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Young Medusa

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I wake up with a start. It's way too early in the morning at Four Privet Drive, and someone is having a loud, squeaky Parseltongue argument right by my ears. "Is it morning yet? Is it? Is iiiit?" — "Hey! Sunza! Stop sleeping on me!" — "Look at me, I'm climbing the wall!" — "Mama is sleeping. Why can't you?"

I sit up in bed. "What the f—"

"Mama!" seven Parseltongue voices chorus. "You're awake!"

"I am now," I mumble. "Who are—"

Seven snakes dangle off of my head and into my field of vision, stretching out in front of me so I can see them. I can actually feel them tugging at my scalp.

"You're all on my head?" I say, bewildered.

"We are!" they agree.

"How is that possible?" I ask groggily. "What am I, some kind of medusa?"

"Yup!" all but one say.

"Actually," says the last, "the term for the species is gorgon. Medusa was just one of the original three sisters."

"Susha!" they all chide.

"Look in the mirror!" says one. "You'll see!"

I get out of bed, feeling strangely graceful and light on my feet. There's an old mirror screwed to the wall, a relic from when this was Dudley's second bedroom. It's only a little cracked.

In it stands a beautiful gorgon.

The seven snakes that grow from my head are dark black, with subtle, shimmering patterns of gold, shining like jewelry in the morning sun. They have the slender, hooded look of cobras, dangerous yet alluring, and they seem to know it, preening in front of the mirror. I am no less beautiful – and no less transformed. My skin is black, with a slight blue-grey cast, but dusted in gold that sparkles and gleams. My eyes are the same bright, beautiful green as before, but glowing with power, and expanded to fill my whole eye, no whites left. My pupils are now predatory slits instead of round. My body is still thin, but the transformation changed that from lanky to willowy. I'm even a little taller than I used to be. The only thing I recognize of my old self is my scar, ugly, raised, and raw, pale grey against the dark skin of my brow.

And then, of course, there are my breasts. Even under the ugly old T-shirt I'm wearing, I can tell they're shaped like the ones on my roommates' posters. A quick swipe of my hand beneath my waistband reveals that what used to be between my legs, isn't there anymore.

"I'm a girl?" I hiss at myself.

"Gorgons are all girls," says the one who told me to look in the mirror. "You didn't know?"

"I did," I say, tilting my head. "I just didn't know I was a girl."

"Well, you're a really pretty girl, mama," says another. "Does that help?"

I don't know. Does it? I am pretty, I'm so pretty, I don't think Fleur Delacour was this pretty... I take a deep breath, and smile at myself in the mirror.

When I arrived in the wizarding world, it wasn't the magic that surprised me most, not the enchanted beauty of Hogwarts or the wildness of Diagon Alley. Somehow, I always knew it would be there. What surprised me the most was that so many wizards loved Harry Potter, because I... I hated him. I always did.

I had been a scrawny little thing, with bad hair and huge glasses. I know intellectually I didn't look worse than any other boy my age, but that didn't mean I could stand to look at myself. Dudley wasn't the only one to put cracks in this mirror. It felt the same way pretending to be a Muggle used to – it just wasn't me.

I never said anything about that, of course. If living with the Dursleys taught me anything, it was to shut up and pretend everything was normal.

But now, looking at myself... it's like staring into a dream. This is everything I wanted but never thought to ask for. Even Dudley's old rags can't make me look anything less than beautiful.

That I'd wake up transformed like this is strange, but this is the wizarding world. Sometimes miracles happen. Creature transformations aren't even that uncommon – there will probably be one or two more just in my year at Hogwarts. I never expected or wanted to be a gorgon, but... I raise my hand up to my head, stroke along one of my snakes' smooth scales. She leans into my touch, hissing in wordless happiness. Yesterday I might have been frightened, but today I have seven cute, friendly snakes on my head who all adore me, and I definitely don't mind that.

Maybe it's all gonna go terribly wrong. That's usually how things go in my life. Britain isn't a great place for magical creatures to live, and I'm sure it's gonna be a huge scandal in the press, but – how much can I really care about any of that?

"I love this," I say, posing just a little in the mirror as my smile gets wider and wider. "You were right. I love all of it."

"Yay!" the snakes all cheer.

I spend probably longer than I should just watching myself in the mirror. Does it count as looking at myself if I look at my snakes? They're attached to my head, and I can see through their eyes, but it's not like they're puppets, I'm not controlling them...

"What are your names?" I ask them.

"Oh, oh!" says the one who'd called me pretty. "I'm Skura!"

"I'm Sylza," says the one who'd told me to look in the mirror.

"I'm Susha," says the one who'd told me I was a gorgon, not a medusa.

"I'm Skoza," says one who seems to be hanging out at the back of my head.

"Sunza, wake up!" says Sylza, prodding with her nose at a snake who's curled up with her head atop my scar, sleeping.

"Oh? Oh. Yeah. Hi."

One snake, who's been steadily winding more and more of her body into strike posture, suddenly bursts forward, zooming away from my head and bonking on the wall, before falling down to dangle around my shoulders, her weight tugging annoyingly at my scalp. "Hiiii!" she says. "I'm Sazka!" The other snakes all complain at her. Apparently she's tugging at them, too.

"Hello!" says the last snake. "I'm hungry."

"Sykra!" they all groan, even as I chuckle.

"You know, I'm hungry too," I tell them. "I'm gonna go cook something before the Dursleys wake up."

Even if my snakes hadn't woken me up early, the Dursleys always sleep later than me. I slip out of my bedroom and down the stairs without notice, and start to cook. I ought to have plenty of time, I figure, so why not make myself something nice? I certainly deserve it, after turning into a gorgon...

It goes pretty uneventfully, aside from Sazka trying to snatch a piece of bacon right out of the pan, and getting nothing but a burned nose. We all laugh at her for that.

But I'd made one big mistake. Five AM or not, the smell of bacon is always sure to attract the Dursleys. And soon enough, Vernon Dursley comes waddling in.

For a moment, he's completely baffled to see a beautiful young woman hovering over his stove. But then he spots the snakes, and then my clothes, and then the fact that I'm cooking. "You're the freak, aren't you?" he grumbles.

"Er... yes," I say sheepishly, ducking my head.

The snakes, though, are pissed off, turning toward him all at once, fangs out and eyes ablaze. "You don't talk to her that way, filthy Muggle!" hisses Skoza.

"What did you do to yourself?" he demands.

"Stone him!" yells Sazka, and it's quickly picked up as a chant by the other snakes. "Stone him, stone him, stone him!"

"I don't know what happened, exactly—"

"I won't have it in this house!" he says, his face slowly turning purple. "You've got ten seconds to turn yourself back, or else!" His big fat hands swing forward and start making gripping motions, as if he means to strangle me. He walks slowly and ponderously forward, like Godzilla. He takes one step, then two – and then he freezes as he stomps around the counter. His whole body quickly transmutes into milky white quartz, smooth and polished.

For a moment, I just stand there, staring. "I... stoned him?" I hiss. "He's stoned? Gorgons can actually do that?"

The snakes all break out into loud, raucous cheering. "Of course you can!" says Sylza.

"That was so cool," says Sazka. "Do it again!"

"I can't just stone all my relatives," I tell my restive snakes. "I don't—"

But I don't get a chance to finish my sentence. Aunt Petunia has followed her whale of a husband into the kitchen, and she shrieks, loud and piercing, the moment she sees me. "Harry? Is that you? You ungrateful— what did you do to Vernon!"

"Hi, Aunt Petunia," I say. My voice is weak, and I'm not making eye contact – I'd really rather not turn her to stone too. "I, uh, I am Harry, and yes, I, er... I did that. On accident. I'm not totally sure I can control it, and I don't know how to turn him back yet, I'm not totally sure I can, so why don't you just stay calm, sit down, and I'll get some of my other wizard friends over to see if we can fix him. Okay?" I'm trying to be conciliatory, but once again my snakes have other ideas – they're bobbing up and down, once again chanting to stone her!

"N-no," she stammers. "That's not how it works! Whenever she froze me, she always unfroze me! And she... you're not allowed..."

"That's different, Aunt Petunia. It turns out I'm a gorgon – like, from mythology? And it's accidental, I don't really know how it works or how to control—"

"You're lying!" she yells hoarsely. "You must be!" She grabs a pan from by the sink, and charges me, shrieking. In an instant, she too turns to stone, this time into sparkling black granite, and the snakes all cheer again.

"Look, girls," I tell the disobedient snakes, "I don't want to be doing this—"

But I stop hissing straightaway, as Dudley follows his parents into the kitchen. Sadly, I think it's the smell of the bacon more than it is the screams.

"Er..." It takes him almost half a minute to even notice I'm a gorgon – he's staring at me, but his gaze takes a very long time to make it that high up. Only once he sees my snakes does he realize his mummy and daddy have been turned to stone. "What? What's going on?"

"Hey, Dudley," I say, as the snakes start to chant again. "Yes, it's me, I'm Harry, and yes, I turned them to stone. I'm a gorgon. I do that, apparently." His face, like his father's, is slowly turning purple. "Please just... stay back? I can't control it, and I promise, you don't want to turn to stone like them."

"Errr..." Dudley tilts his head, the thought seeming to slowly percolate through his brain. It's true, he'd rather not get stoned... Then his head perks back up, and he glares at me. "Hey!" he says, getting into a boxing stance. "You won't scare me!" he says as he charges me. But when he pushes past his parents' statues, he, too, solidifies, transmuting into a big chunky statue of green marble.

I sigh. Wonderful. At least it makes the snakes happy.

"Is something burning?" asks Sylza, and I turn in panic back to my bacon.

I probably ought to feel a little guilty about cooking and eating my breakfast before I try to do anything about the Dursleys. Really, I should. But it's not like they didn't bring this on themselves, and besides, they're stone. It's not like they're going anywhere.

I have to push Dudley out of the way to get back upstairs. He falls with a thud onto the linoleum, thankfully staying intact. I fetch my parchment and a quill, and then head back down to the kitchen table. I don't know what to do with them, so I probably need help – hanging around in the Dursleys' house until the Muggle police show up looking for them doesn't sound like a great plan.

Dear Snuffles, I write. I don't have to send it to Sirius – I'd gathered from my friends' letters that they all joined together in some kind of double-secret Dumbledore club, so I could have addressed it to any of them. But Sirius is my godfather. He's a theoretically-responsible adult, and I trust him the most out of all them.

I woke up this morning to snakes hissing, and I found out I'm a gorgon now. I have seven cobras growing out of my head, and also I'm a girl. Don't panic – please don't try to turn me back. I love it. The only problem is, I kinda turned the Dursleys to stone on accident and I don't know what to do.

Help? Please?

Love,
Harry

I smile at the letter as I start to roll it up, but then I freeze. What if I turn Sirius to stone? I unroll it, and hastily add P.S. I'm not totally sure if I can control this, so maybe don't look at me? I don't want to stone you.

I sigh. That's all settled. And then I look up, back to the Dursleys. It was surprisingly relaxing, writing this letter. They didn't yell at me, or call me a freak, or try to take the breakfast I cooked. And then I get another idea, and unroll the letter again. P.P.S. If you can turn the Dursleys back, can you maybe... wait a little while? They're a lot nicer like this.

There. All settled.

This time, I don't come up with any new ideas as I run the letter upstairs and give it to Hedwig. She flaps off into the early morning, a little affronted after Sazka tries to bite her. "Stop that," I tell my snake. "She's gonna be mad."

Another letter comes back with astonishing speed:

Dear Harry,

Wow. I've woken up in a lot of strange ways, but I can't top that!

We'll be there soon, but could you maybe go into a room first? Somewhere far away from the Dursleys, and shut the door? I don't really wanna get stoned either. All the wizarding books say that gorgons' ability to turn people to stone is voluntary, so you should be able to figure out how to control it. We'll be sending something over to help you practice.

Owl us when you're ready, okay?

Snuffles

I nod. Good thinking. I shut myself in my bedroom, before owling back to go ahead. The front door bangs open not a minute later. "Hey, Harry!"

"Hey, Sirius!" I yell back through my door.

"We'll go check your relatives out," says a milder voice – Professor Lupin, I think. "You focus on your practice."

Just then, Hedwig arrives, huffing and panting. I suppose it is a hot day outside. She drops a letter and a package off on my bed, before returning to her cage. Her fierce yellow glare dares me to owl someone again.

I open the letter first.

Hey, Harry! it says, in different handwriting – Fred or George's, I think. We made you something to practice on! Try to petrify some, kill some, and maybe feed some to your snakes, okay?

I raise an eyebrow. They made something?

The only other thing Hedwig brought, the package, doesn't look like it could be any kind of training gear – it's a small, flat, brown-paper parcel, closed at the top with knotted string. I cut through that with a knife, and the whole thing starts to unfold itself.

First, two mice with trumpets – paper cutouts – pop up from within. They play a brief fanfare, before out from the seemingly flat parcel sprouts a big, tall paper castle in lurid purple and gold. Weasleys' Wodent Wonders of the World! says a huge banner unfolding over top. The castle has fifteen doors, two each for all of the classical Seven Wonders – and then a last, big one up at the castle's highest tower, labeled Azkaban.

Holy shit, the twins are good. I'm so glad I invested in them – those two are gonna go far.

I slowly, tentatively open one of the doors labeled Great Pyramid, to reveal a golden-furred mouse in a faux-Egyptian headdress, trapped inside a paper cage. It's scared of me and my snakes – wow, it's desperate, actually – but it's certainly still alive, not turning to stone in any way.

Well. The snakes certainly all want it to be dying, ideally in their own stomachs. I tell them I'll feed them all later, and go back to my practice.

Okay. So the Dursleys were all fine when they were talking to me, but they got stoned when they tried to attack me. So maybe that's it – it happens when I feel threatened. And the mouse is... not super threatening. But I try to imagine it being threatening – to imagine being scared like I was when Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia and Dudley were all acting like they wanted to hurt me.

I feel a flash of magic in my eyes, and the mouse transforms into rough grey rock.

Just like they had at the Dursleys, my snakes all cheer.

"Can I eat it, mama?" asks Sazka. "Please? Pleaaaase?"

"It's stone," I say. "I'm not sure it's great for eating..."

"Just let me try! Please? I have a good feeling about this!"

The same way you had a good feeling about stealing bacon out of a hot pan? I don't say. "Okay. Just don't complain if it hurts your teeth." I open the cage and let the stone mouse fall down onto the bed. Sazka lunges, strikes it with her fangs – and they go through!

"Ohhh, this is great!" Sazka says, as she slowly swallows the mouse whole. "The rock is just on the outside – on the inside, it's tasty!"

Naturally, that sets off all the other snakes – they want some, too. And, naturally, I provide. For the second mouse, I try to just use the magic without making myself feel scared first.    It takes me a little while, but I figure it out – and Sykra thinks the mouse is delicious. For the third, I try to push harder with the magic. Again, that works. And, apparently, kills it. That mouse is turned to solid stone all the way through – when Skura tries to bite into it, she can't. It just hurts her teeth.

I don't kill any more of them, so all of my snakes get to eat two whole mice – well, except for Sunza, but she went to sleep after eating her first.

And then I open the last door, at the top of the tower – the door labeled Azkaban. It's larger than the other doors, as if to fit a rat and not a mouse.

Inside it sits Scabbers.

I force back the magic that tries to well up in my eyes at the sight of him, at my genuine fear and horror at seeing my parents' betrayer in the flesh. It works. I don't hurt him – not yet, anyway. I'm still in control.

This can't possibly be the real Peter Pettigrew, can it? Where would the twins have gotten him? Why wouldn't he have escaped?

No, I decide, looking at it more closely. It's the same grubby grey color, it has the same worn and patchy coat, and it even has the same missing finger, but I don't think this is Scabbers. It's just a little bit off – a bit too plump, its eyes a bit too big. And it shows absolutely no sign of intelligence, beyond its instinctive need to run away from all the scary snakes.

So this is just an ordinary rat. A very good likeness – the twins probably put some effort into preparing it – but still just an ordinary rat. It's a joke. They'd like to send Pettigrew to Azkaban, and they know I would too. And maybe it's a test – that I have enough control not to lose my shit at this rat at the first sight of it.

But even though I know this isn't the real thing... I'm still feeling a little vengeful. I fix it with my bright green gaze, and push my magic through my eyes. The rat hardens into clear, sparkling crystal, all the way through. It's dead.

I take it gingerly from its cell. "I might keep this," I tell my snakes. "I think it's an interesting memento."

"I still think I could have eaten it," grumbles Sazka.

"You already had two mice," I chide. "You don't need to eat anything more." Then I pause, thinking about it. "Actually, do you need to eat at all? You're attached to my head."

This, naturally, panics the snakes, each reacting in its own frenzied way. Perhaps my favorite is Sylza, the calmest, who gently says "Umm... we like to eat, mama?"

I laugh. "Don't worry. I will keep feeding you all." They start to beg for more again, and I smile. "Not now – I'm out of mice. Now, we're going downstairs to meet my friends."

I get up, some of the snakes still whining a little, and step up to my bedroom door. "I'm coming down now!" I yell. "I'm done with my practice!"

"Okay!" Sirius yells back. "We're in the parlor!"

I open my door, and walk gingerly back downstairs.

Sirius and Professor Lupin have set up the Dursleys' statues in a line in front of the telly. The two of them are standing at the door, waiting for me, while a purple-haired woman I don't know is still casting spells at Dudley. I tense a little at the sight of her, but I manage to relax without Petrifying anybody – if they trust her, she must be all right.

"Whoa," says Sirius. His eyes are wide as he stares at me – he nudges Remus, who does much the same, a little more subtly. "I... er... You're really Harry?"

I nod, trying not to smirk. "Yes, I am. Why do you ask?"

"I just... I..." The snakes are all snickering at him now.

"He's trying to say you look beautiful," says Remus, smiling gently.

"Yes! You're beautiful, I just..." He frowns at Remus, who's started to laugh. "Hey! She's my godson! I'm allowed to be a little confused."

I start laughing at him too. "Get used to it, Sirius. Also, I'm your goddaughter."

He looks like he's about to whine some more, except that the woman comes up behind him and puts her hand on his shoulder. "Honestly, Sirius. Not the time."

Then she looks to me and smiles.

"Hey! Nice to meet you – and, wow, you are pretty. The name's Tonks. I'm a Metamorphmaga – a shapeshifter. Sirius's cousin." Her face briefly shifts into a copy of my old self's before switching back to her seeming preference, a woman with bright purple hair and olive skin. She turns to Sirius, smirking at him. "Which means the human is outnumbered three-to-one."

Sirius pouts, theatrically shoving out his lip, but doesn't say anything.

"So, my relatives – they're just Petrified, right?"

Tonks nods. "Yep! They'll be just fine once they're un-Petrified." The snakes seem a little put out at that. Skoza is begging me to let her eat them. "You figure that out when you were practicing?"

"Yeah. I don't think I can kill anyone accidentally – it takes a lot of power." My eyes flick to my relatives' frozen faces. "Are they going to need the Mandrake Restorative Draught, like the people who got petrified my second year?" I ask. "When will that be ready?"

"Yep, that's it! Looks like we'll have some... maaaybe next summer," Sirius says with a grin. "Fragile things, mandrakes! Can't just import them so easy."

I smile, but then I freeze, as a white figure – a Patronus charm, I realize, in the shape of a large cat with pointed ears – appears in the room and begins to speak in a deep male voice that I don't recognize.

"Get ready," the voice says. "Harry's episode registered with the Trace. It's a weak detection, normally it would be ignored, but Umbridge has been looking for dirt on him for weeks. She's sending Aurors. Smith and Donnelly should be there within five minutes."

Sirius and Tonks both swear in synchrony. "Neither of us should be here," Tonks says. Sirius turns into a dog on the spot, running off into a back room, while Tonks uses her Metamorph abilities again – turning herself into a young man with messy brown hair and stubble. She Transfigures her outfit not to be so feminine, adjusting the cut and color of her leather jacket, jeans, and T-shirt. "I'm an Auror too," she says. "I probably... technically shouldn't be here. Don't want to get recognized." She looks between us, her grin newly rakish. "Until they're gone, call me Matt Ayers. Male pronouns, obviously. First name basis or not, whatever you feel comfortable with. Don't screw it up – I'm the only Metamorphmagus in Britain, these guys know me, it will not be subtle."

I nod. "Got it. What should I—"

"Tell me what happened," he says, looking me in the eye. "Smith and Donnelly are good Aurors, they're not gonna frame you up for something no matter what Umbridge is telling them – but you gotta get your story straight."

"Okay. Starting with—"

"The start of the day. Or your transformation, whichever came first."

I run through the day's events – waking up to my cute little snakes arguing, discovering that I'm a gorgon, going down to make my food, the Dursleys walking in and reacting poorly, and me Petrifying them, one at a time.

"Okay. Good. That's good. As clear-cut as it could possibly be. I'll try and do most of the talking, but I won't be able to say everything. So just... try and be certain about these things, if you can. Don't argue – just be clear and firm. You had no idea you were a gorgon before today. You used no magic outside your natural abilities – you didn't even touch your wand. You didn't do it on purpose, and you didn't know how to control it. You didn't do anything to provoke your relatives besides being a gorgon, and they were all threatening you when you Petrified them."

"All right. I can do that," I tell him – just as a knock comes at the door.

"Answer it," he tells me, and he and Lupin follow close behind as I open the door a crack.

"Hello?" I ask two people, clearly wizards, in deep red battle robes. One is a woman with long black hair pulled back in a ponytail, the other a blond man with a rather weedy mustache and a folder full of paperwork. My snakes are staring at them just as intensely as I am – they're very well-behaved as they watch silently. I guess they understand how badly this might go.

"Hello, ma'am," says the man. He trades a glance with his partner. "We're Aurors from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, here to follow up on an activation of the Trace. We were only aware of one wizard registered at this home. I assume you're here with Harry Potter – can you fetch him for us?"

"Er... that's not... I am Harry Potter!" At their disbelief, I look down at my body. "Or I was..."

"She only became a gorgon overnight," Matt says, stepping closer to the door. "She's not used to it yet."

"We'll need to verify that," says the woman. "May we see your wand?"

"Oh!" I say. "Yes, just a second!" I dash upstairs, grabbing my wand out of my trunk before heading back down. "Here," I say, but Matt stops me from handing it over.

"Hold it up for them," he says.

The man casts a pale blue spell on it, then checks his paperwork. "Her wand matches," he says.

"Good," says the woman. "Sorry about that." The two Aurors trade glances again, the woman seeming to be smiling slightly. "We had to check – you don't really look like a Harry Potter."

I snort, half out of disbelief. "It's the only name I have," I say weakly.

"May we come in?" she asks.

"Er, I guess—"

"Wait," Tonks – er, Matt – says. "Show me your badges." They do – the woman is named Philomena Smith, while the man is Magnus Donnelly. Matt takes out his wand and casts a spell on both badges, and they glow golden. "Right, let them in," he says. "Sorry, but the Girl who Lived can't be too careful."

"Come in," I tell them, and they follow us into the parlor – where they immediately stare at the three statues there.

"I, er... I see that these Muggles are Petrified," the woman says, still looking uneasily at them. "Could the Trace activation have been from this?"

"It must be," Matt says. "She used no other magic. Petrification is a natural ability for gorgons, and with her just transformed... she didn't know how to control it. We gave her some training afterward, so she can restrain her abilities, but we were present for that."

"Very well." She turns to me. "I take it you used it because you felt threatened?"

"Yes," I say, a bit surprised. "How did you know?"

She says nothing, just gestures to the statues. Vernon is snarling, his hands gripping at air. Petunia has her frying pan raised, and Dudley has his fist cocked back. She's right. It is obvious that it was self-defense.

"They... didn't take my transformation well," I say. "But when they tried to attack me, they turned to stone."

"It was your creature ability all three times?" she asks. "Accidentally?"

"Yes."

"Did you provoke them?"

"Not beyond existing, and being a gorgon."

"Did you use any other magic, wand or otherwise?"

"No."

"You're in control of your ability now? You don't believe you're at risk of accidentally Petrifying anyone else?"

"I am, and I don't."

"And you're providing appropriate care to the Muggles?"

Matt cuts in, this time. "That's why she owled us. She didn't know what to do. We confirmed that they're just Petrified, and we'll be arranging to get them Mandrake Restorative Draught as soon as practical."

"Donnelly, confirm their status," she says, before taking out a notepad and jotting some things down quickly. "And take a photograph of them." She looks to us. "You might want one for yourselves."

"Do you expect there to be a legal proceeding?" asks Matt sharply. "For such a thing to be necessary?"

"There... shouldn't be," she says, her voice halting. There's something sour in her expression. "The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery doesn't apply to accidental magic, creature abilities, or self-defense. The case seems perfectly clear-cut. The Trace activation was spurious, and no crime was committed. However..." She fixes me with her pale blue eyes, seemingly without fear of Petrification. "You probably know the Minister isn't very pleased with you just now."

I nod my head. I do read the Prophet, after all.

"It's possible some of his... political appointees... may try to make hay over this. I doubt anything will get past Madam Bones, however." She smiles at me. "Rest assured, Miss Potter, our report will be truthful and complete."

"The story checks out," Donnelly says, sitting back down as a photograph spills out of his magical Polaroid camera. "The diagnostic charms all say these three were Petrified by a gorgon."

"Okay," she says. "I think that's all we need. Thank you for your time, Miss Potter – and, may I say, your transformation suits you well."

"Thank you," I say. I can feel my cheeks warming a little – Merlin, I hope blushes don't show on my dark skin.

The Aurors start to file out, but then Auror Smith stops – Sirius, still in dog form, is peeking around the doorframe. "Who is this?"

"Oh, that's Snuffles," I say. "He's a dog I know."

"I see." Auror Smith's words are stern. She bends down, getting a closer look at him – and then starts to scratch him behind the ears. "Good doggy," she says, before Conjuring up a squeaky bone. "Hi, Snuffles."

Sirius squeaks the bone triumphantly as the Aurors leave, and we all take a nice deep breath.

"Okay!" says Tonks, turning back into herself. "I think that went well. We'll have to see if Umbridge pulls something else stupid."

"We should get back to Headquarters," Professor Lupin says. His gaze flicks downward – to Sirius, still in dog form, still squeaking that bone. Its sound gets more annoying every time.

"Do you think we could eat a dog?" Skoza observes acidly.

"I'd try it..." Sazka says.

"No," I tell them – in English. I don't know how my snakes can understand it, but they clearly can. "You can't eat Sirius. He's not being that annoying. Yet."

He drops the bone. "Hey!" he says as he turns back into human form, and we all laugh at him.