Fulcrum: A Place to Stand

  • Fulcrum: A Place to Stand
Status:
  • Rough Draft
  • Complete
Content Rating:
  • R
Fandom(s):
Harry Potter

Relationship(s):
Minerva Ross McGonagall/OMC

Warning(s):
  • Discussion - Child Abuse
  • Discussion - Domestic Violence
  • Discussion - Sexual Abuse
  • Violence - Canon-Level
Genre(s):
  • Canon Divergence
  • Challenge Response
  • Fluff
Word Count:
14,311

Author's Note:
An AU of my AU. The scene at Wool’s Orphanage always infuriated me, so I wondered - what if someone with common sense delivered Tom’s letter?

Summary:
There are very few reasons for a magical child to end up in a muggle orphanage, and most of them involved maternal trauma. When Minerva learned that Hogwarts intends to just leave the child there, she makes a different choice.


Fulcrum: A Place to Stand by Chris King

Story

December 31st had become the anniversary of an often annoying but mildly amusing chore. It was the day that Minerva Ross McGonagall, the Ross of Ross, was invariably invited to morning tea at Hogwarts to endure another attempt to hire her. Evidently it was one of the more asinine traditions at Hogwarts to have the Board of Governors, the faculty and any prospective or new hires all ‘mingle’ at a morning tea on the last morning of the calendar year.

The food was generally excellent, not that they could ever equal the magic Aislin produced for the House of Ross. The often annoying part was having to deal with most of the Board of Governors, the more hidebound faculty members and most of the other guests.

The mildly amusing part was when she would cut lose with a vicious analysis of how far Hogwarts’ curriculum had strayed from the Charter, how poorly test scores compared to elsewhere in the world, and then lecture them in scathing tones about the latest studies on childhood education. Minerva was never less than well-prepared with the facts to update everyone at Hogwarts about how badly they were failing the magical children entrusted to their care.

The Hogwarts Board of Governors, Headmaster Dippet and most of the faculty thought they knew what they were getting into when they attempted to recruit her with more and more generous contracts, promises of studies of the situation and improvements varying degrees of sincerity – as if such studies hadn’t already been done and ignored for decades.

After 28 years, she hadn’t expected the situation to change.

But on the morning of December 31st, 1937, Minerva smiled tightly at her new employers, achieving the social niceties until she had been escorted to the doors. The smile fell off her face as soon as she was through the gates and outside the wards of Hogwarts.

Minerva took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment to calm her magic before calling out in the perfectly modulated tones of a well bred, well educated lady of Quality. “Moireach.”

With a muted pop, her head elf appeared before her, far better clad than any of the Hogwarts elves. Moireach’s wardrobe choices for the day indicated that she’d been out visiting the various crofts, part of her usual rounds and duties. Moireach wore an outfit little different than one any of the crofter women might wear on their island home – sensible boots, a warm woolen dress worn over a linen blouse, with the ancient Ross tartan worn in the traditional manner for women of the clan – as a sash and adornment.

She took one look at Minerva and huffed. Moireach peered very obviously past Minerva’s slender form up at Hogwarts and then all around them.

“Well, the castle is still standing and I don’t see any bodies,” Moireach observed cheerfully, in the well-educated accent that matched Minerva’s own.

It was, after all, where Minerva had learned it.

“What did they do, Miss Kitty? The last time I saw you this angry, it involved blood and explosions and several bodies, so I assume we’re planning vengeance?”

Minerva smirked at her. “I have a new job,” she announced crisply. “And a task to attend to at once.”

Moireach’s jaw dropped. “I heard the eleventy-seventh edition of your speech about why you will never teach at Hogwarts before you left this morning.” Her ears dipped uncertainly and she scowled. “Did they potion you? You were going to tell them no, just as you have every other time.”

“That was before I learned that they have a letter going out to a muggle orphanage today and they planned to leave the child there until September!” Minerva hissed, sounding remarkably like her animagus form.

Closing her eyes, she took a measured breath and deliberately calmed her magic once more. “Would you please track down one of the cousins to drive the Rolls and have whoever is free meet me at the townhouse? Albus too many bloody names Dumbledore made an appointment with the matron later this morning, so we have a bit of time.” Minerva took a another measured breath, firmly reining in her temper. “Dippet was going to send Dumbledore to see the child and then just leave him there!”

She was still furious. Honestly, what was wrong with the wixen of Great Britain? There were very few reasons for a magical child to end up in an orphanage, and most of them involved maternal trauma. Headmaster Dippet was beyond ancient, but not one of the other teachers or members of the Board of Governors had objected to that plan.

To be fair, Filius Flitwick, who Minerva had adored since she had first met him as a wee tiny lass, had shared one very speaking look with her. She had twitched an eyebrow at him, hiding a smile when he flicked a wandless stinging hex at her under the table in lieu of kicking her ankle, which he couldn’t reach.

She let him get away with it. She was still gloating over the fact that she had managed to drink him under the table the night they’d all been celebrating Minerva’s second mastery, twenty five years ago.

Well, her ease with the non-magical world was certainly well documented, so they couldn’t plead ignorance about that after the fact. It was among the reasons the Board had been trying to recruit her for decades. She was vastly overqualified for the role of professor, of course. She and her sisters had spent the most of their adult lives avoiding the wixen of Great Britain like the plague.

Rather than giving them all the rough side of her tongue, Minerva had smiled sweetly, announced that she would take care of informing the lad herself and then boldly lied, saying that she looked forward to seeing them all in September.

Minerva’s mouth curved in a very feline smile. “The Wizengamot and the Board of Governors have been blithely ignoring the work coming out of L’académie de Magie in Paris, and the IWC’s recommendations for minor wixen, and of course they haven’t even bothered to even look at everything the Americans have published about studies at Salem and the Magical Institute of Technology.”

The smile grew more predatory. “I even warned them. If they choose not to listen, well…”

Moireach studied her, one ear dipping in mischief. “Am I allowed to tell Dougal?”

Minerva chuffed, amused. “You may tell him that I’ll have a surprise for him tonight – do let Aislin know to expect my sisters. I’ll send them a Patronus.”

“The boys will be equally ridiculous,” Moireach said fondly. “As will most of the clan.”

There was no way to disagree with that so Minerva ignored it. “Please ask Aislin to make the lad a birthday cake. He turned eleven today, and I doubt he’s ever had much of a celebration.”

“You’ll soon have the wee lad set right,” Moireach predicted comfortably, and popped away.

*

Minerva’s tail would have been twitching had she been in her animagus form. Instead she sat perfectly poised in the back of the Rolls Royce, with Niall, one of her many Ross cousins, at the wheel playing chauffeur. He had been delighted for a chance to take the Rolls out for a spin, even if it was through London.

Minerva much preferred to drive herself in her sporty little Bentley, and taking the motorcycle and sidecar out with Dougal was one of the best parts of summer but she needed to make a certain impression. The only sign of her impatience was the slow tapping of one well-manicured index finger upon the sumptuous leather upholstery.

Despite the luxury of her immediate surroundings, London in winter held none of the charms of her home in the Outer Hebrides, and if she was forced to be in a city, Minerva preferred Paris or Cairo, or even Edinburgh.

Instead of the frosted beauty of the island and the song of the winter winds, she was was looking through the windows of the family car at the most dismal slums of London’s East End…but needs must.

The Muggle world may have no longer recognized the Magical House of Ross, and Minerva’s mother may have been forced to give up the practice of wanded Magic when she married a muggle, but Minerva still looked exactly like what she was – a Lady of good breeding, considerable personal wealth and education.

When she dressed that morning, she had selected the outfit most likely to outrage the Board of Governors and hopefully make them choke on it. She wore a striking Ainsworth Rookwood crossover suit, one of his classically inspired women’s suits that while elegant and sophisticated, made her look perfectly at home amidst the affluent, well-bred muggles on the streets of Paris or London or Milan.

She wore it with beautifully woven robes over the top, charmed to shift to a dramatic Ross tartan cloak when in the company of muggles.

The non-magical world might not recognize the name yet, but Ainsworth Rookwood was one of the hottest designers in Paris, specializing in haute couture in both worlds. His winter show in Paris had garnered rave reviews in both wixen and mundane media, and despite his scandalous origins, Minerva considered him a another brother.

Any man who adored her sister enough to gleefully aid and abet Nyota Shacklebolt’s ongoing campaign to defy her Patriarch’s orders to marry earned Minerva’s profound appreciation.

Dougal just appreciated the way she looked in Ainsworth’s designs, even if Hogwarts’ portraits had been spluttering in shock. She had caught one of the portraits in the board’s meeting room staring at her legs and winked at him.

Her long legs did admittedly look rather fetching in the silk stockings and stylish low heeled brogues. Dougal had not been the least bit shy about expressing his opinion when she had dressed back at the estate that morning. Her lips curved in a serene smile. He was due to propose again soon, which meant that he would soon step up his annual attempts at wooing her.

The ridiculous boy had known quite well that Minerva would never marry anyone under the Wizengamot’s current marriage legislation. When he proposed for the first time on her seventeenth birthday, Minerva had rolled her eyes and asked him if he’d lost what little sense he had. Hand-fasting for a year and a day was still the preferred option for the daughters of the House of Ross.

Dougal had proposed again before their time expired; she had declined again, but he promptly countered with suggesting hand-fasting for another year and a day.

It had become a family tradition.

Minerva settled herself more comfortably, feeling perhaps a justifiable degree of smug certainty that Dougal would go through the most ridiculous version of the courting process again over the next few weeks, just so he could formally propose, then have her turn him down yet one more time before he would settle for being hand fasted again – for the twenty-eighth year in a row.

Her Dougal was completely absurd, but he always made her laugh. His annual efforts to court her were a source of endless amusement for the entire clan.

Minerva looked up as the car slowed. The East End of London had not improved in the years since the Great War, although there had been attempts to clear the slums through great swathes all over London. The effect of the persistent drizzle didn’t soften centuries of poverty and neglect.

Minerva had made up her mind before Niall had time to turn off the engine and walk around to attend to her door. Wool’s Orphanage was a grim depressing place, barely one step above the old workhouses, and certainly no place for a magical child.

Niall had evidently reached the same conclusion.

“I trust we will have a passenger upon our return,” he murmured as Minerva stepped out of the car, the umbrella in his hand ensuring she was spared the persistent drizzle, although her robes were, of course, fully charmed.

Minerva sniffed. “I think Gringotts first – the healers, my sisters and perhaps a bit of shopping, depending on how damaged he is, poor lad. Then straight home.”

Niall never broke character as he passed her the umbrella, accustomed to the role of chauffeur while in the muggle world, but Minerva had known the man his entire life. She could see the relief, and then a hint of mischief.

“Dougal…” Niall’s blue eyes were lit with merriment.

“Hush, you,” Minerva scolded him without any heat at all, and walked briskly towards the entrance of the place where she would claim her new son.

Minerva ignored Mrs. Cole’s distinctly sherry-scented litany of suspicion as she was led to the boy’s room, her determination to remove the child deepening with every word.

Minerva’s eyebrow twitched as Mrs. Cole opened the door without knocking.

“Tom, you have a visitor.”

Minerva didn’t enter the room, pausing at the threshold to look over the top of her glasses in order to use her mage sight. Her gift for reading magic was helpful for combat transfiguration, wards and curse breaking, but she had first learned to use her sight when working with children and young adults.

A few small treasures fairly glowed with the boy’s magical intent, as did the threshold itself. They weren’t exactly wards, but it was more purposeful than simple accidental magic. It wasn’t an uncommon development for untrained magical children in hostile environments.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Riddle,” Minerva greeted the child with reserved warmth. “My name is Minerva Ross McGonagall.” A wandless privacy charm soon had Mrs. Cole moving away.

The boy stared at her expressionlessly. “You’re the doctor, aren’t you…”

Minerva’s eyebrows rose. Like that, was it? Well, at least he was open minded enough to consider the possibility that a woman could be a medical doctor. That was uncommon in muggle raised children.

“No, lad. I’m a professor. I came here to let you know that you’ve been offered a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school in Scotland.”

“I don’t believe you.” The boy was coiled on his chair, as motionless as any other young thing facing down a larger predator. Like most abused and neglected children, it was clear that young Tom had already learned not to trust adults. “She wants me looked at. They think I’m…different.”

There was a world of hurt behind that emotionless delivery, which was evidence itself of magical damage from his conception.

“Of course, you’re different, Mr. Riddle,” Minerva confirmed briskly. “That’s why I’m here.”

“I’m not mad!”

Minerva simply raised an eyebrow. “Hogwarts is not a place for mad people, Mr. Riddle,” she assured him without any hint of censure for his rather vehement outburst. He was a little scrap of a lad, but he was certainly fierce enough. That was a good sign.

“Hogwarts is a school for children with special gifts. I’ve only just met you and I’m quite certain you can do things other children can’t.”

Young Tom Riddle stared at her for a long moment, thoughts flickering through the boy’s dark blue eyes like minnows darting through the shallows.

“I can make things move without touching them,” Tom said slowly, curious enough to take a risk. “I can make animals do what I want without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who are mean to me.” The child met Minerva’s gaze with an unblinking stare. “I can make them hurt…if I want.”

In stark contrast to the practiced threat in his gaze, Minerva could see that the boy’s magic was flaring wildly with his fear and determination to protect himself.

It was like being stared down by a feral kneazle kitten, all puffed up and bristling in an attempt to look more dangerous.

Minerva didn’t react to Tom’s posturing, merely nodding in polite recognition of his words. She still made no attempt to enter the boy’s space, but she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge his accomplishments.

“That’s quite impressive, Mr. Riddle, particularly for a young gentleman of your tender years. I’m sorry that you’ve been forced to shape your gifts towards self-protection.”

Tom Riddle blinked.

She had surprised him.

Encouraged, Minerva continued. “I can not in good conscience leave you in your current circumstances, Mr. Riddle. I’m a professor, a teacher by training and by avocation. The care and education of children is my life’s work,” she explained calmly. “I’m different, too.”

“Prove it,” Tom shot back. His control was impressive for a boy who was barely eleven years old, but he was still a child, and the fear-driven temper and disbelief were easily read in his magic despite his impassive mask.

Minerva propped her umbrella against the open door, winked and then transformed into her animagus form.

Tom Riddle’s mouth dropped open in astonishment as he stared wide-eyed at the kneazle queen regarding him solemnly, her facial markings reminiscent of the spectacles Minerva habitually wore in human form.

While he was occupied processing the impossibility sitting in his doorway, Minerva turned her kneazle senses to the child before her.

The boy’s scent betrayed long-term misery, borderline malnutrition and a host of the expected health issues from his environment, including chilblains, more than a few scrapes and bruises, chronic stress and a magic that crackled with Tom’s desperate need to protect himself from the dangers he saw all around him. But it also revealed a spark of interest, and a thin ribbon of hope threaded through the peculiar scent profile of an unloved child.

Returning to her human form, Minerva retrieved her umbrella and hooked it over her elbow. “I would be delighted to answer any questions you may have about my gifts or yours, but I would like your permission to permanently remove you from Wool’s Orphanage. I came here to invite you to Hogwarts. While the normal practice is for a gifted child to remain with their families until classes begin on September first after their eleventh birthday, your situation is…less than ideal,” she concluded delicately.

“Instead of leaving you here until September, I would like to remove you from here and claim you as a protected member of the House of Ross. What this means is that I will be responsible for your care and education, ensuring you have all the resources you need to recover from the years you survived in what are clearly appalling conditions as well as equip you to thrive in your future endeavors.”

Even in human form, Minerva could catch the rising scents of fear and hope. “As my ward, you would receive extensive tutoring to ensure a smooth introduction into the new circles of society in which an individual with gifts like ours may move. I will undertake a thorough investigation of your heritage, ensuring you have the opportunity to reunite with any living family members should you choose to do so, although I would, of course, ensure that such individuals are appropriate companions for a gifted child.

“If we are unable to locate any suitable family members that you would prefer to live with, I would offer you a permanent place in my family as my foster son.”

Minerva waited patiently as Tom considered her words, seeing the boy’s suspicion even under the emotional flattening that provided further evidence of maternal trauma.

“I can talk to snakes,” Tom informed her with cold defiance, and the sort of dignified reserve that half the Wizengamot only wished they could pretend to own.

Whatever response her new son was expecting, it clearly wasn’t Minerva beaming at him in open delight. “How lovely,” she declared airily, while already preparing her arguments for Dougal, or the daft man would have the lad out at the island’s dragon preserve in a heartbeat. “It’s a rare gift, and one that is highly valued if somewhat controversial in the more… provincial circles.”

Minerva Ross McGonagall was far better educated than that. So she waited, with all the predatory patience of a kneazle queen. There was an edge of bewilderment to the boy’s scent but nothing showed on his face.

“You have choices, Mr. Riddle, and while children in orphanages rarely have many possessions, I certainly don’t expect you to leave anything behind if it’s precious to you,” Minerva continued quietly, although she truly would not leave him in Wool’s Orphanage for another hour. “If you have friends here or at school, you may write to them and arrange visits, with the permission of their guardians.”

Tom remained motionless in his chair, his magic all but vibrating as he considered her words.

“Take a deep breath and try to relax,” she suggested calmly. “Touch the part of you where your gifts lie sleeping and try to reach out to me, as you do when you want to protect something as you have that rather stunning example of smoky quartz on the window sill, or when you thought about protecting your wardrobe or the door to your room.”

The intensity in those deep blue eyes might have been off putting if Minerva were less educated or less gifted. She could feel how young Tom focused his magical intent through his narrowed eyes with more determination than skill, like a young predator practicing his hunting skills. It was crude, but undeniably effective as he was a remarkably powerful child. She could see why Mrs. Cole and the children he encountered would find him disturbing.

Minerva waited placidly, hiding a smile as Tom’s magic reached out to investigate her. An eleven year old was hardly a danger to a wix of her skill and power levels, but children have their pride.

It would probably crush him to realize that Minerva found his attempt at a cold-eyed stare of evaluation to be intensely adorable.

Had she been in her kneazle form, she would already be all over him, scenting him and purring at him and marking him as her kitten. She was looking forward to grooming that cowlick on the top of his head. After a good bath. And a hot meal. And a trip to Gringotts. Shopping could wait until after she’d had the healers take a look at him.

It was an effort of will but she valiantly refrained from cooing at Tom Riddle when he glared at her.

Minerva could practically hear Dougal’s absurd song of praise for her when she told him about her patience with what he claimed were the ‘tender sensibilities of the male of the species’.

“You feel…indulgent,” Tom huffed, his glare sliding away and his ears turning pink with offended embarrassment. “You feel…like the hot cocoa we get on Christmas Eve, and you don’t want to hurt me.”

Minerva graced him with a warm smile. “You have an impressive vocabulary despite your limited educational resources, Mr. Riddle. I’m even more impressed by your ability to touch your gifts and to understand what they are telling you. My gifts tell me that you’re far too sensible to trust me quite yet, but perhaps you’re willing to give this a chance – to give me a chance.” She nodded towards the wardrobe. “I’ll be organizing an appropriate wardrobe for you so you may move seamlessly through society, but is there anything you would like to take with you?”

Tom’s gaze turned back to focus on Minerva once more. “You really intend to simply take me with you right now?”

Even without her mage sight, Minerva had the insight earned through several advanced degrees, both mundane and magical, entirely focused on the way children learn and respond to their environment. She could see how desperately Tom wanted to escape the misery of his life at the orphanage. He was starved for all the things a magical child needed to thrive.

“Do you have a jumper and a warm coat?” Minerva wasn’t above scruffing him and carrying him out like a stray kitten but there was still that little issue of tender male sensibilities. “It’s wet and miserable out there, although the car is certainly warm enough.”

Tom huffed again, feeling safe enough for his disgruntlement to be clear in his expression, his magic still reaching out curiously. “Nobody likes me as much as you do, and you just met me.” He narrowed his eyes at her again, almost squinting with suspicion. “Why are you like this?”

The poor lad was entirely befuddled by what he could feel of her magic.

“Part of that is a gift that my clan is well-known for, in certain circles,” she admitted with a warm smile, even if she could already hear Dougal’s lecture. “I come from a long line of teachers, and a longer line of women who have fostered orphans. It’s a bit of a family tradition. As soon as I learned that a child offered a position at Hogwarts was living in an orphanage, I volunteered to come speak with you about the school. As soon as I took one look at this place, I knew it was entirely unsuitable for a child with your gifts.”

Minerva smiled again. Tom’s expression was shifting between cool calculation and total bewilderment and back again, his magic still poised for fight or flight. It was the most emotion she’d seen him express yet, and further confirmation of her suspicions regarding maternal trauma. His responses were still unnaturally flattened.

“One of the most important things you will learn in the coming weeks is how to protect your gifts. Gifts can be damaged or even ruined beyond repair if you fail to take proper care of them. This environment is not healthy for you or your gifts,” Minerva said bluntly.

Her wee kitten had a lion’s heart struggling beneath the muting effect of his mother’s trauma. And he was entirely appalled regardless of how practiced his cool, emotionless expression might be. She watched his throat work as he swallowed hard.

“Am I..?” He began, his voice very small and uncertain. “Have I…?”

Minerva didn’t hesitate to reassure him. “Whatever may have gone wrong in your life thus far will be corrected before you begin school in September,” she said firmly. “You’re eleven today, which is a milestone in your growth and development. As long as you begin to take action to protect and understand your gifts today, you will learn in the next few years how to better understand what your gifts can tell you about the world around you.”

Minerva smiled at his expression as his magic cycled from suspicious back to bewildered hope again.

“We’re just going to leave?”

“Aye, lad. We’ll stop to have a quick word with Mrs. Cole and be on our way.”

*

Minerva had been well prepared, so it wasn’t long before Tom was settled into the back of the Rolls, cuddled under a charmed lap blanket. “To the Leaky Cauldron, if you please, Niall.”

Tom was looking around with too old eyes, not precisely curious – more measuring, judging. Minerva hid a smile as he turned on that look of cold evaluation. He was so cute when he was plotting! Her great-grandmother was going to take one look at that expression and coo all over him, tender male ego or not.

“You must be rich,” Tom ventured after another few moments inspection of his suddenly luxurious surroundings. “Mrs. Cole did whatever you wanted, but I didn’t feel you use your…gift to make her do it, so it’s because you’re a rich lady. Or married to someone powerful.”

Niall chuckled in the driver’s seat.

Minerva didn’t dignify that with a response – Niall Ross had been a cheeky bit of goods since childhood.

Instead she turned to Tom and smiled. “You will soon learn, Mr. Riddle, that what I am is an educated woman, and an education makes me powerful in my own right. To use my gifts on that detestable female would have been a breach of ethics – and dishonorable acts can damage gifts like ours.” She reached out and slowly tucked the lap robe more securely around his thin figure.

“Mrs. Cole cooperated with me because I am educated – I knew what to say and do to ensure that she did precisely as I wanted her to. Because I am educated, I have the credentials to legally remove you from that horrible place and take custody of you. Because I am educated, I know what steps I need to take to protect you and your gifts as you are introduced into a new culture.” Minerva explained calmly. “You mentioned hot cocoa. Would you like some?”

Tom blinked at her quizzically. “You’re the strangest woman I have ever met,” he blurted, utterly bewildered.

Niall burst out laughing. “Wait til you meet all her sisters!”

“Hush, you,” Minerva huffed, failing to sound the least bit upset. “That was meant for my cousin up there, not you, Mr. Riddle. Just ignore Niall. I do.”

Niall snickered. “Welcome to the clan, lad. And say yes to the hot chocolate,” he urged warmly. “It would be a grand introduction to Aislin’s magic.”

Minerva smiled at the way Tom narrowed his eyes, peering at the back of Niall’s head with suspicion.

“I’m about to use my gift to arrange for hot chocolate. This may look and feel different from anything you’ve learned how to do yourself but you’re quite safe,” she advised him cheerfully. “Moireach!”

Tom startled as the house elf appeared on the bench seat across from theirs, a tray popping up between them with a charmed carafe and three thick stoneware mugs. “I agree, Mr. Niall,” Moireach confided, continuing the conversation. “Aislin’s hot chocolate is magic indeed.” She poured a mug with her magic and floated it over to hover in front of Tom.

Tom stared at the mug wide-eyed, his eyes darting over to take in Moireach’s appearance. While her clothing might be taken of that of a well-to-do crofter woman on the island, there was no way to think she was human, even if her accent differed little from Minerva’s. With her bright green hair and the pair of ears that were pricked in alert interest, Moireach was a healthy and powerful house elf, her enormous eyes glowing with a wild magic tamed only by the bonds she shared with the House of Ross.

Minerva watched indulgently as Tom cautiously reached out and claimed the mug floating in front of him, his fingers curving hesitantly around the thick stoneware. The blue eyes darted her way, and she smiled encouragement, reaching out to claim her own mug with a murmur of thanks to Moireach.

Minerva hid her smile in her mug when Tom took a careful sip and uttered a soft, incredulous sound. He took another long swallow, his eyes closed in bliss, his magic trembling in shocked delight. Aislin’s hot chocolate was rich and dark and creamy, with a hint of vanilla and the sweet tang of cinnamon.

“This doesn’t taste anything like the hot cocoa we had every year at Christmas,” Tom breathed almost reverently and took another sip, cradling the mug as if it were something precious. “It really is magic.” He held the mug close to his face and inhaled, sighing with contentment.

Minerva smiled as yet another youngling fell under the spell of Aislin’s ways in the kitchen.

“I will be sure to let Aislin know that you appreciate her efforts, and the first taste of her magic,” Moireach promised him, beaming with approval. “There’s a third mug for you here, Mr. Niall,” she said over her shoulder. “The carafe is charmed for you.”

“Thanks, Moireach!” Niall said gratefully. “I can smell it from here!”

“You just focus on your driving, Cousin Niall” Minerva chided him playfully.

“You’re a cruel, cruel woman, Cousin Min,” Niall said mournfully as he pulled smoothly to a stop in front of the Leaky Cauldron. It was across town from the East End, but the Rolls had some impressive charm work on it, enabling it to shift smoothly in and out of phase with normal non-magical traffic.

“Dougal likes me this way,” Minerva reminded him placidly, and waited for Niall to step out of the car and deal with her door. She stepped out under his umbrella and held out a hand to her new son. “Come along, Mr. Riddle. We have much to attend to before your birthday party this evening.”

Tom scrambled out in her wake, pausing when she beckoned him closer with the sort of caution that made Minerva want to bite someone. It was the kind of learned behavior that indicated he had reason to distrust standing close enough to an adult to be within striking range.

“I have charms on my cloak that will protect both of us from undo attention until we have addressed the issues effecting your gifts,” Minerva explained calmly. She waved off Niall with a nod, but she felt Moireach hovering near, disillusioned but close enough to assist if needed.

Tom turned a curious gaze her way, sidling closer, still skittish but fascinated by what his magic was telling him. “I can feel that,” he said, astonished. “It’s literally in your cloak, in the way it’s woven.”

“That’s very perceptive of you, Mr. Riddle,” Minerva said warmly, slowly wrapping one arm around Tom’s shoulders and guiding him towards the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron under the shelter of her cloak. Part of what made Ainsworth Rookwood’s designs so desirable among wixen was exactly what Tom had spotted – the magic was spun into the thread, and further magic charmed in as the thread was woven into material. It meant that it could hold privacy wards, a variant of the notice me not charm ensuring that even international celebrities like her sisters could pass unnoticed.

“I’m very pleased by how readily you reach out with your gifts to explore the world around you,” Minerva told him with warm approval, a little more of her brogue coming out. “You will be seeing and sensing many new things over the coming hours, lad. Many of them will be very strange to you but you are never wrong to trust your gifts, as long as you don’t abuse or neglect them. That’s when your sense of your gifts grows more distant and it’s easy to make mistakes that can lead to further damage.”

She paused just outside the Leaky Cauldron, out of the line of sight. “I trust my gifts, Mr. Riddle and they have never led me astray. Some of the beings you will encounter may appear different, and their gifts will be very different indeed. Others may look like you and I, but their gifts manifest in different ways.”

Tom blinked at her. “Why do you do that?”

Minerva cocked her head and smiled down at him, sheltered under the curve of her arm, nestled under her cloak like a kitten nestled into her fur. It pleased her on some visceral level she didn’t quite know how to articulate in human form. All she could manage was a pleased hum in her throat that was the closest she could come to a kneazle queen’s trill to her kitten. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, Mr. Riddle.”

“That.” Tom’s voice was impressively cool and flat. “You call me Mr. Riddle.”

“While I have offered you the shelter of the House of Ross, you have yet to invite me to call you by your given name. Among people with gifts like ours, it is considered rude to address someone by their given name without an invitation. While you were unaware of this, I am respecting my gifts as well as yours when I demonstrate the appropriate social courtesies.” She smiled proudly at him. “When your gifts let you know it is right to do so, you may invite me to call you Tom, or Thomas or any other name of your choosing.”

Tom huffed, too disciplined to roll his eyes but Minerva could feel it in his magic. “The way you feel to my gift, you may as well just call me Tom,” he grumbled, his ears turning pink again. “Are you going to be this sappy all the time?”

“Your adventure is just beginning, Tom,” Minerva said, ignoring his plaintive question. “You may call me Minerva, or Min. I have a number of nicknames among family and friends. It will be up to you to define how you fit within the shelter of the House of Ross, and that may change as you learn and grow. I will let you know that you’ve just acquired six aunties, several uncles, and far too many cousins. I can predict that my mother will instantly declare herself your grandmother and my great-grandmother will be completely ridiculous. She will spoil you rotten and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, even you. We’ve all learned to give in gracefully. Your gift will confirm to you that she means you no harm.”

Minerva was rather looking forward to Tom’s expression the first time he had a taste of Mamó’s
rather enthusiastic affection. It should prove amusing for the entire clan.

Tom was unimpressed. “You are so very, very odd,” he said at last.

Minerva chuckled and led him through the doors of the Leaky Cauldron. “Wait til you meet Dougal.”

*

It was a very tired little boy that shuffled out of the bathroom later that night in his new nightclothes.

Minerva looked up from where she was turning down his bed and smiled at the way he fingered the soft flannel pajamas in wonder.

The drizzle that had plagued London was snow in the Outer Hebrides, but the House of Ross had stood strong against all the North Atlantic could throw at it for nearly a thousand years. The walls were thick, the windows charmed, and a fire burned in the masonry stove in the corner.

Tom’s new room was generously sized but warm and bright, with a full sized four poster bed, the expected dressers and wardrobes. He had his own en-suite bathroom, of course, and a small playroom that would evolve into a study as he matured.

“How do you feel?” Minerva prompted him, fluffing his pillows. “Did you enjoy your bath?”

“My fingers are all wrinkly,” Tom reported with barely concealed glee. “I’ve never actually had a hot bath all to myself before. And the water stayed warm!”

“Of course it did,” Minerva agreed. For a little wizard who had his world turned upside down, Tom was remarkably alert, although she could read his exhaustion in his magic. Her kit had borne it all with remarkable grace, asking intelligent questions and cooperating with Healer Omis, who liked children of any species far better than any adult.

The letter Merope Riddle had left for her son had been heart-wrenching, but with confirmation of the nature of the maternal trauma, Healer Omis and the Ross Circle were confident that young Tom would fully recover.

“You’ve had a very big day, Tom, but you’re also eleven years old and not a baby,” she said, slipping away from the bed so he might feel safer climbing in if he were sleepy. “Everything is new and you’ve probably used your gifts more today than you have before. You’ve also been through your first healing ritual, the fostering ritual, had your first birthday party and met at least some of the clan. I have no doubt that Healer Omis made you drink a potion or six.”

Tom wrinkled his nose. “She’s really grumpy,” he said, sounding more than a little impressed with the infamously irascible Healer. “But she wanted to fix me! I could feel it in her…gift,” he said thoughtfully, choosing the term Minerva had first used, although her son had been exposed to many forms and names for magic throughout the day.

“And she did,” Tom admitted, almost grudgingly. “No more chilblains, no bruises from the last time Billy tripped me. ” He turned to stare at Minerva, more than a little challenge in his gaze. “It’s all just magic, isn’t it? It’s just different for different people. Healer Omis kept muttering about Varda, Yavana and Majal. You talk about gifts but you also talked about Lady Magic when you did that ritual thing with all the aunties? The Ross Circle thing. That’s important.”

Minerva beamed at him. “Clever lad,” she said approvingly. “The Ross Circle has had one singular purpose since Pendragon sat on the throne of Avalon – to shelter and educate magical children as our line once sheltered the Pendragon.”

“Pendragon” Tom sat on the edge of his bed, utterly dumbfounded. “Like King Arthur? And Merlin? That was real?”

A warm, masculine chuckle sounded from the door, and Minerva turned to see her man leaning on the door frame, looking rumpled and gorgeous and shamelessly half dressed in just his kilt, worn the old way, wrapped around his narrow hips, the excess thrown over one muscular shoulder. He might wear a mundane suit on his rounds but the moment he could, he was in a kilt.

Minerva sniffed at him. “Heathen,” she accused him fondly while shamelessly admiring the view.

“Aye, laddie,” Dougal answered Tom warmly, his bare toes curling endearingly against the timber floor. His dark hair and beard were liberally streaked with grey, but his body still rippled with the muscle developed wrestling with his four legged patients.

Dougal had been more than pleased with the surprise of a newly adopted son, and had already worked his magic on the lad through dinner.

“King Arthur was a real person, but the stories that survived about him outside our world aren’t exactly accurate,” Dougal explained in the warm, deep voice that so effortlessly soothed young things of any species. “I’ll wager you’ll find lots of information about Pendragon and the legacy of Avalon in your new books.”

“Books?” Tom looked up with poorly concealed eagerness.

“Aye, laddie.” Dougal grinned at him. “You sound like a proper Ross already,” he teased gently. He nodded towards the bookshelves that Tom had yet to notice amidst the excitement and events of his eleventh birthday, chuckling when Tom scampered over to investigate the books. “That’s just a start, mind you. The House of Ross has one of the most extensive private libraries in all of Europe,” Dougal told him proudly.

“Wait.” Tom looked up from the book he was paging through. “We have a library here?”

The way his voice climbed the scale and ended in a little squeak of excitement was so cute that Minerva had to bite her lip to keep from cooing at him.

“Yes, lad,” Dougal managed, although he exchanged a gleeful look with Minerva at Tom’s astonished delight.

“Would you like to see it?” Minerva asked.

Tom nodded, with more eagerness than he’d shown for anything thus far.

Any hope of getting her son to bed anytime soon had just vanished, but it was indeed a special day for him.

“It’s one of my favourite places in the entire world,” Minerva told him warmly. “I’m very happy to be able to share it with you, although we’ll have to introduce you first.”

There would be months of potions, hours and hours of therapy with healers and mind healers and more than a few rituals before Tom would be well enough to decide precisely how deeply he would nest in the Ross family magic, but Minerva had been thinking of him as hers before she even learned his name. It was good to see him alert and interested and engaged.

It only took a moment or two to tuck Tom into a warm tartan robe and shearling booties to keep his little feet warm.

“Stop it,” Tom grumbled, ducking his head to tie the belt on his robe, his ears turning an endearing shade of pink . “I told Healer Omis that I thought something was wrong with you. Nobody likes me as much as you do.”

‘Thank you for caring, lad,” Minerva said, amused. “Tender male sensibilities,” she explained at Dougal’s raised eyebrows.

“Ah,” Dougal said wisely.

Tom huffed. “She’s horrible,” he said plaintively, rubbing his chest. It was a symptom of his continued healing as his body, mind and magic began to process emotions more normally.

“Aye, lad, I know,” Dougal commiserated with a great sigh. “It’s a terrible fate, to be loved and adored by a woman of the Ross Circle, a terrible fate indeed. Why, a man can’t even begin to feel properly sorry for himself before the whole pack of them will descend upon you.”

Minerva watched her man work his magic on yet another wounded young thing, his running patter of nonsense leaving Tom somewhere between befuddled and bemused. Tom didn’t object or even appear to notice as Dougal slowly dropped a gentle hand on his shoulder, still chattering away as he coaxed Tom out the door and down the hall toward the family entrance to the main library.

Shaking her head in fond exasperation, Minerva followed her two boys down the hall, admiring Dougal’s lazy saunter. Her man’s arse was a thing of beauty in the Ross tartan.

Dougal glanced back over his shoulder and winked at her, without missing a beat in his nonsense. He flirted with the portraits, the house elves, and crooned sweet nonsense to a potted plant, in between telling stories of how the women of the Ross Circle were cruelly unmoved by Dougal’s claims of tender male sensibilities.

Tom was far from the first neglected and abused child she and Dougal had introduced to the library, but this time felt special. Minerva also noticed that while Tom didn’t look upset or in pain, he continued to rub his chest absently.

She peered over the top of her glasses so she could use her mage sight, reassured by her kitten’s more stable core. Both her sister Dominique, a particularly gifted full blooded Veela mind-healer specializing in children, and Healer Omis, who was literally a living legend of the Dverger Horde, had spoken to Tom and Minerva about what he might expect over the coming weeks as he was treated for the damage left by maternal trauma. The next few months might be a challenge, but the prognosis was excellent as they had been able to get him into treatment on his eleventh birthday.

“This may feel odd to you, Tom, as this will be a more direct encounter with the Ross family magic. This library and the magic it contains is our greatest treasure and our greatest resource. You will interact with the Ross family magic on a more intimate level than you did when you were fostered into the clan,” Minerva explained when they reached the wooden doors.

“Years after Merlin had retreated with Arthur to Avalon and locked down the wards, the last daughter of the line of Ector was adopted in to Clan Ross. Since that day, it has been the singular purpose of the Ross Circle to educate the heirs of Avalon. The greatest king our world has ever known was educated according to the tenants of Ector’s House, and we stand ready to this day to shelter and educate the children of Avalon, just as Ector once sheltered and educated and loved the child who became Arthur Pendragon.”

Minerva smiled at him in playful apology. “As I warned you, I’m a teacher from a long line of teachers. My family magic is completely invested in ensuring children have the very best education so they can thrive – and what we’ve learned about the science of learning is that I won’t teach you what to think. I want to teach you how to think.

“I want you to learn how to research, how to critically assess your source materials, and how to account for the inevitable bias of the authors as well as your own. Because sometimes books are wrong. In fact books are often wrong, sometimes because we have learned more from the time of publication and other times because the books were written as deliberate misinformation.

“I want to teach you how to be a functional adult in both wixen and mundane society. I want to teach you how to be autonomous, capable and independent. I want to teach you how to fail, and how to learn from it and improve your strategy until you succeed. I want you to learn how to be wrong, and change your mind because of new information, or a new perspective on an old problem.”

Minerva walked up to the door and indicated the proper spot for an eleven year old. “When you put your hand on the seal, you will feel the library wards assessing you. That assessment determines what books and study materials are available for you as a child of the House of Ross. Do you remember what Healer Omis and Auntie Dominique said about your emotions?”

Tom nodded, his eyes on the door.

“As the Ross of Ross, and high priestess of the Ross Circle, the family magic is influenced by my gifts and my emotions,” Minerva warned him.

That earned her another dead eyed stare and then a sigh of resignation.

“It’s going to be sappy, isn’t it,” Tom predicted glumly, his shoulders slumping.

Minerva just smiled at him like a kneazle with a mouthful of feathers.

“Do you see what she’s like?” Tom asked Dougal indignantly.

“We’re outnumbered, lad,” Dougal advised him with comic resignation. “You’ll have to come with me on my rounds. We can tramp about in the mud, and curse and spit. We’ll have a grand time.”

Tom turned around to stare at Dougal. “You’re almost as bad as she is,” he grumbled forlornly. “It’s all over your magic.” Tom flapped a dismissive hand.

“Sorry, lad,” Dougal admitted lightly. “I’m what most wixen call a squib. I was born in a gifted family, but I don’t have magic myself.”

Tom huffed and glared at Minerva. “I can feel it so why does he say he doesn’t have magic?”

“Because most wixen are idiots,” she said bluntly. “They feel that if your magic isn’t suited for using a wand as a focus, then you aren’t the right kind of magical.”

“Well, that’s just…stupid. You said I should trust my gifts and he feels different, but not… not…less,” Tom fumbled, searching for words for something he didn’t have the education or even the vocabulary to describe. He stared at Dougal hard using that practiced look of cold calculation.

Douglas shared one bright-eyed laughing glance with Minerva before he hid his smile in his beard, combing it with his fingers.

She could read the man like a book, and he obviously shared her opinion of their ferocious little stray: Adorable.

“It’s like it’s lower, or no, deeper, like… like sort of green?” Tom frowned, head cocking as he stared at Dougal, his forehead furrowed in an almost painfully cute expression of utter concentration. “Old, and deep, and something about horns in winter or antlers or something,” he muttered absently, hands moving in the air around his head. “And making babies in the spring,” he concluded, wrinkling his nose. “Eww, why does your magic want you to make babies?” Tom demanded, totally perplexed.

Minerva had to cover her mouth to stifle her giggles as Dougal’s mouth fell open in astonishment. Tom had picked up Dougal’s connection to the land, and his role in the sex magic she practiced as part of her personal Craft.

Dougal recovered quickly. He flashed her a grin. “Can we keep him? Pretty please?” He turned back to beam at Tom. “We’ll have the little wizard’s talk before you go to school,” he promised.

Tom closed his eyes, shaking his head in resignation, sighed and turned back to the library door. “So very, very odd.”

Minerva had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud and crushing his masculine pride entirely.

Flashing a quick grin at Dougal, Minerva talked Tom through the process of introduction to the wards, warning him about the little pinch where the door would taste his blood and magic the first time, and his magic on every subsequent visit. The library was a breathtaking piece of warding magic, with ongoing research dedicated to expansion and improvement as well as an evolving network of spells that managed the collection.

There was a numbing charm on the needle, because the Ross Circle wouldn’t allow harm to a child, even for the blood wards on the library. Tom slid her a questioning glance, absently rubbing his chest again.

Ross family magic was always primed to take in an orphaned child. With Minerva’s personal involvement and the recent healing rituals, neither of them were surprised when Tom froze as he was embraced by the library’s wards.

Tom turned to stare at Minerva, rubbing his chest again as tears swam in his eyes and his mouth crumpled. “Why are you like this?” he demanded as the tears spilled over.

“That’s the deepest of the Ross family magics, lad,” she explained gently. “Knowledge is power, true, but you need a strong foundation for all that learning.”

“I don’t understand,” Tom admitted, swiping impatiently at his tears.

Minerva smiled and handed him a handkerchief. “Archimedes was a famous mathematician who discovered important principles about our world. While there are many translations, essentially he said ‘give me a lever and a place to stand and I can move the world’.”

Minerva sketched out a little animated stick figure with her wand that moved through the process of trying to pick up a heavy rock and then lifting the same rock successfully by using a lever and fulcrum.

Tom managed an impatient glare, even while mopping up tears.

Minerva chuckled. “You were born with your gifts, and you will learn how to leverage those gifts through education. You’re a very intelligent and intuitive young wix. What are you missing?”

Tom’s lower lip wobbled but he huffed. “A place to stand.”

“And that is why the Ross family magic feels the way it does to you. You were orphaned and alone for far too long. We’re just giving you a place to stand.”

*

Minerva regarded her foster son with warm approval as he clattered into the kitchen some months later, teasing Ailsa as if he’d been taking lessons from Dougal, which he had.

Instead of a neglected, underfed child whose magic vibrated with his desperate need to protect himself, young Tom had a flush of healthy pink to his cheeks from running around on the island bundled up against the winter. He had embraced life with Clan Ross with a vengeance.

Although it would be some years before his legs would be long enough to reach the ground when he was seated at the big table in the kitchen, he was much taller and stronger and healthier than he had been at Wool’s Orphanage.

Moireach popped a tea service in front of them, and they busied themselves in the polite ritual. Tom was dedicated to learning social etiquette, and they practiced formal manners at dinner each evening. But that was balanced with more relaxed manners at other times.

They chatted easily about the boy’s studies, his progress in his healing, his adventures accompanying Dougal on his rounds, and where they might go next while visiting both magical and mundane destinations all over the world. The last trip included visits to the magical districts in Hong Kong and to the Antipodean Opaleye reserve off New Zealand.

Minerva had given Tom all the facts about his options, including the advantages and disadvantages of each scenario. Discussing blood politics and feminism with an eleven-year-old had been entertaining for all concerned, especially with all seven members of the Ross Circle in the mix. After learning more about his mother’s situation, and many hours discussing his options both in mind healing sessions with Dominique as well as the rest of the household, Tom had made his decision.

“My father’s identity was unimportant – my mother chose him the way one might choose to outcross to a prized stud,” Tom began quietly, “and for many of the same reasons. She chose Tom Riddle because he was smart and pretty and had already sired two illegitimate children upon housemaids in his family’s employ. The letter she left at Gringotts said that she stopped using the potions once she was certain that she was pregnant. All she wanted from him was a healthy child.

“She only married him and gave me his name to hide me in the muggle world. Even Wool’s Orphanage was better than growing up with the Gaunts, but my mother gave everything she had, including her life and her magic, to ensure that there would be a healthy heir for the Slytherin line.” Tom understood far more about the power and influence of family magic having lived in the embrace of his adopted clan for the last months.

Minerva nodded encouragement, listening without judgment.

“I don’t want to use his name. I want a magical name, to remember her sacrifice, but I also want to stay part of the House of Ross, without giving up my connection to Slytherin.”

Dougal dropped a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder, still moving slowly so as not to startle him, although Tom was much more comfortable with physical affection after months with the family. “Whatever you decide, lad, you’ll always have a home with us. I’m the one Ailsa usually scolds for bringing home strays.”

Tom raised his eyebrows, accustomed to Dougal’s ways after only three months. “I’m far less trouble than a kid goat in a nappy in Ailsa’s kitchen,” he pointed out dryly.

Dougal grinned at him. “Aye, lad. Mind you, I like young things, regardless if they have two legs or four…”

“…Or none,” Tom interjected, drier still. Dougal adored snakes, and rarely passed up the opportunity to have a chat with any snakes Tom encountered.

“It’s like you know me!” Dougal declared cheerfully. “So what will it be?”

“Tàmhas Thersander, of the House of Ross, Heir Slytherin.”

Minerva nodded. “Yes, that will do nicely,” she affirmed warmly. “Tàmhas, the Scots Gaelic version of Thomas and Thersander, the son of Merope – the only one of the Pleiades to marry a mortal.”

“And family can still call me Tom for short, because it’s the nickname for both.”

Minerva smiled as her kitten tied it all up neatly in a bow.

*

September 1st, 1938

Looking every bit the young Scottish gentleman, Tàmhas Thersander escorted his Màthair through the train station, heading for Platform 9¾ . He’d begun using the Scotts Gaelic terms for mother and father with Minerva and Dougal almost immediately after the rituals necessary change his name and accomplish everything he’d decided he wanted.

Still too short for his Màthair to rest her hand in the crook of his elbow, Tom settled for her left hand on his right shoulder. He had learned in his etiquette lessons that a gentleman ensured his companion was on his left side to keep his wand hand free but the rules were different for the witches of the Ross Circle.

They always were.

Tom proudly wore the Clan Ross hunting tartan with the traditional short tweed jacket and vest in a muted green, woven by their non-magical Harris neighbors further south on the island, ghillie brogues on his feet. He’d decided to keep his heir ring disillusioned but he could still feel the cool strength of the Slytherin family magic pooling in his core, building upon the rock steady warmth from his connection to the House of Ross.

London was warmer than the island, especially inside the station and the press of people. Tom was thankful for inbuilt cooling charms but it still gave him a thrill to wear the Clan Ross tartan, even after almost nine months at the estate where kilts were more common than trousers. It made him feel as if he really belonged, although in his head he knew he already did.

Despite more than one startled glance as they walked across the mundane side of the station, Tàmhas was still glad he had worn the kilt. He and Màthair moved easily together, walking as briskly as they would on one of their rambles about the island. Oh, he had suits and trousers and jumpers and everything a young gentleman might require, down to pants and handkerchiefs! And his Uncle Ainsworth had made him several sets of robes for more formal events, as well as an entire casual wardrobe suitable for a young wix when not in school robes.

They’d been to the magical district in Edinburgh where his Màthair had commissioned his trunk.
Athair had given him a sporran for daily wear, complete with a dimensional store. Màthair, always more practical, had also given him a heavily enchanted book bag with featherweight charms, security charms, and charms to keep all his textbooks and notes organized and secure.

That hadn’t been their only shopping excursion. The entire household, including all the aunties and far too many Ross cousins, had decamped to Paris to take him to their favorite wand maker for a custom wand. There had been trips through the mundane world as well, with weekly excursions to locations all over the world.

Màthair and the Ross Circle believed a youngling needed a well rounded education. Tom still thought his favorite adventures were those summer days when Màthair would bring out her motorcycle with he and Athair riding in the sidecar to go roaring across the island until they found a likely place for a picnic.

“Here we are, lad,” Màthair said quietly, with a warm squeeze to his shoulder. “Just like we practiced… and three, two, one.”

They stepped through the brick wall without a break in stride, and then kept walking. It wasn’t quite ten o’clock, so although the train was waiting, there weren’t many people on the platform yet. But that was the way they planned it.

“The Hogwarts Express,” Màthair smiled down at him as they slowed to a stop out of the way of any other early arrivals. “How do you feel?”

Tom took a deep breath, centering himself and touching his core as he had learned to do in his meditations. Learning to identify and articulate all the new emotions he was processing had been part of healing. Of course, he wasn’t trying to do a deep meditation – it was a way of checking in on his gifts, to make sure he thought about his answer.

“I think I’m ready, Màthair,” he said after moment’s thought. “I’m a little nervous, but I’m also excited. I’m going to miss Athair, and Moireach, and the rest of the family, but I do want the Hogwarts experience. And you’ll be there with me, so I really think I can do this.”

Again, there was a gentle squeeze to his shoulder, one of those casual signs of affection that the entire clan were so free with. “I’m proud of you. You’ve worked hard and it shows. Your comprehension of magical theory and the rest of your introductory course work is uniformly excellent. Athair and I are so very pleased and proud of the way you’ve also worked so far ahead on your mundane lessons.”

Tom ducked his head, hiding his smile. He had worked hard at his lessons, and his mind healing, and learning everything the House of Ross had to teach him. But that didn’t mean he had grown accustomed to being the center of so much positive attention.

Still, he’d learned what to do. Tàmhas turned into his Màthair’s welcoming arms for a hug.

*

Minerva settled at the head table, waiting impatiently for the first years to arrive. She made small talk with Filius, asking after his clan and gossiping about the latest contenders on the ICW competitive dueling circuit.

Finally, they arrived, and she spotted Tàmhas in his kilt and the plain black Hogwarts school robe. They both knew that he would have to wear uniform trousers most of the time while at Hogwarts but he’d wanted to make a statement, and an impression.

If her kitten didn’t end up in Slytherin, she’d eat her favorite hat.

He loved the Ross Library and would have slept there had it been permitted. He was as studious as a Ravenclaw but he was an ambitious little sprog, calculating and a natural at strategic games. He’d been fighting for survival since his conception, and that gave him a far different perspective than most of the highly sheltered wixen children in Great Britain.

Minerva clapped politely for each of the children as they were sorted. With the results of a bloodline test and the letter from Merope Gaunt Riddle, the dverger had permitted Tàmhas to approach the Heir ring for Slytherin.

No one had been particularly surprised when the Slytherin legacy latched on to her son like a starving python.

Finally!

“Tam-has Thersander, of the House of Ross.” Assistant Headmaster Dumbledore mispronounced her son’s name and appeared perplexed by his apparel, but he smiled as Tàmhas walked forward confidently, his robes open to display his kilt and jacket as he approached the stool.

Minerva felt the weight of Dumbledore’s curious stare as the hat settled on her son’s head. She was far more interested in watching what she could of her kit’s face. Peering over her glasses, she saw his magic flare in surprise and watched Tom’s jaw drop open.

Twisting around on the stool, Tàmhas sought her out amidst the head table, before he twisted back around, his face settling in the familiar lines of cool composure.

“Welcome to Hogwarts, Heir Slytherin! The Founders’ suite will be opened for your use,” the Sorting Hat announced cheerfully, the ancient charm work ensuring everyone in the Great Hall could hear every word.

So much for their first strategy of only releasing the information about her son’s magical responsibilities after he could claim the title at fifteen, as last of line and acknowledged heir.

Minerva was amused to see that Dumbledore’s ridiculous grandfatherly persona actually wavered momentarily. The man wasn’t that much older than she was, but then again, Albus had always been highly invested in his own sense of gravitas. Still, it was deeply satisfying to see that bloody twinkle in his eyes disappear.

The flicker of astonishment in Dumbledore’s eyes had quickly been replaced by disquiet as the Great Hall erupted in excited whispers. Horace Slughorn, the current head of Slytherin House, actually squealed and did an excited little jig in his seat.

Minerva and her sisters were less than impressed with what they had learned of the man. Her kit would continue to have lessons with his Auntie Martine Zabini, who was a Potions Mistress of international acclaim instead of a sheltered academic more interested in social networking than the subject he taught.

But the Sorting Hat wasn’t done. “And yes,” it agreed with obvious reluctance, “even if your familiar is terribly excited that you’re here, you can wait until your Athair and your Aunties arrive.” It drooped with comical flair, somehow managing to look as if it were pouting. “You are the fun killer, Tàmhas Thersander. I’ll ask the house elves for popcorn when you decide to play. Please say I can be there when you tell everyone. Although with the Ross of Ross as Regent for the House of Slytherin, your familiar will be the least of the surprises ahead of us.”

Minerva sighed as the Sorting Hat continued to spill secrets she would have preferred to hold close until a more strategic time.

Dumbledore’s disquiet slid all the way to open concern. “What…?”

“Do let me sort the lad, professor,” the Sorting Hat chided absently, interrupting the assistant headmaster without hesitation. “He has the mind of a Ravenclaw, the heart of a Gryffindor and the ferocious loyalty of a Hufflepuff. The influence of the House of Ross is all over his mind and magic, of course. The children of the Ross Circle are always beautifully prepared to learn – a lever and a place to stand, indeed!”

The Sorting Hat flipped its pointed tip in Minerva’s direction in a strangely expressive little bow of almost courtly respect. “His purity of craft is a credit to the House of Ross,” the Hat continued, blithely ignoring the rising furor. “But he is a true Founder’s Heir, and his magic sings with the magical legacy of Salazar Slytherin. Let the House of Slytherin welcome its Heir at last.”

The trim on her kit’s school robes and tie changed to green and silver. Tàmhas squared his shoulders, nodding a polite thanks to Dumbledore when he removed the Sorting Hat from his head. Then her son slipped from the stool, turned and bowed to her in respect, offering her a beaming smile before he all but skipped off to the Slytherin table.

Minerva hid her smile behind a sip of water watching Tom greet his new housemates with an earnest and affable charm he’d learned watching Dougal work his magic on… well, just about everyone. Tàmhas had evidently decided to soften his approach to compensate for the Sorting Hat’s unexpected loquaciousness. He was generally a very reserved and dignified little wizard when among strangers, although he had certainly learned to enjoy running wild across the island with the ever changing horde of young cousins over the summer.

*

She watched through dinner as her kit balanced easy charm with very polished and correct manners. Tom had sought her gaze several times, navy blue eyes blazing with eagerness despite his ‘calm and politely interested’ expression. His Auntie Cass was infamous throughout the wixen world for her stone faced expressions, the perfectly poised pureblood princess who used social etiquette like a scalpel. The pair of them had practiced various expression in the mirror, giggling madly, and it had been Lady Cassiopeia Black, Daughter of the House of Black that had accompanied Tàmhas Thersander of the House of Ross to various social outings, coaching him on the fine art of working a room.

The little Slytherins were clustered at one end of the House table, all of them no doubt trying to take her son’s measure, with the upper years hanging on every word. Horace Slughorn was all but squirming in his seat with eagerness, and Dumbledore was talking to the Headmaster in low, urgent tones. Minerva repressed another sigh at the man’s theatrics.

When Filius laughed at her pain, Minerva flicked a very mild, wandless tickling hex at him.

Filius smirked at her, wandlessly dismissing the hex with equal skill. “You’re so mean.”

Minerva smirked right back. “Dougal likes me this way,” she reminded him loftily. “More to the point, you like me this way. In fact, you helped make me this way.”

Filius contrived to look innocent.

Dippet managed to remember to introduce her before dismissing the students to their houses. He introduced her simply as Professor McGonagall, which made Filius huff in annoyance. Minerva merely nodded an acknowledgement and watched in amusement as Horace Slughorn moved so quickly to the Slytherin table that he may as well have apparated. It must have been all the practice he had eeling his way through the crush at cocktail parties and charity balls.

It didn’t take long before Minerva and Tom managed to extricate themselves from the excited Slytherins. Promising to join everyone in the Slytherin common room as soon as he had a chance to speak to his Màthair as his Regent, Tàmhas politely asked for Service. A Hogwarts elf gleefully escorted them to the Founders’ Suite, with Horace Slughorn trailing in their wake, all aflutter.

Slughorn came close to bowing as Tàmhas gently but firmly closed the door to the Founders’ Suite in his housemaster’s face.

Tom whirled and leaned back against the door, his eyes blazing with excitement. “Are we secure?”

Minerva beamed at him. “Excellent situational awareness,” she praised and lifted her wand to cast the usual spell chains, checking for any surveillance charms and setting temporary privacy wards. “All clear,” she confirmed.

Tom dashed forward to fling his arms around her in an impulsive hug. “Màthair, we need everybody, and as quickly as possible. Can Moireach bring Athair? Or can one of the Aunties bring him by side-along or port-key? Oh, and we’ll need Auntie Daiyo to ask her old teacher to come, the one that thinks she’s adorable because she’s so dangerous?”

Minerva chuckled and hugged him back. “We can send word, and yes, we can get everyone here, including your Athair.” There was only one man in the world who considered Daiyo Chang adorable. Well, aside from Dougal, but he and Daiyo had been partners in crime from the moment they met, bonding over single malt whiskey and the challenges of being handfast to a woman of the Ross Circle. “Why do you think we need Hiro Ito?”

Tom beamed up at her. “Well, we don’t really need him,” he admitted almost giddily, “but people will probably listen to him because he’s really old and powerful, right? Athair will know what to do, he’s going to be the best help, but the Hat told me that my familiar is waiting for me in the Chamber of Secrets! Her name is Abeona! She was named after the Roman goddess who protects children when they left home for the first time, and her purpose is to protect the children of Hogwarts. Master Ito probably knows her! Auntie Daiyo said he knew Salazar Slytherin because Master Ito was his teacher too, so he probably met Abeona when she was just a baby. Oh, can we invite Hildr?”

Minerva chuffed, amused. “Yes, we can invite Hildr, if you think your familiar is that impressive. Is she a dragon?”

Tom grinned. “She’s more impressive than a dragon,” he said confidently, hugging her again. “Abeona’s a basilisk! So we really need Athair here to help me make sure she’s healthy and happy.”

Minerva didn’t betray her shock. “A basilisk.” Why was she surprised? Her son rarely failed to exceed all expectations. “Dougal will be thrilled,” she said lightly. “And I’ll wager you’re correct and Master Ito may very well indeed know Abeona.”

No wonder the Hat wanted popcorn.

Tom was smiling up at her, almost cuddling into Minerva despite the fact that he was generally quick to object when she offended his ‘tender sensibilities’. The body language and magic couldn’t be counterfeited, so she allowed herself a few heartbeats just to wallow in the visceral maternal pleasure of holding her kitten, a low hum sounding in her throat to punctuate what Tàmhas could feel in her magic.

He was a wee bonny thing, this kitten she’d claimed as her own, so fierce and fine, but the mind behind that pretty face was clever and canny and conniving. The joy and excitement quivering in his magic wasn’t the only thing in that oh so innocent smile.

Amused, she quirked an eyebrow at him in enquiry. “And what instructions do you have for your Regent, Heir Slytherin?”

“Athair first,” Tàmhas said without hesitation. “Then Moireach, all the aunties, Hildr and then all the outlaws,” he continued, using the term Dougal had coined for the men and women who were handfasted to the women of the Ross Circle. “Then Auntie Daiyo can contact Master Ito.”

Minerva nodded. “And your reasoning?” It was part of the vow they’d written together when her kit had saddled her with the Slytherin Regency. She made him consult with his account manager as well as the Slytherin account manager about the precise wording to ensure it protected her kit.

Minerva would give him every bit of help and support he might need, making sure he had the tools, the skills and the resources he required so he was prepared to make educated, thoughtful choices. But it was his legacy, and he would need to make those choices.

“It’s both strategy and emotion,” Tom admitted easily. “Having the aunties and the outlaws all here means we have a diverse range of talents to call upon to manage the situation. And we’ll need all of them, because people are going to have big reactions to a thousand year old basilisk familiar, the presence of the acknowledged Heir to Slytherin actually inside Hogwarts, the Chamber of Secrets opening up, access to Salazar Slytherin’s personal library and portrait, and I can’t wait to see what Uncle Ainsworth can make out of shed basilisk hide.

“The Ross Circle has untapped political power that you rarely bother to use. The Wizengamot and the IWC will be utterly blindsided by the Ross of Ross as Regent for the House of Slytherin. Let everyone deal with the reality of the Ross Circle before they can approach me. Auntie Cass says I’m good, but even I can see that I’m not good enough to play power games at that level.”

“Yet,” Minerva interjected firmly.

Tom huffed, his ears turning pink. “Yet,” he agreed.

He was getting better at accepting compliments, but Minerva was always charmed to see those ears go pink, the twin flags of tender male sensibilities being ruffled whenever Tom objected to his Màthair being horrible and sappy.

“And?” Minerva knew there was more.

“Hildr because she’s just awesome,” Tom gushed shamelessly. “And she’s terrifying, which is even better. Let them all get a look at what they’ll be facing if someone decides that assassination is a valid political tool.”

Minerva threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, lad, you be sure to tell Hildr that. She’ll think you’re adorable.” At least her kitten had good taste.

Tom huffed again. “Màthair, I’d rather that she consider me competent,” he grumbled. “Why is it that the most terrifying females I know all uniformly consider me adorable?”

Minerva grinned at him, entirely unrepentant. “It’s because you are. Why do you need Athair?”

Tom blinked innocently at her. “Because he’s Athair?” Her kitten was giving her that look that children everywhere gave their parents when they were being deliberately dim.

“Try again,” Minerva suggested dryly.

The innocent look fell away. “Athair is mostly emotion,” Tom admitted. “I really do think he’ll be the best to help me with Abeona. Master Ito may be Eldest of those gifted with parselmagic, but Athair’s magic is special,” he said with stunning conviction. “Abeona will need him, and so will I, or at least I will for a few days,” Tom confessed.

“I really am ready for Hogwarts, but I thought I’d be able to be just another student for at least a little while. But the Hat said there was a contingency charm in place for when an acknowledge heir returned to Hogwarts so he couldn’t keep it a secret for us.” He shrugged. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

This time it was Minerva’s turn to huff. “Of course Gryffindor put a contingency charm on it.” She had no delusions about the founder of her Hogwarts house. “Well, there’s no putting the cat back in the bag, and if it’s a contingency spell, the Hat is likely to be inconveniently verbose for some time.”

Tom nodded. “So having Athair here will help both of us,” he continued. “I know he’s happiest on the island, but it’s the perfect opportunity to bring him to Hogwarts.”

Minerva smirked at that very telling argument. “It’s not as if you don’t have a Plan B, and C, and probably all the way to Zed. And have you considered the consequences and possible ramifications for your choices?”

Tom smiled openly at her, his magic bubbling with his joy. Her kit was turning into such an amazing little wix. He was every inch Tàmhas Thersander of the House of Ross, Heir Slytherin.

“This is my lever,” he told Minerva. “You and Athair, the Ross Circle, the outlaws, the library, and every single one of the cousins – you’re my foundation, my place to stand. You taught me that my education is what will allow me to leverage my gifts, so I’m going to take the opportunity the Hat gave us and run with it.”

Minerva was unsurprised by his ambitions. The influence of the Ross family magic, and her son’s visceral response to the Ross Library meant that he was predisposed to be passionate about his education. “And?”

Tom didn’t even try to prevaricate. “Well, I want popcorn the first time Athair introduces himself as ‘Minerva’s man-candy’,” he confessed with a little smirk. “But mostly I just want Athair here. It’s like he’s bedrock. Everything is better if Athair gets involved.” He shrugged. “It’s part of why his magic is so special. And everyone needs to see that.”

Minerva couldn’t. “My wand is yours on that front,” she said fondly. “I find your reasoning compelling, Heir Slytherin.”

Taking a deep breath, Minerva calmed her magic just as she had all those months ago and called out in the well-modulated tones of a well-bred, well-educated Lady of Quality. “Moireach.”

The Ross head elf popped into the Founders’ Suite with a huff, clad in a tiny pair of dueling robes, one ear dipping with pure mischief. “It hasn’t even been one day, Master Tàmhas!” She huffed. “Boys are just high maintenance,” she teased, wagging a long finger at him.

Tom laughed, darted forward and swept Moireach up in a hug, planting a huge smacking kiss on her cheek. “Can you bring Athair here?”

Moireach frowned. “Not inside Hogwarts, but I can bring him to the gates.”

Tàmhas cocked his head to one side, a slow and charmingly predatory smile curving his mouth. “Why don’t you bring Màthair’s motorcycle for him, so he doesn’t have to walk all the way up from the gates?”

Minerva threw her head back and laughed as Moireach giggled and popped away. Tom smiled like a kneazle kitten after his first successful hunt, all teeth and feathers. “I’m so proud of you, lad,” Minerva told him, giving him a squeeze. “I love you to pieces of course, but you’re going to be something special when you grow up.”

Tom snuggled happily, confident of his welcome. “I’m pretty special now,” he reminded her cheerfully. “Lady Magic made me a fulcrum. With a long enough lever and a place to stand, Màthair, I’m going to change the world.”

“Of course you will,” Minerva agreed comfortably. “And how will you change the world, my kitten? Will you take up your seat on the Wizengamot, or stand for election as the Minister for Magic, or to serve on the ICW?”

Tàmhas pulled back, his nose wrinkled. “Don’t be ridiculous, Màthair. I’m not going into politics.” He sounded utterly appalled. “I’m kind of stuck with the seat on the Wizengamot, but I’m going to be a teacher.”

“Of course! How could I be so silly?” Minerva chuffed a laugh. That might just be her new patronus memory.

“The House of Ross has ruined you, lad,” she teased. “You’re a rabble rousing bookworm, just like the rest of us.” Her wand popped from its holster into her hand. “Well, lets get started on the next step of your agenda.” She lifted her wand and called her patronus, joy like a glowing ball of light in her chest.

Sisters, my kitten has decided that he would like to change the world, starting with Hogwarts. The Hat has a contingency spell requiring recognition of a Founders’ Heir and you’re all invited to Hogwarts as soon as possible to assist in the matter of his familiar. Tàmhas has also requested the presence of his Athair and all the outlaws, as well as Hildr and Master Ito so there are shenanigans afoot.

Minerva’s glowing kneazle patronus was even brighter than usual. She circled around to wind her way around Tom’s legs before streaking off out through the wall.

Tom huffed at the emotions Minerva’s patronus conveyed, rubbing his chest in a way he hadn’t done in some months. “That was even sappier than usual,” he accused her, all outraged male sensibilities and prickly adolescent male pride. But his ears were once again adorably pink, and he was trying and failing to hide a smile.

“It’s my job as your Màthair to ensure that you know that you are loved,” Minerva reminded him without an ounce of shame whatsoever. “This is what family is for, lad, unconditional love. I’m not even sorry that it offends your tender sensibilities because I’ll only have a year or so before the hormones kick in.”

Tom sighed, resigned to his fate. “Athair will keep me from being too stupid,” he grumbled. “And I don’t think I’ll every grow accustomed to it, even if you’re horrible.” The hug and the way his magic all but cuddled up to her took any sting out of the familiar accusation.

“Yes, yes, I love you, too,” Minerva said placidly, gently patting his head as if he were a puppy, which predictably enough made Tom utter incredibly cute growls, his forehead creased in an adorable scowl. “Oh, do that in front of Hildr,” she said gleefully. “I dare you.”

Her son huffed, and then grinned. “That’s actually not a bad idea,” he admitted. “Come on, let’s go see the Slytherins. I want to lay some groundwork before Athair gets here and we’re too busy to sort them out.”

With a chuff of amusement, Minerva followed her son out of the Founders’ Suite. Nine months after claiming the unloved magical child called Tom Riddle, Tàmhas Thersander, Heir Slytherin was marching off on a mission to change the world. Children were always agents of change, and like kittens, they always grew up far too soon.

Minerva didn’t want to miss a minute. With a smirk, she changed into her animagus form and a sleek and powerful kneazle queen trotted off in her son’s wake.

 

 

 

 

Author's Note

Warnings are for references to canon events, and are not described on screen.

Canon and I are only vaguely acquainted. The reason I read and very rarely write fanfic is that the source material invariably makes me furious. As with so many fandoms, Keira Marcos successfully incepted me with both her worldbuilding and her amazing OCs. I have gleefully embraced the concept of the Dverger, and now I can’t imagine the Horde without Ragnok, Lenore, Omis, Razel, and the others. I have also loved what she’s done around parselmagic, including her OC Hiro Ito. Essentially, if you recognize it, chances are it’s not mine.

The dialog from the scene at Wool’s Orphanage comes from the movie. Tom’s words are unchanged.

This is the first piece I’ve completed in years. I’ve wrestled with Grammarly and Word and this is draft 5, but I wasn’t brave enough for a proper alpha or beta. What you see is what you get.

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37 Comments

  1. I loved the imagery whenever Minerva described how her magic was feeling towards her kit Tom.

    • I absolutely adore this story! Minerva being indulgent of Tom at the orphanage was amusing. How the Clan and Circle found him adorable was very entertaining. This was so very well done!

  2. I loved it! Little Tom as an adorable kitten, claws and fur all puffed up. Dumbledore won’t know what hit him.

  3. This is glorious! I enjoyed it so much and I too find little Tom to be adorable! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  4. This was lovely! Thank you for sharing it.

  5. This is so lovely and fun and hilarious and heartwarming!
    Thank you so much for sharing with us. I love your Minerva and all the worldbuildng around the Ross clan!

  6. What a great story! Your Minerva is so incredibly awesome; I adore her. I really loved all the references to feline behavior and Minerva’s incredibly romantic relationship with Dougal. The entire Ross clan is loads of fun, and their adoption of Tom/Tàmhas was so heart-warming. Thanks so much for sharing. It was a wonderful treat for a cold Sunday morning. 🙂

  7. Amazing Story. Thank you for sharing

  8. Flails in joy and astonishment!

    That was wonderful and at times made me tear up! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

  9. This, in both drafts, is one of the most enjoyable fanfics that I have read in years, and one only to that make a believable attempt at redeeming Thomas Marvolo Riddle into a decent human being. Your choice of title is top notch.
    Thank you for sharing.

  10. Glorious!

  11. Thank you! What a wonderful story! Tom’s change is very believable and I just adore Minerva as a very strong woman and loving mother. This is such a great world!

  12. I do believe that this has become one of my favorite HP stories ever. The characterization and background world building are glorious. And your writing is excellent, especially the dialogue. I can just imagine how Dumbledore’s whole world is about to be rocked. I adore it. Thank you very much!

  13. Absolutely stunning! I really enjoyed this story. Loved the amazing difference a family made for Tom. Thank you.

  14. Thoroughly brilliant story. Thank you so much for sharing and I look forward to meeting the rest of the Ross family, they sound totally awesome. Young Tom is definitely adorable. Hxx

  15. I didn’t know I needed this story, but I needed it! This will go in my reread list for sure. It was absolutely fabulous to read. Thank you for sharing it!

  16. Lots of lovely feels in this. I loved your AU world building and a new life for Tom. Thank you

  17. This is simply…FABULOUS! Thank you ever so much. Loved it.

  18. That was amazing. I loved every minute of it!!!!. Brilliant!

  19. This was just amazing – sweet, hilarious, and hugely entertaining. And all the wrestling with Grammarly paid off; the story has a lovely flow, and I enjoyed it enormously.

    And happy writing, if this has inspired you to continue.

  20. This was so wonderful. I love your Minerva, and hate Dumbledore. So glad he has had his fate mangled. LOL. And I want to squish your Tom!!!

  21. This is pure awesomeness! You really came back to writing with a spectacular work. This is funny, inspiring and heartwarming. Someone that actually cares about the plight of an abused orphan and works to help him. Your version of McGonagall is everything that she should have been and wasn’t in canon. KUDOS and a very big thumbs up! Welcome back!

  22. I love this! What a fabulous world you’ve built for Tom. The Ross clan is glorious in their outsized personalities. And the words you used to describe the love Tom felt through his magic – sappy, odd, male sensibilities, etc – actually created and conveyed a beautiful, insular and unique personality for the connections between those in this family. I adored all of them. Thank you so much for sharing this. ❤️

  23. I just loved this story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  24. What an entertaining story.
    I love that they are changing the world by properly educating the children, which makes both a change and so much sense.

  25. Just brilliant!
    Thank you

  26. I truly loved this! From Minerva and Dougal to young Tom and everything in between- wonderful and touching and creative!

  27. This was lovely, thank you.

  28. Loved the story esp the new characters.

  29. Amazing
    Glorious
    Superb
    Beautifully written
    Thank you for writing and sharing

  30. This brought me so much joy! I love the way Minerva and Tom talk about and use their magic as if it’s a fundamental part of them rather than just another tool.

  31. loved this. Thank you!

  32. lorraine christella Gibson

    Utterly fabulous, love this story, thank you

  33. This is so wonderful and sad at the same time. It’s just so awful how Dumbledore decided to basically make Voldemort happen. This was a great look at what a change can do to influence future events.

  34. Greywolf the Wanderer

    this is lovely! such a great fix-it, too! I enjoyed this one very much indeed.

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