The Many Faces of Harry Potter 34

“The Many Faces of Har—er, Adira Potter: Chapter 34”
By = Fayanora

Chapter Thirty-four: Turmoil

Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there. But some canon scenes are just too good to change much.

Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of Alastair, Adira, and Zoey, and now #Iliana (bold, italic, underlined, and now between hashtags/pound signs because some people's computers don't do the B.I.U.).# , {Tier}, ~Chandra,~ and %Mother% if I get around to it in this chapter.

Note 4: She's creepy and she's kooky, mysterious and ooky, she's altogether spooky, she's J. K. Rowling.

Note 5: Sorry this took so long. Real life annoyances filled a lot of my time, I lost track of time, and also I thought I had already posted this chapter.

*FAYANORA*

“The Many Faces of Har—er, Adira Potter: Chapter 34”
By = Fayanora

Chapter Thirty-four: Turmoil

*FAYANORA*

A couple days later, Iliana entered the Great Hall and felt a great many eyes on her, more than usual, and they weren't thinking good thoughts, exactly. It was hard to pin down what she was feeling from them in words, especially as the feelings were jumbled. When she saw Ron and Hermione, she knew whatever it was had to be bad.

“So, what's happened that you two are going to hide from me until I insist?”

They looked up guiltily at her, then at each other.

“You might as well tell me.”

“Um... well... here.” Ron said, handing her a copy of The Daily Prophet.

She looked at the headline and felt bile rise up in her throat.

Harry Potter: Attention-Seeking and Manipulative

The boy who defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is attention-seeking and manipulative, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent.

Potter, the Daily Prophet can exclusively reveal, claims to be several different people in one body, transforming his body physically into different form to match the claimed personalities. Rita Skeeter, your Daily Prophet reporter, has personally witnessed several of these other faces of Harry Potter, including one resembling a younger version of his dead mother Lily Potter, one that resembles a young Sirius Black, a six-year old child form with one eye a different color than the other, and another who looks to have Indian heritage but speaks with an American accent.

None of the top experts at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries have never heard of a condition like Potter’s before, and have concluded that Potter simply is a metamorphmagus with a pathological need to be in the limelight.

“He's likely addicted to fame and attention, there's really no other explanation,” said one specialist. “A human brain can only hold one personality, and a human body cannot have more than one soul. If Potter is claiming otherwise, he is lying.”

What is more, the Daily Prophet has revealed another possible symptom of his attention-seeking: a manipulative nature. Your trusty reporter can report that Potter took a Slytherin boy, one Haveer Mandoser, to the Yule Ball in December as his date. Potter, in the form of a young Sirius Black, has been spotted on several occasions spending time with this boy, and has claimed on several occasions that Haveer is his boyfriend.

And yet, at that same Yule Ball, Potter switched appearances to his other 'faces' several times, spending most of the night away from his supposed boyfriend. In one of these instances, he was witnessed dancing with one Luna Lovegood, daughter of Xenophilius Lovegood. Miss Lovegood is a third-year student well-known in Hogwarts as an eccentric, just like her father. More scandalous still, his form during this dance was a female one, one that looks startlingly like his mother at the same age, and the dancing was not entirely chaste, by all accounts. Even he seems to have realized this, running off and changing form again after a superb dip with the Lovegood girl.

But perhaps this shouldn't be entirely a surprise. After all, young Harry apparently, over the summer, got his legal name changed to Adira Potter, and his famous black-hair-green-eyes birth appearance has been altered to a female version of the same, with longer hair and a feminine physique. But by switching back and forth between these female forms and a pair of male forms, he mocks those long-suffering witches and wizards who have not been able to make such transitions so seamlessly.

Also unsurprisingly, despite being brazen enough to enter himself illegally into the Triwizard Tournament as a fourth Champion, he isn't even qualified to do the tasks, requiring help from Professor Severus Snape to create a potion to keep himself warm in the Black Lake during the Second Task.

What is more, Harry appears to have a temper problem. During a nice, civil chat with him at The Three Broomsticks, he flew into a towering rage for no apparent reason and used an unknown spell to glue myself and my photographer to the ceiling, forcing us to be rescued by the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad.

Aside from preening for his adoring fans, and gaining more notoriety, what could Harry Potter be up to? He's never seen out of the company of one exceptionally pretty Hermione Granger, so is he trying to cheat on his boyfriend with both Miss Granger and Miss Lovegood? I do hope I'm mistaken, neither of those girls deserves to be played the fool by someone so callous and manipulative.

When she finished, she put the paper down with forced calm, then without a word walked in a would-be casual sort of way out of the Great Hall, ignoring her friends' calls to come back. Ron and Hermione tried to follow her, and met resistance from a temporary force field that lasted just long enough for her to slip away.

Once nobody could see her, thanks to a quickly cast Disillusionment Charm, she ran for it, ending up in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom and locking herself in the stall they'd once made Polyjuice Potion in and bursting into wailing tears.

After half an hour, she was still crying, but it had died down in its intensity. After a few more minutes, she felt a warmth starting at her solar plexus and rising up across her shoulders like an invisible hug. She gave a start, wondering if Moaning Myrtle--- but that was silly, ghosts are cold to the touch.

% What so distresses you, My child? % came a soft voice in her mind, a new one. But... a familiar one. The voice had an interesting quality to it, like it smelled of lavender and was made of Spring sunshine.

“Who...?” she said aloud, forgetting herself for a moment.

% You have not yet given Me a name, % said the voice. % And so I have none. At least, not in this incarnation, anyway. I have been called a great many things over the centuries. %

# Are you the one Chandra calls 'Mother'? #

% Yes. That is more of a title than a name, though, really. %

# How come you've never spoken to us before? #

% I can only come when called, little one. And your pain apparently called Me. Now, what is wrong? %

# Don't you already know? #

% Yes, but it is therapeutic to talk about it. Plus, we do not always know what troubles us until we attempt to speak of it. %

# Well I know why I'm miserable. Rita Skeeter. #

% She writes lies. You knew this already. %

# She writes half-truths, which are worse. #

% Indeed. And which truthful half of one of her Blackest Of Lies so upset you? %

Iliana thought-spoke nothing. She just sat there, her arms around her knees, silently for several minutes.

# I... I... #

% Take your time, My child. %

“Luna,” she said aloud, but so quietly that one would have to have their ear right next to her mouth to hear it. Then she burst into fresh tears. After a few moments, she felt that hug-like warmth in her body again, holding her like she had imagined a mother would, which only encouraged the tears.

When the tears died down again, Mother spoke again.

% Luna is a lovely, sweet girl. So why do I sense fear from you? %

# Mother! What if... what if... I mean... how can I... how do I dare risk our--our friendship? #

% What is it that you think would risk your friendship with her? %

# Do I have to say it? #

% No. It is your choice. It is always your choice. But you might feel better to say it. %

# I... I like her. A lot. You know... in the way that's... that's more. Other. Different. #

% Understandable, if I take your meaning correctly. She is a lovely, sweet girl. But you're being a little vague. Could you be more specific? %

# Ugh. Okay, I like her... romantically. I want to hold her hands, and cuddle with her, and maybe even... even kiss her. I want to spend every moment I can with her, just be around her. I want to tell her how I feel, but I'm... # (her internal voice wavered with suppressed tears, then) # Mother, I'm scared! I'm terrified! What if I tell her, and she never wants anything to do with me ever again? What if I disgust her? What if she hates me? #

% You know her very well. Do you really think that likely? #

This took her aback. # Um... well, no. She's open minded about most things. #

% Does she know about Al's boyfriend? %

# She knows about Javier being Al's boyfriend, yes. #

% What does she think of Al? %

# She said she likes spending time with all of us. #

% And she knows about Adira not being 'straight'? %

# Yes. #

% So what is the realistic worst-case scenario, knowing what you know of her? %

# I... well... she might... might say she doesn't... feel the same way, about me. #

% And then...? %

# She might say I'm in a relationship already and she doesn't go for groups. #

% So you think she'll agree with Rita Skeeter? %

# Well it's possible. #

% So too is it possible the sun might explode tomorrow. But how likely is Luna to believe that you're faking this? %

Iliana chuckled. # About the same odds as the sun exploding tomorrow. #

% I agree. Now aside from that, what else might Luna do that you're afraid of? %

# Um... that's it. I mean, I'm pretty sure she'd just let me down easy and then go on being my friend. #

% So all you really have to fear is the uncertainty. Because until you tell her, you won't know for sure, it's still possible for anything to happen, even if many of the possibilities are not very probable in this reality. So all you need to do is find that Griffindor courage, and steel it. %

# But I'm still scared! Terrified, even. How can I be brave when I'm terrified? #

% Courage is only courage when you're afraid, and you do what you need to do anyway. 'Courage' without fear is merely foolhardy recklessness. Look at Neville Longbottom; his greatest fear is Professor Snape, and yet he never skips classes, and he does his best under the circumstances. He is, perhaps, the bravest Griffindor in all the school, at present. Of course, you already knew all of that, having told him so yourselves. And anyway, Luna's the type who's never going to figure it out unless someone tells her, so you might as well be direct, and TELL HER THE TRUTH! %

“AHH!” she screamed in surprise at Mother's sudden shouting in her head. A shrill scream came from the other stall in response.

“Oh my goodness, you scared me to death!” came a morose voice from the other stall. A spectral head popped up over the divider and frowned at her. “Or it would've, but well, you know...”

“Sorry, Myrtle. It's just... someone else in here shouted at me suddenly.” She tapped her head to clarify her meaning.

“Oh, alright. I forgive you. Even though you came here because you were crying, you did keep your promise to visit me. And I'm flattered. Even though this is usually the quietest bathroom in the school, nobody's ever come in here to cry except for you, in the last decade or more.”

# Quietest stall in the school? With Myrtle always in here crying? # she thought to herself.

“They probably want to be alone with their grief, and you're almost always in here.”

“Does that mean you didn't want to be alone? Or that you did, and you don't consider me a person?”

“You're a person, Myrtle. Don't put words in my mouth, it's not polite. I meant the only person in here to bother them would be you. But now I think about it, I guess that makes sense why they'd stay away. So why'd I come here today? Hmm... well, you and I did meet recently under the lake. Yeah, I think I came here because of that. And, well... if anyone would understand, it's you.”

“Oh,” Myrtle said, looking unsure what to say. “Yes. Yes, I was on your mind, from the other day, and you came here because of that. It makes sense. Is it anything I can help with? After all, you killed Riddle for me, avenged my death.”

“It's just... well, a lot of things. But mostly relationship things. Have you ever fallen for someone and you didn't know if they'd like you back or not?”

“Can't say I have. I've liked people, of course, but I knew they wouldn't like me. Nobody ever does.”

“It's a shame you didn't get to live longer, Myrtle. A lot of people are... well, awkward, when they're young. If you'd have lived, you'd have grown out of your awkwardness, and you'd have found love. I'm certain of it. And hey, some people like awkwardness. You might still find someone, if you put yourself out there.”

“What's the point? I'm dead. Anybody that fancied me would likely be dead, too. If not, well... I can't see what kind of relationship a ghost and a living person could have with each other.”

“You might have a point. By the way, Myrtle, you seem more cheerful than you used to be.”

The ghost girl shrugged. “Being avenged helped.”

“How'd you find out about that, anyway? I never said 'I shall avenge you!'”

Myrtle rolled her eyes. “I'm not stupid, you know. You went into the Chamber of Secrets after the Heir. You came back alive and carrying that diary thing I heard about. That alone tells me you avenged me, but then later I heard from one of the other ghosts that the heir had been Tom Riddle! Is that true?”

“Yes, it was.”

“He came back after all that time?”

“He's not known as Tom Riddle anymore. His new name is Voldemort,” she said, simply.

Myrtle's eyes grew wide with horror, but then a thought appeared to cross her mind, causing her to relax and start to giggle. Her giggles then became full peals of delighted laughter. She was soon doubled over with ringing laughter that echoed off the walls.

“What the---?”

“I was killed by the Dark Lord himself! Me! Miserable moping Moaning Myrtle, killed by someone famous! And probably one of the first people he ever killed, if not the first! Oooh, the other ghosts are going to be so jealous!” Myrtle said, practically singing, and flew off with a skip in her step.

Some people are amused by the strangest things, Al commented.

Iliana jumped. She had, for a time, forgotten she wasn't alone in her body. Aside from Mother, that is. But she recovered quickly, and decided that if Myrtle of all people could find happiness even in death, then she could at least try to not be miserable herself.

She checked the time. She'd missed History of Magic entirely, but there was still 20 minutes until Charms started, so she had time to make herself look normal again before going back out there.

Though she didn't want to talk about it, and didn't cooperate with Ron and Hermione, they talked about the article anyway in Charms.

“Clearly she didn't bother asking Healer Young, from what Iliana's said about him. He's a top expert at St. Mungo's, after all,” Hermione said, looking at Ron.

“Nah,” said Ron. “She interviewed him, I know it. She probably didn't consider him a 'top expert' because what he said didn't match her angle.”

“I told you guys I don't want to talk about it.”

“Well that's good, then,” snapped Hermione, “because this conversation is between Ron and me, and you weren't invited.” Her tone was softened with a smile at the end.

“You're talking about me!”

“We're talking about an article in the Prophet,” Ron said, catching on. “The fact you happen to be the subject of the article isn't important. And anyway, we're not the only ones talking about it. At least we're on your side.”

Iliana sighed, and ignored them.

~

Potions class had, for weeks after Iliana had gone to Snape about the potion, been unusual. Snape wasn't exactly ignoring her, but he wasn't being his usual snappish self toward her either, and he wasn't exactly being... well, truth be told, he was treating them like they were just another Griffindor, nobody to be singled out for any reason. It was refreshing. Of course, this behavior didn't extend to Al or Zoey, just Adira and Iliana, that they saw.

But there was more. Whenever Snape was sitting at his desk, Iliana kept catching him looking at her and, for some reason, Hermione. But especially Hermione. She didn't know what that was about. The one time he caught her looking at her, the expression on his face was... well... thoughtful. But not like he was thinking about her, exactly. Like he was considering something related to her in some way. But how could that be, when the other person he kept looking at was Hermione? But then, once she thought of it, she realized that had been his expression the entire time he was considering both of them.

The weirdest thing, of course, had been that Snape hadn't reacted to Rita Skeeter's article at all, at least not that she had seen or heard of. It basically accused him of cheating to help the child of the man he still hated, and there'd been nothing, no reaction to it at all. Even the Slytherins had noticed, she'd heard some of them whispering about it.

Then, on the Friday following the Second Task, the day after Iliana had cried in the bathroom, Snape seemed to come to some decision. In his older, more familiar tone of snappishness that had always been reserved for Hermione or one of the Potters, he'd commanded Hermione to stay behind after class that day.

“What're you picking on her for again? Sir.” Ron said waspishly.

“How I choose to discipline students, and the reasons for it, is up to me and me alone, Mr. Weasley. Now I suggest you get back to work before I give you a detention for your impudence.”

That shut Ron up, just barely. There were a lot of angry mutterings from the Griffindors, and the Slytherins seemed pleased. But Iliana suspected something unusual was going on here, something that wasn't punishment for some perceived crime.

At the end of class, Snape glared at Iliana and snapped at her to get out so he could speak with Hermione alone. Reluctantly, she did. But she put her ear up to the door to try to hear in. Ron peeked through the keyhole.

Hermione nervously went up to Snape's desk, clutching her books to her chest, and said, “You wanted to speak with me, sir?”

“Yes, Miss Granger, I did.” He looked at the door, but made no attempt to ward it from eavesdropping, as Iliana knew he could.

Turning back to Hermione, he conjured a chair and bade her sit. She did, looking very confused by this, but no less anxious.

“Miss Granger. In second year, several ingredients went missing from my private stores. Very interesting ingredients, too. Boomslang skin and horn of a bicorn, both rather rare and expensive.”

“Sir, I--”

“Silence! I did not give you permission to speak. Now, strange as it may sound to you, I am not here to enact delayed punishment for your theft. I merely wished to point something out to you, which will lead to my eventual point soon enough.”

He sat there, thinking, he fingers steepled. Hermione was too curious and scared to speak as she waited for him to finish thinking.

“Miss Granger, do you have any thoughts on why I have been so hard on you these last three and a half years?”

She blinked. “What? I... well, um... because I'm Adira's friend, and you hate her?”

“I can see why you would think that. But that is not the reason. Miss Granger, do you know what legilimency is?”

“Legilimency is an arcane magical art that allows a witch or wizard to look inside someone's minds, and use what they see to verify someone is telling the truth.”

“Correct. Now, I am trusting you with an important secret here, Miss Granger. Do I have your word to keep it quiet?”

“I... well, yes, you have my word.”

“Good. The secret is that I am a legilimens, and I use it at times on my students.”

“But that's illegal! It's illegal to use legilimency on a minor!”

“You swore to keep the secret. Do you wish to go back on your word?”

“Well... no. No, I'll keep it secret.”

“Good. Now, I tell you this only because you need to understand that I can see more than mere truthfulness in someone's eyes when I use legilimency on them. I see only what comes to their mind at the time. But that can often be more illuminating than one would think. In your first class with me, I saw within you a potential to be great at potion-making. But I was very annoyed at your tendency to regurgitate the contents of the textbook at me.”

Hermione looked very confused. Iliana and Ron looked at one another, also confused.

“I don't understand, sir, what's the problem with that?”

“I am going to ask you something, and I wish you to look into my eyes when you do. Yes, like that. Did you brew the Polyjuice Potion in your second year at this school, before Christmas?”

“Yes sir, I did, but---”

Snape sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Miss Granger, I have already explained that you are not in any trouble. I merely wished to confirm something I already suspected.”

“But why, sir?”

“Because, Miss Granger, the Polyjuice Potion is an incredibly advanced potion. There are few witches or wizards who could have brewed it even in their seventh year at Hogwarts. There are few people who brew potions for a living who wouldn't have trouble with it. And I am quite certain that neither myself nor my mother, talented at potions as we both have been, could have made perfect Polyjuice Potion in our second year. Not even Lily Potter could have done it, and I have never met a more talented potioneer than her, myself included. And from what I understand, Miss Granger, the only mistake you made with that potion was that you almost used a hair that--given whose robes it was from--was almost certainly a cat hair.”

Hermione swallowed a lump in her throat, her eyes wide. She hadn't been certain it had been a cat hair at the time. Only Al's words had kept her from using it.

Snape stood up and began pacing back and forth, his hands behind his back.

“I am the first to admit I am not the greatest teacher. I never wanted this job, I was never much good at tutoring, much less teaching. But I had no choice in the matter, so I muddle through. Still... there have been fewer Aurors and Healers since my students started getting old enough to graduate, so I am aware that my teaching is substandard, and my attitude is lousy. Despite this, I kept on without changing anything about my teaching style.

“There are limits, too, to how much I can improve. I cannot go into details about why, since you do not know occlumency, so you will simply have to take my word for it. That said... on a whim, I took a chance on Iliana Potter, when she came to me about that warming potion. She is... above average as a potion maker. She has potential to one day become a Healer or an Auror, or even a passable teacher of the subject once I leave this job.

“You, Miss Granger, are another matter altogether. You have an incredible mind. You brewed Polyjuice Potion in your second year here. You got past my riddle protecting the Philosopher's Stone the year before that. I hear you helped figure out that the monster in the Chamber of Secrets is a basilisk, too. You could be a Potions prodigy, girl, but all I ever see of that talent from you is memorized lines from the textbook, and potions in class that are exactly the quality of the instructions I put on the blackboard. No improvements, no experiments, no small, sub-conscious alterations, just exactly what is expected of you, and nothing more.

“Then there's your essays. They are long, and detailed, and remind me of myself at your age except that my passion was actually Defense Against the Dark Arts, but there's still something lacking in your work. You never put things down in your own words, you never explore beyond the parameters of the assignment, you never question what is written in the books, even after figuring out from Gilderoy Lockhart that books and their authors are fallible! You could be a virtuoso of Potions, eclipsing my own talent by the time you were in your sixth year, and going on to invent new potions the likes of which I can't even imagine, if you didn't keep limiting yourself all the time! And that, Miss Granger, is why I have been so cross with you all these years!”

He had punctuated this last by slamming his hands down on the desk and staring her down. While she gaped at him, he stood up straight again, and went over to the blackboard, tapping it with his wand. It displayed a potion's instruction on the board.

“If I told you to brew this potion for me right now, what would you say to that?”

Snapping out of her shock, she looked at the instructions and nodded. “I c-can do that now, sir, if you w-want.”

“Just like that, would you? I say jump, and you don't even wait to ask how high before jumping? You barely even looked at the instructions, Miss Granger, and you're going to make the potion, just like that, on demand? Without even reading it through carefully first? Sorry, correction: I'm sure you will indeed read it carefully, first, memorizing it to make sure you don't make any deviations from the instructions.

Hermione started to cry, quiet tears rolling down her cheek. She was also shaking her head, looking extremely confused.

“Do I have to spell it out for you? Give you a riddle to solve in a dungeon chamber or dangle a known mystery in front of you, and your mind attacks it like a pit bull attacking a juicy steak. Where is that wickedly beautiful, devilishly clever mind of yours in class?”

She continued to cry and look confused.

Snape put his wand down and massaged the bridge of his nose again. Then he slipped out of sight of Ron and Iliana, was gone for less than a minute before coming back.

“Here, Miss Granger, drink this. It is a Calming Draught.”

Silently, she obeyed, swallowing the vial's contents.

Once she had calmed down enough, Snape sat down at his desk.

Much more calmly, he said, “I have given you a puzzle to solve, Miss Granger. It is there, on the blackboard. Solve the puzzle, please.”

She looked up at the instructions again.

“It's... it's not a puzzle, sir, it's just instructions.”

“It is both instructions and a puzzle.”

With this knowledge, Hermione's mind seemed to switch gears. Iliana and Ron recognized it, as they took turns at the keyhole; it was her Solving A Puzzle face.

After several minutes, her eyes went wide and she turned deathly pale, dropping her books and shaking like a leaf.

“So you have solved the puzzle, then?” Snape asked.

Mutely, she nodded, her expression horrified.

“What is the answer to the puzzle?”

She didn't answer right away.

“I cannot give you another Calming Draft so soon after the previous one. The previous one should, in fact, still be working. It must be, as a matter of fact, for you have not run screaming from the room yet.”

“Th-th-the ins-ins- th-they're wr-wrong. S-sir.”

“They are? How so?”

“If I were t-to have m-made that potion, as wr-written... I... the whole room...”

Snape sneered. “Most likely this whole section of the building, in fact. At this time of the day, given our location, I'd say... a hundred dead, many more wounded. And you never questioned it.”

Hermione suddenly turned a ghastly shade of green. Snape casually conjured a bucket, and she was very loudly sick into it. For nearly ten minutes.

“Of course, the odds of this catastrophic of a screw-up are very slim indeed. Most who would be foolish enough to make such a mistake would have blown themselves up years before graduating Hogwarts, much less becoming a teacher, and the kind of knowledge it takes to know how to mess up on that grand a scale is thankfully very uncommon. But I hope I have made my point, Miss Granger.”

She nodded, still looking rather ill.

“And that point would be...?”

“Instructions... could be wrong?”

“Yes. Even experts can make mistakes. People are fallible. People write books. Therefore, books are fallible.”

She nodded once again, mutely.

“You will have extra instruction from me, which will be a Gifted Class. You will tell nobody, except for Weasley and Potter, the true nature of these classes. If anyone asks, tell them that these are detentions. Do not look at me like that, Miss Granger; nobody would believe for a moment that you needed remedial lessons, and there is no other excuse that would make enough sense to go unquestioned. That said, if anyone does question why Hermione Granger is having so many detentions, tell them Dumbledore can confirm it, for he will be able to by then. But to avoid that unpleasantness, use Potter's invisibility cloak to get to and from these classes, if she lets you.”

“Why? Why can't you just admit what they are?”

“Learn occlumency with Potter first, if you wish to know the answer to that. Now, your first lesson will be next Friday at 7 pm. Do not be late. You are dismissed.”

~

After thinking over the weekend about what Snape had said to Hermione, on Monday Al called Sirius and asked him to buy some books from Muggle stores about how to teach chemistry, if he could find them.

“Why d'you want books about that, pup?”

He thought about it for a few moments, then said, “I want to sneak them onto Snape's desk. Either he'll read them and become a better teacher or he'll burst a blood vessel in his head. Either way, it's a win.”

Sirius barked with laughter. “An excellent prank, pup, if a bit unorthodox. Yes, I'll scour Muggle London and find the perfect book for you, okay?”

“Thanks, Sirius.”

~

On March First, Ronald Weasley woke up in the morning to the sight of Zoey Potter standing next to his bed, staring at him intently.

“GYAH!” Ron shouted, jumping backward in the bed.

Zoey giggled at him. “Hippo Birdy, Ron!” She blew on a kazoo to punctuate her sentence.

“What're you doing in here? Why were you standing there staring at me in my sleep? And wait, what was that about a hippo?”

“Hippo Birdy! You know, like Happy Birthday, only funner!”

“What's all that noise over there?” asked Seamus.

“It's Ron's birthday,” she said, again blowing on the kazoo.

“Oh,” said the drowsy Irish boy. “Well happy birthday, Ron. Many happy returns.”

“Er, thanks, Seamus.”

Dean and Neville soon woke up, too, complaining about being awoken by Zoey's kazoo. Ron only just now noticed that Zoey was dressed like one of the Three Musketeers, for some reason.

“Miss Zoey Potter, Dobby has brought you the cake you requested for your Weezy,” said a familiar high-pitched voice from the door of the room. A tall cake appeared there, Dobby balancing it magically on his head. It was several layers thick, and looked like it weighed as much as Dobby did.

“Thanks a bunch, Dobby. Set it right there, we'll have cake for breakfast!”

“Cake for breakfast?” Ron said.

“It's your birthday, having cake for breakfast is your right and privilege! Wait, hold on a sec first,” she said, sticking a bunch of candles on the cake and lighting them with her wand.

The twins, Fred and George, came into the room then, pulling a confused Hermione along with them. “Zoey told us you were having a birthday party in bed--”

“--and of course we had to join in!”

“You practice the song I got from Sirius?”

“You can bet your tiny hiney we did!” George said.

“What?” Hermione asked, confused.

“Okay, boys, hit it!”

Fred pulled a pair of drums out from behind himself, handing one to George. They began to beat out a tune that sounded strangely depressing, more like a gloomy war song than a birthday song.

“What're you--?” started Ron, also confused.

The twins and Zoey started singing in unison, the drumbeat still going.

“Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!,” the song started, the twins pounding the drums especially hard on the 'UH.'

“It's your birth-day, UH! It's your birth-day, UH!

Birthdays come but once a year, Marking time as Death draws near! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

Though you're just fourteen years old, you're not too young for battle woad! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

Just some centuries past I vow, you'd have been married off by now! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

First one lesson you must learn: first you pillage, then you burn! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

May the cities in your wake, burn like candles on your cake! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

Death, destruction and despair, people dying everywhere! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

Burn the castle, storm the keep, kill them all but spare the sheep! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

May your deeds with sword and axe, Equal those with sheep and yaks! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

Just be glad the friends you've got, Haven't found out you-know-what! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

I'm a leper, can't you see? Have a birthday kiss from me! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH!

Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH! Happy Birth-day, UH! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, UH!”

The song ended then, the room echoing with laughter, hooting, and hollering. Even Ron, confused as he'd been by the strange song, joined in laughing.

“Blow out the candles and make a wish!” Zoey said.

As soon as Ron stopped laughing, he blew out his candles, and everyone in the room cheered. The cake was cut, Ron getting the first piece of course, and Zoey doled out the rest.

“That was a really weird song, Zoey. Where'd Sirius find it?”

“Oh, apparently the summer after Sirius graduated, he wandered into a Muggle event called a Renaissance Faire, where people dress up like they're in the Renaissance era or the middle ages or dark ages, having feasts, jousts, bard circles, and a bunch of other things besides. One of the bard circles was singing several versions of that song. I came up with a version of it just for you, though, Ron.”

“Well it's weird, but brilliant. Just like you. Thanks, Zoey!”

Zoey bowed with a flourish. “Thank you for thy praise, kind sir. Tis a shame we put rat droppings in thy cake.”

Everyone paused, trying to decide if she was kidding or not. Zoey broke out into high-pitched squeals of laughter so hard she fell over onto her back and clutched her stomach, tears of mirth streaming down her face. Since this didn't clarify anything, people started to look warily at their pieces of cake.

“I---” she tried, still laughing. “I was--- I was just joking. But you should've seen your faces!”

Dobby folded his arms and frowned. “She is making things up! We is never letting anything gross into the food, no sir! Dobby is offended you would even suggest it, little Miss!”

Zoey stopped laughing, and hugged Dobby, her big floppy Musketeer hat getting in his face. “Sorry, Dobby. Just a bad joke. I should've known better.”

“Yes you is ought to be knowing better. But Dobby is forgiving Miss her slight.”

The rest of the party went well, Dobby and a couple other elves bringing in breakfast food from the Great Hall so the party could continue as long as possible. Zoey had found a magical antique phonograph record player somewhere and had apparently gotten a bunch of rock 'n' roll albums from Sirius to play on it, including ACDC, Led Zepplin, The Beatles, and The Alan Parsons Project. She put on The Beatles as the most likely one to be universally liked, and they got through almost the whole album before they had to head to class. Zoey wanted to help Dobby clean up, but he insisted he liked working, so she left for class.

Later that day, they started the party up again after dinner, during which time Ron got his birthday presents from everyone.

~

Ever since her first talk with the one called Mother, Iliana had made it a mission of hers to find Her a name. Using their new knowledge of how to work the library, she'd directed whoever was Out to scour the library for books of names.

On the Wednesday following Snape's odd after-class lecture at Hermione, Adira was spending one of her study periods reading books of names for Iliana. Or rather, Iliana was controlling Adira's body at the time without them transforming. Which was fine by Adira, she had been tired all morning. Again. It was happening a lot more often, and she was getting suspicious about the reason, seeing as they hadn't had any nightmares as far as they knew of. Of course, it had been happening every week or so for years now, but it appeared to be happening more and more often these days.

Iliana had, ever since her first talk with Mother, had more talks with Her to figure out what names would be fitting. During one of these conversations, Iliana had asked about something Chandra had once said, that seemed to suggest Mother was a goddess of life or magic or something of that nature. Mother had confirmed this, saying, % Magic does not really have a personality in the way humans would think of such things, but it can spin off avatars of itself into the brains of certain individual humans, avatars that are as limited and different from Magic Itself as an ant's brain would be to a human brain. I'm one of those manifestations. There have been others over the centuries. %

And so it was with that information that Iliana finally found a name for Mother, that day.

“Mother, I hereby name you Avani Maznah.”

% Lovely name. What does it mean? %

# Avani means 'Earth' and Maznah means 'Glorious.' #

% It is very fitting. Thank you for giving me a name. Avani Maznah. I like it. %

“You're welcome,” she said aloud, but very quietly.

“Hello Adira,” a familiar, dreamy voice said from behind her. Iliana – who was still 'driving' – whirled around.

“Luna!” she squeaked. “How... how are you?”

Luna sat down next to them, and glanced at the book of names.

“I'm quite well, thank you. I was wondering, though... I haven't seen Iliana around much lately. Ever since the Yule Ball, that is. I like spending time with her.”

“I like spending time with you, too, Luna.”

“Oh, is that you, Iliana? You're... 'deriving,' I think it's called.”

“Er, close. Driving. Um, deriving would be an arithmancy thing.”

“Ah, yes. Driving. Like a driving wind. I see.”

“More like driving a carriage. Or a car.”

Luna nodded. There was a lull in the conversation for several long moments before she spoke again.

“I hope that Rita Skeeter article isn't the reason you're not spending as much time with me, Iliana.”

That, of course, had come out of nowhere, making the gears of Iliana's mind screech as they tried to shift mid-thought. She tried to say something, but all that came out was an odd mix of mixed-up syllables.

Their body began to glow and wobble, an unplanned transformation in the works, but the feel of it was scarily familiar...

“Iliana, what's wrong?” Luna called after her as she ran out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Immediately, there was an earth-shaking BOOM that rattled the library bookshelves, and Luna ran from the room, afraid for her friend. Ms. Pince followed her, and soon people were pouring out of other classrooms to see what was the matter.

They found... well, the Potters had become another strange hybrid. Part of their hair was long and red, another part long and black, or short and black, or in a few streaks it was as white as paper but was an odd texture. Their skin was patchy, varying from the pale white of Iliana to a brown so dark that it was practically black. Worse, they had two and a half arms (with the half arm growing from the other arm), absurdly short legs, and one of their hands had eight fingers, while another had three.

Unlike the last time this had happened, unbeknownst to most of the people there, they hadn't been carrying anything Inside except for the Philosopher's Stone, which had remained Inside them.

“Oh my goodness,” Professor McGonagall said when she saw them passed out and strange-looking. “What happened?”

“I don't know, Professor,” Luna said. “We were talking in the library, when she started to glow and wobble. She ran from the room, and then there was that explosion.”

McGonagall bent over them and checked for a pulse.

“They're alive. Miss Lovegood, please go to Professor Dumbledore and tell him what's happened. I'll take Potter to the Hospital Wing.”

Luna nodded, and walked off to go do as instructed. McGonagall floated Potter along with her wand to the Hospital Wing, shooing the gawking student away first.

~

When Dumbledore came into the Hospital Wing, Sirius was with him.

“What happened?” Sirius asked Luna.

Luna recounted what happened again, looking very worried. Sirius nodded.

“Well it's similar to something that happened over the Christmas holidays,” he said. “Given what Zoey said about it later, I think it's caused by powerful emotions, possibly also mixed emotions. But they didn't hybridize like this last time, just became Zoey.”

Their body glowed again, and settled into Iliana's form, right in front of the three witnesses. Madam Pomfrey came over to check on them.

“Still passed out, I'm afraid.”

“I woke them up with a spell last time.”

The matron nodded and cast 'rennervate' on them. Iliana blinked at the light, sitting up.

“What happened? Where---why am I in the Hospital Wing?”

“You exploded again, pup. Only this time you hybridized again.”

Panicked, Iliana looked down at herself.

“I seem fine now.”

“Yes, you shifted while you were passed out.”

“Any idea why you exploded this time, pup?”

Iliana felt her face grow hot. “I... it's private.”

“Oh, I see,” Sirius said in a tone of voice that told her she'd said too much. Of course Luna had told them they were talking beforehand. She felt stupid, then.

“Do you think it likely you will be doing it again soon?” asked Dumbledore in concern.

“I don't think so. I was... taken by surprise, before.” She looked significantly at Luna, who smiled. “And, well... if it was just strong emotions, it would've happened a lot more frequently. It would've happened the day I read that horrible Skeeter woman's last article about me. In fact...” she thought about what had made it happen the last time. “Odd. I assumed it happened the first time because we had too much stuff being held Inside, but we didn't have anything except, well, a certain stone. That didn't come out, did it?”

“By all reports,” Dumbledore said, “there was no debris this time. Just a very loud explosion. Whatever is causing it, I do hope you can get it under control.”

She felt her face turn red again. “I hope so, too.”

“Well, Sirius, I think we should discuss a few things in my office, don't you?”

“What? Oh... yes, you're totally right, of course, Dumbledore.” Sirius said, winking at Iliana. Far from encouraging her, it made her feel ill.

“Madam Pomfrey, can I go? I feel fine.”

“Pardon me, young lady, but when students go around exploding, I will tell them when I feel they can go. So stay right there. I will make sure you and your friend are not eavesdropped on, if that's what you're worried about.”

“Right. Thanks, I guess,” she said as the matron left the room.

Luna came closer to Iliana and took her hand in her own, looking up with half a smile.

“Will we be able to talk without you exploding again?”

“I... I think so. But, well, if not... just run. I don't want you getting hurt.”

Luna nodded. “I had fun dancing with you during the ball.”

Iliana tried to smile, and grimaced instead. “Sorry, lost control of my face there.”

“That can happen sometimes. Really bad nargle infestations can do that, on occasion.”

“Ah, okay. I'll look into fixing that. Anyway... I had fun dancing with you at the ball, too.”

“I thought you did. You seemed to. I did wonder why you ran off, though.”

Illiana's mind froze, then. Her hands shook. She was so scared. She'd seen so many horrible TV shows thanks to Dudley where telling a friend that you fancied them messed up the friendship, and read similar things in books. She looked away from Luna, trying not to cry, but a tear rebelliously rolling down her cheek anyway.

It was mad, she knew; she couldn't go on like this, not knowing. She couldn't forget her feelings, either. There was only one way to solve the problem, but she was so scared of the answer, of the potential fallout, that she was still mute.

Luna sat down on the bed next to her, still holding her hand.

“Iliana... I... I've never had a friend before you. Ginny and I were acquainted before that, but we weren't really friends until later. So I'm not very experienced with this whole 'friends' thing. I don't know what's going on, but I've worked out it has something to do with that Rita Skeeter article. I know I was mentioned, and she said some odd things about you and Hermione that I didn't understand either. I'm not sure how I was meant to fit into her story. I can only wonder, from my previous experience, if your behavior means... if it means you don't want to be friends with me anymore? I'll understand if you don't, but---”

Iliana burst into tears and grabbed onto Luna like a mother desperately trying to save her drowning child. She wailed into Luna's robes, and Luna – her eyes even wider than usual – just sat there, stiff, still confused.

Between sobs, Iliana tried talking. Haltingly, her voice distorted with emotion, she told Luna things like “No,” “Not it at all,” “You're my friend,” and even a garbled “I love you.” It was all very jumbled, but Luna got at least part of the gist.

“Okay, so you don't want to stop being friends with me, that's good. I'm relieved. But I'm still confused about why you're so upset.”

“I... at the dance, I... that dip... I felt something. Something I hadn't... something I didn't recognize. Something that scares me. But it's something I have to be brave about. I... I... Luna, I fancy you.” That last was said so quietly that Luna almost didn't catch it, but catch it she did.

“You... fancy me?” now Luna's face was turning red, while looking baffled. “Me? I... nobody's ever fancied me before. Why me?”

Iliana sat up and stared incredulously at Luna. “What? Whadda ya mean 'why me'? Luna, you're funny, intelligent, open-minded, honest, kind, compassionate, creative, easy to be around, and it doesn't hurt that you're easy on the eyes.”

# Oh god did I really just say that? # she thought, her face turning hot. # I mean, it's true, but jeez... #

Luna blinked in confused bewilderment. “You think I'm pretty? Really? You're not just winding me up?”

“Yes, Luna, I do think you're pretty! It wouldn't matter to me if you weren't, because of your inner beauty, but I do think you're pretty. No, correction: I know you are. You're beautiful.”

Luna shook her head, looking down. “No, no. I'm plain. My hair's a mess, I know it. I never cared, it never seemed important to me. I wash it now and then, and I comb it enough to keep it getting tangled up, but beyond that I don't care. And... and my eyes are weird, everyone says so.”

“Your eyes are beautiful, Luna. Stuff anyone who says otherwise.”

“And I dress weird, I know. You don't know how weird; I tone it down at school, because I don't want my best things stolen like other stuff gets stolen. Anything I really want to keep I have to leave at home.”

“Weird? Weird? You wanna talk weird? I'm weirder than you, Luna, I know weird. I don't mind weird one bit. I love weird!”

“Oh Iliana, aside from being many people in one body, you're basically normal.”

Iliana huffed. “Well now I'm offended! Normal indeed. We survived a killing curse as an infant, got raised by bigoted evil gits who tried to keep us from our birthright, we can speak to snakes and detect when the dark lord is nearby thanks to a curse scar, we turned out to be a whole mess of people sharing a single body, and then remember you're including Zoey and Chandra and Tier in there when you go calling us normal. None of us are normal! We befriended a weeping ghost and a freed house elf, Javier has some kind of something going on with him that affects his behavior, Hermione has instant recall of anything she's ever read and can brew potions that would challenge seventh years but worries constantly about failing her classes, Ron is a poor kid who's a chess whiz but also a slacker who still manages to pass all his classes, my godfather sleeps in a doggie bed sometimes, and me and all my close friends are the Hogwarts social outcasts and misfits. If this were a Muggle high school, I'd be counted among the freaks and geeks, and so would all my friends. And my godfather, too; he and my father were the Weasley Twins of their day. 'Normal' my left nostril!”

Luna laughed at this. “Very well reasoned. Okay, I'm sorry for calling you normal, Iliana. But still... you really fancy me?”

“Yes! I want to hug you, cuddle you, hold your hand, and maybe even kiss you!”

Iliana's face went red. Luna looked down at her hands.

“I'm not, like, freaking you out or grossing you out, am I?” Iliana asked, biting her lip in worry.

Luna looked up again, smiling, a tear rolling down her cheek.

“No, you're not doing either of those things, Iliana. I'm just touched by your words.”

“Um... cool. But, er... I'm kinda curious, you know... about, well, how you feel. About me. But well, I can see where you might need some time to consider it.”

Luna looked thoughtful for a moment. “That dance took me by surprise as well. I'm still not sure what I feel. I've never felt... it sounds cliché, but I've never felt this way about anyone before. I don't know what it means. I don't know what it is, if it's even the same thing you're feeling at all. I'm not ready to put any greater significance on it yet.”

“Wh-what does that mean?”

“It means I don't know if this is a sign of something deeper about myself, or if it's just how I feel about you. And, well... even if I did know, Daddy and I have never liked labels. Even if I do find a label for it someday, I need more information. But the kind of information I need isn't the kind I want.”

“What kind of information do you need?”

“Hmm... I'm not sure. But I think part of it would involve dating boys.”

“Oh. And, er... what kind of information do you want?”

Luna turned to look Iliana in the eye, thinking a moment before speaking. “The kind that starts with me asking if you want to go to Hogsmeade with me this Saturday.”

“Uh... yeah? Wait, I'm confused... are you saying you want that, but you're not doing that because you need to date boys first, or what?”

Luna smiled at Iliana. “I don't really care what I need, in this instance. I'm not likely to get it anyway, not anytime soon. So yes, I'm asking you if you want to go to Hogsmeade with me this Saturday.”

Iliana's grin was suddenly so wide it was painful. She toned it down then said, “Yes. Yes! I would like that very much, Luna. Very much indeed.”

Luna smiled, too. “So... meet you at the castle entrance after breakfast that morning?”

“Yes! I'll be there even if I have to have Zoey force a transformation!”

“Good,” Luna said. Then a sudden thought occurred to her, judging by her face. “Um... Al and Javier...?”

“What? Oh, you mean... er... well, strangely enough, they didn't make plans for Hogsmeade this time. Their relationship is in this odd place where they're getting to know each other better, still. They kinda went into their relationship full steam ahead and then realized they didn't know each other very well. They're going to become close friends first, if they can, and then see where it goes from there.”

“Oh. Well I wish them luck, whatever they decide. But I'm glad it frees the weekend for us.”

“Me too.”

A pause. Then, “I know that article in the Daily Prophet upset you. I talk to Myrtle sometimes, and she let slip you'd been crying. I hope... well... are you going to be able to weather similar storms that come your way? Without exploding, I mean.”

“I'll be fine, Luna. I was crying that day because I was upset that something so private, something I hadn't decided what to do about, was aired publicly. That woman is going down. But I can handle her vitriol. Especially now.”

Luna smiled again, but still looked concerned. “It's just... well, you did just feel so much that you literally exploded.”

“Um, yeah. But I was able to recognize it and ran out of the room into the corridor. I think next time, I'll be able to calm myself down. Or have Mother or Zoey pull me Inside.”

Luna smiled, more genuinely this time. But then she looked thoughtful again.

“Oh, wait a moment... was Rita Skeeter implying that you, Al, Javier, Hermione, and me are all in some kind of... love pentagon?”

Iliana laughed. “Well from her perspective it would be a love square, I think, but essentially yes, that was the implication.”

“Well now I see the fullness of why you were so upset. I don't know how to put it into words yet, though.”

“That's fine. Don't worry about it, I'm better now you and I are going to Hogsmeade.”

“I'm glad you're feeling better.”

“By the way, Luna, I should tell you something that I thought of over Christmas break, about Hagrid riding Sirius's motorcycle, since we're both already in the Hospital Wing.”

~

Aside from Hogsmeade, Iliana and Luna also made plans to study Potions together on Wednesday nights, since Iliana, for all she was above average, could still use help getting better. Thursday nights were occlumency lessons with Dumbledore, and Friday nights were the extra Potions lessons with Snape, which Iliana had with Hermione.

Though she and Hermione were in the same extra class with him, they were doing different things. Snape, who had taken her essay about the Viking's Arctic Vigour Potion last Friday, handed it back today. She had a relatively high mark, considering it was still Snape. He had circled a few things in red and made clarifications and comments on them.

“Your essay, Miss Potter, was refreshingly intelligent, despite a few mistakes which I circled. I will expect your work in my other classes to meet or exceed that standard, understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. It's a pity the both of you weren't in Slytherin, I could have gotten you well past your current benchmark if you had.”

“Would you have, though?” Iliana asked. “You seem to hate Adira and Al. And you didn't seem terribly fond of me, either, until recently.”

“You have a point there. But I think if you had been in Slytherin, it would have shocked me out of my loathing for your father's memory and Alastair's resemblance to Black. It would have been so astonishing to me as to make me open my mind, I think.”

Hermione, who had blanched before Iliana had responded to Snape, finally spoke. “Wait, m-me? In Slytherin? A Muggleborn in Slytherin?”

“Yes, Miss Granger. It would not have been easy for you, as there are some pretty hard-line blood purists in my House, but enough of the Slytherins are neutral or better that I think you'd have done well in Slytherin. But I suppose we shall never know, now.”

“Well maybe, but... but the Hat wouldn't have done that, surely? I mean, Salazar Slytherin only let in purebloods.”

Snape gave her a weird look, somewhat peevish. “Yes, Miss Granger, but that was a thousand years ago. There were a great deal many more wizards and witches back then, as well as a war on between magicals and Muggles. Things have changed rather a lot since then. I myself, a half-blood, would likely not have been able to get into Slytherin back in those days. The Hat has had a very long time to adjust to the changes.”

“Oh,” said Hermione.

“'Oh' indeed. At any rate, Miss Granger, we should discuss why the two of you are in these extra lessons together.”

“Er, yes, I had wondered about that myself, sir, given your, er, speech to her,” Iliana said.

“Yes, I knew you and Weasley were eavesdropping. I did not mind, obviously. Some of what I said to Miss Granger applies to you as well. You showed remarkable knowledge of potions ingredients, and their interactions. You, too, have been under-performing in my class, Miss Potter. Thus, the two of you are here so I may attempt to help you unlearn that behavior. And it will work best with you in the room at the same time.”

It might have something to do with the fact you were being such a git to us in class, Al thought. Snape had not been looking at them at the time, though, so he couldn't have overheard it.

“Now,” Snape continued, “since Miss Granger was not here for your lesson on the Viking's Arctic Vigour Potion, I will be covering that potion with her. You, Miss Potter, should think more about the potion as well, but please do not attempt to answer any questions about it yet. I want to see what Miss Granger makes of it. I will start by putting the original potion on the board.”

He tapped the blackboard, and the original, outdated potion from the book appeared on it. Hermione read it, already tackling the problem as a riddle to be solved, and spent a few minutes thinking about it before speaking.

“That potion isn't formulated for the Black Lake,” she said. “I can tell, because I'm fairly sure someone would cook like a lobster if they tried it, even in February.”

“Indeed. So how might you counteract that?”

Hermione thought some more, and finally came up with some of the same ideas as Snape had. He prodded her on, giving hints here and there in his usual obscure fashion, and over the course of half an hour, she worked out the rest.

“See that! That was the brilliance I saw in you, that you kept hidden! That's the kind of thinking I wish you to bring to every Potions lesson, Miss Granger. You too, Miss Potter.”

The three of them discussed the potion a little more, and Hermione ended up coming up with another modification to the potion.

“If you use a third less bundimun solution when you dissolve the hematite, that should adequately dissolve it, while further strengthening the potion's stability. At least, it seems that way to me, sir.”

The corner of Snape's mouth twitched upward, as he did the arithmancy to confirm or deny her claim. It felt to Iliana like he already knew the answer, and was double-checking. Sure enough, when he put his quill down, he nodded at Hermione with satisfaction and approval.

“Quite right, Miss Granger. The modification you proposed would indeed have that effect, increasing its shelf life by another few days. Of course, only the most expert potioneers should ever try that. Use even one nanogram less than that exact amount, and the hematite does not dissolve enough, which results in a potion that is very unstable and turns into a very tall column of fire. Regardless, a clever addition.”

Hermione beamed at the rare praise.

“Now, on a slightly different note, Miss Granger, I am going to try you on some advanced potions in these extra lessons, a bit of a head-start on your N.E.W.T. levels. But be warned, I may sometimes slip in a mistake or two here or there, so keep on your toes. I will not be giving you anything terribly difficult, despite your prowess with Polyjuice Potion, not at first, anyway. It is my hope to gauge your capabilities before moving on to truly difficult potions. But they will still be N.E.W.T.-level potions, understand?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. But that will be next time, as we are running out of time tonight. In the meantime, Miss Granger, I shall be interested in your own essay about the composition of the Arctic Vigour Potion, and please do remember to think before writing, instead of just regurgitating the textbook. Treat every bit of Potions work from now on as a puzzle to be solved. Understood?”

“A puzzle. I understand, Professor. But, um... how long shall I make my essay, sir?”

Snape smirked. “However long as you are able to make it, in a week. As long as it is still sufficiently interesting to hold my attention. I would rather you turn in a short yet thoughtful essay than a long, boring, and thoughtless essay.”

“Okay, sir, I'll do that.”

Iliana raised her hand.

“Yes, Miss Potter, I have not forgotten you. You will be evaluated as well. You do well enough in your current level, I shall try you on a fifth-year potion next time. Your assignment will be to check a fifth-year Potions book out from the library and read as much of it as you are able to before next Friday. Understood?”

Iliana nodded.

“Good. Now, before it gets too late, you should both head back to your dorms.”

They nodded, gathered their things up, and headed back to their common room.

“If someone had told me last semester that Snape would be praising me and you regularly, even if not in public, I would've thought they were mad,” Iliana said.

“Me too.”

They continued walking in silence for a while before Hermione, who had been side-eyeing Iliana for some time, finally spoke.

“So, I hear you and Luna are going to Hogsmeade tomorrow.”

Iliana's face was red again, but it faded quickly. “Yes, we are.”

“As a date, I hear.”

“You heard correctly.”

“I have to admit, I didn't really expect that, though maybe I should have. You two seemed to hit it off right away, when you met on the train.”

“Yeah, I didn't see it coming either. I had no idea I had feelings for her until that dip at the ball.”

Hermione giggled. “I don't know if you noticed or not, but there were rather a lot of catcalls about that dip at the time. A lot of people noticed it.”

“Oh yay,” Iliana said, without any enthusiasm.

“Fred and George in particular were taking bets on how long it was til you two started to date, in fact. I think Seamus Finnigan won that bet, come to think of it.”

“Is there a hole around here that I can crawl into?”

“Sorry to make you uncomfortable. I think it's sweet. Romilda Vane isn't happy about it, though.”

“Who?”

“Romilda Vane. She's a second-year. She's another one of those who fancies you for stopping You-Know-Who.”

“Er... me?”

“Well, the lot of you. When I pointed out to her earlier this year that there's only three boys in your collective, and that one of them can't talk without difficulty and doesn't really have his own human form, she didn't seem to mind. I don't think she's, well, into girls, generally, but she's into famous people.”

Hermione gave the Fat Lady the password and they walked in. Iliana made sure nobody was eavesdropping before they continued.

“Sounds like someone to be wary of, this Romilda Vane. Which one is she?”

Hermione looked around the room. “She must be upstairs or something. But she's hard to miss. She has curly hair, a prominent chin, large dark eyes, and she's rather loud, with a dramatic voice. She's also pushy, conceited, and overly self-confident.”

“I'll try to avoid her, then. She sounds like the female version of McClaggen, and I've had problems with him, too.”

“Yes. I wouldn't normally have bothered telling you about her, though, because when Al and Javier started dating, she backed down a bit. But then you and Luna got together, and she seems to have decided you're back on the menu. Probably hoping to snag Chandra, is my bet.”

“I think our limit is two people at once. It's hard enough managing that much, I don't even want to think about a third. Besides, I think Romilda Vane and McClaggen should probably consider going with each other.”

“McClaggen isn't famous, though. You are.”

“Well I'll burn that bridge when I get to it,” Iliana said.

Endnotes: Iliana's conversation with Mother/Avani is in the same style as some of the conversations I have with my own version of Mother/Avani, Djao'Kain.

The birthday dirge is a real song, with a great many different versions, and it's been around at least since 1975.

Admittedly, the first explosion at Christmas was largely a whim, that I did because the image of Zoey in the midst of a tinsel explosion made me laugh so much I had to include it. This second explosion was a similar whim, because it was a nice dramatic way to express the chaos in Iliana's mind. I don't plan to make a habit of these explosions, though.



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