Magic School Days

by Dogger807

First published

When the CMC asked Discord to help them attend magic school, he pulled an owl out of his hat. Only he didn't exactly have a hat. Which was okay, since their new school had a singing one laying around. Where the hay was Hogwarts anyway?

Three curious fillies...check
Owl delivered school letters ... check
Boy named Harry Potter ... check
Dash of Discord ... check

This can't possibly end well.

**Public safety notice::: Do not drive while spouse is reading latest chapter out loud. While this may considerably stroke the author's ego, in a guilt inducing manner, it may not be conducive for maintaining low insurance rates **

Taneysha has graciously consented to the use of this picture
Featured on August 2nd 2017 :pinkiehappy:

Prologue (Rewrite)

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The life-giving light of Celestia’s sun shone down upon the land. Once again, it was nearing the end of summer, and a beautiful day graced Ponyville and the surrounding countryside. As befitted the mood of the parents in that provincial town, nature itself seemed to be laughing. The twitter of birds was unmistakable, with their calls coming from trees near and far as the little scamps flitted from branch to branch. From the ponds, the bass rumbling from the frogs evoked memories of hearty chuckles.

Meanwhile, lying in the grass, there were three fillies, their barrels rapidly rising and falling as they took quick gulps of air. They were three industrious fillies, determined to meet their destinies. To achieve their goal, they were determined to use every resource, every scheme on which they could lay their hooves. They were persistent. They were clever. They were ambitious. But most of all, they were sticky. They were desperately in need of a bath to rid themselves of the tree sap that coated every hair on their bodies.

“Aaaaand,” the first little filly, an orange pegasus named Scootaloo, said, “scratch Cutie Mark Crusader Lumberjacks off the list.”

“I can’t believe we didn’t see that one coming,” the white unicorn filly of the group groused as she rubbed her white pelt. “With our record, why would we think that taking a saw to a tree was a good idea?”

“Ah still say it was a good try, Sweetie Belle,” said the final filly, a yellow earth pony named Apple Bloom. “How’n were we supposed ta know that a tree could be so aggressive?”

“A good try?” Sweetie Belle squeaked. “The tree shot out a stream of sap, ten trots in length. We barely nicked it, and it started playing target the pony.”

“Well . . .” Apple Bloom untied the red bow in her mane, annoyed by the way the sap’s weight was causing it to sag into her eyes. “. . . it does stand to reason that it would be a mite mad. We were trying to cut it down, after all.”

“Trees aren’t supposed to shoot sap like that,” Sweetie Belle clarified. “Trees aren’t supposed to be good at targeting dodging pegasi who avoid the first squirt, either.”

“Yeah, it sure had good aim for an overgrown stick without eyes.” Scootaloo sighed. “Though, considering all the times we’ve ended up covered in sap, I’m sure it’s normal tree behavior.”

“But,” Sweetie protested, “trees aren’t supposed to be sapient. They’re just supposed to be trees!”

“Ah don’t rightly know what sapient means.” Apple Bloom gloomily shook her bow before giving it up as a lost cause. “But it has sap in it an’ Ah can vouch that trees have sap. It stands to reason that they must be sapient.”

“That makes sense.” Scootaloo quickly agreed.

Sweetie Bell wisely let the matter drop; after all, the tree had been aiming at Scootaloo. Then, there was the fact that they did live near the Everfree Forest. “That was a lot of sap to get out of a small nick,” she said, attempting to rein in the conversation.

“It’s not like they have better things to do than stand around all day making sap to shoot at ponies,” Scootaloo noted.

“Enough with the sap talk.” Apple Bloom abruptly stood up. “We’re wasting crusading time; let’s go get cleaned up.”

“Can’t we wait a while?” Sweetie Belle asked. “I’d like to give Rarity a little more time to get engrossed in her dress making. That way, she won’t notice I'm covered in sap, again.”

“Y’all don’t need ta go home yet.” Apple Bloom smirked. "Before we got started, Ah asked mah sister ta set the washtub out behind the barn. Should be there waiting fer us ta get cleaned up.”

“That works.” Scootaloo also stood up, did her best impression of a dog shaking itself, and started in the direction of the barn.

“Wait. What?” Sweetie jumped to her hooves, facing Apple Bloom.” You knew we were going to be covered in sap?” she demanded.

“We war planning on taking a saw to a tree.” Apple Bloom shrugged, before following after Scootaloo. “How could anypony not see that coming?”

Bringing up the rear, Sweetie reflected that there was something really wrong with the entire conversation; however, she was unable to put her hoof on exactly what that might have been.


A short time later, they were in a wooden tub, industriously scrubbing the sap out of each other’s coats, tails, and manes. It went unvoiced, but they were all amazed and grateful that they hadn’t received their sap removal cutie marks. After all, no matter how proficient they became at that particular chore, none of them wanted to wear that accomplishment on their flank.

“Well,” Apple Bloom sighed around the scrub brush in her mouth. “School’ll be starting next week. That means less time fer our crusading an’ we still haven’t got our marks.”

“Yeah, I’m not looking forward to putting up with Diamond Tiaraaaaa! Hey! Watch my wing there, Sweetie! That hurt!” Scootaloo sent the little unicorn a baleful gaze. “Anyways, I almost wish we were going to a different school just so we won't have to deal with her.”

“Sorry, my brush slipped.” Cutely, Sweetie's cheeks reddened. “I almost wish we were going to Celestia’s school in Canterlot. Not that I wouldn’t miss Miss Cheerilee, but there would be sooooo much more to do and learn.”

“That there school is fer unicorns only.” Apple Bloom shook her head. “An’ Ah’m an earth pony. Thar ain’t no way they’d let me in.”

“That’s not true,” Sweetie corrected. “I overheard my sister talking to Twilight. They’re gonna start an earth pony program and a pegasus program this year.”

“Really?” Apple Bloom brightened. “Hmm, that’s not so far; we could be home fer the weekends. Think of all the new ponies we’d meet.”

Sweetie Belle let her ears droop. “The problem is they’ve closed the enrollment for this year.”

“Then why’d you bring it up?” Scootaloo scoffed.

“I don’t know.” Sweetie sighed.

“That’s okay Sweetie,” Apple Bloom said, dipping her brush in the water before attacking Sweetie’s flank again. “We’d probably have ta pass all kinds of hard tests an’ follow all kinds of rules jus’ ta get in.”

“Still, it sounds cool,” Scootaloo said. “I’ll bet they have an advanced flying class. Pity about the whole rules thing.”

“Wait a minute!” Sweetie perked up.

“Ow! My wing!”

“Sorry. But wait a second, girls; who do we know that practically makes it his mission to get around rules?”

There was a moment of silence as the fillies traded glances with each other. A wordless communication affirmed that they were all thinking the same thing. There was tacit agreement that this was an idea they’d regret not attempting.

One caveat had to be acknowledged, and it was Apple Bloom who broke the silence. “Thar ain’t no way this is gonna end well,” she stated.

After finishing their collective bath, the three fillies went looking for trouble, and everypony knew that trouble’s name started with the letter "D".


There really was only one logical place to start their search. The path to Fluttershy’s cottage was a familiar journey for the trio, leaving plenty of their attention available for them to squabble over the approach for their attempt to convince the object of their endeavors to help them.

“I still say we should offer him cupcakes,” Scootaloo contended. “You can’t go wrong with cupcakes from Pinkie Pie.”

“Nah,” Sweetie countered. “That won’t work. Let’s face it; he’d prefer it if we tried something sneaky. That would appeal to his trickster nature.”

“Thar ain’t no way we’re going ta hoodwink anyone.” Apple Bloom put her hoof down, proving that some traits were genetic no matter what some other ponies may assert. “It wouldn’t be right.”

“Well, we’d better make up our minds,” Sweetie said as their destination came into sight. “We’re almost at Fluttershy's. I hope he’s there." She sighed. "What are the odds of him actually being here right now?”

“Oh,” said a smooth voice from behind them. “I don’t know? What are the odds of who being here right now?”

Squeaking slightly, the three fillies turned to behold a familiar outlandish figure. Floating in the air, with a serpentine body that sported mismatched limbs, Discord grinned down at the children. When he had their attention, he flashed a brilliant smile and wiggled an eyebrow suggestively. Of course, he may have taken ‘flashing a smile’ a little too literally as the world went white for a second.

“Gah!”

“Mah eyes!”

“Bright light! Bright light!”

Giving in to instinct, the three fillies threw their hooves over their eyes and dropped to the ground.

“I’ve been using a new toothpaste,” Discord commented absently as he watched the three blink the spots out of their eyes.

“All right,” Sweetie Belle deadpanned. “Everypony who saw that coming, raise your hoof.”

Four hooves raised to the heavens, three being the right forehooves of the fillies. The last was on the hind leg of Discord, being the only hoof, he actually possessed. Though, in truth, that wasn’t actually a limiting factor.

“Am I getting predictable?” A pout flitted across Discord’s lips. “How could you say such a thing? After all, I thought you wanted to have a conversation with little old rule-breaking me.”

“Yup,” Apple Bloom muttered. “Thar ain’t no way this is gonna end well. Ah wonder if it’s too late to run away screaming at the top o’ mah lungs.”

“We do!” Scootaloo chirped up, eagerly plowing forward. “We wanna go to magic school. We just need your help getting in.”

“You three want to go to magic school? Hmmm.” Discord rubbed his chin as he scrutinized the girls. “Well now, I must say, this is rather unexpected. Most fillies your age want my help avoiding school, not the other way around. I must say, this is delightfully inverted.”

Scootaloo looked at Sweetie and mouthed. “Inverted?”

“I’ll explain later.” Sweetie sighed.

“Still, credit should be given where credit is due.” Discord said, ignoring the byplay. “I shall be happy to outfit you for this little quest of yours.”

“Going to school is a quest?” Scootaloo tilted her head to the side, confusion visible on her face.

“Oh, my my my. Yes, it is. More so, the older you get,” the draconequus answered with yet another smile, albeit not quite as bright. “I will leave you to discover the truth behind that at your own pace. For now, let us proceed with the outfitting for your upcoming quest. We do have to give you every possible advantage so you can get all of those hidden achievements later.”

Three lost stares met that declaration.

“First things first: the acceptance letters.” Discord reared back to his full height, dramatically stretching out his lion’s paw. “Simplicity itself,” he said snapping his claws. There was a mild flash of light and a startled owl appeared. It was only by reflex that the bird managed to perch firmly on the proffered limb.

“The talons!” Discord called out in pain. “The talons! Watch the talons!” It was Discord’s turn to act reflexively as he shook his injured limb. This only caused the owl to latch on tighter, flapping its wings to maintain its perch.

“Ooooo.” Discord snapped his claws again, causing a heavily padded sleeve to appear where it would do the most good. “Remind me to introduce you to a pedicurist.”

“Who?” the owl hooted, looking more surprised than any owl had any right to.

“Do not change the subject,” Discord scolded. “It is just I.”

“Who?”

“Me.”

“Who?”

“The one and only Discord.”

“Who?”

“The spirit of chaos.”

“Who?”

“Never mind, this is getting old, fast,” Discord said untying three letters from the bird’s leg, while the three fillies watched the exchange like cats observing a tennis match.

“Here you go.” Discord floated the letters down to the waiting hooves of the fillies. “Now then, we need to send back an acceptance so the school knows you are coming. Since the deadline has passed, someowl is going to have to make a trip through time as well as space.” Another snap marked the appearance of a new letter tied to the owl’s leg.

“Who?” the owl managed to hoot, looking worried.

“I think you know who,” Discord stated, snapping his claws. The owl disappeared in another dazzling flash of light.

“Argh!”

“Not again!”

“Remind me to bring my peril-sensitive sunglasses next time we plan on talking to Discord!”

“Hmm.” Discord studied the digits he had used for snapping. “Maybe using that toothpaste on my claws wasn’t such a bright idea. Or rather, it was too bright of an idea.”

“You used toothpaste on your claws?” Scootaloo asked.

“One needs to maintain proper hygiene.” Discord nodded. “Lucky for you, I am ambidextrous. Now, where were we? Ah yes you will be requiring funds for tuition and supplies. That is not going to take much magic to accomplish.” He snapped and a gaudy cabinet appeared.

“Is that one of Rarity’s work cupboards?” Sweetie asked, squinting.

“I do not think she will mind contributing toward your education,” Discord said as one of the drawers opened and some gems floated out. “These will do nicely,” he commented, loosely holding a pouch into which the jewels floated. “You will need to take them to the bank; then, you should have more than enough.”

*Snap!*

The cupboard disappeared.

*Snap!*

A tightly rolled scroll secured by a red ribbon appeared. “This is your ticket home,” Discord said, floating the scroll into the pouch, which should have been too small but wasn’t. “Once you learn enough magic that is. Now then, is there anything I am forgetting?”

“Apples?”

The other two fillies gave Apple Bloom dirty looks.

“What?” Apple Bloom said defensively. “Mah sister always says it’s a good idea to pack apples.”

“There will be plenty of food where you are headed,” Discord replied. “Which reminds me.” He snapped again and three pendants appeared, only to make their way into the pouch. “You will need these to fit in at first, not that you won’t make friends fast.” He tied the pouch shut before tossing it in the general direction of the fillies. Somehow it ended up on a lanyard around Apple Bloom’s neck.

“Thank ya kindly,” Apple Bloom said reflexively.

“That should cover it,” Discord said. “You are all equipped, except for the wooden sword. And thus, begins your grand quest. Off you go!”

There was one final snap of his claws and then the fillies were no longer on the path leading to Fluttershy’s. Blinking their eyes, the young adventurers found that they were in an alleyway, a particularly dirty alleyway, right after they had taken a bath.

“That went better than I was expecting,” Sweetie Belle said around the letter she still held in her mouth.

“Less than two minutes after asking Discord for a favor an’ we find ourselves in a strange alleyway?” Apple Bloom shot her a look. “Actually, Ah’d say that’s about average.”

“Don’t let him hear you say that,” Sweetie warned. “He might decide to get creative.”

Meanwhile, Scootaloo had given into her curiosity and was reading her letter. “Girls?” she asked. “What the hay is Hogwarts?”

Chapter 1: Filling Quest Objectives

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Three little fillies sat in a dirty alley examining their letters, letters that weren’t from Celestia’s school in Canterlot. Things were not going according to plan.

“Aaaaaaaand,” the first filly, a little orange Pegasus named Scootaloo began, “check Cutie Mark Negotiators off the list.” The other two fillies just gave her dirty looks.

“That wasn’t a negotiation.” Apple Bloom shook her head. “We got stuffed in a box and shipped off ta Saddle Arabia.”

“Only, without a box,” Sweetie Belle agreed, “or Saddle Arabia for that matter.”

“Or a wooden sword.” Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle turned to stare at Scootaloo once more. “What? Discord said we’d need a wooden sword… I’d kinda feel better if we had a wooden sword.”

There were three seconds of silence before Apple Bloom walked toward the exit of the alley way. “Well, standing around ain’t getting nothing done. Ah’ll go see what’s what; you two wait here.”

The other two girls sat and puzzled over their letters for all of 23 seconds before Apple Bloom came galloping back. “Girls,” she hissed, obviously trying to be quiet, “we are bucked! So totally bucked.”

Sweetie Belle stared at her friend; she wasn’t used to her swearing like that. “Let me guess. Hogwarts is in a country populated by intelligent pigs covered in unsightly skin blemishes.”

“Thar ain’t no pigs out there.” Apple Bloom shook her head violently. “If’n they were, they’d be some mighty long pigs. Ah ain’t ever seen anything like ‘em before, ‘cept maybe a minotaur. An’ they ain’t no minotaurs. An’ thar all wearing dresses, even the ones Ah think ‘r’ stallions. An’ there are a lot of them. An’ not a single pony in sight!”

“Calm down, Apple Bloom. You’re letting your accent show.” Scootaloo trotted up to her and used her mouth to undo the pouch around Apple Bloom’s neck. “Remember, Discord gave us some pendants to fit in. Didn’t you listen when he was giving the quest?”

“But . . . but . . . Ah ain’t got no act-cent.”

Scootaloo snorted in reply and tossed the chain of one of the pendants around her neck and mane. In a blink, there was no longer a pegasus standing in an alley. In her place was a cute eleven-year-old girl. From the neck down, she resembled a minotaur. For clothing, she was wearing a light red skirt and pale pink blouse. Surprisingly, her head was rounder than what a minotaur’s might be and had no horns, though she still had a purple mane. The lack of any fur or feathers on her face really only brought one animal to mind.

Sweetie Belle turned to Apple Bloom and said, “You were right. She’s a long pig.”

“Nah,” Apple Bloom shook her head. “The nose is too small, and I think her skin is too pale to be a pig’s”

“I’m not a pig.”

“We’ve seen you eat,” Sweetie Belle replied.

This earned a glare from the newly minted whatever she was. “Hurry up and put yours on. I want to explore.”

Soon she was joined by two other girls in red skirts and pink blouses, with matching pink trainers to protect their feet. If one looked closely, they could see the resemblance to the ponies that they really were. Knowing that minotaurs walked on their hind legs with ease made it not strange to be doing it themselves.

One would be forgiven for thinking that these three newly transformed girls were taking their unique situation rather nonchalantly. In which case, one would just need to remember a trio of facts. First, the girls were residents of Ponyville. Anypony familiar with the local would say, “Nuff said,” and move on. Secondly, these three fillies were known to have frequent outings in the Everfree Forest, unsupervised outings, as in without a grown-up present. Thirdly, well, they were friends with Discord. If that doesn’t teach one to be acclimatized to the bizarre and unusual, then one probably has mental issues. Though, in all seriousness, hanging out with Discord could probably cause one to have said mental issues.

Confident of their ability to blend in with the locals, the trio made for the exit of the alley. They stepped out into a wider street area abuzz with more of the long pigs, long pigs of all shapes and sizes, though all of them seemed to be at least twice as tall as the girls. All of them were clothed in whole-body-covering dresses. Some had hats on, but the dresses were everywhere.

Gawking at the display, Scootaloo wasn’t watching where she was going. She managed to trip on a crack in the sidewalk, bounce off one of the larger long pigs, rebound and flip over the outstretched leg of another who was taking a step forward. Completing 270 degrees in midair, she landed on her back in front of the astounded pedestrian.

Slightly stunned, she stared up at the clearly older long pig who stared back and said, “Tonks?”

“Whu?” Scootaloo intelligently replied.

“Tonks, is that you pretending to be a firsty?”

“Uhm, no?” Scootaloo glanced at her friends, silently asking how she should handle this.

“Nymphadora, seriously. Is that you?” The long pig smiled down at the befuddled girl.

“I’m gonna have to go with no again.”

“Well, certainly not. You didn’t try and kill me for calling you Nymphadora.”

“Ummmmmmm, yeah,” was another brilliant response.

“She’s sorry that she used your leg as a ballerina pole,” Apple Bloom intervened. “She was just trying to take in the sights.”

“That’s quite all right,” the long pig grinned in reply, “you must be muggle-born. Diagon Alley is rather overwhelming the first time you see it. By the way, my name is Euan, Euan Macduff.”

“Apple, Apple Bloom” was the reply. “These here are Sweetie, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo.”

Euan raised an eyebrow, “Just Scootaloo?”

“Err... yeah.” The purple haired girl stood up and dusted herself off.

There was a small pause. “I suppose you three are here to get your Hogwarts supplies.” To this there were three nods. “Have you changed your money over to galleons yet?” To this he received three blank looks. “Right then, you’ll want to head over to Gringotts then.”

“Gringotts?” was the chorus.

“See that building over there?” Euan pointed down the road at a large marble building. “That’s the goblin-run bank. They’ll be able to help you there”

“Oh, quest objective.” Scootaloo smiled.

Euan looked at her, slightly flabbergasted. “You should probably hurry. It’s getting along in the day.”

The girls thanked him for his assistance and made a beeline for the bank. They drew to a halt several feet from the doors of the building to stare at the guards. They were smaller even than the girls, yet they wielded some nasty-looking spears, and they were green.

“So,” Sweetie whispered to her party, “I suppose we call those short pigs?” She was very lucky that the guards were not paying a lick of attention to the young foolish witches.

“Nah, with those teeth thar ain’t no way thar related to pigs. ‘Sides, didn’t you hear Euan call ‘em goblins?”

“Does that make Euan and his people long goblins?” Scootaloo wondered.

“I don’t rightly know if I wanna be a long goblin.” Apple Bloom shuffled her feet. “The short ones scare me.”

“Right now, I don’t care,” Sweetie stated. “We haven’t had lunch yet, and I’m hungry. I say we get some bits and find a restaurant.”

“Galleons.” Scoootaloo resumed her trek toward the quest objective. “Euan called ‘em galleons.”

<->

Inside, the bank was busy. There were lines of long goblins waiting for their turn at short goblins tellers. Being no strangers to the concept of banks, the trio got in line to wait their turn. Watching the hustle and bustle of the goblins, long and short, was more than entertaining enough to make up for the usual boredom of waiting in line. Soon enough, it was their turn.

“Next!” the short goblin behind the teller bars snapped, not even looking up from the ledger he was writing in. The girls hurried up to the counter.

“Hello.” Sweetie Belle smiled at the angry-looking individual. “How are you today?”

The goblin head snapped up with a startled look. Here was a young witch that just oozed friendship and sincerity, at a goblin no less. Must be a muggle-born he thought. “I am well, thank you. How may I help you?”

“We’d like to get some gallons please,” Sweetie answered, and Apple Bloom pulled a handful of gems out of their pouch and set them in front of the teller.

“You’ll be wanting to talk to one of our appraisers then.” He turned and snapped his fingers, summoning one of the runner goblins to come forward. He completely missed the way all three girls flinched when he snapped his fingers. “Sharpthorn here will take you to Glemstone.” Normally, the teller would make a witch or wizard wait at least 30 minutes before making such an appointment; however the girls had done something most wizards would not. They had shown genuine kindness. Granted, it was just a short encounter, but kindness given is often received in kind.

The girls all smiled at the teller and thanked him for his time. Not a proper goblin goodbye, but it was heartfelt and the teller felt a glimmer of acceptance toward wizard-kind. Then, he turned to the next wizard in his line who scowled back with impatience, and it was gone.

Sharpthorn led the girls through an arch set in the back of the bank, into a hallway with many office doors. He walked up to one and opened it. “Please wait in here.”

The girls found themselves in a small office with a desk and five chairs arranged before the desk. Taking their cue, they each took a seat. Then, they all fell out of their chair because they tried to sit like ponies. As they were picking themselves off the ground, another goblin entered the office. Shaking his head at the foolish children, he moved to sit behind the desk. Not rushing, he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a ledger and some jewel assessing equipment.

“I understand you have some jewels you wish to sell,” was his curt statement.

“Yes sir,” Apple Bloom gulped and retrieved a handful of gems from her pouch. “We’d like some galleons please, sir.”

“’Sir’ is a human term,” the goblin snapped. “Please call me Glemstone, or if you must appraiser Glemstone.”

“Yes, Glemstone,” the girls chorused.

Glemstone peered at the witch whelps for a bit, trying to decide if they were trying to be funny or not. “Time is money. Let me see those gems.”

Apple Bloom obeyed and set them on the desk hurriedly. She then scooted back as fast as she safely could. Ram rod straight in her chair.

Glemstone smiled nastily and picked up the first gem. He took his jeweler’s loupe and began his examination. The nasty smile gave way to a look of concentration. A minute later he put down the first gem. “This one alone is worth more than you three could safely carry. I assume you have a vault with Gringott’s?”

The three girls shook their heads. Sighing, the goblin took three forms out of a desk drawer. “Then I assume you each want one.”

“Is it alright if we just share one?” Scootaloo squeaked.

Glaring at the annoying girls, the goblin put two forms back. “There is a 3% transaction fee for each gem. Fill out this form and Sharpthorn will take you to your vault. The gold for the first gem will be there when you arrive. The gold for the rest will be there tomorrow.” The perplexed goblin watched the girls fill out the form by holding the quills in their mouths.

“May I ask what you are planning to do with that much gold?” Glemstone inquired; he could make a nice commission if he set them up with an account manager.

“Um, school?” Sweetie Belle answered.

“And have you paid your tuition yet?” Three blank stares where all the answers he needed. Sighing once again he asked, “May I see you Hogwarts letters?”

Apple Bloom pulled the letters out of her pouch and handed them over. Glemstone pulled a wooden box out of yet another drawer and dropped all three letters in the box. He then counted to four and removed the letters, handing them back to Apple Bloom. “Your tuitions shall be taken from your vault.”

There was a round of thanks from the girls.

Glemstone decided to go for broke. “I will set you up with an account manager to help you with your gold.”

The girls gave another round of thanks. Well, that was an easy commission. “Now leave me to finish here. Follow Sharpthorn.”

“Yes, Glemstone.” The girls complied and hurriedly followed the smaller goblin out the office.

Glemstone smiled. That had been his best encounter with humans ever.

<->

Five minutes later, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, with eyes screwed shut, were clutching each other, scared for their lives. Scootaloo, on the other hoof, was having a blast as their minecart rocketed through the winding tunnels of Gringotts.

Sharpthorn was upset. Gringott’s minecarts were supposed to be impervious to witch magic. He looked at Scootaloo and said, “I’m not sure how you are doing it, but could you please stop making the cart go faster. I almost missed our last turn.”

“Aww,” Scootaloo pouted. “Do I have to?”

“Yes!” every other occupant insisted. They were killjoys.

“Apple Bloom, how many gems do we have left?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“If’n you wait till we stop, Ah’ll check.” Apple Bloom hugged Sweetie Belle tighter to herself.

“We have stopped,” Scootaloo informed them.

Shakely, Apple Bloom followed Sweetie Belle from the cart.

“That was awesome!!!!!!” Scootaloo cheered.

Three sets of eyes were glaring at her.

“She sits in the back on the way up,” Sharpthorn growled. “I don’t want her anywhere near the controls.”

“Awwwwwwwww.”

Sharpthorn turned on his heel and led the girls to a large stone door. He reached into a pocket and withdrew three keys which he distributed to the girls. “Here are your vault keys. Hold them a minute to let them get to know your magic.” The girls held their keys; Scootaloo chewed on her’s a bit.

“May I have one key now.” Sharpthorn received Sweetie Belle’s unchewed key. He turned to the stone door and somehow inserted the key. There was a grinding noise and the door slowly opened outwards.

Inside was a large stone chamber, empty except for a pile of gold. The pile was as tall as the girls were and twice as wide. “Wow,” Sweetie Belle intoned. “We can buy a lot of milkshakes with that many bits.”

“Galleons,” Scootaloo reminded her. “Um, how many gems did we have left again?”

Apple Bloom removed her pouch and said, “Looks like ten. An’ I honestly don’t wanna go back to Glemstone.”

“You could just leave them in your vault,” Sharpthorn advised. “They will be safe here.”

“Okay.” Apple Bloom put the gems on the ground next to the pile of gold.

“Okay, let’s see how many bits we can fit in our pouch.” Sweetie grinned.

“I have a purse for each of you,” Sharpthorn spoke up holding up three bags, each about the size of a cigarette pack with a bronze clasp at one end. “They can each hold 300 galleons easily and have a featherweight spell on them.”

The girls thanked the goblin and shortly there were three small light purses filled with gold, which each girl pocketed.

“Do you think that will be enough for our school supplies?” Apple Bloom asked their escort.

Sharpthorn grinned. “You could each buy your supplies ten times over with what you carry.”

“Good, now let’s go eat.” Sweetie declared.

The ride up was less nerve racking. Scootaloo rode in the back.

As the cart pulled to a stop, Sharpthorn offered some advice. “Most shops will be closed or closing soon. You probably want to get your parents and get a room either at the Leaky Cauldron or out in muggle London and do your shopping tomorrow.” He looked at Sweetie Belle, “You can also get a good meal at the Leaky Cauldron.”

The girls looked at each other guiltily then nodded their heads. They quickly exited the bank soon after.

<->

Standing outside Gringotts, the girls were deciding what to do next.

“Well, we now know the long pigs are called ‘human’.” Scootaloo started the conversation.

“We do?” Sweetie and Apple Bloom turned their attention toward her.

“Yeah.” Scootaloo shrugged. “Don’t you remember Glemstone mentioning it?”

“Told you we weren’t pigs,” Apple Bloom admonished Sweetie, who blushed.

“Also, you do realize we aren’t going to be making it home for dinner tonight.” Scootaloo brought up the next point.

“But we missed lunch,” Sweetie complained.

“Remember, Discord said we had to learn magic to use our ticket home.”

Apple Bloom looked right at Scootaloo, “You’re getting a mite involved in this whole quest thing, ain’t cha.”

“I’ve learned to pay close attention to what Discord says.” Scootaloo shrugged. “He always does exactly what he says.”

“My sister is going to have a hissy fit.”

Another shrug and Scootaloo said, “Don’t worry. Discord will tell them where we are. If it’s too big a deal they’ll badger him to come get us. Besides, I think they’ll go along with the whole school thing.”

“Who are you, and what have you done with our Scootaloo?” Apple Bloom asked

“Hee hee, if you read enough Daring Doo you get a hang of the whole quest thing.”

“Oh,” Sweetie said. “That makes sense. I was beginning to wonder there for a bit. You’ve had the answers all day today.”

“Except,” Apple Bloom looked at the slowly emptying Diagon Alley, “what do we do now? We pretty much used up everything Discord told us to do. Except the shopping, which won’t happen ‘til tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s easy.” Scootaloo smiled. “Sharpthorn gave us the next quest objective.”

“Food first, then quest.” Sweetie Belle needed a Snickers(TM) bar; she was starting to get cranky.

“Same thing,” Scootaloo replied.

“Um.” Apple Bloom had a thought that was probably important. “What exactly do humans eat?”

<_>

Their next stop wasn’t hard to find. All they had to do was ask the first human stallion they spotted, and he was more than happy to take the time to lead them straight to their destination. However, there was a bit of surprise when he took out a stick and tapped a blank wall. Said wall then rearranged itself into an archway. The place they sought was just on the other side of the arch. By this time, Sweetie Belle was seriously considering just finding a patch of grass to gnaw on.

The Leaky Cauldron turned out to be a dingy sort of place, nothing like Sugar Cube Corner. Instead of individual tables and chairs, the majority of seating appeared to be booths set next to the walls. Surprisingly, this wasn’t intimidating; instead it felt strangely welcoming. The girls were quick to claim a booth of their own, excited by the promise of a meal. A larger human stallion in an apron soon found his way over with a friendly smile on his face.

“Well, hello there,” he beamed. “Welcome to the Leaky Cauldron. I’m thinking you three young ladies have just finished your shopping for Hogwarts and have decided to have a meal in celebration.”

“Actually,” Scootaloo frowned, “we got here too late to do our shopping. We were told to get a room here for the night.”

The human clapped his hands together, “You’re in luck, as it is, I only have one room left with one bed. With a little transfiguration, I’m sure you and your parents will be most comfortable.”

“We’ll take it!” Apple Bloom declared. “An’ we’re here by ourselves, so one bed should be fine.”

The human let a frown play across his face. “You three are here by yourselves? Without supervision?”

“Uh huh,” Scootaloo beamed. ‘We’re going to magic school!”

“I see.” The smile returned. “Well then, let’s get you fed and in bed. Your probably in for a big day tomorrow. Do you know what you’d like for supper then?”

“Food!” Sweetie Belle insisted.

“How about three shepherd pies and milk then?” When he was met by three nods, he promised the meals would be out shortly. He patted Scootaloo on her head affectionally and then headed toward his kitchen where the food was to be prepared, and, more importantly, where his private fireplace was located.

<->

Minerva McGonagall was having a quiet evening going over paperwork in her chambers. The start of a school term was always hectic no matter how much preparation she put in. This year had not been an exception. In fact, she had yet to be able to contact three of the muggle-born students who had been sent letters. The whole situation was beyond frustrating.

There had been a reply from the students confirming that they would be in attendance. In fact, the reply for all three came on a single parchment. This in of itself was peculiar, since muggle-borns, more often than not, sent their confirmations on that lined paper muggles preferred. The address associated was even more so. Forty-two degrees inward of north and half past yesterday; Ponyville, was utter gibberish. With less than a week left, McGonagall, the deputy headmistress, had not yet been able to make sure these children were properly taken care of. Yes, it was frustrating.

Suddenly, the flames in her fireplace flared bright green and the disembodied head of an old friend put in an appearance.

“Minerva,” the head spoke, “are you there?”

“Hello Tom,” she answered, surprised at the intrusion. “Yes, I’m here.”

“Good, good,” Tom gave one of his infectious smiles. “I was just flooing you to let you know of a curious situation.”

“Oh? Curious, you say?”

“Yes, Minerva,” he nodded. “I’ve had three girls show up for supper and a room. They say that they’re going to Hogwarts, and they don’t have any supervision. I thought it best you should be informed while I made sure they got fed.”

Minerva blinked; who would throw three young girls into a new world of magic without supervision? She severely hoped it wasn’t another case of an overly religious family getting rid of their witches. That was never a pleasant time. “Did you happen to get their names?”

“No,” Tom grimaced. “That slipped my mind.”

“No matter.” Minerva set down her papers and made her way to the fireplace. “I do believe I know who they are. May I come through?”

“By all means. Be my guest.”

<->

Meanwhile, three young ladies waited as impatiently as only the young can. They were hungry and thirsty, and they had missed lunch. The booth they were in didn’t even have a vase of flowers to nibble on. They were ecstatic when the stallion in an apron returned carrying a tray. The fact that he set the tray down to hover next to their table actually went unnoticed when overshadowed by the prospect of food, as did the human that followed him.

The girls thanked him and dug in as if starved. They weren’t really inspecting what they were eating, just recognizing that it was mashed potatoes with something mixed in, accompanied by bread and milk. That was something of a pity, because there was a whole conversation waiting to be had if they had been more observant.

<->

Minerva stood and watched the young girls make short work of their meals. She could tell at a glance that the children were well-fed and healthy. They were all wearing similar, if shockingly pink, outfits. The only real difference was the bow one wore in her hair. Each had hair that was of unusual color.

The voracious eating habits were probably the results of one missed meal by those not used to missing one, nothing more ominous. This observation was supported by the fact that none of them seemed to be guarding their food nor watching for anyone whom may try to take it away. In fact, they hadn’t even noticed her yet.

As if cued by that thought the red-headed child, with hair brighter than even a Weasley, swallowed her mouthful and acknowledged Minerva. “Hello?”

Minerva gave a disarming smile. “Sweetie Belle?” The girl with the purple and pink hair looked up at the mention of her name. “Apple Bloom?” The red head nodded. “And you would be Miss Scoot Aloo?” The purple-haired youth stopped shoveling food in her mouth with a look of surprise.

“My name is Professor Minerva McGonagall, deputy headmistress for Hogwarts,” she said by way of introduction. “May I have a seat? I do believe we have matters to discuss.”

Sweetie Belle nodded and scooted over since she was sitting by herself on one side of the booth.

Minerva smiled at the gesture, but instead of sitting in the offered spot, she pulled out her wand and conjured a chair at the end of the booth. She noted that the girls seemed impressed by the feat of magic, but not overly surprised. Once sitting, she continued. “Normally, I would have come to each of your homes to escort you through Diagon Alley for the first time. A . . . peculiarity . . . in the addressing spells deprived us of that opportunity.”

The girls all had a flash of guilt cross their faces as she said this. Whatever their home situations might be would bear looking into if this continued. “It seems, however, that you three managed to find your way here yourselves.”

“We had help,” Miss Aloo offered.

Minerva nodded, “And then you were left here to fend for yourselves?”

“We’re big girls,” Miss Bloom insisted. “Mah sister says we need less supervision than we needed just last year.”

“And your parents agree?” This was meet by a look of sadness from Miss Bloom, negating the need for an answer. “I see. Very well, I assume you were provided means for your expenditures?”

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo turned toward their walking dictionary who said, “We got galleons from our vault.”

This was a surprise. Muggle-born, didn’t have vaults. “Your vault?”

Miss Aloo nodded, “Yeah, they gave us a vault when we traded in our gems.”

“You didn’t use pounds then?”

“I’m pretty sure those gems didn’t weigh no pound,” Miss Bloom frowned, “not even a half pound.”

Tom came over with a mug of butterbeer for the professor. “How are we doing then?” he asked.

Miss Aloo smiled at the bartender, “That was awesome. How much do we owe you?”

Tom glance at Professor McGonagall, “That will be 3 galleons four sickles for the meals and the room.”

Miss Belle frowned at that. “All we have are galleons. We weren’t told we need sickles too.”

“Miss Belle,” Professor McGonagall stated, “a galleon is worth 17 sickles.”

“Oh,” Miss Bloom said and pulled a Gringott’s purse out of her skirt pocket. It was one the nicer ones usually associated with the more well to do accounts. Minerva narrowed her eyes at the inconsistencies these girls were presenting in such a short time frame. They had apparently been dropped off in the alley with little fanfare, yet their guardians obviously thought enough to leave them financially stable.

The way they were dressed almost seems like an afterthought. Minerva wasn’t aware of too many young girls being willing to dress in the exact same casual outfit, even being friends. Maybe there was more to those garbled addresses than first met the eyes.

The possibility that their families had thrown these young witches out with the intent to disown was looming larger. That would explain why they had been given a large sum. Some families still had enough conscience to provide financially for their members even as they were discarding them. Minerva had seen it happen before. She would have to contact Gringotts and see to it that the girls had enough for their education as well as living expenses for the next seven years. If not, she would have to see to finding funds or scholarships for these young witches. She hoped she was wrong about her suspicions.

Minerva talked to the girls for another half hour to get an idea where they stood. Little enlightenment was added. They seemed friendly and well adjusted, more like a socially raised muggle-born than anything else. Yet, at the same time, they plainly were avoiding answering her probing questions into their home lives. She had no explanation for their unusual names, their strange hair, or why they were seemingly unsupervised.

Hardly satisfied, Minerva promised to come by at noon the next day to help with their shopping and show them around the alley. She had to hurry back to the castle and fill out paperwork for the goblins to give any insight to their finances, insight that she would need to gauge the level of spending to be had on the morrow. She also needed to contact the ministry to see who was registered as their magical guardians.

The start of a school term was always hectic no matter how much preparation she put in. Now it looked like she had extra work to pursue.

Chapter 2: Please! No More Shopping!

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Three little fillies, turned three little girls, said goodbye to their new deputy headmistress and watched as she went to the large fireplace. Somehow, the old human mare turned the flames green, and then she walked into the fire. In an instant, she was gone. With startled shrieks, the trio ran to the fireplace, all intent on earning their first aid cutie marks.

Chuckling, the human stallion, whom they learned was named Tom, came up behind them. “I take it you girls aren’t familiar with floo travel.” The girls looked at him in wide-eyed panic. “Why don’t you come over here so you’re not in the way.” Nearly as soon as the girls were standing next to him the flames once more flared green, and a skinny human stallion in a pale-yellow dress emerged. He nodded a greeting to Tom and the girls and made his way over to the bar.

Still chuckling, Tom patted Apple Bloom on the head. “Wizards and witches have been coming and going the entire time you’ve been here. Don’t tell me you just now noticed them using the floo.”

The CMC collectively did their best to dislocate their jaws and drop them on the floor. Tom’s chuckling turned into a belly laugh. “Well then, since you seem to be done eating, I suspect you’d like to see your room.”

The girls followed Tom up the stairs and were soon standing in front of a door. Tom took a key out of an apron pocket and handed it to Scootaloo when he had a sudden thought. “Will it just be for the night, or are you planning to stay here until the train leaves for Hogwarts?”

“Train?” three voices questioned.

“Aye, the Hogwarts Express. Leaves the station in four days. I don’t suspect you’ll be wanting to wait on Platform 9 3/4 for the remaining time.”

“We’d like the room for four days then,” Sweetie confirmed. Tom nodded vowing to himself to keep an eye on the children.

“Do you have any bags that you need help bringing up?”

Apple Bloom held up the pouch around her neck. “This here is our only bag.” Tom raised an eyebrow.

“It’s bigger on the inside,” Sweetie Belle helpfully supplied.

“Of course,” Tom nodded once more. “If you three need anything just come down and get me.”

The girls thanked him and entered their room.

They walked in, closed the door behind them and stood there. One minute passed and nopony said anything. Two minutes passed and nopony said anything. Three minutes passed and Apple Bloom said, “We’re gonna learn how to travel by fire?”

The girls were quiet for another minute, then came the synchronized exclamation, “Cutie Mark Firemancers! Yeaaaah!”

Now over their shock, the girls turned to exploring their room. The bed was big and comfy, with plenty of room for the three of them. There was desk, a dresser, and a pair of comfy chairs, big enough for two to sit in at once. Set into one wall was a door, which Scootaloo opened to find an attached bathroom.

It has been noted that the CMC had a habit of frequenting the Everfree Forest. Their experiences inside had led to some strange habits. One such habit was how they made themselves seem bigger and more threating. They accomplished this by having Apple Bloom plant her feet on the ground; Sweetie Belle would then jump on her back followed by the light pegasus on top. The tactic served them remarkably well against the aggressive wildlife of the forest and, as such, became a reflex maneuver. This was the position Tom and two other human stallions found the girls in when they came barging in the room. The frightened shrieking of the girls had been heard all the way downstairs over the usual din of the Leaky Cauldron.

“What? What?” Tom and his help scanned the room brandishing their wands. “What’s wrong?!”

A bizarre totem pole of cuteness, the three girls simultaneously pointed towards the bathroom. “THE MIRROR TALKS!”

<->

Sweetie Belle slowly awoke. She was content, if not very coherent. She snuggled closer to the source of warmth she was laying against. It was strangely smooth, a totally unexpected sensation that immediately brought her to full wakefulness.

It was Scootaloo, a furless, still comatose Scootaloo.

Realizing she’d get no more sleep, the naked Sweetie Belle slipped out of the bed. It had taken a good half hour for them to get out of the outfits Discord had supplied.

It was obvious that the humans always wore clothes; in fact, they seemed obsessed with dresses. In fact, the only human that she could remember, who didn’t wear a dress had been Tom. Therefore, it was best to keep their clothes as well preserved as possible. As such, there would be no sleeping in them. Sweetie Belle wondered if they were going to need to buy more clothes as well. Then it hit her. She didn’t have her brush. In fact, she hadn’t brushed her teeth last night. Rarity would be horrified if she ever found out.

“Girls get up!” She shouted at her friends “We’ve got things to do.”

“Huh?” Apple Bloom rubbed her eyes and sat up. “We ain’t got nothin’ to do ‘til noon.”

Scootaloo continued to snore softly.

“We’ve got to buy soooo many things beside school stuff. We need brushes, and tooth brushes, and shampoo and conditioner and luggage and more clothes and more clothes and laundry soap and hair curlers and wash cloths and towels and and and that’s just the beginning.”

For a second, Apple Bloom wondered when Rarity had gotten into the room. Meanwhile, Scootaloo continued to snore.

“Ah suppose we could do a bit o’ shopping a’fore Minerva McGonagall comes to help us.” Apple Bloom disengaged herself from the bed, prodding Scootaloo sharply. “But first, I wanna visit the water shed a’fore the mirror wakes up.”

“Good idea,” Sweetie agreed and headed toward the bathroom. Scootaloo snored some more.

Unlike Scootaloo, the mirror was awake.

<->

Forty minutes later, the three girls bounced down the stairs into the Leaky Cauldron’s common room. Scootaloo, half awake, hadn’t tied her left shoe properly. Consequently, the loose string made her trip at the top of the stairs, and she took her two friends with her.

“Ugh, Git off!” Apple Bloom said from the bottom of the resulting pile up. The patrons looked on with amusement, not worried about injuries. After all, witches were a lot more blunt force resistant than muggle children.

After a bit of scrabbling, the girls were once again sitting in a booth. Instead of Tom, a human mare came over to take their order. Bowls of oatmeal and fruit were soon brought out and quickly consumed.

“Food ‘round here ain’t so bad,” one of the girls commented. “Could use some more apples though.” The other two didn’t even bother to argue.

“Anypony remember what’s on our quest list?” Scootaloo asked.

“No quests until noon,” Sweetie Belle replied. “So, I’m declaring the official shopping and exploring side quest.”

“But, shopping is part of the main quest,” Scootaloo whined.

“You can’t ever have too much shopping,” Sweetie insisted.

Suddenly, the fireplace flared and a human appeared, waved to the bartender and headed in the direction they wanted to go.

“And that thar is our cue.” Apple Bloom led them back into Diagon Alley, following the human’s wake.

In less of a hurry, the fillies wandered down the street. Sweetie Belle spotted their first stop, a small shop that sold basic household items.

Fourteen galleons latter she had stuffed many basic necessities into the pouch around Apple Bloom’s neck.

“Do we really need six types of shampoo?” Scootaloo asked

“We only have three types,” Sweetie corrected. “The other three are conditioner.”

“OOOOOOOkay,” Scootaloo acknowledged, “but I’m still wondering how much room is left in that pouch.”

“That’s okay,” Sweetie smiled. “We need luggage anyway.”

Scootaloo winced, her strategy backfiring. There would be more shopping and less exploring.

A few quick questions to a passing human mare, and their next stop was a trunk store. This was slightly upsetting to the girls; they had been expecting nice regular luggage. The trunks looked sturdy, cumbersome, and heavy. Apple Bloom, being an earth pony, was more worried about the cumbersome than the weight. Some things were just easier to carry than others, weight non-withstanding.

“Ah, welcome to my store. My name is Dylan,” the shop proprietor greeted his first customers of the day. “Here for some student trunks?” He pointed to a collection of trunks near the front of the shop.

Scootaloo examined the merchandise and sighed, “Those look heavy.”

Dylan chuckled, "I’m sure I can throw in a permanent featherweight charm for a galleon.”

“Featherweight charm?” Apple Bloom raised an eyebrow, thinking of her Gringott's purse.

As way of explanation he strolled to one of the trunks further back in shop and proceeded to lift a heavy-looking oak trunk with his pinkie finger. “There are a lot of charms you can put on a trunk. Our top end trunks have a multitude. The basic student models have none, but they can have the standard three easily applied.”

“What are the standard three?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“Featherweight, muggle notice-me-not, and auto shrinking.” Dylan waved toward the trunks in the front again. “Tell you what, I’ll add them to your trunks at a discount. Shall we say a total of 7 galleons 8 sickle per trunk?

“How much for one of the top end trunks you were talking about?” Sweetie tilted her head to the side and stuck her tongue out in concentration.

“One of those would run you a hundred and thirty galleons at least.”

“Great,” Sweetie smiled. “My sister always says not to skimp on good luggage, and you’ll save money in the long run. We’ll take three.”

Dylan was amazed at the sudden turn of the conversation. There was no way he’d take advantage of three children though; he found himself in the awkward position of down selling a customer. “That’s a lot of money. Perhaps you would like something less extravagant.”

“No, we’ll go top of the line please.” Scootaloo and Apple Bloom watched as Sweetie Belle continued to channel Rarity. The only thing missing was the word darling.

Dylan, for his part was at a loss. These three did not look like the average spoiled rich children he was used to. He wasn’t sure which way to go with this anymore so he went along. “I could have three ready for you by one this afternoon. Are you looking for a specific style?”

“Whatever ya got handy,” Apple Bloom quickly answered as Sweetie Belle sucked in a breath to give a more detailed answer. Sweetie shot her a look of betrayal.

“I’m going to have to ask for a hundred galleon retainer to get started though.” Dylan insisted, half expecting to put an end to the sale right there. In response, the girls pulled out their purses. Dylan felt much better once he saw the quality of the purses. His customers could afford his best if they had those. In fact, they probably had a bodyguard nearby who was professional enough to stay out of sight. But still, I did pay to be cautious, “May I suggest you limit the number of people who see those purses of yours. Keep a few loose coins in your pockets for smaller purchases.”

“Um okay,” Scootaloo agreed for all of them. The shopping was going quicker than she feared.

<->

Meanwhile, Professor McGonagall had completed several tasks when she returned to the castle the night before. She had filled out the specific paperwork required to do a financial inquiry and had owled them off to Gringotts. Then, she checked the accounts receivable ledger. She was pleased to see that the automatically updating book had recorded the girls as already being in full for the year. There would be no last-minute scholarship hunting in this case.

That was one less worry.

There was an owl waiting in her office first thing. It was from the girl’s account manager. Despite the letter being a politely worded ‘mind your own business’, Minerva was satisfied. Just by having an account manager at all confirmed that they would be well within their means. This didn’t forego the whole disowning of magical relatives scenario, but at least money would not be a problem.

Minerva thought for a moment that she could be giving in to pessimism, but when the welfare of children was an issue, it couldn’t hurt to fail on the side of caution. At the very least, someone needed to be brought to task for inadequately minding such small children. Which brought the opposite possibility to mind. Their guardians may lack an understanding of at what age it’s appropriate to leave children alone in Diagon Alley, a wholly preposterous proposition.

She would have time to visit the ministry before meeting the girls.

<_>

Tom was not happy with his morning help. Becky had admitted to seeing the girls earlier and seeing to them being fed. Yet, she had not done anything to keep them in the tavern, instead letting them go wander the alley on their own.

In her defense, she had thought that they were with Robyn Wetherwell, who was the witch they had followed into the alley.

<->

“Hey girls,” Scootaloo exclaimed, “look here. There’s some interesting looking shops down this side alley.”

They hadn’t gone two steps in that direction before a human mare rushed out of her shop and shooed them away, saying something about knock and burns being no place for them.

<->

Minerva stepped out of the records office. Her investigations had resulted in the names of the girls’ guardians and magical guardians. Each girl had a single guardian for both magical and non-magical purposes. They weren’t muggle-born then. This only served to confuse the situation more. The office workers had found the paperwork to be complete, if not odd. The names of the guardians were distinctive as well: Rarity Belle, Apple Jack, and Rainbow Dash.

<->

“Look!” Sweetie squeaked. “Ice cream.”

There was a scramble to find seats.

<->

Discord stood in the void and produced a pair of maracas.

“Montage montage,” he chanted, shaking the instruments.

<->

Becky wandered down through Diagon alley, looking for the brightly-colored children whom Tom was worrying over. She spotted them at Florean Fortescue’s attacking an impossibly large sundae between the three of them.

There was no reason to interrupt. She’d let her boss know what she found.

<->

Minerva arrived at the Leaky Cauldron with plenty of time to spare. She should have time for a cuppa and a sandwich before the girls were due to come down for their shopping.

<->

“Look, girls” Apple Bloom interrupted the trek back to the Leaky Cauldron to the appointment with Minerva. “A Fluttershy shop.”

The girls paused a moment to owl watch.

<->

Tom wandered over to where Minerva had seated herself to watch the stairs for the girls’ entrance. “You’re looking the wrong way for the girls. Becky tells me they already found Fortescue’s.”

Minerva sighed and redirected her attention toward the alley’s entrance precisely as the smiling children wandered into the tavern. In that instanct, she knew exactly whose house they would be sorted into.

“Miss Bloom, Miss Belle, and Miss Aloo.” She greeted them, noting that they were wearing the same clothes as yesterday. “I see that you couldn’t contain your patience and proceeded without me.”

“We had to pick up a few things besides school supplies,” Miss Belle explained.

“I see.” Minerva gestured for the girls to have a seat. “Have you eaten lunch as well?”

“We’ve had ice cream.” Miss Bloom grinned.

“Miss Bloom,” Minerva counseled, “ice cream is a desert, not a meal.”

“It had peanuts, and pineapple and bananas,” Miss Aloo volunteered.

Minerva gave her a look letting her know that would not be sufficient. “In that case, before we commence shopping, I have a few questions. You appear to be wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Am I to understand you have no more outfits with you?”

“Um, I left all my other dresses at home,” Miss Belle confirmed, “I guess we’ll need a couple more?”

“Yah, this is my only bow. Ah’m gonna need more of em,” Miss Bloom agreed

“I assume that you’ll be needing undergarments as well.” Minerva received three blank looks in response. Two plus two was not equaling four here. “Are you expecting luggage to be delivered for you? Perhaps a pet like a cat.”

“No cats!” Miss Belle shuddered. “Definitely no cat.”

Minerva studied the bright-haired children in front of her and then said, “Very well, I can see that we’re going to need to do extra shopping today.” This got a groan from Misses Bloom and Aloo. “Shall we then?” She led the children to the alley and herded them to Ollivander’s right away. Normally his shop would be last on the list, but she had the feeling he might have some trouble pairing these witches with their wands.

The girls were enamored by the cluttered little store. They excitedly took in the sight of multitude of boxes. And per his habit, Ollivander managed to somehow sneak up on his young customers. “My, you are a curious lot.”

The three girls all squealed and whirled to face the eccentric wand maker. “This should be most interesting,” he continued. “Welcome to my little shop. You’re here for your first wands.”

“uuuu, Hello,” Miss Bloom shyly returned as the other two girls watched Ollivander with wide eyes. He turned his attention to the redhead.

“Indeed- Hello.” He ran his eyes over her form, taking in details that only he seemed to understand. “Shall we start with you then, Miss?” He trailed off, obviously expecting a name.

“Mah name is Apple Bloom.”

“Very well, Miss Bloom. Which hand is your wand hand?” Ollivander nodded when Miss Bloom hesitantly offered her right hand. He summoned a measuring tape from somewhere and set it to measuring, a task it did completely independent of the old man. Miss Bloom wasn’t sure if she should be keeping her eye on the animated and intrusive tape or the creepy old shopkeeper.

After a minute, Ollivander exclaimed, “How intriguing, let’s see now. Maple 12 and half inches and with welsh green heartstring.” He deposited an ornate stick into Miss Bloom’s hand. “Give this a wave.”

Confused, she complied and the wand was snatched from her hand.

“No, no. Oak, Ridgeback nine and quarter inches?” A different wand found its way into Apple Bloom's hand.

Another wave and another snatch later, he mused, “Hmm ten inches dogwood phoenix feather, rather playful.”

Swish, snatch again, he continued. “No, eight and seven eights phoenix feather one more time.” Ollivander handed over yet another wand. “This one is made of . . .”

That’s as far as he got before Miss Bloom swished. Unbeknownst to everyone present, a small seed that had fallen from the shoe of a previous customer was lodged in the cracks of the wooden floor. The wand, jubilant in meeting its witch, channeled magic into that seed. There was an array of cracking and snapping, and in a blink of an eye, there was a plant stalk from the floor up and through the ceiling. It had to be at least six inches in diameter at the trunk.

Everyone in the shop stared at the new addition.

“Let me guess,” Miss Belle deadpanned. “That one was Applewood.”

A huge grin crossed Ollivander’s face. “Why, yes. Yes, it was.”

”Figures,” muttered Miss Aloo.

The process was then repeated for the other two girls. Miss Belle was chosen by a 12-inch acacia and unicorn hair, while Miss Aloo found her match in eleven and three quarters inched hazel wand, again with unicorn hair.

“Excellent, excellent,” Mr. Ollivander beamed as he fixed the damage caused by Miss Aloo’s wand acceptance. “That was a most pleasing round of wand matching.”

Miss Aloo held her wand at arm’s length and asked, “This isn’t gonna just blow up in my pocket, is it?”

“Unless you're channeling magic, there’s no need to fret over a magical surge.” Ollivander shook his head. “But, if you’re still worried I have wand holsters that help prevent accidental wand channeling. For a hazel wand, they are an advisable precaution.”

“We’ll take three,” Miss Belle declared and retrieved her money pouch. She was familiar with magical surges and was willing to take whatever precautions available.

There was an exchange of money, and then the girls were standing in front of the shop with their wands holstered on their left arms.

“Shall we see about getting you three some student trunks,” Minerva suggested, “Carrying your purchases will be easier once you have one.”

“Oh, yeah,” Miss Bloom smiled. “Our trunks should be ready by now.”

“Ready?” Minerva raised an eyebrow. “You ordered custom trunks?”

“Maybe?” the girls answered honestly.

<->

The walk to Dylan’s store was uneventful, and he was surprised to see the girls were followed by Professor McGonagall. He waved at his assistant, letting him know that it was time for him to mind the till.

“Hello again.” Dylan bowed. “Your orders are done. If you follow me into the back I’ll be happy to give you a demonstration.”

Professor McGonagall wondered what manner of trunks were purchased that needed demonstrations.

In the back were three identical cherrywood chests. They were the same size as the student model out front and lacked any impression of being different. That is, save for a metal plate where the lock normally would be.

“Each of you take your wand and place the tip on the center circle etched in the faceplate,” Dylan commanded. “Then say ‘Sibi Stipitem’.”

The girls did as they were told. Nothing seemed to happen.

“That binds the trunks to you as the owner,” Dylan assured. “To shrink your chest, just tap the circle three times with your wand.” Shortly there were three matchbox-sized trunks. “And tap them anywhere three times to regrow.” Instantly three trunks returned to their original size. “Each trunk has six compartments; you access each individually by tapping one of the six squares under the main circle rune and saying ‘open’.”

Professor McGonagall interrupted him. “If you have an instruction book, then the children can play with their trunks later. I’m afraid we have substantially more shopping to complete today.”

“Of course,” Dylan quickly agreed. “They can also come back here if they have any questions.”

<->

The next stop turned out to be called Madam Malkin’s. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom suffered through ninety-some minutes of torture as Professor McGonagall, Sweetie Belle, and the proprietress cobbled together three complete wardrobes. The only highlight was finding out that the first compartment of each trunk was four times bigger than the trunk was itself.

It was after this ordeal that they learned they could give shop owners their vault keys to stamp approval for payment from their vault, a handy bit of knowledge, that.

From there, they went to Flourish and Blotts. They quickly realized they were going to come back later, because there was no way they’d hear the end of it if they didn’t bring back a small library for Twilight.

As it was, Apple Bloom collected a dozen potion books above and beyond what was required. Professor McGonagall had assured her that the books in the school library would be more than adequate at supplementing the course book, but Apple Bloom insisted on buying them anyway.

A few stops later, they had everything on the list. The entire time Minerva continued to observe the reactions of her charges. She was getting more and more puzzled by their strange mixture of witch-born and muggle-born demeanor.

Soon enough, they entered the girls’ rented room, exhausted from a day of shopping. They were surprised to find a large owl waiting for them in the room. Startled the girls gawked at the bird.

“You should probably get your mail.” Minerva prodded Miss Aloo toward the bird.

Sure enough, there was a letter tied to the bird’s leg, which Scootaloo quickly collected, never taking her eyes of the sharp beak.

“What is it?” Apple Bloom asked.

“I’m not sure,” Scootaloo handed her the opened letter. “It has a lot of words I don’t know.”

“Well than.” Apple Bloom backed away. “Don’t be givin’ that here then. Sweetie Belle is a standing right thar.”

“If I may?” Minerva held out her hand to request the letter. She studied it for a minute and said, “These are forms required to be signed to allow your account manager access to your accounts for investments and other management.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Scootaloo acknowledged. “Glemstone did say we’d be getting an account manager.”

“You need to sign here.” Minerva pointed to the signature lines and handed over a quill she transformed from a small mint that had been sitting in bowl on the dresser.

Scootaloo marveled at the quill for a minute before accepting it and signing the form . . .with her mouth.

Now, this is not a sitcom. People do not stand around ignoring clues all day when the answer is something outside the realm of normalcy. Furthermore, Minerva was not stupid.

The brightly colored hair, almost no regards for clothing, the apparent gibberish for an address, access to seemingly large amounts of funds, the unusual records at the ministry, the peculiar names, all the little, funny things they said, and finally, writing with their mouths, these three children were not what they seemed. They were not human.

Minerva frowned and waved her wand, muttering a spell. There! The pendants each girl was wearing. Another wave and the pendants were summoned into her waiting hand.

Minerva blinked, and wished she had an anti-cuteness spell.

Chapter 3: Filly Said What?

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Minerva had seen and experienced many things in her lifetime. War had taken her husband and many of her friends. Even with wisdom, the wonders of the magical world had both daunted and amazed her. She had long since admitted that there would always be one more thing capable of taking her by surprise. Currently she was peering down at three such things.

Three young, well, horses were looking back up at her, none of them could have weighed over 25 pounds. One appeared to be a unicorn, another a pegasus, and the third lacked both a horn or wings. One of their most noticeable features was that they were brightly colored enough to make one’s eyes water. As such they were probably more poisonous than strychnine laced with arsenic. However, in their favor, Hogwarts itself had allowed them to be placed on the roster and the sorting hat would pick out anyone or anything inherently dangerous. Aside from that, she had seen puffskein look more threatening.

With each passing second, the ears of each filly were being laid back on their skulls further, and their eyes were getting bigger in fear. It was time to nip any complications in the bud. “Well children, did you have anything else you wanted to tell me?”

The wee white unicorn raised her hoof, in the manner of a child raising her hand to ask a question, and said in Miss Belle’s voice, “I really need to use the bathroom right now!”

Minerva blinked, opened her mouth to say something, then blinked again. “Please make it quick, Miss Belle. You three have obviously left out things we will have to converse about.” With that she turned and sat in one of the two comfy chairs.

There was a blur of white, and the bathroom door slammed shut.

Minerva gestured to the remaining chair and the two remaining fillies climbed onto it. Being as unthreatening as possible, she made several passes with her wand, checking each for poisons. Thankfully, there was a notable lack of any toxin.

The toilet in the next room flushed followed, shortly, by the sound of the sink running water. Soon, Miss Belle joined her friends.

Minerva regarded the sight in front of her. It was both a first for her and at the same time a comfortably familiar situation. Here were students sitting in front of her wondering just how much trouble they were in. She waited patiently. If they were guilty of anything, they would most likely tattle on themselves at this point.

“Discord was the one who thought we should look like you to fit in!” they all blurted, as one, into the uncomfortable silence.

Or, they would point fingers, err hooves, at the culprit.

“Fit in?” she prompted.

“Fer school,” Miss Bloom offered. “We wanted to go to magic school. So, he helped us.”

“So, he bought you these pendants?” Minerva asked as she handed the neck pieces back to the fillies. There was no reason to keep them from their owners and Minerva drastically needed a reduction of the cuteness levels in the room.

“Nah, he just made ‘em.” Miss Aloo shook her small head and tossed the chain over her head.

The spell work of the pendants was some of the best Minerva had ever seen. The small equines flowed quickly into human girls. This was obviously magic beyond N.E.W.T level.

Also, readily apparent was that the chair was not intended for three girls, no matter how small they might be. Miss Aloo had been pushed up and over the arm of the chair. She somehow did a flip in the air and landed on her back.

“I’m ok,” she said raising her hand. “That didn’t hurt.”

Sighing, Minerva said, “Expecto Patronum.” Suddenly, a glowing cat appeared in front of the Professor. Miss Belle squealed and hopped over the other arm of the chair to get away from it.

“Cat!” The door to the bathroom slammed shut once more. Taken aback, Minerva let the patronus dissipate.

The sole remaining occupant of the overstuffed chair looked at Minerva and offered, “Sweetie Belle don’t take too kindly to cats on account of Opal.”

“There will be cats at Hogwarts.” Minerva informed her.

“That’s great,” Miss Aloo said from her place on the floor, “We’re bigger than they are now.”

Thinking back to how small the fillies were in their true forms, Minerva was appreciative of how ailurophobia could be easy to come by.

“It won’t hurt you.” Another incantation and the cat was back. “Tom, we would like to take a meal up in the room if you please. I believe we’ll have dinner salads.” Minerva spoke to the cat, which flicked its tail and disappeared once more.

“Is that gonna be a regular thang?” Miss Bloom asked.

“That was my patronus,” Minerva replied. “It is a difficult spell that not everyone can master. When you do, it will be an animal that is specific to you. As you saw, mine is a cat.”

“Ah don’t think you coulda pick a worse one for Sweetie.” Apple Bloom frowned.

“Manticore,” Miss Aloo suggested.

“Okay, aside from a manticore that was probably the wo . . .” Miss Bloom corrected.

“Or hydra,” Miss Aloo once again offered up.

With a sigh Miss Bloom continued, “Okay …aside from a hydra or a manticore.”

“And then there are timber wolves.”

“Would you stop that!” Miss Bloom snapped.

“Behave,” Minerva commanded, and was pleased when she was instantly obeyed. She then projected to the bathroom door, “Miss Belle, the cat is gone. You can come out now.”

The door creaked open and a pair of green eyes timidly surveyed the room.

There was a quick summoning of two more chairs. Then, Minerva said, “We seem to have been sidetracked. You were about to tell me how you decided on Hogwarts for you schooling.”

“Well, yesterday we decided we wanted to go to magic school. Since it was too late to enroll, with school starting next week and all, we decided to ask Discord if he could help,” Sweetie Belle explained and the other two nodded their heads in agreement.

“Yesterday?” Minerva spotted what she thought was a lie. “We received the reply to your acceptance letters over two months ago.”

“Discord did say he was sending that owl thru time as well as space.” Miss Bloom shrugged. “Ah guess he sent it two months into the past.”

“I see,” Minerva frowned. “So, this Discord managed to enroll you in Hogwarts, enchant three pendants, give you gems for money, transport you to the alley, and send a reply back in time all on a whim from you to go to magic school?”

“That sounds about right,” Miss Bloom agreed

“Discord got the gems from my sister’s boutique.” Miss Belle nodded her head.

“Uh huh,” Scootaloo grunted positively.

“Does your family know you’re here?”

“Maybe?” the trio honestly replied.

Minerva valiantly fought the urge to facepalm. She was going to have a wonderful conversation with Albus tonight.

“We shall proceed on the assumption that you will be attending as planned,” Minerva stated. “Are there any special needs you may have?”

“We like apples?” Miss Bloom ventured and received eye rolls from the other two girls.

“That can easily be accommodated,” Minerva answered and waited futilely for the other shoe to drop.

“I got nuthin’.” Miss Aloo shrugged. “We’re not exactly sure how you’re different from ponies.”

“Besides,” Miss Bloom calmly asserted, “Discord said these pendants would help us fit in; I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

“Hush you two,” Miss Belle whispered from the corner of her mouth. “This is where we ask for all the cake we can eat.”

<->

Sometime later, Minerva rode the stairs up to the headmaster’s office. She had sent a patronus asking Albus to call a meeting for the heads of house. This was going to be one for the record books. She didn’t even raise her hand to knock on the office door; Albus invited her in without the need as was his habit.

The plinking, wheezing, chirping, and other sounds emitting from the strange collections of devices met her senses and she was greeted with the sight of her colleagues sitting in comfortable chairs in front of the headmaster’s desk. The warm atmosphere of the office sought her out and invited her in, as did the headmaster.

“Ah, Minerva, so good of you to join us,” said Albus Dumbledore, the very definition of an old wizard, smiling and beckoning for her to take a seat. He was wearing an absurd baby blue robe that was highlighted in yellow sash and had animated trees dancing across it.

“Yes,” the head of Slytherin mused, “we are all on the edge of our seats, wondering why you have had us summoned.” He was an unpleasant man, who routinely dressed all in black, and was named Severus Snape.

The heads of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff both sent him glares.

“I had to put a sensitive project into stasis in order to respond,” Severus gave as way of apology, or as much as he was known to apologize.

Pomona Sprout, the aptly named herbology teacher and head of house Hufflepuff, scolded him, “Serverus, I’m sure she has a good reason for this meeting. You would do well to show some consideration.”

The final head of house, Filius Flitwick, could only nod his head in agreement. He was a small man, part goblin to be precise.

“Now, Pomona,” Albus chided. “I’m sure Serverus didn’t mean anything disrespectful.”

Pomona didn’t look convinced.

Meanwhile, Minerva wordlessly sat down, causing Filius to raise an eyebrow at this uncharacteristic behavior.

Skipping pleasantries, Minerva got directly to the point. “We are going to have some unusual additions to the first-year students this year.”

Severus was unimpressed. “If, you're referring to Potter, I do believe we were all already aware.”

“Hogwarts is going to receive its first unicorn student,” Minerva continued as if she had not been interrupted.

Filius’ eye slightly widened. When had Minerva developed a sense of humor?

Everyone in the office stared at Minerva as if waiting for the punchline.

“There will also be a pegasus and another one known as an earth pony.”

The wait for the punchline continued in vain.

<->

“I can’t believe they put ham in a salad,” Sweetie Belle complained. “Who does that?”

“It ain’t like you never had ham before,” Apple Bloom said, pulling a potion book from her trunk. “We don’t have hogs on the farm just fer the manure ya know.”

<->

“Extra-dimensional ponies?” Severus repeated.

<->

“The cheese was a rather nice addition though,” Sweetie Belle conceded, sulking in a chair.

“I thought it could have used some dandelions.” Scootaloo was fiddling with her trunk.

<->

“What kind of name is ‘Discord’?” Pomona asked?

<->

“Wait a minute.” Sweetie Belle suddenly looked up. “What do you suppose was in that shepherd’s pie yesterday?”

Scootaloo tapped the 5th square on her trunk’s face plate. “Dunno, but it was good.”

<->

“Apples?” Filius let his eyebrow lift again.

<->

“You don’t suppose they eat ponies, do you?” Sweetie Belle shuddered.

“Nah, they seem too civilized to be going around eating anypony.” Apple Bloom watched as Scootaloo climbed into her trunk.

<->

“The records at the ministry said what?” Pomona did her best to suppress a giggle.

<->

“Cool!” Scootaloo’s voice called from inside her trunk. “There’s a kitchen down here, and a bedroom; it’s a miniature apartment.”

<->

“You can’t possibly be serious,” Severus said for the sixth time.

<->

“Wait! Did you say kitchen? I have my own kitchen?!” Sweetie Belle clapped her hands together with glee while her friends both froze in horror at the realization.

<->

“You are serious.” Filius gaped,

<->

Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle watched as black smoke poured out of Sweetie Belle’s trunk.

“Five minutes.” Apple Bloom turned to Sweetie Belle “You owned a kitchen for exactly five minutes.”

Sweetie Belle whimpered.

There was a knock on their room door. Tom wanted to know what was up with the smoke.

<->

“So, in summation,” Albus said, tapping his fingertips together and leaning back in his chair, “we have three unique new witches, who have confirmed access to a high-level enchanter. Said enchanter may or may not have the ability to send owls back in time, two months being well outside the limits of our own knowledge. This Discord was also able to penetrate the ministry and forge documents and in doing so displayed a questionable sense of humor. On top of all that he most likely has the ability to send individuals through the dimensions, a feat that is theorized to be impossible according to six different laws of magic.”

Albus took a breath and continued, “Said young witches are actually members of a previously unknown equine species, apparently with extra-dimensional origins. Clearly it would be wise not to intentionally antagonize said enchanter of unknown power or the children he has sent for education. As only a fool of the first degree would risk such a potentially disastrous confrontation unnecessarily.”

There was a few second’s pause.

“So, you’re saying we shouldn’t inform the ministry,” Severus bluntly stated.

“Especially, not minister Fudge,” Filius agreed.

“This has been a very informative meeting,” Albus beamed. “Lemon drop anyone?” he offered as he popped one into his mouth.

<->

“How, in the name of Merlin, did you manage to burn orange juice?” Tom asked popping his head out of Sweetie Belle’s trunk.

“Forget the orange juice!” Sweetie Belle squeaked. “Can you save my kitchen?”

Behind her, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were frantically shaking their heads no.

Tom looked directly at Sweetie Belle and said, “Professor Snape is going to love having you in his potions class.”

<->

“Minerva,” Pomona asked, “What precautions have you taken to stop the girls from wandering into muggle London?”

Minerva stiffened slightly then headed toward the floo.

<->

“I’d say we’re due for a bath,” Sweetie Belle stated, rubbing her once-pink blouse.

“There were some nice sized tubs in our trunks,” Scootaloo suggested.

“That’s okay,” Sweetie Belle shrugged. “There’s a perfectly good tub in the bathroom.

“You mean where the mirror is?” Scootaloo queried.

Apple Bloom looked back and forth between her friends, then said, “Sooooooooooo, your trunk or mine?”

<->

Sweetie Belle slowly awoke. She was content, if not very coherent. She snuggled closer to the source of warmth she was laying against. It was strangely smooth. A totally unexpected sensation that immediately brought her to full wakefulness.

It was Apple Bloom. A furless, half asleep Apple Bloom, “Go back to sleep,” she said. “We don’t have to be up yet.”

“That’s okay,” Sweetie Belle said slipping from bed. “I’ll just go make us breakfast.”

A completely awake Apple Bloom leapt onto the floor. “No, no, no, we don’t need to use the food stocked in our trunks. It’s got all them preservation spells on them in case we need it. We’ll just get breakfast downstairs again.”

“Awwww, but I wanna cook something,” Sweetie pouted, “like cereal.”

“Yah mean oatmeal?”

“No, I was thinking more along the lines of cold cereal,” Sweetie Belle corrected.

“Sweetie, you don’t cook cold cereal.” Apple Bloom face hooved. “That’ll be why it’s called cold cereal.”

“Oh.” Sweetie smiled. “I get it now.”

Scootaloo softly snored, blissfully unaware of the averted disaster.

“Why don’t cha pick out an outfit for each of us to wear? You were paying attention when we bought it all.”

Sweetie gave Apple Bloom a serious look. “You do realize we still have to pick up half the clothes we paid for yesterday. We were told they’d be done this afternoon.”

“We were? Ah mean, we ain’t gonna spend all day shopping like we did yesterday.”

“Books,” was Sweetie Belle’s one word answer.

“But we already tried for our librarian cutie marks,” Apple Bloom complained.

Meanwhile Scootaloo snored onward.

“We got time to do shopping later.” Apple Bloom stomped her foot. “Ah’m declaring an ‘explore everything but the stores’ side quest.”

<->

An hour later, the girls walked down the stairs into the Leaky Cauldron’s common room. It was still earlier than most people would be happy with.

They opted for oatmeal and fruit once again. Becky even brought Apple Bloom extra apples.

“Don’t you be going anywhere now,” she said waving a finger at them. “Professor McGonagall has made plans for you so that you’re less likely to be getting into trouble in the time left before school starts. You’ll be wanting all your luggage from your room.”

The girls confirmed that they were carrying their trunks and Apple Bloom was still wearing the pouch. Becky then used Scootaloo’s Gringott’s key to settle their tab.

As per usual, witches and wizards had been coming and going via floo the entire time. One such wizard arrived, looked around and immediately headed to the girls' table. He wasn’t wearing a dress, er, robe, as the girls had learned the fashion was called. Instead, he had on a tweed suit and a funny hat, all of which Sweetie Belle thought clashed with his red hair.

“Good morning.” He smiled cheerfully. “It would be my guess that you three would be Apple Bright, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo. My name is Arthur Weasley. Professor McGonagall has asked that you stay with my family until school starts.

“Mah name’s, Apple Bloom. Apple Bright is a cousin of mine, though.” Apple Bloom was quick to correct the mistake with her name.

“Apple Bloom it is then.” Arthur clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “As this was a bit of a surprise for all of us, and I’ll be needing to head to work soon, shall we be heading out then? Becky here can vouch for me.”

Becky just smiled, nodded and went back to her work.

Arthur herded the children over to the fireplace, “I understand this will be your first time using the floo system.”

The three girls just stared at the fireplace.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Arthur reached up and placed a sickle in a bowl and took down another filled with a green powder, “Okay, Sweetie Belle, you're first. Take a pinch of powder, throw it into the flames and say, ‘the Burrow’ in a clear voice. When the flames turn green just walk into them.”

Sweetie Belle looked at the powder suspiciously then took a pinch. She walked up to the rough stone fireplace and felt the heat from the fire merrily crackling away. Screwing up her courage she said the requested words and surrendered her pinch of powder to the fire. Unsurprisingly, the flames turned green. She leapt forward, and was gone

Apple Bloom eagerly walked up next. Arthur held the powder bowl for her to reach. She quickly followed Sweetie into the flames.

Scootaloo was bouncing in place awaiting her turn. She barely acknowledged Arthur while she retrieved her powder. One quick phrase and a jump later and she found herself zooming along. She was seeing into other human’s houses from a perspective of their fireplaces as she rushed by. For a human witch, it would have been going too quickly for any clear coherent view, but not so for a human-pegasus witch. She saw several informational scenes as she shot past. For instance, a couple of fireplace views confirmed that it was probably human mating season.

Almost without warning, she shot out of a fireplace. It should be noted, when Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle had exited the fireplace, they had stumbled a little bit but were able to catch their balance and stop. Not so with Scootaloo, she came out faster than the other two had. She managed to get some air time, right up to the point she collided into the backs of her friends. They all went down in a heap.

“Oh dear,” Scootaloo heard a voice say. “Are you three alright?” She looked up and beheld the largest human mare as of yet. It was like a human Mrs. Cake, only a lot less blue.

There was another flash of green and Arthur Weasley arrived, “Well, then,” he said. “I’d like to introduce you to my wife Molly. I'm afraid I can’t stick around, I’m already late. But you’re in good hands, and I’ll see you tonight.” With that, he rushed back to the fireplace and was gone.

“Ah think he managed to get that all out in one breath,” Apple Bloom commented as she took in her surroundings. They were definitely no longer in the Leaky Cauldron. They didn’t even appear to be in Diagon Alley. Instead, they were in a cluttered, yet comfortable-looking, living room. The entire surroundings radiated the feeling of ‘home’.

“You all are so cute,” Molly said. “Normally, Arthur would be eating with the rest of the family, but today he’s been summoned in early. You, however, are just in time. I was just about to call my children down for their breakfasts.

She walked over to a spiral staircase and yelled up, “Percy! Ginny! Ron! Twins! Breakfast is ready!” She then passed the girls, gesturing for them to follow her into the kitchen.

“We’ve already had breakfast, thank you,” Sweetie Belle let the human know. She was surprised by the large table in the room, just off the kitchen, which was laden with food. Apparently, this woman loved to cook, this woman whom Sweetie Belle would be spending a couple days with. Perhaps here was an opportunity.

There was the sound of running feet and a young human filly entered the kitchen. She was about the same size as the three girls already in the room and had red hair. It wasn’t the same bright red that Apple Bloom sported, but more of reddish brown, leaning more to red than brown. She stopped wide-eyed when she realized that her mother wasn’t the only occupant of the room.

“Hello.” The members of the CMC came over to introduce themselves, “Mah name’s Apple Bloom.”

“And I’m Scootaloo.”

“I’m Sweetie Belle.”

“I’m Ginny,” the girl replied, smiling widely. “Where did you come from? What’s with your hair? Did you use magic to get it that color?”

Molly watched on with a smile. Her daughter could use someone her age for company. It was a pity it would only be for a couple days until school started.

The twins singled out that moment to enter. They were human colts, obviously older and bigger than Ginny, and they shared the same hair color as her, though they keep it much shorter than her. They looked very much like one another.

“Well look here, Fred. We had an outbreak of little girls,” the first one said.

“I thought I was George,” the second protested, “but right you are, they seem to be coming right out of the woodwork.”

“They do indeed.”

“Some right bright colored hair too.”

“Almost like . . .”

“. . . they had a go . . .”

“. . . at playing . . .”

“. . . with our potion supplies.”

Apple Bloom had lost track of which was speaking but perked up at the mention of potion supplies.

“I’m gonna need some popcorn, if this is going to keep up,” Sweetie Belle deadpanned. Scootaloo nodded in agreement.

“Fred, George,” Molly scolded. “Don’t be bothering the girls.”

“Yes, Mother,” the two chorused and made their way over to the table to eat.

The next colt, with the same red hair, raced past them with barely a glance before he was seated and stuffing food in his mouth.

His mother evidently thought this wasn’t acceptable, and opened her mouth to say something, when the oldest colt yet entered the room. This one nodded and said ‘Good morning’ before taking a place at the table.

Molly huffed and said, “These two are Ron and Percy. The twins are Fred and George; don’t bother asking which is which, as they change constantly.” Ron and Percy lifted a hand to wave at the girls and the twins gave them a smile.

Ginny had obviously decided getting to know the visitors was more important than eating and had to be ordered to the table to eat.

Though the girls had already eaten, they decided to sit as well and witness the meal while they waited for their new acquaintances to finish their meal.

They observed that humans had a fondness for bacon.

Chapter 4: Sweeping Actions

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The sun was shining, the sky was clear, and the children had been shooed outside to enjoy the weather. The land was beautiful and alive, you could feel it in the very air.

“Let me show you around,” Ginny offered, doing her best to monopolize the girls' time. The boys just shrugged and headed off on their own. Even learning that they would be in his class this year hadn’t raised Ron’s interest in the girls. The twins were more than willing to give Ginny time to herself to make friends with the firsties.

The girls were only too happy to follow after Ginny on a tour of the Weasleys’ land. They had just finished exploring the pond stocked full of frogs when Scootaloo looked up, gasped, and took off running for the orchard. Puzzled, the rest of the girls followed.

Soon, they came upon the sight of the Weasley colts throwing a ball around. This in itself wasn’t unusual. Heck, you couldn’t go three days in Ponyville without coming across such a scene. The fact that the sport was taking place thirty feet above the ground also wasn’t unique. After all, pegsai liked to play ball, too.

No, the reason it was notable was quickly brought up by Scootaloo. “You’re flying!” She waved her arms wildly. “Without wings!”

“Well, yeah,” Fred, or maybe George, started.

“We couldn’t play quidditch properly on the ground,” the other twin continued.

“Now could we,” the first twin finished

“You’re flying on brooms!” Scootaloo countered.

“How else were we supposed to fly?” Ron asked the crazy purple-haired girl.

“You’re flying without wings on brooms,” Scootaloo repeated, as if that explained her outrage.

<flashback>

Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo stood outside a shop in Diagon Alley and looked in the display window. There were all kinds of weird brooms on display. They had flashy names and were painted all kinds of racy colors.

“Wow,” Apple Bloom commented as she led the CMC away from the store. “Thayr really serious about cleaning the floors ‘round here.”

</flashback>

Scootaloo glared at the hovering boys for a second more, then did an about-face and started marching toward the house.

“Where are you going?” Ginny asked after her.

“Shopping,” was the reply.

Ron glided down and frowned. “Us first years aren’t allowed to bring brooms to school.” He knew exactly how Scootaloo must feel.

Scootaloo skidded to a halt and visibly wilted.

“You’re welcome to have a go on my broom as long as you’re here though,” Ron offered, in an amazing display of generosity.

“Wait a minute now,” Apple Bloom interjected. “You saying we can’t bring a broom ‘cause we’re first years?

The twins, Percy, and Ron all nodded their heads.

“But other students can bring as many brooms as they like?” Apple Bloom prompted.

Again, nods and Percy added, “Though most people don’t own more than one broom at a time, doubly so for students.”

“And first years can borrow these extra brooms?” Apple Bloom concluded, and the twins found they were definitely liking the way this girl thought.

“Great,” Scootaloo announced, and started marching toward the house again. “Problem solved.”

“I believe problem rationalized would be a better description.” Percy grimaced and followed. He wasn’t sure what level of authority he had over their guests right now, but he was going to be a prefect, and had the badge to prove it.

“Brooms aren’t cheap,” Ron piped up, following as well.

“Don’t care,” Scootaloo said with no room for argument. “I’m gonna fly.”

Shortly thereafter, the entire group funneled into the Weasley’s living room.

“We should ask mother,” Percy stated as Scootaloo made her way to the fireplace.

“It’s just a quick trip to the store.” Sweetie countered. Both Ron and Ginny were intrigued by the level of independence being discussed.

“Still,” Percy insisted, “it can’t hurt to . . .”

“Leaky Cauldron!” and Scootaloo was gone.

“Bloody hell.” Percy swore then followed. Mrs. Weasley was upstairs busy cleaning and missed the entire exchange.

<->

Flying. Scootaloo had dreamed of flying her entire life. Small wings had translated into being landbound, landbound while the other pegasi claimed the skies.

Speeding thru the floo network she could all but feel the promised freedom. As she traveled she reflected. If they thought she’d wait one -Those two were still going at it?! That stallion had some stamina!- If they thought she’d wait one second longer than she had to, to be free of the ground, then they were greatly mistaken. She would have the sky, and she would have it now!

Scootaloo shot out of the Leaky Cauldron’s fireplace, clearing half the common room before tucking into a roll and then standing in one smooth motion. If anypony asked her she’d claim that it was a calculated maneuver, intended to expedite her completion of her prevailing endeavor. As such, anypony, hearing this could conclude two things. One, that she was indeed benefiting from associating with Sweetie Belle. And two, that she was full of it.

She ignored the gaping regulars as she hurried through toward the entrance to Diagon Alley. Tom was still speechless over the sudden display when Percy appeared and immediately followed after Scootaloo. There were no further surprises as the rest of the Weasley children plus two followed.

“I think we used the last of the floo powder,” Ron commented as they caught up with Scootaloo, who had her wand out and was attempting to open the archway into Diagon Alley.

“Third one up and over two,” George commented as Fred nodded, or Fred commented as George nodded.

“Be quiet,” Percy ordered him then he turned toward the opening archway expecting to find Scootaloo there and finding he was wrong. “We need to get back home before Mum finds out. Aw heck.”

“Come on Percy,” Ron said skirting around his brother. “It’s just a quick in and out.”

“Besides,” Sweetie Belle skirted Percy on the other side, “we need to pick up some floo powder anyway.” Then she muttered, “And get my kitchen fixed.”

Percy turned to face her and the twins went behind his back. Whipping his head to track them gave Apple Bloom and Ginny their opening.

“We are going to be in so much trouble,” he muttered as he followed after his siblings. There was a general scramble in the direction of Quality Quidditch Supplies.

<->

The shopkeeper in the store was used to children rushing his establishment in order to marvel at the brooms on display. Having one with distinct purple hair march up to his till and demanding six of his best brooms was unprecedented. If wizards had a candid camera show, he would have suspected being on it.

“Better get eight,” a redheaded young girl advised the purple haired child. “I’m sure Ginny and Ron would like one too.”

The quidditch shopkeeper scoffed at the notion. Imagine buying eight of his best brooms on a whim. Besides, with all the red hair suddenly occupying his store, he was most likely dealing with Weasleys, and they weren’t exactly known for making large purchases.

“Eight then.” Purple-haired girl took a vault key out of her pocket and slammed it on his counter.

The shopkeeper was about to scold the annoyance when a Gringotts’ owl flew in through the open door and alighted before the first redheaded girl. She removed the letter and quickly scanned it. “It’s from our account manager,” she stated. “He wants to see us at our earliest convenience.”

The shopkeeper decided it was best to just get the requested brooms and make the sale. The Weasley children watched on as Scootaloo spent more on brooms in one minute than the entire annual Weasley budget. They really should’ve said something about not accepting charity, but this was eight Nimbus 2000s. Surely, their mom wouldn’t mind them borrowing the brooms in exchange for the favor of storing them at school.

“Hey!” Percy said after scanning his charges. “Where’s Sweetie Belle?”

<->

“Thank you, Mr. Dylan.” The young girl beamed up at the trunk store owner. “I’m so glad you could fix my kitchen for me.”

Bewildered, Dylan looked at his customer. “You say you did that with orange juice?!”

<->

“You can try your broom after we find Sweetie, visit Gringotts, and get floo powder,” Apple Bloom said to the bouncing bundle next to her. She had laid down the law that the brooms were to be put in her trunk for safekeeping against Scootaloo’s protests. Ron and Ginny were also bouncing, but were keeping their protests in check to avoid the brooms getting snatched away without warning.

“There’s Sweetie.” Ginny pointed to the other girl who was headed in their direction carrying a large sack, easily half her size. “And it looks like she’s got a whole years’ worth of floo powder.”

“Why didn’t you put that in your trunk?” Scootaloo rushed up to Sweetie and relieved her of her burden and then stuffed the bag in her own trunk.

“I saw you all go by the shop I was in and wanted to catch up with you, so I didn’t have the time.”

“Well hurry up.” Scootaloo pulled Sweetie toward the bank. “Apple Bloom’s not giving us our brooms until we go to the bank.”

“Calm down,” Apple Bloom commanded. “You haven’t even known you can use brooms to fly for a whole hour yet.”

They were approaching the large marble building that was Gringotts. While the goblins looked as active as before, it was still early enough that there weren’t many customers, and the girls were able to walk right up to a teller’s window. The Weasley clan respectfully stayed back; it wasn’t their business. The goblin had a neutral expression on his face as they approached.

“Good Morning!” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom cheerfully chirped.

“Good Morning, good morning, good morning!” Scootaloo literally bounced as she said this.

“Don’t mind her,” Apple Bloom moderated, not wanting to anger the goblin. “She’s just in a hurry to try her new broom. But our account manager has called us, and she has to wait.”

“Indeed,” the indifferent goblin replied. “What is the name of your account manager?”

In response, Apple Bloom handed over the letter she had just received.

“I see you have responded most promptly.” The teller snapped his fingers and a gofer stepped forward to assist. “Railrun, here, will take you to your destination.” The teller handed Railrun the letter.

“Thank you, sir,” the girls chorused, forgetting goblins didn’t like to be called ‘sir’. Then, they buoyantly greeted Railrun. Scootaloo may have been a little less buoyant than the other two, but, hey, the faster they were done, the sooner the sky opened.

As they shadowed Railrun from the room, Sweetie paused to motion for the Weasleys to follow.

“We really shouldn’t,” Percy started.

.

“Oh poo,” Sweetie countered, “there’s no reason to make you wait out here.” She tugged Ginny after her.

Muttering, Percy and the other colts followed.

Railrun escorted them down the same hallway as last time, stopping at a different office door. He stopped to knock and wait for a gruff ‘enter’ before proceeding. The children tagged along into a plush room colored in blues and greens with single desk and chair. Behind the desk sat another goblin who was frowning askingly at the intrusion. Railrun hurried over and surrendered the letter. He then quickly left the room.

The goblin behind the desk glanced at the letter and then said, “At least you responded to this letter, which is more than can be said for the last one.”

“We’re sorry,” Sweetie Belle apologized. “Something came up and we forgot all about it.”

The goblin snorted, “And you are?”

“I’m Sweetie Belle. This is Scootaloo. This is Apple Bloom. Here’s Ginny. And Ron. Fred and George. And finally, Percy.” Sweetie Belle quickly introduced everyone by pointing them out.

“My name is Tricksno; I am your account manager.” There was no room for nonsense in the reply. “I only see three names on this account. Were you meaning to add the rest of your family here to the control of the account?”

“No manager Tricksno,” Percy answered. “We’re not to be added to the account control.”

“Very well, I see you are Weasleys. I assume the Weasley clan head is to be your account contact point?”

The three fillies shared a look and Apple Bloom said, “Sure, why not.”

Percy, Fred and George were shocked at the power the girls had just given their father.

“Sign these so I may administer your account, and sign this to recognize clan Weasley.” Forms were presented and signed. Most present were astounded by the ability to sign papers by holding a quill in the mouth.

“Two more matters,” Tricksno continued. “First, I see you’ve been making purchases, with a substantial one just this morning. I suggest, from now on, setting aside 10,000 galleons per member per year for purchases, another 10,000 for household expenses, and use the rest for investments and interest.”

“Okay.” Scootaloo bounced, impatiently wanting the encounter to be over.

“Secondly, Glemstone significantly undervalued your last sales. They were uncommonly susceptible to enchantment and were thus worth quite a bit more than originally estimated. Gringotts would be most interested in any more such gems you might acquire.”

“Okay, okay.” Scootaloo bounced, while Sweetie was planning new tasks for her kitchen.

“Are there any questions?” Tricksno barked.

“No manager Tricksno,” the children all chorused, Weasley and filly alike.

“Very well, time is money. You may go now.” The children filed out and followed Railrun to the lobby.

“Are Goblins always soooooooo?” Ron started asking

“Blunt?” supplied George.

“Rude?” offered Fred

“Demanding?” was George’s turn

“Yes, pretty much.” Percy concluded.

“What just happened?” Ginny wondered out loud.

“We fly now!” Scootaloo demanded.

<->

And thus, the fillies and their Weasley allies returned to the Burrow. The floo pot was refilled and the bag of powder, barely dented, was stowed away in a cupboard. Scarcely an hour and a half had passed since Scootaloo had noticed the flying colts. During the trip to Diagon Alley and back, Mrs. Weasley had spent the entire time upstairs doing chores, oblivious to the entire adventure.

Excitedly, the entourage marched back to the orchard and soon everyone was holding a new broom.

“Alright,” the twin claiming to be Fred addressed the girls of the group. “It’s time to teach the four of you how t . . .”

“Yeeeeeeeahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Awsome!!!” A purple-haired streak rocketed into the air. Percy eeped, and jumped to follow, keeping an eye on the supposedly first time flyer.

“All right,” George continued after a pause, “It’s time to teach the three . . .”

Ginny quickly mounted her broom and kicked off airwards, to the amazement of the twins. They watched her ascend, mouths ajar, as Ron elected himself to keep in reach of his sister, forgoing enjoying his new broom in favor of keeping her safe.

There was another pause.

“Two!” Fred boomed returned his attention to the remaining girls. “We’re here to teach . . .”

Sensing a pattern, Apple Bloom copied Ginny’s mounting stance and tried leaping into the air. She made it three feet up before somehow flipping upside down on her broom. All at once, she came crashing back down to earth and tumbled for a couple yards. Groaning she signaled that she was all right.

Expectantly, the twins focused their gaze on the remaining girl.

“I say we leave the bidding at two,” Sweetie Belle said seriously.

<->

The wind, it felt divine. Better even than when she rode her scooter. This is what it meant to be alive!

Gone was the envy she felt when she was forced to watch others of her kind from the ground. Gone was the fear that she may never know the winds. Gone was the sadness of being unworthy. She was flying! She was flying and that was all that mattered.

She had been told that to fly was to be free. That the soil was but a prison. Later she had been told that she may never escape that prison.

Sure, she had kept up appearances; she had kept up her hopes. Yet always, that nagging doubt lurked. Her wings might not grow to their full potential.

Had her parents known? Was that why she was alone in the world?

It didn’t matter. Her path may not be the one of wings. She had found another way. She had felt the call, and, finally, she sped ever onward toward freedom.

<->

Percy couldn’t keep up. He had the exact same type of broom and he simply couldn’t keep up. His charge was faster, more agile, and seemingly void of any sense of self preservation. She made the seekers on the house teams seem like they were riding training brooms by comparison.

Percy could only hover and watch. Here was someone who wasn’t just good at flying; here was someone who was born for it.

He felt more than saw a presence on his left and became aware that it was his youngest and only sister. She was, apparently, taking to flying amazingly well and was captivated observing the display. Beside her, Ron was watching the spectacle as well, with open admiration.

“Blimey,” Ron breathed, “she’s beautiful.”

Percy took his eyes off Scootaloo long enough to eye his brother for a few seconds.

Percy and his siblings could feel the joy radiating from the purple-haired dancer as she claimed the skies.

“You think she’ll teach me how to do that?” Ginny asked, the awe radiating from her voice.

“No,” Percy asserted, “definitely not.” He returned his attention to Scootaloo, his wand drawn, just in case she should falter.

<->

Sometime later, Mrs. Weasley walked the path to the orchard. Most likely, her boys would be there, and she could have them collect their sister and her guests for lunch.

It would probably be too much to hope for, that the boys had taken it on themselves to teach the girls how to fly. They were more likely playing quidditch.

She was, therefore, surprised when she came in view and saw that twins were in the process of untangling Apple Bloom from a cherry tree. Sweetie Belle shakily hovered nearby as she watched the two extract the unlucky girl. Somehow, each of them was covered in tree sap.

“Ah almost had it that time,” Apple Bloom was saying as she retrieved her ruined bow, impaled on a tree branch.

“If you say so,” one twin said as he hauled Apple Bloom and onto his broom.

“But only if by ‘it’ you mean,” the second twin said, recovering Apple Bloom’s broom from a higher branch.

“The tree.” The first twin grimaced.

“But it would be arguable . . .”

“ . . . that the tree . . .”

“ . . . got you . . .”

“ . . . instead.”

“Oh, ha ha.” Apple Bloom stuck her tongue out, then upon noticing Molly. “Oh, hello”

Molly hurried over to the girl and started checking her over for injuries, “George, go collect everyone for lunch,” she said as she waved her wand around Apple Bloom. A minute later she was satisfied.

Looking over, she noted all the children were present and that each held a broom. Absently, she vanished the sap from the afflicted children and asked, “Where did all those brooms come from?”

“Quality Quidditch Supplies,” Sweetie Belle helpfully answered. She was going to have to learn that trick with the sap.

Mrs. Weasley nodded; she wasn’t an enthusiast, but even she could see that there was a small fortune in brooms here. Why, then, had Minerva requested that her family look after these girls until school started? They apparently had means, and, surely, one of the more well-off families would have vigorously claimed the privilege of hosting them. They must be muggle-born.

“Time to clean up for lunch,” Molly ordered, goading the children toward the burrow. “Off with you now.”

It was a small army that marched to do battle with lunch.

<->

Humans ate chicken! Scootaloo was appalled. Sitting in front of her was a small pie filled with the remains of chickens. She had eaten pork before, of course. Ponies weren’t complete herbivores; they took meat from time to time, normally pork. Heck, Apple Bloom’s family was the main supplier of pork products in Ponyville. Then there was fish; many a times Scootaloo had supplemented her own diet by fishing. Rarely, quarry eel or manticore made the menu. Not often though, since they were just as likely to eat ponies as ponies were to eat them. Admittedly, the balance was probably more in their favor.

Chicken, however, was not on the menu. They were the suppliers of eggs. The entire baking arts required the cooperation of chickens. Yet here she was, about to consume their flesh.

Apple Bloom didn’t look bothered. In fact, she was half done with her pie already. Scootaloo wasn’t sure how she’d be able to look Fluttershy in the face again.

Sweetie Belle, on the other hand, was picking her way around the meat and politely eating the rest, consisting of vegetables and pie crust, seemingly ignoring the fact that the sauce was made of chicken.

Scootaloo hadn’t touched hers.

Ron, sitting beside her, nudged her and asked, “Oi, you gonna eat that?” He had already consumed his. Scootaloo slid her pie over into his waiting hands.

“Not fond of chicken pot pie?” Percy asked, motioning to his brother who was devouring his second pie of the meal.

“We don’t eat chickens back home,” Scootaloo answered. “It’s a bit of a shock.”

Percy glanced over to where Apple Bloom was giving Ron a run for his money as she, too, worked on her second pie. He wasn’t aware of anyplace that didn’t use chicken as a staple. “Are you more accustomed to beef then?”

Scootaloo tilted her head cutely and asked, “Beef?”

“You know.” Scootaloo was half sure it was George who spoke.

“As in cows,” Fred finished.

Scootaloo emitted a sound half way between a scream and a squeak. Apple Bloom froze, her fork halfway to her mouth and her eyes wide open. Sweetie Belle passed out in a dead faint.

“That would be a ‘no’ then,” Ron observed, mouth half full.

“You murder cows?” Scootaloo managed to get out.

“Of course not,” Fred shook his head as he watched Percy rush over to help Sweetie Belle.

“Do we look like butchers?” George queried.

“We buy our beef at the local shop, we do,” Fred finished.

Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were not overly enthused by that answer.

“What’s the matter with eating cows?” Ginny asked

“It’s murder?” Apple Bloom suggested.

“They would need to have near human level intelligence for it to be considered murder, Apple Bloom,” Percy corrected as he lifted Sweetie Belle in his arms, “it’s actually against the law to eat anything that can beg for its life.”

“Ain’t cows smart enough?” Apple Bloom asked.

Percy gave her a bewildered look and lugged Sweetie Belle into the living room. Depositing the girl on the couch, he asked, “Just how smart do you think cows are?”

“Why?” Scootaloo asked. “How smart do you think cows are?”

“About as smart as a dog?” Fred suggested.

Apple Bloom looked at him and blinked, “Ah reckon, your cows ain’t the same as the ones I know.”

It took a few minutes for Sweetie Belle to wake up and a few more for the other fillies to explain the difference in cows to her. She was finally, if not comfortable with, at least accepting of the idea. Fitting in would be harder than they first thought, but at least it was apparent that humans considered it important not to eat intelligent animals. The three hadn’t seen any other limits to humans’ eating habits, though.

“Where’s Mum?” Ron asked, realizing he hadn’t seen their mother since the start of lunch.

<->

At the teachers’ table in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, another conversation was taking place.

“You sent the extra-dimensional ponies to the Weasley house so they wouldn’t wander into muggle London?” Severus asked, appalled. “The same house currently occupied by the Weasley twins?”

“Arthur and Molly were happy to take care of three more children for a couple days,” Minerva defended. “It will do them good to get used to being around children their own age before throwing them in with an entire school’s worth.”

“I cannot imagine what horrors those three will be subjected too, being the objects of attention for the Weasley twins,” Severus said. “I was under the impression that they were not to be unduly antagonized.”

“Relax, Serverus,” Albus soothed, putting down his fork to address the table. “I’m sure that they will all get along and find something they have in common.”

Professor Snape’s eyes widened slightly, “While I understand you said that in hopes of allaying my concerns, I am finding that concept has the entirely opposite effect.”

Filius thought about it for a second and said, “I hate to say it, but I’m going to have to agree with Severus on this one.”

Pomona chuckled, taking a sip of pumpkin juice. “Come now, what could possibly go wrong?”

<->

“So, you dabble with potions . . .”

“ . . . and you want to compare notes?”

“Uh, huh. Ah want to see if there are any techniques to learn before school. Ah might even be able to teach you ‘uns a trick or two.”

Ron looked up from where, with Ginny’s help, he was teaching Sweetie Belle how to play chess. He wasn’t going anywhere near academics until school started.

Scootaloo shook her head as Apple Bloom and the twins disappeared up the stairs. Let them have their potions. Right now, she was hearing the call of the sky, and she was going to answer.

Chapter 5: Continuing to Fit in

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Signs of rain threatened the afternoon. The ozone was rising, and it didn’t take a pegasus to know that a storm was coming. Scootaloo scanned the horizon from where she perched on her broom. The storm clouds were readily visible, but she could see no pony directing them. This felt like a storm coming from the Everfree. That couldn’t be good. She hadn’t been in the air for ten minutes yet, and she was going to have to cut her outing short. She wasn’t on the weather team and wasn’t about to fly during a storm at this point in time.

Reluctantly, Scootaloo approached the Burrow. She wouldn’t be exploring the limits of her new broom anymore today. It was a pity, but she could still be with her friends. She was enjoying her time as a human. It was almost unthinkable that just three days ago she hadn’t even heard of one. Her adjustment to her new skin was almost absolutely complete in such a short period of time.

As she landed, she marveled at how her fingers grasped the broom handle. It was so effortless, and she could empathize with Spike’s pride over his claws. The awareness of all the things she had been doing with her fingers hit her suddenly. She supposed that the pendants had been teaching them habits as well as changing their forms. Humans seemed to do everything with their fingers. At that point, another realization hit her. They did everything with their fingers.

Scootaloo entered the Weasleys’ family room, acutely aware of her surroundings. It was just as cluttered and lived-in as when she had left just ten minutes ago. The light from outside was dimming as the storm approached, although the chess players didn’t seem to notice. Ginny was moving a piece on the board for her and Sweetie’s turn; she used her fingers. Ron barely paused before taking his turn; he used his fingers as well.

Scootaloo unshrunk her trunk to stow her broom and retrieve some writing supplies. As casually as she could, she wandered over to the game in progress. Of course, that meant everyone was looking at her suspiciously by the time she got there. Scootaloo was less subtle than the proverbial brick upside the head.

“Ginny,” she said, handing her the paper and quill, “would you mind writing down something for me?”

Confused, Ginny took the proffered paper and said, “What do you want me to write?”

“I don’t know, anything that comes to mind.”

Ginny thought for a few seconds then wrote, “Chudley Cannons are the worst.” She wrote using her fingers.

Sweetie Belle’s eyes widened as she realized what Scootaloo was doing. Horsefeathers! Had they notic-

“Will that do?” Ginny asked. “I hope you didn’t want me to use my mouth like you did.”

Yup, they noticed.

Ron saw what Ginny had written and started to defend the Cannons loudly. To which, Ginny gladly egged him on by stating facts about their record.

There was a flash of green and Molly stepped out of the fireplace. “Ron! Ginny! Stop your bickering this instant!”

“But Mum!” Ron complained while Ginny just wore a smug look, “Ginny was bad mouthing the Cannons!”

“Ron,” was said in Molly’s warning voice. Ron shut up and pouted. As if on cue, the first thunderclap could be heard from outside.

Glancing out the window, Molly said, “I was half way convinced you lot would be outside trying to play Quidditch in the rain. Good to see you all had enough sense to come in before you got wet.”

“They wouldn’t call a professional match on account of rain,” Ron muttered, crossing his arms.

“Where’d you go, Mum?” Ginny asked at the same time.

“The girls had some purchases that needed pick up from Diagon Alley.” Molly patted her skirt pocket while glaring at Ron. “Go and fetch Apple Bloom, and we’ll get this all sorted away. It would be best if we did this in Ginny’s room.”

Molly led the two fillies up the stairs. On the next floor was a small, but bright, room that overlooked the orchard. It was well-kept and lacked the clutter associated with the downstairs living area.

“In here, dears,” Molly gestured, “and we’ll be needing those trunks of yours.” Seeing that there wouldn’t be enough room to accommodate the upcoming task, Molly took a minute to wave her wand and intone some strange words. The room then, for lack of a better word, grew out in every direction. Soon, there was four times more space to work with than they started with. Nodding to herself with satisfaction, Molly finished just as Apple Bloom and Ginny entered the room.

“Place your trunks over there and I’ll unshrink your clothes.” Mrs. Weasley then reached into her pocket and retrieved a great number of shrunk shopping parcels. “You’ve got quite a bit to sort through here.”

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo groaned as Sweetie Belle and Ginny clapped in glee. They then proceeded to spend the afternoon sorting and packing clothes. All thoughts of writing styles were forgotten for the time being. Apple Bloom was even pleasantly surprised to find a box full of replacement bows.

<->

Ginny’s day had been wonderful, without even taking the brooms into the reckoning; she had made three new friends. When most of her socializing was with her brothers, with only a few visits to the Lovegoods, the experience was something to be cherished. True, they all seemed less feminine than Mum insisted was proper for young ladies, but Ginny was beginning to get the impression that she didn’t particularly care to be a proper young lady anyway. She wanted to follow her brothers onto the Quidditch field. She wanted to wrestle dragons with Charlie. She wanted to explore dusty tombs with Bill. She didn’t want to study all day like her brother Percy, though.

Her role models were all male. This conflicted with her mother, who had been trying to get her interested in keeping house. Repeatedly, Molly stated that taking care of a family was a noble undertaking, emphasizing her point by showing Ginny the common charms for house care and teaching her how to prepare meals. Ginny was finding this was not what she wanted.

Meeting her family’s houseguests had introduced her to several revolutionary ideas. The first shock was that not all girls were taught how to cook. While the girls were sorting clothes, it had come to light that Scootaloo didn’t know much more about cooking than throwing a can of soup over a fire. Apple Bloom, by contrast, said she was well-accustomed to helping her older sister and grandmother in the kitchen. All the while, she gave the impression that cooking was something she did and maybe even enjoyed, but was not something that defined her.

When Ginny had asked after Sweetie Belle’s cooking experience, Apple Bloom had insisted that Ginny really didn’t want to know and that Sweetie Belle couldn’t cook.

Sweetie Belle had pouted at this but said nothing.

Ginny’s second surprise came in the form of roughhousing. Whatever Sweetie Belle had said to incite didn’t register to Ginny, but the result was Scootaloo jumping Sweetie Belle. After a few seconds of them rolling around on the floor, Apple Bloom joined in. That Apple Bloom was physically the strongest, and most capable, wrestler was hastily evident, as she soon had both of the other two collectively pinned and was admonishing them to behave since they were guests.

Ginny could not imagine such a scene with her and Luna. Wrestling was something the boys did when Mum wasn’t looking. It definitely did not make the list of activities for proper young ladies.

Wonderment number three was the sheer number of other children they mentioned in passing. Ginny counted twelve different individuals, all with names as weird as the three girls’. All names were said to belong to one classmate or another, children their age.

This was a stark contrast to Ginny’s existence. Ginny wasn’t sure if she knew twelve children, if you didn’t count her brothers. She was beginning to comprehend the isolation enforced upon her by the wizarding world’s ideology, even if she wouldn’t have put it in those terms.

Still, meeting and socializing with three new individuals her own age was an exhilaratingly novel experience, so much so that Ginny didn’t recognize that it should have been routine. Any student of human nature could have pointed out how debilitating it was to isolate wizardly children. They would point out that this was why the majority were so misinformed about the rest of the world and not curious enough to go look. Unfortunately, this dealt with a subset of muggle science, and everyone knows that wizards have no use for muggle science. The end result was another generation stifled and kept ignorant by the arrogance and fears of their elders.

Regardless, Ginny’s day had been wonderful.

<->

Supper at the Weasleys’ was a large family affair; everyone was present, including Mr. Weasley, who had returned as cheerfully as he had left. The table groaned under the weight of the meal as everyone sat.

Ginny was relating to all that Scootaloo had a pretty new orange blouse, which was surprisingly lovely when matched with her purple hair. All of the Weasley boys, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo were doing their best to simultaneously tune her out and silently beg Sweetie Belle to stop encouraging her.

There was a mutual unvoiced consent among the children that brooms were not to be brought up as a topic for conversation due to the nature of their acquisition.

“Professor McGonagall tells me that you are foreigners,” Mr. Weasley said after swallowing a bite, “coming to Britain for a Hogwarts education.”

The girls nodded their heads; Apple Bloom didn’t even bother to stop eating.

“By your accents,” Molly observed, “I’d imagine you’re from America.”

This got blank looks from Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle.

“Okay,” Scootaloo said as Apple Bloom continued eating.

Ron was bewildered. Normally he’d have the king’s ration of peas, one of his favorite vegetables. None of his brothers or sister cared much for them, so after his Mum and Pop took their share he could claim the rest of the bowl as his own. This time, he swore he only blinked, and the bowl was almost empty.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Weasley watched her family and her guests enjoy her efforts. It warmed her heart to see her cooking being appreciated. Molly did witness that the girls had a strange mixture of eating habits, though. At one end of the spectrum was Scootaloo. She ate with almost no restraint, using her fingers as much as she used her fork or spoon. Some eating etiquette would need to be imparted on her. Again, it was a pity they’d only be staying there for a couple of days.

Nearby, Apple Bloom was giving Ron a competition on who could eat the most, yet, at the same time, she ate with a certain practiced grace and precision that spoke of a big family and big meals. If her hair had been just been a few shades less bright, you could easily have mistaken her as one of Molly’s own.

Sweetie Belle, on the other hand, ate with a distinct daintiness. She took small bites and chewed her food thoroughly. Mrs. Weasley could imagine she was used to wiping her mouth on a napkin after every other mouthful.

Nevertheless, one thing was universally lacking for all three of them, more so Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle than Apple Bloom, but still noticeable. On each plate lay an almost unheard of treat in the Weasley household, a slice of Beef Wellington, rare and juicy, paid for by the small stipend Minerva had provided as show of thanks for taking in the children.

Clearing her throat, Mrs. Weasley laid down the law. “Girls, if you want dessert you will have to eat your meat.” Three sets of eyes focused on her questioningly, so she clarified, “If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?”

“We’re good without pudding,” Sweetie Belle offered, eyeing the meat on her plate with distrust. Scootaloo nodded her head in agreement while Apple Bloom tentatively poked her serving with her fork before shrugging and making her meat disappear.

“Dear,” Molly managed to place her hands on her hips even though she was still sitting, “you’re so small. You need to eat your meat to grow up big and strong.”

“Mum,” Ginny interrupted, “they don’t seem to eat much meat where they come from. The chicken from lunch was a chore for them.”

“Perhaps,” Molly said, not backing down, “but it would be a waste of a nice healthy meal. A meal that will do them some amount of good, at that.”

Rarity had said the exact same thing about eating her hay, making her big and strong. That insight made Sweetie Belle immediately recognize her position as a losing argument. Sighing, she took a nibble of the offending substance and chewed. Dang, that was genuinely rather appetizing.

Scootaloo was still unconvinced. “What if I want to be small and quick instead?”

Molly gave her a look. It was that look that any mother can give. The look doesn’t have an explicit name or anything, but anyone with a mother knows “that look”. Scootaloo, however, wasn’t accustomed to “that look” and found she desperately didn’t want to be the recipient of said look. It looked like Scootaloo would be getting her pudding after all.

<->

After supper, Apple Bloom again vanished up the stairs with the twins. Ron immediately challenged Sweetie Belle and Ginny to chess once more.

This left Scootaloo to lie down on the floor next to the game and do some drawing. She decided to use her fingers and see what she could make of drawing Diagon Alley. The level of control she found she had was decidedly superior to anything she had experienced before. One more time she found herself empathizing with Spike and his claws. She imagined she could now do things she once would have had to call a unicorn for. This new form of hers had uses other than just fitting in with her current environment.

Sweetie Belle, meanwhile, had discovered that chess was played with the exact same rules as back in Equestria. The only difference was a certain aspect of elevated violence. With morbid fascination, she watched Ron’s knight lop the head off a pawn and drag the body off the board. Only the knowledge that the pawn would be put back together unharmed for the next game stopped her from shrieking in horror.

Still, it was enough to distract away from the reality that Ron was systematically destroying her and Ginny’s best efforts.

By and by time passed, and it came to the hour to get ready for bed. Molly ordered the children to their rooms for the night, stating that she would be up in a bit to transform a bed for the girls. The offer was politely declined as the girls stated that they had beds inside their trunks.

Once in Ginny’s room, Apple Bloom set her trunk in the corner and popped the lid. She quickly disappeared inside, followed closely by Scootaloo and then Sweetie Belle.

“Come on Ginny,” Sweetie Belle called as she entered. “We’ve time for a bath before bed.”

Intrigued, Ginny followed them into Apple Bloom’s trunk and found herself in a well-appointed sitting room. It was colored in warm yellows and browns and had a small unlit fireplace. The atmosphere that it oozed was that akin to hunting lodge. This quality was enforced by a small attached kitchen with a cold cupboard and stove, both of which would not have been out of place in a cabin. There were two doors leading to different rooms, and, through the open one, Sweetie Belle beckoned for her to follow.

The bathroom was dominated by a large white tub sunk into the floor. It was large enough for four adults, let alone four little girls. Apple Bloom was already filling it with steaming water.

“Not so hot!” Scootaloo complained as she began removing her clothes. Apple Bloom snorted and adjusted the water temperature.

Ginny copied the fillies and was in the tub with them in a matter of minutes. Then the strangest thing happened. Scootaloo started washing Sweetie Belle, who started washing Apple Bloom, who started washing Ginny. They just picked up washcloths and soap and went to work without so much as a by your leave.

With a start, Ginny realized that Scootaloo was looking at her expectantly. Hastily retrieving another washcloth, Ginny got to work as well.

“We are going to try that lilac shampoo tonight,” Sweetie Belle commanded as she worked on Apple Blooms back. “Then you’re going to start a conditioning regimen.”

“Shouldn’t have we done exercises before taking a bath?” Apple Bloom admonished, not wanting to have wasted the effort of getting clean.

It turned out that Sweetie Belle was talking about sitting in the tub with slimy stuff in their hair. It got rinsed out eventually but the process didn’t really count as exercise.

After their bath, the girls patted each other dry with big, fluffy yellow towels. Ginny marveled at how they worked seamlessly yet absently on each other. They didn’t even seem to be conscious of their own actions as Scootaloo excitedly led a conversation on flying the next day. Was this what it was like to have sisters?

As soon as they were dry, Scootaloo led the way into the adjacent bedroom. There was only one bed inside, but it was more than large enough for all four. The fillies climbed into the bed and Apple Bloom motioned for Ginny to follow.

By this time, Ginny was only mildly surprised that they were doing this naked, but since they were all girls it didn’t matter. She clamored in, on the end next to Scootaloo.

“Night girls,” Apple Bloom announced. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo echoed her, and a second later, so did Ginny.

There were a few seconds of silence then Sweetie Belle asked, “Doesn’t anypony know how to turn off the light?”

“Anypony?” Ginny thought as she reached over to the nightstand and triggered the room’s lights.

Ginny curled up to Scootaloo as she considered her day. Three girls she barely knew had accepted her without question. They had even bought her a broom. When they were buying their own brooms, Apple Bloom had specifically stated that Ginny was to get one too. Her mother had taught her, as a matter of pride, not to accept charity, but it was a Nimbus 2000. Scootaloo had bought it and seven others without even blinking. The day had been surreal.

Ginny quickly fell asleep, dreaming of riding her new broom given to her by her new friends.

Scootaloo felt Ginny snuggle up closer to her as she considered her day. She had flown! If nothing else came from this quest that Discord had helped them start, she had flown. The eating of meat, the scary goblin, the practice drawing with her fingers, they all paled before the fact that she had taken to the air under her own power.

Smiling Scootaloo fell asleep, dreaming of riding her new broom.

Sweetie Belle lay in the comfy bed and considered her day. She was currently a human. Humans ate meat. Was it worth it to learn magic? They had said they don’t eat intelligent prey. But they eat beef. Beef was cow. She knew several cows back home. True it was hard to call them intelligent; heck, a snake could spook them into a stampede. But the meat at dinner had been tasty. What exactly did that say about her?

Sweetie Belle fell asleep, dreaming of being a human, hiding in the tall grass. As she parted the blades before her, she spied an innocent cow munching on landscape. Sweetie smiled as she approached. In her hands were a fork and a knife.

Apple Bloom burrowed under the blankets and thought that day had been fun. She quickly fell asleep, not wanting to waste her down time thinking. She dreamt of apples.

<->

Ginny woke up. There was someone in bed with her! Panicking, she opened her eyes and got a face full of purple hair. She went stiff as the memories of where she was slowly penetrated her sleep-addled mind. Relaxing, she smiled in contentment and fell back to sleep.

Sweetie Belle listened to Ginny’s breathing even out as the redhead returned to sleep. She hadn’t meant to wake the Weasley as she had climbed over her on the way out of bed. It was early, but Sweetie suspected that Mrs. Weasley would be starting on breakfast soon. Sweetie Belle was going to offer her assistance. After all, wasn’t that the polite thing to do as a guest?

Out of the trunk she climbed as quietly as possible. She closed the lid and started padding over to Ginny’s bedroom door. She had her hand on the door knob when she remembered that humans always wear clothes. Retreating back into the room, she proceeded to dress herself from the contents of her own trunk. Eventually, they would have to figure out how humans washed their clothes. That was a riddle for another time. Now was the time to cook!

<->

Mr. Weasley was getting ready for work. Specifically, he was shaving, running his wand over his chin to remove the stubble. That’s when he smelled it -- SMOKE! He smelled smoke! It was too early for the twins to be messing with potions in their room. No, this was the distinct smell of something burning!

Arthur dashed down the stairs, pausing briefly at each level to verify the smoke wasn’t coming from it. In short order, he was on the ground floor. There was soot coming from the kitchen, but it looked like Molly had already taken care of the cause. She was currently hugging a crying Sweetie Belle.

It appeared that Sweetie Belle had offered to help cook breakfast, an offer Molly had been only too glad to accept. There had been an unforeseeable complication with the hash browns, forcing Molly to vanish them. While it was no great loss, Sweetie Belle was taking the failure rather harshly.

“There, there, dear.” Molly ran her hand through Sweetie’s mauve and pink hair. “It’s only some potatoes. We have plenty. Let’s give it another try, shall we?”

There were to be hash browns for breakfast; they were misshapen, runny, unevenly cooked, and a funny color, but there were hash browns for breakfast.

<->

Once again, the Weasley clan gathered to break their fast around the large oaken table. There was an ambience of excitement, as the children had one more day of freedom before school began. Food disappeared rapidly as they rushed to go about their day.

“What are your plans for today?” Mr. Weasley asked of the gathering.

“Quidditch,” one twin said.

“Of course.” said the other

“But first,”

“We need to teach Apple Bloom”

“How to miss”

“Trees,” both of them completed together.

It’s doubtful Apple Bloom heard them as she was engaged in yet another match with Ron. One that Ron was clearly winning as he had avoided the hash browns due to not recognizing them as his mother’s cooking. Apple Bloom, before she took her first bite, had failed to recognize them as Sweetie’s.

“You need to be careful with that.” Arthur fixed the twins with a smile. “Make sure Percy is present.”

The twins nodded their acceptance. “Yes father,” they acknowledged.

<->

They had barely reached the orchard when Scootaloo exploded into the air. None thought she’d be joining them soon. Instead they concentrated on bringing Apple Bloom up to speed.

Their first attempt ended with Apple Bloom being deposited into the pond. The irked frogs croaked their annoyance at the intrusion.

The second attempt reacquainted Apple Bloom with the cherry tree. Somehow, she had managed to avoid being covered in sap.

The third left a furrow in the ground two yards long. The fourth and fifth left Apple Bloom rather embarrassed.

However, nopony would ever accuse any member of the CMC of being a quitter. There were several other things they might be called. Some things that sounded suspiciously like “rambunctious”, or “menace” or maybe even “what in Celestia’s name was that?”, but never quitters . . . no, definitely never quitters.

Somewhere around the seventeenth endeavor, Apple Bloom managed some semblance of control. She still wobbled awkwardly, but at least she wasn’t crashing. It was almost as if the broom was telling her that she belonged on the ground as she attempted to whip it into submission.

“That has got to have been,”

“The most eventful”

“And painful”

“Inaugural flying undertaking”

“Since Merlin,” was the commentary offered upon her ‘success’.

Ron then introduced her to a ball, called a quaffle, by tossing it to her. This resulted in her losing control and taking another dip in the pond.

It was then agreed that Quidditch was to be put on hold until she had enough control not to be a menace to herself or others.

In the meantime, Sweetie Belle had become passingly familiar with flying. A phrase she would not have ever thought applying to herself before. She and Ginny darted among the trees in an impromptu game of tag, with Ginny being the noticeably better flyer of the two.

As for Scootaloo, she spent the morning high above the others, dancing. Percy, in his role of responsible older sibling, kept watch.

Chapter 6: Hidden Achievement Obtained

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Molly Weasley welcomed her guest with a warm smile. He had just arrived and was in the process vanishing the dust from his bright lilac robes. Molly had been surprised when he had flooed and requested to come through. After all, with the term starting the next day, she hadn’t thought the headmaster would be making house calls.

“Ah, Molly.” Albus Dumbledore had his trademark twinkle in his eyes as he surveyed the Weasleys’ abode. “So good to see you. Thank you for allowing me to visit.”

‘You are welcome anytime, Albus,” Molly replied. “Would you care for a spot of tea?”

“Thank you for your kind offer.” Albus gave a pleased smile. “However, I must confess I’m here to indulge in curiosity, not refreshment. Minerva tells me that you have been so kind as to look after three special students at her request. I find that I must interview them before the term, just a bit of a precaution.”

“Precaution?” Molly scrunched her nose slightly. “Is there something amiss?”

“I think not,” Albus stroked his beard thoughtfully, “but still, an examination is in order.”

Molly studied the old man for a few seconds. “The children are all out flying at the orchard,” she finally said.

“Shall we then?” Albus gestured for Molly to lead, and they then made their way in the direction of the orchard. Well before they reached their destination, they spied one of the children flying preposterous patterns high in the air. A few seconds of observation showed purple hair, the color Minerva had said the winged pony had possessed. Dumbledore realized he could not allow her to be part of her house’s quidditch team, whichever house that may be.

Molly frowned at the seemingly reckless display.

“Most impressive.” Albus commented, “Her natural talent is shining through and I see young Percy is most vigilant, prepared to catch her if she falls.”

Soon, they came into the orchard and beheld the remaining children shouting words of encouragement as they circled Apple Bloom, who was unintentionally demonstrating the ability to fly upside down.

“Children!” Molly called. “Come on down! Professor Dumbledore would like a word!”

In ones and twos, the children obeyed. Soon they were gathered in front of the two adults.

Before the CMC was the oldest human they had met as of yet. Their first thought was that with his beard, he could easily have the title “the bearded”. Their second was that he was wearing an outrageously colorful dress. Yes, the humans called them robes, but the girls knew a dress when they saw one, even if it weren’t a proper pony dress.

“Ron. Ginevra. Apple Bloom. Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo.” Molly gestured to each child in turn. “This is Professor Dumbledore. He will be your headmaster at Hogwarts. And, of course, Professor, you know Percy and the twins already.”

Percy led a round of greetings.

“I thought you said Ginny wasn’t going to Hogwarts with us?” Sweetie Belle asked, catching the reference that this was to be Ginny’s headmaster also.

“She’s a year too young to be ready this year,” Molly corrected. “She’ll be joining you next year.”

“There’s an age limit?” Apple Bloom tilted her head slightly at the news.

“Indeed,” Albus agreed, as he discreetly observed the reactions of the ponies, “although it has more to do with one’s magical core being mature enough to handle training than one’s physical age.”

“So, she could go earlier if she matures her core?” Scootaloo continued the inquisition.

Dumbledore was intrigued. It had been less than two days, yet these ponies had seemingly accepted young Ginevra fully into their confidence. Or perhaps “herd” would be a better description. He chose his next words carefully.

“From what I have observed from her flying abilities, her core is already mature enough.” There was a hint of grandfatherly pride in his voice. “With signed permission, I see no reason why she could not start tomorrow with her brother.”

“Albus!” Molly was aghast, as well as proud of her daughter. “While I’m flattered you think Ginny could be schooled early, it’s simply not in our budget this year.”

At the insight, the crusaders quickly huddled together for a conference. Rapidly they exchanged hushed whispers and quickly came to an agreement.

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle rushed to stand next to the two grownups at such an angle that it forced them to look away from the rest of the children.

“We’ll cover Ginny’s tuition so she can go early,” Apple Bloom announced.

Molly was rendered speechless for all of a minute. Dumbledore, however, continued his observations. Either these children didn’t realize the value of a galleon or they had access to resources beyond what he had guessed. Regardless, they were inclined to use their money for the benefit of one they had known for a very short time. Even though he was concentrating on the two in front of him, he did not miss perceiving Scootaloo as she grabbed Percy and Ginny and then dragged them toward the Burrow.

Gradually, Molly regained her composure and smoothed the front of her dress. “That’s very generous of you girls, but I don’t think you understand how much an education costs. We simply could not accept such charity.”

“It’s not charity,” Sweetie Belle insisted. “Discord gave us those gems for tuition and supplies. We got what we needed for the year, so there’s more tuition and supplies to go around.”

Apple Bloom nodded her head. “Besides, the best way to spend money is on friends an’ family.”

Though flustered, Molly was having none of it. “I’m sure Discord only had you in mind when he gave you tuition money. I’m sure he didn’t envision paying for every student in the school.”

“Actually. . .” Sweetie Belle rubbed her chin with her hand, a gesture that she did subconsciously. “It’s kinda hard to tell with him. One thing’s for sure; if it’s surprising and unexpected, he’d defiantly be all for it.”

Molly’s hands found her hips. “Girls, you’ve known us less than a week. I can’t have you spending that kind of money so haphazardly.”

Sweetie Belle shrugged. “It’s just some gems; my sister has loads more. Heck, we got ten more just sitting in the vault.”

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow at this comment. The casual dismissal of gems spoke volumes. Either these three came from extremely wealthy families or he was going to have to explain supply and demand to them -- that, and implore them to limit the number of gems they introduce into the economy. He rather suspected it was the second option.

Molly was flabbergasted. These girls simply didn’t grasp the immensity of what they were offering. Just because they had the funds to throw around for a bunch of expensive brooms didn’t mean they should just squander money on someone they had just met the day before. Instinctively, Molly realized it wasn’t pity that motivated the girls; they honestly just wanted Ginny to join them, but it was an offer she couldn’t morally accept.

“Ginny will be with you at Hogwarts next year,” Molly stated firmly. “She can wait until then.”

“Waiting a year while everypony else goes off to school is no fun.” Sweetie Belle pouted, displaying a devastating pair of puppy eyes.

“’Sides,” Apple Bloom advised pointing behind the adults, “Scootaloo has already taken her to get her supplies. Thar’s no reason to make her wait a year to use ‘em.”

Taken aback and missing the “everypony” comment, Molly pivoted on the spot for confirmation. Sure enough, there were children missing from where she had last seen them. She parted her lips to protest but was interrupted.

“Well now,” Albus Dumbledore chuckled and brandished his wand. “Now that that’s settled. Expecto Patronum.” Promptly, there was a bright figure before him. “Message to Minerva,” Dumbledore talked directly to his conjuration, “if you would, please prepare the paperwork for early admissions. It would appear that the youngest Weasley shall be joining us this year.”

All of the remaining Weasley boys and the two remaining ponies leaned in for a closer look.

“Aw, it looks like Philomena,” Sweetie Belle cooed just before the bird of light vanished.

Clearly satisfied, Dumbledore turned to Mrs. Weasley and said, “I do believe tea would be welcome after all. That is, if the offer is still open.”

Molly absently nodded her head, stunned into acceptance. “I should head to Diagon Alley to keep an eye on them.”

“I am sure Percy has the situation well in hand,” Dumbledore responded with warmth as he guided Molly in the direction of her own house. “He will be a prefect this year, after all.”

Dumbledore was feeling smug. Much enlightenment had been gained in a short amount of time. Most importantly, it seemed Sweetie Belle had indeed run from Minerva’s patronus because it was a cat and not due to the nature of the spell itself. This, coupled with them recognizing the form of a phoenix and being familiar enough to name one personally, spoke volumes toward their acceptability at Hogwarts, as did their swift and thorough inclusion of young Miss Weasley. Such a happenstance was much too favorable to be put at risk by making the girl wait until next year before coming to Hogwarts. Exceptions could easily be made.

Yes, much enlightenment had been gained in a short amount of time, all of it good.

<->

Percy stood in the Leaky Cauldron’s courtyard with Scootaloo and his sister. He wasn’t sure why he had let Scootaloo drag him back through the floo system.

“Here.” Scootaloo took his hand and poured money from her purse into it. “You get her books and supplies, we’ll get her trunk, robes and wand.”

“I’m not sure,” Percy began.

“We don’t have time for you not to be sure.” Scootaloo stamped a foot as she tapped her wand on the bricks to access the alley. “We only have one afternoon to make this happen.”

“Scootaloo, we can’t possibly accept,” Percy began again only to realize he was talking to empty air. Sighing, he entered the alley for the second time in as many days, on the whim of the small purple-haired girl. “Mum is not going to like this,” he thought.

Meanwhile, Scootaloo was dragging Ginny down the street. She skidded to a stop in front of the trunk store and rushed in.

Dylan looked up in time to see one of his new favorite customers make her appearance with what appeared to be a young Weasley in tow. “Did you come to get your kitchen fixed as well?” he asked merrily.

Scootaloo stopped in her tracks and a look of dismay crossed her features. “You fixed Sweetie Belle’s kitchen?”

Dylan nodded. “Did she really do that with orange juice?”

Scootaloo’s face met her palm and she said, “You should see her try and boil eggs.”

Dylan contemplated this while Scootaloo regained her composure and the Weasley looked on in shock. “I’d pay good money to see how Professor Snape reacts to her being in his class,” he said.

“You’re the second to say that.” Scootaloo breathed in. “Anyway we need another trunk like ours in a hurry because school starts tomorrow so if you could get one ready we’ll pick it up in a bit but we have a lot of other things to get first fast so we’ll be back okay bye.”

Dylan blinked as the girls hurried out of his shop. Scootaloo’s words had come so fast that he could not keep up. He was pretty sure he just got one last trunk order for the school year.

Ginny was still following Scootaloo in a daze when they entered Ollivander’s shop.

“Ah, Miss Aloo, back so soon?” Ollivander appeared from the back of his shop. “I sincerely hope there’s nothing wrong with your wand.” He adjusted his gaze. “And a Weasley. I was expecting another one this year, but it seems I have the youngest before me instead.”

“Ron didn’t get his wand yet?” Scootaloo asked in confusion.

“He has to use Charlie’s old wand,” Ginny supplied.

“12 inches ash with a unicorn hair, I see. A good and proper wand, but having young Ronald use it, that is not a good thing.” Ollivander frowned as he circled Ginny examining her. “Every wizard should have his or her own wand. Your brother will not be getting the best results from a hand me down.”

“Ginny here is going to school early,” Scootaloo interrupted as she schemed on getting Ron in the wand shop before school started. “She needs her wand.”

“I see.” A tape measure put in an appearance and began to accost Ginny. “Shall we get started then?”

In short order, the two girls left the shop with Ginny in possession of a new yew wand and a holster.

“All that’s left is boring robes and we’re done,” Scootaloo all but cheered.

“Why are you doing this?” Ginny asked, pulling Scootaloo short. She was finding her luck too good to be true, and even though she was young, she was starting to worry over the other shoe.

“Doing what?” Scootaloo tugged on Ginny to get her to hurry, but the Weasley stood firm.

“Buying all this for me. Paying for my school.”

Scootaloo hopped from one foot to the other in impatience. “It’s what friends do for each other. Besides, Discord, provided the way for us to go to school; it would be selfish of us not to share.”

Friends? Ginny wasn’t aware that you made friends that quickly.

With another tug, they were off again to Madam Malkin’s, where they found they were the only customers. Everyone else had finished their shopping much earlier.

Ginny was in the middle of being measured when Percy entered. He didn’t appear to be carrying anything, so Scootaloo eyed him suspiciously.

Percy started handing her the change and said, “The shopkeepers where happy to shrink the parcels for me. Saved me the trouble of lugging them all around.”

Scootaloo accepted the explanation and went back to being bored watching the clothing expert.

Percy waited in silence a few minutes before asking, “Are you sure about this?”

Scootaloo looked at him questioningly.

“This is a lot of kindness and generosity toward strangers,” Percy prompted.

“You’re not strangers anymore,” Scootaloo explained. “Besides, Sweetie Belle’s older sister is the Element of Generosity. It kind of runs in the family.”

Percy was perplexed by this answer, but Scootaloo wasn’t finished.

“Besides,” she said, “I’m sure this will earn us side quest points.”

Percy decided to keep quiet. Brooms one day, school supplies for his sister the next, all without any sense of “I’m giving you charity”, it felt more like a friend offering to buy the next round of butterbeer. Confused, he watched his sister receive her robes.

<->

After adults had left, the remaining children congregated under a tree. They were going to fly more, but there were things to be discussed first.

“Just like that, you're gonna pay for Ginny’s school?” Ron had the least tact and the biggest mouth.

“Yeah.” Apple Bloom agreed. “You don’t want to make her wait when she don’t have ta, do you?”

“I think, what our dear brother is trying to say,” George clarified.

“Is that even though we are incredibly grateful,” Fred continued.

“You have been throwing around money.”

“As if it were less valuable.”

“Than water,” they finished together.

“It’s not our fault that the bank was willing to give us a whole lot of bits for a few gems.” Sweetie Belle shrugged. “We’ve got more than we can use, so why not share?”

Apple Bloom nodded in agreement as she absently plucked a wildflower, popping it in her mouth to chew on. “Bleah!” She spat out her snack. “Hehe, got a rotten one.”

“They look delicious enough.” Sweetie Belle sampled one herself. “Bleah” was heard once more.

“If you’re going for inconspicuous,” one twin noted.

“You’re failing miserably.” the other concurred.

“Who in their right mind eats flowers?” Ron tactfully added.

“Um, everyday normal humans?” Sweetie suggested.

The twins shared a quick look. “So, you’re not human.”

“We’re cool with that.”

“But we strenuously recommend.”

“You don’t get sorted into Slytherin.”

“Awesome! What are you?” Ron excitedly demanded.

Apple Bloom shrugged, not even considering she shouldn’t answer. “We’re ponies.”

“Right. Go on and pull the other one.” Ron lost his excitement.

She didn’t understand what Ron had just said, but she understood the intended message. Nopony was going to call her a liar! Apple Bloom narrowed her eyes and removed her pendant.

<->

Arthur Weasley came home to an unusual sight. His wife was sitting on the couch, watching the floo, a look of worry dominating her face. He could detect the smells of dinner from the kitchen and could hear the shouts of children at play from the direction of the orchard. Whatever was bothering Molly was enough for her to delay supper, but not enough to have her call the children in.

Arthur removed his hat and sat next to his wife. She silently reached out and took his hand in her own. “I’m just being silly,” she answered his unasked question. “Percy is looking after Ginny and Scootaloo over at Diagon Alley. I know he’s a responsible boy, but it’s all I can do not to go and check up on them.”

Arthur chuckled slightly as he hugged his wife. “Did she forget something she desperately needed for school?” He was surprised that Molly had let Ginny tag along, but had been married long enough not to give voice to that surprise.

“They went to get school supplies for Ginny. Professor Dumbledore has approved her early entry.”

Arthur was of two minds over the news. “That’s wonderful,” said his pride as a father. “How are we going to pay for it?” said his annoying practical side.

“The girls have offered to pay her tuition,” Molly stated. “They were very interested in our daughter joining them at Hogwarts this year.”

Arthur wasn’t as prideful as his wife, but he couldn’t just accept such generosity so readily. Once again, his wife answered before he spoke. “Dumbledore said it would be best to accept. He said the girls were a type of ambassador, and we should not risk offending them by refusing their kind offer.”

Now Arthur understood why Molly was conflicted. She wasn’t known for disagreeing with Albus Dumbledore.

Without warning, the floo flared and Ginny made her appearance. She quickly moved to the side to avoid the next traveler.

Scootaloo followed; she was getting good at tucking and rolling. The half second of airtime kind of made it necessary.

Molly was already hugging her little girl when Percy arrived.

Arthur addressed Percy. “Were there any difficulties?” After a shaken head in response, Arthur said, “Good, now go get everyone from the orchard; it’s time to eat and then pack for school tomorrow.”

Supper then passed without much hassle. None of the girls had any hesitation with the meat that evening, seeing how it was a pork roast. The only oddities were the analytical looks Ron keep giving the guests, while the twins carried on as if nothing had changed.

In due time, Ginny and the fillies were in her room once more, this time packing for Ginny. There was a knock on the door followed by the twins entering.

Without small talk, they got directly to the point. “While we respect your right to keep secrets.”

“We were thinking.”

“It might be a good idea.”

“If you would share your secret with Ginny.”

“We can vouch . . .”

“. . . that she can keep quiet.”

“Secret?” Sweetie Belle stared at the twins wide eyed. “What secret?”

The twins looked at each other then back at Sweetie. “If you could . . .”

“. . . please remove. . .”

“. . . your pendant, Sweetie Belle?”

“Okay?” and she did.

Ginny sucked in a deep surprised breath. “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SHE’S SO CUTE!”

Scootaloo turned to the twins and deadpanned, “Sure, she can definitely keep quiet.” The twins had enough decency to look sheepish.

The scream had brought the elder Weasleys running. Wands drawn, they came upon the scene of their daughter hugging a little stuffed white animal.

“Ginny!” the stuffed animal gasped in Sweetie Belle’s voice. “I need to breathe!”

“Sorry.” Ginny relaxed her grip but didn’t let the small bundle of cuteness go. “But I just have to hug you.”

Molly put her wand away. “Sweetie Belle?” she asked what appeared to be a small white unicorn filly with Sweetie Belle’s eyes and a mane and tail the same shades as the child’s hair.

“Oh. Hi, Mrs. Weasley,” the little unicorn waved a hoof in greeting. “Sorry about the screaming. I think I startled Ginny.”

“Aren’t you a bit young to be an animagus?” Arthur asked, also putting away his wand.

“Maybe?” Sweetie Belle answered honestly.

“That is truly amazing.” Arthur patted her on her head. “Just remember, after you receive your owls, you’ll have to register your alternate form.” He looked at her for a few seconds more. “But, enough playing around. You leave on the express tomorrow and there is packing to be done.” He turned to the twins. “This means you.”

Once again it was just the girls in Ginny’s room. Ginny turned her gaze to the other two girls in wonder.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Apple Bloom shook her head. “Ah ain’t takin’ off mah pendant.”

“Me neither,” Scootaloo echoed.

“Awwww.” And the pouting commenced.

“Ginny? Could you let me go now please?” said the not so stuffed pony.

A trunk was packed, baths were taken and four girls laid down to sleep for the night.

<->

The next morning, Molly woke the children well before first light. She then proceeded to make sure they were fed and had completed packing. The feeding was easy enough, but the Weasley children all had things that they realized they had forgotten, and there was much running up and down the stairs. Amused, the fillies sat on the couch and watched the show.

Percy appeared to have a new owl that his parents had apparently bought as a gift for becoming prefect. Ron produced a rat. He then preceded to have minor fit when Sweetie Belle asked if rats were good to eat. Apparently, they were not, and the rat seemed relieved when the fillies appeared to understand that.

“You may be taking to the whole notion of eating meat a little too well,” Apple Bloom told Sweetie.

Sweetie Belle gave a sullen look and muttered. “I’ll bet he’d go good with gravy.”

This caused Scootaloo to wonder if this meant Sweetie Belle might take it into her head to try to cook meat. The resulting image had more levels of wrongness than she was willing to contemplate.

The children were then herded out to a strange metal carriage. There was a compartment in the back where boys’ trunks where placed. It didn’t look like it should have room for one, let alone all four. However, the girls weren’t going to complain; they each literally had a small apartment in their pockets.

The seating on the inside was more spacious than what seemed possible from the outside appearance. When they were all seated, Arthur joined them. He took the front seat that had a strange valve like object situated in front of it. Was there steam involved here somehow? Molly took the front seat beside his.

After Arthur asked everyone if they were ready, the carriage started to move. It moved without anypony pulling it. It was a ponyless carriage! Well, it was if you didn’t count the ponies riding in it.

They passed many more carriages of all shapes and sizes, and eventually entered a more populated area. There were taller buildings, and humans swarmed everywhere. Soon, the carriage found a spot to stop, and the children filed out. While the boys loaded their luggage on some convenient carts, Arthur took the time to hug each of his children and tell them that he would miss them. He took extra time with Ginny; his youngest was going off to school a year earlier than he had planned.

Soon, he departed in the carriage, having to return it to "the Ministry". Molly then hustled the children down into a below-ground train station, the likes of which the fillies had never seen nor heard of before. True, they had trains in Equestria, but they all ran above ground. Besides, the air down here both smelled and tasted funny.

Molly shook her head and said, “Won’t you look at all the muggles walking around.” Then, to give either Ron or Ginny a chance to shine, “Which platform was it again?” After all, it wasn’t Molly’s first time to the platform, and was, in fact, the only magical platform in the station.

“Platform 9¾,” Ginny obediently chirped up, proud of her ability to answer the question.

“Right, then, off we go.” Molly nodded and started driving her small mob onward. She hadn’t taken a step herself when a young boy came hurrying up, pushing a cart of his own.

“Excuse me,” he asked politely with a hopeful voice. “Did you say 'Platform 9¾'?” He was a scrawny looking boy, and he wore ill-fitting, worn clothing. When he ran his hand through his messy black hair, Scootaloo caught a quick glimpse, just a glimpse, but more than enough for her eyes to notice. On the boy’s forehead was a scar; it was in the shape of a lightning bolt.

Chapter 7: Hat Trick

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Apple Bloom blinked as the sudden change in location assaulted her senses. The new scene was still at a train stop, but it was different from where she had just been. While no expert on human structures, where she had been and where she was currently felt different on a gut level. There were still humans everywhere, but these tended to favor the robes she had gotten used to seeing them in.

Before Apple Bloom had long to register that she was somewhere else, another figure rushed through the seemingly solid brick wall and pulled to a stop beside her. It resolved into that new black-haired colt, who had introduced himself as Hairy. With his shaggy mane, it was obvious where he had received that name. Still, it felt like only half a name. Perhaps it would turn out to be something like “Hairy Cutter”, or maybe “Hairy Shaver”. Regardless, he was gawking at the new platform in awe. That feeling Apple Bloom could relate to; she remembered the first time that Twilight had teleported her.

“Impressive, ain’t it?” Apple Bloom said to him. Then, as Ginny came through the barrier, she cautioned, “We had best make room, ‘fore we get trampled.” Redheads steadily continued to trickle into the new area.

“It’s wonderful,” Hairy agreed, his mouth remaining half open the entire time.

“Now is not the time for standing around,” Molly firmly told everyone present. “Onto the train with the lot of you. It’ll be departing soon.” She knelt to give Ginny one last hug. “Remember, if you think it’s too much, just have a professor floo us, and you can wait until next year.”

In response, Ginny gave her a look letting her know that that was most definitely not going to happen.

The colt, Hairy, was watching this interaction with a look of longing. Noting the look, Sweetie Belle shuffled up to him and asked if he needed help with his things; then she grabbed the cage containing the white owl without waiting for an answer.

“Yah, let’s git agoin’.” Apple Bloom reached over to grab his trunk. The Weasleys and the colt all marveled at how easily the small girl lifted it.

“Looks like he’s got a featherweight charm,” one of the twins commented as he and his brothers struggled with the remaining trunks.

“What’s a featherweight charm?” Hairy asked, confused.

“We want to thank you for having us over at your home for the last couple days,” Sweetie Belle added hefting the cage to a more comfortable position, the resident barking her outrage at the treatment. “We had fun and we enjoyed your hospitality.”

Scootaloo and Apple Bloom nodded their heads in agreement. “Yeah,” Scootaloo added, “what she said, hos-bit-all-ity.”

“Hospitality,” Sweetie Belle corrected.

“That’s what I said,” Scootaloo insisted as she made her way over to help Percy with his trunk and owl combo.

<->

An empty compartment was found, and the six first years claimed it as their own. Harry hadn't really had a choice in the matter; the girl with purple and pink hair was carrying Hedwig. More startling, the girl with the outrageously bright red hair was carrying his trunk -- by herself -- with no apparent effort. Once inside the compartment, she even did a jump in the air and lightly deposited his trunk onto the overhead shelf. Harry watched in stunned silence; he had trouble maneuvering the trunk as it was, never mind jumping with it.

The youngest redheaded boy of the group, “Percy” or maybe “Ronald”, wordlessly handed his trunk over and the redheaded girl repeated the jumping maneuver.

Meanwhile, the purple and pink-haired girl was studying Hedwig through the bars of her cage. “Are owls good to eat?” she asked.

At this Hedwig swiveled her head to stare at the girl, the owl’s eyes somehow managing to go wider than they were already.

“Sweetie Belle,” Ron scolded, protectively covering one of his pockets with his hands, “’Tisn’t polite to go around asking people if you can eat their pets.”

“Okay,” Sweetie Belle beamed, handing Harry the cage. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

Harry eagerly accepted the cage, while Hedwig retreated as far from the crazy girl as she could manage in the cage. “I think that it might be Hedwig, you should be apologizing to,” he observed.

“I’m sorry Hedwig,” Sweetie Belle directed at the bird. “I wasn’t planning on eating you. I was just wondering if owls in general were good to eat.”

“Bark!” Hedwig berated Sweetie, as the owl did her best to huddle up to her wizard through the cage’s bars.

Harry quickly stowed Hedwig next to his trunk. The owl was glad to no longer be the object of attention.

“Owls are for carrying letters and mail. They are more like family than pets. Definitely not lunch,” the smallest redhead girl clarified to Sweetie Belle. She had a more normal shade of red hair, the kind Harry would have called bright red, just this morning, before meeting a girl with truly bright red hair.

“Letters?” the purple . . . yes, purple-haired girl asked. “So that’s actually a normal thing and all?”

“Yup, owls can take your letters anywhere,” Ronald said proudly.

“Anywhere?” Sweetie Belle asked. A glint in her eyes told she was planning on testing the limits of that statement.

Conversation stopped as the train started moving. The children raced to the windows for one last wave goodbye.

<->

She hadn’t moved in two days. Upon her cloud she perched, never taking her eyes off the line of trees below.

It had been four days gone by since they went missing. There had been search parties out to canvass the surrounding areas, but the Everfree could not be subjected to the same treatment. The trees grew so that the canopy blocked all aerial scouting.

Few would venture into that forest, even to look for lost fillies. The royal guard had been called to supplement the effort. They were already in the shadows of the trees. Searching. Hoping. Praying. Somepony had to mount a watch on the forest’s edge, just in case they found their own way back and needed help.

She hadn’t moved in two days. Upon her cloud she perched, never taking her eyes off the line of trees below.

There were volunteers who brought her food and water. They even offered to take the watch for a time so she could rest. She just shook her head, her rainbow-colored mane uncombed and uncared for. She could handle it. She WOULD handle it.

Somepony had to mount a watch on the forest’s edge, just in case they found their own way back and needed help.

She hadn’t moved in two days. Upon her cloud she perched, never taking her eyes off the line of trees below.

She didn’t cry. She most decidedly did not cry. She had no tears left.

Somepony had to mount a watch on the forest’s edge, just in case they found their own way back and needed help. That somepony was she.

<->

“Ah don’t think we properly introduced ourselves,” Apple Bloom said to the newest addition to their group, “what with all the hustle and bustle. She then gestured to herself. “Mah name’s Apple Bloom.”

“And I’m Scootaloo.” Scootaloo bounced up and down in her seat for attention.

“Sweetie Belle.” The owner of the name said, “Sorry again about the owl question.”

“Ron Weasley, and this here is my sister Ginny.” Ron gestured to his sister as way of emphasis.

“Hey, I can introduce myself,” Ginny complained, scowling at her brother.

The black-haired colt smiled and said, “Pleased to meet you, my name’s Harry Potter.”

With that declaration, Ron stared at the colt, with his mouth open and Ginny once more took a deep breath.

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!” was heard in the compartment.

Sweetie Belle looked, deadpan, at Harry. “She does that from time to time,” she informed him.

<->

She trudged through the underbrush of the forest, a multitude of burrs caught in her straight pink mane.

Though her people were known for being herbivores, she was hunting, hunting for a sign, a track, a tuff of fur, anything.

There had been no “hoof ache, eye twitch, foreboding sense of dread”, that one combination she never talked about, the one that let her know somepony she knew wasn’t coming back. There was still room for optimism, even if it had been four days.

There could still be a “You ran off without telling anypony, but managed to come back unhurt so you’re only grounded for life” party. She would do her best to make it happen. Parties were her thing after all.

She trudged through the underbrush of the forest, a multitude of burrs caught in her straight pink mane.

<->

After the prefect, who had come to check on the screaming, left, Ron focused his attention on Harry. “So,” he said pointing to his own forehead, “do you really have it?”

Sighing, Harry moved the fringe of hair covering his forehead.

“Cool,” said Scootaloo, “how’d you get that?”

Ginny shot her a dirty look, letting her know that was exactly the wrong thing to ask.

<->

She would contribute as much as she could.

One of the missing was a unicorn, a unicorn that she knew especially well, a unicorn who had practiced fledgling magic in her library countless times.

There was still residue on the toys used for such practice. Residue that could be used to craft a compass. A compass that would point to any new or recent magic usage by that very same unicorn. Sure, it would be limited in range, but the search had turned up nothing so far. Maybe this would be the help they needed.

She would contribute as much as she could, and anything else that was needed.

<->

“I do know one spell, the twins taught me,” Ron went to reach into his pocket then suddenly eyed Sweetie Belle, “but right now probably wouldn’t be a good time to try it.”

The door to the compartment opened and a girl with bushy brown hair stood in the doorway. “Have any of you seen a toad? Neville here has lost his,” she asked.

“Toad?” Sweetie Belle tilted her head as she readied her question. “Are toads . . .”

“Sweetie!” the other children in the compartment all yelled.

“What?” she pouted, “I was just going to ask if they were actually a common pet.”

“Bark!” came a reprimand from the overhead shelf.

<->

She stopped to question a local.

She had one of the larger royal guards with her, as well as Harry the bear. They watched over her as she canvassed the local populous. She was hoping one of the resident critters had seen something.

Mr. Squirrel shook his head; there was no news for him to relay.

Sighing she lowered her head in frustration, doing her best to hide the tears. There had been no luck. Not a critter had seen them.

This could be a good sign. Maybe they hadn’t entered the forest. She would keep asking, of course, just in case.

She stopped to question a local. The hedgehog had nothing to report.

<->

“I think I can tell the wrong sort for myself.” Harry ignored the outstretched hand of the blonde-hair boy who had invaded their compartment.

Behind him all the girls and Ron were glaring daggers at the offender.

“Another Diamond Tiara,” Scootaloo muttered under her breath. Then out loud, she stated, “Now we know to steer clear of Slytherin.”

“Actually,” Apple Bloom corrected, “the twins told us that yesterday.”

“You were going to tell me when?” Scootaloo complained.

<->

She marched through the forest.

She kept her ears perked ready for the slightest of sounds.

Chores could go on waiting to be done. She had family to find. She had to believe that. She had to believe it because if she didn’t, she couldn’t lie to herself.

Suddenly, a single timber wolf jumped out in front of her, clearly a loner on the lookout for a possible pony meal. She didn’t even break stride, somehow plowing through as she moved forward. There was a trail of timber wolf bits five miles long, falling to the forest floor.

She marched through the forest. Woe betide whatever got in her way.

<->

“We’ll be arriving soon,” the bushy haired girl named Hermione informed everyone. “You should all get into your robes.”

She had taken it upon herself to join the rest of the group. Decidedly a bit on the bossy side, she had the strangest name yet encountered. On the plus side, she was a fountain of information, though Ron didn’t appear to think this was much of a plus.

“Okay.” Scootaloo jumped up and started to remove her current outfit.

“Wait, wait!” Hermione waved her hands frantically. “Let the boys leave first; they can have the compartment next.”

<_>

She slogged through the mud.

Her escorts followed obediently behind her. Celestia had sent her best. They were helping her, helping her find what she could not on her own.

The wet earth seeped into her white coat unheeded. It wasn’t important. She could find gems easily enough. It was her talent, after all. Gems didn’t matter.

What did matter, she couldn’t find. She couldn’t stop looking. She wouldn’t.

She slogged through the mud.

<->

“Firss’ years.” The largest human by far shouted, “Firss’ years ova’ here!”

There were boats. Ginny and the fillies took one. Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville took another. Soon, they were on their way. The boats moved by magic.

The image of a castle filled their vision. It wasn’t as grand as the castle in Canterlot, but it had presence. Old, magnificent and magical, it called out that it was there, and it was a force to be reckoned with.

<_>

The sun lost the sky and Luna brought the night.

She hadn’t moved in three days. Upon her cloud she perched, never taking her eyes off the line of trees below.

She trudged through the underbrush of the forest, a multitude of burrs caught in her straight pink mane.

She would contribute as much as she could.

She stopped to question a local.

She marched through the forest.

She slogged through the mud.

Silently night fell. There would be no sweet dreams this eve.

<->

The doors to the castle parted, revealing a stern-looking Minerva McGonagall.

“I’ve brought the firs’ years fer ya,” the big man said to her. “All safe and sound like.”

“Thank you, Hagrid.” Professor McGonagall nodded in acceptance. “Follow me, children. It is almost time to be sorted.” She led the gaggle of children into a small chamber where they were told they were to wait until the sorting commenced.

“How do you suppose they’ll be sorting us?” Hermione asked. “It wasn’t covered in ‘Hogwarts a History’.”

Then somebody screamed, “Ghost!”

Apple Bloom planted her feet, Sweetie jumped on her back, and Scootaloo piggy-backed on Sweetie’s.

Everyone, the ghosts included, stared at them as they made faces designed to scare ghosts away.

One of the ghosts with his head nearly removed turned to another covered in silvery blood, “Now, that’s a first,” he said

“Alright children, form up a—What on earth are you doing?” Professor McGonagall entered the room to the sight of the strange standoff.

In response, the entire first year class pointed at the ghosts.

“Those are just the school’s ghosts. They won’t hurt you.” Professor McGonagall gave a stern look. “When Tom told me you did that when scared, I had thought he was joking.” She pursed her lips then continued. “Enough of that now, you’re keeping everyone waiting. Line up and follow me. It is sorting time.”

They followed Professor McGonagall into a large hall. There were four long tables dominating the majority of it, with a shorter one set up on a platform near the far end. Human fillies and colts of different ages sat at the long tables wearing similar robes that had trim color coded to their different tables. The adults in the room were sitting at the table on the platform.

Glancing up, Apple Bloom saw that the ceiling was painted to look like the night sky. It was . . .

“It’s enchanted to look like the sky outside.” She heard Hermione say to another girl, “I read about it in ‘Hogwarts, A History’.”

Um, glancing up Apple Bloom saw that the ceiling was enchanted to reflect the sky outside. It was a beautiful sight.

Professor McGonagall stopped the first years near the back of the hall. She then went to the platform and produced a stool, and then set a hat on the stool. It was a worn-looking thing. “Battered” would probably be a better description. Sweetie Belle could practically feel the dirt radiating off it from where she stood with the rest of the first years. Rarity would have had a fit just looking at it.

Suddenly the hat’s brim ripped open, and it started to sing. It wasn’t a heart song by any measure, but it was a song, a song coming from a hat!

Apple Bloom was tempted to plant her feet firmly, but the other two fillies didn’t move. After the talking mirror, a talking hat was acceptable.

After the song, Professor McGonagall informed the first years that they would be sorted by placing the hat on their heads. They would then be placed in a house which would be their families for the next seven years.

She then called out for Miss Hannah Abbott. The girl, who was misfortunate enough to have a name near the beginning of the alphabet, marched forward toward her fate. It wasn’t long before the hat called out, “Hufflepuff!” and Hannah was ushered to the table that had yellow-trimmed students. As she walked, her robes took on a yellow trim as well.

Professor McGonagall looked at her list a second time and called, “Miss Scoot Aloo.”

The entire hall watched as she nonchalantly approached the stool and had a seat. There were more than a few whispers over the shade of her hair.

The hat was placed over her head and eyes. The hall disappeared from her view.

“Well well well,” a voice said from inside her head. Alarmingly, it wasn’t her own voice. “You are the first pegasus I have had the pleasure of sorting,” the voice, the hat said.

“Um, hello,” Scootaloo bravely answered.

“There is so much new and exhilarating information in here,” the hat continued, ignoring her greeting. “I am extremely grateful I don’t have to sort this Rainbow Dash, whom you are so fond of.”

“Why?” Scootaloo asked, feeling a bit of annoyance at the perceived insult to her idol.

“It seems she would fit in perfectly with the Gryffindors, almost by definition.” The hat chuckled. “But with her literally being the Element of Loyalty from your world, I’d almost be obligated to put her in Hufflepuff.”

“Oh.” Scootaloo didn’t understand, but it apparently hadn’t been an insult.

“You’re much easier. You don’t have much ambition beyond getting a cutie mark, and that is more of a desire to grow up than an ambition. Slytherin is most assuredly out. I am sorry to say, you lack qualities central to the mindset of Ravenclaw; that house is also not an option for you. Hufflepuff is not a house you would be comfortable with. You have loyalty aplenty and are not afraid of hard work. However, the students there are not prone to excitement, they would drive you to boredom soon enough. No, the answer lies in the fact you are sitting here below me on this date, a happenstance brought about by a bold and daring action. Yes, there is only one house for you.”

The hat spoke a word from its place atop of Scootaloo’s head, and that word was “Gryffindor!”

Scootaloo saw the Weasley twins jumping with glee and motioning for her to sit beside them. She got off the stool and joined her new house, happy to see them and Percy waiting for her.

“Miss Sweetie Belle” was the next name to be called. With her hair bouncing merrily, she skipped up to the stool, confident after watching the ease with which Scootaloo had conquered the challenge.

Her world went dark and the hat spoke, “First a pegasus, now a unicorn. This truly is a wonderful day for Hogwarts.”

“Um, hello?” Sweetie Belle was startled by the voice in her head.

“Let's see, you lack ambition but not drive. You badly want to be able to cook but that does not define your desires for your future.”

“Um, okay.”

“I can see you easily succeeding in either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. You have both the mindset desired by Rowena and the sincerity that Helga adored.”

“That’s good . . . I think,” Sweetie agreed.

“However, what defines you is your willingness to take a chance, even though, most times, you're just along for the ride. It is obvious what your house shall be.”

For the second time that night, the hat added to the Gryffindor table.

“Miss Apple Bloom” was called next.

“Ah, and here we have an earth pony to complete the set.” The hat said inside her mind as soon as it was settled.

“Y’all can talk?” Apple Bloom thought, “inside mah head that is.”

The hat chuckled and said, “Obviously. Now let’s see where . . .”

“Put me in Gryffindor,” Apple Bloom interrupted.

“Don’t you wish to explore your options?”

“Ah don’t care. Put me in Gryffindor with mah friends please.”

“I see; yes, you will do well in the house of the lions. So be it.”

One declaration later and Apple Bloom joined her friends at the Gryffindor table.

One of the older girls giggled and said, “Three new firsties in a row, does that qualify as a hat trick?”

Fred and George had just finished explaining the pun to Scootaloo when Hermione joined the table.

Names were called, children found new houses to sit with, and there was much clapping to be had. All the while, the background chatter cast a relaxing and constant white noise.

A name was called and the chatter ceased. All eyes fell with expectation and wonder upon the boy called. Daunted by the attention, Harry Potter made his way to sit and be sorted.

As most of the rest held their breaths in anticipation, Apple Bloom leaned into Fred, or maybe it was George and asked, “What gives?”

“Harry’s very famous in the wizardly world,” the twin whispered back.

Silence reigned, and all wondered at the conversation going on beneath the hat. When the verdict was announced, the twins led the celebration by chanting “We got Potter! We got Potter! We got Potter!”

Sweetie Belle was pleased how the sorting was going so far. Just two more, and they would have the set. Finally, after an insufferable wait, Ginny’s name was finally called. Not too long afterward, she was sitting across from Sweetie.

Ron was next to be called after his sister. The hat spent less time on his head than hers before sending him to the house his family claimed as their own.

This generation’s Weasleys had in one voice declared their allegiance, and it was good.

After that, there was one more named called. Blaise Zabini went to the Slytherin table, and thus, the sorting was complete.

Professor Dumbledore stood from his seat at the teachers' table. “Welcome,” he said. “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!”

With that he sat down.

Harry blinked and asked, “Is he mad?”

Percy answered, “Mad? A bit maybe, but he is a genius. A more powerful wizard you’ll not find.”

Harry blinked and realized that the table, which had been barren before, was now covered with all sorts of food. He immediately set about to trying some of everything.

Ron had sat down next to Apple Bloom and was just as gleeful as she was at the sight of the food. The two, in a devastating show of teamwork, proceeded to lay waste to everything within arm’s reach.

Disturbed by the sight, Scootaloo chose to settle on some of the fish she found. She finished off her meal with as many varieties of vegetables as she could find.

Meanwhile, Sweetie Belle was intrigued. There were all kinds of meat to sample. Here was one shaped like a tube. Kind of like a hay sausage only with meat instead. It was rather spicy, but tasty. Here was some kind of bird that came with a thick white sauce. The liquid was a bit too salty, but the bird meat by itself went down nicely.

A summary glance showed that there was no Beef Wellington to be had, but Ginny introduced her to something called steak. It was chewy, but the texture was nice. With experimentation, it turned out that it actually went nicely with the sauce meant for the bird. Also tasty were the more familiar pork chops, a bit greasy, but filling.

After observing the girl for several minutes, Percy said, “Sweetie, you have to eat your vegetables too.”

“Okay,” she agreed as she gnawed the bone that came with her steak. Examining the table, she decided that maybe some potatoes should be had.

After a while, the dishes filled with supper suddenly disappeared and were just as quickly replaced by an array of desserts. With gleeful abandon, Ron and Apple Bloom quickly demonstrated that they still had room available. With quick movements, they each claimed a whole pie for themselves. Ron’s was pumpkin, and Apple Bloom took one filled with apples.

Sadly, Scootaloo looked on, wishing she had thought to save room for dessert.

Meanwhile Sweetie Belle scrutinized the offering and found none to be containing meat. Full from the meal, she quickly lost interest after that.

Harry was surveying the table with the teachers and at one point clapped his hand over his scar in pain. He immediately denied anything being wrong after that.

“I’m pretty sure they each consumed their own body weight in food,” one of the twins’ friends was saying to them. “How is that even possible?”

Time passed and desserts were finished. Once again, the tables were cleared.

At the head table, Dumbledore once more stood and addressed the student body. “A few words for the start of the term, before we find our beds for the night. First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. A few of our older students would do well to remember that as well. Also, our caretaker, Mr. Filch, would like you all reminded that no magic is to be used between classes in the corridors. Quidditch trials shall be held the second week of the term. If you are interested in playing, please contact Madam Hooch.”

Dumbledore then rubbed his beard as if to give consideration to a deep thought, “And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death.”

This immediately got the attention of each and every member of the CMC. Forbidden forests were kind of their thing after all. Furthermore, the off-limit corridor sounded like challenge as well. How dangerous could something in a school be? Anything really dangerous would be behind more locks than you could shake a hoof at.

Dumbledore then called for the school song to be sung. The resulting audio fiasco had all three fillies cringing in horror.

Afterwards it was time to follow Percy, their prefect, to the Gryffindor tower. He led them through the castle, up several flights of stairs until he finally stopped in front of large portrait of a fat lady.

The picture moved and asked “Password?”

With a startled squeak, Apple Bloom planted her feet solidly on the floor, Sweetie Belle jumped on her back, and Scootaloo topped the formation.

There were a few seconds of complete silence, then Hermione asked, “Do you do that often?”

<->

The night continued a slow progress towards dawn.

She would not abandon her watch.

She would turn over every rock.

She would think of something.

She would ask all for help.

She would not stop.

She would continue no matter the cost.

One way or another, the fillies would be found.

Chapter 8: Good Morning Hogwarts!

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Satisfied with Percy’s response, the portrait swung open. The room it guarded was a comfortable sort of place, round and filled with cozy armchairs. An unlit fireplace dominated the space opposite the entrance. As accents, two archways, with stone stairs visible, stood at the remaining two cardinal compass points.

Percy directed the girls up one set of stairs and then led the boys up the other. Left to their own devices, the girls languidly climbed the stairs to find their dorm; they had experienced a long day and a large supper, a combination draining for any young child. The room they found was another round room, pleasantly filled with seven canopy beds, three of which already had trunks set at their feet to denote their owners.

The girls gave a cursory inspection of the room and the adjoining shared bathroom. Then, four trunks unshrunk, marking the remaining beds. Taken aback by their sudden appearance, Hermione wondered about the artifacts’ ability to change size so radically. She was more than ready to start asking questions, but was held back by general tiredness.

“All right,” Sweetie sighed, “bath, then bed; I’m beat.”

“You’re out of luck,” a girl, Apple Bloom thought her name might be Lavender, said. “There are only showers in here.”

“That’s okay,” Scootaloo said, opening her trunk. “We brought our own.” She then disappeared into her trunk. Sweetie Belle, then Ginny, soon followed.

Apple Bloom trotted over from where she had been standing on the other side of the room. She said to the three remaining girls, “Coming?” before she, too, disappeared into the trunk.

Hesitantly, Hermione peered into the trunk. There was a staircase leading down. Shrugging, she descended. Not wanting to be left out, the two remaining Gryffindor first-year girls followed.

Soon, they were congregated in a large bathroom. A spacious, ground-level tub was filling with warm water.

“I am so beat,” Sweetie Belle repeated, and then proceeded to remove her clothing.

Hermione noticed that Apple, Ginny, and Scoot were all doing the same, not a shred of self-consciousness to be had among them. Shrugging once more, she, too, began to disrobe. A few seconds later, Lavender and Parvati duplicated the procedure.

The tub easily fit them all without being snug, seemingly bigger than the last time it had been used. As soon as they were all settled, washcloths were produced, and Ginny said, “Just so you know, this is where it gets weird.”

<->
Harry was spent, but spent in a good way. It had been a wickedly wonderful day. Most importantly, he was away from the Dursleys. That alone was enough to make the day grand. Also, he had eaten enough food to be truly full for the first time he could remember. The icing on the cake was that he had made new friends, something that had been denied him by his cousin chasing away any who would attempt such a deed.

Admittedly, the Hermione girl was more than a bit bossy, but, at the same time, she was genuinely kind. The redhead Ron seemed an okay bloke, although quidditch seemed to be his strong suit. Speaking of strong, Apple Bloom seemed the sort that made friends for life. Even though he lacked experience in the friendship department, he had the feeling that, if he made the effort, she would be around for a long time. As for Ginny, she was starstruck by the whole Boy-Who-Lived thing. Harry earnestly hoped that the affection would soon moderate.

In contrast, the purple-haired girl, Scootaloo, was slightly scary and, at the same time, accepted him for himself. She conveyed the impression that she had more energy than she knew what to do with, to the point that she bounced almost as much as she walked.

Then there was Sweetie Belle. She did indeed seem sweet, but Harry was never going to leave her alone in a room with Hedwig. Had she really been thinking of eating his owl? It didn’t seem like she had been joking. No, it would be best to keep her as far from Hedwig as possible.

With as little fuss as possible, Harry donned his night clothes and climbed into bed. He was really spent.
<->
Hermione was of two minds over the experience. It had been a long time since she had needed help washing herself, and the thought of washing another was foreign. She was most definitely not used to others touching her in the fashion that had accompanied the bath. There had been nothing sexual about it, not even a bit suggestive. It was simply not something she was used to. She hadn’t been uncomfortable with it, but it was outside her comfort zone.

What sold her on the idea was when Lavender had washed her hair. Having someone else massage her scalp while she in turn did Sweetie’s was an indulgence that would bring her back for more. It was much better than standing in the shower, doing it herself.

Honestly, she wasn’t all that interested in hair care, but Sweetie Belle had insisted on everyone using the conditioner. Afterwards, sitting in the tub, the presence of her new classmates surrounding her as the solution did its work, was almost Zen-like. Hermione could get used to the entire treatment.

After drying, Apple Bloom led them all into the bed chamber. A large single bed awaited them.

“Does the bed seem larger?” Scootaloo asked upon seeing it.

“You’re in your bedroom, that’s in your trunk, which you carried to school in your pocket,” Sweetie Belle yawned, clearly on her last legs, “and you’re worried about how the bed knows what size to be?”

Scootaloo thought about it, and then shrugged before climbing into the bed.

“Aren’t we going to use nightgowns?” Parvati asked, unsure about the whole idea of sleeping naked next to someone she just met.

“Too much effort,” Apple Bloom commented as she, too, made her way into the bed.

Feeling as if shrugging was becoming her new thing, Hermione was next.

Peer pressure is a compelling thing, even when applied unintentionally. It was not long before all the girls were asleep beneath the covers.

<->
Fay Dunbar was a seventh-year Gryffindor prefect. As such, she had responsibilities. She was getting ready to commence patrolling the corridors for the first night of the school term, but beforehand, she was checking to make sure all of the girls in her tower were settled in. Working her way backwards in years, she checked each dorm and was satisfied with what she saw. That is, until she reached the dorm of the first-years.

She opened the door and saw that there were seven beds as there should be -- seven empty beds as there most assuredly shouldn’t be! Fay quickly searched the room. The beds had not been slept in, and there was no one in the bathroom! She had lost the first-years! The first day of school and she had lost the entire first-year girls’ class!

Panicking slightly, Fay raced to the common room, where the sixth-year male prefect was the only one present. Hasty questioning reveled that he had not seen anyone. Fay received his assurance that he would check the boys’ dorms, on the off chance the girls had snuck into them for some reason. Fay’s next action was to wake the fat lady, only to find that no one had exited the tower that night. With panic quickly approaching hysteria, Fay rushed to the quarters of her head of house.

<->
Professor McGonagall was giving the schedules one more going over when the pounding on her door commenced. She had been an educator for many years, and had come to know the different styles of pounding a door would receive. This was not an angry pounding, or even an impatient pounding. No, this was a panicked pounding. She wasted no time, waving her wand to open the egress even as she left her seat.

Her seventh-year female prefect bolted into the room, out of breath and in quite a state. It seemed the first day wasn’t even officially over, and there was already going to be a crisis. Without waiting for the story, Minerva rushed toward the Gryffindor tower with Miss Dunbar in close pursuit. Professor McGonagall had been an educator for many years. When a prefect rushes into your office panicking and so out of breath that she can’t speak, well, you don’t wait for explanations, you make tracks for the scene of the disturbance. Grimacing, she barely slowed as she sent her patronus for Albus.

Professor McGonagall rapidly approached the tower. The fat lady, who had not yet fallen back asleep, saw the state of the head of house and swung open without the usual protocol. Once inside the common room, Minerva turned to her prefect, questioningly. When the girl pointed to the girls’ dorms, Minerva was off again. She heard Fay manage to gasp out, “Firsts.”

Minerva flew up the stairs and found her way to the first-years’ dorm. Upon entry, she found the room free of blood, clutter, or any sign of mishap. Surprisingly, it was also free of any sign of students. Minerva quickly added two and two and got four.

“You panicked after seeing none of the beds had been slept in and all of the first-years were gone?” she asked of Miss Dunbar.

Jealously, wondering how the older woman managed to run the whole way here without being out of breath, Fay could only nod her head as an answer.

Never losing her calm exterior, Minerva nodded. “All well and good. It is better that you rush me when the situation doesn’t call for it, than for you not to rush me when it does.” With that, she went to four of the students’ trunks and rapped loudly on the lids.

Professor Dumbledore chose that second to arrive. He, too, was not out of breath as he surveyed the dorm questioningly.

“I apologize, headmaster,” Professor McGonagall said as she patiently stared at the trunks. “It seems there has been a misunderstanding.”

Dumbledore nodded his head and said, “I see. A most understandable situation.”

Fay watched the two professors as her breath returned, clearly confused by the lack of action. She was about to start asking questions when the lid of one of the trunks flipped open, and the head of the girl with bright red hair popped out.

Rubbing her eyes groggily, the redhead looked around and said, “Whaaaa?”

Fay could see that the girl was standing naked on a set of stairs leading down into the trunk.

“Ah, Miss Bloom,” Dumbledore greeted, unfazed by the girl’s lack of clothing, “I am sorry that we have disturbed your slumber. It would appear that your and your classmates’ absence from the dorm has driven Miss Dunbar here to distraction.”

Apple Bloom nodded her head.

“Is it safe to assume that all of your classmates are either in this trunk or one of the others?”

Apple Bloom nodded her head.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist that you, and the others who have brought such wonderful trunks, add the house prefects to the access list for each, if you plan on spending time in them. The prefects must, after all, be able to check in on you.”

Apple Bloom nodded her head.

“The vanilla yogurt goes especially well on the dog’s coat after the rain.”

Apple Bloom nodded her head.

“Perhaps we should continue this discussion tomorrow when you are more awake and might actually remember it?”

Apple Bloom nodded her head.

“Miss Dunbar, if you would be so kind as to escort Miss Bloom back to her bed.”

Apple Bloom nodded her head.

Sensing the pattern, Fay nudged Apple Bloom back down the stairs. She marveled at the well-appointed sitting room as she quickly maneuvered Apple Bloom into the bedroom. Inside, she was relieved as she counted all seven girls present. Their lack of clothing was odd, but they were too young for it to be a concern.

Dusting her hands, she climbed the stairs and exited the trunk.

“Leave the lid open.” Professor McGonagall instructed; it seemed that the headmaster had already left. “I wish to commend you on your quick action. Though unnecessary, it was the proper thing to do.”

Fay nodded gratefully; she was still embarrassed over the panic she had displayed.

Professor McGonagall bid her goodnight and left as well.
<->
Ginny was the first to wake the next morning. She was deliriously happy. Not only was she at Hogwarts and not facing loneliness and boredom, she also had met Harry Potter, the man of her dreams, the prince she would someday marry. It was an unexpected and wonderful happenstance which had brought her to this point. She hadn’t thought she would ever be put in such a fabulous position, not even in her wildest dreams.

On top of that, she was friends with not one, but three unicorns! That, in and of itself, was reason for celebration. Sure, she hadn’t seen either Apple Bloom or Scootaloo in their true forms, but they wore those pendants just like Sweetie Belle.

It was time to wake everyone up and live life to the fullest.

The undertaking went well enough, the only hardship being getting Scootaloo moving. Ginny was sure Scootaloo even fell back asleep standing up once or twice. Then again, horses were supposed to be able to sleep standing, so it was entirely plausible.

It turned out that Apple Bloom and Scootaloo both needed assistance choosing clothing for the day. Again, that was an understandable situation, although Hermione clearly thought it odd.

“Should we wait for the boys?” Hermione asked once they all filed into the common room.

“Why wait?” Scootaloo asked, finally awake enough to be coherent. “Let’s go get them.” With that, she stormed the stairs to the boys’ dorms.

Their first stop turned out to be the seventh-years’ dorm. After some hasty scurrying to get a towel around his waist for some decency, the only awake occupant, fresh from the showers, directed them to the first-years’ dorm.

Giggling, the girls arrived to find no one yet awake. The key word being “yet”.

Sweetie Belle immediately started jumping on Ron’s bed. Seeing her example, the rest of the girls dispersed among the remaining beds.

“Get up, get up,” Sweetie Belle sang as she bounced up and down on top of Ron. The poor boy had a look of utter shock and confusion plastered on his not-yet-awake face. He clutched at the mattress of his bed in alarm.

Meanwhile, Harry, who had not yet donned his glasses, came abruptly to the awareness of being beset upon by a couple of differently-shaded red blobs. It took a few seconds of focus to realize the blobs were a pair of girls, Apple Bloom and Ginny to be exact. Nothing remotely like this had ever happened to him before during his stay at 4 Privet Drive. It was, without a doubt, better than being woken by a Dursley pounding on his cupboard’s door.

Neville never had a particularly social childhood; as such, the sensation of his bed suddenly doing flops jolted him awake but did not bestow coherency. He looked up and saw bushy brown hair bouncing atop a head somewhere above him. Grunting, he closed his eyes and attempted to reclaim sleep. The bouncing was genuinely relaxing, the exact opposite effect the perpetrator of the action intended. She had to resort to shaking him bodily.

Lavender and Parvati stood at either side of Seamus’ bed and took turns poking him in his arms. With a snort, he woke up and focused on the ceiling of his canopy bed. Something was annoying him, and he hadn’t figured out what it was yet.

Dean had what was probably the most memorable reaction. Scootaloo screamed with glee as she threw herself bodily at his sleeping form. One second, Dean had been sleeping peacefully in his bed, the next, he was standing next to said bed, shaking slightly as he tried to force some awareness into his brain.

“All right, since you’re up now, get ready; it’s time for classes!” Sweetie Belle joyfully chirped.

“We’ll be waiting for you in the common room,” Parvati added.

“Why bother? We can just wait right here,” Scootaloo said from her positon, lying on Dean’s bed.

“We will wait in the common room.” Hermione put her foot down. “Come on, girls, let’s give them some peace so they can get dressed.”

After the door slammed behind the last of the retreating girls, Dean shook his head, in an attempt to clear the cobwebs and asked, “What the bloody hell just happened?”

Less than seventeen, but more than fifteen minutes later, the Gryffindor first-year lads slogged down the stairs into the common room. They all had damp hair from their rushed showers. Fortunately, they were all too excited over their first day of classes to be upset over the rude awakenings.

En masse, the entirety of the Gryffindor first-year class set out to break their fast, and very promptly got well and truly lost.

“I’m sure that’s the third time we passed that painting,” Parvati informed the group as they hurried down yet another corridor.

“Fifth time actually,” Scootaloo corrected her. “Can anyone tell me how we are going down stairways yet still somehow appear to be higher up than when we started?”

“What I want know is how they fit this huge hallway in the tiny towers we saw from outside,” Dean commented in awe.

“Bigger on the inside than the outside seems to be a common theme,” Sweetie Belle replied. “You should see our trunks.”

“Really?” Dean glanced at Sweetie Belle, not completely believing what she said.

“Yeah,” Sweetie nodded, and then with a sigh continued, “I wish there were others awake to ask directions. I guess we got up too early.”

“Well,” a man with antique clothing said from his portrait, “you could always ask me.” Then, after being confronted by a sudden tower of cuteness, he continued, “Do they do that often?”

“Apparently,” Harry said as he glanced at the spectacle, “yes.”

Learning that the castle portraits were more than willing to help with directions greatly enhanced the search for the great hall. They managed to have no more incidents before they finally reached their destination some four minutes later.

“Those talking pictures are way creepy,” Apple Bloom commented as they filed in to claim their seats.

Lavender giggled at this statement while Seamus openly guffawed.

“Now that we’re here,” Ron looked around the otherwise deserted dining area, “does anyone know how we go about getting some brea--” He cut off as plates of food appeared on the table before the group.

“Never mind,” he said as he and Apple Bloom ceased participation in the conversation.

The rest of the first-years boggled at the gastronomic performance for a few seconds, then, as one, decided that they needed to grab some of the food before it all disappeared again. They weren’t particularly worried that the table would be the cause of the vanishing act.

With a little experimentation, Sweetie Belle swiftly found her new favorite food. It was simply delectable. She chopped it into her hash browns. . . yummy! She dunked it in grape jelly. . . divine! She wrapped it around boiled eggs. . . sublime! She sandwiched it between pieces of black pudding. . . blissful! She sampled it with the baked beans. . . glorious!

Slowly, as she devoured her meal, Sweetie Belle realized she had an audience. Hermione was watching her endeavors with interest and trepidation.

“What?” Sweetie asked her. Then, looking at the plate she had before her, she explained, “Everything’s better with bacon.”

Unable to dispute the logic, Hermione returned to her own breakfast.
<->
When he entered his office first thing in the morning, Albus Dumbledore immediately lost all pretense of being a kindly old grandfather. The wards had not informed him. All defenses seemed to still be in place. Yet, he was not alone as he should have been. A stranger was sitting in the visitor chair, calmly sipping a cup of tea. At Dumbledore’s entry, he even had the audacity to smile welcomingly and gesture for Albus to take his seat behind the desk.

Unhurried, Albus made his way to the indicated seat. The stranger was dressed in a smart brown suit and sported a mismatched pair of expensive two-tone wingtips, one with green highlights and the other with orange. On his hands were a mismatched pair of tight leather gloves, one red the other yellow. This, and other subtle abnormalities, in no way detracted from the fact that he must be a powerful wizard to have bypassed the wards of Hogwarts so completely and undetected.

Upon sitting, Albus reached for his familiar comfort and started the pleasantries. “Lemon drop?” he asked, offering the bowl.

“No, thank you. I am watching my sugar and potion intake,” came the smooth reply; the voice held hints of amusement.

Fluidly, Dumbledore returned the candy dish to its resting spot. “A bit early to be making visitations, isn’t it?”

“I suppose. Yet, with your busy schedule, it felt like it would be the perfect time.”

“I see. And to what reason may I attribute your unsolicited presence?”

“Oh, I’m just here to make small talk.” The visitor put down his tea cup and stretched in his seat slightly. “You know, in a schemer-to-schemer sort of fashion.”

“I see, then there’s nothing in particular you wanted to discuss?”

“Oh, I might have wanted to mention the frailty of prophecies.” The man tsked, “Such delicate things. Sure, you can push and pull on them all you want to no avail, and yet, they can’t take a hit from certain parallel angles. Just one hit in such a manner, let alone three such hits, and they shatter completely.”

Albus frowned; he hoped this was not what it was beginning to sound like.

Unperturbed, the man continued, “Ah well, the plans of mice and men and all that. After all, finding myself presented with unforeseen opportunity, how could I not take steps to stack the deck in my favor?”

Albus’ frown deepened as he motioned for the man to continue.

“But why bore you with the details? Suffice to say, you most unmistakably lost your last war. In fact, you did so poorly that you even left chores for the next generation to clean up after you.”

Albus’ frown graduated into a full born scowl. Yet, he held his silence.

“We both know the time is coming where you must decide. What is more important? The second, third, and fifth chances of those who have abused their power? Or, the first chances of the innocents they will surely slaughter?”

“I don’t think you understand the complexity of the situation.”

“Perhaps, and yet, you no longer understand the simplicity of it.” The stranger lifted his hand as if to snap his fingers. “Sometimes, all it takes is to sit down and honestly ask yourself what you are actually fighting for.”

Suddenly as alone as he had intended, Dumbledore sat back in his chair. No longer were his thoughts of breakfast. A new player had taken to the game board, and the color of his pieces was unknown.
<->
Breakfast passed slowly. The first-years had gotten to the great hall way too early, and since they had nowhere to be or anything in particular to do, they waited for the day to start getting exciting. There was enough time that Ron and Apple Bloom actually had their fill. This also resulted in plenty of time to chat and get to know each other. All the while, Scootaloo quietly napped sitting up.

They were all chattering about their hopes and plans for learning magic when Harry noticed Apple Bloom scrutinizing at a bowl of yogurt.

“What’s wrong?” he asked when he noticed her staring.

“For some reason, Ah have the urge to slather this on Winona, an’ it’s not even raining.”

Even Sweetie Belle looked at her weirdly for that explanation.

Surprisingly, Ginny soon found herself the center of attention. Even though she had expected Harry to be the focal point, the first-years were more intrigued by the girl who had made it to Hogwarts a year early than normal. There were questions on whether she was exceptionally powerful, smart, or just rich and influential. The revelation that she was just there because her core was sufficiently mature so that she might be able to handle the classes was more than a little bit of a letdown for all.

As they talked, the hall steadily filled with other students and the chattering increased. At one point, Professor McGonagall traversed the table to hand out schedules for the coming term. A preliminary inspection revealed that, since the current day was Friday, the Gryffindor first-years were to have double potions right off the bat, a development that both filled Apple Bloom with joy, and caused Ron to pout. Apparently, he had heard stories about potions from his older brothers and was not keen on the idea of the class.

With a path now laid out, the Gryffindor first-years, as a group, returned to their dorms to retrieve their supplies for class. They didn’t go unnoticed by the teaching staff. Apparently, the entire Gryffindor allotment of first-years had already banded together. This could prove to be most interesting and entertaining. If the headmaster had been present he would most likely have had a twinkle in his eyes.
<->
It was very early in the morning at the Ministry when the head warlock put in a surprise visit. Immediately, he all but demanded that an unspeakable be provided to lead him to the hall of prophecy. It took several minutes for one to be located, and Dumbledore was already at the lifts when she arrived.

Down they traveled, and they then traversed the spinning room. Dumbledore hadn’t even slowed as he led his guide to a particular shelf amongst the multitude of prophecies. All around them were spheres, filled with swirling gray mist. Each held a prophecy record collected by the Ministry, each of them a true and unbreakable force.

A lone sphere broke the pattern. The clear sphere did not contain the familiar mist at all. Instead, there was a collection of rainbow-colored dust coating the bottom of the interior.

Dumbledore’s gaze bore into the sphere’s body, an expression of horror clearly gracing his features. So shocking was the sight that his unspeakable guide nearly wet herself in fright.

As the foundation of all his plans lay before him in ruin, Dumbledore felt doubt. He felt worry. He felt fear.
<->
Elsewhere, the sun reclaimed the sky, bringing with it no relief.

Loyalty wept.

Laughter lamented.

Magic agonized.

Kindness floundered.

Honesty denied.

And Generosity despaired.

And yet, friendship never faltered, never wavered, and never admitted defeat.

Chapter 9: Wild Blue

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It didn’t take long for the first-years to find their way back to the Gryffindor tower. Aside from the one staircase that decided to move just before they got on it, the trip was uneventful. The fillies didn’t even panic at the sight of the moving portrait that guarded their common room; the novelty of talking pictures was growing thin.

In the girls’ dorm room, supplies were soon retrieved from trunks.

“Um, girls,” Apple Bloom said as she made a discovery, “what are we supposed to carry all this in?”

“Didn’t you buy bookbags?” Ginny asked, holding up her new carry-all, which Percy had thought to provide.

Three simultaneous face hooves answered that question. It was at that point the fillies learned that face hoofing as a human was significantly less painful than as a pony.

“Well, no use worrying about that now.” Hermione went straight for the practical solution. “Until you can get some, we’ll just have to split your supplies up among the rest of us. Come on now; we need to be getting on to class.”

Chattering excitedly, the girls joined the boys in the common room, and off they went to their first class.

Soon enough, the Gryffindor first-years entered the potions classroom in the dungeons.

“Okay, it’s not like I’m not detecting a pattern here,” Seamus was saying, “but really? We had to climb up a flight of stairs, from a tower mind you, to reach the dungeons.”

“What bothers me,” Harry put in his two cents as they entered, “is that the portrait said, ‘On Tuesdays and Fridays,’ as if the path changes every day.”

The Gryffindor first-years surveyed the classroom. The laboratory area was split in two; each side had workstations set in a tiered semicircle facing the desk in front of the blackboard on the far wall. Looking to the right side, they saw that the green-trimmed students had claimed that half of the room, doubling up, two to a workstation.

“Blimey, we got potions with the snakes.” Ron deflated at the sight of them.

“So?” Sweetie Belle asked, looking at the members of the other house. “I’m sure we can all be friends.” This brought sneers from several of the so-called new friend material.

“Not likely,” Ron disagreed.

“Oh, look,” Scootaloo chimed in. “It’s the Diamond Tiara wannabe.”

“Oh look,” Draco Malfoy sneered in return. “It’s the purple-haired freak.”

“Yer giving him too much credit, Scoots.” Apple Bloom observed, “Diamond Tiara would have least come up with a decent and original insult.”

“Yeah.” Scootaloo joined Apple Bloom at a workstation. “I guess you’re right.” From across the room, Draco continued to scowl at them, unaccustomed to being blown off so casually.

The Gryffindors then ignored the other house as they claimed their workspace. Parvati and Lavender were one pair, with Dean and Seamus as another. Ginny managed to sidle up to Harry while Ron settled on Hermione as his partner. This left Sweetie Belle to pair with Neville.

<->

Alice Rutter felt the hairs on her arms stiffen as she sipped her morning tea. She hadn’t taken divinations when she had been at Hogwarts, but she recognized an omen when one presented itself. Something had just stirred the winds of fate, and had done so in a very significant manner. Change was coming, be it for good or ill; she was sure of it.

She ran her hand through her long raven locks and picked up the Daily Prophet, scrutinizing it for anything out of the ordinary.

<->

“Ah, yes. Harry Potter. Our new celebrity,” the potions professor drawled out. Scootaloo thought he appeared rather like what a thestral would look like if they were a human.

Pacing the front of the class the professor continued, “You are here to learn the subtle science and the exact art of potion making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you to really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses.”

Apple Bloom leaned over and whispered to Scootaloo, “I have got to get him in a room with Zecora. Now there’s a conversation I’d love to witness.”

“Miss Bloom!” Professor Snape snapped from the front of the room. “Is there something you wanted to share with the rest of the class?”

“Um, no.” Apple Bloom recognized the universal teacher reaction to students talking in class.

“Very well,” Snape all but growled, “five points from Gryffindor. Now, where was I? If you aren’t as big as bunch of dunderheads as I usually teach, I can instruct you on how to bottle fame, brew glory, even put a stopper on death.”

The class stared with rapt attention, not wanting to be the next to lose points. “Now then, Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Harry looked at the teacher in confusion as both Hermione and Apple Bloom shot their hands into the air. “I don’t know, sir,” he replied.

With a sneer Professor Snape said, “Tut, clearly fame isn’t everything,” as he ignored the girls’ hands.

“But sir!” Apple Bloom was not to be denied. “How could he answer that without knowing whether the wormwood was Zebracan or Euricoltiean?”

<->

Alice had found nothing in the paper that stood out. Yet, she could not shake the feeling from earlier. Something was imminent; she didn’t need to be a seer to know that. But what it could possibly be, she had no idea.

She hurried through her small hut to her bookcase; there was a book on divination in it somewhere. Maybe she could find answers waiting there.

<->

Professor Snape had set them to make a potion for curing boils. Harry was finding the exercise to be painless, despite the constant hovering of the teacher. The Dursleys had made him cook since he could reach the stove with a stool, the result being an unusual level of competence. His partner Ginny had skills and knowledge she had gained from helping her mother around the house. Together, they found the assignment was well within their abilities.

Harry was removing the cauldron from the flames so they could add the quills when he glanced over at the efforts of Neville and Sweetie Belle. A steady, thin plume of bright purple smoke streamed from their cauldron. There might even have been an occasional sparkle dancing in the escaping smoke.

“How in the. . .” Snape started as he stalked over to investigate. There should have been no way to get that particular reaction from the given ingredients. The fool children must have introduced a component not on the ingredient list. Still, Snape could think of none that would have produced that result. Here was something new.

Neville and Sweetie Belle were warily watching their efforts with concern plastered on their faces. This was not how the instructions had said the potion was supposed to look. They were going to fail on their first attempt.

Unsure what the effects the current fiasco might inflict if allowed to contact skin, Snape waved the children away from the potential danger. Brandishing his wand with the intent to vanish the contents, he peered into the vessel. Inside was a light blue, gelatinous mass, bubbling slowly. The distinct scent of menthol wafted pleasantly outward. Contemptuously, he raised his wand to be rid of the mess.

It is safe to say that he was caught wholly off guard when the potion decided to make a break for it.

<->

Nothing. Alice had flipped through her one and only book on divination to no avail. As she had done so, the sense of change had lessened. Now, she wasn’t even sure if it had been real or not. Should she ignore it? After all, she had no solid proof of anything, just an overpowering feeling of. . . something. She didn’t even know what to call it.

<->

“It’s got me! It’s got me!” Daphne Greengrass hopped around on one foot while violently shaking the other. Trying desperately to dislodge the blue mass wrapped around her ankle, she screamed, “Ow! It bit me!”

Carefully, Snape took aim and let loose, “Stupefy!” A menacing red bolt leapt from his wand only for the blob to disengage from the terrified girl before the spell arrived. Cleared of her attacker, Daphne was the only target remaining. Upon being struck by the bolt, she stopped screaming and dropped like a sack of potatoes.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Slytherins where hopping around madly as the ridiculously fast slime creature weaved in and out amongst their feet. Somehow, as it dodged the flailing feet, it found Crabbe’s pants leg to travel up.

Now, Vincent Crabbe was a first-year, but he was all too familiar with cheap shots and low blows. A recent stint at ferret legging only heightened his awareness of the unspeakable pain to which he might be subjected. A rabid ferret looked tame compared to the blue slime.

He started dancing around wildly as the invader threatened his most private regions. “Screaming like a little girl” would have been an acceptable description of his vocals if the word “shrieking” wasn’t much more accurate.

Snape rushed forward to assist as Crabbe managed to rip his own pants off. The now-exposed slime froze for a moment. Crabbe managed to flip the slime away from himself, launching the little monster directly at Millicent Bulstrode. Luckily, she managed to get her hand up in time. Instead of latching onto her face, the slime wrapped around the offered appendage.

It was Millicent’s turn to dance, shaking her hand wildly trying to dislodge the lump of blue. All the while, the scent of menthol was becoming stronger.

“Hold still!” Snape commanded. When she froze, he cast, “Stupefy.” This time, Millicent flopped to the ground, and the blue slime darted over to where the Gryffindors were gathered. As one, the members of the house of the brave, broke for cover.

“Stupefy!” was heard again, and this time Dean joined those taking a nap. As the boy fell, his body knocked Ron off balance, forcing the redhead to spin and fall on his own rear. There was a loud snap and a violent release of magical energy which threw Ron in the air, where he twirled in a helpless pirouette. His graceless landing still saw him back on his feet

Apparently fed up with the whole ordeal, the slime found a small hole in the castle wall and disappeared from view.

Glaring angrily, Snape revived the fallen students. Dumbledore had specifically said not to take too many points from the fillies since it was unsure how they might react. Good diplomatic relations would be wor. . . ah, you know what? Bugger it. Bugger it to hell.

“Mr. Longbottom, Miss Belle,” Snape barked, “fifty points from Gryffindor for creating a new lifeform.”

The two looked at him in dismay. Then, he added, “Each.”

“Awwwww!” Sweetie Belle intoned, looking at her feet, and Neville just gulped.

“My wand!” Ron wailed, holding up the two halves of it for all to see.

“You had your wand in your back pocket?” Snape sneered at student. “That is a good way to lose part of your posterior.”

“Ha! Your family isn’t going to be able to eat for a week if they buy you a new one,” Malfoy taunted the misfortunate Weasley.

“You’re right,” Parvati said in a stage whisper to Apple Bloom. “He completely lacks originality.”

“I’ll buy him a new one!” Sweetie Belle spoke up, raising her hand for acknowledgement. “It’s kinda my fault it got broke, anyway.

Snape eyed the children in his class. There was an hour yet of class left, but it was obvious no more work would be done this day, not to mention, he’d have to hunt down that abomination. Unfortunately, he could not send the Weasley off to his next class wandless, especially since he himself was partially responsible for the destruction of Ron’s former focus.

“Very well.” Snape commanded, “The rest of you clean up for the day. Miss Belle and Mr. Weasley come this way.” With that, he led the two to his office.

Professor Snape went directly to his fireplace stuck his head into the floo fire, “Rolanda,” the two students heard him say, “I find I must play escort to Diagon Alley. I need you to watch over the rest of my class for the remainder of the morning. Once they clean up their stations, they can be sent to lunch.” A few seconds later he removed head from the green flames.

Facing the students, “I assume you both know how to floo to the Leaky Cauldron.” When he received nods as an answer, he motioned to the fireplace.

“I thought we’d be done shopping by the time we got to school.” Sweetie Belle muttered just before she took her turn.

Back in the potions classroom, the children began to clean up, with minimum interaction between the houses. After a couple glances at the hole in the wall, Scootaloo took up an empty cauldron and positioned herself on a stool next to the escape route. “If it comes back out, I’ll get it,” she announced.

<->

Alice opened her front door and found a stranger on her step. The man was wearing a flattering brown muggle suit. She smiled politely as she glanced at his mismatched eyes. “Yes?” she said. “May I help you?”

“Good morning, Miss Rutter.” The man tilted his head in greeting. “If I may have some of your time, I do believe you’ll find it most profitable.”

“I’m listening,” she said, not inviting him into her home. While door-to-door solicitors were unknown in the wizarding world, the man before Alice gave the distinct impression of wanting to sell her something.

“Oh,” the man chuckled at her, “there’s no reason to get your back up, my dear. I am here to help you.”

“That remains to be seen,” she countered. “What do you want?”

“I do believe, tea would be a good starting point,” he replied smoothly.

Alice just looked at him, still not willing to invite him in.

“In fact,” he continued, pointing behind her in the direction of her kitchen table, “I do believe I see some set up over there.”

Reflexively, Alice turned to look where he was pointing and saw the man was at her kitchen table pouring tea into a cup for each of them. Taken aback, she turned back around to check his original position to find him no longer there. She hadn’t even heard him apparate.

<_>

“Professor Snape,” Sweetie Belle said as they funneled through the archway into Diagon Alley, “while we’re here, may I see about picking up some saddlebags? Me and the girls forgot to get some earlier.”

“They are referred to as bookbags.” Snape scowled down at the overly cheerful child. “Seeing as it will take a little time to outfit Mr. Weasley here, you may atone for your forgetfulness. Come to the wand shop when you finish.” Without another word, Snape marched Ron to Ollivander’s

Sweetie Belle had been expecting more resistance, but she wasn’t about to look a gift rose in the petals. She hurried into the well-known trunk store.

Dylan, the store owner frowned at her entrance. “Shouldn’t you be in school little miss?” he immediately demanded of her.

“There was an accident. We had to come here and pick up a new wand for Ron.” She smiled sweetly as she offered the explanation.

“You were accompanied by a professor?”

“He’s with Ron at the wand store.”

Relaxing, Dylan removed the frown, and his usual jolly features returned. “This would hardly be a wand store. Did you need your kitchen fixed again, already?”

“We forgot to buy bookbags.” Sweetie averted her eyes in embarrassment.

“Well, you’re in luck. I sell enchanted bags as well as trunks -- a step above what you’ll find in the general stores.” Dylan knew a sale when he saw one, “While I don’t have any ready right now, I could get them owled to you at Hogwarts tomorrow. Since you’re such a good customer, I’ll only charge you seven galleons per bag for my high-end model.”

“Owled?”

Dylan retrieved a catalog from behind the counter and offered it to Sweetie, “Most merchants also do a business by owl.”

Sweetie Belle studied the catalog, “Thank you, that’s actually really good to know. We’ll take twelve bags, please.”

“Twelve?” Dylan raised an eyebrow.

“Welcome to Hogwarts gifts.”

Dylan came out from behind the counter. “I accept the order.” He bowed slightly. “Now, let’s get you back to your professor.”

Dylan locked his shop up behind them and then escorted the young girl to Ollivander’s. He expected to find it to be Professor Flitwick in attendance, since Sweetie Belle had indicated the escort was male. There was no way this young innocent was in Slytherin.

“So, you were sorted into Ravenclaw?” Dylan inquired politely as they proceeded down the street.

“No, we are in Gryffindor,” Sweetie Belle corrected as she bounced along beside him.

“Oh, then it’s not your head of house with you today.”

“No sir, the accident happened in potions class. “

“Accident? You weren’t trying to make orange juice, were you?”

“No, but our potion did get a bit aggressive.” A shake of Sweetie Belle’s head preceded this statement.

“Aggressive?” Dylan, stopped, mid-stride to peer at the little girl.

She looked at her feet in shame and said, “Yes, it even bit one of the Slytherins.”

Dylan could only blink in surprise at Sweetie Belle in response.

<->

Scootaloo perched on her stool, standing, vigilant, over her target. A cat could not have been readier to pounce.

“Uh, Scoot?” she heard Harry say.

Scootaloo looked up and saw the whole class staring at her. Sighing, her eyes went half-lidded, and she let the cauldron slip from her grasp. “Let me guess: it found another exit and is now behind me ready to attack.”

As one, the entire class nodded.

Without another word, Scootaloo made a break for it.

<->

The man had been attempting to make small talk, obviously trying to get her to be more comfortable. Alice was having none of it. She had been hurt too many times to have trust in anyone, least of all a strange man that just happened to show up at her door.

“Since, I cannot seem to convince you to relax,” the stranger who had still not offered his name, said, “why don’t we instead get to the proposal at hand?”

Out of nowhere, he produced a large book, which he casually placed on the table. Alice fought the Ravenclaw within her and continued to glare at the intruder.

“Do you know what this is?” the man asked.

“A book,” Alice replied

“Well, of course it is. How could I have not seen that particular answer coming?” The man tapped his fingertips together in amusement. “More precisely it is a book of laws.” The last word had venom dripping, unmasked, from it. “All the laws of the Wizengamot to be exact, an unabridged volume. This book can be found in most homes of the oldest families. Almost anyone else needs to fill out tedious amounts of paperwork just for a glance.”

Alice now had eyes only for the book. It was something everyone was supposed to have ready access to, but, in reality, was jealously hoarded by those in power. She had tried to get her hands on a copy countless times before, but hadn’t had the funds or influence to succeed.

“What do you want from me?” she demanded, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.

“I want you to use the rules in this book to help me remove cards from the hands of certain parties.” This time, it was the word “rules” that was soaked in contempt. “You can finally get your parents some justice, with them being killed for the unthinkable crime of being a pair of successful muggle-born.”

Instead of finding comfort in those words, Alice nearly growled at her visitor, “What is this miracle going to cost me?”

“My dear Alice, it is not my intention that this ‘cost’ you anything. By helping you, I further my own goals.” He leaned forward in his chair. “You have my word that I attach no malice toward you in my actions here today; in fact, if, for some unforeseen reason, you come into hardship in the process of helping me, I will do my best to aid you, up to the point of removing you from Britain and establishing you comfortably in a new and safe locale.”

Alice still was not persuaded, but she was coming around. She would hear the man out.

<->

Scootaloo dodged left and darted up the shelves of a supply cabinet. Half way up, she dislodged a large jar, causing it to plummet groundward. The charm for unbreakability saved the glass container, but the fall caught the edge of the jar’s lip, causing it to pop its lid and bounce forcefully back into the air. In that fashion, it spewed its semi-aqueous contents all over the room and its occupants.

“Of course,” Scootaloo muttered as she found her perch, “it just had to be tree sap.”

Below her, in the room, the shrieks and scrabbling continued.

<_>

Ron was grinning as they left the wand shop. He had a new wand and a new holster for it. It was a pity he hadn’t been able to keep his previous wand for even one day, but this new one felt just right in his hand.

Scowling the whole way, Snape herded his charges to be flooed back to the castle.

<->

Rolanda Hooch briskly strode down the halls of the Hogwarts castle. She had received a floo from Severus asking her to watch over his remaining class session. He hadn’t explained why, and she was willing to bet there was an interesting story attached. As she rounded the corner to potions class, her peripheral vision caught a flash of light blue on the floor to her right. When she focused on the spot, nothing was there. Shrugging, she turned and opened the door to the potions classroom.

The room was in complete disorder. Off to one side, the first-year known as Scootaloo had climbed up on top a supply cabinet and was currently sharing her perch with Millicent Bulstrode.

Most of the potions equipment had been knocked off the workstations, which were now being occupied by the remainder of the class instead.

On one table in particular, Apple Bloom had jumped up and planted her feet firmly on the furniture. Hermione proved that she was indeed a smart and quick learner, and climbed onto the redhead’s back. Ginny, deciding not to knock it until she tried it, had done her best squirrel impression and was now atop Hermione.

Harry had found that Lavender wanted to copy the formation, and now had the girl trembling on his back.

On another station, Pansy Parkinson was shivering without a top. Her robe and blouse had been thrown to the other side of the class, in an obvious act of desperation.

Most surprisingly, the entire room and all its occupants were covered with an unknown, sticky substance.

Upon the door opening, each and every student had turned, wide-eyed, toward the movement.

Madam Hooch examined the carnage and asked, “What? Did you see a mouse?”

<->

By lunch, the first-years had been cleaned, and they were all sitting at their house tables. They had varying expressions of shell shock, except for Ron, who was showing off his new wand, and Sweetie Belle, who had discovered hamburgers.

“Oh, that reminds me,” she said after swallowing a big bite of her burger, “Harry, may I please borrow your owl?”

“Um, no.” Harry stared at her. “Hedwig likes to eat bacon; she does not go good with it.”

As Sweetie Belle’s eyes glazed over slightly, Ron whined, “Harry! Don’t be giving her ideas!”

Returning to reality, Sweetie Belle, with a note of hurt in her voice, said, “I wasn’t going to eat her, I just want her to carry a letter.”

“You can use the school owls in the owlery,” Hermione piped up.

“Great!” Sweetie exclaimed. “Hermione, may I please borrow some paper and quill?”

Thankfully, earlier Scootaloo had mentioned that writing with one’s fingers was the way to go, so Sweetie Belle drew no attention as she wrote.

Dear Rarity,

I’m not even sure if this will work, so I’ll keep it short.

The crusaders and I have arrived at school safely and have just completed our first class of the day. There was a little excitement, but otherwise it went well. That is mostly well, nopony got too hurt. Well, Daphne got bit on her ankle but that healed itself rather quickly.

You can send letters back with the owl. I need to run now, since I have to make it to the owlery and then to my next class.

Love,

Sweetie Belle

With letter tucked into a pocket, Sweetie followed the other females of the first-year Gryffindors, seeking out the owlery. The group, being composed of girls, were actually willing to ask for directions. They quickly found the birds.

As they climbed the stairs into the chamber, one of the owls noticed who was coming and frantically made her way to the far side of the owlery in a flash of white feathers, putting as many other owls between herself and the newcomers as possible.

“We just tie it to an owl’s leg?” Scootaloo was asking as they choose one, a large barn owl.

“Shouldn’t we all send letters?” Apple Bloom suggested as Sweetie Belle attached the letter.

“We don’t even know if this will work yet,” Sweetie Belle countered.

“Why wouldn’t it work?” Parvati asked, confused.

Without a sound the owl took off and flew out the window. A few feet from the egress it pivoted at an impossible direction some forty-two degrees and seemed to fly toward yesterday as it just vanished.

The girls all gasped, astonished by the display. There was a ten second stretch of silence.

“Well, either that worked.” Scootaloo started.

“Or we owe the school a new owl.” Apple Bloom finished.

A few more seconds of silence passed, and Sweetie Belle added, “I wonder if we can owl-order owls.”

<->

She lay on her couch, staring at nothing. Half of her hide was a grimy off-white, the other half, where she had slipped and fallen, was completely mud encrusted. The less said about her mane and tail, the better.

They had forced her to go get some sleep and get some food in her. She found she could do neither. She could only lie there and stare, uncaringly ruining her furniture.

She had read about it before, losing a filly or a colt.

They had used the word “devastated” a lot, a description that failed to come remotely close. It lacked connection to the reality.

She lay there as the tears silently flowed.

Suddenly, an owl flew in one of the windows and landed near her. She almost ignored it, but it persisted offering her a leg. With what little focus she could muster, she saw that the leg had a letter tied to it. Who used owls to deliver letters?

She didn’t have the strength to use her magic to retrieve the missive, so she used her mouth. The bird, its work done, took off and exited the way it came.

With trepidation, she opened the letter, praying for the best, fearing the worst.

She read what was written, her eyes watering the entire time, then a word weakly left her lips.

“School?”

With that word, hope returned, exhaustion won the fight, and consciousness fled.

Generosity slept.

Chapter 10: Plotting Along

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The next class of the day turned out to be Charms. This time around, they had been grouped with the yellow-trimmed students, Hufflepuffs. The boys were already seated by the time the Gryffindor girls made an appearance, and, unlike Potions with the Slytherins, there were no signs of hostility as the seats were filled.

Scanning the room, Ginny frowned as she noticed her brother had taken up residence next to Harry. Disgruntled that her first choice had been removed, she decided to sit up front, next to Hermione.

When class started, the smallest human stallion they had yet seen entered and called for the students to quiet down. Apple Bloom remembered seeing him sitting at the head table with the rest of the teachers, so he wasn’t too much of a surprise. The small stallion had a distinctive quality about him. Though he was obviously fully grown, he was smaller even than the girls' human forms. If somepony were to ask her, she’d say he was more on the scale of a goblin than a human.

“Good afternoon, class,” he said as, with a flick of his wand, he stacked together a couple of large books and casually stood on them. Apple Bloom was taken aback by the improvised stool. She knew that if Twilight had been present, the mare would be throwing a fit. “Welcome to First-Year Charms. My name is Professor Flitwick.” The small stallion concluded his introduction.

The diminutive professor then swiftly took roll, interrupting the process only when he fell off his perch in shock upon reaching Harry’s name. With formalities soon out of the way, he introduced the students to the concept of proper wand gestures. The class was enthralled by his enthusiasm and good humor, making the experience both fun and exciting. Well, not as exciting as Potions had been, but there was a lot of actual learning going on.

Halfway through the period, Sweetie Belle stopped to closely examine her wand. This was the first time she had really tried using it since she had purchased it. The only real use had been manipulating her trunk; otherwise, it had stayed in her holster.

The more she handled it, the more she became aware of how, to her magic, it felt like her own horn. Only, at the same time, it felt completely and utterly unlike her horn. The sensation was oddly wonderful, in an altogether mundane sort of way. Contemplating the piece of wood, Sweetie Belle had no idea what to make of it.

<->

A single pony trotted down the streets of Ponyville, sharing greetings with those she passed. One glance would show that she had an immaculate white coat, which complemented her pale pink mane pleasantly. To say the least, Nurse Redheart’s day had be interesting; she had spent the morning playing an invigorating game of “Drug the Element Bearer.” Without exception, all six of them had pushed themselves well past normal pony limits, and were on the road to serious self-inflicted harm. Backed by the mayor’s approval, it was Nurse Redheart’s job to intervene. It was a job that she was good at, so much so that she was currently five for six.

Unsurprisingly, Rainbow Dash had been the first to fall. The cyan pony had been requesting that more and more coffee be brought to her, to aid her in her watch. Consequently, it had been a simple thing to replace her latest batch with decaf, plus an additive that “encouraged” nap time. One mug later and snores could be heard plainly, even by the ponies on the ground.

Applejack had been next on the list, she and her brother, both. Each of the siblings had been undertaking solo forays into the forest, insisting that they did not want to be slowed by escorts. Luckily, they had to come out periodically for updates and, hopefully, news pertaining to the safe return of the fillies. During their infrequent check-ins, they would wolf down whatever food that anypony happened to present to them. Again, it had been simple to add a little extra to their most recent meals. The only hiccup to her plan came when Redheart had done her best to delay their return to the forest. She didn’t want them to end up taking their naps in the forest proper. The result was for Apple Jack to regard Redheart with suspicion. The apple farmer had bluntly asked the nurse if she was attempting to drug the two of them or something.

To this Redheart had pleasantly responded, “No, why would I do something like that?”

Of course, lying to the Element of Honesty had been an effort in futility, no matter how tired that element might been. At the same time, it didn’t matter, as it was too late, and the sleeping agent was already working its magic. Smirking to herself, Redheart had needed the help of four of the guard ponies to move the siblings off to their respective beds.

Twilight had been as easy as Rainbow Dash. Even though she was assuredly the smartest pony around, she was prone to routine -- a few drops in the tea Spike had been about to serve to her and she was out cold. Little more effort was required to tuck her into her own bed.

Thankfully, Fluttershy was always the type to avoid conflict when possible. So, when Nurse Redheart had asked her to open wide and say “ah”, Fluttershy had done as she had been asked. Without any fuss, Redheart had administered the drug directly, and Fluttershy was soon fast asleep.

Pinkie had been. . . well, Pinkie had been Pinkie. It was almost comical how many near misses Redheart had been forced to endure before managing to score a hit. Someday, in the distant future, she would look back on the experience and laugh, but, for now, the pink party pony was prostrated and plopped on a prepared portable pallet, proving positively precious.

All that was left was Rarity. Luckily, she had already been implored by the mayor to go home and get some rest. She had given in to the argument that to do otherwise would only hinder the search. The lack of sleep was significantly slowing down her efforts at that point. The mare, with her ears drooping and her tail dragging, had complied. As it now stood, Redheart was on her way to Rarity’s place to ensure sleep was achieved.

Upon her arrival, Nurse Redheart knocked politely on the Carousel Boutique’s entrance. When she received no reply, she entered anyway. It did not take her long to locate her patient laid out on the couch. One look at the poor mare showed the rise and fall of her barrel, denoting deep slumber. Humming to herself, Redheart retrieved a stethoscope from her saddle bag, happy that it looked like drugs were not going to be needed here.

Ignoring the filth covering the normally pristine pony, Redheart checked for proper breathing and heart rhythm. In the process, she noticed a half-crumpled letter resting under Rarity’s chin. The poor dear must have fallen asleep reading. It wasn’t curiosity that compelled Redheart to retrieve the letter. As a medical professional, she knew Rarity was in a very fragile state. As such, the introduction of bad, or even good, news could be extremely overwhelming for the mare.

A quick read through of the letter proved that it needed to be brought to the attention of Mayor Mare as quickly as possible. Hopefully, a happy conclusion was on the horizon. The one setback being, Redheart had to confirm the letter was new, and not memorabilia from happier times. She gently prodded Rarity with her hoof, hating that she had to wake her patient.

Slowly, Rarity’s eyes fluttered open as Redheart prodded her with increasing vigor. The fashionista fixed her distressed gaze on the nurse, “Was it real? Did I dream it?” She begged, “Tell me! Did an owl really deliver a letter from Sweetie Belle?”

Nodding her head comfortingly, Nurse Redheart said, “Yes dear, it was real. Now I need you to open up and say ‘Aaaah’.”

Rarity did as she was told, and soon Redheart left the establishment, six for six.

<->

Alice sat at her desk and studied the book left for her by the stranger. He had done more than just provide the tome; he had told her exactly where to look. He even suggested to her the best things to say and helped come up with compelling counter arguments she would not otherwise have thought of. His help had been invaluable.

With nary a sound, Alice read with the intensity of a Ravenclaw, only stopping to occasionally daydream of the chaos she was preparing to unleash upon those who had wronged her. She knew justice would be had.

<->

After Charms, they had a free period, effectively freeing them for the weekend, the one exception being twelve inches on the most commonly used wand motions.

“So?” Apple Bloom asked as the first-year collective gathered up their things in preparation of leaving class. “Any ideas on something exciting to do now?”

“How about we go find the library!” Hermione immediately suggested.

“She did say ‘exciting’.” Ron vetoed the idea, then, to no one’s surprise suggested, “We could play Quidditch, there’s plenty of light left.”

Scootaloo shook her head with regret. “We don’t have access to the brooms until after the twins and Percy finish their classes.”

“Brooms? First-years aren’t allowed to own brooms!” Hermione was scandalized by the very notion of breaking the rules and somehow sneaking a broom on campus.

“But we can borrow them from upperclassmen,” Ginny grinned wickedly as she explained to Hermione, “and upper years can own more than one.”

“That’s . . . that’s . . .” Hermione did her best to wrap her mind around the concept. “Cheating!”

“Nah,” Apple Bloom corrected, “it’s just creative rule-following.”

In the front of the class, Professor Flitwick suddenly snapped his fingers, remembering something important. “Miss Aloo, Miss Belle, and Miss Bloom, if you could please stay after class.” His declaration received curious looks from the rest of the class as they filed out and left the three named victims behind.

“Yes, Professor?” Sweetie Belle said hesitantly, afraid that she was about to get in even more trouble for the potions incident.

“No need to be nervous,” Professor Flitwick said comfortingly as he made his way over to the three girls. “Due to your circumstances, Professor McGonagall has asked me to see you to the clinic after class. While we expect no trouble, it wouldn’t hurt for Madam Pomfrey to have some baseline readings, just in case. Please follow me.”

The three fillies just nodded in acceptance and followed the professor out of the classroom. After several flights of stairs and some twists and turns, they arrived at the infirmary. Like all its kind, it smelled faintly of disinfectant and favored the white coloring that was so common within the healing profession. Inside, they were greeted by an older human mare.

“Madam Pomfrey,” Professor Flitwick greeted, “I have brought your afternoon appointment.”

Madam Pomfrey smiled as, all the while, she studied the children accompanying him. “Thank you, Professor.” Then, turning her focus to the girls, she continued, “Professor McGonagall has asked me to give you each a once-over, to confirm your health, just a precautionary measure.” She then patted an examining table. “So, who would like to go first?”

Suddenly, Scootaloo stumbled forward as a certain redhead looked at the ceiling and whistled. Scootaloo scowled at Apple Bloom for a second then, in defeat, said, “I guess that would be me.”

Madam Pomfrey shortly had the girl on the exam table and was scanning Scootaloo’s body using her wand. Frowning slightly, she made notes on a clipboard and then went back to examination. As she scanned, the look of worry increased on her face. With obvious frustration, she put her wand away and said, “A trip to St. Mungo’s may be in order, Professor Flitwick. There are a few unusual readings that don’t make sense.”

Professor Flitwick actually chuckled at the suggestion. “Before we resort to that,” he said, before turning to the table. “Miss Aloo, if you would please remove your necklace for Madam Pomfrey?”

With her mouth half open, Madam Pomfrey stared for a full minute, then said, “She is rather cute, isn’t she.”

Professor Flitwick studied his student then concurred, “Very much so.”

“That’s an awfully bright shade of orange,” Madam Pomfrey observed.

Scootaloo looked at her own coat and said, “I’ve always thought it suited me just fine.”

At a loss on what to say in response, Madam Pomfrey once more scanned her patient. This time, she stopped, her wand hovering over the little filly’s wings. “Are your wings the normal size for a child your age?”

Scootaloo promptly took on the attitude of a kicked dog, holding back tears as she shook her head silently.

“I see.” Madam Pomfrey patted her on the head. “That does explain the readings from earlier. I am truly sorry; I had to bring it up.”

“It’s all right,” Scootaloo sniffed. “I’m used to it.”

“It’s obviously not all right,” Madam Pomfrey firmly corrected. “We shall talk of this later, once I’ve gone over my readings.”

Scootaloo nodded her head and hopped off the table, her hooves clicking on the tile as she went to stand by her friends, both of whom sank to their knees and administered hugs.

Madam Pomfrey and Professor Flitwick somberly watched the scene, neither wanting to disrupt the show of support.

After a reasonable span of time passed, Madam Pomfrey cleared her throat and said, “Miss Bloom, was it? I do believe you volunteered to be next.”

Hanging her head slightly, Apple Bloom mounted the table.

Once again, Madam Pomfrey scanned her patient, her wand glowing slightly as it moved. Eventually she nodded her head in satisfaction and made more notes on her clipboard. “Now remove your necklace please.”

There was less of a pause this time. “No wings on you?”

“No ma’am.” Apple Bloom shook her head, her bow swaying behind her head. “I’m an earth pony.”

"I see.” Madam Pomfrey smiled. “And a healthy earth pony you are indeed.”

“I’m an Apple,” Apple Bloom said smugly.

“I thought you said you were an earth pony,” Madam Pomfrey joked as she began probing Apple Bloom’s little yellow form.

Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo giggled at their embarrassed friend.

“And last, but not least, Miss Belle,” Madam Pomfrey said upon finishing up with Apple Bloom.

After hopping onto the table, Sweetie Belle was subjected to a once-over as well. The survey caused Madam Pomfrey’s mouth to form a small frown as she made notes. Obviously, there were readings she wasn’t happy with. “And now your necklace.” She commanded.

This time, Madam Pomfrey barley blinked at the change. “You’re a unicorn?”

“Yes ma’am.” Sweetie Belle nodded her head in confirmation.

“That would explain the readings I received earlier.” Madam Pomfrey also nodded her head, losing the frown. “Although, you do have many notable differences from a normal unicorn, I should have surmised as much before your transformation.” She made more notes on her clipboard. “One such difference is your blood.”

"My blood?” Sweetie Belle looked up at the witch studying her.

“Yes, the unicorns normally found in the forest, for instance, have blood of a much more mystical nature than yours. But, that is neither here nor there. Your tests show that you are quite healthy at this point in time.”

Seemingly satisfied with the information recorded, Pomfrey returned the necklaces to the little ponies. With a critical eye, she watched them take on human form. “If you find you're having any difficulties maintaining your change, or have any -- and I do mean any -- pain or discomfort, you are to come to me immediately. There shall be no ‘but I didn’t want to bother you’ nonsense.”

The girls all nodded their heads obediently.

“Now go and enjoy your weekend.” Pomfrey fixed them with one more smile before they scampered out the infirmary door.

After the girls had left, Madam Pomfrey turned to Professor Flitwick and raised one eyebrow. She plainly wanted an explanation.

<->

“At least we know they aren’t lost in the Everfree,” Mayor Mare said to the lieutenant in charge of the search team as she shuffled some paperwork on her desk. “You may recall your scouts and stand down.”

“Has anypony informed the Elements of this discovery?” the large sturdy grey stallion, known as Dragnet, inquired.

“Rarity knows; the others will be told once they get some sleep.” Mayor Mare sighed. “Meanwhile, a letter has been sent to the princesses updating them on the situation.” After peering at a paper on her desk she added, “No owl was found at Rarity’s, so at this point, we do not know if she sent a reply or not.”

Dragnet ran a hoof under his chin thoughtfully. “As you said, at least we now know they are not lost in the Everfree.”

<->

That night, after supper, Lavender, Parvati, Hermione, and Sweetie Belle were poring over the trunk catalog while the rest of the first-years were having a go at playing exploding snaps. It was noticeable that none of them were especially skilled at the game. This explained why Ron’s hair was making a valiant effort to change from red to black, and why Harry was missing half of an eyebrow. Additionally, somewhere between the second and fifth round, Apple Bloom’s ribbon had fallen in battle, and Dean was currently sporting a face covered in soot. All in all, it was good clean fun, only without the clean.

Without warning, the Weasley twins integrated themselves into the gathering.

“It was rather peculiar,” one of them started.

“. . . to see how far behind in points, we are . . .”

“. . . compared to the rest of the houses.”

“Would any of you happen to know . . .”

“. . . how this came to be?”

All the first-years went still and remained quiet, not one of them wanting to be the one to share the news.

“It would appear, dear brother,” maybe George said.

“That we have indeed found the source of the anomaly,” the other agreed.

Then, as one, they turned to the first-years and sternly said, “Spill it.”

Lavender was the girl who decided that they’d find out anyway. “Professor Snape was just angry because Neville and Sweetie Belle sicced their pet potion on the Slytherins.”

The twins shared another glance. “They did now?”

“So that’s why . . .”

“. . . the greatest loss of points . . .”

“. . . on the first day of classes . . .”

“. . . was achieved by first-years?”

“Actually, back in 1765, Taurus Black lost 215 points on his first day, so these two were nowhere near the record at fifty each,” a female voice enlightened everyone in earshot.

Everybody in the common room, who had already been listening to the twins, turned their attention to a certain bushy-haired girl.

“What?” Hermione said, shuffling slightly and hiding her hands behind her back. “It’s in ‘Hogwarts a History’.”

Everyone continued to stare at her.

Hermione stamped her foot and put her hands on her hips. “You didn’t think I wasn’t going to look that up, did you?”

“Right then,” one of the twins, let’s call him George for the time being, said, “so the second largest.”

“Yentl Singh, 1846.” Hermione shook her head.

“Okay, let’s skip the countdown.” George grinned at the interruption

“What place did they manage?” Fred finished for him.

“27th,” Hermione promptly answered.

“Okay.” Fred rubbed his hands together. “When you put it that way . . .”

“. . . it doesn’t sound so bad.”

“You two just need to work harder . . .”

“. . . if you want to break records.”

“But we want . . .”

“. . . details.”

<->

Applejack snorted herself awake. One second she was asleep, the next she sat bolt upright, her mind sharper than any drug-addled mind had any right to be. Distressed, she saw that they had let her sleep the whole day away -- the whole bucking day. She knew why they had done it, but she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to forgive them.

Without a word, she leapt from her bed, grabbed her hat, and raced down the stairs. There, waiting in the family room, was Granny, rocking peacefully in her chair. The ancient mare didn’t even look up as she said, “Slow down thar; the youngun’s are safe.”

Applejack skidded to a halt, relief filling her every fiber. She turned to her elder, with a look of joy and expectation on her face.

<->

The early evening was still comfortable this time of year, just perfect for sitting at one of the café’s outdoor tables. This was where Mayor Mare found herself. A meal of stewed tomatoes over hay noodles lay before her, with its tantalizing aromas.

She was just taking a sip of her milk when her ears pivoted to catch a sound. It was just on the edge of her hearing, but she had plainly heard a pony scream. They had screamed one easily recognizable word. That word had been, “School?!”

It appeared Nurse Redheart had been correct in her estimates, the mayor mused as she reached for her dinner. Applejack had been the first to awaken.

<->

It hungered. For too long had it gone without nourishment. It needed to feed, and it needed to feed now!

From the shadows, it could sense prey up ahead. It could practically hear the victim’s blood calling from the very veins through which it flowed.

Soon, the hunter would be sated. Soon it would have its fill. As silently as it could manage, it snuck up behind the prey and pounced.

There was a scream and some scrambling; then, the excitement was over as suddenly as it had started.

A female’s voice could be heard to say, “What in the name of Merlin was that!”

“I don’t know,” her companion, a male, replied, “but it bit me on the ankle, it did.”

The hunter retreated from the site of a successful ambush, enjoying the few drops of blood that were its prize.

<->

For the second night in a row, Hermione sat in hot water, surrounded by, dare she hope it, new friends. Lazily, she soaked in the warmth as the conditioner worked its wonders. Thinking back to the trunk catalog she asked, “So these are standard six compartment luxury trunks, right?”

“I guess so,” Sweetie Belle replied, only her neck and head above the water line.

“So, does that mean your sixth compartment is set up to house a potions lab?” Hermione’s curiosity came to the forefront.

Silence met this question for a few seconds until Apple Bloom said, “Let me see if Ah got this straight. Sweetie Belle owns a kitchen an’ a potions lab?”

Scootaloo groaned and let her head sink below the water.

“Hey!” Sweetie Belle squeaked as the rest of the first-year Gryffindor girls looked on with varying degrees of horror, “I’m not that bad.”

<->

“School?!”

This time the word came from the direction of the library. It looked like Twilight had returned to consciousness.

<->

As curfew approached, Gale and Euan entered the Hufflepuff common room, both looked a little frazzled.

With a loud whistle, Euan called for everyone’s attention and announced, “Be careful out in the hallways; there’s something out there. It’s small and very fast”

“Yeah,” Gale agreed, “it was a regular Speedy Gonzales.”

One of the occupants of the common room, another muggle-born, asked the obvious question, “What, did you see a mouse?”

<->

‘All Ah’m saying, is please have one of us with you ifn’ you go cooking or making potions.” Apple Bloom reiterated, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and we’re all more than willing to help you learn.”

“Actually,” Hermione agreed, “I wouldn’t mind learning to cook myself. The best I can do now is burn toast.”

“That’s nothing,” Scootaloo said, patting herself dry with another fluffy towel, “Sweetie Belle has been known to serve toast in a glass, so it wouldn’t leak off the plate.”

“At least it wasn’t burnt,” Sweetie Belle protested.

Ginny wisely took a step away from her.

<->

“School?!”

Ah, that would be Rainbow Dash. Idly, the mayor wondered if she would be able to hear Fluttershy, or if she should just assume the pegasus was on her way.

<->

Wand brandished, Snape rounded a corner and beheld four sixth-year Ravenclaw students standing around looking wide-eyed, “Have you seen . . .” he started, but stopped as they all raised a hand and pointed down the hallway.

Professor Snape nodded and rushed in the indicated direction.

<->

“Popcorn!!!”

And there was Pinkie’s input. The mayor used a napkin to wipe the sauce off her muzzle. Having just finished her meal, she knew now was the time to explain just how much they didn’t know. Rising and leaving a tip, she headed back to her office.

<->

This time, it was Lavender who was first into the bed, a long day coming to an end. Soon, when Scootaloo, the next girl in line, was close enough, Lavender snuggled up to her. She didn’t even stop to ponder how, in just one day, the thought of sleeping with others had become commonplace.

<->

Everywhere, notes covered the table, interspersed were the remains of small snacks. Tirelessly, Alice reviewed what she had written down and checked it against the open book before her. She was going to make sure this was perfect, because if she failed, she wouldn’t get a second chance, not with the opposition she was guaranteed to rouse. This was going to be all that she had hoped for, and more. Ever since she was old enough to understand, this had been her goal. Yet, never before had it been even remotely attainable, but change had come.

The knowledge had been hidden, purposefully hidden, by those in power. Unsurprisingly, every Ravenclaw could tell you that knowledge is power. Now, she had the power! Her desires were well within her grasp. All she had to do was squeeze.

<->

Mayor Mare sat behind her desk and waited for the occupants to digest the information obtained from the letter.

“If I recall correctly, the owl did not wait for a reply. In fact, as soon as I had possession of the letter, it departed,” Rarity was recalling. Her coat was spotless once more, and her mane and tail had been returned to their accustomed condition.

“Wait! I’m confused. Are we proud that they’ve taken the initiative to further their own education, or are we upset because they took off for school without telling anypony!” The question had started out smoothly but by the end Pinkie’s voice had risen a few octaves and she was bouncing in place.

“They are so grounded when they get back.” Applejack answered Pinkie's question for everypony and was meet with a round of affirming nods.

“I want to know what classes they are taking where somepony could get bitten,” Twilight said as she hit a tangent she couldn’t ignore.

“That don’t matter none at all, right now,” Applejack countered, something else on her mind. “How do we go about sending a letter when we ain’t got no owl.”

“We do have Owlowiscious,” Fluttershy offered. “Maybe he’d like to help.”

There was another round of nodding approval as the mares left to implement the plan. As Mayor Mare watched them exit, she reflected on the one who had been uncharacteristically quiet the entire time, a deviation from character that was worrisome.

Interlude 1:Those Left Behind

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It was a large and impressive muggle kitchen; black granite graced the counters and the appliances were the stainless steel variety. In the Altar to Morning, the center counter, a pot of coffee barely finished filling when Emma Granger reached for the nectar. Early mornings did not really agree with her; as a matter of fact, Emma had a history of arguing with them, arguments she was prone to lose.

Just as she was pouring herself a ration of liquid wakefulness, there came the sound of clicking on the kitchen window, as if someone were tapping on it with their fingernails. Pulling herself away from coffee, Emma glanced at the window and saw a snowy white owl pecking lightly at the pane. When the bird saw that it had her attention, it gave three more quick raps on the glass.

Emma smiled to herself; she had been informed about the tendency to use owls as message bearers. It was a strange and impractical-seeming practice, but if this was how she was to stay in contact with her daughter, she’d get used to it. Crossing the length of the kitchen, she opened the window and let her morning visitor in.

“Aren’t you just a beautiful thing?” she cooed as the owl took roost on the kitchen island. “I was told that having owl treats on hand would be a good idea, but I must admit I forgot to purchase them. I was about to make breakfast, though, and there will be some sausage, if you’d like.

Emma was just talking to talk; she wasn’t awaiting an answer, but the bird bobbed its head and barked at her. There were no words, but Emma got the distinct impression that even though they weren’t bacon, sausages would be fine. After blinking at the bird owlishly for a few seconds, she went to the stove and started a fry-up. Only then did she approach the owl and remove the letter it bore.

Emma had been very wary of the idea of sending her daughter away for schooling. The thought that she wouldn’t be seeing her offspring for months on end was very disturbing, yet it was offset by the knowledge that she could not help Hermione learn magic. She and her husband had been aware of that shortcoming for a period well prior to her daughter receiving that letter from the school. Flying stuffed teddies were rather hard to miss, after all.

It had come as no small relief that there was a community of magic users, albeit a hidden one. Her daughter would be taught how to use her gifts and not be a danger to herself or others. Reading through the books her daughter had bought at the magic book store brought some understanding of their ways. Even though Emma had been forced to wait for her daughter to fall asleep before she could get her hands on “Hogwarts: A History”, the book had given a decent, if not obviously abridged, summary of what life would be like at the school.

Predictably, once she had been made aware of the school’s existence, Emma had dialed up the internet to see what information could be obtained. What she found there was more than a little disturbing. A little research showed that the magic community was evidently obsessed with keeping itself secret and, as a result, segregated from non-magical communities. To maintain that secrecy, they would employ a spell to remove people’s memories, and they would systematically destroy or alter documents pertaining to their existence.

Unfortunately for them, they had yet to comprehend the importance of video cameras, computers, and the internet. Admittedly, the people writing the newsgroup threads didn’t have all the answers, but they knew where The Leaky Cauldron was, they knew where platform 9 ¾ was, and they knew what the mages who took away memories looked like. Their veil of secrecy was well and truly ripped away, and the wizards and witches weren’t even aware of that fact yet. Her daughter would be feeling the effects of that within her lifetime, especially if technology continued to advance as fast as it had been.

Trying not to imagine the worst-case scenarios of what was to come, Emma started to read the letter. It was exactly as Emma had hoped; the missive was from her daughter, detailing her first day of school.

<->

She arrived early, earlier even than the building was officially open for visitors. So, she sat by the door with her tail wrapped around her legs and waited. There had been no more sleep last night; instead, she had been alone with her thoughts. The result had been the injection of determination to her conviction, and she had concluded she would put this off no longer.

She had scarcely sat before the door was thrown open by a light tan mare with a foal’s bottle and rattle for a cutie mark. “You’ve come,” the tan mare beamed. “Come in! Come in! We’ve been expecting you!”

Speechless at the unforeseen greeting, she entered and basked in the feeling of home that radiated from within the building. She would not have thought such a thing possible from such a place.

Silently, and a little nervously, she followed the tan mare who was chattering along, “We knew it was just a matter of time before you came calling. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is that you finally had your epiphany. We like to think it was self-evident for everypony to see, but sometimes it takes a little push.”

The visitor let her ears fall, and she barely got the whisper out. “I thought I’d lost her.” Then after a deep breath, she said aloud, “I thought I’d never see her again.”

The tan mare nodded, her ears also drooping as she stopped in front of the office door. “I know; we were all so worried here. It wasn’t a good week. The other children were all distraught; a few even refused to eat.”

The visitor continued as if not hearing the words of the tan mare. “No, that’s wrong. I didn’t think I had lost her . . . I knew I had lost her. I kept wishing there was something I could do, something I could have done. I wished I could have told her just how much she means to me.” She lifted her head and let her pleading gaze fall fully on the tan mare. “I wished I had known just how much she meant to me.”

The tan mare perceived that the one before her had gone through a drastic change. The visitor’s ego had clashed with the understanding of things too important to even be given a proper name, and her ego had lost; overmatched, her ego had been ruthlessly crushed. Despite this, she had emerged more mature, and, evidently, more willing to undertake responsibility.

The tan mare opened the door to her office and gestured for her guest to follow. “Unfortunately, I’ve been down that road myself. This time, we were lucky; there are second chances available.”

Her guest smiled weakly and said, “That’s right. I get a second chance. I won’t let it slip through my hooves.”

The tan mare reached into a drawer and pulled out a packet of papers. They had been prepared months ago with this individual in mind. They were just sitting and waiting for this day. “Sometimes, all it takes for us to commit is the realization that the heart knows what is right even though the head refuses to believe.”

The guest nodded her head as the papers were placed in front of her. “It’s time to do what I should have done before.” She started signing the papers that formally began the adoption process.

<->

Vernon Dursley populated his bed as he had a bit of a lie in. His loving wife had already gotten up to start breakfast a while ago. She was now forced to do the activity herself, since the boy was no longer present to mess up the meal on a regular basis.

Vernon grinned to himself as he reflected how life had taken a turn for the better. True, the boy was off with his unnatural freak friends, learning unnatural freak things, but he wasn’t Vernon’s problem right now. He wouldn’t be his problem for most of the year. He could relax and be normal for once, without the worry that the boy would do something freakish. He’d still have to contend with the hassle during the summer months, but, for now, he was free.

Today he planned to waste the day away watching sports on the telly, a well-earned reward for a hard week put in on the job.

<->

Molly Weasley cooked, what seemed to her, a small breakfast. It was just for her husband and her; as such it didn’t need to be very much.

As the bacon fried, she could feel that the house was empty, the unnatural quietness grating at her very nerves. She was unprepared for the silence. She had planned on at least one more year, with one more child to keep her company. Instead, the absence of all of her offspring was a psychological blow, a bittersweet reminder that they had a tendency to grow up, to grow apart and not need their mother anymore. They had a tendency to live their own lives.

She was so proud of each and every one of them. Arthur and her may not have been able to give them everything they deserved, but they all had made do with what they had received. All of them had risen above the norm and were making marks for themselves. Her oldest had been head boy, and now her youngest was starting school a year early.

Yes, she had been blessed by an assortment of exceptional children . . . if only it didn’t hurt so much letting them grow up.

<->

Applejack paused to survey the hogs as she hauled the slop wagon toward the pigpen. Many of the chores had been neglected over the course of the week, but the hogs had been fed, if not otherwise cared for. Today, she’d catch up with the work that had been disregarded. Nurse Redheart had told her to take the day off, but Applejack knew that hard work was what she needed instead. It would help her get her mind off just how angry she was. Never before in her entire life had she been so angry. Never before in her entire life had she been so relieved. If Apple Bloom were to show up that very moment, Applejack wasn’t sure if she would tan her little hide or hug her and never let her go. It was a close call.

Just knowing she was alright was uplifting in a way that only a parent could adequately explain. Truly, unless you were a parent yourself, you couldn’t actually understand what they were trying to convey to you with that explanation. Having somepony tell you that they would rather die than have harm come to their children sounds so cliché that it might be easily overlooked as uninspired, or even hollow. The fact of the matter is that the phrase falls short of conveying the truth behind its meaning. Many think it is an exaggeration, yet any parent will tell you that it is the unadulterated, plain and simple truth. Applejack now had a new and profound understanding of that phrase.

Whistling for the pigs’ attention, Applejack began transferring the slop from the cart to the feeding trough using a bucket and her hooves. This was not a chore you’d want to use your mouth to accomplish. The hogs, whose only concern was stuffing as much food as possible as fast as possible into their stomachs, came charging at the announcement of a meal. Grimly, Applejack mechanically went through the motions of the task at hoof while her mind wandered back to the last couple days. Relief and anger warred with one another. Halfway to completion, she realized two things. The first was that she was weary, bone-tired. The second was that it was no contest at all, she would hug Apple Bloom for all she was worth if she were here right now. In the end, anger could not compete with love.

<->

Rarity stared at the breakfast she had prepared for herself. She was both starving and without appetite. The humor and paradox of the situation did not escape her attention.

A letter had been sent, but there was no guarantee when or if it would reach the fillies, and no pony knew when they would send another owl. They may even think that the first owl never arrived since it had failed to return with a reply.

Forcing herself to eat, Rarity still had worries, worries that were easy to deal with compared to what she had experienced over the last several days. She would recover.

There would be no work done today. Rarity knew that she didn’t currently have the drive, and she ached in ways she would not have thought possible, both physically and mentally. No, today was a day to recover. She would go find Fluttershy, and together they would drag the rest of their friends to the spa for a much-needed relaxation period, even if she had to drag Applejack the entire way in her telekinesis.

<->

Laughter giggled.

Magic hummed.

Kindness loved.

Loyalty planned.

Honesty accepted.

And Generosity healed.

It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was a better day than they had dreamed possible.

Chapter 11: Flame Tales

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It was late morning on Saturday when the first-year Gryffindor collective found its way into the Great Hall for breakfast. The tables already accommodated a significant portion of the school population by the time these first-years got there and took their seats.

Apple Bloom promptly found the Weasley twins. “Hey ya two, good morning.”

“Good morning,” the twin on the left replied

“How are you this fine morning?” his mirror image continued.

“Wondaful, I just found out I have an unequipped potions lab in my trunk,” Apple Bloom jubilantly responded as she started to pile food onto her plate. It didn’t matter if it were fruit, grain, vegetable, dairy, or meat; everything was fair game.

“How does one. . .”

“. . . just now find out they have a potions lab?”

“By just opening the first, second, and fifth compartments and ignoring the other three,” Scootaloo explained as she snatched a tureen of oatmeal from Apple Bloom’s grasp. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite fast enough to get to the blueberries before Ron. “Turns out compartment four is a clothing closet, full of hanger space and drawers.

“Ah, figured if anyone here had an owl order catalog for potion supplies, it’d be you two,” Apple Bloom said reaching for the bacon platter only to find Sweetie Belle had beaten her to it. She had no illusions that she’d get even a morsel.

“We might. . .” twin on the right started.

“. . . have something like that. . .”

“. . . laying around.”

“When might we see your lab?” the twins said in unison.

“Afta breakfast, would be great.” Apple Bloom waved her fork absently as she demolished an apple fritter.

Suddenly, the air was filled with owls entering through the upper windows. “Looks like they took down the security wards they had up for some reason,” a fifth-year commented as she looked up. “It was a bit of a bother missing the post yesterday.”

All manner of owl made their way towards their various targets, delivering assorted payloads. Suddenly, in the midst of the chaos, there was burst of flame. When it faded, a majestic red and gold bird was revealed.

Dumbledore, who had been sitting at the head table, looked up in alarm. Fawkes would not be delivering a letter to him here in the Great Hall unless it was urgent -- very, VERY urgent. The headmaster put down his fork and sat back waiting for his familiar to land. To his bemusement, the bird continued to circle the Great Hall, its rare form ensuring every student in the hall turned their head upward to witness the spectacle.

With a start, Dumbledore realized it was not Fawkes looking to deliver a letter to him; instead, it was another, an unknown phoenix bearing a scroll. The unfamiliar bird appeared to be looking for someone, but couldn’t quite find whomever it was searching for.

Then, the call came from the Gryffindor table, “Philomena!” and with sudden recognition, the bird turned and dove in the direction of the voice.

Everyone in the Great Hall was silent as they watched Sweetie Belle address the phoenix. “Hello Philomena, is that message for me?”

Philomena trilled joyously as she presented the scroll she was carrying.

“Thank you.” Sweetie Belle accepted the scroll and held up a strip of meat in response. “Want to try some bacon? It’s really rather good.”

Philomena gladly accepted the treat as she examined the “pony” she had been sent to find. It was at this time that a screech owl bearing a small package and a folded paper also found Sweetie Belle.

“Is that a phoenix?” Hermione demanded impatiently, ignoring the new owl as the rest of the Great Hall continued to rubberneck.

“Mmm, hmm,” Scootaloo said around a mouthful of oatmeal. “Her name’s Philomena; she’s Princess Celestia’s pet.”

“You know a phoenix and a real princess?” Hermione squeaked in astonishment.

“Mmm hmm.” Apple Bloom didn’t even bother to stop eating, or even nod her head, as she replied.

Up at the head table, Professor McGonagall muttered to herself, “So much for keeping a low profile.”

“What’s with this owl anyway?” Harry asked, pointing to the screech owl pestering Sweetie Belle for her attention.

“It’s an owl order,” Parvati informed him. “It wants Sweetie to mark its payment receipt with her vault key and take the package.”

“Oh!” about half of the Gryffindor first-year conclave said together.

The owl was soon relieved of the package and Philomena had finished her first piece of bacon. Again, there was a burst of fire in the air above, and a second phoenix appeared above tables in the Great Hall. This one homed in on the first and landed beside her. The two birds were soon quietly trilling at each other, obviously deep in conversation.

“What’s the letter say?” Scootaloo gestured at the scroll Philomena had delivered.

“Oh.” The ribbon around the scroll was removed and Sweetie began to read. “Just a second, and I’ll find out.”

“Well?” Apple Bloom said after a minute.

“It’s a good thing, letters can’t yell at you,” Sweetie Belle said as she rolled the scroll back up, her complexion becoming paler. “We should probably write some responses as soon as possible.”

“It’s a muggle howler?” Fred asked curiously,

“They found out about your potions class already?” George finished.

“Something like that.” Sweetie Belle grimaced. “Come on girls, we have some letters to write.”

“I’m not done yet,” Apple Bloom complained, fork halfway to her plate.

Sweetie Belle simply glared at her.

“All right, all right.” Apple Bloom swallowed, and then dumped a platterful of biscuits into her purse.

Watching Sweetie Belle stand to leave, Philomena took a hop and, with a few wing beats, was riding on her shoulder.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders then trouped back up to their dorm and disappeared into Apple Bloom’s trunk, not to be seen again until supper.

<->

The mare sat on a wooden bench in a small enclosed room, the hot steam penetrating her hide in a most pleasing manner. “Ah have ta admit, Rarity.” Applejack practically purred from her spot, “Ah’m a mite glad you talked me into this here outing.”

“If by ‘talked’, you mean lifting you bodily and floating you here,” Pinkie noted from the bench she was in the process of melting into. “Then, yes she talked you into it re-e-e-e-e-ealy well.”

“I do apologize darling,” Rarity said as she ignored the slur, “but it was exceedingly apparent that you needed a respite.”

“We all do,” Twilight concurred, sweat slicking her coat, making her a shade darker than normal. “It’s been a strenuous week for everypony.”

“Yeah, strenuous.” With her eyes cast downward, Rainbow Dash agreed, saying some of her first words since the group got together. Her friends all looked at her, worried by the lack of her usual flair.

“Do you want to talk about it, darling?” Rarity asked as Fluttershy fluttered over and draped a wing over the pained pegasus.

“No, I just. . .” Rainbow Dash shook her head unable to voice what she wanted to say. “. . . just no.”

She was saved from further prodding, as, abruptly, there was a flare of flames in the middle of the sauna, and Philomena practically got mugged when the ponies present realized she was carrying a stack of letters.

Fifteen minutes later, the group was out of the spa, hunting for draconequus. There may or may not have been a blunt instrument or two involved.

<->

Draco Malfoy sat in his room, hesitantly composing a letter to his father. He had already relayed that he had failed his orders to make friends with the scion of house Potter. The reply he had earned for that bit of news did not make for a pleasant read. Having to report that Potter had chosen Gryffindor was not received much better. Even though neither outcome was particularly unanticipated, they were decidedly unwelcome.

Now, Draco had a report that was wholly unforeseen, something unforeseeable. At breakfast this morning, it became apparent that Dumbledore had found a new, powerful ally; how else could you explain the appearance of a second phoenix? His father would want to know about this immediately; Draco just wished he didn’t have to be the one to tell him.

Sighing, Draco put quill to paper and wrote down what he had witnessed. Soon, an owl was making its way in the direction of Malfoy Manor.

<->

As soon as she awoke, Alice rose from her bed and, without much delay, was at her kitchen table once more, the organized chaos of her notes making way for a cup of coffee. Earlier, she had been forced to take a nap when the words began to blur together incomprehensively. Regardless, she wouldn’t allow herself much downtime, not with her goals so close.

Sipping her coffee, she almost missed the addition of a satchel to the clutter on the table. Warily, she opened the strange container. Then, after a few minutes reading what was inside, she broke out into a wide grin. Life was getting better and better.

<->

Noticing a flash of pink out of the corner of her eye, Berry Punch double-checked the anomaly and, to her relief, it wasn’t an elephant. Still, she took a careful sniff from the open bottle she was carrying, just to be safe. Satisfied that nothing was amiss, she trotted up behind the pony who had caught her attention.

As the other mare peered around the corner of a building, Berry asked, “What cha up to, Pinkie?”

“Shhhhh,” Pinkie said holding her hoof up to her lips, a crazed look in her eyes. “Be very, very quiet; I’m hunting draconequus.”

“Um, okay,” Berry said and slowly backed away from her.

Without warning, Pinkie took off around the corner and was soon lost from sight.

Berry Punch took a swig from the bottle as her friend Carrot Top trotted up beside her and asked, “What was that all about?”

Berry partook of another swig then said with an amazing stretch of insight, “I’m not sure, but if I were asked to place bits on it, I’d say Discord had something to do with the recent lost filly fiasco.”

“Oh.” Carrot Top contemplated the direction Pinkie had disappeared to. “Sucks to be him.”

“Pretty much,” Berry agreed with another swig.

The two mares were quiet a few seconds more before Carrot said, “Want to get a hayburger? They’re having a two for.”

Berry shrugged and finished off the bottle, “Sure, I’m a bit peckish.”

<->

Impatiently, Lavender knocked on the lid of the trunk for the third time. Just as she finished, it swung open and Scootaloo looked at her questioningly.

“We were starting to get worried about you.” Lavender said, trying to hide her curiosity, “You’ve been in there since breakfast.”

Scootaloo managed a sheepish look, “Sorry, we started with letter writing and that led to Apple Bloom explaining the basics of cooking and potion making to Sweetie. I kinda took a nap myself.”

“Sweetie cannot be as bad at cooking as you keep implying.” Lavender stated putting her hands on her hips.

Scootaloo yawned and stretched, “I’m going to remember you said that.” She warned.

“Anyway,” Parvati said from her bed, where she had been lying, reading a magazine, “It’s almost time for supper, and we need to go rescue the library from Hermione first.”

“She’s been there the entire time?” Scootaloo asked, descending the stairs into the trunk.

“Yeah, pretty much,” Lavender confirmed. “Once she picked up the package Sweetie forgot at the table when you three left, she made a beeline for it. Said something about looking up phoenixes”

“Hey, you two! Dinner time!” Scootaloo called out from the bottom of the stairs.

“Coming!” came the duet from deeper in the trunk.

Soon, the fillies were exiting the trunk, with Philomena once again resting on Sweetie Belle’s shoulder.

“I can’t get over the fact that you have a phoenix,” Lavender said getting as close to the bird as she dared. “May I pet her?”

“Y’all should be asking Philomena that,” Apple Bloom informed her as the lid of the trunk was closed, “’Fore we go, come over here so we can key you to our trunks, so you won’t be locked out again.”

“Where are the colts?” Sweetie Belle asked as she stood still and let Lavender give Philomena attention.

“Off doing whatever boys do.” Parvati was also examining the phoenix but was keeping her hands to herself. “Ginny’s with them, following Harry like a little lost puppy.”

“Less chatting and more eating,” Apple Bloom commanded. “Ah, didn’t get to finish brunch an’ my stomach is a rumblin’”

Sweetie Belle whined, “But I made cookies.” The other crusaders looked at her, horrified.

Not wanting to get between the redhead and a meal, the girls quickly completed the changes to the trunks and then took off in search of the library.

As they made their way through the hallways, everyone they passed stopped to stare at the phoenix-toting girl, some going so far as to follow behind the group for a bit to get a better look. Strutting, Scootaloo was basking in the attention, while Sweetie Belle was getting nervous and ended up walking closer and closer to Apple Bloom for support. Giggling, Lavender and Parvati seemed happy enough to be in the group that was the center of attention.

Before long, they ran into Hermione, who was making her way back to the dorms with her arms full of books. “Hermione!” Scootaloo waved as they approached her. “We were just coming to get you!”

“Oh, hey!” Hermione returned, pleased by the notion that children her own age were looking to include her. “I just have some light reading here to take back to the dorm first.”

“She is not to be left in a room alone with Twilight,” Scootaloo insisted as she looked at the pile of books that the girl had called light reading.

“Aw,” Apple Bloom pouted realizing they were about to make a trip back to the dorms, “more delays until we can eat.”

“Well, if we were in a real hurry,” Hermione said, clutching her books tightly to her chest, “we could just ask Philomena to flame us to the dorm.” There was a sudden bright flash as flames surrounded the girls and the hallway vanished from view. “Kind of like that,” Hermione finished, placing her books on her bed. “The wards stop apparition but not phoenix travel.”

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Sweetie Belle said to the bird on her shoulder. Philomena’s reply was a trill and a smug look.

“Wow!” Parvati exclaimed, once again examining the phoenix, “I could get used to that. How long did you say she was going to be sticking around?”

“Princess Celestia asked her to keep an eye on us until further notice,” Apple Bloom interrupted, then addressing the bird, “Think y’all could take us to the eating hall now, please?”

More flames came into existence, and the girls found themselves once more in the Great Hall and, consequently, the focal point of all the present diners.

“Great!” Apple Bloom cheered as she claimed a seat next to Ron, who was gawking with his mouth half open and half full. “Let’s eat.”

“Okay,” Ginny accused from her seat next to Harry, “that’s just cheating.”

“Nah.” Hermione shook her head as she took a seat next to Scootaloo. “It’s just creative rule following.”

“Learns fast, she does,” Dean commented as he offered a chunk of rabbit from his hasenpfeffer to Philomena, who was still sitting on the shoulder of the girl who claimed the seat next to him.

“I didn’t know phoenixes ate meat.” Scootaloo watched as the bird accepted Dean’s offer.

“They’re omnivores.” Hermione took on a lecturing tone, “Just like us. Didn’t you see her eat the bacon?”

“Speaking of meat,” Percy said from down the table, a few seats away, where he was sitting with some of his classmates, “Scootaloo, you need to eat some more; I swear you’re trying to go vegetarian on us, and that’s not a good idea for someone so young. You’re still growing. And Sweetie, the opposite holds true for you, eat more veggies.”

“There’s a limit on how much meat I can eat?” Sweetie Belle asked in dismay, even as she reached for the platter of steaks.

“You need a balanced diet; don’t you know?” Hermione started dishing greens on Sweetie Belle’s plate for her. “You need a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need.”

In unison, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo looked at each other and then turned to look at Apple Bloom, who was once again racing with Ron.

“I’m not touching that one.” Hermione shook her head at their unasked question. “I might lose a hand in the process, if I try.”

<->

Sullenly, he lay on his pallet, weak both from lack of decent food and from the jailers who roamed the halls. For what seemed like forever, he knew he deserved his punishment. He knew that he didn’t deserve to feel happiness because his brother could no longer feel happiness either. Never again would his brother know the love of family, all because he had failed. He had failed to protect those who had meant the most to him. He failed because he had suggested using the traitor. Worst of all, he had failed to bring the traitor to justice. He had failed.

He failed to notice the stranger in his cell, looking upon him with sadness and cunning in mismatched eyes. He failed to see change coming.

<->

Harry’s day had been enjoyable. He had spent it exploring the castle with the rest of the Gryffindor boys and Ron’s sister. Together, they had poked their noses into every nook and cranny they could find. They had even shared a laugh at the thought of the girls’ reaction if they happened to meet one of the moving suits of armor. There had been no plan or agenda, just fun, just learning how to be a child.

The down side came in the form of the whispers from the other students in the halls.

“Look, it’s him.”

“Does he have the scar?”

“Did you see his scar?”

“He’s wearing glasses.”

“Next to the redhead girl, see?”

Harry was not used to the attention. He survived his entire prior existence with the Dursleys by avoiding attention whenever and however possible. The sudden celebrity status was the antithesis to all he had known before, and frankly, he wasn’t sure how to handle it.

He also wasn’t sure how to handle friends. Without Dudley around to chase them away, Harry was making friends. Predictably, it was an idea he could get used to; he very much enjoyed having friends. What had once been a fond dream was becoming a reality. Surrounded by acceptance, Harry knew one thing for certain, he was never going back to the Dursleys’ willingly.

And then there was the mystery that was Ginny, Ron’s little sister. Though she said nothing outright, she seemed to be wanting something from him and was never too far from him. Yet, whenever he tried talking to her, she would go all silent and stare at him, answering his questions only with nods or shakes of her head. It was frustrating, especially knowing she could speak just fine to everyone else. Having little social interaction beforehand, he wished she would stop seeing him as the Boy-Who-Lived and start just being his friend. Harry found that she made him uncomfortable in a new and unusual way. Not uncomfortable enough to avoid her, but certainly just uncomfortable enough that he was always aware of exactly where she was.

With the good far outweighing the bad, life was good for the first time he could remember.

<->

Six friends were gathered in the library one of their number called home. It was an inviting location, inside a living tree, with the distinct smell of books filling the air. There was tea being served with small cakes.

“He ain’t no whars to be found.” Applejack stomped her forehoof soundly on the wooden floor. “And he ain’t coming when called.”

“Nopony has ever accused him of being exceedingly stupid,” Rarity agreed, putting down the bat she had been levitating. “I’m sure we won’t be seeing him for at least a week.”

“I’m sure he had a good reason for doing what he did,” came a meek defense for the condemned. “We should probably hear what he has to say before. . . umm. . . that is. . .”

“He’ll have exactly three seconds to explain himself once I get my hooves on him,” Applejack allowed grumpily.

“He needs to know that he’s been a mean mean meanie pants and needs to let ponies know when he moves fillies around so we don’t get all worried like and go looking for them only we can’t find them since they aren’t anywhere here they are there instead which would have been nice to know before we went out here looking for them!” Pinkie had started bouncing in time with her speech’s cadence, and by the end of her, we’ll call it a sentence, she was going up and down so fast that she had become a pink blur.

After watching Pinkie for a second, Rainbow Dash turned to Twilight and asked, “How is that even possible?”

Twilight just shrugged, she had been down that path before; therein lay madness. “Fluttershy is right. It would be my guess that he’s keeping an eye on the crusaders and just forgot to let us know. While nopony has ever accused him of being responsible either, I’m sure he wouldn’t go as far as to leave them unattended.”

“So, we just let him off scot-free then?” Applejack stomped her hoof again, this time hard enough that the room shook.

“No, I never said that. All I’m saying is we shouldn’t pour all the emotion of the last week into his punishment.” Twilight tapped the bottom of her chin with her hoof. “Remember, he’s new to the whole friendship idea.” She paused for a breath. “And in a sense, he did exactly what a friend should do and helped the crusaders with their goals. Admittedly, his methodology could be considerably improved upon, though.”

“So, I don’t get to hit him?” Rarity asked once again hefting the bat in her unicorn magic.

“I fail to see how that would be helpful,” Twilight said.

“It would make me feel better,” Rarity offered with a sweet smile.

“Me too,” Applejack agreed.

“And me!” Pinkie added.

“Girls!” Twilight scolded, “violence isn’t going to help and the fillies were never in any real danger.”

“Sugarcube,” Applejack snarled as she fixed Twilight with a steely gaze, “are you seriously trying to talk us down from beating the tar out of a certain draconequus?”

“No,” Twilight returned with a shake of her head, “I’m trying to talk myself down; you five are just a bonus.”

<->

Once they were all back in the Gryffindor common room and sitting on comfy chairs, Hermione reached into a pocket and pulled out a pillbox-sized package. “Here, you left without this earlier,” she said as she passed it to Sweetie Belle.

Sweetie Belle turned the package over in her hands a couple times. “This is a lot smaller than I was expecting.”

“Tap it three times with your wand,” Lavender suggested.

When the package grew to a much more respectable size, Sweetie Belle opened it. She was happy to find that inside were the shoulder bags she had ordered. Pulling them out, she saw that they were made of canvas and were weirdly-shaped, maybe a foot long, six inches high, and less than an inch thick.

“The welcome to Hogwarts gifts are here!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed and started passing out bags to all of the first-years while Philomena trilled joyfully from the back of her chair. “Sorry, Philomena, I didn’t get you one, since I ordered them yesterday. Give me some time and I’ll see if they have something in your size.”

Though it wasn’t the point she was trying to get across, Philomena nodded her head in acceptance.

Dean studied his new bag and said, “I guess we’re going with the whole bigger on the inside theme. Otherwise this wouldn’t. . . Someone help Ginny! It looks like her bag is trying to eat her!”

Everyone in the common room turned to see that somehow, Ginny had managed to get the entire upper half of her body into her bag and was kicking her legs vainly trying to gain purchase.

“Oh look.” Hermione held up a pamphlet retrieved from inside the package. “Instructions for the bags; these should come in handy.” Then, after reading the first paragraph, she said, “Here’s a hint on how not to trigger the bags’ defense mechanisms if you haven’t bound them to yourself yet. Kind of like Ginny just did. . . Trigger the defenses that is.”

With a loud slurping sound, Ginny’s legs disappeared into her bag, and it bounced on the floor a few times before coming to a rest. Hastily, the remaining first-years dropped their bags and turned their attention to Hermione in anticipation.

“That’s more than a little disturbing,” Seamus commented.

Hermione read through the small packet quickly. Then, with a look of determination, she tapped Ginny’s bag with her wand and said, “Ex dimittere.”

There was a puking sound and Ginny rejoined the group. Looking terrified, the redhead quickly put some space between herself and her bag.

“I can’t decide if the sound effects are cool or just disturbing.” Scootaloo looked down at her own bag warily.

“This is the first time anyone’s given me a girl-eating bag before,” Harry noted. “Is it possible to sic it on people?”

Apple Bloom bopped Harry lightly on his head. “Hush now, I wanna hear how to avoid getting eaten.”

One of the seventh-year girls, who had been listening in on the newbies muttered, “You’re going to be changing that tune later on, you will”

Luckily, none of the first-years heard her as they went on to learn about their new bags.

<->

A glass of single malt whiskey sat on the desk, waiting patiently as Lucius Malfoy reread the letter sent by his son. Snarling, he crumpled the paper in his hand. Then, leaning back, he downed the contents of the glass in one swift motion. Grimacing at both the news and the fluid, he contemplated.

A phoenix! Now, all the girl needed was for a bloody unicorn to come up and offer her a ride, and the image would be complete. A new figurehead for the light had just made an appearance, and that wouldn’t do, wouldn’t do at all. The meddlesome Dumbledore was bad enough; the addition of a preadolescent phoenix-bonded would be insufferable. Politically, it was completely unacceptable; she was already guaranteed a seat on the Wizengamot, just for showing up with the accursed fowl. Age was not a factor for that old law. On top of it all, she was reputedly making ties with the Potter brat as well.

Lucius could just see the neutral voters flocking to the show of strength presented by such a young phoenix-bonded. It would ruin his years of carful power mongering. No, this was a problem that was best nipped in the bud before it bloomed.

Well aware that, without too much hassle, accidents could still be arranged, Lucius made plans. Clearly, it was time to assure certain events happened.

Chapter 12: Giving Chaos Ideas

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Alastor Moody was not what most would call an attractive man. Maybe in his youth he would have been considered passably handsome, but the years had not been kind to him. The conflicts he had participated in over the decades had been even less so. As a consequence, his face was now a network of scars, and the rest of his body hadn’t fared any better. Most noticeable were the bits of himself he had forfeited to battle; one leg was gone, as was part of his nose. However, it was unquestionably his eye which was his most striking feature, his magical prosthetic eye. The electric blue abnormality resided in the socket vacated by his missing eye, an ever-present reminder of what he had lost.

It should be noted that life’s experience had left Moody a smidgen paranoid, to the point that he ate or drank nothing without checking it for poison first. Also, it was no surprise that before he bedded at night, he double checked his wards and gave his home a once over for suspicious changes. Not much escaped his notice, which was why it was so much more astonishing to him to find his kitchen was already occupied when he awoke the next morning.

Thanks to his magical eye, Moody was well aware of the visitor before he even stepped foot out of his bedroom. Accordingly, he had his wand drawn and already trained on the visitor as he entered the room. Sitting at his table, casually reading the morning paper, and sipping tea was a man Moody had never seen before.

“Who are you?” Moody snapped as he made his presence known, “How’d you get in here?”

The stranger, dressed in a spotless brown business suit, never looked up from the paper he was reading. The mismatched gloves he wore were a striking contrast to his otherwise dapper appearance. “Good morning Mr. Moody. I was beginning to wonder when you’d put in an appearance. Fortunately, I’ve had some interesting reading to occupy my time.”

‘It’s my bloody house,” Moody growled. “It’s your appearance that I’m more concerned about.”

This caused the man to laugh as he put down the paper. “You wouldn’t be the first to say that to me.”

Moody just kept his wand aimed at the intruder as he sidestepped over to his fireplace.

The stranger watched the movement with the hint of a smile on his face. “No need for hostilities, my good man. I’ve just come to make a few inquiries of you.”

“Such as?’ Moody growled, not stopping until he was in front of his fireplace.

“I have heard it told that when it comes to defense from the dark arts, you are the go-to man,” the stranger purred as he steepled his fingers together. “I was wondering what it would take to get you to agree to teaching some Hogwarts students.”

Moody took a handful of floo powder and, without looking, threw in in the flames and calling out, “Auror Command.” Keeping his eyes focused on the stranger, he waited until he knew the flames would turn green before he barked, “Backup.” Only then did he answer the question. “Albus has tried to rope me into that position more than once. In fact, I hear he already found someone to fill the position this year.”

The stranger leaned back in the chair, unperturbed by the quartet of new wizards filing in through the fireplace. “His choice is worse than useless. I intend for the children to have a true education, unsoiled by political posturing or an old wizard’s machinations.”

“Oh, so you’re an expert on choosing teachers then?” Moody never let the point of his wand leave the stranger. “You expect me to believe you broke in here just to offer me a job that’s already filled?”

“I had hoped you would have the students’ best interest in mind when I brought the deficit to light.” The stranger reached for another sip of tea. “Failing that, what is your opinion on a proper teacher? Someone you would trust with the education of first-years?”

“You still lack the authority to change out professors at the school just on your whim,” Moody observed. The four aurors, who had come at Moody’s call, had also trained their wands on the stranger, waiting for Moody’s orders.

“Students may request tutors for any subject. This holds particularly true when the professor they have been provided falls short of even the lowest standards.” The stranger finished off the tea in his cup. “Do you happen to know anyone who could fill the role? It has become exceedingly obvious that you are not interested in the job.”

Moody frowned and studied the man; there wasn’t a hint of stress coming from him despite being the target of five wands. With his relaxed posture, he either had nerves of steel, or an ace up his sleeve. Either way, there was no reason to escalate the situation. “There’s a young auror who’d just been let go at the insistence of the Minister. Rotten piece of business it was too. Clearly a thinly veiled bit of discrimination, prompted by Fudge’s favorite advisor, Malfoy. The unfortunate lad’s name is Richard Goodman. You can be sure a bit of work sent his way would not be unappreciated.”

“Now that wasn’t so painful, was it?” The stranger smiled and nodded his acceptance, “Thank you for your time, I’ll leave you now to your own business.” With a snap of his fingers, the stranger was gone in a flash of light, and the apparition wards never even flickered.

<->

Sunday brunch brought another storm of owls. This time, none sought out Sweetie or the other Crusaders. In truth, the only first-year to receive any mail was Hermione. Harry’s owl had brought a reply from the muggle-born’s mother and the girl was tickled pink that Harry had lent her Hedwig for the exchange.

Sweetie Belle tried not to feel too neglected and settled for sharing her bacon with Philomena. She really had not meant to scare off both Harry and his owl with that one careless question. In truth, she couldn’t blame him for his response; Applejack would probably have had the same reaction if Sweetie had asked if Winona were tasty. So, even though it hurt, she decided to give Harry some space and not bother Hedwig at all.

Neville, who was sitting next to Sweetie Belle, asked, “Is that much bacon good for her? I know you have to limit the amount you give to owls; I’m not too sure about phoenixes though.”

Sweetie Belle had no idea how much meat a phoenix could safely eat, so she switched to feeding her grapes, much to Philomena’s disappointment. “Thanks Neville. I wouldn’t want to make her sick.”

“You’re. . . You’re welcome, Sweetie,” Neville stuttered, blushing slightly.

From down the table, Percy waved for Sweetie Belle’s attention. “They’ve got an article about you in the ‘Daily Prophet’,” he announced. “You might want to read it.”

“An article?” Sweetie’s eyes widened in alarm. “About me? Why?”

In response, Percy handed the paper to the student next to him, and in that way, it was handed down the table until it reached Sweetie Belle. The first thing she noticed was the headline “PHOENIX-BONDED!”, under which was what had to be a stock photo of a phoenix spreading its wings. Curiosity properly aroused, she read the article.

When our children receive their letters of acceptance to Hogwarts, they are given a list of supplies. The list has all the common necessities required for schooling as well as a short list of animals preferred by the school. Toads, owls, and cats are, therefore, the most common animals to arrive with students for their stay. That is not to say there haven’t been exceptions in the past. Foxes, rats, crups, puffskein, and the occasional niffler have been known to take up residence in the illustrious walls of Hogwarts, as the occasion may have warranted. However, this year, there has been a first for the record books. Never before has a student been accompanied by a phoenix.

This paper has received several owls corrborating the arrival of a phoenix with yesterday’s morning post. The majestic bird arrived with a missive for its bonded and made the delivery just like a common owl. And who, you may ask, is this phoenix-bonded that we speak of? Surprisingly, it appears to be a first year Gryffindor student by the name of “Sweetie Belle”. She was subsequently seen roaming the halls with the phoenix on her shoulder, and even used the bird’s unique traveling magic to make a spectacular entrance at supper. Sadly, we at the "Daily Prophet" have not at this time been able to obtain much information on this young lady, but the mere fact that she is bonded to a phoenix speaks volumes. Only the bravest and purest of heart have ever receive such a rare honor. To the point, the last time a phoenix has been known to be bonded, it was to Albus Dumbledore himself (See page 7). Moreover, with several laws pertaining to the appearance of a phoenix-bonded, it is safe to say that we can expect much from the young Miss Belle. The young lady, just by having a phoenix, already has several responsibilities and privileges to call her own (See page 14 for summary).

It should be noted that Sweetie Belle shares her year and house with none other than the Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter himself. Accordingly, witnesses have claimed that the two seem to be getting along well together, a very pleasing circumstance that has this author hopefully reminding their guardians that it is not too early to consider a marriage contract. Surely, the union of these two would be a boon for the entirety of all of Magical-Britain. Furthermore, we hope to hear more from this couple in the near future and look forward to seeing how they affect our society in the years to come.

“Well?” Hermione asked, once Sweetie Belle put down the paper with a bemused look on her face. “What does it say?”

“It says I should marry Harry,” a wide-eyed Sweetie Belle whispered in astonishment. From where he sat, Harry found that it had been exactly the wrong time to be taking a deep pull of his pumpkin juice. As a result, Seamus and Parvati found that they weren’t too fond of wearing pumpkin juice.

<->

It hungered yet again. Prey had been passing by for some time now, too many to risk an attack. So, it waited patiently for the herd to thin. After a time, its patience was rewarded as a single straggler lumbered by. With expert precision, it took the opportunity and pounced.

“Ow! It bit me on my other ankle!”

<->

“Hello Button Mash,” a voice behind the brown colt said, causing him to stumble slightly as he walked down the narrow alleyway on his way to the market square.

“Oh, hey there, Discord,” Button Mash greeted the voice cheerfully. “I’m on my way to play some ‘Pony Knight Rumble Spectacular’; you want to be Player 2?” He looked around but couldn’t find the target of his invitation.

Discord chuckled at the predictable little colt. “I’m not even fully in your dimension right now; I’m just throwing my voice.”

“Okay,” Button Mash said rubbing his head with his hoof. “Did you want something?”

“I’m so glad you asked,” the voice of Discord said. “I have a favor to ask you.”

<->

Up at the head table, Professor Sprout was whispering some news to the headmaster. After she was finished talking, she took her seat and looked at Dumbledore expectantly.

The headmaster stood up and waved his wand, sending sparks to gain attention and call for silence. “I have a quick announcement,” he said once the hall had quieted down. “It would seem that we have a new resident roaming the castle. Reportedly, it is a small blob of light blue slime and is said to be particularly agile. While it has proven to be mostly harmless, you would be well-advised not to antagonize it.” He paused to take a breath. “Apparently, it bites. A truly remarkable feat, once you stop to consider that it doesn’t appear to have teeth.”

“What?” Madam Hooch asked from where she was sitting at the head table. “Has someone else seen the mouse?”

<->

Standing in his lavish sitting room, Lucius Malfoy bitterly read the morning paper. It had not yet been one full day gone by and already the new phoenix-bonded was drawing notice and praise. The “Daily Prophet” only enforced the reality that she could not be removed quickly enough!

As swiftly as he had been able, he had made arrangements to call in some markers. Unfortunately, the next Friday would be the soonest he been able to arrange a meeting with the necessary people. Furthermore, the girl was safely at Hogwarts, making it no mean feat to arrange an accident. Clearly, this was going to be an expensive venture, without a guarantee and without a definite time frame. Lucius seethed with impotence, embittered by the knowledge that he was unquestionably going to lose influence before the deed was done.

It absolutely had to appear to be an accident with no connections to himself. Otherwise, the backlash would be almost as detrimental as the girl herself. Potentially, it could even be worse. Rushing would most assuredly cost him dearly, as would waiting patiently. With no favorable options available, Lucius fumed as he sat down in a chair. He was not a happy wizard.

<->

The Gryffindor first-years were just finishing their meal when their head of house sought them out.

“Good morning, children,” she said as she approached the table. “Miss Aloo, once you are finished, I will need you to follow me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Scootaloo obediently agreed, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. “I’m done now.”

Professor McGonagall frowned. “Use your napkin instead of your sleeves in the future, please.”

Hermione rolled her eyes as Lavender and Parvati giggled. Scootaloo looked first at her sleeve, then at the napkins on the table and said, “Okay,” much too cheerfully for someone who had just been scolded.

Raising her eyebrow was the only response Professor McGonagall gave as she turned to leave. Scootaloo soon followed in her wake. They made their way swiftly through the halls and were outside the clinic before too long. Wordlessly, Professor McGonagall motioned for Scootaloo to enter.

Feeling less than enthusiastic over being in the medical wing once again, Scootaloo went in and was greeted by Madam Pomfrey’s infectious smile. “Hello, Miss Aloo,” the nurse greeted. “If you would go behind that screen there and get on the examination table, we can begin.”

Cautiously, Scootaloo did as she was bid, the confusion plain on her face. She heard Madam Pomfrey exchange greetings with Professor McGonagall and then there was the clinking of glass on glass. Not long after, Madam Pomfrey joined her behind the screen, carrying a corked glass bottle.

Madam Pomfrey put the bottle on a nearby table and addressed Scootaloo. “Well now, dear, it’s time to have that talk. Would you please remove your pendant?” When she had a sad-looking little orange pegasus before her, she commented playfully, “My, aren’t you the expressive little thing?”

Scootaloo mumbled some response to the affirmative as Madam Pomfrey once again scanned her wings. Nodding to herself, the nurse took a cup from the table and poured a measure of liquid from the bottle into it.

“Here we go. Professor Snape was up late brewing this for you.” Madam Pomfrey offered the cup to Scootaloo before frowning. “Am I going to need to get you a bowl?”

“A bowl?” Scootaloo asked taking the cup in her hooves, much to Madam Pomfrey’s astonishment. “Why would I need a bowl? I’m not a dog.” She sniffed at the cup and found that it smelled like freshly-mown grass and it had a dark green tint to match. Understandably, a human student may have balked at the color and smell, but Scootaloo was partial to smoothies of like consistency that were made with real grass. Enthusiastically, the glass was quickly emptied.

“That was pretty good,” Scootaloo noted hoofing the glass back to Madam Pomfrey. “Could use more ginger, though.”

With yet another smile Madam Pomfrey scolded Scootaloo as she once again scanned the pegasus’ wings, “Potions are not made for their taste, they are made for their effects.”

Abruptly, Scootaloo’s wings grew, doubling their size in a matter of seconds, leaving her feeling tired and hungry. Electricity crackled through her feathers as her magic finally flowed through them. “My wings!” she gasped even as she slumped onto her side, all the while being scanned by Madam Pomfrey.

“That worked better than I was hoping for,” Madam Pomfrey informed Scootaloo as she filled another glass with a white milky potion. “Drink this nutrient potion and then it’s nap time; you’ll be right as rain when you wake.”

“My wings!” Scootaloo repeated as Madam Pomfrey helped her sit up enough to drink the second potion. “My wings!”

“Yes dear, they should be channeling magic properly now.”

With a smile on her face, Scootaloo drifted to sleep almost immediately after finishing the second potion. She had her broom, and now she had her wings. Life was good.

<->

The bell above the door rang and Rarity called out as she trotted out from the back, “Come in darling! Welcome to the Carousel Boutique, where every garment is chic, unique, and magnifique. Oh, hello there. You’re one of Sweetie Belle’s little friends, aren’t you?”

Plainly nervous, Button Mash nodded his head, toting a stack of papers in his mouth.

“And what do we have here?” Rarity asked gesturing to the papers he bore.

Blushing, Button Mash held out the papers with a forehoof. “Marriage contract for Sweetie Belle,” he stammered bashfully.

Rarity giggled as she examined the distraught colt. A common practice for older fillies was to approach the mothers of colts they were interested in and ask for signatures on “marriage contracts”. It was a very old tradition that, though no longer legally binding, was a common occurrence for teenagers. Nowadays, it served more as an ice breaker between the mother and possible daughter-in-law, as colts were notably not very perceptive of the feelings they instilled in the young fillies. It was, therefore, very helpful to prompt a nudge from the colt’s mother.

Still, it was cute that the colt was attempting the ritual so young, even if he had gotten the gender role backwards. Charging her horn, Rarity reached for a quill. There would be no harm in signing the papers for him.

<->

The day was bright and cloudless; the majority of the first-year Gryffindors were outside the castle, exploring the grounds and taking advantage of the weather. They had started at the lake and worked their way to the border of the forbidden forest, stopping just short of entering.

As they stood staring into the trees Hermione said, “You do remember Professor Dumbledore told us that going in was forbidden?”

As one the rest of the group nodded their heads, but none made to move from their spot of observation.

Sighing, Hermione tried again, “And just what do you think the definition of forbidden is?”

“Don’t get caught doing it,” Seamus promptly answered, and there was another round of nods.

“Yeah.” Hermione looked at her feet. “I figured as much.” Then, after another sigh, she continued, “You do know, there’s supposed to be all kinds of fearsome monsters in there. The wards keep them away from the castle proper, though.”

“Ah guess we’ll be needing that wooden sword after all,” Apple Bloom commented as she peered into the forest hoping to glimpse something interesting.

“Nah.” Dean shook his head. “We’re witches and wizards; wands be our weapon of choice.”

It was in that instant that Hermione came to an understanding of exactly which house she’d been sorted into. The true implications were something reading “Hogwarts a History” had not properly conveyed, and with that epiphany came the realization that, sooner or later, they were going to enter that forest.

“Maybe we should learn some spells first before we try,” Hermione suggested, and, to her relief, another round of nods followed. Then she realized she had said “we”.

“Sweetie Belle?” Harry’s voice suddenly asked. “What’s with your bird?”

Philomena had perched herself on top of Harry’s head and was currently stretching her neck and turning her head so the she could examine the scar on his forehead.

“I don’t know,” Sweetie Belle answered after a glance. “That’s a new one on me. Maybe she just likes you.”

They returned to looking at the woods until Ginny turned from her scrutiny and asked, “Do wands count as wooden swords?”

<->

From within the forest proper she sensed the peculiarity, a circumstance that should not have been. There was a child nearby, and she could not sense the child’s mother with it. Every instinct in her let her know that situation would not do. She would investigate and, if need be, care for the child until the mother was found.

She stepped from the shadows and saw a cluster of the two legged creatures she was familiar with. This group was composed of their young ones, and she could sense the child was within their herd. Detecting no malice or ill intent, she went forth to scrutinize the humans.

<->

Draco Malfoy was having a good day. He had been cementing his dominance among the Slytherins, and, so far, most recognized his high standing and influence. It was going so well, in fact, that he decided to go outside and explore the grounds a bit. With his bodyguards in tow, he made his way out the main doors into the bright sunlight.

He was not outside for even a second when he laid eyes on a strange sight. The Gryffindor girl, Sweetie Belle, was running around screaming, “She won’t leave me alone! She won’t leave me alone!” Obviously, she was distressed by the pure white unicorn that was following closely behind her, easily keeping pace and periodically nudging the girl’s shoulder. Completing the ludicrous scene was the phoenix riding on the unicorn’s back, trilling loudly at the excitement.

Meanwhile, the remaining Gryffindors were trailing behind the spectacle showing various levels of amusement.

“Slow down Sweetie,” one of them yelled. “I think she just wants you to ride her.”

In response, Sweetie Belle redoubled her efforts to get away. “Rarity will have a fit if I go around riding strange unicorns again!” she shouted over her shoulder.

Sighing, Draco turned back toward the castle. He was going to have to write his father another letter.

<->

Petunia Dursley opened her front door and beheld a man in a smart brown business suit, the stranger was obviously of good breeding and oozed confidence. “Yes, may I help you?’ she asked.

“Greetings, Mrs. Dursley.” The stranger bowed slightly. “I am here to talk to you about your nephew.”

“He’s not here!” she practically shouted and slammed the door in the face of the stranger.

“Well now,” the man said from behind her. “That was just rude.”

“What are you doing here?” Petunia snapped. “I was promised your kind wouldn’t be bothering us decent folk.”

The man raised one eyebrow, but let the obvious discrepancies in her statement slide. “I am here merely to obtain your signature.”

“Why would I sign anything for you?” Petunia backed up against the closed door, putting as much distance between herself and the freak as she could.

A rare look of anger flashed across the stranger’s face and he continued, “Would you not like to reduce the number of years that your nephew would be required to reside beneath your roof?”

“That old wizard said we were stuck with him until he turned seventeen,” Petunia insisted suspiciously.

“I assure you, none of us want that. I also assure you that I have the child’s best interest in mind.” There was the hint of steel lacing his voice at this point. “The wards around your home would stop any wizard meaning you or the child harm. You only need sign these for me to expedite the time when he will never have to see you again.”

“What’s the catch?” Petunia demanded, not moving from her spot against the door.

“Though it pains me,” the man snarled back at her, “there is no catch. This is an unanticipated opportunity that I am finding more and more imperative as each second passes.”

“It will get the boy out of our hair all the sooner?” One more check was made by Petunia.

The man nodded his head grimly in response.

“Hand those here,” the bi. . . Petunia ordered holding out her hand. “I’ll sign them.”

<->

With some hassle, the large grounds keeper, Hagrid, had finally managed to drag the protesting unicorn back into the forest and the Gryffindors had retreated into the castle.

“Wow!” Neville commented. “She really liked you.”

“I think she wanted to adopt you,” Ginny observed, causing Apple Bloom and Sweetie to give her a dirty look.

“Let’s go find Scootaloo,” Sweetie Belle grumbled, not wanting to dwell on the experience. “She’s probably back in the dorm room by now.”

“I’m going to head to the library myself,” Hermione informed the group. “It seems like a good idea to do some research on unicorns.”

“Sweetie can tell you everything you need to know about unicorns.” Apple Bloom offered seriously, and Ginny fell over laughing.

<->

Dylan was sitting in his shop reading a small book when the owl arrived. He quickly retrieved the payload and was soon smiling at what he read. It seemed that his favorite customer had a few more jobs for him.

<->

Lucius glared at his glass of single-malt whiskey. The crumpled report from his son had been angrily hurled into the fireplace. A unicorn bonding with the abomination! He ground his teeth. In two weeks, he could start his agents. Surely, nothing else could go wrong.

<->

Alice finished cleaning off her kitchen table and then went to her closet to see what she had to wear. Tomorrow was going to be the big day and she wanted to look her best. Unfortunately, she had never been big on dressing up and nothing in her wardrobe was remotely suitable. Sadly, it simply wasn’t in her budget to get a new outfit, even though there would still be plenty of time to go to Diagon Alley and have something appropriate made.

Smiling to herself, she summoned a washrag to give the table one more wiping down, when she noticed a small pouch on the table. It contained enough galleons for a nice new set of dress robes.

Yes, tomorrow was going to be grand.

Chapter 13: On the Wings of Hope

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“Scootaloo, it’s time to wake up.”

Scootaloo slowly opened her eyes, and blinked at the light softly infusing the clinic, smiling as she recognized the voice. She was still in her pony form and was curled up on top of one of the clinic’s beds. A wide yawn gave way to a contented smile; here was one she owed much to.

“Good morning,” she said ebulliently, as she rubbed her eyes with her hooves. “I haven’t got a chance to thank you. You’ve given me so much in such a short time. I can’t thank you enough. Because of you, I can fly. Look at my wings! they grew! Madam Pomfrey says I’ll be able to use them properly now.” She was babbling but didn’t care; she needed to tell him how much it all meant to her. She rolled off the bed and then hugged him tightly with both forelegs and wings.

“Yes, about that,” he said, bringing one gloved hand to his chin to rub it while he patted her head gently with its mismatched partner. “I can see that it is an almost perfect growth. However, there are some imperfections that will work themselves out, given time. Unfortunately, you are going to have to wait at least a week without flying to avoid the complications that could cause you to lose your new-found freedom.”

“What??!!” Scootaloo’s head snapped up and her eyes widened to their fullest extent. “That is so not fair!”

“No,” he agreed, chuckling softly, “it’s not. Nonetheless, it is better than what you had just one day ago.”

Scootaloo could only nod her head in agreement. It would be torture not to try her wings for so long, but, in comparison to not having them ever, well, there was no comparison.


“Don’t look so down. It really won’t be that long until you can fly on your own. Meanwhile, you do have your broom.” Patting her on the head, he gestured to the side table with her things on it. “Go ahead and put your pendant back on; I have a surprise for you.”

Despite wanting to relish the sight of her corrected wings, Scootaloo did as she was asked. The now-human, little girl looked up with pleading eyes. “Are you sure I have to wait a week?”

Nodding, he handed her a small copper band. “Yes, I afraid so. Now, if you’ll please put this on your finger.”

Once it was in place Scootaloo asked, “What does this do?”

“We both know that it would only be a matter of time before you found some reason where you just had to fly.” He fixed her with a knowing gaze. “The first function of this ring is to keep you human for two weeks, so don’t even bother trying to remove it.”

Holding up her hand to look at the offending band, Scootaloo frowned. “But you said only a week!”

“Better safe than sorry.” He then handed over two more rings. “One of your professors can change into a cat and back at will. It’s a skill called ‘animagus’. After a few times observing her, I had an idea. These mimic the ability quite precisely. As a matter of fact, they are much more convenient than putting on and taking off a necklace every time you want to change. Personally, I think you’ll be rather pleased with the results.”

“These are going to stick Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle in human form too?” Scootaloo asked as she accepted the proffered items.

“No, they don’t have the potential of causing themselves harm like I know you will.” He smiled again at the little girl. “Be patient and you’ll get your wings. Two weeks are not forever, after all.”

“I know.” Scootaloo gave him a small smile. “It’s just that I’ve had to wait forever already.”

“I know; waiting is torment given form.” He gave her a serious look. “But, I trust you will weather the storm.”

Scootaloo gave him a look letting him know the absurdity of the statement was not overlooked.

“One more thing before I go, well two, actually. First of all, I took fifty galleons from your household account, and secondly, I have two expense forms for you to sign here.” After receiving the signatures, he turned to leave. “Enjoy your time at school and don’t forget to cause a little chaos along the way.”

Scootaloo stared sadly at the copper ring on her finger before smiling and saying, “Thank you again, Discord. I can’t thank you enough for everything.” Then after a thoughtful pause, she continued, “Oh, you might want to avoid Ponyville for a bit; they’re a little upset that we didn’t leave them a note or anything.”

<->

“If’n you want, I can show you my new potions lab now. Just come up to the dorm with me,” Apple Bloom said to the twins, not long after they returned to the Gryffindor common room. Scootaloo wasn’t there yet, so the first-years decided to stick around for a while in hope that she would show up soon.

“We can’t,” one twin said.

“. . . go up to your dorm.”

“The stairs don’t like. . .”

“. . . masculine visitors.”

“What?” the gathered first years said in unison.

One of the twins shrugged and said, “Go on and give it a go Ron.”

Not trusting the twins in the least, Ron nudged Neville. “Go on. Give it a go.”

Neville looked at Ron and shrugged. He then made his way up the stairs to the girls’ dorms followed closely by Dean. They hadn’t gotten to far up before there was a loud gong noise, and the stairs transformed into a slide, causing the two boys to tumble down back into the common room.

“See. . .” One twin stated.

“. . . the stairs. . .”

“. . . are totally. . .”

“. . .biased,” they finished together.

Apple Bloom rubbed her chin thoughtfully for a second then said, “Wait here a sec.”

She then rushed up the stairs and came back shortly with her shrunken trunk. She expanded it and opened the lid, showing a staircase leading down. “Okay. All you boys, in ya go.” When all the first-year boys and the twins had entered, she closed and shrunk the trunk. She then went back up the stairs with the shrunken trunk.

The remaining Gryffindors watched the stairs expectantly for about a minute. When nothing happened, one of the sixth-year girls turned to her friend and said, “Did a first-year just figure a way around the anti-boy wards?”

Her friend just dully nodded.

“Something we’ve been trying to work out for a couple years now, right?”

Another nod.

“Right then.” The sixth-year girl turned to the audience still in the common room. “This never happened.” She was met with a wave of like-minded nods.

<->

“Cor!” Ron murmured looking around the sitting room. “It’s right nice in here, it is.” The rest of the boys agreed and claimed seats to wait in.

They had barely sat down when the lid opened once more and Apple Bloom called down the stairs, “All right, Fred, George, come on out now. Ah want to show you mah lab.” The twins quickly exited and were replaced by Lavender, Parvati, Philomena and Sweetie Belle.

“It’s about tea time,” Harry noted as he studied the kitchen. “Mind if I whip something up?” He wanted to contribute to the group, and cooking was something he was good at.

“Go right ahead,” Sweetie Belle said, making her way over to join him. “I’ll help.”

“I’m just planning on doing some quick scones and tea,” Harry said as he opened cupboards, looking for the right supplies. “Why don’t you have a seat and let me do the work this time? You still look knackered from all that running around.”

Sweetie Belle studied him for a second before saying, “Okay, just this once, but you’re going to teach me how to make scones, later. Whatever they are.”

Unaware of the disaster he just averted, Harry nodded and said, “Sure, I’ll be glad to show you. They’re easy enough.”

<->

Rainbow Dash sat on a cloud and contemplated her life. It had been pretty good as of late; she had great friends, a good-paying job that didn’t require too much effort, and she had been part of some national-level adventures, even. Sure, she wasn’t a Wonderbolt, yet, but that dream was becoming more and more attainable as each day passed. In truth, she had just recently matured to the point where that dream lost its position of prime importance in her life. She had realized there were things whose value she placed much higher.

Just last week, if somepony had told her that there was something that she would be willing to sacrifice her Wonderbolt chances for, well, she would have thought that somepony crazy. What a difference just one week could make.

These thoughts dredged up memories of her mother. It still hurt to think about how her mother had disappeared one day, abandoning her and her father with no warning. Rainbow could not understand how any mare could do that. The pain resurfaced and left Rainbow wondering how she would stack up as a parent, herself. Would she be just as awful? Was it even worth trying? Did an abandoned filly even have the right to consider being a parent? How could she even consider not being one?

<->

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. A muggle government would have given the non-essential workers the day off, but the wizarding bureaucracy mandated that there be at least a skeletal staff available to the public at all hours. Still, not much ever happened during this time period, and James Tilley was wasting away the afternoon at the counter of the Ministry’s Records Department. If one were to ask, he’d deny that he was napping standing up. He was just thinking really hard, and that’s why he missed the entrance of the man in the brown business suit. Just because James didn’t notice him until he was standing right in front of the counter did not mean James had been napping.

“Good afternoon,” the man in the brown suit greeted the Ministry employee. “I have some paperwork to notarize and file if you’d be so kind.”

Shaking his head slightly and suppressing a yawn, James gave a plastic smile in greeting and said, “Of course, I’ll be glad to help.”

The man held out a stack of papers. “I have four copies of each here: one for the ministry, one for Gringotts, and one each for the families involved.”

“Good, good,” James said as he used his wand to magically check signatures and add a notarization mark to the forms; only then did it dawn on him what he was notarizing. The “Daily Prophet” would spend a shiny sickle for this news.

<->

Apple Bloom popped open the lid of her trunk and was exiting the sixth compartment when Scootaloo entered the dorm room. “Hey Scoots.” She waved as she made way for the twins to follow. “Where have you been all day?”

“They fixed my wings!” Scootaloo squealed with the widest smile on her face.

“Wings?” George asked.

“You’ve got wings?”

“That explains. . .”

“. . . how you fly. . .”

“. . . like your born to it.”

“Ah’m so happy for you Scoots!” Apple Bloom said as she hopped over to hug Scootaloo. “Let me see ‘em! Let me see ‘em!”

“I can’t.” Scootaloo looked at her feet in sadly. “Discord said I have to wait two weeks to avoid hurting myself. He locked me in human form.”

“Aww!” Apple Bloom deflated at the news. “But at least your wings are fixed now; that’s so wonderful. Until then, you’ve got your broom.”

Scootaloo nodded vigorously, unshed tears in her eyes.

“Here, Fred, hug her for a second,” Apple Bloom ordered and raced back to her trunk.

One twin turned to the other and said, “You’re Fred.”

Fred jumped slightly at the news before heading to Scootaloo with his arms open wide. “Oh, right, I forgot.”

Scootaloo giggled into his arms, as he fulfilled the terms of a hug, appreciative of the support.

Meanwhile, Apple Bloom was calling down into her trunk, “Sweetie Belle, come here for a minute!”

There were sounds of movement from below then, “What’s up?” Sweetie Belle asked as she climbed out of the trunk.

Apple Bloom leaned close and whispered the news to her. Sweetie Belle’s eyes went wide and she scurried over to share in the hug between Fred and Scootaloo, shedding tears of happiness the entire way. “Scootaloo, that’s fabulous!”

<->

“I’ve never seen a one o’ them act in that manner afore,” Hagrid was saying to the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, a pale man named Quirrell, who had come seeking confirmation on rumors heard in the halls. They were standing outside Hagrid’s wooden hut where Quirrell had caught up with the groundskeeper.

“Surely, th - th - there has been some similar episode in the p - p - p - p - past,” Quirrell stuttered as the late afternoon light beat down on his purple turban. “She can’t be the first girl to draw a unicorn from the forest in such a m -m - m -m - manner.”

“I’ve not heard tell of any such thing.” Hagrid shook his head to the negative. “Normally, the unicorns, well they avoid any large group o’ humans, they do. They rarely let new people near enough to get a clear view, let alone come out of the forest to meet one. Was the most amazin’ thing I’ve evar seen, the way she came right out o’ the forest and trotted right up to that firsty. Practically, pushed the other firsties out o’ her way, she was in such a hurry, she was.”

Quirrell paused to consider the news and how it would affect his own contingency plans. “P -p - please, l - l - let me know if this has any e - e - e - effect on the other unicorns,” Quirrell told Hagrid as way of saying goodbye. He had already concluded that the Belle girl would require some scrutiny.

<->

Fay entered the first-year dorm, and was not surprised to see that it was empty. Luckily, the girls had keyed her and the other two female prefects to their trunks’ 5th compartments last night before bed time, making it easier to find them. Fay started opening trunks, and on her second attempt, she heard voices coming up from the interior of the trunk. “Sweetie Belle, are you down here?” she called as she descended the stairs.

“Yes,” came the reply as Fay found the entirety of the first-year class plus the Weasley twins having tea in the crowded sitting room, half their members finding seating on the floor when they had run out of chairs.

“Tea?” one of the twins offered when he saw the shock showing on the prefect’s face. “Harry made scones.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Fay said, finishing her descent, “but first, Sweetie, Professor McGonagall would like to see you in her office.”

Sweetie Belle’s face drooped at this news; had Professor McGonagall heard about the whole unicorn incident already?

“Don’t worry,” Fay said seeing the worried look. “I don’t think you’re in trouble or anything.”

“Do you know what she wants?” Sweetie asked defensively.

“You’ll have to go see for yourself,” Fay replied as she nudged Dean out of one of the chairs to claim as her own.

“Okay,” Sweetie Belle said as she put down her tea cup and scurried up the stairs, “I just hope you’re right about me not being in trouble.”

After the girl had made her exit, Fay turned to the remaining occupants of the trunk and asked, “How did you manage to get boys up the stairs, and can you teach me how to do it?”

“You’re not going to tell on us?” Parvati asked warily.

“Technically, it’s not against the rules.” Fay smirked as Harry handed her a cup of tea. “The charm’s been on the stairs since the time of the founders, and no one has ever bypassed it before. Before now, there simply has never been a need for such a rule.”

“Why is there a spell on the girl’s stairs and not on the boys’?” Apple Bloom inquired. “That seems a might unfair.”

“The founders thought that girls were more trustworthy than boys,” Fay said before she sampled the tea.

“Isn’t that backwards?” Scootaloo challenged from her seat on the floor.

<->

It didn’t take Sweetie Belle long to find her way to Professor McGonagall’s office, just long enough for her to think up all kinds of doomsday scenarios. She was, therefore, fairly nervous by the time she knocked on the office door.

“Come in,” was the crisp command issued from within.

Timidly, Sweetie Belle entered an old-fashioned office, neat and tidy as one would suspect, knowing its owner. The furniture was all made of dark hardwoods lending an atmosphere of severity to the orderly room. This was only compounded by the woman sitting behind the desk, who was frowning at a letter she had been reading.

“Have a seat, please.” Professor McGonagall gestured at the uncomfortable-looking chair placed in front of her desk.

Sweetie Belle hurried to comply. “You wanted to see me, Professor McGonagall?” she stammered once she was seated.

“Yes, Miss Belle.” Professor McGonagall put down the letter she had been reading and gave Sweetie her full attention. “I assume you have read today’s ‘Daily Prophet’.”

“I’m too young to get married!” Sweetie immediately replied.

“Indeed, you are,” Professor McGonagall allowed. “All the same, that is not why I have asked you here today.”

Sweetie Belle tilted her head inquisitively as she waited for the other horseshoe to drop.

“No, our present concern is the Wizengamot seat you currently hold.” Professor McGonagall’s lips pressed together in a thin line.

“I hold a what now?”

“You hold a position of power in the wizarding government,” was the clarification Sweetie Belle received.

“They do know I’m only eleven, right?”

“They are aware; however, the law is ancient and does not have age stipulations.” Professor McGonagall never lost her neutral expression on her face.

Sweetie Belle tried a different angle. “But, I’m not even a citizen!”

“Also, irrelevant.” The gaze of the professor never left Sweetie Belle’s own eyes. “Part of the purpose of the law is to encourage you to settle on British shores.”

“But . . . but . . . but . . . but,” Sweetie Belle sputtered, wondering what the buck she had gotten herself into.

“That pretty much accurately sums up my own reaction,” Professor McGonagall said then gestured at the letter she had been reading. “I have here a letter commanding you to claim your seat tomorrow at the monthly session.”

“But . . . but . . . but . . .” Sweetie Belle intelligently supplied.

“You may, of course, assign a proxy to act in your stead.”

Sweetie Belle shot Professor McGonagall a hopeful look. “Would you like to be my proxy?”

“I’m afraid I wear too many hats as it is.” Professor McGonagall shook her head. “Teacher, head of house, and deputy headmistress all take a good portion of my time as it stands. I would not be able to devote the time necessary for politics.”

Sweetie Belle thought for a second. “Okay, but how do I let them know I’ve chosen a proxy?”

<->

“I’d say it was about time we go get Hermione,” Parvati stated. “Supper will be soon, and I’m sure whatever Sweetie Belle was called for will see her at our table in time to eat. Hermione, on the other hand, seems the sort to ignore the passage of time if she has a book in front of her.”

This put the discussion of football versus quidditch on hold, which was a good thing since Dean, Seamus, and Ron were starting to get heated in their debate. Apple Bloom looked up from where she was talking potions with the twins and then reached over to nudge the napping Scootaloo.

“Huh? What?” Scootaloo snapped awake.

“Get a move on, Scoots,” Dean insisted. “Time to get a meal in ya.”

“Didn’t we just have scones?” she asked.

“That was hours ago,” Lavender corrected as she started up the stairs. “Come now, we have to collect Hermione first.”

“Why aren’t we traveling by phoenix?” Scootaloo yawned as she gained her feet.

“Philomena took off a while ago.” Harry explained, “I think she went to find Sweetie Belle.”

<->

Rarity was just finishing her evening dishes when there was a knock on her door. Humming to herself, she crossed her showroom and opened the door to find Rainbow Dash waiting patiently.

“Good evening darling,” Rarity drawled, stepping to the side so Rainbow that could enter. “What a surprise; you don’t normally call so late.”

“Yeah.” Rainbow rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “I was hoping I could pump you for information.”

“Pump me for information?” Rarity closed the door behind Rainbow Dash and led her into sitting room. “Are you sure you don’t want Twilight instead?”

“Twilight’s the best for the bookish stuff.” Rainbow explained. “What I need now is real hooves-on experience.”

“Oh?” Rarity raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “Are you needing vestments for a special occasion?”

“No, no.” Rainbow sat on her haunches and waved her foreleg dismissively. “none of that fru-fru stuff. I wanted to know how you manage to practically raise Sweetie Belle and still run a successful business.”

Rarity blinked in surprise. “That’s a rather specific subject.” Then, she gasped, “Have you found somepony that you want to have a foal with?”

“What?!” Jumping to her hooves Rainbow Dash started shaking her head vigorously. “No, that’s not it!”

Rarity couldn’t help but giggle happily at her friend’s discomfort and was about to press the point when an owl flew in an open window.

“Oh look.” Rainbow thankfully pointed at the bird. “You’ve got mail.”

“So, it would seem,” Rarity acknowledged and retrieved a rather thick envelope from the bird. “I still think it is odd to send mail by owls.”

“That looks too official to be from the fillies,” Rainbow noted as she examined the package in Rarity’s magical grasp.

“Hmm, you are correct,” Rarity opened the envelope. “I’d better take a look at this; we can continue our conversation in a minute.”

Pulling out the first page, Rarity read the missive.

Dear Mrs. Rarity Belle,

This is your official notice that as of today, one Petunia Dursley has signed the magical guardianship of the minor Harry J. Potter over to your care. Since the acceptance of said responsibility was part of the contract you signed, there will be no delay in the implementation of the status change. Also, part of the signed paperwork is the acknowledgement of your right to assign a new caretaker for the minor. We hope that you take great care with this decision, considering the sensitivity of the matter.

Sincerely,

James Tilley

Ministry of Magic: Hall of Records



While Rainbow Dash looked on curiously, Rarity stared at the page for a second then said, “What?” . With her eyes narrowing, Rarity pulled out the next page.

Dear Mrs. Rarity Belle,

This is your receipt for the filing and notarization of the binding marriage contract between one Harry J. Potter and Sweetie Belle. Let it be known that the contract has been validated through means of magical inspection and all signatures have been confirmed as authentic. The original is properly filed in the hall of records and as such considered legally binding. A copy of the contract has been included for your records.

Sincerely,

James Tilley

Ministry of Magic: Hall of Records



Rarity’s mouth was hanging open by the time she finished the second letter.

“What?” Rainbow Dash prodded Rarity’s side with a hoof, “Are the fillies, okay? What’s wrong?”

“Rainbow, darling,” Rarity said as she pulled the remaining paperwork from the envelope, “would you be so kind as to fetch me my bat? I fear I will be needing it after all.”

<->

Albus Dumbledore was at his desk, poring over a book detailing the magic theory behind prophecies, when the owl arrived. Seeing that it was from the ministry, he put a bookmark in the tome he had been reading and examined the missive. He barely finished the last line before he bounded to his feet and hurried to the floo. It looked like he would be paying a late-night visit to the Ministry.

<->

Arthur Weasley was spending a quiet evening with his wife. Without the children in the house, the only unexpected noise was the occasional banging from the resident ghoul in the attic. After a stressful day at work, it was relaxing not to have any immediate worries to concern himself over.

True to form, just as he was settling into the couch with his wife an owl arrived and started tapping at the window to be let in. Sighing, Arthur waved his wand to open the window and was dismayed to see it was a ministry owl. What could they want that couldn’t wait until tomorrow?

He had barely gotten the letter in hand when another owl arrived and made its way to Molly. On that one, Arthur could see that it was from his son Bill, no reason for concern. Taking the dive, Arthur opened his letter and skimmed the contents. Dumbfounded by what he had gleaned, he reread the letter. Then to be sure, he read it a third time.

“What is it dear?” Molly asked apprehensively as she held the unopened letter from Bill.

“I’ve,” Arthur stopped to lick his lips and tried again, “I’ve been given a proxy seat on the Wizengamot.”

“You're joking!” Molly gasped, fully aware that the Weasley family had been dreaming of regaining a seat for more than a century. “How is that even possible?”

“It appears that we have a phoenix-bound, little unicorn animagus to thank for this.” Arthur waved the Ministry letter for emphasis.

The two adults sat in silence for a minute as the implications sank in. Finally, Arthur said, “Are you going to read Bill’s letter? There is no way it can be more shocking than this.”

Tittering at her husband’s attempt at levity, Molly opened her son’s letter and read. By the time she had finished, her eyes were wide and mouth was gaping open.

Letting the hand holding the letter drop Molly turned to her husband and said, “Arthur, your son wants to know why it appears he has access to a discretionary account with ten thousand galleons.”

Chapter 14: Unwanted Attention

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An annoyingly familiar tenor displaced the cock’s crow in the pre-dawn darkness. “Rarity, it’s time to wake up.”

Without opening her eyes, the unicorn promptly threw her pillow at the source.

As the pest casually batted the pillow away with his lion’s paw, inches from his face, he wagged a taloned finger at her and scolded, “Now, now, no need for that.”

Cracking open an eye, Rarity bounced her alarm clock off his forehead.

“No, really, time to get up,” the draconequus admonished.

The bedside table missed him by a few inches.

“Um,” he said.

Half asleep, the unicorn summoned for her bat.

“I’ll come back when you’re more awake,” he said hurriedly and disappeared with a flash of light.

Sensing no further disturbance, she plopped her head down to get some more beauty sleep. As she drifted off, she mused, “Where’d my pillow go?”

<->

There was an extra-large platter of bacon for breakfast that morning at the Gryffindor table. Apparently, the cooks had realized that a normal-sized one was not going to be enough anymore.

“What do we have first thing?” Dean casually asked as he made sure to grab his portion of the popular pork product.

“Herbology.” Hermione stopped eating her porridge to answer, without looking at her schedule. “Didn’t you look so you'd know which books to pack for class?”

“All my books fit in my new bag,” he answered, dueling Ron for the pancakes. “I just stuffed ‘em all in, so I’m good to go.”

“Same here,” Lavender chirped, patting her shoulder bag. “Doesn’t add to the weight, so why not?”

“Books aside, I’m looking forward to double transformation this afternoon,” Scootaloo said, also claiming some bacon to see what the fuss was about. “I’m sure that will come in handy, sooner or later.”

“Transfiguration,” Hermione and Sweetie Belle corrected at the same time.

“That’s what I said,” Scootaloo acknowledged.

Rolling her eyes, Sweetie Belle added fried eggs to the bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich she was building and started sharing with Philomena.

<->

Elsewhere . . .

“You’se be wanting to go ins now?” the small creature with eyes as big as tennis balls asked. “Whimsy be getting the big-big doors for you.”

Fitting actions to words, he opened the doors.

<->

“I wonder how hard it will be to find the herbology classroom,” Scootaloo mused before she took another bite of bacon.

“Herbology is taught in those greenhouses we saw outside yesterday,” Lavender informed her.

“Will it be safe going to the greenhouses?” Sweetie asked as she finished off her breakfast sandwich. “There are rampaging unicorns out there.”

“Unicorns aren’t known for their rampaging, Sweetie,” Parvati said, glancing up to look directly at Sweetie Belle. “Besides, I think the one behind you is the only one interested in you right now.”

Sweetie Belle returned Parvati’s gaze and said, “That’s not funny, Parvati. Please don’t j—” Suddenly, something nudged her left shoulder, and Philomena trilled a greeting from her other shoulder. Sweetie Belle exclaimed, “Oh, horsefeathers!”

“That’s a unicorn, not a pegasus.” Hermione noted, “She doesn’t have any feathers.” Annoyingly, no one could tell if she were being facetious or just helpful.

Sighing, Sweetie Belle turned around and came face to muzzle with a long white face. She then checked the rest of her surroundings. Sure enough, the entire hall had grown silent, and all attention was focused on the new four-legged visitor. The scene was so captivating that the arrival of the morning post went almost unnoticed.

“Good morning, would you like a banana?” Sweetie Belle cautiously addressed the creature. It wasn’t a unicorn pony. Rather, the mare was larger, heavier, and had a large spiral horn in the middle of her forehead. Truthfully, she looked a lot like a larger version of Princess Celestia, only without the flowing mane, or any indication of pony-level intelligence.

“Sweetie,” Lavender admonished as she reached for a tray of peach tarts, “I don’t think unicorns eat bananas. Try these instead.”

“Oh look,” Seamus noted, pointing at the vanishing fruit. “Unicorns eat bananas.”

“Still, shouldn’t you have peeled it first?” Harry added as Lavender, unperturbed, handed over the tray of tarts anyway.

“I’m no expert on magic castles or anything,” Dean interrupted nodding at Sweetie Belle’s newest fan. “But shouldn’t a unicorn showing up for breakfast rate more than just a ‘Good morning, would you like a banana?’”

“There weren’t any apples,” Sweetie Belle countered, handing another banana over and then, to strike a balance, fed Philomena a piece of bacon.

“Did somepony say ‘apples’?” a redhead asked as she paused in her eating. Then, when she noticed the unicorn, she queried, “Oh hey, when did she get here?”

“Really, Apple Bloom?” Scootaloo shook her head. “How can you be so ovivious?”

“Oblivious,” Hermione and Sweetie Belle automatically corrected.

“That’s what I said.”

<->

Rarity was eating a simple breakfast of English muffins and jam when her quarry put in an appearance.

“I’m rather miffed at you right now,” she informed him as she dabbed her lips with a cloth napkin.

“So I gathered,” he acknowledged, running his taloned digits through is beard. “The table wasn’t very subtle.”

“Twilight has counseled that I should wait and hear you out prior to commencing with the beatings,” Rarity said, pushing her plate away slightly and focusing on her visitor.

“Ironically,” Discord said as he settled into a chair he summoned, “beatings and worse have become richly deserved. Let me relay what I have gleaned from the wards around the house of one Petunia Dursley. After that, I’ll explain how you can help me.”

“I cannot say that I have the proper disposition to help you at the current time.” Rarity’s voice was icy and she let her eyelids close halfway in a glare.

“That is about to change.” Discord rested his chin on the balled fist of his lion’s paw, and Rarity saw a look on his face that bode poorly for whomever was targeted.

<->

Alice was ready to go. It was time to put what she had learned to the test. One thing was certain: by the end of the day, she would either have justice or she would be fleeing England. Fortunately, the odds favored the first option.

She scrutinized her new outfit one more time, double checked her satchel and its contents, and then apparated to the Ministry. She would be early, so she could afford to stop by the cafeteria for breakfast.

<->

Feeding tarts to the unicorn and grapes to Philomena, Sweetie Belle wasn’t too preoccupied to glance at the head table. As one, the seated, amused professors were watching her attend to the animals. “At least it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting in trouble,” she muttered as she found a tray of apples had suddenly appeared on the table. “And I’d better hide these from Apple Bloom.”

“Look on the bright side Sweetie.” Dean grinned at her broadly. “You’ve got your biggest surprise for the day out of the way.”

“Sweetie!” Percy called from down the table, several seats away. “You’re going to want to read the ‘Daily Prophet!’”

Sweetie Belle gave Dean the dirtiest possible look she could manage. He looked at the ceiling and whistled innocently.

Before long, Sweetie Belle had an issue of the paper in hand. Her eyes flashed over the words and she slammed the paper onto the table. “OH, COME ON!!” was heard echoing through the Great Hall.

Hermione stared at Sweetie Belle, surprised by the sudden outburst. “What’s so bad?” she asked.

In response Sweetie turned to Harry and said, “Stop drinking your pumpkin juice for a minute. I’ve got something to tell you.”

Harry swallowed the juice in his mouth and put down his cup. “What? Did they get the marriage contract they wanted?”

“Yup,” Hermione said, having retrieved the paper from the table. “Looks like your aunt signed on your behalf.”

Harry looked at Hermione and hoarsely inquired, “You’re joking, right?”

“About as much as Parvati was joking about the unicorn,” Hermione responded, reading the rest of the article at the same time.

Harry had no idea what to say, so he turned to look at Sweetie Belle and found the girl was already looking at him.

“Uh,” he articulated.

“Uh,” she responded in kind.

“Erm,” he offered.

“Aaaaa,” she countered.

“Gaaaah!” Ginny offered her opinion as she managed to grab hold of the paper.

“This is going to be one heck of a whirlwind romance with all that exhilarating dialogue,” one of the sixth-year girls noted.

<->

Albus Dumbledore was not a happy man. His trip to the Ministry the night before had borne no fruit. It was bad enough that he had received a letter notifying him that he was no longer Harry Potter’s magical guardian, but when he had demanded to examine the paperwork, he had been denied. He was the Head Warlock, but he had been denied. The excuse had been that it was an agreement between two families, of which he was not a representative. If he wanted to contest, he would have to wait until a tribunal was convened or he petitioned the Wizengamot. When he insisted that he was the boy’s magical guardian, the answer had been, “not anymore.”

It was a good thing that the Wizengamot would meet today. Doubtlessly, he would soon have the leverage needed to reverse whatever folly the Dursley woman had caused. Even if the prophecy were no longer whole, Dumbledore needed to lead the boy to his destiny, all for the greater good.

Later than was his habit, Albus entered the Great Hall to break his fast . . . why was there another unicorn at the Gryffindor table?

<->

“Why did Ginny just run out of here crying?” Apple Bloom dropped her fork and started to follow after the redhead.

“Like Scootaloo said,” Lavender started as she fell in behind Apple Bloom.

“Ovivious,” Parvati finished as she and Scootaloo fell in line as well.

“Oblivious,” Hermione corrected absently, her face buried back in the paper, heedless of both the irony and the impending drama.

“Now, is not the time to do twin impressions,” Apple Bloom admonished as she led the girls out of the Great Hall to console their heartbroken friend.

Meanwhile, Harry and Sweetie Belle had gotten to the next stage of their interactions. That’s to say they were staring at each other wide-eyed, neither willing to poke the elephant in the room.

“You still need to blink occasionally,” the same sixth-year girl commented, watching them. “Breathing would probably help, too.”

“Ummm,” they both agreed and continued to stare.

“By the way,” Hermione interjected, never looking up from the paper, “the unicorn here is an ‘unfounded rumor’. Speaking of which, she needs a name; we can’t keep calling her ‘the unicorn’.”

“Ma!” Sweetie Belle stated.

“Gah!” was Harry’s reply.

“Magah’s a weird name, but she is your unicorn.” Hermione nodded turning the page. “Are you going to take her with you to the Wizengamot?”

“Wait? What?” Sweetie Belle tore her gaze away from Harry.

“Ten sickles say that name sticks,” one of the twins commented.

“She’s not my unicorn,” Sweetie protested. “You can’t own a unicorn.”

With attention focused elsewhere, Harry did what any sane young man in his situation would do. He quickly and quietly left. Well, quickly at least; “quietly” didn’t matter with all the background noise having returned.

“No more than you can own a phoenix.” An elderly voice intruded on the conversation. “Nonetheless, she is your unicorn as much as you are her little girl.” The headmaster had forgone breakfast and was investigating the newest addition to the hall.

“But . . . but . . . but,” Sweetie sputtered as her mind seized up just trying to begin to explain how that statement was so fundamentally wrong.

“Bringing Magah to the Wizengamot to claim your seat would be a masterful move,” Albus said, stroking his beard while his eyes twinkled madly. “None could dispute your suitability.”

“I’ve already got a proxy.” Sweetie Belle enlightened the headmaster. “He’s going to be taking my place; so, I don’t have to go.”

“You’ve chosen a proxy already?” Dumbledore expertly hid his disappointment at the news.

“Yeah, I wanted to give it to Discord, but he’s not a citizen, and apparently proxies have to be citizens.” Sweetie nodded in agreement. “So, I went with another.”

“And yet,” Dumbledore mused out loud, “being present for the bestowment of your Wizengamot seat would be most advisable. I think it would be worth missing one or two morning classes.”

“I guess.” Sweetie Belle relented. “I can always get notes from Scootaloo.”

“Very well.” The headmaster smiled encouragingly. “I see no reason to delay.” Dumbledore stood straighter and a phoenix flamed into existence above him. “Fawkes, if you would be so kind as to transport us.”

There was a flash of flames and the Great Hall became less interesting for the remaining students.

<->

Trotting down the main thoroughfare of Ponyville toward Twilight’s library, Rarity was perturbed -- perturbed and angry. Actually, “angry” was too mild a word. She was both furious and heartsick. The unusual seriousness that Discord had displayed should have been a warning; the suppressed rage should have sent her running.

Whom was she kidding? Even with a warning, she would never have conceptualized what he had been told her. All the anger she had been brewing for the draconequus had evaporated, forgotten and unimportant. Even knowing now what had been said, the whole thing seemed a dream. No, it was a nightmare. How could anypony treat a colt that way? It was unthinkable. It was unforgivable. It was untenable. It could not be allowed to continue. She would not allow it to continue.

In all honesty, Discord had left loopholes that she could back herself and Sweetie Belle out of with little or no effort -- loopholes she would not take if it meant leaving the colt in the environment where he had been raised. No responsible pony would even think about taking the easy way out. No pony with even an ounce of kindness, mercy, or integrity would even consider it. There might as well be no loopholes at all; their only purpose was to emphasize that she was going forward willingly.

Then there was the fact that the colt in question was a human. The fillies had spectacularly failed to mention the school they were attending was populated by humans. Rarity was painfully aware of the stories about them. She lived in a village with Lyra, for Celestia’s sake. How could Rarity not know the legends based on what were supposed to be fictional creatures? Yesterday, they were something found only in fairy tales; now she was responsible for the well-being of one.

What was she going to do about that? Equestrian law specifically forbade raising colts with the intention of having them marry your relatives. The laws were meant to prevent removing choice from said colts. Unscrupulous ponies had been known to adopt colts with the express intent that they marry their daughters. It was some very unpleasant business. Rarity knew she would have to pick somepony neutral to raise the colt, but whom? It would have to be somepony she could trust, but couldn’t be somepony close enough that it could be considered a conspiracy. Who could she possible impose on to . . . oh wait, it was obvious once she thought about it.

Mind made up, Rarity changed course to Town Hall. She would need to speak with Mayor Mare, but she didn’t foresee any difficulties.

<->

Sweetie Belle was no longer on school grounds; that much was evident. She was somewhere indoors, the stone ceiling belied the otherwise outdoors ambiance. There were wizards and witches everywhere, with their robes and their stares. It was their stares that were annoying, mainly because they seemed focused on her. No, wait. They were focused on the unicorn behind her. Magah stood there glaring at anyone who might be a threat to Sweetie, warning them not to even try to assault her. Wait. When was it decided her name would be Magah?

“Well then,” Dumbledore said with Fawkes perched on his shoulder. “We seem to be the cause of a spectacle.”

Sweetie looked up at him with Philomena on her own shoulder, trilling softly. “They seem surprised to see Magah.”

“I do believe this is the first time a unicorn has made her way to the ministry,” he chuckled. “It is a singularly remarkable happenstance.”

“We could just leave,” Sweetie suggested, intimidated by all the attention.

“Do not worry,” Dumbledore gently chided. “They are just curious. After all, one does not see two phoenixes and a unicorn every day.”

“I see unicorns every day,” Sweetie reminded him. “The two phoenixes are new though.”

“Perhaps,” Dumbledore said as he made his way over to the check-in desk, “but that makes the occasion no less noteworthy. This young wizard here will be needing your wand to weigh it.”

Sweetie Belle warily eyed the human stallion behind the desk then surrendered her wand to be tested.

<->

Lucius Malfoy watched as Arthur Weasley strutted into the Wizengamot waiting chambers, radiating an aura of elation. “What do you think you’re doing?” Lucius sneered, looking down his nose as if the man before him were a piece of offal. “Only Wizengamot members and servants are allowed in here.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Mr. Weasley agreed as he claimed a comfy chair next to the Longbottom matron and otherwise ignoring Malfoy. “Good morning, Augusta. How are you doing?”

“I am well, Arthur,” the old woman responded formally. “Has your family regained what was lost? If so, let me be the first to congratulate you and yours.”

Arthur tilted his head toward her in acknowledgement. “Thank you. I’m delighted to tell you that I will be sitting as proxy.”

Damnation! The brat had appointed a proxy. Lucius was incensed; she had chosen the worst possible family imaginable. She had literally just handed Dumbledore a guaranteed vote for whatever he wanted. Worse, even when she was removed, the seat would remain and in the hands of those blood traitors. Once the seat was acknowledged by the assembly, the damage would be permanent. The only option he had was clear; he was going to have to delay the bestowal and rush the accident along, if there was to be any hope of averting the travesty. If Weasley was here without the child, then it was apparent that he was planning on the fools just handing him the seat. It would be easy; all Lucius had to do was insist that the girl show proof of the phoenix to the Wizengamot. Seats couldn’t be passed out due to rumors after all. That would give him a month before the girl showed up at the next meeting, only he would make sure she didn’t show up.

Plans made, Lucius sauntered out of the waiting area; he could wait in the assembly hall. The waiting chambers had lost their appeal as he began to prepare his trap.

<->

Sweetie Belle hurried out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened. The car had been too small at first, but all it had taken was a few waves of her headmaster’s wand, and it was big enough to accommodate everyone, including Magah. In her own honest opinion, Sweetie thought the car was still too small. In her haste, she ran into an older witch with a monocle and grey hair.

The witch studied her briefly, seemingly paying close attention to her pink and purple mane. “Well Albus, the rumors appear to be true. You brought a unicorn, as well as the new phoenix-bonded.”

Albus let his eyes twinkle as he tilted his head slightly in greeting. “Indeed. After all, Amelia, what better way is there to start the morning than with a couple phoenixes and maybe a unicorn or two?”

Amelia narrowed her eyes slightly, “Should we be expecting another unicorn to show up?”

Dumbledore chuckled knowingly, “I doubt any more unicorns will be arriving today.”

Amelia studied him suspiciously for a few seconds, then turned to the little girl who had run into her. “You must be Sweetie Belle,” she said. “My name is Amelia Bones, I am head of the DMLE.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Sweetie sent out her most winning smile and Philomena trilled her own greeting from Sweetie’s shoulder. “Yes, I’m Sweetie Belle.” Then Sweetie was firmly pushed out of the way as Magah decided she wasn’t staying in the elevator any longer.

“You’ve made the headlines of the 'Daily Prophet' two days in a row now, young lady.” Amelia continued to scrutinize the child. “Is it true you have a marriage contract with Harry Potter?”

“Maybe?” Sweetie Belle answered truthfully.

Amelia raised an eyebrow at the response. “You don’t know?”

“The morning paper was the first I heard of it,” Sweetie admitted.

“You can’t believe everything you read,” Dumbledore said; he hadn’t read the morning paper and was hearing the rumor for the first time. He had already negotiated a marriage contract between Harry and Ginevra; any other contracts would not be according to his plans and would have to be voided -- with prejudice.

<->

The cream-colored earth pony was industriously wrapping individual pieces of candy, skillfully keeping her pink and blue mane out of the product. They were a mixture of tasty fillings inside various types of chocolate shells. The candies were, in fact, commonly known as a bonbon, which was slightly ironic, considering that was the name by which the pony was known.

Humming happily to herself, she was reaching for one of the tasty caramel-filled ones when the front door of her candy shop slammed open. Alarmed, Bonbon shot a look at the entrance and saw that the culprit was none other than her partner Lyra. The mint-colored unicorn was hopping up and down excitedly with a grin that would have given Pinkie Pie a run for her bits.

“Bonbon! Bonbon!” Lyra pronked over to the mare in question. “Guess what! Guess what!”

Vowing to cut back on the sugar content in Lyra’s diet, Bonbon smiled at the unicorn’s obvious excitement. “You got invited to play at the Grand Galloping Gala?” she ventured.

“Better!” Lyra stood on her hind legs and threw her forelegs wide to share the news. “Rarity’s going to let us take care of her pet human!”

<->

Lucius had cornered a trio of neutral faction voters. For four minutes, he had explained to them the importance of the individual receiving the honor being present for the bestowal of their Wizengamot seat. He had insisted that it was unbecoming to send a proxy to procure the honor in their stead, even with school being in session. He slyly hinted that they should hold off until next meeting to force the rumored phoenix-bonded to actually show up.

Satisfied that he would have more than enough votes to force a delay, Lucius rubbed his hands in anticipation as he made his way to his seat. The hubbub of the chamber abruptly stopped, as if a switch had been thrown. Lucius stopped and turned to look where everyone was staring.

From atop the pure white unicorn, the absurdly pink- and purple-haired girl said into the stunned silence, “Um, how am I supposed to get down?” The phoenix perched on her shoulder trilled in amusement.

Frowning, Lucius had to concede that he would not be able to stop the Weasleys from getting the proxy. All his efforts were for naught. He could already see that this was going to be an assembly remembered for generations to come.

<->

Smiling to himself, Dumbledore made his way to the Head Warlock podium. It had been a nice touch to have Sweetie Belle ride Magah into the chamber. It simultaneously put her on display and kept her preoccupied. Then there was the pleasant surprise that she had picked Arthur as her proxy. The disappointment he had felt earlier had been unfounded; he couldn’t have asked for a more favorable selection.

When he took his spot, the murmuring started as people made their ways to their seats. It was evident that most, if not all, Wizengamot members had decided to attend this assembly, and the spectator seats seemed to be filled to capacity as well. This was going to be an assembly remembered for generations to come.

<->

Minister Fudge was a portly little man, a portly little man who hated when others had the limelight and excluded him. Dumbledore had done just that. The opportunity to connect this young girl’s first public appearance with the office of the minister had been missed. He was well aware that if he tried to put in an appearance with the girl while she was on the unicorn, wizards would subconsciously note that he was in the inferior position. Fudge would have to wait until she dismounted; then, she would be fair game.

Gritting his teeth, the minister had to acknowledge something to himself, even though he saw no immediate way to capitalize on it. This was going to be an assembly remembered for generations to come.

<->

Alice rubbernecked from her seat with the spectators. The young girl really did have a phoenix! There were two phoenixes in the chambers, one on the shoulder of the head warlock, and one on the shoulder of the girl! That would be stunning by itself, never mind that she was riding a unicorn. Such a scene had been hinted at in legends but never actually witnessed by a crowd before. Unicorns didn’t generally let people ride on their backs. The girl looked unsure of herself, unused to being the center of attention, but she had a bloody phoenix and unicorn! She might as well just declare herself a princess at this point; she’d have the votes to back her claim.

Oh yes, an ally of the light was dominating the floor, unaware of her own importance. This was glorious! Even before Alice had gotten her chance, this was going to be an assembly remembered for generations to come!

Chapter 15: Government Chambers

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The empty hallways of the castle flashed by unnoticed as tears all but blocked her vision. She had been so elated that she would be able to experience them early. The last week had been the best of her life: new friends, new clothes, new surroundings, and, best of all, acceptance. It was too good to be true, too good to last. It didn’t last; it only led to the worst moment of her life. In that instant, her life was over. Her dream was lost, her existence meaningless. Without even trying, her new friend had ripped it all from her. With her purpose gone, she found an alcove to sink into and lost herself to the tears.

How long was she there? She didn’t know, maybe a minute, maybe an hour, maybe a week. Her misery defied time keeping, consuming her very being with its all-encompassing presence.

“Ginny?” Apple Bloom’s voice gingerly intruded into her despair. “Ginny, we’re here for you. Whatever it is, you don’t have to face it alone.”

Sniffling pathetically, Ginny fixated on the caring voice, both craving the tenderness and dreading the presence of the companion of the one who had stolen her dreams. Before she could protest, she was wrapped in a hug.

“We’re your friends Ginny,” Apple Bloom insisted firmly. “We overcome our problems together.”

“Yeah,” Ginny heard Scootaloo assert as another pair of arms engulfed her, “we stick together.”

“Parvati and I are here for you too,” Lavender said as she added her arms to the group hug. “I know you had your heart set on Harry, but you can’t let it get you down.”

“What did Harry do?” Apple Bloom asked, unaware of what happened.

“Looks like he got entered in a marriage contract with Sweetie,” Parvati explained, “trumping Ginny’s claim.”

“That’s not a problem,” Scootaloo cooed encouragingly at Ginny. “I’m sure Sweetie will vote on letting you into our herd agreement.”

“Wait!! What!?!” Lavender, Parvati and Ginny all exclaimed at the same time, turning to stare at Scootaloo.

Gryffindor house would lose fifty points for having five of their members miss the first Herbology class of their school careers. This was acceptable as far as everyone involved was concerned, even before the sixty points were awarded for loyalty.

<->

Sweetie Belle stared cautiously at the crowded audience full of humans. Thankfully, Mr. Weasley had come forward and helped her down from Magah, who was once again standing next to Sweetie protectively. Wordlessly, the assembly stared back, the expressions of shock still prevalent on most faces.

Screwing up her courage, Sweetie Belle waved and said in a strong voice, “Hello?” Her greeting was backed by a boisterous trill from Philomena and a playful front hoof stomp from Magah.

Hesitantly, about two thirds of the humans waved back, and, here and there throughout the crowd, faint greetings were heard in response.

Sweetie tried again. “I hope you are all feeling well this morning.”

The humans all nodded, denoting their mornings had been fine. This proved to be more than slightly amusing; a couple hundred grown witches and wizards were apparently intimidated by the little girl standing in the center of the assembly chamber.

The sound of wood striking wood demanded the attention of everyone present as Albus Dumbledore stood behind his podium with the full aura of the Chief Warlock emanating from him. “Good morning.” He paused, waiting for the undivided attention of all present. “As Chief Warlock, I hereby call this assembly of the Wizengamot to order.”

His announcement was met with a smattering of murmurs, and the audience settled more firmly into their seats to witness the proceedings.

“The customary commencement by opening of the floor to new business shall be pushed back. In lieu, we shall begin with the appointment of a new seat in accordance to the ancient laws.” Dumbledore continued, laying his gavel on the pedestal before him, “As I am sure you are all aware, phoenix-bonded individuals are to be granted a seat on the Wizengamot at the earliest opportunity. This law, in fact, predates the formation of the Ministry itself.” He paused for dramatic effect as all eyes once again sought out the little girl with the phoenix on her shoulder. “I present to you Miss Sweetie Belle, obviously a claimant for the application of said law.”

The chamber suddenly broke into applause, and loud shouts of elation and approval filled the air. Forgetting her stage fright, Sweetie Belle stood taller while Philomena spread her wings wide, basking in the adoration and framing Sweetie’s head with reds and golds. For no reason that she could name, Sweetie Belle started waving at the gathered humans.

Lucius frowned as even members of the Wizengamot started to stand to emphasize their own applause. She had yet to address the council, and already the cost and danger of neutralizing her had risen dramatically, so much, in fact, that he would have to increase the buffer between himself and whomever would be responsible for the deed. Even a hint of his involvement would be disastrous, even if found baseless.

Dumbledore let the maelstrom of emotion continue for a full minute before once again banging his gavel for attention. “Order. Order,” he said, never raising his voice yet easily heard by all, and order was quickly reestablished.

“It is now time to hear any arguments against the immediate application of the law,” Dumbledore said, turning to the gathered Wizengamot. “Are there any here who wish to voice opposition?”

A tall member of the Wizengamot immediately stood, his pale blonde hair pulled back in a braid.

“Yes, Mr. Yaxley?” Dumbledore politely acknowledged, bringing the man to the assembly’s attention.

Yaxley looked down his nose at Sweetie Belle, who was still standing on display in the center of the arena with Mr. Weasley and her animal companions. “This child is much too young for the honor.” He asserted, “She is not ready to take her place among us.”

“Yaxley, you fool,” Madam Longbottom said from her seat. “The law does not have an age limit, and she has already named a proxy. Your argument isn’t worth the breath it took you to utter it.”

Affronted by the rude interruption and suddenly aware of the hostile glares from the majority of onlookers, Yaxley sullenly sat back down without another word.

Dumbledore had watched the exchange with a hint of amusement on his lips. “I see,” he said after Yaxley retook his seat. “Are there any other pertinent arguments to be voiced?” When no one else was rash enough to voice dissent, he continued, “Are there any here who wish to voice their support?”

There was a rush as members of the Wizengamot clambered to their feet, vying for the right to back the young phoenix-bonded.

<->

Garrick Ollivander was in his shop’s back room, putting a series of intricate runes on his latest creation. It was aspen, looking to end up around eighteen and a half inches, yet another masterpiece in his quest for perfection.

Abruptly, he heard the chiming of the shop bells announcing the arrival of a customer even as his wards informed him of the same. Bothered slightly at the interruption to his crafting, he put on his customary smile and ventured out into the main room to see to his visitor.

Ollivander sucked in a quick breath when he beheld one of the most gorgeous women he had ever had the pleasure of meeting. In a lavish white dress, she was standing next to a handsome man in an impressive brown business suit. A hasty aura check flaunted none of the tells for a veela, and Ollivander promptly surmised that he had seen this woman’s daughter not too long ago. Purple hair was not that common, after all.

Stepping from the shadows, he let his presence be known. “Good morning, Mrs. Belle,” he said in his normal eccentric voice. “How may I help you this morning?”

She started slightly at his appearance, while the man beside her never showed a hint of surprise. “Hello, darling.” She flashed a devastatingly brilliant smile. “I find myself in need of a wand.”

<->

For nearly forty minutes, the members of the Wizengamot gushed at the inclusion of a second phoenix-bonded into their ranks. And she was not just a phoenix-bonded; she was a phoenix-bonded with a loyal unicorn. Most notably, the Minister had taken the time to welcome her into the fold. Finally, when the vote was called, it proved to be unanimous with even Yaxley unwilling to vote in opposition.

At his podium, Dumbledore beamed as he witnessed the considerable shift in the political playing field. Sweetie Belle might not know it yet, but she had changed the direction and destiny of the British Wizarding World. Now, all he had to do was regain control of Harry Potter, and Albus was sure he could guide it to a prosperous future.

Satisfied with the bestowment of the Wizengamot seat, Dumbledore once more banged his gavel, drawing attention to himself. “Now that your proxy sits in your stead,” he said, focusing on Sweetie Belle, “perhaps it would be wise to return you to your studies.”

Sweetie Belle nodded her assent. Having become bored by all the speeches in her honor, she was anxious to be out of the limelight.

“Very well.” Dumbledore then switched his focus to the bird on her shoulder. “Would you be so kind as to return Miss Belle and her unicorn to Hogwarts?”

Philomena trilled her consent, and with a flash of flames, the center of the arena stood empty.

<->

Stumbling slightly, Sweetie Belle found herself back in the Great Hall. Aside from herself, Philomena, and Magah, it was unoccupied. Sighing, Sweetie muttered to Philomena, “I have no idea where I’m supposed to be right now.”

The phoenix cooed softly, and Magah nudged her gently.

<->

The flashy exit had caused another round of clapping, and Dumbledore let it die out naturally before returning the meeting to order. “I thank you all for your support of our newest member, and on that note, it is time to return to the mundane responsibilities of governing. At this time, the floor is open to anyone wishing to present new business.”

Immediately a witch near the back of the of the spectator section stood and said, “I have new business to be brought before the Wizengamot!”

The Minister’s undersecretary, a toad-like woman by the name of Umbridge, promptly spoke up, “It is customary that those not on the Wizengamot to submit their business in writing before meetings, so as to avoid the wasting of our esteemed members' time.”

“Custom is not law.” The witch with raven-black hair barley acknowledged Umbridge’s presence. “By law, any may address the assembly when the floor is open, and I am demanding that right.”

Dumbledore was intrigued; one of his former students was making a scene. He was well aware that the young witch was correct, though not many knew of the law. In living memory, supplicants had been encouraged to have their requests filtered through the system first.

“Very well,” the Chief Warlock said as he cut off Umbridge’s reply. “You have the floor Miss Rutter. What new business do you have for us today?”

A predatory smile crossed the woman’s face as she made her way to the center of the arena, forcing the halt of all conversation as curiosity rose in all who watched. Upon reaching her destination, she stood tall and declared, “My name is Alice Rutter. I hereby invoke the rite of Iustitia est Infirma.”

A hush fell upon the members of the Wizengamot even as the chatter increased among the spectators. How had this witch learned of that rite?! Many generations of legislators had done their best to quash knowledge of that law. How could they not? It was designed to hold them accountable for the power they held.

“That is outrageous!” a wizard of the Wizengamot shouted. “That rite has not been invoked in over two hundred years!”

“And yet it is being invoked today,” Alice returned, unfazed.

“I will not stand for this travesty!” the same member raged on, standing to emphasize his point.

“Then sit,” Alice commanded, “unless you would interrupt my rite yet a third time.”

“You dare threaten me?” The Wizengamot member foamed from his mouth at the audacity of the nobody.

Not giving the man a second glance, Alice turned to Dumbledore and said, “Please seal the chamber and penalize him for thrice interfering.”

Dumbledore looked at the woman before him and said, “Miss Rutter, I see no . . .”

But that was as far as he got before Alice cut him off. “Chief Warlock, do your duty. Seal the chamber, and penalize him according to the law.”

Taken aback, Dumbledore measured the woman before him with his gaze. “Let it be known, these chambers are now sealed for the rite of Iustitia est Infirma. No magic is possible from those present; none may enter or leave until the matter is resolved.”

With a bang of his gavel, magic pulsed throughout the chamber. Where there once were doors, there now were only stone walls. Everyone present felt the ancient magic take hold. Whatever this rite was, it was serious business.

“Very well.” Dumbledore returned his gaze to Alice. “The ritual is in place. You may proceed.”

“First, apply the penalty,” Alice insisted, nodding to the still-standing member of the Wizengamot.

“Mr. Nott,” Dumbledore addressed the standing man, “let it be known that, in accordance with our most ancient laws, you are to forfeit ten percent of your total holdings to Miss Rutter for thrice interfering with the rite of Iustitia est Infirma. Please be seated.”

“How dare she!” Nott started.

“Would you care to make it twenty percent?” Alice asked; she, like Dumbledore, never raised her voice, yet was heard by all.

Glowering, Nott abruptly ceased his ravings. With a glare that promised a swift demise, he sat down. Amid the bystanders, the whispering flourished. Ten percent of a noble house’s wealth was no small chunk of change. If she gained nothing else from her strategy today, she at least got enough money to properly hide from her new enemy.

Alice stood in the center of the arena and powerfully proclaimed, “In accordance with this rite, I accuse Lucius Malfoy of willfully murdering my father. I further charge him with raping my mother, torturing them both, and being an accomplice to my mother’s murder. I demand retribution!”

A hush fell and the proverbial pin could have been heard.

For an eternity of ten seconds, no one spoke. Then, Umbridge leapt to her feet. “How dare you!” she screamed. “How dare you accuse such a fine upstanding member of our society of such crimes?! I’ll have you know that the Ministry cleared him of all charges due to being under the Imperius Curse. You will apologize immediately for your insolence!”

“I will apologize only if he swears he did not willingly commit those acts,” Alice returned coldly. “The rite will cause his own magic to judge him. If he is innocent, he will be unharmed and I will gladly apologize. If he did it of his own free will and swears he didn’t, he forfeits not only his life, but also his magic, and all further claims I have against him today are automatically considered valid.”

“How dare you!” Umbridge fumed, her eyes narrowing in anger. “Do you know who I am?”

“Yes.” Alice crossed her arms. “You are the woman who twice interrupted the rite. Care to go for a third time?”

For a second, greed warred with indignation across Umbridge’s face. The toad-like woman sat down as indignation lost. She would let Lucius deal with this upstart.

Looking on with fascination, Dumbledore was elated. This sort of situation was exactly why the rite had been conceived in the first place. If only it weren’t a slap in the face for the Wizengamot, literally undermining their authority. “Mr. Malfoy,” he seriously intoned, “you stand accused. How will you answer the charges?”

Lucius was indignant; he didn’t even remember this trash’s parents, but it was all too likely they had been targets of a raid. He couldn’t risk his life and magic over the uncertainty; that left him only one option. Gritting his teeth, he stood and addressed the room. “It is with great sorrow that I once again stand in suspicion over my actions during those troubling times. However, I do not hold it against Miss Rutter for seeking closure. In the spirit of good faith, I shall willingly pay the prescribed penalty mandated by our laws as a peace offering.” With those words, he retook his seat.

Seething inside, he contemplated how the penalty was a percentage of his total worth, not set as a paltry amount that would be hurtful to one of less means, yet meaningless to one such as he. Lucius had just agreed to pay more of his fortune than Nott had lost due to his stupidity. Once this meeting was complete, he’d have to sign everything over to Draco, lest others take the path that the lowborn trash had demonstrated.

Not surprised in the least that Lucius had taken the coward’s way out, Dumbledore turned back to Alice. “It would seem that you shall receive the retribution you desired. Are you done with the rite?”

Not taking her eyes off Lucius, Alice reached into a satchel hanging at her side and withdrew a scroll. “No,” she said, “I’m just getting started.”

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow at that statement, “Very well, continue.”

“By the old laws, I claim the right to speak for those wronged by this man in a similar manner,” Alice formally recited. “As such, I accuse Lucius Malfoy of the willful murder of one Jacob Smith.”

“You seem to have a list there,” Dumbledore noted. “Would you care to make all your accusations en masse?”

“No,” Alice replied. “These are all separate, serious offenses. I have no desire for him to reduce his liability by lumping them all together.”

“I see.” Dumbledore relented as he turned his attention back to Lucius. “You may swear on your life and magic at any time to refute any and all charges,” he reminded the head of House Malfoy.

<->

Humming to himself, Dylan placed the final touches on Miss Belle’s latest order. The project cost more than all of her other purchases combined, and he was determined that she would get her money’s worth. He was unmotivated by the rumors the “Daily Prophet” had printed about her. Instead, he was motivated by professional pride and an honest fondness for the girl.

Carefully shrinking the final product, he prepared instructions and went to fetch an owl.

<->

It was only due to blind luck that Sweetie Belle found the group of Gryffindor girls huddled in an alcove.

“Hey, Sweetie!” Lavender motioned for Sweetie to come closer. “Why aren’t you in class?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing.” Sweetie hurried over, still being followed by Magah. “I just got back from being bored at the Wizengamot.”

“Ginny was mighty upset over the whole marriage contract thing,” Scootaloo said gesturing to the youngest Gryffindor. “She needed our support more than we needed to be in class.”

“I’ll bet the professors don’t see it that way,” Parvati commented. “We’d better make it to our next class.”

“How’s Ginny doing?” Sweetie ignored the warning, more anxious over her new friend than the new school.

“I’m better.” Ginny sniffed. “I can’t be mad at you, since you didn’t want the contract in the first place.” Her voice broke near the end of the sentence. The situation still hurt, but she was determined not to take it out on the girl who was trying so hard to be a friend.

“Dumbledore said I shouldn’t believe everything I read.” Sweetie tried to console the girl by squeezing in to give her a hug. “I mean, what are the odds of there actually being a marriage contract? I mean it was just in the paper yesterday.”

“Discord is hanging around,” Apple Bloom reminded Sweetie Belle.

“Let’s not give him ideas,” Scootaloo suggested, getting to her feet and jerking her head toward the hallway. “We passed a bathroom on the way here; we should go get cleaned up and get to our classes. I don’t wanna lose more points than that whole potion insistent.”

Sweetie Belle reflexively corrected, “Incident.”

Scootaloo groaned. “That’s what I said.”

Though the issue hadn’t been resolved, no one felt they needed to dwell on it any longer. They would face the challenge together when the time came.

<->

“Lucius Malfoy.” Dumbledore’s voice was heard by every witch and wizard in the Wizengamot chamber, the disgust plainly evident. “You stand accused of nineteen separate murders, as well as being an accessory to forty-two others. And, let us not forget the charges of rape and torture. Will you say nothing in your defense?”

The head of House Malfoy sat unresponsive in his seat. His fortune was gone. The mudblood trash had just ruined him with her demands for retribution, her pathetic pleas for justice. To protect his wealth, he needed to swear that he hadn’t willingly participated in the cleansing, something he couldn’t do. As soon as he opened his mouth, the rite would know he was lying. He would die without his magic. Then, every accusation would become valid and the Malfoy family would still be knutless.

The only thing left for his heir would be the trust fund. That was untouchable since it was in Draco’s name alone. Lucius had made sure there was enough so that his son would never need to work even if the worst happened. He never truly really believed the worst would happen. Shockingly, the worst had happened. The Malfoys were now on the same level as the blood traitors, the Weasley clan. Malfoy Sr. knew he would have to pack up and rely on distant family members in France. The disgrace was unbearable.

Seeing that he would get no reaction from Lucius, Dumbledore addressed Alice once more. “These are disturbing allegations you make this day. I must ask, are there any other charges you wish to levy?”

“Yes.” Alice nodded, unrolling her scroll to read the next section. “I have here a list of bribes he made to the Minister and other officials. They have significantly undermined the Ministry and need to be brought to light.”

“How dare you accuse the Minister of taking bribes!” Umbridge howled, once more leaping from her seat waving her fist.

With exaggerated calmness, Alice merely looked at her and said, “That’s three.”

<->

The girls were exiting the bathroom as the older students also took to the halls for the changing of classes. In the manner of young children everywhere, sorrows were forgotten and the excitement of new experiences once more prevailed among the Gryffindor firsties.

Abruptly, the shout of “Mouse! Mouse! Mouse!” went up and a blue blur wove in and out of the student’s legs.

Startled, Apple Bloom planted her feet firmly and grunted lightly as she easily took the weight, “Really?” she groused a few seconds later. “All five of ya?”

“You’re heavy!” Sweetie groaned from her spot, on top of Apple Bloom’s back.

“It’s safer up here,” Parvati explained.

“Careful,” Ginny added, “I almost bonked my head on the ceiling.

“Do you see it?” Lavender asked, adjusting her grip on Scootaloo while she in turn effortlessly balanced Ginny's mass.

From down the hall they heard some guy shout, “Bloody hell, that thing really does bite!”

“It’s over thar,” Apple Bloom helpfully answered Lavender.

<->

Minister Fudge sat and watched as his career swirled down the drain. He had forgotten half of the occasions Alice had mentioned, but he recognized them when she brought them to light. There would be no false claims of innocence while the ancient magic filled the room.

It was going to take some skillful tapdancing to hold onto his job once this accursed rite was complete. Lucius had not denied any of the murders, and the public knew that Fudge had called him a trusted advisor on many occasions. It was going to be almost impossible to distance himself from the man. It was going to be almost impossible to hold onto any respect. It was going to be troublesome to avoid the prescribed penalties for accepting bribes and getting caught. Most of all, it was imperative that he avoid any time in Azkaban.

Where had the troublemaker gotten her information? Her list was too complete, too accurate. The morning wasn’t even half over, and Fudge already knew that he was sitting in the Minister’s chair for the last time.

<->

Dumbledore patiently stood behind his podium and watched as his opposition was being stripped of its power. Without his money, Malfoy would be neutered. With the accusations made before the Wizengamot left uncontested, Malfoy would be forced to forfeit his seat at the very least. It was entirely possible that there would be an investigation called on all the former Death Eaters who had escaped prison with the Imperius Curse as their defense.

It would take some careful negotiating to help the ones who must be left free to carry on their family names. After all, it wouldn’t do to let all those lines die out for the mistakes of a rare few of their members. They must be given the chance to atone for their mistakes and live better lives.

Still, it would make things so much easier once Malfoy was no longer a major player in the game. The morning was not yet half over and already this had been a council meeting that would be remembered for generations to come.

<->

Alice stood in the center of the assembly, calmly reading from the scroll the stranger had provided. She was just getting started and already she had Malfoy exactly where she wanted him. Justice was coming.

She wasn’t a bad person; she didn’t generally wish harm on others. She could have told herself that she was doing this so Malfoy could not hurt others in the future, and there would be some truth to that. But she wouldn’t lie, especially to herself; she was doing this for her father, for her mother, for herself. Revenge was at hand. Finally, after all these years, she was going to get satisfaction. If only it didn’t feel so hollow.

Chapter 16: Legal Babble

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Chatting lightly among themselves, the Gryffindor boys followed Hermione to their second class. Herbology had been interesting, maybe more so for Neville than for anyone else. The first class had consisted of some very basic plant knowledge and a detailed tour of the first greenhouse. There were several greenhouses, but the first-years were only allowed in one. Supposedly, the plants could get dangerous in the others.

“So, Harry,” Dean teased, “what’s it like having a marriage contract?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Harry replied; he had honestly put the concept out of his mind during class. “I’ve never had one before. I’m not even sure what to say to Sweetie about it.”

“That much is obvious,” Seamus snickered.

“You’ve got years to figure it out,” Hermione informed Harry. “The contract doesn’t become effective until you both turn seventeen.”

“Me,” Ron interjected, “I wanna be there when you tell your owl.”

“Hedwig doesn’t need to know,” Harry hastily proclaimed, sending Ron a glare. “She needs time to forget the whole ‘eating owls’ thing.”

“Eating owls?” Hermione inquired, turning to look at Harry. “I think I’m missing something here.”

“Sweetie asked if owls were good to eat.” Ron shrugged as he continued, “While she was holding Hedwig’s cage. Why do you think Scabbers hides whenever her name is mentioned?”

“Scabbers is a rat.” Seamus protested, “He shouldn’t care if people eat owls.”

“She asked about eating rats earlier,” Ron said, “while we were getting ready for the train. He’s been terrified of her ever since.”

“You’d think she’s never had meat before, the way she goes on at meals,” Dean observed as they turned a corner.

“She does like her meat,” Neville agreed as Hermione silently assimilated the fresh information.

“First a phoenix, now a unicorn.” Dean added, “Whatever she’s hiding, it’s gonna be a doozy.”

“She’s not hiding anything!” Ron insisted roughly, placing his hand on the back of his head.

“Well, whatever she’s hiding, Ron knows what it is, and it doesn’t seem to bother him,” Hermione noted, causing Ron to scowl in her direction.

“I doubt there’s anything about Sweetie that would surprise me anymore,” Harry said as they reached the History of Magic classroom, only to find that the rest of the Gryffindor first-years had already taken their seats.

XxX

Dumbledore took a deep breath when Alice reached the end of her list of bribes. “Miss Rutter,” he said, “your accusations will be the end of Minister’s Fudge’s career, as well as the careers of several ministry employees. How confident are you of the accuracy of these claims?”

“Sure enough to bring them to light during the Rite of Iustitia est Infirma,” Alice told the Chief Warlock, absently wiping the sweat off her palms onto her dress. “Or have you forgotten that the rite punishes those who knowingly make false accusations?”

“Very well.” Dumbledore directed his gaze toward Fudge. “Minister, you are not the current target of the rite, but you are to be given the opportunity to deny these charges due to being indirectly implicated. Be warned, any lying will trigger penalties. True, they will not be as harsh as if you had falsely denied murder. However, you can at least expect to lose your magic if you are so bold as to knowingly speak falsehoods.”

The Minister of Magic sourly took to his feet, sweat visibly gathered on his pudgy forehead. “Wizards and witches of the Wizengamot, esteemed members of the press, and witnesses in the gallery,” he said, making all-encompassing gestures with his hands, “it is apparent from her display, that Miss Rutter has a vendetta against Lucius Malfoy. And let us be honest, it is a well-grounded and appropriate vendetta. Without a doubt, the previous administration was lax in its application of pardons, taking the word of a mass murderer over the wellbeing of the wizarding public. In her fervor to do harm to Malfoy, it is obvious Miss Rutter has misguidedly brought suspicion onto others. We should not let such a pointed grudge color the entirety of our government. Instead, we should see to properly punishing those who have perpetrated such heinous crimes as this Death Eater. As such, I propose an investigation into everyone who claimed being under the Imperious Curse excused their serving He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. If you lend me your support, I will gladly head such an investigation myself.”

“There was a notable lack of ‘I did not accept any bribes.’ in that speech,” one of the members of the Wizengamot noted. Then, after a second they continued, “My apologizes, Miss Rutter. I did not mean to interrupt your rite.”

Alice waved dismissively at the commenter as she watched Fudge wince. “Are you telling me,” she said to the Minister, “that your entire defense consists of ‘There are bad people out there, so if you don’t hold me accountable for my crimes, I’ll do the job I was elected to?’”

“Now, now, Miss Rutter.” Fudge raised his hands placatingly. “There’s no need to be hasty. I’m sure we can work this out.”

“Yes or no,” Alice sighed in distaste. “Did you accept these bribes?”

“Chief Warlock Dumbledore,” Fudge implored, “are you going to allow this woman to interrogate me? Do I not have a right to present my case before the Wizengamot?”

“Let it be recognized that the Minister has been given the opportunity to deny the allegations under rite and has refused to do so.” Dumbledore wacked the podium with his gavel. “Perhaps the matter shall be elaborated on after the rite. However, since they are not something the accuser can demand retribution for, they are to be tabled at this time.”

Fudge almost sighed in relief until he noticed that many of his most steadfast supporters were glaring at him angrily from their seats. Belatedly, he realized that almost all of them would be targets of the investigation he had just called for.

XxX

“Come on, ‘Hogwarts a History’ specifically said that this class was taught by a ghost.” Hermione looked with annoyance at the now-typical response to the castle spirits. “You’re not going to scare him away, so you might as well just get used to him.”

Seeing her words had the desired effect, she turned and continued, “That goes for you three as well. Ginny, get down off Parvati; I don’t think Lavender is anywhere near as strong as Apple Bloom.”

XxX

Dumbledore smiled benevolently at Alice. “Miss Rutter, once again, I ask you if you are done with the rite?” As entertaining as this was proving to be, he needed to bring the matter of guardianship of Harry Potter before the council.

“And once again I say that I’m just getting started,” she responded. “By right of conquest, I hereby claim the Malfoy House seat.”

Dumbledore actually chuckled at that one. “I cannot say I didn’t see that coming,” he said, sotto voce. Then, addressing the assembly, he continued. “Miss Rutter is laying claim to yet another ancient law. Are there any here that wish to dispute her claim?”

Silence meet his query. The pureblood faction readily conceded that they were losing their most influential seat. They knew that, short of Malfoy swearing he did not commit the crimes alleged, there was no basis to dispute the claim.

“Welcome to the Wizengamot.” Dumbledore bowed slightly in Alice’s direction. “It seems that once this rite is done, we will have two new members today.”

“Also,” Alice continued as if the seat were not crucial, “Malfoy is responsible for the deaths of greater than three times three wizards. He purposely brought several family lines to an end. The incidents each occurred on different occasions, on the orders of an individual who had declared war on the magic-born of Britain. The law is clear; he must either present sanctioning authorization for his actions, or he must be branded a traitor and thrown into the veil without delay.”

Once again, Alice had caused the room to grow quiet. There was no mention of Azkaban, this was a direct demand to end Lucius’ life. There was a time when the man could have counted on the Minister to call for a more lenient sentence, solely on the power of his office. The reason Alice had continued to voice accusation after accusation even after Malfoy was to be penalized in excess of one hundred percent of his holdings was now evident. Her goal had never been the man’s wealth. Retribution was all well and good, but it paled in comparison to vengeance.

“Surely,” Dumbledore said into the stunned silence, “you would consider showing some mercy. There is no need to invoke that particular law. Think of his family.”

Alice’s eye shot to the Dumbledore and her next words lacked any warmth, “I am showing his more mercy than he has shown mine. What part of ‘He murdered my father and raped my mother.’ do you continue to fail to understand?”

Silence reigned for a few seconds more, then Dumbledore tried again. “Do you realize what you are doing here today?”

“Yes.” She nodded her head. “I am doing your job.”

XxX

Two individuals met in the common room of the Three Broomsticks Inn. Their services had been paid for in full, and, in truth, they were looking forward to the task at hand.

The students and teachers would all be in class right now, so it made sense to wait until lunch before heading up to the castle. Fates willing, this would prove to be an interesting day.

XxX

How had he been reduced to this? Just an hour ago, his biggest worry had been the loss of political power to an upstart brat; now he had to worry about the loss of his very life. Curse the old laws! This was exactly why they were kept hidden.

He would not beg for his life. That was precisely what the mudblood was hoping for. If he was going down, he was going down with dignity. He would not give her the satisfaction of seeing him beg. He still had his pride, even if he had nothing else to call his own. He couldn’t even claim his wife, with that wench Rutter’s claim of conquest, he lost even that.

He could take solace in the fact that his son would be provided for. He would not be here to guide his offspring, but he had ensured that opportunity would be ample for young Draco.

Never would he have suspected he could be brought low in such a manner. What was this witch’s source? There was no way she could have collected that intelligence on her own. She had help. She was only a figurehead, not that the knowledge would do him any good. This wasn’t Dumbledore’s style; there had to be a new opponent in the game, and his or her first move was to remove a major player from the field.

The move had been skillfully made. There were no cracks to exploit, no ignorance to take advantage of. The rite would ensure his demise, one way or the other.

He wasn’t ready to die. Still, he would not beg.

XxX

Beaten, Dumbledore let his shoulders slump. “Very well, Miss Rutter; it would take a two thirds majority to overturn the implementation of the traitor’s law. Does anyone sitting today wish to call for the vote?”

Once again, the members of the Wizengamot only returned silence for the proffered question. No one wanted to associate themselves with the doomed man.

“Lucius, will you say nothing in your defense?” Dumbledore addressed the accused.

“I will die with my magic intact,” was the only reply.

“Please restrain the condemned.” Dumbledore continued once he saw that the path had been set, “He is thusly declared traitor; in accordance with the law, he will be put through the veil after the completion of the Rite of Iustitia est Infirma.” Two aurors, who had just happened to be standing behind Malfoy, rushed forward to take him into custody. With a whimper, Malfoy was removed from power.

Concentrating on Alice once more, Dumbledore raised a questioning eyebrow.

Smoothing her dress, Alice stood taller and intoned her next step, “In accordance with the Rite of Iustitia est Infirma, I accuse Corban Yaxley of willfully murdering my mother. I further accuse him of raping her and being an accomplice to the murder of my father. I demand retribution!”

Seeing the writing on the wall, Yaxley promptly leapt to his feet and aimed his wand at Alice. “Avada Kedavra!” he thundered only to give a look of dismay when nothing happened beyond him being dogpiled on by a trio of aurors.

“Is extreme stupidity a crime?” Alice asked as they bound Yaxley without the aid of magic. “Because I’m pretty sure the Chief Warlock said no magic would work. No, wait, stupidity can’t be crime; Fudge is our sitting minister, not a resident of Azkaban -- at least not yet.”

“Are you so intent on making enemies today?” a reporter from the “Daily Prophet” asked from the first row.

“I don’t plan on leaving any of them standing.” was Alice’s reply as she pulled a second scroll from her satchel.

“Good,” the reporter said, flipping the page of his notepad, “we haven’t had a two-day Wizengamot spectacular in quite a while. Though with Sweetie Belle and now this, it’s going to be murder deciding what tomorrow’s banner headline will be.”

Realizing that today would not be a good day to bring up guardianship issues, Dumbledore waited for Alice to start reading from her new scroll.

XxX

Judge Judith Brown, no relation, sat behind her office desk and greeted the foreign witch and wizard, “Good morning, Mrs. Belle and Mr. Discord. Welcome to Britain. I have been informed you wish to see me in regards to the guardianship of a minor.”

“Yes, your honor,” the beautiful woman with purple hair said from her place in the visitor’s chair, “I have recently been made responsible for the child, and I fear that other parties will abuse their authority and try to circumvent my legal rights.”

“So, you have legal custody at this time?” Judge Brown was one of the three judges responsible for most custody issues that did not require a fully convened Wizengamot.

“Yes, Harry’s aunt has signed her rights over to me.” Mrs. Belle pulled a bundle of papers out of her purse. “I have my copy of the paperwork right here.”

The judge accepted the proffered papers and scanned the contents. “You have custody of Harry Potter?!”

“Yes, your honor.” Mrs. Belle nodded while her companion sat back and observed.

“And you’re a foreign national,” Judge Brown said, putting the paperwork on her desk. “Did you have anyone in particular in mind when you said there might be opposition?”

“Harry’s previous magical guardian, Albus Dumbledore,” Mrs. Belle answered, lacking any of the reverence normally associated with the name.

“Of course.” The judge put her face in her hand. “It just had to be Dumbledore. You do realize you just handed me a nightmare.”

In response, the woman took her wand out of her purse and said, “I, Rarity Belle, do swear that I have Harry Potter’s best interests in mind and do not seek him out for political purposes. I further swear that my actions are the result of learning of his circumstances caused by Albus Dumbledore, whom I fully believe does not have the minor’s best interests at heart. So mote it be.” A pulse of magic punctuated her declaration.

Judge Brown had tensed when the woman had drawn her wand without warning, only relaxing when it was returned to the purse. “A little warning before you pull your wand would be appreciated,” she admonished, once more perusing the paperwork. “Tell me about these circumstances you mentioned.”

Surprisingly, it was her companion who sat forward to answer the question.

XxX

Dumbledore waited calmly for Alice to finish with her list of grievances against Yaxley before formally offering the man a chance to rebut. “Mr. Yaxley,” he intoned, “you stand accused of fifteen counts of murder, fifty-seven counts of accessory to murder, as well as multiple charges of bribery, intimidation, rape and torture. You may swear to innocence on any of the charges at this time.”

One of the aurors standing next to the bound Yaxley removed the gag needed to allow Alice to finish her accusations.

“You mudblood bitch!!” Yaxley began screaming as soon as he was able. “You dare stand in the master’s way? You fool! You are nothing! I deny all of your lies!”

That’s as far as he got. Abruptly, the magic in the room grew heavy and there was loud snap. A surge of power rushed into Yaxley, or maybe out of him, or perhaps even both, and then everything was still. No one moved, least of all Yaxley. He would not be moving on his own again.

“I claim the Yaxley house seat by right of conquest!” Alice pleasantly announced, and, as one, the room turned to her expectantly.

“You can only hold one seat at a time,” someone from the audience insisted.

“True,” Alice agreed. “I hereby give the Yaxley seat to Greg Miller.”

“But,” A Wizengamot member from the pureblood faction complained, “he’s a muggle-born!”

“Why yes, yes he is.” Alice beamed as she reached for yet another scroll from her satchel. ‘Nott, you’re next.”

XxX

The morning classes passed by quickly, with Hermione being the only Gryffindor to be awake at the end of History of Magic. Even Magah had lost to slumber, sleeping where she stood.

“I can’t believe he didn’t say anything about you bringing a unicorn to class,” Dean said as they were packing up after class and the teacher had left through the wall.

“I can’t believe the class is taught by a dead person.” Scootaloo yawned and stretched. “Don’t they have a decent retirement plan or something?”

“Look on the bright side,” Lavender said, and her classmates focused on her.

“Well?” Ginny asked when that was as far as she got.

“Give me a second,” Lavender said. “I’ll think of something.”

“Ah coulda gotten just as much out of reading the book as ah did out of this class,” Apple Bloom grumbled. “More even, since ah don’t read in a monotone.”

“But the information is so fascinating,” Hermione insisted as she stuck up for their teacher. “So what if the presentation was a bit dry?”

“A bit dry?” Ron said with indignation. “He could make a quidditch match boring.”

“Ron,” Hermione commanded, “don’t exaggerate.”

“He wasn’t exaggerating.” Parvati stuck up for Ron. “That was a chore to stay awake.”

“You’re not helping,” Hermione informed her.

“Sorry,” Parvati shrugged, “was I supposed to be?”

“We should probably do something to liven up the class,” Sweetie Belle suggested.

“Like what?” Scootaloo asked. “Perform a resurrection?”

“Could we do that?” Harry asked fixing his gaze on Scootaloo.

“Don’t know,” she admitted. “We could ask Twilight.”

“Who’s Twilight?” Dean asked, coming over to pet Magah.

“One of mah sister’s friends,” Apple Bloom supplied. “She knows everything.”

“What are the odds of her actually knowing a viable resurrection spell?” Hermione’s interest was piqued. “After all, the professors here obviously don’t have one.”

“Pretty good actually,” Sweetie Belle said. “She has access to the Royal Library. Besides, she’s the Element of Magic.”

“She has access to a royal library?” Hermione squealed.

“Calm down, Hermione,” Seamus said. “It’s just a library.”

“Come on,” Sweetie said, jerking her head toward the exit. “Let’s go write Twilight a letter.”

“To the owlery?” Lavender asked.

“To the owlery,” Parvati confirmed heading out the door.

XxX

Alice watched as they added Mr. Goyle to the group of restrained wizards. Her plans had gone perfectly so far; the known Death Eaters no longer sat on the Wizengamot. It hadn’t even been remotely difficult. All it had taken was some knowledge of the law and the willingness to implement the right course. She wondered why none of the so-called families of light had not done the same.

“You have gotten a great deal of usage out of the rite Miss Rutter.” Dumbledore intruded on her musings. “It is safe to say that the very dynamics of wizarding politics have been waylaid this day. You did say that Mr. Goyle was your last objective currently in the room, so is it safe to assume that we are done with the rite for now?”

“Yes, I’m done with the rite for now,” Alice agreed, and a majority let out the breath they had been holding in anticipation.

“Very well.” Dumbledore banged his gavel once more, and the magic retreated from the chambers, leaving doors where there once were blank walls. “Then we shall adjourn until after lunch, say two o’clock. It has been a busy morning, and some of us must still witness the proceedings down at the veil.

With that grim reminder, the aurors began funneling the condemned out of the chambers. They had a short trek to make, the longest of their lives.

XxX

Twilight looked up from her reading as the beating of muffled wings announced the arrival of a messenger. Perched next to her own owl, Owlowiscious, was a large barn owl.

“Hey!” her assistant, a purple baby dragon by the name of Spike, said. “What’s with the strange owl?””

“He’s probably just delivering a message from the Crusaders,” Twilight said, trotting up to the owl stand. “Apparently owls are a common means of communication where they’re going to school.”

“Great, just great.” Spike crossed his arms and griped, “Another of my jobs that owls are after.”

‘I don’t think you have to worry about it,” Twilight said, examining the new owl. “They still have to fly from Point A to Point B, while your flames are much faster.”

“Whatever.” Spike was unconvinced.

“If you could wait a minute, I should have a reply for you to take back.” Twilight addressed the owl who bobbed his head in consent.

Wrapping the message in her magic, Twilight floated it close to peruse. “Oh, look, they’re asking about resurrection spells. I remember looking into those when I was a filly.”

“Resurrection spells?” Spike sounded doubtful. “Aren’t those dangerous and outside their skill range?”

“Nah.” Twilight made her way to a bookshelf and started browsing the titles. “They’re basically harmless. They are fun to play with and pretend that they’ll work. Basically, without a spirit to work with, they are useless, and where would the girls find an honest to goodness, fully manifested spirit willing to help?”

“You’re sending the Crusaders looking for ghosts?!” Spike exclaimed in alarm.

Twilight openly laughed, taking a book down from the bookcase. “Spike, there’s no such things as ghosts. These spells are just theory; they teach some necessary fundamentals about magic, disguised as a subject that just about every young filly takes interest in at some time or another. They’re harmless fun.”

“Did you actually use the word ‘harmless’ in reference to the Crusaders?” Spike asked, suspiciously eyeing the book Twilight was levitating.

“Spike, they’ve been at magic school for less than a week,” Twilight admonished as she levitated over some brown paper to wrap the book in. “There’s no way they can cause havoc with this book; it’ll just be good for laughs.”

“I don’t know Twilight.” Spike still hadn’t uncrossed his arms. “Something just seems fundamentally wrong with sending the Crusaders a book on resurrection. If anypony can figure a way to make it work, it’ll be those three.”

“Spike,” Twilight insisted as she put her hoof down, “unicorns have been laughing at these spells for generations. The Crusaders aren’t going to miraculously make them relevant. They are a good learning tool; that is all.”

“Oookay,” Spike groaned as he gave up, “if you say so, but I still think it’s a bad idea.”

Twilight grumbled something about paranoid assistants as she prepared the book for delivery.

XxX

“Today has been a day of surprises,” Amelia Bones commented to Dumbledore as they exited the veil’s chamber. “The pureblood faction is all but decimated, Fudge is as good as out the door, and we now have a significant number of seats held by muggle-born.”

“It has indeed been extraordinary.” Dumbledore stroked his beard. “And I fear we have more surprises in store. Miss Rutter did not seem to have played her hand out as of yet.”

“You think she has more planned?” Amelia shook her head as she followed the Chief Warlock. “I mean, it’s obvious she has more planned, but I doubt any of it will be as earth shaking. She got what she was after.”

“There are former Death Eaters out there besides the ones who sat on the Wizengamot.” Dumbledore was still upset that he couldn’t prevent the loss of several family lines today. “I doubt very much that they will escape her attention.”

“Hopefully not,” Amelia agreed.

“Hasn’t there been enough death already?” Dumbledore sadly asked of her.

“Yes, that’s why we need justice to be meted out,” Amelia said, either mistaking his meaning or ignoring it completely. “Old family lines are no reason to withhold justice.”

“Indeed.” Dumbledore let his disappointment fill his voice.

XxX

The Gryffindor first-years were sitting at the lunch table when the barn owl returned bearing a large package.

“That was fast,” Parvati noted as the bird landed by Scootaloo to be relieved of his burden.

“Maybe Discord sent the owl back in time to make its delivery,” Sweetie answered taking another bite from her corned beef sandwich.

“Is that even possible?” Parvati asked in alarm.

Sweetie just nodded her head yes and continued to chew.

“Well, what did she send?” Hermione’s curiosity overrode her good manners. “Is that a book?”

Scootaloo quickly removed the brown wrapping paper and held up her prize. “Yup, it’s a book.”

“So, this Twilight just happened to have a book on resurrections lying around.” Dean reached for a corned beef sandwich of his own. “Is that normal?”

“Well, she does live in a library,” Apple Bloom informed him. “She has a lot of books just lying around.”

“’Ten Easy Resurrection Spells and Basic Exorcisms for When You Succeed’,” Hermione read out loud. “That title sounds real encouraging.”

“Twilight wouldn’t send us anything dangerous,” Scootaloo said, digging into her salad. “At least not without sending a written warning five feet long.”

“Maybe we should skip the resurrection and go directly to exorcisms,” Neville said, also reaching for a corned beef sandwich.

“Nah.” Harry shook his head. “I’ll bet they’d get real mad if we exorcised a teacher.”

“Then maybe we shouldn’t experiment on him,” Lavender suggested. “There’s supposed to be an annoying ghost in one of the bathrooms; maybe we should start with her.”

The group all agreed that would probably be wise as they continued with their meal.

Chapter 17: That Worked, Now What?

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A tall man, bulging with muscles, appeared in the middle of the room, a crack of apparition heralding his arrival. “Jammie!” he bellowed, even as he headed toward a dresser containing his objective.

There was a popping sound followed by, “Master Macnair be wanting Jammie to do something?”

Retrieving a shrunken trunk from the top drawer, the man snarled, “Retrieve the contents of my vaults and then pack everything in the house. We’re moving to Egypt.” Not even waiting for a reply, the man pocketed the trunk and apparated away.

Across the United Kingdom, similar scenes played out as wizards and witches took a hasty leave from the land of their birth.

XxX

The pair approached Minerva McGonagall with smiles on their faces. Classes had been let out for lunch, and now was the perfect time to talk to the headmaster. Unfortunately, the headmaster was not present, so the deputy would have to suffice.

“Professor!” the man of the duo called upon seeing the target of their search making her way to the Great Hall for lunch. “A moment of your time, please.”

Minerva turned toward the voice and let a thin smile cross her face at the sight of her former student. “Mr. Goodman, what a pleasant surprise,” she said, altering her course and heading in their direction, “and who is your lady friend? I do not believe we have met.”

The man, Goodman, blushed slightly and said, “Professor McGonagall, I’d like you to meet Marcy Weiss. She’s from the Americas, a student of all things historical.”

Minerva gave a thin smile to the dark-skinned woman. “A pleasure.” She extended her hand in greeting. “I do hope Mr. Goodman here is treating you properly.”

Marcy smiled warmly in return and gently shook Minerva’s hand. “He has been most agreeable,” she allowed, “although we have only just met today. It is nice to meet you at last, Professor McGonagall.”

Minerva raised a questioning eyebrow at that response. “Just met today? Then I suppose it is too much to hope for that this is a social visit?”

“More social than business, I am sure,” Goodman allowed, “but business nonetheless.”

“Oh?” Minerva turned a questioning gaze on the young man.

“We’ve been hired as tutors for some of your students,” Marcy said. “Richard here will be handling Defense Against the Dark Arts, and I’ll be doing History of Magic.”

"Oh?” Minerva repeated, running an appraising gaze over the younger woman. “I can’t say that I’m surprised that someone would hire a tutor for History of Magic, but I must admit that one for DADA comes as a surprise. Our current professor has high N.E.W.T. scores in that field and has experience teaching. I’m sure he will excel at educating the children.”

“Our employer would disagree.” Richard fidgeted slightly. “He not only gave the impression that was he expecting Professor Quirrell’s teaching to be subpar, but also strongly hinted that the professor was a danger to the students. It’s obvious he wants me to be a bodyguard as much as a tutor.”

“That is absurd,” Minerva insisted. “Quirinus has been a professor here for years; you should remember him from Muggle Studies.”

“As a matter of fact,” Ricard confirmed, “I do remember him. ‘Harmless’ is the word I’d use as a description. Nonetheless, I have three Gryffindor girls to tutor and as many of their classmates who want to join in.”

“Ah,” Minerva exclaimed as understanding lit her eyes, “I see; was the man who hired you, perhaps, named Discord?”

“He never said his name,” Marcy confessed, “but I was left with the impression that he’s a very powerful wizard.”

Minerva nodded in understanding and then said, “Come with me; I’ll arrange quarters for you and retrieve the students’ schedules. Would you two be averse to sharing a common room?”

XxX

After lunch, the Gryffindor first-years were to have their inaugural transfiguration class. They traveled the halls, a gaggle of giggles and anticipation. Each and every one of them was looking forward to their head of house’s subject of choice.

Chattering excitedly amongst themselves, they entered the classroom, and Neville was the first to notice there was something sitting on their professor’s desk. “Oh look,” he said, “a cat.”

“Where?” Sweetie Belle demanded as she promptly hid behind the closest body, who happened to be Seamus.

“Relax,” Scootaloo said, making her way toward the front of the class to find a seat and waving at the cat. “That’s just Professor McGonagall in her cat form.”

“Are you sure?” Sweetie asked at the same time Hermione said, “How’d you know?”

“Discord mentioned one of our teachers can change into a cat,” Scootaloo said, claiming a front row two-student desk while Lavender sat next to her. “Stands to reason it would be our transformation teacher.”

“You’re doing that on purpose.” Hermione accused, taking another front row desk with Ginny.

“Doing what?” Scootaloo asked, a bit too innocently.

Meanwhile, in an effort to stay as far away as possible, Sweetie Belle sat in the very back and was joined by Ron while Harry and Seamus claimed the adjacent desk. In the middle of the room, Apple Bloom sat next to Neville, and Parvati shared a desk with Dean. They had just gotten settled when the Ravenclaw students started arriving, coming in groups of two and three.

Once the last of the Ravenclaws took their seat, the cat jumped off the desk and, in midair, changed into Professor McGonagall. This drew a round gasps from the Ravenclaws and a round of clapping from the Gryffindors, minus Sweetie Belle.

“Welcome to Transfigurations.” The cat-turned-teacher stated formally, “As many of you already know, I am Professor McGonagall, and I shall be your instructor. First of all, two points to Gryffindor for spotting an Animagus transformation. Miss Belle, I apologize for scaring you.”

“It’s all right,” Sweetie squeaked from the back row.

“I see you have brought your unicorn with you.” McGonagall nodded to the animal standing behind Sweetie.

“I haven’t so much brought her as she followed me,” Sweetie Belle objected. “She won’t leave me alone.”

“I see,” McGonagall accepted, returning to stand behind her desk. “I’ll talk to Professor Kettleburn; I am sure he can help your situation,”

“Thank you,” Sweetie replied, relieved.

XxX

Amelia Bones had spent the lunch hour issuing orders and reviewing trial transcripts. Frustrated, she threw down a note from the records department. It had informed her that they still could not locate the record for Sirius Black’s trial.

There was a knock at the door, and Rufus Scrimgeour walked in without waiting for an invitation.

“Well?” Amelia asked without looking up from her paperwork.

“The goblins have turned away elves from all of the vaults on the list,” Scrimgeour reported, choosing to stand rather than sit in the waiting visitor chair. “We may not yet have the authorization to round them up, but we can stop them from accessing their funds.”

“They won’t be around long enough to round up,” Amelia asserted, flipping a page over to continue to read. “Dumbledore adjourned the meeting too soon. It would have been better if he had called for an investigation first.”

“We were able to stop the Minister from leaving the country, though,” Scrimgeour continued his report, not wishing to comment on the Chief Warlock’s actions. “He was packed and ready to go. Predictably, he tried to bully his way through by pulling rank.”

“No surprise there.” Amelia signed a sheet of paper and moved it to her outbox. “He knows that the Rite counts as evidence and that we have enough to charge him.” She then looked up to focus on Scrimgeour. “I don’t think I have to tell you, but if Macnair or any of his friends make an appearance, make sure to put them in ‘protective custody’.”

Scrimgeour nodded and left the room without another word.

XxX

After taking roll, Professor McGonagall said, “I have always believed that the best way to get started is to show you what you can do with the knowledge presented in this class.” With that, she waved her wand over her desk and the furnishing morphed into a pig.

The students filled the air with “oooohs” and “aaaahs”

“Yes, Miss Belle?” Professor McGonagall acknowledged the girl’s raised hand.

“Is that edible?” Sweetie asked innocently, and the entire class turned to stare at the girl; even Magah had a look of shock on her face.

“See,” Harry boasted, pointing at Sweetie Belle, “that didn’t surprise me in the least.”

“No, Miss Belle,” McGonagall firmly asserted. “You must never eat anything that has been transfigured. Once the spell ends, it will return to its former state. As you probably can imagine, solid wood expanding in your stomach would do untold damage to your insides.” Then, after singling out yet another raised hand, she said, “Yes, Miss Bloom?”

“How about changing one type of food to another, say like Brussels sprouts ta apples?”

“That is a very good question.” McGonagall radiated approval. “I fear the whole reasoning is well beyond the scope of first-year knowledge. However, the answer is once again a firm ‘no’. Though not as obvious as the previous example, you would find the experience no less damaging. If you take nothing else away from today’s class, let it be the knowledge that transfigured foods are not to be consumed. To that point, feeding someone such a meal is considered a murder attempt.”

The students let a collective gasp at the news, and McGonagall took advantage in the lull to return her desk to its previous state. “Now, if everyone would kindly prepare to take notes, I will go over the basics.”

XxX

Severus Snape set his N.E.W.T. students to brewing their first potion of the year. Unsurprisingly, this class once again mainly consisted of Slytherins, with a smattering of the other houses sparingly represented.

Abruptly, a flash of flames trumpeted the arrival of a phoenix. Without ceremony, the bird deposited a letter on his desk, only to promptly disappear in another flash of flames. It happened so quickly that Professor Snape couldn’t be sure which phoenix had been the messenger. He was more than half-ready to deduct points from Gryffindor for disturbing his class when he saw that the letter had originated from Dumbledore.

With more than a little apprehension, he reached for the letter. He knew Albus would not have sent it in such a manner unless it was important.

Uncaring that his class had stopped what they had been doing to witness the unusual happenstance, Professor Snape quickly read through the contents. He then said, “Class, put up your work stations; we will continue this after supper. Mr. Rosier, come with me.”

Confident that his instructions would be obeyed, he swept out of the classroom with the designated student following in his wake. The news relayed in the letter was a game changer. The rock-solid truths that had held sway just this morning had abruptly crumbled to dust, leaving Professor Snape to shoulder the burden of being the messenger who bore bad news. His task would be to collect the students from their various classes. Most would be from his own house; a few were from Ravenclaw, and even fewer were from Hufflepuff. He needed to collect them and let them know that the last war had reached across the decade and had made them orphans this day.

XxX

The lanky wizard admired the view framed by his large picture window. Silently, he enjoyed the sight of the shoreline that greeted him. If asked for their opinion, visitors would be hard-pressed to identify him as a wizard. His attire was that of any moderately well-off muggle, consisting of slacks and a dress shirt. They complemented his lean form nicely, without drawing too much attention.

When choosing his line of work, he had made sure his business would cater to both the magical and the non-magical alike. He had settled on providing rental cottages for the tourists attracted to this seaside town. His choice of occupation allowed him to live with a foot in both societies.

“Greg!” his wife called from the kitchen. “An owl just arrived; it looks like it’s from the Ministry.”

Grumbling to himself, Greg Miller went to see what the fools at the Ministry wanted now.

XxX

After an hour-long note taking session, the students were presented with matchsticks and instructed to turn them into needles. Just like that, they were attempting to put theory to practice. Harry looked up from his slightly pointy matchstick to see that Sweetie seemed to be focusing more on her wand than the object of the lesson. She had stuck her tongue out the corner of her mouth, and sweat visibly beaded on her forehead.

In the front of the class, Scootaloo was frowning at her small stick of metal. She had managed to change the material of her target, but it stubbornly stayed the same shape.

“Very good, Miss Granger,” McGonagall said as she prowled among the students. “Ten points to Gryffindor for the first successful attempt.”

Ron glared down at his own work; instead of becoming more needle-like, his project was now covered or maybe composed of the red phosphorus from the matchhead.

Dean yipped as his fourth matchstick followed its predecessors and went up in flames.

Apple Bloom was also frowning at her match. She had the opposite problem Scootaloo was having. Her endeavor was a perfectly shaped wooden needle with a red tip. In fact, it seemed to be twice the size as when she started. Not wanting to admit defeat, Apple Bloom poured more of her intent into her wand, but instead of turning silver, the wooden needle grew to the size of a pencil.

Balking at her own lack of success, Ginny asked Hermione what she had done to get it right. Just as Hermione opened her mouth to answer, there was a surge of magic from the back and they turned to see that Sweetie Belle’s desk was now silvery.

“Be careful where you’re aiming,” McGonagall advised unnecessarily as Ron noted his match was now the desired material through no effort of his own.

Dean’s fifth match was incinerated.

Neville had to move his match, as Apple Bloom’s wooden needle took up the majority of the desktop and was starting to sprout leaves.

“Excellent, Miss Patil,” McGonagall encouraged. “That’ll be ten points for Ravenclaw.”

Ginny opened her mouth to remind Professor McGonagall that Parvati was in Gryffindor, not Ravenclaw, when she noticed that the professor was indeed talking to a girl in Ravenclaw blue who looked a lot like Parvati. Well, what did you know; she’s a twin.

Dean’s sixth match disappeared in a ball of flame.

“Miss Bloom, I believe it’s time to start over.” McGonagall levitated the giant wooden needle off the student’s desk and replaced it with a new match.

Harry had managed to produce a pointed silvery matchstick; he felt he was well on his way to success.

“Congratulations, Miss Weasley, I do believe that is another ten points for Gryffindor,” McGonagall said as Ginny shot Hermione a thankful smile, “and Mr. Boot earns ten for Ravenclaw.”

Seamus had a twisted wreck of wood and metal lying at his workplace. He flinched as McGonagall switched it out for another match.

“Miss Bloom, while that is an impressive bonsai tree, the assignment is for a needle,” McGonagall reminded her student.

“That is a remarkable effort Miss Belle.” McGonagall waved her wand to undo the effort. “I’m almost tempted to give you points for your 500-pound needle, apart from the fact that your target was supposed to be your match, not your desk.

Sweetie Belle smiled sheepishly as Dean’s desk went up in a mushroom cloud and Parvati leapt away, shrieking. At least she wasn’t the only one having issues with aiming.

XxX

“It is the decision of this assembly to reconvene on the morrow to continue with the issues at hand.” Dumbledore announced to gathering, “Let it be known that former Minister Fudge shall be held in the Ministry cells until his trial tomorrow, due to his obvious attempts at fleeing the country. Furthermore, let it be known that an open investigation is in effect on all former Death Eaters who have claimed to be enthralled by the Imperius Curse. In that vein, warrants for their arrests have been issued. In addition, their assets are to be frozen, pending the outcome of the proceedings.”

Dumbledore surveyed those in attendance, taking special note of Greg Miller sitting next to Arthur Weasley. The former was still in shock over his acquisition of a Wizengamot seat. “I would like to thank our newest members for their prompt attendance at such short notice. If they would be so kind as to remain after, there are important matters to discuss. On that note, we now stand adjourned.”

Reflecting on the afternoon session, Dumbledore admitted that Miss Rutter had driven the agenda. Fudge had lasted as Minister for all of ten minutes; the overwhelming evidence of the Rite predictably ended his term. There had been no one willing to stand up for Fudge. At this point, his guilt was all but a foregone conclusion. Now, he would face severe monetary penalties for accepting the bribes, with prison time being an almost certainty, as well.

Miss Rutter had ridden the wave of support and called for the detaining of all former Death Eaters. It had taken some persuading from Dumbledore to limit the scope to just those who had used the Imperius Curse excuse. The young witch was well on her way to leading a faction of her own, one that did not seem to have any respect for tradition or the sanctity of the old families. That could prove to be problematic in the future.

XxX

The Gryffindor first-years relaxed in the common room minus the two of their members who had gone to acquire their test subject. They were still drawing stares from their housemates as they shared their space with a phoenix and a unicorn.

“I’ll admit, I can’t make heads or tails out of most of these,” Hermione said, holding up the book Twilight had sent. “But, two seem to be simple enough, straightforward rituals that we can do without too much trouble. The easier one just needs some vinegar, an ounce of silver, and a gallon of tree sap.”

“Tree sap?” Scootaloo head shot up at the mere mention the words. “Do they both take tree sap?”

“No.” Hermione shook her head. “Just the first one.”

“Then we’ll do the one without tree sap,” Apple Bloom declared.

“But, the other one would be easier,” Hermione objected.

“No tree sap,” Sweetie Belle insisted.

“What’s wrong with using tree sap?” Neville asked, confused by the reluctance the three were displaying.

“I don’t like wearing tree sap,” Scootaloo informed him, shuddering at an old memory.

“You’re not supposed to wear it,” Hermione countered. “It just goes in a bowl on the ground.”

“Somehow,” Apple Bloom enlightened her, “we’ll end up wearing it.”

“Okay, okay.” Harry ended up playing the peacekeeper. “No tree sap.”

XxX

Minerva McGonagall waved her wand to allow whomever had been knocking to enter her office. She was surprised to find that it was her seventh-year prefect. “Good evening, Miss Dunbar.” McGonagall inclined her head in greeting, then upon noting the girl’s body language. “Is something amiss?”

“Yes,” Fay prattled, then seemed to reconsider, “no.” Then, after another pause, she finished with “maybe.”

“You seem to have run the gamut with that answer,” McGonagall noted

“It’s just that,” Fay said, looking seriously at her strict head of house, “the first-years have resurrected Moaning Myrtle, and I’m not sure how to handle the situation.”

“They did what, now?” McGonagall asked with incredulity.

“They resurrected Moaning Myrtle,” Fay repeated.

“That’s what I thought you said,” McGonagall replied; then for good measure, she asked, “The first-years?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?” McGonagall needed one last piece of confirmation.

“Yes, she’s all solid now and has a heartbeat,” Fay assured her head of house.

With her eyes unfocused, Minerva considered the news. “Excuse me for a minute,” McGonagall said, motioning for Fay to take a seat before she headed over to her floo connection. After the flames turned green she said, “Filius, are you there?”

The professor’s head appeared in the flames and he said, “Good evening Minerva. Yes, I’m here.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to accompany me to the Gryffindor tower.” McGonagall said, getting directly to the point, “There’s been an incident, and it involves a student from your house.”

“Oh?” Professor Flitwick said, coming the rest of the way through the flames. “Which one would that be?”

“Myrtle Warren,” McGonagall informed him, only to receive confused look in response.

After a few seconds, Flitwick chuckled before he asked, “And what trouble has the ghost gotten herself into then?”

“It appears my first-years have resurrected her,” McGonagall answered.

“They did what, now?” Flitwick asked as Minerva once again reached for the floo powder.

Another floo call was made, and Madam Pomfrey joined the party. Albus would have been invited too, but he was currently out of the castle.

Before too long, they were approaching the first-year girl’s dorm room. Once they got near, they noticed a liquid was seeping out from under the door.

“Is that blood?” Madam Pomfrey gasped as she threw open the door and rushed in to aid whomever needed her.

McGonagall and Flitwick followed quickly after her and were appalled to find that there was blood coating the entirety of the room’s floor. Worse, it was dripping from the ceiling; it covered all the furnishings and soaked all of the occupants.

The students were arrayed in different states of shock around the room, wide-eyed gazes affixed on the headless corpse dominating the middle of the room. In one spot, Lavender was clutching Neville for all she was worth. In another, Ginny had all but crawled into her brother Ron’s arms, burying her face in his chest. Next to them, Parvati stood with her hands covering her mouth in abject horror. Further down, Harry was slack-jawed, standing next to Hermione who was hugging herself and shivering. Seemingly unaffected by what she had witnessed, a clearly corporal Myrtle stood next to Dean and Apple Bloom who, in turn, stared with looks of unadulterated shock on their faces.

“That was so cool!” Dean said after a few seconds as Madam Pomfrey rushed from student to student, checking for injuries.

“Cool?” Seamus snapped at him, “I’m going to have nightmares for the rest of me life, I am.”

Philomena trilled her agreement from Sweetie Belle’s shoulder.

“What happened here?” McGonagall demanded tersely, calmly running her eyes over the scene even though dread filled her mind.

“Well,” Harry said, having a hard time seeing though his blood-covered glasses, “After a roaring success with Myrtle, we decided to give it a go with Nick next.”

“Nearly Headless Nick?” Fay inquired from her post at the room’s doorway, looking green around the gills.

“Headless,” Apple Bloom corrected, gesturing at one of the beds. “It rolled under thar.”

“As soon as he formed up, it just popped right off,” Neville whined as he timidly started to return Lavender’s hug.

“There shouldn’t have been that much blood!” Hermione wailed still hugging herself, “There is no possible way he had that much blood in him.”

“It’s official,” Scootaloo stated blandly from her spot next to Sweetie Belle. “From now on, when given a choice, we’re sticking with the bucking tree sap.” She paused a second, realizing what she had just said and then added, “No pun intended.”

Sweetie Belle whimpered her agreement.

“All right,” Madam Pomfrey said after confirming everyone was unharmed, “to the infirmary with the lot of you. There’s a round of obliviation waiting to be had, and I need to call in a second opinion to make it official."

“Oh, thank goodness!” Hermione proclaimed and led the rush out of the dorm.

“I’m good.” Dean protested as he wrung blood out of his robes, “I don’t wanna forget this.”

“How’d you get that unicorn up here in the first place?” Flitwick asked as the equine stooped to make her way through the doorway, following Sweetie Belle.

XxX

“Did the first-years just run through here covered in blood?” A sixth-year girl asked as she stared after the group that had just rushed out the egress, only to be rudely pushed out of the way by a blood-covered unicorn.

XxX

Applejack was sitting peacefully on porch, enjoying the early evening, when the owl arrived. It was a screech owl, and it had the mandated letter tied to its leg.

“Well, howdy thar y’all,” Applejack greeted cheerfully. “’Bout time the young’un decided to write a letter home.” After studying the owl for a second, she added hospitably, “Would you care for some vittles? Ah’m sure ah could wrangle up some leftover ham and some water ‘fore I read that thar letter.”

The owl bobbed its head in acceptance, and Applejack swiftly retrieved the offered treat. Once she was sure her guest was comfortable, she took the letter and eagerly opened it to see what her Apple Bloom had written, only to be disappointed that the letter wasn’t from her kin.

Dear Mrs. Apple Jack,

This is an official notice of Obliviation on a Minor. We regret to inform you that Apple Bloom has had roughly fifteen minutes of her memory removed at the discretion of her school nurse and an attending practitioner from St. Mungo’s.

The justification for this course of action is as follows. The minor and eleven of her friends decided to resurrect some of the school ghosts. After one success, they attempted a second. The subject was a ghost who had died due the removal of his head. Unfortunately, this resulted in the former ghost’s head leaving his newly formed body mid-spell. There was a resulting shower of blood that coated the entire room and everyone present, leaving them in various states of shock. We feel that the retention of this memory would only cause harm to the minors involved.

By law, we are required to inform you that memories thusly removed can be returned fully. As the child’s guardian, you have the option to have the memory restored. The time frame for such an action is normally set at a week; complications become likely after that time. It cannot be stressed enough that we highly recommend against such a course of action.

Sincerely;

Madam Poppy Pomfrey (School Nurse)

Nurse Nancy Nightingale (St. Mungo’s representative)

Applejack reread the letter then called into the farmhouse, “Granny, Big Mac, Ah’m gonna head over to Twilight’s. Ah need her advice on something.”

XxX

Amelia Bones was walking through the main auror area, on her way home after a long day when the flames turned green.

“Hello, is anyone there?” a voice called, gaining the immediate attention of everyone in the area.

“Yes, you have reached Auror Central,” the auror currently in charge of the floo answered. “Is there an emergency?”

“Not so much an emergency,” the voice from the floo said, and Amelia realized it was the school nurse from Hogwarts. “We have in our possession a body that falls outside of normal protocols. It was thought to be prudent to contact you before disposing of it.”

“Stand back!” Amelia snapped into the flames. “We are coming through!” If there were a body at Hogwarts, she was going to find out why.

XxX

As Rarity neared the library, she happened to look over and spotted her farmer friend quickly approaching. “Did you receive one as well, Darling?” she asked.

“Eeyup,” was the reply.

“Do you think it might have been the Crusaders' idea?” Rarity queried as they continued on their walk to Twilight’s.

“Eeyup,” Applejack stated knowingly.

“Hey, you two!” a voice from above said. “You’re never gonna believe what happened.”

The two friends looked up and were met by the sight of Rainbow Dash flapping her wings lazily, just overhead.

After noting the looks on her friend’s faces Rainbow Dash said, “Oops, my bad. You already know.”

“Ah can’t wait to hear the full story behind this one,” Applejack said, stopping in front of the library.

“I know, I mean, what sort of idiot lets fillies have access to resurrection spells in the first place?” Rainbow Dash agreed as she lifted a hoof to knock on Twilight’s door.

Chapter 18: Abnormal Incident

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After a short wait, it was Spike who opened the door. “R-r-rarity!” he stuttered upon seeing the white mare. “Welcome! Come in! Come in!”

“Spiky-wikey,” Rarity cooed in response. “It’s so good to see you.”

“Hello, Spike,” Rainbow Dash said. Applejack added, “Howdy.”

“Applejack. Rainbow Dash.” Spike waved absently without taking his eyes off Rarity. “Hello.”

“At least he noticed us this time,” Rainbow Dash snickered as she walked into the library proper.

“Spike, would you mind getting Twilight?” Rarity asked, batting her eyelashes. “We need to talk to her about something concerning the Crusaders.”

“I’m right here, actually,” Twilight said, trotting into the room. “Hi, girls; what’s up?”

“Oh hey, Twilight.” Rainbow waved a forehoof in greeting. “The Crusaders were part of an incident today, and we’d like some advice.”

“Were ‘part of’ or were ‘the cause of’?” Twilight inquired, trotting over to stand by her friends.

“My ‘I told you so’ sense is tingling,” Spike said, moving his attention away from Rarity.

“Oh hush, Spike.” Twilight stamped a forehoof softly as emphasis. “I’ve already told you there is no such thing as ghosts.”

“No such things as ghosts?” Rarity repeated, eyes going wide. “Twilight, darling, did you happen to provide the girls with a spell on resurrections?”

“Yes, I did.” A wide smile accompanied the announcement. “Those spells are a great learning tool. They’re harmless, and they really get the imagination going.”

“Y’all did whaaaa --” Applejack cut herself off midsentence to reach under her hat for a letter while Rainbow collapsed laughing onto the floor. Applejack continued, hoofing over the missive, “Here.”

Twilight accepted the proffered letter and, with a sideways glance at Rainbow Dash, read it. When she was done, her hoof found her face. “One day . . .Less than a day even,” she muttered.

“Is that my cue?” Spike asked eagerly.

“Yes darling,” Rarity said, sitting on her haunches. “That’s your cue.”

XxX

Six of her aurors had followed through the floo, each of them as tense as she was herself. They stood shoulder to shoulder in a defensive ring, wands drawn. It wasn’t everyday they received an alert from Hogwarts that there was a body to dispose of. No matter how unconcerned the nurse had sounded, this was not a routine visit.

“Where is it?” were the first words out of her mouth after she crossed the threshold of the fireplace. “What exactly happened?” With practiced eyes, she took in her surroundings; the school infirmary was currently populated by four people. Two were students, one a smallish boy with glasses partially hidden by his dark, messy hair, and the other an older girl who looked remarkably like that ghost who haunted the first-floor lavatory. The other two people were clearly medical practitioners. One was the expected school nurse. The other was a familiar nurse from St. Mungo’s, an obliviation expert, unless she missed her guess.

“Good evening Madam Bones,” the school nurse, Madam Pomfrey, said. “Sorry to bother you, but the situation is nowhere near as dire as it first sounds.”

Amelia fixed her with a glare that plainly said she’d be the judge of that.

“The body is behind the partition there.” The St. Mungo’s nurse nodded her chin in the direction of one of the folding privacy screens.

With long strides, Amelia made her way behind the divider. Lying on an examination table was the expected corpse. It was male, with its outdated clothing soaked with blood, and had its head set in a tray lying on its chest, cleanly severed from the rest of the body. A quick onceover showed that rigor mortis had yet to set in; in fact, the body was still discernably warm.

With a somber look on her face she reemerged from behind the divider and demanded, “How is this not dire?”

“Relax,” Madam Pomfrey said with a mischievous grin, “no one died, at least not recently.”

The expression on Amelia’s face showed not a hint of the amusement that the nurse obviously thought was appropriate.

“Let me explain,” Madam Pomfrey said, unperturbed by the glare the Head of the DMLE was sending her. “Our first-year Gryffindors decided it was a good idea to resurrect Myrtle.”

“They did what now?!?!” Amelia and all six of the aurors turned their gaze to the girl sitting quietly on one of the rooms beds, observing everything going on around her.

“They resurrected Myrtle, did a rather nice job of it too.” Madam Pomfrey gestured to the girl in question. “It goes without saying that their second attempt didn’t go as well as the first.” Her next gesture was toward the screen blocking the body from sight.

“I don’t know how many more earth-shaking developments I can tolerate being crammed into today,” Amelia Bones said, glancing behind the screen once more. “Overhauling the Wizengamot was bad enough; I surely didn’t expect to be redefining life and death as well.”

XxX

From his spot on yet another clinic bed, Harry did his best to go unnoticed.

It was a more than a little disconcerting that the school nurse had sent the rest of his classmates away. For some reason, she had insisted he stay behind. Now, the only ones left were Myrtle and himself. There had been declarations of a pending checkup. He could understand one for Myrtle; they had just resurrected her. An exam for her was pretty much a given. He, on the other hand, had never had a checkup in his memory. His relatives had insisted that freaks didn’t deserve to go to the doctor; it was a waste of money.

Why were they bothering now? No one had bothered before. No one had cared before. It was more than a little disconcerting.

XxX

Alice stood at the boundary of the estate. As initiator of the rite, she had received first pick of the spoils. It had not been a hard decision to claim the manor and the surrounding lands as the lion’s share of her portion. Though not motivated by greed, she was well aware that the contents of the home would probably net her more than the listed value, a bonus to be sure. However, with her portion of the other estates, it was hardly a deciding factor. The clincher was that she now owned the symbol of power. It would be a constant reminder of her success. Its true worth could not be measured in mere galleons.

She crossed the threshold and, somehow, the wards recognized that the new owner had arrived. Smiling to herself, Alice led her two-auror escort up the walkway toward the main entrance. Malfoy Manor would be receiving a new name.

XxX

“Has he been resurrected as well?” Amelia quietly asked of Pomfrey, nodding to the young boy also in the room.

“No.” Madam Pomfrey shook her head to emphasize the negative response. “That’s Harry Potter; the judge has sent an order for him to undergo a physical. I had wanted to do one earlier, but Albus insisted that it wasn’t necessary. Now, I have no choice in the matter.”

“Dumbledore blocked you from doing a physical earlier?” Amelia frowned at the news. “On what grounds?”

“He wouldn’t elaborate,” Pomfrey said, “but as the child’s magical guardian, he didn’t need to.”

Amelia sighed, “I sense yet another earth-shaking event on the horizon. If you don’t mind, I’d like to see that report before you send it to the judge.”

Pomfrey frowned at the implications lurking just below the surface. “I’m pretty sure that whatever you’re thinking goes against conventional wisdom.”

“Didn’t you get the memo?” Amelia asked her. “Conventional wisdom called in sick today. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be absent tomorrow as well.”

XxX

Panting heavily, Emily Watson rushed down the hallway, racing the clock. The small second-year Hufflepuff had just minutes until curfew, and she didn’t want to be caught out of bounds. It was only the second day of classes after all; she had no desire to set the new record for points lost in the first week.

As luck would have it, she tripped. The impact was awkward, she managed to land in a knelling position and skidded to a halt. The protective covering of her robes offered scant protection for her knees. The resulting carpet burn left them skinned and bloody.

Hurriedly rolling onto her rear, Emily lifted the hem of her robe to inspect the damage. Tears were starting to form in the corners of her eyes as she probed the broken skin.

Without warning, something leapt out and attached itself to her wounded left knee. It was fast, blue and smelled strongly of menthol. Emily did what any sane twelve-year-old would do in that situation; she screamed bloody murder.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

“Oooooooooooooooh!”

“Uuuummmmm.”

After hitting just about every vowel in the English language, Emily realized two things. First, there was no more pain in her left knee. Second, she could see that the skin had healed.

Emily prodded the blue mass and said, “Here now, don’t forget to get the other knee.” Oddly enough, it complied.

After finishing, the mass of blue took off as quickly as it had arrived. Gingerly, the second-year girl climbed to her feet and tested her newly-healed knees.

“Well, what do you know?” she said. “Mouse is a medical slime.”

XxX

He had found a dark corner to call his own. Right then, he was not proud and overbearing. Right then, he was not an arrogant prat, belittling those beneath him. Right then, he was not aloof and untouchable, as he had been taught. Right then, he was not even the heir apparent of the proud and majestic House Malfoy. No, right then, he was a child who had just lost their father, and that consumed his world.

And he was not the only one in the castle who shared that fate.

XxX

Upon returning to her office, Professor McGonagall summoned the remaining two heads of house for an emergency meeting. Professor Sprout was the first to arrive, with a haggard-looking Professor Snape arriving soon after.

“Now that we are all here,” Minerva started, after Severus found his seat, “I’ve called this meeting to discuss a potentially disruptive new development.”

“Potentially disruptive?” Professor Snape snorted. “I think it would be fair to say that the status quo is well and truly shattered.”

“Come now, Severus,” Minerva said shaking her head. “It’s going to cause changes, but I hardly think the status quo is going to shift because of it.”

“Not shift?” Severus couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “The very foundation of Magical Britain has shifted today.”

“It’s not that bad,” Minerva disagreed.

“You would think so,” Severus sneered, “but the lives of many of my house members have been devastatingly altered.”

Leaning forward in his chair, Flitwick broke into the growing argument. “I don’t think you two are talking about the same thing here,” he observed.

Coldly, Severus gritted his teeth and said, “What else could we be talking about besides the recent execution of every former Death Eater on the Wizengamot.”

“What?!” Minerva sat back in her chair in shock, and Flitwick tumbled from his seat as he lost his balance. Pomona let out a gasp of surprise, raising her hand to her mouth.

“You didn’t know?” Severus inquired, watching their responses.

“When did this happen?” Pomona asked, shaking her head.

“Before lunch,” Severus responded. “Didn’t you find it odd that I was pulling students from their classes so early in the term?”

“I was going to ask you about that,” Minerva conceded. “How did you find out?”

“Albus sent a letter.”

“It would have been nice if he had sent me one as well.” Frowning, Minerva decided she was going to have a few choice words with the headmaster when he finally put in an appearance.

“How did it happen?” Flitwick asked, climbing back onto his chair.

“That information wasn’t in the letter,” Severus confessed. “We will have to wait until Albus returns before we have our answers.”

“At least we now know why he hasn’t returned yet,” Pomona surmised.

“Though I am hesitant to ask,” Severus said as he nodded in agreement with Professor Sprout, “what was the matter you were talking about?”

“The Gryffindor first-years resurrected Myrtle Warren,” Flitwick offered from his reclaimed seat.

There was a moment of stunned silence. “They did what, now?!” Pomona exclaimed as Severus groaned and slowly brought his palm to his face.

“We will be having an extra student in third-year Ravenclaw,” Minerva clarified.

Pomona sighed and sank back into her chair. “Before we go any further, Minerva, now would be a grand time to break out the firewhiskey.”

XxX

“It’s funny,” Parvati said as she and her classmates sat around the common room table finishing their homework, “I remember going to get obliviated, I even remember getting obliviated, but I can’t recall what it was they were going to obliviate.”

“That’s kinda the whole idea,” Ginny chastised. “But we now know we can resurrect ghosts. Are we trying it on Professor Binns next?”

“I say we practice on someone else first, just to be sure.” Seamus said, “I’m sure Nick is around and would be glad to help.”

The conversation stopped as they turned to watch Dean break out in uncontrollable laughter.

“I’m starting to have my suspicions on what they obliviated,” Hermione said over the laughter.

“Speaking of ghosts,” Lavender said, still watching Dean softly giggle in his chair, “what happens with Myrtle now?”

“What do you mean?” Scootaloo shifted her gaze to her roommate askingly.

Lavender answered, “Who’s going to take care of her? Who’s going to pay her tuition? Where is she going to live when school is out? She has been dead a long time; does she even have any family left?”

“Ah reckon we’ll be hoofing the bill,” Apple Bloom said, unaware of Hermione’s analytical look at her choice of words. “We are responsible for her current predicament, afta all.”

“Does that mean more shopping?” Scootaloo asked, dismayed.

“Of course, it does!” Sweetie Belle said cheerfully. “Human’s don’t walk around naked all day; she’s going to need a new wardrobe.” Sweetie’s comment also received scrutiny from Hermione.

“I don’t think Myrtle considers her change of status as a predicament,” Parvati said. “I’m sure the adults will work something out.”

“I wonder why they kept Harry and Myrtle,” Neville mused. “They both looked all right to me.”

“Harry’s probably super immune to obliviate,” Dean suggested, “and of course they’re going to want to go over Myrtle with a fine-tooth comb.”

“He still has homework to complete,” Hermione griped. “I hope they let him leave soon.”

“Homework isn’t that important,” Ron said with a shrug. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

Hermione glared indignantly at Ron for his sacrilege.

XxX

Alice sat alone in the sitting room, feeling like a stranger in her new home. The meeting with Narcissa Malfoy had gone better than she had hoped. Someone had gotten news to the woman about what had happened earlier, and all Alice had to deal with was a stoic and yielding woman. Though neither of them had said it, they both knew that with Alice’s claim of conquest, the younger witch practically owned the older. In truth, the word “practically” could be thrown out of the previous sentence. The old laws were much more misogynistic in nature, which perfectly matched the mindset of previous generations. Alice had no idea what she was going to do with Narcissa. She hadn’t really considered what she was going to do with any of her conquests today. She had concentrated on winning first, the implications of success hadn’t been thought out. By right of conquest, she was now responsible for several families.

As she sat in silence, a voice to her left said, “My, my, this is certainly a step up.”

Alice turned her head and saw that the stranger was wearing the same dapper suit as before. “Are you ever going to tell me your name?” She gestured for him to have a seat, surprised by the ease with which he had bypassed the wards. “I would like to know who it is I owe so much to.”

“My dear,” the man replied, smiling as he took the offered seat, “I am surprised you are just now asking. My name is Discord.”

“How completely ominous, yet fitting,” Alice observed

“I would hope so,” Discord said. “My mother put a lot of thought into it.”

Alice smiled at the perceived joke. “Would you care for some tea or anything?”

“Thank you, no. I’ve just come from having tea with another.”

“Are you sure? There is nothing you could not ask of me.” Alice smoothed her dress, suddenly aware that her obsessions had left room for little else in her life. “If you were to ask me to bear your children, I would do so.”

For the first time, Discord seemed surprised. Had she been too blunt with her interest?

“Um, yes . . .I . . .” Discord fought for the right words. “I did come to ask a favor, but um. Oh my, look at the time!”

“Is that all it takes to fluster you?” Alice leaned forward in her chair, glad she had chosen a dress that showed some cleavage. She had here a proven powerful wizard that wasn’t wearing a ring; he was fair game.

“Um, that is . . .” Discord dragged his gaze up to her face before he rushed through his reply. “The information in those scrolls, well they are more than I’d be able to gather by myself on such short notice. The one who gave them to me asked a favor in return, and you’re in the perfect position to help.”

“Oh?” Alice placed her left hand to her breast, ensuring his gaze returned to where it belonged. “Who gave you the help and at what price?”

“Spirit of Justice. Nice lady. You should meet her. She keeps track of things like this.” He rambled, obviously not used to situations turning on him in this manner. “She wants Sirius Black freed; he’s innocent and never received a trial. I really must go now, bye.” Discord stood up and flashed from existence with a snap of his fingers.

What a coward! Alice slumped back in her chair disappointed. After a minute, a smile crept across her face. She had just completed one life goal, and another fell into her lap to replace it. How such a handsome man was so vulnerable to the attention of women she didn’t know, but she was willing to take advantage of it. Yes, he would make a fine prize; all it would take was a little work.

In the meantime, she’d have to see what she could do for Sirius. If he were innocent, she’d do everything in her power to set him free. Alice would have done it on principle alone; owing a favor to the Spirit of Justice in no way made her resolve stronger. The Spirit would have only needed to ask, and she would have done it even before her recent conquests. The only difference was she now had the means to be effective.

XxX

She sat on the clinic bed and felt the soft blankets as she ran her fingers over them. She felt the soft blankets. She FELT the soft blankets. It was enough to bring tears to her eyes. It had been a very long time since she had the sense of touch, a long-forgotten memory of a memory.

Her heart beat excitedly in her chest.






And then there was this presence. It penetrated the very room, softly making itself known. It was a wish she had never thought to be answered. She could smell the disinfectant in the room! She had a sense of smell!

Her heart beat excitedly in her chest.






She was feeling something else -- a pain? Was this a feeling of pain? She couldn’t remember. It was starting to engulf her attention, taking priority over all else. What was it? Should she tell the nurse? Without warning, her midsection made a noise, a gurgling noise! Oh, she was hungry. She would be able to eat again, to taste!

Her heart beat excitedly in her chest.






Was it a dream? A cruel, cruel dream? But, ghost don’t dream, they remember. No, this was real! She was alive!

SHE HAD RISEN!

Her HEART BEAT excitedly in her chest. Some may take it for granted, but Myrtle never would again.

XxX

Hermione bit her lower lip in worry. What if she were wrong? Heck, what if she were right?

They were in the dorm room again; it looked like it had just received a thorough cleaning. That was not essential since most of their time was spent in one trunk or another. In fact, they were currently filing into Sweetie’s for an evening bath.

Screwing up her courage, Hermione tapped the girl in front on her shoulder. “Scootaloo, could I talk to you alone for a minute?”

“Um, sure,” the purple-haired girl agreed, confused. She had purple hair, naturally purple hair. “You girls go ahead; I’m going to see what Hermione wants.”

Hermione waited impatiently for the rest of the group to descend out of earshot, leaving a frustrated Magah guarding the entrance of the chest. Then, she reached into the shoulder bag she was wearing and retrieved a familiar book.

Taking a deep breath, she confronted her new friend. Yes, she was a friend, and hopefully it would stay that way. “Scootaloo, this book was written neither by humans nor for humans.” There, she said it.

Scootaloo looked at her quizzically, finding nothing profound in that statement, “Yeah?”

Hermione took another deep breath and tried again. “Scootaloo, are you a unicorn?”

“No,” Scootaloo said. Then, as Hermione opened her mouth to protest, Scootaloo explained, “I’m a pegasus pony.”

Surprise stole Hermione’s next words; all she got out was, “What?”

“I’m a pegasus pony,” Scootaloo repeated patiently, as if the answer were obvious.

Hermione stood silently for a few seconds, amazed by both the answer and the ease by which it was obtained. “I see . . . Sweetie Belle is the unicorn pony; that’s why Magah is having fits over her.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said again.

Hermione paused again. “You don’t mind me knowing?”

“No,” Scootaloo said as she shrugged, “should I?”

Hermione took a deep breath. “No. No, I suppose you shouldn’t. We are friends and all,” Hermione conceded.

Scootaloo nodded. “Was that all you wanted to talk about?”

“Yes . . .No . . .” Hermione faltered and Scootaloo tilted her head questioningly. “May I see your true form?”

“Oh!” Scootaloo said sadly, “I can’t right now, but follow me.” With that, she disappeared into the trunk and Hermione followed. Magah tried to follow again, but she was just too big.

Soon they were with the rest of the girls, who were just getting into the tub.

“Apple Bloom,” Scootaloo said to the redhead wearing nothing but a copper band on one finger, “Hermione wants to see you transform.”

“Waa?” Apple Bloom looked up to gaze at Hermione. “Now?”

Ginny snapped her head to look at Hermione as well; how had she found out?

"Yeah." Scootaloo nodded. "Now."

“Okay,” Apple Bloom agreed, and her human form melted away. In its place was a little yellow pony with a mane and tail as bright red as Apple Bloom’s hair had been.

Scootaloo counted down on her fingers. 3 . . .2 . . .1 . . .

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Ginny, Lavender, and Parvati shrieked, while Hermione would swear she did not participate. Nor was the fact that she was still dressed the only reason she didn’t join the other two in the rushing across the tub as they blocked off the younger Ginny to scoop up and hug Apple Bloom

“I forgot they did that,” Sweetie Belle said as she scooted out of the way.

“I didn’t.” Scootaloo smirked evilly.

Before anything else was said, there was a rush of footfalls followed by Fay and the sixth-year prefect bursting into the room.

“What’s wrong?!” Fay shouted, her nerves past the fraying point. “Is everyone all right?”

“A little help, please,” Apple Bloom said from where she was being squished between Parvati and Lavender.

Fay stared at the little yellow pony being smothered by love. “On top of everything else, you’re an animagus?”

“Help?” Apple Bloom vainly repeated.

“Girls,” the sixth-year prefect admonished, “let her breathe.”

Lavender and Parvati returned pouting silent pleas.

“Down . . . now.” The sixth-year prefect pointed to the tub.

Sighing dejectedly, the two girls lowered their prize back into the tub. As soon as her hooves touched the bottom, Apple Bloom scooted back and transformed into her human form. “Tha’s scary,” she informed everyone.

“Are we all done with the surprises for the night?” Fay flung her arms into the air. “If not, I hear there are acromantulas in the forest that need slaying.”

“Where in the forest?” Lavender piped up, and Sweetie Belle asked, “Are they good to eat?”

“Forget I said that,” Fay said, placing her palm over her face. “Seriously, just forget I ever said that. If I knew obliviate, I’d use it on you right now.”

“We’ve already done that once tonight,” Scootaloo reminded her.

“I know,” Fay snapped. “I was tempted to go myself.”

“Would you care to join us in a nice hot and relaxing bath?” Sweetie Belle offered as way of appeasement.

“No, no.” Fay shook her head and gestured for the other prefect to follow her out of the bathing area. “I’ve just had one shock too many tonight.”

After watching the two older girls leave, Apple Bloom turned to Hermione and asked, “What’s an acromantula?”

XxX

Grumpily, Judge Brown answered her front door. Her day had been too hectic to be having people calling at this late an hour. Her day tomorrow was probably going to be worse. Opening the door, she beheld one of the people she least wanted to see at that moment. A home visit from the head of the DMLE was not a common occurrence and didn’t bode well for a peaceful evening.

“Yes?” Judge Brown asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Evening, your honor,” Amelia Bones said grimly, “I’m sorry to bother you at home at such an hour, but I have two urgent matters to discuss with you.”

“Two?”

“The first item is unprecedented, and frankly I don’t even know where to start with the ramifications and implications.” Amelia said.

“Go on.” Judge Brown motioned for her to continue.

“The first year Gryffindors have successfully resurrected the ghost of a former student,” Amelia said with no humor,

“They did what, now?” Judge Brown asked in a slow cadence.

Amelia nodded her head in understanding. “That was my reaction as well. Myrtle Warren’s status is going to be a headache, one way or another.”

“The ghost in the bathroom?”

“That’s her,” Amelia agreed.

“She’s alive now?” Judge Brown’s mind was whirling through the legal implications for this event.

“Yes, and their second attempt did not go as well as the first,” Amelia continued.

Judge Brown fixed her gaze on the other woman waiting for the shoe to drop.

“We are still not sure how or if we shall dispose of the body,” Amelia said tiredly.

“Ah,” Judge Brown acknowledged.

“So, I just happened to be in the infirmary when they did the examination of Mr. Potter.” Amelia raised a folder she was carrying in her left hand.

The judge raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“You’re not going to be happy,” Amelia finished.

Judge Brown studied the other woman a second. “Come on in, I’ll put some tea on.”

XxX

There were blackboards everywhere in the room. Each and every one of them was covered in writing. The same sentence was repeated, over and over again. At one blackboard, a small dragon was busy wiping it clean for another round. The words, “I shall not send dangerous spells to fillies without first consulting my friends, even when said spells are supposed to be harmless.” dominated the room.

“Am I finished yet?”

“We’ll let you know when you are done, darling.”

“Isn’t this kind of juvenile?”

“If’n y’all be wanting juvenile, we could just break out the paddle.”

“No, no, I’m good. Just let me get a new piece of chalk, this one is done for. And what’s with you girls wanting to hit lately?”

In the corner, a cyan mare was still laughing her flank off.

Chapter 19: Morning Reflections

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Sleep was doggedly evading her. Something she had been so sure of had turned out to be untrue. Powerless to contain her frustration any longer, she prodded the bundle of warmth lying next to her.

“Sweetie?!” Ginny said in a whisper, “are you awake?”

“Gaaaaa? Waaa?” came the reply.

“I asked if you were awake.”

“Whaazup?”

“Sweetie,” Ginny asked, unable to wait for the morning, “why doesn’t Apple Bloom have a horn?”

Sweetie Belle gave as a slurred response. “Earth pony.”

“Oh . . .” Ginny scrunched her nose in thought. “Is Scoots an earth pony too?”

“Pegasus.”

“Oh.” A small pause almost let Sweetie Belle fall back to sleep. “I noticed you’re not wearing your pendant anymore.”

Sweetie Belle had to focus for a few seconds to get an answer out. “Dun need it.” She touched her ring to Ginny’s nose.

“Where’s your necklace now?”

Sweetie Belle pointed. “Top drawer.” She then let her hand drop back onto the bed.

“May I see it?”

“Dun care.” Sweetie Belle rolled over to get some more sleep, barely registering the other girl climbing over her to get out of bed.

Some time later, Sweetie Belle was prodded awake once more. “Huuh? Waaaa?”

“I need some help, please,” came the urgent whisper. “I can’t get this off with my hooves.”

Sweetie Belle hugged the furry form snugly and went back to sleep with a contented smile.

XxX

Alice rose groggily from her new bed. It was much softer than what she was used to, and she had to fight the temptation to crawl back in for another hour or two. She couldn’t afford to, though. There was an innocent man in Azkaban. Forcing him to wait another month because she was too lazy to get up and study was unthinkable. Failing to get him out on the first try was unforgivable.

With no ceremony, she poured herself into a fluffy housecoat and went off to find the kitchen. Right then and there, some tea would do her a great deal of good.

A fruitless search of the ground level yielded no kitchen. “How do they get their tea around here?” she softly asked out loud.

“Dobby be getting tea for new mistress,” a voice behind her said.

Whirling on the spot, Alice beheld a small humanoid with large eyes, dressed in a ratty pillow case. “Is everyone going to sneak up on me from now on?” she asked the house elf as she recognized what it was.

The small figure trembled and cowered away from Alice. “Dobby scare new mistress. Dobby be slamming his ears in oven door as punishment.”

Alice froze where she stood, the feeling of dread appearing in the pit of her stomach. “What?! No!”

“Does new mistress be wanting Dobby to be ironing his own hands instead?”

“What!?!?! No!!!” Alice repeated.

“Dobby is bad elf. Dobby must be punishing himself.”

“No! No! No!” Alice blurted as she ran over to the small form and wrapped it in a fierce hug. “You aren’t a bad elf! Why would you even think I wanted you to harm yourself?”

“Old master wants Dobby to slam ears in stove door if Dobby startles him. Doesn’t new mistress want the same?”

The words of the elf filled Alice with a revulsion so thick that she could have spread it on a piece of toast. Here was one who had suffered daily under the thumb of Lucius. Here was one who had not been offered any way out of his own personal hell. Here was one who had suffered every bit as much as she had, at the hands of the monster. Here was one she had saved, would save, and would do her best to make whole.

A dam gave way to the pressure, as one last crack destroyed its last bit of integrity. Emotions that had been boiling beneath the surface for years now bubbled free. In her soft, fluffy housecoat, Alice sat on the floor hugging the startled and confused elf tightly to herself as her sobs wracked both their frames.

XxX

Professor McGonagall was up early yet again. Albus had not returned to the castle the night before, so it fell to her to take care of the unparalleled circumstances brought about by her first-years. A portion of the quagmire had been held back by having Myrtle stay in the clinic overnight for observation. In reality, it was not much of a delay. It barely gave breathing room until the next morning. Minerva was immensely grateful for the news that Amelia Bones would be talking to a judge in regard to the situation. Otherwise, she would have had to cancel her own classes on just the third day of instruction, something she had never imagined in even her worst nightmare.

Where was Albus when she needed him? Whatever had happened at the Wizengamot yesterday was ill-timed. Candidly, whatever had happened was long past due. It was the first-years who had to work on their timing.

Sighing, Minerva reached for a stack of papers. Filius’ time would be needed to take care of some of the more delicate matters. It was unfair to count on him in such a manner, even with him being the head of the girl’s house. On top of that was the whole state of affairs with a good portion of the Slytherin house. No matter how much the adults may have deserved the punishment, no child should have to go through what they would be. But make no mistake, the fault lay fully at the feet of the former Death Eaters and no one else.

Furthermore, she had yet to talk to Kettleburn about the forest unicorn. It was obvious why she was preoccupied with Ms. Belle, once you knew the secret. That didn’t make the logistics of having a full-grown unicorn in the castle any less cumbersome. How had they even managed to get her in the dorm in the first place? Wait a minute! How had they gotten the boys into the girls’ dorm?

XxX

Harry awoke to the gentle prodding from a young girl.

“Come on, Harry,” she said as he began to focus. “It’s my turn to wake you today. So, get up.”

Smiling, Harry recognized the voice behind the mauve and pink blur. As wakeup calls went, this wasn’t bad. In fact, he could get used to it.

Suddenly, an impatient unicorn grabbed his pajama collar from behind and dragged him bodily from his bed, and he heard Dean shout from the other side of the room over the creak of bedsprings, “Scoots, that’s getting old!”

XxX

Paperwork, first thing in the morning, was not her favorite activity. It couldn’t be helped, though. Amelia was going to have to coordinate with the muggle authorities on this one. That meant paperwork needed to be filled out, and the right muggles had to be contacted. As it was right now, this was going to be a jurisdictional fight. That didn’t matter, as long as justice was served.

“Good morning,” a voice said, and Amelia’s head snapped up, allowing her to see that her visitor chair was now filled.

Recognizing her guest from the descriptions given by both Moody and Judge Brown, Amelia got down to business. “Good morning, Mr. Discord. How may I help you this morning?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” the wizard admitted and wandlessly conjured a cup of American coffee with a snap of his fingers. “One second I was innocently snoozing in my own bed; the next, I was rudely yanked out and tossed here with orders to stop you.”

Amelia frown at the implications; was someone monitoring her office? “Stop me? Stop me from what?”

“I don’t know,” he said, pouring the contents of his cup down his throat. “I was hoping you’d enlighten me.”

Still frowning, Amelia studied her visitor. Reports had shown he had a vested interest in the welfare of children. His annoying habit of showing up unannounced was a quirk, nothing more. There wasn’t anything she was doing that he probably wouldn’t agree with; in fact, he’d more than likely want to help. It would be better to keep him where she could keep an eye on him. Decision made, she slid the paperwork she had been working on over for him to view.

“Oh! My, my, my,” he said after running his eyes over the forms. “This would be exactly what she was so upset over.”

“She found this upsetting?” Amelia’s surprise lit her voice, leaving the head of the DMLE wondering who this “she” was.

“Yes, although I agree with the underlying sentiment, I’m afraid you have the wrong targets.” Discord flipped his empty coffee cup over his shoulder, and it disappeared midflight. “While I would have no issue with this course of action, my newest acquaintance has issues with this sort of thing. You would be better served checking for compulsion spells rather than arresting them.”

Amelia sharply sat back in her chair as the implications hit her. “Looks like it did call in sick again after all,” she muttered.

“Now,” Discord said leaning back in his own chair, “since I appear to have completed my appointed task, I have other matters to attend to.” With another snap of his fingers, he was gone in a flash of light.

Moody had been right; the apparition wards never even took notice of him. Whatever method of travel he employed breached traditional defenses without apparent effort. She was going to have to assume that wherever this Equestria was, they had a force of wizards with the same skill set. Frighteningly, it couldn’t be a coincidence that they were sending students to Hogwarts and announcing their presence to the world at the same time as the Wizengamot upheaval. A connection was more than certain.

Brandishing her wand, Amelia started sweeping her office for monitoring charms. She needed to have another conversation with Judge Brown.

XxX

There was a new addition to the breakfast menu, bacon-wrapped apple fritters with a glistening brown sugar glaze. The platter bearing them was empty before all of the first-years had taken their seats.

“Apple Bloom!” Hermione admonished, “some of the rest of us want one too! And Ron, you have to chew, sometime. Swallowing those whole can’t be good for you.”

“You know,” Parvati commented, reaching over to snatch a fritter from Apple Bloom’s plate, “there’s an ‘eating like a horse’ joke just waiting to be made here.”

“Speaking of horses,” Seamus broke in, “There’s a feed bag here, full of oats too.”

“What’s a feedbag?” Scootaloo asked, making a grab for the treats on Ron’s plate. In response, Seamus stood up and placed a large canvas bag over Magah’s muzzle.

“I’m surprised she let you do that,” Lavender said as a look of contentment crossed Magah’s face.

“I think she’s getting used to us,” Neville said, not even trying for the new treat. “If we can get used to the presence of a unicorn, why shouldn’t she return the favor?”

“Used to a unicorn?” Dean asked. “Are you just ignoring the stares?”

Neville shrugged and went back to his breakfast. He couldn’t help it if the rest of the school was still in awe over Magah.

“Speaking of staring,” Harry asked, “where’s Philomena?”

“I sent here to Twilight with a new spell request,” Sweetie Belle answered.

“More on resurrections?” Seamus asked.

“Nah,” Scootaloo said, finding the bacon-covered apple pastries were to her liking, “we need some help with our next quest objective.”

XxX

“Oh, good morning Philomena.” Twilight said, strolling up to the phoenix. “I see you have a letter for me. Would you like some breakfast while I read it?”

Philomena trilled her acceptance.

“Another letter from the Crusaders?” Spike asked from the doorway to the kitchen, wielding a hot frying pan and wearing an apron. “I hope they aren’t asking for more resurrection spells.”

After giving the letter a once over, Twilight responded, “No, nothing so drastic. They just want a spell to kill large spiders.”

Snickering, Spike turned back to the kitchen, “Fillies can be such wusses over tiny spider. I am surprised that the Crusaders fall in that stereotype though.”

“They did emphasize that they were large spiders!” Twilight rebuked the baby dragon.

Spike rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right.”

XxX

Professor McGonagall stood from her seat at the head table and let a stream of sparks leap from her wand.

“Good morning, students,” she said once she had everyone’s attention. “I have some important announcements this morning.” She paused to make sure all the students were listening. “First of all, under no circumstances are students to resurrect the remaining school ghosts.”

Stunned silence met the declaration, with the exception of a seventh-year Hufflepuff who said, “Wait! Could you repeat that?”

“Yes, Mr. Harris.” Professor McGonagall acknowledged the question. “I said that students were forbidden to resurrect the school ghosts. The Gryffindor house ghost has yet to put in an appearance since the last failed attempt, and the other school ghosts have yet to locate him.”

“Someone killed a ghost?” Robert Hilliard, a prefect from the Ravenclaw table, asked in astonishment.

“We are unsure of the current status of Sir Nicholas,” Professor McGonagall corrected. “It should be sufficient to say that future resurrection attempts shall be punished, unless otherwise instructed by a professor.”

“Does that extend to poltergeists as well?”

“Yes, Mr. Weasley, it most assuredly does,” Professor McGonagall answered; she shuddered to think of the results of the Weasley twins getting their hands on the resurrection spell.

Professor McGonagall let a roll of murmuring wash over the student body before continuing. “On a happier note, Myrtle Warren shall be rejoining the Ravenclaw house as a third-year student.”

Again, silence met her announcement until, from the Ravenclaw table came, “Ouch! Why’d you pinch me?!”

“I wanted to see if I was dreaming.”

“You’re supposed to pinch yourself to do that!”

“That would hurt too much.”

Professor McGonagall let the infraction slide and moved on to the next order of business. “Furthermore, as you can all see, we have two new faces at the faculty table.”

As one, the students turned their attention to the new curiosity. “I would like to introduce Miss Weiss and Mr. Goodman. They have been contracted to be private tutors for some of our students, as such, they will receive all the respect due a sitting professor.” The last was said with an absolute certainty that bode poorly for any student that sought to test the statement.

A round of clapping greeted the new additions to the school, who waved in return.

“The next item is a schedule alteration for today only.” Professor McGonagall continued, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, first-year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs who were originally slated for double charms this morning shall instead be meeting with Madam Hooch first period for an early introduction to broom riding. Their second period shall be a free period, with the exception of the members of my house who missed their first Herbology class yesterday. They shall be joining their classmates who are due their own first herbology class at this time.”

Some of the first-year Gryffindors winced at the news, but none voiced any protest.

“There is more to discuss,” Professor McGonagall said, “but I’m afraid the morning post has arrived; we shall continue the announcements afterwards.”

On her cue, owls flooded the air.

XxX

“So, are you sending them the spell they asked for?”

“First, I’m going to let the girls know. I don’t want to end up writing on blackboards, all night . . . again.”

“So, you’re going to see Rarity?”

“Yes, did you want to come?” The only response she received was the front door slamming from the slipstream as her assistant made tracks. Sighing, Twilight turned to Philomena, who was sharing a perch with Owlowiscious. “For the record, that question was rhetorical.”

XxX

Within seconds, Apple Bloom was bombarded by a parliament of owls. Seven landed on the table in front of her, while one landed on each of her shoulders. The last, boldest by far, landed on her head.

“What the?” Dean asked moving his plate out of the way of the confusion.

“Mah potions lab!” Apple Bloom cried gleefully as she started collecting packages and stamping payment receipts.

“Should we be worried?” Seamus asked watching the girl collect her prizes.

“Nah,” Scootaloo shook her head, “she’s not Sweetie Belle.”

“Hey!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed as another owl found her, “Oh, hello,” she said, recognizing the order. “Actually, I need you to deliver that to Rarity along with this letter.” With those words, she stamped the owl’s payment receipt and retrieved a letter from her shoulder bag.

“Sweetie!” Percy called from down the table. “You’re going to want to read the ‘Daily Prophet’.”

“Who else is starting to detect a pattern, here?” Harry asked and put down his pumpkin juice.

XxX

Unhurriedly, Twilight walked down the street, waving at the ponies she passed.

She heard Rainbow Dash say from above her, “Going to see Rarity?”

Looking up, Twilight waved. “Yes, how’d you guess?”

“Spike just tore through here.” Rainbow Dash landed next to Twilight with a smirk.

“Ooooo, is he going to see the new present?” Startled, Twilight turned and saw that Pinkie Pie had somehow joined the conversation.

“Present?” Twilight asked, regretting it even as she did so.

“My Pinkie Sense told me somepony was going to receive an extra special present.”

“Really?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Who?”

“I don’t know.” Pinkie Pie bounced up and down in frustration. “Nopony at the market seems to be the lucky one. Daisy said she didn’t receive any packages lately, neither did Roseluck nor Lily for that matter. Applejack said she’s too busy setting up her stall for the day and didn’t have time. Aloe said she’d have to check back at the spa. Heavy Anvil was grunting too hard to make out what he was saying, and Jelly Jar was playing with those huge jars of his . . .”

“Wait a second,” Twilight interrupted. “Did you say Applejack was in the market square?”

“Yeah.” Pinkie Pie nodded her head way faster than was necessary.

“Good, I need to talk to her.” Twilight changed directions midstride. “We’ll just grab her on the way to Rarity’s.”

“Why?” Rainbow Dash fell in step, only her hooves weren’t on the ground. “Is something up?”

“Just a new spell request from the Crusaders.”

“At some point, you’re going to stop using words like ‘just’, ‘only’, and ‘harmless’ when you refer to those three.” Pinkie Pie noted, “Especially, that last one.”

“If she asks ‘what could possible go wrong?’, I’m calling for backup,” Rainbow Dash agreed.

XxX

“I’m going to have to get my own subscription soon.” Sweetie Belle noted as she stared at the headline dominating the paper's front page.

In front of her were the words, “LEADER OF THE LIGHT CLAIMS HER SEAT! CORRUPTION ROOTED FROM THE HIGHEST OFFICES!” The only other thing on the front page was a large moving picture of Sweetie Belle riding Magah into the Wizengamot chambers. In all, the paper seemed significantly thicker than the previous ones she had seen.

“Aren’t you going to open that?” Hermione asked as she leaned over Sweetie Belle’s shoulder to read.

“I’m afraid to,” Sweetie Belle admitted.

“What exactly did you do at the Wizengamot yesterday?” Parvati whistled, “You weren’t gone that long.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Sweetie Belle insisted. “I swear.”

XxX

Big Macintosh was bucking apples in the north field when the owl arrived. It was the biggest owl he had ever seen. Granted, the only owl he saw with any regularity was the one Twilight had, but this one out massed Owlowiscious, by a factor of at least four. It offered a leg with a message attached. Adding to its peculiarity was the strange harness it wore, holding a bag across its breast.

“Howdy,” Big Macintosh greeted politely. “That for me?”

The owl nodded and continued to hold out its leg.

“Thank you kindly.” The owl had no way of knowing that it had just received the lion share of the large pony’s normal daily word allowance.

Big Macintosh delicately retrieved the letter and began to read.

Dear Big Mac,

Hello, guess what! Turns out, you can owl order owls. Mr. Dylan was kind enough to purchase this owl and outfit him right proper like with a magic pouch. You should find all the things you need for your new pet in the pouch. Mr. Dylan did that for me too. I figured that since Applejack has Winona, you could do with a pet of your own. Besides, owls are real good at delivering things. They do it all the time over here, send stuff out with owls and the owls return with payments. I can’t wait to hear what you name him.

I’m having a great time at school. I made a whole mess of new friends, and we haven’t gotten in too much trouble. There is the possibility that Sweetie Belle has manage to get us a colt in the process, but we aren’t sure if the marriage contract is real or not. Scootaloo has gotten her wings fixed but can’t fly yet. That is, she can’t fly without a broom yet.

I’m getting my own potions lab by owl here soon.

I love you, please say hello to Applejack and Granny for me and let them know I love them too.

Love,

Apple Bloom

Stuffing the letter safely under his harness, Big Macintosh turned to the owl. “You need a name?”

The bird nodded its head.

“Featherduster?”

The bird shook its head no.

“Bigbeak?”

Another shake of the head.

“Lodestone?”

The owl seemed to think it over then nodded his head.

Grunting in satisfaction, Big Macintosh returned to his apple bucking.

XxX

“Won’t you all come in?” Rarity said upon seeing her friends gathered outside her door. “Spike’s in the back getting us some morning tea.”

“Morning, Rarity,” Applejack said, trotting into Rarity’s home and place of business. “Twilight here was about to tell us about the Crusaders’ newest spell request. Sorry to say, Ah don’t have ta time to stop for tea, though.”

“They want another spell already?” Rarity asked as she held the door for Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. “Doesn’t the school they go to have a library full of spells?”

“You know,” Twilight stopped where she was. “Now that you mentioned it, they probably do have access to a large number of books, I wonder why they keep asking me for spells.”

“Pish.” Rainbow Dash waved a dismissive hoof. “That’s easy; they know you know where all your spells are in your library. You’re saving them the trouble of searching through beaucoup books to find their answers.”

“You think they’re using me to cheat at school?” Twilight gasped at the thought.

“Nah, they’re just using your help for their side projects.”

“Speaking of side projects,” Rarity said, “what are they asking after this time?”

“They want a spider killing spell,” Spike said as he carried a tray laden with tea in from the back room

“For extremely large spiders, according to their letter,” Twilight added.

“How large are we talking here?” Applejack asked, “A’ve seen those three corner a big spider just this summer, in the barn. Sucker was as big as a bit, didn’t scare the fillies none.”

“You know, considering we’re talking about a spell to kill spiders,” Pinkie Pie interjected, “I find that I’m real glad that Fluttershy’s not here right now.”

Everypony in the room looked at Pinkie Pie for a second before continuing with their conversation.

“Do you think they have an infestation in their dormitory?” Rarity asked, concerned.

“Ah don’t know,” Applejack said shaking her head, “but the more ah think about it, the more suspicious it sounds.”

“Perhaps, you should write to their teachers and get their input on the matter, before sending the spell,” Rarity suggested.

Twilight was about to agree when Rainbow Dash pointed with her hoof and said, “Look, you got mail.”

“Are you going to say that every time you see a strange owl?” Rarity asked as she watched the bird enter through the open top half of her front door.

“Pretty much,” Rainbow Dash replied

Sighing softly Rarity turned to the owl. “Good morning; I see you have brought me a package, oh, and a letter as well.”

“Hoo!” the owl agreed bobbing its head and offering its leg with the delivery attached.

“Why, thank you very much, darling,” Rarity said, using her magic to retrieve the items. “We were about to have some tea; would you care for some?”

The owl shook its head.

“Well, at least have a biscuit or two,” Rarity insisted. “I made them myself.”

The owl gratefully took a biscuit and left the same way it came.

“Ooh. Ooh. Ooh.” Pinkie Pie oohed and began to bounce around Rarity excitedly. “You got the present. You got the present!”

“Now, now Pinkie,” Twilight said to the bouncing pony, “let her open it before you get excited over it.

“Okay,” Pinkie Pie said as she stopped bouncing, only to visibly vibrate as she contained her excitement.

“Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash observed, “I think you're chipping the floor.”

Rolling her eyes slightly, Rarity opened the package and found that it contained a small model trunk. It was a beautiful piece of art with its main body the same color as her coat and trimmed with wood colored like her mane. It even had her cutie mark proudly displayed on its top. Seeing no way to open it, Rarity turned to the accompanying letter. “Dear Rarity,” she read out loud. “You have always impressed upon me the importance of having good luggage. So, I’ve sent you the best I could find. I’m not going to repeat all the directions in this letter, as I’ve had Mr. Dylan put the instruction manual on your coffee table. This letter only contains the basics for you to get started. The first thing you will want to do is tap it three times with your horn to make it grow.”

Rarity moved the letter off to the side, still in her magical grasp, and studied the miniature chest once more. “Spike, darling, would you mind going to check my coffee table for the rest of the instructions please?” she said. Then, hesitantly, she tapped the small chest against her horn three times. Abruptly the trunk expanded to a more practical size.

“Woah!” Rainbow Dash said as she moved forward to examine the curiosity. “Did you see that?”

“That thar was mighty impressive,” Applejack agreed as she also moved forward for a look.

“The present! The present!” Pinkie Pie bounced in for a closer look as well.

Moving back so that her friends could get a closer look, Rarity brought the letter back and read the next few lines so softly that only Twilight and herself heard, “Secondly, don’t try to open it until you’ve bound it to yourself. Otherwise it might get aggressive.”

Rarity blinked, unable to fully comprehend what she had just read. “Rainbow, darling, I don’t think you should open that just yet,” she warned when she saw her friend’s hoof had found the lid of the chest.

“I just want to take a peek inside.” Rainbow Dash said.

“Rainbow!” Twilight said urgently. “You really should wait!”

“It’s got my tail!”

“Ah’ll save ya!”

“Wheeeeeeee!”

“Look out! Look out!”

“Pinkie watch yourself thar!”

“Aaaaah! It just swallowed Pinkie!”

“Come here ya varmint, Ah’ll show you what’s what.”

“It’s got my tail again!”

“Y’all better give those two back right now, ‘fore ah make you into kindling!”

As suddenly as it started, it stopped. The chest settled back into its original position, once again looking like a harmless, inanimate object.

“Rarity,” Twilight said, staring wide eyed at the wooden horror.

“Yes, darling?”

“Hurry up and read the rest of that letter.”

From inside the trunk came a knocking. “Hello? A little help, please,” said Rainbow Dash’s muffled voice.

“Rainbow, be careful; y’all stepping on my hat!”

“You know,” Pinkie Pie’s voice said, “I can’t shake the feeling that I should have seen that coming.”

Interlude 2: Homecoming

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Lounging in a comfortable gingham duster as she shifted about on a well-loved easy chair, Emily Smith indulged in her morning ritual of reading the newspaper. The years had been generous to her, and life had generally been kind. Having just recently celebrated her sixtieth birthday, she could honestly say she had been one of the lucky ones. Financially, she was well off; her large, six-bedroom house attested to that. More importantly, she had family. Her nine-year-old granddaughter was even now sprawled out on the carpeted floor, watching some cartoon or other on the telly. True, the girl’s mother, Emily’s own daughter, had yet to rise for the day, but that was hardly a concern.

In the other room, Emily’s own mother, Olivia, was puttering around on her computer. The eighty-year-old woman had ignored the stereotype stating that elders could not fathom new technologies. It was safe to say that both Emily’s mother and granddaughter knew more about the blasted machines than she did herself.

Surprisingly, it was the computers that were the source of what little tension there was in the household. Olivia had found BBS and IRC channels online claiming that magic was real. As long as she could remember, Emily had listened to her mother insist that magic was real; with the discovery of likeminded individuals, Olivia's certainty only intensified. This would not have been a problem, except that Olivia had been teaching her great-granddaughter, Amy. Suddenly, all those strange situations that couldn’t be explained were labeled "accidental magic", and the young girl was anticipating a letter of acceptance to a magic school when she turned eleven, a letter delivered by owls, no less. Seriously, she expected an owl.

So, except for the small issue of magic, Emily had four generations of her beloved family living peacefully under the same roof. The sad fact was that they were her only remaining family. Her father was long gone, and her own husband had followed not four years ago. Infuriatingly, her daughter had never married and had produced Amy out of wedlock. Luckily, this did not have the same stigma that it had carried in the time of Emily’s own youth.

As she sat there, watching her granddaughter and contemplating the extent of her family, the doorbell chimed.

“I got it!” Amy leapt from her spot before the telly and rocketed toward the front door. Despite being told dozens of times to wait for her elders before answering the door, the little girl still dearly loved to be there first when it opened. Emily had arranged for the handyman to install a swing bar door guard as safety measure. That had lasted all of two minutes against a four-year-old Amy and a broomstick, but, still, it did slow her down.

Emily arrived just as Amy was yanking open the door to see who it was.

“Amy!” Emily scolded as she hurried to her granddaughter’s side. “How many times have you been told not to do that. What if it’s strangers waiting to snatch little girls just waiting on the other side of that door?!”

She had been half right; there were two strangers on the other side of the door. Neither looked like they could snatch little girls, though. The first was a small man; Emily saw that he suffered from dwarfism. The other was a girl, a young teen by the looks of her. The girl looked strikingly familiar, though Emily could not quite put a name to that face.

“Yes?” Emily said, acknowledging the callers with a pleasant smile.

“Good morning,” the little man said in a tone that, though cheerful, left little doubt that this was serious business. “My name is Professor Flitwick, and I apologize for bothering you so early in the morning, but does Olivia Warren still reside here?”

Scrunching her nose, Amy called out, “Granny! You’ve got visitors!” before Emily could formulate a reply to the question.

Sighing at her granddaughter, Emily invited the two into the foyer, unwilling to make them wait outside. This was something her daughter would have highly disapproved of, but Emily refused to be rude just for the illusion of greater safety.

Emily observed the two as she waited for her mother to put in an appearance. The small professor, who seemed to be a caricature of a teacher miniaturized, stood calmly, waiting with a worried expression on his face. The girl, on the other hand, fidgeted and looked around as if trying to take in every detail. Emily was sure she even inhaled deeply several times as if to take in the scent of her surroundings. The feeling that she should know the girl only grew, and Emily realized that the stranger looked a lot like her own daughter had at that age. Had her late husband fathered a bastard? Was she going to stuck with a symbol of his infidelity, young enough to be her granddaughter?

“Yes, Emily? Who is it?” Olivia finally put in her appearance, drawing Emily out of her musings.

In response, Emily gestured toward their guests, waiting for them to say their piece.

Upon seeing the two standing in the foyer, Olivia’s hands flew to cover her mouth, and she let out a startled gasp.

The girl’s eyes widened at the sight of Olivia, and she said, of all things, “You're still alive?”

“Myrtle?” Olivia said in a voice full of hope, a voice full of longing, a voice full of denial.

Emily turned to see if her daughter had decided to come see who was at the door and caught the image of the girl nodding in her peripheral vision.

With a sob, Olivia belied her age and rushed forward to kneel and hug the girl. “How? How?” Her voice trembled. “They told me you were dead.”

“I was,” the girl said, tears streaming from her own eyes. “I got better.”

XxX

What had happened? He still wasn’t sure what had happened.

There had been a rushing sensation, like he was hurtling through space and time. Then . . . then there was nothing, no sound, no sight. There weren’t even any feelings.

He was alone in the nothing.

Alone with his thoughts.

How he did not go crazy, he didn’t know.

All he could do was wait.

So, he waited.

Slowly, over time, he became aware of the warmth. Yes, that’s what it was, warmth.

So, he waited in his warmth.

Time passed and he found his thumb.

He sat in the warmth, sucked his thumb, and waited.

Yet more time passed; he grew bored, so he kicked. He had legs. His kicks met with resistance, though he could neither see nor comprehend what that resistance might be.

So, he sat in his warmth, sucked his thumb, and occasionally kicked as he waited. Was that music?

Then came the great trauma, trauma unlike any he could recall. There was a lot of squeezing involved, and he lost his warmth.

Perturbed by the loss, he screamed. He heard himself scream. It didn’t sound like what he remembered of his voice.

Light had returned as well, if not full sight. He saw towering blobs and heard voices. He heard words.

He tried to call to the voices, to let them know he was there, but only more screams came out.

He heard a voice say, “Congratulations, it’s a boy.”

There was movement, and his lost warmth was replaced by another.

“Have you thought of a name?” the same voice asked.

Then he heard her clearly for the first time. “We had been leaning toward William, but now I can see he’s more of a Nicholas.”

Yes! Yes, that’s right! Nicholas was his name!

The folds of sleep began to engulf him. They didn’t matter. He had possibilities. Possibilities he’d face with his head firmly attached.

XxX

“You can’t honestly expect us to believe that this girl is my long-dead aunt.” Emily’s daughter had awakened to find her family and a pair of strangers in the living room having what, at first, appeared to be a serious conversation.

“If I were in your position, I wouldn’t believe it either,” the small man claiming to be a professor agreed. “This situation has never happened before, and we are in new territory.”

“And yet, you still decided to turn up at our doorstep with these outlandish claims.”

“How could we not notify her family about her resurrection?” Flitwick shrugged his shoulders. “It would be rather callous to send this kind of news by owl.”

“By owl?!” Emily’s daughter’s voice rose a few octaves. “You're one of those crazies going on about how magic is real. I suppose you’ll be telling my daughter she’ll be going to magic school just like Gran does.”

“Oh?” Flitwick gave the woman a questioning look. “Has she been displaying accidental magic?”

“Don’t you start with that too!”

Flitwick looked at the woman then shifted his gaze to the couch where the girl was getting acquainted with Olivia and Amy. He produced a wand and swished it skillfully, and suddenly, a clear ball appeared in the air in front of the wand.

Emily’s daughter sat back in alarm at the unforeseen arrival and failed to say anything as the man waved his wand to send the ball floating over to her daughter.

Amy saw the ball and cooed excitedly as she reached out and grabbed it. At her touch, the ball turned a deep blue and started glowing softly.

With a satisfied grin, Flitwick turned back to the woman and said, “Yes, I do believe she will be receiving a Hogwarts letter when she turns eleven, Miss. I’m sorry, I don’t seem to have gotten your name.”

“Myrtle,” Emily’s daughter said as she watched her child play with the conjured sphere. “My name is Myrtle.”

Well, that was awkward.

XxX

The cavern was large and well-lit. The trappings of wealth were on display for all to see, denoting the importance of those in the chamber. Around a stone table, a number of goblins sat and contemplated the report just read to them by one of their number.

“How many are no longer in our control?” one asked.

“Seven were sold, even though they were only placed up for sale recently. Had we known, they would not have been offered for general sale.”

“Also, the original owners have ten more in their primary vault,” another goblin hastily interjected.

“That leaves us with just five.”

“See if you can repurchase the ones already sold,” the first goblin commanded. “Persuade the original owners to sell us their remaining hoard.”

“They have set another as their contact.”

“Persuade him or her.”

“What if they have more that we aren’t aware of?”

“There can’t be too many like this; we would have heard of them before.”

“I want every one of them under goblin control.”

“It could start another war.”

“That it could.”

XxX

She sat on her throne and read the paperwork floating before her.

“Everything seems to be in order,” she said, levitating the bundle of paper to her aide. “Please see to it that I’m listed as one of her references, and let the committee know that a speedy resolution would be appreciated."

The aide bowed as he retreated from the room to carry out the request. Normally, adoptions took years to complete, even for the most influential of ponies. The ponies on the acceptance committee were notorious about dragging their hooves; they seemed to think that a slow process benefited both the anxious prospective parents and the impatient children they would be trying to adopt.

However, when a princess asks to be one of the references, it was the same as saying, "Sign here and don’t ask questions.” Though the princess would never have used those words, the effect was the same.

The aide smirked happily as he went to light a fire under some very bureaucratic ponies.

XxX

The Altar to Morning failed to bring its normal comfort as Emma took the carafe from its place of honor and poured herself a cup of coffee. She sighed as she reread the letter for the umpteenth time. Her daughter had had her memory altered, willingly, if the letter she had received was anything to go by. Hermione had said that she remembered being happy to receive the mind wipe, she had remembered going to get it, but she didn’t remember what it was that had been removed. If Emma had not also received a letter from the school nurse explaining what had been removed, she would have stormed the castle demanding the return of her daughter.

The casualness they talked about removing her daughter’s memories with was disturbing. The fact that her daughter was part of a group that brought a ghost back to life was even more so. She hadn’t been at the school a week, and she had already been taught how to raise the dead. What was next? Zombies? Vampires?

She would have to write the school; a request for her daughter to be excluded from any rites pertaining to the undead was in order. Shamefully, in none of the information packets was the art of necromancy ever mentioned. It wasn’t even hinted at.

On the other hand, her daughter seemed to be making friends. That almost made up for the whole fooling around with the deceased kick she seemed to be on. Hermione had never made friends easily; to hear that she had several and that one had both a phoenix and a unicorn was music to Emma’s ears. Emma was more than willing to let her daughter get into trouble if she was making friends in the process. Hermione had always been too attached to rules and following orders. While nice from a parenting prospective, this could lead to a harsh awaking once she realized that those in power did not always deserve that power.

Sighing, Emma put down the letters and went to make sure her husband was getting ready for work. Dan had been known to fall back asleep after being awakened the first time.

XxX

The scent of tallow from the lone candle burning in her tidy study did nothing to ease her sour mood.

She was ruined.

With that mudblood’s lack of rightful respect, she had been ruined.

Ten percent of her total worth was bad enough, but with Fudge out of office, she was as good as out of a job.

With Fudge being dismissed in the manner he had been, it was very likely she could not expect to be moved to a position as cushy or influential as the one she currently held.

It was all that mudblood’s fault.

Generations of righteous governing by purebloods had been upset in a day by that selfish bitch. Now, the Wizengamot had seated members of the worst kind of lineage. It would be the ruination of wizarding kind.

It was all that mudblood’s fault.

All those poor children who had lost a parent yesterday could lay the blame at the feet of one woman, a woman who could not see her rightful place.

It was all that mudblood’s fault.

And the money! The tramp had robbed ancient families of their entire worth, distributing her ill-gotten gains amongst the so-called victims of nonexistent crimes.

It was all that mudblood’s fault.

Didn’t she realize that everything that had been done had been in the best interest of Magical Britain? Did she really think that her group of magic-stealing mutts would be allowed to casually waltz in and take over? Didn’t she realize she had a fight on her hands?

It was all that mudblood’s fault.

Sneering, she took up a parchment and started writing down a list of like-minded individuals she would need to contact. The reins would not be surrendered so easily; the tramp would pay!

Under the undue pressure being forced upon it, the quill in her hand snapped in half.

It was all that mudblood’s fault!

Chapter 20: Wooden Troubles

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The living room was in shambles. Cushions and knickknacks were scattered everywhere as four ponies and baby dragon hunted diligently for their prey.

“It’s not here,” Applejack said as she dropped the blanket she had been looking under. “Ah think Sweetie Belle forgot to send it.”

“I have confidence that she wouldn’t forget something so important,” Rarity said as she levitated a couch to check under it.

“Ah just got vomited up by a piece a luggage,” Applejack countered. “Mah, confidence is pretty much kaput for the day.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash agreed. “Those puking noises were so not cool.”

“Come now.” Rarity put the couch back on the floor. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Ah just got vomited up by a piece a luggage.” Applejack repeated slowly, emphasizing each word.

“Me,” Spike said from where he was picking up knickknacks to replace, “I want to know what exactly you're supposed to feed pet chests, besides ponies, that is. And are you sure it was a good idea to leave it on the front lawn with just Pinkie guarding it?”

“It can stay outside until we find those instructions,” Rarity insisted. “The last thing I need is for it to decide that my dresses are lunch.”

“Besides, Spike,” Twilight said, levitating the cushions back onto the couch, “with Pinkie guarding it, what could possibly go wrong?”

Everypony and dragon stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at Twilight.

“Did she just?” Applejack started to asked.

Without warning, Pinkie’s voice shouted from the front, “Rarity! Your trunk just ate the mailmare!”

“She did,” Rarity confirmed.

“Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said, waving a hoof at the mare, “you know we all pretty much agree that you’re the smartest of us all. Please stop trying to prove everypony wrong.”

“Rainbow,” Twilight snapped as she stamped a forehoof indignantly, “you can’t possibly believe that was anything but a coincidence. Just because I say something like ‘It can’t get any worse’ doesn’t mean . . .”

“There goes the mayor!” came Pinkie’s shout

Rainbow Dash raised a questioning eyebrow but refrained from saying anything.

“What else could go wrong?” Twilight deliberately said, to prove a point.

“It just got Lyra!” Pinkie shouted.

“The worst is past.” Twilight tried again.

“Aaaand! Bonbon’s next!” Pinkie continued.

“This is as bad as it can possibly get?” Twilight’s voice had started to contain a questioning note.

“Octavia just volunteered to be an appetizer!” Pinkie's shout drifted into the room.

Twilight’s tail and ears drooped, and she said, “I’ll be shutting up now.”

“That might be a good idea,” Applejack said, coming up to Twilight to give her a one-forehoof hug. “That thar box has just about enough to make its own hoofball team.”

XxX

It had been a very long time since Dumbledore had spent the night in his office at the Ministry. If truth were to be told, it had been a little over a year since he had last stepped foot in the small collection of rooms. Even though the duties of Chief Warlock entitled him to the amenities, he rarely indulged. His office at Hogwarts was bigger and much more inviting. However, these rooms were available when he needed them, and they included a small bedroom and a washroom -- nothing spectacular, but more than adequate to accommodate a late night of work.

He had spent the previous evening trying to moderate the ambitions of the newly-seated lawmakers. They had several ideas in mind that would alter the landscape of the political community. The most striking of these was a requirement of magical oath for all ministry employees to refuse bribes. That, and the abolishment of the preferential treatment for purebloods in the hiring process would both be opposed soundly by the conservative faction, a faction that no longer had the numbers to stop the coming overhaul.

Dumbledore firmly felt that changes would be coming much too quickly. He was going to have to muster his supporters to throttle back on the alterations that had been proposed. Otherwise, the Ministry of tomorrow would look nothing like the Ministry of today. Yes, changes were needed in the current system, but if they came too quickly, chaos would soon follow. Stability would be lost, and traditions discarded. The sturdy foundations of society would become like jello.

After waking early, Dumbledore quickly ran through his morning routine. He needed to visit the records department before the Wizengamot was to convene later that morning. The rumors of Miss Belle having a marriage contract with Mr. Potter required investigation. The potential disaster that would cause had to be neutralized.

With a grandfatherly smile, Dumbledore greeted the young wizard manning the information counter. “Ah, Mr. Tilley, just the person I wanted to see.”

Mr. Tilley returned a nervous smile and said, “Good morning, Professor Dumbledore. How may I help the Chief Warlock this morning?”

“There have been some troubling rumors, and I fear I must check on the welfare of a couple of my students.” Dumbledore stepped up to the counter. “I wish to see any recent paperwork pertaining to a marriage contract between Harry Potter and Sweetie Belle.”

Sighing, Mr. Tilley said, “I was afraid you were going to ask that. You’re going to have to talk to Judge Brown for that.”

“There’s no need for that.” Dumbledore smiled encouragingly. “I’m the Chief Warlock; checking contracts is well within my rights.”

Giving Dumbledore an apologetic look, Mr. Tilley said, “To quote the judge, ‘When he tries to pull rank tell Albus Dumbledore that he is to see me on the subject and that is the end of the matter.’ End quote. So, you see, I cannot get that paperwork for you.”

“That is most distressing.” Dumbledore ran his hand through his beard thoughtfully. “Did she mention why she felt such measures were necessary?”

“She only said that your attempting to see the contract was both a conflict of interest and an abuse of power,” Mr. Tilley said, looking away from Dumbledore. “So, as far as I’m concerned, you never showed up today.”

“I see,” Dumbledore said, before angrily leaving the room.

XxX

The group gave up on their inspection of Rarity’s living room and converged on Pinkie Pie, who was sitting ten feet from the trunk, watching it intensely.

“Pinkie!” Applejack said, walking up to the pink mare. “Y’all were supposed to be guarding that thar chest.”

Smiling, Pinkie gestured to the trunk and said, “I was. As you can see, nopony took it. It’s still right over there. You can consider that chest successfully guarded. Though, if you’d asked me, I’d say it was perfectly capable of guarding itself.”

“Didn’t you think It might be a good idea to stop ponies from going over there and examining it?” Rarity asked as she and Twilight cautiously approached the chest.

“Nah,” Pinkie said, shaking her head. “Your letter said that it was just a harmless defense mechanism, and it’s actually pretty hilarious watching other ponies meet your trunk. It’s like the best prank ever!”

“Yeah, but the letter also said that we can only make it puke up ponies once before binding it to Rarity.” Rainbow Dash landed next to Pinkie keeping a wary eye on the subject of interest. “Since Rarity refuses to bind it until we find the instruction book, how are we supposed to get them out now?”

“Besides, weren’t you the one who told me not to use the word 'harmless' in conjunction with the Crusaders?” Twilight asked as she reached out a hoof to open the chest, causing Rarity to leap back in alarm. A few seconds later the trunk settled back into its original position.”

“Now why do you reckon she went and did that for?” Applejack asked just before there was a flash of light common to teleportation. Once the stars had cleared from her vision, Applejack saw Twilight standing next to a frazzled looking Mare Mayor and Bonbon. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Twilight said trotting back up to the chest, “that’s more than a little creepy.” Once again, she reached to open the lid.

XxX

A row of brooms lay on the ground when the first-years came outside for their broom flying lesson after breakfast. Scootaloo had bounced the entire way, chanting, “It’s time to fly! It’s time to fly!”

“Calm down, Scoots.” Dean said, watching the girl’s antics. “You’ll be in the air soon enough.”

“I can’t wait! I can’t wait! I can’t wait!” she insisted and ran over to scoop up a broom.

“Hold on there, girl!” Madam Hooch commanded. “Just stand next to your broom until the whole class is here and ready.”

“Aww!” Scootaloo whined as she stared down at the tantalizing broom waiting for her to ride.

Sweetie Belle took position next to a broom on the end and then glanced back at Magah, who had stopped to graze. The mare was obviously still keeping an eye on her even as she cropped up the grass.

“I’m a little nervous about this,” Hermione admitted to the rest of the group as she eyed the broom at her feet. “These things seem too flimsy to support our weight.”

“Gran’s never let me ride a broom before,” Neville said, nervously, also eyeing his broom.

“Relax,” Ron said cheerfully. “It’s really not that hard to learn.”

“Speak for yarself,” Apple Bloom said, taking her place. “These critters are right temperamental.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Madam Hooch said, seeing that all the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs were present. “Stand next to your broom, hold out your hand and say ‘up’."

Filled with excitement at the prospect of learning to fly, Harry promptly stuck his hand and gave the proper command. He heard several other students do the same as his broom suddenly shot sideways, undercutting his legs, upending him. As he landed on his back he heard **thwack** "ow.” **thwack** “Ow.” **thwack** “Ow!”

Still dazed, Harry looked over and saw that Scootaloo was covered by every broomstick that had been in the yard, a look of astonishment plastered on her face.”

XxX

The Wizengamot chamber was packed to capacity. It may have even grown a bit to accommodate the entire crowd.

At the main podium, Albus Dumbledore once more stood, ready to commence the proceedings. “Good Morning.” he said and the room grew quiet in anticipation, “as Chief Warlock, I hereby call this assembly of the Wizengamot to order. We are gathered here today to complete the agenda that was scheduled for yesterday. Also on the docket is a trial for former Minister Fudge.” He paused to let his words sink in. “But first, as it is customary, the floor is open to anyone wishing to present new business.”

A member of the Wizengamot promptly found her feet and coolly said, “I have new business to be brought before the Wizengamot.”

Absolute silence met the declaration as even the crickets missed their cue; every eye in the assembly landed on Alice. Though none gave them voice, the words “oh bloody hell.” rippled through the mass of witches and wizards.

“Yes, Miss Rutter, you now have the floor.” Dumbledore allowed with a note of caution in his voice.

“As steward of the last two free individuals with claims to the House, I hereby claim the right to speak for House Black,” she said with an aggressive inflection.

“Have you not amassed enough wealth?!” a member from the remaining pureblood faction snapped. “Are you to now claim the holdings of Black as well?!”

Alice ignored him and said, “I hereby demand the immediate release of Sirius Black who has been held without a trial for nearly a decade. Furthermore, I lay claim to the prescribed penalties from the Ministry for denying a member of House Black his right to a speedy trial.”

Dumbledore joined the entirety of the assembly in staring at the woman in bewilderment. “I was under the impression you wanted to punish those who followed the dark lord. Why, then, are you trying to release his right-hand man?” he finally asked.

“Sirius Black is not now and never was a follower of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” Alice insisted, “He is a political prisoner who has been denied a trial while imprisoned on a fiction.”

“What proof do you have of this allegation?” Amelia Bones stood up from her seat, demanding the attention of all present.

“I require no proof.” Alice countered, “You need to either produce the trial records or produce Sirius Black, and you need to do it now.”

“You misunderstand the reason behind my question. I attempted to locate those trial transcripts just last night and could not find any.” Amelia raised a placating hand. “My concern is that where there is one innocent prisoner, there may be more.”

“Miss Rutter, these are some very serious allegations,” Dumbledore interrupted.

“Yes, they are,” Alice agreed crossing her arms. “So, if you would now, call a recess and order the retrieval of the victim; the clock began ticking as soon as I demanded his release. Any delay and or his death will increase the penalties drastically. Also, you should know that I am well aware that the penalties can be applied to the individuals responsible for the miscarriage of justice, before being taken from the public coffers. We have some rather strict laws on abuse of power, if one knows to look for them.”

“You do realize we just convened?” Dumbledore asked.

“You do realize an innocent man is still being held in Azkaban?”

“That remains to be seen.” Dumbledore struck his gravel on the podium. “This assembly shall stand in recess until the prisoner is retrieved. I do hope you are not wasting our time, Miss Rutter.”

“Even if he were guilty, it would be no waste of time making sure he received his trial.” she returned, refusing his rebuke.

XxX

“Maybe you should just bind it to yourself like the letter says,” Applejack suggested as she stood in the library, watching Twilight finish up the letter and attach it to Philomena’s leg.

“Now, darling, I’m sure Sweetie Belle will be able to get me another copy of those instructions before it comes to that,” Rarity said

“Don’t tell me that you’re afraid of your own luggage,” Rainbow Dash scoffed.

“It’s a pony-eating chest.” Rarity huffed with indignation. “It’s only prudent that I get all the pertinent information available before I approach it.”

“Yeah, I can’t blame you for that," Pinkie Pie agreed.

Everypony in the room instantly pivoted to look at her. “Pinkie!” Applejack yelped. “When did you get here?”

“Just now,” Pinkie said with a wide grin. “I was getting bored.”

“Um,” Rainbow Dash asked, “then who’s watching the trunk?”

“Rrrrelax,” Pinkie practically purred. “I left a sign.”

XxX

“Okay, class,” Madam Hooch said, “with the exception of Miss Aloo, let’s try that again.”

Harry stuck his hand out once again and was rewarded by his broom instantly heeding his command, smacking solidly into his palm. He was rather too distracted to feel elated though. He was too busy watching Apple Bloom’s broom flee the girl.

“Did that broom just yipe?” Susan Bones of the Hufflepuffs asked.

XxX

While flying over the town, Blue Blaze had spotted something unusual in the front yard of the Carousel Boutique. Giving in to curiosity, he landed to investigate. There on the front lawn was an elaborately decorated trunk, and next to it was a sign post with a very puzzling message.

Scratching his head with a forehoof, the azure-colored pegasus read out loud, “Beware! Pony-Eating Trunk!”

Laughing to himself, Blue Blaze recognized Pinkie Pie’s mouthwriting from all the banners she’d made. “She probably has some kind of surprise set up,” he said as he trotted forward for a closer look.

XxX

“I thought you said you’d taken flying lessons at Ginny’s house over the summer,” Parvati gasped as she and the other Gryffindors helped Apple Bloom’s attempts to corral the rogue broom.

“Ah did,” Apple Bloom said, shifting to the right to cut off the broom’s retreat, “but we started with the brooms firmly in our grips -- none of this ‘UP’ business.”

“That’s a good idea,” Scootaloo said and held out her hand toward the fleeing broom. “Come here!”


The Hufflepuffs gasped as their brooms once again tore themselves away to answer the call of their god.

**Thwack!** **Thwack!** **Thwack** **Thwack!**

“How could she not have seen that coming?” Hermione asked as she and her friends moved to help Scootaloo out from under the pile of all of the training brooms.

XxX

Soon after she had issued the orders to ‘gently’ retrieve Sirius Black, Amelia Bones sought out a certain new member of the Wizengamot. She found her target conversing with some of the other new members of said body.

Finding herself in no mood for niceties, Amelia said, “Miss Rutter, a moment of your time please.”

The conversation stopped, and the newest members of the Wizengamot focused their attention on the head of the DMLE.

“Is something the matter?” Alice asked as worry crossed her face; this type of one on one conversation wasn’t in her game plan.

“I need to speak to you privately,” Amelia said gesturing toward a doorway. “Please follow me to a private conference room.”

“I don’t think . . .” the younger woman started.

“Now, Miss Rutter.” Amelia said, and headed toward the doorway. She sensed that Alice had indeed followed and Amelia grinned at the thought that the new faction leader had yet to completely shed her instinct to follow a perceived authority figure.

In short order, they were in a small room with just two uncomfortable chairs and a barren table. Amelia cast some privacy charms before motioning Alice into one of the seats.

Gone was the confident woman who had started down the entire Wizengamot assembly. In her place was a nervous woman who wasn’t quite sure of her current standing. While she had obviously known the laws to invoke to achieve her aims, she didn’t appear to understand the power and protections she could invoke in her current situation.

Amelia let Alice stew for a good half minute before saying, “Where are you getting your information? Who is feeding it to you?”

“Pardon?” Alice asked, the question catching her off guard.

“I want to know, whose puppet you are,” Amelia clarified, never taking her eyes of the fidgeting woman.

“I’m no one’s puppet,” Alice objected.

“Bull! Your showing up out of nowhere with knowledge of old laws could be explained away by you finding a law book and studying.” Amelia narrowed her eyes and leaned forward. “However, the detailed intel you had on the crimes of seated members of our government far exceed the resources you possessed. Make no mistake, it is obvious you had help. My concern is what on the surface may appear as nothing more than a much-needed cleansing of the corruption inherent in our system may have sinister undertones. Like it or not, you destabilized our government yesterday. Today you are well on your way to undermine public confidence in what remains of that government. So, once again, who is helping you?”

Amelia watched the woman gather her courage to lie, “I’m doing this for Justice.”

“You expect me to believe that?” Amelia snarled.

“You just admitted our system is corrupt,” Alice countered, rediscovering the fortitude that had aided her in the Wizengamot chambers. “I don’t have to sit here and take this abuse.”

“Ladies! There’s no reason for you to be at odds. You two are basically after the same things,” a third occupant of the room said from his comfortable-looking chair situated a few feet from the table.

‘Mr. Discord,” Amelia said, addressing the newcomer, “you are not unexpected. Thank you for joining us.”

“Well now, I couldn’t just let you two antagonize each -- OOOF!” Discord said.

“Hello Discord, it’s good to see you,” Alice said from her new seat.

“Aaaa,” Discord smartly answered.

“I see that you’re happy to see me too.” Alice smiled brightly at him from mere inches away.

“Well, I see you two are getting along now, gotta go bye,” Discord said as he disappeared with a snap of his fingers and a flash of light, leaving Alice to land on his vacated, comfy chair.

After a short pause, Amelia said, “You certainly are direct.”

Alice shrugged and replied, “I don’t do subtle.”

XxX

After scouting ahead, Rainbow Dash landed next to her friends, who were making their way back from the library.

“Well?” Rarity asked, never stopping her forward movement.

“Pinkie would have gotten fewer hits if her sign had read, ‘Do not push big red button!’” Rainbow said, falling into formation. “But, on the bright side, she was right; it is hilarious.”

XxX

Susan Bones watched as Hermione and Apple Bloom flew by. Hermione had a look of terror plastered on her face while Apple Bloom wore one of resignation. Somehow, they had both ended up on the same broom, facing backwards.

“Come back here girls!” Madam Hooch admonished as she scurried after her two wayward students.

“I’m glad I got sorted into Hufflepuff,” Susan stated.

Her friend, Hanna, nodded her head in agreement as the two watched the flying Gryffindors. Scootaloo zipped by, intent on cutting off the wayward broom while Harry, Ron, Sweetie Belle and Ginny fanned out, blocking off its retreat. The unicorn tracking Sweetie Belle from the ground only added to the spectacle.

XxX

Berry Punch walked down the street with her accustomed bottle in hoof. She happened to look over and saw an unattended trunk sitting next to a Pinkie Pie-style sign.

After reading the sign she said, “Not happening,” and kept walking.

XxX

“That’s the last of them,” Twilight said as she appeared with Snips and Snails. “Now let’s go check the rest of Rarity’s. I know Sweetie should be getting another copy of the instructions, but we don’t know how long she’ll take. At this point, the originals may have appeared anywhere in the Carousel Boutique.”

“Are we just leaving it outside again?” Applejack asked pointing at the trunk.

“By now, most of the town already knows about it, and we’ll leave a guard,” Twilight said.

“I’m on it.” Pinkie saluted sharply with a hoof.

“I think it’s Rainbow’s turn to play guard,” Rarity suggested. “You’ve already had two turns.”

XxX

“All right, everyone. Mount your brooms. I’ll be coming by to check your grips and stances,” Madam Hooch said; her students had once again formed into lines to continue with their class.

Before she had checked three students, a flash of flames briefly appeared above the class, and a bird of fire drifted down to settle on the shoulder of one waiting to be inspected.

“Hello, Philomena,” Sweetie chirped. “I see you brought me a letter.”

“No reading mail during class,” Madam Hooch said as she continued to inspect her students. “It can wait until afterwards.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Sweetie said and stuffed the letter into her shoulder bag.

Philomena gave a questioning trill, then shook her head. After seeing that the letter would not be immediately read, she flew over to settle on the back of Magah, who had gone back to grazing.

Once she completed her inspection, Madam Hooch retook her position in front of the class and said, “Okay, on the count of three your all going to lightly kick off and rise a few feet then come back down. I’m afraid our time is almost up, but I am going to extend this session into the second period for those with a free period. Don’t worry, for those of you headed to Herbology, I’ll be available after supper as well. All right now. One . . . Two . . . Three . . .”

The event-filled class had left Madam Hooch hyper-aware and edgy. It came as no surprise that she quickly cast a cushioning spell on Neville, who had kicked off too hard and then lost control. “That’s more than a few feet!” she yelled up at Scootaloo, who was soaring like a homesick angel.

XxX

He heard them coming. That was strange; they did not normally come at this time of day. Groaning, he shifted and sat up on his meager pallet. Before long, the door to his cell opened, and a trio of aurors entered, training their wands on him.

‘Get up Black,” one of them said, not unkindly. “There’s a witch who’s been wreaking havoc on the former Death Eaters, and she says you’re not one of them. You’ve got an appointment with the Wizengamot.”

“The Wizengamot?” Sirius said, unsuccessfully trying to gain his feet. “Am I finally getting a trial?” He would later deny that a sob escaped his throat.

The lead auror, ignoring protocol, put his wand away and stepped forward to help the weakened man. Ashamed that he had been part of the travesty of justice that had imprisoned a man without due process, he said, “Yes, Black, you’re getting your trial.”

XxX

Amelia sat in her office and contemplated the current crisis. Whether the intentions of Mr. Discord were benevolent or not didn’t matter. Magical Britain's government was in the process of being subjugated by a foreign entity. Already, they had a foothold in the Wizengamot. Miss Rutter had admitted to being beholden to Discord, and, in turn, she had a group of followers beholden to her. The political power already surrendered was not insignificant.

Then, there was the Minister’s office. Currently vacant, it would likely go to someone leaning toward the policies Discord seemed to be espousing.

That basically left the Chief Warlock. Amelia very much doubted Dumbledore would be holding that office for much longer.

Individually, these changes were a nuisance, at best. Taken as a whole, it was chillingly obvious that Equestria had decided to unseat the current, corrupt administration, leaving the British magical government open for whatever plans they may have, and there was very little Amelia could do about it.

XxX

They had just finished going through the showroom of Rarity’s shop when Twilight called for a halt and demanded everypony’s attention.

“I just want to take a short pause,” she said, “and disprove this silly superstition that’s been plaguing us all day.”

Her friends all looked at her curiously, wondering where she was going.

“Since we’ve taken all the necessary precautions and the hectic pace has slowed down, I’d just like to say one thing.” She paused for effect and dramatically continued. “Things couldn’t possibly get any worse.”

Pinkie gasped loudly, Applejack dropped to the floor covering face with her hat, and Rarity did a ladylike facehoof.

“See, nothing happ . . .” Twilight started to say triumphantly, but stopped when Rainbow Dash nailed her cue and ran in.

“Guys! Guys!” Rainbow clamored, but stopped when she saw her friends’ current states. Looking at Twilight she asked, “You didn’t just?”

“She did.” Rarity interrupted, hoof still on her face.

“Anyway, your chest.” Rainbow said still looking at Twilight.

“George,” Rarity stated.

“What?” Rainbow stopped her report yet again.

“It’s my pony-eating chest. He needs a name. So, I’m deciding on George,” Rarity informed everypony.

“Yeah, well,” Rainbow said, “I think you ought to know that George just tried to eat Princess Celestia.”

Chapter 21: Obstructions, Observations, and Obligations

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“But I want to keep flying.” Scootaloo pouted as the girls made their way over to the greenhouses. “I barely got any air time.”

“You’ll just have to wait,” Parvati said. “We’ve already missed Herbology once; missing it a second time is a sure way to get detention.”

“I guess,” Scootaloo relented, “but the sooner we’re allowed to fly on school grounds, the better.”

“I’m sure Hermione would disagree,” Lavender said. “I still can’t believe she wanted to come with us to Herbology instead of staying and flying.”

“She’s obviously afraid of heights,” Sweetie Belle said. “We’re going to have to help her with that.”

“And how are we going to that?” Parvati asked.

Apple Bloom shrugged. “Just drop her off a cloud a few dozen times. Believe it or not, screaming in terror gets boring afta awhile.”

“I hope you're joking,” Lavender said, giving Apple Bloom the eye. “No, you’re not joking. You do realize that’s only going to make her fear worse.”

“It’s how mah sister had me cured.” Apple Bloom shrugged. “As cruel as it may sound, it actually works wonders. Besides, they never do stuff like that without at least seven catchers paying attention.”

“Yeah,” Parvati said with a shake of her head, “we’ll just table that suggestion for a later date. Right now, we need to figure out how to keep Magah from following us into the greenhouse.”

“That’ll be easy,” Scootaloo said. “See that open window there? It’s big enough for Sweetie and way too small for Magah.”

“Good idea, Scoots,” Sweetie Belle agreed. “Now go inside and check underneath the window to make sure there’s not a vat of tree sap or something similar waiting for me.”


The morning news had been disastrous. His master’s servants had been routed from the Wizengamot en masse. Most of those not holding a seat were now fugitives and had their assets frozen. What had once been a readymade support base was now in shambles. Worse, the replacement government looked like it might have some backbone. If they chose a competent new Minister, the difficulty factor could be increased exponentially.

But, none of that mattered until the master had a new body. Therein lay the favorable news hidden in the assorted bad tidings. One of the students had managed to resurrect a ghost. What had formerly been an impossible feat was now a wellspring of opportunity. The stone was no longer necessary; an easier method had presented itself. Though no names had been mentioned, it was easy to deduce the responsible party. She had two symbols of rebirth and healing at her beck and call. Only a fool wouldn’t realize that the unprecedented act of raising the dead could fall only at her feet. Luckily, he had his first class with her later today. It shouldn’t be too hard to trick the child into doing what he wanted, right under the nose of Dumbledore himself.

Quirrell grinned as he made plans. It was his free period, and he sat in his office, rereading out loud the events depicted in the "Daily Prophet". He had just gotten to the list of charges against the former Minister when he realized he wasn’t the only person in the room. Looking up, he saw a man in a dapper brown suit frowning down at him.

Jumping back and out of his seat in alarm, Quirrell stammered at the intruder, “W-w-where did y-y-you come from? How, d-d-d-did you get in h-h-h-here.”

The man’s eyes flashed yellow, and he said, “These children are under my protection. Leave now and never return.”

“I-I-I’m a p-p-p-profess-s-s-ser here.” Quirrell objected, “I p-p-pose the children no h-h-h-harm.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” the man growled contemptuously.

“W-w-w-whatever are you t-t-t-talking about?” Quirrell brought his wand out; he’d keep his wandless abilities hidden until the appropriate time.

With a disdainful snap of his fingers, the man sent Quirrell’s turban tumbling from his head, despite how tightly it had been wound.

“Enough.” A voice said from the back of Quirrell’s head followed by a cough, “I will speak with this interloper.”

“Master.” Quirrell’s voice lost all hints of a stutter. “You are not yet strong enough.”

“Turn around so that I may address him properly,” the voice commanded, gasping for breath at the end of the sentence. Hurriedly, Quirrell complied and put his back to the intruder. On the rear of his bald head was another face -- a twisted face. “Who are you, to dare interfere in things beyond your ken?” it rasped as it cast its gaze upon the man in the brown suit.

“Could you be anymore cliché?” the man asked, unimpressed. “Let’s keep this short. You are on my list of pre-existing threats slated for elimination. Your only path to salvation lies outside these walls. One way or another, you won’t be in this castle tomorrow.”

“You dare threaten me?” Rage infused the face. “Do you know who I am?”

“Again, with the cliché. This is not a threat; this is a professional courtesy.” The man in the brown suit cleared his throat then said menacingly, “Leave, or I will see that you regret it.”

The face on the back of Quirrell’s head laughed until it had a coughing fit. “You will find that I am not so easily destroyed,” it sneered once it regained its composure.

“How very droll and unimaginative.” The man in the brown suit tsked. “If you do not heed my final warning, I promise what lies ahead will make your current existence seem like paradise.” With a snap of his fingers, he was gone in a flash of light.


“What the hay, Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle groused, “Seriously, what the hay?”

“What?” Scootaloo said defensively, “I told you there was a bed of flowers under the window, and to be careful.”

“I’m stuck to Ginny,” Parvati complained, trying to get her arm to detach from the redhead’s back.

“At least it’s not sap,” Apple Bloom said, one leg glued to another at an uncomfortable angle and Lavender stuck half sitting in her lap.

“This is stickier than sap!” Sweetie Belle snapped from her position on top of Scootaloo, who had her back glued to the floor.

“It’s seeped right through my robes,” Ginny informed everyone as she tried to remove her hands from Sweetie Belle’s shoulders.

The Ravenclaws and a spattering of Slytherins gawked at the Gryffindor girls, freely laughing at the tangled mess.

“Here comes the professor; she’ll help,” Lavender said as she spotted the herbology teacher approaching.

Professor Sprout arrived and immediately assessed the situation. “I see you girls have become acquainted with the spitting tulips,” she said.


She was the largest mare in all of Equestria. Her pure white coat was accented by a multicolored mane and tail, both of which shimmered unnaturally as they fluttered in the nonexistent breeze. “That is undoubtedly the most aggressive luggage I have ever encountered,” she said to the ponies standing with her as she surveyed the beautifully carved chest just ten feet away. Her gentle smile hid any trepidation she might have.

“I am so sorry, Princess Celestia; George does have a bit of an attitude problem,” Rarity admitted from where she was still trying to calm down the hyperventilating Twilight.

“Where did this remarkable piece of art come from?” Celestia asked, not taking her eyes off the subject of inquiry.

“Sweetie Belle sent it to Rarity as a present!” Pinkie cheerfully informed her.

“She sent a pony-eating chest?” Celestia asked in amazement.

“Well, the letter did say it could be aggressive until it was bound,” Applejack said, ready to put herself between George and the princess at the slightest hint of danger.

“Did binding it not help?” Celestia continued.

“I was waiting until after I read the instructions before binding him.” Rarity patted Twilight on her back. “Breathe, just breathe. Princess Celestia isn’t hurt, and she isn’t angry.”

“Where are the instructions?” Celestia asked.

“The letter said they were on the coffee table, but apparently Sweetie Belle forgot to send them,” Rainbow Dash said.

“Perhaps you should bind it now, regardless,” Princess Celestia suggested with a twinkle in her eye.

“Yes,” Rarity said, “right away. Rainbow, darling, if you would be so kind and fetch me the letter from inside. I need a reminder of the words I need to say.”

After rereading the letter, Rarity stood before George and hesitantly placed her horn on the brass plate on his front. “Sibi Stipitem?” she said.

Nothing happened.

Holding their collective breath, the ponies all watched the chest for movement as the seconds ticked by.

George did his best impression of an inanimate object.

Somewhere, paint continued to dry, giving a more exciting show.

“Tap the fifth square rune and say 'open',” Twilight finally said from where she was holding Sweetie Belle’s letter.

Rarity took careful aim, tapped, and said, “Open.”

The lid popped open and Rarity leapt back, clearing a good twelve feet -- a truly remarkable feat for a sedentary unicorn.

“You are afraid of your luggage,” Pinkie noted in a sing-song voice as she bounced up to look into the chest.

“Pinkie, be careful!” Applejack said from where she was still guarding the princess.

“OOOO . . . stairs!” Pinkie said before disappearing into George. “These weren’t here before.”

“Pinkie! Wait!” Rainbow said, diving after her friend.

Seconds later, Pinkie’s voice came from inside George. “There’s a whole house down here!”

“A house?” Twilight’s head snapped up in realization. “Is there a living room?”

“Yes!” came Rainbow Dash’s voice.”

“Is there a coffee table in the living room?” Twilight continued.

“Yes!” Pinkie shouted, “and yes to your next question as well!”

“Horsefeathers!” Applejack said, “Just horsefeathers.”


Myrtle Smith was having the most bizarre day of her life. She had used that phrase before, but nothing that had happened before even came close to the events currently unfolding before her eyes. Any doubts that magic existed were well and truly stamped out of existence. She could have remained skeptical, even after the parlor tricks the small professor had showcased, but the fact that she and her mother were now standing in an alleyway in downtown London was not to be shaken off so lightly. The trip hadn’t been painful, not exactly. It hadn’t been pleasant either, rather like being squeezed through a straw. While that was not even a remotely accurate description, she could not think of anything closer to the truth.

Her grandmother had insisted on paying for the necessities that the younger . . . older . . . other Myrtle would be needing. Olivia had produced an ornate key which she claimed went to a vault she had opened for Myrtle when she first went to school. Decades had passed with a small trickle of funds being filtered into said vault in anticipation of their next magical descendant. Now, they had two who would be using it for their schooling.

There was a sharp cracking noise, and the little professor appeared with Amy and the other Myrtle. He had been adamant that he would not be bringing Olivia, claiming that she was too frail, and that the shock could be harmful.

“I have another question,” Myrtle Smith said to Flitwick as soon as he had regained his bearings. “How is it no one took note of our arrival?”

“There’s a permanent muggle-notice-me-not charm in that portion of the alleyway,” Flitwick answered as he led them out, into the alley proper. “It’s not uncommon to bring muggle-born and their parents by this route.”

After a few minutes, he stopped and said, “Here we are.”

“I do hope you don’t mean for us to go into that dodgy-looking pub,” Myrtle Smith said, eyeing the establishment.

“What pub?” Emily asked, looking up and down the street for the establishment.

“You can see the Leaky Cauldron without holding the hand of either your daughter or your aunt?” Flitwick raised a surprised eyebrow. “You have at least squib level magical awareness.”

Frowning, Emily reached out to take Amy’s hand. Her eyes widened as the pub came into view.


“Well, it is obvious this place was decorated by a stallion,” Rarity said as she descended the stairway into an impressive foyer with a decorative marble floor. Through a large archway she could see a large sitting room boasting couches, chairs, and tables all different shades of brown. “The palate is so drab and dreary. I’ll lay odds that there’s not a hint of pink in the entire place.”

“Perhaps,” Princess Celestia said from right behind Rarity, “but the workponyship on both the furnishings and the spellwork speak of pride in one’s trade.”

Surprised that she had been followed so closely by royalty, Rarity hurried the rest of the way down the steps and turned.

It was Pinkie who voiced Rarity’s unvoiced thoughts, “Princess Celestia, you shrunk.”

Celestia tittered, “The entrance wasn't princess-sized.”

“Well, it’s certainly bigger on the inside,” Rainbow Dash said rejoining the group. “Wait until you see the bathroom.”

Twilight’s voice drifted down from the entranceway, “Look at that! They multilayered the subspace matrix by intertwining the linear inclination array back on itself using a modified alpha overlay! That’s pure genius! I think it might be more stable than the matrices we use on our buildings.”

“Did anypony understand any of that?” Applejack asked as she reached the bottom of the steps.

“To me it just sounds like she picked a bunch of impressive sounding words at random,” Rainbow admitted.

“The spellwork is exceptional,” Princess Celestia repeated. “It is both exceedingly clever in some aspects and disturbingly clumsy in others. It’s like the caster were completely ignorant of some basic magical principles and worked his way around them. At the same time, it seems he may have used some principles we are not currently aware of. I cannot overstate the value this trunk represents to the advancement of ponykind. Where did Sweetie Belle find it?”

“I am pretty sure she got it from the local marketplace,” Rarity said. “I vaguely recall passing a shop that specialized in luggage.”

Princess Celestia turned her patient gaze onto Rarity and asked, “A local marketplace?”

“Well, local for the dimension the fillies are going to school in,” Rarity admitted.

Pinkie may have said, “Wait! What?!”

Twilight doubtlessly gasped.

Rainbow probably asked, “Another dimension?”

It was even plausible that Applejack said, “Say what now?”

However, it couldn’t be absolutely certain that these events happened because the words, “THEY ARE GOING TO SCHOOL WHERE?!” dominated the reality of everypony present as the force of the words plastered everypony and everything in the room that wasn't the princess against the far wall.

Celestia blushed slightly as everypony stared at her in a dazed stupor. The only thing that prevented an awkward silence was the eerie squeak made by everything against the wall that wasn't anchored sliding to the floor. “I apologize,” the princess said. “I haven’t lost control of my Royal Canterlot Voice in a very long time.”


The assembly hall was once again filled to capacity. Word had gotten out over the short recess, and more curious onlookers had arrived to supplement the already record crowd. It soon became apparent that the room was expanding to accommodate the excess. No one present could have claimed to have known that the room had that capability, but it was a welcome discovery.

Up at the main podium, Dumbledore once again brought his gavel into play. “Ahem,” he said, waiting for the last of the chattering to die down. “Welcome once again. As Chief Warlock, I hereby reconvene today's assembly. We shall continue where we left off. The prisoner, Sirius Black has been retrieved and shall stand trial momentarily.”

“I object!” An elderly wizard in the front row stood up to draw the attention of all present.

“Mr. Taylor,” Dumbledore said recognizing the speaker, “we have hardly begun; on what grounds could you possibly object?”

“My firm has represented the Black House for generations,” Mr. Taylor said, radiating an aura of confidence. “As matter of fact, we are still on retainer. We are Lord Black’s legal counsel.”

“I was unaware of Sirius obtaining the title of lord,” Dumbledore reprimanded the old lawyer.

“He was heir apparent, he was never cast out of the family by the house head, he was never convicted of any crimes. Ergo, he is Lord Black,” Mr. Taylor informed the assembly.

“Very well,” Dumbledore conceded, “are you objecting to Miss Rutter’s claim of speaking for House Black?”

“By no means.” Mr. Taylor shook his head. “We are objecting to his being forced to stand trial immediately after being retrieved from Azkaban.”

“Are you suggesting that Lord Black needs to wait for his fair trial?” a member of the Wizengamot asked. “Wasn’t a decade long enough?”

“By law, our government may not imprison a citizen for more than three months without setting a trial date,” Mr. Taylor said. “By failing to do that, the Wizengamot has obligated itself to allow Lord Black to be released on his own recognizance until the date of said trial. Furthermore, he is guaranteed respite for any time spent in Azkaban before facing trial. I do believe the law states one week for every month spent in that hellhole. So, if you would be so kind, book us a date, two and a half years hence. In the meantime, I will take my client into custody and see to his recovery.”

“That is outrageous!” another member of the Wizengamot snarled.

“Yes,” Mr. Taylor agreed. “This whole situation is outrageous. Even with emergency procedures in place, holding a man in Azkaban for a decade without trial is indefensible. The Ministry has played fast and loose with the laws, denying basic rights. I mean to see that my client receives his due.”

“What of James Potter and his wife?” the same Wizengamot member continued. “Are they to be denied their due as well? Shall their murderer walk free on a technicality?”

“Their murderer is dead.” Mr. Taylor corrected, “At worse, Lord Black was an accomplice, something that many have already said would have been vastly out of character for him. If you drop the assumption of guilt and look at the situation objectively, you’ll find that the official story does not make sense. Why would a man, who just betrayed his closest friend, proceed to hunt down another of his allies instead of fleeing the country once he knew his lord was dead? It is so irrational that he has been called crazy to have done that. It makes more sense that he was hunting down the one who had done the actual betraying. That would be completely within his previously displayed character.”

“Are you accusing a recipient of the Order of Merlin of base betrayal?” a third member of the Wizengamot asked without accusation in his voice.

“I do not have enough evidence to make such an accusation at this time,” Mr. Taylor conceded. “I am merely pointing out the possibility. The administration at the time has already demonstrated a lack of ability in dispensing justice. Is it hard to believe that they may have also erred in dispensing accolades?”

“Regardless,” Matron Longbottom spoke up without rising from her seat, “I would like some reassurances before unleashing an accused mass murderer on the public. Two wrongs do not make a right, and I do believe we are well past a dozen wrongs at this point.”

“With all due respect,” Mr. Taylor nodded his head politely at the old woman, “what you would like is irrelevant; the law is clear in this regard. Lord Black is to be released immediately.”

“You are aware that his head of house rights are to be suspended until after any trial?” Dumbledore queried.

“We are aware that Miss Rutter shall be directing house Black until the situation is resolved, all charges are dropped, and our client stands acquitted,” Mr. Taylor acknowledged.

“That is rather presumptuous of you,” yet another member of the Wizengamot stated.

“To put it bluntly, even if Lord Black had committed the atrocities purported by these fictions, the Ministry had forfeited all rights to hold him as a consequence of their flouting of our laws,” Mr. Taylor said. “However, let me make this clear; we firmly believe Miss Rutter’s assertion that he is innocent.”

“Well,” Alice said, watching the exchange, “that didn’t go according to plan.”


“No, no.” Applejack was saying, “Ah’m certain that none of the letters mentioned that the school was in another dimension. That’s the kind of detail that Ah would never forget.”

“It’s cool,” Rainbow Dash interjected. “So, the Crusaders are learning magic from interdimensional ponies.”

“Ponies? Yes, about that,” Rarity said doing a reasonable impression of Rainbow Dash by placing her hoof behind her head, “there is something else I should mention.”

“Am Ah going to have to sit down for this?” Applejack asked.

“That would most likely be prudent,” Rarity confirmed; then after a sideways glance she continued, “Pinkie, where ever did you find that popcorn?”


“Well, that’s a first.” Professor Sprout said as she watched her students’ efforts to return some plants to the soil, “I’ve never seen pussy willow uproot itself just to come over and say ‘hello’, before. Professor McGonagall wasn’t exaggerating your affinity towards plants.”

“Why do we have to help?” a Ravenclaw complained. “It’s all her fault.”

“The practice will do you good,” Professor Sprout replied. “Besides, it’s a good thing to help your fellow students.”

Apple Bloom added, "Y'all will never understand plants unless you get your hooves dirty."


“Please,” Twilight begged as she lay on the couch with her head under her forehooves, “don’t tell Lyra, just don’t tell Lyra. I’ll never live it down.”

“Too late,” Rarity said.


“Bleah!!!”

“Scootaloo, please don’t eat my flowers; some of them bite back.”

“These taste awful!”

“Yes, they do.”


“It is funny you should mention marriage contracts.” Celestia had claimed the largest couch as her own. “It has been my experience that they are primarily used as a means of controlling helpless stallions. I make it a point to personally investigate any reports of ‘binding’ marriage contracts being submitted for validation, hence the reason for my visit today. Can you offer an explanation for the existence of said document?”

Rarity said, “Discord.”

“I see.” Celestia nodded her head knowingly. “Now that we have established that you have a rock-solid explanation, perhaps you have a few more details to add?”


“That wasn’t so bad,” Parvati said, exiting the greenhouse. “It was nowhere as exciting as either Potions or flying lessons.”

“We got glued to the floor,” Sweetie Belle said as she greeted a relieved Magah.

“I stand by my statement,” Parvati insisted.


“Wow! The legends were right. She gets hot when she’s mad,” Rainbow Dash observed.

“Yeah,” Twilight said as she maintained her shield, “Sorry about your new couch, Rarity . . . and the two adjacent chairs . . . and the rug . . . and the ceiling beam . . . and your marble floor.”

“Quite all right, darling,” Rarity said dismissively, not taking her eyes off the sphere of flames. “You managed to contain the worst of it.”

“I’m glad my name’s not Dursley,” Pinkie noted.


“The next item shall be the trial of former Minister Fudge,” Dumbledore stated.

Immediately, twelve different individuals found their feet, wishing to be heard.

“Yes, Mrs. Furweather?” Dumbledore said, picking one at random.

“If it pleases the assembly,” Mrs. Furweather said, “the charges against the former Minister do not go far enough. The consequences of his actions, motivated by greed, have led to much loss among the general public and not a few deaths as well. I move that his trial be delayed a month to allow for a thorough investigation into his crimes. His deliberate abuse of power must be countered by levying all applicable charges against him.”

“Mrs. Furweather,” a pureblood faction member said, “the law has protections for government officials when their decisions prove to be flawed. It would hardly be productive if the Minister had to worry about jail time over every hard decision he had to make.”

“True, but those protections apply only to actions taken in good faith. Since when is our government supposed to be the best money can buy?” a new Wizengamot member, appointed by Alice, countered.

After finding that the remaining eleven had similar requests, a vote was taken, and Fudge was granted a one-month reprieve from Azkaban.


The Gryffindor first-years sat in the Great Hall to partake of lunch. Sweetie Belle generously ladled beef stew into a bowl before retrieving her newest letter from her shoulder bag. Dipping her spoon into her meal with one hand, she flipped the letter open with her other.

Dear Sweetie Belle,

I do hope this letter finds you well. However, I do apologize, I do not have time for pleasantries. There are two pressing matter that require your immediate attention. The first and more urgent is the need for another copy of the instructions you mentioned in your letter. We have searched the entirety of my living room, without success. I very much feel it would be prudent that I have those instructions before I attempt to bind your marvelous, yet aggressive gift. It has already made a meal of several of my friends. So, I implore you to send another copy of the instructions.

Secondly, I need to inform you of a recent contract I have signed. Furthermore, since you have submitted a herd agreement, in writing, to the town hall, you will have to inform Apple Bloom and Scootaloo as well. Surprise! You have a marriage contract with one of your classmates. The colt, Harry Potter, is to be your stallion. I know this may come as a shock, but I assure you my intentions are in the best interests of both the colt and you.

I confess, I was reluctant to have this weight placed on your back at such a young age, but you and Harry will both have the option to back out of the contract once you reach seventeen. Until then, he is your responsibility. You must take care of him as I have taken care of you. Yes, an adult caretaker has been arranged for your time here in Ponyville, but the primary obligation for his wellbeing falls to you and your herd sisters. Do not be afraid to ask those you trust if you need help or advice; it takes a village to raise a foal.

One letter is hardly enough to explain the entirety of the duty I am entrusting you with. Thankfully, Twilight has graciously offered to provide you with a book on what is required by Equestrian law. I know it’s a lot, but I have faith in your abilities, with the exception cooking. Take care of Harry, and I am sure he will take care of you in return.

Love and kisses.

Rarity

P.S. Please hurry with those instructions!

Sweetie Belle had stopped eating after the first paragraph, her spoon held limply in her free hand. Once she was finished reading, she calmly folded the letter and replaced it in her shoulder bag.

“Harry,” she said calmly, “put down your pumpkin juice; we need to talk.”

Harry had no explanation as to why, but those words terrified him on some primal level. “Oh, come on Sweetie Belle.” He said, “That wasn’t even the 'Daily Prophet'.”

Chapter 22: Gathering no Moss

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The blazing South American sun beat down on the canopy of leaves raised to pay it homage. The greedy foliage allowed very little of the life-giving energy to pass, leaving the jungle floor wrapped in shadows. At ground level was an unusual sight -- a beetle, a seemingly unremarkable beetle that any local entomology student would have called an oxysternon festivum and kept walking, having seen dozens of the kind before. The sphere it was manipulating was a wholly different matter. After all, one did not normally come across golden, gem-encrusted spheres just lying on the forest floor.

Methodically, the beetle did what it could to move the object in the desired direction, employing an impressive construct of small twigs and piles of dirt. To say that it was inching along would be generous; an inch a week would be an impressive improvement. The gems made it awkward; the sheer mass of the gold was unwieldly. Yet, the beetle never stopped and never abandoned the task. It would get what it desired.

The beetle could remember having been a man long ago. It could remember being more than a man. Men were its subjects, its followers, its sacrifices . . . its prey. Willingly, the populous would do whatever it asked. With every full moon, they would, once again, sacrifice their young daughters to him. The bodies would be offered up on a bloody altar. It would have that euphoria again. Once again, men would fear his name. Once again, men would be his playthings. All he needed was to get this sphere over to where his body lay entombed. Then, he would walk the world again. The blood of innocents would freely flow once more.

How long had he inhabited the body of this mere insect? How long had he inhabited the bodies of its ancestors? The answer was centuries. Centuries of moving this sphere a hair’s breadth at a time, all towards the goal of remanifesting his glorious body. His enemies were long gone. They were dust, as was the secret of his downfall. All he needed was to move this sphere a few more hand breadths, and it would be in range. A couple more years, and he’d be whole once more.

Unexpectedly, it grew darker. Peering up, the beetle saw the perplexing form of a man, a man in a place that had not seen another human in well over a hundred and sixty years, a man wearing a dapper brown business ensemble that was as inappropriate as a deep-sea diving suit for the stifling heat and humidity of this environment.

Though there were no longer any who spoke the sacred language the beetle had called his own, what was next said was easily understood by the beetle. “You are, without a doubt, on my list of preexisting threats to be neutralized.”

The beetle could only look on with impotent rage as the man reached down and seized the golden sphere. Morosely, the beetle watched centuries of work become undone as the misbegotten wretch drew back his arm and hurled the sphere impossibly far. Worse, he threw it downhill!

“Well now, that was exceedingly anticlimactic,” the man said, dramatically raising a foot and taking aim with an expensive wingtip. "But, it can’t hurt to make doubly sure.” Down came the foot.


At a loss for words, Harry gaped at Sweetie Belle. Slowly, the significance of her news sank into his awareness, and a smile crept across his face.

“I’m just as surprised as you,” Sweetie Belle was saying, yet he was no longer paying attention. An adult caretaker would be provided for his time away from Hogwarts. That meant he wouldn’t be returning to the Dursleys’! He’d never have to go back! He’d never have to go back again! All he had to do was marry Sweetie Belle, and he would never have to go back!

“Harry, are you listening to me?”

All the humiliation was at an end. He’d never have to listen to his uncle’s rages again. The cupboard under the stairs was to be a thing of the past. Maybe he’d even get to eat more than just the leftovers. Maybe he would no longer go hungry away from school!

“This is important.”

He would have friends away from Hogwarts. He would be with people that wanted him. He would be more than "the boy who wasn’t welcome".

“Harry, hello?”

His cousin would no longer be able to get his gang together and play "Harry Hunting".

“Ah think you broke him, Sweetie.”

It was all at an end. The future held promise. He was never going back!

“Harry!” Shocked, Harry found a purple-framed face mere inches from his own.

“Scootaloo?” Harry jumped back slightly. “What?”

“Perhaps you should wait 'til after classes to talk about this,” Lavender said with her arms draped around a sniffling Ginny.

“Yeah,” Sweetie said, eyeing the loopy grin on Harry’s face, “that might be a good idea.”

“I never have to go back,” Harry whispered happily.


“Very well,” Dumbledore addressed the assembly, “The next order of business is our immediate need for a new Minister.”

A round of murmuring washed over everyone present as they prepared for a heated debate.

“The floor is now open for nominations to the post,” Dumbledore concluded.

“I object.” A muggle-born member of the Wizengamot said, standing up to have his say, “The current method of selecting our Minister was supposed to be a temporary measure. It was a thinly-veiled power grab by the political majority at the time of its inception.”

“It has worked well enough,” a pureblood faction member countered.

“That is debatable,” a moderate returned. “Regardless, he is right; the legislation for the alternative method has expired. Without a vote to the contrary, the process should revert to the original method.”

“Our ancestors abandoned that method as inefficient,” the first pureblood member argued.

“Our ancestors wanted a minister they could control,” another Wizengamot member emphasized. “We see where that has gotten us. The office of Minister was never meant to be held by a puppet of the Wizengamot majority.”

“You would alter our process of electing a minister,” one of the less extreme conservative members stated.

“I would return it to the unbiased and uncorrupted method mandated by the Ministry charter,” the first Wizengamot member corrected.

“I call for a vote to extend our current method of selection,” a neutral member, who had yet to speak, said. The call for a vote was seconded, and soon the measure was soundly defeated. Another major upset to the status quo was accepted, and the Goblet of Fire would be choosing the next Minister.


The Gryffindor first-year flock was gathering their things, preparing to venture to their next class, when one of the tutors introduced that morning by Professor McGonagall sauntered up and interrupted.

“Children,” he said with a friendly smile, “my name is Mr. Goodman. I’ve been hired to handle the Defense Against the Dark Arts class for Miss Belle, Miss Aloo and Miss Bloom.”

“They’re not going to be in our class?” Lavender asked, clearly disappointed.

“Their sponsor very adamantly wishes for them not to be taught by the professor currently offered by Hogwarts,” Mr. Goodman answered. “However, the offer to attend my classes in lieu is open to each and every one of you. The choice of under whom you wish to study is yours.”

“We’re friends,” Ginny insisted firmly. “We’ll stick together.”

A swell of verbal concurrence quickly surged through the remaining Gryffindors.

“I was counting on that response.” Mr. Goodman smirked. “I should warn you that I’m an ex-auror and plan to put you through a regimen well exceeding that mandated by the Ministry-approved curriculum. I will push you harder and will expect more from you in return. This is not the easy path to take.”

“More work?” Ron whined.

“Yes,” Mr. Goodman said bluntly, “more work. The option for the easy path is still open; you can still opt to go that route.”

“Ah’m not afraid of hard work,” Apple Bloom asserted.

“But that means more homework,” Ron complained.

“Ron,” Ginny growled in warning.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Goodman,” Hermione stated with a glance toward Ron. “His work ethic is a work in progress.”

“There is a time for play and a time for work.” Mr. Goodman said, eyeing Ron, “I can’t make the decision for you. It’s your call whether you want to be adequate or exceptional.”

“Isn’t there a way to be exceptional with less work?” Ron asked.

“No.” Mr. Goodman turned and walked away from the table. “All those still willing, follow.”

Sullenly, Ron joined his fellow Gryffindors in mimicking ducklings as they trailed along after their new instructor.


He was packed and ready to leave, proving that arrogance was not synonymous with stupidity. If his master had been at full strength, he would not have been cowed so readily. If his master had been at full strength, the current arrangement would not have been necessary to begin with. Doubtlessly, the successful retrieval of his prize hinged on him remaining incognito. That was no longer an option. Dumbledore would, unquestionably, be informed before too long, if he did not know already. This endeavor was crushed before it truly began.

His only consolation was that he did not plan on leaving alone. The girl was to be in his next class, and he fully intended on convincing her to come with him, her and her animals. Despite the warnings the interloper had uttered, it was well worth the risk.

Once he had her, his master would be able to gather strength and reform his body. With help, he would be able to rebuild the master’s following from the ground up. There was a new generation of malcontents just waiting for the right leader, and, once more, that leader would be his lord.

With a show of patience that he did not feel, Quirrell sat behind his desk and waited for the students to filter into the class.

When the bell rang to indicate the start of the period, there were only four students in the class with him.

“W-w-w-where is everybody else?” Professor Quirrell demanded of the meager showing.

“Half of our house has been excused due to deaths in their families,” one of the female students explained.

“I heard the Gryffindors talking to their tutor after lunch,” the one remaining male student offered. Sarcastically, he continued, “Apparently, what this school needs is a whole bunch of auror-trained Gryffindors running around.”

“A-a-a-auror trained Gryffindors?” Professor Quirrell repeated in disbelief. Who was Dumbledore trying to fool? That wasn’t a defense class, that was a miniature army in the making.

“Yes,” the male student continued, “I heard him say that he was an ex-auror.”

“I s-s-s-see.” Professor Quirrell said, “Now, class, open your books and read chapter one. I’ll be back soon.” With that, he rose from his desk and left the room. He did not return for the rest of the class. He did not for the next period. He did not return for supper. He continued to prove that all times are "soon".


“The decision to reconvene next Wednesday to resolve the choice of the new Minister has passed.” Dumbledore stood behind his podium and raised his gavel for a strike. “On that note, as Chief Warlock, I declare this session of the Wizengamot, concluded.” With his words, the assembled clapped their acceptance before filing out of the room at their leisure.

It had been a turbulent two-day session. On one hand, not much had been accomplished, no trials had been held, no new laws had been passed or even discussed. On the other, everything had changed. The balance of power did not just slide, it jumped. It took a running start and vaulted. And, its momentum showed no signs of fading. It didn’t take a genius to foretell that the next session would see many current laws struck from the books. Then, they would dig in and start with new laws.

Change would be coming at a breakneck pace, faster than Albus felt would be prudent. Even if most of the changes were positive, it would still be too much too fast. The next few months would be demanding a great portion of his attention. Luckily, he had Minerva to handle the more mundane school-related tasks.

But, before any of that was to be addressed, he needed to have a conversation with Judge Brown. Whatever subterfuge had been used to deny him access to his student’s paperwork would have to be identified and neutralized. Forgoing his accustomed after-session networking, Dumbledore hurried from the chambers and made his way through the network of hallways toward the office populated by the judge in question.

Before long, he was knocking on the door of the office in question. The door opened by itself without a sound, and Dumbledore saw the Honorable Judith Brown sitting behind her desk, wand in hand.

“Albus Dumbledore,” she said with a small frown on her face, “right on time, I see. Come in and have a seat.” It was not a request.

“Ah Judith.” He donned his most warming smile as he walked up to her desk, ignoring the proffered chair. “I just need a few minutes of your time to correct a misunderstanding.”

“I said sit,” Judge Brown snapped at the most powerful wizard in generations.

Surprised at the hostility, Albus took the lone seat in front her desk and shot her a questioning glance.

“You are here to reclaim magical guardianship of Harry Potter.” It was not a question.

“Yes, there seems to have been a mistake, and he was removed from my care.” Dumbledore said carefully, “I was his legal magical guardian and was informed that the responsibilities were transferred to another without me being consulted.”

“There is no mistake.” Judge Brown continued to glare at the old wizard. “Mr. Potter’s closest living relative exercised her right to choose the minor’s magical guardian.”

“That wouldn’t be in the best interests of anyone involved,” Dumbledore contended, leaning back in the chair to show he was still in control.

“Oh?” Judge Brown questioned, her glare never wavering. “Can you raise your wand and swear that you have Harry Potter’s best interests in mind and you are not trying to use him for political purposes?”

“That won’t be necessary.” Dumbledore said, “I am the magical guardian of a multitude of children, all of whom attend Hogwarts.”

“It’s a simple question,” Judge Brown said, undeterred. “Could you make such an oath on your magic?”

“With all of my varied responsibilities,” Dumbledore admitted, “I would find it impractical to make such an oath.”

“And, with that statement, you will never again be Harry Potter’s guardian,” Judge Brown informed him.

“That would be an ill-advised decision.”

“Also, don’t think I didn’t find that marriage contract between Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley, a contract that you had no authority to draft, even as his Wizengamot-appointed guardian.” The judge continued, “I’ve had it annulled and stricken from the records.”

“I see that I am going to have to bring this to the attention of the full Wizengamot,” Albus noted, inwardly cursing the loss of that important piece of his plans.

Judge Brown snorted her dismissal. “First and foremost, this is a family matter; the Wizengamot cannot and will not vote on a family’s internal affairs. Secondly, Mr. Potter’s magical guardian is a foreign national, making this matter outside the scope of the Wizengamot. You’re not going to be able to use politics to manipulate this situation to your liking.”

“I see,” Dumbledore said, starting to rise, realizing this judge was not going to align with his views. “Then I suppose we have nothing else to discuss at this time.”

“Sit!!” Judge Brown snarled, reaching into a desk drawer to throw a standard medical folder onto her desk before Dumbledore. “Explain this. Explain this now.”


The Princess concluded her visit and was soon on her sky chariot, headed back to Canterlot. She had given firm instructions to be notified of any updates on the human colt situation. She had also requested four chests similar to the one Rarity had received, though not of such high quality. In return, she left Rarity with a bank draft for a substantial number of bits, saying that it was for both a down payment on the new chests and for repairs to George.

“Well,” Rarity said, levitating George into her home, “it certainly has been an exhilarating morning.”

“All’s well that ends well,” Pinkie agreed, bouncing along side Rarity, “and you got a super-duper terrific wonderful present to show for it.”

“Ah got vomited up by a piece a luggage.” Applejack reminded everypony. “'Exhilarating' ain’t the word ah’d use to describe this here morning.”

“Yes . . .well . . .” Rarity started, trying to compose a proper reply.

She was saved by Rainbow Dash raising a hoof and saying, “Look, you got mail.”

“You're enjoying saying that, aren’t you?” Twilight commented as an owl flew through the still open front door, carrying a large envelope.

“Hello,” Rarity said, addressing the bird. “Welcome to the Carousel Boutique, where every garment is chic, unique, and magnifique.” A minute later, the bird left without the envelope, but with a new tasty biscuit in its place.

“Did Sweetie get the new instructions that quickly?” Twilight asked as Rarity opened the envelope.

“Let me see,” Rarity said, pulling out the first piece of parchment. “No, this is from Judge Brown; it says she’s sent the results from the medical checkup.”

“Medical checkup?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“For Harry Potter.” Rarity nodded her head, retrieving a cluster of papers from the envelope. “Apparently, since I am his new guardian, they are required by law to send me a copy.”

With that, she started reading. Before she had finished the first page, her eyes had narrowed to slits, and the tears were freely flowing. Soft sobs were escaping her throat by the time she finished that page. She was audibly grinding her teeth as she started on page two. Sobs openly filled the air as she continued, and her friends looked on, with worry evident on their faces. Half way through the second page she stopped and stuffed the papers back into the envelope.

“Rarity?” Pinkie asked, creeping forward to comfort her friend.

“If I remember correctly, Fluttershy said Discord would be stopping by for tea today,” Rarity said, blinking away tears. “If I hurry, I can catch him. I need for him to take me to have a word with the Dursleys.”

“Ah don’t rightly know that you’re in the right frame of mind to have words with anypony right now,” Applejack cautioned carefully.

“Not words, Apple, darling,” Rarity said heading for the door, her voice still carrying the traces of her sobbing, “word, just a single word.”

“What word is that?” Rainbow Dash asked following closely after her friend.

Rarity’s voice became colder and harder than a diamond. “Run.”


The wards and the shop bells announced another customer. Sighing to himself Garrick Ollivander left the half-finished aspen wand on his work table and wandered to the front of his shop.

A professor, a muggle, a squib, and a witch walked into the shop. Ollivander prepared a witty quip. Suddenly, he saw the revenant in their midst. The humor in the situation evaporated. Shakily, he stepped out of the shadows and addressed the anomaly. “You're dead.” he stated.

She looked back at him defiantly and said, “I got better.”

Dumbfounded, he continued to stare.

“Yeah,” she said with a smirk, “that’s not getting old anytime soon.”


“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Twilight asked as they trailed after Rarity, heading towards Fluttershy’s.

“Ah know what ya’ll mean,” Applejack said, glancing at the back of Rarity’s head. “The thought of her finding the Dursleys right now is a might frightening.”

“No,” Pinkie said shaking her head violently, “what’s scary is that there is no possible way we can avoid showing those papers to Princess Celestia.”

As soon as those words left her mouth, Twilight stumbled, Applejack stopped in her tracks, and Rainbow Dash plummeted from the air where she had been hovering. Rarity keep moving, her single-minded quest uninterrupted.

“Um, yeah,” Rainbow said, “and on a completely unrelated topic, I need to go make sure my life insurance premiums are paid up.”

“You have a life insurance policy?” Pinkie asked.

“No,” Rainbow clarified as she shook her head, “but how hard could it be to get one?”

“Ya’ll know,” Applejack said, “that would actually be funnier if’n it warn’t a good idea.”


Sirius Black sat on a hard, straight-backed chair. He hadn’t been this comfortable in years. Who would have thought that having something to sit on besides the floor was genuinely one of the things you came to long for after even a short stay in Azkaban?

They had seemed to have forgotten about him, something he was decidedly not going to complain about. The hours he had spent sitting alone in this room were heaven compared to the alternative. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to being by himself.

The door to the room opened, and an older wizard walked in, smiling.

“Lord Black,” he said, “my name is Johnathan Taylor. I was your Grandfather’s lawyer. I was your father’s lawyer. Now, I am your lawyer.”

“I remember you.” Sirius said, staring at the wizard. “Were you the one who got me my trial?”

“To my shame,” Mr. Taylor said, shaking his head, “I had written you off. Another is responsible for your illegal imprisonment being brought to light.”

“What happens now?” Sirius asked. “Did they catch Peter? I need to catch Peter. I need to catch Peter for James and Lily.”

Mr. Taylor paused, as if cataloging what the other man had just said, then answered, “Now, we get you to St. Mungo's; you have been granted a reprieve until you stand trial, a two-and-a-half-year reprieve.”

Sirius nodded his head happily; it had been so long since he could do anything happily. “I can find Peter in two years. I can avenge James. I can avenge Lily. I have to protect Harry. I will protect Harry.”

Sighing, Johnathan Taylor could see that his client had yet to recover all his wits after his stay in Azkaban. Worse, it was entirely possible that he never would. On the bright side, everything the Lord had said validated what Miss Rutter had already claimed.


The defense class had turned out to be less painful than Harry had first feared. It had consisted of Mr. Goodman talking in front of the classroom. There was no spellwork discussed or even hinted at. After all, they had only had three days of classes: theory was the only thing within their skill range at the time.

“It is almost time for next period.” Mr. Goodman said, “Luckily, for you lot, History is up next.”

“Awwwww.” The entire class, minus Hermione, groaned.

“I vote we do double defense instead.” Scootaloo spoke up, “I doubt Professor Binns would know the difference.”

“Now, now,” Mr. Goodman said, savoring the fact that he knew something the children didn’t, “Professor Binns isn’t that bad.”

“I thought you said you went to school here,” Dean said in an accusing voice. “He is that bad, and resurrections have been banned.”

“Ah,” Mr. Goodman chuckled holding his sides, “so that was your objective.”

“Well,” Ginny huffed, “yeah.”

“That was actually a pretty creative plan,” Mr. Goodman admitted. “Your follow through needs some work, though.”

“So, you’ll let us resurrect Professor Binns?” Lavender asked eagerly.

“As tempting as that sounds,” Mr. Goodman smiled, “no. But as you may recall, there were two tutors introduced to you this morning.” He nodded toward the back of the class.

The students all turned around to find a woman was standing at the rear of the classroom quietly observing.

“Miss Weiss here has been hired as a tutor for Misses Bloom, Aloo and Belle.” Mr. Goodman continued, “The rest of you have a choice: you can stay here for your History lessons, or you can continue to attend Professor Binn’s lectures.”

“Are you serious?” Ron asked in Binn's monotone. “You can’t possibly think that’s an actual choice.”


“Discord, just the draconequus I was hoping to find.”

Looking up from his chatter with Fluttershy, Discord saw that Rarity had entered the cottage without knocking. The unicorn was headed directly toward him with an unusual look on her face.

Now, Discord hadn’t made it to a thousand plus years without developing certain instincts -- instincts that were yelling at him at the top of their non-corporeal and inaudible lungs. They weren’t stupid; there was no way they were going to put in a physical appearance. Comedic license could go stuff its head in a lake; they were staying where only Discord could hear them. So, they stayed immaterial and told Discord not to antagonize this mare. They told him to choose his words very carefully. They told him that upon choosing his words, he was to discard them and try again, because his first choice was likely to be very painful.

“Um? Hello?’ Discord said, ignoring his instincts and going with his first choice.

His instincts hollered at him, informing him he made the wrong choice, asserting that he should have chosen "Um? Bye!"

“Discord, I need you to take me to the Dursley household.”

Discord opened his mouth to say, "That wouldn’t be a good idea.", but his instincts managed to grab ahold of the words and stamp them out, before they could escape his mouth.

Instead, he said, “There is something you probably want to know first,” his gaze trapped on the sight of the predator before him.

“Do tell.” Rarity said levelly and without emotion.

“The Dursleys, they were under a lot of compulsion charms. As much as it pains me to say it, they are victims here, not the villains.”

“I see. Do you know who cast those charms?”

Discord blandly nodded his head.

“Then take me to her.” Rarity commanded.

“He’s a he,” Discord said before his instincts could catch the words.

“Won’t be when I’m done,” Rarity vowed.

Chapter 23: Dumbledore Bashing; Gratuitous Dumbledore Bashing

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With a crack and a staggering step, Myrtle Smith was once again in her family’s living room. So far, her day had shattered many of her convictions. Yesterday, she had been positive that magic was nothing more than a fantasy. Today, she knew her daughter was a witch. She knew her long-dead aunt was also a witch. She surely knew she was sick of hearing the words, “I got better.” However, it had been admittedly funny watching the goblins’ reactions to them.

She also knew she was a "squib". The small professor had explained that meant she was someone able to interact with and to perceive the magic in the world, but lacked the ability to control it. So, here she was, suddenly offered a cake she could not eat. Well, apparently, she could at least lick the frosting. Upon, learning that contact lenses were the source of the irritation in her eyes, Flitwick had shown them to a shop that sold honest to goodness potions, potions that would do exactly what the advertising promised. Fifty-two quid worth of those wizards' gold coins later, Myrtle found she would never have to wear contacts again. They had a foul-tasting purple liquid that permanently corrected your eyesight if you were a fully-grown adult. To be honest, the shop keeper had stated that it only returned one's vision to perfection, and her eyes would begin to deteriorate again over time, but, still, it was cheaper than contacts and much more comfortable. Regardless of the results, she adamantly did not want to know what the little white specks floating in the mixture were. One of them most certainly had not winked at her.

The shopping trip had been over much too quickly for Myrtle’s tastes; there was too much left unexplored and there were too many possibilities left uninvestigated. Amy had been disgruntled when she had learned it would be two years before she would be allowed to own a wand. In consolation, Myrtle had bought her daughter a broom. It was by no means a top of the line model. There had been no way Myrtle would have spent that much, with Amy being so young. However, with Amy now the proud owner of a training broom, Professor Flitwick had informed them that there were several magical families within a short drive of their home. These families had warded lands where Amy should be able to practice flying, if they were asked. Supposedly, one family even had members who had taken part in the other Myrtle’s resurrection.

Myrtle sighed, she was clearly going to need to find something else to call her aunt, even if it was just in her own head.


Standing in the shadows of an alcove, Amelia Bones watched Dumbledore storm out of Judge Brown’s offices. She had no intention of interacting with the ancient and powerful wizard at this time, but she needed to have a quick conference with the judge. Specifically, she needed to know how this was going to affect her niece, who had just started at Hogwarts.

After waiting for Dumbledore to disappear around a corner, Amelia made her way over and knocked on the office’s door. Less than a minute later she was sitting in the visitor’s chair, at a request from the judge.

“I saw Dumbledore leaving,” Amelia started. “He looked less than happy.”

“As well he should.” Judge Brown knitted her brows and pointed to a medical folder on her desk. “In the manner of a practiced politician, he claimed ignorance to the situations leading to this. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to make any charges stick. However, at the very least, he has shown that he is not up to the responsibility of being the boy’s guardian, something he seems to disagree with most vehemently.” Judge Brown sighed before continuing, “He had plans for the child, and those plans have been derailed.”

“What of the compulsion spells we found?”

“Unless you can prove Dumbledore cast them . . .” Judge Brown didn’t bother to finish the sentence.

“So, you're saying we sit back and wait?” Amelia was disgusted that there would be no reckoning for the injustices. “I have never seen a more blatant case of emotional manipulation. He obviously wants the boy to see him as the savior who ‘rescued’ him from the evil relatives.”

“He’ll just claim it was an oversight on his part. I can see it now, a few words of how he couldn’t possibly imagine how someone’s blood relatives being so cruel, etcetera, etcetera.” Judge Brown waved a hand dismissively. “Then, he’ll give that sad grandfatherly smile and beg for forgiveness; he will say he doesn’t deserve any criticism, all the while, promising to do better if we will just trust in him.”

“I find that I am unsatisfied with this outcome,” Amelia said.

Judge Brown said nothing; words were not needed.

After a few seconds Amelia asked, “What’s to happen with Potter? Has his new guardian indicated what she plans to do?”

“When I met with her, Mrs. Belle only seemed interested in protecting Potter,” Judge Brown said reaching for the medical folder. “How she reacts when she receives this report is not something I imagine will go over well with anyone.” She paused with her hand on the folder. “The one who has me concerned is her companion. Mr. Discord gives the impression of being a very powerful wizard. If he reacts violently to this news, we may find ourselves in need of a new Chief Warlock, as well as a new Minister.”

Amelia wilted slightly. “As if we haven’t had enough of shaking the government lately.”

“We will survive.” Judge Brown said, “In fact, I think we will be better for it in the long run.”

“You realize that all the sudden changes we are experiencing are the results of a foreign government’s interference?” Amelia gave the judge a questioning glance.

“Even so, the changes have been for the better.”

“Aren’t you alarmed by the abrupt and calculated nature of the power shift? Our very sovereignty may be at risk.” Amelia was unsure how to take the judge’s unconcerned attitude.

“As opposed to our slow decline into the hands of power hungry, unrepentant, murderous, bigots?” The judge sighed. “You’ve seen it just as much as I have. The Wizengamot and Ministry were only interested in the few wizards at the top. I, for one, do not begrudge the transformation, even if it were instigated by an outside influence.”

“I still don’t like it,” Amelia stated.


Chief Warlock Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was lost in his thoughts. Barely acknowledging the presence of others, he traversed the halls of the Ministry. His weapon against Voldemort had been taken from his care. With a nurturing environment, it would be harder to convince Harry that he should die for the good of Britain. Worse, there was presently the possibility that Harry would choose to flee to another dimension instead of facing his destiny of defeating the dark lord.

Now, they were all in danger of falling to the evil. It was only a matter of time before Tom put in his appearance. Make no mistake, he would be dangerous even without his power base. Once again, there would be war -- war, when they hadn’t yet recovered from the last one.

Why couldn’t the judge see this. What was the welfare of one child against the entirety of magical Britain? Of the entire magical world? Of the entire world?

Without his guidance to Potter, Voldemort would win. The death toll would be grievous.

Bemoaning the fate of the world, Albus opened the door to his offices to find that there was already an occupant. Caught off guard, he took in the appearance of the woman in the room. She was strikingly beautiful, wearing a rich burgundy dress. However, her most notable feature was her purple hair. At once, Dumbledore realized this must be a pony. Perhaps, here was an opportunity to make amends and regain control of Harry.

As soon as he stepped into the office, she fixed him with an unfriendly glower, even as Dumbledore gave her his most winning smile.

“Albus Dumbledore?” she asked, her voice coated with ice.

Valiantly, Dumbledore fought the urge to flee and answered, “Yes.”

Her eyes narrowed at the admission. “Run.”


Madam Pomfrey had put off this meeting all day. With Minerva having a free period at the end of the day, she couldn’t delay it any longer. By rights she should have brought this to the attention of the deputy headmistress last night. Normally, this would be for the headmaster’s eyes only, but circumstances made that unethical.

Much too soon, Minerva had invited Madam Pomfrey into her office and was attempting to make small talk, small talk in which Madam Pomfrey was too distracted to participate.

“Poppy?” Professor McGonagall asked worriedly, “Whatever is the matter?”

Wordlessly, Madam Pomfrey offered the medical file she was carrying as way of explanation.


“Ah can’t believe they left without us,” Applejack said as she watched Twilight finish a letter for the Princess.

“You don’t think Rarity would really do that to a stallion?” Fluttershy asked shyly. “I mean she sounded so angry, but she won’t actually do that, would she?”

“I don’t know.” Rainbow Dash admitted. “Twilight won’t let us read the ‘private medical report’, so I don’t know just how bad it is.”

“It couldn’t be that bad,” Fluttershy asked, “could it?”

“Ah think it might just be.” Applejack tipped her hat forward with a hoof. “Y’all didn’t see Rarity’s reaction as she was reading it.”

“And we’re sending this to Princess Celestia. Why?” Spike asked from his spot standing next to Twilight.

“She asked for all updates,” Twilight responded, clipping a ribbon around the completed letter, “so I made a copy for her.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Spike persisted, eyeing the paper as if it were a live serpent.

“No,” Twilight said, “I’m positive that it’s a bad idea.”


Lecturing in front of her third-year class, Professor Sprout’s head suddenly snapped up. She could feel the wards. She could feel the wards of Hogwarts!

That wasn’t good. For the wards to pass to her meant that Albus, Minerva, and Filius were all not available to take them. She knew that Albus and Filius were in London on separate chores, but where the heck had Minerva gone?


Dumbledore was a world-renowned duelist. He was one of the very few individuals who could go toe to toe with Mad Eye Moody and walk away the winner. In short, he was not a slouch when it came to one-on-one combat.

Before him was a woman that looked like she was more used to the finer things in life than to fighting. In fact, Rarity, wasn’t a warrior by any stretch of the imagination. She was a fashion designer, a seamstress. Her talent lay not only in her eye for design, but also in her ability to levitate multitudes of objects simultaneously, positioning things swiftly and precisely, and having them interact to fulfill her creative vision.

Dumbledore knew countless spells and counter spells. He was a virtual encyclopedia of combat tactics. Few in the wizarding world could match his skill, or his raw power.

If, in terms of raw power, Celestia were the sun, then Rarity might be a spark. Raw strength was not a part of the Element of Generosity's repertoire; in terms of relevant magical abilities, Rarity could levitate many things at once, positioning them with an artist's precision and an automaton's speed.

Dumbledore survived several wars, doing his best to take down his opponents with the least amount of injuries while simultaneously neutralizing their attacks.

Rarity was in an alien form, and was she was channeling her magic through a stick of wood instead of her horn.

Dumbledore had sensed the hostility in the young woman and was more than prepared for conflict; he could stun her before she got her first spell off. From the way in which she grasped her wand like a cudgel, he could see she had no experience with using it for magic. He expected he would be in far more danger of her using it as a blunt instrument.

Rarity had no idea how to cast spells with her wand; all she could do was use it to levitate things.

Dumbledore was experienced. Dumbledore was headmaster of Hogwarts. Dumbledore was Chief Warlock. Dumbledore was Supreme Mugwump. Dumbledore was an acclaimed combatant. Dumbledore was a power to be feared. Dumbledore was not to be trifled with. Dumbledore was a formidable opponent, but as with all of the physical world, he was still a thing. Has it been mentioned that Rarity was rather good at levitating things? She used no spells for what she did; it was all second nature.


In every corner of the palace, alarms were blaring. Guard ponies ran around with looks of panic, doing their best to herd the stampede of citizens out of harm’s way.

“Code Tempest! Code Tempest!” one of the guard ponies with officer markings was yelling at the top of his unicorn-amplified lungs. “We have a Code Tempest! This is not a drill!”

“What the buck was in that letter?!” demanded a junior officer as he skidded to a stop.

“Obviously, somepony’s death warrant. Now shut up and go muster the fire suppression squad!”


Following the screaming, Amelia ran down the corridor with a small squad of aurors flanking her. Soon she felt the Wham! Wham! Wham! of something repeatedly coming into forceful contact with the walls.

“What’s going on here?” she demanded loudly as she came upon the scene.

“When all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail,” Mr. Discord commented from beside her, somewhere he most assuredly hadn’t been just a second ago. “Let’s just call Dumbledore a nail, shall we?”

“Looks more like a racquetball to me,” one of the junior aurors noted.

“Stop her!” Amelia demanded of the foreign wizard. She then yelled at the duelist, “Mrs. Belle I know you have a good reason to be upset, but please calm down!”

“Do I look particularly suicidal?” Discord asked in return.

“Non-lethal spells only!” Amelia yelled to her men. “Bring her down!”

Spells started flying, and things started levitating to block them. Chairs intercepted stunners. Those annoying little plants people think look good in hallways stopped binding spells. Portraits torn off the walls screamed as they met confusion bolts. A Chief Warlock was subjected to a multitude of auror-induced indignities. The occasional auror blocked their own spells in most the embarrassing manners.

In all thirty-seven spells clashed with impromptu shields. Luckily, for Dumbledore, thirty-eight spells had been cast. A bolt of red magic hit Rarity from a blind side and she tumbled, bonelessly, to the floor. Dumbledore followed soon thereafter.


“Sister?” a dark blue pony asked as she approached the center of what remained of the throne room. “Why do you rampage so? What news could bring such fury to your kind person? How has it come to be that you would disregard the safety of our subjects in such an undisciplined manner?”

From her position in the center of the scorched destruction, Princess Celestia was still breathing heavily as she levitated a surprisingly unburnt scroll over for her younger sister to see.

Inquisitively, Princess Luna accepted the missive in her own telekinetic field and began to read.


A furious witch stalked the halls of the Wizengamot, intent on doing harm. Witches and wizards who saw her coming leapt to get out of her way. The security detail showed amazing survival instincts and waived the mandatory wand weighing.

Spotting a cluster of aurors, she stormed up and snapped, “Amelia, have you seen Albus?”

Abruptly, the personnel within earshot all went quiet. Astonishment manifested on the face of every individual. There was no one present who didn’t look up to this witch, and fear her on some level. Never before had they heard her use that tone.

Amelia sighed and said, “I’m sorry Minerva; Mrs. Belle found him first.”

“I see,” the witch said, impatiently tapping a foot, “did she leave anything for me?”


“Pinkie!” Twilight yelled, trotting over to her friend sitting in the corner. “You shouldn’t read that. It’s a confidential medical report.”

“I had to know,” Pinkie stated, her normally poufy mane deflating into straight lengths on the sides of her head. “I had to know what could upset Rarity so much.”

“Yup,” Rainbow noted, “it’s that bad. Maybe we should go get Rarity before she does something she’ll regret later.”

“How are we supposed to do that?” Applejack asked. “She took Discord with her.”

“I don’t know, but we should think of something.” Rainbow pointedly looked at Twilight.

“Until Discord returns, there is not much we can do.” Twilight shook her head. “I’m just hoping Princess Celestia isn’t too upset with what’s in this report.”

“Don’t worry.” Fluttershy comforted her friend. “Princess Luna is at the castle; I-I-I’m sure she can calm Princess Celestia if worst comes to worst.”


In every corner of the palace, alarms were blaring. Guard ponies ran around with looks of panic, doing their best to herd the stampede of citizens out of harm’s way.

“Code Nightshade! Code Nightshade!” one of the guard ponies with officer markings was yelling at the top of his unicorn-amplified lungs. “We have a Code Nightshade! This is not a drill!”

“For the love of Equestria, somepony get that letter away from them!” a junior officer yelled.

“Nopony is that suicidal!” another officer snapped.


Standing over a work table, reading snippets of articles, Barnabas Cuffe had a problem, a wonderfully magnificent problem. He could not decide what the next banner headline of the "Daily Prophet" should be. The paper only put out an evening edition as needed, and never before had there been such a glaring need.

"Sirius Black Released from Azkaban" would have been spectacular in its own right. The fact that, "Dumbledore Receives Thrashing from Angry Parent" was also in the running made the choice downright absurd. Each story was worthy of its own banner headline. Both were events that no one could have predicted. Literally, just yesterday, no one would have believed either possible. Absolutely nothing could top them.

Humming to himself, Barnabas tried to hash out a way to fit both dramas into the same headline.

Abruptly, one of his head reporters, Rita Skeeter, ran into the room radiating excitement. “I’ve got the headline story for tonight’s edition,” she exclaimed confidently.

Barnabas openly chuckled at her. “I doubt you can top what we’ve already got. Ten years of illegal imprisonment is hard to surpass, not to mention, our Chief Warlock getting his arse kicked by some school mum.”

“Oh, I’ve got those beat hands down,” she said, waving her hand dismissively at the layout on the table. “Some Hogwarts students resurrected 'Moaning Myrtle' Warren. She’s been seen in the Alley getting supplies to resume classes.”

“They did what, now?!”


Applejack hated leaving the library while Rarity was still out doing Celestia knows what, but she needed to get the Apple family wagon back to the farm. The market was closed for the day, and if it hadn’t been for the flower sisters helpfully minding her wares, Applejack would not have made any bits today. She had given them a couple bushels of apples in gratitude. The ecstatic thanks she had received for that act showcased their sincere appreciation.

As fast as she could safely manage it, Applejack approached her homestead. There, she was met with a sight she wasn’t expecting. Her older brother, Big Mac, was transferring buckets of apples from a wagon to the cold cellar for storage. It was not an unusual sight, but it positively was one she should not be seeing at that time.

“Big Mac!” she said as she quickly detached herself from the market wagon. “What are y’all doing here? Ya were supposed to make a delivery of apples tonight. Is everything a’right?”

Her brother gave her a lazy stare as she trotted up to him. Laconically, he drawled, “Eeeyup.”

“Did they cancel the order?” Applejack asked.

“Nnnope.”

“Did they change the time of delivery?”

“Nnnope.”

“Then why in tarnation are you standing here?”

“Ah sent mah owl,” Big Mac slowly explained.

“Y’all did what, now?” Applejack gaped at her brother.

“Owl.” Big Mac reiterated.

“What?” Applejack restated.

Big Mac reached beneath his harness and retrieved a letter to hoof over to his sister.

After reading, Applejack said, "Apple Bloom sent you an owl with a magic pouch?”

Big Mac nodded his head.

“It ain’t a pony-eating pouch by any chance?”

The red stallion looked shiftily from one side to the other. "Mmmmaybe?"


Walking into a St Mungo’s waiting room, Healer Davis approached the waiting duo of aurors. “He’ll live,” he stated.

“How bad was it?” the lead auror asked.

“I’ve heard the phrase, ‘break every bone in your body’, before.” Healer Davis sighed and ran a hand through his brown hair. “But, this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone attempt it literally.”

“He’s got a date with a bottle of Skele-Gro then?” the other auror inquired.

“More like two bottles.” Davis said, “We had to vanish every single bone while temporarily replacing the skeleton with magic, and then pour the potion down his throat. Whatever was it he did to provoke this?”

“I’m not sure,” the second auror said, “but Director Bones said that the witch had good reason to be upset. Whatever Dumbledore did is now on my list of things to never ever do.”


There was a flash of flames, and the Gryffindor herd materialized in the girl’s dorm room.

“Where are all the beds?” Parvati asked upon seeing that the room had been rearranged. The tasteful Victorian furnishings were all gone; only their trunks had been left behind, placed at even intervals along the interior walls. The room now looked much like a setting for a traditional creche, with a large pile of straw near the window and a wooden manger filled with clean water.

“They turned our dorm room into a stable,” Lavender said as she watched Magah trot over to sample the water.

“Speaking of her,” Hermione said, surveying the room, “has anyone else noticed that we haven’t had to clean up after Magah yet?”

“Maybe she's constipated?” Seamus suggested with a shrug.

“For two days?” Parvati asked.

“Don’t be silly,” Scootaloo said. “The bathroom's just right over there; I’m sure she can fit through the door.”

“Somehow, I don’t think forest unicorns are civilized enough to use a toilet,” Hermione said.

“Eeeew!” Apple Bloom said, “That’s just Eeeew.”

Sweetie walked over to the chests and opened one of the more ornate ones at random. “It’s not like we don’t have portable apartments just waiting for us.”

“Way to change the subject, Sweetie,” Dean said.

“Noticed that, did you?” Sweetie said, disappearing into the trunk. “Oh, this one’s Ginny’s; come on down.”

“Third day of class, done!” Lavender said triumphantly, flopping onto a chair once she had descended the stairs.

“It does seem like it should be more than that.” Dean commented, “A lot sure has happened in just three school days.”

“You’re just getting used to a new routine,” Hermione said. “I’m sure things will go quicker once this week is done.”

Ginny snorted. “This week feels like it took months already.”

“Yeah, I'm sure it does,” Parvati said, heading to the kitchenette. “I guess it’s my turn to whip up some tea.”

“So,” Apple Bloom said, turning to Harry, “welcome to tha herd.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo echoed, “welcome.”

“Thank you,” Harry said.

After a second, Dean piped up. “Hey, don’t we get a welcome too? We’re all part of the Gryffindor Herd.”

“You wanna join too?” Sweetie Belle asked curiously.

“Two stallions,” Scootaloo breathed greedily.

“We are all pretty much a herd, already,” Parvati called from the kitchen area.

“Yeah.” Ginny nodded her head in agreement. “Friends and all.”

Scootaloo reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a blank scroll and quill. “Are you sure?”

“What’s to be sure about?” Neville asked quietly. “I really like being around all you guys.”

“Three stallions!” Scootaloo nearly smudged the writing she was hastily putting down on the scroll.

Apple Bloom sat, stunned, with her eyes wide open.

“Don’t look so shocked Apple.” Seamus teased, “How could we not love you already? You’re the life of the party.”

“Four.” Sweetie squeaked.

Scootaloo nudged Ginny and said, “Here, sign under the Filly column.”

“I’m in, too,” Ron said from where he was sneaking biscuits from a box Parvati had opened.

Apple Bloom started hyperventilating.

“Calm down, Apple Bloom,” Hermione said, reaching for the quill. “Cutie Mark Crusader’s Herd?”

“We already have that name on file,” Sweetie explained.

“Isn’t it silly signing a paper just to say we are a herd?” Dean asked as he put his name down. “After all, we already know we are a herd.”

“Got to make it official,” Scootaloo informed him.

“Oh,” Lavender said, adding her mark, “okay.”


In a small apartment, somewhere south of London, a girl named Abagail was doing her homework. History was not her favorite subject, but her mother had grounded her, so playing outside before dinner wasn’t an option. Who knew sawdust was that flammable anyway?

Sighing, she reread the last paragraph before turning to her paper to write down the answer to the assigned question. Startled and slightly disgusted she saw that a bug had crawled onto her work. Not wanting guts all over her clean sheet, Abagail started to reach for the page so that she could flick the offending insect out the window. She stopped when she the bug had placed a foreleg on some of her previous writing and was somehow drawing the ink into itself.

Mesmerized, she watched as the bug traversed the paper, leaving a trail of ink behind it. The resulting marks were like no language she had known of or even imagined, but she had the distinct impression that it was a language. For ten minutes, she watched the antics, and slowly, the meaning of the marks shifted into her awareness. Blinking in surprise she looked away, then looked back. The words were still there, even more legible than they had been just a few seconds earlier.

Barely able to believe what was happening, Abagail reread what was written to make sure she understood. After being positive she comprehended the message, she took a deep breath and called out, “Mum! There’s a beetle in here trying to tempt me with riches and dark powers!”

“Tell it to come back Friday. Tonight’s a school night, and you’re still grounded.”

Chapter 24: News Networking and Neighing

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The dying rays of the sun cast long shadows on the few ponies left in town hall. The business day had ended long ago. Mayor Mare herself had scarcely put the key in her office door when she sprang back to avoid the fireball that accompanied the crack of displaced air.

As she peeled herself out of the plaster on the freshly-repaired wall, the fireball resolved itself into a familiar firebird. Once her hooves were solidly on the floor, she scolded the bird. "Philomena! You should be ashamed of yourself! You know better than to go around scaring old gray mares!" She groaned as she mentally tallied the cost of redoing that repair yet again.

Philomena trilled at her lightly in response. She did not chuckle; Mayor Mare was adamant that phoenixes could not chuckle. It didn't matter what it looked like. It did not matter what it sounded like. Mayor Mare would swear on her honor that Philomena did not chuckle.

“What brings you here so late?” the mayor asked, dusting off a fetlock with one hoof.

Philomena held out a claw and offered the mayor a scroll.

“So,” the mayor said, accepting the scroll, “they still have you pulling mail duty?”

Philomena trilled happily.

“Let’s see what you brought me.” The mayor took the scroll in her mouth and placed it on a nearby table. Taking an end of the ribbon in her teeth, she opened the scroll and then began perusing the first few lines. “The Crusaders want to update their herd agreement?”

As she continued reading, she stepped back. Her eyeballs nearly pushed off her glasses, and her lower jaw made a plucky attempt to meet with the ground even though the mayor was standing.


Alone in the stark room, Rarity fidgeted in her chair, like a school filly about to be scolded by her teacher. She daintily kept her hands in her lap as she looked over the back of the empty chair on the opposite side of the table. The doorknob had not moved one iota since she started keeping watch. Her fury had waned and reduced itself to a low simmer. Maybe she had gone too far. Attacking a high government official inside a government building couldn’t possibly endear her to the locals. Now she sat, waiting to face the music.

Then again, maybe she hadn’t gone far enough. After all, she had missed her opportunity to separate the old stallion from his two best friends. Now, the old stallion would doubtlessly turn tail and run at the sight of her. That was a true pity because now he would never understand just how livid she was at him.

The door to the room opened and a lone human stallion entered. “Mrs. Belle?” he said, running his hand through his red mane and stopping just inside the chamber. “May I please come in?”

Continuing to be impressed by the politeness of her captors, Rarity nodded her head to indicate the empty chair on the opposite side of the lone table. “By all means.” She said apprehensively, “After all, I am your detainee.”

“You misunderstand,” the stallion said, taking the proffered seat. “I am not an auror, nor am I here in my capacity as head of department. My name is Arthur Weasley; Sweetie Belle has appointed me as her proxy. Since I accepted, that makes our families allies.”

“Allies you say?” Rarity gave a weak smile. “That is refreshing to hear. Although, I do wish we could have met under better circumstances.”

“Yes,” Arthur said nodding, “this situation does present a sticky wicket. You see, my family has been a staunch supporter of Dumbledore and his policies. Your actions today are at odds with what we would normally condone.”

“I see,” Rarity said, some of the friendliness going out of her voice. “You wish to defend Dumbledore’s actions?”

“No,” he said placing his hands on the table and folding them, “I don’t know what actions I’d be defending. On top of that, Minerva stormed in here looking for Dumbledore soon after your altercation.” Arthur paused to select his next words. “Even though she has always supported Dumbledore in the past, she seemed bent on doing something similar to what you had already accomplished.” He paused again then added, “I thought it best that I gave a full disclosure of my position before you found out another way. I don’t want you thinking I was deliberately misleading you.”

“Thank you,” Rarity said as warmth returned to her words. “Your sincerity is appreciated.”

“I don’t want to make you angry,” Arthur admitted.

Rarity gave a reassuring smile to show that she was harmless.

“Madam Bones has gone on record to state that you had ample reason to challenge Dumbledore to a duel.” Arthur proceeded, “Furthermore, she insists that you would not know the legitimate process to accomplish this.” Arthur looked her directly in the eyes. “If you had not ambushed Dumbledore in his office and had instead called for a formal duel, the aurors would not have interfered.”

“Honestly?” Rarity perked up at the news. “Isn’t that a bit . . . uncouth?”

“Perhaps,” Arthur agreed. “Dueling is highly discouraged, but it remains a legal option.”

“May I ask what happens now?”

“Now I give you this,” Arthur said, removing Rarity’s wand from his coat pocket and rolling it across the desk to her. “Then, as an ally, I politely ask you to leave British soil and not return anytime soon.”

“So, I’m being banished?”

“Not so much banished,” Arthur shook his head, “as being encouraged not to put in an appearance for a couple months. Maybe as much as a year.”

“That seems rather merciful.” Rarity was flabbergasted at the turn of events. “I was sure I’d be in more trouble.”

“Dumbledore attempted to use his position to meddle in private family affairs, even after you formally approached our government, asking for the sanctity of family matters to be observed.” Arthur informed her, “Your mistake was ambushing him without filing a blood feud first. As it is, the Ministry is hoping you don’t file a complaint with the ICW; they are even more unbending with family sanctity than we are.”

“I see,” Rarity said. “They want to sweep this under the rug, so to speak.”

“Basically,” Arthur confessed, “yes.”

Rarity gave a winning smile. "Thank you for your advice, and your candor, Mr. Weasley. I must warn you, however, I am a guardian, and I take that responsibility seriously.


Applejack stuck her head in the farmhouse and called out, “Granny! Ah’m ‘fraid Ah’m not going to be a’ staying for dinner. Something's come up an' ah need to get mah flank back over ta Twilight’s.”

“All righty,” Granny Smith replied from the kitchen, “you git along and take care of business then. Thar will be leftovers in the icebox when you amble back.”

“Thank you kindly,” Applejack said.

“’Fore you go: Big Mac has a new owl, one y'all will be seeing hanging about.” Granny warned, “The owl seems a right friendly sort, but the bag he wears is a mite grabby.”

“Ah’ll keep that in mind.” Applejack shuddered. “Ah’ve already been vomited up by one piece o’ luggage today.”

“’Fore this afternoon, Ah’d have been inclined to ask you to explain that thar statement.”


The Gryffindor herd was having a nice, lazy supper when the owls came, delivering a special evening edition of the "Daily Prophet". After receiving his, Percy took one look at the headline and said, “Sweetie!”

Sweetie Belle dropped the turkey leg she had been gnawing on and said, “Yeah, yeah. I know. Just pass it down please. I really need to get my own subscription.”

Harry silently put down his pumpkin juice, and Hermione scampered behind Sweetie to read over her shoulder. “Black Freed from Azkaban and Belles Do the Impossible,” she read aloud for everyone to hear and shot Sweetie a questioning look.

“No,” Sweetie said, “I didn’t free anyone from an Azkaban. I don’t even know what an Azkaban is.”

“It’s the wizard prison,” Percy said, coming to stand next to Hermione. “Black was the man who betrayed Harry’s parents to You-Know-Who.”

“What?” Harry gave Percy his full and undivided attention.

“Didn’t you know?” Percy asked. “He was the Dark Lord’s second in command. He told the Dark Lord where to find your parents. Then, if that weren't enough, he was in the process of hunting down another of his childhood friends when the aurors finally caught up with him -- unfortunately, not before he murdered a street full of muggles. I can’t think of any good reason that the Ministry would free him; he must have escaped, and that’s very bad news.”

“Hurry up and read the story!” Harry said with a hint of anger coloring his voice.

Hermione complied and started reading, “'Editor's Note: Today we discovered that our fundamental truths are wrong. The shocks have been both numerous and overwhelming. In the end, we could not decide on a single lead story. Instead, we shall start with a brief summary of all the news in our lead story, with references to the story in depth for each item. In brief, Sirius Black had been released on his own recognizance due to the Ministry's violation of its own laws' . . ." Hermione looked up and turned to Percy. "It looks like he didn't escape after all."

“This is horrid news.” Percy rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Maybe Harry can use that old rite to claim retribution and get him thrown back into Azkaban.”

“That might be worth looking into,” Parvati agreed. “We should see about getting a lawyer for Harry.”

“Is there any more about him?” Harry asked, gritting his teeth and fighting back tears.

‘Just a sec,” Hermione said flipping through pages. “Here we go. New Wizengamot member Alice Rutter proclaims Black's innocence, proves Ministry has violated his rights for a decade. Yadda yadda, yadda yadda . . . Black's lawyer says Black is obsessed with ensuring Harry Potter's welfare? He accuses Peter Pettigrew of the betrayal of Harry's parents. Wait a minute! A 100,000 galleon reward for the capture and conviction of Peter Pettigrew for aiding and abetting the murders of James and Lily Potter?!"

“That doesn’t sound like a follower of You-Know-Who,” Lavender said. “And I thought Peter was dead.”

“A hundred thousand galleons!” Ron gasped. “You’d be set for life with that, you would.”

“I don’t care about the money!” Harry all but shouted, “Someone has to be lying! I just want to know who killed my parents!”

Scootaloo came over and wrapped her arms around Harry in a heartfelt hug. “We’ll help you find justice, no matter what,” she whispered.

“The Gryffindor herd stands with you,” Neville vowed, and his statement met a round of agreement from the rest of the first-years.

“Just to be certain,” Dean spoke up, “do any of the other stories have anything to do with Harry’s parents?”

Hermione quickly skimmed the editor's note. “No, it’s just about our resurrection attempts.” Then, her voice took on an appalled tone. “And someone named Rarity Belle beat our headmaster to a pulp in an illegal duel and duffed up six aurors when they tried to break it up.”


Walking into the Ministry's atrium, Arthur Weasley saw the two women he wanted to talk to standing next the center statue, conversing with each other.

“She was more than willing to do as we asked," Arthur said as he walked up to Amelia Bones and Judge Brown. “She seems remorseful that she’s caused us difficulties.”

“That’s good to hear.” Amelia said, “We’ve avoided some very serious complications that we cannot afford right now.”

“It’s also good to hear that she’s sorry for attacking Dumbledore,” Judge Brown said. “Not having to worry about her finishing what she started is a relief.”

“Oh no,” Arthur said with a shake of his head. “She apologized for causing a scene and taking down the aurors. I’m pretty sure she wants another go at Dumbledore.”

“Tell me again how Mr. Discord is the one we have to worry about," Amelia said to Judge Brown.


A flash of light heralded the newest additions to the occupants of the library.

A pink blur screamed. “Rarity!”

“Oooooof!” Wham! Thump! Thump! Thump!

The bits of purple and white peeking out from under the blanket of pink spoke in a strained voice. “Pinkie, darling, I am glad to see you as well . . . could you, please, get off me now?”

“Discord, welcome back.” Fluttershy bashfully walked up to her friend. “Thank you for helping Rarity. I hope things didn’t get too hectic. Did Rarity manage to civilly chastise the stallion she was mad at?"

Rainbow Dash looked down at the draconequus rolling on the floor laughing. “Yeah,” she said, deadpan, “that’s not a good sign.”


“Time to fly! Time to fly!”

"Scoots,” Lavender snapped, “Change it up a bit.”

"Time to fly! Kiss the sky! Thread the needle through the eye!"

“Ah hope Madam Hooch doesn’t mind that we’re bringing ‘borrowed’ brooms instead of using the schools'.” Apple Bloom watched Scootaloo bounce around the herd, gleefully waving her own broom as they walked down the halls.

“See the box? Mind the walls! Stay inside or take the fall.”

“Do you think she’ll mind the rest of us tagging along?” Harry asked, hefting one of the twins' brooms. “We did get flying time second period after all.”

“Point to point, wing to wing, roll like clockwork with a spring.”

“I can’t believe Hermione decided to go to the library instead,” Dean said.

“See the rain cloud way up high? Squeeze until you make it cry.”

“I can’t believe the Weasley brothers had eight Nimbus 2000’s just waiting around in their trunks,” Parvati said. “That’s almost enough for each of us to ride one.”

“Find a thunderhead and churn. Unleash the lightning; feel the burn.”

“We can take turns,” Sweetie said her hands empty as she had handed Seamus her own broom. “Later, we can owl order more brooms, and all of us will have one next time.”

“Higher in the sky you sail. Drop the hammer; hit the nail.”

“I don’t think the Weasley’s have that much room left in their trunks,” Harry noted.

“Climb up high until you stop. Mind your tail when you drop.”

“So, we’ll get them new trunks first.” Apple Bloom shrugged dismissively.

“Around and 'round and 'round you whirl. Make a tube and shoot the curl.”

“The fact that you say that so casually is slightly troubling,” Parvati said. “I think you might be missing a true appreciation for the value of a galleon.”

“Loop and loop and loop and tuck. Show the cloverleaf for luck. Spin like a maple seed on down. Float like a thistle seed to ground." Scootloo kept bouncing.

“That’s better.” Neville smiled gratefully as her chant ended.


“Hold that thought,” Twilight said. heading for the front door. “Just let me see who it is. I don’t want to miss any of this story.”

“Take your time,” Rarity said smiling at a protective and blushing Spike; he had been lavishing her with attention ever since she got back. “We’ve just gotten Pinkie calmed down enough to listen. A few more minutes to compose ourselves would not go unappreciated.”

“But,” Pinkie protested, “I was so worried about you!”

“Oh! Princess Celestia! Princess Luna!” Twilight said, surprised at whom she found on the other side of her door. “I wasn’t expecting you. Won’t you come in?”

“Hello Twilight, my faithful student.” The distinct, motherly voice of Celestia wafted into the main room as the mare herself soon followed. “I was hoping to find Discord here. I would like him to take us to have a few words with somepony.”

“I’m sorry,” Fluttershy said. “You just missed him. He said something about needing to have a conversation with a new friend.”

“Discord is continuing to make new friends?” Celestia said with a knowing smile on her face. “That is most pleasing news.”

“He was also singing some weird song about playing a silver ball,” Applejack noted, “an’ a deaf dumb blind kid. Maybe that thar 'Tommy' is the new friend he was talking about.”

“You can never tell with him,” Celestia said, “but his efforts to make friends on his own is a step in the right direction.”

“Princess Celestia?”

“Yes Pinkie?” Celestia answered patiently.

“Why are you and Princess Luna wearing full barding and your greatswords?”


“I see you’re all ready to go,” Madam Hooch said as she entered the courtyard full of students, “and you brought your own brooms?”

“We borrowed them from the Weasley brothers,” Sweetie offered helpfully as she selected one of the school brooms for her ride, while Magah once again began cropping up grass.

Madam Hooch openly laughed at the student, “Girl! Don’t think you lot are the first to use that particular loophole. No upper-year is going to let a bunch of first years borrow a Nimbus, let alone eight, without something happening in the background.”

“You’re not angry?” Parvati asked also selecting a school broom.

“As long as you keep passing grades, I’ll not raise a fuss,” the flying instructor said. “If I hear tell of just one of you slacking, I’ll confiscate the lot of them, no matter who says they own them.”

As one, the group turned to look at Ron, who gulped audibly.

“Consider it an incentive, boy,” Madam Hooch said, noting the looks.

Ron quickly nodded his acceptance.

“And you, girl,” Madam Hooch focused her attention on Apple Bloom, “a school broom might be a good idea for you; that one you are holding is more of a handful than you’re ready for.”

“Me an’ this broom have an understanding,” Apple Bloom said with a small shake of her head.

“Oh?” Madam Hooch asked.

“Yeah; it don’t buck me an’ I don’t turn it into kindling.”

Madam Hooch chuckled and said, “We’ll see. Okay now, all of you mount your brooms like I showed you earlier.”

“Waaahoooo!” There was a distinct red shift as the voice faded into the background.

“That wasn’t permission to lift off!” Madam Hooch shouted at the receding black and purple blur.

“Save your breath,” Ginny advised. “Once she’s in the air, she’s in a world of her own.”

“How long has she been flying like that?” Madam Hooch watched as Scootaloo began her aerial ballet.

“What day is it?” Sweetie asked.

“Tuesday,” Madam Hooch said.

“Then it’s been a week.” Ron shrugged. “She’s a natural.”

“I hope you’re not expecting us to do that,” Lavender said in awe.

“No, no.” Madam Hooch shook her head. “She’s already pulled three impossible moves -- literally impossible. What she’s doing is beyond me. What she’s doing is beyond professional quidditch level. What she's doing is beyond any witch or wizard, ever.”

“I can just sit and watch her for hours,” Ron admitted.

The class's eyes followed Scootaloo’s antics as she continued to waltz across the sky.

“Yeah,” Dean agreed, “you could sell tickets for this.”

After watching for a couple minutes more, Madam Hooch said, “Okay, the rest of you, mount your brooms; let’s give this another try.”


“You seem to have had a very busy day,” Princess Celestia said looking at Rarity, “first your new trunk, then a foray into the heart of an alien government.”

“Truly a notable occasion,” Luna added. “In one afternoon, thou hast managed to assault one of their head officials -- spectacularly, in the center of their very seat of power. Then, thou didst in due course lay waste to several of their peace keepers.”

“Then,” Princess Celestia continued, “instead of punishment, you received a polite request to leave their country and to not come back until you could behave properly.”

“A request motivated by their desire not to incite an international incident,” Luna noted.

“I must say,” Celestia stated, “I find that we are greatly disappointed.”

“Indeed!” Luna agreed. “Did thou not think we would wish to accompany thou? Now, we need wait for the scoundrel to mend before we may have a significant conversation.”

“Yes,” Celestia said, “it would appear that we got all dressed up for nothing.”


Professor McGonagall was waiting for the first-years when they reentered the castle. “I do hope you behaved for Madam Hooch,” she said passing a stern gaze over the collection of students, “I hear your earlier attempts left much room for improvement.”

The children nodded their heads and Ginny said, “Apple Bloom managed to stay upright the entire time.”

“Ah’m getting better,” Apple Bloom agreed. “It jus’ took some practice.”

“Very good.” Professor McGonagall allowed a thin smile to pass her lips. “Now, if you all would follow me, you have garnered the attention of the Ministry and they have sent some representatives to ask you some questions and, maybe, witness a demonstration.”

“A demonstration?” Harry asked, shrinking behind Magah.

“Yes,” Professor McGonagall said, “Miss Granger is already with them and has gathered the needed materials. They would request that you repeat your performance with Miss Warren. I assume you will be needing your phoenix, but I don’t see her.”

“I had her deliver a quick message to Rarity,” Sweetie said. “I almost forgot about it, but she should be back soon.”


“Well,” Rainbow Dash said as Princess Celestia nuzzled her pet in greeting, “what does it say?”

“Let’s see,” Rarity said unfurling the scroll. “'Dear Rarity, You are having way too much fun with that trunk.'”

“Y’all need to work with her on her definition of fun,” Applejack insisted.


“I’m glad the twins showed up to take the brooms,” Seamus said as they entered an unused classroom to find Hermione and three others waiting. “Saves us from lugging them around.”

“I think they wanted to grill us over our flying lessons,” Sweetie said noticing that Hermione was accompanied by two wizards and a witch.

“Children,” Professor McGonagall said, ushering the rest of the students and unicorn into the room then closing the door behind herself, “this is Mr. Croaker. He has some questions for you.”

One of the wizards stepped forward and said, “I am so glad to see you all tonight. You’ve performed a remarkable feat of magic that has the potential of helping many individuals. We’d like to record the details for the betterment of all of wizarding kind.”

Parvati shuffled her feet, “Shouldn’t we wait for Philomena to get back first? She danced around the ritual circle the first two times; it may be important.”

“That’s not really part of the instructions,” Hermione objected as she gave the chalked circle in the middle of the room one more inspection.

“She’s a phoenix,” Parvati said.

“It really wasn’t dancing,” Dean noted, “It was more like hopping and bobbing her head.”

“She’s a phoenix.” Parvati repeated.

“How important could it possibly be?” Ron asked.

“Hello!” Parvati said. “Phoenix acting oddly right before bringing the dead back to life?! I hope I’m not the only one here that thinks that it might be important.”

“You're right,” Hermione conceded. “We should wait for Philomena.”

“Try to do everything exactly how you did it before,” Mr. Croaker encouraged as he studied the setup Hermione had arranged. “With rituals, little details matter.”

“Don’t forget the doll,” Dean said nodding.

“What?” Scootaloo asked. "We didn’t have a doll last time."

“Never mind.” Dean shook his head.

Magah stood next to a wall, watching the proceedings and nervously tapping her forehooves as she drank in all the details.

“Any idea how long until your phoenix returns?” the unnamed witch asked taking notes as she watched.

There was a flash of flames and the bird in question appeared.

“Em-peek-able timing.” Scootaloo grinned widely.

“Impeccable.” Sweetie Belle and Hermione automatically corrected.

“That’s what she said,” chimed Harry, Neville, Dean, Lavender and Ginny before Scootaloo opened her mouth.

Philomena took one look at the circle on the floor, trilled and landed next to it. She then proceeded to hop around it, bobbing her head the entire time.

“See?” Parvati pointed, “Tell me that’s not important.”

“Needing a phoenix does significantly limit the availability of this ritual,” Mr. Croaker said frowning and the witch taking notes scribbled on her scroll furiously.

“Where’s the victim?” Dean asked, looking around for a ghost.

“I am right here,” a woman said, floating through the back wall of the classroom. “I was just waiting my summons.”

“Thank you for participating, Helena.” Professor McGonagall inclined her head at the ghost.

“This is too great of an opportunity to pass up.” The ghost smiled in return. “It is worth the risk.”

Suddenly, Magah whinnied loudly, staring at the newly appeared ghost. After screaming, the unicorn rushed over to the closed door and turned. The door was thoroughly bucked, twice. It flew off its hinges. The equine then escaped through the opening.

“My unicorn isn’t that great,” Seamus said, “but that was obviously ‘Ah hell no!’”

“Language, Mr. Finnigan,” Professor McGonagall admonished.

“Sorry,” Seamus said.

Magah trotted back into the room, grabbed Sweetie Belle by the collar of her robe and exited once again, dragging the girl with her.

“Hey!” Sweetie yelled as she was forced to exit.

“Um,” Neville said, “I didn’t see that coming.”

Magah trotted back into the room, grabbed Hermione by her robe’s collar then left the room once more.

“I don’t think she likes this ritual,” Harry observed.

Magah trotted back into the room and left again.

“Hey! That thar bow is connected to mah mane!”

“That looked painful,” Parvati observed.

Magah trotted back in and out again.

“Ow! Ow!” Ginny complained, “I’m coming. I’m coming. Don’t pull.”

“Yup,” Parvati said, heading for the door on her own, “we have an established pattern.”

Magah trotted back in and grabbed Neville.

The rest of the children followed her out, not wanting to be dragged.

The remaining wizard who had yet to say anything opened his mouth and said, “Never in my life have I ever thought I’d say this, but it looks like the resurrection is called on account of unicorn.”

Chapter 25: Paperwork

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The melodic chime of the doorbell reminded Emma Granger how much she hated Wednesdays. All the difficult cases seemed to crop up on that day, and it would not surprise her at all if it were some poor sod in need of an emergency root canal waiting at the door. The first rays of dawn underscored the fact that the day was much too young for civil visitations. Whoever was calling had to be either an enormous prat or the bearer of horrendous news.

Blearily, she put a bloodshot eye to the peephole. It took a moment to register that the caller was not in fancy dress. Suddenly fully alert, she unbolted the door and threw it open.

“Professor McGonagall!” Emma drew in a sharp, worried breath. “Is Hermione all right?”

The stress of the past few days had clearly taken its toll on the Gryffindor Head of House; the witch looked like something from a horror movie as she answered, "Hermione is doing well." She paused to rub her eyes. "I apologize for the ghastly hour, but I was just going over my backlog of messages. Your letter deserved a speedy and personal reply, and, unfortunately, this was the only opening in my schedule for the next two weeks when I had any chance of catching you while you were at home and awake."

“I see.” Emma moved to the side to invite the older woman in. “In that case I appreciate you taking the time to reply so promptly. I was just about to have my first cup of coffee for the day, before waking Dan. Won’t you join me?”

“I’m afraid I simply do not have the time.” Minerva gratefully entered the tidy home. “I am here to assure you that Hogwarts does not teach necromancy on any level. Despite how routine Madam Pomfrey’s notice may have made them seem, resurrections are not a common occurrence in the magical world. In fact, the children made the front page of last night’s news as a result of their efforts.”

“Hermione made the news?” The revelation brought Emma beyond full wakefulness. “My daughter is in the news?”

“The names of the children involved have not been officially released.” Minerva shook her head. “However, the reporter had assumed that both Harry Potter and Sweetie Belle had something to do with the incident. It just so happens that their assumption is correct.”

“So,” Emma said hopefully, “no necromancy then?”

“No necromancy,” Minerva agreed.

“Then, I don’t have to worry about my daughter raising a vampire at school?”

Minerva dismissed the idea. “The wards would have a very nasty effect on any attempts to create a vampire.”

Emma gave the witch a scrutinizing gaze trying to decide whether she was joking. “Vampires are real?”

“Yes,” Minerva answered, “why wouldn’t they be?”

“Next you’ll be telling me werewolves are real, too.”

“I won’t if you don’t want me to,” Minerva reassured her.

Emma sighed. “Then you’ll be telling me dragons were real, too.”

“I seem to recall that your daughter’s wand's core is made of Ironbelly heartstring,” Minerva said.

“So?”

“The Ukrainian Ironbelly is a species of dragon,” Minerva informed Emma.

“Is?” Emma knitted her brows in surprise. “As in present tense?”

“Yes.”

Emma pause and thought. “Fairies?”

“There hasn’t be a confirmed sighting in a couple centuries.” Minerva waved a dismissive hand. “Though, there are some families that most likely still have fairy blood.”

“Manticores?”

“Extinct.”

“Boogeymen?”

“Boggarts,” Minerva confirmed. “Annoying pests.”

“Honest politician?”

“Now you’re just being flippant,” Minerva scolded, “asking me about something you know can’t possibly exist.”

“It was worth the try,” Emma justified.

“Shall we return to the subject at hand?” Minerva firmly squashed a giggle. “The children have used a previously unknown spell in an astonishing manner. Even though there are other possibilities on how they managed to obtain it, one avenue that must be investigated lies in your family.”

“How so?” Emma asked

“Yours would not be the first magical family to be descended from an estranged squib,” Minerva said. “There have been tomes of family magic unobtrusively passed down through the generations, in such a manner, before. I say this because the children were less than forthcoming on the origin of the spell, and they were looking to Hermione to lead and explain it.”

“You think she brought the spell to school with her?”

“It is feasible. I’m also here to ask you if you have any strange family heirlooms that I might inspect.” Minerva said, “Of course, I would take nothing and read none of what may be private family tomes, but an assessment must be made.”

“Strange family heirlooms?” Emma said. Massaging her temples, she continued. “Like, I don’t know, maybe, an old, shabby chest that no one can open and should have probably have been thrown out ages ago instead of taking up space in the attic?”

“That does sound promising,” Minerva agreed.


In the hour when Celestia took over for her sister, only a dedicated few ponies were in the marketplace square, like farm ponies. The big red one who was pulling his family’s market cart was earlier than normal. It was his turn to ply his family's wares.

Another stallion was already setting up the adjacent stall when the gentle giant pulled up. Pausing his unloading of asparagus, Tender Shoot greeted the newcomer. “Morning, Big Mac. I see you’re getting an early start as well.”

“Morning,” Big Mac replied as he unhitched himself from the wagon.

Not expecting more in the way of conversation, Tender Shoot returned to unloading his wares.

Before long, a large owl silently swooped down and landed on the apple cart.

Recognizing the bird, Big Mac said, “Morning.”

“Hooo!”

“Did you make the delivery?” Big Mac asked.

The owl bobbed its head nonchalantly. “Hooo.”

Big Mac trotted up to the bird and reached his whole head into a pouch strapped to the owl’s chest. Seconds later, he pulled it out, holding a large bag of bits. “Thank you kindly,” he said around the bag.

“Hoo.”

Tender Shoot looked over and asked, “You have an owl that brings you bits?”

Big Mac nodded his head as he noticed a rune etched on the owl’s pouch was glowing slightly. Sighing, the large stallion reached out with a hoof, touched the pouch, and said, “Ex dimittere.”

“Baaaaarrrrfffff!”

Ears turned forward as far as they would go and eyes wide open, Tender Shoot said, “You have an owl that brings you bits and pretty young mares? Where do I get one for myself?”


In the stark light of the naked bulb, the two women curiously looked down at the old, battered trunk in the musty, dark attic.

“That’s a descendant’s blood rune,” Minerva stated.

Emma looked at her questioningly.

“It means only a descendant of the chest’s owner can open it, and that descendant must be able to channel magic.”

“So? Jackpot?” Emma asked.

“One way or another, yes,” Minerva acknowledged. Then, after waving her wand over the object, she voiced her findings. “It has minor compulsions on it. ‘Don’t get rid of me.’ ‘Don’t think about me.’ ‘Don’t try and force me open.’ That sort of thing.”

“Hermione got a book on necromancy out of it?”

“That is looking more and more probable every second,” Minerva allowed.

“It’s going in the rubbish,” Emma said grimly.

“We don’t know for certain that this is the source.” Minerva shook her head. “This is part of your heritage and should not be discarded so casually. I recommend that you have Hermione open it for you with a trained auror present, both to protect against dark magic and to analyze the contents for anything dangerous, magical or otherwise.”

“Yeah, but necromancy,” Emma firmly reiterated.

“All the more reason to dispose of it properly,” Minerva insisted. “Moody owes me a favor; I’m sure I can convince him to escort Hermione home for a short visit. Let’s say this Sunday?”

“The sooner the better,” Emma said, still eyeing the chest.


“I’m sooo sorry!” The plum mare with a mauve tail and mane wailed, “I know the letter said to just open the first flap for our apples, but I just couldn’t resist. I had to see if the other flaps were as big as the first!”

“Eeeeyup.” Big Mac said in a measured tone.

“I suppose that’s a security feature, stops nosey ponies like me.”

“Eeeeyup.”

“I think I’m in Ponyville,” the mare continued. “Did that owl bring me all the way to Ponyville?”

“Eeeeyup.”

“And you're Big Mac; you bring my family apples all the time. Now you got the owl to do the job?”

“Eeeeyup.”

“And now that you’ve foalnapped me you’re going to drag me off somewhere and have your way with me?”

“Eeee . . . nnnnope?” Big Mac said.

“Darn.” The disappointed mare stomped her forehoof on the ground. “I thought I was on a roll there."

Big Mac just stared at the mare in shock.

“Are you sure you don’t want to rethink your last answer?” she asked as she sidled up beside him.


The wizard approached the goblin bank anxiously. He had been putting off this visit for a couple days now. The insanity that had been the Wizengamot session had been his excuse. However, he could put this off no longer. He had to get answers.

He waited impatiently in line for those who had arrived before him to be serviced. Soon he was standing before a teller.

“How may I help you today?” the goblin asked gruffly.

“I’ve received some strange correspondences from the bank recently,” the wizard said, handing over a letter. “I’m not exactly sure what’s happening.”

The goblin read the letter and said, “Ah yes, Tricksno has been looking forward to talking to you.” Summoning a runner, the teller continued, “Please follow Railrun here, Mr. Weasley.”


The pink filly was in a sour mood. She had heard some troubling news, very troubling news that just wasn’t fair, news that had no right to be true. How could that blank flank have something she didn’t? How could that blank flank have what she wanted but notably lacked? It just wasn’t fair. No, having to eat brussels sprouts for supper wasn’t fair; this new predicament was inequity on a whole new level. She didn’t even have a word for just how wrong it was.

Unwilling to sulk in silence any longer, she lashed out at the brown stallion sitting at the head of the breakfast table, reading the newspaper. “Daddy! It isn’t fair! It just isn’t fair!”

“What’s not fair?” the stallion asked, ruffling his newspaper slightly.

“She’s got a marriage contract!” the filly wailed. “Sweetie Belle has a valid marriage contract!”

“I know, dear. I was here when our butler relayed the news. He overheard Princess Celestia talking about it with the Element Bearers on the way to her chariot.”

“It’s not fair!” the filly repeated loudly.

“It is a curious situation.” The stallion put down his paper to pay more attention to his daughter.

“I want one too!” The filly leaned back in her chair, grouchily crossing her forelegs with a frown.


Minerva just had a few more items to clear up before heading to breakfast. One was an unusual request, delivered by phoenix, no less. Well, it was less a request and more a question on proper spells to be introduced to first years. It was a pity she hadn’t read this letter before talking to Mrs. Granger; it would have changed the tone of the entire exchange.

She was just signing her name to the reply when there was a knock on her door. With a wave of her wand she admitted the visitor. “Good morning, Miss Dunbar,” she greeted.

“Good morning, Professor McGonagall,” the prefect returned stopping just inside the office door. “I just have a quick item that’s been bothering me, one of those ‘I wish I had handled it differently’ things. It’s probably nothing, but the other night the subject of acromantulas being in the forbidden forest came up with the first-year girls, and they seemed a little too interested for comfort. It’s probably nothing, but I can’t shake the feeling that I should bring it to you.”

“I see,” Professor McGonagall said. “Thank you for bring this to my attention.”

“I’m sorry to bother you for something so petty,” Fay said, heading back out the door. “I’ll stop pestering you now.”

“You’re not pestering me,” Professor McGonagall reassured her even as the door started to close.

Frowning to herself, Minerva looked down at the letter she had been writing. This was not the first time that Fay Dunbar had said something that made her want to rethink her opinion of divination. Shaking her head to dismiss the thought, Minerva waved her wand over the letter, vanishing the ink. With a new perspective, she started over.


For once, the Gryffindor table wasn’t the main focus at breakfast; that honor had been relinquished to the Ravenclaws. Admittedly, it takes a lot to trump a phoenix and a unicorn. Normally, a third-year girl would not be able to accomplish this feat. However, a third-year girl who had previously been a ghost managed to be the most interesting phenomenon in the great hall that morning.

“You need to slow down,” one of the Ravenclaw prefects said to her. “You’re going to make yourself sick.”

“I haven’t been sick in ages,” Myrtle replied. “I haven’t had oatmeal in longer than you’ve been alive. And the omelettes! Can’t you just taste that hint of pepper? And the bacon, I swear everything’s better with bacon.”

“That’s it,” the prefect said. “I’m cutting you off for your own good. Who do you think you are? Apple Bloom or Ron Weasley?”

“But . . . going to the loo afterwards is so much fun.”

“Too much information!” the prefect said. “Just too much information!”


“I can’t believe she wants to see us so early.” Rainbow Dash yawned loudly as she flapped alongside her friend.

“Everything before noon is early for y’all,” Applejack said, smiling at her friend’s irritation.

“The sun is barely up,” Rainbow complained. “There’re still a few good hours of sleep to be had.”

“Ah’m sure you’ll schedule a nap to make up what y’all lost.”

“You’d better beli . . .” Rainbow started, but was interrupted by a large red blur galloping down the road.

“Come back here and fulfill your obligations as a foalnapper!” a plum colored mare in hot pursuit demanded.

“Nnnnope! Nope! Nope! Nope!”

“Am I still dreaming?” Rainbow asked, staring after the spectacle.

“Nnnope,” Applejack said with her eyes half lidded.

“Errr,” Rainbow Dash asked hesitantly, “aren’t you going to help him?”

“He’s a big stallion,” Applejack answered.

“Yeah, but,” Rainbow said, “that’s probably the cause of his current problems in the first place.”

Applejack shot Rainbow Dash a startled look.

“What? Size matters.” Rainbow guiltily clapped her front hooves together. “You can’t possibly think I hadn’t noticed.”


“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” Arthur Weasley said to the goblin sitting behind the desk. Already the encounter was going unlike anything he had expected. Upon taking his seat, a goblin had brought in a tray with a tea set and morning pastries. The polite goblin then asked if he’d fancied some tea. Arthur had never heard of goblins offering tea before, not even to their wealthiest clients. For that matter, he’d never heard the words "polite" and "goblin" used in the same sentence before, at least not in any sentence that didn’t have a qualifier like "not" or "absolutely not" or even "are you kidding me".

“This meeting is overdue,” Tricksno, the goblin behind the desk stated. “But first, let me address your confusion over the tea. As you may know, we have regular interaction with our muggle counterparts in the banking profession, squibs and muggles with knowledge of the statute. Unlike wizards, they treat us as equals and regularly offer us tea and such during the course of business. The young ladies who opened your newest vaults showed much the same respect. That, coupled with your previous good will toward non-wizard individuals, both politically and in your private actions, has led us to hesitantly extend the same courtesy.”

Arthur blinked in shock before saying, “I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you consider me worth the effort. I hope this can be the beginning of a new era of understanding between our two people.”

“Don’t overplay it,” Tricksno said. “You’re starting to sound like a politician.”

“Sorry,” Arthur said and took a sip of tea to demonstrate his appreciation.

“To the business at hand.” The goblin picked up a parchment to read. “Even though your wards indicated an agreement to use expense accounts with year limits, they are still using their main vault keys to make purchases. Just this morning two major transactions have been filed in such a manner, one for the trunk maker they seem to favor and another for Quality Quidditch Supplies. There is also a negligible transaction for two one-year subscriptions to the "Daily Prophet". While not a significant incursion on your finances, they do defeat the purpose of expense accounts.” Tricksno turned the parchment to show Arthur.

Arthur took a long sip from the tea as he read.

“Since this is likely an oversight, I have taken the liberty of transferring the expenses from the appropriate account, and to provide this box of keys linked to the discretionary vaults of all family members.” Tricksno continued opening a box that had been sitting on his desk. “As you can see,” he said, starting to read the name tags attached to the individual keys, “one for you, one for your wife, one for each child -- Ginny Weasley, Ron Weasley, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Percy Weasley, Charles Weasley, Apple Bloom, Scoot Aloo, Sweetie Belle -- and finally one for household expenses. William Weasley has already claimed his key.”

“And the girls authorized this?” Arthur asked.

“Right after they signed their forms acknowledging the Weasley clan they agreed to a 10,000 galleon a year allowance for all members,” Tricksno informed him. “Now that we have gotten that little problem out of the way, we here at Gringotts would be interested in purchasing the remaining gems you have stored in your vault.” He leaned forward and offered a goblin’s equivalence of a grin. “We are willing to offer a most favorable price.” He handed Arthur another piece of parchment.

Wide eyed, Arthur choked on the rest of his tea.


Entering the library, Rainbow Dash noticed a familiar tan mare with a foal’s bottle and rattle cutie mark talking to Rarity, Spike, Twilight, and, for some reason, Pinkie Pie.

“Is everything okay?” the cyan mare asked, worry coloring her voice. “Nothing’s going spectacularly wrong?”

“Not that I know of,” Rarity said. “All I know is the mayor asked us to meet to discuss some paperwork the girls submitted.”

“That’s all?” Applejack asked. “Here Ah was afraid that Twilight had gotten a reply back from the school and it turns out the spiders they war talking about turned out to be some giant monster spiders hiding out in some spot that fillies are not supposed to go.”

“Now you’re just being silly.” Pinkie Pie chuckled at the farm mare.

The tan mare addressed Rainbow Dash. “You needn’t worry that I’m here. Your application is well on its way; you have impeccable references.”

“Oh?” Rarity asked, looking at Rainbow Dash. “What application and whom did you use for references?”

“Well, I used you, and Twilight, and Fluttershy and Applejack, of course,” Rainbow Dash admitted, “but I suspect it’ll be a while before I hear anything back.”

The tan mare said, “Princess Celestia took it upon herself to add herself to your references.”

“That’ll do it,” Applejack said as Mayor Mare entered the library. “Whatever your application is for is as good as granted.”

“Good morning,” Mayor Mare said drawing everypony’s attention. “I know it’s early but, I think this is something I should bring to your immediate attentions.”

“That thar is not what ah want to be hearing firs' thing in the morning,” Applejack said warily.

“The Crusaders have done something.” The mayor searched for the right words. “Something extremely surprising.”

“At this point, I’m not sure that there is anything those three could do anymore that would be surprising,” Twilight said shaking her head. “They’ve already redefined what 'surprising' is.”

The mayor smirked as she hoofed a scroll over to Twilight.

Sighing at being singled out, Twilight accepted the scroll and unfurled it to read. As her eyes traversed the paper, they grew wider, and her ears pivoted forward. Twilight started hyperventilating, and there may or may not have been a little foam coming from her mouth. Desperately, she attempted to regain control of her breathing, but her attempt at a saving throw resulted in critical failure.

*Thump!*

Everypony in the room stared as the scroll fluttered to the ground.

“Well,” Spike quipped, “obviously she stands corrected.”

“Silly Spike,” Pinkie Pie said with a flip of her mane, “that’s obviously not standing. That’s not even remotely close to standing.”

“Aaa, umm,” Spike said, bringing his hand to cover his face, “I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”

“No,” Rainbow said, “you galloped into it full tilt.”

“Ah’m going to have to sit down for this one ain’t Ah,” Applejack said sitting on her haunches. “Ah’ve been having to do that a lot lately.”

Frowning, Rarity levitated the scroll so she could read it. A little while later, she sat wide eyed as she levitated the scroll over to Applejack without a word.

“Hoo boy,” Applejack said, sticking her muzzle in the scroll to read. A little while later, she threw a hoof in the air and exclaimed, “Way to go Apple Bloom! That’s mah girl!”

“So?” the tan mare said, accepting the scroll next. “It’s good news then?” A little while later she wobbled and fell to her knees. Just like Twilight, she started to hyperventilate.

“Do you think she’s going to . . .” Spike asked.

*Thump!*

“She did,” Rainbow answered.

“Hey!” Pinkie Pie said, scandalized. “Isn’t that normally Rarity’s line?”

“She’s still in shock,” Rainbow said pointing to the unmoving white mare. “Somepony had to pick up the slack.”

“I suppose you have a good excuse,” Pinkie Pie huffed.

“Whelp,” Rainbow said reaching for the scroll, “I guess it’s my turn.” A little while later, she looked up from the scroll and blinked; then she returned her muzzle, rereading to make certain she had read right the first time. “Do you suppose they got their conpony cutie marks for this?” she asked.

Pinkie Pie snatched the scroll, impatient for her turn. A little while later she said, “How could they do this? Even Princess Celestia couldn’t do this and she’s . . . she’s . . . she’s Princess Celestia!”

“Ooooo.” Twilight groaned lifting her head. “What happened?”

“You fainted,” Applejack answered.

“What? Why?” Twilight knitted her brows trying to remember. “I thought I read . . .”

“You did,” Rarity said absently, still staring forward.

“Yeah!” Pinkie Pie hoped up and down excitedly, “Rarity’s almost recovered.”

Mayor Mare said, "My job here is done. Good day, gentlemares." With that, she left with a broad smile on her face. This was definitely worth the lost night of sleep.

“But . . . but!” Twilight’s voice raised an octave. “How!”

“I don’t know,” Rainbow said, “but when the Crusaders explain this one, I’m taking detailed notes.”


The young auror was bored already as he watched the crowd. They had just set up the goblet in the Ministry's antechamber to receive nominations, and a line had formed even before they started allowing submissions. Witches and wizards were patiently waiting for their turn to toss a piece of paper into the vessel. Anyone could submit any name they desired. The magic of the goblet was binding whether the winner wanted the position or not. It was designed to select the best applicant based on the parameters supplied.

Completely disinterested, the auror watched a wizard in a dapper brown business suit toss an orange piece of paper into the goblet.

The Wizengamot had voted on the traits needed to be chosen. Having to be pureblood had been voted down handily. They had ended up demanding intelligence, loyalty to the wizarding public above loyalty to one’s pocketbook, intelligence, a desire to see improvements happen, intelligence, being unintimidated by wizards in power, and intelligence. After a heated debate, they also threw in non-evil alignment . . . and intelligence. Hopefully, the new minister would be better than the last. Though in retrospect, that, by itself, set the bar rather low.


With a little urging, they managed to wake the tan mare and help her to her hooves. “That’s the most unique herd agreement I have ever read,” she said once she was fully coherent. “Is it even legal?”

Still shaky on her own hooves, Twilight answered, “Technically no. Until they have a ratio of at least two mares for every stallion it’s not completely binding. They have until four years after their majority to meet that requirement, though. A ratio of three to one would be considered better.”

“Yeah.” Rainbow Dash made a dismissive wave of her hoof. “We all know how that conversation is going to go.” Her voice took a higher pitch as she continued. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice that your clothing indicates you have a lot of bits. You see, we’re looking for a few mares to round out our herd and you look like a perfect candidate. So, if you don’t mind following me to the town hall we can get you added right away. No? did I mention that we already have five stallions? Okay! Okay, don’t rush me, the town hall isn’t going to close for hours; we have plenty of time to get you added.”

“She has a point,” Applejack admitted.

Pinkie Pie counted on her hooves. Under her breath, she muttered, "Just three more." “I wonder if they’ll be accepting older mares into their herd,” Pinkie Pie mused as she looked up.

Everypony in the room turned to stare at her.

“What?” she asked. “You were all thinking it.”

They continued to stare.

“Don’t try telling me you weren’t,” Pinkie Pie said.

Nopony said anything. The guilty looks were purely imagined.

“Look!” Rainbow Dash said desperately. “You’ve got mail!”

“Rainbow, you can’t see through a wooden door any better than I can,” Twilight admonished.

“Open the door,” Rainbow insisted.

Twilight sighed and complied; surprisingly an owl flew in, offered Twilight a letter and immediately left without any fuss.

“Thank you!” Twilight yelled after the speeding owl. Then turning to Rainbow Dash, she asked, “You saw an owl through a closed door?”

“Actually,” Rainbow corrected, “I heard him through it.”

“You heard an owl flying through a closed door?” Rarity asked.

“I had motivation,” Rainbow insisted.

This time everypony stared at her.

“Okay, okay,” Rainbow confessed, “he hooted for attention. You guys were just too lost in your thoughts to notice.”

Rolling her eyes Twilight opened the letter.

“The first pony to make mention that thar is no way this here letter could be more surprising than what we’ve already witnessed today, gets bucked,” Applejack warned.

Everypony chuckled nervously at the little joke.

“Umm,” Twilight said and put the letter back in its envelope, “okay.”

Rarity sighed and asked, “What does it say, darling?”

“Um,” Twilight repeated.

“Y’all see me,” Applejack said. “Ah’m sitting my flank down; now spill it.”

“Um,” Twilight said.

“You are only making it worse,” Rarity said following Applejack's lead and sitting on her haunches.

Twilight sighed. “They want the spider killing spell for giant killer monster spiders inside a forbidden forest,” she blurted.

There was a pause. Then, Pinkie Pie smiled and exclaimed, “Ha ha! You had me for a minute there. That was a good one, taking what Applejack said earlier and turning it into a joke. You almost had me. Good prank.”

Twilight stared at Pinkie Pie without a smile on her face.

“Wait,” Pinkie Pie said, her own smile sliding from her face. “You’re not joking? Are you?”

Twilight slowly shook her head.

Turning to Applejack, Pinkie Pie said, “That’s it! You are no longer allowed to make predictions.”

Chapter 26: From Every Angle

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Their heavy black robes did little to hide the stink of exhaustion as the Gryffindor herd shuffled slowly through the portal into the common room. It was all Sweetie Belle could do to refuse Magah's offer. Most of her classmates looked on with envy as the large unicorn attempted to maneuver her head under the flagging student.

In a chipper tone, Apple Bloom said, "Ah'm glad that's the last class for the day; I really worked up mah appetite."

With similar vigor, Dean replied, "I know what you mean. I could eat a horse."

Ron and all of the native girls stopped and looked on in horror. Dean looked back and asked, "Was it something I said?"

As she bounced impatiently, Scootaloo said, "Come on! He said 'horse', not 'pony'."

With an agonizing groan, the herd started moving again.

“I can’t believe we have to exercise during double defense!” Lavender complained as she collapsed onto a couch. “I know he said it would be harder than normal, but really? Having us run around like that?”

“It war only four laps around the Quidditch pitch,” Apple Bloom said encouragingly. “It warn’t nothing. Soon, you’ll be doing that without thinking of it.”

“You lapped us!” Parvati protested. “Twice!”

“We can’t help it you were going so slow,” Scootaloo said, sitting next to Harry as he poured himself onto the same couch.

“Scoots,” Seamus said, finding a vacant chair, “you have just way too much energy. Just watching you and Apple run like that was exhausting.”

“Thar’s nothing like good old-fashioned exercise to get the blood flowing,” Apple Bloom said. Sweetie Belle gave a half-hearted growl in response.

“At least Sweetie isn’t as bad as you two,” Ginny said, plopping down onto Harry’s lap.

“Hey,” Harry protested weakly at the extra weight, but Ginny just snuggled closer.

“Now you know what I have to put up with all the time,” Sweetie said, ignoring the chairs as she collapsed onto the rug in front of the couch.

“Oh good,” Fay said, entering the portal. “You're all here!”

“We just got here,” Parvati confirmed, leaning against Magah.”

“Professor McGonagall wants the lot of you in her office right away,” Fay informed them.

“Does she want us to try another resurrection?” Hermione groaned, begrudgingly regaining her feet. “I think Magah is still wary of the whole idea.”

“No.” Fay shook her head. “I’m pretty sure you’re in trouble for something this time.”


There were grim looks on the faces of the goblins sitting around the large stone table. Despite the opulent trappings in the bright cavern, the air itself seemed to flinch from their collective bad humor.

“Contact him again.” The goblin in the largest chair ordered, “Remind him of the help the goblin nation has offered his clan in the past, in the form of loans. Add another 5% to the offered price. I don’t care; get those gems. I want them in goblin hands before the week is out.”

“He seemed impressed by our original offer.” Tricksno was standing several feet from the table with the attention of every goblin in the room firmly focused on his every word. “But, he insisted that he needed to talk to the girls before he could accept.”

“You have until the end of the week,” the leader emphasized with a snarl.

“Yes Overseer!” Tricksno nodded hastily. “I’ll have the objects you desire by then.”

“What of the other seven?!” the Overseer demanded, dismissing the presence of the account manager.

“Four are once again in our possession,” another goblin at the table said. “Two are currently part of the reparations awarded at the wizards' last government meeting. Since the wizards are letting us take care of those transactions, it shouldn’t be that hard to switch them out for their galleon value once they sort out who is getting exactly what. The current owner of the last one is being recalcitrant.”

“Find leverage to make him more responsive.”

“Yes Overseer.”

Suddenly, a runner dashed into the chamber and stopped a respectable distance from the assembled management. The goblin was young and very low on the totem pole. He visibly trembled where he stood waiting to be acknowledged, and a sharp smell let every goblin present know that he had wet himself.

“Yes?” the Overseer asked angrily; some goblin had sent a neophyte to deliver news instead of delivering it themselves. Such a grievous breach of protocol could only mean that the news was far from pleasant. There was a coward in the ranks.

The junior goblin began to shake even more violently as he reported, “Overseer, a team was moving the four newly-obtained gems to the deep vaults. When they were passing the prime dragon, she broke her chains, ignored her handlers, and ate them.”

“The prime dragon ate a transfer team?” the Overseer asked in disbelief.

The goblin was now quaking so fiercely that ripples were appearing in the puddle forming at his feet. “No, Overseer, she ate the gems.” His voice cracked on the last few words.

Baring his formable teeth, the overseer yanked his dagger from its sheath and jumped to his feet. Without a doubt, the wicked weapon was being brandished with the intent to kill. Admirably, the young goblin stood his ground even as he saw death in the eyes of his leader while whitecaps formed in the pool at his feet. Still snarling, the Overseer rethought his actions and slapped the dagger onto the stone table with a menacing clank. "Who are you?" he growled.

"A-a-assis-sistant Run-run-run-runner B-b-bauxite."

“Who sent you to me with this news,” he demanded in a deceptively calm voice.

“S-s-s-s-super-v-v-visor C-c-c-coalfoot,” the young goblin stammered.

“Runner Bauxite, go tell Dunghandler Coalfoot that he is to personally sift through every dropping of our prime dragon until he retrieves every gem. Then, he is to report directly to me.”


Nervously, twelve first-year students approached the door leading to the office of their head of house. Magah sensed their mood as she trailed behind. Her ears perked as she scowled, looking about in a vain attempt to locate and eliminate the source of the disturbance. The menace she radiated was ample warning to keep everyone else away.

Screwing up her courage, Apple Bloom raised a hand to knock awkwardly with the palm of her hand. Silently, the door opened on its own and Professor McGonagall called out in a flat tone, “Come in children.”

Huddled together, the first-years obeyed as Magah brought up the rear. Inside they found the Professor was not alone. Philomena was perched on an elegant brass perch situated next to the desk and trilled a greeting at the sight of her charges. Additionally, in a chair placed a little off to the side, a man sat with a serious expression on his face.

Magah glared at the witch behind the desk and snorted, pawing the floor. Philomena trilled as she flew to the unicorn's withers. Magah stood still, but continued glaring. Philomena then returned to her perch.

“Daddy!” Ginny exclaimed. She started forward and then, suddenly fearing to be sent home, she drew back, edging closer to Scootaloo for support.

“Come stand in front of my desk, children,” Professor McGonagall commanded. Her stern demeanor ratcheted up the tension even further.

The first-years obeyed without a word.

Minerva let them stand there and stew for a full minute as she examined the expression on each individual. Magah continued to glare daggers at the witch. Finally, McGonagall said, “Kindly explain why you feel it necessary to acquire a spell specifically for killing large spiders.”

A casual observation showed all of the girls flinching even as the boys displayed various looks of surprise.

“Um,” Scootaloo ventured, “just in case we ran into some very large spiders?”

Professor McGonagall shifted her gaze to the girl and Scootaloo shrank back. “Are you telling me that you weren’t planning on hunting acromantulas?”

“They are right in the forest.” Sweetie Belle opened her eyes as wide as they would go and gave the professor her best puppy dog look. “You never know when one will wander out.”

Suddenly very happy that the girls were not in their natural pony forms, Minerva said, “I assure you, the wards are more than sufficient to keep them in the forest.”

“It can’t hurt to be prepared,” Dean said.

“A fifth-year student would be hard-pressed to survive an encounter with a single acromantula. There’s a whole colony in that forest.” Professor McGonagall informed the herd, “Even with a targeted spell, all of you would be nothing more than a quick meal for them.”

The children shuffled their feet under her gaze and no one dared say anything.

“We weren’t planning on going into the forest anytime soon,” Scootaloo muttered.

“I see,” Professor McGonagall said, then shifted her gaze directly to Apple Bloom. “Miss Bloom, if you tell me that there were no plans to enter the forest this year, I will consider the matter closed.”

A look of dismay bloomed on the faces of both Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle as realization struck. Their eyes darted back and forth between Philomena and the professor.

“You’ve been talking to our families,” Sweetie Belle stated.

With a short nod, Professor McGonagall continued to lock her gazes with Apple Bloom, “Well? Miss Bloom?”

“The colts didn’t know nuthin about the spell,” Apple Bloom answered.

“Very well.” Minerva stood up out of her chair. “Since you did not say they knew nothing about entering the forest, that will be ten points from each of you and detention tomorrow with Mr. Filch.” She let her eyes pierce each Gryffindor in turn. “Do not let it come to my attention that you are still planning a foray into the forest. You are much too young and much too inexperienced to even consider it. We have just recovered from the one student death in centuries. I do not mean to lose an entire class in exchange.”

Hermione let out a wail, “I’ve never gotten detention before in my life!”

Neville placed a placating hand on her shoulder. “N-neither have I,” he said, completely overlooking the fact that he had been home-schooled.

A thin stream of tears leaked from Hermione’s eyes as she bit her lip and nodded her thanks.

“Have I made myself clear?” the professor asked and was rewarded by a round of nods and "yes ma’ams". She continued to stare at them for another half minute before saying, “Then, with the exception of Misses Aloo, Bloom, Weasley, Belle, and Mr. Weasley, you are dismissed.” She let her voice lighten a bit, “Please, do try to stay out of trouble, at least for the rest of the week.” Magah visibly relaxed as the tension bled out of the room.

Once the rest of the children had left, Minerva said, “Mr. Weasley here has asked to speak to you all concerning family matters. Arthur, please feel free to use my office, and I shall leave you to it.”

She, too, left the office, closing the door behind her.

“Well,” Mr. Weasley said, not leaving his chair, “you lot sure have had an interesting week.” He reached out to pull his daughter into a hug as she got close. “I am both very proud and very upset with you. No parent should ever have to bury their children. If you had gone hunting acromantulas, I wouldn’t even have been able to do that; they would have left nothing to bury.”

Guilty looks crossed the faces of all the children as they saw how serious the elder was. “We’re sorry,” they chorused.

“'Sorry' isn’t going to be enough,” Mr. Weasley said. “I want you all to promise not to enter that forest, not without a reliable adult, until after you’ve at least completed your O.W.L.S.”

“I’m surprised that you don’t want us to promise until after we graduate,” Sweetie Belle said, only to receive a punch in her arm from Scootaloo.

“I’ve seen enough already to realize that would be pushing my luck,” Mr. Weasley answered, releasing Ginny from the hug and placing her on his lap. “I’ve been corresponding with Mrs. Belle and her friends via phoenix and owl all day now. The alliance between families is now official and magically binding. My wife and I are responsible for you while you are in Britain; likewise, my children shall abide their authority if they choose to travel to Equestria. I don’t think you girls knew what you were signing when you acknowledged house Weasley, but you are now legally my wards when in Britain.”

“Okay,” the girls chorused.

“That brings us to the subject of money,” Mr. Weasley said. “You authorized a spending account for each Weasley family member when you agreed to 10,000 galleons per year for each member. At first, I was going to insist that this would be stopped, but something came to light when I was trading letters with Miss Sparkle.”

<Flashback>

“Thanks again Philomena,” Twilight said, accepting the scroll and unfurling it.

Philomena trilled happily in reply.

“Well?” Rarity asked, still wondering how to broach the subject of the large herd with her new pen pal.

“I asked him to describe the price of a loaf of bread to better understand the numbers he has already sent us,” Twilight said burying her nose in the scroll. “It should give us a rough idea of the value of the funds the Crusaders have available. Hmmm . . . what’s a knut? Oh wait, he answers that in the next sentence.” Twilight’s head shot up and she looked over at the financial records still waiting patiently on her desk. Then, she looked back at the paper in her telekinetic grasp . . . then back at the papers on her desk. Then, she stared off into space.

“What is it Twilight?” Applejack asked from where she was lying on the floor. Not really being good at fancy mathematics, she had opted to just observe.

“We seem to have a small hiccup with the laws of supply and demand,” Twilight answered.

“Small?” Rainbow Dash asked, “Exactly how small?”

“Approximately a dragon sized hiccup,” Twilight said.

“Are we talking Spike-sized or big freaking snoring dragon on top of mountain sized?” Rainbow asked.

“Top of the mountain,” Twilight admitted. “Easily, top of the mountain.”

“So,” Applejack said, “they have a lot of bits, then?”

“Filthy Rich has a lot of bits,” Twilight replied with a shake of her head. “Even without the gems in their vault that Arthur Weasley has already agreed to help sell, the Crusaders are working on a level slightly above that.”

“That’s more of a growl than a hiccup,” Rarity said serenely, “wouldn’t you say so, darling?”

“Your taking that awful calmly,” Rainbow Dash observed looking directly at Rarity.

“After the herd agreement, my available supply of shock has been severely depleted,” Rarity replied.

</Flashback>

“So, we have a lot of galleons then?” Scootaloo asked innocently.

“That is an understatement,” Mr. Weasley said, “which is why your families want me to collect your main vault keys from you. They don’t want you to abuse them. I have a discretionary spending key here for each of you.”

“Thank you.” Apple Bloom beamed, not at all worried about the loss of her main vault key. “We also need a key each for Seamus, Dean, Harry, Hermione, Lavender, Neville, and Parvati.”

“I would be more shocked, but Mrs. Belle has already made a similar request,” Arthur said running a hand though his hair. “She certainly is generous. Arguing with me to accept these accounts for the Weasley clan was an experience.”

“She is the Element of Generosity,” Scootaloo agreed. “Besides, we have to take care of our herdmates to the best of our abilities.”

“Speaking of frivolously spending absurd amounts of money,” Arthur said as he reached into his coat pocket and extracted a shrunken package, “the first half of your trunk order is complete.”

“Oooo, thank you.” Sweetie Belle hopped around happily.

“You realize you cannot bring any more gems with you from Equestria?” Arthur said. “You are not to speak of how common gems are where you come from.”

“Will we have enough to pay for all our years here?” Scootaloo asked worriedly.

“That will not be a problem, far from it,” Arthur answered. “With that question, you’ve proven the wisdom of your families keeping your main vault keys. Until you have a proper understanding of the value of a galleon, you’ll be limited on what you may spend. You have more than enough to play with as it is. You have more than enough to support a family for a lifetime already at your disposal.”


Somewhere between here and there, Discord, in his mismatched glory, sat on a comfortable green plaid couch and stared out into the void. The space around him was arranged in perfect symmetry, extending even to dimensions beyond the perception of mere mortals. This preternatural order, however, was not the main source of unease for the avatar of chaos.

Until now, his plans had been going well. In fact, they had exceeded all his expectations. Despite his nature, he had evaluated every scenario, prepared for every contingency, and even built in redundancy upon redundancy. The potential payoff was far too valuable, far too important, to allocate anything less than his maximum effort.

Now, without warning, four of his key pieces had been destroyed. He had not used mere magic in their making; no, this was too important. Instead, he had imbued each with a sliver of his own essence. For him, it had barely been a sacrifice; it would grow back over time. But, with each piece of himself that he had given up, he had fundamentally altered the very nature of his tokens.

His companion, sitting in a plump chair upholstered in a vivid pink, asked, “Will this upset your plans?”

“No. Euridice," Discord said, calmly and deliberately. “When the time comes, I will only need six of them. I made sure to make extras, but I still didn’t expect someone to destroy any, and surely not this soon.”

Euridice, a pretty blonde woman with a bandage wrapped around her eyes, lifted an orange mug a took a pull of ambrosia before saying, “Remember, you have my support in this endeavor. Do not hesitate to ask if you find you need my help for anything.”

“I cannot thank you enough for your offer of assistance," Discord said gratefully lifting his own mustard yellow mug. “There is more at stake than you can imagine."

“Ours is a lonely existence,” she replied. “How could I not help you in this?”

“Still, you did not have to. For that alone, I cannot tell you enough how much I appreciate your support.”

“After the help you’ve been giving me?” Euridice placed her mug next to the scales on a conveniently placed side table. “Even if you benefited as well, these acts are not to be taken for granted.”

Discord peered at the table she was using and wondered where she had found a piece of furniture that particular shade of puce. Then, he wondered just how upset she’d be if he just put it out of its misery and burned it.


After their scolding, the remaining Gryffindor first-years were once again gathered in Ginny’s trunk, preparing to have tea.

“I can’t believe they caught onto us so quickly,” Seamus stated as he worriedly watched Hermione silently sobbing in her easy chair.

Lavender had sat on the arm of the chair and was quietly hugging the distressed girl.

“We were just being too obvious about it.” Dean shrugged. “I wanna know what the deal is with giant spiders.”

“Fay said there are giant spiders in the forest," Parvati said from the kitchen area. “So, we sent a letter asking about spider-killing spells; I guess they just connected the dots.”

“Hermione,” Neville said softly, “I’m sorry we got you in trouble. Please, don’t be sad, you’ll make up your ten lost points in our next class and probably more to boot.”

“I’ve never gotten in trouble at school before.” Hermione sniffed. “My parents are going to be so disappointed.”

The rest of the room looked on silently, not knowing what to say until Dean blurted, “I wouldn’t worry about it. You won’t see them for months and they’ll have forgotten about it by then.”

For some strange reason, this only made Hermione cry harder.

Unsure of what to do, Harry fidgeted in his chair and looked at Seamus. Seamus looked back in turn and shrugged, saying nothing. Awkwardly, the minutes passed.


The common room’s portal silently swung open and admitted the Crusaders plus two and a unicorn. Once fully in the room, they were promptly beset upon by a pair of bookends.

“All right . . .”

“start talking.”

“You’ve been . . .”

“gone a long time.”

“Your friends already . . .”

“came back ages ago . . .”

“and Hermione was clearly crying . . .”

“but they went upstairs without . . .”

“answering questions.”

“Where were . . .”

“you and what . . .”

“did you . . .”

“do?”

Used to his brothers’ mode of speaking, Ron answered, “Dad was here; he spent most of the time chewing us out.”

The twins’ eyebrows raised in surprise, “Our father . . .”

“our loving tolerant father . . .”

“our loving highly understanding father . . .”

“spent all this time . . .”

“chewing you out?”

“We might add. . ."

“breaking our own record . . .”

"for duration. . ."

As one the twins narrowed their eyes and said, “explain.”

“Can’t this wait?” Ron started, “we just got . . .”

Once again, the twins spoke in tandem. “Sit!"

"Explain!”

Taking the twins literally, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle promptly sat on the floor and gave their best sorrowful expression in defense. The twins glared at Ginny and Ron who wisely followed suit.

Magah watched the drama. Sensing no ill intent from the older boys, she was beginning to suspect that her charges had done something wrong. She gently nuzzled the first-years and retired upstairs.


“That is a most interesting spell,” Rarity said.

“An’ might useful too,” Applejack agreed.

“It was nice of Arthur Weasley’s wife to send it,” Rainbow noted.

“I’m just glad I managed to get it to work,” Twilight said. “There are some notable differences in the way we cast spells. Now, Philomena, we have just one more letter for you to deliver today.”


With great apprehension the raggedy man approached the derelict department store. Passersby paid no heed to either the building or to him. He was well aware that the face the building showed the public was just an illusion. The building actually housed St. Mungo’s, the wizarding hospital.

He didn’t want to go in.

He needed to go in.

He needed answers.

He needed to know.

Had he been wrong all this time?

Shame warred with anger and shook his frame as he crumpled a take-out menu from Lee Ho Fook's.

He needed to know.

He was afraid to know.

Had his anger been misdirected?

Had he failed his packmate?

He was a failure; all that he had loved was gone.

Could he make amends?

Would he be accepted?

Would he be forgiven?

Did he deserve to be forgiven?

He needed to know.


Tricksno ran down the corridor a large wooden box held firmly in his grasp. He was wasting no time; this was of the utmost importance. He knew delay would not be tolerated. Bursting into the well-lit cavern, it seemed to Tricksno as if none of the occupants had moved since he was last in the chamber.

Hurrying up to the large stone table, the goblin gingerly placed the box before his leader and the hastily backed away.

Without acknowledging the account manager, the Overseer reached out and lifted the lid for inspection. Inside, resting on black felt, ten gems glittered in silent welcome.

The Overseer leaned back in his lavish chair and grinned widely. The grin made a barracuda look friendly in comparison.


“You . . .”

“wanted . . .”

“to . . .”

“hunt . . .”

“acromantulas?!”

For Ginny this was a new experience. She had never heard the twin’s voices hit that note before. She decided it was an experience she didn’t want to repeat.

“They wanted to do what?” Percy demanded rushing down the last steps from the dorm rooms. This couldn’t be good; he had hit the same note.


“Did you find out what happened?” Euridice asked as she welcomed her guest back into her home.

“They were eaten by a dragon.” Discord grumbled, crossing his mismatched limbs and pouting, "The goblin's pet decided they would make a tasty snack."

“But the dragons around here don’t eat gems," Euridice said, bewildered. “They are strictly carnivores.”

“This one apparently didn’t get the memo.”


“What our dear brother . . .”

“Percy . . .”

“is trying . . .”

“to say . . .”

“is that . . .”

“even though trips . . .”

“into the forbidden forest...”

“are practically a rite of passage . . .”

“for our house, . . ."

“Acromantulas are strictly . . .”

“to be . . .”

“avoided.”

“As fellow Gryffindors . . .”

“believe us . . .”

“when we say . . .”

“that acromantula hunting . . .”

“is a complete . . .”

“no go.”

“Quick question.” A sixth-year girl broke into the conversation. “Did you actually get the spider-killing spell?”

Stunned silence met her query as the twins and Percy turned to stared at her.

She huffed and said, “Really? You didn’t think you were the only Gryffindors in the room? Did you?”


Taking advantage of her mother going out to grocer's, Abagail slowly stirred the mixture on the stove. She was carefully following the precise instructions written on some notebook paper, writing that she really ought not have been able to read.

“I’m not sure I want to drink this,” she said to the beetle resting on the counter. The thickening liquid was starting to look too much like blood for her liking. “And how exactly are you going to infuse it with your power?”


Sweetie Belle nearly cried with relief when Philomena flashed into existence. Here was an opportunity to put an end to the scolding. How many times were they going to have to promise not to hunt acromantulas?!

“Philomena!” Sweetie exclaimed still sitting on the floor. “I see you brought me a letter!”

Even Percy fell quiet as the room watched the phoenix land on Sweetie’s shoulder and offer an envelope.

Noticing that everyone in the room, including the twins, was hurriedly putting some distance between themselves and the delivery, Apple Bloom said, "Uh oh.”

Looking at the letter, Scootaloo asked, “Why is it red?”

Philomena trilled briefly before flashing out.


Professor McGonagall charged into the Gryffindor common room with her wand brandished. A gradient in soot marked where the event had started, and clean streaks showed where everything and everyone had been. A quick glance showed the complete disarray. Tables were flipped over. Chairs were toppled. Students lay haphazardly about the room. Everyone and everything seemed to be half-covered in soot. Near the entrance, five first years sat with their front sides coated in soot, blinking in surprise.

"What happened here?" she demanded. "What was that horrid noise?"

"Uh," Percy said from where he lay, "Sweetie Belle's parents sent her an overcharged howler."

"I see," Professor McGonagall said lowering her wand. "Is anyone badly hurt."

She got a few groans in response but a quick check showed no significant injuries.

"Very well," she said, "carry on." She then left through the same portal through which she had arrived.

Chapter 27: Testing Protocols

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In the Gryffindor common room, the first-year victims of Twilight's overcharged howler watched from their virtual penalty box as all the Gryffindor upper-years pitched in. After he had recovered, Percy had dragooned the others into cleanup duty, while expressly forbidding the first-years from moving more than three paces away from their corner.

The fifth-years and above did the bulk of the heavy lifting, putting their lessons to good use. Some took time out to coach the younger students, taking advantage of the opportunity to use a real-world scenario. Soot was vanished, and furniture was returned to its normal locations with no physical effort. It was no exaggeration to say that the cleanup of the room took less time than the recovery from the shock of the howler.

All the while, the first-years watched the proceedings with varying degrees of dismay. Word of what had happened, and why, had spread like wildfire. The others worked with divided attention, warily eyeing the first-years while they kept their ears open for the sound of wings.

Once the cleaning was complete, the saner members of the house retreated to safer environs while the elder Weasleys cleaned the penalty box and its inmates. As the twins commandeered a couch, Percy ran his wand over Apple Bloom. "All right," he said. "You're clean. Now sit on the couch, the lot of you, so we can finish this discussion."

“Actually,” George said somberly, “after that howler, I think they get the point.”

His twin nodded in agreement. “We should let the girls go and take Ron and Ginny upstairs to finish this as family.”

“Upstairs would hardly be private.” Percy shook his head. “Let’s go find an unused classroom instead.”

Ginny shot to her feet with false bravado. “These girls are wards of Clan Weasley.” As the Crusaders stood by to back her up, she continued, “That makes them family.”

“It would seem,” George started.

“That you have a few more things to tell us,” Fred finished.

“So, let’s all go find that classroom, shall we?” Percy said.

“We could just go to your trunk,” Sweetie suggested. Being the center of attention for something good was bad enough. Having to take a walk of shame was almost more than she could bear.

“Right now, I don’t trust you to come right back down, if you go up to get one of your trunks.” Percy crossed his arms.

“Not our trunks,” Apple Bloom said, “your trunk. Show him, Scoots.”

Scootaloo reached into a robe pocket and pulled out a shrunken package. “Your father brought this with him, but he did say it was only half the order.” She then placed the package on the ground before tapping it three times with her wand. The package grew the size of a large textbook. A quick glance inside revealed eleven miniature trunks in a variety of woods and finishes.

“Yup,” Sweetie Belle said, looking over Scootaloo’s shoulder, “looks like he started with the standard ones.” She dipped her hands in the package and extracted three trunks. “Here you go.” She offered a matched set to the twins while holding a slightly different model to Percy.

“We can’t accept those,” Percy said shaking his head. “While we appreciate the thought, we need to stop accepting such expensive gifts.”

“Your father has already said it was okay,” Sweetie Belle countered, thrusting the new luggage toward them once more.

Gingerly, one of the twins took one and turned it over in his hands. “Is this going to try and eat us?”

The other twin said, “Because we are finishing this conversation, regardless.”

“It might, if you open it without binding it to yourselves first.” Scootaloo urged, “Go ahead and give it a try.”

Percy accepted the remaining trunk and sighed. “I’m sure you want to give out the rest of your gifts. We’ll continue this talk after supper.”

“What our dear brother means to say is . . .”

“'We want to play with our new toys a bit before getting back to business.'”

“That and 'thanks, we really appreciate your generosity.'”

“Yes,” Percy said solemnly. “Thank you.”

“So, we can go now?” Apple Bloom asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Percy started, but that was as far as he got before the first-years made a mad dash for the girls’ dormitory stairs.

“Mind the!” Fred yelled just as a loud gong noise shook the walls in the room.

“Never mind,” George finished, chuckling.

“I forgot all about that,” Ron said from the bottom of the pile of first-years


Juggling three full grocery bags, Elisa Bates unlocked the front door of her apartment with a practiced ease. The cozy apartment wasn't much, but it was home, and it was the best she could afford for her daughter and herself. Many times, she had been tempted to take on another job so that she would have the means to give her daughter everything she deserved, but that would mean she would have no time to spend with little Abagail. Still, she was determined to do everything in her power to help her daughter succeed where she, herself, had not.

Putting her keys on the small dining room table, the plain-looking woman called out, “Abagail, I’m home!”

“Okay mum!” her daughter called out from her room.

Elisa set down the bags on the table and went to glance in on her daughter. The eleven-year-old was sitting at her desk, taking sips from a coffee mug. The mother asked, “Did you finish your homework?”

“Yes, mum.” Abagail replied, with the annoyed tone that all children used to answer that question. She continued in a plaintive wail. “Can I go out and play?”

“You're still grounded,” Elisa said, not falling for the obvious trick. “Maybe next time you’ll think before you pull stunts like that.”

“Yes, mum.” The girl sighed and went back to her drink.

Satisfied that all was well, Elisa went back to the kitchen to put the groceries away. She was dismayed to find a small mess. It looked like her daughter had tried to cook something. Bits of dried herbs still sat on the cutting board, and scraps of different vegetables were scattered about the counter. Still, a smile graced her lips. It looked as though her daughter had tried to cook something that didn’t come out of a can. This was an improvement, and she wasn’t about to spoil it by fussing over the clutter. Sitting on the stove, slowly simmering, was the rest of the . . . tomato soup?

Not wanting to waste food, Elisa poured the remaining liquid into a mug and swirled it around. She recognized the bits of herb floating in the mix, but not much else. Overall, it didn’t look too bad. Without too much trepidation, she brought it to her lips for a taste. It was more bitter than she had been expecting, with maybe too much thyme, but otherwise palatable. Shrugging, she added a little salt before finishing it off.


“They're in here.” Apple Bloom’s voice came as the lid to the trunk was opened. “Ah can smell the tea.”

“Yeah,” Seamus yelled, breaking the silence. “We’re down here.”

As the Crusaders led the way to the sitting room, they found that the room's warmth had been overpowered by Hermione's despair. She had stopped crying, but she now sat sullenly as Parvati and Lavender continued to hug her. The boys sat and watched, unsure of how to act, afraid to make a sound. All the while, the tea cooled, forgotten.

Dean could no longer contain his curiosity. He asked, "Do you guys know what that loud noise was? Parvati wouldn’t let us leave to investigate. She says we have to lay low for the rest of the week, at least.”

“Y'all know what a howler is?” Apple Bloom asked as she led the other into the room.

“That didn’t sound like any howler I’ve ever heard of,” Parvati objected.

“What’s a howler?” Harry and Hermione asked together.

“It’s a red letter that yells at you, then explodes,” Scootaloo informed them, carrying a box down the stairs. “Apparently, it’s what witches send their children when they can't be there in person.”

“That didn’t sound like yelling,” Seamus noted.

“They need to practice that part of the spell,” Sweetie admitted, “but they were spot on with the exploding portion.”

“We need to not give them reasons to practice that spell,” Apple Bloom insisted. “Mah ears are still ringing.”

“Um, yeah,” Lavender said to change the subject. “What took you guys so long?”

“We got an earful from my father,” Ron griped taking a large portion of vanilla biscuits from the tea tray and passing half to Apple Bloom. “Then, when we got to the tower, the twins and Percy had a go.”

“I’m beginning to think hunting acromantulas is a bad idea,” Scootaloo said seriously.

“No . . .” Dean drawled in mock astonishment, “you don’t say.”

Meanwhile, Ginny was staring at Apple Bloom with her mouth hanging open.

“Waa?” Apple Bloom asked around a mouth full of biscuit.

“How’d you do that?” Ginny asked in awe.

“Doo waaf?” Apple Bloom said messily.

“How’d you get my brother to share?” Ginny waved in her brother’s direction. “I’m his sister, and he’s never shared sweets with me. If anything, I have to hide them from him just to get a crumb.”

“Ginny!” Ron growled, losing some crumbs from his mouth.

“It’s true,” Ginny growled back.

“You do know we’ll be going to supper soon,” Hermione admonished, looking from Apple Bloom to Ron. “If you eat all those biscuits you won’t have any . . . You know what, forget I was going to say that.”

“Waa une?” Ron asked, holding a biscuit out toward Hermione.

“Ewwww!” Lavender said looking away. “Don’t talk with your mouth full!”

Ron shrugged and stuffed the biscuit into his mouth.

“All right,” Ginny said, “who are you and what have you done with my brother? You’ve got the table manners down right, but my brother doesn’t share.”

Ron glared at her as he demolished another biscuit.

“We need to work on his manners,” Parvati stated, and all the girls, except Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, nodded.


Having left the beetle in her room, Abigail walked into the kitchen. Mug in hand, she went directly to the stove. “Mum? Did you pour the rest of my potion down the drain?”

“No,” Elisa said from her spot on the couch, watching the tiny telly, “that would be a waste. It wasn’t bad, just needed a touch of salt.” She smacked her lips thoughtfully, “Where ever did you get that recipe?”

“From my beetle.”

“That’s nice,” Elisa said with a chuckle. “You have a very smart beetle.”

“Yeah,” Abagail agreed. Then after a pause, she continued, “He infused the potion with his power, by the way.”

“Oh? How’d he do that?”

Abigail shuddered as she made a face. “You don’t want to know.”


The Gryffindor first-year boys’ dorm room was a hive of activity, the occupants kneeling as they dealt with their current task. Even without accommodations for the resident unicorn, some would have compared the room to a stable.

“I can’t believe they bought each of us a trunk,” Seamus said as he transferred his belongings from his old trunk into the new one. “They seem real serious about taking care of herd members.”

“They sure like giving gifts,” Dean agreed, descending into his own trunk with an armful of clothes. “Although, all those statements about taking care of their stallions sounded kind of possessive, didn’t they?”

“I’m not sure it’s normal,” Neville said, “but I’m not complaining. I’m happy with the way things are going.”

“I’m pretty sure we left normal behind once we boarded the express,” Harry said trying not to let the other boys see his clothes as he transferred them, “and I’m glad we did.”

“Still,” Dean called out, “I can’t help thinking that we’re missing something obvious and important.”

“They’re girls,” Seamus said. “My dad says you’re not supposed to understand them. He says that once one of them sets their eyes on you, the best thing to do is just say ‘yes dear’ a lot and do whatever they tell you.”

“That doesn’t seem fair,” Harry said turning to Seamus. “What do you do when seven set their eyes on you?”

Seamus shrugged. “Say ‘yes dear’ seven times as much, I guess. Although, there are five of us; so, that probably cuts back on the chores.”

“Hey,” Dean yelled from in his trunk, “tell Ron that there are a couple of boxes of those vanilla biscuits in my kitchen. He probably has a couple in his as well.”

“Yaff!” Ron called, spaying crumbs. “Tharr whurrr!”


Earlier that day, Applejack had brought over a small bag of "owl treats" to the library. The writing on the large sack Big Mac had received with the rest of his new pet supplies said that they were a good and healthy way to thank your owl for the deliveries it made. Seeing how Rarity and Twilight kept receiving owls from the girls, Applejack thought it would be a good idea if they both had some on hoof, just in case. In the inviting warmth of the library's foyer, an owl perched on Pinkie’s back and enjoyed the thoughtfulness, even as Twilight read the letter it had brought.

“What’s it say? What’s it say?” Pinkie asked excitedly as she watched Twilight scan the paper.

“It’s from Professor McGonagall,” Twilight answered. “She says I overcharged the last howler. It was unintelligible and blasted the entire common room. She recommends that when I send howlers in the future to only charge them with about a tenth of the power.”

“Oooooo,” Pinkie perked up, “you should practice that spell some more.”

“Pinkie.” Twilight shook her head. “I’m not sending the girls another howler so soon; that would just be cruel.”

“I know how to test it,” Pinkie said, enthusiastically bouncing up and down, drawing a startled shriek from the owl on her back. “I know how to test it!”

“Um, okay.” Twilight agreed, “I guess we can give it another try.”

“I wanna do the voice! I wanna do the voice! I wanna do the voice!” Panicked, the owl pushed off its pulsating pink party pony perch and escaped through the still-open front door.

“Okay. Okay,” Twilight said, reaching out with her magic to snag paper, quill, and ink from the desk.


Inside a brand-new trunk, on a brand-new dresser sat a battered old cage. There was nothing special about the cage; it was just a typical wire cage whose ilk could be found in any pet store, selling for a few pounds. It was made for smaller mammals, like an ordinary rat, a lazy, good-for-nothing rat, a beloved pet.

“There you goooz,” said the house elf that had just done her job. “Cage all nice nice and clean now. Fresh newz paper fors youz to chew on.”

Satisfied that her job was done, there was a small popping noise, and she was gone. The occupant of the cage wasn’t paying attention to the sound, though. This was not surprising since he was a rat. What was surprising was the way the animal was staring at the floor of its cage, almost as if it could read the writing on its new bedding material. But that was a truly ridiculous idea. Besides, why would a rat care about some guy named Black being freed from someplace called Azkaban? Most likely, the rat was just watching the magical moving pictures.


It turned out Percy’s trunk was set up differently than the girls'. The stairs still descended into a sitting room, but this one was larger, with three couches. Immediately to the left of the stairs was an archway that led to a study with a beautiful roll-top desk and several bookcases; all had a warm pecan finish. Even the kitchen was larger, sporting a full-sized dining set made from rustic pine. However, the current occupants were not present to admire the workmanship. The five youngest slumped onto one couch while the older brothers lounged on the other two.

“Are you going to yell at us some more?” Sweetie Belle sighed, once Percy found his seat.

“Nah.” The twin on the left said, “You get the point by now.”

“It’s not that we don’t admire your spirit,” the other twin said, “but as big brothers and as friends, well . . .”

“The thought of you getting eaten by giant spiders stops our hearts.”

“Giant spiders?” Ron paled and looked around worriedly. “What giant spiders?”

“Hello,” Scootaloo said, “we’ve only been yelled at about acromantulas all night now.”

“Acromantula are giant spiders?” Ron all but shrieked. “Why didn't you tell me they’re giant spiders?”

“An’ y’all call me oblivious,” Apple Bloom complained.

“Enough with the acromantulas,” Percy said, taking charge. “Unless we are given reason, the subject will not come up again.”

The first-years clearly cheered up at the proclamation and sat attentively.

“No what’s this about you three being wards of House Weasley?” Percy asked, broaching the next important subject.

“Father finalized an alliance with their families,” Ginny stated. “They’re family now.”

“Did he mention the terms of the alliance?” Percy asked as the twins watched silently.

“While here, we’re Weasley wards,” Sweetie Belle said. “When you travel to Equestria, you’re wards of our families.”

“Equestria?” Percy asked, confused. “I thought you were from America. Where’s Equestria.”

“Don’t rightly know how to get there from here.” Apple Bloom shrugged. “Discord brought us.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo agreed with a nod, “but I’m sure it’s not close. Back home, humans are just myths. We didn’t even recognize them when we first got here, though we should have with how much Lyra talks about them.”

“Wait a minute.” Percy held up a hand. “You’re not human?” Then, after looking at his siblings’ lack of reaction. “And you all knew that already, didn’t you? Why am I always the last to find out about these things?”

“Does it really matter?” the twin on the right asked.

Percy pinched the bridge of his nose and said, “So, what are you then? Veela?”

“We’re ponies,” Sweetie Belle said while Apple Bloom and Scootaloo nodded.

Percy stared at her dumbly. “Could you repeat that?”

Ginny giggled and nudged Sweetie Belle in the side. “Go ahead and show him, he’s not going to believe you otherwise.”

With half lidded eyes, Sweetie asked her, “Are you going to scream again?”

“No,” Ginny insisted as she shook her head, “I’m past that.”

“Oh, okay.” Sweetie agreed and her human form melted away to be replaced by her smaller, true form.

Ginny held her breath to stifle her first reaction.

“See, Percy.” Sweetie smiled, “Ponnnniiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssss.”

“I thought you said you weren’t going to do that,” Scootaloo calmly said as she watched Ginny force Sweetie to mangle her last word.

“I said I wouldn’t scream,” Ginny happily corrected. “This is hugging.”

“Sweetie Belle.” Percy said.

“Yeah?” Sweetie said in a strangled gasp.

“You’re a unicorn.” Percy asserted.

“Yeah.”

“Magah makes a whole lot more sense now,” Percy said

“Can’t breathe!”

“Ginny,” one twin said, “she’s supposed to be white . . .”

“not blue,” the other twin finished. “You might want to let up a bit.”

“Sorry,” Ginny apologized, moving Sweetie onto her lap.

“This actually explains so much,” Percy said as the twins snickered.

Ginny started to scratch Sweetie Belle behind the ears.

“Oooo,” the little pony moaned, “don’t stop doing that.”

“Anymore big surprises?” Percy asked, still eyeing Sweetie Belle.

“Well,” Scootaloo said rubbing her chin with her hand, “we do have your dis-wash-ery spending keys to give you, but that’s about it.”

“Yah know, Scoots,” Apple Bloom said, “even Ah’m going ta have ta call you on that one.”

From beyond the closed lid of the trunk a voice cried out, “Why is there a unicorn in our room?”


As she passed the rustic homes along the streets of Ponyville, a white pony with a two-toned electric blue mane marched to the beat of her own; drummer be damned. She bobbed her head to the rhythm of music only she could hear, even without the large pair of earphones she always wore. Oval purple lenses on the sunglasses she wore day and night left other ponies wondering whether she used them to see things not as they were, but as she thought they should be.

She lived in a world of music, and the gear she wore guaranteed that it would always be close at hoof, just as she liked it. Although it had been fun, the long day at the studio had been exhausting. She was ready to order her favorite take-out and get some shut-eye.

Wordlessly, she approached her house, and with a smile she saw that somepony had left a bright red envelope wedged in the doorframe. Whatever it was, it appeared too good for the normal mail system. She reached out with her magic and brought the paper closer for inspection. In blue ink, her name popped out in stark contrast to the red. Using her telekinesis, she started to open the letter, only to have it leap from her grasp.

To her surprise, the letter did something she could never have imagined. It yelled at her. “AAAAAH! AAAAAH! AAAAAH! THIS IS A TEST OF THE PONY EXPLODING NOTES SCOLDING SYSTEM! THIS IS ONLY A TEST! IF THIS WERE AN ACTUAL SCOLDING, CRITICISM OF WHAT YOU DID WRONG WOULD BE RIGHT HERE! THIS IS ONLY A TEST! THIS LETTER WILL EXPLODE IN 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1”

At the word "explode", the white mare dove behind the topiary. She huddled behind the tree as she gritted her teeth and braced herself for the explosion. A full ten seconds after the announcement, she poked her head out and looked at the red letter; it had followed her. In a surprisingly boyish-sounding voice she said, “Dang! Pinkie, that was a rough prank; for a second there I thought it was actually going to ex . . ..”

*Boom!*

Once the smoke cleared, the extent of the damage was fully revealed. Her spiky mane had been swept back by the force of the explosion, and both her glasses and her headphones now lay on the ground. Soot covered her face and the front of her neck, except where her glasses and her headphones had been. The trauma had shrunk her pupils to pin pricks.

Still staring off into space, she said “ . . .they need to work on the timer.”


He had to get out of Britain! He had to get out of Britain! He had to get out of bloody Britain!

His worst fear had been realized!

His days were numbered!

Heedless of any noise he might be making, he rushed down the small tunnel behind the castle wall. There were places only he could go. Being as small as he was, he could find passage where others would be stranded.

He had to get out of Britain!

Wait!? Was that menthol?


Professor Sprout was walking down the castle passageway talking to her fellow Head of House. "Arguing" was more descriptive; they were having a difference of opinion.

“He’s harmless, Serverus,” she said. “What little damage his bites do is almost instantly healed. The worst he could possibly do is give someone a heart attack when he jumps at you.”

“It is an abomination.” Professor Snape sneered.

“They said that about the first hippogriff,” she countered.

“It is my duty to remove it from this world, permanently.”

“You shouldn’t do that,” Professor Sprout argued. “Think of the potential benefits. With a little coaxing, he will come when called. Why, he’s even proven to be a handy way to cure small cuts and bruises. Several of my girls have said he removes pimples effortlessly, leaving their skin smooth and unblemished.”

“Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

After watching the spectacle run past them in the corridor, Professor Sprout continued, “And apparently he controls the rat population.”

“We have wards for that,” Snape responded. “That was a student’s pet. What are we to do when it graduates to attacking cats.”

“You mean like Mrs. Norris?”

Snape considered the possibilities, “You may be right; perhaps we should keep it around for a while.”


“It worked it worked!” Pinkie exclaimed, hopping into the library. “You could understand what it said. This one only took five seconds after the words for it to explode.”

Twilight looked up from where she was writing a letter to the princesses, summarizing their correspondences with the human world. “That’s good to hear, Pinkie,” she said. “I can easily tweak that.”

“Let’s do another test.” Pinkie balanced on her hind legs and excitedly clapped here forehooves together.

“Okay, just a second,” Twilight said reaching for another blank page.

A few minutes later she was out in front of her library, watching Pinkie pronking off into the distance. “Be careful with that!” she called as a reminder.

“Ahem!”

Startled, Twilight turned towards the sound and came muzzle to muzzle with another pony, a frowning, once white pony who now looked like an escapee from a minstrel show

“Um, hello,” Twilight said, noticing that there were several more ponies in similar condition, all showing the same level of annoyance. “Where are your glasses and headphones?”


Reason took time to work its way through the terror the rat brain was projecting. The slime was playing with him, keeping just close enough to prolong the chase, never getting too close and definitely not falling behind. He had to end this. In an otherwise empty corridor, the rat turned midstride and shifted.

He wasn’t sure how slime could look confused, but this one managed it. Just like that, the tables were turned. Proving that having a brain is not always necessary for sound judgement, the blue blob reversed direction and fled.

Satisfied, the rat shifted again, and prepared to continue on its way. Carefully, it made its way out of the castle. With freedom in sight, it began to cross the vast lawn. Without warning, a gloved hand appeared and snatched him up off the ground.

Startled, the rat found himself gawking into a pair of mismatched eyes.

“Euridice was right; you’ll do nicely.”


After spending time helping Rarity in her shop, Spike made his way home, dazed. She had kissed him on the cheek, making the whole day worth it. Every day, he was getting a little closer.

With a goofy grin on his face he entered the library. To his surprise, a small group of soot-faced ponies were present, watching Twilight.

Glancing at the multitude of blackboards he read, “I will, under no circumstances, give Pinkie anything even remotely resembling explosives.”

Looking back and forth between the soot-faced ponies and the blackboards he said, “Yeah, I don’t even know the whole story here, and I can already tell she deserves this.”

Chapter 28: Mall Rats

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The rain steadily fell on the darkening London street, accentuating the air of misery projected by the lone, raggedy man standing on the corner. Had anyone bothered to notice him, they would have seen that his ancient bespoke raincoat still shed moisture, despite its appearance. He had been there for a couple hours now, maybe a bit longer, worrying a Chinese take-out menu between his hands. He just stood there, staring at the derelict department store across the street. Ignoring the other people who occasionally passed him, the man contemplated his past.

Fear was something to be acknowledged, then ignored. Fear wouldn’t stop him. Fear couldn’t stop him. He had mastered fear a long time ago. It no longer held any sway over him. Shame, on the other hand, was a monster that knew no mercy. Shame could stop him cold and leave him rooted to the spot.

The flickering streetlamps mirrored his indecision. Should he enter, or should he flee? He was so lost in thought that it didn’t even register that the last woman to exit the department store had made a beeline straight for him, splashing noisily on the soaked sidewalk. It wasn’t until she was standing right in front of him that he took notice of her. When she glared up at him with a miffed frown, he realized he knew her.

“Andi?” he asked, his voice failing to rise above a whisper.

“Just how long do you plan on pretending to be a statue?” she asked as way of greeting. “I thought you Gryffindors were supposed to charge forward.”

Wincing at her tone, he said, “Andi, it’s good to see you. It’s been too long.”

She snorted. “Don’t try changing the subject on me. How long are you planning on standing out here?”

“I turned my back on him.” The man shook his head sadly. “I don’t have the right to talk to him.”

“We all failed him,” Andi said, “and he’s family.” She reached up and tenderly brushed a soggy lock of hair out of his eyes. “And you are family, too, blood be damned. Don’t make me have to kick you in the arse to get you going.”

“I never even visited him. I let him rot without ever hearing his side.”

“You were wrong. We all were. He has every right to never want to see any of us ever again,” Andi said. “Instead, he’s in his room right now staring down at us, waiting for you. It’s time to make amends.”

“Andi, I don’t know . . .” the man started, only to stop as the woman darted behind him. In an uncharacteristic move, she pulled back her leg and kicked him in the rear as hard as she could.

“I did warn you,” she said.


With an abrupt start, he awoke. Standing on his hind legs he scented his surroundings. The blend of smells denoting damp forest met his senses. In fact, he was under a bush, well hidden from whatever may pass by.

How had he gotten here?

Last thing he remembered was fleeing Hogwarts. Apparently, he had succeeded.

Shaking himself, he selected a direction at random and started walking. His small size didn’t eat much distance with each step, but the stealth it lent was invaluable.


In the Charms classroom, the Gryffindor herd was once again sharing time with the Hufflepuffs. Finally, their last class of the week proved to be what they were waiting for. In the first few minutes of the period, they had learned their first charm. The excitement was thick in the air as Professor Flitwick cut them loose to practice. Soon, the word ‘Lumos’ could be heard echoing throughout the chamber.

It surprised no one that the first successful cast came from Hermione. She managed to produce a warm light on the tip of her wand on her second attempt. This resulted in her housemates cheering her on even as the Hufflepuffs looked on jealously.

“Way to go, Hermione!” Lavender applauded even as she refocused on her own wand. “Lumos!” she demanded with no success.

“Lumos!” Ron said, scowling at his own wand to no effect.

It was several minutes before the next successful cast was made.

“Is this right?” Dean asked looking at his own wand tip. Instead of the white light that Hermione and the professor had produced, he had a shimmering ball of yellow. More specifically, it looked like living flames held in check by a clear glass ball.

“Very good Mr. Thomas,” Professor Flitwick said upon seeing the effort, and he awarded more points to Gryffindor. Then, as if a floodgate had opened, children were getting successful casts throughout the room. After a few minutes there were only two students that were having problems.

“Come on, Neville,” Scootaloo encouraged as she stared at the bare pinprick of light he had on the tip of his wand. “You can do this.”

“I’m trying,” he said, sweat beading on his forehead. “I’m sorry I’m so bad at this. I’m afraid I’m not very strong.”

“You’re doing better than me,” Sweetie said sadly, displaying her own, lightless wand. “Lumos!” Her wand remained unlit.

The rest of the class looked at her display in wonder.

Sweetie Belle noticed everyone looking at her weirdly. “What?” she asked.

“Miss Belle,” Professor Flitwick said, “may I ask what the core of your wand is made of?”

“Um, unicorn hair,” she answered.

“That explains why her aim is so bad,” Hermione observed.

“Don’t worry, Miss Belle,” the little professor said encouragingly. “You’re not the first student to have this particular problem. I just need to contact a colleague of mine to borrow a certain training device, and we can get you past this hurdle.”

Sweetie looked questioningly at Professor Flitwick and then back at her wand tip. “Lumos?” She tried again, and the rest of the class watched the hair on the top of her head light up again.


He had needed to call in some favors, but even from his hospital bed he had managed to obtain the paperwork he sought. Regrettably, the paperwork had provided the worst possible news. The foolish Dursley woman had indeed signed over all her rights to Belle’s mother, ripping control of Harry from his grasp. The possibility that he could convince her to return guardianship to him looked minute.

Fortunately, he had another avenue of attack. True, it wasn’t something that would have been open just a few days ago, but chance had created an opportunity, a situation he could take advantage of. All he needed to do was contact a new ally and let her know what he wanted her to do. From there, his control of Harry would be stronger than it had been before.


With a flash of flames, the girl’s dormitory was once again occupied. Rain streaked the window as clouds obscured the setting sun.

“Free for the weekend!” Lavender exclaimed, throwing her arms toward the ceiling even as Magah headed straight for the hay.

“Yup,” Apple Bloom said, “Ah declare it’s time for exploring side quests.”

“There’s plenty of time to root around the castle later.” Ron disagreed, “We’ve got all those new brooms you ordered, let’s play Quidditch.”

“Yeah! Flying.”

“I wouldn’t mind visiting the shopping mall that Dean was talking about the other day,” Sweetie Belle suggested.

“You and your shopping,” Apple Bloom complained. “I was thinking of the amusement park or the zoo.”

“Wait,” Hermione said, “we’re not allowed to leave the grounds. The wards will stop us.”

“Oi!” Dean exclaimed. “That’s right, but we have a phoenix. We can go anywhere.”

“But?” Hermione exclaimed, “The rules!”

“I don’t wanna be stuck in a boring castle all the time,” Scootaloo countered.

“This castle is anything but boring,” Harry said.

“When it’s winter and cold out, we’ll have all the time in the world to explore the castle,” Parvati said. “Now’s the time to see other things. I also want to visit the muggle shopping mall.”

“But,” Apple Bloom pouted, “amusement park.”

‘That’s a daylong event.” Seamus soothed her. “The mall would actually be a better idea for a Friday night. They have a video arcade.”

“A what?” Lavender asked.

“You’ll see.” Dean smirked.

“But!” Hermione interjected, “The rules!”

“We’ll need muggle money of course, so a trip to the bank first.” Seamus continued, “I’ve got a couple five quid notes in my trunk that we can stretch.”

“Great!” Scootaloo bounced in place. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

“Wait!” Hermione yelled. Then, when she had everyone’s attention, she continued. “The rules?”

The rest of the herd just stared at her.

“We could end up getting another detention,” she insisted.

“Probably,” Seamus agreed, and there was a round of nodding.

Seeing she was not going to get any support, Hermione sighed. “Fine, but we need to change our clothes first. We can’t go around in robes.”

“Okay.” Apple Bloom grinned. “Now that that’s out of tha way, everyone, meet up in the boy’s dorm in ten minutes.”


As heavy curtains shut out the dreary weather, the heavy oak desk dominated the room, even though it didn’t take up a large percentage of the floor space. There was just something about the immaculate piece of furniture that screamed, "I am important.” Even covered by paper, as it currently was, its gravitas could not be ignored. In the overstuffed black leather chair, Alice Rutter sat and surveyed her new holdings. She should have been happy with that, but she was fretting instead. He hadn’t visited her in days now. Worse, she didn’t know how to get in contact with him. How was she to make him her own, when he didn’t even bother to show up?

Alice glowered at the bank statement in her hand. The paper was only taking up space; it held none of her attention. It was obvious; she had scared him. How she had managed that, she couldn’t say. He came across as confident and self-assured, hardly the type to be put off by a strong and willful woman. Only one thing was for sure; he was not going to escape. She’d send him an owl and invite him to dinner.

Having made up her mind, Alice put down the bank statement. Just as she was reaching for a blank sheet, the wards let her know that a visitor had arrived and was walking up the path from the boundary.

“Dobby,” she called, and the elf popped into existence. “Dobby, someone is on their way; would you mind asking Narcissa to greet them for me?”

“Yes, pretty mistress. Dobby will do.” With another pop, the elf was gone.

With a sigh, Alice recalled the most stressful aspect of the week. Narcissa Malfoy had been respectful, if not meek. She had understood exactly where she stood and the reasoning behind her current status. Surprisingly, she had not seemed to lay any blame at the feet of Alice. Her son, Draco, was a different matter.

Alice could not blame the boy. After all, in his eyes, she was the woman who had robbed him of his father, never mind that Lucius had struck the first, unwarranted blow. The boy only cared that his father was gone, and she was accountable for that reality. It made Alice feel guilty. not guilty that she had rid the world of Lucius Malfoy, guilty that she had hurt the child. Alice wasn’t a fool; she knew that Lucius was raising the boy to be a bigot, but it still bothered her to see the hurt in his eyes.

Alice could only console herself with the knowledge that it was a necessary evil. Bitterly, she cursed Lucius for making it necessary.

Narcissa and her son hadn’t been the only casualties of Alice’s claims of conquest. Fortunately, most of the other affected wives and children had other family. Alice had spent last few days being approached by these family members, bearing proposals of ransom. There had been hefty sums offered by some. Others could afford little more than oaths of allegiance. To put it politely, purebloods came to rescue their kin from direct subjugation by the daughter of a couple of muggleborn.

Alice had extracted oaths from them all, a formal commitment to not support Death Eaters and their like in any manner. If another dark lord arose, there would be fewer followers to court.

In all, it left just a bare handful of individuals she was still responsible for. Once Lord Black was cleared, she would have two fewer.


“Wait here with Philomena,” Apple Bloom told Sweetie. They were once again in the alleyway where they had originally entered this world. Steady rain dampened their clothing, but not their spirits. “We don’t want to draw too much attention, an' it’ll only take a couple of us ta go get money. In fact, y’all except Hermione and Ginny wait here.” The rest of the herd huddled under their umbrellas.


Alice looked up from the letter she was drafting. She had expected Narcissa to take care of whatever the most recent visitor wanted. However, the knock on the door dispelled that notion. “Enter,” Alice called out.

Narcissa opened the door and showed their guest into the study. “Miss Rutter,” she said formally, “the Chief Warlock is here to see you.”

Alice groaned internally; hopefully this wouldn’t be like her meeting with the head of the DMLE.

“Professor Dumbledore,” she said, rising from her seat to greet the elder wizard, “what brings you here today?”

“Ah, Alice my dear.” Dumbledore said entering, seemingly moving slower and stiffer than the last time she had seen him, “I apologize that I have not been able to visit sooner; I have only today been released from St. Mungo’s.”

“I heard,” Alice said. “I do hope you are recovering.”

“I am a bit sore,” Dumbledore replied as he waved a dismissive hand, “but otherwise I am well.”

“Please,” Alice said, gesturing to the chairs waiting in front of her desk, “have a seat.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Dumbledore said, settling in the offered comfort.

Alice waited until he was situated before trying again. “How may I help you today?”

“I have some disturbing news to discuss with you,” Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eye. “More to point, I’ve come for your help. You see, magical guardianship of Harry Potter has recently been stolen from me. I need your help in recovering it.”

“Really?” Alice asked. “How could I possibly help you with that?”

“As you know, Sirius Black claims to be Harry’s godfather,” Dumbledore said in a lecturing tone. “As such, he could override Harry’s aunt’s unwise decision to foster off her responsibilities to another. Furthermore, as acting head of House Black, you could bequeath the full authority to me.”

“Harry’s aunt signed her rights away?” Alice asked.

“Yes, a foreign wizard by the name of Discord tricked her into a bad arrangement.” Dumbledore sighed to show his disappointment. “Legally, I can do nothing. Unless you sign control over to me, I am afraid I will continue to be blocked.”

Alice narrowed her eyes. “This sounds like something I should be discussing with Lord Black.”

“Sirius is in no condition to make decisions concerning a minor.” Dumbledore sighed again. “Being in Azkaban for all this time would not be conducive to a rational evaluation. It would be for the greater good if I were to regain guardianship.”

“What aren’t you telling me?” Alice demanded.

Startled at her sudden coolness, Dumbledore replied, “I do believe I am telling you everything you need to know. Wouldn’t you prefer to have guardianship of Harry Potter returned to a British national, instead of a foreign family.”

“I will have to think on this,” Alice said

“Miss Rutter,” the voice of authority said, “time is of utmost importance; I’m afraid I will be needing an answer very soon.”

“Then the answer is no.”

Flabbergasted, Dumbledore said, “That would be a most ill-advised answer.”

“I know better than to let myself be rushed into things like this.” Alice crossed her arms. “Did you have something else you wanted to discuss?”

Dumbledore openly frowned. “I see you will be needing some time to make the proper decision. I know I can count on you to see reason, given a little deliberation. I just hope it won’t be too late.” He stood up, “May I impose on you for the use of your floo? It is past time that I return to Hogwarts.”

“Dobby.” With a pop the elf answered his mistress’s call. “Please escort Professor Dumbledore to the floo.”

“I look forward to our future conversations.” Dumbledore smiled as he followed the elf out of the study.

Alice immediately reached for a blank sheet of paper.


“Okay, Philomena, Hermione says we can’t let these people see you. Please go back to my trunk until we call you.” Sweetie Belle said to the bird of fire.

Philomena trilled sadly, but complied. A flash of flames later, and she was gone.

“I can’t believe we’re going to a muggle store,” Lavender gushed as they exited yet another alleyway.

“Lavender, stay on the sidewalk.” Dean warned, “We don’t want you getting hit by a car, do we?”

“A car?”

“One of those horseless carriages.” Hermione informed her, “They have the right of way in the streets.”

“Aren’t they marvelous,” Parvati breathed, watching the traffic plow through the wet streets.

“They do come in handy,” Seamus agreed, “but you do have to watch for them, getting hit could ruin your day.”

“My dad has one in the shed,” Ginny said proudly. “He’s always tinkering with it.”

With those words, twelve children made their way to the mall.


In his backyard, Discord was relaxing in his hot tub. Truthfully, though, this backyard was more a state of mind than a residential feature. A normal observer would be hard-pressed to even see the back door from this yard; it was in a completely different plane of existence. To the avatar of chaos, this was completely irrelevant, as were all physical laws. All that mattered was that he was luxuriating up to his chin in luscious vanilla pudding, the ultimate indulgence. This was so much better than strawberry; strawberry made him itch.

“Hooo.” Discord cracked an eye open. His perfect moment had been shattered by the call of a messenger owl to his left. The messenger seemed completely at ease with her surrounding, despite the fact that her vertical axis was at thirty-seven degrees to her quarry's. The silver crystal that made her perch left her completely unfazed.

“Someone sent me mail?” he said, reaching out with his eagle's claw. “I wonder who it’s from.”

A quick perusal of the letter left Discord with his eyebrows knitted together in thought. He had to snatch them up quickly and separate them before they spawned. “Alice wants to see me in regard to the guardianship of Harry Potter? Dumbledore approached her to sign all legal rights over to him? Hmmmm, I think not. I wonder, should I show this to Rarity or just take care of it myself?”

The thought of Rarity finding out about the attempt through means other than himself sent a chill through Discord’s spine, freezing solid the pudding he had been relaxing in. Sighing, he reached into the icy desert and withdrew a pudding pop. Sticking it in his mouth, he muttered, “I do think a visit with a certain white unicorn is required.”


“Ooooooo.” The girls collectively cooed walking through the entrance way of the mall.

“Where to first?” Seamus asked gesturing to the multitude of stores. “I don’t know this mall, but there should be a map nearby.”

“This is near my house,” Hermione interjected. “I’m familiar with it.”

“New clothes for Harry first,” Lavender insisted, pointing at a clothes store, just a little way down. “None of the ones he’s wearing fit properly.

Harry seemed to shrink in on himself at that declaration.

“Neville and Ron could use more muggle-looking clothes as well,” Seamus suggested.


Rarity had just received another owl-delivered package. It came as a surprise to nopony that she did not want to be alone when she opened it. For that reason, she made her way, once again, to Twilight’s library. Fortuitously, Twilight and Fluttershy were both present.

“Hello Rarity,” Twilight said as Rarity entered the library, levitating a package. “What do you have there?”

“Sweetie sent the new trunks I ordered,” Rarity stated, lowering the package so Twilight and Fluttershy could see the contents. “She also sent three extra trunks colored like each of the princesses.”

“That was thoughtful of her,” Fluttershy said approvingly.

“Yes, it never hurts to suck up every now and then,” Discord agreed, looking over Fluttershy’s shoulder.

“Eeeeek!” Fluttershy squealed, leaping forward as both Rarity and Twilight flattened their ears and looked at Discord in surprise.

A remorseful look immediately dominated Discord’s face as he looked at the cowering Fluttershy. “I’m sorry,” he said tapping his claws together. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Fluttershy.”

No longer shaking, Fluttershy said, “That’s all right; I know you weren’t trying to sneak up on me. You just caught me off guard.” She beamed a shy smile at him, freezing Discord in place for a few seconds.

Without a word, the other two mares in the room watched the interaction and smirked.

Still looking at Fluttershy, Discord offered Rarity a letter.

“What’s this?” Rarity asked accepting the paper, it wasn’t long before her eyes narrowed and she said, “I can’t believe the nerve of that stallion.” She floated the letter back to its owner. “Discord darling, would you mind waiting here a for few minutes? I simply must go fetch my bat.”


“Button Mash would have an absolute field day in here,” Scootaloo said, looking around at all the video games in the arcade. “We have just the four games in our whole town and he goes nuts over them as it is.”

Keeping her voice low so as not to overheard, Hermione asked, “You have video games back home?”

“Yeah.” Scootaloo nodded. “Though I don’t have the bits to indulge that often.”

Hermione looked at her strangely.

“What?” Scootaloo asked.

“I would have thought that you’d have murdered the word 'indulge'.” Hermione said, “You used it perfectly.”

It was Scootaloo’s turn to look at Hermione strangely.

“Anyway, you have magic all over the place. How does it not fry the electronics like Hogwarts does?” Hermione continued after making sure no one was close enough to overhear.

“Magic fries electronics?” Scootaloo asked. “That can’t be right. Twilight has all kinds of electric do dads in her basement and they never fry.”

“Magic and electricity don’t mix well,” Hermione insisted.

“We’ll just have to ask her in our next letter,” Scootaloo said. “Let’s go, Apple Bloom is handing out bits for the games and I wanna play.”

“They’re called tokens,” Hermione corrected as she followed her purple-haired friend.


As soon as classes had let out for the day, Abigail had made a beeline for the bus. Soon, she was in London proper and standing in front of something that should not be there. There had been many times she had followed her mother into that particular bookstore. It was one of her mother’s favorites, after all. If she were lucky, she could then talk her mother into visiting the record store right next door. Only, the record shop was no longer right next door. How was it possible to build a pub right between two stores that had been next to each other?

Wouldn’t you just know it, the beetle on her shoulder was indicating that she should enter the pub. Of course, the beetle who could write in a language that she didn’t know yet somehow could read, wanted her to enter the pub that shouldn’t be there.


Dumbledore looked up from the paperwork he had been perusing. His deputy headmistress was on her was up the stairs. It was not surprising that she knew he was back. The wards had passed back to him as soon as he had exited the floo. It was also obvious that she had waited until after her last class of the day to seek him out.

Adopting a smile, he called out, “Come in Minerva; I’ve been expecting you.”

He was not prepared for the frown she returned upon the door opening. “I told you that they were the worst kind of muggles,” she said by way of greetings.


“Ahhhhhhh!” Lavender screamed as a volley of projectiles rained down on her location. “No fair teaming up like that!”

“You’re not allowed to open those boxes like that!” the toy store attendant yelled. “Now, you’ll have to pay for those foam guns.”

“Sweetie, make sure you get that scooter, too,” Scootaloo said, taking aim at Neville.

“Okay!” Sweetie Belle said, taking out a bundle of bullseyes. “Dean, hurry up and bring those board games!”


Once he had entered the common room, Euan whistled loudly for attention. “Whose turn is it to feed Mouse?” he asked. “He’s lurking around out here getting ready to pounce.”

A seventh-year girl lifted her robe and rolled up a pants leg. “I’m sorry; I forgot all about him. It’s my turn.”


“Sushi is the best!” Scootaloo proclaimed as they exited the restaurant and started down the mall walkway, shopping bags in hand.

“It was okay.” Apple Bloom said, “Surprisingly filling fo’ how small it is.”

“I loved the little boats that floated by with the choices.” Parvati said.

“They could have cooked it more,” Ron complained. “Not proper English cooking or anything.”

“You need to expand your horizons.” Hermione sniffed, “Besides that didn’t stop you from sampling just about everything they had.”

“That was an expensive meal,” Dean noted. “Next time we should stick with pizza.”

“It did cost more than all the clothes we bought,” Sweetie said, “but we're still within Hermione's budget.”

“So?” Lavender asked, “back to the arcade? I want another go at beating Scootaloo.”

“How about a movie instead?” Seamus suggested. “We can head over to the theaters and see what’s playing.”

“That’s funny,” a woman’s voice said from behind. “We had a similar thought and were headed that way ourselves.”

With a start, the children turned and beheld an older couple smiling at them from just a few feet away.

“Mum! Dad!” a certain girl gasped at the sight.

“Hello Hermione,” the man said, “Why don’t you introduce us to your friends?”

“Busted,” Seamus sighed.

Chapter 29: Movie Night

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Emma Granger surveyed the group of apprehensive children in front of her. Finding her daughter in the mall with a group of friends had been a surprise. After all, the school that she was attending was a considerable distance away. If she hadn’t been visited by the school’s deputy headmistress on a moment’s whim, Emma would have been surprised at the sheer mobility of the magical community. The kids probably used the floo network she had read about. Of course, the school must know where they were. There was no way that a group of students, just a little over a week in, could figure a way to sneak off campus and travel halfway across the isles. It was, though, alarming to see them out and about without supervision.

The awkwardness of the moment was underscored by the din of the shoppers as they flowed past the group like a river around a boulder. Nervously, Hermione introduced the herd. Emma raised an eyebrow as Hermione named the foreigners in the group. Their wild hair colors spoke of iconoclastic beliefs.

“So, did you have any particular movie in mind?” Emma asked, trying to break the ice and establish rapport with the children.

“And where is your supervision?” Emma winced as her husband Dan cut straight to the heart of the matter.

“Supervision?” the vibrant redhead that Hermione had introduced as "Apple" said, “Sweetie, go get the twins.”

“Twins?” the child with the two-toned lavender and pink hair echoed. “Yeah, just a sec.” She did a quick scan of the surroundings before hurrying off in a random direction, followed by one of the boys, the one with red hair.

Dan watched them go, clearly fighting the urge to tag along.

“So?” Emma prompted again, “Movie?”

“We were just going to see what’s playing,” the boy introduced as "Seamus" answered. “No plans, really.”


Moving at just short of a sprint, Sweetie skidded into the family restroom.

“Anyone in here?” she called out even as Ron closed the door behind them. Hearing no reply, she called, “Philomena!”

Flames filled her vision and coalesced into an avian form. Sweetie Belle addressed the bird. “Philomena, please go grab the twins and bring them right here. We need them.”

Philomena tilted her head questioningly before trilling and vanishing once more. Soon, there was another flash of flames, and a pair of redheads was staring around the bathroom in alarm.

“What?” one of them started.

“Thanks for the help Philomena,” Sweetie interjected. “We’ll see you later. You two, hurry! Put your robes in this bag. Hermione says not to wear them around here.”

“What?” the other twin asked, complying with the demand.

“Hurry up,” Ron said. “I hear someone coming.”


The thorn bush provided cover, a hiding place, an obstacle between him and death. He was very glad for the barrier it presented. Even so, he was sure the predator was aware of his presence; surely, the scent of his terror had tipped it off. Luckily, it didn’t seem to be hungry. Not wanting any kind of confrontation, he froze and quietly watched the horror prowl through the clearing.

The funny thing was, he was reasonably sure that manticores were supposed to be extinct.


In Snape’s private workroom, a crystalline mass sat on his central workstation. Snape closely watched the oddity slowly shift through a spectrum of rainbow colors. He honestly did not know what to make of it. Every diagnostic spell he had attempted had failed miserably. As far as his magic was concerned, the object didn’t exist. Yet here it was, sitting on his workbench.

When his first-year students had submitted their potion attempt that morning, he had been unable to think of any technique that could have produced such a result. Not wanting to take chances, he had attempted to vanish the debris. The material did not so much resist the endeavor so much as it just ignored it. Next, he tried levitating it into a secure box, only for it to stay firmly situated on his desk. In the end, Snape had been forced to use a pair of tongs and some dragon hide gloves to move it.

Immediately after his last class, Snape had begun a fruitless series of attempts to dispose of the material. Every spell cast had simply dispersed upon contact. He even attempted the killing curse. That, at the very least, should have chipped it. Instead, there was absolutely no effect. The object just sat there and changed its color every few seconds.

Next, he had tried a barrage of potions and solutions. He might as well have been pouring water on it for all the good it did. Even Everfield’s Extreme Obliterating Elixir failed to elicit any reaction, except for the brand-new hole on his workbench.


“Got them!” Emma heard the girl, "Sweetie", call out as she rejoined the group. She had left with one redheaded boy and returned with three. The two newcomers were obviously older, and, unless she missed her guess, brothers of the first. From their wide eyes, it was likely they were expecting to be brought to task for leaving their charges unattended.

“Hello,” Emma said giving the older boys a pointed glare. “How nice of you to join us.”

“Hello,” they chorused in one voice, their eyes darting every which way as if looking for an escape route. Emma suspected that her own daughter had done more to supervise her classmates than these two. If she were honest with herself, she’d admit that Hermione was more than up to the task. Still, it was good to see that there were a couple of older students nearby.

Emma’s husband, Dan chuckled openly as he watched one of the twins nudge the other and nod toward a group of girls walking by. Well, that explained why they had wandered off earlier; hormones were a harsh mistress. They wouldn’t be the first group of teenagers more interested in watching members of the opposite sex when the alternative was watching their younger siblings.

“Now that we are all here,” Dan said, “shall we pick a movie?”

“What horror movies are playing?” one of the boys asked.

“Dean,” Hermione admonished, “I hardly think a horror film would be the best choice. Remember, this will be the first movie some of us have ever seen.”

“Hermione,” Dean countered, “we literally have living ghosts floating all over the place. Horror films are more like comedic satire than anything else.”

Emma winced at the reminder. “Why don’t we wander over and see what’s playing before we make any decisions?”

Dramatically, Dan clapped his hands on the shoulders of the twins, who were in the process of drifting after the group of girls they had spotted earlier. “Yes, let’s all stick together this time.”

“Yes, sir,” one twin piped up.

“Wouldn’t want you thinking we were irresponsible or anything,” the other finished for him, without taking his eyes off the girls. Emma had to stifle a giggle.

“No, we wouldn’t want that now,” a man in a dapper brown suit and standing just two feet to Emma’s left said. “You two are doing a remarkable job, keeping these children out of trouble.”

Emma startled at the man’s sudden appearance, even as she heard the foreigners call out, “Discord!” He was wearing gloves and wingtip shoes, each sporting a different color. His fashion choices clearly identified him as a wizard. With that realization, Emma lost all her concerns over her daughter’s presence in the mall. Obviously, the adults knew where she was.

“I apologize for interrupting your outing,” the wizard said, “but decisions regarding Harry’s future are underway and we realized we haven’t gotten his input. It is a matter in which he deserves a say.”

“My future?” the boy with messy black hair asked.

“Yes,” Discord said, and Emma realized his eyes were mismatched. “Certain parties are trying to make it so you have to return to your aunt’s care.”

Emma certainly did not miss the boy’s response to that news. The child flinched violently and shrunk in on himself. The look of dread he wore could not have been faked. Dan saw the reaction as well and reached out to place a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder only to pull back when the boy cringed away from the near contact. Surprisingly, several of the girls in the group noticed as well. Hermione was not alone in having a scowl cross her lips as the other children closed ranks around Harry.

Emma raised her gaze to the wizard called "Discord" and shot him a question with her eyes. His response was a subtle shake of his head. His lips thinned to a small frown before he forced another smile.

“So, Harry, would you mind coming with me?” Discord asked in a cheerful voice, which belied the expression Emma had just seen him display.

Harry hesitated. Without warning, was hugged on one side by Sweetie and the other by Parvati. Meanwhile, the smaller redheaded girl looked on jealously.

“Go with him,” Sweetie said encouragingly. “He can help.”

“Yes, sir.” With sudden determination, Harry firmly stepped forward and said, “I’d like that very much.”

“Very good my boy.” Discord smiled and Emma noted that he kept his hands closely at his sides, not making any threating gestures.


Professor Snape swept into the Great Hall with his usual flair. A quick glance showed that the attendance at his house’s table was still sparse, but that would change come Monday. On Monday, the task of reintegrating grieving children back into the school’s culture would begin.

Curiously, the Gryffindor table also had a noticeable decrease in participation. Meanwhile, it looked like the headmaster had finally decided it was time to put in an appearance as well.

Sitting at the head table, he opened with a casual statement. “It would appear that we are missing the entire Gryffindor first-year class.”

Professor Sprout shrugged as she took a sip. “It’s not like they don’t have fifteen kitchens available and are aware that they can order groceries via owl,” she said into her goblet. “I won’t be surprised when the entire house decides not to turn up for a meal now and again.”

Dumbledore glanced at the Gryffindor table then at his deputy headmistress and said nothing.

Suddenly, the bass thump of an explosion echoed throughout the castle. It wasn’t as if the walls themselves shook, but it was very audible. It effectively ended all conversation as everyone strained to listen.

As one the professors turned to the headmaster. It was he who held the wards and would most likely be able to offer some insight.

“Severus’ lab,” was all the old wizard said as he leapt from his seat and headed out of the Great Hall.


With a snap of the man’s fingers and a flash of light, they were somewhere else. For a brief instant, Harry had second thoughts about following Discord out of the mall.

Harry had been exposed to a lot in the last week. The magic castle, a phoenix, a unicorn, heck even the talking portraits were becoming mundane. All of that did not prepare him for his current locale. Wherever he was seemed to laugh in the face of all the laws of physics. There wasn’t really just one thing that made the experience noteworthy. The stairway leading nowhere was just silly. The goldfish swimming through the air, on their way to do whatever, were just cute. However, Harry was certain that shrubs shouldn’t be sprouting cupcakes, let alone be growing indoors. The less said about the bubbling wallpaper, the better. Wallcoverings should not emit little paper balls that floated away.

“Welcome to my home,” Discord said with a sweep of his arm, and Harry saw that there were people waiting for them. They were sitting around a table situated on the ceiling. No, wait, Harry was on the ceiling, they were on the floor!

A weak force compelled him to join the others. Hello gravity!


Alice wound her way through the empty halls of the Ministry. She had come expecting nothing but a skeleton crew. Much to her pleasant surprise, the wizard in the records department had told her that all inquiries into Harry Potter were being handled by Judge Brown, and he had just received a memo from her requesting certain records. The judge should still be in her office, even at this hour.

With a little luck, Discord would be showing up later this evening, but Alice felt it prudent to do her homework first, thus, her trip to the Ministry. It wasn’t like she didn’t now have a small office here anyway; that was one of the perks of being a Wizengamot member. With a confident stride, she marched up to the judge’s door and resolutely knocked. There were a few seconds pause before the door swung open soundlessly, and Alice saw the judge sitting behind her desk with her wand in hand.

“May I help you?” the judge inquired with a questioning look, surprised to have a visitor so late in the day.

“I’m sorry to bother you so late,” Alice said respectfully. “I was told to come to you with any questions regarding Harry Potter.”

Judge Brown narrowed her eyes and motioned toward her visitor’s chairs. “Come in,” she ordered. A swish of the judge’s wand removed Alice’s route of retreat as soon as the young woman crossed the threshold.

“What is your interest in Harry Potter?" Judge Brown demanded as soon as Alice sat down.

Alice resembled a deer caught in headlights at the abruptness of the inquisition.

“Um, I might be responsible for him?” Alice said; it was decidedly a question.

“How did you come to that conclusion?”

Alice sat as straight as she could and place her hands in her lap. “Dumbledore stopped by earlier and was strongly requesting that I sign over all guardianship to him since Lord Black is supposed to be his godfather and is in no condition to make decisions regarding a child. He said as acting head of house, I was entitled to do that.”

“Oh, he did, now did he?” the older woman locked Alice in a menacing glower. “Please tell me you did no such thing.”

“No ma’am, no your honor.” Alice fumbled her words.

“I see.” Judge Brown examined the woman sitting before her. “Are you here to play politics or do you care about the best interests of the child?”

“The best interests of the child,” Alice promptly said.

Judge Brown sighed. “Your answer would be the same either way,” she noted.

Alice obediently nodded her head.

The judge stared at Alice’s rigid form for a few more second’s before saying, “You can relax; I’m not going to hex you.”

Alice let out a relieved sigh, but did not lose her proper posture. “Thank you.”

“Dumbledore having guardianship would not be in the boy’s best interest,” Judge Brown said, opening a drawer on her desk. “His previous actions in that regard have been nothing short of atrocious. If it were not for the actions of Mr. Discord, I fear Mr. Potter would have slipped through the cracks.” She produced a packet of papers. “This contract with the Belle family is how he managed to rescue the boy from his previous circumstances.

Alice accepted the offered paperwork and ran her eyes over it. “It’s a marriage contract?”

“Yes,” replied the judge as she nodded, “written in such a way as to leave both parties ample opportunity to negate the eventual nuptials while providing Mrs. Belle all the authority she will need to keep the child safe.”

“I could mess this up if I sign the wrong thing?” Alice asked, still reading.

“You could make the situation problematic,” the judge agreed. “However, Mrs. Belle has made a magical oath stating that she has Potter’s best interests at heart, and Dumbledore refused to make a similar commitment. It would be messy, but I could override a lot on those premises alone.”

“Is this the best option for Harry, or are there other options I should consider?”

Judge Brown smiled at the woman still reading the contract. “I’ve met Mrs. Belle and witnessed her oath. On top of that, her display against Dumbledore earlier this week exemplifies her commitment to the minor’s welfare. Harry is in good hands with her.”

“What exactly did Dumbledore do?” Alice asked, finally lifting her eyes from the paperwork.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” Judge Brown informed her. “Your status in regards to the minor is iffy at best. There is much I cannot share with you at this point in time.”

“Fair enough,” Alice said reaching for a quill sitting on the judge’s desk.

“And what exactly are you planning to do?” the judge asked, observing her actions.

“I’m signing and dating this so Dumbledore can’t trick Lord Black into helping him in the future,” Alice said.


Somewhere deep in the Ministry, the Department of Mysteries was housed. The extraordinary level of secrecy about its work inspired the nickname for its members -- the Unspeakables. They lived the hackneyed saying, "Those who know do not say."

In one of those offices, well-hidden from the public eye, Saul Croaker sat behind his desk. A permanent charm kept the stench of too many hours without relief at bay. His scowl deepened as he scrutinized the latest reports that his department had produced. It had been an incredibly busy week for the Unspeakables, and these reports indicated that there was no relief in sight.

Under any other circumstance, the precipitous and complete reworking of the Wizengamot would have been their main concern. The fact that it was third on their list of priorities spoke volumes to just how hectic the week had been.

The second most important item led to a dead end. While a reliable means to resurrect ghosts would have proven invaluable, needing both a unicorn and a phoenix to complete the ritual had proven problematic, especially since the unicorn had resolutely refused to participate anymore. Worse, who knew when the next individual with the trust of both a unicorn and a phoenix would emerge? If he had been asked just two weeks ago, Croaker would have insisted that the personalities that attracted each of those species were almost diametrically opposed to each other. How the little girl achieved such a feat was a mystery.

Then, there was the fourth item on the priority list, a hidden magical community, unknown to the rest of the world. At the best current guess, Equestria was a warded island nation, a la Atlantis. Croaker and his team had spent hours speculating on the importance and motivations of this new culture's representatives. One of the most credible hypotheses to emerge was that they were having a population problem, most likely caused by inbreeding. Their outrageous hair colors and the fact that they were mainly only exposing females to the outside world supported this conclusion. Also, there was the fact that the one known male was heterochromatic.

Their rapid acquisition of a marriage contract for such a young student only served to support the theory. This was causing a large amount of anticipation among the wizarding communities around the world. Just about every magical government was anxious to absorb any extra women they may be willing to export, women who were obviously strong in magic. A casual conversation with the Hogwarts's staff confirmed their prowess. That was evident even before the incident in which Mrs. Belle had handily beaten Dumbledore. There had been no contest in that encounter.

Any one of these situations would have been enough to stir up his department like a stick taken to an anthill. It was astonishing that they were secondary concerns at best. No, there was a greater concern.

The door to Croaker’s office flew open, without any warning knock. “Sir!” the wizard who rushed in all but screamed, gaining Croaker’s immediate and undivided attention. This individual was not known to be excitable, just the opposite, in fact. “Sir, five more have gone belly up. Sir, Prophecy Prime was one of the casualties.”

That had been the main worry of his department all week. Prophecies had been crumpling left and right. Once unbreakable glimpses of the future were dissolving into rainbow-colored powder. Notably, Prophecy Prime had been his department’s mandate, its very reason for existing. Now, it was gone.

Leaning back in his chair, Croaker let a smile claim his lips. “Excellent,” he drawled as hope spread throughout his being.


“Hello, Harry,” the woman who had caught him said. “My name is Rarity, it is a pleasure to finally meet you.”

Harry, floating upside-down and surrounded by a magical sky-blue aura, waved and said, “Hello.” Had he been a few years older, he would have marveled at the woman's incredible beauty.

“I do apologize for Discord’s flair for dramatics,” the purple-haired woman continued, “but we did feel that his domain would be best for this meeting, considering that I am currently barred from Britain.”

“It’s all right,” Harry said, starting to enjoy his impromptu flight. “I was just caught off guard; that’s all.”

“But where are my manners?” Rarity asked. “I should introduce you to my friends. First may I introduce Twilight Sparkle.”

A woman with dark purple and pink hair stopped examining her own hands long enough to wave and say, “Hi! Pleased to meet you.” She had to be Sweetie’s mother or some close relative; the color scheme was just too similar. Come to think of it, with her purple hair, Rarity was probably related to Scootaloo.

“And I’d also like you to meet Fluttershy.” At the mention of her name, the extraordinarily beautiful pink-haired woman leapt from her seat and rushed over to guide Harry down to the floor.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she cooed, wrapping Harry in a hug. “You’ve been through so much.”

Harry froze; he had received more hugs in the last week than he had in all of his previous memory. He still wasn’t sure what to do about them, aside from staying still and accepting the contact. Despite the discomfort they made him feel, they were a decidedly welcome addition to his life.


The herd left the theater in a huddled, somewhat sticky mass. Noisily, their steps tore fibers from the carpeting. Somehow, they avoided tripping over each other despite the lack of space between the individual members.

“I told you a horror movie was a bad idea,” Hermione said from somewhere in the center of the jumbled mob.

“Eh, it was rather lame,” Dean said even as Parvati huddled close for reassurance. “I’ve seen worse.”

“I move that Dean doesn’t pick the movies in the future,” Sweetie Belle piped up.

“I second the motion,” Scootaloo announced.

“A motion to restrict movie choices from Dean has been proposed and seconded,” Apple Bloom’s voice declared. “All in favor?”

“Aye!” the members of the herd chorused.

“Opposed?” Apple Bloom continued.

“Hey!” Dean protested.

“Motion carried. Dean is hereby forbidden to pick movies in the future,” Apple Bloom concluded.

“Hey!” Dean repeated.

Emma and Dan followed after the children, snickering.


Harry’s existence had passed surreal ages ago. In retrospect, he should have known sanity was optional as soon as he appeared in Discord’s house. Learning that Dumbledore had been instrumental in his placement with the Dursleys had done little to shape his opinion of the headmaster; he had yet to even meet the wizard. All that news had done was tell him who not to trust.

It hadn’t taken much conversation to convince the adults that he didn’t want to go back to his aunt’s, ever. Harry was pleased to find that they were more than willing to help him with that.

Harry sighed and ruffled his wings. What had happened next had been unpredictable to say the least. Rarity had insisted that Harry be taken to the hospital for a checkup. Such medical attention was another novelty in Harry’s life that was becoming commonplace. In response to that decision, Discord had produced a ring that he claimed would turn Harry into a pony. Wouldn’t you just guess; it did exactly that. Harry was still shocked whenever he went to look at his hands and saw a blue hoof instead. If he were a girl, he would most likely have called it a royal blue hoof. But he was a bloke, darn it. The hoof was blue, just blue.

It had been a complete mystery to Harry as to why he would need to become a pony. He was about to ask when the women in Discord's room transformed into mares whose withers were almost at his waist level. If anyone were to ask, he would insist he absolutely did not squeal and pet them and scratch behind their ears. He was a bloke, darn it!

So, there he was, sitting on an examination table as giant colorful ponies ran around doing all kinds of unknown tests. A good portion of them were unicorns, making Harry wonder what it would be like to have a horn sticking out of his forehead. None of them looked like Magah; they were stockier and their faces were more compact, with large eyes. And, they were doting over him like there was no tomorrow.

There were also several that he learned were called earth ponies; they were running around just as much as the unicorns. All of them were wearing headgear that screamed their professions -- doctors and nurses. Lastly, there was a pair of pegasi who monitored the entire proceedings. They each bore a look that left little doubt that they wanted to hurt someone. Harry dearly hoped that someone wasn’t he.


The three mares were sitting in the waiting room for Canterlot General. Discord had begged off, stating that he really had to talk to Alice about the developing situation. He had teleported to London while sending the others to the hospital, where the mares now waited for the results of the physical. There was some hope that Harry's condition might not be as bad as the medical file had painted, hope that was anorexic at best. They had to be sure. Twilight had her muzzle in a book as Rarity and Fluttershy paced in the center of the room, where carpeting muffled their hoofbeats.

In due time, a yellow unicorn mare in a nurse’s cap entered the waiting area, flanked by a pair of royal guards. “Who here is responsible for Harry Potter?” she asked.

Rarity’s ears perked and she said, “That would be me, I’m reuuuuuurrrrggggggggk!”

Floating in the air, Rarity stared into eyes that were promising her a slow, painful death. “I . . . want . . . answers.” the yellow unicorn said through gritted teeth.

“Woah! Woah!” Twilight yelled as Fluttershy looked on, wide-eyed. “Rarity just got guardianship this week! You’re misdirecting your anger!”

The nurse looked at Twilight then back at Rarity. “Where is the pony who did this?”

“Last I knew,” Rarity said, wetting her lips, “they were carting him off to the hospital.”

“I would like it very much for you to introduce him to me,” the nurse said, placing Rarity back on the ground.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to get in line,” Rarity said, brushing imaginary dust off her withers with a forehoof. “Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have claimed the head of the queue to talk to him.”

The nurse’s demeanor flipped and she beamed. “I can live with that. Wait? Princesses Celestia and Luna? What about Princess Cadance?”

“She hasn’t found out yet, as far as I know,” Twilight said trotting up to stand next to Rarity.

“I wonder how long that will last,” Fluttershy pondered meekly.


In every corner of the Canterlot Palace, alarms were blaring. Guard ponies ran around with looks of panic, doing their best to herd the stampede of citizens out of harm’s way.

“Code ‘Name to be Determined Later’! Code ‘Name to be Determined Later’!” one of the guard ponies with officer markings was yelling at the top of his unicorn-amplified lungs. “We have a Code ‘Name to be Determined Later’! This is not a drill!”

“Are you bucking kidding me?” demanded a junior officer as he skidded to a stop. “Really, are you bucking kidding me!?”

“Shut up and get the civilians clear.”

Chapter 30: Mob Rules

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The scents of lemon and ginger wafted through the air and the faculty approached the workshop's door. Snape raised an eyebrow. Perhaps they were overreacting. He pushed open the door and froze when he saw what lay within. The former workshop was a complete and utter disaster area. It could be said, without much exaggeration, that the room was chaos given form. As one would expect, shrapnel and scorch marks were on the walls, floor, and ceiling, but, fantastically, these formed outlandish patterns, inconsistent with the sphere of destruction from a normal explosion. They made for a pleasant mural, if one could get past the fact that they obviously were burn marks.

Despite the chaos, there seemed to be some pattern to the destruction in the rest of the room. If one were to hold their head sideways and squint, it looked like reality decided to study under Pablo Picasso and leave behind a cubist nightmare. What was left of the work tables was a jumbled mess of creation under the influence of things best not mentioned. It looked as though the furniture had originally been made of toy bricks, smashed by a two-year-old with a sledgehammer, and then put back together by the very same child, but instead of settling on the original pieces, the child had gotten creative and added parts of other toys, candy, and whatever else he could get his grubby paws on. In some places, the transformed furniture resembled clouds of crimson cotton candy, in others, it seemed more like a grey slimy mess.

Predictably, when the professors of Hogwarts saw the results of the deflagration, they promptly waved their wands to cast diagnostic spells. Soon, they were all frowning as they examined their wands. The diagnostics yielded inconsistent and contradictory results. Dumbledore, however, had much more serious concerns. His analyses yielded nothing because his wand now refused to cooperate.


In the damp and drafty caverns under the bank, the goblins were in an uproar. An archaic covenant had been invoked by a young witch. The pact was so old that what little was known of its origins was cloudy at best. There were no benefits in the deal for the goblins; they were bound to it by some very ancient magics, some very ancient soul magics. They would not and could not charge this witch any fees or penalties. Their efforts would yield neither profit nor recompense. This was the least of their worries. The girl had invoked something worse than a bad business deal. She had, through powers that now seemed to rest inside her, implemented a most ancient and feared binding on their very people. They had to do whatever she commanded, even though she hadn’t yet seemed to realize she had that effect on them.

The whispers ran wild. There were screams of outrage as the news traveled. The very idea should have been lost to time. No one should even know such a possibility existed. The magics involved should have been lost. It was inconceivable that such a thing even existed. Nevertheless, in the very core of their being they felt the truth of the matter.

After time unspoken, and despite the best efforts of generations of their kind, it had happened.

A new Goblin Lord had arisen.


Emma and Dan watched the herd crowd around the display in the electronics store. Like children everywhere, they were enthralled by the game console currently being presented.

“This is so much smaller than the ones in the arcade,” Lavender said as she hogged the controller.

“There is a noticeable decrease in quality though,” Parvati noted, watching the sprite of a red-suited man jump around.

“I still like it,” Lavender insisted.

“We can tell.” Seamus snickered, losing any hope that he’d get a turn.

“Are these common?” Neville asked Hermione, taking his eyes off the game long enough to observe her response.

“These just came out recently,” Hermione answered, “but the previous version has been out for years.”

“Well,” Sweetie said holding a new bag with a distinctive box sticking half way out, “they were reasonably priced.”

“How are you planning to get that to work at school?” Hermione asked, eyeing the latest purchase.

“Don’t know.” Sweetie shrugged, “a letter to Twilight will probably be all we need.”

“Still.” Dean commented, “You’d need a telly for that to work at all.”

“Apple Bloom’s got one,” Sweetie said, pointing to where the mentioned redhead was easily balancing a large box on her shoulder.

“Bloody!” Dan started after turning to look; he quickly rushed over to help the small girl with the heavy load.

Almost absently, Apple Bloom let him take the awkward box. “Thank you kindly,” she said once he had managed to stabilize the load.

Dumbfounded, the store attendant asked, “What have you been feeding her? I'd get a hernia if I tried lifting that by myself.”

“She’ll eat anything within arm’s reach that’s not moving,” Parvati said, not taking her eyes off Lavender’s game. “Give her a fork and even that’s fair game.”

“Hey!” Apple Bloom said indignantly.

“That’s it,” the attendant stated. “I’m getting a gym membership. Can’t have the little girls showing me up, now can I?”


The room was a riot of colors. Whoever had painted the walls must have been colorblind. The furniture wasn’t any better. Beanbags chairs in a shocking array of pigmentation littered the floor. Hidden lighting accentuated the brightly painted walls, chromatic beanbags, and the mercifully white door.

They had led him to this room and asked him to wait inside. Not really having a choice, he complied. Choosing a fluorescent orange beanbag that clashed horribly with his new blue coat, Harry sat and waited.

Peering at his new appendages, he could truly empathize with Scootaloo’s desire to fly. What he really wanted to do was to get out and try out his new wings. Instead, he had to wait. Waiting was making him edgy.

After what seemed like forever, the door opened and admitted a crimson earth pony with a yellow mane done up in a bun. “Hello Harry Potter,” she said cheerfully, closing the door behind herself and plopping onto the lime green beanbag next to his own.

Harry saw that a picture of a brain surrounded by a stethoscope graced her flank. “Hello,” he said tentatively.

“My name is Mending Psyche,” she enlightened him. “We two are going to be spending some time together.”

“Okay.” Harry said warily.

“You don’t seem to trust me very much,” the mare observed.

Harry elected not to answer as he continued to eye her warily.

After getting no reply, Mending asked, “Are there any adults that you trust?”

Harry stopped to consider the question. Were there any adults he trusted? Sure, Hagrid was a friend, his first even. Honestly, Hagrid reminded him of an overgrown kid more than anything else. Other than that giant, were there any adults he actually trusted?

Noting Harry’s lack of a ready response, Mending prompted, “What about Rarity?”

“I just met her today,” Harry revealed. “She says she’ll help me get away from the Dursleys, so I guess I trust her.”

“Mmmmmm.” Mending nodded her head knowingly. “That’s some interesting criteria for trusting somepony.”

“Where is she?” Harry asked. “She said that I just had to have an exam before she returned me to my friends.”

“Your exam isn’t over with yet,” Mending stated. “Besides, Rarity and her friends will have to talk to the Princess before she is allowed to take custody of you.”

Harry tilted his head questioningly.

“Tell me about the Dursleys,” Mending said, getting the conversation back on topic. She did not miss the way the foal withdrew in on himself when she made the demand.


“There they are,” Neville said, pointing out the twins

Emma followed his finger and sure enough, there were the two wandering chaperones. She wasn’t sure exactly when they had slipped away after the movie, but, predictably, they had found a group of girls to strike up a conversation with.

“Fred, George!” Apple Bloom shouted. “It’s time to head back; we’re carrying half the stores here.”

“Coming!” one of the twins returned as they both backed away from the girls, waving.

“You two should be ashamed, getting lost like that,” Parvati berated them once they had rejoined the group.

“We couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” one twin said.

“Besides, you were with Hermione’s parents,” the other finished.

“Speaking of home,” Emma said, “Hermione, wouldn’t you like to invite your friends over instead of heading back to the school so soon?”

“We wouldn’t all fit in the car,” Hermione said, “especially, not with all of our purchases.”

“Isn’t there a floo point closer to home?” Dan inquired, as he struggled with the television.

“We can meet you at your house after we get this stuff where it belongs,” Sweetie suggested, “if that’s okay with you.”

“Yes, that will do nicely.” Emma said watching her husband hand his burden off to the twins.

“What do you have in here?” Fred asked, splitting the load with his twin.

“Rocks?” George asked, “or a miniature dragon maybe?”

The twins staggered under their loads. Sighing, Apple Bloom strolled up and relieved them of their burdens, “Come on then,” she said leading the herd out the doors and aiming for the alley where they had arrived. "Ah want to get this stuff put away.”

The two responsible adults followed the children into the empty alleyway.

“Is there a hidden magical shop back here?” Emma asked, determined to see the students safely on their way.

“Um, no,” Dean said.

“Then how?” Dan asked.

“Philomena!” Sweetie called and with a burst of flames an elegant bird glided onto her shoulder.

“Bye Mum! Dad!” Hermione waved. “We’ll see you back at the house in a bit.”

The rest of the children said their goodbyes. More flames came, and they were gone.

“I really want to know what they are feeding that girl.” Dan rubbed his sore arms and grumbled once he and his wife were alone.


For over a decade, Safe Haven had been a guard pony. Too crass to be stationed in the palace itself, he had spent those years patrolling the streets of Canterlot. Together with his partner, he had seen just about every crisis the city could produce. He still shuddered at the thought of the Great Food Fight that had ravaged the restaurant district just three years prior. There had been guacamole everywhere!

In spite of all the chaos he’d seen, there were things ponies just didn’t do. Some things were just unthinkable. The current situation would be giving him nightmares for the rest of his life. He didn’t have all the details but the three mares he was herding to the Princess herself were somehow involved. They claimed that they were trying to help the foal, and given their demeanor, Safe Haven was inclined to believe them. The fact that they were the bearers of the Elements pointed to them being innocent. Still, no chances were being taken. As a result, a small mob was nearing the palace to request an audience with the rulers of the land. That the mob consisted of just over half of the staff of the hospital only underscored the seriousness of the situation.

As they approached the main entrance to the palace, one of the castle guard ponies strolled forward to address the angry mob. “Halt!” he commanded. “What seems to be the problem here?”

“Hello, Solid Foundation,” the lavender unicorn that Safe Haven knew was related to the captain, said. “There seems to be a minor misunderstanding and some misdirected anger. These ponies are insisting that we be presented to Princess Celestia without delay.”

“Some misdirected anger?” Solid Foundation surveyed the impassioned ponies clustered around the three Element Bearers. There was no word in the pony language for ‘lynching’, but it was apparent that this group was willing to invent one. “Does this happen to have anything to do with that last letter you sent the princess?”

“Maybe?” the lavender unicorn admitted. “Somewhat? . . .Okay, there might just be an undeniable connection.”

Solid Foundation had stopped listening at the word "maybe" and was already sending runners to alert the rest of the guards.


Comfortable in their car, the couple made their way home. Once again, Dan got directly to the point. “You realize that the twins weren’t in the mall when we got there. That’s why they sent Sweetie to go get them.”

“Let them think they’re getting away with something.” Emma smirked. “We don’t want them to learn that they are so transparent, yet. If we try reining them in, they are only going to get sneakier about it. I can think of worse things they could do than spending the afternoon at the mall.”

“How long before they start thinking of them, too?”

“Dan, despite your wishes, our daughter is growing up.” Emma comfortingly patted him on his knee. “We have to trust her having a ridiculous level of mobility. Besides, the witches obviously have a way to keep track of them. Discord had no problem tracking them down.”

“She’s too young,” Dan complained.

“She is,” Emma agreed. “She also has access to resources a normal almost twelve-year-old wouldn’t have.”

“There are blokes out there just waiting to snatch up unsuspecting little girls,” Dan insisted.

“They don’t attack groups and besides, I’d like to see one have a go at Apple. She’d put him in his place.”

“What are they feeding that girl?” A frown crossed Dan’s face. “That telly was bloody heavy and she barely registered its weight at all.”

“I’m sure magic is involved somehow.” Emma shrugged. “It just proves my point; young or not, those children are not targets. I know you want to keep them safe, but clipping their wings is only going to make them rebel.”

“They have a bird that can whisk them hundreds of miles in a blink of the eye,” Dan lamented.

“In a few years, they are going to be able to pop all over the country with just a thought,” Emma countered. “It's best to just get used to the notion now.”

“Pop all over the country?” Dan glanced at his wife before returning his attention back to the road.

“Professor McGonagall stopped by at a moment’s notice, without a second thought,” Emma said. “Apparently, it’s a thing witches and wizards do.”

Dan sighed at the news. “I suppose getting her a pocket phone would be the best idea then.”

“Magic and electricity aren’t supposed to mix well,” Emma said.

“They just bought a gaming console,” Dan countered. “They’ve got some way around that.”


Their feet scarcely touched the floor of the dormitory before Magah was all over them. The large unicorn started with Sweetie Belle, sniffing her all over and nudging her roughly to test for injuries. Then she moved to Seamus, rudely knocking him on his back in her haste to do a once over. Scootaloo’s attempt to make a break for the nearest trunk was interrupted as Magah snapped her neck out to capture the girl’s blouse in her teeth.

“Mad unicorn! Mad unicorn!” Lavender squealed when she was next.

“Yeah, she does seem irate,” George said, backing up to the wall.

“I think she knows you weren’t in your trunks.” Fred chortled.

“Halp!” came Parvati’s muffle cry as she received a face full of white fur.

The equine quickly inspected each of the herd, then checked them a second time. When she was done she pranced around the room franticly looking at each child in turn.

“What’s her problem?” Dean asked. “None of us are hurt.”

“Well it’s obvious,” Fred said.

“Harry’s not here,” George finished.


The foal was starting to get irritated by Mending’s constant barrage of personal questions. His attitude clearly asked, "Why won’t she just leave me alone?" Still reclining on his beanbag, Harry had unconsciously ruffled his feathers and his ears lay flat against his skull.

Well-versed in blatantly obvious pony body language, Mending Psyche changed her tactics. “Are you hungry? You haven’t eaten since you got here.”

“No,” Harry said, “I had sushi before I came here; I’m still full.”

“Sushi?”

“Hermione thought we should expand our horizons.” Harry nodded. “She took us to a restaurant that served sushi.”

“Hermione is one of your classmates at Hogwarts?” Mending prodded.

“Yeah.”

“So?” Mending blinked. “Sushi?”

“Yeah, it’s fancy raw fish with rice, seaweed, and other things.”

“Raw fish?” Mending asked. “You ate raw fish? I know some pegasi are partial to fish, but they normally cook it first.”

“Well, it isn’t steak, but it’s actually rather good,” Harry conceded. “I hadn’t tried it before today. I’m glad Hermione thought to suggest it.”

“Steak?” Mending inquired.

“Yeah, steak.”

“What’s steak?” Mending urged.

“I’m not sure exactly what cuts of meat are steak,” Harry said.

“Meat?” Mending ears perked up as she analyzed the foal before her. “You regularly eat meat? Of what animal?”

“I’m pretty sure that steak is normally cow,” Harry disclosed.

“Cow?!” Mending’s professionalism broke, as did her voice, “You’ve eaten the flesh of cows?!”

“Is there something wrong with eating cows?” Startled, the foal shrunk back. He didn’t appear to be goading her to get a reaction. He sincerely saw nothing wrong with eating cows. The already abominable situation had just jumped up the scale of gruesome to achieve previously unheard-of levels of horror.


The herd had stashed their purchases in Scootaloo’s trunk. The task was made harder by an overprotective unicorn trying to stay close, including several more attempts to squeeze herself into the trunk.

“What are we going to do?” Hermione fretted. “There’s no way she’s going to be happy with us leaving again, and my parents are going to be waiting for us.”

“We could just take her with us,” Scootaloo suggested.

“A unicorn in a muggle neighborhood wouldn’t go over well,” Parvati asserted.

“We’re just going into the house,” Neville said. “It couldn’t be that bad.”

“That has the potential of going so pear-shaped that it’s not even funny,” Dean said.

“Wait.” Ginny spoke up. “I have an idea.”


Princess Celestia was holding court later than was her norm. Recent events had created a backlog. Sighing, she glanced at the ponies in line still patiently waiting to be heard. Soon, she would be lowering the sun and it would be her sister’s turn.

Without warning, a host of guard ponies marched into the room. “Attention everypony,” the captain of her guard announced. “We regret to inform you that court is closed for the day. Take the ticket that the guard gives you, and you will have the same place in line tomorrow.”

Celestia was as surprised as the other ponies in the room, but raised no objections. Curiously, she watched the guards herd the petitioners from the room, ignoring every complaint and challenge. They weren’t taking "no" for an answer. When a minor noble started to raise a fuss, a unicorn guard just bodily hauled her into the air, going so far as to wrap magic around her muzzle to keep her quiet.

“Is there something the matter?” Celestia asked, unsure what to make of the unusual behavior. “I assure you I’m capable of seeing the rest of the petitioners today.”

“Yes,” the captain said, “something has come up.”


Outside the throne room, the guards were mustering. Every available hoof was in attendance, including the reservists.

“Listen up!” an officer ordered. “We have a potential situation unfolding. Prepare for a code ‘Tempest” and possibly a code ‘Nightshade’ as well. Also, a code . . . Have we decided what to call it yet?”

“Code ‘Heart Attack’?” one guard suggested.

“’Heart Breaker,” another offered.

“Heart Ache?”

“Broken Heart” was suggested.

“Code ‘Da buck just happened?’”

“Code ‘liquid tears’?”

“Idiot, all tears are liquid.”

“Code ‘Walking Nightmare’.”

“Trotting Nightmare.”

“I vote ‘Passion Pout’.”

“Amour Barrage.”

“Delightful Onslaught.”

“Are you serious?”

“Pink Incursion?”

“Now you’re just getting absurd.”


Albus Dumbledore sat behind his desk and glared at the wand sitting on it. It had been his most prized possession ever since he had won it from Grindelwald. It was much more than just another wand. It was safe to say that it was "the wand", a powerful artifact in its own right. It was said to be the most powerful wand ever to exist. Fickle, it was a wand that accepted only one master.

The only way to become its owner was to beat the previous holder. It would resist being used in any manner by anyone else. For years, Dumbledore had been its wizard, confident in his stewardship of the relic.

Now, it spurned his call.


“Twilight?” Princess Celestia said as her student and her friends led a mass of ponies into the throne room. Unless Celestia missed her guess, a lot of those ponies were upset.

“Hello Princess,” Twilight said, lacking her normal cheer.

“Hello Princess Celestia.” Rarity waved. “I apologize for bothering you so late, but things seem to have gotten out of hoof.”

Fluttershy seemed to share a greeting as well, but it was lost behind her mane and trampled by the muttering of the trailing mob.

“A little out of hoof?” one grey pony wearing a stethoscope called out. “I have never been so angry in my life.”

This started a flood of yelling as ponies tried to top each previous call of outrage.

“EVERYPONY PLEASE!” Celestia demanded, gaining instant silence. “Give me a moment; we will get to the bottom of this.” Turning to Twilight she asked, “What is this all about?”

“Well,” Twilight said, “to make a long story short, we decided to get a second opinion and brought Harry Potter to Canterlot General.”

Twilight must have blinked. Celestia had been reclining on her cushion; now she was standing in front of Twilight with no transition in between. “You brought the foal to Equestria?”

“Yes, we wanted to confirm the results of the previous medical report,” Twilight said to her mentor.

“What were the results?”

“We don’t know,” Rarity said. “These ponies were understandably worried that we might somehow be involved and refused to share the report with us.”

Celestia looked at her and then shifted her focus to the group of medical personnel who had accompanied the horde. A yellow unicorn nurse was floating a thick folder. Without a word, Celestia reached out and claimed the paperwork as her own.

Onlookers watched a look claim her face, which they would be telling their foals about for generations to come . . . in quiet voices . . . trying not to wet themselves in the process.

There must have been a silent signal given, some sort of nonverbal cue, because suddenly there were guard ponies everywhere. Each one grabbed the nearest civilian and hauled ass

. . .

or pony . . .

. . .

or whatever equine happened to be within reach.


There wasn’t much time left in the day when Applejack put away the last of her tools. Work on the farm was never complete, but work for the day was finite. She had done all her chores for the day. Happily, one of the most time-consuming tasks had been taken up by the farm’s newest resident.

With scarcely a sound, that resident landed on the fence next to the orange mare.

“Howdy Lodestone,” she greeted with a smile; Big Mac’s new pet more than paid for his upkeep. “Did the deliver go off without a hitch?”

“Hooo.”

“What? Again?” Applejack frowned slightly, looking at the glowing rune on the owl’s pouch.

“Hoo.”

Sighing, Applejack reached out a hoof and said, “Ex dimittere” in a firm voice.

“Baaaaarrrffff!”

Resigned, Applejack looked at the plum mare then called over her shoulder, “Big Mac! Potent Potpourri is here ta see ya again!”


In the Hufflepuff common room an unusual conversation was taking place.

“Is it safe to let him sit on your head like that?” a fifth-year boy asked.

“He’s already eaten today,” the third-year girl in question answered. “Besides, head wounds just bleed a lot without much damage.”

“You’re not afraid he might decide on a late-night snack?”

“It’s no skin off my back if he does.” The girl shrugged.

“No, it’s off your head,” the boy countered.

“Oh good,” a seventh-year girl said entering the common room, “you’ve got Mouse; saves me the hassle of hunting him down.”

“Got a pimple?” the fifth-year girl asked.

“No,” the seventh year shook her head, “I just wanted to see how well he works on yeast infections.”

There was a noticeable pause.

“What!?” the first two speakers chorused.

“I said I wanted to see how well he works on yeast infections.” The eldest girl repeated.

“We heard you the first time.” The third-year girl growled.

“Then why’d you ask?”

“That there is some mental imagery I could have done without.” The fifth-year boy stated turning slightly green.

“Oh, grow up.”

“We have potions for that, you know.” The younger girl exclaimed.

“Technically, Mouse is a potion.”


Flames filled the Granger’s backyard. Where there had been no one, there was now a gaggle of children.

Confidently, one of them led the rest to the backdoor. “Mum! We’re here!” she called instead of knocking.

“Hermione, we were just starting to get worried that you weren’t going to make it,” Emma said as her kitchen started to fill with guests.

“We had a small difficulty that needed an immediate resolution,” Hermione said.

“It was kind of humorous,” Lavender added.

“I see you brought your phoenix,” Dan said eyeing the avian on Sweetie Belle’s shoulder. “I just have one question.”

“We kind of expected you would,” Neville said.

“Good,” Dan said getting to the heart of the matter, “Then would you kindly explain why you have a grown woman with you dressed as Lady Godiva?”

Seamus snorted and said, “Obviously, because, a five-hundred-pound unicorn would have caused too much of a spectacle.”

Chapter 31: Probing, Preparing, and Pizza

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Tension hung heavy in the air with hints of both disappointment and anticipation. This was not the way anyone wanted to start the weekend. Normally, there would not be a full staff meeting just after supper. Normally, there would not be a full staff meeting just one week into a new term. The impromptu meeting served to underscore that the past week had been anything but normal.

The faculty lounge was normally the most comfortable place on campus. Located not far from the Great Hall, it was appointed with plush rugs and overstuffed chairs. Normally, the room was arranged to allow small groups to talk among themselves, but a quick bit of transfiguration had reconfigured the room into a small auditorium, with the chairs arranged in tiered semicircles, facing a podium. The full complement of professors and staff fidgeted as they waited for their headmaster to open the meeting he had unexpectedly called.

The hubbub of the assembly abruptly stopped as the door opened. To their surprise, it admitted not the headmaster, but one of the prefects. “Professor McGonagall,” she said, heading toward her head of house, “I’m glad I caught you before the meeting started. There’s been a minor incident back at the tower.

“No doubt involving Mr. Potter and his followers,” Professor Snape sniped, sneering.

“Well, yes, it was the first-years,” Fay admitted.

“What happened, Miss Dunbar?” Professor McGonagall prompted, unworried; her prefect was much too relaxed for it to be anything particularly disquieting.

“The first-years have turned their unicorn into a human,” Fay announced.

“A human you say?” asked Professor Sprout with a small smirk.

“Yes, and she was causing quite a ruckus trying to get out of the dress she was in.” Fay nodded. “She didn’t take too kindly to being clothed.

“A dress?” Professor Flitwick inquired.

“A pink monstrosity,” Fay explained. “Right ghastly thing. Can’t say that I blame her much for wanting to be rid of it. But, she refused to wear anything I transfigured for her, absolutely insisted on being naked.”

Despondently, Professor McGonagall said, “I don’t suppose they’ve had her a week yet.”

“You know perfectly well it’ll be a few days yet before she’s been here a week.” Professor Snape said somewhat smugly.

Sighing, Professor McGonagall pulled two galleons from a pocket and tossed them onto Severus’ lap. Following her lead, Professors Flitwick and Sprout did the same.

“They couldn’t just wait until Monday, now could they?” Professor McGonagall lamented.

Amazed, Mr. Goodman watched Snape pocket his winnings. The tutor asked, “You were expecting this?”

“There is precedent,” Professor Flitwick acknowledged. “Though, I thought they’d go a month before thinking of it.”

“But a group of eleven-year-olds just taught a unicorn how to . . .” Mr. Goodman started; then with a huff, he continued, “Silly me. For a second there, I forgot who I was talking about. This is the group whose response to boring history lessons was to raise the dead. What’s teaching a unicorn to transfigure compared to that?”

“So,” Professor Trelawney, the Divinations professor, asked, “are we starting a pool on when they will accomplish their next impossibility?”


The pack was loping through the shadows cast on the forest floor when one of its members spotted an opportunity. A small meal was scurrying down the game trail. Though it was scanning its surroundings for dangers, it was ignorant of the presence of the predators. There was no warning given, just a pounce, a grab and a quick shake of its head to snap its prey's neck.

The predator expected the squeal, most meals made a vocal protest over their end. What the predator hadn’t counted on was for its prey to suddenly grow in its waiting jaws. There was the cracking of branches and twigs as the hunter received a practical demonstration of the transfer of momentum. The surprise and suddenness didn’t even allow the canine the luxury of calling out before being crushed. Teeth still met the intended victim, even as the predator itself was vanquished. Blood splattered on twigs, leaves and branches, but the terrified prey scampered away from the encounter.


In the Solar Throne Room, the Captain of the Guard had ordered the civilians hauled to safety, even as he stayed behind to contain the worst of the potential destruction. For breathless minutes he watched as Celestia stood on the other side of his expertly-crafted shield and read the contents of the folder. Nopony would be foolish enough to say the Princess wasn’t upset, but the temperature remained relatively constant, the floor remained unmelted, and the throne room avoided further damage.

After the last page was returned to the folder, Celestia looked up and saw that she was alone in her throne room, aside from the captain of her guard. “Shining Armor,” she said, “it’s nearly time for me to lower the sun. Afterwards, my sister and I shall be paying a visit to Canterlot General. Cadence will most likely want to come, too. Please see to it that all those from the last group who still want an audience are allowed back into the throne room to await my return. Also, refreshments would not be amiss. Better yet, provide a full meal for anypony interested.”

“Yes, your highness,” the captain said, eyeing the folder Celestia was still floating with her magic.

Perceiving his gaze, Celestia said, “It is nothing I was not already aware of. This only steels my resolve.”

Shining Armor saluted before rapidly exiting the chamber to do as he was ordered.

Celestia sighed and said, “You can come out now; he’s gone.”

Twilight peeked her head out from behind Celestia’s cushions and said, “He didn’t really think I’d let the guards stop me from being here, did he?”

Celestia smiled warmly before floating the folder over to Twilight. “It is remarkable how this report was almost a verbatim copy of the previous one. I guess medical ponies are the same everywhere, even when they are not ponies.”

“I feel as if I should apologize for bring the whole mess to your attention,” Twilight said, coming close to Celestia. “You have enough to worry about as it is.”

“Twilight,” Celestia said with a firmness that Twilight rarely heard in her voice, “had you neglected to bring this to my attention, that would require the apology. You did the right thing.”


In a typical home in a typical London suburb, he sat on the family room couch, holding his wife close. It had been too long since he had last held her in such a manner. The constant anger would not have allowed it. Though he slept in the same bed as her every night, he had not known her warmth in years. Likewise affected, she now clung to him, as if afraid of drowning. An unsated hunger for the comfort that his nearness offered kept her at his side.

Together, they intently watched their son, home from boarding school for the weekend, due to a "family emergency". The boy was wallowing in front of the telly, seemingly unaffected. Thankfully, the pig tail had been amputated. Overall, their son had been the least affected. After all, he had been raised to the role, and his parents were at a loss on how to handle the situation. Whenever they thought about it, their loathing for magic swelled.

It hadn’t been their fault; it had been the magic’s. Having none of their own, they had no defense against it. Its influence had been more damning than alcohol's; they had done things they never would have even dreamed of doing, even on their worst day -- things that left them wondering just how dark their true selves actually were. Now, bereft of its influence, they were left to pick up the pieces.

He bit his lip and moved his meaty arm to hug his wife closer. Before, he had taken such pleasure in gluttony. Upon reflection, he realized that impulse served only to rub salt in the wounds of a child. Now, for all the pleasure it gave him, everything he ate may as well have been ash. He was appalled at the person he had been just the week before.

Gathering his courage, he said the words that had to be said, but he felt he had no right to say them. “We need to apologize to him.”

His wife shook her head and new tears welled in her eyes. “We must." She shook her head as she paused. "I don’t think I can do it. I still hate him so very much. Even though he’s done nothing, I hate him. Still, we must.”

He nodded in acknowledgement. The hate still gnawed at him as well.

She hugged him closer, and they went back to watching their son.

Harry had not been the only victim.


“Let me see if I got this straight,” Emma said, eyeing the naked individual studying her potted plants. “That’s not a woman; she’s your pet unicorn?”

“Unicorns aren’t pets,” Sweetie Belle insisted. “She just sort of follows me everywhere.”

“But, she’s a unicorn that you’ve turned into a human with a necklace you just happened to have lying around.” Dan raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Yes,” asserted the collection of children.

“And she refuses to wear anything you put on her?” Dan continued.

“Yes,” the children agreed.

“And she’s eating my aloe plant,” Emma noted.

“Magah!” Apple Bloom yelled. “Stop! 'Tain't polite ta go 'round eating somepony’s house plants!”

“Maaaaaaaaaaaaa!” Magah moaned as she tried to deal with the spikes from her latest meal. If she were placed in a line up, and random people were brought in and asked which was the unicorn turned human, they would all point to her unfailingly. Normal humans did not have forms as lithe as hers. Normal humans did not have hair in that shade of blonde. Normal humans did not sport knee-length hair. She was, very much, a walking cliché.

“I think we should help her,” Parvati said, rushing forward. “I see something stuck in her tongue.”

Dan took action. Reaching Magah first, he firmly held her still and extracted the offensive material. He avoided being bitten in a manner only a dentist could explain.

“Aaaaaaaa,” Magah complained in his grip.

“I think it would be best if we took her downstairs,” Hermione said. “Daddy’s got part of the cellar set up with a projection telly. There are no windows there, so we can take off the necklace and show you what Magah looks like naturally.”

“I’m going to refrain from making the obvious joke.” Emma smirked.

“Mother!” Hermione gasped.


The opulent furnishing of what was once Malfoy Manor did nothing to calm her nerves as Alice nervously fidgeted in a wingback chair in the sitting room. Discord had yet to reply to her letter; she had no idea if he would accept her invitation for supper. Hopefully, he would accept the offer and put in an appearance.

She had raided Narcissa’s closet, thankful that the two were about the same size. Her prize was a pale blue piece of art that showed off her assets wonderfully. With any luck, Discord would have trouble looking her in the eyes. Not that his eyes weren’t nice, but tonight, they belonged elsewhere.

Anxiously, Alice wrung a laced kerchief in her lap. Narcissa had been kind enough to provide it when she had seen how restless the younger woman was. Alice was still bewildered at how helpful Malfoy’s ex-wife had been over the course of the last week. She had anticipated hostility on that front. The glaring absence was perplexing.

“You look lovely tonight,” said a familiar voice just off to her right. Relief mixed with excitement flooded her system.

“Discord!” Alice exclaimed, quickly rising to her feet. “I’m so happy you could make it!”

“You didn’t think I would abandon you?” Confidence had returned to his voice. This was good.

Alice schooled her impulses and glided over to stand before him. He was wearing the same suit as before. She was going to have to work on that. Reaching out, she straightened the collar of his jacket for him. “You're just in time for supper; won’t you escort me to the dining room?”

Discord forced his eyes on Alice’s and with a gulp, said, “I would be delighted to, but first, I was instructed, in no uncertain terms, by my friend Euridice, that the very first thing I was to do tonight was inform you of my friend Fluttershy.”

With her hand still on Discord’s collar, Alice froze.


Once again, he was alone in a room filled with beanbags. Despite the riot of colors in the room, his blue coat still managed to clash with everything. Mending Psyche had left soon after they had discussed his supper, leaving Harry to wonder about her reaction on learning what steak was. It was just his luck; he got a Hindu pony. His primary school teacher had told a funny story about how she had met a Hindu woman once and made the mistake of ordering beef in front of her. The lesson was supposed to be about respecting other cultures. Having done something similar, Harry could relate with his former teacher. It wasn’t so funny now. How was he supposed to know that Mending had considered cows sacred?

Harry had almost fallen asleep by the time the door reopened. Mending followed a beige unicorn into the room; both selected beanbags to lie on.

“Hello, Harry Potter,” the unicorn said. “My name is Rapid Recovery. I am here at the request of Mending Psyche. I need to ask you some important questions.”

Bleary-eyed, Harry nodded.

“When was the last time you can remember eating steak?”

“Um,” Harry said, still not wholly focused, “there was a platter of some for supper yesterday. I had a small piece, but mainly just had roast chicken.”

“Chicken, too?” Mending muttered as Rapid asked, “Only a small piece?”

“Yeah, Sweetie murdered the platter. It’s hard to properly enjoy a dish when she’s being aggressive.”

“Sweetie?” Rapid's eyes narrowed. “Is she also a pegasus?”

“No,” the colt said. Suddenly he jumped up spreading his wings to their fullest. With eyes wide open he exclaimed, “Sweetie Belle is a unicorn!” Somehow, he managed to sound somewhat surprised.

Rapid left Mending to deal with the disproportionate response. Rushing from the room, he focused on finding the pertinent ponies he needed to notify that they had a killer unicorn, practically a cannibal, by the name of "Sweetie Belle", on the loose. As the door closed behind him he heard, “Magah makes so much more sense now.”


“That’s not a clip-on!” Discord gasped.


Somewhere in cyberspace, after getting her daughter to help her work the newsreader, a former skeptic scoured for information on the world she had just discovered. Armed with new-found knowledge, she felt like she should write something after reading through alt.magic.secrets.

I’ve been reading what you people have ben saying. You’ve got some thongs wrong, but ar very close on other things. Like that spot in london you keep mentioning. Its a pub called Leacky Cauldron. You just have to have magic to see it. You can also can see it if you hold onto someone with magic. Just hold there hand. If you see a witch or wizard abroaching, just ask and they will most likely help you into the pub and even diegon alley behind it. Most are friendl , with some bad apples.

Happily, she sent the message. Pride at mastering the Usenet swelled in her. Now, she just had to figure out what in NTTP happened to her post.


“Thank you all for being here tonight,” Dumbledore said as he slipped behind the podium. “I apologize for my tardiness, but I had a bit of a situation pop up.” He looked over his halfmoon glasses. “I am sure most of you are not surprised that we are meeting so soon. Events of the past week must be discussed. So, without further ado, let us get to the business at hand. As you all are undoubtedly aware, we have a unicorn from the forest who has decided to take up residence. So far, this has proven to be a minor inconvenience; the elves have been more than happy to accommodate her. However, I charge each of you to keep an eye on the situation. It would be best to avoid any further surprises if at all possible.”

“Does having a unicorn turn into a human count as a surprise?” Mr. Goodman asked.

“My calculations show they won’t figure that one out for a couple more weeks yet,” Dumbledore replied. He was rewarded by a multitude of head shakes from the faculty, as well as a few discreet snickers. “Already? It would seem we have a truly remarkable set of first-years,” he commented.

Dumbledore scanned the room, noting everyone’s reactions. “In that vein, there will need to be an elevated level of caution when dealing with our newest Gryffindors. As the recent incident with Miss Warren has made abundantly clear, they have access to previously unknown spells. Furthermore, even though we have been guaranteed veto power by their previous source, we have been warned that they have an uncanny ability to overcome obstacles which that would deter any reasonable person. We have also been cautioned to never use the phrase ‘it simply cannot be done’ or anything similar while in their range of their hearing. In short, be careful of what ideas you give them. Explicitly explain the dangers when you warn them. Otherwise, you will be responsible for cleaning up the mess and explaining to the Unspeakables in excruciating detail the new and startling discovery.”

Murmurs coursed through the facility as they absorbed the news.


“She’s beautiful,” Emma breathed as her husband nodded in agreement.

Magah snorted and started to investigate the planters situated about the subterranean family room.

“Don’t you feed her?” Dan asked as he watched the unicorn express her distaste for plastic plants.

“She has plenty of hay back in the dorm room,” Lavender said.

“And she normally has a bag or two of oats at the supper table,” Seamus added helpfully.

“Supper that you skipped in favor of the mall?” Emma asked.

“Um, yeah,” Seamus said as several members of the herd groaned at the oversight.

“I’ll just pop over to the pa . . . er, corner shop and pick up something suitable, then,” Emma said, heading for the stairs. “Dan, why don’t you put on a movie for the children?”

“Movie?” Lavender said fearfully, and Parvati glared at Dean.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to choose one that was made to scare you,” Dan said in a reassuring tone. “Let's introduce you to a bit of swashbuckling adventure from a far-off galaxy.”

Unimpressed, Lavender clung to Hermione. With exaggerated breathing, Hermione said, "I find your lack of faith . . . oh, you'll love it."


“Here, I’m done with him.” The seventh-year dropped a blue blob into the hands of the third-year girl. “Thanks.”

Speechless, the young girl stared at her burden for a second before shoving Mouse into the hands of the fifth-year boy. “Here, you hold him. I don’t want to right now!”

The boy also looked down. He was not an expert on slime facial expressions, but he was positive Mouse was either traumatized or smug like no one’s business. Despite the scent of menthol, there was definitely something fishy. “How do you wash a slime?’ he asked, shivering.


Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were traipsing down a street in Ponyville, together. Pinkie Pie pronked, reaching Rainbow Dash's altitude at the apex of each bounce. Abruptly, Pinkie halted in mid-hop, in complete defiance of gravity.

“Wait a minute!” she gasped.

“What?” Rainbow asked, doubling back with a quick wingover.

“Back when Twilight was rescuing ponies from George,” Pinkie started.

“Yeah?”

“The last two were Snips and Snails,” Pinkie continued.

“Yeah?”

“Why weren’t they in school?”

“Hey!” Rainbow said, narrowing her eyes.


“Thar, that should do it,” Applejack said, closing the primary flap on Lodestone’s pouch. “Jus' one more delivery an' we can call it a day.”

“Hoo,” Lodestone agreed helpfully.

“Ah know I said it before, but we really appreciate your willingness to do deliveries like this.” Applejack smiled.

“Hooo.” Lodestone blushed.

“Off ya go then, while it’s still warm.”


A seventh-year Hufflepuff looked at her dormmate, aghast, “Did you just?” she asked.

“Nah.” Her dormmate shook her head, trying to contain her laughter until after she reached the safety of their room. “I’m just messing with them.”

“You're cruel,” the first girl said. “So very, very cruel.”


Elisa Bates glared as her daughter entered their tiny apartment. “Where have you been?” she demanded.

“Sorry Mum; I got distracted at the bank.”

“Bank?” Elisa frowned.

“Yeah.”

“Since when do you have a bank account?” The frown deepened.

“They set me up with a vault today.”

“A vault?”

“For my tribute.” The girl nodded her head.

“Tribute?”

“The goblins insisted,” Abagail said.

“I’m sure they did,” Elisa said, “and the elves wanted to give you flowers as well, I suspect.”

“I don’t know if elves are real,” Abagail said sincerely. “I never thought to ask.”

“So, you were at a goblin bank all this time?” Elisa asked with barely constrained anger.

“Yes Mum,” Abagail said, “except when I went to get my wand.”

“Your wand?”

“Yeah, they don’t have staves.” Abagail brandished a fancily carved stick.

“And you paid for your wand with your tribute?”

“Yeah, and they gave me a few quid for dis-wash-ery spending, as well as the gold coins to buy my wand,” Abagail continued.

“They sound very generous,” Elisa said, eyes narrowing as she tired of the game.

“Yeah. Here, I guess it's grocery money.” Abagail reached into her jacket pocket, extracting a wad of paper to hand her mother.

Riffling through the stack, Elisa found the queen on one side and an architect on the other on each sheet. Aghast, she realized she was holding more than she made in a year.


In Hogwarts a small tower contained a locked room, inaccessible to students. Within the room, an ancient book lay on a pedestal. Beside the book was a silver inkwell that fed a ratty-looking quill. It was said no person had laid hands on the artifacts since the day they were secured in that cell.

Without prompting, the book creaked open, and the quill floated up to add a name to its yellowed pages.


Emma sat on the floor behind the couch and opened the fourth box of oat rings. Magah had started to slow down, no longer greedily inhaling the meal. She lay on the floor, muzzle buried in a large plastic bowl. The minimally-sweetened breakfast food had been a hit.

The children were clustered on the other side of the couch, enthralled by the story unfolding on the screen. Well, most of them were. Hermione, Dean, and Seamus were more entertained by the reactions of their friends than by the movie itself.

The phoenix was perched on the couch back, watching Emma feed the unicorn. She gave a questioning chirp. In response, Emma offered a handful of cereal. The bird sniffed at the tiny rings and then turned up her beak.

“Sweetie,” Emma called, “when was the last time you fed your phoenix?”

“She had half of a roast beef sandwich for lunch,” Sweetie Belle answered.

“So, you skipped her supper as well?” Emma asked.

“Maybe we should order a pizza,” Dean suggested.

“Hey?” Sweetie thought out loud. “Do they have pizza with meat on them?”

“Of course,” Dean said, not surprised.

Suddenly, an owl flew into the room. It didn’t fly in through a window; there were none to begin with. It didn’t fly through the wall; the walls weren't on its flight path. It flew from somewhere that was not here, and not quite there. In technical terms, it came in from an orthogonal dimension; in layman's terms, you couldn't get here from there. The appearance made all of the individuals unlucky enough to have noticed cross their eyes as they focused on something they did not comprehend.

The large owl perched on the couch back, next the phoenix, and stared directly at Apple Bloom. “Hooo.”

Apple Bloom blinked rapidly several times before accepting the letter the owl was carrying along with a pouch strapped to its breast.

“What is it?” Scootaloo asked from where she was curled up on Ron’s lap.

“It’s from mah sister.” Apple Bloom said guiltily, “She says it would be mighty thoughtful if ah’d consider writing her a letter ever now and then.”

“D'oh!” Neville grunted. “I should probably write Gran, too.”

“Rarity would probably like one as well,” Sweetie noted as she looked expectantly at Parvati.

“What?” Parvati asked. “I wrote home just yesterday.”

“You’re not making us feel better about our forgetfulness,” Seamus noted.

“Was I supposed to?” Parvati asked.

“Ooo,” Apple Bloom said, opening the first flap on the owl’s pouch, “she sent pie.” She pulled out a large apple pie and handed it to the nearest herd mate. “An’ apple fritters.” Another platter was produced. “An’ apple strudel, an’ apple lasagna.”

“Wait?” Lavender said, tearing her gaze away from the television. “What was that last one?”

“Apple lasagna,” Hermione answered. “Ron, don’t even think of it. Wait until I get some plates and napkins.”

“’Nother pie.” Apple Bloom resumed. “An’ apple crisps. An’ apple soufflé.”

“I’m starting to sense a pattern,” Dan said from the bottom of the stairs. He was holding a stack of flat cardboard boxes.

“You got pizza that quick?” Dean was perplexed.

“I ordered them right after starting the film,” Dan said. “They just got here.”

Philomena liberated the box on the top of the stack and helped herself to sausage and anchovy while tossing the pineapple and banana aside.

“Apple ravioli!” came a gleeful cry.


Mending had a decidedly green tinge on her face when she again left Harry alone with his thoughts and the riot of colors. He had settled down quickly after his outburst. Sweetie Belle was a unicorn. Mentally, he kicked himself. How could he not have seen it earlier? It wasn't as though he hadn't witnessed her mother turn into a unicorn. That should have been the clincher.

All of her idiosyncrasies finally made sense. She wasn't a feral unicorn like Magah; she was very much a person, just like the hospital staff, but still, she was a unicorn, albeit transformed into a human. The clues had been staring him in the face all along: Anypony? Everypony? The revulsion she displayed whenever anyone suggested Magah was a pet? The wildly colored hair? After seeing all of the gaily-colored manes and tails, how had he not thought of the hair after he arrived in Equestria?

Sweetie Belle was a unicorn. In the grand scheme of things, it didn't matter to him. She was still Sweetie, the friend he'd come to know over the past week. He ruffled his wings irritably. What was actually bothering him was that this was all a bit much to take in. After all, one doesn't expect to look at a girl and say to oneself, "You know, I think she's a unicorn."

He’d bet his entire vault that Scootaloo was a pegasus.

Once again, the door opened. This time, instead of Mending, a trio of unicorns entered, towering over him. They were easily the largest he had seen yet. As he looked in awe, he noticed that they had wings as well as horns.

“Hello Harry Potter,” the largest, the white one said. “My name is Celestia. I am a princess of this realm, as are my sister, Luna, and my niece, Mi Amore Cadenza. She prefers to go by Cadance.”

“Hello.” Harry said standing clumsily on his beanbag and face planting when he tried to bow.

Celestia gave him a warm smile. “Welcome to Equestria.”

Interlude 3: No Names

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The burial chamber within the tomb was damp and foreboding. No light found its way through this mound that time forgot. Tightly fitted stonework, reinforced by long forgotten magics, ensured that no living creature, no force of nature, would disturb this resting place. For centuries, the chamber lay inert, sterile. No part of nature could enter, not mice or voles, not spiders or insects, not moss or mold, not air or water, not even light. Nothing, it seemed, would disturb the meager contents, a plain stone box -- a sarcophagus -- a coffin -- buried in the sands of time.

The chamber had been the ultimate expression of teamwork and sacrifice. Many benders of spirit had given their last breaths to see it completed. Many adepts of the flames had made pyres of their very bones to kindle the barest spark of success. Many benders of the waves had given the last drops of their very blood to power this achievement. There had been no coercion; that would have tainted the very soul of the effort. All that was given had been given freely, given to protect their families, given to protect those families yet to come.

Centuries earlier, the labor had ended when a lone male lay, willing, in the stone box and watched as the lid was painstakingly lowered into place. Naked he lay, shivering, with only his breath to keep him company until the magic stole even that away. He had no bitterness toward those who had sealed him in. He had volunteered. This was his opportunity to protect others, so that none might know his pain. The people of the tyrant had come in the night to snatch his daughter from her bedding. He had been forced to watch his only child, not yet seven summers old, sacrificed upon the altar of the tyrant.

Years had passed, and the tyrant’s power had grown to make him nigh-invincible. By some miracle, an opportunity had arisen, and the bloodthirsty overlord was laid low. Three score warriors had given their lives to see the act done; their only regret was not having the opportunity sooner.

Yet, the fear that the tyrant would one day return consumed the minds of the elders.

A plan was made.

A tomb was built.

Magics were cast.

He was not a zombie, mindlessly consuming flesh.

He was not a vampire, bleeding others so that he may exist.

He was not a lich, drunk on power.

He was not alive.

He was not dead.

Finally, what was feared came to be. After centuries of limbo, he felt the tyrant’s power surge.

From the families of the children sacrificed came the willpower that infused his arms with the strength needed to remove the massive stone lid.

The amassed unconditional love for their offspring gave him the power to rise from where he lay.

The resolve to never let it happen again lent urgency as he swung his legs over the edge.

Within a long-forgotten tomb, something stirred where nothing ever moved.

From within, the tomb was blown asunder.

Vengeance walked.


In a dusty storage room, somewhere in a respectable museum, sat a box. It contained a curious artifact, the purpose of which had never been divined. The fact that it was made of gold and gems had categorized it as art, albeit art that was atypical for the region and timeframe of its creation. Too valuable to dispose of and too abnormal to display, it sat in storage, seeing the light of day only when curious academics unearthed it to marvel at its uniqueness.

If one of those gawkers had been attuned to magic, they would have noticed that it resonated in the ambient field. Instead, they laughed at the absurdity of the object.

In a dusty storage room, somewhere in a respectable museum, an artifact's precious stones started flashing in sequence.

Notification went unnoticed.


The arid air in the tavern greedily guzzled the sweat from the unwashed masses. With the coming of dusk, the nearly unbearable heat of day began to flee into the night sky. Patrons filled the establishment, enjoying the company of friends, while avoiding a corner table where a lone man sat. The large individual almost looked comical, slumped in the chair he had claimed. There was nothing jovial about the aura of menace he radiated. The empty mugs on the table before him gave mute testimony to his desire to be left alone.

The hefty British wizard was discontent with his current lot in life. All of his current possessions resided in a shrunken chest in his shirt pocket. His elf had been denied access to his vault. Then, to add insult to injury, his elf had been blocked in its task to retrieve the contents of his home.

Mere survival was not an issue; his cunning alone could keep him alive indefinitely. Sadly, he couldn’t just take what he needed from the local muggle population. The wizards of this country took offense at the very concept. He couldn’t take the risk of being banished beyond its borders, or worse, returned to his homeland. It limited his options. He would have to hunt the regional wildlife to make ends meet.

It was degrading; no pureblood should be reduced to such a lifestyle.

With an unsteady hand, he reached for the mug still containing the awful brown swill. It had, mercifully, lost its flavor several rounds ago.

His homeland had been ripped from him abruptly. His comfortable life had become a thing of the past, in the blink of an eye. It was beyond nauseating. Misbegotten fools now controlled the justice system, and they wanted to hold him accountable for indulging in his privileges.

The very thought made him sick to his stomach, the bile souring its already volatile contents.

With any luck, a few more mugs would be all he needed to forget the world for a while.

Barely able to comprehend the significance, he became aware of another man taking a seat at his table, across from him. He snarled at the trespasser.

The invader merely guffawed at the paltry gesture, folding his hands in his lap. “I thought I might find you here,” he said.

“There’s no extradition treaty.” The drunk stated the obvious, taking another swig of his swill.

The effete newcomer nodded his head in agreement; the purple turban he wore made the gesture look lopsided. “Our master has a task for you.”

In an unnamed tavern, somewhere in Egypt, the British wizard glared at the fool daring to speak for the master.

Hatred plotted.


In a local police station, ponies grimly started an investigation.

They had to contact every station in the land.

They had to converse with the law enforcement of other countries.

They had to have a tally of all missing bovines in the last five years.

They had to open every cold case.

They had to determine who was missing.

They had to stop it.

This was no bull; they had to protect the milk providers.

How could this have gone unnoticed?

How could such an abomination trot freely among them?

In a local police station, they prepared for the worst.

Panic prevailed.


With glee, he reread the post. Whoever wrote it needed to learn the concept of proofreading. However, the message was clear. Someone had added a new piece to the puzzle.

If there were any truth to the message, there was a new avenue of research to be explored.

It seemed too convenient.

It could be a trap.

He didn’t bother writing a letter to himself.

They checked for those things.

Instead, he set his computer to present certain files the next time it was booted.

They had no clue about computers.

This wouldn’t be the first time he had an encounter with the bastards who had no respect for other people’s memories.

Of course, he didn’t remember those encounters, but he knew they numbered five.

He sent emails to his friends and contacts, letting them know what he planned.

Then, he readied his camera for tomorrow.

In a middle-class bedroom, somewhere not far from London . . .

Curiosity prepared.


A group sat around a large table and made plans.

They had never dreamed they would have the opportunity that had presented itself.

In a single day, they had become the largest single faction in the Wizengamot.

There was so much injustice to redress.

There were so many wrongs to right.

The task seemed almost daunting.

They knew the opposition would do everything possible to maintain its stranglehold on the reins of power.

They knew the opposition considered the law something that happened to other people.

However, they had a toehold. That’s all they needed.

The most pessimistic among them predicted that blood would flow.

The most optimistic among them worried over increasing security.

They had not trusted the former government to keep them safe.

Now they were the government; they would keep people safe.

They knew the opposition’s next move was practically written in stone.

They had seen the pattern and had been powerless to stop it.

Now power had been dropped in their laps.

Around a large table, they sat and plotted.

Change lurked.


He had done what he could for his wounds, transforming back to his natural form long enough to use his master’s wand. Regrettably, healing was not something he had put much effort into learning. At least he had stopped the bleeding.

It was only a matter of time before he ended up as a meal for some monstrosity.

Strangely, he didn’t find the concept as disturbing as he thought he should.

It must be the blood loss.

He was aware of the forest ending.

He struggled to make his way into the light.

The moon was bright.

At least he wouldn’t die in those hideous woods.

Weakly, he dragged himself out from under the canopy.

His paws were trembling.

His heartbeat slowed.

Looking up, he saw a white rabbit.

What a beautiful rabbit.

Was it an angel?

He didn’t deserve an angel.

Darkness claimed him, despite the radiance of the harvest moon.

Somewhere, at the edge of an unknown forest, a rabbit sped away.

Deceit despaired.


Bedecked in her customary pink, she sipped the tea provided for her, waving a pudgy pinkie.

“We can’t let this happen,” she said to her host.

He grimaced, looking at the tea in his own cup. “They control the Wizengamot,” he lamented.

“We can’t let them take control,” the woman insisted.

“They already have it,” he countered.

“Are we to just sulk away like a whipped puppy?” she scoffed. “Are we to abandon generations of tradition?”

“What are we to do then?” he snarled. “They have the law on their side.”

“There are other ways,” she assured him.

“Such talk borders on treason,” he cautioned.

“We are talking about the wellbeing of the magical community,” she responded. “We cannot let the law stand in the way.”

“It is ironic to hear you say that, considering how many times you used the law to further your own ends.”

“We must stand resolute in our commitments,” she said.

“What exactly do you have planned?” he asked.

In the sitting room of a pureblood’s manor, she smiled.

Bigotry regrouped.


Two once separated by misery, misfortune, and malfeasance now came together.

There had been crying.

There had been hugging.

There had been apologizes.

There had been no accusations.

There had been forgiveness.

There had been vows of support.

There had been no need for words.

There had been a realignment of priorities.

In a hospital room, bonds were reforged, renewed, and reinforced.

Friendship was magic.

Chapter 32: Technical Errors

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***** WARNING ***** WARNING ***** WARNING *****

The following chapter contains material that may be considered objectionable to some readers. While this chapter fully conforms to both the spirit and the letter of the ratings associated with it, those who are susceptible are cautioned to stay alert for the word "WARNING" in all capitals. If you are in this category, skip to the word "NOMINAL" and ignore everything in between. The author bears no responsibility for anyone offended by the material that is thus designated.

We now return to the story in progress.

***** NOMINAL ***** NOMINAL ***** NOMINAL *****


In the reconfigured faculty lounge, the impromptu staff meeting now hosted an impromptu speaker. The atmosphere was somber as the guest speaker left the podium. Dumbledore had been perplexed when his deputy headmistress had introduced the mind healer from St. Mungo’s. Why had she invited the man to the meeting? It was almost as if she didn’t trust the staff to do their jobs. Tragedies had happened in the past and there hadn’t been a need for grief counseling back then. Why should it be required now?

Nonetheless, Dumbledore led a round of applause as he reclaimed the podium. “Thank you, Healer Marshals, for that informative lecture.” He said, “I can assure you that the staff and myself shall be on the lookout for the signs of depression that you have outlined.”

The healer smiled as he retook his seat, sitting among the rest as if he were part of the faculty. Which, admittedly, he was, for the time being. Minerva had taken it upon herself to persuade the hospital to assign him to the school for as long as his services might be needed. Dumbledore could only sit back and nod his approval; to do otherwise would jeopardize his shaky relationship with his deputy headmistress. Besides, the counselor's presence would do no harm.

He gave the staff some time to quiet down before proceeding. “As you are all aware, Quirinus appears to have abandoned his position. His personal effects have been removed, and he has not been seen for the majority of the week. We assume he took offense over the acquisition of a private tutor by some of our students.”

Dumbledore raised his head to look at the assembled professors. “While the tutor in question has been kind enough to hold Quirinus’ classes for the rest of the week and has agreed to cover for the coming week as well, his contract does not allow this to be a permanent solution. I’m afraid I must recruit a new DADA professor even though we are less than a full week into the semester.”

The announcement was met with muttering from those gathered.

“What are the limits on Mr. Goodman teaching the class?” Professor Vector, the arithmancy instructor, asked through the babbling.

“No more than a month,” replied Dumbledore. “Hopefully, that will be enough.”

No one said anything else on the matter; there was nothing left to say.


Discord continued to stare into the pair of stunningly beautiful eyes, wishing away the unshed tears he had caused as his host continued to cut off circulation.

Without warning, Alice let go of his tie and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“I should have known,” she whispered. “You’re just too perfect for no one else to have noticed before.”

“I had no intention of hurting you,” Discord said, starting his speech.

“No matter,” Alice said, “wife or mistress, you shall be mine.”

“After all we just met last . . .” Discord started, “. . . what?”

“I can share. I hope Fluttershy doesn’t mind.” Alice said pulling Discord down to place her lips on his.


In the windowless basement, the others watched the spectacle with a mixture of horror and astonishment. Before, no one would have believed that a ravenous wolf could have perfect table manners, but there was no disputing the evidence of one's eyes. Each dainty bite was followed by a thorough mastication and swallow. Lips were delicately patted clean before the cycle repeated, almost too fast for the eye to follow.

Sweetie Belle groaned as she leaned back. A half-eaten pizza that had been the size of a manhole cover sat on the coffee table before her. Pepperoni, ham, bacon, sausage, hamburger, salami, roast chicken, barbecue burnt ends, corned beef, and even more pepperoni had topped Michelangelo's Mega Meat Monstrosity. Upon seeing this piece of culinary perfection, Sweetie had lost all interest in the movie and proceeded to move as much as possible from the box into her stomach.

“Is it safe now for the rest of us to try a slice?” Dean asked, eyeing the remnants.

“Sure,” Sweetie grinned with her eyes half shut, “why wouldn’t it be?”

“I don’t know,” Parvati said. “The way you growled at Seamus earlier, uh, kind of scared everyone away.”

“I did not growl at Seamus,” Sweetie protested.

“It must have been the other purple and pink haired girl in the room then.” Dean smirked.

“I do not growl,” Sweetie insisted.

“Could have fooled me,” Seamus returned, “It would have been safer taking a bone from a strange dog.”

Sweetie snorted, “Are you saying that I’m an aggressive eater?”

“Yes!” the occupants of the room said as one, even though they would later deny that Magah and Philomena had chimed in. They would, however, swear that the owl was not what it seemed.

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I won’t let it happen again.”


Mending stood in the hospital hallway and watched the door to the evaluation room. She had been told that all three princesses had shown up and were now interviewing the colt. All three. In her evaluation room. At the same time. They had been in there for some time now.

The surprises just keep piling up.

Today seemed the perfect kind of day where a pony might decide to embrace new experiences -- like, perhaps, a protracted bacchanal.

She scarcely registered the sound of hoofbeats approaching as she kept her vigil.

“Mending Psyche?” asked a voice. Mending turned to behold three mares looking at her expectantly.

“Yes?” she said. “How may I help you?”

“Hello, my name is Rarity, and these are my friends, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy.” The white unicorn in the group said, “We were informed that you were doing a mental screening for Harry Potter.”

Mending scrutinized the mares before her before answering. “Yes,” she finally replied. “It was a disturbing interview to say the least. At the risk of sounding unprofessional, I would very much like to be present when the princesses meet the Dursleys.”

“That statement leads me to believe that you are missing some essential information,” Rarity said with a sigh. “We’ve learned that the Dursleys were compelled, with magic, to act in that contemptible manner.”

“What?” Mending’s eyebrows shot into her mane. “Somepony did this on purpose?”

“Some human,” Rarity corrected with a stamp of her forehoof. “I refuse to even think of sharing the same species as that monster.”

“To be fair,” Fluttershy said softly, “most humans seem to be nice.”

“Humans are real?” Mending asked suspiciously. “Do you seriously expect me to believe that?”

“And with that statement, I can deduce nopony told you that Harry Potter is a transfigured human,” Twilight said. “Come to think of it, we may have forgotten to mention that when we checked him in.”

Mending skeptically glared at the purple unicorn. “Are you trying to rationalize his meat eating practices by feeding me a fiction?” Surreptitiously, she signaled for the orderlies.

“What?” Twilight snorted. “No. As strange as it may sound, Harry Potter is a human from another dimension, whom Discord has given a ring to allow for the shifting of form. Furthermore, in his natural form, he is an omnivore.”

“I suppose that excuses the murder of innocent cows.” Mending's voice dripped with venom.

“No. no.” Rarity interjected, “That subject has already come up in our letters. It seems the humans have a non-sapient species of cows that they cultivate in a similar fashion as pigs. They actually have a law stating they can’t eat anything that can beg for its life.”

Mending laid her ears flat against her skull and snarled, “Just what kind of fool do you take me for?”

Twilight and Rarity stared at Mending, astounded by her hostility. Burly orderlies of all tribes approached from behind, waiting for Mending's signal.

“Miss Mending Psyche!” Fluttershy said meekly, “It’s true. Discord even gave us the ability to change back and forth as well; see?” With those words, Fluttershy’s form blurred and was replaced by a tall delicate, formerly, fictional figure.

As Mending gawked at the new revelation, Twilight said, “Fluttershy, that might not be such a good idea.”

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” came the girlish cries from the orderlies, chilling everypony’s blood in their veins. Their hoofbeats sounded like machinegun fire as they fled from the former impossibility.

“Never mind,” Twilight said, defeated, as Fluttershy swiftly resumed her natural form.

Mending cringed as she heard the screams recede into the distance, only to jump as the door of evaluation room flew open.

“What’s going on here?” Celestia demanded, followed quickly by Luna, Cadence, and a small blue pegasus colt with a messy black mane.

“I’m sorry, princess,” Rarity said. “It’s just that Fluttershy here felt the need to terrorize a random pony or three.”

“I’m sorry.” Fluttershy cringed and hid her face behind her mane.

Celestia looked at Fluttershy, glanced at Rarity, turned her gaze down the hall toward the receding screaming, and then stared off into space. “In the admittedly short time between hearing a blood curdling scream and finding myself in this hallway, I must concede that the explanation given never graced my list of expectations.”

“Indeed.” Luna nodded her head knowingly. “If it had, it would have ranked somewhere below expecting a cute puppy to suddenly brandish a hatchet and attack everything within its reach.”

Celestia cleared her throat and looked at Luna. “Ah, actually sister, that happened about three hundred years ago.”

“Really?” Luna asked, echoed by Harry, Cadence and Twilight.

“Yes.” Celestia nodded her head. “It was both gruesome and completely adorable at the same time.”

“Um.” Luna tried again. “In that case, your statement would have ranked below expecting a little white rabbit with a spatula harassing innocent ponies.”

Twilight shared a look with Rarity and then shared a glance with Celestia before looking at Fluttershy’s still-cowering form. “All right,” Twilight sighed, “it needs to be said and it might as well be me.” Turning to Luna she pointed a hoof. "It’s apparent that you have never been introduced to Angel Bunny.”


At the edge of a forest, a bear hurried along. The rat held loosely in its jaws spoke of a successful hunt.

The white rabbit riding on its back defied rational explanation.


“Ah suppose it’s ‘bout time to be heading back,” Apple Bloom said as the credits rolled on the screen.

“Hermione said there is a second and a third part to this movie,” Lavender protested.

“That will just have to wait until next time,” Emma said from where she sat petting Magah. “It is getting late.”

“Awww,” Lavender complained as the rest of the herd stood and started stretching after sitting for so long.

“Two movies in one night is a good stopping point,” Hermione said. “We got no studying done today.”

“Life’s not just studying, Hermione,” Scootaloo said. “You’ve got to have fun, too.”

“But studying is fun,” Hermione countered.

“Not for everyone,” Dean rebutted.

“Thank you for inviting us over,” Sweetie Belle said diplomatically, “and thank you for the pizza.”

The rest of the herd also expressed their thanks, following Sweetie’s lead.

Emma surveyed the clutter of crust-filled pizza boxes and half-filled dishes of apple products. She was willing to bet that Ron and Apple were separated at birth; the hair color and the appetites were just too similar to be a coincidence. “You are very welcome. We just love having Hermione bring her friends over. Meeting Magah was exhilarating as well.”

“What are we going to do with the leftovers?” Seamus asked.

“Let me get some foil to wrap up the pie and lasagna. You can take them with you,” Emma said, standing and heading for the stairs. “I’ll clean your sister’s dishes and send them back with her owl.”

“Hooo,” said the owl, still resting on the couch back.

“I think he’s waiting for those letters,” Neville commented.

“Don’t worry, we’ll have Philomena deliver them tomorrow,” Sweetie told the owl.

“Hooo.”


“It’s getting late," Twilight said. “We should probably return Harry to his school.”

“Yes please,” said Harry. His masculinity was being stretched to its limits. He was surrounded by cute, candy-colored ponies whose appearance was a siren's call to transform, just so that he could properly pet and cuddle and . . . He closed his eyes as he struggled to contain himself; he was a bloke, darn it! He was positive that looking into a mirror would leave him trapped like Narcissus.

“We need Discord to do that,” Fluttershy said, “and he doesn’t seem to want to come right now. I wonder what he’s up to.”


***** WARNING ***** WARNING ***** WARNING *****

*****!ERROR!*****

***STORY RATED TEEN!!!!***

***SCENE TRANSFER EXCEEDS PARAMETERS!!!!***

REDIRECTING . . . . . . . . .

“Hey!” Discord’s voice called from somewhere in the background, “Stop that! You’re giving them the wrong ideas!”

*****!ERROR!*****

***FOURTH WALL INTEGRITY BREACHED!!!!***

***INITIATING REPAIRS***

***MOVE ALONG . . .NOTHING TO SEE HERE***

***** NOMINAL ***** NOMINAL ***** NOMINAL *****


Theoretically, Emma could have waited for the next morning to finish cleaning. In reality, if she had, she would have managed very little sleep. Emma did not like leaving messes.

Despite the clutter the children had managed in such a short time, the matter was resolved quickly. Her daughter had not entertained in a long time, and Emma was overjoyed that she was making friends at her new school. Unfortunately, Hermione’s earlier childhood had been a lonely time as her peers were intimidated by her intelligence and her dedication. She was lucky to get any of them to talk to her, much less try making friends.

Humming to herself, Emma noticed that the children had left something important behind. On the bookshelf rested a necklace.


“So?” Luna nudged Twilight as they walked back to the palace, “Angel Bunny?”

“The most inappropriately named white rabbit in Equestrian history,” Twilight said with a grimace.

***** WARNING ***** WARNING ***** WARNING *****

*****!ERROR!*****

***BLATANT PLAGIARISM DETECTED!***

***PROCEDING TO SMACK THE AUTHOR!***

***FOURTH WALL INTEGRITY AT 87%***

Pinkie Pie looked up, ”What do you mean by the eye dee ten tea protocol? Look, nothing will happen.”

***FOURTH WALL INTEGRITY AT 72%***

“Ooops!”. Pinkie murmured.

***** NOMINAL ***** NOMINAL ***** NOMINAL *****


Dan was just entering the kitchen, after taking out the trash, when he heard his wife’s voice call up from the still open basement door, “Dan!”

“Yes dear?!” he called back, “Are you okay? You sound a little horse.”

“Would you please come down here and help me?” Emma called. “I can’t get this off with my hooves!”

***** WARNING ***** WARNING ***** WARNING *****

*****!ERROR!*****

***NON-HUMOROUS REUSE OF MATERIAL***

***PROCEEDING TO GROAN >>>>click!<<<< . . . . . ...

Everypony’s a critic . .

***** NOMINAL ***** NOMINAL ***** NOMINAL *****


Sweetie Belle slowly awoke. She was content, if not very coherent. A smothering source of warmth blanketed her, a totally unexpected sensation that immediately brought her to full wakefulness.

Shoving the source, she grunted, “Magah! Get off; you’re way too heavy!”


“Harry, it’s time to wake up.”

Harry slowly opened his eyes, blinking at the invasive morning light infusing his room in the pony palace. Smiling, he recognized the voice. He was still in his pony form, curled under a mound of blankets atop a mattress as soft as a cloud. A wide yawn gave way to a contented smile; here was one he owed much to.

He turned toward the voice. “Good Morneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” It seemed that pegasus colts could hit some rather high notes.

“Is there something the matter?” Discord peered at the shivering colt.

“Waa waa waaa.”

“Oh.” Discord leaned back and snapped his claws. “That’s right; this is your first time seeing me in my true majestic form.”

“UUU uuu oh.” Harry agreed, trembling like a leaf.

“Well, then.” Discord faded from view, but his lips lingered with his voice. “I’ll just leave you to recover. We can try this again in a few, when you're more awake.”

Harry stared at the spot the dragon thing had occupied. Awake less than two minutes and he had already learned two very interesting facts.

First, it appeared Discord wasn’t a pony. Second, pegasi could evidently stick to the ceiling, using their hooves.

. . .

. . .

How had he managed to get up here, anyway?


Morning had broken in the quiet London suburb. The night had been blissfully sleepless as the couple shared a new toy, one that had given them a spark they had not experienced since their honeymoon.

“Okay,” Dan said, “I’ve been like this long enough. I just want to enjoy my morning coffee.”

“But you're so cute!” Emma ran her hands through her husband’s dark yellow fur and cuddled closer. “Let’s just have a bit of a lay in; I’ll get you your coffee latter.”

“Fine,” he relented, “but it’s your turn to wear it.”


To Parvati's dismay, Magah had proven remarkably adept at sniffing out magic as the now-transfigured unicorn made her escape from the trunk. It took every last bit of speed to bar the dorm's door before Magah could give a refresher course in the history of Coventry.

Parvati glared balefully at Magah, only to receive an innocent smile in return. “Listen, either the robe goes on or the necklace comes off. We’re going to breakfast soon, and you simply can’t go in the buff.”

“Goo,” Magah returned helpfully.


After knocking and receiving permission, the earth pony maid entered the room and spotted the child she was supposed to gather for breakfast.

“I see that you are up already,” she said approvingly; she had suspected that she would have had to wake him.

“Yeah,” he agreed, nodding, “a little too up for my tastes.”

“Well, you could just come down here.”

He looked at the height he had to traverse, “How?”

“You do have wings,” she reminded him. “I understand that’s common for pegasi.”

“Oh yeah.” He stretched the aforementioned limbs. “I forgot about them.”

“How do you manage to forget about wings?” the maid asked.

Harry marveled at pegasus aerodynamics.

*Thump*

“Also,” she said, moving forward to assist, “it helps if you don't point straight down.”

“Noted,” the colt said from where he was sprawled out on the floor.


“Ah.” Discord was happy to see all the princesses and the three Element Bearers were in the dining room. “You’re all here. It occurred to me that I should inform you before taking Harry back to school.”

“Could you not wait until after breakfast?” Cadence asked. “We didn’t have much time with him before he fell asleep. He had a long day yesterday.”

“I’m afraid it would be best if I got him back before certain parties realize he’s gone.” Discord shrugged. “Alice has pretty much closed any loopholes, but I want to be able to pull him out from under a certain bearded nose if the worst comes to pass.”

“That seems terribly premeditated of you,” Luna noted. “Suspiciously structured for one such as you.”

“My dear Luna.” Discord wrapped his body around Luna’s barrel and hugged her head close to his. “I am the spirit of chaos.”

“We are aware.” Luna tolerated the close contact.

“As such, the moment you try to define me, you’ve misdefined me,” Discord said cheerfully, “especially when you use my previous actions as a basis for that definition.”

“How perfectly convenient, for you,” Luna noted.

“It is kind of in the job description.” Discord grinned madly.

“Wait a minute!” Twilight objected, “Isn’t a job description defining you by definition?”

“Yes, it is,” Discord agreed.

“So, isn’t a job description misdefining you?” Twilight glared at Discord.

“Yes.” Discord pulled away from Luna to wrap himself around Twilight instead. “I see you understand.”

“But you just contradicted yourself,” she complained.

“Exactly,” Discord concurred.

“That’s just, just, just,” Twilight stammered.

“Chaotic?” Discord asked.

“Well,” she admitted, “yes.”

“And she sees the light.” Discord cheered.


The girls filed into the boys' dorm room, intent on waking the colts. They stopped just inside the door and looked around.

"You know,” Scootaloo said, “it might have helped if they had keyed us to their trunks.”


“Oh yeah!” Emma moaned ecstatically, “Right there! Harder! Faster! Harder! Faster!”

Dan interrupted his rhythm long enough to shake his hands and say, “Who knew you could get so much enjoyment out of having your ears scratched?”


“I’m back!” Discord announced as he popped into existence.

“Eeeek!”

Watching the maid, Harry noted that earth ponies seemed to lack the ability to stick to ceilings, despite their impressive jumping skills. “Welcome back,” he said. "I’m sorry for my earlier rudeness. I just expected you to be another pony.”

“Tsk, tsk, my boy.” Discord flipped his paw back and forth dismissively. “You’ve had a lot thrown at you recently. I’m surprised you’re handling it so well.”

“I’ve had a great week. It’s like all my wishes have been answered,” Harry trumpeted, raising back on his hind legs and pumping his forelegs as he spread his wings for balance. “I’m just afraid it’s all just a dream and I’m going to wake up and still be in my cupboard under the stairs.”

Discord’s smile disappeared. “I will not let that happen. Rarity will not let that happen. The princesses will not let that happen. Now, you have friends who will stand by your side. You have adults that will protect you. You are a strong one, but you are not just one. You are one of a herd of many.”

“I’m, I’m . . .” Harry pawed at the bedroom floor. “I don’t have to go back to the Dursley’s?”

“No,” Discord said. “You’re not going to be forced to go back.”

Harry stared at the floor. “I don’t want to go back.”

“You won’t.” Discord stopped himself from reaching out with a comforting claw that would not have been appreciated.

“I," Harry whispered, “I hate them.”

The maid, still in the room, gasped loudly. The weight of the words struck her more painfully than a physical blow. Even Discord winced.

“They always tell me I’m worthless,” Harry continued, lying down where he stood, “that I don’t deserve the food they waste on me.”

The maid rushed over to lie beside him and offer him support.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve sat in my cupboard and could hear them laughing in the family room. They were happy together and I was not welcome.”

Discord lowered himself to get closer as the colt continued to look at the floor.

“I don’t want to go back.”

“You won’t have to.” Discord assured him.

“I like being called Harry. I can remember when I thought my name was ‘boy’.”

The maid started shivering with suppressed rage.

“At Hogwarts, I’m welcome. I’m part of the laughter.”

Discord remained quiet and let the colt continue to open up.

“At Hogwarts, I eat more in one day than I’m normally allowed in a whole week.”

The maid sucked in a breath and noticed just how small the colt beside her was.

“I don’t want to go back.” Harry lifted his gaze and looked at Discord. “What do I do now?”

“I won’t let things go back to the way they were,” Discord vowed. “As for you, with all that emotion you have bottled up, I suggest you start by just letting yourself go and having a good cry.”

Harry looked at him without tears, “I suppose I’ve forgotten how. Is it too late for me?”


Seamus and Neville watched as Scootaloo and Lavender danced the Hopak on Ron’s trunk to no avail. They tapped their feet to the drum cadence of "Auch Sprach Zarathustra" as Parvati and Apple Bloom pounded it on Dean’s.

“I have a question,” Seamus said after a few minutes. “Can Philomena flame you into a trunk?”

Scootaloo stopped mid-jump, and the rest of the girl’s collectively face palmed.


“Harry,” Discord said, “I’m going to send you to Hogwarts now. Don’t worry about being sent back to the Dursley’s. Right now, no one has the right to make you do that. All you need to do is go and enjoy your time with your herdmates.”

Harry wordlessly nodded his head. A small smile starting to form on his lips.

Discord snapped his claws, and the colt was gone.

“Ahem!” Discord looked down to locate the feminine voice. The maid, who had taken in the story, continued. “I need you to take me to the Dursleys.” She put on her best puppy dog eyes and gave a quivering pout.

“That’s not fair,” Discord whimpered.

“P-p-p- please.” She pleaded. “Somepony is about to get hurt, and I’m sure you would much prefer it be them rather than you.”

“Um . . . bye!” Discord disappeared, proving that you can teach an old draconequus new tricks.


A crowd of first-years waited with bated breath in front of Ron's trunk. They knew he was a heavy sleeper, but this was taking far too long. The anticipation was becoming unbearable. At long last, the lid to Ron's truck popped open, allowing Ron's protests to reach those outside the trunk. Parvati appeared first. She stepped over the lip of the trunk backward, dragging Ron by his armpits. Scootaloo followed, carrying Ron by his legs.

Ron continued his vocabulary lesson as the girls set him down. Hermione noticed something was amiss. “Girls,” she said, “why didn’t you let him get dressed? He can’t go to breakfast in just his boxers.”

“He can’t?” Scootaloo asked.

“No, he most assuredly cannot.” Lavender backed up Hermione.

“Okay.” With the decisiveness of Alexander the Great, Scootaloo rectified the situation.

“Hey!” Ron cried.

“Scootaloo!” Hermione cried out, as Lavender hid her face in her hands and Parvati blushed.

“What?” Scootaloo asked innocently. “He’s not in just his boxers anymore.”


In a daze, Harry climbed the stairs to exit his trunk. Human once again, he reflected on everything that had happened since classes had ended yesterday. Lifting the lid, he saw that the rest of the herd was there, staring at Ron’s trunk.

“Hello,” Harry said, startling everyone.

“Harry,” Ginny cooed, “when did you get back?”

“Just now.” Harry climbed out of his chest and went to stand with his friends, his herd.

“How’d it go?” Apple Bloom asked as Ginny and Hermione wrapped Harry in a hug.

“It was an experience,” Harry answered.

“You got a ring like ours,” Sweetie noted happily.

“Yeah.” Harry nodded.

“Let’s see then.” Scootaloo insisted, hopping around the hug group.

“After breakfast,” Harry said, “I’m starving.”

“I kin relate to that,” Apple Bloom agreed.

“Okay, I’m dressed.” The lid of Ron’s trunk popped open once again. “Harry, hey mate, how’d it go?”

“I’m still trying to decide on that myself,” Harry admitted.

“I wish you were able to stay with us yesterday,” Neville said. "We had a lot of fun."

“Yeah,” Lavender agreed, “except for the first movie.”

“It wasn’t that bad.” Dean complained, drawing glares from several others.

“I have a question,” Harry said.

“Yes?” Seamus said, “What’s that?”

“Who’s the lady bursting out of her robes?”

“Geeeeeeem!” Magah greeted the last missing foal buoyantly, nuzzling him as she checked for injuries.


“Aaaaaah.” Dan gibbered as Emma ran her hand down his length. Each stroke brought another episode of pure ecstasy. Sticking his tongue out he lavished at her touch.

Emma, in turn was giddy over the pleasure she was causing her husband. She was never going to be able to look at another brush again in the same manner as before.


It was not a happy time in the tiny London apartment. Dressed in her best outfit, Elisa Bates gathered her daughter and prepared to head for the bus stop. She had to get to the bottom of the nonsense she had been hearing. Little green men did not just hand over large amounts of money for no discernable reason.

Whatever it was, it could not be on the up and up. She was terrified her daughter was being set up for something, something highly illegal and almost impossible to get out of. She was terrified that she would have to take the money and flee the country with her daughter. She was terrified she and her daughter were about to be sold into slavery. She was terrified that Abagail had somehow stolen the money. She was terrified.

Unable to hide the trembling of her hand, she opened her front door just in time to find an individual was in the process of raising their own hand to knock.

Spooked at the unanticipated intrusion, Elisa stared at the woman in the Victorian Era dress. After blinking owlishly for a moment, the fleeing mother said, “Yes?”

“Hello, I am here for Abagail Bates,” the woman said, confirming Elisa’s worst fears that her daughter had gotten in over her head.

“Who.” Elisa bit her lip and tried again. “Who are you?”

“I apologize; I didn’t mean to alarm you,” the woman said. “I am Professor McGonagall, and I’m here to introduce you to a new world.”

Eyes narrowing, Elisa asked, "What kind of world."

Abagail smiled at the professor's response. "Do you believe in magic?"

Chapter 33: Basic Pet Care

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The alluring scent of fertile farmland forced its way past the activated charcoal filter of the dowdy hatchback. Somehow, when a drive through the countryside was mentioned, Myrtle had assumed there would be a road. There wasn't even so much as a dirt path leading to the house in the distance; a moat of lush green meadow buffered it from vehicle traffic.

The aggressive tread of all-terrain tires clawed swaths of turf, leaving behind muddy, brown tracks as Myrtle maneuvered her car around boulders barely visible in the tall grass. The car wove drunkenly as they approached what Myrtle was reluctant to describe as a house. Had she not known of the existence of magic, she would have marveled at the fantastic feat of engineering that would otherwise have been required to keep the thing standing. The architectural style could be described as incoherent. The construction would charitably be described as haphazard. It looked like a bunch of children had gotten together and decided to build a clubhouse without regard to building materials, stress limits, cosmetic appeal, or, for that matter, gravity. The dwelling would have given any self-respecting architect prolonged nightmares.

After the deceptively treacherous terrain had forced her into maneuvers that would give a stunt driver a heart attack, Myrtle was seriously considering trying one of the other locations that Professor Flitwick had suggested. After recovering from a particularly vicious skid, she saw a couple of redheads, no doubt husband and wife, exiting the dwelling and looking in her direction. Sighing, she traversed the remaining distance and pulled up beside the pair. The wife, a large woman looked on with suspicion, frowning until she confirmed that Myrtle and Amy were the only occupants of the car. Her expression changed to a welcoming smile. At the same time, the husband ogled the car with a covetous expression.

Killing the engine, Myrtle unbuckled her seatbelt and opened her door. “Good morning,” she said brightly, exiting her vehicle.

“Good morning,” the woman and the man returned together as they watched Amy exit the car, dragging her broom from the back seat.

“Hello, my name is Myrtle Smith. I hope we aren’t intruding,” Myrtle said, feeling uncomfortable, “but Professor Flitwick, from Hogwarts, suggested that we see about meeting local magical families and inquiring about allowing my daughter to fly within wards.”

“Oh!” the woman said, standing a little straighter as the man started to circle Myrtle’s car like a lion around wounded prey. “Hello, my name is Molly Weasley and this is my husband, Arthur.” The man stopped and waved at the mention of his name before going back to devouring the car with his eyes. “Welcome to the Burrow.”


The Gryffindor common room was abuzz with activity when the first-year herd came down the stairs from the boy’s dorm. Several other groups were getting ready to head to breakfast as well. Ron breathed a quiet sigh of relief when he realized he wasn't the last one up.

Rather than offer a greeting, the red-faced Percy pointed at Magah and demanded, “Why isn’t she wearing any knickers?”

"For shame, Percy!" said George.

"The first thing you notice about a woman," continued Fred.

"Is her knickers?!" the two ended in unison.

“Leave off it, Percy,” Ginny said. “We had enough trouble getting her to wear the robe.”

“Jagoooo,” Magah agreed, coming over to examine Percy’s outstretched hand.

“That’s your pet unicorn?!” a sixth-year girl gasped, scrutinizing the woman wearing robes sized for a petite first-year.

“She’s not a pet!” Sweetie insisted.

“She’s not wearing knickers.” Percy tried again as his face became redder than his hair.

Ron rolled his eyes. "My brother, Tom, the letch."

Magah considered the finger pointed in her direction and decided to nibble on it softly.

“That outfit might be worse than letting her run around naked,” Katie Bell noted, joining the discussion.

“Aaaaa aaa aaa.” Percy acknowledged as Magah decided she liked the salty sweat he was producing and started to lick his palm.

“We should probably do something before the boys have a meltdown,” the sixth-year girl said, and Apple Bloom noticed the rest of the upper year boys in the room were staring at Percy jealously.

“No, no,” one of the aforementioned boys said. “Just leave her be. We’re good.”

Angelina Johnson sent a stinging hex in his direction.

“This is wrong on so many levels,” the sixth-year girl said, taking out her wand to do some transfiguration.

“Oooooooo,” Percy agreed as Magah started to work on another finger.


“Good morning.”

“Eeek!”

Discord watched Amelia Bones bring her breathing back under control. “I seem to be getting a lot of that this morning,” he noted.

“That never happened,” Amelia told him firmly after a few seconds.

“Right.” He nodded. “You never engaged in vocal lessons this morning.”

“Exactly.” Amelia glared at him grimly for a few seconds. “So, Mr. Discord, what brings you to my home on this occasion?”

“I have a few official letters, and you are the most prominent member of your government currently available.”

“Available?” Amelia narrowed her eyes at the man. Instead of his dapper brown business suit, he now sported a sapphire blue wizard's robe. “In case you missed it, I was having a bit of a lay in.”

Discord looked around the tastefully decorated bedroom and admitted, “Yes, I hadn’t realized that until after I popped in. Nice comforter, by the way, I never would have pegged you for one to choose pink.”

“What’s wrong with pink?”

“Nothing.” Discord permitted. “It’s that I pictured you as more of an autumn.” He tapped his chin with a finger as he eyed her critically.

Amelia growled deep in her throat.

“You know what?” he said. “I’ll take ten.” With a snap of his fingers, he was gone in a flash of light.


The Great Hall was about a quarter full. On the weekends, most of the students preferred to start their day with a few extra hours of sleep. The lucky minority who had chosen to maintain a scholar's schedule were engaging in a heretofore unknown pastime. The entrance of the Gryffindor first-year herd brought a spectacle that drew everyone's attention. There may have been just a little bit of drooling involved. To be perfectly honest, there was a considerable about of drooling involved, and not all of it from the male members of the student body.

“Geeeh?” Magah announced upon finding herself the center of attention once again.

“No need to stare,” the sixth-year Gryffindor girl called out. “She’s just a unicorn in a transfigured dress.”

The assembled students crowded even closer and continued to stare, and drool.

The sixth-year girl said, with a blush, “Yeah, I knew it was a stupid thing to say as soon as it left my mouth.”

Meanwhile, Magah, clad in a golden sundress, hurried over to the Gryffindor table. The waiting feed bag of oats was soon in her hands.

“Taaaa!” she happily chirped as she tried to bury her head in the container, somehow managing a mouthful of her prize. What began with eager munching turned into slow, thoughtful chews as a look of ultimate betrayal crossed her features. “Bleaaaah!” she spat, removing the offending mess from her mouth

“If’n y’all think that was bad,” Apple Bloom muttered, taking her seat, “jus' wait 'til you try your first flower in human form.”


The melodic chime of an expired kitchen timer filled the room. “I’m back!” Discord announced.

“Eeeek!”

“Wow! What amazing b . . . shower! Yes, what an amazing shower you have here. I just love the view. . . errrr decor. You really outdid yourself. You do believe I meant to say 'shower', right?”

Amelia’s fist connected.

“You punched me?” Discord gasped. “I thought the proper response was to scream and deliver a good slap.”

Amelia’s fist connected again.

“Right, I’ll just be going now.” Discord agreed and vanished with a snap of the fingers and a flash of light.


Harry watched as Sweetie and Magah sat next to each other with a platter coated with bacon grease between them. “Well, it’s official, then,” he quipped. “Unicorns are just carnivores waiting to happen.

“We’re going to need a bigger boat,” Dean agreed with a nod of his head.

“What?” Neville asked as Hermione groaned and placed her face in her hands.

“Boat.” Dean emphasized, “Platters are sometimes called boats and . . . You know what, never mind.”

“Platters are called boats?” Ginny challenged.

“He’s reaching,” Hermione said, face still hidden. “Reaching rather far, I might add.”


“You’ve been to Diagon Alley and the goblins just gave you money?” Professor McGonagall asked for the second time. “And you didn’t sign a contract or do a heritage test?”

“Yes.” Abagail nodded her head happily, glad that she was being believed. “That’s exactly right.”

Professor McGonagall leaned back on the couch and said, “Please excuse me; I’ve had a bit of a surreal couple of weeks, and this news is just the icing on the cake.”

“You’ve had a surreal couple of weeks?” Elisa’s voice cracked. “You come here, tell me that magic’s real, that my daughter can use it. You changed into a cat for demonstration purposes, never mind what you did to the poor table. Now you’re telling me that you’ve had a surreal couple of weeks?! I hope you can appreciate just how unsettling that is!”

A small frown graced Minerva’s lips as she berated herself for adding another crack to the anxious woman’s already fragile psyche. “I assure you, it is nothing you should be concerned over,” she told Elisa. “The surprises have just been coming back to back lately.”

“I suppose I can relate to that,” Elisa said, studying her daughter, who was watching the two older women with a smile plastered on her face. “It’s just so much to take in. You want to take my daughter away to school; goblins are real; magic is real.”

“I do apologize for the haste,” Minerva said. “Your daughter’s name just recently appeared in the Book of Acceptance, and the term has already started. Under normal circumstances, I would have been here over the summer to ease you into the transition. As it is, she will have a week’s worth of catching up to do. Nothing too arduous, mind you, but a challenge nonetheless.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Elisa admitted. “It is all so very overwhelming.”

“I suggest we start by seeing exactly what the situation is with the goblins,” Minerva said, standing up. “Once we have that sorted, we can decide how to proceed.”


Apple Bloom didn’t even bother to look up from her meal when owls flooded the Great Hall. Two of the flock sought out both Hermione and Sweetie Belle to deliver copies of the "Daily Prophet".

“Remember,” Parvati commented, “you have to write home today.”

“We’ll get right on it after breakfast,” Seamus vowed.

“Hey, look,” Sweetie said, scanning her paper. “The Black person made a public statement to the papers, wireless, and magazine. What’s a wireless?”

“I’ll explain later,” Lavender said as Ginny leaned into her to better hear the news. “What does it say about Black?”

“He read a prepared statement then gave a magical vow affirming it was true to the best of his knowledge,” Hermione informed everyone. “There’s no doubt he’s innocent now. This is going to be a black eye for the Ministry.”

“Dean has been struggling with the puns lately.” Scootaloo chastised Hermione, “Don’t you go starting as well.”

“What was the statement?” Harry demanded.

“Just a sec,” Hermione said after eyeing Scootaloo, “I’ll read it verbatim. 'I, Sirius Black the Third, of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, do herby attest that I was never affiliated with the terrorist group known as the ‘Death Eaters’ nor attended to their lord in any manner. I did not willingly or knowingly betray my brother in all but blood, James Potter, or his wife Lily Potter. My vows as a magical godfather preclude the possibility of even attempting to betray my godson, Harry Potter. Furthermore, the wanton destruction and muggle deaths that occurred prior to my arrest were the sole responsibility of Peter Pettigrew. I further attest that I am innocent of all charges claimed by the Ministry and have been held without trial for the past decade.'”

“Ooo.” Sweetie commented, “That’s not ambiguous by any means.”

“Am . . . bee . . .what?” Scootaloo inquired.

“She means it’s not open to interpretation,” Hermione said. “I’ll bet his lawyer wrote it up for him.”

“Are you telling me that I should have been living with him instead of the Dursleys?” Harry meekly asked.

“It would seem that way,” Hermione agreed. “The Ministry really dropped the ball on this one.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” a man’s voice said. Looking up the children realized that their tutor had made his way over to the table

“Good morning, Mr. Goodman,” they all obediently chirped as the man examined Magah.

“I see you managed to get her to wear clothes,” he commented, watching the transfigured unicorn cram custard tarts into her face.

“That was harder than you might suspect,” Parvati grumbled, dejectedly.

“Table manners are next on the list I take it?” Mr. Goodman asked.

“She’s marginally better than Ron and Scootaloo,” Lavender noted. “I guess we could hold a class.”

“Sounds like you will be having have a busy weekend, then,” Mr. Goodman said, heading toward the professor’s table. “I guess we shouldn’t expect you to produce a cure for lycanthropy before the end of the month then?”

Watching the tutor leave, Neville asked, “So . . . a letter to Twilight as well as writing home then?”

“Nah.” Apple Bloom shook her head. “I know Zecora has that recipe. Ah can jus’ ask her for it.”


As her fellow tutor sat next to her at the professor’s table, Marcy Weiss said, “Did you just give them an impossible task to do? It’s not like we weren’t warned about doing that very thing last night. You’re lucky the headmaster wasn’t present to hear that.”

Richard looked at her and said, “I have a cousin who’s a werewolf; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

“You can’t truly expect them to actually come up with something,” Marcy huffed. “Gobs of people have tried to find a cure over the centuries.”

“Gobs of people have tried to resurrect the dead.”

“You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment,” Marcy warned.

“Maybe,” Richard agreed, “but it can’t hurt.”

“You’re cleaning up the mess,” Marcy reminded him, returning to her meal.

“What are the odds of there actually being a mess?”

Abruptly, the divinations professor, who was making a rare appearance, stood up. Her chair clattered to the ground as her eyes unfocused and she intoned in a loud, unearthly voice.

"CHAOS ADVANCES AND FATE RECEDES.
COUNSEL PREVIOUSLY INVALUABLE NOW MISLEADS.
WHAT ONCE WAS CERTAIN CAN NO LONGER ABIDE,
LEAVING UNFORESEEN ALLIES TO REACH ACROSS THE DIVIDE.
HOPE SHALL THRIVE WHERE DESPAIR ONCE ENDURED.
BE WARNED COPIOUS TREE SAP IS THE ONLY THING ASSURED."

Stunned silence dominated the hall for a short eternity before Professor Babbling uttered, “I can’t believe she just delivered a true prophecy in front of everybody.”

“True prophecy?” Mr. Goodman said, “I can’t believe we let her participate in the betting pool.”


“That was terrible poetry,” Hermione opined.

“Yeah.” Lavender nodded her head. “Like someone just threw words together and hoped they rhymed.”

There was a pause. Sweetie Belle asked, "Do you think she was talking about us?"

Sarcastically, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo said, “Nah.”


Shoppers were a rarity in Diagon Alley on Saturday mornings. Shopkeepers would generally be enjoying brunch with scant hope of any business at that hour. What few witches and wizards there were scurried about on urgent business, sharing only perfunctory greetings. As a rule, finding those in the wizarding community who were morning people on Saturdays was nigh impossible. Finding what they did on Friday nights was not a topic to be discussed in polite company.

Professor McGonagall chaperoned the buoyant Abagail and the overwhelmed Elisa down the sparsely populated street. Their goal, the marble monstrosity that was Gringotts, was quickly reached since no one impeded their progress. As they approached the entrance, the paired guards brought their fists to their chests and bowed, still holding their wicked halberds vertical. The act, for Minerva, effectively removed any illusion she may have harbored that this was going to be a normal bank visit.

As soon as they crossed the threshold, all the goblins on the main floor flanked the entryway in an inverted "V" formation. In unison, they prostrated themselves before the small group and intoned, “How may we serve?”

“We’d like to see the Overseer.” Abagail beamed when the two older women just wordlessly stared in shock. “He told me to come to him if I had any requests or questions.”

The goblin at the point of the "V" stood. “A runner will be sent ahead to tell him of your imminent arrival. Please follow me.”

Numbly, Minerva followed after the newest Hogwarts student and her muggle mother. She promised herself that she’d wait until after she got back to Hogwarts to break out the firewhiskey.

. . .

The Overseer never spoke with humans. Never.


“So,” Neville said as the herd entered the portal to the Gryffindor common room, “whose trunk are we headed for?”

“Ron’s,” Lavender said. “We need to have you boys key us to your trunks.”

Philomena chirped her agreement from Sweetie Belle’s shoulder.

“Then we can get to work on those letters,” Parvati reminded everyone.

“Actually,” Dean suggested, “we may want to start with potty training Magah.”

“Dean!” Hermione gasped. “Why would you even mention such a . . .eeeew!”

"G-g-golly!" stammered Neville.

“Magah!” Scootaloo, Sweetie, and Parvati all exclaimed. “Bad unicorn!”

“Chuuu?” Magah tilted her head in confusion over the sudden anger the foals were radiating.

“She’s never done that before.” Sweetie insisted. “Why start now that she’s human?”

“As a matter of fact,” Hermione corrected, “she probably has. I believe the castle has been cleaning up after her automatically.”

“More likely the house elves have been.” Lavender nodded her head. “But, it’s still gross.”

“House elves?” Scootaloo questioned.

“How did you think your laundry gets done?” Parvati asked in return.

“Well,” Sweetie said, “now she needs a bath.”

“Let’s just get her up . . . Magah don’t squat there!” Lavender screeched.

“Ron, Harry, Neville, Sweetie!” Apple Bloom boomed. “Get ‘er upstairs and introduce her to a toilet. The rest of y’all help me find somethang to get this cleaned up with!”


The normally cool cavern chamber was sweltering with anger. The situation was completely unacceptable. Something had to be done about the appearance of the new Goblin Lord. There must be some loophole, some relief, some way out of the ancient covenant. The meeting table was packed full. Goblin advisors from ever field sat in attendance. Every available mind was being tapped.

Enraged, Overseer looked up expectantly at the runner who practically burst in as he rushed to delivered his news.

The runner broke protocol and blurted out, "There are two of them!"


Anypony could be forgiven for thinking that Fluttershy was a weak flyer. Anypony who saw the yellow and pink streak leading from the train station to her cottage would have quickly changed their opinion. Fluttershy was more than a little anxious when she opened the door to her home. She hadn’t planned on staying the night at the palace; it had just happened. Unfortunately, that meant nopony had fed the animals that morning, and nopony had fed them the night before. While none of her guests would starve from less than a day's forced fasting, some might be sorely tempted to partake of their fellow guests. It was prudent to remember that her home was a sanctuary only so long as her guests were content enough to resist their natural instincts. Thus, keeping them well-fed was a priority.

Fluttershy acted quickly to disrupt the natural order. “Mr. Whiskers! Please put down Mr. Squeakers this instant!”

“Meow!”

“I don’t care who started it. Put him down now!”

“Meow?”

“No, you may not have just a little nibble,” Fluttershy insisted. “Down now, please.”

“Putooey!”

“And you,” Fluttershy said, shifting her focus, “how many times do I have to warn you not to taunt critters who think you are tasty and go good with ketchup?”

“Meow.”

Fluttershy rolled her eyes. “Or mustard.”

“Meow.”

“No!” Fluttershy changed her focus again. “Onions are very, very bad for kitties; they can make you very, very sick.”

Mr. Whiskers was spared further nagging when a white rabbit raced down the stairs and planted himself in front of Fluttershy to begin squealing and stamping his foot rapidly.

“Angel,” Fluttershy said, worried, “I’m sorry; it’s hard to understand you when you’re so excited. Who’s Timmy and which well?”

The rabbit frowned, crossed its front paws, and squealed slowly.

“I’m so sorry.” Fluttershy blushed. “'Rat' and 'Timmy' sound so similar in rabbit speech.”

Angel Bunny squealed at her some more.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy gasped. “Where is he?”

The rabbit pointed a paw up the stairs. That was all the prompting Fluttershy needed; she zipped up the stairs without another word. Let it never be said that Fluttershy is a weak flyer.


Fay lifted the lid of Ron’s trunk. “Are you sure they’re in here?” she asked the anxious first-years.

“It’s where we were heading before the mess,” Scootaloo answered. “The colts still have to key us to their trunks, like they have the prefects.”

“And why are you here, Terisa?” Fay asked of the tagalong.

“Morbid curiosity,” the sixth-year girl replied.

“Are y’all down thar?!” Apple Bloom called down into the trunk.

“Yes!” Sweetie’s voice returned. “We’re in the bathroom!”

“In the bathroom?” Fay knitted her eyebrows together and climbed into the chest. Seconds later, she skidded to a halt, taking in the scene. Ron, Neville and Harry had stripped down to their boxers and Sweetie was in just her knickers. The four of them were trying their best to wash down Magah with soapy wash cloths. Unfortunately for them, Magah seemed to regard it as a wrestling game and was having a blast dunking them each in turn.

“Oh,” the sixth-year girl cooed, “this is just priceless.”

“A little help?” Sweetie asked, after surfacing for air.

“You’re the one who wanted a unicorn for a pet,” Fay stated, holding back a chuckle.

“I keep telling everyone,” Sweetie scowled, “she's not a pet.”

“You’re the only one who thinks that,” Fay replied.

“And, incidentally, she’s the only one with a unicorn,” Terisa noted.

“Let’s get in thar and help,” Apple Bloom commanded and started to remove her robe.

“It suddenly occurs to me,” Hermione said, following her lead, “that you have no idea what the phrase ‘nudity taboo’ means.”

Fay giggled. “That’s more of a muggle concept. You're in for a shock when you realize that there is only one prefect bathroom, or that the changing rooms and showers are segregated by house teams instead of gender.”

“Glub!” Harry protested as he became Magah’s next victim.


“Oh my! We need to get you to the vet right away!”

“Meow?”

“No, we most certainly won’t just skip the vet and name him ‘lunch’!”


The scratch of quills on parchment filled the cozy kitchen in Ron's trunk. The herd was sitting at the table, writing long-overdue letters, when a somewhat bedraggled man in a sapphire blue wizard's robe popped in.

“Discord!” the ponyborn and Harry cried gleefully.

“Well, hello to you all as well.” Discord smiled as Scootaloo launched herself at him for hugs, followed closely by Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle.

“Are you here for Harry again?” Sweetie asked.

“No.” Discord shook his head. “The shock from his first visit hasn’t worn off quite yet.”

“Just here to chat then?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Yes,” he purred, “and I come bearing gifts.”

“Oooo!” Scootaloo hopped eagerly from one foot to another. “Presents!”

Discord gestured at the remaining herd members, who were quietly watching the exchange. “Now, now, you already have yours; these are for the rest of your herd.” With those words he pulled out an exquisite puzzle box, opening it to reveal eight copper rings.

“Thank you!” Sweetie gushed at the sight of them.

“That thar is really swell of ya,” Apple Bloom agreed.

There was a flash of flames, and Philomena appeared with a corked flask and a letter.

“Also, I was hoping Philomena would consent to delivering some letters for me,” Discord said upon seeing the phoenix. "I hate to impose, but this is urgent."

“Oh,” Scootaloo said running her hand close to his face but not touching, “does that have something to do with how you got these two shiners?”


The ornate Victorian parlor hosted a rare guest. The trappings spoke of dignity and prominence, as befitted its owner. The table was set for tea for two, complete with platter of the tastiest morsels the house elf could create. Despite the formal setting, there was a hint of amusement in the air.

“It’s your own fault you know,” Judge Judith said to her guest. “He did tell you he’d be back in ten minutes.”

“He apparated right into my shower,” Amelia growled.

“As if you never took a shower with men during auror training,” Judith snorted. “Just admit that you overreacted and that you owe him an apology.”

“Right into my shower,” Amelia repeated.

“I’m surprised you didn’t take proper advantage of the situation.” Judith smiled.

“What?!”

“Come now, you’re not getting any younger, and he did say he liked the view.”

“That would have been irresponsible.” Amelia crossed her arms. “I can't just go about conjuring up contraceptive potions willy-nilly.”

“What’s the worst that could have happened?” Judith asked, unrelenting. “You could suddenly have a life outside your department?”

“I have Susan,” Amelia reminded her.

“It’s not the same.”

“Besides, Miss Rutter seems to have her eyes on him.”

“She doesn’t need to know you borrowed him,” Judith countered.

“I can’t believe we are having this conversation!” Amelia exclaimed.

“I can’t believe you passed up the opportunity.”

“Next time he pops in to my shower, I’ll make sure to ravish him,” Amelia said sarcastically.

“May I get that as a magical oath?”

“You’re serious.” Amelia noted in alarm.

“Of course, I am; it’s the best thing that could happen to you right now.”

“When did my love life become the subject of conversation?”

Judith took a sip of her tea, “The second you brought up him appearing in your shower.”

A flash of flames heralded the arrival of a red and golden bird.

“Looks like you’re saved by the phoenix,” Judith noted reaching out for the stack of letters the phoenix was carrying, only to pull her hand back when the bird tugged them away from her. “Seems like he found another way to deliver those. You really do owe him an apology.”

Sighing, Amelia retrieved the letters and thanked Philomena. “Let’s see what’s so important that he had to wake me.” She broke an official-looking wax seal on the first letter.

“Well?” Judith asked after watching her friend peruse the paper.

“Great, we don’t need this.” Amelia sighed, “It’s an official letter of condemnation for Albus Dumbledore, signed by three princesses.”

“At least they didn’t get the king or queen to sign it.” Judith grimaced. “Well, now we know Equestria has a monarchy.”

“It gets better,” Amelia said, nose in the second letter. “Official notice of dual citizenship for one Harry Potter.”

Judith whistled. “They’re serious about this.”

“Oh joy,” Amelia remarked as she read the third letter, “a restraining order against Albus as well as request that we honor it.”

“As if last week wasn’t fun enough by itself.” Judith sighed.

Amelia held up the final envelope. She could clearly feel the power pulsing within. It was bright red and addressed to Albus Dumbledore, no honorific. "So, whose turn is it to bell the cat?"


“Come in,” Richard Goodman called out upon hearing a knock on the tutors’ common room door.

“You wanted to see me?” Professor Snape asked with barely disguised contempt as he entered the room.

Sitting on a couch, Richard nodded his head at a corked flask sitting on the coffee table before him. The flask seemed to be made of a thick glass and contained a thick grey sludge that bubbled like a lava lamp.

“What is that?” Snape asked, picking up the potion and examining it through the glass.

“Cure for lycanthropy,” Richard stated flatly.

Snape’s head snapped up and his gaze narrowed. “Please elaborate.”

“Apple Bloom brought it by just a while ago.” Richard sat back. “Apparently she was ordered to tell us that it is too complicated for her to brew on her own and that she wasn’t to try without strict supervision.”

“Good,” Snape said uncorking the flask. “It seems her prior potions teacher has some sense, unlike her town librarian.”

“They got the resurrection spell from a town librarian?!” Richard gasped.

Snape merely grunted as he cautiously waved the potion’s scent toward his nose.

“She also mentioned that she would have gotten this to me sooner if they hadn’t needed to bathe and potty train Magah.”

“There are so many things wrong with that statement,” Snape noted, replacing the cork. “Let me get this to a contact at St. Mungo’s. It needs to be tested before it can be administered, and I simply don’t have either the time or the willing werewolf needed for a proper test.”

“I was going to give it to my cousin,” Richard objected.

“Give your cousin an untested potion?” Snape openly sneered. “That would not be wise. Let the healers do their job and see if it’s safe for consumption.”

"I guess I can wait and err on the side of caution," Richard agreed.

"You'd better be prepared for a long wait," warned the professor. "It'll take forever to find a werewolf desperate enough to try an untested potion."

Chapter 34: Gaining a Level in Color

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Golden Oak Library bore mute testimony to the fact that Ponyville had started as an earth pony settlement. Vibrant green leaves and small brown acorns showed that the hollow tree was still quite alive. Outside, it housed a colony of hornets in a nest in its upper branches. Inside, it housed the town's lending library, one baby dragon, one owl, and one unicorn prodigy.

Under ordinary circumstances, one would lay even odds on seeing the dragon working during normal business hours. He was still growing, and there was much more to life than dusty old books. The unicorn was another matter entirely. More often than not, she could be found in her study with her muzzle in a book and her ears turned to listen for patrons' requests.

That Twilight Sparkle was now in her study with her muzzle buried in a book would come as a surprise to absolutely nopony. After all, it was a new book that had arrived while she was away in Canterlot. What would have surprised most ponies, however, were the multitude of candle stubs that lay on the desk and the length of the scroll she had covered with meticulous notes. This reading was a matter of duty, not pleasure.

The newness of the book was a matter of novelty, not age. The print in front of the unicorn was the last of its run, and it was over fifty years old. Books on marriage contracts and the laws pertaining to them were generally of interest only to desperate JD students in search of arguments for moot court. Why should anypony else care about something that had been unattainable for a quarter century?

The books themselves would leave any decent pony thoroughly disgusted. They were filled with case studies of the way that, over the years, ponies had attempted to twist the contracts to satisfy their less than noble intentions. With the gender disparity that left males as only a quarter of the population, many parents had, understandably, done some outlandish things to ensure that their daughters would have a stallion in their lives. Unfortunately, most of these things had left the unlucky stallions as little more than chattel. These abuses had led to a progression of laws to fill every loophole a pony could imagine. Leave it to Discord to show that imagination is without limit.

Sighing, Twilight closed the book after reading the last page. The responsibilities laid upon the mare in the contract were onerous. The penalties for violations were draconian. There was no denying that Sweetie Belle was now saddled with duties that would leave a full-grown mare screaming for relief.

The saving grace was the signed and filed herd agreement. Its very existence wreaked havoc with most of the laws in the book. The laws simply had been written with only individual mares in mind. Ironically, this chaos promised to be an improvement for everypony involved, including the colt. In short, the first valid marriage contract in twenty-five years was going to send shock waves throughout pony society.


The din of 256 tones vying for dominance marked the open-air video arcade in the center of Ponyville. Throngs of fillies and colts of all ages exchanged one bit for the chance to manipulate eight bits. In the middle of it all was a comedic sight that was somehow mundane, despite its silliness. Two friends were at a gaming console that was ideally sized for neither. One friend was a typical patron; the small brown colt wore a propeller beanie. The village vidiot was the undisputed champion at these games; he could play for hours on a single bit. His companion, however, would have caused a major stir anyplace outside of Ponyville. Even in this jaded town, the draconequus who towered over the console, waiting his turn, was a spectacle regardless of what he did. That he was throwing fireballs that entered gameplay should have been astonishing, but, frankly, was not.

“Stop it Discord." The colt complained as he wiggled on the stool that let him reach the controls, “This area is hard enough as it is.”

“I have to do something,” Discord countered. “Your score is crushing mine. Besides, this makes it more interesting, wouldn’t you say, Button Mash?”

“It just takes practice,” Button Mash explained. “Soon, you’ll be keeping up on your own.”

“Mr. Discord?” a new voice ventured from somewhere nearer the ground.

Looking down, Discord addressed the pink filly with the distinct headdress. “Yes? Would you like a turn? You could hardly do worse than I am.”

“No thank you." The filly shook her head. “My daddy has two of these in our game room.”

“What?” Button Mash asked, in shock, not taking his eyes off his game.

“They’re just dumb games,” the filly insisted. “I need your help on something important.”

“Oh?" Discord raised a questioning eyebrow even as Button growled, “They aren’t dumb.”

“You got Sweetie Belle a valid marriage contract." The pink filly pointed an accusing hoof at Discord.

“Yes,” Discord agreed, making a grab for his wayward eyebrow, “I recall doing something along those lines.”

“I want one too." The filly stamped a demanding hind leg. Then, after a second’s pause, she added, “Please?”

Button Mash heard this and his two things ran through his mind. One part of his brain whispered seductively, “She has two arcade video games in her house." Another part screamed in panic, “Run for your life, you fool! Run now and don’t look back!”

Discord peered down at the adamant filly and smirked. “You do? Well now, Button, what do you think of . . .” When Discord turned to look at his companion, all he saw was a dust trail leading down the street, already dissipating.

“I didn’t know he could move that fast,” the filly said with a touch of awe in her voice. “He always seems so lethargic in class.”

“Yes, will wonders never cease?” Discord agreed, moving to take his turn. “And isn’t 'lethargic' a big word for a young filly such as yourself?”

The filly shrugged dismissively. "Sweetie Belle used to be in our class.”


“Here’s the last of them." Sweetie Belle handed the last letter to Philomena. “I thought your carry pouch would have been here by now, but it looks like you’ll just have to hold these in your claws for now.

Philomena trilled happily before disappearing in a ball of flames.

“Now that work's done,” Scootaloo said as she bounced eagerly, “it’s time to see you all change.”

“What?” Parvati and Dean asked.

“Harry,” Apple Bloom prompted, “y’all go first. Use your ring.”

“Sure,” Harry said, “why not.”


“Did you hear screaming?" Terisa asked from her spot on the couch where she had been chatting with her friends.

“Nah,” one of her friends replied, watching as Fay and the seventh-year male prefect charged up the stairs to the boys' dorms, “that was squealing, not screaming, like when you see something adorable and just can’t keep it to yourself.”

Terisa shot her friend a skeptical glare. “How can you tell the difference?”

“You weren’t here the last time they made that noise," her friend replied. “Apparently, Apple’s animagus form looks like a walking plush doll; she probably just changed forms, and her friends are throwing another fit over it.”

“Apple has an animagus form?!” Terisa gasped