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.
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 -"
"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 -"
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.
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.
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?
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."
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...
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.
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.
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."
Sigh. "So I started courting them last year partially because they were best friends and inseparable and so - close - and it was really cute and I talked them into kissing each other and they liked it and we all three went to the dance together and had a lovely time for a few months and then they decided they were in love. With each other. And they wanted me to cover for them. And - they'd have been willing to compensate me for that but as established I am not that much of an asshole so I'm covering for them but can hardly date more girls at school without people wondering why two isn't enough..."
"It sounded like the kind of thing that'd be hard if you were a Muggle. And - firstly if I never did things that concerned and disappointed my family I'd be very bored and secondly - the reason they'd be is -
- imagine if you knew an established man of thirty or so who was courting a girl of, say, fifteen, even if he did nothing wrong you might assume part of the appeal was having someone he could run rings around - that's how people who aren't outright prejudiced see marrying Muggles -"