Miranda has a lovely summer, some of it spent at Karen's and some in Italy and some at home.
She shows up with Karen at the train platform and they look for Minor.
"That depends how you're doing your inferences and your decision theory! So if you think that Minor writes more and therefore gets pocket money, you could write more expecting to get more pocket money. But what if instead you think that Minor just writes more for reasons that are related to the reasons he gets more pocket money, namely that he's Father's favorite - well, then, writing more won't make you Father's favorite, but arguably being the kind of person who'd write more does -"
"Minor's talking to them to try to avoid incidents like the one last year and obviously in the long term once everything can be ordered exactly how we like it merfolk can be their own political jurisdiction just like anybody else and they can have treaties with their neighbors and the treaties will actually be enforced so they don't just expect them to be functionally meaningless, and also I kind of want to do Hogwarts discipline differently - do you think you've ever been improved in character by being whipped? I sure haven't - but that's not a very high priority. Medium-term I just want enough people on the board that I can get them to - not do that kind of thing."
James is in Hufflepuff and Samuel in Ravenclaw; they are mildly disappointed. There are several other Ways sorted; Minor pointedly pays them no attention. Timothy, as always, watches the Sorting as if it is the most important possible proceeding of a civilized society and perhaps also as if he wishes he were the Hat. There is a feast. There is a stern warning to stay away from the lake and not bother the merfolk.
Hexing fellow students is not allowed but he doesn't really suppose that counts; perhaps the victim shouldn't question people's parentage.
For Miranda's birthday he gets her an obscure book of charms with unusual wand movements and a set of potions tools that extend shelf life.
She wasn't super expecting to be on a lots-of-nice-presents basis with Timothy still. Maybe the Ways just have so much money they can do that? But no, Gaunt has a September birthday too and gets a card and a pinch of potion-grade saffron, thoughtful but not as elaborate.
His birthday's in October.
She gets Nnenne to send her a French translation of The Prince and brings it to his room and knocks.
"Just Minor. Not even Karen. And, yeah, I was sort of creeped out about the potions and wanted to know what the deal was but I wasn't terrified till you wouldn't take the bracelet and drew your wand on me and then I wanted to figure out how to help you, for all I knew you could've given me the bracelet as long-shot insurance against something happening to you -"
Miranda asks to be excused from dueling when nothing to help her with footwork turns up. She is denied. She makes an attempt to duel while stationary, with shields and spells that keep her opponents from closing, but she's not actually very good at dueling and there are several legal spells that make her attempt to move anyway, ones that make her dance or spin or launch backward.
There's also a few that are legal aimed at the body but not at the head.
Most people under Tarantellagra just - dance. Miranda falls, and where her shoulder was is her ear.
She hits the ground.
"I suppose you could take it up with the headmistress."
"Can you tell the headmistress that in your opinion she is unqualified to learn dueling? At least on foot, could she make it up with broom dueling - she invented it -"
Sigh. "If the Headmistress asks of course she can have my professional opinion."
Timothy thinks the best angle is that their parents are going to be displeased to hear their friends are suffering serious injuries in class, especially after what happened to Karen last term, people might think Hogwarts isn't trying to keep its students safe.
"One of my third years, Swan, has some sort of incapacity to stay on her feet and is unconscious overnight in the hospital wing for the latest duelling-sustained injury. She has requested and been refused leave to do broomstick duelling instead, at which she's perfectly capable. I am not looking forward to this coming to the attention of her family, who certainly heard about the incident with her best friend Dwimmer last spring -"
"That seems unlikely," says Twimble.
"H-her mum is a teacher," Karen says. "Of little kids, but still. She might just withdraw her to home-educate her."
"That would be Madam Swan's prerogative. Students replacing bits of core curriculum with their own inventions is out of the question; I have enough misgivings about allowing elective substitutions. Miss Dwimmer." She looks pointedly at Karen. "Which may be no safer, if I recall your initial foray into wandlore."
Twimble sighs and rubs her temple like she has a headache. "Unless Professor MacDougal opts of his own accord to include a broomstick dueling element in the course I will not tell him to assign marks on that basis. If Miss Swan can produce seconds at times when she will otherwise be expected to duel I will encourage him to count that for partial credit, but he may choose to assign none, which he may also do for any duels she sits out of. What I can do is allow her to decide between dueling and sitting out without threat of other disciplinary action."
Miranda and Karen practice seated dueling with spells that won't be a disaster if Miranda can't deflect them. Miranda gets better at shields - they're best with the ostensible chimaera wand - but not to the point where an inability to dodge wouldn't be an awful risk in a regular duel.
But then she gets into an argument during the boring parts of Herbology with agemate Gryffindor Parthena Prewett about Azkaban, and Prewett feels rather strongly that the fellow who killed her grandmother deserves the place, and Miranda does not notice how strongly she feels about this until after Prewett is demanding that they match wands at sundown.
"Ooooh, who're you dueling? - a year'd be all right but it'd be fairly poor etiquette to duel a child once you're of age unless they really provoked you and wouldn't back down - though if whoever you're dueling has an older sibling I could fight them and there'd be nothing unsporting about that -"
- and he's flipped heels over head and lands in a heap, bleeding through his robes.
Miranda shrieks and takes just the one step from the second's box to take over and Prewett was not expecting Miranda to take over even if Minor did die, and Prewett's hair is braided over her eyes and she can't see to dodge and she takes a chimaera-wand Stunner and skids a few yards across the floor. Prewett's second can't step in because Prewett is still alive.
Miranda trips her way over to Minor to make extra sure, third years are not supposed to know lethal spells -
And then Madam Hirudinea arrives and forces blood-replenishing potion down his throat.
"Is that even a legal spell."
"Yes, only this bad if it hits an artery and not too debilitating even then," says Madam Hirudinea.
"So he'll be fine -"
"Yes, up and about in an hour, but let's bring him to the hospital wing anyhow."
They do that.
Timothy invites Jocosa Smith to the winter ball. She's a perfectly capable witch with a grandmother on the Wizengamot and he doesn't especially see himself marrying her but he thinks he might just have a hard time seeing himself married for some reason. He'd really sooner they not break up until after he's graduated, anyway, lest people notice he's inept at this thing; it'll be less noticeable after Hogwarts. So he watches Michael and in addition to being exceptionally charming tries for some actual warmth.
Jocosa is so charmed and very animatedly delighted about the whole thing. She likes flowers and she likes going for walks in the woods (not the Forbidden Forest; there's some less forbidden trees on the grounds) and she likes Timothy. She really really likes Timothy, she hadn't thought he'd noticed and wasn't sure how to let on and never did figure out what was going on with Crouch but she's so pleased he asked her.
He can do flowers and walks in the woods and if he gets credit for mysteriously knowing that she liked him well that's just a bonus.
(This isn't manipulative. This isn't unfair. If he marries her he'll love her by then. Correcting disabilities with potions is no one's concern but his.)
They go for walks and he gives her flowers and he kisses her.
...maybe she's taking potions too. For the same reason, even.
The evening of the ball he debates taking one. He decides against, the risks while he's still at school are too high. He's gotten better at kissing, he'll be fine without it.
He does do a couple of Cheering Charms. Michael doesn't seem to find dating this upsetting.
Jocosa likes dancing! And Timothy!
She is four foot ten and wand-slender, and even then should be able to handle three butterbeers over a four hour ball. The extent to which she cannot is not immediately obvious - she doesn't miss steps, she can still beam at Timothy and giggle when he says things, and while people are looking she manages not to do anything too embarrassing. The minute nobody is looking she puts her arms around his neck and pulls herself up enough to kiss him and clamp her knees around his waist.
He blinks at him for a while.
"Okay. Well, what you do is - you wake her up, holding her, you tell her that you think she might've fainted, she had a lot to drink, you had a delightful evening and are absolutely not going to take advantage and want to walk her back to her dorm. You do that."
- and now he knows what Jocosa felt, earlier, what she'd wanted from him, what she'd thought he might be feeling -
(You shouldn't repress it, a voice says gently, and the voice wants Timothy to nod so Timothy nods, you'll twist yourself all up in knots. Find pretty Muggles, make them forget it - and he wants Timothy to nod again but Timothy's head is suddenly not a peaceful happy place at all -
- do you do that? he'd said once he could speak again -
- hmmm? No, I do this - why -)
"Drunk," he says, "and underage -"
"You're cheating on her. You do realize that, right? That is the thing you are doing. It occurs to me you might've mentally applied the term to Michael's dramas and not generalized successfully but that is the word for the thing you are doing. She is feeling terribly grateful you didn't take advantage before marriage and you. Are. Cheating on her."
That isn't very difficult. It involves some lying and lots of mentions of, of course, Fredrick's family.
He gets an owl and leaves the Slytherin table visibly upset, a few days later, and when he sees Jocosa he hugs her and cries and tells her that Finis is being worse than a bit prickly over it and refuses to entertain any such match at all.
His crying is not insincere. She was nice, and if he wanted girls the right way then when she'd said that at the ball his heart would have leapt and he'd have had difficulty refusing her for an entirely different reason and now he'd be itching to marry her so he could -
- it could have just been that way, it would have been so easy -
He takes abundant precautions and meets his cousin twice a week and finds to his delight that it's entirely different without the Imperius and he has to get married but it can wait a few years...
Minor talks the merpeople into not attacking accidental trespassers on the lake; he's very proud of himself. Michael's two girlfriends fall in love with each other but want to keep using him for cover; he finds this very frustrating. The seventh-years bury themselves in studying for their N.E.W.T.s. Theodore declines to study at all for his O.W.Ls, and only passes three of them; he wants to leave Hogwarts early and go work on a dragon reserve, and Hogwarts is inclined to accommodate this.
Timothy can't exactly have Fredrick over but it'd be a shame not to see him all summer. "Polyjuice?"
And Leander Lymball, who'll be a Slytherin fifth-year in the fall, comes by with a question from his aunt and even mentions that she might send him again, she seems to delight in assigning him errands the elves can do.
"Or maybe she doesn't think the elves could do it," he says.
Shrug. "Maybe. See you, Way."
Timothy suggests a different errand-boy to the aunt and sends Fredrick hair and they meet once a week.
Minor thinks he's getting somewhere on the wards (he wasn't allowed to take the O.W.L. in Runes this year, but he'd completed the coursework and was permitted to sit it for practice; he got an E) and the bulk of his letters is excited explanations about that, but he does find space on the occasional piece of parchment to update her on how the rest of the family is doing and to idly speculate about how Timothy's miscellaneous activities for his grandfather get the Statute repealed - I don't know if it's just a matter of corralling votes or if he's planning something to bring it to vote in the first place - Lymball's been coming over weekly, and I thought his family was very conservative, do you know if he's any better?
Lymball doesn't hate Muggles but I think he'd rather nobody ever had to look at them without planning to, wouldn't peg him as anti-Statute unless it was some kind of compromise solution where wizards can go mess with Muggles but Muggles aren't allowed any wizarding places.
Theodore's absence has less of a daily effect on Miranda's life but Timothy being gone is definitely weird. She gets on with one of the year's new prefects all right though so she doesn't have to frantically revise her habits to account for no friendly authority figures.
A week later the first-year, Genevieve Stoller, misses class because someone soaked her robes through with a laundry charm while she was wearing them.
"I didn't go out of my way," he says, "she got in my way."
"I don't want to have to give you a detention for bullying an eleven-year-old," Molloy said.
"I want to be able to enjoy my own common room without smelly Muggles around."
"Well, his exact nuance on it isn't common but there's people who'll hate you all over. This is the worst house for it, though, you can more or less argue with most Ravenclaws and the Hufflepuffs less often get mean about it and the Gryffindors - well, I don't know, maybe Gryffindors are as bad but they don't have the reputation."
"Other Slytherin Muggleborns? Honestly that's not something most of 'em would say, if I know of any it's privileged information. You got unlucky to have it undeniable before you knew anybody. If I knew any other Slytherin Muggleborns would you want me to tell them to say hi to you?"
She finds Miranda with a list of questions a few days later. What are house-elves, what's a good thing to read to know all the important families, what's something written with simple words that explains dark magic and what it can do and why people whisper about it, what's wrong with her Wingardium Leviosa...
House-elves are a species of magic slaves, they like it that way it's weird if she promises to respect that Miranda will tell her how to get into the kitchens. Bloodlines and Origins is pretty readable and you can also assume any two purebloods whose families have been in Britain long enough (so, not Miranda, not the handful of kids from India) are related and ask them how as small talk. Dark magic is magic that requires evil intent and there's not really any simple books on it but here's the rundown of the unforgivables. She's swishing wrong, borrow this demonstrative stick.
"The Imperius is insanely illegal and practically nobody learns it, let alone casts it, anyway. If you're worried about it I have a way to tell if you're under it or not and I can check you now and then, but I doubt Black can cast it and if he can I doubt he'd escalate like that with you."
Minor stays up until outrageously odd hours for a week and then declares he thinks he knows exactly what is wrong with the wards and how to fix them, though maybe it should be tested somewhere smaller than Hogwarts because recasting all of the wards on Hogwarts will require most of the experts in magical Britain and actually even they might not be able to do it. "Though I think they should try," he tells Karen, "this is really important."
It is, as it happens, not all he ever wanted.
Italy is contemplating withdrawing from the Statute. They're not likely to go through with it - someone would step in and do enforcement for them - but it's the first place it's recently been up for debate. He arranges for a trip there.
It is delightfully satisfying to watch and hear translated. He doesn't have a good reason to talk to him - doesn't have enough strings to pull at the Ministry yet to be able to talk about offering Britain's commitment to respect Italy's sovereign right to withdraw from treaties if they so please - so he sticks to watching.
"I wouldn't like it if I were you but it'd be reasonable to prefer it to wandering around without anybody obviously looking out for you, take your pick. You probably get another chance to ditch me come summer, let everybody forget about it and reset expectations come fall."
Minor's pocket money turns out not to be infinite and to be insufficient for hiring a dozen experts to ward a patch of ground with revisions he expects'll allow electricity. His father advises him he can save up for it. He turns to Aaron for ideas on how to do this and to Karen to complain about the injustice.
"That's a good idea. Maybe I'll just. Do that."
She has to brew her own because Madam Hirudinea is hoarding them but she gets it done before she has to present her midterm project to the supervising professor. The wand doesn't bite. It also won't cast, but she's not in trouble over that until the end of the year.
Winter hols roll around.
Karen gets everybody homebrewed wand polish that she is reasonably sure should actually improve performance at all and not just make wands shiny. Minor also gets aquarium plants to put in with his eels and Miranda also gets enchanted parchment that looks blank to anyone except the writer and will fully blank itself for reuse on command.
Miranda gets everybody books! Timothy gets The Republic and Minor gets a bunch of some Italian student's notes from Alessandro Volta's lectures which she has finally gotten translated for him (the original Italian is also enclosed) and Karen a book on unicorns. Aaron gets An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
He gets Aaron money! He gets Michael a piano that doesn't lose its tune when shrunken pocket-sized and then expanded, which Michael had complained about for years with inferior pianos. He gets Michael's help on designing Miranda and Karen standard-looking Hogwarts robes that self-regulate temperature and deflect minor hexes.
And Timothy gets Miranda a cat. Well, a Kneazle, technically.
He met the cat in Italy, when it bit him; he was making Feverfew trail a politician for him. He recalled Feverfew and the kitten hissed and snarled and stopped when he took off the Imperius. Though it still glared at him disdainfully.
He had a feeling that it might get along with Miranda.
And Michael borrows a set of her robes and takes the Polyjuice and bumps into Black in the hallway with a bookbag slung over his shoulder, and blocks the immediate motion to throw him against the wall -
Black frowns, does it again -
The girl who looks like Genevieve Stoller sets down the bookbag, shaking. "It's bad form to leap to curses without a challenge, you know."
"You want me to duel you? Swan thinks you're cute but she can't walk in a straight line, she won't take over when you die."
"Yes, I want to duel you. Cricket can be my second, he has a bite."
Black blinks at her. "Mudblood, I'd just kill you. Don't be a fucking Gryffindor about it -"
Genevieve Stoller has adorably wide eyes and is trembling and is waving her wand like she hasn't the faintest idea how to use it. "Challenge me or cut it out."
"- you wanna be too dumb to live, fine."
She bows solemnly. Stalks back five paces.
The common room is looking on in mingled concern and confusion.
Black shoots a glare at her. "Where," he snarls at Stoller, "and when -"
"Here and now."
He bows. He raises his wand, slashes-
- gets blocked -
- again -
- gets blocked -
"Wingardium Leviosa," says Stoller proudly, picking up a corner of his robes and levitating it six inches.
Black blinks at her disbelievingly. "Diffindo, Escelpsis."
She dodges. "Expelliarmus!!"
That he deigns to block, using a sweeping motion to knock her off her feet at the same time. She tumbles. "Wingardium Leviosa," she says again, rolling to her feet and catching a different corner of his robes, "Wingardium Leviosa, Tarantallegra -"
Now he looks disgusted. The next Diffindo, dodged again, leaves a gaping slash in the wall. The ground turns to intensely sticky tar so she has to stop dodging -
- she seems unaffected, for some reason -
- four different bolts of purple light arc towards her, so even an experienced witch couldn't block them all - she blocks two, evades one, takes a long ugly slash on her cheek - "Wingardium Leviosa!" And she turns the ground beneath him to oil - he loses his balance but his robes are being levitated in four different places and now he's dangling from them -
"Petrificus Totalus," cries Genevieve triumphantly, at an angle he can't block from. She trots up to him. She takes his wand. "Um," she says. "I have a question about duelling?"
It's Winter Ball.
Minor is pretty sure he wants to kiss Miranda but isn't quite ready to tell her that yet and so agonizes over whether to ask her to the dance. He is pretty sure he can't turn to Karen for help on this because it was explained to him by one of his roommates that girls might get sad if you ask their advice on asking out other girls. Owling Timothy the question seems a bit much and Michael's suggestions would be a little Michael.
And Miranda can't dance and might not want to go with him even if she does like him which he is not sure about.
"I'm from a place where they speak English but women duel. When I found out my last girlfriend was cheating on me we had a spectacular public duel - to first blood, it wasn't a serious relationship and I wasn't going to issue a serious challenge over it - and it was marvellously satisfying."