Actions

Work Header

Hedwig's Great Adventure

Chapter Text

Wednesday, 31 July 1991

Harry stepped out into Diagon Alley and blinked in the bright sunlight. Just as his vision seemed to be clearing, another white spot appeared. Oddly, it was growing larger and larger.

“Watch out, ‘arry!” Hagrid grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to the left. The flying object shot past him, and whirled around them.

Harry stared as he realized it was a bird. No, an owl – a white owl. It let out a loud sound that was definitely not a hoot.

Krekk!” The owl warbled, as it slowed, and to Harry’s surprise, descended towards him. He reached out instinctively, and its talons wrapped over his right arm.

“Hello,” he said, smiling at it.

The owl cooed as it turned its head to look at Harry with its bright yellow eyes. Then she walked up his arm, flapping her long, white wings. When she reached his shoulder she tilted her head and rubbed her downy cheek against his own. Harry laughed softly, then reached up and cautiously stroked her wings. 

“Hold still, please!” A girl called as she ran up the steps, brandishing a wand.

The owl burrowed its face into Harry’s neck and let out a mournful coo.

“What’s wrong?” Harry frowned as he looked at the young woman. She was slim and blonde, and was wearing blue robes and a name tag that declared her name was Verity, and she worked at Eeylops Owl Emporium.

“This owl’s been giving us trouble for weeks,” Verity declared as she approached Harry and Hagrid. “Doesn’t like any of the customers, and tries to fly away every chance she gets.”

“How much is she?” Harry blurted out. The owl was beautiful, and she’d flown straight to him like she knew him.

The shop girl looked startled, but recovered quickly. “Four sickles, and I’ll throw in a free cage and a bag of treats. You’ll be doing me a favor.”

Harry petted the snowy owl’s wings as he followed Verity to the owl store.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you there,” he told the owl softly. Harry felt excited – he had money now, and he could actually have something he wanted.

His answer was an understanding sort of whistle. Harry grinned at the owl, and felt very proud when he went up to the counter and handed over four sickles. He took a simple silver cage, tossed the complimentary bag of owl treats inside, and left Hedwig perched on his shoulder.

“Great creatures, owls. Smarter than any other bird, ‘cept mebbe a phoenix,” Hagrid told Harry as they left the store. “But you might want to cage her for the walk, don’t want her flying away.”

The snowy owl let out an indignant cry – krekk – and swiveled her head to stare down the groundskeeper. Hagrid’s eyes widened in surprise.

“She won’t fly away,” Harry said confidently. She looked pleased by his faith in her.

“Alrigh’,” Hagrid allowed. “Listen, Harry, would yeh mind if I slipped off fer a pick-me-up in the Leaky Cauldron? I hate them Gringotts carts.” He did look a bit sick, and Harry felt a little bad that he’d forgotten about Hagrid’s green features, since he’d been absorbed in finding his owl.

Hagrid suggested Harry get his robes, though he felt a little reluctant to be on his own. Once the large man headed off, Harry made his way towards Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions.

“I wonder what I should call you,” Harry mused, gazing at the owl on his shoulder.

Keen yellow eyes met his for a moment, and then with a flutter of white wings, his owl left his shoulder and went flying down the street.

“Hey!” Harry called, upset.  He’d been so sure she was going to stay put.

“Krekk,” the owl called, and flew off. With the cage and his moneybag in hand, Harry hurried after her, calling - “Wait up!”

The denizens of the Alley were treated to the sight of the small, messy haired boy chasing his owl down the street, nearly tripping several times on the cobblestones.

She landed serenely atop a bronze shop sign. Below her, curly, embossed letters in black ink proclaiming the shop’s name; Flourish and Blotts.

“Please don’t fly off like that!” Harry told his owl, once he’d caught his breath. She fluttered down to land on his shoulder, and shuffled in place, her head hanging low as if apologizing.

“Oh, it’s okay,” Harry hastened to add. “I just didn’t want to lose you. I’ve never had an owl before.”

She gave him a look, her keen eyes seeming to tell him that she wasn’t his owl; rather, he was her wizard.

“I guess you like books?” Harry suggested with a grin as he looked at Flourish and Blotts.

Well, as long as he was here, Harry figured he could pick up his schoolbooks. He opened the door and headed inside, breathing in the smell of ink and parchment. The shop was large, at least five times bigger than the Owl Emporium had been, and full of ceiling-high bookshelves that were crammed full of large books and gaudy signs indicating the different sections.

The owl pushed off his shoulder, heading down the main aisle before wheeling gently to the left. Harry hurried after her, nearly bumping into a few other customers, one of whom seemed to be having an argument with a book, which was growling back at her.

He found the snowy owl perched on a shelf, nosing at a small brown book. Curious, Harry plucked it out and examined the title.

“Notable Witches and Wizards of the Past Millenium.” Harry read aloud. That did look interesting, he supposed, and began to flick through.

His eyes widened as he realized that in addition to the texts, there were glossy pictures of the people talked about, and they were moving, grinning and waving up at him.

“Wow…” As Harry continued flipping through the pages, the owl extended a foot and pressed her talons to the page. Harry waited a moment for her to move it, and when she didn’t, he looked back at the page.

“Hedwig of Maiden Castle, 1320 – 1457. Wait – is that right? She lived to be a hundred and thirty seven? Wow,” Harry whistled, and read on.  “Hedwig was a great Healer of her time, and is remembered for her kindness in assisting witches and muggles alike through childbirth and other illnesses. Hedwig is also known for her defense of a neighboring muggle village against a dragon attack in 1382, and her subsequent defeat of the ferocious Welsh Green. Er, is that what you meant? It is interesting – Ow! Stop pecking me, Hedwig!”

The owl stopped in her brief attack, fluttering her feathers in a manner that can only be described as smug.  As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Harry knew.

"That's your name, isn't it? That's why you wanted me to see that... All right, Hedwig it is, then." Harry grinned at her widely. “You can read, can’t you? That’s amazing.” He remembered that the snake at the zoo was able to read its own sign, and wondered if all animals were this smart.

Hedwig preened herself proudly, and leaned in to nuzzle her soft face against Harry’s cheek. She cooed softly, a comforting sound, and for a moment, Harry’s eyes closed, his body relaxing at the gentle touch of her feathers.

Harry made his way back to the front of the store, where he picked up one of the shopping baskets, then pulled out his school list. Together, they wandered through the aisles, picking out the required texts. The smallest was a slim red paperback, Fantastic Beasts and where to Find Them, while the dull sounding Magical Theory was inevitably thick and heavy. When Harry had found his last book, The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection, Hedwig stepped off his shoulder and flew down the aisle, to land precariously on a low shelf. Harry knelt down beside her, curious to see what she was interested in. It was an old leather bound book, dark green and scuffed, and he pulled it out and dusted it off to read the title.

Occlumency, Lessons for the Wise,” Harry read aloud. He cracked it open with a little difficulty – clearly nobody had touched it in ages - and skimmed through the introduction. “Protect yourself from wizards who can read your mind?”

Harry’s eyes widened. That certainly sounded useful. He had no idea that some people in this world could actually read his thoughts. He tucked it in between Magical Drafts and Potions and A History of Magic, then followed his owl as she led him to another aisle. Hedwig selected one last book before returning to his shoulder. It was called Hogwarts, A History. While history classes had never been Harry’s favorite (in part, due to Dudley’s constant presence in the seat behind him, where he could kick Harry and stick away his used gum in his hair), he brightened at the thought of learning more about Hogwarts.

Harry wandered a bit, taking down books that looked exciting, adding them to his basket, which was now incredibly full. The best looking one was called Curses and Counter-curses (Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs, Tongue-Tying and Much, Much More) by Professor Vindictus Viridian.

The absent-minded clerk barely noticed Harry, to his relief, as she rang up his purchases. He paid exact change, and heaved two paper bags (they must be enchanted to not have broken by now), now filled with a couple dozen books, along as best he could.

“Harry!”

He turned in surprise to see Hagrid hurrying towards him.

“Where were you?” Hagrid demanded anxiously as he ran a hand through his scraggly mane. “I looked at the robe shop, but Madam Malkin said you never showed.”

“I went to the bookstore instead,” Harry felt abashed. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“No harm done.” Hagrid said, his smile clearly relieved. “Just like your mother, you are, heading right for the books.”

Harry brightened at the mention of his mother, whom he knew almost nothing about. “She liked to read?”

Loved it,” the great man said kindly as he put a gentle hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Lily Evans was the smartest witch of her age, and everyone knew it. Did you buy out the whole store?” Hagrid laughed as he saw Harry’s heavy bags.

Hagrid took one of the bags of books for him, lifting it easily and tucking it into his side. “You need a trunk,” the large man realized. He led Harry down Diagon Alley, to a store with a small white sign that said Smythe’s Storage, est. 1758.

Harry followed Hagrid into the shop and began looking around. The store seemed much bigger on the inside than the narrow shopfront had indicated. Trunks of all shapes and sizes were stacked on top of each other – wooden ones, stone ones, and on one table, there were trunks covered with gemstones!

He wandered over to a stack of dark wood trunks with carved designs. Some of the patterns were even moving: vines waving at him, or waves crashing against the sides of the trunk.

“Harry!” Hagrid shouted, and Harry went to find him. “I found ye the perfect trunk.”

It took Harry a moment to connect what Hagrid was saying with what he was doing. He seemed to be holding the tail of a rather square looking furry creature with large eyes, and a large golden keyhole in place of a nose.

“Er…” Harry stared. “Is that a trunk?”

“Course it is!” Hagrid beamed, and leaned down to pat the top of it.

The living trunk purred deeply, then began to rub its back against Hagrid’s hand. “I haven’t gotten you a birthday present yet,” Hagrid beamed at Harry. “So this is what I’m getting you!”

Harry nodded, still a little shocked. Hagrid led the trunk up towards the counter, and Harry watched as its four furry little feet trundled along.

“Oh, it’ll be nice to have this one gone,” the shop owner sighed. “It’s always following the customers around… You can have it for two galleons.”

Hagrid started rummaging through his pockets for the coins.

“Um, how does it work exactly?” Harry had to ask, looking wistfully at the other trunks.

“It has multiple compartments,” the woman told him. “You pet different parts of the lid to open each one.”

Harry approached the trunk, and it turned to him, its black eyes wide and curious. He reached out cautiously, and it moved to meet him, nuzzling against his hand. Harry began to grin. It was kind of like a cat, but not smelly like one of Mrs. Figg’s though. His trunk purred, and Harry stroked its furry lid.  

“It definitely has character,” the woman said, and handed a small golden key over to Harry. “There’s only one key, so keep it safe. It’s pretty well spelled against any tampering; it would take some serious magic for someone else to get it open without the key.”

“Let’s put these books away,” Hagrid said.

“Wait,” Harry paused, reality hitting him. “I can’t take this back to Privet Drive! Everyone will see it!”

“Didn’ think of that,” Hagrid said, crestfallen.

“Is that a muggle area?” The woman enquired, and Harry nodded. “Not to worry, it’s runically warded. Muggles will see an ordinary trunk with wheels and a rope attached, not feet and a tail.”

“Great,” Harry said in relief. “Thanks, Hagrid.”

“No problem, ‘arry. Happy birthday!”

He unlocked the trunk, and it popped open gladly, showing a surprisingly normal looking wooden interior. Harry put in all his books, then closed it again, and experimented as the woman advised, petting different parts of the lid, and finding that it would close and open again into an empty compartment, then take him back to his books if he stroked the right spot again.

“Different stomachs, more like,” Hagrid chuckled.

“Mind if I hold your tail?”  The trunk wagged its tail eagerly, and Harry took a hold of it and led it out of the store. It plodded after him, its eyes flickering around to take in the sights.

“Now, we never did get your robes,” Hagrid said with a smile.

“Do you ever wear robes?” Harry wondered as they returned to Madam Malkin’s.

“They don’t make ‘em big enough,” Hagrid shrugged. “Usually just wear my coat instead.”

While Harry held open the door, Hagrid had to duck his head and turn sideways to squeeze through.

“Rubeus!” A woman called warmly. “How are you?”

“Well, thanks,” Hagrid said, sounding a little bashful. He ran a hand through his hair and smiled at an auburn haired woman. She had a slim face, wore deep blue robes, and was probably in her thirties. “How are the girls?”

“Look at the owl, it’s so pretty!”

Harry looked past the woman who’d stepped forward to hug Hagrid – she was incredibly petite beside him. There were three girls behind her, all with the same hair. One was standing on a footstool, getting fitted for robes. The other two were smaller, maybe six or seven years old, and very alike in looks.

The girls came forward to look at Hedwig, who was still perched quietly on Harry’s shoulder. She stepped off, holding out her wings, and the girls gasped, then giggled, as she flew to land on the smaller one. They took turns petting her gently as Hedwig preened proudly.

“Her name’s Hedwig,” Harry told them, and they smiled up at him happily.

“Here for your robes?” He turned to see a woman in mauve robes. “Yes, please.” Harry took the list out of his pocket to look at it. “Three sets of work robes,” he read aloud.

“Of course. Step up here, please.” Harry climbed onto a footstool and noticed that the woman had a small tag on her shirt that read Madam Malkin.

“Hello,” the girl standing facing him smiled at him. “Are you going into first year at Hogwarts too?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, smiling back.

“I’m Susan Bones.” She held out her hand and he shook it, before Madam Malkin instructed him to raise his arms.

“Harry Potter,” he replied, just as a makeshift robe was dropped over his head. The seamstress quickly began pinning it to the right length.

Susan’s eyes darted up to his forehead instinctively. “What House do you think you’ll be in?” She asked curiously.

“House?”

“At Hogwarts. We’re all sorted into four different houses.”  When Harry shook his head, Susan decided to tell him. “There’s Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin. They’re named for the four Founders of Hogwarts.”

“Oh. Are they any different?” 

“Well, each Founder valued different things. Hufflepuff appreciated hard work and loyalty most, while Ravenclaw prized a drive for learning. Slytherin emphasized ambition and cunning, while Gryffindor wanted people who were brave. Everyone says that whatever House you’re in, you have more of that respective trait. But I think people are more complex than just one thing,” Susan pointed out, and Harry nodded.

She pointed over to her mother, who had sat down with the younger girls and was smiling as they petted Hedwig. “My mum was in Ravenclaw, and my dad in Hufflepuff.” Susan’s voice lowered slightly as she spoke just to Harry. “I know they’ll be proud no matter where I go, but I’d like to be in Hufflepuff.”

“It sounds really nice,” Harry decided. “What’s not to like about hard work and loyalty?” He’d like to be around people like that. He’d never had friends before, maybe he would in Hufflepuff.

“Exactly!” Susan exclaimed, beaming at him. “There’s a lot of competition between the Houses, but Hufflepuff mostly stays out of it. Gryffindor and Slytherin House have the biggest rivalry.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, they say that the actual Founders, Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin, had a falling out, and the Houses have been enemies ever since.”

“Hasn’t Hogwarts been around for ages?”

“About a thousand years,” Susan nodded. "It does seem way too long for any sane person to continue feuding. Nobody really even knows the details of why it began!"

“That’s you done, my dear.” The proprietress declared.

“Thank you, Madam Malkin,” Harry said politely, accepting the stack of newly altered black robes she was offering.  He read the receipt, quickly counted out the money and handed it over. She thanked him and headed to the back room to deposit the sickles.

“So what do you think?” Susan asked Harry as he bent down to tuck his set of three robes into his trunk. “Now that you know about the Houses.”

It took Harry a moment to remember her initial question.

“Well, that kind of rivalry sounds ridiculous,” Harry decided. He’d had more than enough of getting picked on back in Little Whinging – he’d much rather go to Hogwarts to learn, not to participate in some weird old wizarding rivalry. “So I guess either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff.”

“So we might be in Hufflepuff together.” The young redhead said with a smile.

“Maybe,” Harry agreed. “See you at Hogwarts.”

“Enjoy the rest of your summer,” Susan called as Harry headed out, picking up the tail of the trunk to lead it outside. Hedwig left the little girls, cooing her own goodbye, and flew over to land on Harry’s shoulder.

“You too,” Harry waved back, and stepped outside.

“How do you feel about ice cream?” Hagrid asked him, pointing to a shop called Fortesque’s.

“I love it,” Harry said eagerly. He ended up choosing chocolate raspberry.

They found a bench a little down the street and sat down together to eat their ice cream. Hedwig leaned forward and stole a bite from time to time, earning a grin from Harry and a bellow of laughter from Hagrid.

"Didn' know owls like ice cream," Hagrid mused. 

"She's special," Harry said fondly, stroking Hedwig's wings. "Did you know she can read?”

“Owls are clever,” Hagrid nodded. “That’s why they’re used for the post. An’ they’re one of the best animals for a wizard’s familiar, jus’ like cats.”

“What’s a familiar?”

“It’s an animal with a real strong bond to a witch or wizard. Very loyal, and some people say that familiars can even talk to their wizards.”

“Do you think I could talk to Hedwig?”

“I dunno,” Hagrid shrugged. “I’ve never actually seen anyone talk to animals.”

Harry frowned, remembering the snake. He opened his mouth to tell Hagrid about it, when suddenly there was a loud cry. A kid on a broomstick was flying down the street, knocking into various people, who shouted at him in annoyance. Other pedestrians scrambled to get out of his way, as he was only a few feet from the ground, and not quite above their heads. 

“Kevin, get back here!” A man shouted angrily, but the little dark haired boy just laughed and kept flying. “Immobulus!”

A light pink wave of energy struck the tail end of the broom, and it suddenly slowed down. The kid wailed in frustration, kicking his legs, but his father was soon able to catch up. He hauled the boy off the broom and took it away from him.

“When I say not this year, I mean it,” he said fiercely, and dragged the kid back towards the broom shop.

Harry finished up his ice cream and saw that Hagrid was already done.

“Let’s finish off your list,” Hagrid told him.

They ducked into a writing shop, where Harry stocked up on parchment, quills, and ink. Then they stopped at a clothing shop, where Harry got a pointed hat, his cloak, and dragon hide gloves. There was some normal clothing as well, so Harry decided to get himself a couple pairs of shirts and trousers that fit him properly, though he resolved to keep them hidden until he went to Hogwarts. Finally, he thought happily, he wouldn’t be wearing Dudley’s oversized hand-me-downs.

Next, they found a shop where Harry bought a telescope for astronomy, and a pewter cauldron, silver stirring spoon, glass phials and scales for potions class. That was also where he found a comfortable denim bookbag, that the shopkeeper assured him had a lightening charm and an expanding bottom charm on it that would last for years. Harry tucked his money bag into the bookbag and was impressed that the lightening charm totally worked – he barely felt a change in the weight. He tucked everything else into the third compartment of the trunk, as he’d used the first one for books and writing supplies, and the second for his clothes.

They stepped into the Apothecary next, and Harry winced as the smell of rotten eggs and spoiled meat hit his nose. But then his eyes widened as he looked around. The store had everything he might have thought he could use in a potion, and more besides. Some of the ingredients even looked back – eyeballs blinked at him in greeting from clear jars. There was even an enormous heart in a large fish tank, floating in some kind of purple slime. One shelf was adorned with the most beautiful ingredients – bright scarlet feathers, silver unicorn horns, and gleaming green scales.

Hedwig took off with a soft call, and Harry followed after, wondering what she might have to show him this time. The snowy owl had found a gap in the ceiling-high shelves covered by a curtain. Harry gulped, looked around to make sure nobody was looking (nobody was), and stepped through.

There was another part of the store here, with less light and even creepier looking ingredients. There was a dead lion preserved in a nearby case, and an aquarium of strange fish with sharp teeth and deadly looking spikes.

He had to look for a moment to find Hedwig. She was flying through the aisles, looking for something. Harry waited until she settled down, then followed her. He looked where she’d landed, and realized that while everything in the front section had been labeled, the area behind the curtain was not.

Hedwig clicked her beak against a large clear bowl, which was full of little orange mushrooms that seemed to be wriggling against the glass.

“Weird,” Harry muttered as he watched the little fungi crawling around in the bowl. Hedwig knocked against it again. “What are those?”

She tapped it again rather impatiently.

“Alright,” Harry said after a moment. “You haven’t led me wrong so far.”

She preened a little at that. Harry unscrewed one of the empty jars on the bottom shelves that he’d seen people filling. Then he plucked out the little wriggling mushrooms with tongs, dropping them into the jar until it was full.

When he got back to the front, the shopkeeper had already assembled a basic first year’s set of ingredients for him, in a small case; there were vials and small jars of herbs, oddly colored liquids, and even teeth! Harry slipped the jar into the pile, and the man’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing as he rang him up.

Outside the Apothecary, Hagrid checked Harry’s list again.

“Just yer wand left – oh yeah, an’ I’ve still got one more errand to run. I’ll meet you at Ollivanders in a few. Just down the street, on yer left.”

Harry’s heart raced with excitement as he hurried down the street, Hedwig hooting softly in his ear, his trunk bouncing from foot to foot to keep up with him. His wand. He was really going to be a wizard.

 

When Harry finally arrived back at Privet Drive that evening, he was relieved to find it silent and empty. The Dursleys weren’t back from the trip yet. The front door was locked, but Harry had stashed a key to the back door in a rosebush since Petunia started locking up early to punish him for staying out late.

Thankfully his trunk bounded up the stairs without any pushing, and Harry got settled into his new room. It was still rather crowded with Dudley’s old junk, but it was infinitely better than the cupboard. He shoved some broken toys off the desk to make room for Hedwig’s cage. The trunk kicked aside a few dirty articles of clothing, and settled down contentedly at the foot of the bed before closing its eyes. Harry grinned, shaking his head at how strange his life had suddenly become.

He soon discovered that there wasn’t any fresh food in the house, since they’d been away for a week. Luckily, the freezer had a frozen lasagna in it. Harry cut himself a large piece and warmed it up in the oven.

“What would you like to eat?” He asked Hedwig.

She just looked out the window, and gave a little shrug of her wings.

“Not hungry? Wait, do you hunt for your own food?”

Hedwig nodded, pleased at his deduction. She perched on the edge of the chair across from him, and Harry found himself talking to her as he dug into his food. When the Dursleys were home, he wouldn’t have gotten any of the hot meal, probably just cold bread, and if he was lucky, cheese with it. He might as well enjoy it while it lasted.

“Things are going to be different now,” he said happily. “They were so scared of Hagrid, now that I have a wand, they won’t try anything, I bet. I wonder if Dudley still has a tail…”

When he finished eating, and felt pleasantly full for the first time in a while, Harry cleaned his plate and went upstairs again. Harry considerately opened the window for Hedwig to go hunting, but it wasn’t dark yet, so she lingered at his bedside, watching as the young wizard went to his trunk and looked through his books. Harry took out The Standard Book of Spells, Year 1.

“I’m really going to do magic,” he whispered.

Despite all the amazing things he’d seen in Diagon Alley, some part of Harry had feared that Hagrid had been wrong, that he wasn’t a wizard after all. But then he’d found his wand, and he’d felt the magic in him for the first time. It had come to him so naturally, as he waved the wand, and beautiful sparks leapt from the tip.

In just a month, he’d be going to Hogwarts, and learning how to do all sorts of spells…  Harry smiled as he remembered Hagrid’s words at lunchtime. You’ll learn fast enough, Hagrid had assured him warmly. He wouldn’t be able to see Hagrid until he came to Hogwarts, but now he had Hedwig for company.

Harry began looking through the book of spells, grinning with each new cool charm he read about, and soon lost track of time. When the sky dimmed, and Harry had to turn on the light in order to see the pages.

Hedwig flew out the window to go for a hunt. She returned an hour later looking very triumphant. Harry petted the soft feathers on the back of her head, letting her sit in his lap as he read. At the end of the next chapter, Hedwig turned and nipped the skin on the back of his hand.

“Ah!” Harry said, surprised at the sharp pinch. She stepped off of his leg and marched over to his trunk, whose eyes were closed at it apparently napped.

“Kreeek!” She clearly wanted him to do something. Harry came to her, and opened it to each compartment, until she hopped into the third and poked at the set of potion ingredients. Recalling then that Hedwig had picked something out at the apothecary, Harry picked up the jar of orange mushrooms. 

They were still wriggling around in a weird way. Harry set the jar on his bed and then fetched out his herbology text, 1000 Magical Herbs and Fungi.  There were dozens of entries on mushrooms, but thankfully each one had a picture to match it to. Harry flipped through the book until finally he found the odd little orange fungi.

“Saharan mushrooms,” Harry read aloud. “These are found only underwater in desert oases in northern Africa. While used in many restorative draughts, these mushrooms are also highly prized as a consumable. Eating a single mushroom significantly cools down the body, saving many desert travelers from overheating. Another key property is its mind altering effects.”

Harry’s eyes widened at that statement. Had his owl convinced him to buy wizarding drugs? He continued to read on, dubiously.

“Eating a single mushroom allows the mind to become more open to mental connections, allowing, in some cases, shared telepathic communication, though only for a limited time.” Harry’s head jerked up as he thought of something Hagrid had said earlier, about legends of familiars and their wizards being able to speak to each other. “Is this for us? So we can talk?”

Hedwig nodded, and stepped closer in order to tap on the jar. Harry grinned, very curious. He unscrewed the top, then plucked out a mushroom. The boy stared at it for a moment, then shrugged, and stuck it in his mouth. He chewed, shuddering as he felt it wriggling in his mouth. It had an odd earthy taste that he’d never experienced before. Harry swallowed quickly, making a face as the mushroom squirmed its way down his throat.

“Ugh.”

Hedwig bent down and snatched up one for herself. She gobbled down the mushroom and stepped back over to Harry. He reached out to her, excited – and then suddenly his vision blurred, and he swayed unsteadily.

His skin tingled all over, goosebumps rising as he felt suddenly cold. Harry wrapped his arms about himself and shivered for a moment, keeping his eyes shut.

Are you alright, dear? A woman’s clear alto voice asked him in concern.

“Yeah, I think so,” Harry groaned. He blinked his eyes open and looked around in confusion, trying to find the speaker…

It worked just as I hoped. The voice sounded young, and very pleased.  Now think your next response, don’t say it.

Harry stared at his owl, who was looking right at him. Hedwig? He thought. Is that you?

Yes, Harry. His owl cocked her head to the side, and her yellow eyes seemed pleased.

“Wow,” Harry breathed. It was very peculiar – he could hear her laughing in his mind, a pretty tinkling sound, as she ruffled her feathers prettily.

So if I can talk to you… Does that mean you’re my familiar?

Yes, Hedwig told him softly.  It will take time to develop a familiar bond fully, one day we will be able to communicate like this without any magical assistance.

Cool, Harry thought.

There’s a lot I have to tell you, Harry, Hedwig sighed as she rubbed her head against his left hand. I’ve traveled quite a distance to be with you.

Where are you from? Harry wondered curiously.

I don’t mean I traveled a distance in space, the snowy owl replied. I traveled from seven years in the future. A witch used a complicated spell to send my spirit and my memories back to my younger body. I arrived in this time only a few weeks ago.

Harry stared at her blankly, waiting for the punchline.

This is no joke, Hedwig told him knowingly. Harry, I’m a time-travelling owl. And I need your help to save the wizarding world.

The eleven-year-old swallowed hard, and ran his fingers through his hair as he processed what his owl had just told him. It sounded so crazy, so outlandish… But after everything he’d seen in the last two days, why wouldn’t time travel be possible too? 

“Alright,” Harry said finally. “What do we need to do?”

Chapter Text

Sunday, 1 September 1991

Harry pushed his way through the bustling crowd in Kings Cross Station, grinning widely. He couldn’t wait to get to Hogwarts. His life had changed completely on his eleventh birthday. First Hagrid had come into his life to tell him he was a wizard. Then Hedwig had found him. After a month together, Hedwig had quickly become the most important individual in his life – she was both his friend, confidante, and guide to both the wizarding world, and the future.

This is it, on your right. Hedwig instructed as they passed Platform Nine.

Harry turned towards the wall. It certainly looked very solid. He took a firm grip on his trunk’s tail, then marched towards the barrier. He didn’t falter or flinch. He had complete trust in Hedwig, and if she said he was going to pass through an apparently brick wall, he believed her.

The young wizard stepped through the barrier, feeling it settle around him briefly like a fog.  Then he was through. Behind the barrier of the ordinary train station, there was the magical train stop, at Platform Nine and Three Quarters.

A beautiful scarlet train, clearly labeled the Hogwarts Express, was waiting on the tracks. There was still a half hour until departure, so there were plenty of people milling around. Parents and siblings said tearful goodbyes to the students going to Hogwarts. The foggy smoke swirling around their feet gave the station an extra magical aura.

It’s beautiful, Harry thought. He didn’t have anyone to say goodbye to – the Dursleys had left him outside the station – so he headed for the nearest train door.

As Harry arrived, another boy got there ahead of him. From the back, Harry could see that the boy was wearing a set of Hogwarts robes, was slight in build, and had wavy blond hair. He was struggling with lifting his trunk, muttering something unintelligible in his frustration.

“Want a hand?” Harry offered.

The boy turned to look at him, a smile slipping easily back onto his face, as if it had never left.

“That’d be great, thanks.”

Working together, they hoisted the heavy wooden trunk aboard, and stowed it in the luggage shelves.

“Let’s do yours,” the boy began, then stopped as he saw Harry’s trunk jumping up on its own.

Harry grinned, stepping back so his trunk could climb up to join the other boy’s luggage. It closed its eyes, let out a contented purring sound, then curled its tail around itself, and went to sleep.

“Fantastic,” the other boy whistled. “Never seen a trunk like that. Totally weird. Is it actually alive?”

“I’m not really sure,” Harry admitted.

“Do you have to feed it?”

“No…”

“Then it’s probably just an enchantment,” the other boy nodded in understanding. He stuck out his hand. “I’m Terry Boot.”

Harry took his hand and shook it. “Harry Potter.”

Terry’s eyes flicked up to his forehead in surprise, but he just nodded. “Want to grab a compartment?”

“Sure.” Harry tried to hold back his grin. Hedwig had assured him he would make friends at Hogwarts, but a part of him had nevertheless feared that it would be like his old school, where Dudley kept everyone away from him.

“How’d you get your trunk through the station?” Terry asked him. “I bet it would freak out most regular people.”

“There’s runes on it that conceal it,” Harry explained. “So the feet look like wheels.”

“Oh, nice,” Terry nodded. “Runes seems like a good class, pity we can’t take it until third year.”

There was an empty compartment nearby. Harry led the way in, and Terry followed, then made to close the door.

“Can you leave that open? My owl’s gone for a fly, but she’ll be back.”

Terry nodded, leaving the door ajar. “You’ve got your own owl? Sweet. We’ve got a family owl, Snickers, but he doesn’t like me much. Don’t know why, I’ve got a winning personality.”

Harry chuckled, startled. He supposed that not all owls were as friendly as his Hedwig.

“So your family, they’re wizards?”

“Most of them,” Terry replied as he settled down sideways in his seat, facing towards the window. “My mum works for the Ministry of Magic, my dad’s a librarian at the Cardiff Library – biggest public wizarding library in western Europe, you know.”

“Cool,” Harry grinned. “Do you have any siblings?”

“Yeah, four of them, all older.” Terry slid his bag off his shoulder to let it drop on the floor. “Clara and Edward are also at Hogwarts, Clara’s in fourth year, Edward’s in sixth. Thomas graduated last year, he’s working as a Hitwizard now at the Ministry. My sister Becca’s getting a degree at Oxford.”

Harry couldn’t even imagine growing up in such a large family. Terry spoke of them so fondly, he felt a pang of jealousy that he tried to stamp down.

“It’s going to be kind of weird being away from home,” Terry finally said, breaking the silence. “What about you? Do you have any family?”

“I live with my aunt and uncle, and my cousin,” Harry said shortly. “We don’t get along though.”

“That’s too bad,” Terry winced. “My mum and I fight sometimes, and my dad and I are totally different, but we love each other anyways. I mostly can’t stand Edward, but Clara and I are close. Have you met anyone at Hogwarts?”

“I know Hagrid, the groundskeeper,” Harry’s eyes lit up. “He’s great. Hagrid’s the one who brought me my Hogwarts letter, and he took me to Diagon Alley for the first time.”

“I’ve only met Professor McGonagall, she teaches Transfiguration. She had to make house calls to tell my parents about all the trouble Thomas used to get himself in. On purpose, if you’d believe it. He once filled the Slytherin locker room with stinkbombs, right before Gryffindor played them at Quidditch.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, the bombs all went off with the team there. They stunk to high heaven for days, the game had to be postponed. Slytherin still creamed Gryffindor, but Thomas said it was worth it.”

A sudden scream echoed through the corridor, and both boys jumped to their feet. Harry had grabbed for his wand, and after a moment, Terry did the same.

“That’s disgusting!” Came a shrill shriek.

“Come on, let’s go see what it is!” Terry said excitedly. He shrugged off his cloak to leave on his seat, marking their spot.

They took off down the hall towards the noise. It was obvious where it was coming from, nearly a dozen people were crammed around one door.

“What is it?” Harry asked, standing on his tiptoes to see.

One girl pushed through them, running past.

“I’m washing my hair,” she wailed. “I’m going to kill you, Lee Jordan!”

A few boys laughed from inside the compartment. The noise died down, and the crowd began to disperse, enough for Terry to poke his way inside, Harry at his heels.

“Whatcha got?”

“Tarantula,” a black boy said proudly. The creature was crawling slowly up his arm. It was hairy and brown, with a lot of legs – and it was quite ugly.

“Where’d you get it?” Harry was impressed and also grossed out.

“Stole it from a muggle zoo,” the boy with the tarantula bragged.

“Did you really?” Terry whistled in admiration. “What does it do?”

“It makes girls scream,” a redheaded boy laughed.

“Come on, Lee, do it again,” a twin to the other redhead urged. 

“Okay,” Lee agreed, readying his wand.  “Wingardium Leviosa!”

A white light jetted from his wand and hit the creature. The tarantula looked as if it jumped off his arm – but then it floated up and into the air.

Lee waved his wand slowly, and the tarantula floated in the direction he was pointing – right towards Terry.  Harry’s eyes went very wide as he watched it land on the other boy’s head.

“Cool,” Terry laughed, thoroughly unperturbed. He turned around, grinning, and the few people left watching in the hall scattered at the sight.

“I’m naming it Fright,” Lee declared, and floated the tarantula off of Terry’s head and back into a box by his feet. Harry privately thought it was a terrible name. “I'm Lee Jordan, by the way,” he introduced himself with a wave.

“Terry Boot.”

“I’m Harry.” He chose to forego his last name.

“We’re Fred –“ One twin began.

“And George.” The other finished.

“They’re the Weasley twins,” Lee finished for them. “My best friends in the world, and incidentally the biggest pranksters in the school. I, on the other hand, have a sterling reputation. But I suppose opposites attract.”

“We don’t know how he does it,” Fred shrugged.

“But he always disappears,” George continued.

“Before the Professors show up!”

“So we get caught - ”

“And he doesn’t.” The twins shook their heads in rueful unison.

“Let me guess, you guys are in Gryffindor?” Terry asked.

“Absolutely!” Fred and George chorused.

“My brother Thomas was in Gryffindor too,” Terry laughed. “That’s where a lot of pranksters come from, I think.”

“Hold up, Thomas Boot? We met him!” Fred said excitedly.

“He was friends with our brother Charlie,” George nodded. “Thomas taught us how to rig a toilet seat!”

“Just last week, we got one to explode right when our ponce of a brother - ”

“What’s going on?”

Harry turned to see an older boy, with glasses and thin, pursed lips (who otherwise looked remarkably like the twins) stepping through the doorway.

“Nothing, Perce,” Fred said easily. Lee toed the box slowly under a pile of robes.

“We’re innocent,” George agreed.

“I am,” Lee shrugged. “Maybe these two did something that I didn’t know about.”

“Really? Then you don’t have an illegal pet?” Percy Weasley snapped. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lee shrugged again, looking as innocent as a baby.

“I’m searching this compartment.” Percy scowled.

Just like that, the twins jumped to their feet.

“Run, Terry!” George shouted.

“Run, Harry!” Fred yelled, and pulled his wand on his older brother.

But Percy was quicker.

“Avis!” He bellowed. A flock of bluebirds burst from his wand, knocking back against Fred and George.

“No!” Lee shouted, trying to beat away the birds with his hands. One of them found the box and opened it.

“Percy, don’t do it!” Fred yelled.

Percy merely twitched his wand again. Three of the birds fell upon the tarantula, tearing it to pieces.

Harry stared, feeling rather nauseous. The birds ate the still-twitching legs of the tarantula, leaving only its mangled head in the box.

Lee sat down and sank his head in his hands.

“That’s what happens,” Percy said breathlessly. “When you break the rules.”

He promptly turned and walked out the door, pushing against Harry. He regarded the two first years, studying their faces as he adjusted the badge on his shirt, a gold one emblazoned with a large P.

“I don’t know you two, and see that I don’t have to in the future. You don’t want to mingle with rabble like that. You’ll only lose your House points and earn yourselves detention. Good day.” Percy spun on his heel and walked down the corridor, his head held high.

“What a ponce,” Terry breathed, when Percy was out of earshot.

“That was really mean,” Harry said quietly, already disliking the older boy. Sure, maybe Lee had been breaking the rules in bringing the tarantula, but it hadn’t hurt anybody, had it? And now Lee looked positively miserable.

“That, gentleman, is our perfectPrefect brother Percy,” Fred spat.

George had moved to the window and waved the birds outside.

“Don’t worry, Lee,” George said softly. “We’ll find you another pet.”  He put his arm around his friend’s shoulders, and nodded to Harry and Terry.

The first years nodded back, taking that as their cue to leave. When they were back in their compartment, they found someone waiting for them.

“Why hello beautiful,” Terry whistled admiringly.

Hedwig preened proudly in reply and flew to his shoulder.  I like him, she told Harry.

“Tell me you’re not taken,” Terry continued, stroking her wings.

“She is,” Harry said fiercely, slightly annoyed.  

Terry laughed in reply. “Too bad. Sorry, sweetheart. I’d take good care of you, but if you’re taken, I’ll be a gentleman and back off.”

Pyee pyee,’ Hedwig mewled softly. She rubbed her head against Terry’s cheek before flying off to Harry’s shoulder.  

“What’s her name?” Terry enquired.

“This is Hedwig. Hedwig, this is Terry.” Harry sat down, Hedwig back on his shoulder, slightly embarrassed that he’d gotten jealous.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Terry winked at the snowy owl. “Now, how would you two like to play some Exploding Snap?”

Harry agreed enthusiastically, explaining that he’d never played before. Terry rummaged through his pockets and removed a deck of cards. The insignia on the back was a blonde girl screaming, her hands clutching the sides of her head, her nose red and smoking. Terry had just started dealing the cards when they were interrupted again.

"Sorry.” A boy was standing in their doorway. He had a round, earnest face, and messily cut brown hair. "Have you seen a toad?”

"Nope,” Terry replied, as Harry shook his head.

“What does it look like?”

“Er…” The brown haired boy scrunched up his face. “It’s brown. About this big - ” He held his hands a few inches apart – “And it’s named Trevor.”

“I haven’t seen it,” Harry admitted. 

The boy’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. “He’s always getting away from me. Well, if you see him…”

Suddenly, Hedwig stepped off Harry’s shoulder and flapped her wings, soaring right over the boy’s head. He turned to watch her, a troubled frown growing on his face.

“Your owl doesn’t eat toads, does she?”

“She doesn’t,” Harry assured him, and hoped that he wasn’t lying. 

“Neville, any luck yet?” A girl with long, bushy brown hair stopped outside the compartment.

“No,” Neville sighed morosely. “Thanks for helping me look, though.”

The brunette patted him gently on the arm. “We’ll find him,” she assured Neville. Suddenly, the loud screech of an owl echoed from further down the train.

“What was that?” The girl asked, her hand going to her pocket, where her wand was sticking out.

Hedwig was already wheeling back towards them – with a wriggling brown toad in her talons. Harry stood, suddenly worried.

Hedwig, you’re not actually going to eat it, are you?

Of course not, Hedwig huffed back indignantly.

“Trevor!” Neville cried fearfully as he saw his toad in the clutches of a bird of prey.

“Oh no,” the girl gasped.  She ducked as Hedwig soared over her head.

Neville put a protective arm over his face – and Hedwig dropped the toad right into his palm, before coming to a stop on Harry’s shoulder. For a moment they all just stared. Then Trevor tried to jump out of Neville’s hand, and the boy got another hand on his back to hold him still. 

“Uh, thanks,” Neville said, staring at the snowy owl. “It’s like she understood me…”

“This is Hedwig,” Harry explained, smiling at her.

“Hello,” The girl said softly, as she moved her hand from her wand and stepped towards Harry and his owl. She reached out a cautious hand, and Hedwig leaned forward, to rub her face against it. The brunette giggled, showing off her incredibly sparkly teeth. Then she started to pet Hedwig, scratching the back of her neck. Hedwig cooed approvingly, arching into the touch.

“If you two want to stay, we were going to play Exploding Snap,” Terry offered. “It’s better with more players.”

“Sure,” Neville said with a grin.

“My name’s Terry Boot.” Terry finally took his feet off the chair, so Neville would have a place to sit.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Neville Longbottom.” Came the reply as he closed the door firmly and sat down, finally releasing Trevor, who hopped down to the floor and went to sit on Terry’s shoe. Terry burst out laughing, and bent down to pet the toad.

“And I’m Hermione Granger,” the brunette declared, smiling as she brushed a lock of messy hair behind her ear.

“I’m Harry,” he said quickly, offering his hand. Hermione shook it smartly, and Neville did as well.

Harry moved his bag to the floor so Hermione would have a place to sit. He was fighting the urge to grin like an idiot – of all the things Hedwig had told him about the future, the most exciting thing had been learning about having friends. His closest friends, Hedwig had told him, were Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, and Ginny Weasley. She had warned him that Luna and Ginny wouldn’t be coming to Hogwarts for another year yet, but Harry had been determined to meet the other three – and now it was two done, one more to go.

“Oh – I should get my bag,” Hermione declared, looking slightly flustered. “If you don’t mind me playing? I don’t know the rules…”

“Neither do I,” Harry assured her.

Terry grinned at them roguishly and began shuffling the cards. Hermione left, but was back soon, lugging a heavy bag over her shoulder. It was stuffed full of books. 

“Wow,” Harry said, staring.

Hermione flushed. “I was thinking of re-reading them on the train.”

“I feel like a slacker,” Terry joked. “I only skimmed through a couple of them.”

Neville paled slightly. “We were supposed to read them already?”

“I don’t think we had to,” Harry reassured him. “Or it should have said it in the letter.”

“I just like to get a head’s start,” Hermione admitted, her cheeks still pink, and picked up her cards. “So how does this work?”

“It’s not too hard,” Terry promised. “Okay, so we all start with ten cards. We take a card from the draw pile, like so…” He turned over the six of wands onto the center of the fold-out table between them. “So you can either play another six of a different kind, or a higher card of the same suit, which is wands. And you’ve got to act fast, or your cards will get impatient and explode on you.”

“Actually explode?” Hermione gasped.

“It doesn’t hurt, not really,” Neville assured her. Hermione bit her lip, but nodded for Terry to continue.

“If you don’t have anything to play, you have to draw and say snap – if you do that three times in the game, your cards will explode.” Terry grinned. “Now, if a double is played, and someone slaps the pile, all the other cards of that number will explode - so don’t do it if you have another one, but definitely do it if you don’t, you might knock someone out.”

“There’s also the face card rule,” Neville added. “If you play a face card, then the next person either has to match your face card or do higher – if they can’t, their cards explode.”

“That’s about it,” Terry shrugged. “If your cards explode in your hand, you’re out of the game, we keep playing until there’s one winner.”

“Okay, let’s do this,” Harry said bravely. He looked over his cards, and realized that they weren’t normal at all. Instead of the four suits he knew, instead there were wands, cauldrons, broomsticks and hats. The numbers went from one to thirteen, and there were three face cards, Morgana, Merlin, and the Dragons.

Neville began by playing a seven of wands, and Terry followed with a seven of cauldrons. There was a small explosion from the draw pile, but nobody else had a seven, so they were all still in. Harry played a nine of cauldrons, Hermione followed with a ten, Neville switched them to the broomsticks suit, and then Terry grinned and tossed down a card with Merlin flying a broom.

Harry stared at it, then at his hand. “I don’t have any Merlins…”

“Drop your cards!” Hermione cried, but it was too late.

They exploded in Harry’s hands, sparking and smoking. Harry cried out in surprise and dropped them into his lap. He examined his fingers – they weren’t badly singed, but they were still stinging. Despite the seeming explosion, the cards seemed unhurt.

“Bad luck, mate,” Terry chuckled. “The Merlin finishes up that pile.”

“You’re not hurt, are you?” Hermione asked worriedly.

“No,” Harry shook his head. “Just stings a little.” He sat back and watched as they continued playing.

“Are there a lot of wizarding games?” Hermione wondered as she played a card. “I didn’t think to get a book on that.”

“Not too many,” Neville said after a moment’s thought. “Exploding Snap and Gobstones are the most popular. My grandma always makes me play chess with her, but I’m terrible at it.”

Harry took note of them… Terry was definitely the fastest player, he had good reflexes in grabbing cards and tossing them down again. Neville was slower, but he had a better poker face than Terry. Hermione was hesitant at first, but soon gained speed, her face taking on a determined bent.

Then Hermione began to smile, showing off large, shiny white teeth. She set down a second eight, and quickly slapped it.

“Ahh!” Neville cried as the eight in his hand exploded, cascading across the rest of his cards and forcing him to drop them.

“Nicely done!” Terry shouted, as Neville tossed his cards in the discard pile and blew on his singed fingertips.

“Sorry,” Hermione told Neville breathlessly, but she was already staring at the new pile as Terry flipped a new card.

Terry’s brow began to furrow as Hermione continued to get better, nearly matching him in pace. Then his face lit up, and Harry figured it was over. Terry tossed down a Morgana, but Hermione wasn’t perturbed. She immediately dropped her own card - a scarlet dragon curled about a smoking cauldron. Terry’s eyes widened – he didn’t have a dragon to match her.

“Oh, crap,” he groaned - and then all six cards in his hand exploded. He let them drop with a laugh, wiping his reddened fingers on his pants.

“I wish I could blame beginners luck, but I think we’ve unleashed a monster,” Terry grinned at Hermione.

She beamed at them proudly as she set her own cards down in the pile and began to re-organize them. “Let’s play again!”

Harry was a bit better the second time around, but when Terry slapped doubles, the seven in Harry’s hand exploded, getting him out. He turned to look out the window, enjoying the pastoral views.

Did I know Terry, before? Harry asked Hedwig. He didn’t remember hearing about him in her stories.

He was an ally, Hedwig replied, gazing at the blond boy who was trying fiercely to win the game. He was part of the D.A., though I never knew him too well. He fought bravely in several battles before he... She trailed off and didn’t continue.

Harry shivered. He knew from past experience that when Hedwig cut off like that, she was trying to protect him. I like them, Harry told her shyly.

They like you too, his owl assured him. If you don’t mind, it’s daytime, and I’d like a nap.

Of course, Harry said quickly, and Hedwig tucked her head under her wing to nap.

He watched her for a moment, still marveling at how this unassuming looking owl had turned his life upside down. Not only had he learned he was a wizard, but he was now partially responsible for saving the wizarding world from total destruction by the same madman who had killed his parents and tried to kill Harry as a baby. Hedwig had apologized to him several times for putting this burden on him, but it was true that there was only so much that she could do, as an owl.

For the last month, they had spent much of their time talking and planning their moves. Harry was going to Hogwarts, knowing that he had to be careful with the knowledge he had – he couldn’t tell anyone else, for fear of causing changes and ruining their advantages. Hedwig had warned him not to look at the back of Quirrell’s head, or meet Snape or Dumbledore’s eyes, so that there was no chance they could read his mind and take his knowledge out of his head.  While Harry hadn’t been able to practice spells while at Privet Drive, he had at least gotten a start on learning occlumency, so he wouldn’t always have to avoid them. Working on it with Hedwig, and reading all about the wizarding world, had kept him from going mad in Little Whinging. The Saharan mushrooms had made it harder to close off his mind, but thankfully they’d discovered halfway through August that they didn’t need them anymore – their familiar bond had developed enough that they were able to communicate mentally on their own.

Two raps on the compartment door roused Harry from staring out the window.

“Anything off the trolley, dears?” It was a kindly looking middle-aged lady, pushing a cart laden down with sweets.

“I’ll take a licorice wand, a box of Bertie Botts, and some Droobles blowing gum.” Terry said eagerly.

“One cauldron cake and two chocolate frogs, please.”  Neville was polite, but also quite excited.

Harry looked over the cart while the other boys were served. There were all sorts of different candies there, and they all looked mouthwateringly delicious.

“What about you, dearie?” The lady asked Hermione.

Hermione bit her lip, looking a little disappointed. She shook her head sadly. “I’m not supposed to have sweets.”

Harry looked at her in surprise. Then he made a decision – he already wanted to try everything, maybe he could get Hermione to try some too. She’d probably never had wizarding candy before, since she’d grown up in the muggle world just like him.

“I’ll take four of everything,” Harry declared. 

Terry and Neville’s jaws dropped. Hermione stared at him in disbelief. 

“I’ve never tried any wizarding candy before,” Harry explained with a grin. 

The lady laughed, but didn’t protest, and simply started handing him things in stacks of four. Harry piled them on the floor in front of him, feeling entertained as the others stared in fascination as the pile of sweets grew steadily higher. He ended up paying two galleons and eleven sickles.

The trolley cart lady moved on to the next compartment, and Neville closed the door behind her to keep Trevor from hopping off again.

“You don’t eat sweets?” Neville asked Hermione in confusion.

“My parents are dentists,” Hermione sighed. Neville looked nonplussed.

“It’s like a muggle healer, but just for teeth,” Terry explained to him. Hermione nodded in agreement.

“You actually seem to know about the… outside world,” Hermione observed in regards to Terry.

“Yeah, my mum’s a muggleborn like you, and we live in a normal neighborhood outside Cardiff,” Terry replied.

“Interesting.” Hermione really did sound fascinated. “So many of the wizards I talked to in Diagon Alley had never even been into regular London!”

Harry, who had been sorting through his candies, decided to try a chocolate frog first. It tried to leap out of his hand, and he barely caught it in time. “This isn’t real, right?”

“It’s just charmed chocolate,” Neville promised. 

Harry soon finished the frog – it was a rich dark chocolate, and completely delicious – and picked up a pumpkin pasty. Terry was working on his licorice wand, while Neville happily chewed his cauldron cake. Then he saw the longing look on Hermione’s face, and tore his pasty in half, holding out one piece to her.

“Just a bit wouldn’t hurt, right?” Harry said, offering the other corner of his pasty to her. She looked from the pasty to him, and smiled shyly.

“Just a little bit,” Hermione agreed. She bit into it, then sighed happily as the taste hit her tongue, her eyes closing in bliss. “Mmm, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. These are great,” Harry said enthusiastically as he finished his pasty and decided to open a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

“Careful with those,” Neville warned. “You never know what flavor you’ll get.”

Harry had already popped a grey one into his mouth. He chewed it curiously. “That’s earl grey tea, I think.” The next one was a pleasant blueberry. He offered the box to Hermione, who had finished her half of the pasty, and smiled as she took a red one.

“This one’s red apple,” she said after she ate it.

They drew green ones at about the same time. Harry popped the bean into his mouth and pulled a face – “Ew, is that broccoli?”

“Oh!” Hermione cringed. “String beans!”

Terry and Neville looked at each other and laughed. “It’s not just candy flavors,” the blond boy grinned. “There’s some gross ones too, so you never know what you’ll get.”

Harry set the box down and pondered what to try next. Maybe a cauldron cake?

“You know, I’m not going to eat all this,” Harry said honestly. “If any of you want something, go ahead.”

“Thanks!” Terry said, and reached over to grab a fizzing whizbee. The purple rock made loud clacking noises as he chewed it.

“That can’t be good for your teeth,” Hermione said in horror.

Terry grinned, his lips a bright purple, and suddenly seemed to grow taller. Then Harry realized that he was floating.

“Watch this!” Terry pushed himself out of the seat and into the air. He grabbed the windowsill and held onto it as he walked his feet up the wall, until he was hanging upside down, his head hanging inches from the floor. Then he held out his arms, completely free-floating. “Tah-dah!”

Harry laughed, and grabbed one for himself. It was tangy and sweet, various fruit flavors exploding on his tongue as he chewed. Soon enough, his body felt lighter, and Harry laughed as he began to levitate in the air.

“Is this what flying a broom is like?”

Terry gave an upside shrug, then grabbed onto the seat to pull himself to face the other way – only just in time, because the levitation effect ended, and he dropped a few inches to sit again.

“I wouldn’t know,” Neville sighed. “My gran won’t let me because I’m too clumsy.”

"Well, being on a broom is totally different from being on the ground," Terry pointed out, and grabbed a pack of gum. “Maybe you’re actually a really good flier.”

Harry drew his legs up to his chest. It was almost like floating in water, but without the feeling of water pushing on you. Carefully, he tilted forward, and laughed as his body spun.

“Nice somersault,” Hermione giggled.

Harry tried it a few more times – he was enjoying it a lot. When he felt his stomach drop, like he was in an elevator, he quickly leveled himself out, pushing his feet back down. In a moment, he felt heavy again, and landed feet-first on the floor.

“Terry, do you like quidditch?” Neville wondered.

“Do I ever,” the other wizard grinned. “My brother took me to the Harpies and Wasps match in July, that was great fun. I’d like to play one day, even if it’s just for fun.”

“The Harpies are definitely the best in the league,” Neville said excitedly. “I saw them cream the Tornadoes. Gwenog Jones sure made a spectacular catch!”

Harry and Hermione glanced at each other, unsure how to enter the conversation, since neither of them knew about quidditch.

“So, what exactly is quidditch?” Hermione bravely asked.

“It’s some kind of game?” Harry guessed.

“Not just a game,” Neville shook his head. “It’s the best sport in the world!”

“It’s played on brooms,” Terry added.

What followed was a long and complicated explanation of the history and rules of quidditch.

“The game ends when one of the seekers catches the snitch. Usually it lasts a few hours, maybe more – and on occasion, it’s been known to last for days.”

Days??” Harry sputtered. “Muggle games have time limits, like an hour.”

“But you can’t get anything done in an hour,” Neville frowned.

“So a regular goal is worth only ten points…” Hermione said thoughtfully.

“Yep.”

“And how many goals are made, on average, in a game?”

“Usually between fifteen and thirty,” Terry replied.

“So a team will usually score between a hundred and fifty and three hundred points,” Hermione pressed on. “Then whoever catches the snitch gets a hundred and fifty points?”

“You got it,” Terry nodded.

“Then they’ll always win the game!”

“Not necessarily…”

“But they would a vast majority of the time,” Hermione insisted, crossing her arms. “Making every other person’s role useless except for the seeker.”

“What?” Neville frowned.

“No, you don’t understand…” Terry shook his head. They tried to explain, accidentally talking over each other, but Hermione was unconvinced.

“I’m sure flying is… very fun to do,” she allowed. “But quidditch seems fundamentally silly.”

She wouldn’t be budged, so eventually the topic moved on. Neville told a funny story about his Great Uncle Brandon attempting to catch a unicorn, and Hermione explained the wonders of muggle cinema to Neville. Harry quieted for a moment to look out over a river as they passed over a bridge, and felt a strong, reckless hope that he might get to call these three classmates his first friends.

As they got closer to Hogwarts, they pulled their robes over their clothes, and stowed their bags with their trunks, to be brought to the castle separately. Harry’s was crammed full with his leftover sweets, and Hermione shook her head in amusement.

“Yeah, maybe it was a little too much,” Harry acknowledged, but he couldn’t feel too badly about it – he was finally eating as much as he wanted. “You guys go ahead, I’ll wake up Hedwig and catch up.”

He gently stroked her feathers until she stirred, looking up at him.

We’re here. Harry told her. Hedwig yawned and stretched her wings before flying up to his shoulder. Harry left the compartment with her and found a door to exit the train.

“Firs’ years! Firs’ years over here!”

Harry looked over and grinned at the sight of Hagrid.

Go on, have fun, Hedwig urged him as she nibbled affectionately at Harry’s ear. I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow. Good night, little one.

Good night, Hedwig!

The snowy owl took flight, soaring over the nearby carriages, and off towards Hogwarts. Harry turned and hurried over to Hagrid, keeping an eye out for his new friends.

Chapter Text

Sunday, 1 September 1991

“All right there, Harry?” Hagrid grinned down at the boy. 

“Good, thanks,” Harry called back through the crowd.

Hagrid beamed at him and beckoned everyone to follow him. “Mind yer step now!” He shouted back over his shoulder, then led them down a steep, narrow path.

Harry nearly lost his footing a few times, and almost knocked over a dark-haired girl in front of him.

“Yeh’ll get yer firs’ sight o’ Hogwarts in a sec, just ‘round this bend here.”

They finally cleared the trees, and Harry stopped dead still to look. Hogwarts was set on a mountain on the other side of a large black lake that loomed out before them. It rose before them like something out of a fairy tale, huge and majestic, with spires and towers all lit up with yellow lights that glinted through the dark.

“Wow,” Harry whispered.

Hagrid drew their attention to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. “No more’n four to a boat!”

Harry tried to find his friends, but by the time he’d made it through the crowd, a blonde girl had taken the last spot with them. Fighting disappointment, Harry climbed into the closest unfilled boat, after two dark-haired girls.

They sat down together in the center, and Harry took one of the end seats. When they turned around, Harry was surprised to see they were another set of twins. They were Indian, very pretty, with brown eyes and nice smiles.

“Hi! I’m Parvati.”  The one on the left, who had long hair scattered over her shoulders in dark waves and pretty silver bracelets on her wrists, spoke first.

“I’m Harry,” he said, taking her hand when she offered it and shaking it once.

“Padma Patil,” the second twin introduced. Her black hair was back in a braid, and she had no jewelry like her sister did.

Their fourth companion was a slim, dark-skinned boy with a slim face and dark eyes. He nodded to them as he sat down on the one-person seat on the other end from Harry. The boy had just sat down when the boat pushed off the land by unseen means, and began to glide across the glassy lake.

“So this is the Black Lake,” Padma said softly. “I read that there’s a Giant Squid that lives in it.”

“What?” Parvati was startled by the news. “Just how giant is it?”

“The book didn’t say.”

“I’ve heard the squid’s friendly enough,” the other boy said, his voice a low cadence.

The twins turned to him in interest.

“My father told me about going swimming here,” he continued, staring out at the water. “If you stay by the shore, you should be fine, but he told me trying to dive to the bottom is dangerous, on account of the merpeople.”

“There are mermaids?” Parvati sounded excited.

“Yes, but they’re not like in the storybooks. They’re very territorial, and violent to outsiders. Luckily they don’t know magic, so we have an advantage there.”

“How interesting,” Padma breathed. “Do you know any books about merpeople?”

“No, but I’m sure you’ll find some in the library,” the boy shrugged in response.

Padma nodded, and looked back out at the castle. “It’s so beautiful,” she said reverently.

Meanwhile, Parvati held out her hand to the dark-skinned boy to shake. “Parvati Patil,” she introduced.

“Blaise Zabini.” He bowed his head, then to her astonishment lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it briefly.

Harry’s eyes widened as Parvati blushed and smiled at Blaise. Padma was startled as she got the same treatment, and murmured her own name awkwardly.

“Harry Potter,” he said as Blaise’s gaze turned to him. Parvati barely stifled an excited gasp, and even Padma looked intrigued. Blaise nodded calmly.

Harry looked quickly away from the twins, worried that Parvati was going to ask him about his scar. Instead he gazed down at the water, noting their shimmering reflections from the moonlight. He dipped his hand in the water – it was cold, but his touch made it ripple prettily in small waves.

Something dropped into the boat with a clatter. Harry frowned, looking at it – it was a small brown ball, rolling under the girls’ seat, until it came to a stop by his feet. The twins gasped, and both of them quickly pinched their noses shut, to his confusion.

“What’s -”

It exploded in a spray of dark mist. Harry shouted in surprise, pushing away from it – and accidentally off the side of the boat. He fell with a loud splash into the lake. Harry kicked his legs, gasping as he re-emerged and took a deep gulp of air. Harry’s body began to shiver - the water was freezing

“Harry!” Hagrid bellowed. He stuck his umbrella in the water and used it to paddle towards them. “You alright? What happened?”

“I’m okay,” Harry gasped, desperately treading water. He was suddenly glad that Dudley had pushed him in a pond when they were eight, and he’d had to learn how to swim then.

“He threw a dungbomb,” Blaise said coldly, glaring at someone in another boat that Harry couldn’t see. He drew his wand, aiming it -

“No spells!” Hagrid shouted. “That’s enough of that! Everyone calm down and stay put, and we’ll get Harry back in the boat.”

It was about then that Harry’s nose cleared of water, and he smelled the air and cringed. Now he understood why Padma and Parvati had pinched their nose – there was an intensely strong smell of manure in the air.

“It blew a hole in the bottom!” Padma cried. “The boat’s flooding!”

“Don’t panic, now!” Hagrid roared as he rowed closer.

“Oh, it’s cold!” Parvati cried as lake water flooded over her feet. The girls lifted their feet up onto the seat, but the water continued to rise. In the water, Harry was beginning to shiver from the cold.

“Harry, over here!” Terry called out. He and Neville were using their hands as paddles, to maneuver their boat over to him.

Hermione was sitting in the back – she held out her hand for Harry to catch. “Climb in with us!”

“The boat’s going to sink!” Parvati cried as their boat continued to fill with water. As Terry and Neville’s paddling made their boat come up alongside hers, Parvati scooted to the edge and reached out to grab the side.

Neville’s eyes widened in horror, but he didn’t have time to do as much as squeak before Parvati swung her legs into his boat and climbed in, landing on his lap with a little giggle.

As Neville went bright red, the boat rocked to the side with the new added weight. Then the blonde girl in the front of their boat stood up and offered Padma her hand.

“Lavender, no!” Hermione cried, but it was too late.

As Lavender stood up, the balance of the boat shifted too strongly. The boat flipped over, spilling its five occupants into the water. There were several shrieks, and Harry was splashed heavily as they all fell in beside him.

“Damn it,” Hagrid was growling, as he finally pulled up and reached for the overturned boat. He flipped it back over, though it was half-full of water. “Stay calm, I’ll get this sorted…”

“Shit,” Blaise muttered, just as his boat finished filling with water and sank. He and Padma were left treading water like the others.

“Oh my god!” Lavender was shrieking as she flailed about in the water. Her hand whacked Terry in the face as he tried to grab onto the boat for purchase.

“Ow,” Terry groaned, paddling away from her and rubbing his eye.  Neville caught Lavender’s hand before her panicked flailing could hit him as well.

“Lavender,” Neville said clearly. “Kick your legs slowly, you’ll stay afloat. You don’t even need to move your hands.”

She whimpered, shivering from the frigid water, but began to kick, and soon was treading water. Lavender sighed with relief, gripping Neville’s hand tightly and refusing to let go.

“Oh no!” Hermione’s worried cry drew everyone’s attention. “My wand fell in the water, I can’t find it!”

Harry looked around for it, but it was so dark that they couldn’t see anything in the water. Harry suddenly thought of something, and plunged his hand into his robes to take his own wand from his pocket. He’d read about a certain charm in the third chapter of the Standard Book of Spells…

Carefully, he drew a vertical circle clockwise in the air, and envisioned a torchlight as he intoned – “Lumos!” It felt like it had in Ollivander’s – magic swept through him, carrying through the wand, and exiting as a small, white light that glowed over the water. Harry grinned, very pleased with himself – it was the first spell he’d ever cast, and it had worked! 

The pale light illuminated the area, and Harry soon found Hermione’s wand, floating just a few feet to his left. He paddled over and grabbed it, then brought it over to her. Despite the cold, Hermione beamed at him as she took it from him.

“Thank you!” 

“Alright now, climb in – one at a time,” Hagrid was saying. The groundskeeper helped Lavender and Neville in first. They carefully balanced their weight as Hagrid helped the twins in. Next Hermione was given a hand up. 

Harry reached the edge of the boat, and reached up to hold onto it with his left hand as he tried to climb in, but his right hand was still occupied with holding his lit wand. Instead of finding the boat, his hand was suddenly clasped by a small, soft hand. Harry grasped it instinctively, and it pulled him forwards and upwards, into the boat. He clambered in, slipping a little and sitting down hard on the backseat in the boat.

“Th-th-thanks,” Harry breathed, his teeth chattering. Hermione smiled back at him as she gently released his hand.

“I read about a warming charm,” Hermione recalled as she impatiently pushed her wet curly hair out of her face. “If I could only remember the incantation…”

Terry and Blaise were soon aboard as well, and they were all packed in together, eight of them in a boat meant for four. In the middle that was meant for two people, Lavender and the twins crowded together. Terry and Blaise were sitting on the bottom of the boat, both shivering, while Neville took the seat at one end, and Harry and Hermione squished into the other end seat.

“Oh, I remember now – tepefacio!”  Hermione swished her wand at Harry, and he felt a sudden, pleasant warmth creep over him from the top of his head down to his toes.

She repeated the spell on herself, then Lavender, who let out a sigh of relief. Padma, who’d been watching Hermione cast it, attempted it on Parvati, then on herself. Blaise similarly took care of using the warming charm on himself, Terry and Neville.

“That’s a good lumos charm,” Hermione told Harry, pointing to his still-lit wand.

“Not as good as the warming spell,” he shrugged. Seeing that he hadn’t cancelled it, he murmured “Nox” as the book had said, and smiled as the light went out, then tucked his wand back in his pocket.

“Which I couldn’t have done if you hadn’t found my wand.”

“What did you think you were doing?” Hagrid’s furious roar drew everyone’s attention. He had paddled over to another of the boats, where a redheaded boy with freckles was staring at him in horror.

“I – sorry,” the boy said nervously. “I didn’t think it would sink the boat, it was just supposed to make him smelly.”

“A prank?” Hagrid scowled. “Stupid thing to do on a boat! Use some common sense. And you, boy, put your wand away. There’ll be no more fighting and almost drowning your classmates over some petty squabble.”

Blaise reluctantly put his wand away, but didn’t stop glaring at the redhead.

“Wait – where’s Trevor?” Neville said suddenly. They all looked around hurriedly.

“Who’s Trevor?” Parvati asked in horror.

“Oh my god, did one of us drown?” Lavender squealed.

“Here,” Hermione said, reaching down and finding the toad behind her feet inside the boat. She passed him to Padma, who handed him over to Neville.

“Oh, Trevor,” Neville sighed, shaking his head.

“No one’s drowned,” Hagrid muttered, shaking his head. “Let’s get you to the castle and dried off.” He tapped his umbrella twice on the brow of his boat, and as one, the boats began to move again through the water.

“Why did that boy throw the dungbomb at us?” Padma hissed in frustrated confusion.

“He was aiming for me.” Blaise said coolly. The others turned to look at him, so he clarified. “On the train, he got in a fight with someone outside my compartment. Their hexes rebounded and one went through the door and hit me. I jinxed them right back and they left. We were even. But he couldn’t let it go. He’ll regret that.” Blaise sat up proudly, glaring at the redhead. The effect was made slightly less threatening by the fact that he was still soaking wet and dripping all over the bottom of the boat. At least nobody was shivering anymore, thanks to the warming charms.

“I hope he gets detention,” Hermione declared unhappily. “I wish I knew a drying charm. Does anyone?” They all shook their heads.

The boat ride after the spill seemed to go smoothly, but when Neville shifted his weight, it rocked slightly, and they all clung together in a panic. Hermione teetered precariously towards the edge, and Harry reached out and grabbed her around the shoulders to keep her from falling in. Hermione whispered her thanks, and leaned further into him. Harry swallowed hard. He wasn’t used to being close to anyone. The only physical touches he got at Privet Drive were his Aunt’s slaps and Uncle Vernon’s shakes, and Dudley’s fists. He’d only just gotten used to Hedwig’s open affection.  Harry wondered if he should let her go now, or keep his hold around her shoulders. Hermione hadn’t moved away, and she was smiling. Maybe it would be better to hold onto her, to keep her from falling, of course.

“Heads down!” Hagrid shouted as they reached a cliff.

Very carefully, they ducked their heads – then their boats swept them through a curtain of ivy that covered a large hole in the cliff face. Then they were plunged back into darkness as they continued through a tunnel. They stayed in it for a time, so long that Harry thought they might have passed the castle… Or gone under it.

They pulled out into the moonlight at a small underground harbor. Their boat scraped up against the pebbly shore, and they got out carefully, not wanting to fall into the water again. Harry’s water filled sneakers squelched loudly as he walked.

They climbed up a narrow passageway in the rock, single file again, until they emerged onto a grassy area, very close to the castle. Hagrid led them up a large stone staircase at the front of Hogwarts, and knocked three times on the large oak door.

Moments later, the door swung open with an ominous creak. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood in the entryway, staring down at them through a pair of silver spectacles.

"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said Hagrid gruffly. “Had some trouble on the Lake. This one ‘ere - ”  At this point he seized the redheaded boy by the collar of his robes and dragged him forward.  “He threw a dung bomb in another boat. It blew a hole in it, sank that boat and tipped over another.”

Professor McGonagall’s face shifted immediately. Her eyebrows lifted, her eyes flashed, and her nose twitched furiously.

“What,” McGonagall snapped at the boy. “Is your name?”

The redhead muttered something.

“Speak up!”

“Ron Weasley!” The kid said again, louder and quite sullenly.

Harry turned his head so fast he strained his neck. Ron Weasley? Whom, according to Hedwig, became one of his best friends and staunchest allies? For a moment, he had a hard time reconciling the young man from Hedwig’s tales with the kid who had gotten Harry and seven other first years soaked in the lake… And still stinking somewhat of manure.

"That was a very crude prank, Mr. Weasley, in possibly the worst setting imaginable. Endangering the lives of your fellow students on the Great Lake? What on earth could you have been thinking? Not even your brothers have done something so foolish!"

Her words made Ron's ears burn even brighter.

"Two weeks of detention, Mr. Weasley! Be very grateful I cannot take House points from you yet!”  The Professor took a deep breath, and looked around, taking in their appearances.

"Now come in, all of you," The woman’s voice softened so slightly that it was barely noticeable. "Thank you, Hagrid - I will take them from here."  Professor McGonagall pulled the door wide, and the first years traipsed into the entrance hall.

“Thanks, Hagrid,” Harry whispered, lagging behind the others. “See you later.”

“No problem, ‘arry,” the large man winked.  Hagrid waved as he headed off, back towards the boats.

Harry darted inside just before McGonagall closed the door with a bang.

"Now, those of you on the capsized boat, step forward. You will need warming and drying charms, I suspect." Professor McGonagall said sternly, but there was a hint of concern there.

They all dutifully obeyed, and moments later, McGonagall’s drying charm left them feeling like they’d just been rubbed down with warm, fluffy, towels, and had their robes freshly laundered and starched. Her follow-up warming spell made Harry feel like he’d been curled up in front of a warm fire for hours, not recently submerged in a frigid lake. Lastly, McGonagall performed some sort of airing charm that removed the scent of the dungbomb from their clothes.

“Wow,” Terry said, grinning as he patted his dry hair.

“Oh no,” Hermione gasped.

Harry turned to her and saw her touching her hair – it was now fully dry, but looked incredibly messy, having tangled while wet. Suddenly worried, Harry touched his own head. It was worse than he’d thought – some parts of it were sticking straight up. Harry groaned.

“Professor, could you please fix our hair?” Parvati asked hopefully. “I’d like to make a good impression to my house.”

McGonagall paused, then decided Parvati had a point, and waved her wand a few more times. When Harry felt his hair again, it was pressed against his head, better than he’d ever gotten it with a brush.

“I’ve got to learn that spell,” Hermione said determinedly as she stroked her hair. It had been smoothed out, and was no longer tangled, though it was still long and rather curly.

“Follow me,” the Professor declared. 

They followed Professor McGonagall across the flagstone floor, and into a small, empty chamber. They were all crowded in together, and Harry found himself squeezed between Hermione and Neville. Professor McGonagall gave them a speech regarding the Sorting, the Houses, and the House point system.

Once she left them there, many of the kids burst into conversation. Blaise had crossed his arms and was glaring daggers at Ron Weasley, who blanched, then imitated his posture, glaring right back.

“Where do you think you’ll be sorted to?” Hermione asked Harry softly.

“I’m not sure,” Harry admitted. When he’d first learned of the houses from Susan Bones in Diagon Alley, he’d had the impression that Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff would be the best choices. But then Hedwig had told him he’d been a Gryffindor, and he hadn’t known what to think.

“I wish I knew how they’re going to sort us,” she sighed. Harry bit his lip, then leaned in close to whisper in her ear.

“There’s a Hat that we put on, there’s no test or anything. I don’t want to choose a House, I guess I want to know where I belong.” Part of Harry wondered if he was the same as Hedwig remembered, and if he was going to follow the same path he did before.

“That’s a good point,” Hermione nodded. “I wonder which house I belong in.”

Suddenly, a dozen ghosts flooded into the room, drawing more than a few screams from girls and boys alike.  They barely had time to admire the pearly white spirits before they were ushered into the Great Hall by Professor McGonagall upon her return.

Harry grinned as he took in the sight of the Great Hall. There were four long tables, one for each House, each covered with glittering golden plates and goblets and filled with hundreds of students. Thousands of candles floated overhead, illuminating the scene. They filed around the House tables to form a line near the Great Table, where the teachers sat.

“Look at the ceiling!” Lavender gasped from her spot right ahead of Harry.

Harry looked up. It was beautiful - velvety black and dotted with real-looking stars. He remembered reading about it.

"It's bewitched to look like the sky outside," Hermione whispered. "I read about it in - "

"Hogwarts, A History," Harry remembered, and Hermione beamed at him.

They were then distracted as Professor McGonagall placed the Sorting Hat down on the stool in front of the first years. The hat was patched, frayed, and extremely old. It startled the eleven-year-old’s as it suddenly broke out in song.

 

"Oh you may not think me pretty, but don't judge on what you see, I'll eat myself if you can find a smarter hat than me. You can keep your bowlers black, your top hats sleek and tall, for I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat and I can cap them all. There's nothing hidden in your head the Sorting Hat can't see, so try me on and I will tell you where you ought to be.

You might belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart, their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindors apart; You might belong in Hufflepuff, where they are just and loyal, those patient Hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil; Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw, if you've a ready mind, where those of wit and learning, will always find their kind; Or perhaps in Slytherin, you'll make your real friends, those cunning folks use any means to achieve their ends.

So put me on! Don't be afraid! And don't get in a flap! You're in safe hands (though I have none) for I'm a Thinking Cap!"

 

Harry clapped enthusiastically as the hat finished its song. Professor McGonagall stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment.

"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said.

"Abbott, Hannah!" A blonde girl with pigtails stepped forward nervously and sat down. The Hall was silent for about thirty seconds, until the Hat suddenly shouted -

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

Hannah hurried off to the Hufflepuff table to cheers from her new housemates.

“Bones, Susan!”

Harry remembered meeting her in Madam Malkins, and wondered whether Susan would get her wish. Susan had barely dropped the hat on her head when it cried -

“HUFFLEPUFF!”

Harry clapped for Susan; glad that she had gotten the House she wanted. Susan beamed as she joined her new House, sitting down by Hannah and hugging the other girl.

“Boot, Terry!”

Terry walked up casually, propped the hat on his head at a jaunty angle, and waited. Everyone waited, for at least a full minute, before at last the Hat declared -

“RAVENCLAW!”

Terry took off to meet his Housemates, and Harry clapped for him as well. As some other students that he didn’t know were Sorted, Harry glanced around. He took in the long rows of students at the four House tables again, wondering how many of them he'd eventually meet, and which ones he would one day call his friends.

"Granger, Hermione!"

Hermione practically skipped to the chair and sat down, tilting the hat over her head. Her eyes closed and her lips turned up in a tiny smile as she waited for the verdict. It didn’t take too long…

"RAVENCLAW!"

Harry started – she was in Gryffindor with him, Hedwig had told him so. He managed to start clapping, but he couldn’t help but feel confused – why had that changed? Was it his fault if she wasn’t in Gryffindor? The next person was called, and the Sorting continued for a time. Harry listened casually, still troubled by the change, until one of his new friends was called.

"Longbottom, Neville!"

Neville walked carefully to the stool and lifted the hat up to his head. He waited for a few moments -

"GRYFFINDOR!"

Neville grinned in shocked delight. Harry cheered and clapped for his friend, who looked dazed but brilliantly happy.

"Patil, Padma!"

With a quick squeeze of her sister’s hand, Padma hurried to the chair.  Moments later, the Hat had an answer.

"RAVENCLAW!"

Parvati was up next, and just as quickly as it had decided her sister, the Hat called out -

“GRYFFINDOR!”

Parvati’s face fell for a moment, before she put on a brave smile and walked over to the Gryffindor table, giving Padma a little wave as she passed by. Perks, Sally Anne went to Hufflepuff, and then…

"Potter, Harry!" Professor McGonagall called.

Harry tried to smile as he walked to the stool. His legs felt strangely leaden. He could hear whispers all around him.

"Potter? The Harry Potter?"

"The Boy Who Lived?"

"He's so little!"

Harry bristled at the last comment he heard, and sat down firmly, pulling the hat over his head and eyes.

What have we here? asked a small voice in his ear. Goodness, Mr. Potter. You have an awful lot on your mind.

Harry waited, unsure of how to reply to that.

Such a task for one so young. You are quite courageous to take it on… And you have a nice thirst to prove yourself, that’s interesting… Now what is it you want? Friends, a family – you could have that in Hufflepuff, or Gryffindor perhaps. You could go far in Slytherin…

I want to go wherever will help me the most, Harry whispered in his mind. If you’ve seen what I know, then you know what I have to do.

Indeed, and I would be remiss to not take that into consideration. A selfless thought, my boy, for the House that may help you the most may not make you the happiest.

Doubt washed through him, and worry. He had to save this world if he hoped to live in it, away from the Dursleys. He wanted a future here, a normal life – well as much as one could have in a world of magic.

I wish you luck, Harry Potter, the Hat told him. For you will need all the Houses to succeed in your goal. The courage of Gryffindor, the loyalty of Hufflepuff, the cunning of Slytherin, and the wisdom of Ravenclaw. There is some of all of them inside you. But there is still much you have to learn, and to do that there is no doubt you must be a -

“RAVENCLAW!” 

Chapter Text

Sunday, 1 September 1991

There was a roar of applause and shouts from the Ravenclaw table.  Harry took off the hat and left it on the chair. He hurried to his new table, where Hermione waved to him from a gap in the center to join her.

A few older students rose as he passed, and grabbed his hand to shake it.

“Phoebe Wyatt, very pleased to meet you, welcome to Ravenclaw!”

“Glad to have you with us, Mr. Potter!”

“Henry Hall, fifth year prefect, is there’s anything I can do to help you, let me know!”

Harry finally managed to make it to the other first years, and sat down beside Hermione, who was beaming up at him.

“I’m so glad we’re in the same house!” She said brightly.

 “Congrats,” Terry said, leaning across the table to give Harry a high five. “Knew you had it in you.”

They all turned to watch the last two students to be sorted. Blaise Zabini and Ron Weasley were still glaring at each other before McGonagall’s next call separated them. 

"Weasley, Ronald!"

Ron went forward grumpily, shoved the hat over his head, and waited. It took a minute of Ron impatiently kicking his foot against the stool leg before the Hat decided on -

"SLYTHERIN!"

There was a moment’s silence, then several of the Slytherins began to clap – but there was a single, confused cry of What? from one of the Weasley twins. Ron remained frozen on the stool. Finally, Professor McGonagall walked up to him and took off the hat. She pushed him to his feet and turned him sharply towards the Slytherin table before giving him a small, firm push.  Completely pale, Ron walked forward, and took a place with the other first years in Slytherin.

Harry stared, utterly confused – but Hedwig had said Ron was a Gryffindor too! What was happening?

"Zabini, Blaise!" Almost instantly, the hat called -

"SLYTHERIN!"

Blaise walked happily off to his table, where he sat down by Ron and gave the boy a positively evil smile. Ron shivered and put his head on the table.  Harry chuckled, and Hermione giggled uncontrollably. It looked like Blaise would be getting a chance to get revenge for the dungbomb Ron had thrown into their boat.

"So, which class are you most excited for?" Harry murmured to Hermione as the Headmaster stood to say a few words.

"Charms," she said instantly.

"Me too," Harry told her with a grin. Before Hedwig had explained about Quirrell, Harry had been most excited for Defense, but no longer.

Moments later, the tables magically filled with food of all sizes, shapes, colors, and aromas. Harry eagerly dug in, serving himself more than he needed. It was the first time he’d ever had this much food available to him. When he had eaten all he could, desserts appeared, and Harry tried five different kinds.  He was rather quiet as he listened to the others share stories about coming to Hogwarts.

"My parents were ever so surprised, of course," muggle-born Kevin Entwhistle told the others. "So Professor Sinistra levitated my mum's favorite vase – and when mum screamed, the Professor was so shocked, she dropped the vase and it just shattered! That's when Dad started yelling at her to get out, and she had to charm it back into one piece before they would even listen."

"I didn’t realize I had it so easy,” Mandy Brocklehurst said thoughtfully. "All my family's been to Hogwarts, so they were all ready for me to get my letter."

“Professor Flitwick’s the one who brought me my letter,” Hermione told Harry, and pointed Flitwick out to Harry. He was positively tiny, especially sitting next to Hagrid! “You know he only goes up to my dad’s waist? We were sure it was a prank at first, but when we actually listened, I realized how brilliant he is. He’s our Charms professor, and our Head of House!” 

Harry noticed that Padma hadn’t said much at all. In fact, she was picking at her food and glancing over at the Gryffindor table.

“So, Padma, what are you looking forward to?” Harry asked her.

Padma looked up at him in surprise. It took a moment for her to think of something. “I’m not sure. Maybe Transfiguration and Defense against the Dark Arts. And quidditch.”

“What’s your favorite team?” Terry demanded, and Padma’s face brightened as she began to tell him about the Indo-Asian league, and their continental cup that India had won for the first time this summer.

“My aunt got us tickets to it,” Padma told him. “There were thousands of people there! Japan had a solid team, but with Priya Subramani as seeker, there was simply no competition…”

“Three years til the World Cup, and we’ve made it through the first round of eliminations for hosting,” Terry pointed out. “If Britain gets the gig, can you even imagine?”

“I’d love to see the World Cup,” Padma sighed.

They had all eaten mostly their full, but just then the main plates vanished, and were replaced by giant tureens of pudding, cakes and dishes of ice cream, platters of little chocolates, and more of the candies Harry had seen earlier.

“Is that any good?” He asked Hermione as she poured herself a glass of pumpkin juice.

“I’m about to find out,” she said bravely, and took a gulp. After a moment, she began to smile. “Delicious.”

Relieved, Harry poured himself a glass and sipped it. It tasted like liquid pumpkin pie – sweet, spiced, and thick and creamy. He was approaching full, but he couldn’t help but serve himself slices of everything he saw… Fruit tart, chocolate cake, and four scoops of different flavors of ice cream.

“You must be hungry,” Hermione marveled, her eyes wide.

Harry flushed slightly, and quickly checked his robes – he hadn’t spilled anything on himself, at least. “Yeah…” He admitted. “I never get dessert with the Dursleys.”

“Are those your relatives?”

Harry nodded, not sure what to say. “My aunt and uncle,” he confirmed.

“I don’t get dessert much either,” Hermione admitted. “Since both my parents are dentists.”

“That’s one great thing about boarding school,” Terry pointed out. “We can eat whatever we like, without them knowing.”

Hermione twisted her napkin in her lap, frowning slightly. “But they’d still know, I’m sure of it. They’re my parents…”

“Parents have a magic for that, all of their own,” Padma agreed. “When Parvati and I turned ten, mother started restricting our sugars, saying it would make us fat. It drives me crazy that our little brothers get to eat more ice cream than I do!”

Soon enough the dessert plates vanished as well. Everyone quieted as Dumbledore stood and gave out a few rules and announcements for the year. Then he starting singing the school song. 

Harry gamely tried to sing along, but overall he thought they mostly sounded awful. Hermione didn’t even try to sing, Terry was loud and off-key, but Padma had a soft and pretty voice.

“First year Ravenclaws, follow me,” an older Ravenclaw girl with curly blonde hair called, and Harry hastily wiped his mouth with his napkin and hurried to follow her.

The twelve Ravenclaw first years followed the upper year out of the Great Hall, and Harry noted that the other groups of first years were also being led away by older students.

“I’m Penelope Clearwater, I’m one of the fifth year prefects,” the curly haired girl said with a smile. “Welcome to Ravenclaw!”

She paused by the stairs as the Gryffindor first years were lingering on the steps as their prefect seemed distracted.

“I don’t know how this happened…” Percy Weasley, the mean prefect Harry remembered from the train, had his younger brother’s wrist in a tight grip. “I will be writing to mother and father tomorrow.”

“Look, I don’t know either,” Ron Weasley said angrily as he tugged his arm away from Percy’s grip. “It’s not like I asked to be put in Slytherin.”

“See that you keep yourself out of trouble,” Percy snapped, and walked off to the Gryffindor first years. “Follow me, Gryffindors.”

Harry, who hadn’t been feeling charitably towards Ron, felt a pang of sympathy for the boy. His cheeks were bright red as he ran after the Slytherins, who had already proceeded through a door by the stairs, after the Hufflepuffs. Looking after him, Harry saw a set of stairs leading down.

“Really, Percy,” Penelope said, her voice steely. “There’s nothing wrong with being in Slytherin.”

“Have we been at the same school for the last five years?” Percy sneered at the female prefect, crossing his arms. “There’s two kinds of Slytherins – the bullies, and the sneaks. I thought I knew Ronald…”

“Slytherin has more than its fair share of bullies,” Penelope snapped back. “But there’s plenty of decent kids in there. Maybe you’d see that if you weren’t so narrowminded.”

Penelope took off at such a brisk pace that they had to leap up the steps to keep up. On the second floor, Penny took off down the hall, gesturing to follow her.

“You can just take the main stairs up to the seventh floor, then go down the hall, to get to our Tower,” she called back over her shoulder. “I’ll show you a slightly more secretive path. The second floor is mostly classrooms… You’ll have Charms and Defense here. Potions is in the dungeons, you get there by taking the stairs through the door you saw the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs going through. Transfiguration’s on the third floor, so is History. Herbology’s outside by the greenhouses, they’re to your left as you leave the castle. And astronomy lessons are either in a seventh floor classroom or the Astronomy Tower, which I’ll point out on the seventh floor…”

Harry looked around, taking in the rather old décor of the castle. There were paintings of women in Victorian gowns who watched them, waving and tittering to themselves. Old sets of armor, occasional statues in alcoves… When a tall ghost swept across the hall, a few of them shrieked.

Penelope laughed and slowed to smile at them. “You’ll get used to the ghosts soon,” she promised. “I’d never seen anything like it before I got here, but I feel at home now.”

They went up a set of stairs on the left, near the end of the second floor corridor. Halfway up, the stairs began moving in place. Harry gasped as he hung onto the banister.

“The stairways, like most of Hogwarts, is semi-sentient,” Penelope informed them. “It can usually sense your intent, and can guide you to the right location. But occasionally they will choose to bring you somewhere else, and nobody really knows why. Perhaps they can sense a greater purpose that you can fulfill by taking an alternate route – or maybe they know being late to History of Magic will save you some boredom.”

Hermione looked scandalized, and Penelope noticed it, and just grinned at her.

“You’ll understand when you have your first history class,” the fifth year swore. “Now, on the third floor here, off the western corridor, is the most important place in the school – the library. It’s closed tonight, but it’s open every other day of the school year from eight in the morning until ten at night. You can explore it tomorrow.”

She led them up several more sets of staircases, and Harry soon began to feel hopelessly lost. How on earth could he find the way back tomorrow? There were so many sets of stairs that he knew he wouldn’t remember which ones to use. Penelope told them about the Infirmary, run by Madam Pomfrey, on the east side of the fourth floor, and Professor Flitwick’s office on the sixth

Then at last they arrived on the seventh floor, panting and clutching their sides. Penelope stepped into an ordinary looking alcove, but instead of the usual windows, there was a small hallway in the shadows. She lit her wand to illuminate the way, and led them down the winding corridor until it ended.

There was a dark wooden door there, but it had no handle, only knocked hanging from the mouth of a small bronze eagle. Penelope knocked once. The bronze eagle opened its eyes, parted its beak, and spoke.

What has a head and a tail, but no body?”

Penelope didn’t answer – she merely smiled as she gestured to the first-years. Harry realized that they had to answer the riddle.

“A head and tail but no body,” Hermione murmured at his side.

Harry tried to think of a creature with only a head and tail, and no body.

“A fish?” Michael Corner wondered out loud. The eagle laughed in reply, high and musical, but did not answer.

“Maybe it isn’t an animal, it’s a play on words,” Padma said thoughtfully.

Harry contemplated that. What had a head and tail…

“Oh – a coin,” Hermione gasped.

“Well done,” the eagle praised her, and the door swung open.

Penelope smiled at Hermione approvingly, and led them inside. Harry’s eyes widened as he took in the sight of their common room.

It was beautiful – the tall domed ceiling was painted midnight blue with bronze stars, matching the carpet that covered the circular room. The walls alternated between blue and bronze silk banners, high arched windows – and bookshelves. Harry had never seen bookshelves that stretched so high – at least ten meters! They were packed with books, thousands he reckoned. Across the room, there were various tables and chairs, and a few cozier looking areas of armchairs and loveseats. If they had entered at six o’clock, at three o’clock there were two doors, at nine o’clock an alcove with a half-circle cushioned bench, and at twelve, a white marble statue of a beautiful woman with a wand in her hand.

“Welcome to the Ravenclaw Common Room.” Penelope told them warmly. “Take a moment to look around.”

Hermione and Padma were the first out the gate, charging towards the bookshelves to look at what was offered there. Terry went to the alcove to peer out the windows into the night, and several of the others sat down on the couches by the fire. Harry, however, was curious about the statue.  He crossed the room, weaving between armchairs and tables.

Even carved out of stone, the woman’s eyes seemed to watch him as he drew nearer. She was tall and beautiful, wore simple robes and a circlet over her wavy hair, and had a quizzical half-smile on her face as Harry approached. She held a long, crooked wand in her left hand and a book in her right hand.

At the base of her feet, Harry found a small inscription, and once he’d read it he felt he should have guessed. The statue was a likeness of Rowena Ravenclaw. Curious, Harry ducked his head and checked the spine of the book to see what she was reading.

The title wasn’t in any language he knew – it was a scattering of symbols, little waves and crosses and circles, all overlapping. Harry remembered then, when he had watched the shopkeeper painting symbols on his trunk – those had looked similar. They must be runes. He couldn’t make sense of them, so he stood up again, nodding to Ravenclaw, then walked back over to Penelope.

“What if we can’t solve the riddles?” Julius Runcorn was asking her.

“Then you may use the password,” Penelope smiled at him. “Everyone, come back for a moment!”

When they’d gathered around her, Penelope led them to a bulletin board on the right side of the door leading out. It was covered with papers, colorfully inscribed with various things – Join the Chess Club, one read, meets in Classroom 465 every Saturday! – and Lost topaz earring, please return to Abigail Temple if found, one sickle reward. Penelope pointed to a large sheet on the left, with plain black print.

“This is the password for the next two months – talon. Do try to answer the riddle, but if you’re truly stumped, we don’t want you to be stuck outside – then you can use the password. We operate under the honor system. When the password changes, at the end of October, the new one will be posted here.”

Harry tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn as she told them a few rules. They were supposed to be back in their Common Room by eleven, and in bed by midnight. Penelope was the official tutor for Transfiguration, and could be approached anytime, and the list of the tutors for the other classes was also on the board.

“Your schedules are here,” she said as she handed them out, and then laughed. “You all look dead on your feet, I promise I’m almost done. I want you to know that if you have any questions, any problems at all, you can come to me, or any of the other prefects – they’ll introduce themselves to you tomorrow. Professor Flitwick, our Head of House, is brilliant and incredibly sweet, so don’t be afraid to ask him for help either. And lastly, if there are ever any real emergencies in the Common Room, and you need help – someone is injured, for example – ring the bell there.”  Harry turned and saw a cord dangling from the wall on the other side of the door. “It will alert the professors that you need help, and they’ll get here soon – and again, we trust you to only use it in an emergency.” 

Penelope cleared her throat, then led them to the pair of doors on the right side of the room. One door was bronze with a blue handle, and a small sign that said Wizards. The other door was blue with a bronze handle, and its sign read Witches.

“Boys, your dormitory is on the third level, up the stairs. There are shared bathrooms on this floor and the fifth. Your trunks are already in your room. If you don’t have your own alarm yet, a bell rings at seven thirty to signal the start of breakfast. Food won’t vanish until eight fifty, but your first class will be at nine o’clock, so plan accordingly. Good night!” Penelope waved the girls after her as she opened the blue door and stepped through.

They all waved good night to each other, and Hermione turned to smile at him.

“Sleep well,” she said to Harry, and he smiled back. “You too. See you at breakfast.”

Michael Corner was the first through the boys’ door. There was a small hall, with a couple doors to bathrooms, and at the end was a set of stairs. They climbed up, past the next level, whose two doors had small signs saying they were for the Fifth years and sixth years. The third level had a door for the second years – and one for them.

Their names were already listed below the words First Years  - Terry Boot, Michael Corner, Kevin Entwhistle, Anthony Goldstein, Harry Potter, Julius Runcorn. Either that had just been done, by hand or by magic, or the castle itself (Harry remembered Penelope had called it semi-sentient) had known all along that they would be chosen for Ravenclaw. That was a rather spooky thought.

Harry entered the dormitory behind Terry, and was pleased to find a large half-circle room. There were six four poster beds, scattered at equal distances across the wall, and each one had a bedside table on the exterior side, and a small desk and chair on the interior side. Harry’s trunk was by the foot of the bed second from the right, and Hedwig’s cage sat empty on the desk nearby.

“Do you have an owl?” Michael asked Harry as he moved to sit on the bed on Harry’s right and noticed the cage.

“Yes, but I think she’s in the Owlery now.”

“Neat,” Michael said wistfully. The boy had brown hair and square jaw, and bright blue eyes. “My parents wouldn’t let me get a pet.”

“Does anyone have a cat?” Anthony asked worriedly. “I’m allergic.”  They all confirmed they were cat-less, and Anthony looked relieved. 

Harry crouched down by his trunk and gave it a friendly pat on its lid. It opened its eyes, which seemed to crinkle like they were smiling.

“Pajamas, please,” Harry said politely.

“Whoa.” Kevin had just noticed Harry’s trunk. “Is that alive?”

“Just enchanted like this,” Harry explained.

The trunk whirred as it selected the right compartment, and opened up to his clothes cupboard. Harry took out the plain black pajamas, and tossed them onto his bed. There were curtains he could draw around it, which he was glad for, to have a little privacy. He pulled them closed now to change into his nightclothes. When he re-opened the curtains, Harry saw the other boys had changed as well, and were tossing their used clothes through a laundry chute in the wall. Harry tossed in his own clothes, and headed back to his bed.

He passed by Julius, whose bed was farthest on the left, hanging up a quidditch poster labeled Pride of Portree. Beside him, Anthony was carefully pre-packing his bookbag for the morning. Next along was Kevin, who flopped back on his bed, pushed his curly auburn hair out of his eyes, and patted his stomach with a groan.

Terry was busy taking things out of his trunk to set up on his bedside table. First was a moving photo of a group of people. As Harry got closer and sat on his own bed, he realized that he could see a slightly younger Terry waving and grinning at him from the front row. Behind him, his father reached to his mother and gently pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear. Then the tallest brother, a blond like Terry, dropped a chocolate frog down the back of the middle brother’s robes. Terry and his sisters laughed as their brother leapt up and ran around the photo, trying to get the wriggling candy frog out. Harry felt a sudden pang of envy. He didn’t even have a photo of his parents to look at. He turned around, climbing into bed.

“Night, Harry,” Terry grinned at him.

“Good night,” Harry returned, and received a chorus of the same from the other four boys. Harry put his wand and glasses on his table, atop the robe he’d dropped there. Then he climbed into bed, closed his curtains, and burrowed under the covers.

He was so tired that moments after his head hit the pillow, Harry drifted off to sleep.

Monday, 2 September 1991

“Harry! Harry, wake up!”

He groaned and sat up, then blinked sleepily up at a blurry form. Harry reached out and got his glasses from the table, putting them on.

“Didn’t you hear the bell?” Terry asked as he straightened his tie – it was in blue and bronze stripes, Ravenclaw colors, and Harry wondered where he’d got it. “You’re a heavy sleeper.”

Harry pushed out of bed and stumbled to his feet. “What time is it?”

“A little past seven thirty,” Terry reported.

That got Harry moving. He pushed out of bed, grabbed his glasses and shoved them on.

“Uniforms on the desk,” Terry called back over his shoulder. “I’ll wait for you in the common room.” 

Harry walked around his bed and found a neatly pressed stack of clothes on his desk. There were four of everything: white buttoned shirts, grey trousers, blue and bronze striped ties (identical to the one Terry wore), grey socks, grey briefs, and grey jumpers with a blue neckline. And the robes he’d left on his bedside table were now folded over the back of his desk chair.

Taking advantage of the fact he was alone, Harry stripped off his pajamas and bundled into his new uniform. It fit perfectly, to his surprise, and was comfortable enough to wear. He pulled on the robe last, and realized that it had been altered in the night – now there was a Ravenclaw crest sewn to the left breast, a bronze eagle on a shield of blue.

Harry raced up the fifth level bathroom, brushed his teeth, tried to comb his hair into a manageable state (and mostly failed), polished his glasses on his sleeve, then ran back to the room to pack his bag. He glanced at his schedule for the first time. Today he had Transfiguration, History of Magic, and Herbology. Quickly, he shoved the three books he needed into his bookbag, along with some parchment, the dragonhide gloves he remembered were for Herbology, and tucked a quill and a bottle of black ink in the outer pocket.

When he finally came tearing into the Common Room, Harry was relieved to see Terry was still waiting.

“I kind of have an ulterior motive for waiting for you,” Terry admitted as they left through the door and walked down the narrow corridor. “Everyone else already left, and I don’t remember how to get back to the Great Hall.”

Harry laughed at the confession. “I think we turned right into this corridor.”

So they turned left when they reached the large hallway, and continued until they found a staircase.

“Was it this one?” Terry asked hopefully.

“Er…” Harry scratched his head, looking around for landmarks he could recognize and finding none. “I think so?”

They took the stairs down, but Terry groaned as he realized that it was just a single flight of stairs.

“What’s wrong with making a staircase that goes to all the floors?” He muttered grumpily. Terry checked his watch and shook his head – “It’s almost eight already.”

“This way,” Harry decided, pointing to the left. They took off at a jog down the sixth floor corridor, both boys praying that they would find the way down.

Hedwig had spent most of her night flying about the grounds of Hogwarts, and over Hogsmeade, reacquainting herself with the land she loved. She felt free again, knowing that this world was so much safer than the one she’d known. They weren’t at war, Voldemort hadn’t taken over the Ministry, and for the moment, her wizard was safe. Her wings felt stronger than she remembered, her body lighter, and she delighted in feeling a second youth.

When the sun rose, she circled back towards the castle over the lake, admiring the view, and greeting the other owls she met with a cheer she had not had in a long time. Only when she sensed it was time for breakfast did she dive down and enter the Great Hall through the windows open in the eastern side to let in the morning sun.

Soaring over the staff table, Hedwig resisted the urge to defecate on Quirrell’s turban. Instead she passed over the Gryffindor table, searching for Harry. She couldn’t see him, but at the far end, Neville was sitting across from Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown.  Hedwig slowed her descent and came to land on the table by Neville’s right hand.

“Hello, Hedwig,” Neville said in surprise.

“Is that your owl?” Lavender asked eagerly.

“No, she’s not mine,” Neville said, but he nevertheless picked up a piece of his bacon and offered it to the owl.  Hedwig snatched it up happily and ate it. “This is Hedwig. She’s Harry’s owl.”

Since she’d been fed, Hedwig allowed Parvati and Lavender to stroke her wings, and hooted to try and ask Neville where Harry was.

“You know,” Neville said at last. “Harry’s probably at the Ravenclaw table.”

Hedwig started, quite surprised. She took off in a flash, soaring just above the girls’ heads, and turned at the next table, soaring down it. She surveyed the Ravenclaws carefully, her eyes widening as she noticed Hermione sitting beside Padma Patil, conversing about their upcoming Transfiguration class. But still no Harry. She reversed yet again and stopped on Hermione’s shoulder. Hermione started, then smiled as she saw who it was.

“Good morning, Hedwig!” Hermione stroked her feathers, then surveyed her food, and tore off a part of her cinnamon toast. Hedwig accepted the offer of food, then nuzzled against the side of Hermione’s face impatiently.

“Your owl’s beautiful,” Padma said, smiling at Hedwig.

“This is Hedwig,” Hermione told Padma. “She’s Harry’s. But I haven’t seen Harry yet. Do you think maybe he got lost?”

The snowy owl sighed, guessing Hermione was right. Hedwig remembered how long it had taken for Harry to learn the castle the first time around. Unless he had a map… Hmm. Did the Weasley twins already have the Marauders map, she wondered? That merited investigation. After, of course, the more urgent issues.

The most present threat to Harry was Quirrell, who was currently being possessed by Voldemort. But she knew from Harry and Hermione that Quirrell’s first action was setting the troll loose on Halloween. He hadn’t gone after Harry until the first quidditch game, and that wasn’t until November. Despite her foreknowledge, Hedwig was quite aware of her own limitations – she was an owl, not a witch. She would need allies in order to defeat Voldemort and destroy all the horcruxes, because she wasn’t willing to force that responsibility on Harry. Her owlet deserved better. It was bad enough that she’d had to share so much about the darkness of her past with him, instead of letting him enjoy his innocence.

“This castle is insane,” Terry panted as he approached the table and dropped into the empty space beside Hermione.

Hedwig perked up as Harry followed and sat between Terry and Hermione.

“You’re very late,” Hermione admonished, though she reached for a pitcher of pumpkin juice to offer Harry. He accepted it, smiling at her sheepishly.

“We got lost,” Terry explained before biting into a piece of hastily buttered toast. 

Very lost,” Harry groaned, and grabbed the platter of scrambled eggs in front of him. Hedwig, you didn’t tell me how hard it would be to get around!

It takes some time to get used to, Hedwig acknowledged. But you had it down, mostly, by the end of your first year.

It took me all year! Harry thought incredulously. That’s not exactly reassuring.

Hedwig shrugged and hopped down to the table, stepping between the plates to reach the sausages.

“There’s no official map of Hogwarts,” Padma said thoughtfully. “But maybe we could make our own.”

“That sounds interesting,” Hermione mused. “But how on earth would we draw the moving staircases? The map would have to move as well!”

“I do drawings with enchanted ink,” Terry said thoughtfully. “It makes what I draw move around some. Maybe that would work for mapmaking too.”

Harry, I have to admit, I’m wondering how you ended up in Ravenclaw, Hedwig finally broached the subject she’d been thinking on since she’d discovered the news.

Well, the Sorting Hat said I could be in any of the Houses, Harry told her. I said I wanted to be wherever would help me the most. You know, with what we have to do. So it chose Ravenclaw for me.

That made some sense, though Hedwig felt a sudden sad pang for the young Gryffindor she’d known. Now Harry wouldn’t have that family he’d grown to have in that house. She had no idea what being in Ravenclaw might change for Harry.

And what about Hermione? Hedwig had to ask. She was a Gryffindor as well, in the years I spent here.

I don’t know, Harry said honestly.

Hedwig frowned as she looked over at the brunette witch. There was no reason for the change… But it had to have been something they’d done. Or something Harry had done.

And that’s not the only thing, Harry said after a minute. Ron Weasley, the boy you said was one of my best friends? He threw a dungbomb in our boat and it capsized. We were all okay, he assured Hedwig hastily. But it wasn’t exactly fun. Then Ron was Sorted into Slytherin.

Hedwig was struck dumb for a minute.  A cold heaviness settled uncomfortably in her gut. Three ripple effects already… Harry and Hermione in Ravenclaw, and Ron in Slytherin! She hadn’t thought that her changes could have caused this to happen.

Why did he throw the dungbomb? Hedwig asked in bewilderment.

Apparently he and another boy got into a duel on the train, and one of their spells hit this boy I shared a boat with, Blaise. He jinxed them, so Ron tried to get him back on the boat.

Hedwig’s wings fluttered nervously as she realized something. Since she was able to tell Harry how to enter the platform at the train station, he hadn’t met the Weasleys as he had the first time. Then of course, Harry hadn’t sat with Ron, but with Terry, Neville and Hermione.

Are you upset with me? His mental voice was low and worried.

Harry, why would I be mad at you?

Because I’m in Ravenclaw, not Gryffindor?

Hedwig came closer and nuzzled her beak against Harry’s hand. I’m proud of you for what you chose to do. It was selfless and brave, and shows a wisdom few people have.

Harry sighed in relief and stroked her feathers. Thanks, Hedwig. She cooed happily at the sensation.

Have a good first day, owlet, she told Harry fondly. I know you didn’t get a good first impression of him, but I hope you can give Ron another chance. He can be a very good friend to you.  Hedwig had a soft spot for the redhead who’d always remembered her favorite treats.

I will, Harry promised. I know I also have to get his… rat.

We’ll take care of him this week, Hedwig swore. A shudder went down her spine as she thought of Peter Pettigrew, currently disguised as a rat in Ron’s dormitory. The sooner they caught him, the sooner they could free Sirius from Azkaban, and hopefully by the end of the year, provide Harry with a guardian that actually cared about him – unlike the Dursleys.

The plates vanished with the end of the meal, and Hedwig pecked Harry’s finger goodbye. Enjoy your first day! She told him as she stepped off the table and flew off.

You too! Harry called after her. I’ll miss you, he admitted.

Hedwig’s heart swelled fondly. And I you, nestling.

Chapter Text

Monday, 2 September 1991

“I don’t even know where we are,” Harry groaned.

"This is ridiculous!" Hermione declared as a staircase near them began to move of its own accord. "How can we possibly get to where we're going if everything is magicked to move all the time!"

"Look on the bright side,” Terry shrugged cheerfully. “We're seeing more of the castle.

"Maybe this staircase?" Harry said, pointing ahead. They followed his lead, and were soon at another corridor.

“This is the third floor,” Hermione said as she looked around. “The schedule says Transfiguration is in classroom 303.”

“None of these doors are labeled,” Harry said with a frown.

Padma sighed and began trying doorknobs, but most of them wouldn’t budge, as the doors were locked.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" A silky tenor voice came from behind them.

The four first years whirled around in surprise – none of them had heard anyone coming up behind them. But just a few feet away from them stood a very pale man, with slick black hair down to his shoulders, fathomless black eyes, a hooked nose, and a grim smile.

"Trying to find the transfiguration classroom, sir," Hermione said politely.

"But I think we might be lost,” Padma added. 

"Very lost indeed," the dark haired man drawled. "This is the Forbidden Corridor.” His eyes swept over the lot of them and lingered on Harry. Harry struggled to keep his composure as he realized who this was. He’d been so distracted by the food and his new friends at dinner that he hadn’t really paid much attention to the professors. This had to be Professor Snape. Harry glanced away, careful not to make eye contact, and instead looked at Terry as he began to talk.

"Forbidden? Oops." Terry grinned charmingly. "We’re first years, see, so we have no idea where we’re going.”

As Harry gazed at his shoes, he tried to focus on the most innocent memories he could think of. But when he looked up Snape was looking at Terry. 

“The fastest way to the transfiguration classroom is by taking those stairs down a level, going right down the hall, and up the next set of stairs. Turn left at the statue of Millicent the Misunderstood. It will be the second door on your right. Quickly, or you will be late.” With those words, Professor Snape swiveled on his heel and strode off, his long robes billowing impressively behind him.

"Damn," Terry whispered. "I've got to learn that robe billowing trick."

The four Ravenclaws hurried to follow their Professor's instructions. They arrived at the Transfiguration classroom mere moments before the bell rang, and slipped into seats at the back of the room.

"We have got to draw up a map, like you said," Hermione whispered to Padma. "Or next time we really will be late!"

They listened as Professor McGonagall called roll and proceeded to talk to them quite strictly about the rules and basic theory behind transfiguration. Harry listened intently, and found he was learning quite more from the lecture than he did from just reading the books.

Hermione was quite avidly taking notes, and Padma and Harry jotted things down occasionally. Meanwhile, Terry tapped his wand on the table and listened quietly. When the lecture ended, it was time for their first practical lesson.

Professor McGonagall gave them each a match, to turn into a needle. The incantation was the simplest part – it seemed the hardest part was really visualizing the change. Harry tried and tried, and was disappointed when at the end of the lesson, only the matchhead had gone silver, and the rest remained wood. Hermione and Padma were both beaming as they’d finished their needles within seconds of each other.

“Wow,” Terry whistled as they left the class, Harry trying not to feel too down. “Those girls are going to give us a run for our money.”

He nodded, unable to disagree.

They found their way to their next class, though they had to sit in the back, since they were the last ones there. History of Magic was on the fifth floor, and taught by a ghost. At first they were all excited by the idea of a ghost professor, but Binns quickly proved to be a disappointment. He spoke in a dull monotone, and Harry soon found his eyes drooping shut.

“Class is over,” Terry hissed as he nudged Harry on the arm.

Harry shook himself awake and looked around. Most of the class was already gone, except for the three of them.

“You slept through half the lesson,” Hermione chided him, but she was unable to stop herself from yawning widely.

“I hope it’s not always like that,” Padma muttered.

“Let’s see if we can find our way back to the Great Hall for lunch,” Terry said as he checked his watch.

Harry groaned. He had a feeling they were going to be late again.

"Now pair up with someone with another House!" Professor Sprout declared with a smile. "Two Ravenclaws and two Slytherins at each table, please."

Hermione placed her bag on the closest table, and Harry followed suit. Terry and Padma went to sit at the next table over.

Harry looked around and caught Blaise's eye across the greenhouse. The Slytherin boy nodded and headed over to his table.

"Hey," Blaise said quietly as he sat down across from Harry and Hermione.

“Good afternoon,” Hermione said cheerfully as she pulled out her Herbology book and placed it in front of her.

"How are you liking Ravenclaw?”

"It’s great so far," Harry replied. "And Slytherin?"

"It's been interesting..." Blaise shrugged. "I have to share a room with Malfoy and Weasley… It took ages to get to bed last night because they kept shouting insults at each other.”

Just then Ronald Weasley sat down next to Blaise. The dark haired boy turned and glared at the redhead.

"There's no other spots," Ron said angrily. "Stop looking at me like that."

"Didn't realize it had such an effect on you," Blaise said mockingly.

Ron flushed and looked across the table. "Look, I'm sorry about yesterday, the dungbomb... I just wanted to get him,” he said, nodding towards Blaise.

"But you threw it into a boat with three other people in it," Hermione said sharply.

"I wasn't, really... thinking," Ron admitted. "I am sorry." He did look embarrassed, and he was apologizing – and what’s more, Harry was still hoping that Hedwig was right about Ron.

"It's okay," Harry assured him with a smile. “But you should apologize to the Patil twins as well.”

“Yeah, of course. Thanks, Potter.” Ron said, his ears going pink.

“It’s just Harry.” He held out his hand, and Ron looked surprised, then grinned back and shook it.

After a moment, Hermione relented and offered her hand. “I’m Hermione Granger.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ron said gruffly, shaking it.

“So…” Blaise drawled. “It appears our task is to identify the magical plants on the table and write them down, and take note of any that are poisonous.”

They took a minute to look at the small potted plants that were placed along the center of the garden table.

"That one with the purple leaves, is foxwort," Blaise volunteered first.

"That's oregano," Ron offered, pointing at another. "Or is it basil, I always confuse the two."

"You had it right the first time," Hermione informed him. "It’s oregano. I don’t remember seeing that in the Herbology book, though my parents use it for cooking. Is it really magical?”

“Don’t think so,” Ron said, scratching his head.

“Maybe it’s a trick question, and we’re only supposed to identify the magical ones,” Blaise mused.

“I remember seeing that in the book,” Hermione said, pointing at one in front of her. “I believe it’s called aconite.”

Ron shook his head. “No, that’s wolfsbane. My mum’s got it out by the flower garden.”

"Actually, you’re both right. Those are both names for the same plant.”  Professor Sprout was standing by their table. “Now, Mr. Potter, do you know if it is poisonous?”

Harry bit his lip. He’d read all of his spellbooks, but he’d really only skimmed through the Herbology text.

“It is to wolves?” Harry guessed.

"It would make sense, being called 'bane'," Professor smiled at him. "It is indeed poisonous to us, by ingestion or merely by touch." 

The four first-years automatically drew back.

"Which is why we're all wearing dragonhide gloves," Sprout reminded them, a twinkle in her eye. She turned and faced the next-door table, where Padma and Terry were sitting with a blond Slytherin boy and a heavyset Slytherin girl who was yawning. 

“We’re almost done,” Terry told her, and Professor Sprout praised them and moved on quickly.

When she was out of hearing range, the blond boy sniffed loudly. “This class is pointless. Malfoys don’t garden.”

“Your parents sent you here to learn, didn’t they, Draco?” Padma said drily.

“I’m here to learn magic, not to get my hands dirty. I say purebloods like us should leave the mud to the mud -”

“Are you sure you’re not just worried you won’t be any good at it?” Padma smirked.

Draco drew himself up, scowling at her insinuation.

“Learning how to identify and care for magical plants is essential for a good potions education, and careers in several different fields, including Healing,” Hermione spoke up, having heard their conversation.

Draco stared at her for a moment. “Congratulations on making Ravenclaw, Patil,” he said sarcastically. “You must be at home surrounded by more talking books.”

Hermione flushed, a familiar feeling of embarrassment washing over her.

“There’s a lot more to us than that,” Padma said steadily. “We make an effort and don’t hide behind pureblood rhetoric. That’s why I’ll beat you in every exam.”

“You’ll see, when the rankings come,” Draco scowled at her.

“I look forward to it,” the Ravenclaw girl said sweetly, and went back to identifying her plants.

“That’s the boy you dueled on the train?” Harry muttered to Ron. Draco seemed very full of himself, and not very nice either.

“Yeah,” Ron said quietly, scowling over at Malfoy. “He insulted my family, I had to duel him.” He glanced at Blaise and took a quick breath. “Look, Zabini… I never meant to curse you. It was an accident.”

“It seems you have a habit of creating collateral damage that you don’t know how to deal with,” Blaise drawled, staring down his fellow Slytherin.

“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” Ron said, a touch frustrated. “Can we just… call it even?”

“We were even after I hexed you,” Blaise said, raising an eyebrow. “Then you threw the dungbomb. So I owe you one more.”

Ron sighed heavily, holding up his hands in surrender. “Fine. You get one jinx. I won’t even go for my wand.”

“Oh, no,” Blaise smirked. “That’s no fun.”

“So… You’re not going to hex me?”

“I’ll get you back, Weasley, but it’ll be when you least expect it.” Blaise twirled his wand lightly in his hand, his smile never leaving his face.

“Great,” Ron groaned. “God, I can’t believe I’m stuck with a bunch of Slytherins…”

“You’re a Slytherin too now, Weasley,” Blaise reminded him. “Though I’m not sure how, since you haven’t displayed any cunning at all. You won’t get wherever you want to go without any subtlety. Next time you want to attack someone, they shouldn’t see you coming.”

Ron stared at him, and slowly nodded, his gaze darting over towards Malfoy. Blaise doubted his advice would actually have an effect, but he had tried. He didn’t hate the Weasley boy, though he didn’t like him either.

Soon they finished the assignment. Ron was scrawling their names at the top of the parchment.

“What’s your last name?” Ron asked Hermione.  

“Granger,” she answered, and Ron finished writing it down just in time to hand it to the teacher.

“Granger?” Malfoy had gotten up from his table to approach them, and was looking at Hermione funnily. “I’ve never heard that name before. Who are your parents?”

Hermione was a little surprised by the question. “Doctors Granger. They’re dentists, in Manchester.”

“Dentists?” Malfoy frowned in confusion.

“Don’t you ever get your teeth checked, Malfoy?” Padma asked, her voice sugar-sweet.

“Checked? For what?”

“Cavities,” Hermione frowned, suddenly concerned for this boy’s oral hygiene. 

“What are those?”

“I don’t think Draco goes to a dentist,” Padma added sweetly.

“What is a dentist?” The Slytherin demanded, clearly growing frustrated. He turned to the girl beside him, who shrugged.

“Dentists are doctors who clean your teeth,” Hermione began to explain. “Is there a wizarding equivalent, Padma?”

But Padma didn’t answer her, as she was still smirking at Draco. “If you have a cavity. Then they drill your teeth down. It’s like a muggle version of reductor curse.”

Draco stared at her in badly concealed horror.

“Of course there’s anesthesia,” Hermione said hurriedly. “But wizards have dentists, right?” She looked around for confirmation. “I mean… You all know to brush and floss regularly, at least?”

“What the bloody hell is flossing?” Draco yelled.

Terry burst out laughing, and Harry couldn’t help but snigger.

“I ask my parents to send pamphlets,” Hermione said, stunned. “So you can learn about how to take care of your teeth. It’s really dangerous to neglect them…”

“My teeth are just fine,” Draco hissed at her. “You’re just making things up, you stupid mudblood!”

Harry knew immediately that Malfoy had said something awful, because there was an uproar around them.

“Don’t call her that!” Padma cried, real anger flashing in her eyes.

“That’s out of bounds, Malfoy!” Terry said sharply.

Ron Weasley leapt from his seat, drawing his wand and advancing on Malfoy, looking furious. “Take it back, or I’ll clean out your mouth!”

“I’d like to see you try, muggle lover,” Draco spat scornfully, and went for his wand.

But Ron already had his out, and it took only a moment for him to cast a spell. “Scourgify!”

A white bolt of magic struck Draco straight in the mouth. He gurgled, his eyes widening, and everyone stared as his mouth began to foam with soap bubbles. He coughed and choked, trying to spit out the soap onto the ground. The Slytherin girl he’d been partnered with looked stunned and thumped him on the back.

“Nice one,” Terry told Ron approvingly. The redhead was grinning triumphantly.

“Mr. Weasley!” Professor Sprout cried as she came running. “Finite!”

Most of the bubbles in Draco’s mouth vanished, and he gasped for air, wiping his mouth on his robe sleeve.

“No more spells!” She shouted commandingly. Draco angrily shoved his wand away, and Ron did the same.

Professor Sprout looked between the two tables. “Miss Patil, what happened?”

“Malfoy called Hermione a mudblood,” Padma said clearly, her eyes cool and steady as she looked at the foul mouthed blond. “So Weasley scourgified his mouth.” She turned to Ron with a smile, and he grinned back.

“Mr. Malfoy,” Sprout said angrily, shaking her head. “I will not tolerate that kind of filthy language, ever! Five points from Slytherin!”

Draco stared, sputtering at her, but couldn’t quite speak, as he was still spitting out stray bubbles.

“And Mr. Weasley, attacking a fellow student is never permitted. You’ve also lost Slytherin five points. I expect you two won’t make these mistakes again in my greenhouses.” She paused for a moment, looking between them. “Mr. Malfoy, switch seats with Miss Greengrass. Now, everyone, please turn your attention to the front table, and I will tell you more about the greenhouses here at Hogwarts.”

Malfoy stomped off across the greenhouse, crossing paths with a slim girl with long blonde hair and bangs.   

“That was a clever charm,” Hermione said to Ron Weasley, looking at him contemplatively.

“Thanks,” he grinned back at her. “My mum uses it all the time – usually on the dishes, but we learned pretty quick not to swear around her!”

Ron took a deep breath, and looked at Padma and Terry. “I’m sorry about yesterday, on the boats… I shouldn’t have thrown that dungbomb. It was stupid.”

“Well, as long as you don’t do that sort of thing again,” Padma smiled back at him. “And show me that cleaning charm, then I forgive you.”

“Deal,” Ron chuckled.

“It’s water under the bridge,” Terry said with a casual wave.  

“What did it mean?” Hermione asked suddenly. “What Malfoy called me?”

The two Slytherins at the table looked at each other, and didn’t say anything.

“It’s a really rude word that means muggleborn,” Terry told her.   

“Some wizards like the Malfoys, think that they’re better than everyone else because they’re what people call pure-blood.” Ron said angrily. “It’s nonsense, saying you have dirty blood just because your parents weren’t wizards. Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married muggles we’d have died out.”

“Oh,” Hermione said softly.

“Don’t listen to Malfoy, Hermione,” Padma said, laying a hand on the other girl’s arm. “I don’t care if you’re muggle-born, and neither does anyone who matters.”

“Thanks, Padma,” Hermione said, clearly touched by the sentiment. “And you too, Ronald.”

Ron looked briefly horrified. “Just Ron. Only my mum calls me Ronald.”

Harry was confident that Hedwig was right about Ron – he’d stood up for Hermione after all, even though he didn’t know her, because it was right.

“Weasley,” Blaise said quietly as Ron sat down beside him again, and Terry and Padma sat back down nearby. “What did I say about cunning?”

“My spell worked!” Ron protested.

“You lost Slytherin ten points.” Miss Greengrass spoke up, frowning at him.

“Five of those were Malfoy!” Ron protested.

“Professor Sprout wouldn’t have taken them if you hadn’t drawn her attention with the spell.” Blaise sighed. “Next time, save it for when teachers can’t catch you. You were thinking like a Gryffindor.”

Greengrass nodded in agreement with Blaise. Ron’s brows furrowed as he dropped his head into his hands.

“I was supposed to be in Gryffindor,” Ron groaned.  “All the rest of my family was in Gryffindor – my parents, my five older brothers – even Percy made it in. I don’t know why that blasted hat thought I belonged in Slytherin.”

“I don’t see what’s wrong with being in Slytherin,” Harry told Ron with a shrug. “Ambition and cunning…”

“You-Know-Who was a Slytherin!” Ron interrupted him. “So were all the Death Eaters!”

“All of them?” Harry said doubtfully. “They joined Voldemort because they were all crazy blood purists, not because of Slytherin solidarity.”

Ron gaped at him. “You – said the name.”

Harry shrugged, a little uncomfortable at the others’ stares.  “It’s just a word. It’s a lot easier to say than the weird things everyone else calls him.”

“Fair enough,” Blaise laughed softly. “I think what Harry was trying to say, is that not all Slytherins are blood purists – and we’re definitely not all murderous psychopaths.”

Ron looked at him doubtfully, then looked over at Greengrass and the other girl, both of whom were looking at him grumpily.

“I won’t jinx you when your back is turned,” his fellow Slytherin said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll even downgrade what I owe you to a prank, to match your dungbomb.”

“Even better,” Ron said, relieved. “Zabini… You’re not a blood purist?”

“No,” Blaise shook his head. “I’m not even a pureblood.  My mother was muggleborn. And most Slytherins nowadays are halfbloods anyways, like you said.”

“Some of us are purebloods, Zabini,” Greengrass reminded him, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder primly.

Beside her, the heavyset girl said nothing, and reached over to stroke the soft red leaves of one of the plants.

Professor Sprout called for their attention, and they stopped conversing as the lecture part of the class began. When Herbology ended at four o’clock, Harry put the spare class gloves on a shelf (he’d forgotten to pack his dragonhide gloves in his bag this morning, but swore he’d remember next time), and walked out with his friends.

“I’m going to go find the library before dinnertime,” Hermione said brightly. Harry was glad to see that she wasn’t upset about Malfoy.

"It's the second largest magical library in Britain," Padma added, keeping pace with them.

“Do you have homework already?” Ron asked, stunned.

“Oh no, we’re just going for fun,” Hermione said, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet.

Ron shook his head, now even more horrified. “Ravenclaws are mad,” he said to Blaise.  

“Perhaps we are,” Terry said, grinning widely. “But it might be a good idea to figure out where the library is, for future reference.”

“Not for me,” Ron said with a shudder. “Anyways, I have to find the owlery. I should tell my parents I got sorted to Slytherin before Percy does.”

They waved as the redhead headed off. Padma linked her arm with Hermione’s, and the two girls led the way down the path back to the castle.

“It might be faster through there,” Blaise told them, pointing towards the castle wall.

“Through where?”

“I’ll show you.” Blaise led them to a small set of stone stairs that cut down into the ground, and through a small oak door into the castle.

Unlike the corridors of all the other floors, this was all stone – the floors, walls and ceiling, no wallpaper, cabinets or suits of armor along here. There were still a few paintings, some watching them curiously, others busy conversing amongst themselves.

“I came through here to get to Herbology,” Blaise remarked, and gestured at a set of stairs nearby that led downwards. “We live down in the dungeons.”

“Neat,” Terry sounded impressed. “Are there torture devices down there?”

“I haven’t seen any yet,” Blaise replied. He led them up several flights of stairs, and as they walked down what Harry thought might be a second corridor, they passed a group of Hufflepuff girls. The older students stopped in their tracks to watch the first years pass by, and began giggling, for some reason, and whispering amongst themselves.

“What was that about?” Harry frowned. 

“I hate to break it to you,” Terry dead-panned. “But Harry, you’re a little famous in the wizarding world.”

Harry rolled his eyes but couldn’t help but smile.

“I read three books that mentioned you,” Hermione told him. “Modern Magical History, The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century.”

“Really?” Harry said, perplexed.

“And those are just the non-fiction titles,” Blaise said wryly. “Did you know there are novellas about your childhood adventures fighting off a variety of dark creatures as you travel the world?”

What?” Harry frowned. “I… I didn’t even know I was a wizard until a month ago! And I never left Surrey in my life!”

“Well, they’re obviously fake,” Padma said loftily, though her cheeks were oddly flushed. “I mean, Parvati read them, but I thought they looked ridiculous.”

“My favorite was Harry Potter and the Six-Fingered Imp,” Blaise said with a smirk.  

“Oh, please!” Terry waved his hand. “The plot was clearly inferior to Harry Potter and the Mad Manticore!”

Terry and Blaise both began to snigger.   

“People really wrote books about me?” Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

“At least they made you out to be a big hero in all of them.” Terry consoled him.

“Is that legal?” Hermione wondered with a frown. “Making money off of fake stories about a real person?”

“I have no idea,” Padma replied.

“Well, this is the third floor,” Blaise said as he stopped at the top of a staircase. “The library’s supposed to be on the third and fourth floors, I’m just not sure where.”

“Let’s try not to go down the Forbidden Corridor again,” Hermione sighed as she looked around.

“Go left down the hallway, dears,” said a woman in a nearby painting. She was reclining on a divan, a glass of red wine in her hand.  “Then make a right when the corridor ends.”

“Thank you,” Harry said politely, and they followed her instruction.

“Little early for wine, isn’t it?” Terry commented once they were out of the painting’s hearing range.

Soon they found a large set of double doors with the words Hogwarts Library inscribed them. Padma pushed one of the doors open, and Hermione was right behind her.

Harry followed them in, his eyes widening. It was the largest library he’d ever seen. The shelves stretched nearly all the way to the high ceiling – there must be hundreds of thousands of books here!

"Oh my," Padma breathed.

"It's gorgeous," Hermione said, her eyes widened with awe. She broke off from the group and disappeared into the stacks, and Padma soon did the same in another aisle.

“They look like they just found paradise,” Terry said wryly. “Anything you wanted to look up, Harry?”

"Do you know a good book about quidditch?” Harry asked.

“That’s easy, Quidditch through the Ages,” Terry nodded. He dropped his bookbag on a nearby table. “I’ll be back.”

Harry sat down and spent a moment just looking around. Blaise sat down across from him and did the same, but soon snapped open his potions text and began reading it quietly. Harry pulled out his herbology textbook, along with the sheet of assigned homework. He might as well get it done with, since it was due on Wednesday. He looked at the moving, colored pictures of plants on the left side, and the list of names on the other. A few he remembered from the lesson, so he connected the matching items with a solid line. But soon he didn’t know any of the others, so he began searching the index for the plant names.

“This place is like a maze,” Terry told him as he returned, and set a slim paperback down next to Harry’s homework. “You can learn the rules and history from here, but of course there’s no better teacher than just getting on a broom. You’ve never flown before?”

Harry nodded, and Terry whistled.

“That’s mad. Guess those books really were a load of tosh, since you were flying around when you beat the Middlemarch Mummy and the Gnome King.” Terry sprawled into the seat next to Harry’s. “Flying lessons start next week. It should be fun. I wish I could bring my broom, but they have this ancient rule about first years not being allowed to bring their own..."

An enormous pile of books dropped onto the table with a soft crash, making the three boys jump.

"This is the best library ever." Hermione beamed down at them.

The boys exchanged amused glances. Harry wondered how Hermione had carried a stack of books that reached above her head... She was clearly stronger than she looked.

"I just don't know what I want to research first..." Hermione mused as she sat down.

"For class?"

"No, an extra-curricular project," Hermione said eagerly. "I've been contemplating learning a third language..."

"What else do you know?"

"French," Hermione replied absently. "But now that I'm here, I feel like I should study something magical..."

"I know what I’m going to study," Padma said as she sat next to Terry. Her stack of six books seemed quite reasonable when compared to Hermione's eleven.  They all turned to listen.  "Have you ever heard of Animagi?"

"Wizards who can turn into animals,” Harry replied instantly. That had been one of the coolest things Hedwig had told him about.

"My aunt Sanjana is an Animagus. She can change herself into a black buck antelope," Padma said proudly.

"I know a man from Madagascar who can turn into a polar bear twelve feet tall. He's thought seriously about moving farther north." They turned to Blaise, who had snapped his book shut and was looking at Padma contemplatively. “But learning to be an Animagus takes years and years of hard work.”

"I can handle it," Padma retorted, her eyes flashing with determination. 

"Didn't say you couldn't," Blaise shrugged. "It's an admirable goal. I’ve thought about studying it someday.”

“I want to do it,” Harry blurted out. Hedwig had mentioned this ability to him before - his father and the other Marauders were Animagi.

“Count me in,” Terry grinned. “Sounds wicked.”

“So, how do we do this?” Hermione asked, her eyes alight.

“The first step is to brew the Form Revealing Potion,” Padma said, reading from the Advanced Transfiguration book she’d cracked open on the table. “It takes three months to brew, and there are a lot of really rare ingredients. We’d have to start really soon if we want to finish it before Christmas. But after you take it, you’ll have a dream of your animagus form, sometime in the following months.”

Harry’s mind was already racing, wondering what sort of creature he might one day be able to transform into… Perhaps a stag, like his father. Or a fierce creature like a tiger, or lion – or maybe a bird that could fly over the castle…

The green beans were carefully arranged in a circle around the single sliced beet. To the left lay a chicken breast, and to the right was a mound of mashed potatoes with a glob of yellow butter melting rapidly on top of it.  A fork descended to stir the potatoes, mashing it even more carefully before drawing a spiral pattern in the surface with its tines, as one might rake the sand in a zen garden...

"Hey Neville."

"Harry?" Neville looked up in surprise, his fork stopping in mid-air.

The black haired boy sat down directly across from him. Harry pushed his glasses up his nose with one hand while reaching for a roll with the other.

"Uh - what're you doing here?" Neville asked, glancing at Harry before he looked over at the Ravenclaw table.

"I'm starving," Harry replied easily. He cut roll in two, then began to butter it.

“But this is the Gryffindor table.” Why was Harry here, Neville wondered? Didn't he have other people to be sitting with - popular people, smart people - people not like Neville.

"Yeah,” Harry nodded.

"Why are you here?" Neville said nervously.

"Because you're here," Harry replied with a smile. "I haven't seen you since yesterday.”

"Oh." Neville said, his voice catching in his throat. He had thought that the three people he had started to befriend yesterday on the train would forget about him because they had all gone to Ravenclaw together. Neville hadn't expected any of them to seek him out again.  

"Can I see your schedule?" Harry asked, just as he reached into his robes pocket and pulled out a folded piece of parchment.

Neville dropped his fork and leaned down to rummage through his bag. He didn't find it right away. Gran was right, he really needed to be tidier... Oh, there it was. 

Harry took the parchment from Neville's outstretched hand, and began to scan both sheets, comparing them. “Great, we've got Charms together Tuesday and Fridays. And Wednesday night we have Astronomy together - at midnight, that's a drag. I must have missed you in History of Magic. I came in late, and fell asleep by the end...”

"Hey Harry."

Neville looked up and saw the Weasley twins standing by Harry.

"Hey, Fred. Hi, George," Harry said, glancing at them before serving himself a baked artichoke.

"What's a Ravenclaw doing in Gryffindor territory?" The second twin asked Harry. Neville wasn't sure if he sounded accusing or amused.

"I'm sitting with my friend.” Harry said simply, then turned his gaze back to Neville.  "What was Defense like? I don't have it until tomorrow."

Neville blinked away the prickle in his eyes as joy flooded through him. My friend, Harry had said! Neville had never had a friend before.

“Professor Quirrell talked a lot, but I don’t really remember much of it… It was really stuffy in the classroom, and I couldn't concentrate. Dean asked to open a window, but Professor Quirrell said it wasn't safe... He seemed a little bonkers, honestly."

"Huh," Harry frowned, feigning disappointment. He already knew the truth about Quirrell, after all. "I thought, the class being about defending yourself - that it would be rather exciting."

"Maybe it'll pick up, it's only the first class." Neville said hopefully.

"Some of the older students were placing bets, you know," one of the twins interjected, sitting down on the bench to Harry's left.

"On where you'd end up..." The second began, still standing.

"Consensus was that you'd go to Gryffindor."

"Why is that? None of you know me." Harry pointed out.

"Sorting Hat isn't run by a consensus anyways," Neville offered gamely.  Harry grinned at him.

"Seeing as you're the Boy-Who-Lived and all," the second twin said, moving to sit down on Harry's right hand side.

"That seat's reserved," Harry said, grabbing a banana from a bowl of fruit and placing the yellow fruit on the bench.

"For a banana?"

Neville laughed, nearly choking on a bite of chicken in the process. Harry gave the twin an incredulous look.

"Hello Neville!"

Smiling up at Hermione Granger, Neville inwardly praised the girl's excellent timing. She squeezed right past the twin who was still standing, and slipped onto the bench beside Harry. The black haired boy quickly moved the banana out of her way before she could sit on it.

"Hi Hermione. How are you?" Neville asked politely.

“I had a wonderful first day, thank you for asking. How’s Trevor?” Hermione began to scan the table, and pulled a dish of potatoes close to her.

“Well, he hasn’t run off again,” Neville said ruefully. “So I guess that’s an improvement. But I’m still not sure what to feed him…”

“Neville!” Terry shouted, crashing down on Neville’s left side and clapping him on the back and making Neville jump in surprise. “I just escaped from the library. They held me hostage for hours. I’m so hungry, I could eat a dragon!”

“We did no such thing!” Hermione said indignantly.

“You were there of your own free will,” Padma pointed out as she sat down on Neville’s right. “You could have left at any point. Oh, for the love of - ”  Then she said a word that Neville had never heard before. It didn’t sound like English.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

"How can I expect to eat a balanced diet if they won't give me proper proteins?" Padma scowled. "Meat, potatoes, meat, vegetables, and more meat!"

"You don’t like meat?" Neville asked curiously.

“We don’t eat it, we’re vegetarian,” Parvati answered as she arrived and set a comforting hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Don’t fuss, Padma, there are some beans at the end, I’ll grab them for us.”

“Thanks,” Padma smiled at her twin.

“Want to sit?” Harry asked the Weasley twins, who were still standing around, watching the first years interact.

“Sure!” One said, surprised, and the other added, “Why not!”

“Why are you vegetarian?” Terry asked Padma as Parvati got up to get the beans.

“We’re Hindu,” Padma said simply. “It’s against our beliefs.”

“Stand back!”

Neville looked up in surprise as Fred held up his fork to a black boy in Slytherin robes. The boy looked unamused. Neville remembered that the boy had been one of the ones who’d fallen in the lake and ended up in his boat, but he’d never got his name.

“Drop the fork or I will hex you,” he drawled.

“Ah hah, I knew it, another violent Slytherin!” One of the twins declared excitedly, drawing his wand.

“Come off it, Fred,” Ron said as he stepped up behind Blaise. “We’re just here to eat. Harry invited us over here.”

“But what if you’re here for nefarious purposes?” George said, narrowing his eyes at his younger brother.

“Then you’d better watch out,” Blaise said, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, bugger off, you two,” Ron said grumpily to his brothers. He pushed past the twins then nodded to Harry and sat down on his other side. Blaise sat on Hermione’s other side. “Thanks for asking us over. Malfoy was being really obnoxious, I was this close to hexing him again…”

“Your invitation likely saved Slytherin a lot of points,” Blaise said drily to Harry.

“No problem,” Harry laughed. He was glad that they’d showed up. Parvati reappeared accompanied by Lavender, carrying the beans, and looked at the Slytherins with interest as she sat next to Padma.

“I heard you cleaned out Malfoy’s filthy mouth in class today,” Parvati said to Ron. 

“Er – yeah,” Ron flushed. “Sorryaboutyesterday,” he added very quickly.

Parvati smiled. “Consider it forgiven. Anyone who shows up that prat is in my good books. We were at the same primary school as him, and it’s amazing how little he’s changed. Even when he was six, Draco Malfoy was running around telling everyone he thinks he’s better than them.”

“And whenever he got in trouble, he always threatened to write to his father!” Padma giggled.

That earned a few laughs, including from the Weasley twins.

“I’ve never seen non-Gryffindors sitting here before,” Fred admitted.

“I didn’t know it was allowed,” George said.  

“There’s nothing in the rules against it.” Hermione declared, with such certainty that nobody doubted her. She did seem the type to have looked up the school’s rules and memorize them all.

“Come on, then,” Ron said, looking at his brothers. “Sit down and eat. That is, if you don’t mind eating next to a Slytherin!” The last sentence was said with a hint of worry. The twins finally saw past Ron’s bluster to his anxiety, and looked at each other for a moment.

George sat down first, throwing his arm over Ron’s shoulders. “Oh, Ronniekins, we were just giving you a hard time.”

“You’re still our ickle brother, no matter what house you’re in,” Fred agreed as he slid in and grabbed a roasted potato to start.

“Besides,” George grinned. “You’re too stubborn to get turned into a prat by the Slytherins like Malfoy.”

Ron looked pleased by their statements, though his ears were flushing from their nicknames. Neville was taking a bite of string beans when the black boy who’d sat beside Hermione reached across the table, offering his hand. Neville dropped his fork to shake the boy’s hand.  

“I didn’t introduce myself yesterday, in the confusion. Blaise Zabini.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Neville Longbottom,” Neville said bashfully.

“’m Ron,” said the youngest redhead through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

Everyone tucked into the meal with enthusiasm. Neville soon got the impression that most of them had been studying fervently in the library for most of the afternoon.  At first, Neville couldn't stop looking around him, at all the people who had flocked to join him – how had they all come here to sit with him?  But by the end of dinner, Neville wasn't even thinking about it - he was too absorbed in the company and the conversation.

Neville listened to a story Terry was telling about enchanted utensils. Then he shared about how thrilling Herbology had been for him, discussed and compared his garden at home with Lavender Brown and the Weasleys. When dessert appeared, Neville dug into a slice of pumpkin pie and listened to Padma and Hermione discussing muggle cinema, which sounded utterly fascinating.

Somehow, contrary to all of his own expectations, Neville had found himself a group of friends who he fit in perfectly with - a group that didn't make him feel less in any way - but instead more confident and happier than he had been in a very long time.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, 3 September 1991

Harry was very relieved when his first Defense against the Dark Arts class was over. Neville had been completely right - Professor Quirrell's lecture was rather hard to follow, especially because of his stutter. On top of the odd, stuttering lecture, there was the room - it was hot and stuffy, and Harry found himself sweating by the time class was over.

He wasn’t sure how much of that was due to knowing that Quirrell wasn’t what he seemed. Hedwig had told him that Voldemort didn’t make a move until Halloween, so he was mostly reassured he wasn’t in current danger… But he couldn’t help but feel nervous, and worried he wasn’t hiding it well.

"It’s really hard to concentrate in there," Hermione sighed, then looked at Harry. He looked rather pale and clammy. She reached out a hand to touch his arm. “Harry, are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Harry said roughly. “Er… It was really stuffy in there.”

“I thought this was going to be one of the most exciting classes!” Padma moaned, wiping the sweat from her forehead on her sleeve.

"I bet Dumbledore couldn't find anyone better," Terry guessed. "All of my siblings say that the position of Defense Professor is cursed - nobody has lasted longer than a year."

"Since when?" Hermione asked, quite surprised.

"I dunno, at least twelve years," Terry said after a moment.

"Maybe it's just bad luck," Harry said, not entirely convinced.

"More fun to say it's a curse though," Terry shrugged.

"I need some fresh air," Padma lamented as they headed downstairs.

"Well, we have an hour before lunch - want to go sit by the Lake?" Harry suggested.

"That sounds lovely. Oh, I promised my parents I’d write!" Hermione said, remembering. "There's already so much to tell them..."

Harry felt a sudden pang in his chest – he didn’t have parents to write to.

"I should start a letter too… If I can get Parvati to write something too, we can send them off together," Padma thought aloud to herself.

The others continued to chat about their families, but Harry wasn’t listening fully. He was instead thinking of writing letters. And something Hedwig had asked him to do…

"I'll see you guys at lunch," Harry said hurriedly, turned around, and began to run up the stairs.

"Where are you going?" Terry called after him.

"Errand," Harry responded, purposefully nonspecific.

Hermione frowned and watched Harry head off. She couldn't shake the feeling that Harry had been looking a bit off ever since Defense against the Dark Arts.

"Tell me more about your family,” Padma said, distracting Hermione from her wondering.

Hello Hedwig! Harry thought loudly as he entered the Owlery.

Harry! His familiar dove off a perch in the far corner and flew towards him.

The boy began to smile as Hedwig landed on his shoulder and immediately nuzzled his cheek with her head.  I missed you.

And I you, nestling, Hedwig smiled at him. How was your defense class? Any troubles with Quirrell?

He barely looked at me, Harry assured her. But I haven’t been able to get to Peter. I asked Ron if he had a pet, he mentioned Scabbers, but he leaves him in his room all the time. And I don’t know how to get into the Slytherin dormitory.

Hedwig fought to urge to sigh. She had assumed it would be simple to catch Pettigrew, figuring that Harry and Ron would be sharing a room in Gryffindor dormitory. But now Harry was in Ravenclaw tower, and Ron was living in the Slytherin dungeons.

We’ll find a way to get him, she promised Harry.

I just… I don’t want Sirius in there any longer, Harry said. Hedwig had told him all about his godfather, and he didn’t want him suffering in prison any longer than necessary.

Neither do I, Hedwig agreed. Do you have the letter I had you write last night?

Harry rummaged through his schoolbag and took out a long parchment that he’d tied with a piece of string. Hedwig offered a claw, and he gently but firmly tied the string to her leg.

If this works, Hedwig told him. Then we’ll have another ally soon. And you will have a godfather.

Thanks, Hedwig, her wizard said gratefully. My friends were all writing letters home to their families, and I... I wanted someone to write to. Someone who cares about me.

You know I care for you, Hedwig told him warmly. And so will Sirius. She bent her head forward to take the tied cord of the bundle in her beak.

I’ll start looking for ways into the Slytherin dormitory, Harry told her.

Be careful, Hedwig warned him. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Hopefully I’ll have a reply from him. If not, at least I can steal your breakfast!

I knew that's why you really came by!

Hedwig nipped at his ear, and Harry laughed.

Remus Lupin had made a quiet life for himself in the last nine years. He had a small flat in Manchester, and worked part time at a bookstore, while doing some tutoring on the side. He hadn’t talked to anyone within the Wizarding World for over five years. It still brought back too many bad memories.

So it was a surprise for him, as he was sitting in a completely ordinary park in a non-wizarding neighborhood, to see a snowy owl land on his bench in the middle of the day. It had a scroll tied to its leg, and turned its head to look at him.

At first Remus tried to ignore it. He wasn’t interested in whatever it had to give him. But the owl paced around next to him, letting out funny little noises.

“Pyeee pyee,” the owl crooned. “Kreeek krek pyeek.”

Remus was tempted to say something silly – I don’t speak owl, or some such.  Then the owl hopped down onto the dirt in front of the bench and began scratching at the ground.

“I’m not giving you my sandwich,” Remus remarked, not entirely unpleasantly.

The owl swiveled its head to look right at him – Remus swallowed uncomfortably at the look it gave him.  As if I would want that horrid thing, she seemed to say with her eyes. It had to be a female owl – no male could master such a look of disdain.

“It happens to be very good,” Remus lied, attempting to look dignified.

The owl gave a sort of shrug, and then flew up onto his shoulder.

“Aren’t you going to introduce yourself first?” Remus asked drily. She pecked his ear, rather hard.

“Ahh!” Remus jerked his head away – and spotted the markings on the ground where the owl had been pecking.

HEllo MooNY

“What the…” Remus stood quickly, his hand moving to his wand before he thought better of it.

The owl fluttered off him, looking rather smug, and landed on the ground. It began to scratch again. Remus watched in amazement as more letters formed.

HArrY   

The owl painstakingly added an uppercase P, then an O, and two T’s - and it clicked in Remus’ mind. Harry Potter.

“I’ve never met an owl who can write,” Remus murmured, narrowing his eyes.

She scratched a sideways line from the word Harry, then beneath the line, wrote another word – HEDWIG.

“Hedwig?” Now Remus was baffled. The owl stepped onto the word, and began jumping up and down. “You’re Hedwig?”

The owl nodded and flapped her wings.

“You must realize how peculiar this all is,” Remus told her drily.

Hedwig rolled her eyes at him.

“Alright, then,” Remus said, and reached down to untie the string and take the scroll from the owl. “I’ll go read these, you can go now.”

But as he got up and hurried down the street towards his flat, the owl followed him, flying overhead in little loops, and drawing far too much attention from curious muggles.

“Owls aren’t supposed to be out during the day,” Remus reminded her, and shut the door before she could fly in after him.

He went up to his flat and locked the door, then went to the kitchen. Taking a knife, Remus cut the string tying the parchments together, then dumped them on the kitchen table. He picked up the first one and felt a jolt as he saw the handwriting – the spindly scrawl was very similar to James’ writing.

Dear Remus, aka Moony, it read in blue ink. I know you haven’t seen me since I was a child, and to be honest, I don’t remember you. But I’ve heard a lot about you recently, and I think you are the only person who can help me with something important.

There was a sudden tapping on the window, and Remus leapt to his feet, grabbing his wand. The snowy owl was still there, perched on the sill, and looking at him intently. Remus walked to the window, and after a moment, pulled it open.

Hedwig flew inside and went to land on a chair back in the kitchen. Remus whirled on her, raising his wand. No ordinary owl could write like she had…

Animagus Revelo!”

The bolt of light struck the owl – and did nothing.  Remus stared at her in surprise.

Really? Hedwig’s eyes seemed to say.

“Excuse me,” Remus said finally, and put away his wand. “I find I was mistaken. It appears you are just an owl.”

Hedwig’s feathers stood up, and Remus’ eyes widened.

“I mean – a very clever, intelligent owl,” he rushed to say. “And a beautiful one at that.”

Hedwig sniffed slightly, appeased for the moment.This, she thought to herself. Might take longer than I thought.

Remus returned to the letter, and continued reading Harry’s missive. It was friendly, and he was glad that the boy seemed so normal… Until the next paragraph.

What I’m about to tell you will be shocking. Please don’t spread the news yet, because we have a plan. Sirius Black did not betray my family, nor did he ever work for Voldemort. He is innocent, and was wrongly imprisoned for another man’s crimes. Peter Pettigrew was my parents’ Secret Keeper – he framed Sirius for his crimes, and has been alive all these years hiding as a rat.

Remus sat there frozen, staring at the parchment. Those few short sentences were about to completely upend his world.

“Here he comes!” Hannah dragged Susan into an alcove and out of sight, but she kept leaning out to peek.  “Isn’t he just – incredibly cute?”

“He’s not bad looking,” Susan said drily. “But his hair’s pretty messy.”

“It’s handsome ruffled,” Hannah sighed dreamily. “And his eyes are so… green.”

The boy in question walked by at that very moment, glanced into the alcove, and stopped with a smile. “Hello, Susan,” he said pleasantly.

“Hey Harry,” Susan smiled back. “How’s it going?”

“Good,” Harry answered, eyeing Hannah curiously, as she had put both hands over her mouth and was breathing heavily. “Um, is your friend okay?”

“Oh, yeah,” Susan said quickly. “This is Hannah. She, uh, got a bad hex to the stomach.”

“Ouch,” Harry winced. “What was it?”

“A vomiting hex,” Susan lied. “But she got them just as good.”

“What with?” Harry asked, interested.

“Um – the hiccupping hex.”

“Neat,” Harry nodded. “I’d like to learn that one. I read a lot of hexes, but I haven’t cast any yet. I’m not sure if we’ll actually learn to in Quirrell’s class, or if we’ll have to figure them out on our own. I’m actually on my way to study with some friends. Do you want to join us? You could teach us the hiccupping hex.”

“Sure,” Susan began to say, but Hannah was tugging urgently on her robes.  “Wait, there’s something we have to do first. Can we meet you there?”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry smiled at them. “We’ll be in the South Wing on the fifth floor.” He waved as he walked away.

“Bye, Harry!” Susan called after him. She turned to face her friend, waiting for the onslaught of questions.

“You knew Harry Potter and you didn’t tell me?” Hannah cried, wringing her hands. “And now we’re going to sit with him?! I love you, Susan, but sometimes I could hex you – if I knew any hexes, that is! And I have to teach him the hiccupping hex? I don’t even know the incantation!” This last, she wailed, wringing her hands dramatically.

“Breathe,” Susan laughed. “Look, I didn’t say anything because I knew you would make a fuss. And I came up with the best story I could, so you wouldn’t be embarrassed about being all weird in front of him.”

“Well, thanks for that at least!” Hannah sighed. “I’ve got to learn the hiccupping hex if I want to show my face at lunch! And what about my robes?”

“Your robes are fine,” Susan promised her. “Let’s go check the library. Maybe Madam Pince knows about the spell, we can ask.”

When the two Hufflepuffs did finally arrive at the study session, Susan armed with a book of minor hexes and jinxes, and Hannah with freshly combed hair and lip gloss, there were already a lot of students at the table.

Harry looked up and smiled in greeting. “Susan, Hannah. Do you know everyone?”

“Hi,” Neville said, smiling shyly at them.  

“We went to primary school with Neville and Terry,” Susan informed him.

“Is this a wizarding primary school?” Hermione asked, finally looking up from a giant book.

“Yes, it’s called Godric’s Grade School,” Terry told them. “In, believe it or not, Godric’s Hollow. There are a bunch of small wizarding schools for pre-Hogwarts education.”

“Parvati and I went to Madam Rosier’s Academy,” Padma added. “In Tinworth.”

“So, what are you working on?” Susan asked as she pulled up a chair between Neville and Terry.

“I just finished the herbology homework,” Neville said. “So I guess next I have reading for Charms.”

“I loved Charms class,” Hermione said happily.

“You’ve loved every class so far,” Padma laughed.  

“Well, yes, but especially Charms.” The brunette beamed. “It was very useful.”

In their first lesson, Professor Flitwick had walked them through the lumos charm and its counterpart, the nox charm. It was easy enough, as everyone did it by the end of class. Harry, who had cast it for the first time on the Lake, did it easily, so Flitwick had him focusing on shrinking and growing the light he cast. With concentration, Harry had also been able to manipulate the glowing effect into a small beam of light instead.

“I was thinking, maybe we could practice some defensive spells together,” Harry told the others. “Quirrell just lectured, and I’m not sure what he’s going to teach us, so I thought I might study it outside of class.”

Most of his friends agreed immediately.

“There’s a couple spells that I really want to learn this year,” he admitted, and showed them a piece of parchment.

Terry took it and read aloud. “The stunning curse, Expelliarmus, a silencing charm, Protego, and a spell to tie people up. Huh.” He looked up at Harry and nodded. “Those all sound pretty useful.”

“I say we find an empty classroom and start trying them,” Blaise said, looking at Harry contemplatively. “It’s never too early to know how to defend yourself.”

A few people were nearly done with homework, so they waited a little longer, then left the large common area to find a classroom. When they found one, they pushed some desks aside.

Harry was surprised when they then looked to him. “I guess we should do this in pairs. Let’s try the disarming curse first – I did read about it.” He pulled out his wand and rolled his wrist to stretch it.

They all did the same, then paired up. Hermione and Padma looked at each other and smiled, and Terry headed over to Blaise with a wave. Susan stepped up to Harry, leaving Neville with Hannah.

“It’s one word, expelliarmus,” Harry told them clearly. “The gesture is a single flick down and left.”

Expelliarmus,” Susan said sharply, and Harry’s wand flew right out of his hand to land at her feet.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he grinned at her. Susan picked up his wand and handed it back to him.

The pairs spread out across the room and took turns trying it. Harry’s first try disarmed Susan, and he even managed to catch her wand mid-air before tossing it back to her.

“Now stop taking turns,” Harry called once he saw that everyone had done it once successfully. “Ready, set – go!”

Susan had a half second on him, but Harry cast quickly. He leapt to the side trying to avoid her curse, and Susan half-ducked to avoid his. They tried again, and they both connected. This time Harry gripped his wand tightly to keep it from flying away. Susan lost hers, and nodded to him approvingly. While she went to collect her wand, Harry looked around the room.

Hannah had already disarmed Neville, who looked rather disappointed. As Harry watched, Blaise’s spell connected with Terry, and the Slytherin caught the flying wand. Hermione and Padma were still dueling it out, both dodging and causing the other to miss. Finally, Padma landed a hit, and Hermione smiled ruefully and accepted her loss.

“That was fun,” Terry laughed. “What else should we try?”

“We have Herbology soon,” Susan said apologetically. “We should probably go.”

“But, the hiccupping jinx?” Hannah protested, speaking up for the first time.

“Alright, but quickly,” Susan agreed.

Hannah beamed as she raised her wand towards her friend, and flicked it up, then down. “Singulto!”

A beam of light blue light raced towards Susan, who didn’t bother to dodge. Immediately she began to hiccup. It wasn’t at a normal rate; she couldn’t really stop.

“Hic,” Susan gasped. “Hic, hic, hic…”

“Nicely done,” Padma told Hannah.

“Ex – hic! – pelli – hic! Armus!” Susan tried, but it didn’t work with the hiccups.

“That’s pretty effective,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “Since your opponent can’t really talk through it and cast a spell at you!”

Hannah beamed at the compliment.

“Hannah – hic – can you – hic – end – hic – it?” Susan asked.

“Oh, right!” Hannah bit her lip and tried to remember. “What did the book say…”

There was a long pause as Susan’s hiccups grew more frequent, Susan looked more frustrated, and Hannah grew more flustered as she tried to recollect the counter.

“Finite!” Blaise said sharply, and Susan’s hiccups stopped. She gasped for a breath, then smiled and thanked him.

“That’s the counter for a lot of things, isn’t it?” Hermione realized.

“Mostly just jinxes and minor hexes,” Blaise explained.

Susan, Hannah, and Neville bid them farewell and headed off to Herbology, and the rest of them lingered.

“We should try it again,” Hermione said eagerly. “The dueling.”

This time Harry partnered with Blaise. Terry and Hermione were paired as well, while Padma waited for a turn next time.

“Ready?” Blaise said, his eyes bright and excited.

“Anytime,” Harry promised, and they both drew their wands and prepared to duel.  

At dinnertime, Harry suggested they sit with the Slytherins. Blaise had joined them at the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor tables before, but Harry wanted to be sure Ron was there, because he had to find something out from the youngest Weasley.

“So, I found it interesting that the pet options were owls, cats and toads. I have Hedwig, so I understand why it’s great to have an owl, but what are the reasons for the others?” Harry asked the others. “I mean, do they have magical… properties?”

“Not really,” Neville said. “Trevor just kind of… sits there. Oh, Hermione, thank you for finding that book about toads. Now I actually know what to feed him, and he won’t die.”

“You’re welcome, Neville. You should think about getting some kind of aquarium for him.”

Ron set down his fork for a moment to answer Harry. “Cats are traditional, I think. There’s kneazles, though, they’re a kind of cat, but they’re even smarter, good familiars people say.”

“Do you have a pet?” Harry asked him innocently.

“Ugh, yeah,” Ron sighed, pulling a face as he poured himself another glass of pumpkin juice. “Scabbers. He’s a rat. Totally useless.”

“Rats are cool,” Harry shrugged. “Do you have him with you?”

“Nah,” Ron shook his head. “I just leave him in the dorm.”

Harry hid his disappointment by taking a sip of water. Maybe if he could convince Ron that his pet must be feeling cooped up…

“That’s probably wise,” Terry said. “Since there are cats around the castle.”

“Yeah, Daphne Greengrass has a cat, and I bet it would eat Scabbers whole,” Ron shuddered. “I don’t really like him, but I don’t want him dead either.”

Harry dug into his food, quietly listening to the others as the conversation turned to classes. He felt suddenly annoyed at Terry. He’d wanted to convince Ron to take ‘Scabbers’ out so that Harry actually had a chance of getting his hands on him. Did that mean he had to find his way into the Slytherin dormitory?

Harry’s first week of classes sped by. Each course met twice a week, save Potions and Astronomy. Harry wasn’t sure what to think about astronomy yet – all the first years had to meet at midnight on Wednesdays to look at the stars, which was exciting for about five minutes until Harry realized how exhausted he was. His Wednesday had been rather full – they’d had Double Potions in the morning, and Herbology in the afternoon.  

Hedwig had warned him that Professor Snape might not be friendly to him, so Harry wasn’t surprised when Professor Snape picked him to quiz at the beginning of class. He hadn’t known about the draught of living death, but he did remember what a bezoar was, and that aconite and wolfsbane were both names for the same thing. Snape hadn’t awarded him any points for answering correctly, like other teachers had done.

The first potion they did was fairly simple. Harry had been cooking from recipes for years, so preparing the ingredients wasn’t much trouble. He used the classroom’s clock to time his adding of the ingredients, while Terry carefully did the stirring – and at the end of class, they produced a nearly perfect potion. It was a burnt orange color, just as described in the text. Even Hermione and Padma’s potion wasn’t quite as dark.

“At least nobody blew up their cauldron,” Terry had said cheerfully. “You’re really good at this stuff, Harry.”

“Well, it’s a lot like cooking. Just more dangerous, and with weirder ingredients,” Harry thought aloud.

The night before their first potions class, they’d seen one of the second years crying in the common room, her hands bandaged – evidently she’d added the wrong ingredient and caused her potion to explode violently all over herself and her lab partner. Harry had decided immediately that he would have to be very careful in potions to avoid such a fate.

On Thursday, they continued their transfiguration work, this time focusing on altering shape rather than quality, as they had on Monday, transforming matches into needles. Harry didn’t fully succeed in altering his circular doily into a star shape – it was more of a lopsided triangle. Afterwards, Harry managed not to fall asleep in History Class. He couldn’t believe that there was no interesting wizarding history, but Binns was determined to tell them about magical politics in the eleventh century, and truly, nobody cared.

“Honestly,” Hermione had huffed when they’d walked out. “You learn far more from books than from that… Professor.” She still managed to call him by his title, though it sounded strained.

Their afternoon was free, so they got to work trying to locate the ingredients for the Form Revealing Potion. Neville, Susan, Hannah and Ron had been brought in on the Ravenclaws’ plan with Blaise. Parvati and Lavender Brown had been invited, but had flat out declined the idea of an extra project on top of classwork. Padma had been rather obviously disappointed by this.  

Hermione arrived in their classroom with her bag stuffed full of owl-order catalogues from Diagon Alley.

“But we can just buy things at the apothecary in Hogsmeade,” Hannah spoke up.

“I thought we weren’t allowed to go to Hogsmeade until third year,” Hermione frowned.

“Our families live there,” Susan explained. “Since it’s so close, we get special permission to visit from Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon. I know other students whose families live there usually do the same thing.”

Harry took out a piece of parchment to copy down the ingredients for the girls to take. They weren’t sure of the pricing, but they agreed to all give a few sickles to Susan and Hannah before Saturday. With that decided, the group began to break up and go their separate directions.

Ron didn’t say anything as he took off, head down, and Harry hurried after him, wondering if something was wrong.

“Ron, are you okay?”

He turned and looked at Harry, clearly embarrassed. “I don’t think I can do this project.”

“Oh.” Harry frowned. “I know it’ll take a long time to do it, but don’t you think it would be worth it?”

“Yeah, of course! Nobody in my family is an animagus, and I thought… I could be the first,” Ron said longingly. “But I just… don’t have the money for ingredients.”

Harry suddenly felt guilty for assuming that everyone could pitch in. “Look, that shouldn’t stop you. Let me cover your share…”

“No,” Ron said vehemently, redder than ever. “I don’t – want charity.”

“It’s not charity if we’re friends,” Harry protested.

Ron looked surprised but pleased by the word. “Thanks, Harry, but I can’t. I don’t know why I even thought I could do this… It’s supposed to be really hard, and I’m not the smartest guy -”

“I think you can do it,” Harry assured him. “You know what Blaise said – you must have some real ambition to get into Slytherin.”

“You want to know the great ambition that got me into Slytherin?” Ron cried out in frustration. “I thinking about pranking people, but better this time, less obvious than the dungbomb. I was thinking of clever ways to get back at Malfoy! And look where that got me.” He sighed and leaned back against the wall.

“Are you doing okay there?”

“It’s not as bad as I thought,” Ron admitted. “Malfoy’s annoying, but Zabini’s kind of funny – sarcastic as all get out, but funny. But my parents…”

“Were they mad?” Harry asked, surprised.

“They promised they weren’t, but I could tell that they’re disappointed.”

“That stinks,” Harry said after a minute. And then, something came to mind. “What if I don’t give you the sickles? What if I pay you?”

“For what?”

“I want to try a living transfiguration,” Harry improvised. “Turn a box into a mouse. And you have a rat, could you loan him to me? I need… a model, you know, for the proper visualization.”

For a moment Ron stared at him. “Living transfiguration? Isn’t that really advanced?”

Harry shrugged, and slowly, Ron grinned at him. “Yeah, okay. Just promise your owl won’t eat him?”

“I swear she won’t eat your rat,” Harry said, clapping his hand over his heart.

Saturday, 7 September 1991

“Geroff, scabbers,” Ron scowled, trying to dump him on the table.

“I got you something,” Harry spoke up, eager to complete the transfer. He took out a lump of cheese that he’d taken from breakfast, and dropped it on the table.

Scabbers’ ears perked up at once. He jumped from Ron’s hand to the table, then grabbed the cheese and began to chew. Harry reached into his pocket and took out three sickles, which he gave to Ron.

“I’ll give him back in a couple of weeks.”

“Great,” Ron grinned. “Don’t let him get too fat.”

“I won’t,” Harry laughed. When Ron left him alone in the classroom, Harry slowly took out his wand.

‘Scabbers’ looked up from his cheese at Harry’s wand and froze.

“Don’t worry, I’m not transfiguring you, Scabbers,” he said casually, knowing that Pettigrew could understand him. Harry pulled out an ordinary matchbox and set it next to him.

“I’m going to try altering the box into a mouse – or a rat, I suppose,” he said confidently. Relaxing, Scabbers returned to his cheese, his back to Harry.

Harry lifted his wand, breathed in, and said quickly – “Stupefy!”

At just a meter away, the red beam struck its target instantly. Scabbers went limp, and Harry breathed out, relieved. He’d done it.

Next he tapped his wand to the matchbox. “Finite.

With a soft pop, it transformed into its original state – a warded metal box with a single tiny hole for air. Harry picked up the rat by its tail and dropped it inside, then tapped the locking rune. The box glowed for a moment, then settled. Pettigrew wouldn’t be able to get out now.  Harry couldn’t help but grin. Remus had really come through, and quickly too.

Hedwig! Harry called excitedly. I’ve got him!

That’s my boy, she said fondly, but there was no hiding the relief in her voice.  

Harry took the box and hurried out of the castle, and down to the lake. He’d yet to walk all the way around it, but he kept walking until he saw a man sitting down on a rock.

“Hello,” Harry called out.  Remus sprang to his feet and strode quickly over to meet Harry. He had a slight frame and brown hair that fell a little messily below his ears, and was wearing tattered brown robes.

“Harry,” Remus breathed, looking over the boy in amazement. “You look extraordinarily like your father.”

“But I have my mother’s eyes?” Harry said knowingly – everyone he’d met who’d known his parents commented on those two things.

“Yes,” Remus said, with a slight chuckle. Then his gaze traveled to the box in Harry’s hands. “Do you… is that…”

“I got him,” Harry said proudly.

Harry handed over the box, and Remus took it in his hands. He stared at it, still hardly able to believe that Peter Pettigrew, long thought dead, was inside it.

“I’ll make sure he gets to the aurors,” Remus said. He looked at Harry and met his eyes. “Thank you for this, Harry. It was very brave of you.”

“Not really,” Harry shrugged, feeling shy.

“I’m glad to meet you,” Remus said suddenly, smiling at him. “Once this is taken care of, I hope I can see you again. I can tell you a lot about your parents.”

“I’d like that,” Harry grinned back.

Remus surprised him by placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing gently. “I read everything you wrote, Harry. I’m so sorry to hear about the Dursleys.”

Harry bit his lip, embarrassed. He always was, thinking about the Dursleys. It always made him feel so weak, so pathetic, and telling Remus about them had been so hard.

“I will make sure you don’t go back there,” Remus said strongly, a flash of determination in his hazel eyes. “You don’t deserve any of that, Harry. You’ll have a better home than that.”

Harry couldn’t fight back a shy little smile. “Thanks,” he said softly.

Remus hesitated, then stepped in close, leaned down, and hugged Harry. The boy froze in surprise, having never been hugged before. He let out a shaky breath, surprised by the touch. Remus drew back slowly, leaving one hand on Harry’s shoulder, then looked over at Hedwig.

“You’ll hear from me soon,” he promised them.

Harry waved goodbye as Remus walked away from him, down the beach, until with a soft popping sound, he vanished completely from sight in a split second.

You did so well, Harry, Hedwig said approvingly as she flew to him. It was very clever of you to think of how to catch Pettigrew.

Thanks, Harry said, stroking her feathers. The only thing is, I’m not sure what I’m going to do when Ron wants his rat back…

Obviously, you should find him an owl, Hedwig replied sweetly. We’re superior in every way.

Harry chuckled. Then together, they walked back to the castle.

Dear Auntie – I really love being in Hufflepuff, just like you said I would! And Hannah’s here with me, which is perfect. You asked about my favorite classes – I think Charms and Herbology are the best so far. I was really looking forward to Defense, but Professor Quirrell has a terrible stutter and you can barely understand him – and he hasn’t taught any spells yet! Luckily, I’ve joined a study group, and we’ve been practicing a few spells on our own. I’m good at the disarming charm, and I even learned a couple jinxes. Don’t worry, I promise I’ll only use them in defense! Love and miss you! – Susan

Amelia Bones smiled as she read the letter. She tore off a piece of crust from her sandwich and tossed it to Mercury, her tawny owl, who gobbled it up eagerly.  Amelia had thought her niece would do wonderfully at Hogwarts, but having her hopes confirmed warmed her heart.  She reached for a quill to pen a reply before her lunch hour finished and she had to return to work.

Suddenly, something slammed against the window on the northern wall.  Years of finely honed instincts kicked in – in half a second, the Auror was on her feet, with her wand pointed sharply at the window.  When there was silence, Amelia stepped to another window - and made out a brown owl flying away. Resting on the windowsill was a strange metal box, with a letter stuck on top of it.

Amelia opened the sill and cast a series of diagnostic charms to determine if it was anything dangerous. When they all came back negative, she picked up the letter and read it.

Peter Pettigrew, illegal rat animagus, was the Potters Secret Keeper, and killed a dozen people before framing Sirius Black for his crimes.

Stunned, Amelia read it again, then dropped the letter and levitated the box onto the table. Was this some crazy hoax? But if there was any chance the letter was telling the truth, she had to find out. She found the rune to open the box, and the side fell away, revealing the limp form of a fat rat.

“Animagus Revelo!”

The rat grew in size, lengthening into the shape of a man in shabby robes, laying on her table. He was ten years older, and far heavier, but she remembered what Peter Pettigrew looked like. It was indeed Pettigrew. And since he was clearly alive… Sirius Black had not murdered him. Was it possible that Peter Pettigrew had been responsible for all those deaths, and framed Black, like the letter suggested?

Amelia quickly cast the charm to reverse her last spell, and Pettigrew re-shaped into an unconscious rat. Then she wordlessly banished the rodent back into the box, and closed it carefully. Amelia took three deep breaths to calm herself, then picked up the box, and apparated away.

Her owl hooted in confusion at the sudden departure, then shrugged, and moved to nibble on the abandoned sandwich.

Chapter Text

Saturday, 7 September 1991

Reenervate.”

Sirius blinked his eyes wearily, then froze, startled.

“Mr. Black,” a woman’s voice said clearly. “You’re in the Ministry, and we’re preparing you for a trial.”

“Why the hell isn’t the chair binding him?” A man in Auror robes hissed in confusion, and stepped forward, his wand raised.

Sirius flinched away from him.

“Dawlish, give the man some space!” The woman barked.  “Mr. Black.”

He turned his head to look at her. She had a square jaw, and greying brown hair. Strange, she looked oddly like someone he’d once known…

“Amelia Bones?” He croaked, his voice hoarse from disuse.

“That’s right,” she said, her voice softening slightly. “Mr. Black, we’re trying you for twelve murders, and as the accomplice to the murder of James and Lily Potter. Given that the chair did not bind you, I believe you might well be innocent.”

“I am,” Sirius gritted out, staring around at them. His hands were tight on his thighs, his body tensed like an animal preparing to bolt.

“If that’s true, the fastest way to end this trial is to accept interrogation by veritaserum,” Amelia told him. “Do you consent?”

“I do,” he growled.

While Amelia ordered an assistant to fetch a dram of the truth serum, Sirius’ eyes traveled about the room. It was a courtroom, a full one – he’d given evidence in a few trials before, but he’d never been in the chair before. The seats were filling up as members of the Wizengamot filled in, muttering to themselves. They stared at him like he was an animal. Sirius’ mouth twisted into a terrible smile.

Albus Dumbledore walked into the room and did a double take at the sight of Sirius Black.

“Madam Bones, why are we here?”

“This man was never given a trial,” Amelia called out, her voice echoing throughout the chamber and silencing many of the audience. “We are here to officially interrogate Sirius Black.”

Dumbledore frowned slightly, but swept over to a seat at the front table. “Please proceed, then.”

“Are all voting members present and accounted for?” Amelia asked a young blonde woman who sat down at the end of the table.

“Yes, Madam Bones.” The woman said, taking out a quill and parchment.

Cornelius Fudge came hurrying into the room. “Amelia, what is the meaning of this? Why have you called an emergency session?”

“Please have a seat, Minister, we are about to begin,” Dumbledore interrupted.

Sirius saw a man arrive with a vial of clear liquid. He presented it to Amelia Bones, who took it and approached him. Sirius opened his mouth, and she carefully poured a drop onto his tongue - then a second, and a third.

Sirius swallowed. “Water?” He asked hoarsely.  

A jug was quickly conjured, and before they could make a glass, Sirius grabbed it and gulped it down. The water was clean and cold, and he didn’t stop until he’d drained the entire jug. He could feel the serum starting to affect him, his vision was going glassy.

Dumbledore opened the trial, and then Amelia Bones took the floor. She gave a short statement to the Wizengamot, declaring that Sirius Black had never been given a trial, but was thrown into Azkaban by the war government, in an order signed off by Bartemius Crouch and former Minister Bagnold. Sirius’ head was foggy, but he could still hear, and hatred pulsed inside him as he thought of what they’d done to him.

“What is your name?”

“Sirius Nigellus Black.” The words slipped out without him even having to think them.

“Were you the Potters’ Secret Keeper?”

“No.”

The murmurs and gasps spread through the courtroom. Dumbledore’s jaw dropped as he stared at Sirius.

“Who was their Secret Keeper?”

“Peter Pettigrew.”

“What happened on the night of October 31st, 1982?”

Sirius shuddered, and began to speak. He’d gone over it so many times in his head. He was supposed to meet Peter for coffee, and he hadn’t shown. Sirius had grown nervous, and gone to check on James and Lily. They’d already been dead, James savagely murdered in the kitchen. He’d run upstairs, and found Lily dead as well by the crib… And Harry crying. Sirius had taken him and tried to comfort him, but he was too distracted… All he could think of was Peter. He’d betrayed James and Lily, there was no other way Voldemort could have gotten in here. When Hagrid arrived, Sirius handed over Harry, knowing that Dumbledore would take care of him. Then he’d gone looking for Peter.

Sirius found the rat outside Diagon Alley and confronted him. He’d called Peter a traitor, but Peter screamed back that it was all Sirius’ fault. He drew and began a duel, and Peter fought back. When Peter ducked behind a car, Sirius blasted it to pieces, and Peter ran – and disappeared in another explosion of his own making, that burst from out of the ground. It took out a stalled bus nearby, and Sirius was left deafened and dazed by the explosion, staggering to find Peter, but he was gone. He broke down as his mission had ended, and it all hit him. When the aurors took him, Sirius went with them, feeling numb. It was all his fault, he thought – he’d told them to use Peter, with him as a distraction. It was his fault James and Lily were dead, and little Harry fatherless. The next thing he knew he was stunned, and he woke up in a cell.

Everyone was silent as they took in the story. Sirius took a shaky breath, then nodded to the jug. Dawlish refilled it with water, and Sirius drank deeply from it.

“Thank you, Mr. Black,” Amelia said quietly, before raising her voice again. “Have you ever been a Death Eater?”

No.”

“Or supported Lord Voldemort in any way?”

Never,” Sirius hissed angrily.

Amelia nodded, looking grimly pleased. “This testimony clearly refutes all the charges against you.” She turned to the court, and asked for their vote.

Dumbledore, she noted, looked absolutely shaken. Every single wand raised when she asked who voted for Sirius Black’s release.

Then an old woman stood up, holding her wand.

“Yes, Madam McMillan?”

“I motion for a restitution payment to Mr. Black for ten years of wrongful imprisonment.”

Sirius felt like he’d been struck by a train. Ten years?  It had been that long? He barely heard as the court discussed the amount of payment to be awarded.

“Mr. Black.” Amelia Bones’ voice struck through his inner thoughts, and he blinked up at her. “You’re a free man. Do you have somewhere to go?”

He pushed himself up onto his feet, staring around. The young auror, Dawlish, presented him with a small bag.

“Your possessions, that were on you when you were… detained.”

Sirius grabbed his wand, clasping it tightly, his hands running over it in amazement. He hadn’t done any magic, save his transformation, in what felt like forever. He ignored them and strode to the door, shoving it open and falling out.

“Sirius!” Someone called after him, but he ignored it.

The hallway was dark and cool, like his cell. A fear seized him – was this just another dream? He’d hoped for this a thousand times… Clutching his wand tightly, Sirius pushed forward, desperate to believe this was real.

He picked up his pace, snarling as he ran down the corridor, until at last he found the elevator. He knew he couldn’t apparate unless he was in the atrium…

“Sirius,” Albus Dumbledore called as he hurried after him. “We should talk -”

Sirius slammed his hand on the closed button and smiled viciously at Dumbledore’s look of surprise as the door closed in his face. The elevator began going up. When the doors opened on the next floor, Sirius snarled at the two witches standing there. One shrieked, the other grabbed her friend’s arm and stepped back, deciding to wait for the next one.

On the next floor, little floating memos came floating in. Sirius gave into his rage and set them on fire. They burned into little crisps, the ashes sprinkling onto the ground. His wand felt right in his hand, the familiar hum of his magic flowing through it.

“Atrium,” the cool female voice stated, and Sirius pushed himself out the doors the moment they opened.

It was bright in here, and he was forced to blink, unprepared for the light. There were dozens of people here, standing around and chatting. As he stalked by, some of them turned, staring at the filthy wizard with the dark eyes.

“Look, I know there’s a trial going on, and I have to be there,” a man was shouting at the desk clerk.

“Sir, there are no trials currently scheduled for the day -”

“If you don’t let me check in, I’ll go down there anyway,” the visitor growled.

A prickle went down Sirius’ spine. That voice… He stopped in his tracks and turned.

“Moony?”

Remus Lupin whirled around and stared. “Padfoot?” He whispered.

The man before him was pale and gaunt, his face and clothes filthy, his hair matted and dank. But his face… He had those same high cheekbones, though his cheeks were sunken, the same aristocratic nose, and brown eyes so dark they looked black.

Remus stepped towards him slowly, cautiously, for Sirius’ body had tensed, like he was about to run. “Sirius,” he breathed in wonder.

When he was close enough, Remus reached out and put his hands gently on Sirius’ shoulders. Then he stepped in again, and carefully embraced his oldest friend. Sirius froze, then leaned into him, arms coming up to clutch at Remus’ back. He sniffed him, relaxing at the familiar smell – Remus looked more worn, but he was undoubtedly the same. If this was a dream, it was a good one.

“Don’t wake up,” he muttered distractedly to himself, and Remus shuddered as he realized Sirius thought he was dreaming.

“Hold on,” Remus murmured, then concentrated, and apparated them away from the Ministry.

Sirius’ legs nearly buckled under the force of the travel. He gasped, eyes darting around even as he held on even more tightly. It was an unfamiliar flat, simply furnished, with books and papers on nearly every surface.

Remus held on until Sirius began to relax and shiver in his arms. Then he pulled back carefully, and led Sirius over to sit on the couch. The dark-haired man collapsed.

“This is my home,” Remus said hoarsely. “You can stay as long as you want.”

Sirius stared at him, then nodded slowly in understanding.

“Are you hungry?”

Sirius nodded again, and his eyes lit up at the thought of food. Remus wondered how he’d been fed in prison.

“I’ll cook you something. And – I’ll run a bath,” Remus babbled, and hurried first to the bathroom to begin drawing it.

He looked back over at Sirius as he began getting things out of the fridge. He barely got the chicken prepared right, his hands were shaking so badly. Remus put a kettle of water on to boil, hoping that a cup of tea might settle his nerves.

When Remus returned to the living area, he found Sirius sitting very still, staring at the wall.

“Padfoot?”

Sirius didn’t look up. His eyes seemed so empty, and Remus fought the urge to collapse on the floor and beg for forgiveness.

“Talk to me,” Remus pleaded as he sat down beside him. “Anything you need. I just… let me help. Please.”

Sirius just shrugged, and Remus’s hands clenched into fists. He felt so helpless – what was he supposed to do.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out. “For believing it.”

When there was no answer, Remus felt a terrible cold feeling in his gut. Why would he be forgiven? True, James had told him, months before his murder, that Sirius was their Secret Keeper. But how could he have thought Sirius capable of betraying James and Lily? The events of that Halloween had scarred him worse than any full moon had, made him flee the magical world and live alone for this long, never able to push the war, their deaths, Sirius’ betrayal from his mind… But it had all been lies.

“I was a fool.” Remus said hoarsely. “I don’t expect forgiveness. But I will do whatever it takes to make up for it.”

The kettle began to whistle, and Remus got to his feet and went to make the tea. The first mug he grabbed fell from his shaking hands to crash on the floor. He cursed silently, then picked his wand off the table.

Reparo.” Remus picked up the mended mug and put it on the table. He turned to get the kettle, and started to find Sirius standing there, looking at him.

“Not your fault, Moony,” he said quietly, meeting his eyes. “We never told you we changed the plan.”

Remus trembled with relief. It meant so much for Sirius to say that, though it didn’t get rid of his personal guilt.

“Making tea?” Sirius rasped knowingly. “The Remus Lupin solution for every crisis.”  His lips turned up in a ghost of his old smile, just enough to pull a smile onto Remus’ lips, not enough to stop the pain he felt.

“You can’t deny it’s effective,” Remus quipped softly. And inwardly, he prayed that somehow they’d get through this.

Sirius sat down and watched Remus go through the steps of the tea making process. It felt familiar, like something he’d seen a million times and managed to forget with the dementors around. It was calming, peaceful – and Sirius could only hope that it was real.

Sunday, 8 September 1991

 

Sirius Black Innocent, Freed from Azkaban!

Peter Pettigrew Imprisoned for 13 counts of murder

Harry petted Hedwig as he read the article in the Daily Prophet. The main picture was one of Sirius sitting in a chair, chains with open cuffs at his feet. He looked up with a stunned expression that had only a glimmer of hope. 

“Who’s Sirius Black?” Hermione asked as she peered over Padma’s shoulder.

Harry looked up at her and grinned. “My godfather,” he said simply, then picked up the paper, and left the table, Hedwig cooing her goodbyes. He went outside to write the letter, and sat down on a bench near the greenhouses.

What should I say? Harry wondered.

Why don’t you start with hello, Hedwig teased.  

Harry pulled out a piece of parchment and took a deep breath, before beginning to write. Dear Sirius…

 

Remus watched quietly as Sirius read the letter. He’d left his soup half-finished, instead staring at the parchment hungrily. He was pale and restless after a night of little sleep. Remus had given him his bed, and taken the couch, but halfway through the night Sirius had woken them both, screaming and thrashing, trapped in a nightmare. Remus had managed to wake him, but instead of talking about it, Sirius had shifted into Padfoot, and remained that way for most of the day. Remus worried about him, but he didn’t want to push Sirius too hard. It was only when a letter arrived for him that Sirius finally shifted back into human form.

“It’s from Harry,” Sirius said at last, staring up at Remus in wonder. Heheld out the letter, and Remus took it and smiled as he began to read.

“He wants to meet you,” Remus said warmly. He looked back at Sirius and saw a small smile blooming on his face.

“Have you seen him?” Sirius asked eagerly.

“Once, recently.”

“How’d he look?”

“Good,” Remus grinned. “His hair is as messy as James’.”

Sirius let out a great bark of laughter. “Harry’s at Hogwarts… Merlin, it feels like yesterday he was just a baby. Now he’s all grown up… Remus, tell me more!”

“I’m terribly sorry, Sirius,” Remus said sadly. “He’s not in Gryffindor.”

Sirius’ mouth fell open. “Oh god – not…”

Remus nodded solemnly, and Sirius let out a horrified whine. “Harry’s in Ravenclaw.”

Sirius froze, then clapped his hand on the table. “Moony, you let me think he was in Slytherin!”

Remus laughed then, pleased by his little joke. “He reminds me of Lily, Sirius. He’s a very smart boy.”

“Ravenclaw,” Sirius said ruefully, shaking his head. “Not bad. Who raised him, anyway?” There was a pause, and Sirius’ gaze hardened. “Moony?”

“Dumbledore placed him with Lily’s sister Petunia.”

Sirius looked absolutely baffled. “But – I thought she hated Lily, hated magic. She wouldn’t even come to their wedding!”

Remus nodded apologetically. “Harry’s happy at Hogwarts, Padfoot. But he’s not happy with the Dursleys.”

He realized afterwards that he should have expected Sirius’ reaction. The dark haired man growled furiously and leapt to his feet, seizing his wand.

“Did they hurt him? Tell me where they are, Remus, and I’ll make them…”

“Padfoot!” Remus roared, catching him by the shoulders. “Calm down! If there’s a way to get guardianship, we’ll find it.”

Sirius took deep, panting breaths, and Remus gently pushed him back down into his chair.

“Eat your lunch,” Remus ordered. “You’re not good for anything right now, Sirius,” he said, wincing at how hurt Sirius looked at his words. “You need to eat, drink your damn nutrition potions, and get your strength back up! And then maybe try to look respectable enough that you’ll be allowed to adopt Harry.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Sirius said doubtfully, but he did take another bite of his sandwich.

Remus swallowed hard as he looked him over. The werewolf’s clothing hung off Sirius like they were pillowcases. He’d seen him shirtless earlier, and Remus had been bowled over at the sight of the formerly strong man’s obvious ribs. They’d kept him near-starved, and clearly never let him bathe. Luckily Sirius had spent an hour scrubbing himself clean after dinner last night, so at least he didn’t stink. His hair, despite his better efforts to clean it, was terribly tangled.

Seeing where Remus was looking, Sirius chuckled and touched his hair. “It looks like you’re the handsome one for once,” he joked.

Remus’ answering smile was pained. Sirius looked back down at his plate and crunched down on his pickle. Remus was thinner than he remembered, and had even more scars. Sirius wondered how his transformations had been – he hadn’t had the Marauders with him, and had transformed alone for the last ten years. He might have gotten the worse deal in Azkaban, but Remus didn’t look very happy either.

“Will you cut my hair?” Sirius asked suddenly.

“Of course.”

“I always did a terrible job, myself,” Sirius admitted ruefully.

Remus chuckled, remembering how messy and uneven it had been when Sirius tried to do it himself.

Sirius ended up sitting on a cushion on the floor, while Remus perched on the couch behind him. Sirius watched quietly as long tangles of his hair fell to the floor beside him with each clink of the scissors. He held a small hand-mirror, and watched as Remus cut his hair to below his ears, then began casting de-tangling charms on what was left. Finally, Remus transfigured the scissors into a hairbrush, and carefully worked out the last kinks in it. They were both quiet until it was done.

“What do you think?”

“Good. Thanks,” Sirius said quietly. He tilted his head, watching as the carefully layered hair shifted slightly. It was no longer lank and greasy as it had been the day before, and Remus had worked out every last tangle. “You think… I look okay? I don’t want to scare Harry.”

“You won’t,” Remus said firmly, one hand settling on Sirius’ shoulder and squeezing gently. “He’ll just be glad to see you. Let’s just give it a little time, alright? Let yourself heal.”

Sirius truly hoped Remus was right.

 

Monday, September 9th

Sirius woke slowly, to the strange feeling of soft sheets against his skin. He looked around, his heart racing – and then he remembered where he was. This was Remus’ apartment.  He slowly recalled insisting on taking the couch, despite Remus’ protests. But when he’d woken up screaming, he’d shifted to dog form and curled up at the foot of the bed. Sometime in the night, he’d evidently shifted back and crawled under covers.

He reached out to the indentation on the other side of the bed. Still warm – Remus had been here. He smiled, relieved that it seemed less like a dream now. And then he could hear a soft voice coming from the living room. Sirius climbed out of bed and padded to the door to listen.

“I know, I’m sorry ma’am.” Remus spoke quietly into the phone. “Yes, I do value this job. Of course I don’t expect – no. Alright. I understand. I’ll collect the check this week.” He held the phone away from his ear and sighed, his shoulders drooping as he went to hang it up.

“Moony?” Sirius asked softly, and Remus turned around, surprised that he was already up. “You have to go to work?”

“No,” Remus shook his head. “I want to be here with you. Anyways… there’s no longer a job to go to.”

Sirius winced. “They fired you?”

“Yes. It was one day too many to ask off, apparently,” Remus shrugged. “No matter. It’s the way all jobs go in the end.”

What was supposed to sound matter-of-fact and practical sounded awful to Sirius. He knew why it was so hard for Remus to hold down a job. Most employers in the wizarding world wouldn’t hire a registered werewolf, and even in the muggle world, he must miss too many days of work.

Remus went to the refrigerator to get items for breakfast. “I’ll run out to the shop later,” he declared when he saw there were only four eggs left.

Sirius looked around the flat. Everything was cheap – it was likely all Remus could afford.

“I want to do some errands after breakfast,” he blurted out. He had money, at least the restitution if the Ministry hadn’t taken his former savings – he should be paying for groceries.

Remus was startled by the statement, but pleased.  As healthy as it had been to spend yesterday talking, eating, and sleeping – Sirius wanting to get into the world could only be a good thing.

Once they cleared the breakfast dishes, Sirius went to shower and change. Remus smiled at him as he came out wearing one of the nicer button-down shirts.

“You look nice,” Remus blurted out.

“You’re too nice,” Sirius said drily, not believing him. “I’m going to head to Gringotts. Do you… want to come with?”

“I’d like that, if you want me to,” Remus replied.

“Will you… apparate us?” Sirius requested quietly. He hadn’t tried apparating in a long time, he really didn’t want to mess up and splinch himself. Remus smiled and came over to link their arms together. Then he apparated them to the foyer of Gringotts Bank.

Without his key, Sirius had to give a blood sample to the goblins. He was escorted to a room, and Remus waited outside, wishing he had brought a book. Instead he began to people-watch.

When Sirius finally emerged over an hour later, Remus had fallen asleep in the chair in the lobby. Sirius watched him for a moment, enjoying how peaceful he looked in sleep, then touched his shoulder gently.

“Moony,” he whispered.

Remus’ eyes drifted open. “Padfoot?” He murmured sleepily.

“Let’s go home,” Sirius told him. “I’m done here.”

Remus managed to shake himself awake enough to apparate them back.

“How did it go?” He asked once they were back in his flat.

“You’re looking at the new Lord Black,” Sirius said, sounding rather shocked and a little bitter.

“I hope that’s better than you made it sound.”

Sirius grimaced as he went to sit down. He grabbed the last apple from the fruit basket on the way, and took a large bite.

“My grandfather was the last Lord Black. He left it to me, even though I was still in prison. He always did hate my mother more than he hated me. Gringotts held everything for me for twenty years before the Ministry could legally designate it to some other Black relation. Oh, and get this.” Sirius suddenly grinned. “Grimmauld Place is mine, and has been for years. But it’s under Fidelius, and when he died, everyone but the house elves forgot the address. In order to keep living there, my mother could never leave. She spent the last five years of her life on self-appointed house arrest!” He threw back his head and howled with laughter.

Remus shook his head, trying not to be amused and utterly failing.

“Mother’s got to be rolling in her grave right now,” Sirius said smugly. “I’ve got the fortune she always wanted to give to Regulus, plus what Uncle Alphard left me. I’ve got his house, too. You remember his spot in the countryside?”

“I remember it,” Remus said thoughtfully. “I came and visited with you a few times after graduation.”

“I hope Harry likes it,” Sirius said hopefully. “It’ll be better than taking him to that rotten hellhole I grew up in. Oh – I asked about my stuff, everything I had before Azkaban. It wasn’t in any of the vaults. Do you know what happened to it?” 

“Oh.” Remus suddenly sat up straight. “Actually, yes. I completely forgot I had it.”

He went to his bedroom, and Sirius padded after him. Remus opened his wardrobe, and took out an old hatbox. Sirius frowned, wondering what could possibly be in there.

Remus went to the bed and carefully removed what appeared to be furniture for a dollhouse. It took Sirius a moment to recognize the pieces.

“You shrank them!”

“Of course,” Remus said.

“But you could have used them instead of this crap!” Sirius pointed out. Remus didn’t respond to that, but his shoulders hunched over with tension.

“Your trunk,” he said quietly. “And your wardrobe.” Remus carefully set them both down on the floor, then reversed the shrinking charms on them.

“I hope moths don’t eat tiny clothing,” Sirius joked. He opened the wardrobe and grinned at the sight of his old quidditch robes.

He grabbed the Gryffindor Team robes and pulled it over his semi-formal clothes. When he turned around to face him and grinned, Remus felt something tight and sad coiling inside him. Other than that smile, everything about Sirius was so different. The robes no longer showed off his muscles, instead it showed how skinny he’d become by hanging off of him. Sirius’ face fell at the sad look on Remus’ face.

“I guess it’s not the best fit,” he said quietly, then put it away and turned to his trunk.

It was the same seven compartment trunk that he’d had since he was eleven. The key had been left in the first lock. Sirius turned it and opened it to the first compartment. It was full of old schoolbooks. He paused at the sight, then slowly reached for one and pulled it out.

“We all wrote in here,” Sirius whispered reverently.

He flipped it open to a random page and saw James’ spindly writing in notes on the margins. His long, curly letters were in Gryffindor red ink. Peter scratched out his thoughts in gold to complement James, while Sirius used color-changing ink. And there was Remus’ familiar curlicues, always done in black ink. Sirius smiled at the memory of passing the book around in class, distracting each other from the subject.

“I read them sometimes,” Remus admitted in a low murmur. “Wishing we were back there.”

Sirius sighed, then slowly closed it again, and put it away. He turned to Remus and gave him a familiar crooked, cocky smile.

“Now you’ve got the real thing.”

Tuesday, 10 September

 

“This is nasty,” Sirius groaned as he downed yet another potion. This one was grey with orange chunks, and just looking at it made him feel nauseous, to say nothing of the taste.

“You’ll get through it,” Remus said shortly.  

Sirius rolled his eyes. Remus had dragged him to St. Mungos this morning. He’d seen a Healer, who had subscribed a daily regimen of nutrition potions to start combating ten years of malnourishment. They also picked up some Dreamless Sleep to help him get through the night without nightmares, and some calming draughts just in case. The Healer had recommended Sirius try talking to someone about his experience, but he had blanched and refused point blank. Remus had been quite irritated by Sirius’ refusal.

“I don’t want to talk to a professional,” Sirius told him again, but Remus wasn’t looking at him. “I can talk to you, can’t I?”

Hazel eyes flashed as they looked up at him. “But will you, Sirius? Do you actually want to talk about Azkaban?”

“No, I don’t!”

“It’s healthy to -”

“It was hell!” Sirius burst out. “Do you really need to hear the details? About how when the dementors were there, I couldn’t remember any happy thoughts? How all I could think of was how I’d failed James and Lily? All I could remember of you was when you were mad at me! Changing into Padfoot was the only thing that kept me sane. They didn’t affect me as much as a dog, so I spent most of the last ten years as a dog! I haven’t talked to anyone in all that time, so of course I’m bollocks at it! I don’t want to talk, Moony, I just want to… be free.”

Remus was quiet as he took that in. “Do you want to go for a walk?” He asked hesitantly. “Padfoot?”

Sirius finally smiled. He slipped off the couch, his body folding up and growing dark as he shifted into his dog form. Then he trotted over to Remus, tail wagging, and licked his hand. Remus chuckled, and petted him fondly.

“Alright, boy,” he said softly. “Let’s get some air.”

When they returned from a long walk about the neighborhood, both of them were in much better spirits. Sirius had bounded about the park, chasing squirrels and butterflies, and to Remus’ amusement, found an old ball under a bush. Remus had thrown it about the park, and Sirius ran and leapt to catch it and bring it back. Life was simpler as a dog, less demanding. He could run about and play, without thinking about the things he had to do, about the things weighing him down…

Remus saw the letter on the windowsill first. It was short and simple, in Harry’s handwriting. Hedwig wants to talk to both of you.

Sighing, he opened the window, guessing that Hedwig was still in the area. He’d wanted to give Sirius more time to recover, but it was rather urgent.

“Padfoot,” Remus said gently as he approached the dog on the couch. Padfoot rolled onto his back, head on Remus’ lap, and looked up at him with large, mournful puppy eyes. Moony smiled down at him and scratched behind his ears just right. Padfoot wagged his tail contentedly.

“I’m sorry, but I do need to talk to you.”

Sirius steeled himself, and slowly transformed back. He was about to sit off, pulling off Remus’ lap, when the other man threaded a hand through his hair and petted it softly. Sirius’ eyes drifted shut, part of him feeling like he was still a dog, being cared for like this.

“It’s rather a long story,” Remus began. “But suffice to say, I didn’t know about Peter. It was Harry who caught him and brought him to me.”

Sirius’ eyes snapped open in shock. “Harry got him? How did he know…”

Of all the possible explanations to follow that sentence, Sirius would never have guessed the one Remus gave him. When he was finished, Sirius stared at him silently for a moment, wondering if Remus was actually the one who had lost his mind.

“He thinks his owl traveled back in time?” Sirius said disbelievingly. “To… save the world?”

“That’s the gist of it, yes.”

There was the sound of wings fluttering, and Sirius looked over and saw a snowy owl land on the sill of the open window. It looked like the same one who had delivered Harry’s letter on Sunday. She had a dead mouse in her talons, which she dropped next to her, and then proceeded to eat it greedily.

“Speak of the devil.” Remus said drily.

“Do you believe it?” Sirius demanded, turning to look at Remus.

“I have yet to come up with a more plausible explanation.”

“It’s just a bloody owl!”

Kreekk!” The owl barked, turning its yellow eyes on him.

“I think you’re going to need this.” Remus got up and walked to the cupboard, then took out a small jar filled with orange mushrooms. “You just eat one.” He took one and ate it, then passed the jar to Sirius.

“Never tried this kind before,” Sirius quipped, and Remus rolled his eyes. Sirius sighed, took a mushroom, and chewed it down. Remus tossed one to the owl. She caught it in its beak and swallowed it whole.

“The hell,” Sirius gasped as the first effect washed over him, leaving him shivering.

“Sorry,” Remus said quickly – he’d forgotten that side effect. He took a blanket off the couch and wrapped it around Sirius’ shoulders, then sat down next to him. “Close your eyes and think whatever you want to say.”

Sirius groaned, still shivering, but he did close his eyes. He’s mad, Sirius thought to himself. I go away for ten years, and Moony’s gone completely moony!

Perhaps I have, a bit, Remus said softly.

Sirius opened his eyes again, surprised at the admittance. Then he heard Remus’ voice again, though his lips weren’t moving.

I missed you terribly, Remus confessed. He might not have admitted it out loud, but like this, it was much easier.

I know, Sirius’ mind voice said quietly. Moony, I…

I can come back later if you need a moment? A teasing young woman’s voice said clearly, as if in his ear.

Sirius’ eyes flew open, his hand grabbed for his wand. “What the hell?”

Sirius, this is Hedwig, Remus told him. He gestured towards the snowy owl, who abandoned the mouse corpse and flew over to land on the armrest of the couch.

It does sound a bit mad, Hedwig acknowledged, tilting her head to look at him curiously. I thought so too when I heard the plan.

If time travel is possible, why did you come back, and not a wizard or witch? Sirius asked, raising an eyebrow.

The ritual had to be completed by a magic user, and sent another soul back in time. By the time the ritual was completed, I was the only soul my witch could send back. Her voice dropped in pitch, sadness creeping in. Everyone else in the Order was dead.

What Order? Sirius demanded, though his brain was already supplying an answer. How did she know about the Order…

The Order of the Phoenix. Though after Dumbledore died and Fawkes vanished, Harry did say he’d like to rename it the Order of the Owl.

Sirius stared at her, trying to decide if he could believe her.

Voldemort had taken over Wizarding Britain, and was already invading Europe. He seemed unstoppable -

He’s dead, Sirius thought harshly. Harry killed him –

Voldemort remains here as a spirit, Hedwig interrupted. Three years from now, he regained a body. And then there was war. Worse than the last, by all accounting…

Sirius shuddered at that thought. If there was even a chance that this was true, then he supposed he should listen… Just in case this owl was telling the truth.

Hours later, Hedwig had left to return to Hogwarts. Remus had cut down on her trip by making her a portkey to take her back to Hogsmeade.

“If Voldemort’s at the school, possessing a teacher, then Harry’s in danger.”

“But he never made a move until Halloween, then we have some time before we go after him.” Remus pointed out.

“In her timeline, maybe! But what if something’s different here? What if he hurts Harry because we didn’t take him out now?”

“We can’t take him out now,” Remus said frankly. “I don’t know that the two of us are a match for him, especially with you still weak. I’m sorry, Sirius, but you know you still have to recuperate. We need to learn proper exorcism spells, and figure out how we’re going to bind the spirit and keep it contained, until we destroy all the horcruxes Hedwig mentioned.”

Sirius groaned, sinking his head into his hands. “This is all so complicated. I just want to go after him now.”

“You are not running into a fight unprepared!” Remus snarled. “Not again! I just got you back, I’m not losing you again!”

Sirius looked up at him, surprised by Remus’ vehemence.

“If we confront him and he escapes, then we lose our advantage,” Remus pointed out. “We may never get another chance like this. At a certain point, the changes we’re making will start affecting other things, and Hedwig’s knowledge of the future could become useless.”

Sighing, Sirius nodded. “I guess you have a point. Merlin, you know what you’re doing, but I’m completely lost. I don’t even know how to protect Harry, how do I expect to become his guardian? Hell, Moony – do you really think it’s a good idea? I’m not exactly the picture of great mental health. Screaming myself awake every night…”

Remus reached out and put a gentle hand atop Sirius’. “You’re going to make a good dad. I know you don’t feel like you’re ready. James didn’t when Harry was born. You’ll figure it out as you go along.”

“You’ll help?”

“Always,” Remus swore without hesitation.

“Good,” his friend said quietly. “Harry needs someone like you. Someone responsible, and smart.”

“He needs you too.”

“I guess there should be one cool parent,” Sirius’ lips twitched as if they wanted to smile. “You can be the mom.”

Remus dropped his hand and swatted his arm playfully.

“Jesus,” Sirius shook his head. “I can’t believe we’re thirty-one, Moony. I still feel like a teenager. You’ve grown up, but I just… I didn’t. I missed ten years.”

“You don’t have to miss anymore.”

Sirius smiled at him hopefully. “I hope you’re right.”

“I’m always right,” Remus reminded him, and Sirius’ answering laugh caught his heart and made his spirits soar.

Chapter Text

Friday, 13 September 1991

Hermione stared at the row of broomsticks, utterly petrified.

"Just believe in yourself," Padma urged her. “It’ll only obey you when you believe it will - when you really want to fly." 

"But I don't think I want to fly," Hermione moaned. "Neville almost crashed his broom! If Ron hadn’t righted it, he could have fallen and really hurt himself!”

Padma sat down and began to stretch before the lesson began. She’d become accustomed to stretching before working out, though flying didn’t require quite the same amount of physical work as dancing or running did.

“Do you think she’s watching?” Stephen Cornfoot, a Hufflepuff, was whispering excitedly to his housemates.

“She has to be,” Susan said practically. “How else would she know who to invite to try-outs?”

Padma had learned just that morning that the House Quidditch Captains would watch the first years flying lessons, to see if there was any potential. First years weren’t allowed to try-out for Quidditch without the express invitation of the Captains.

Hermione sat down beside her to stretch, hoping to take her mind off the idea of flying on a broomstick meters in the air, potentially falling and hitting her head… She winced and tried once more to push those visions out of her head.

A few minutes later, the rest of the students had shown up - now all twenty-two Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw first year students were gathered on the green.

"All right, let's get started." Madam Hooch swept up in light red robes, her voice as crisp as her spikey grey hair. "Everyone stand by a broom."

Hermione looked anxiously down at the stick before her. This wasn't something she could learn from a book - so what if she failed? What if she was laughed at? What if her friends laughed at her?

"We're going to catch you if you fall," Padma assured her, sensing her worry.  Hermione's chest filled with warmth, chasing away her fears momentarily.

“Thanks,” she murmured to Padma as Madam Hooch gave their next instruction. They were to direct their broomsticks…

“Up,” she hissed, waving her hand over the broom. It didn’t budge. “Up!” Still, it didn’t obey. Hermione bit her lip, wishing she wasn’t so scared…

“It’s okay,” Harry said gently from his spot on her right. “You can do it.” She looked over and flushed as she saw that Harry, like everyone else, already had his broom in his hand.

Hermione took a deep breath, and wished she had her wand. Maybe that would get the darned thing to come to her. “Up!” She yelled, and suddenly her broom shot into her hand. She squeaked with surprise, her hand barely closing in time to catch it before it fell.

"Mount up!” Madam Hooch called, and everyone mounted their brooms.

Hermione did so carefully, and was surprised to find that it felt like sitting on a comfortable bicycle seat instead of an actual broom. There must be a charm…

"Not too high now!  Up on three - but no higher than a few feet, understand?"  When they nodded, their coach smiled briefly.  "One - two - three."

Hermione pushed off desperately with her feet, wishing with all her heart that she was going to stay in the air and not fall back down again.  She closed her eyes - and somehow didn't feel the ground right back on her feet like she always did after jumping.  Cautiously, she looked down - she was floating!

"Oh my," she breathed rapturously. The broom was still in the air.

Someone whooped nearby, and Hermione looked up to see Terry leaning over his broomstick, zipping around the field.

“Not too far, now!” Madam Hooch called after him.

“Wow,” Harry whispered as he brought up his own broom and began to fly.

“You’re doing it!” Padma called, smiling at Hermione as she flew in a circle around her. “Fly with me!”

Hermione let out a shuddering breath, then cautiously, leaned forward as the others did. Her broom moved forward, and she gasped and leaned back again. The broom stopped in place, to her relief. 

“Come on, Harry!” Terry shouted from the other end of the field.

Harry hesitated, seeing Hermione hovering still, looking nervous.

“I’ve got her,” Padma told him, and Harry nodded in relief and zipped off after Terry, laughing with joy as the wind whipped in his face. “Fly over to me, Hermione.”

She leaned a little to the left, and the broom followed her movements.

“You don’t have to lean so much,” Madam Hooch told her, flying up beside her. “It responds to mental changes, not just physical ones.”

“Oh.” Hermione whispered, flushing. Left, go left, towards Padma, she thought intently, and the broom zipped her over there. Her hands clutched tightly to it.

“Now follow me,” Padma suggested. She turned and began to fly at a sedate pace, but turning every now and then, making curlicues. Hermione followed, and soon started to feel better.

Terry and Harry raced back over to them. Hermione looked up and saw them about ten meters above them. Terry was grinning down at her, not even holding onto his broom. Instead, his fingers were laced together behind his head. Hermione gulped just looking at him.

"Show off," Padma called to him teasingly.

"You're one to talk," Terry pointed right back at her.

Padma had shifted to sit sideways on her broom - just like one would ride a horse sidesaddle.

"This is the first way I was taught to ride," she pointed out, but she pulled one leg over the other side to take the usual pose. "That's how we do it for certain ceremonies. I had to master it to attend my youngest aunt’s wedding.”

"Do you mean she got married on a broom?"

"It’s fairly traditional, for Wizarding Indian marriages,” Padma nodded. “The only hard part is finding a spot for it where we won’t break the Statute of Secrecy…”

Since everyone was doing alright, Madam Hooch gave them the all clear to begin flying - as long as they didn't exceed a hundred feet up, or leave her sight.

Terry immediately whooshed off up in the air. Susan and Hannah followed him, flanking either side.

"Hey," Terry frowned, noticing them. "What are you - "

Susan and Hannah accelerated and crossed in front of Terry, exchanging spots.  He tugged his broom up, and flew over their heads.

"Do you really have to do that?"

"Yep," Hannah giggled, as she flew right over Terry, extending a hand to tousle his hair as she passed.

"You Hufflepuffs are such troublemakers!” Terry shouted, and then the chase was on. 

Meanwhile, Hermione was taking it slow. Padma flew on her left, and Harry on her right.

“You’re doing really well,” Padma said encouragingly. “I bet you can go a little higher.”

Hermione swallowed nervously, and looked down. The ground was just a meter below her, not enough to cause any real harm if she fell. “I think I’m fine here.”

“I think we can help,” her roommate decided. “Harry, fly a little closer.” Padma nudged her broom over so she was right next to Hermione, then she reached out, and wrapped her right arm about her waist.

“What are you doing?” Hermione asked nervously.

“Helping,” Padma promised. “Harry, will you lend me a hand?”

He smiled at Hermione shyly before wrapping his left arm about her waist.

“Now put your arm over my shoulders, and the other over Harry's… Trust me," Padma said emphatically.

"I do," Hermione said softly, then took a deep breath and let go, scrambling to grab their shoulders. Somehow her broom didn't fall, even with her hands off of it.

"Hold on," Padma instructed. "Harry, let’s just fly straight for now.”

They both surged forward, and Hermione's broom, caught in the middle, flew with them. Padma and Harry sped up, and Hermione gasped, her fingers tightening on their shoulders, but they didn't seem to mind.

"Okay?" Padma queried.

"Yes…"

"We’re going to go up now," Padma instructed, and Harry moved with her. In perfect synchrony, they arched upward, and then -

"Down again."

Hermione's breath disappeared - it was like riding on a roller coaster - she could feel a pleasant sensation in her belly every time the pressure changed suddenly.

They soon developed a steady up and down movement, moving like a wave, and Hermione couldn't help but laughing - this was fun! It felt safer being in their hands than being on her own. Best of all, they weren’t that far off the ground.

“Now we’re going to go a little higher up.”

They shot off, and Hermione whimpered, clinging to them tightly as they rose. She couldn’t help but look down, her stomach turning as she saw the ground going farther and farther away.

“Look how beautiful it is from up here,” Padma sighed happily, not noticing that Hermione’s face was going pale.

“I want to go down,” Hermione gasped.

Harry’s eyes widened as he realized how scared she looked. He dipped his broom down instinctively, taking Hermione back towards the ground. His movement surprised Padma, and Hermione slipped out of Padma’s grasp.

Hermione shrieked, and in her fright, reached out with both arms to wrap around Harry. Her broom crashed into his, and then they flipped over to the side.

Together, they cork-wheeled through the sky, and Hermione could feel the wind in her face as the ground came rushing up to meet her. She slipped off her broom, but Harry held tight to her to keep her from falling as her legs kicked freely in the air. Hermione clenched her eyes shut, sobbing with terror. They were going to die, and it was all her fault –

They were only meters from the ground when Harry gave a forceful yank up on the front of the broom. It tipped up just in time, and he felt his sneakers skim the grass – Hermione’s weight on the left had him leaning too far to the right…

Harry and Hermione fell off the broom, both crying out in surprise, tumbling a few inches to roll through the grass. Harry ended up on his stomach, his glasses askew, gasping for air.

Hermione finally opened her eyes and stared up at the sky, utterly astonished that she wasn’t in any pain.

“Mr. Potter!” Madam Hooch was shouting as she came down to land beside them. “Miss Granger! Are you alright?”

Harry slowly sat up, pushing his glasses back on and nodding dumbly. He looked over at Hermione, whose eyes were wide. Then Hermione burst into giggles. Harry and Madam Hooch both stared at her.

“Miss Granger, what on earth are you laughing about?”

She’d almost died. On a broomstick. Hermione kept laughing hysterically, quite unable to stop. Harry reached out cautiously to touch her arm, and Hermione just grinned at him, still giggling.

“I – that was…” And she collapsed, gasping and laughing.

“Well, I’m glad you find it funny,” the flying instructor said testily. “Since you don’t seem hurt, please take a few minutes to rest. I’ll collect your broomsticks and bring them back to you. And that will never happen again, understood?”

Harry nodded, and crawled a few feet over to Hermione’s side. “You’re really okay?”

“I said I could crash,” Hermione gasped through her giggles. “I told you – and nobody would – heh – listen! But we almost did!”

Harry’s lips twitched up in a smile, and a chuckle escaped. She had warned them, but they’d all assured her she was worrying too much.  

“That was bloody insane!” Terry shouted as he landed nearby, leaping off his broom as he hurried over. “Fantastic landing!”

Harry and Hermione looked at each other, both surprised by Terry’s positivity, and then laughed together. There was another whoosh, and Padma landed nearby. She fell to her knees beside Hermione, her brows knitted up in concern. 

“I’m so sorry,” Padma said miserably. “I shouldn’t have taken you so high up. It’s all my fault… Are you alright?”

“It’s okay,” she told Padma. “We’re alright. We only almost died.”

Padma looked appalled and guilty, but Hermione began to laugh again, and Harry along with her.

“Now that’s out of the way,” Hermione said, quite matter-of-fact. “And everyone’s accepted that I was right, as always, let’s finish the lesson.”

“You’re not mad?” Padma whispered, astonished.

“No,” Hermione said, smiling at her. “But I am going to keep both hands on my broomstick from now on.”

Madam Hooch returned with the two brooms, and after scolding them a bit, let them fly again. They all mounted up, Hermione assuring them that she was ready to try again.

“I’m going at my own pace,” Hermione said firmly. “But I want you three to go have fun. Show me something interesting.”

Padma nodded, looking relieved. “Alright.” She turned her broom upwards, and raced towards the sky – then turned down again, so suddenly that it turned in a sharp little circle.

Hermione watched, still standing on the ground, and cheered.

“Alright, you can flip,” Terry said to Padma. “But can you backflip?” He leaned forward, speeding up – and then jerked his broom up so hard that he turned backwards, making a wider flip before righting himself.

“Of course!” Padma rolled her eyes, and the competition began.  

Hermione flew along, a few meters in the air, and experimented with speeding up and slowing down again. She turned a few figure eights, then continued straight, and looked up at her friends.

Harry was off on his own, grinning as he flew through one of the tall quidditch hoops, then zig-zagged around the posts.  Padma and Terry had finished their flip competition, and had decided to go chase Susan and Hannah.

Flying, Hermione decided, was fun – near the ground. Madam Hooch flew up to her and advised her to shift herself a little farther back on the stick for better control.

The next time she looked up, Padma was practicing diving, while Terry and Susan were chasing each other in circles. Harry turned a flip, then realizing someone was watching him, he turned and saw Hermione. He grinned and lifted a hand to wave.

From the sky above them, something small and bright plummeted straight towards Harry - Hermione opened her mouth to cry out a warning - but then it flew closer, and she realized what it was – or rather, who it was.

Hedwig flew alongside her wizard, nimbly following every move he made. Harry dipped, and Hedwig did as well - he made a sharp right, and Hedwig did as well.

Hermione had owned several cats in her life, and old Freckles had seemed rather clever at times - but none of them ever seemed as in tune with her as Hedwig was with Harry. They were lucky to have each other, Hermione thought fondly. She felt a pang in her chest when she thought of her own beautiful cats, who had all passed away over a year ago.  Maybe Mum and Dad will get me a kitten for Christmas, Hermione thought hopefully. 

Saturday, 14 September 1991

"You have been formally invited to the Ravenclaw Quidditch Team Try-Outs!" Padma read excitedly. "Today at 3 pm on the Quidditch Pitch. Wear comfortable clothes and gloves, nothing flashy. Spots will be awarded based on merit only. An invitation to try out does not constitute an appointment to the team.”

“Congratulations!” Hermione let out a squeal of joy and threw her arms around Padma’s neck. Padma hugged her back excitedly. 

“Thank you!” 

Another owl flew overhead just then, dropping a letter atop Terry’s toast. 

Terry grinned.  “This is going to be great.” He moved the letter and took a bite of his toast. 

“Open yours!” Padma urged him. 

"We know what your letter says, and it seems to be the same handwriting, same envelope, same seal..." Terry grinned.  

Hannah stole it from him, opened it, and gasped loudly before pretending to read it out loud. “My dearest Terry… Your flying was absolutely mesmerizing. I watched you from the Astronomy Tower, and couldn’t resist the urge to... polish my broomstick.”

Padma giggled, and Terry laughed. Susan rolled her eyes, while Neville and exchanged confused looks over what was so funny. Hermione’s cheeks were pink as she put her hands over her mouth, trying not to giggle, while Blaise was simply shaking his head in amusement.

“Meet me at 11 tonight in the Ravenclaw common room. If you show me your wand, I’ll show you my golden snitch.”

That was when Harry arrived at the table, and paused at the sight of his friends laughing and making faces. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” Hannah squeaked, blushing suddenly. Susan looked at her friend in exasperation as Hannah shoved the letter back at Terry.

“Hannah’s got a filthy mind,” Terry said with a grin, not noticing Susan’s look of admonishment.

Harry looked at Hannah curiously, hardly able to believe that about the girl who always seemed so shy and quiet.

“Okay, I get the wand part, but what’s a golden snitch supposed to be?” Ron frowned.

“Never mind,” Susan hissed.

A few more owls passed overhead, and a letter fell into Harry’s bowl – thankfully, right before he’d ladled in porridge. He picked them both up and examined the one on top.

Padma peeked at it, then grinned. “You’re invited too! Of course you are, Harry – you’re a natural on a broom. I had to practice some of those tricks for years, and you picked it up no problem!”

“Thanks. You’re really good too!” Harry said, then broke open the letter. He began to grin as he read it. He was invited to try out for the Ravenclaw team this afternoon!

“Hermione, where’s your invite?” Terry teased.

She lifted her chin up and looked at him haughtily. “There are more important things than quidditch, Terry Boot.”

Terry gasped, putting a hand to his heart dramatically. “Say it isn’t so…”

Harry tucked the invitation and looked at the other letter, then grinned. It was from Sirius! He tucked it in his pocket to read later in private. Then he jumped at the sound of breaking glass.

Hermione shrieked, her hands flying up to cover her face as the package dropped on the table, shattering her glass.

“Oh, goodness!” Penelope Clearwater was a few seats down. She stood up and hurried over, moving the package out of the way, then cast a spell on the glass. “Reparo!”

The first years watched, impressed, as the shards of glass flew back together, leaving it as good as new.

“Thank you,” Hermione said gratefully. “Oh, it’s from my parents!”

Penelope handed her the package, and Hermione settled it in her lap and untied the string. She opened the box, then pushed her plate out of the way and began taking out its contents.  Soon there was a pile of wrapped presents on the table in front of her.

Hermione beamed at all the book-shaped gifts. Then there was one small box, and an envelope. She broke it open immediately and began to read it, a large smile on her face.

They all watched her curiously, hoping to learn who the presents were for.

“They’re from my parents,” Hermione said at last, beaming widely. “My birthday’s on the 19th, but they didn’t know how long it would take to arrive, so they sent them early. Oh, they want me to wait, but I really want to see what they are!”

“Happy early birthday,” Susan spoke first.

“Thank you,” Hermione said happily as the others followed suit in wishing her well.

“Why do I have a feeling those are all books?” Padma teased her kindly.

“Because books are my favorite thing?” Hermione giggled. “Although that looks like a jewelry box…”

“Oh, open it,” Hannah said suddenly. “It’s obvious you want to.”

“Well, maybe just one,” Hermione said slowly. Her smile grew mischievous, then she reached out and tore the wrapping from one of the books.

“Rowena Ravenclaw, The Compleat Biography,” Padma read aloud. “Oh, please say I can borrow this once you’re done!”

“Of course,” Hermione told her kindly.

“Do you have anything you want for your birthday?” Susan asked her.

“Oh!” Hermione was genuinely surprised. “I don’t expect anything else. We’ve only known each other a few weeks, after all. Thank you, though.”

Harry and Padma glanced at each other rather speculatively, then quietly nodded. There was no way they were going to do nothing. But for now, they had to focus on something else – Quidditch try-outs.

When Harry got a moment to himself, he read his letter from Sirius.

Dear Harry, Sirius wrote. We met the Dursleys this morning. I’m so sorry that you had to put up with those people for so long. But they signed the paperwork! I’m your new legal guardian. You never have to go back to Privet Drive again.

Harry smiled so wide it hurt, but he hardly noticed. He was going to live with Sirius! He never had to go back to the Dursleys… His head fell back as he laughed joyously.

Then he remembered he’d come up here to grab a sweater to wear under his robes for try-outs. He loved flying, but it did tend to get chilly. As Harry re-dressed, he wondered if he could actually make the team. He hoped he could make Sirius proud. 

Harry’s heart raced as he stood on the Quidditch field and scanned the crowd, studying the other students. Padma was finishing up her pre-flying stretches, and Terry was talking with an older girl that Harry didn’t know.

“Right, everybody, listen up!”

Though barely five feet tall, Jarena Brand’s commanding voice brought everyone to heel. Silence reigned over the field.

"I want to see how you fly. If you have a broom - use it. We've only got seven brooms for the team. We can borrow more from the broomshed for the try-outs, but each House is only appropriated seven for constant use.” Jarena watched as everyone got out their own broom or claimed one of the ones on the ground.

“Good, then - we've got just enough."

Jarena Brand was in her element on the Quidditch Pitch. She swiveled slowly, watching the eighteen students who stood in a circle around her, most looking rather nervous.

"What are you waiting for?" The tiny blonde's voice boomed, and most of them flinched. "I want to see you up in the air now!"

Harry quickly grabbed his broom and took off at a run, tucking his broom under his leg and rocketing up into the air immediately. He felt so free up here, and he grinned, completely full of joy – he wasn’t going back to the Dursleys!  He began turning loops - and almost fell when he heard a loud whistle from right underneath him.

"Did I say to do tricks yet?" Jarena bellowed.

"No ma'am." Harry gasped, slowing his broom to a halt.

"That’s what I like to hear," Jarena grinned, her teeth bared. "Everybody listen up."

It was utterly silent again, and Harry shivered. He finally understood why Brand was considered so terrifying.

"Everyone on the team last year graduated… So I've got six spots to fill. But this is based purely on merit. If you all are bollocks, I'll find other players. Get it?"

"Got it," several of the others chorused.

"Good." Jarena grinned, and then took out her wand. "Split into two groups!"

They all swerved around, and about thirty seconds later, were in two groups. Harry looked across - and realized Terry and Padma were on the other side.

"Seven and seven - too many for that," Jarena muttered. "Who’s trying out for Beater? Raise your hands!”

Six arms shot up.

“Okay then - you six get down there and grab some bats. We’re borrowing the extra set from Hufflepuff, so don't break anything - or anyone for that matter. Three of you to a team.  How about chasers… Okay, most of you lot. Any Keepers?"

When two people from one side raised their hands, Jarena had one move to the other team.

“We’ll have one Keeper per team, and three Beaters,” Jarena thought out loud. “One Seeker each, and then we’ll have enough for four Chasers per team. Any seekers?"

A pretty Asian girl raised her hand high.

“Come on, nobody else? It’s hard, but it’s a good spot.”

Harry thought for a moment - he'd wanted to be a chaser, but from what he’d read, Seeker was pretty good too.  His hand shot up, and Jarena nodded at him.

"You two then."

The other Seeker candidate looked Harry right in the eye, quite determinedly. He nodded at her, a touch nervously.

“Anybody need a go-over of the rules? Good, didn’t think so. Tony, Roger, you were reserves last year, I’d like to talk to you for a minute. Everybody else – meet your teammates. Then get ready to play.”

Harry turned to meet his temporary team members.

"I'm Harry," he offered.

The slim brunette whose hand he’d just shook looked amused.

"I had no idea," She smiled at him, undercutting the sarcastic remark. "I’m Madeleine Falcon."

The other Chasers were Edmund Collins, Monique Young, and Edward Conary. Tobias Bradley and Robin Bartlett, two second years, were the Beaters. Erik McGee, a tall, quiet boy who nevertheless appeared friendly, was the Keeper.

Harry was chatting with Madeleine about his classes when she looked behind him and pointedly raised an eyebrow. Harry turned and saw the seeker from the other team.

"Thought I should meet my competition." The girl said coolly. She had piercing, dark eyes, long eyelashes, and very red lips.

"Harry Potter." He offered his hand, but she ignored it.

"You're a first year."

"Yes…"

Her lips turned up into a smile that made a shiver race up Harry's spine.

"Break a leg." She turned gracefully, and Harry couldn't help but watch her glide away.

"Why do I think she actually meant that?" Madeleine murmured, concern and amusement warring for dominance in her pretty blue eyes.

Harry swallowed and smiled at the kindly fourth year.

"Probably because she did."

"Watch out. Beautiful and evil is a scary combination," Madeleine placed a gentle hand on Harry's shoulder as she stared at the girl. "And good luck."

"You too."

Edmund had flown to the center - he was facing Padma for the Quaffle Toss - and Madeleine went to hover about fifteen feet to Edmund's left.

Harry watched as Terry moved to cover Madeleine - in case Edmund tried to pass the quaffle to her.

"I think you can go ahead and fly now," Erik told Harry, as he hovered near the right hoop. "She released the snitch ages ago."

"Thanks."

"Happy hunting."

Then Harry was off - rocketing off to the side, his eyes on the toss off.

Padma had snatched the quaffle just as it brushed Edmund's fingertips - and then she was rocketing down the field and towards the goal.

Madeleine blocked her path, and Padma stopped - tossing the red ball over to Terry, who reached for it…

Terry grabbed at the air as Monique Young raced by and took possession.

"An excellent start!" A voice roared. Harry glanced over to see that Antonio Zeller had a megaphone and was indeed shouting at them all.

"Young has possession, moving down towards the Pitch…"

Harry squinted around, and wished he had the sight of an owl. Hedwig could spot things from blocks away - that was something he'd never be able to do with these eyes of his. Hedwig had made sure he had bought some proper eyeglasses before coming to Hogwarts - and they were infinitely better than the ones the Dursleys had given him - but he still couldn't see much past fifty yards that clearly.

"It's so tiny," Harry whispered in aggravation. The snitch's diameter was barely an inch - and its wings fluttered so fast it could be nearly impossible to see.

"Patil grabs the quaffle - to Quirke - to Boot - oh, good try there, but McGee saves it! Gives it to Falcon, who takes it down the field - oh dear, was that a collision?"

Edward Conary and Nigel Quirke had managed to crash right into each other, and Jarena was flying over to snap at them before waving at them to move on. The captain hadn't whistled, so the game was still going.

Oh dear, why had he decided to try out for Seeker? Harry thought glumly. He was never going to see the damn thing, much less catch it…

"Chang dives!"

Harry jerked around, and scanned - yep, Cho was diving all right. He sped up his broom towards her - part of him knowing he'd never make it on time - when he saw something in the corner of his eye.

Instinct led him, and he leaned to the left - and sped towards the opposite team's goalposts, where that tiny flash had appeared.

It was indeed a tiny flicker of gold - Harry rocketed forward as fast as he could.

"Nice try, Chang - what a feint that was - but Potter didn't fall for it!”

In the stands ahead, Harry saw two small figures waving to him. One was only identifiable by a large mane of bushy brown hair… The other was wearing a large red and gold scarf that Harry recognized as well.

Hermione and Neville had come to watch him try out! Harry felt his heart expanding, and he pushed forward faster, even more determined than before to catch it.

It seemed to hold still as he approached it.  He was thirty feet away - twenty feet - ten feet - five feet, and his hand was outstretched -

It leapt to the side, and Harry's body automatically turned to follow it - straight through the central hoop - and the other team's Keeper had to dodge to avoid him.

"Watch it!" The irritated girl shouted at him, but Harry only had time for the snitch.

He followed it downward, racing vertically, only inches from the hoop's support beam.The wind roared in his ears, and he was faintly aware that he might be getting close to the ground. Someone was screaming, but Harry felt his lips press together, and was glad that it wasn't him…

The snitch darted off to the side - and Harry's hand snapped up reflexively to catch it.  It fluttered wildly, almost vibrating in his hand - and Harry laughed as he turned his broom up. He felt his sneakers being whipped back by something - and it wasn't for another few seconds that he realized he had touched the grass.

"Answer the question, Potter."

"Sorry?" Harry asked breathlessly.

Jarena Brand regarded him for a moment - and then grinned brilliantly.

"You were in the zone, weren't you? Where nothing can touch you."

Harry nodded slowly.

"How long have you been flying?"

"It’s my second time."

“Ever?”

Harry nodded nervously, and Jarena looked even more delighted.

"You're a natural, then. That means you've had no terrible training that I'll have to overwrite… Snitch, please."

Harry squeezed it gently in his hand, enjoying its pulse - then handed it over quite reluctantly.  Jarena looked at him carefully.

"Breathe, Potter. It's good for you. Take a minute off, then I want to see you back in the air, flying like there's no tomorrow."

No sooner had Jarena taken off than someone bowled into Harry, hugging him fiercely.

"That was amazing and terrifying," Hermione said, her voice muffled by his robes. "Please don't do that again."

"Sorry," Harry said softly, touched by her concern. She was very warm, and after a moment, he decided to cautiously try putting his arms around her. "I'll be more careful."

"I can't believe you did that," Neville shook his head ruefully.

"It was fun though." Harry grinned. "We're supposed to finish by four. You don’t have to stay for all of it - I'll see you at dinner, anyways."

"We'll stay!" Hermione protested.

"We have to make sure you Claws don't kill yourselves," Neville shrugged. "Go on then Harry. Impress us."

So he did.

"All right, everyone. You did well today. But I don't have spots for all of you."

Jarena looked around at each of them, her gaze bold and firm.

"Conary. Bartlett. Sinclair. Wynne. Quirke. Landry. Collins."

Harry's heart seemed to freeze in his chest. He wasn’t mentioned…

"You can go. You were all good, so don't stop practicing - and don't hesitate to try out again next year. I'm going to establish bi-weekly in-House pick up games - everyone is welcome to participate, regardless of whether you're on the House Team or not. Have a good weekend."

The seven students who were named began to walk back to the castle, showing varying expressions of anger and disappointment.

"The rest of you, stay."

Harry tried not to breathe too big a sigh of relief. He could see the other Seeker candidate looking at him with a fierce glint in her eyes.

"Antonio and I are the team’s Beaters. McGee - you're our Keeper."

Erik McGee flushed excitedly.

"Davies, Patil, Chang - you're our Chasers.”

Harry’s heart clenched. Did that mean…

“Potter, you’re our Seeker.”

Harry felt about twenty feet tall. He couldn't wait to tell Hedwig and Sirius that he’d made the team!

He glanced towards Padma, who was bouncing up and down excitedly on the balls of her feet, and gave her a grin and a thumbs up, which she returned.

“Boot - Falcon - Young - Bradley - you're our Reserves. We can talk about your specialties later. Everyone bring me a copy of your schedule at dinner tonight - I'll work with them and find a time we'll be meeting. I’m planning on meeting three times a week, for two hours each," Jarena was still talking. "I can check out the brooms to you all - so you don't have to fetch me to open the broom shed any time you want to practice. Raise your hand if you don't have your own broom… Fabulous, just seven! That's exactly how many brooms we have."

"They're pretty old," Tobias Bradley said dubiously, staring at the old cleansweep he was holding.

Harry still had the comet he’d tried out on. It had felt good, he thought with a smile. A comfortable ride, and it moved where he wanted it to.

"They're old - but they're nearly unbreakable," Jarena told them. "That's why we haven't been able to buy new ones in years - one of the others has to break first. The Gryffindors are lucky - they're getting a new broom this year, they broke one last year in their second to last game."

"I thought you said they're nearly unbreakable?" Padma frowned.

"Last year there was a 7th year Slytherin - Anderson was his name." Roger Davies began to gesticulate as he told the story. "He came up behind the Gryffindor seeker as she was flying past a hoop - and bashed the broom with his bat as hard as he could. The broom broke - and Dobbs went plummeting to the ground. The Weasley twins caught her, but not before she hit the hoop stand. Shattered her arm bone on impact."

"Is she okay?" Harry asked automatically.

"Yeah, she got better. But it must have been really painful - she was shrieking something awful," Roger went on. "Dobbs quit the team after that, on her first year too. She was good - but how can you blame her for leaving, after that? Gryffindor had a substitute Seeker for the final game - he was terrible, and Slytherin creamed them by over five hundred points… If Gryffindor had won, we would have taken the trophy… But Slytherin had too many points total, so they stole it from us,” he finished grumpily.

"Thank you, Roger," Jarena said pleasantly. "But it’s time to look to the future. I don't want anyone injured, but… if a broom happened to accidentally break, we would get a new broom."

Was she suggesting they try to crash their brooms? Harry wondered, shocked.

"Right then - next practice is on Sunday, at three. After that, we can decide when we want to practice. We need to be ready for our first game."

There was a pause.

"Get back up in the air!" Jarena roared. "There's still hours until dinner. I want you to show me I made the right decisions. Fly like you mean it!"

Chapter Text

Saturday, 14 September

“You should have let me hex them, Remus!”

“You are not going back to prison,” Remus snarled angrily. “If anyone is going to hex the Dursleys, it’ll be me, understood?”

Sirius looked at him in surprise.

“They deserve it,” Remus agreed heatedly. “The things I saw in their minds… They hated him, Sirius? How could anyone hate Harry? I wanted to rip those monsters limb from limb…”

“There’s that wolf,” Sirius said with a grin. “I’d help you do it.”

Remus shuddered, taking a moment to close his eyes and breathe in deeply.

“As fun as it is to fantasize about killing the Dursleys,” he said, his suddenly calm tone making his words even creepier. “Taking care of Harry needs to take priority. I’d like to do the ritual this week. I’ve got most of the requirements, and the basin in Grimmauld should do the trick.”

“Blood magic’s the kind of thing my family did,” Sirius muttered.

“And it will be effective in keeping Harry,” Remus said firmly. “Once we do the blood adoption, there’s no way anyone can take Harry from you then.”

Sunday, 15 September

Harry checked his robes for the tenth time in the last few minutes, making sure he looked presentable.

“Harry!”

Harry looked upwards – Sirius was flying straight down towards him! A few feet away, when Harry was contemplating dodging to the side, Sirius turned up sharply, rolling sideways on his broom towards the ground before hopping off nimbly, broom in hand.

“Hey!” Harry greeted him happily. “That was a cool trick you did.”

“Thanks,” Sirius grinned at him. “Just… don’t try it, okay?”

Harry’s face fell, and Sirius hurried to explain.

 “Harry, it took years for me to learn to dive like that. The thought of you doing something that dangerous… That scares me.”

Harry felt an odd flutter in his chest.

“You don’t have to worry about me.”

“I can’t help it,” Sirius scoffed. “That’s what parents do.”

Harry’s smile returned as he looked up at Sirius.

“The Dursleys really signed the papers?”

“They did,” Sirius confirmed, and reached out to take Harry’s hand. “I’m your guardian now. I’m going to take care of you, I promise.”

Harry accepted his hand cautiously, and Sirius squeezed it gently. He wanted to scoop Harry up in his arms and never let go, but Remus had told him that Harry was unused to physical affection, since the one time he’d hugged Harry, the boy had frozen up entirely.

“I thought, if you wanted, we could go to Hogsmeade,” Sirius said softly. “It’s not far to walk. We can get to know each other.”

Harry nodded, but then remembered something. “We’re not allowed to go until third year, though.”

“I’ll bring you back before dinner,” Sirius promised. “It’ll be our secret.”

Harry grinned at that. “Can we go to Honeydukes? Terry’s sister brings him sweets from there, and he shared them with me – they were great.”

“It’s not a trip to Hogsmeade without candy,” Sirius agreed with a grin. “Now, I don’t want to get you in trouble, so how about I glamour you? Then nobody there will know you’re you.”

“Really?” Harry asked excitedly. “Can you teach me how to do it? I’d love to know how to disguise myself. That way people won’t stare at me all the time.” He clearly hated that situation, and Sirius inwardly marveled at how averse Harry was to his obvious celebrity. James would have loved all the attention. But Remus had reminded him that Harry was his own person, and if he had to choose, more like Lily than James.

“It’s easier to get away with pranks when you’re glamoured,” Sirius said mischievously. “This usually isn’t taught until fifth year, but I reckon – you’re a Ravenclaw, give it a shot. First, like most spells, intent matters – so picture yourself looking a certain way. Different hair color, taller or shorter, rounder face – whatever you think is best. The incantation is Dissimulo, emphasis on sim. Try it on one body part at a time – you have to move the tip of your wand in a circle around the desired area. So if you want a long, beaked nose – circle your nose.”

Harry laughed at the idea. “Okay.” He raised his wand above his head and concentrated. “Dissimulo.”

Sirius whistled in appreciation.  “Great work, your hair’s lightened! Let me do the rest.” He waved his wand over Harry’s face, then over his head, saying the same charm each time.

“Is the scar gone?” Harry asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Sirius assured him. “Not a fan of the lightning bolt?”

“Everyone stares at it,” Harry admitted. “Sometimes they even ask about… how I got it.”

“Nobody will see it now,” Sirius promised him. “Well, except for me. Glamours only work on people looking directly at you. Reflections mess it up – in a mirror, you’ll appear as yourself – to everyone else too. That’s because it’s a mental illusion – photos also show what you really look like. So glamours are only decent as a disguise. The best kind of disguise is Polyjuice Potion – that actually physically changes your appearance temporarily – everyone would use it if they could, only you actually have to be a good brewer, and the ingredients are damn expensive.”

“So I stay away from mirrors and I’ll be fine?”

“Yep!” Sirius’ eyes twinkled. “Now, don’t be surprised if people keep looking at your chest.”

“Why?”

“Because they’ll think that’s where your head is – I made you look like a little kid,” Sirius admitted, beginning to laugh.

Harry couldn’t help but laugh as well.  “That’s a good idea. People won’t suspect a little kid in town with his dad. If I still seemed school aged but none of the older students recognized me, that could be a problem.”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Sirius lied obviously. “Because I’m smart like that.” Harry chuckled along with him.

They continued walking down the path, both enjoying the crisp air and the sound of the wind whooshing through the trees.

“I got invited to the quidditch try-outs,” Harry declared, hoping Sirius would be proud.

He was well-rewarded as Sirius stopped in his tracks and grinned. “That’s fantastic! Did you make it on?”

“I’m starting seeker,” Harry told him proudly.

“Merlin,” Sirius breathed, clasping his shoulder warmly. “That’s amazing! But you’ve never flown before this week?”

“Jarena says I’m a natural,” Harry grinned.

“Eh? Who’s this Jarena?” Sirius asked interestedly.

“She’s my Quidditch Captain,” Harry told him. “She’s wicked good with a bat.”

Sirius chuckled.  “Is she pretty?”

“I guess – yeah, she is.” Harry flushed.

Sirius chuckled. “You know, your dad knew he liked Lily all the way back in first year. Told that Valentine’s day that he was going to marry her. And he did!”

“Wow,” Harry said softly. “They were dating in first year?”

“Oh no!” Sirius laughed. “Lily thought James was an arrogant little berk – and he probably was, too – we both were. Wasn’t til we stopped pranking in sixth year that she started to notice him. But he asked her out every Hogsmeade weekend since third year, and every time she turned him down flat.”

“But… how’d they get together then?”

“First weekend of seventh year, James asked again – and Lily said yes! Biggest shock of his life, he tripped over a chair flat on his face.”

Harry snorted at that.

“He picked himself up and promised her the best date she’d ever imagined – but nobody could really understand him with his broken nose,” Sirius said fondly. “But apparently she liked it well enough, because after that they were together.”

Harry liked that story, but he wanted to hear another. He asked Sirius shyly for more stories, and Sirius happily told him about the Marauders’ Greatest Adventures. The only thing Harry noticed was that sometimes Sirius would cut off mid-sentence, a look of anger over his face. After a few stories where this happened, Harry realized that it was because Peter was a part of it.

“Why’d he do it?” Harry blurted out. Sirius frowned in confusion, and Harry clarified. “Pettigrew? Why’d he betray them?”

The angry look was back. Sirius bared his teeth, and Harry stepped back, startled at the vicious display. Sirius saw the fear in Harry’s eyes, and took his own step back.

“Sorry,” Sirius muttered. “I… I don’t know why he did it. I’d never have suspected him. That’s why I…”

A look of deep pain crossed his face, and Harry watched him with worry, then reached out to take his hand. Sirius shook himself free of the fog and looked back at Harry.

“I was their Secret Keeper at first, but I knew it was too obvious. Everyone in the Order knew, and Dumbledore suspected we had a spy in our midst. We trusted Peter, but he was always so…”

Harry waited for Sirius to go on. His guardian took a deep, shuddering breath and plunged ahead with the tale.

“Your father was a great wizard, and Remus is as brilliant as they come. The three of us, we were strong, popular, handsome… And Peter wasn’t. He was a follower, not a leader. He never had many talents, he was weak, magically – but he was loyal. Or so I thought.” Sirius swallowed uncomfortably. “I suggested we switch to Peter. So I blamed myself, that I trusted him, with your lives, and he just… gave you up.”

They were quiet for a moment. “I hope you can forgive me,” Sirius said, subdued, and Harry started.

“It’s not your fault!” He protested. “Voldemort killed them and Peter betrayed them. It wasn’t you.”

Sirius had a twisted smile, and Harry knew his words hadn’t mattered. He still blamed himself.

“I’ll do my best to make up for it,” he said seriously. “Look, we’re almost there.”

Harry looked ahead and saw the buildings ahead of them through the trees. He picked up the pace, eager to see Hogsmeade.

Soon they were walking into town. Harry was enchanted already. The houses and stores were all gray and black stone, with sharply pointed roofs. There were children playing on the walk, throwing balls around, and a few people zipping overhead on broomsticks. The main street was lit with what appeared on first glance to be simple streetlights – but then they began to change color, and Harry realized that they must be magic.

“It’s beautiful,” Harry breathed in wonder.

Sirius looked at him, and felt his tension melting away. Every time Harry smiled, it seemed a little piece of something he’d thought he’d lost came back to him.

“Where do we go first?” Harry wondered. There were dozens of shops – bookstores and cafes, pubs and apothecaries, places that sold robes, brooms, and parchment and ink.

“I think you said something about Honeydukes?” Sirius grinned disarmingly.

Harry grinned in response. He slipped his hand into Sirius’, and the man’s breath caught as Harry tugged him along to the candy store.

It was amazing seeing Harry wander around the shop, staring at everything in amazement, trying all the little samples and laughing when the multicolored jawbreakers turned his tongue all colors of the rainbow.

“Do you think I could get some of these?” Harry asked hopefully.

“Harry, I should’ve been buying you candy for these last ten years,” Sirius reckoned. “We need to get enough candy and chocolate to make up for all of those.”

Harry’s eyes widened – and then slowly, that mischievous Potter smile that Sirius had thought he’d never see again came to life on the young boy’s face.  They did go a little wild, and soon had a large bag full of goodies.

“Thanks, Sirius,” Harry said gratefully as they headed outside.

“You’re welcome, Harry. Anytime you like,” Sirius promised, and Harry believed it. They were both happily munching on large slabs of fudge as they wandered down the street.

“Have you ever had butterbeer?” Sirius asked abruptly.

Beer?” Harry asked, astonished. “No, of course not.”

“Oh, there’s hardly any alcohol in it!” Sirius assured him. “It’s like liquid butterscotch, only creamier – and bubbly!”

“I’ll try it,” Harry agreed.

So off they went to the Three Broomsticks, where Harry decided that butterbeer was absolutely the best drink he’d ever had. They finished their fudge with it, and headed out again.

Sirius showed him Zonko’s Joke Shop next.

“These tricks made my time at Hogwarts so much better,” Sirius sighed happily. “What can I get for you, Harry?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said slowly. “I don’t really want to pull pranks on my friends.”

“Oh come on – not even harmless ones? Look, you put this in your dormmate’s shampoo and their hair turns bright green for a day!”

Harry’s smile was growing mischievous again. He didn’t want to make his friends mad, but he did know one person who might actually enjoy being pranked.  

“Well, maybe…”

When they headed out again, with a bag full of tricks and pranks that Harry was already imagining pulling. This time it was Sirius’ turn to reach out and take Harry’s hand. It felt so small in his, and he couldn’t bear the thought of the day ending. But the sun was starting to lower in the sky, and he’d promised to get Harry back in time for dinner, so he wouldn’t be in trouble.

“One last thing before we go back,” Sirius declared. “Since it’s your first time here, you have to see a real tourist site.”

Sirius led the way to some back streets of the town, past all the other houses. There was another path into the woods that led them to an old building. When Sirius stopped in front of it, Harry gave it another glance, then frowned.

This is what you wanted to show me?”

“Ah hah! I can hear the suspicion in your voice, Harry! But it’s not just any rundown old house, Harry – this here is the Shrieking Shack.”

Sirius paused dramatically, and Harry slowly began to smile.

“I suppose I’m supposed to ask you – why is it called that?”

“Some twenty years ago, people started hearing horrible shrieking coming from inside,” Sirius said, his voice low and deep. “It sounded like someone being murdered, but they never found a body.

Harry grinned.

“It’s not really haunted though, is it?”

“Most everyone thinks it is,” Sirius raised an eyebrow. “But if you like, I can tell you the real story. Do you want to know?”

“Of course I do!”

Sirius chuckled at the immediate response.

“It began with a boy, just about your age. He had just started at Hogwarts, in Gryffindor House. He was quiet, kept to himself – everyone wondered why he was so secretive.”

“Was this you?”

“Oh, no! Me, quiet? Never!” Sirius laughed. “This was someone else. See, the boy did have a secret. He was a werewolf. Every month, at the full moon, he would transform into a wolf, losing his mind and becoming a beast.  In this state, werewolves are dangerous, just like a wild wolf, and can hurt people – but for the rest of the month, werewolves were as harmless as anybody else. Nobody could know his secret because it was illegal for werewolves to study at Hogwarts. If the boy was caught, he could be arrested – as could the man who broke the law and let him attend Hogwarts – the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.”

Harry smiled at that. He was glad the boy got to go to school too. Harry couldn’t imagine how different his own life would have been if he hadn’t been allowed to come to Hogwarts.

“During the full moon the Headmaster needed somewhere to hide the boy away, so he couldn’t hurt anybody.”

Harry nodded, clearly enraptured by the story.

“He would take this boy into this unclaimed house – this very shack – and ward it to keep him inside. The boy would transform into a wolf, but he wouldn’t be able to leave, or hurt anybody, for as long as he was there.”

Sirius looked at the house almost fondly.

“That’s it?” Harry demanded. “So why did everybody think they heard people screaming?”

Sirius sighed. “The process of transforming is very painful. It was the boy that everyone heard. He screamed from the agony of his body shifting. The werewolf transformation is forced, unlike an animagus transformation, which isn’t painful at all.”

“That sounds horrible,” Harry frowned. “How do people become werewolves?”

“If you’re bitten by a werewolf, you become one,” Sirius said sadly. “For the majority of people, it’s not something they choose. They’re discriminated against because of it. There’s all sorts of laws forbidding werewolves from having certain rights, and it’s hard for them to find jobs – at least in Wizarding Britain.”

“That sounds wrong,” Harry frowned. “So what happened to the boy?”

“He was alone for some time,” Sirius said carefully. “But the other three boys in his dormitory tried to get to know him. Eventually they succeeded in becoming his friends, although he couldn’t tell them his secret. They were clever, though, and they found out his secret. When they realized how horrible it was for him, they decided that they wanted to help him in any way they could. They discovered that werewolves only attacked people, not animals, so they resolved to become animagi. It took a long two years, but eventually they succeeded.”

“Neat,” Harry whispered. Sirius’ recent addition to the tale confirmed it for him – this must be about Remus. Hedwig had told him Remus was a werewolf, and he knew that Sirius, James and Peter were all animagi.

“In their new forms, they visited their friend when he was a wolf. This helped keep the wolf calm, and they spent the night of the full moon frolicking around together.”

“I bet that really helped Remus,” Harry said softly. Sirius looked at him in surprise, then shook his head ruefully.

“How did you know it was us?”

“Hedwig told me about your animagus form, and about Remus.”

“Did you know your dad turned into a stag?” Sirius asked wistfully.

“Yeah,” Harry grinned.

Sirius led him back into town, then into the woods as they headed back towards the castle. Harry looked deep in thought.

“Knut for your thoughts?”

“Oh, I was just wondering what my Animagus form would be.”

“You want to be an animagi someday?” Sirius grinned.

“Soon, actually,” Harry returned. “We’ve started collecting the ingredients for the Form Revealing Potion.”

Sirius’ jaw dropped. “No way – you’ve already started? We didn’t even think of it until third year!”

Harry grinned, and shrugged. “You guys were slow.”

Sirius shook his head. “You’re precocious. Your parents would be proud. And I am too,” he added, earning another smile. “But Harry, as your new guardian, I need you to promise me to be careful. Once you actually start the transfiguration process, things can go wrong.”

“I’ll be careful.”

Sirius bit his lip. “Can you hold off on that part until the summer? Then I can walk you through some of it.”

Harry looked slightly disappointed.

“I just… I need you to be safe,” Sirius said, his tone low. For once he didn’t want to joke.

“Okay,” Harry said, sensing the truth in Sirius’ voice. “I can wait until then. We’ll just take the potion, I guess.”

“Then I’ll train you over the summer, and you can help your friends in the fall. Who’s going to do it with you? Maybe you’ll be the next generation of the Marauders.”

“Terry, Hermione, Padma, Neville, Blaise, Ron, Susan and Hannah,” Harry listed his friends. 

Sirius stared at him in disbelief. “That’s a lot of people, pronglet.”

“What’s a pronglet?” Harry frowned.

“Your dad’s Marauder name was Prongs – because of his antlers, see? And you’re a mini-Prongs, so – pronglet.”

Harry nodded. “I like it,” he decided.

They had reached the end of the forest path, and Harry slowed down, not wanting his afternoon with Sirius to be over.

“What’s going to happen to… Pettigrew?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t… I wasn’t asked to the trial. He’s probably in Azkaban by now.”

Harry could see the haunted look on his guardian’s face.  “It was horrible, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Sirius said hoarsely. “Worst years of my life – and I thought nothing could top the years with my mother.”

Harry flinched at that. It sounded like Sirius’ family had been as bad as the Dursleys.

“The Dementors that they have guarding the prison… They drain all your happy thoughts, leave you with just your worst memories for company. All the guilt I had, over failing you and James and Lily – they made everything feel worse.”

Harry moved in on impulse, and wrapped his arms about Sirius’ waist. Sirius folded his own arms about Harry, holding him close.

“I forgive you,” Harry said softly. “For not being around, for whatever else you think you did. But I wish you’d forgive yourself. It was Voldemort’s fault, not yours.”

Sirius clung to Harry and tried desperately not to break.

“Thank you,” he said lowly.

“Did – did anyone visit you in Azkaban?”

“Not a one,” Sirius said, bitterness creeping into his voice. “They all thought I was a traitor and a killer. But we’d told everyone I was the Secret Keeper – Dumbledore cast the damn spell. Nobody knew that we switched… It was the perfect opportunity for Peter to frame me.”

“How did you get through it?”

“I changed into a dog most of the time,” Sirius told him. “It made it harder for them to feed on my thoughts. If I focused on the bad thoughts, they couldn’t find the good ones to take them away. And I kept thinking – tomorrow, that’s the day they come get me out. That’s the day they come visit.”

Harry pulled back slightly and looked up at Sirius. “Do you think Peter feels the same way?”

Sirius looked at Harry in amazement, marveling at the boy’s heart. 

“Not that he deserves it,” Harry said quietly. “But… if you could… would you go ask him? I want to know why he betrayed my parents.”

Slowly, Sirius nodded. He wanted to know too. He just wasn’t sure that he could go there without killing Peter.

 Monday, 16 September 1991 

“Get up.”

Peter blinked and rubbed his eyes.

“What - ”

“You’ve got a visitor,” the guard interrupted him gruffly. “Come on.”

Peter followed the guard obediently. He was glad there was an actual human guard bringing him. He’d been in here a week, but it felt like a year. He could feel his happy memories fading in their presence, and all he could focus on were the worst times of his life.

The guard led the way down dozens of corridors – Peter soon lost track of what turns they’d made. He could hear someone laughing, high and shrill, in one of the cells they passed, and he couldn’t stop himself from shivering.

Finally they reached an area he hadn’t been before. There were actual rooms here, not cells. The guard opened a door and shoved him inside – and slammed the door behind him.

There was a table inside the room, with a single figure seated at it. The man looked up at Peter, and the prisoner squeaked and shrank back against the door.

“Hello, Wormtail,” said Sirius Black.

Peter pressed back against the door, trembling. Was he here to kill him? He didn’t want to die.

“W – w – why are you here?” Peter finally managed to whimper.

Sirius reached into his pocket and drew out a flask, which he set down on the table, in front of the second chair.

“Drink up.”

“I’m not drinking that!” Peter cried.

“Relax, Wormtail.” Sirius’ eyes glittered dangerously. “It’s not poison, I’ll swear on… James and Lily’s memory.”

Peter shivered. He was stuck either way – he drank it or Sirius would make him. He didn’t have a wand, but he could see Sirius’ sticking out of his pocket. Trying to draw his courage, he walked to the table and sat down in the second chair, across from Sirius.

Looking Sirius in the eye, Peter unscrewed the flask and took a deep gulp. He nearly choked in surprise at the taste. 

Sirius almost chuckled despite everything.  It was exactly how Peter had reacted the first time he’d tried Ogden’s, in their dorm room in second year. The little boy had choked and coughed for a good five minutes.  But Peter had changed since then. He didn’t cough, just breathed in, his eyes closing as he savored the burn of the firewhiskey.

“That’s good,” Peter gasped.  He took another sip, more slowly this time. Peter felt his heart racing – he still half expected to keel over. As if sensing his thoughts, Sirius spoke.

“Poison is for Slytherins.” He said derisively.

Peter nodded jerkily.  “What do you want, Sirius?”

“I want to know why,” Sirius said lowly, his eyes fixed on Peter’s. “Why did you betray Lily and James?”

Peter swallowed harshly. It sounded reasonable – but Sirius was anything but reasonable. The last time they’d met, Sirius had tried to kill him.

“You know what happened,” Peter whispered. “He found me. Somehow, He knew that I knew the secret.”

“Why did you tell him?”

“He tortured me,” Peter said, his eyes closing again. “The Cruciatus, over and over again – I thought I was going to die. Fire spells and cutting spells, all over my body. I just wanted the pain to stop. He said he’d end it if I told him...”

“Show me your arms.” Sirius ordered. His eyes, as ever, were unfathomable.

Nervously, Peter unbuttoned his robe and let it fall to his waist. Now with only his shirt on, most of his arms were bared.  Slowly, Peter laid his arms out on the table.  

Sirius looked at the pale skin.  Peter’s arms were littered with long scars, white lines covering almost every inch.

“Why didn’t he just kill you?”

“Because he wanted me to suffer,” Peter scowled. “He thought I was going to die slowly, from the pain and my wounds – I was bleeding out from my stomach, a long slicing hex.”

He lifted his shirt to show Sirius the mark. It was still there – the mark of a bad healing spell.

“I know I’m a coward,” Peter admitted. “I’m weaker than you or Remus. I never wanted anyone to die, Sirius. I loved James and Lily – and Harry.”

“Not as much as you loved yourself.”

“No,” Peter flinched. “He wanted you because you were known to be the Secret Keeper. And I… I gave them up to make the pain stop. He laughed when he realized I had the secret the whole time. Cut me open from end to end, to let my guts spill out. I think I would have died if I hadn’t fallen on my back. He left me there, and I crawled to get my wand, closed myself up… I had the emergency potions Remus made for us all, I took those, since I’m bollocks at healing spells. I apparated straight after, to Godric’s Hollow. I wanted to warn them He was coming – but it was too late. By the time I arrived it was already in ruins. I was so devastated, Sirius, you don’t know– I knew it was my fault – James, sweet Lily, poor little Harry. I wanted to leave, never come back, coward that I am. I couldn’t face anyone – couldn’t face you.”

 

Sirius was shaking in his chair. “Why’d you go to Diagon Alley?”

“I was getting money, to leave,” Peter gasped. “Then you were there, and you starting throwing curses at me! I didn’t want to hurt you, Sirius, but I didn’t want to die. I ducked behind a car, and I saw the sewer drain – and I had a brilliant idea.”

He let out a half laugh, half sob.

“I was going to throw an exploding curse at the parked car. Make it look like a suicide, and transform and run into the sewers. Last part of the plan was to use a cutting curse to leave my own toe behind. Then everyone would think I was dead. Nobody would look for me…”

Peter drew in a shaky breath.

“So I did both curses, and I ran, and ran – until I thought you weren’t after me anymore. I didn’t realize I’d overpowered the cutting curse. It went through my big toe – and through the ground and to the gas pipe. I heard the explosion behind me – it was too big, and I knew that something went wrong. I didn’t know, not until I got out and found a paper a few days later. Eleven people killed,” Peter grimaced. “Padfoot, I didn’t mean to, I swear. I meant to make it look like I died. I didn’t want to kill anyone. Then I knew I couldn’t come back, that with those many lives I’d taken… Nobody could forgive me.”

Sirius swallowed hard. At last, words came to him. “But – you were the spy…”

“No!” Peter shook his head violently. “I never spied against the Order, against you or James or anyone. I wasn’t a Death Eater! Look!” He pushed his bared arms forward again.  

“He didn’t Mark all of his followers.”  Sirius countered.

“I wasn’t a Death Eater,” Peter repeated urgently. “I hated Him too.”

“You stayed out on the run while I was in jail,” Sirius delivered his final accusation. “You let me rot in here!”

“I didn’t know you were here, I swear I didn’t,” Peter said frantically. “I stayed in muggle London for years, eating scraps and living in the sewers. I didn’t know anything about what had happened in our world. I thought the war was still on! Hoped you and Remus were still fighting, and maybe one day Dumbledore would kill You-Know-Who for good. Everything was dirty, ordinary, seemed normal after years of it…

“Then one day I found some cheese – didn’t even realize it was in a trap. This man came and grabbed me. I guess he caught rats and sold them to pet stores. They put me in a cage with a dozen other rats, all of them with hungry eyes… I was almost ready to bolt, when that very day, Arthur Weasley walked into the store.”

“Really?” Sirius raised an eyebrow. That sounded a little too much like coincidence.

“Really!” Peter swore. “He pulled out a dead rat, brown and fat – and showed it to the owner. Said he needed a replacement. The owner came over, found the best match – me – and sold me to Arthur Weasley.”

Sirius was silent, and Peter took that as permission to continue.

“He talked to me, told me I should behave, because his son needed a pet and I was all he could afford. I didn’t escape just then – he apparated me to his home, and there were all these kids – so happy, so excited…” Peter chuckled at the memory. “Arthur said that Scabbers had run away and came back missing a toe. The kids were impressed – except Ronald, he wanted a more impressive looking pet.”

“Why’d you stay?”

“I missed people,” Peter confessed. “I’d tried to isolate myself, as punishment. But to be with wizards again… Ginny had these stories that Molly read to her, about the Boy-Who-Lived. It was such a shock – Harry had lived – and defeated You-Know-Who? It felt like a dream. The books said that Harry was spirited away to a safe place with people who loved him. Molly and Arthur never mentioned you, so I imagined that you and Remus had taken him somewhere sunny,” Peter smiled in remembrance. 

 

“So I laid back, and enjoyed my month in heaven, eating Molly Weasley’s cooking. Then they shipped me off to Hogwarts with Ronald. Got to do the first year boat ride on the Lake again. I was on the boat, looking up at Hogwarts when I heard a familiar sounding laugh. I looked at the next boat – and I saw Harry…  It was so obviously him, you know. For minute I thought – déjà vu – I sat next to James on our boat ride to Hogwarts. And they looked identical. And then Ron decided to try and drown everybody by throwing a dung bomb in the boat...”

“What?” Sirius roared. Harry hadn’t told him about that!

Peter laughed and tossed back another swig of the whiskey. “They were fine, just a little cold and wet. We got to Hogwarts and I watched Harry get sorted into Ravenclaw. More like Lily than James, I thought. Then Ron went to Slytherin, and I was stuck in the dungeons…” He shivered.

Sirius watched him. Peter was definitely getting tipsy already.

“I hated those dungeons,” Peter mused. “Though it seems like nothing now – Azkaban’s much colder.”

“The coldest,” Sirius agreed, then pursed his lips. This was an interrogation, not a conversation.

“I was there for a few days… Found a hole in the wall and made my way to the kitchens, had all the food I could ever need. Ron didn’t really want a pet, but I was comfy enough. And one day, he took me out of the dorms, and gave me to Harry. I didn’t know why at first, but Harry brought me cheese, and I trusted him… He was talking to trying to transfigure a box into a mouse, and said I was a model…” Peter laughed raucously, shaking his head. “Definitely fell for it. I reckon he stunned me. Woke up next in a holding cell in the Ministry… No food or water for two days, then they dragged me out. I was screaming for answers, water, anything – then I was knocked out again, and woke up here.”

Sirius swallowed the bile rising in his throat – it was nearly identical to his own story.  “When’s your trial?”

“I don’t know!” Peter laughed, nearly hysterically. “Nobody’s said anything to me before you showed up. I haven’t even been interrogated. Maybe they’re just going to leave me here to rot… At least I got one last drink before I go.”

They’re just going to leave me here, I think. Leave me to rot. Thought that was my fate, but I guess you’ll end it earlier for me. Still, I got a last drink before you kill me – my thanks to you, Padfoot. Keeping it classy.”

Sirius stood up abruptly.  “I have to go.”

Peter flinched.  Slowly, he pushed the flask back to Sirius.

“Keep it,” Sirius barked. He shook his head as if to clear it. “You’ll get a trial.”

“Really?” Peter’s eyes widened hopefully.

“Even cowards deserve due process,” Sirius said quietly.

“Thank you,” Peter whispered. “Thank you, Padfoot.”

For a moment, Sirius said nothing.  “Wormtail,” he said at last. “I don’t forgive you,” Sirius clarified. “I can’t forget that if you had died to protect them, they would still be here.”

Peter looked down.  “I think about them every day,” he said hoarsely. “I beg their forgiveness, but I don’t know if they’ll give it. I really loved them, Sirius.”

“As did I,” Sirius’ voice was shaking. “My advice, Wormtail –keep yourself transformed whenever you can. It makes it harder for the Dementors to take all your happy memories.”

Before Peter could thank him again, Sirius left, slamming the door behind him.  Peter sank forward, his forehead coming to rest on the table. With Sirius gone, he was alone – with only his guilt for company.

Outside the door, Sirius ran for the exit. He couldn’t stand to be on this island another second. He could feel them, longing for him, trying to take away his recent happiness. He couldn’t forget – couldn’t forget Harry, or Remus…

His breathing finally settled when he was on the ferry away from the island. Sirius closed his eyes and went over what Peter had said. He’d put veritaserum in the whiskey, enough that Peter wouldn’t have been able to lie, though it wasn’t enough to force him to answer all his questions. But he had answered. And unless Peter was a master occlumencer, which Sirius highly doubted, he was… telling the truth?

Something awful settled in the pit of his belly. For ten years, he’d hated Peter more than anyone, even himself. If Peter was just a coward, and not a traitor… Everything he’d believed might be false. And then what would he do with the rage inside him, the rage that had nearly consumed him, that had kept him alive in Azkaban?  

Chapter Text

Wednesday, 18 September 1991

"Right now!" Harry hissed, and his lab partner dropped the herbs into the potion.

Almost instantly, Professor Snape was standing by them, a ticking watch in hand. He stared at the potion for a moment. 

Harry stirred it silently, willing it to work… and when it slowly turned a dark red, he suppressed a sigh of relief.

"You're totally right," Justin Finch-Fletchley muttered to Harry. "He's never been this attentive with me before – it’s got to be you."

"It's like he expects me to do badly," Harry frowned, watching Snape wind around the classroom, glancing over everyone's potions. "I haven't had a class where he doesn't just appear at my shoulder every other minute."

"Kinda creepy," Justin commented. "But still, good class, huh?"

"It's one of my favorites," Harry admitted quietly. "I used to cook a lot, so I'm used to working from recipes – Potions comes to me more naturally than the classes that need lots of wand work."

"I'm just bad at following directions," Justin admitted with a chuckle. "I'm glad I got you as a partner today. You're on top of things."

"I guess." Harry continued stirring, keeping count of the full circles in his head. Potions were a very exact art, he was learning.

On the first day of class, Harry had been the first to be asked a question about the book's contents - but then Snape had quizzed Anthony Goldstein, and Lea Spinks from Hufflepuff.  Harry had answered the question correctly and promptly, and Professor Snape hadn't spoken to him directly ever since.

Hedwig had told him that the Professor and James Potter had disliked each other when they were in school, and warned Harry that any prejudice he encountered was not Harry's fault in any way, but resulted from past grievances.

Other than being watched constantly, Harry didn't think the Potions Master was acting too prejudiced. Maybe my dad was really bad at Potions, Harry reasoned, so Snape thinks he needs to keep an extra eye on my work. Not even that was completely logical, but it was something, right?

“You’re really over him?” Susan was whispering to Hannah, on the other side of the room.

“For the final time, yes,” Hannah hissed back. “He’s not exactly what I imagined the Boy-who-Lived to be like… I mean, Harry’s nice, but he’s so…” She glanced around to make sure nobody could hear. “Bookworm-y!  Which could be great for someone else, but I wanted the boy from all the stories – brave and bold and romantic. And Harry’s just… Harry,” Hannah shrugged. “I want to be his friend, but I’ve decided that for my next crush, I need to find an older boy.”

Susan groaned as she tossed in the diced dried snail.

“How much older?”

“Oh, not ancient,” Hannah assured her. “Someone like our new Seeker, Cedric Diggory. He’s a third year and he is yummy…”


 

“How’s the box going?”

“It’s slow work,” Remus admitted. “I haven’t worked with runic warding since school.”

“But you’ll get it in time?” Sirius asked worriedly. “Moony, maybe we should think about going to Dumbledore…”

“Hedwig’s been right about everything else so far,” Remus said, setting down his carving knife beside the partially finished wooden box. “Maybe you’re right and Dumbledore would want the same things as us, or maybe Hedwig’s speculations are true. If he is truly obsessed with the prophecy, then he may very well have taken the stone in order to engineer a confrontation between Harry and… Quirrell.”

Sirius let out a soft growl of frustration. “I know. I just hate waiting when he’s at Hogwarts with Harry.”

Remus put a gentle hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “I’ll put on some tea.”

Sirius followed him into the kitchen, and sat down in his favorite of Remus’ chairs, the one with the faded blue cushion that still bore the coffee stain Sirius had left on it eleven years ago. Remus glanced over at it, and wondered if Sirius had any idea that Remus had never sat in it in the last ten years. He’d hidden or burned most things that reminded him of Sirius, but not Sirius’ chair. Remus had left it there, and looked at it on occasion, reminded of the empty space in his life where Sirius had used to be.

“Peter,” Remus said suddenly, startling him.

“What about him?”

“Is there any word on a trial? I was thinking I might go.”

“I went an owl to Amelia Bones, asking about it,” Sirius said shortly. Remus was surprised - he had thought that Sirius might not go through with it, and he would have to.  

They sat in silence until the kettle whistled, then Remus poured it into the pot with some loose leafed tea, and let it steep.

“If Peter was telling the truth, and he wasn’t the spy in the Order,” Remus speculated quietly. “Then it’s possible that person is still out there.”

Sirius looked at him, startled. He hadn’t even thought about that.

“Was there anyone else you suspected at the time?” Remus asked quietly. “Besides the werewolf?”

Sirius flinched bodily. “Remus,” he said roughly. “I shouldn’t have… Forgive me.”

“Not at all, Padfoot,” Remus said softly. “If you will forgive me for believing you were the spy?”

“Of course,” Sirius breathed. He reached out, sliding his hand over Remus’ on the tabletop.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Remus said after a moment. “Then Dumbledore showed me his memory, of performing the Fidelius with you as Secret Keeper. I thought… that I couldn’t trust myself, my own feelings. You were my biggest blind spot, and I had never thought rationally when it came to you.”

Sirius’ hand tightened over his. “And you were mine,” he said roughly. “Werewolves had every reason to hate the Ministry and join the Death Eaters. I wondered what could possibly keep you loyal to us, what the Order had to offer you…”

Remus turned his hand over, and laced his fingers through Sirius’. “All I ever needed was your friendship,” the werewolf murmured.  “It is the greatest gift I’ve had in my life.”

“You will always have it,” Sirius swore.

Remus’ shoulders shook, and to Sirius’ great surprise, tears came pourind down his face.

“Moony,” he said hoarsely, and dragged him into a fierce embrace.  And after weeks of being the strong one, Remus finally broke apart in his arms, finally letting go of ten years’ worth of rage, fear, and misery.


 

Thursday, 19 September

“This is amazing,” Hermione breathed, staring at the display before her. “Who baked the cake?”

“I didn’t make it, my brothers got it from the kitchens,” Ron admitted. “It’s chocolate.”

“My favorite,” Hermione beamed, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet.

“This is butterbeer,” Parvati told Hermione excitedly as she brought her over a mug of something gold and creamy. Hermione took the mug and took a sip, her eyes widening. It was sweet and frothy, kind of like a root beer float that was flavored with butterscotch instead.

“Delicious, right?” Parvati said knowingly. Hermione nodded, her eyes going next to the pile of presents.

“Cake, then presents,” Padma decided. She cut the cake carefully, and gave Hermione the first slice.

When everyone was served, Hermione took a bite and groaned happily. The cake itself was a rich dark chocolate, with sweet vanilla frosting and a layer of cherries in the middle. She looked around as she ate, incredibly happy that she had so many friends here. The cake was soon finished, and Harry quietly vanished while the others began handing Hermione her presents.

Susan presented her with a small bottle of blue ink, and Padma gave her a brand new copy of Our Magical World: A guide to Magical Communities around the Globe. There were six books from her parents, four about the wizarding world, and two were literary works. The Doctors Granger had also sent their daughter a set of jewelry: a beautiful blue stone pendant and matching earrings.

Hermione put on the pendant and let Parvati help her tie her hair back. “I don’t have pierced ears,” she pointed out.

“We’ll find someone who knows the charm,” Padma assured her.

Mroww!” The loud yowl drew their attention. They turned, and Hermione’s jaw dropped as she saw Harry walking in, holding a wriggling orange kitten in his hands.

He walked up to her with a smile and held out the kitten. Hermione took it in her hands, and gasped as it licked her hand, then jumped to the table and began licking her plate.

“Happy birthday,” Harry told her, and Hermione leapt out of her chair and hugged him fiercely.

Harry froze for a moment in shock before relaxing, then tentatively reached out and wrapping an arm around her. Hermione sighed happily, then let him go.  

“How did you know I wanted a cat?” Hermione asked breathlessly. 

“You seemed like a cat person,” Harry said bashfully, and Hermione beamed and ran over to the kitten, scooping it up in her arms and stroking its head. Actually, Harry had asked Hedwig for advice. She’d assured him he knew the perfect thing, and had dragged Sirius to Magical Menagerie in Diagon Alley, where they’d picked up this kitten. Hedwig assured Harry that Hermione would love it.

“That’s the ugliest kitten I’ve ever seen,” Terry whispered to Blaise, who snorted and nodded in agreement.

Hermione felt deliriously happy. She’d never celebrated her birthday without her parents before, and she’d been worried she’d feel lonely and homesick all day. But her friends had made sure she had a wonderful birthday anyways! She stroked her kitten’s back. He was a tiny, energetic little ball of fluff, the cuddliest creature she had ever found – and he was all hers!

“His name is Crookshanks,” Harry informed her.

“Crookshanks,” Hermione breathed. “It suits you, doesn’t it? Oh Harry!” Overjoyed, she passed her new kitten to Terry and hugged Harry again.

“Ouch!” Terry shrieked, rubbing his arm. “He’s got serious claws for a tiny kitten.”

Hermione glanced back and scooped up her tiny, misunderstood cat.  “Oh, Crookshanks,” she purred.

“Careful, Hermione, he’s dangerous!”

“Nonsense,” Hermione disagreed, bringing the ball of fluff up to her face, where she planted a kiss on its little nose. Crookshanks purred happily, rolling around in her hands.

Hermione’s friends exchanged knowing glances as she was utterly distracted and charmed by the mischievous little half-Kneazle.

“He’s perfect.”

“Hey, Harry,” Ron said quietly, approaching the other boy. “Are you done with Scabbers yet?”

Harry turned to him – he’d completely forgotten. “Um. Ron… I’m really sorry, but Scabbers disappeared.”

“What?” Ron stared. Then his head jerked around to look at Hermione and the kitten. “Did that cat -”

“It was before I got Crookshanks,” Harry said apologetically. “I think he slipped out of the dorm room a few days ago. I looked for him all over the dorms and the Common Room, but I think he’s gone. I’m really sorry. I was hoping that I could get you an owl instead?”

Ron stared, a mix of emotions crossing his face. He was clearly upset about the loss of his pet, despite having called it useless, but Harry’s last sentence had surprised him.

“An owl? Really?”

“Yeah,” Harry nodded.

Ron nodded slowly. “Alright,” he said with a grin. “Scabbers is probably happier in the wild.” He tried to push away his thought that he might have been eaten by Mrs. Norris. “But, I know he wasn’t actually worth much, so the owl can count as an early Christmas present, alright?”

“Sure,” Harry grinned, pleased that it was resolved. And with luck, Ron would never find out about his deception, and would instead enjoy having his own owl.


 

Monday, 23 September

Their ‘special project’ had stalled for a few weeks. Susan and Hannah had been able to get most of the ingredients, but not a rare plant called Mirin’s Troika. Neville had subtly inquired about it from Professor Sprout, who told him that it only emerges from the ground on the full moon. She goes out sometimes to pick some in the Forest.

“You’re saying we need to go into the Forbidden Forest on a full moon?” Ron Weasley had looked positively horrified.  

“Nothing dangerous about that,” Blaise groaned.

"Sounds fun to me,” Terry said with a shrug.

“You’re insane,” Ron told him flatly.

“I live for danger.”

“You remind me of my brothers,” Ron groaned, and when Terry looked happy about that, he clarified. “In a bad, very scary way.”

So on the night of the full moon, a rather nervous Neville led them into the Forbidden Forest to find the final ingredient. Padma was getting set up in the secret room Harry had found them on the seventh floor, preparing the cauldron and the other ingredients.

"See those silver veins? The veins on Kirin's Troika appear pale white all the time - except for the night of the full moon. Exactly, Hermione… Wait Hannah, not that one!"

She froze, her hand halfway to a plant.

"That’s Morgana’s Clover, and it’ll give you a nasty rash if you touch it. It has silver veins too, but we need the ones with three leaves," Neville said patiently. "The clover has five leaves."

"Oh, thanks." Hannah carefully reached around and found a three-leaved silver-veined clover. "They look so similar."

"That's why we have to be careful," Neville nodded, plucking another one. "But if you make a mistake, its not the end of the world - the antidote is Caleb's Wort, which is that little yellow one by your feet. You can always find it growing within four feet of Morgana's Clover – that’s nature's way of balancing itself out."

“Neville, I think you know a hundred times more than the rest of us do about herbology put together." Harry told him frankly.

Neville flushed, but nodded at the compliment. He walked around quietly, making sure everyone was finding the Troika properly. Soon enough they had their pockets stuffed full, and all eight of them walked quietly back to the castle.

They’d just snuck into the main hall when they heard footsteps coming up the stairs from the basement. Someone was humming…

Blaise bolted for the grand staircase. After a half second pause, everyone else followed him. Unfortunately, the sound of sixteen feet pounding up the stairs wasn’t exactly subtle.

“Students out of bounds!” Came a terrifying scream. “We’ll catch them, Mrs. Norris!” It was Filch, the caretaker – and his cat.

They could hear his footsteps behind them, and they kept running faster and faster, hoping to lose him. But their legs were short, and their breathing was coming faster.

At the next landing, Blaise abandoned the stairs and tore off down a corridor. Terry stumbled, but managed to follow, as did Susan and Hannah, but the others, who had been ahead of them, hadn’t noticed, and continued upwards.  

On the next landing, Ron turned right and ran down the hall. Harry followed, his sneakers squeaking as he turned, and Hermione and Neville were right on his heels. After turning the next corner, Ron decided he’d had enough running and would try hiding. He bolted down a side corridor and picked a door at random. But it was locked!

“Alohamora!” Hermione gasped, and the lock turned by magic.

Ron opened the door, and they all hurried inside, closing it behind them.

“Colloportus,” Hermione cast, locking it again, and collapsed to the floor beside her friends.

Neville felt like Filch must be able to hear his panting from the stairs, and would be following them any minute. He felt embarrassed, knowing that he wasn't in very good shape.

“Bloody hell,” Ron wheezed.

“Shh!” Hermione hissed. “Do you want to be expelled?

They heard a cat’s yowl from nearby, and they all froze. Hermione grabbed Harry’s hand tightly, her eyes closing as she prayed not to be found. He squeezed back, hoping they were hidden well enough…  Finally, the footsteps faded away.

“That was way too close.” Harry whispered.  

“I don’t know how I’m getting back to my dorm now,” Ron groaned as he stood up.

Harry stood as well, pulling Hermione up with him. He glanced around the room, and saw a tall mirror standing in the corner.

“Why’s there a mirror in a classroom?” Hermione noticed it at the same time.  

Harry walked over to the mirror, pulling her by the hand, and stopped still in front of it. He didn’t just see their reflection. There were four figures behind him, all grinning at him. Sirius was there, one hand on his shoulder, grinning and shoving at Remus, who laughed and pushed right back. And on Harry’s other side, was a tall, beautiful auburn haired woman. She beamed at him, and his heart stopped as he realized she had the same green eyes as him.

“Mum,” Harry whispered in wonder.

She could only be Lily Potter. And beside her was the man who could only be Harry’s father. James Potter had the same messy black hair and spectacles, though his eyes were a dark hazel. He had an arm about Lily’s shoulder, and was casually tossing a snitch. Before he could catch it, Hedwig zoomed into the picture and caught the golden snitch in her mouth, then landed on Harry’s shoulder and handed it to him. Mirror Harry grinned and slipped it in his pocket, then blushed as Hermione turned to him and kissed him on the cheek.

Hermione was also looking into the mirror. She looked older, closer to her parents’ age than her own. And for once, she looked beautiful – her hair was no longer bushy, but curly and pinned up, and her teeth were even smaller! Mirror Hermione wore elegant dark blue robes, and was cradling a silver statuette in one arm that bore the words Order of Merlin.

And the Harry standing beside her was older too. His messy hair was slightly sleeked back, and his bright green eyes shone as he gazed at her wondrously. Confetti suddenly rained down on them, and a banner behind them flipped over. Congratulations Minister Granger!  Mirror Hermione turned towards Harry and flung her arms about her neck. He lifted her easily and spun her around, both of them laughing with joy.

Behind them, her parents were beaming proudly, and all her classmates and professors were applauding. But her eyes came inevitably back to the foreground, where Harry had set her down, but his arms were still wound about her waist. He reached up and brushed a strand of her hair behind her ear -

Ron grabbed their arms and dragged them away from the mirror. “Hey!”

Harry and Hermione blinked, then glanced at each other, both of them blushing furiously.

“I’ve been calling your names for ages!” Ron said, dragging them further away. “You looked like you were under a spell.”

“No,” Harry shook his head. “I saw my family. You saw them too, didn’t you Hermione?”

“Um,” she said, a little confused and rather shy. “No, Harry. I saw – I was…” she trailed off, blushing.

Curious, Neville had stepped up in front of the mirror. He froze, and when they turned and saw where he was, Ron bolted over to him and pulled him away.

“Come on, Neville,” Ron growled. “There’s something wrong with it, don’t look!”

Neville was pale as a ghost and biting his lip so hard it drew blood.

“Did you see my parents?” Harry asked eagerly.   

“No,” Neville’s voice cracked involuntarily. “I saw mine.” He stared at the mirror as if he could somehow bring that image to life - bring them to life. He could see them as clearly as if they real. They were smiling at him, looking happy and lively and as if they could sweep down to hug him any second.

Realizing that they had all seen different things, Hermione darted forward to study the bottom of the mirror.

"There's letters," she said out loud. "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi."

"What is that?"

"Do you think it shows the future?" Neville asked hopefully.

“How can it? My parents are dead.” Harry said bitterly.

“Wait,” Hermione breathed. “It’s a code. The simplest one there is. Read it backwards! I show not your face but your heart’s desire.

Harry’s heart sank, and Neville fell into the nearest seat, burying his face in his hands.

“It shows what we want most,” Hermione finished softly.

Ron swallowed. “If I look, you guys promise to pull me back if I can’t look away?”

Hermione nodded in affirmation, and Ron took a deep breath, stepped forward, and looked. He stared in wonder at his own reflection, and after a minute, Hermione gently took him by the hand and pulled him back.

“I was Head Boy,” Ron whispered, amazed. “And Quidditch Captain. I’d just won the House Cup… And my parents were proud.” They’d seen him in Slytherin robes, and were just smiling at him, clapping approvingly…

Hermione smiled understandingly. “I was Minister of Magic,” she volunteered. “And I had an Order of Merlin.”

“Guess I should aim higher,” Ron said ruefully.

“If all goes well, I’ll get you a job in my Ministry,” Hermione said sweetly, and they both laughed. In the silence that followed, they turned back to the others. Harry and Neville both looked like they’d been hit in the face by something heavy.

“We should go,” Harry said quietly. “Padma’s waiting for us.”


 

"Of course you would pick the dodgiest corridor in the school."

"Well, I didn't realize it at the time,” Terry said back, almost lightly. “There weren’t any signs saying Warning: Three-Headed Dog Monster This Way!”

"Don't be a prat, come up with a solution." Blaise hissed.

"You picked this door, you figure it out!”

"You followed of your own volition," Blaise reminded him.

The four first years looked grimly at the sleeping three-headed dog before them. Susan had a hand over Hannah’s mouth, and her best friend was trembling and trying not to scream. Susan stared at the giant Cerberus, strongly regretting their choice of hiding place. She’d take Filch over a three headed dog any day of the week.

"I can hear Filch outside," Blaise murmured.

"Until this or these guys, I should say, wake up, I say we stay here." Terry whispered. "Right next to the door."

"Agreed." Blaise murmured.

“Shut up,” Susan said, very quietly. Hannah turned around, unable to look at the dog any longer. Susan hugged Hannah to her very tightly, a very simple mantra going through her head… Don’t wake up, don’t wake up, don’t wake up.

There were most definitely footsteps outside the door, but after a minute of searching to the end of the corridor, Filch moved on, muttering about lost opportunities.

"Now?"

"Let's." Terry agreed.

Blaise opened the doorknob and they exited as quickly and quietly as possible. Hannah was still shaking, leaning against the wall. Susan quietly closed the door behind them. Just as the last few inches of the vision inside the room disappeared, the she glimpsed the central head opening one eye slowly, catching a glimpse of her before the door shut. Susan shuddered, and was grateful when Blaise quietly cast a locking charm on it.

The growl that followed them as they headed down the corridor haunted them for a while.

“We’re meeting on the seventh floor,” Terry remembered, pausing as he tried to figure out which way to go.

Blaise nodded, heading left – and then looked down, realizing that upon seeing the dog, they’d grabbed each other’s hands, and had yet to let go.

The boys suddenly dropped each other's hands like they were burning, internally swearing to themselves to never bring this part of the story up.  After all, they were boys. They hadn't been scared by a small, albeit three-headed canine. 

Susan thanked her lucky stars that they managed to get to the seventh floor corridor without wandering upon Filch again. Locating the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy and the Trolls, they carefully walked past it, then back again, and past it once more. She was thinking carefully – We need to join our friends in making the potion.

After the third pass, a polished wooden door appeared opposite the tapestry.

“Wow,” Terry breathed. “That’s really something.”

Susan took a hold of the brass handle and pulled open the door, then stepped inside. She let out a sigh of relief as she saw everyone else waiting there.

“I was worried you’d gotten caught!” Hermione cried as she hurried over, beaming at them.

“No, just nearly eaten,” Hannah said, her voice still shaking.

Eaten?”

“It was the third floor corridor,” Blaise said quietly, but his voice rang through the silent room. “There was a Cerberus.”

A few people were confused, and Susan quickly cleared that up.

“A gigantic three-headed dog,” she stated. “I don’t know what they think they’re doing, having that in a school.”

“Is anyone hurt?” Padma asked worriedly.

“No, we were lucky it was sleeping,” Terry replied.

They took turns describing the dog as they gathered about the table.

“We found an enchanted mirror,” Hermione informed the others. “It’s spelled to show not your regular reflection, but whatever you want most.”

“I was Head Boy,” Ron said with a grin. “And Quidditch Captain.”

That earned a few appreciative laughs.

“But it was really hard to pull away,” Harry said quietly. Hermione reached out and caught his hand again, concerned by the sad look on his face. “I’m okay,” he continued after a moment.

I have Sirius now, Harry reminded himself. And Hedwig, and Remus. I don’t need to imagine my parents anymore.

“You definitely collected enough,” Padma declared as she’d finished weighing their final ingredient. “It needs to be finely minced.”

“I’ll get started,” Hermione volunteered.

Harry took up the second knife and got to work, letting the precision of the task focus his mind. This was going to work, he thought happily. Once they’d finished this potion, he’d learn to become an Animagus… Just like Sirius. He remembered the look of pride on Sirius’ face when Harry told him he’d made Seeker. Harry knew that when he finally did transform, he’d see that look again. The thought warmed his heart, and as the potion started to bubble, Harry felt the anticipation inside him growing.

Chapter Text

Monday, 23 September

Hedwig was almost certain that Harry was trying to drive her insane.

You did WHAT?

Um. It was for the Form Revealing Potion. You did say I could work on it! Harry looked away, playing with his sneaker laces rather nervously.

Do not be flippant with me, young man! Hedwig abandoned her perch and flew over to land beside Harry on the bed. You know I would not have approved of you going into the Forbidden Forest for any reason! And on a full moon! Good heavens, are you a Ravenclaw or aren’t you? You know about werewolves! But you went there anyways, and without telling me!

You don’t tell me everything, Harry grumbled, crossing his arms petulantly.

I’m an adult, Hedwig snapped back. And you are a child. I do not have to tell you everything, nor should I! I am trying to keep you safe, but you are constantly putting yourself in danger!

Harry flushed, and looked up at her guiltily.

I do not want to lose you, Hedwig told him passionately. I love you, owlet.

His heart leapt in his chest at those words. Nobody had ever told him that before Hedwig. Now he felt horrible for causing her worry.

I’m sorry, Harry said regretfully. I won’t go in the Forest again, I swear.

Thank you, Hedwig sighed. She climbed up onto his leg, and Harry wrapped his arms about her in a hug. She cooed soothingly in his ear, rubbing her face against his.

The potion’s off to a good start, Harry said hopefully. Thank you for telling me about the Room of Requirement. Everyone was really impressed that I found it.

You’re welcome, Hedwig said fondly. I’m glad you had a place to begin brewing.

Harry pulled back from the hug and began to gently stroke her feathers. Hedwig, I was wondering, he began casually. Did you know about the three headed dog in the school?

Hedwig snapped her head around to stare at him. Harry, tell me you did not go into there!

I didn’t! Harry rushed to explain. On our way back from the forest, Filch almost caught us. We accidentally split up, and Blaise, Terry, Susan and Hannah ended up in the room with the dog. They weren’t hurt, since it was asleep. When they met us afterwards they told us about it.

Hedwig breathed a sigh of relief. I’m glad it wasn’t you. But really! No more wandering around after dark.

Why is it in the school? Harry asked her. It’s protecting something, right?

Yes. Dumbledore put it there as a precaution against anyone who wants…

You can tell me, Harry pleaded.

Harry, you’ve barely begun your occlumency. Until you can defend your mind, I’m not telling you anymore.

He flushed - he’d totally forgotten about continuing to practice his mental shielding, since he’d become busy with school, and with his friends. I want to be able to help, Harry told her.

I know, and that’s admirable, but I don’t want to involve you if I don’t have to, Hedwig said firmly. I needed your help with getting Pettigrew, but taking down Voldemort is a job for someone else. I need you to trust me, Harry.

I do, Harry promised. Are Remus and Sirius going to be able to take him down?

They’ll have some help, Hedwig added. And yes, I’m certain they’ll be able to contain him. We mean to take him out in the next month.

She had told Harry about Quirrell’s possession, wanting to put him on his guard around the man. But she was not going to let Harry face him in combat. Hedwig remembered the aftermath of Harry’s first year. He’d been protected from Quirrell’s physical touch because of his mother’s protection, but he’d also been forced to kill Quirrell in order to save himself. Hedwig had been the only one with him that summer after the confrontation, when Harry cried himself silently to sleep because the memory was so painful. She never wanted him to go through that again.

They lapsed into a comfortable silence before Harry spoke again.

I found an enchanted mirror tonight, he began to tell her.

Panic suddenly flooded her system. She remembered what Harry was like in the weeks after he found the Mirror of Erised. He would sneak out under his Cloak every night, staying out until near dawn, staring, lost, at his parents. Hedwig had been helpless to stop him.

Harry, promise me you won’t return to the Mirror!

You know about it? Harry was shocked for only a minute before he grinned. You know about everything, Hedwig!

Promise me, Harry?

I promise, Harry agreed reluctantly. Hedwig’s feathers settled back down as she calmed slightly.

Do you want to talk about what you saw?

You were there, Hedwig. So was Sirius, and Remus… And my mom and dad. There was a sense of sheer wonder in his voice. My mom was so beautiful. And my dad looked just like me!

Have you ever seen a photo of them? Hedwig asked.

No, Harry shook his head. I wish I had one.

I will ask Remus, I’m sure he has one – or a few, Hedwig promised.

Harry grinned at that. He pulled back the covers and climbed underneath.

What did the others see?

Harry explained Hermione, Neville and Ron’s visions to her. He yawned a few times during the telling of the tale.

Sleep now, nestling, Hedwig told him softly. Harry smiled, and let his eyes close. Hedwig hummed in her mind, soothing him into sleep.

When his hand fell from her feathers to lay palm-up on the bed, Hedwig smiled and left him. It was their nightly ritual, putting Harry to bed. She’d only missed it a few times while out on errands in the past few weeks.

The owl pushed through the bed’s curtains, grabbed a treat from the desk, then flew out the open window. As she soared around the castle, Hedwig marveled to herself at the changes in Harry.

Her bond with him had grown so strong in such a short time! The first time around, they hadn’t been able to share thoughts until Harry was seventeen, and then it wasn’t nearly as easy. That Harry, though she loved him dearly, wasn’t very trusting, and had trouble opening his mind to her. It had been Hermione who discovered the Saharan mushrooms that allowed them to communicate telepathically with ease, even over great distances. The magical North African fungus allowed short-term speech with others as well. Hedwig had been utilizing that to converse with Remus and Sirius about their plans to protect Harry. 

Hedwig had been feeling rather restless as of late. She had finished racking her mind of all the important future events and sharing them with Remus, who had made many thorough lists of the things she told him… The lists of the horcruxes, a longer list of all the Death Eaters she could recall – and various other thoughts about possible dangers to Harry. But now that she’d entrusted her information to her wizard friends, Hedwig wasn’t sure what she could do to further their plans.

The owl knew that she needed to find a purpose, something to occupy herself. After traveling back in time to change the world, returning to her past life as an ordinary post owl seemed a frightfully dull prospect.  


 

Tuesday, 24 September 1991

Remus woke slowly, in a pool of sunlight. He pushed himself up, wincing at the familiar ache all over his body. First he examined his hands, then the rest of his body… He was shocked when he realized he couldn’t find a single new cut or bitemark.

“Morning, Moony.”

He turned at the sound of Sirius’ voice. Sirius was walking into the clearing, carrying a pile of clothes. He tossed Remus his wand, which he caught without a thought.

“What happened, Padfoot?” Remus demanded, his eyes frantically checking over the other man’s body for signs of injury. Remembering suddenly that Sirius had stayed with him as he transformed – not in a warded shed, but loose in a forest, Remus feared that he might have hurt him…

“We ran around all night,” Sirius said cheerfully as he approached and tossed Remus’ folded stack of clothes to him.

Remus caught them, startled as he remembered his own nakedness. Blushing, he hurried to pull on pants, and was relieved to note that Sirius was pointedly staring out into the trees.

“Did I hurt anyone?”

“Just a rabbit or two,” Sirius grinned. “Not me, yourself, or anyone else.”

Remus’ heart thudded in amazement. “Thank you,” he whispered. “I haven’t… I haven’t woken up uninjured in years.”

“That’s because you punish yourself by locking yourself away,” came the soft answer. “You don’t have to do that anymore. We can run free again, just like we used to.”

Remus couldn’t help but smile. He was exhausted and his body hurt from the physical change, but the wolf hadn’t torn him apart in the night.

“You kept it at bay,” he said softly. “And kept me safe. Thank you, Padfoot.”

“I won’t miss another one,” Sirius said strongly. “That I promise.”


 

Wednesday, 25 September

“Have I told you yet how much I hate this plan?”

“You know we’d have to go in eventually, Sirius.”

“But now?” He scowled, crossing his arms over his chest like a petulant teenager.

“I’m fairly sure your family home would have some of the things we need,” Remus said logically. “If you are serious about adopting Harry?”

“I’m always serious,” his friend joked. “But especially about that,” he added in a softer tone.

They climbed the steps, and Sirius stopped at the door to turn and look Remus in the eye.

“Stay behind me,” Sirius commanded.

“I’m more than capable of taking care of myself -”

“I don’t know what curses and traps are about this place,” Sirius shook his head. “Or if there’s some that might be lethal to werewolves. Funny, really – mother was as dark as they come, but she did hate ‘dark creatures’.”

“I’ll be careful.” Remus swore.

“You’re still weak from the full moon -”

“And you’re still weak from Azkaban,” Remus countered.

Sirius glowered at him. While it was true that Sirius wasn’t in the same shape he was before prison, he’d started to fill out in the last few weeks, thanks to his daily regimen of nutrition potions and Remus’ plain but filling cooking. The nightmares still woke him every night, but he hadn’t questioned this reality in a while. He was coming to terms with where he was, and doing his best to heal from what had happened to him.

“Together, then,” Remus told him, and Sirius’ face softened as he nodded.

Sirius raised his wand and tapped it to the door of Number 12, Grimmauld Place. They both heard the sound of many locks unclicking in response to his magic, and finally the grating of a chain lifting. With a final metallic click, the door swung open in front of them.

Taking a quick breath, Sirius stepped into the darkness, lighting his wand to illuminate the house. They were standing in a long, gloomy hallway. The wallpaper was peeling, the chandelier overhead covered in cobwebs, and Remus sniffed in displeasure as the carpets smelled strongly of mildew.

“What is that?” Came a confused voice from a portrait down the hall.

“Who’s there?” Another shouted.

Sirius’ expression was grim as he strode forward to look at the portraits. Oh, he remembered them from his childhood. Every one of them had hated him, telling him what a disappointment he was to his parents and to the entire House of Black.

“Hello, Aunt Elladora,” Sirius said, showing his teeth as he smiled.

The woman gasped, jerking back in her portrait. “You’re supposed to be in Azkaban!”

“I got out,” Sirius said ominously.

“Leave this house at once!” The portrait of a man with a ridiculous goatee bellowed at him, swelling up pompously.

“That’s no way to talk to the new Lord Black,” Sirius said, his grin increasingly sharklike. “Since I can choose who stays and who goes… And which portraits go in the fire.”

That stunned them into silence for a moment.

“You’re the new Lord,” Elladora Black’s portrait realized, horrified.

“Bingo!” Sirius strolled past the portraits, who were now gasping and beginning to complain rather loudly. He peered into the drawing room, which was dark and filthy as well. “Maybe I should just burn this whole place down,” he mused.

There was a snapping sound behind them, and Remus and Sirius whirled around to see that an ordinary set of moth-eaten velvet curtains had flown open – to reveal a portrait of an old woman in a black cap.

Remus drew back in revulsion – her skin was yellowed, her eyes wide and mad, and

You!” She shrieked, staring at Sirius.

“Me,” Sirius said grimly, looking at the full-sized portrait with utter hatred in his eyes. “Remus, meet my mother. Mother, Remus.”

“What are you doing here?” Walburga Black demanded.

“This is mine now,” Sirius told her with a smirk. “All of it - the house, the fortune… Everything you never wanted me to have.”

“You filthy, muggle-loving wretch!”  Walburga screamed, her cheeks purpling with rage. “I should have drowned you at birth!”

“Missed opportunities,” Sirius said sarcastically, his face hardening. “I won’t miss mine.”

He seized his wand and cast the strongest cutting curse he could at the portrait. But the red light simply melted against it, with no effect. Walburga laughed at him mockingly.  Growling, Sirius tried a fire charm next, but the flames licked at the oil and vanished in moments.

“You’ll never get rid of me, boy!” Walburga howled madly. “I’ll drive you out of this house! You’re not fit to be Lord, not fit to be a Black!”

Abandoning the idea of destroying it, Sirius tried stunning, then silencing her – but both spells proved useless.

“Begone, blood traitor!” His mother shrieked. “Shame of my flesh!”

“Shut up you old hag!” Sirius bellowed, turning to Remus. “Do something!”

Realizing that the canvas itself was strongly protected, Remus tried banishing it from the wall.

“Why won’t it work?” Sirius demanded as he tried the same thing.

“Permanent sticking charm,” Remus realized with a diagnostic charm. “It’s locked on the wall.”

“Then I’ll take down the damn wall!” Sirius roared, a blasting curse on his lips -

“No, Padfoot!” Remus caught his wrist and yanked his arm down. “You know you can’t destroy the structures inside a magically enchanted home! The whole house could come down around us. The curtains – here.”

Together, they began to close the curtains around the portrait, trying to at least muffle the screaming.

“Kreacher!” Walburga wailed, and there was a popping sound behind them that distracted them from their task.

Sirius had drawn his wand, which was now in the face of a small, elderly house elf. Kreacher stared up at him in shock.

“Cast him out!” Walburga shrieked to the elf. “Get rid of this filth!”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Sirius said powerfully, not taking his wand out of the elf’s face. “Hello, Kreacher. You know who I am, don’t you?”

The elf’s features seemed to vibrate with barely hidden rage. “M – Master Black.”

“You have to do what I say, don’t you?”

Kreacher nodded, still glaring hatefully at him.

“Get this painting off the wall.”

“Kreacher cannot,” the house elf muttered. “Enchantments are too strong for elf magic to break.”

Sirius scoffed, not believing him. He seized the curtains again, and with Remus’ yelp, yanked them closed, then cast a sticking spell to keep them there. His mother’s voice was muffled now, and Sirius walked away, into the drawing room.

“Home sweet home,” he said bitterly.

“Hello Kreacher,” Remus said, in an effort to be polite. The house elf just glared at him.

“Probably a filthy mudblood,” Kreacher muttered loudly. Sirius whirled on him furiously, wand pointing at the elf.

“Shut your mouth,” he ordered angrily. “Then you’re going to bring me something. A locket that Regulus left here…”

Kreacher shook as he tried to resist the order. “Kreacher does not know what Master means…”

“A gold locket!” Sirius snapped. “Bring it to me.”

The elf looked scared, Remus realized. The magic of his bond to the house and the Black family made him need to obey Sirius, but he clearly didn’t want to.

“Kreacher,” Remus told him calmly. “We know that Regulus was killed trying to stop He-who-must-not-be-Named. He wanted the locket destroyed, didn’t he?”

Kreacher nodded miserably.

“We will get rid of it,” Remus swore to the elf. “We want the same thing that Regulus did.”

Tears welled up in Kreacher’s eyes. He popped out of sight. Sirius nodded, surprised that Remus’ actions had worked.

“A little kindness can go a lot further than aggression,” Remus chided him gently.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sirius said grumpily, but he couldn’t help but smile a bit.

Kreacher popped back into sight. He was holding a dirty cloth in his hand, inside there was a gleam of gold…

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Remus said kindly, taking the bundled item from him. He unwrapped the locket and stared at it for a moment.

Sirius looked, fighting back a shiver at the sight of it. This was a shard of Voldemort’s soul.

“Was Master Regulus’ final instruction,” Kreacher said, sounding miserable. “Destroy the locket. Kreacher tried, yes he did, but the magic within is so strong…”

“We’ll destroy it,” Sirius told him, surprising himself at the tone of reassurance. “We’ll find a way.”

“The sword’s out of reach,” Remus reminded him quietly. “And I’m not expert with Fiendfyre.”

“I know the curse,” Sirius said quietly. “My father taught it to me… But I never cast it before. I don’t know that I could control it.”

“The furnace,” Kreacher squeaked. “Can contain Fiendfyre.”

Sirius was startled by the elf’s helpfulness. Kreacher led them down to the basement, and led them to the Black’s old potions laboratory. Everything was covered in dust and cobwebs, just like the living room had been.

“You haven’t cleaned a bit,” Sirius noted with a frown.

Kreacher grumbled quietly.

“This is the furnace?” Remus interrupted, pointing at the black stove in the corner. Kreacher nodded.

“Leave us,” Sirius barked. “Go… clean the kitchen.”

Kreacher grimaced and vanished.

“Damn it, Padfoot,” Remus said tiredly. “You two were almost getting along.”

Sirius’ face twisted in rage, reminding Remus uncomfortably of his mother’s screaming portrait. “That elf helped make my life miserable for sixteen years. He always hated me, so I hated him as well. But he loved Regulus – everyone did.”

He stomped over to the furnace and opened it. Remus began casting diagnostic spells. It had very strong enchantments and wards over it, to contain what was within.

“These wards are very strong,” Remus said thoughtfully. “And Kreacher loves this house, he has no reason to want it destroyed by Fiendfyre. I don’t think he was lying.”

“Right then. Stand back.” Sirius grabbed the locket from the floor and threw it inside.  

Remus got to his feet and backed away, wand at the ready. Sirius held his wand steady and began the incantation. Flames roared into being inside the furnace – Remus flicked his wand and the door slammed shut.

The horcrux wailed in fury, but it was no match for the Fiendfyre. Soon its screams died down, and Remus and Sirius watched the furnace. It seemed to contain the magical fire, though the black metal was glowing faintly red.

“Will the flames die down?”

“Not on their own,” Sirius said grimly.

The counter spell to vanish the flames was longer, and took a lot out of him.  The fire crackled one last time and died. Sirius took a shaky breath, his body slumping with relief – and magical exhaustion.

“One down,” Remus said quietly, resting a hand on Sirius’ shoulder.

“Let’s get out of here,” Sirius said plaintively. “I hate this place.”


 

Thursday, 26 September

"I miss you guys," Padma sighed as she slipped into the space between Hermione and Blaise. "I never get to eat with you anymore."

"Brand is crazy like that," Blaise said, shrugging.

Indeed, Captain Jarena Brand had been making Padma, Cho, and Roger sit together for two meals a day since they’d made the team.

"I expect the three of you to learn how to silently communicate," Jarena had told them sternly. "You're not my Chasers… You're my Chaser.  One entity! A cohesive unit! Do not talk to each other. Use motions, eye contact and facial expressions if you need to pass dishes to and from one another. When I feel you've gotten the hang of this, then I'll knock you down to one meal a day. Dismissed!"

Their Quidditch captain always sat near them, seemingly psychically able to sense when they were about to break her rules and try to whisper to one another.

"No talking!" Jarena roared at Cho that very breakfast.

The Ravenclaws around them looked highly amused, and also sympathetic for the three new Chasers.

"You're getting better though," Hermione said encouragingly.

"Thanks," Padma smiled. "I think I'm actually getting to know Cho and Roger now, you know? Even without saying much. Jarena's going to test us tomorrow on our 'silent communication skills' - and you know, I think we're ready."

"Good!" Terry chuckled. "We miss you too, Padma."

Hermione slipped an arm around her friend and hugged her.

“I’m going to check out the mirror before class,” Terry said. “Anyone want to come?”

Blaise nodded in answer, and they both looked to Padma, who was the only one left to look. 

“I’m not going,” Padma declared.

“Why not?”

“Desires change over time,” Padma said thoughtfully. “I don’t want to get trapped trying to achieve one thing that a mirror directs me to, because I might actually want something else in the future. I’d like to figure myself out without the help of a mirror.”

“That’s very reasonable,” Hermione sounded impressed.


 

Neville dropped them off at the room, but declined to go inside with them. Terry and Blaise went in, and Terry took the first look.

In the mirror, he looked older. He was wearing a simple outfit without robes, and was on a balcony with a great view behind him. Terry was working on a painting. Then he turned the canvas so Terry could see it. It was a picture of waves, crashing against a rocky shoreline. Terry leaned closer, entranced by the image.  A hand touched his shoulder, and Terry started. In the mirror, his reflection turned with a warm smile to look at the intruder…

Blaise carefully pulled Terry back from the mirror. He looked over the blond boy curiously, wondering what he had seen.

“I’m not surprised,” Terry said softly. “I already knew I want to be an artist. Your turn, then.”

He stepped aside for Blaise, who took a deep breath before looking into the mirror. Terry was stunned as a look of absolute devastation crossed the other boy’s face. Blaise reached out to touch the mirror, stroking the reflective glass longingly.

Blaise shuddered, then his head lifted as he looked at something in the top of the mirror. A terrible smile grew on his face, showing hate and rage and triumph all at once.

When Terry reached out to touch his shoulder, Blaise whirled around fiercely.

“Blaise?” Terry asked cautiously.

The young Slytherin took a quick breath.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Terry asked softly.

Blaise didn’t reply. He shrugged off Terry’s hand, then marched out of the room, that same angry, victorious expression on his face.


 

“What are you reading about?”

Susan looked up from her book at Hannah, every line of her face tight. “Cerberi.

“Oh,” Hannah shuddered as she sat down beside her, her voice lowering to a murmur so nobody else in the Common Room could hear her. “I wish we hadn’t gone in there. That was the scariest creature I’ve ever seen.”

“I don’t understand how it’s allowed to be here,” Susan said worriedly.

“Are we sure it is?” Hannah wondered. 

Susan stared at her friend, then began to nod fervently.  “Obviously, Dumbledore put it there since he warned us all away from it, but what if the Ministry doesn’t know?”

“You could ask your Aunt Susan.”

“Oh, I will. If anyone can figure this out, it’ll be her. I bet Auntie can get that creature out of the school before it hurts anyone.”


Once you finish reading this letter, you will be brought to Number 12 Grimmauld Place, London, where we will be able to do the ritual. See you any second, Harry!

Hedwig clamped her beak around the parchment just in time. Harry’s eyes widened as the portkey activated. He held on tight to the letter, and felt like he was being squished in a vacuum. When he could breathe again, he gasped, wincing as his stomach turned, and looked around.

He was sitting on the carpet of a dimly lit living room. Near him was a crackling fire, and above it, a mantel full of… Harry hoped they were just animal skulls.

Hedwig, what is this place? Harry asked nervously.

This is the Black family home, where Sirius grew up, Hedwig informed him.

“Harry!”

He turned to see Sirius hurrying through the doorway from the kitchen. When his godfather caught him in a hug, Harry carefully hugged back. Sirius pulled back at last, grinning at him.  

“Is this where we’re going to live?”  Harry asked nervously.

“Oh no!” Sirius said immediately, surprised at the question. “No, I hate this place. I have another house that you’ll like much better. We’re just using it for now since it has the things we need.”

That was a relief, Harry thought. Sirius grabbed his hand and led him through a doorway into a large but shabby kitchen, then into a pantry and down a set of stairs.

“Hello, Harry,” Remus said warmly as they arrived.

“Hi, Remus.” Harry waved, then stared, distracted by something nearby. “Um, why is there a dungeon here?”

“My family used it to keep and torture muggles,” Sirius said frankly.

Harry blanched.

“They were the worst sort of wizards,” Sirius said darkly. “Which is why I ran away to live with your dad and grandparents when I was sixteen. I never thought I’d be back… But I inherited it, and it has some of the things we need.”

“What exactly are we doing?” Harry asked.

“I’ll let Remus explain,” Sirius said ruefully.

Harry and Hedwig listened as Remus explained the blood adoption ritual to them. It did involve actual blood-letting, but he was assured that it wouldn’t take much.

Are you sure you’re ready? Hedwig checked in with him.

“Okay,” Harry said quietly, but certain. “I’m ready.”

Hedwig fluttered off to a chair to watch, while Sirius took Harry’s hand and stepped into the runic circle Remus had set up. There was a stone pedestal between them, topped by a grey stone bowl.

Harry was quiet as they began the ritual, Sirius slowly chanting as he sprinkled prepared ingredients into the stone bowl, followed by a smooth black stone, and a small satchel of something that smelled oddly like dirty socks. Then at last Sirius drew out the gleaming ritual dagger, and Harry gulped nervously.

Just a small cut, Hedwig reassured him. It’ll be done soon, nestling.

Sirius smiled at him as he dropped Harry’s hand, then took the knife and cut into his own palm. Harry took the knife nervously, then cut into his left palm.  He managed to bite his lip to keep from crying out loud – that hurt.

Harry imitated Sirius by moving his cut hand over the bowl and letting blood drip out. The blood sizzled as it splashed over the black stone, and Harry’s eyes widened as the stone began to melt.

Sirius took his hand, his bleeding cut pressed to Harry’s. He hated the wince of pain in his boy’s eyes, but he knew this had to be done. This was to protect Harry.

“Bonded in blood, so mote it be,” Sirius intoned.

“So mote it be,” Harry echoed. Then he gasped, as his cut stung like it was burned. His hand tried to jerk away instinctively, but Sirius held it tight in his own.

Then he reached down and picked up a silver ladle, mixing the concoction before scooping some up and putting it to Harry’s lips. The boy grimaced, but sipped from it. It tasted of blood and spice, and left his mouth feeling it was on fire. Sirius similarly took a sip.

“Bonded in body,” Sirius continued fiercely. “So mote it be.”

Again Harry repeated him, though there was obvious pain in his voice. Sirius dipped a fingertip in the mixture, and drew a rune in the middle of his forehead. Then he bent down so Harry could draw the same thing on him.

“Bonded in spirit,” he concluded. “So mote it be.”

“So mote it be,” Harry gasped.

A powerful wave of magic burst through them where their hands were joined, where the blood rune had been drawn – then a terrible pain sprang up in Harry’s scar, and he began to scream. Harry fell to the floor, hands clutching his forehead, overwhelmed with blinding agony.

“Harry!” Sirius bellowed, terrified.

Remus leapt forward, crying, “This shouldn’t be happening…”

And Hedwig let out a terrified hoot. Harry!

He could hear them shouting, but the pain was too much. Harry’s body shuddered, and then his world went blissfully dark.