance.
One smashed tree later, and the bird had retreated to a tree even further away.
This went on for several minutes until he found himself leaving the castle courtyard. He was being led away from his throne. "Bah!" he shouted into the night. "Do you think choosing your battlefield will make any difference?"
Again, he rolled to the side and stared in disbelief as the same grim from before became solid again, right where he'd been, again, and again showered him in rain bullets. Another expertly timed swipe with his paw produced another dead dog.
"I killed you!" he shouted down at the rapidly fading corpse. "I know I did!"
§Give up, soul animal§ hissed the passenger into his ear. §Give me control and we can end this now.§
"I am the king! I bow to no one!"
§Then we continue the game.§
It was as though a signal had been given. A hole appeared in the clouds above and a single beam of light shot through the darkness. It hit the path down to the lake and slowly tracked the creature walking up it.
The chimaera gave a short sharp intake of breath. "Unicorn."
§Are you ready to battle again?§ hissed the passenger.
"Bah!" the chimaera smashed one paw on the muddy ground. "You expect me to fall for such a simple trick?"
The tiny unicorn arrived at the top of the hill, neighed loudly and charged. The chimaera stood stock still as it galloped forward, head lowered, horn pointed straight ahead. The chimaera looked down as it collided with his front leg, glanced off, and skidded to the side from the force of the impact. It fell to the ground making a high-pitched keening noise.
"I will not be cursed by harming a creature of pure goodness," he declared to the night. "But if that creature wishes to run into a castle wall, who am I to stop them?"
§Harming a creature of pure goodness,§ repeated the green-eyed snake. For the first time the chimaera could ever remember, the passenger sounded uncertain. §I understood it was the drinking of the unicorn's blood that caused the curse.§
The chimaera couldn't stop itself laughing out loud, even as the storm continued to rage. "How ignorant you must be to think such a thing! It is intent to harm that is evil, not intent to benefit."
The passenger said nothing.
"Well?" The chimaera said. "Any more hunters, Passenger? Any more vicious predators to bring me to heel?"
§By the lake§ hissed that part of the Passenger that wore the green and black mask. §There you will find an opponent worthy of your might.§
"There is no such being!"
The grim, cheetah, unicorn, and eagle all followed at a distance as he made his way down to the lakeside. What he found there made him see red.
"WHAT THE HELLS IS THIS?" he bellowed out to the storm. "DO YOU MOCK ME, PASSENGER?"
Further along the shoreline there hopped a lone rockhopper penguin, holding a stick in its beak and making swish, swish motions as though fighting with a sword in its mouth. Crouching low, he threw himself forward at full sprint. It took only a few moments to close the distance and one powerful paw swipe with all claws extended to reduce the flightless bird to sliced luncheon meat.
"ARE WE DONE WITH THIS POINTLESS GAME NOW?" he roared. "ANY MORE PATHETIC BIRDS FOR ME TO KILL?"
A sound made him look behind.
The grim, cheetah, and unicorn had taken up position from where he'd come, sitting up on their haunches, or laying down on the pebbles, blocking his way back.
A swoosh of wings announced the eagle's arrival, swooping over his head and landing some distance away, blocking his way forward. He now had the animals up and down the shore, the lake on one side and the forest bathed in darkness on the other.
It was a singularly specific talent unique to thestrals, and the ability to know exactly when something was intending to land a killing blow, had saved many of their kind over the eons. It gave them a sense of where to dodge — how to move — what would be the best thing to do in this exact situation to ensure their continued survival.
From the deepest darkness of the trees to his side, something growled. Something huge.
There was no instinct on where to dodge — only to freeze. Every muscle locked up. The threat was too large — the predator, too overwhelming. Every snake on his mane went flat — all except two.
§Long live the queen.§
And in a moment, it happened. Two of the nearest trees were smashed to the sides in a spray of storm water and something massive lunged out of the forest — one massive head, jaw wide open, driving right for him with an ear-splitting roar.
The chimaera had just enough time to find his wits and leap to the side, just before those giant jaws, lined with teeth the size of daggers, chomped shut right where he'd been with a gust of displaced air. There was a tiny moment where ambushed and ambusher crouched motionless as both sets of muscles coiled up again for the second move. And then that massive head whipped around and snapped those giant jaws around the chimaera's skull.
The chimaera felt the teeth shred his snakes, but fail to puncture his coat — not that this mattered. Titanic neck muscles twisted, crushing bone and rupturing internals. He was flipped onto his side and a clawed foot settled ominously on his ribcage, before a terrifyingly large portion of fourteen tonnes pressed down, pulping everything within, shattering everything without, and bringing all chances of escape to zero.
The monster stepped backwards and for the first time the chimaera got a good look at his attacker. "A lizard bird?" he groaned. He might not be dead, but every muscle in his body felt like it had been through a meat tenderiser. A lightning bolt crashed through the sky, illuminating dirty-blonde feathers all the way down its back.
§Tyrannosaurus rex,§ hissed the passenger. §Tyrant lizard king. Or, perhaps I should say, Tyrannosaurus regina, in this case — tyrant lizard queen — my queen.§
"I will not die like this," the chimaera stated, trying to get to his feet, and failing. "I cannot."
§Did you forget what happened to my grim when you killed her?§ hissed the passenger. §In this world, all my hunters will return from the dead, again and again and again, until you are defeated. Even if you could beat her, she will return.§
The chimaera groaned as the T-Rex towered over him, thrice as tall he himself. "Fine," he said. "I submit, Passenger. What do I have to do now?"
The T-Rex lunged. It grabbed him around the waist and dragged him into the lake. He saw the sky disappear, replaced by murky water — the sounds of the storm replaced by the bubbling of air forced from his lungs. The crush around his chest became over-whelming — the force dragging him down, indomitable. Thrashing changed nothing. He felt water rush into his lungs. Pain assaulted him. Panic set in.
The chimaera died.
And the chimaera was born.
And all at once the storm stopped.
Not just in the world of the ritual, but all across Magical Britain. One moment storm, the next, clear sky. Newspapers blowing through the air, all fell to the ground. Trees creaked back upright. Confused motorists stopped on the motorways and stepped out of their cars to stare in wonder at the sudden peace.
And far below Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, deep in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry bolted upright in his pot. "No one should try and hunt Hermione!" he shouted urgently. "No one should—" and that was as far as he got before the mandrake fumes rushed through his system again, and he dropped back down into slumber.
The pot containing Harry Potter faded and another pot lit up with a loud BONG — the pot containing Luna Lovegood.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"There, you see, Miss Davis!" Beamed Headmaster Lockhart. The students in the Great Hall all stared in awe at the suddenly blue sky above them. "I told you everything would be fine."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"Storm's over," Virgo announced in a matter-of-fact voice from a window. A small cheer rang out across the Gryffindor common room.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Hagrid stood beside Aragog's grave, just by his hut near the forbidden forest. He wrung water out of his beard. "Any scent of chimaera, Fang?"
Hagrid grunted. "Not expecting there to be, either. But ye never know." He looked up at the castle. "Still not the same without Dumbledore."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
In the London Meteorological Office, Robert Pike stared out the window with his mouth open. "Not possible. Not possible. Not possible," he continually muttered over and over.
"Sir! It happened. You can't keep saying it's not possible. That's not how science works!"
Pike whirled around. "Then explain what just happened!"
The assistant looked away bashfully. "I can't, obviously."
Pike took a moment to centre himself. "We're going to need some explanation for what just happened. When Number Ten calls, I don't want to look an idiot."
Another assistant put down the handle of his rotary telephone. "Sir? You won't have to worry about that for a little while at least, sir. The line's dead."
"What?! That storm had 100 mile an hour winds and the line chooses now to fail?"
"Huh, that's weird," said a junior researcher. "The satellite pictures aren't coming in, either."
Pike stared at the man. "Your pictures come from the dish on our roof."
"I know, sir."
Pike's gaze turned to his new mobile telephone — the size of a brick and just about as heavy. He picked it up and tried for a tone. Nothing. He put it down. "We're totally cut off," he whispered.
There was a rattling sound. The same junior researcher whose satellite pictures were AWOL was trying to get out of the office — trying, because the door was locked.
Pike felt a chill go down his spine. "What the hell is this?"
"Please don't worry, Mister Pike," said a calm voice.
He whirled around.
The man from 'the Ministry' as he put it, was smiling at him — smiling at him while holding an ornate stick of wood. "This will all be over—"
Suddenly there was a loud whoosh sound and men and women in dark robes were everywhere.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
The sound of ocean waves washing up against a shoreline. Sea birds crying overhead. The feeling of wet sand on fur.
Harry opened his eyes… all hundred-odd pairs of them, flinched, and instantly closed the vast majority. Magical Merlin that was disorientating.
He spent a few minutes getting used to the idea of seeing through the eyes of snakes in all directions. Not at all easy. That done, he could look around properly. The beach he found himself on was extremely tropical. Palm trees waved in the breeze.
He stretched out his body and noted the way his spine curved out with far greater elasticity than his human form's ever could. So, this was what being a Nemean-lion/snake-mane/thestral chimaera was like. Oddly, he could feel the animal instincts right below the surface — could practically taste what it meant to be a predator — to hunt and to kill. It was like waking up one day a slightly different person. Was that evidence that he'd already completed his part of the ritual?
He flicked his horse-like tail in an absent-minded way.
No way to know, really. He could only hope that everything had gone well and that when they were out, they'd all have their proper forms.
He looked around the tropical beach again.
"I wonder," he said out loud in a gruff voice very different both from Harry Potter and Lord Slytherin, "which one of you lives here?"
Daphne was unlikely. The golden eagle typically preferred colder climates. The same went for George Weasley's rock hopper penguin form. Ginny's cheetah should prefer the savannah; while Alexandra's grim form would be more at home around the graveyards of Europe.
That left Luna and Hermione.
The chimaera that was Harry snorted.
Wonderful. So, this was most likely Luna's hunting ground. And hunting a T-Rex would not be easy. It was easy to imagine who would be best out of their human-thinking animal forms to take down each of their animal-thinking animal forms, in each of their respective hunting sessions.
Alex for Ginny.
Ginny for Daphne.
But for Luna… no getting around it, it was probably going to be him doing most of the heavy lifting. At least they'd get as many tries as they needed.
But first, he should find the girls. Hopefully before Luna's form found any of them.
He sank one massive paw into the silty sand ahead when a thought struck him.
What if Luna found Hermione?
But he'd already thought about that long before they started the ritual. The hunted (in this case, Luna) was of animal mind, so consuming Unicorn-Hermione flesh, and thus her blood, shouldn't activate the curse. There was no understanding of the benefit it might give.
So why was he worried?
Harry took another step and the thought invaded his mind again.
What if Luna found Hermione?
For some reason, it seemed incredibly important that he not dismiss this line of questioning. It was as if a strand of knowledge deep inside was dangling just out of his reach. With a growl, he focused in on his occlumency, and the tropical world around him vanished.
"That was quick, for a human."
Harry opened his eyes again, finding himself this time on the shores of Azkaban Prison — his mindscape. Dark clouds hovered. Dementors floated all around the sky. And on the shore's pebble beach, sat the chimaera, regarding him with what appeared to be annoyed resignation.
Harry didn't waste any time. "What happens if Luna finds Hermione?"
The chimaera yawned. "Know that I am only helping you because I can feel our fates entangling, human. I do not appreciate that trick you pulled with your lizard queen."
"You mean Luna? Then our turn has already been."
"Yes, your turn has already been. But I will not fully join you until your 'ritual' is complete. But I will tell you now what I told you then. It is the intent to harm, not the intent to benefit that causes the curse."
Harry frowned. "Then, no problem? Animals can't be evil."
The chimaera rolled its eyes — all of them. "You are standing before a giant cat with a mane of snakes and a tail made from an undead horse, and you're telling me that animals can't be evil? I eat your kind."
"You're sapient. That's different."
"And you've never seen a cat play with a mouse before?"
Harry hesitated. "But that's not…" he trailed off. What was the standard that magic applied to morality? It certainly wasn't something Voldemort had spent much time considering. Could he perfectly ascribe motives to an animal that had been dead to the world for over 65 million years? It was easy if the animal couldn't understand the magical benefit, but if that wasn't the true cause of the curse…
His Azkaban mindscape vanished.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Ginny Weasley had never felt more alive. Prowling through the foliage on four legs, lithe muscles sliding over each other, that feeling of explosive power ready and coiled just below the surface — it all felt so right.
She wondered briefly whether she'd had her turn yet, or how many of the others had already gone, before shaking those thoughts as irrelevant and turning her attention back to more immediate matters.
Whose world was she currently in? And how was she going to find Harry? Assuming this wasn't Harry's world, of course.
Ginny sniffed at the base of a tree. She growled. Nothing. Despite the incredibly rich range of scents she could now discern, she also had to admit that the question of which of her friends this world might belong to was almost completely beyond her. Except for her brother, probably. Penguins didn't live in jungles. They lived in places with snow and ice, right?
At that moment, the bushes rustled.
What leapt out caused every feline instinct in Ginny's body to scream at her the danger and power of the creature now standing before her.
"Ginny," Harry stated, slightly out of breath. "Good. I have found you. We need to move."
When Harry said he was a chimaera, he hadn't been messing around. His lion form stood at over six foot tall at the shoulder, strong and intimidating. The mane of snakes around his head resembled a gorgon's, and the thestral tail flicked up and around, showing agitation. That part was actually kind of cute.
"Ginny!" Harry panted a bit louder.
Crap, she'd been staring.
"Have you seen Hermione?"
She quickly shook her head.
Harry cursed and told her why it was critically important they find her.
Ginny's eyes widened. Crap. Cursed Luna was not good Luna.
Five minutes of casual trotting through the forest later, following behind Harry like a tug following an icebreaker as he powered through a particularly dense bit of undergrowth, and they broke out of the forest and onto an open plain.
"If we find Daphne, she can be our eyes in the sky."
Ginny couldn't argue with that. Although that idea would probably have to wait. Her keen eyes spotted two figures rapidly moving towards them (or in one of their cases, hopping) from the other side of the massive clearing. A headbutt against one of Harry's legs focused his attention in the right direction.
"George and Alex," Harry said. "I'm not entirely sure what use George will be in the hunt, but who knows? He is a very creative wizard."
At that point the trees behind the frantically hopping penguin exploded outwards and a sound like a tortured industrial machine arrived in the clearing, along with fourteen tonnes of two-legged predator.
Her brother barely got another hop in before Luna caught up and swallowed him with one sickening crunch.
Alex was substantially faster.
"Alex!" Harry bellowed, crouching down to charge as they approached.
For the briefest of split-seconds in between switching her attention between the tableau of rapidly approaching grim and Tyrannosaurus rex, Ginny thought she saw awe fill Alex's dog-like eyes as they fell on Harry.
"Alex! Get ready!" Harry shouted again. "We'll try and end this now! Explode her!"
Ah, yes. The what-happens-if-a-grim-in-spectral-form-ghosts-into-someone-and-turns-solid-while-still-inside-them question. Does the target explode? Does the grim?
Alex whipped around to face her pursuer.
Ginny ran to flank them, the better to see and maybe help, if possible.
The T-Rex roared. This close to, it was like being bellowed at by a howler someone had recorded during a volcanic eruption.
Ginny felt a thrill shoot through her blood at the sound. Everything about this was so unbelievably dangerous.
Alex ran straight for it. She turned spectral and leapt, just as the dinosaur lunged. She phased right into the beast's head, and then presumably turned back solid. The effect was not, however, dead dino. Instead, Alex shot out of the top of its head like a popped cork from a bottle. The rex briefly followed her trajectory upwards and no doubt would have crunched her on the way down, if it didn't have to deal with one whole tonne of lion, snake, and thestral sprinting straight at it.
Harry leapt, claws extended, mouth open, teeth bared.
The first collision of chimaera and rex made Ginny very happy both Harry and Luna were on her side. She actually felt the smack of the impact as the rex was forced backwards a step. Several huge gashes appeared on the rex's face as Harry scrabbled for purchase, ferociously trying to get to the throat. Then jaws as large as a car closed around Harry's waist and smacked him against the ground. The rex seemed momentarily perplexed that it couldn't bite through its victim, but that didn't stop it for long. Several smacks on the ground later and Harry clearly wasn't getting back up.
"Find Hermione!" he coughed out, then went limp.
Ginny winced. She wasn't an expert, but if she had to guess, she'd say that every bone had been broken and most of his internal organs had probably ruptured. Magical Merlin, that thing was scary. She'd charge in if she thought she'd be of even the smallest use.
The rex roared triumphant over its kill — about a few seconds before Harry faded away. Again, this seemed to puzzle the rex before it quickly lost interest.
Alex had since landed in spectral form, turned back solid, and joined her.
The rex spotted them.
The girls watched as fourteen tonnes of killing-machine turned towards them.
Neither needed the ability to speak with the other to know exactly what they were both thinking. Run now. Find Hermione. Worry about the hunt later.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Sometime later, a frustrated roar sounded out across the island.
High above the jungle forest, Daphne rode the air currents, wind pushing against her chest, rushing past her wings, flipping the tips of her feathers this way and that — an eagle on a mission.
Merlin, she loved this — this space, this freedom. Her betrothed had been right. This was absolutely worth it.
With a flick of her powerful muscles, she banked hard right and swooped across the landscape, eagle eyes tracking the ground below.
Merlin, she loved these eyes. They zoomed in and out like a pair of omnioculars, and there wasn't a blade of grass or quivering leaf she couldn't inspect at will.
Another roar, closer this time, announced she was closing in.
Moments later, she soared over the side of a cliff and spotted something on the beach below far more noteworthy than assorted herbology specimens — a cheetah and a grim having an argument. Since neither could speak a language the other could understand, the format this argument took was of dozens of sentences scrawled in the damp sand by paws and claws.
It looked like they'd been at it for some time.
Daphne swooped down between them, mildly satisfied by the way the other girls started in shock at her arrival, and extended a talon of her own to write.
Harry has resurrected.
I have found Hermione.
I am to bring you to her.
She then spread her majestic wings—and yes, they were very majestic, thank you very much—and launched herself back into the air.
Twisting her neck, she was pleased to see both Ginny and Alex now following down below.
Yeah, that's right. She'd keep these girls in line.
Some while later, they made their way through the undergrowth to a small stream, surrounded by ponds, where they found their Shetland unicorn, bathed in beams of light and drinking from crystal clean water. This was odd, because upstream the water looked murky as all hells.
It took quite a while with leaves and sticks to spell out to Hermione exactly what the problem was, but once she'd grasped the danger to Luna, she was noticeably distressed. Unicorn blood freely given? she asked by rearranging the sticks.
Daphne rolled her eyes, quite an expressive gesture on an eagle. Their only current strategy for beating Luna was to have Harry suicide himself against her again and again until he'd worn her down or got sufficiently lucky or skilled — that or hope she choked to death on one of them. The last thing they needed was a self-healing T-Rex.
Spelling this out took quite a lot longer than any of their previous communications.
Hermione the unicorn looked downcast and neighed.
Daphne was halfway through spelling out her next thought, which was that while Hermione freely giving blood to Luna was a really bad idea, giving it to Harry could possibly be exactly what they needed, when the ground shook.
It was only a tiny tremor, but Daphne froze with a small twig in her beak.
The next tremor felt slightly larger and Daphne noticed a ripple in one of the ponds. She gave an alarmed cry and leapt for the sky. And it was just as well that she did, because only a few seconds later, the T-Rex crashed its way out of the foliage and powered towards them like a raging knight-lorry made of muscle and teeth.
Daphne only just managed to clear the lower canopy before that huge maw chomped down on the air where she'd just been.
The other three had not been idle. All ran for it, and good, because the rex barely stopped to sniff at Daphne's escape before it was after them again.
Daphne watched from above with her heart metaphorically in her throat as the three quadrupeds darted through the trees this way and that, using the massive plants as best they could to block and parry.
It actually didn't look to be going too badly.
All three of the smaller animals seemed capable of outrunning the massive killing-machine trailing them… just.
Alex was having no problem at all. Every time it looked like she'd have to stop to pant in the jungle heat, she simply turned spectral and a small whoosh of relatively cooler air rushed through her form.
Hermione, too, was making a pretty good showing. Unicorns were well known for their speed and grace, even if this particular one was much shorter and squatter than normal, with hair that reached down to her knees.
Ginny, by contrast, cheerfully retreated at something between a canter and a trot. Not a full sprint. That would have been suicide in this terrain, but Daphne couldn't help feeling that the girl wasn't even trying that hard. The net effect was that out of the three, it was annoyingly the fastest who was the slowest, and thus, the one who came the closest to getting caught by the dump-truck-on-legs chasing them.
Then Ginny tripped, fell, was up again, started running, and came only inches from getting snatched up and devoured.
Daphne scanned the fleeing formation in frustration as they burst out of the forest and onto the open plains. She wanted to shout orders. She wanted to yell at Alex to go lead the rex away from the others. She wanted to yell at Hermione to peel off and head for the cliffs where her smaller form would hamper the rex's movements. And she needed — needed — Ginny to stick closer to Hermione and stop playing damn chicken with the damned chicken.
But she couldn't do any of this. She could only watch, powerless, as Luna's animagus form somehow managed to corner all three of the animals against the very cliffs she'd wanted Hermione to take refuge around, in a closed valley with no exit.
There was a brief moment of hope when her eagle eyes spotted Harry charging at full-tilt towards the rex from behind. But that hope shattered almost as quickly as it formed. Yes, Harry leapt onto the rex's back. Yes, he managed to scrabble up to its neck. And yes, he managed to sink his jaws in as far as he could go, snake mane snapping at everything it could. But when you added in the layers of dirty-blonde feathers down the dino's neck and back, however far that lion bite went, wasn't far enough. The rex bellowed in pain, turned, and slammed Harry against the cliff face.
It seemed the dinosaur had learned from the previous fight. In a deceptively swift movement for something so large, it took hold of Harry by the neck in its jaws and easily crushed the life right out of him — no penetration required. A one-tonne chimaera was a truly terrifying opponent, but against fourteen tonnes of Late Cretaceous monster, it was like a kneazle fighting a thunderbird.
Meanwhile, Alex and Ginny had made good their escape, past the epic battle and back the way they came. But Hermione, critically, hesitated. She was staring at Harry's limp form in horror.
Daphne wanted to shout. She wanted to scream that it wasn't real. That Harry was fine. That Hermione needed to run or it was Luna that was going to be the one in real pain.
Hermione only hesitated for a second. But a second was all it took. The rex roared in triumph, turned away from its kill, which even now was vanishing into thin air, and turned towards the only trapped prey left.
Alex and Ginny both saw the danger, but neither were in any position to help. They were too far away. The distance, too great.
The tiny unicorn stood frozen before the great predator looking down on her, turning its massive head this way and that.
It took one earth-shaking step forward and opened its jaws.
The unicorn changed.
White hair became brown.
Four legs became two.
The body and head changed into that of a teenage girl — a naked teenage girl — staring up at a Tyrannosaurus rex in wide-eyed terror. Hermione managed to raise her hands and get off three whole stunners, all of which bounced harmlessly off the rex's skin, before massive jaws closed over her, and she screamed in pain as she was shaken, bitten in two, and swallowed.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Hermione was still shaking, although from fear of what had so recently happened or shame, she wasn't quite sure. It certainly wasn't from cold. All she knew was she didn't want to look Harry in the eyes.
"How did you do that, Hermione?" Harry asked calmly. His voice was deep and rumbling, exactly what you might expect a lion king to sound like.
"I… I read your notes in your trunk, Harry. It just seemed like such a perfect opportunity. I… explored the ritual, inside the aether unpacked. I saw this as an option. I'm sorry. You said I shouldn't, that it was too dangerous, and I did it anyway."
They were all sat in one of the caves high above the cliffs. Harry had to crawl to fit in, but the rest of them easily managed it. They'd all met up again with Daphne's help — even George Weasley had made it — hitching a ride in the careful jaws of his baby sister.
Hermione couldn't bear the thought that she'd betrayed Harry's trust. Disappointing him was her greatest fear. Even more so than getting eaten. But she'd been so sure she was ready. Harry needed her to be the greatest witch the world had ever seen.
"What you did was unbelievably dangerous, Hermione," Harry said.
Hermione lowered her head further.
"But in this case, you rolled the dice, and won. If Luna had eaten your unicorn form, we don't know what might have happened. And I daresay being bitten in two and swallowed was hair-raising enough of an experience. I forgive you."
"Harry!" Hermione couldn't stop herself. She stumbled over the space between them and wrapped her arms around his neck as best she could. This did involve quite a lot of snakes having to slither out of her way, but she didn't care.
"Quite," Harry said fondly. "We had a discussion not long ago that you need to disagree with me more. I'll consider this a natural evolution of that assignment. But if you're going to play around with the aether unpacked, then we must arrange proper supervision." He looked towards Alex who was laying with her head on her front paws. "I suspect you will soon be ready to replicate my feat at the duelling tournament," he declared. "Thus we should be able to hand off the dream pendant to Hermione for now."
Alex looked up, obviously confused, and shook her head violently.
"I will test you," Harry continued, ignoring her, "and if you are not ready, we will find another way."
Hermione bit her lip while still hanging on tightly. She felt overjoyed at the thought of spending dream time with him — she'd never spent dream time with Harry — but also just as confused about his statement from before as Alex looked. She knew Alex's combat prowess, and while the Black heiress was undoubtably good, she certainly wasn't good enough to beat an entire house duelling team back-to-back. That was the stuff of legends. Literally. Only Harry had ever done it (in her mind, John didn't count). So how did he think Alex would manage it?
From somewhere far away in the jungle world, Luna roared.
"Hermione," Harry said, his voice now filled with purpose. "Can you teach us all the magic to turn human? I assume it doesn't void the ritual?"
"No. And yes, I think I should be able to… but why?"
"Change of plans. There is little to be gained by hurling myself at Luna over and over until she breaks. Instead, we'll use this as an opportunity to practise fighting together as a team against a large and dangerous enemy."
All the girls and George perked up.
"Prepare yourselves everyone," Harry said. "Because soon we're going T-Rex hunting."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Feasting on a carcass of downed hadrosaur, the only Tyrannosaurus rex on the island roared her tired victory to the sky. She only managed to rip off one massive chunk though before she caught a very particular scent on the breeze.
Our friends are back!
The huge beast whined in frustration. It couldn't understand the voice in its head — nor conceptualise what a voice even was. It wasn't nearly intelligent enough for that. But the suggestion of meaning still filtered through. The pests had returned. Tiny prey — hardly worth the effort — but they just kept coming.
At first, the hunt was no different to any other. But these prey didn't stay hunted. They came back. And they got better — more dangerous. If it were up to her, she'd just walk away; give the territory to these pests. But the voice…
We have to fight them. Push them. They must grow. They must become more powerful. We must all become more powerful. For Harry.
The T-Rex roared to the sky and turned, sending small tremors through the ground, to find the source of her frustration staring at her across the clearing.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
That source stood with a grin on her face, wearing simple black robes that had been cut off at the thigh, flowing red hair blowing in the breeze. Her feet were bare, toughened by charms, and in her hand she held an incredibly simple wand of yew and thestral tail hair.
Ginny Weasley could feel her blood pumping — adrenaline rushing through her system as the predator with a bite powerful enough to crush a dragon's neck turned its full attention on her.
The T-Rex roared and charged.
"Geminio! Reducto! Confringo!" The girl's spells shot towards the beast and harmlessly bounced off its hide. Seconds later, that huge maw opened up right above Ginny, descended, and snapped shut on a single floating leaf.
Metres away, Ginny fell to the ground, rolled, and fired off a stunner onto the rex's flank. "One!" She jumped.
A tail weighing tonnes swiped across her path.
She landed and fired off another stunner. "Two!" She snatched up a pebble and flung it high.
The rex finished turning and lunged.
Ginny's next switching spell connected. She appeared with a rush of air above its back, landed, and fired another stunner at point-blank range. "Three! Whoa!"
The rex shook wildly. Ginny felt her feet slip and gravity start to pull her down.
That massive head turned towards her.
Arms became forelimbs, skin became fur, legs became steel springs of coiled power.
The cheetah landed, the rex opened its steel-crushing jaw, and Ginny was off.
The chomping sound on empty air reverberated around the clearing, right before the rex let out a frustrated bellow of anger and gave chase.
In a blur, grass gave way to scrub, scrub to light forest. Now devoid of easy paths, Ginny leapt, transformed back into witch mid-air, and switched with a falling leaf high above, still flying forward at an appreciable speed for a world champion runner at full sprint, just as the foliage behind her exploded and fourteen tonnes of killing-machine crashed in behind her.
Right then, a Black chain shot out of the darkness and wrapped itself around the two trees ahead.
"I got this!" shouted a new voice.
Ginny zipped past the chain, and Alexandra, dressed much the same, gave her a thumbs-up as she flashed past.
"You ain't got shit!" Ginny yelled back.
"It's my turn!"
Ginny landed on a branch and turned back to watch the approaching rex. "Fine! Get eaten!"
The ankle-height chain did little to help. The rex just slowed and carefully stepped over it.
Alex now stood directly in front of the behemoth.
She raised her wand.
The rex looked down at her.
Whatever effect Alex might have been hoping for, didn't transpire.
The rex lunged.
Alex instantly transformed into her spectral grim form right as the jaw would have closed around her. A moment later, she turned back human and shot out of the rex's head like a champagne cork. A Black chain whipped from her wand, coiled around the nearest tree, and she whirled around it like a slingshot. The chain blinked out of existence and she flew right back at Luna. Alex impacted on her flank, shoulder-first, with a dull thud sound.
"One!" Ginny called out.
Alexandra started to fall to the ground just as the rex started to turn towards her.
"And only," Ginny muttered.
Then, just before the Black witch hit the ground, she turned back into her spectral grim form, fell right through the ground, and seconds later, shot out at an angle right towards her. Another Black chain whipped around a branch and Alex half swung, half flew past. Ginny's eyes went wide.
"Move!" she heard Alex shout, just as a roar from behind threatened to deafen her.
It took her four leaf-swaps to finally catch up, still zooming through the forest canopy.
"I got a point!" Alex shouted over the noise of Luna's closing rampage.
"Good for you! I got three."
"You just tickled her! My hit was much harder! If I'd had a spear, that would've been a game-changer."
"Still only one hit."
"And my hit was so much cooler!"
"Still only one. Anyway, Harry doesn't want hard hits. He just wants us to practise."
"There wasn't any way I could practise that move and have it not be hard!"
Ginny only saw the collision moments before it was too late.
Alex slammed into one particularly unfortunately placed tree like a sack of meat hitting a brick wall. Ginny fell and caught a branch in the tree with one hand as Alex fell and caught her head on the ground with none.
"Better practise more then, because that was definitely a hard hit," Ginny muttered.
A snort like the unclogging of a sewage-pipe made her turn. The rex was standing there, watching them.
Ginny grinned and dropped to the ground, landing lightly.
"Just like old times, huh Luna?"
The rex roared and charged.
And Ginny Weasley laughed and did likewise.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"They're doing well, aren't they?" Harry said. "I'm particularly impressed with Alex. Using a side effect of her animagus spectral form for mobility was inspired."
On top of a hill overlooking most of the island, two wizards and two witches were watching the unfolding battle between pre-teen girl and Tyrannosaurus rex in a brilliant mirror made of magical ice.
Occasionally, Daphne cast a spell at the ice-mirror to adjust the point of view of her divination magic.
Harry, Daphne, and Hermione sat at a conjured tea table, sitting in conjured chairs, sipping from cups of bark-sap tea, served in conjured porcelain ware. Empty plates were much in evidence, and although it was considered terrible manners not to polish off anything put in front of you, a skilled forensics expert would still be able to detect the remains of nuts, fruits, seeds, root and leafy vegetables, and of course, fish. Lots and lots of fish.
George Weasley stood up from where he'd been tending a smokeless fire with a very basic yew and unicorn hair wand. "Anyone going to be wanting seconds?"
Harry craned his neck away from the mirror. "That probably isn't going to be needed, but thank you. Are you sure you don't want a good crack at Luna?"
George put up both his hands. "Noooo thank you. I think Fred and I will stick to inventing stuff. Let me do the fishing and cooking and we're all good. We'll leave the fighting to our baby sister." He glanced at the mirror where Ginny was still going toe-to-toe with the rex, shook his head in disbelief, and turned back to the fire.
Harry nodded. "As you wish."
"I just wish my form was more useful in combat," Hermione said.
"Hermione, your form is very useful in combat," Harry replied. "Maybe not against a non-sapient magical creature, but against anything that can think and strategise? You have a practical get-out-of-Azkaban-free card."
"No one can attack you with intent to harm while you're in unicorn form. That gives you a really good stalling option. Good stalling options let you regain your magic and form the backbone of any late-game combat strategy."
"But people don't know about that, do they?"
"We'll bloody well make sure they do know. Which means once you're out of magic, all you need to do is go unicorn, run away—which unicorns are really good at—regen, then return when you're back at full strength. That's one of the main advantages of having an animagus form in combat. Your magic continues to refill while you're in form, and the amount of magic the transformation takes is almost nothing."
"Harry and Luna have a double advantage there," Daphne interjected. "They're also very large animals, which makes them very difficult to cast direct spells on. And Harry is also physically resistant to piercing attacks. I can fly out of range of most spells. And Alex can pass through physical obstacles like walls, which is a really good stalling tactic." She put her teacup down with a small clink. "All in all, we did very well with all our forms. We should be extremely grateful."
Behind them, George Weasley made a polite coughing sound.
Daphne flicked her hair. "Yes, well we can't all be amazing, Weasley."
"Just wait until an evil wizard attacks next to an icy pond. My day will come!"
Daphne smirked. "Speaking of evil wizards, how about it, Harry? What do you think your chances are now against the Dark or Light lords?"
Harry chuckled. "Voldemort and Dumbledore have many more tricks up their sleeves. That said, I'm a lot more confident than before."
George Weasley looked over his shoulder again and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
Back in the magical ice-mirror, Alexandra had finally gotten back to her feet, if rather groggily, and looked ready to charge in again.
"Is that why you're so confident in Alex doing well in the tournament?" Daphne asked. "Because of the magic regen advantage of the animagus form? Can you even use an animagus form in the tournament?"
Harry smiled. "I don't know if Alex can win the tournament. But she's a girl who will push all the harder if there's a high wall to get over. And failure only makes her push even harder. I'm not actually sure if the animagus form is allowed. It wasn't in Riddle's time."
"It is allowed," Hermione declared.
Harry and Daphne turned to look at her.
"I memorised the rules last year before Harry's debut. The form normally isn't allowed in class A standard rules, but they made an exception for the Hogwarts tournament back in the 1970s along with family magics."
"Mmmm…" Harry steepled his fingers. "If that's the case, I'm not going to rule out a 7-0 victory as actually impossible."
"But does she have the raw power to go against a seventh year?" Hermione asked.
"Alexandra is a very powerful witch, but in a straight battle of power? No. Not a chance. But it's not necessarily about power. Daphne, who's on the Hufflepuff duelling team this year?"
Daphne quickly went through the seeds for each year.
Harry frowned. "It's not actually the seventh year who's the problem. It's that fifth year. I remember him. I think he could have taken a sixth-year last year and he'll have only gotten better since then."
"Do you want me to try and persuade him to drop out?" Daphne asked. "His father works for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and Luna's parents have a lot of influence there."
Harry thought about it while they continued to watch the mirror. "No, I don't think we need to do that," he eventually said. "But see if your spies in Hufflepuff can get any memories of their training sessions. Alex will need every advantage she can get against him."
The rex in the mirror roared — not that the watchers could hear. It chased after Ginny in her cheetah form across a grassy plain, while Alex was roughly dragged behind with a Black chain wrapped around its ankle.
"Every advantage," Harry reiterated.
"You know, it really was lucky that we were able to make wands here," Daphne said.
Hermione shifted uncomfortably. "I just hope the tail hair grows back."
"I'm sure it will," Harry said. "And we're still not technically in the outside world, so I doubt physical effects on our forms here will transfer over. I'm more impressed that everyone had workable compatibility with a wand made from at least one of us. And quite flattered, too."
Daphne looked at her own basic unicorn hair wand with a torn expression.
"Yeah, we'll definitely have to think about wands in this ritual," Harry continued. "Even ones more rudimentary than these. They're really useful."
Hermione looked puzzled. "Why?"
"Your students, next year, Hermione. This could be a golden opportunity for them."
"And for us," Daphne added. "The wise general trains his men and officers highly, and does not declare war until he is assured of victory."
"What's that from?" Hermione asked.
Daphne smiled. "Sun Tzu's The Art of War. I read it over the Winter Festival."
Hermione frowned, although more in doubt than anything else. "Somehow, I can't see girls like Sophie Roper fighting in a war. But if they're going to repeat the ritual, I can absolutely see why having wands is a good idea."
"I suspect Daphne is considering war as an analogue for our current political games more than anything else," Harry said. "Though war is obviously still a possibility — one we'd like to avoid if possible."
Daphne smiled again. "Supreme excellence in war consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
"A wise sentiment."
There was another silent roar from the mirror, although the action had moved quite far away now.
"Daphne, could you adjust again?" Harry asked.
Daphne cast the remote viewing spell at the ice-mirror again several times, jumping the view forward a corresponding number of jumps.
"It's really impressive that you can do that, did you know?" Hermione said. "The ice-mirror, I mean, not the divination, although that's impressive, too. I've tried that ice-mirror spell myself several times and I can never get it to work. It's a very high-level elemental spell."
"Thank you." Daphne looked slightly embarrassed, but still pleased, while in said mirror, it was now Alex's turn to run away from the rex in grim form while Ginny ran behind taking potshots with stunners.
"It's a good point, actually," Harry said. "Daphne, you haven't by any chance ever manifested ice around yourself, have you? Wandlessly? During a time of intense emotion or stress, perhaps?"
Daphne frowned. "No, I don't think so."
"Yes!" Hermione blurted out.
The other two looked at her.
"In first year! When Daphne stood up for me against Snape, you remember? You had ice crystals all over your hands and robes. We had to pry your fingers off the back of the chair with a quill because we didn't know the warming charm yet, and we had to dry your robes in the common room, because the drying magic didn't work. You said you were extremely disappointed in the rune work on the robes."
Daphne frowned again. "Oh, yes. I remember that."
Harry smiled. "That's something we're going to have to look into."
"So!" came the voice of George Weasley from behind them.
The three of them turned.
"If not food seconds, are we still going to be sleeping overnight? Because we'll have to get some proper shelters set up if that's the case."
Harry looked up at the sky. "No, you're right. It is getting on. I've finished setting up a split-personality in my mindscape, which should let me transfer a message between hunts more reliably than relying on the chimaera. That's really all we've been waiting around for. Hopefully we haven't already hunted Hermione, but we don't appear to be cursed, so probably not. Unless the curse doesn't actually work that way, in which case, no worries. But better safe than sorry." He stood up.
"Good luck, Harry," said Hermione and Daphne in unison.
He thanked them, waved, and made his way slowly back down the hill. As he went, he allowed himself to enjoy the feeling of the air on his face and the sun on his hair. He wasn't in a rush. He arrived at the bottom of the hill and wandered down through a small glen. He slipped his wand out of the pocket of his basic robes and idly practised spell motions as he walked. Eventually, he started changing into his chimaera form, just to practise switching between the two with no loss of combat readiness.
Growling and hissing chimaera became wand-waving wizard and back again. And again. And again.
He saw many other dinosaurs on his leisurely walk through the woods. A small herd of four-legged herbivores with armour plating on their backs shuffled across his path at one point, and a larger pack of vicious-looking, two-legged predators with claws on their feet the size of daggers eyed-up his human form for a few moments with an intelligence Harry would normally only associate with magical creatures, before they apparently decided to think better of trying to make a meal of him.
At one point, Harry took a moment to sit down on a rock and dangle his feet in the stream's water. It went gurgle around his toes.
Soon though, he reached the grassy plain that had seen so much action since the hours of sun-rise.
The rex was there, now facing off against both Alex and Ginny in their cheetah and grim forms, respectively. The rex clearly felt something change in the air though. It slowly turned its massive head at his approach.
Ginny and Alex perked up their ears and tracked him as well.
"It's okay!" he called out. "I'll take it from here."
Both girls retreated.
The rex swung its massive weight around to face him fully, shaking the ground with its step.
Harry smiled. Both his and Luna's forms were truly formidable. But it wasn't the forms that mattered, not really. It was how those forms were used together with the wizard, constantly switching between them at will, that mattered. In chimaera vs. T-Rex there was never any question about who the victor would be, but like this? There still wasn't any question.
A breeze picked up and blew Harry's messy hair out of his face.
Seconds later, that breeze became a wind, then a gale, then a storm. Lightning crashed overhead.
The rex roared and charged.
And Harry summoned his magic.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Deep below Hogwarts, Luna Lovegood bolted upright in her pot, gasping and panting, hands instinctively patting herself down — legs, arms, chest, breasts, head, neck, throat — yep, all there.
"Wow. That was intense." She giggled. "I really love it when Harry is like that."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
"How is Mister Granger—" Plato asked, popping into the room. "—being?" he finished, eyes going wide — wider than usual, that is.
Emma and Clare looked up from opposite sides of the bed Dan lay on, their own eyes a picture of barely restrained panic.
Daniel Granger had a powerful orange aura floating around where he slept.
"Do you recognise it, Plato?" Emma asked, frantically. "It turned up only a few minutes ago. He's fine. We can both still touch him. It doesn't seem to do anything. But it can't be normal."
Plato firmly shook his head. "Plato is not knowing what this is." He reached over and cast a diagnosis spell. "Maybe Plato should be—"
The aura faded. Just like that. One moment, the head of house Granger lay in his own little sun, the next, nothing.
Emma and Clare stood stock still.
Plato frowned. "That was being weird."
There was a cough.
"Dan!" Emma flung her arms around her husband.
"Emma?" Dan coughed. "What's going on? What day is it?"
Emma kissed him. "Still the same day as before. What do you last remember?"
"Climbing onto the roof in a storm." He coughed again. "I'll not be doing that again too quickly. Are you sure it's the same day? Looks very peaceful outside."
"The storm cleared up — almost instantly."
"Well, I guess it was magical. Urgh, my clothes are filthy."
"Oh!" Clare stood up. "I have a spell for this. One moment. I've been looking for an excuse to try this one." She left, followed shortly after by Plato. It wasn't easy to tell through the wall, but it seemed like an argument of some kind was starting.
"So, I fell off the roof?" Dan eventually asked.
"Yeah, it was so scary. But Plato caught you. Then this aura randomly came out of nowhere and covered you all over."
"An aura? Really?" Dan gave a weak smile. "Are we taking more Star Trek force field or Dragon Ball?"
"More Dragon Ball."
Dan's smile grew slightly. "Maybe I got superpowers. Hey, maybe I'm a wizard now."
Emma chuckled. "I'm sure Plato would be able to tell." She walked to the door. "But we should check anyway."
A few minutes later, Dan was happily eating a chocolate frog. It fell from the packet completely inanimate. Which meant he wasn't a wizard. He didn't care. It was a good chocolate frog.
Emma still didn't look happy.
"What's wrong?" he asked, mouth still full of chocolate.
"We lost the ghost gem. When the lightning bolt hit it, it vanished."
Dan swallowed, hard. "Oh." He looked out the window to where the newly completed Slytherin Manor could just be seen at the top of the hill, through all the island greenery. "You know, I don't think we've ever been in a situation where Lord Slytherin… Harry… has ever had a reason to be disappointed or angry with us."
"We swore when we entered the wizarding world that we would do everything in our power to be the best vassals we could be," Emma said. "When you are helpless, being useful is the best defence."
Dan groaned. "I'm not looking forward to this."
"No, me neither. Harry already told the goblins, too."
Suddenly the door opened again and Clare walked back in. "I've found the spell, and Plato here has agreed that as I am a student, he doesn't have to break my knee-caps for the house-elf menial labour union." She looked down at the elf. "That was a joke, I hope."
Plato smiled politely back up at her.
Clare opened the book and carefully practised the wand movements and incantation required for one of the many cleaning charms aimed at household items — clothes, in this instance. Unfortunately, for the second-year student in her twenties, it seemed an incredibly finicky piece of magic to make work. Half an hour later, she was practically tearing her hair out in frustration. "I just don't get it," she said. "I mean, I don't always master a spell this quickly, but I always get some result! Even if it's only a stray spark."
She kept trying, but for whatever reason, luck just didn't seem to be on her side. By this time, Plato had brought in tea and biscuits and everyone was having themselves a cuppa.
"Clare," Dan said, voice wheedling. "I know you want to practise outside of school, but maybe we can just let Plato do this one now. If you want to practise you can just throw some mud on your old robes, right? I'd rather like to get clean."
Clare's head dropped. "You're right. Of course. I'm sorry. Go ahead, Plato."
Plato smiled and snapped his fingers.
And nothing happened.
He frowned and snapped his fingers again.
He looked towards the tea tray on the dresser, snapped his fingers, and levitated the complete set from one side of the room to the other. Then he looked towards Mister Granger again and snapped his fingers, again. And nothing happened.
Emma slowly put her own teacup down with an, 'Oh, my god,' look on her face.
Plato, now frowning heavily, walked towards Dan, and held his hand up, palm ahead.
Dan, looking extremely uncertain raised his own hand, and together they slowly brought their palms together.
The house-elf squeaked and franticly drew his hand back when everything from the elbow down rapidly started to fade. It quickly solidified again, but he backed away sharply, nonetheless.
Clare was watching the proceedings with her mouth open.
"My Head of House Ring," Dan said. He was still holding up his hand. "It's gone."
Emma suddenly realised that there was something on her finger that normally wouldn't be there either, and on closer inspection, yes, it was the Granger Head of House Ring. "That shouldn't happen unless you're dead," she whispered.
"Or magic doesn't work on you," Clare added.
Dan's look of worry slowly turned to one of extreme bemusement. "I'm a blank, Emma."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
When Harry next regained consciousness, the forest surrounding him was clearly not the work of man or nature. Everywhere he looked, light sparkled and bounced off the leaves and foliage. The smell of dirt smelled more dirt-like. Crystal-clear waterfalls seemed to gurgle away behind every turn and despite dozens of streams and ponds dotting the vista, not once did mud threaten his conjured robes.
It was like standing in the middle of a breezy, sweet-smelling emerald. Fairies flitted from tree to tree.
Luckily, the moment he woke up, a message left for him, by him, had informed him of what happened in the previous hunt and advised him accordingly, along with a few other key pieces of information. He still couldn't remember the last hunt, but that was irrelevant. That would all get sorted once the ritual was over. Right now, he had a job to do — making sure they all got out of this without suffering a unicorn's curse.
Finding the others hadn't been hard, thankfully. Teaching them how to turn human had taken some time, but now that they'd gotten that out of the way, they could focus in on the problem immediately before them.
"Hermione," Harry called out softly.
On the other side of the glen, the Shetland unicorn lifted her head from where she'd been drinking from a pond with three separate rainbows curving out of it.
"Is this really the realm of the fae?" Ginny asked nervously. As last to be found, she still wasn't fully caught up.
"We're pretty sure it's just the ritual's version," Luna said, not sounding anything like her normal dreamy self. "But if you do see any of the Wild Hunt, don't hesitate to kill first and ask questions only once everyone else is dead."
"It's okay, Hermione," Harry said. He sat down cross-legged on the floor and beckoned her over.
The unicorn didn't budge. She stared at them all with clearly nervous energy.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake. Back up, George."
"Backing up." The male Weasley retreated behind one of the picture-perfect trees.
That seemed to do the trick. The short, stocky unicorn walked over and let Harry pet her head.
All the girls turned to look behind them with various states of scandal.
"George!" Ginny said with her mouth hanging open. "When? Who?!"
"That's my business, baby sister."
Daphne walked forward. "Now what?" she asked, moving to sit beside Harry to take a turn in stroking the unicorn's ridiculously long hair.
"Now we have to face the reality of the situation. We only really have two options — go ahead with the hunt and risk getting cursed for the rest of our lives, or let the ritual just keep going on until it eventually runs out of magic. The first option risks the curse, the second option risks being here for a long time, and possibly Hermione not fully getting her form once it's over."
Everyone just continued to stare at him.
Harry sighed. "We're staying put. We'll take the opportunity to do more training. We don't age in here, so it's almost like free life."
It was like a weight had been lifted.
"That's it then?" Ginny said. "Camping trip in the land of the fairies? How long for?"
Harry shook his head. "Could be days, months, years, decades even. Although I hope it won't be quite that long."
Hermione the unicorn neighed and pranced away back to the pond.
There was silence for a moment. It was a lot to digest.
"I'm going to master switching combat," Ginny declared.
There was another pause.
"Then I'm going to practise more of my family magic and master chain combat," Alex said.
Luna clapped. "And I'm going to master RAWR combat."
"Can you conjure me some parchment?" George asked. "I want to work on artefacts."
"And teach me ice magic," Daphne added. "It would be a shame to waste such an opportunity."
"Sure." Harry stood up and brushed himself off. "Let's find ourselves a good place to get settled. It could well be a long haul."
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
Sometimes, rituals go very wrong. And sometimes rituals go very right. It is rarely wise to play with new rituals. Even the most well-prepared and talented wizards can find themselves in situations they did not anticipate, because of some tiny quirk of magic.
Like living in an enchanted forest, because you don't want to kill your friend and suffer a curse, for over four hundred days — 430 days, to be exact.
Harry relaxed outside the wooden cabin he'd built for himself — one of six that now stood on the top of a small hill, overlooking a large emerald-green field of perfect grass in the middle of the emerald forest. The grass was always perfect. And it didn't matter how many times it was burned away, frozen, crushed, dug up, or otherwise destroyed by the dogged practice of a small group of young witches and wizards, happily trying to kill each other, it always grew back to perfection overnight.
The first few months were the hardest. George Weasley wasn't too happy about being separated from his twin for so long, Daphne missed her parents and little sister, Astoria, and Ginny couldn't help feel that some indefinable piece of her was somehow missing. Even Alex had been quieter than usual during that time.
Slowly though, the isolation from their normal lives became the new norm, and they all began to make rapid and real progress towards their goals.
Harry taught Daphne all the ice magic he knew, which wasn't actually much, but she'd made good use of it.
George's cabin was piled high with stacks upon stacks of conjured parchment, and he spent as much of his time memorising everything he drew as he did the actual drawing.
Alexandra was now a monster with her Black chains, combining them with several other family magics, and her animagus form. Harry was pretty sure she stood a very real chance of actually replicating his feat at the duelling tournament now. The main problem first years faced against seventh years, was a seventh year could simply outlast them. But Alex could now just go grim, dive under the ground, and wait for her magic to return. Take away that limitation, and it was all skill. And with an extra fourteen months of solid training, she had plenty of that. She could now even occasionally beat Ginny in a straight one-on-one duel — something Ginny detested.
The moment she'd lost her first duel to the Black heiress, Ginny marched over to him and demanded new magic.
Harry had been only too happy to oblige. Being a one-trick pony wasn't good — even if that one trick had by now been honed down to a razor's edge.
Still not good enough to take on Luna though. Not even Ginny, Alex, and Daphne combined could take on Luna.
The ability to shift instantly between thirty-five-kilogram witch and fourteen-tonne Tyrannosaurus rex was a monstrous combination. Predicting her reach was very difficult. No matter at long, medium, or short range, there was always something very scary to worry about. And Luna's combat inventiveness was second to none. Some of the tricks she'd pull out of her hat…. Well, Harry never regretted that time, years ago, when he'd deliberately set out to bind themselves together.
And he himself had not been idle.
Carefully, Harry flexed his fingers and summoned his magics. The dirt under the surrounding ground started to vibrate, and thousands of tiny particles of sand slowly filtered away from the general loamy soil. When there was enough of them, they started to melt, becoming floating blobs of red-hot heat. Minutes later, he'd split the blob up, levitated the orbs to five points around himself, and formed a pentagram of glass ward-stones, intricate runes engraved perfectly into the silky smooth faces. Such was but one of the many tricks he'd mastered in the last year and a bit.
Harry sighed and closed his eyes, letting the forever perfect breeze cross his face.
He could feel the magic slowly seeping out of the animagus ritual — had felt it for a few days now. There wasn't long left. That it had lasted this long was close to a miracle. That it didn't last forever was a blessing from Merlin. The only unfortunate side effect was it was looking more and more likely that Hermione wasn't going to immediately get her animagus form.
A new presence appeared. Harry opened his eyes.
George Weasley sat down next to him and gazed down at the field below the cabins where Alex was attempting to tie Ginny around Luna-Rex's flank with her chains in what looked like a battle-royal free for all.
"So, it's coming to an end. It feels like it's only been a few weeks," George commented.
Harry nodded. "In the outside world, it will barely have been an hour."
"Yeah, weird that. But I don't feel a year older."
George Weasley idly played with a strand of grass. "You're Lord Slytherin."
If any outsider had to guess by Harry's external reaction, they would have to conclude that the Weasley twin had just posited no more extraordinary a statement as the sky being blue or Luna liking pudding. Harry continued to watch the duel slightly down the hill. "I was wondering if you would ask me about that before or after you told Fred."
George snorted. "How are you Lord Slytherin?"
"Slytherin Family Secret."
"Technically, you are Lord Slytherin."
"Indeed. And technically as Lord Slytherin I technically declared that to be a Slytherin Family Secret. What kind of Lord would I be if I made laws that I didn't follow myself?"
"An unusual one, from what I've heard. So…" George flicked the blade of grass away. "These girls, who happen to include my baby sister. They're what? Your bodyguard? Your harem?"
"Did your father tell you he is putting together the parchment-work for a contract between us?"
"You're not really my type, Harry."
"No, I didn't," George admitted. "I assume Ginny knows."
"And she is happy with it."
"Yes, although getting the signature from my father will be difficult. I have many enemies. It is important that everyone who stands by my side can defend themselves. What are these girls? Let's call them my inner circle."
"Yes, exactly like him."
"Why only witches?" George asked. He grinned and waggled his eyebrows. "Apart from the obvious, my sister aside. There must be wizards our age who you could train to fight just as well."
Harry thought about really was a fair question. "Everyone who ever plotted against me in the magical world was a wizard," he eventually said. "And witches have far less power than their muggle counterparts do. They also have more to gain. Maybe I just saw it as safer this way. Although that need for safety also suggests cowardice."
"Sounds like you need some male friends."
Harry gave George a wry smile. "You think you could keep up with being my friend? You think you can compete with that?" He gestured downhill to where Luna-Rex was fighting Alex, Ginny, and Daphne at the same time, and still winning.
George smirked. "Not a chance. But I don't have to. I'm an artificer and prankster, not a duellist. So long as I can out-craft you, it should be you who has to worry about keeping up with me."
Harry chuckled. "Fair enough."
Just then, the ground trembled — far stronger than would have been the case if, say, Luna had tripped and fallen.
"It's time!" Harry shouted.
Daphne, Alex, Ginny, and Luna immediately stopped what they were doing and hurried over.
It started in the mountains — the massive peaks fading away until they were nothing.
Next came the forests, following their rocky backdrops into the void.
Hermione trotted over to Harry and softly nudged him with the side of her head.
"It's alright, girl," Harry muttered, patting her mane.
The nearest trees faded, the grasses faded, the cabins, the sky, and then the world was nothing but white.
And after many hundreds of days—or, in the case of some of them, years—seven hunts, six kills, and countless deaths, the animagus ritual ended.
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
And in an old study, halfway across the country, another ritual, of sorts, had also come to an end…
Lord Potter bristled. "No, I will not accept these terms."
"Take them or leave them, James."
"Fine, I'll leave them. Good day to you." Lord Potter stood up suddenly, turned to go, and stormed out, leaving Lucius staring at a shut door with a small confident smile on his face.
…coming to an end, at least for now
— DP&SW: NRiCaD —
And in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry, George, and the girls had just finished climbing out of the pots and getting dressed. Every speck of phoenix ash on the floor, and every grain piled up in the pensieve, was gone.
"It feels like it's been a lifetime," Daphne whispered into the cold air of the Chamber.
"Several," Luna said. "C'mon! If we're quick, we can be up in time for dinner."
"How does it feel, Hermione?" Harry asked, catching her arm as she stumbled out of the circle.
"Strange," Hermione answered. "It's like, I can feel my unicorn form, but it's not quite there. I can't use it."
Harry nodded solemnly. "None of us have that problem. We'll have to work on that together."
Hermione smiled. "I can feel your form though."
"I think all of us can," Alex said. "It's like this dominant aura of power."
"Majestic," Ginny chirped.
"Royal," Daphne said. "Like a king. Lion, snake, and thestral."
"Yep," Luna said, happily. "Fast now! Dinner! Chop chop!"
They left the Chamber via broomstick, flying up the pipework to exit in the Slytherin girls' dormitory — quite a memorable experience for one George Weasley.
Only Harry felt the crack in the Chamber's early warning ward system as they made their way back through the castle — a little bell ringing in his head like a fire alarm.
But by then he was already outside — too late to do anything but urgently double lock and strengthen the seals on every entrance he knew — not from someone getting in, but from something getting out.
Deep down below, one of the metal bars keeping the mouth of Salazar Slytherin's statue shut gave way under some immense strain. It fell to the ground and clanged loudly, sending echoes bouncing around the cavernous space. Then seconds later, another bar fell. Then a third, and a fourth. Moments later, every bar had fallen, and a hissing voice from within the statue said, §Open.§
Stone ground against stone, Slytherin's mouth opened wide, and the king of serpents slithered out into the fresher air of the Chamber.
It looked around, blinked, narrowed its eyes, and hissed, §Only one true king.§
— End of Chapter Fifty-seven —