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A Little Help from a Snake

Chapter Text

He was used to being called "boy" and "freak" by his relatives. For the first few years of his life at number four, Privet Drive, he genuinely thought that those were his names. It wasn't until preschool, when his teacher asked him why he put "Freak" at the top of his assignment that he learned that his name was Harry Potter.

Of course, that didn't change anything, really. He was still called "boy" and "freak," except when there were other people around. But at least now Harry felt a little better. Personally, he thought Harry was a better name than Dudley, but he would never share this thought out loud. To do so would earn him a punishment, usually some kicks and punches followed by Harry being thrown into the cupboard under the stairs. Not that he hadn't endured enough of that. Both Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon found every single thing he did to be suspicious, and if Harry was even slightly off, he was punished.

Dudley, though, was perfect in their eyes. He was their "ickle Dudleykins," their precious, and more importantly, normal son. Nothing he did earned him a punishment. In fact, his parents sang praises at everything he did, no matter how badly he finished something.

In school, for example, Dudley had gotten C's on his report cards. Aunt Petunia found that as a perfectly plausible excuse to celebrate. Harry foolishly believed they would have been proud of him when he received all A's and a B. Instead, he had been shoved into his cupboard with the promise of no food for a week for daring to do better than their son. So Harry learned to deliberately fail every assignment, even if he was actually intellectually advanced for his age.

Unlike Dudley, Harry was forced to do all the work. Every Saturday, he was given a list of chores to finish by the end of the day. Vacuum the living room, dust the furniture, clean the windows, tend to the garden, you name it. The garden was probably Harry's favorite chore, as it was pretty much the only time he got to spend any time outdoors. It was during one particular summer that everything changed.

Harry was almost ten years old, not that the Dursleys celebrated or even bothered to remember his birthday, when he heard a soft hissing. Curious, he turned just in time to see a few blades of grass quiver. Harry glanced back at the house; the others had left for the water park, leaving Harry all by himself. Normally, he would have had company in the form of Arabella Figg, but his relatives had conveniently forgotten to call her over.

Safe in the knowledge that he wouldn't be beaten for slacking off, Harry cautiously crawled over to where he had spotted the movement. He grabbed a stick and carefully parted the grass to reveal a slender black shape.

'Pssh! Tiny hatchling dared to disturb me!'

"Sorry," Harry said automatically. "I didn't realize you were resting." He suddenly realized something. "Wait, how am I talking to you?"

The snake gazed up at him, its stance no longer threatening, merely curious. 'You do not know?' it asked.

'Um, no,' Harry said, unknowingly slipping into the snake's language.

'What is your name?'

'Harry. Harry Potter.'

'Well, Harry, make yourself comfortable,' the snake hissed. 'I have a lot to tell you.’

 

 

 

And boy, did the snake have a lot of information. 'So you're saying,' Harry said, trying to comprehend everything he had learned the past twenty minutes, 'that my parents were not drunks that died in a car crash and that they're... magical?'

'Indeed, hatchling.'

'And I'm famous?' Harry added with no small amount of distaste.

'Yes.'

'Can I use magic?' Harry wondered, looking at his hands.

'I'm afraid at this age it is not easy,' the snake told him. 'But once you get your letter, you will be able to enter the magical world and learn.'

'Wow, I can't wait!' Harry said excitedly. His eyes dimmed slightly. 'That's still another year.'

'But you know more than you did yesterday,' the snake reminded him. 'You can use this knowledge to your advantage.'

Harry looked back at the house again. 'I could, couldn't I?'

The snake hissed in delight.

'Well, until they get back, I better continue on with my chores. Thank you... er- I didn't get your name.'

'I do not have a name,' the snake said. 'But you may grant me one.'

Harry sat back and looked the snake over. 'How about Azure?' he suggested. 'Because your scales are black, but in the light, they reflect blue.'

'Perfect,' the snake hissed. 'I like that very much.'

'Goodbye,' Harry said. 'Will you still be around?'

'Of course, hatchling,' Azure reassured him. 'Good luck.'

 

 

 

The looks of absolute terror on Uncle Vernon's and Aunt Petunia's were something that Harry would treasure until the end of time.

"What are you saying, boy?" Uncle Vernon demanded, trying to intimidate Harry into silence.

For the first time, it didn't work. Harry merely laughed. "You know exactly what I'm saying, Uncle Vernon," he said. "I know I'm a wizard. And I know of my... fame." Ugh, he didn't like the sound of that at all.

"What do you want?" Aunt Petunia asked fearfully.

"I want you to stop treating me like I'm inferior," Harry told her. He could see Uncle Vernon's face starting to turn purple. "I'm not saying you have to treat me like royalty or anything like that. No, simply do not lay a hand on me and I will leave you alone."

"Are you threatening us?" Uncle Vernon thundered.

Harry's cold green eyes locked onto his. "No, of course not. I'm promising you."

His uncle made a move to lunge at him, but Aunt Petunia stopped him. "Vernon, don't argue," she pleaded.

"Fine." Uncle Vernon forced himself to relax. "Anything else?"

"I would like Dudley's second bedroom," Harry said.

His uncle went to protest but quickly gave in.

 

 

 

From then on, Harry was finally living a somewhat better life. It took very stern words from Aunt Petunia to get Dudley to leave Harry alone. Predictably, Dudley was furious. No more Harry Hunting meant he had to find other ways to have fun. He tried to turn to bullying other kids, but Harry stood up to him, and Dudley stopped. There was no way Harry was going to allow others to be victimized like he had been.

Harry's reputation as a dangerous and mentally ill child, courtesy of Dudley, began to dissipate and although Harry gained any friends, teachers began to revamp their opinion of him. His grades went back up, reflecting the brilliant child he really was, all the while pushing Dudley in the background.

Dudley was still praised for his mediocre grades, but his cousin wasn't punished like he would have been, much to Dudley's disappointment. So many things were going wrong. He couldn't even blame Harry for anything anymore!

Harry quietly enjoyed watching Dudley sulk as he ate full meals at the table.

Chapter Text

It was Dudley's birthday today, and Harry couldn't find it in himself to care.

"Thirty-six," Dudley said from where he was counting his presents. "That's two less than last year."

"Darling, you haven't counted Auntie Marge's present, see, it's here under this big one from Mommy and Daddy."

Harry refrained from commenting that he had never received even one present.

"All right, thirty-seven then," Dudley said, in no way appeased.

"And we'll buy you another two presents while we're out today," Aunt Petunia said quickly. "How's that, popkin. Two more presents? Is that all right?"

"So I'll have thirty... thirty..."

"Thirty-nine," Harry said in a bored tone. They were honestly proud he couldn't add? What great parents Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were.

"Oh. All right then.”

Every year, Dudley and his friend, Piers, were taken out for the day, leaving Harry with Arabella Figg, an old lady who lived two streets away. This year, his relatives were taking them to the zoo along with Harry, as they knew he would ask to come. Harry inwardly smiled; this was going to be great.

It started out okay, though Dudley's tantrum in the restaurant irritated Harry to no ends. Their next stop was the reptile house. Dudley found the largest snake and pressed his nose against the glass. "Make it move," he whined.

Harry rolled his eyes as Uncle Vernon tapped on the glass. As if that would make it move!

Dudley quickly gave up and moved away. Harry stayed where he was, still looking at the snake. 'Humans,' he hissed softly. 'We're a pretty idiotic species, aren't we?'

The snake opened its eyes, looking amused. 'For the most part. You seem pretty intelligent.'

'I suppose so. Where do you come from, anyway?'

The snake jabbed its tail at a sign.

Boa Constrictor, Brazil.

'I see. It's too bad you've never been,' Harry said, reading on.

"DUDLEY! MR. DURSLEY!" Piers suddenly shouted. "COME AND LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT IT'S DOING!"

Dudley came running back over and punched Harry in the ribs. "Out of the way, you."

Harry hit the ground, anger thrumming through him. That was the first time Dudley had hit him in a long time. What happened next made his anger evaporate. The glass suddenly vanished, and the boa constrictor uncoiled itself and slithered out onto the floor. 'Brazil, here I come... Thanks, amigo.'

It snapped at Piers' and Dudley's heels playfully and slid away. The boys, of course, greatly exaggerated this by proclaiming it nearly killed them. Piers managed to calm down enough to speak more normally. "Harry was speaking to it, weren't you, Harry?"

Once he had gone home, Uncle Vernon turned on him.

"I didn't do it on purpose," Harry said before he could speak. "The glass just disappeared. Like magic." He said the last word tauntingly, and Uncle Vernon sent him to his room, repulsed by the word.

 

 

 

His Hogwarts letter finally came.

Mr. H. Potter

The Smallest Bedroom

4 Privet Drive

Little Whinging

Surrey

Inside, it read that Harry had been accepted and gave a list of supplies. 'I've finally got it,' he told Azure.

'Perfect,' she hissed. 'You should send a reply.'

Harry did and watched the owl take off. 'Now I need to get my supplies.'

'No worries. Just have your uncle drop you off.'

'Okay.'

He waited until Azure was settled in his pocket before approaching Uncle Vernon. He agreed to take him, if only to get Harry away from his house.

'Where to first?' Harry asked once he was dropped off.

'To the bank. They'll give you your money.'

'Got it.'

Now Harry approached the counter to where a goblin was seated. "Greetings," he said. "I am Harry Potter. I was told that I have money here for my education."

"Do you have your key?"

Harry frowned. "I'm afraid not. Is there any way I can prove it's me?"

The goblin nodded and beckoned him. "You should speak with your account manager."

Harry followed the goblin into a private room. A moment later, another goblin entered. "Greetings, Mr. Potter. I am Griphook. I have been told you were not give your vault key?"

"No, sir," Harry said.

Griphook frowned. "That is strange. Your magical guardian was expected to deliver it to you."

"Magical guardian?" Harry echoed.

Griphook looked even more displeased. "Yes. Your magical guardian is Albus Dumbledore."

"The Headmaster?" Azure had told him about this man, and she hadn't sounded very enthusiastic about him, either.

"He is the guardian for those raised in the Muggle world," Griphook informed him.

"Then why hasn't he made sure I was okay?" Harry asked angrily.

"Pardon?"

"A guardian is supposed to take care of their charge," Harry said. "But I wasn't exactly treated well."

"You weren't? Mr. Dumbledore had implied that you were spoiled."

Harry couldn't help it. He let out a bitter laugh. "He must have been referring to my cousin," he said. "Dudley is the one who gets everything handed to him on a silver platter." He shook his head. "Sorry, Griphook. Can I get a new key or...?"

Griphook pulled out a piece of parchment and a dagger. "We will make you a new one. But for now, just prick your finger and let two drops of blood fall."

Harry did as he was told, and words appeared on the previously blank parchment.

The first few lines showed the basics like his and his parents' names and his current dwelling. After that came a list of vaults and properties- Harry's eyes widened at the sheer number of each- as well as several compulsions. Every single one was set by Albus Dumbledore.

"Compulsions?" Harry murmured questioningly.

Griphook looked at the parchment and muttered something under his breath. "We need a healer." He called out in Gobbledegook and in came another goblin. They conversed briefly, then turned to Harry. "Mr. Potter, I believe it would be best if we remove these compulsions before we move forward."

"That sounds ideal," Harry said, a bit mystified.

He was led to another room, where Azure was instructed to come off so she wouldn't get hurt. The dark snake had grown since Harry had first met her, and now she was roughly three feet long.

"This is going to hurt," the goblin healer warned him.

Harry nodded and braced himself. After several seconds of low chanting, he felt pain explode in his body, and it took all his strength not to cry out. But it was worse, much worse than his beatings and soon he let out a scream. Perhaps mercifully, he blacked out a moment later.

Chapter Text

‘Hatchling?' came Azure's frantic hiss.

'Wha-?' Harry mumbled back. He opened his eyes.

"You're awake," the goblin healer said, sounding slightly surprised. "Can you sit up?"

Harry blinked a few times and slowly pushed himself upright. "I feel weird."

The healer helped Harry stand up and led him to the mirror on the wall. Harry looked at himself. He still looked relatively the same, except now he had grown a bit taller and was less scrawny. "Hm," he muttered to himself. "Maybe I'll actually grow over five feet."

Azure let out a hissed chuckle and even the healer looked amused. "Are you feeling well enough to speak with Griphook?"

"Yes, m'am."

The healer once again directed him, this time back to the room where Harry had been previously.

Griphook jumped right to it. "Mr. Potter, I am glad to see you awake and well."

"Thank you, Griphook."

"Of course. Now, I have been reviewing the parchment and noticed something very interesting."

He showed Harry the parchment. At the bottom, under the compulsions that were no longer on him, read:

Soulmate: Tom Riddle

"Who's Tom Riddle?"

Griphook looked at him steadily. "You know him as Lord Voldemort."

Harry froze. Beside him, Azure lifted her head. 'That explains it.'

Harry turned to her. 'Explains what, Azure?'

'Why he couldn't kill you,' Azure said. 'Soulmates cannot willingly try to kill each other.'

Harry's mind was still trying to process the first bit of information. "My soulmate, as in the person I am meant to be with, is the Dark Lord?"

"The parchment doesn't lie, Mr. Potter."

"I know, it's just a lot to take in." Harry ran a hand through his hair. "How is this supposed to work? How can I be his soulmate? He was vanquished when I was a child!"

"Exactly," Griphook said. "Vanquished. That does not mean he is dead."

Harry closed his eyes briefly. "Well, I can't do anything at the moment. Shall we go over the vaults?"

"We shall."

 

 

 

Once Harry had everything he needed, including his trust key, he left Gringotts. He let his bangs cover up his forehead, knowing that as soon as people saw the scar it would be chaos.

'You should get your uniform first,' Azure told him.

Harry went into Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, where a squat, smiling witch greeted him. "Hogwarts, dear?"

"Yes, m'am."

Madam Malkin had him stand a footstool and put a long robe on him. When she had finished pinning it up, Harry handed her a few Galleons and left.

His next stop was Scribbulus Writing Instruments. As he was looking at a particular type that changed color, a woman bustled by with three boys. All of them had the same flaming red hair.

The youngest male was grumbling not so quietly under his breath. "I don't see why we couldn't stay in the Quidditch shop any longer."

"Now, Ron, you know we need to get the more important things. Your supplies, for instance."

"You let Percy stay behind at Flourish and Blotts," Ron pointed out.

"Percy is old enough to behave himself."

The older boys, clearly twins, snickered. "Yes, Percy."

"Perfect Percy."

"Perfect prefect Percy."

Harry looked away, trying to stifle his laugh. Unfortunately, he was not quiet enough as the twins turned toward him.

"Another ickle first year," one of them said quietly.

"I say we talk to him!"

Harry felt a bit wary as they approached him. "Hello," he said politely. "What year are you?"

"We'll be starting our third year," the first twin told him.

"Amazing we came this far, if I'm being honest," the second one added. "Anyway, I'm Fred. And this is George."

"Are you sure it's not the other way around?" Harry asked. Because by the mischievous glints in their eyes, he wouldn't put it past them to deliberately confuse people.

They both grinned at him. "Well-"

"- well-"

"-well. Looks like we got ourselves a smart little firstie, Freddie."

"It certainly seems that way, Georgie. Pleased to meet you. What's your name?"

"James," Harry answered, deciding to go for a half-truth.

"Nice to meet you, James!" George shook his hand enthusiastically.

"Pleasure to meet you," Fred added, also shaking his hand vigorously.

"Boys!" their mother called. "Stop bothering the poor dear and let's go."

"Coming!" they chorused.

"I guess I'll see you at Hogwarts," Harry said.

"Guess so."

"Later, James."

Harry went to a variety of shops, including the one called Flourish and Blotts, and purchased his required materials. The last item on the list was his wand, which he was most excited for.

He entered Ollivanders, where he was greeted by an old man who startled him with his greeting.

"I thought I'd be seeing you soon. Harry Potter. You have your mother's eyes."

Harry wondered if he was like this for all new students. "Excuse me, Mr. Ollivander, but I need to get home soon." Not that he actually considered Privet Drive his home.

"Of course, of course." Mr. Ollivander pulled out a tape measure. "Which is your wand arm?"

"I'm ambidextrous." Harry was more dominant in his right hand, but thanks to Dudley and his gang, he had learned how to use his left hand as well to accommodate for broken bones.

Mr. Ollivander took several measurements with his tape measure, which Harry noticed was moving on its own. "Right then, Mr. Potter. Try this one. Beechwood and dragon heartstring. Nine inches. Nice and flexible. Just take it and give it a wave." Mr. Ollivander snatched it back almost immediately and handed him another one- "Maple and phoenix feather-" only to take that back as well.

Several wands later, with Mr. Ollivander getting happier and happier for some reason despite them all failing, he finally pulled out a holly wand with a phoenix feather core. When Harry took it, he felt a rush of warmth and swished it, sending a stream of gold sparks into the air.

"Oh, bravo!" Mr. Ollivander exclaimed. "Yes, indeed, oh, very good. Well, well, well... how curious... how very curious..."

"Sorry, but what's curious?"

"I remember every wand I've ever sold, Mr. Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather- just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother- why, its brother gave you that scar."

Was it because they were soulmates or merely coincidence? Harry wondered. It wasn't something he could ask, unfortunately; he didn't want to risk this additional relation with Voldemort spreading to the wrong people, like Dumbledore.

Harry left Ollivanders and headed inside Eeylops Owl Emporium. There was a variety of owls, barn, screech, tawny, brown, and many others. Harry's attention was drawn to a particular snowy owl, who stared right back at him with a sharp amber gaze. Perfect. After warning Azure not to eat her, he bought her and all her necessities and left feeling quite happy with himself.

Chapter Text

On September 1st, Harry opened his eyes to Azure prodding him awake. 'It's time to go to Hogwarts, hatchling!' she hissed excitedly.

Harry was wide awake at that reminder. He checked and double-checked his trunk and, satisfied that he had everything, exited his room. "I'm ready," he announced.

His uncle gave a nervous start, as if he had been shocked. "Where do I take you again?"

"King's Cross. I'll be able to find my way from there." With the help of a stubborn snake, he added silently.

Uncle Vernon dropped him off, and Harry headed for Platform Nine and three-quarters. Before going through, he unlocked Hedwig's cage. "I think you should be able to fly there."

Hedwig hooted and nipped him affectionately before taking off. 'Ready, Azure?'

'Yesss,' Azure would probably be bouncing if she wasn't in Harry's pocket.

On the other side, Harry could see families milling around. He passed them and went to find a compartment. Upon reaching it, he cast a feather-light charm on his trunk and lifted it up above the seats before sitting down.

He then took out his copy of Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger and began reading as the train moved.

He was on Chapter 3 when the compartment door opened and in came a blonde boy with a pale, pointed face and a pug-faced girl.

"Do you mind if we sit here?" the boy asked.

"No, you're good." As long as you don't talk to me.

Unfortunately, the girl had other plans. "So who are you?"

Harry decided that since everyone would know who he was eventually, he may as well get the initial gawking over with. "Harry Potter."

Sure enough, the other students looked shocked, though they didn't gape at him like a couple of idiots.

The boy recovered first. "My name's Malfoy, Draco Malfoy," he said haughtily. "And this is Pansy Parkinson. You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there."

He held out his hand. Harry looked down at it, then back up. "I accept your friendship," he said, shaking it. "But I think I know how to avoid the 'wrong sort.' And you may as well call me Harry if we are going to be friends."

Malfoy nodded, looking pleased. "Then you can call me Draco."

Just then, the compartment door was opened and Harry recognized Ron, the youngest male Weasley. "Hello. Anyone sitting there?" he asked. "Everywhere else is full."

"You sure? Because I counted three other compartments that had one or two people in them," Harry said.

"Well, yeah, but they're all Slytherins," Ron said.

"And who do you think you are?" Harry said.

"He's a Weasley," Draco sneered. "My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford."

"My name is Ron," the redhead told Harry, ignoring Draco. "Who are you?"

"Harry Potter."

Ron gawked at him. "You are? Why are you with Malfoy? Come on, let's get out of here."

He grabbed Harry's arm and pulled. Azure, alerted by this threat, appeared, snapping her jaws toward Ron, but not trying to actually hurt him. 'Leave my hatchling alone!'

Ron reared back, releasing Harry's arm. "You have a pet snake?"

"She is not a pet," Harry said. "She is a companion, a friend."

Azure preened at his words. 'You say such sweet things, hatchling.'

'Shut it, you.'

"You're- you're a Parselmouth!" Ron exclaimed while Draco and Pansy stared.

"So?"

"So?" Ron's eyes were wide with shock. "Only You-Know-Who and Salazar Slytherin could speak to snakes! That's an evil trait."

"Evil?" Harry wondered if Ron had lost his brain recently. "No, it's not. If you research it, you would find that it's actually sacred in other countries, especially India."

Ron kept his eyes on Azure, who was still poised, ready to attack again if necessary.

Draco dragged his gaze from Azure and glared up at Ron. "You should leave," he said. "You are not welcome here."

"I'm not welcome?" Ron repeated. "Says you, Death Eater!"

Draco sneered in reply, but Harry didn't miss the hurt that flashed in his silver eyes briefly. "Go."

Ron stared at Harry in disbelief. "Me?"

"Yes, you. I don't appreciate you insulting my friends."

"You can't be friends with him!" Ron said. "His father supported You-Know-Who. He's evil!"

Harry's eyes darkened. "I will not repeat myself. Go find another compartment, Weasley."

Ron opened and closed his mouth, looking betrayed, but when Harry didn't budge, he gave up. "Fine. Just you wait, though. You'll be put into Gryffindor and you'll see how evil the slimy snakes are."

He finally left, and Azure relaxed. 'Annoying little brat,' she grumbled.

"Harry," Draco said quietly, "you didn't have to do that."

"But I did."

"Well, thanks." Draco looked genuinely surprised that Harry had spoken like that to Ron.

Harry nodded slightly before turning back to his book.

 

 

 

Some time after twelve, a woman opened the compartment door. "Anything off the carts, dears?"

Along with Draco and Pansy, Harry jumped up eagerly to see what she had. He was unsurprised to see that he recognized none of them from the Muggle world: Bettie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs. Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands... He bought a little of everything to try.

Harry unwrapped a chocolate frog and looked at the card that came with it. So this is Albus Dumbledore, he thought as he gazed at the man with the flowing silver beard.

 

 

 

A round-faced boy knocked on the door and poked his head in, looking tearful. "Sorry, but have you seen a toad at all?"

"No, sorry," Harry said.

"I've lost him! He keeps getting away from me!"

"Have you asked a prefect?" Harry asked.

"Oh, no, I haven't."

"Maybe you could check with them."

"Good idea." The boy left.

They were interrupted barely ten minutes later by a girl with bushy brown hair and large front teeth. "Are you Harry Potter?"

Before Harry could answer, Pansy said, "That's none of your business."

"There's no need to be rude."

"Says the girl who just barged in without knocking," Harry said flatly.

The girl blinked a few times. "Well, are you?"

"Yes." Normally, Harry didn't judge people by first impressions, but the girl was already rubbing him the wrong way just by her bossy tones.

"I know all about you, of course— I got a few extra books, for background reading, and you're in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century."

"Those stories aren't real," Harry said. He had seen those books in Flourish and Blotts and had not been impressed. Hell, they had an entire section just for him.

"How can they not be real?"

"I've been living with my relatives for ten years," Harry replied. "Barely left the house once."

"Who are you anyway?" Draco said.

"Hermione Granger," the girl said.

Both Draco and Pansy seemed to lose any interest in her- not that there was much to begin with.

"Do any of you know what house you'll be in?" Hermione asked. "I've been asking around, and I hope I'm in Gryffindor, it sounds by far the best; I hear Dumbledore himself was in it, but I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn't be too bad... Anyway, I'd better go. You three had better change, you know, I expect we'll be there soon."

She closed the door, and Draco let a sneer cross his face. "Granger. Hadn't heard that name before. Probably a Mudblood."

Harry bristled. "Don't use that term."

"Why not?" Pansy said. "It's what she is."

"Have you forgotten who my mother is?” Harry said icily.

The pair had the decency to look ashamed. "Sorry," Pansy said.

"Just don't use it. Ever. You don't like being called Death Eaters, Muggle-borns won't like being called... that."

Chapter Text

"We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately," an overhead voice said.

The train came to a halt, and another voice spoke. "Firs' years! Firs' years over here!"

"Who's that?" Harry whispered.

"That must be Hagrid," Pansy whispered back. "I hear he's the gamekeeper."

"Dropped out, I think," Draco added with a hint of scorn.

A giant hairy man was guiding students off the train. "C'mon, follow me- any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!"

The first years followed him down a narrow path. Hardly anyone spoke.

"Yeh'll get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," Hagrid called over his shoulder, "jus' round this bend here."

There was a loud "Oooooh!" as they came to a stop. The path had opened up to the edge of a lake.

"No more'n four to a boat!" Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Harry climbed into one with Pansy and Draco along with another boy. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ron look disappointed as he settled into another boat with Neville, Hermione, and a sandy-haired boy.

"Everyone in?" shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself. "Right then- FORWARD!"

The boats began to move forward, though Harry couldn't see what propelled them.

"Heads down!" yelled Hagrid as the first boats reached the cliff; they all bent their heads and the little boats carried them through a curtain of ivy that hid a wide opening in the cliff face. They were carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle, until they reached a kind of underground harbor, where they clambered out onto rocks and pebbles.

They clambered up a passageway in the rock after Hagrid's lamp, coming out at last onto smooth, damp grass right in the shadow of the castle.

They walked up a flight of stone steps and crowded around the huge, oak front door.

Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.

A black-haired witch with emerald-green robes opened the door to greet them.

"The firs' years, Professor McGonagall," said Hagrid.

"Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here."

She led them to a small, empty chamber off the hall, where voices from the older students could be heard.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room."

She went on about the houses and the point system, things that Harry wouldn't have had a clue about if it weren't for Azure.

"The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting," she added with a look at Neville and Ron. "I shall return when we are ready for you. Please wait quietly." She left the chamber.

Harry could hear Ron fretting about a test of some sort and refrained from rolling his eyes. Why would they give a test to a bunch of first years? They weren't expected to know any spells, were they?

He jumped as several people screamed.

About twenty ghosts had appeared, pearly-white and slightly transparent. "Forgive and forget, I say," one that looked like a monk said, "we ought to give him a second chance-"

"My dear Friar, haven't we given Peeves all the chances he deserves? He gives us all a bad name and you know, he's not really even a ghost- I say, what are you all doing here?" said a ghost with ruffles, seeming to have just noticed the first years.

Harry had a feeling they did this every year with the first years.

"New students!" said the Fat Friar, smiling around at them. "About to be Sorted, I suppose?"

A few people nodded mutely.

"Hope to see you in Hufflepuff!" said the Friar. "My old house, you know."

"Move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start." It was Professor McGonagall. Now, form a line and follow me."

Harry got into line behind Draco and Pansy.

The Great Hall was lit by thousands of candles that floated above the four long tables. Another table was situated at the back where the teachers sat. The ceiling had a velvety black look and was dotted with stars.

Somewhere in front of him, Harry heard Hermione telling someone, "Its bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History."

There was a four-legged stool in front of the first years with a frayed, pointed wizard's hat. A rip opened up into a mouth, and the hat began to sing:

"Oh, you may not think I'm 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 folk 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!"

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 pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails stumbled out of line, put on the hat, which fell right down over her eyes, and sat down. A moment's pause-

"HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat.

Harry noticed as the Sorting went by how Dumbledore reacted to each student. He responded enthusiastically for Gryffindor, less so for Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, and only mild politeness for Slytherin. A frown crossed Harry's face; someone was clearly biased.

Hermione Granger became a Gryffindor, which elicited a groan from Ron.

Neville Longbottom also went to Gryffindor, and he ran off with the hat still on his head. He went back up sheepishly to give it to "MacDougal, Morag."

Draco swaggered up next. The hat barely touched his head before calling out, "SLYTHERIN!"

Pansy also went to Slytherin, then there was "Perks, Sally-Anne."

Finally...

"Potter, Harry!"

"Potter, did she say?"

"The Harry Potter?"

No, Harry thought sarcastically as he stepped up. The other Harry Potter.

Before he sat down on the stool, he caught the gleam of anticipation in the Headmaster's eyes.

"Ah, Mr. Potter," a voice in his head said, "where shall I put you? Hm, difficult. Very difficult. A thirst for knowledge, an ambitious mind... Hufflepuff is out. Gryffindor wouldn't be a bad choice, either."

Isn't that where Dumbledore wants me? Harry thought sardonically.

"It is." The hat sounded resigned. "But I believe Slytherin is where you should go. No objections? Very well. Better be- SLYTHERIN!"

No one applauded.

 

Chapter Text

 

In the midst of the shock, McGonagall Sorted the remaining students, ending with Blaise Zabini in Slytherin, and Dumbledore stood up.

"Welcome," he said. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!"

There was scattered applause; most of the students were still staring at Harry. Many jumped as food appeared on the dishes in front of them and began piling it onto their plates.

"Harry Potter in Slytherin," Pansy remarked as she did the same. "That's quite a twist, isn't it?"

"No," Harry replied, smirking with amusement.

"Do you have the scar?" an older student asked.

"If I didn't, I'd be worried," Harry said, but he made no move to push his hair away to show it.

Tracey Davis was looking at a point past him. "Weasley certainly isn't happy."

Harry didn't have to look up to know that Ron was glaring at him. "What a surprise."

"You should have seen his family earlier," Tracey added. "They were making enough racket to be heard from America."

"What kind of a racket?" Draco asked.

"They were yelling about Muggles," Daphne Greengrass told him. "I heard Mrs. Weasley asking what the platform number was."

"In front of the Muggles?" Harry said, surprised.

"Yes. I'm surprised there weren't any Aurors there to Obliviate anyone, they were so loud."

Harry frowned and glanced over to the Gryffindor table. Ron had turned his attention to one of the ghosts who was pulling at his ear, which made his head come off. Fred and George were talking to a boy with dreadlocks; George caught his gaze and grinned before turning back to his friend. A fourth redhead, presumably Percy, was speaking to a very eager Hermione. All three of them had been going to Hogwarts for at least two years, so why would Mrs. Weasley not know about the platform number?

Still frowning, Harry took a bite of his vegetables. Something was off about that family.

Dessert was served not long after, and after helping himself to a treacle tart, Harry looked up at the High Table. Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore were talking to each other. A man wearing a turban was conversing with a greasy-haired, hooked-nose teacher.

The hook-nosed teacher suddenly looked past the one with the turban and straight into Harry's eyes. The teacher didn't like Harry very much if his expression was anything to go by, but Harry couldn't think of any reason as to why.

"Draco, who's that?"

"The dark-haired one? That's Professor Snape. He teaches Potions. He's also my godfather."

"I see." Harry recognized the name. Azure had told him he had gotten his masters in potions at age twenty-one, making him the youngest potions master. She clearly had a lot of respect and awe for him, and Harry was inclined to share it.

The desserts disappeared, and Dumbledore addresses the students once more.

"First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well." He was looking at the Weasley twins when he said this.

"I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors.

"Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madam Hooch.

"And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death."

Harry narrowed his eyes. That was... suspicious. To say that to a mass of children, some that would most certainly feel compelled to disobey the Headmaster for the sake of disobedience, was like waving a red flag at a bull.

"He's not serious?" he muttered.

"He rarely is," Draco scoffed.

The students sang the school song and were then dismissed to bed.

Gemma Farley, one of the Slytherin prefects, led the first years to the dungeons. "Professor Snape is our Head of House," she told them upon entering. "He will speak with you tomorrow morning. But for now, off to bed."

Harry and Draco ended up in a dorm together along with Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott, who each still had a look of amazement of having Harry in their house.

 

 

 

The next morning, Professor Snape called the first years together. When he spoke, his voice was soft, not that he needed to raise it to be heard.

"You have been Sorted into Slytherin," he began, "a house that, despite what others may think, is a house to be proud of. I expect every single one of you to hold yourself to a high standard and to be respectful of each other. Quarrels amongst one another should be within the house, if at all. I will not tolerate Slytherin's reputation being burnt to the ground because you couldn't use your brains."

His black eyes flicked to Harry, who did not react.

"If you have any concerns, come see me or the prefects and we will help to the best of our abilities. Any questions?"

The first years murmured in the negative.

"Good. Go to Miss Farley. She will hand you your timetables. Mr. Potter-" his voice hardened here- "a word."

 

 

 

Harry followed the teacher into his office.

"Listen to me," Snape said coldly, "because I will not repeat myself. The other professors may coddle you, but I will not. You will learn what it's like to have to work for once in your life and should you complain, you will suffer the consequences."

"With all due respect, sir," Harry replied, "I believe you are wrong. I do know what it's like to work, to suffer the consequences."

"Please," Snape sneered. "You are the Boy-Who-Lived."

"And how did I come to be called that?" Harry countered. "By having a madman try to kill me. Voldemort came after me, for some reason, and now I am apparently the savior."

Snape had flinched at the mention of his name and retracted his left arm slightly at the pain. Harry's eyes zoned in on it. "What happened?"

"Don't say his name," Snape hissed.

"Why not?" Harry was curious now.

"Just don't," Snape said, rubbing his arm.

In a flash, Harry had gripped his arm and yanked back the sleeve, revealing the brand. "I see," he said tonelessly. "You are one of his Death Eaters."

Snape tried to wrench his arm back, but Harry had a remarkably strong grip and did not let go. "No, I am no longer in his servitude. Now unhand me this instant."

Harry peered down at the faded mark. "Hm, seems like You-Know-Who was into aesthetics."

Snape looked at him in bewilderment. Then he stiffened as a familiar hissing sound came from the boy's mouth. "You're a-"

"Parselmouth, yes, I'm aware." Harry didn't look up as he continued to hiss.

To Snape's astonishment, the snake shifted and hissed back. Harry replied, eyes flicking up to Snape briefly.

Snape felt the magic in the mark shift and yanked his arm back when Harry released him. "What did you say?" he demanded, feeling very unnerved.

"I simply told it to not hurt," Harry replied coolly. "So now you won't feel pain when someone says Voldemort."

Snape tensed, but to his surprise, there was none of the familiar sting the name brought. "How did you do it?" he whispered.

"Simple. I gave it a command." Harry stared at Snape steadily, almost challengingly. "Is that all?"

"Yes. Now get out of my sight," he snapped, voice lacking the harshness he intended.

Harry rolled his eyes. "I would really like to know what you have against me, but I'm hungry. Maybe later."

He exited the office with an air of grace that was rare in one so young, leaving Snape alone to his thoughts.

Snape looked down at his arm, shivering. Harry's magic had been strong, and it had felt familiar, much like... No. Harry Potter wasn't- he couldn't be- another Dark Lord.

Chapter Text

If Harry were to make a list of all the students he would have rather never met, Ronald Weasley would be high on that list. The idiotic Gryffindor had spread the news that Harry Potter was a Parselmouth while Harry was talking to Snape, so when he came down he was met with hostility.

"Do you even know anything about Parseltongue?" Harry asked.

"It's evil!" Ron said. "You-Know-Who could speak it."

"So just because Voldemort said it-" he rolled his eyes at the flinching- "means that it's bad."

"Well, him and Salazar Slytherin himself!" Ron shouted.

"Well, they also breathed air. Maybe we should all try photosynthesizing."

There were a few snickers throughout the students listening despite themselves, and Ron's face went redder than ever.

"You're not even denying it!" he exclaimed. "You're a slimy snake, just like Malfoy!"

"If you used your brain, Weasley, you'd remember what I said on the train: that Parseltongue is actually sacred in other countries, namely Asian ones like India."

"He's right," Parvati Patil said. Her Ravenclaw sister, Padma, nodded in agreement.

"But You-Know-Who spoke it," Ron protested feebly.

But with the knowledge that Parseltongue was not quite as bad as they had thought, Ron lost his support as the other students turned back to their breakfast.

Harry pushed past a spluttering Ron and sat down.

"Here," Gemma said, handing him his timetable. "Looks like you have Herbology first."

"Thank you." Harry nodded at her and began eating.

"Dumbledore's staring at you," Draco said.

Harry glanced up toward the High Table and met the Headmaster's blue eyes. He felt a push in his mind and abruptly turned away.

 

 

 

Dumbledore groaned inwardly as Harry broke eye contact before he could glimpse his memories. The only thing he saw was the confrontation that had taken place just mere moments ago. He didn't understand what had gone wrong.

He had waited, very patiently if one were to ask, for Harry Potter to come to his school. The boy had lived with his magic-hating relatives for ten years and would have been beaten into submission. As a result, he would be very easy to mold, eager to please the professors, especially Dumbledore. But something went wrong.

When the first years had come in, Dumbledore had searched for the familiar messy black hair and striking green eyes he knew the boy would have. He found him and sat back, eager for the hat to Sort him into Gryffindor. After all, both James and Lily were Gryffindors, and the Potters were known to be Gryffindors for as long as anyone could remember. He conveniently forgot that Harry had a distant relative that had been a Black and a Slytherin.

But then the hat called for Slytherin. What? No, no, no, that wouldn't do. He wasn't supposed to be in such a lowly house. Harry Potter was a Gryffindor! He saw that the Slytherins were especially shocked and hoped they would isolate Harry, pushing him away from the dark and back into the light.

But they didn't. The first couple days proved they were against Harry, but that suddenly changed by Thursday.

"Severus," Dumbledore said that morning, "how is Harry doing?"

"He seems to have made friends with Mr. Malfoy and Miss Parkinson," the potions professor replied neutrally.

Dumbledore didn't like the sound of that. The Malfoys had been one of Voldemort's biggest supporters, and although the Parkinsons hadn't been as far up in rank, they were still known Death Eaters. Once more, he didn't take into consideration that many of the Parkinsons had actually been neutral in the war, including Pansy's parents.

The Headmaster decided to wait and see how things played out before he stepped in. Ron and Hermione, who he had chosen to be Harry's friends, would surely bring him to his senses and go to the third floor corridor so Dumbledore could test Harry.

 

 

 

When the teachers met up in the staff room for the monthly meetings, McGonagall and Flitwick were the first to praise him for his quick learning.

"How is he settling in with the Slytherins, Severus?" Dumbledore asked.

"He is doing... well," Snape answered.

"Only well?" Sprout echoed. "He's such a charming boy. Quiet, but polite."

Dumbledore felt uneasy at this. Tom Riddle had also been a charming boy before he delved into the Dark Arts. His unease only grew as time went on. Harry was displaying all the signs of becoming the next Voldemort, from his charming persona to his strong magic. He was also a Parselmouth, as Ron had so quickly revealed.

During the Halloween feast, Professor Quirrell came running in, screaming about a troll in the dungeons. Dumbledore sent a compulsion toward Harry, hoping he would go and fight it. Instead, Harry had gone to a prefect, informing him that a fellow student didn't know about the troll and was in danger of being attacked.

The professors found Hermione and Ron in the girl's bathroom. Ron had attempted to fight off the troll, only to be injured.

Where had it all gone wrong? Dumbledore's plan for Ron and Hermione to befriend Harry was not going well. Ron kept losing his temper and ranting about Slytherins, and Hermione was unhappy with Harry being better than her in every class.

 

 

 

"Hey, Harry, want to play chess?" Ron said one Friday afternoon.

Hermione rolled her eyes and sat down next to Harry, forcing Tracey to move over. "Honestly, Ron, Hogwarts isn't all about chess and Quidditch," she said. "Harry, I was hoping we could study together."

She had put a large book on the table, not even sparing a glance toward Tracey.

"I'm already studying," Harry pointed out, "with my friend."

"But I thought maybe you could use an extra hand," Hermione persisted, accidentally knocking over an ink jar. Tracey let out a resigned sigh as the ink spilled over her recently finished essay.

"Professor McGonagall is not going to be happy with me," she said, gingerly moving it.

"Granger, you just ruined Tracey's essay," Harry said frustratedly.

"Oh, sorry." She didn't sound sorry at all.

"Who cares? It was probably rubbish anyway," Ron said.

"You're not a teacher," Tracey snapped. "You can't judge it."

"Shut up, you slimy-"

"Enough!" Harry said.

Madam Pince shushed them angrily.

"Apologies," Harry said. "We were just leaving. Come on, Tracey. And don't worry, McGonagall should understand."

"Professor McGonagall," Hermione corrected him automatically while Ron just glared.

Harry ignored her and walked out of the library.

 

 

 

'An Invisibility Cloak?' Azure hissed. 'Careful! It reeks of bad magic.'

Harry cast a diagnostic spell on it, expression darkening when he saw it had compulsions and a tracking charm on it. 'Dumbledore,' he snarled lightly.

Dumbledore wanted him to use it? Fine. But Harry was not going to play by his rules.

 

 

 

Harry was in the library, alone, when Azure, who spent a lot of her time roaming the castle came up. Dumbledore protested but the teachers didn't mind as long as she didn't disrupt the students.

'Hatchling,' she hissed, sounding irritable.

'What's wrong now? Is it the Gryffindors?'

'Yes. They keep talking about Nicholas Flamel and a three-headed dog.'

'A three-headed dog? That's what Dumbledore's been warning us about?' Harry guessed. It made sense that that was what was on the third floor, given the way he emphasized the dangers of going there.

Azure led him to where the pair was sitting at a table. Hermione had a large book opened up.

"Nicolas Flamel, is the only known maker of the Sorcerer's Stone!"

"The what?" Ron said.

Harry rolled his eyes.

"Oh, honestly, don't you read?" Hermione said, sounding as exasperated as Harry felt. "Look- read that, there."

Ron read it quietly to himself.

"See?" said Hermione when Ron had finished. "The dog must be guarding Flamel's Sorcerer's Stone! I bet he asked Dumbledore to keep it safe for him, because they're friends and he knew someone was after it, that's why he wanted the Stone moved out of Gringotts!"

"A stone that makes gold and stops you from ever dying!" Ron said. "No wonder Snape's after it! Anyone would want it."

Harry narrowed his eyes. They believed Snape was after this Sorcerer's Stone? Well, anything to make Snape, and to an extent Slytherins, look bad.

 

 

 

Harry didn't know what Hermione and Ron were up to, but he never looked into it. Instead, he told Snape what he learned and kept a close eye on them.

As a result, Ron and Hermione were unable to sneak to the third-floor corridor.

 

 

 

It was a fake... the Stone was a fake... The wraithlike figure drifted through the air, searching for something to possess. The body of a man lay inert behind him, but the wraith didn't spare it a glance. He should have known better than to risk it all for that wretched Stone.

His thoughts flashed to a particular person: Harry Potter. The boy was an interesting one... a Slytherin, at that. There was something else, some... pull toward him. There was the power in him, which reminded Voldemort of his own. No doubt Harry Potter would grow to be one of the most powerful wizards of all, perhaps even more so than Merlin himself.

If only he knew...

 

Chapter Text

Coming back to number four, Privet Drive was not something Harry had been looking forward to. His relatives had clearly enjoyed not having to worry about housing a wizard under their roof and were now walking on eggshells around him.

Hedwig was not allowed to fly around, which meant she was stuck inside her cage, wings aching to be used.

"I want more bacon," Dudley whined, bringing Harry out of his gloomy thoughts.

"There's more in the frying pan, sweetums," said Aunt Petunia. "We must build you up while we've got the chance... I don't like the sound of that school food..."

"Nonsense, Petunia, I never went hungry when I was at Smeltings," said Uncle Vernon heartily. "Dudley gets enough, don't you, son?"

Harry looked at Dudley's bottom, which drooped over either side of the kitchen chair, and privately thought he had way more than enough.

"Pass the frying pan," Dudley ordered Harry.

"You've forgotten the magic word," said Harry irritably.

Dudley fell off the chair and landed with a thud that shook the kitchen. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon both stared at Harry with horror.

"I meant 'please,'" Harry snapped. "You know, the word that normal people use to be polite?"

His relatives looked at him stupidly, making Harry roll his eyes. "So I'm not the only abnormal one here, got it."

Aunt Petunia recovered first. "Now, Dudleykins, say please." No, anything that even suggested she was abnormal did not suit well with her.

Dudley looked at Harry and said, "Please pass the frying pan." Harry thought that he looked constipated trying to be polite but handed it over anyway.

Uncle Vernon cleared his throat and said, "Now, as we all know, today is a very important day. This could well be the day I make the biggest deal of my career."

It was also Harry's birthday, not that anyone here cared. Harry couldn't stop the bitterness from rising at the thought of going another day without any acknowledgement.

"I think we should run through the schedule one more time," said Uncle Vernon.

Harry inwardly groaned (he had been doing that a lot lately) and listened to the Dursleys go over their roles for the Masons, giving his own line of "I'll be in my bedroom, making no noise and pretending I'm not there" when prompted.

It was only too bad he couldn't practice magic outside of Hogwarts. That would scare his relatives, scare them real good. Of course, just the mere thought of magic was enough to set them into a panic; what happened just that dinner was a prime example.

When he was sent to his room, Harry went and had to stop himself from shouting in alarm at the sight of the creature with large eyes and bat-like ears. "Who are you?" he demanded, remembering just in time to keep his voice down.

"Dobby, sir. Just Dobby. Dobby the house-elf," said the creature.

"Whose house-elf?"

"Dobby serves the Malfoy family, Harry Potter."

Harry perked up at that. He hadn't exchanged many letters with Draco and Pansy, having nothing interesting to talk about, but Pansy occasionally sent him some sweets for him to indulge on.

"Does Draco know you're here?" Harry asked.

"Master Draco sends Dobby here, yes," the elf said. "Dobby brings gift." He held out a package, which Harry took.

The inside had been magically enlarged, so the books the package contained fit perfectly without issue. Harry looked at the front covers. Potions, Spells, Runes... perfect. "Wow, these are great."

"Master Draco has one more gift." Dobby handed him an envelope, wringing his hands nervously.

Harry opened it up.

Dear Harry,

You're twelve years old now, happy birthday. By now, you should have received the books. I hope you like them. Father duplicated them from our library.

You mentioned your relatives, and I got the feeling you weren't very fond of them. To help you a bit in the future, I also give you our house-elf Dobby. He can tell you more about the rules and whatnot for house-elves, but bottom line is he's yours unless you don't want him, which in that case he will return to the Malfoys.

Best,

Draco Malfoy

Harry looked at Dobby, who was still wringing his hands with a mixture of hope and excitement shining in his eyes. "What does having a house-elf do for me?"

"House-elves are very loyal to their masters," Dobby told him. "They must do what their master says or they must punish themselves."

"Okay. How do I accept you?"

"Just say, 'I, Harry Potter, accept this house-elf as my own.'"

Harry did, and he felt the magic warm beneath his skin. "Er, Dobby? I won't be in trouble if you use magic, will I?"

"Oh, no, Master Harry Potter, sir." Dobby loooked almost vindictive in the dark room. "House-elf magic is very different from wizard magic."

"Sweet." Harry laughed softly before remembering where he was. "All right, Dobby, my first order as your... master is to keep quiet while you're here. We have guests over."

"Dobby will be quiet, Master Harry Potter."

"Must you call me that?" Harry said.

"Dobby wants to call his Master Harry Potter Master."

"All right, I suppose." Harry glanced at Hedwig, who was eyeing Dobby warily. "Do me a favor, Dobby. Hedwig shouldn't be cooped up here. Can you take her to the Malfoys for the rest of the summer? Draco can bring her when it's time to go."

"Yes, sir, Master Harry Potter, sir!" Dobby squeaked earnestly.

"And try to keep the 'sirs' to a minimum," Harry added tiredly.

Dobby held on to the cage and disappeared with a pop.

 

 

 

Draco was anxiously waiting for Harry to respond when Dobby appeared. "Did Harry not accept you?" he asked.

"Oh, no. Master Harry Potter accepts Dobby," the elf reassured him. "But Master's Hedwig has been stuck in cage." He snapped his fingers and the locks disappeared.

Hedwig let out an appreciative hoot as she stepped out, stretching out each wing in turn.

"Master hopes she can stay here until school," Dobby said.

"Oh, that's fine." Draco gently rubbed Hedwig's feathers. "Want to eat or fly around a bit first?"

Hedwig took off.

"That answers that."

"Master Harry is pleased with gifts," Dobby said.

"I'm glad to hear that. Thank you, Dobby."

Dobby nodded one and Disapparated back to Harry's bedroom.

"Anything else, Master Harry?"

"No. Thank you." Harry was already starting on the books Draco had given him, so Dobby left him to it.

 

 

 

Harry stared at the booklist. "Please don't tell me Dumbledore hired this person," he groaned. He did not want to have to deal with a fan of Gilderoy Lockhart, thank you very much.

He had Dobby Apparate him to Diagon Alley with Azure, who had become his official familiar, meaning she could simply form a tattoo on him instead of having to ride in his pocket.

Flourish and Blotts was extremely busy, as Lockhart himself was signing autobiographies.

'Stupid Golden Git,' Azure grumbled. 'He's even worse than the Stuttering Squirrel.'

"There you are, Harry," Draco said from behind.

"Hello, Draco. How's Hedwig?"

"Enjoying herself. Mother keeps giving her bacon."

"Yeah, she really loves that stuff," Harry said.

A photographer pushed by. Out of the way, there," he snarled at Harry. "This is for the Daily Prophet—"

"And this is my aching foot," Harry snapped, rubbing at it.

Lockhart turned at the sound and stared. "It can't be Harry Potter?"

He launched forward and grabbed Harry's arm. "Nice big smile, Harry," he said. "Together, you and I are worth— ouch!"

Azure had materialized and bitten his hand, making him release Harry.

"I could sue you for kidnapping," Harry said coldly.

"Harry, Harry, Harry, I know fame can be a bit daunting, but—"

"But nothing. I don't want to make the front page." He glared at the photographer, who lowered his camera. "If I see one photo with me in it, you'll regret it."

"Ladies and gentlemen," Lockhart said. "What an extraordinary moment this is! The perfect moment for me to make a little announcement I've been sitting on for some time!

"When young Harry here stepped into Flourish and Blotts today, he only wanted to buy my autobiography- which I shall be happy to present him now, free of charge- he had no idea that he would shortly be getting much, much more than my book, Magical Me. He and his schoolmates will, in fact, be getting the real magical me. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure and pride in announcing that this September, I will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!"

Oh, Merlin, this was even worse than having a fan teach them. Harry held back a groan as he hurried away. "Here," he said, dumping them into the nearest person's cauldron. "I'll buy my own."

He left quickly, not looking back as the Weasleys and Malfoys faced each other.

Chapter Text

Draco wrote to him the next day, saying that Harry had missed the fight between Lucius Malfoy and Arthur Weasley. Apparently, Mr. Weasley had bodily thrown himself at Mr. Malfoy, as if he had forgotten he had a wand. Harry shook his head slightly. So much for setting an example, he thought as he read how the twins cheered their father on.

Harry wished that time would speed up. He read the books Draco had given him eagerly, but between that, he was bored. And irked.

Dudley kept trying to elicit a reaction from Harry by taunting him. He was too scared to do anything physical, especially ever since Harry's magic had lashed out once toward the beginning of the summer. His taunts could have used a lot of work; they were mostly empty threats used over and over until Harry grew tired of hearing them and nearly hexed him.

"Dobby?" Harry said after one day when he had woken up in a particularly bad mood.

"Yes, sir?" Dobby had been told not to overdue his responses to Harry's calls, as at first he kept gushing over what an honor it was to help the great Harry Potter.

"My cousin is annoying me. Can you shut him up? But don't let him know you're there or that I am behind any of it."

"Yes, sir, Harry Potter." Dobby disappeared with a small pop.

When Harry heard Dudley complaining that he couldn't fit in his clothes or complained about the food tasting terrible, he smirked. Revenge, no matter how small, was sweet.

 

 

 

He got on the train on September 1st and was reunited with Hedwig and Draco. "The Malfoys treat you right?"

Hedwig cooed contently.

"You doubt my skills for taking care of owls?" Draco said.

"Should I?" Harry countered.

"Course not. Besides, all I had to do was feed her to shut her up."

An offended Hedwig flapped her wings and slapped him in the face.

Pansy joined them. "Hello," she said, putting her trunk away. She looked at Draco's hair, which had strands sticking out from Hedwig's wings.

"Don't say a word."

"Hey, Pansy," Harry said at the same time as Draco tried to fix his hair.

"How was your summer?" she asked.

"Boring. I almost hexed Dudley for his constant whining," Harry said.

Azure poked her head out and slithered over to Pansy, who began running her fingers down Azure's back. The two had formed a bond throughout first year, and Azure sometimes even slept in the girls dorm.

'Weasel incoming,' Azure warned after a moment.

Sure enough, the compartment door opened. But it wasn't Ron like Harry had expected; it was Ginny, his younger sister. Harry was instantly put on the defensive. He had exchanged letters with Fred and George, and they had told him she had grown up hearing of all his amazing adventures, which were all false. But Ginny didn't care. She was completely infatuated with him, even more so than most people.

"Oh, hi!" she said, her red face clashing with her hair.

"Hello?" Harry said slowly.

Ginny was silent for a moment, staring at him with pure adoration.

"Can we help you?" Draco drawled. Her staring was making him nervous; he didn't envy Harry at the moment.

"I just wanted to thank Harry for the books," she said.

Oh, shoot, it was her I gave the books to. "You're welcome," Harry said out loud.

"Would you like to join me and Ron?"

Harry did not like the expression on her face. It was clear she had only a fan-crush on him. She wouldn't want to be friends with Harry for Harry, she would want him as the Boy-Who-Lived, that is, if she didn't already. "Sorry, I'm good here."

Her smile faltered. "Don't be silly. You don't really want to hang out with these Slytherins."

Reason number two why he wasn't interested; she was just as bigoted as the majority of the wizarding world. "Actually, I do want to hang out with 'these Slytherins.' If I didn't, I'd probably have left this compartment already."

Ginny frowned. "Well, if you change your mind, come find me." With that, she closed the door and walked away.

"Well," Pansy said, "at least she wasn't too rude."

"Yet," Draco muttered. "Give her time. She'll become more desperate and drop the nice act."

"Enough of Weasley," Harry said. "Who wants to play Exploding Snap?"

'Can I scare her?'

'No, Azure.'

 

 

 

They watched the Sorting go by. Colin Creevey, a tiny boy with mousy hair, kept casting eager looks toward Harry. Obviously, he was another fan. Harry just hoped he wouldn't be too irritating.

A girl with dirty blonde hair, Luna Lovegood, had a serene expression as she went up and sat down on the stool. "Ravenclaw!" the hat called, and she got back up and joined her new housemates.

"Weasley, Ginerva!" was the last to be called, and when she went up, she seemed to be arguing with the hat.

"Gryffindor!"

Harry would bet that if the hat had eyes, it would have rolled them. It lacked the usual vigor in its voice when it announced Ginny's placement.

"No! I don't want to be in Gryffindor!" Ginny yelled, startling everybody.

"Miss Weasley—" Professor McGonagall don't look pleased.

"Why can't I be in Slytherin with Harry?" Ginny demanded.

All eyes turned to Harry, who had a very disturbed look on his face.

"Because you do not qualify," the hat said irritably.

Ginny stomped over and sat down between a very embarrassed Ron and a displeased Percy, casting a longing glance at Harry, who pointedly ignored it.

"That was interesting," he grumbled after Dumbledore's usual speech and random exclamations.

A few Slytherin first years kept casting furtive glances at Harry, not seeming to believe that he was in their house. Theo finally turned to them and said, "Yes, Harry Potter is a Slytherin. You can stop gawking at him."

The first years jumped and turned back their food.

"Is this what my life is going to consist of?" Harry grouched.

"I'm afraid so, Harry," Draco said, though he was grinning, clearly enjoying his friend's distress.

Harry shot him a look that had him gulping and looking away.

 

 

 

Snape would say, without boasting, that he was very good at keeping up his impassive mask. But there were some, like the Dark Lord, that were very good at what they did. Harry Potter was another. He watched as the small boy observed the Sorting almost bored. When Ginny Weasley made a scene, Harry's mask slipped and he looked rather disturbed.

Dumbledore, Snape noticed, had looking especially eager when Ginny was Sorted, and he wondered why that was. He knew the Headmaster had wanted Harry to be friends with Ron and Hermione, both of whom were insufferable in their own ways. Hermione with her constant hand waving and Ron with his complete lack of interest in school and his clear bigotry toward anything dark.

So where did Miss Weasley stand in Dumbledore's schemes? Snape wondered. He had a sudden urge to warn Harry, although there was no doubt that the young Slytherin at least had the sense to keep an eye out for her.

As he ate, Snape discreetly observed Ginny. Unlike Snape, she was not being quite as discreet; she gazed at Harry with open longing that Harry disregarded. So, Snape concluded, she was another fan. Perhaps a year ago, he would have inwardly sneered and figured Harry would enjoy the attention. But he had made it clear that he despised the fame by his words when Snape had first pulled him into his office during first year and the way he covered up his scar with his hair. The scar, in which, had faded quite a bit and wasn't as noticeable as it used to be.

Whatever Ginny did, Snape would watch out for her and the others, too. He had made a vow to protect Harry, and that was what he would do.

He didn't realize just yet that he wasn't doing it just for Lily anymore.

Chapter Text

Between Lockhart, Ginny, and Colin, Lockhart had to be the worst. On the first DADA lesson of the term, Harry had the honor of seeing just how qualified Lockhart really was at teaching when the man handed out the most useless pop quiz ever— no, Harry did not give a damn what Lockhart's favorite color was, thank you very much— and released Cornish pixies, electric blue creatures that were about eight inches in height.

"Come on now— round them up, round them up, they're only pixies!" Lockhart shouted. He brandished his wand. "Peskipiksi Pesternomi!"

The spell had no effect; one pixie threw his wand out the window. When the bell rang, everyone made a mad dash to the door. Poor Crabbe and Goyle were left to round up the remaining pixies.

 

 

 

Over the next few days, Harry did his best to avoid Lockhart whenever he saw him. He was relieved when Colin didn't stalk him like Ginny sometimes did, though he didn't mind his cheerful "All right, Harry?" when they passed in the hall too badly.

Professor Snape seemed to be everywhere, too, though his presence was not quite as unwelcoming.

"Five points from Gryffindor, Miss Weasley, for loitering in the halls!" he snapped to Ginny when she was trying to follow Harry. Ginny blushed when Harry looked at her, not seeming to realize that he had known she was there even before Snape had said anything, and took off in the opposite direction.

It happened again not long after with Snape swooping out like a bat and taking more points from Ginny, who finally had the sense to stop her obsessive stalking. Harry wasn't a fool; he knew Snape was keeping an eye out on him, but for what reason remained a mystery.

He was distracted when Draco announced that he had made the Slytherin Quidditch team, becoming the new Seeker. His father had bought new Nimbus Two Thousand and One broomsticks for them, and Harry watched with amusement as the team rubbed it in Oliver Wood's face. The burly sixth-year Gryffindor was known for his obsession with the sport and after the previous year's defeat, he was determined more than ever to beat Slytherin.

"At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in," said Hermione sharply. "They got in on pure talent."

Draco scowled at her. "No one asked your opinion, you filthy little—"

Harry clapped his hand over Draco's mouth, glaring at him. "Don't finish that," he growled.

Ron pulled out his wand, having also figured out what Draco had been about to say. "You'll pay for that one, Malfoy!" he said.

Harry conjured up a shield as a jet of green light shot from his wand. It bounced off and struck Ron in the stomach. He tried to speak but burped out a slug.

Harry cringed but didn't move to help him as the Slytherin team laughed. "Draco," he said, making his friend freeze. "What did I tell you about using that term?"

"That it should never be used," Draco said guiltily.

"And yet, you almost said it. I would've let Weasley hit you, but I didn't want to risk it if it was dangerous." Harry's expression told the team that he most definitely would have done as he said, even at the risk of Slytherin losing a day of Quidditch practice.

"Sorry." Draco felt like a little boy again, being chastised by his mother. It was even worse with an audience.

"Just don't do it again. All right, I'm going. Better get practicing."

The Slytherins were in the air before he made it inside.

 

 

 

"Malfoy nearly called her 'Mudblood,' Hagrid—" Ron said before retching again. Hagrid looked outraged.

"He didn'!" he growled at Hermione.

"He almost did," she said. "Harry stopped him before he could get the word out, whatever it means. I could tell it was really rude, of course—"

"It's about the most insulting thing he could think of," gasped Ron. "Mudblood's a really foul name for someone who is Muggle-born— you know, non magic parents. There are some wizards— like Malfoy's family— who think they're better than everyone else because they're what people call pure blood." He gave a small burp, and a single slug fell into his outstretched hand. He threw it into the basin and continued, "I mean, the rest of us know it doesn't make any difference at all. Look at Neville Longbottom— he's pure blood and he can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up."

"An' they haven't invented a spell our Hermione can' do," said Hagrid proudly, making Hermione go a brilliant shade of magenta. "Did ya say that Harry stopped him?"

"He did. He looked very angry with Malfoy."

"That's a surprise," Ron said. "Those two are practically joined at the hip." His jealousy was evident in his tone.

"Well, his mother was a Muggle-born," Hagrid pointed out. "It wouldn't make sense fer him teh hate 'em, would it?"

"I suppose not," Ron conceded reluctantly before spitting out another slug. Disgusting.

 

 

 

That night, Harry was dozing off in bed when he heard something that made the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

'Come... come to me... let me rip you... let me tear you... let me kill you...'

'Azure, did you hear that?'

'Yes.' Azure sounded like she couldn't decide if she feared the unknown voice or was in awe.

Harry listened, but there were no further ominous messages. He slipped into an uneasy sleep.

 

 

 

Harry continued to listen for the voice and watch for anything unusual, but the only thing he noticed was that Snape was still watching him and Ginny was looking paler than normal. Her brother, Percy, urged her to go to the hospital wing, where many people, students and staff alike, were visiting due to colds. Madam Pomfrey's Pepperup potion effectively kept them up, but an unfortunate side effect was that their ears smoked for hours.

It rained heavily for days, causing the lake to rises and the ground to become muddy. On Halloween, Harry found himself in the Great Hall picking at the food absentmindedly. For pretty much everyone else, Halloween was a holiday, with all the pumpkins and decorations.

Harry, of course, had never really enjoyed it. He could remember watching enviously as Aunt Petunia took Dudley out trick-or-treating. When they came back, Dudley often had a heaping amount of candy, and he ate every single piece within the next week. Now, Harry wasn't the biggest fan of sweets, but it would've been nice to try even one piece, just for the sake of indulging himself. No, Dudley made sure to eat them all within Harry's field of vision. It didn't really help that, during Harry's first year, Professor Quirrell had run in telling about a troll. A troll, honestly!

This year, there were no interruptions, but as they were making their way out of the Great Hall after watching a troupe of skeletons dance— now that was pretty fun to watch, he admitted— Harry heard the voice again.

'...rip... tear... kill...'

He strained to hear.

'...soo hungry... for so long...'

Was it getting fainter?

'...kill... time to kill...'

Fainter still...

'... I smell blood... I SMELL BLOOD!'

Coming on to the second floor, everyone stopped, the content chattering coming to an abrupt halt. Pushing through, Harry's eyes first landed on Ron and Hermione who, for some reason, had not been at the feast. He followed their horrified gazes and saw Mrs. Norris hanging by her tail from the torch bracket, eyes wide and staring. Then the words above her.

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.

"What's going on here? What's going on?" Filch shouldered his way through the crowd. Then he saw Mrs. Norris and fell back, clutching his face in horror. "My cat! My cat! What's happened to Mrs. Norris?" he shrieked.

And his popping eyes fell on Ron.

"You!" he screeched. "You! You've murdered my cat! You've killed her! I'll kill you! I'll—"

Chapter Text

"Argus!" Professor Dumbledore appeared and removed Mrs. Norris.

"Come with me, Argus," he said to Filch. "You, too, Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger."

Lockhart stepped forward eagerly.

"My office is nearest, Headmaster- just upstairs— please feel free—"

"Thank you, Gilderoy," said Dumbledore.

Harry watched them leave before following the Slytherins as they headed to the dungeons, the content atmosphere all but evaporated.

 

 

 

Over the next few days, the attack was the sole subject on everyone's mind. Filch took to pacing the spot were Mrs. Norris had been petrified or doling out detentions for minuscule reasons.

Harry noticed that Ginny looked especially disturbed. She was still extremely pale despite taking the Pepperup potion and was seen constantly writing in a black book.

Azure couldn't give an answer to what the voice was. The attack had spooked her, so she was hiding under Harry's bed. Harry waited patiently for her to recover.

Hermione was also affected, and she unsurprisingly went to the library to research the Chamber of Secrets. She even managed to make Professor Binns' class more interesting, even if just for a moment, by asking about the chamber.

"... The story goes that Slytherin had built a hidden chamber in the castle, of which the other founders knew nothing," Binns said.

"Slytherin, according to the legend, sealed the Chamber of Secrets so that none would be able to open it until his own true heir arrived at the school. The heir alone would be able to unseal the Chamber of Secrets, unleash the horror within, and use it to purge the school of all who were unworthy to study magic."

The whole thing is arrant nonsense, of course. Naturally, the school has been searched for evidence of such a chamber, many times, by the most learned witches and wizards. It does not exist. A tale told to frighten the gullible."

Hermione's hand was back in the air.

"Sir— what exactly do you mean by the 'horror within' the Chamber?"

"That is believed to be some sort of monster, which the Heir of Slytherin alone can control," said Professor Binns.

The class exchanged nervous looks.

"I tell you, the thing does not exist," said Professor Binns, shuffling his notes. "There is no Chamber and no monster."

"But, sir," said Seamus Finnigan, "if the Chamber can only be opened by Slytherin's true heir, no one else would be able to find it, would they?"

"Nonsense, O'Flaherty," said Professor Binns in an aggravated tone. "If a long succession of Hogwarts headmasters and headmistresses haven't found the thing—"

"But, Professor," piped up Parvati Patil, "you'd probably have to use Dark Magic to open it—"

"Just because a wizard doesn't use Dark Magic doesn't mean he can't, Miss Pennyfeather," snapped Professor Binns. "I repeat, if the likes of Dumbledore—"

"But maybe you've got to be related to Slytherin, so Dumbledore couldn't—" began Dean Thomas, but Professor Binns had had enough.

"That will do," he said sharply. "It is a myth! It does not exist! There is not a shred of evidence that Slytherin ever built so much as a secret broom cupboard! I regret telling you such a foolish story! We will return, if you please, to history, to solid, believable, verifiable fact!"

Professor Binns' unexpected lesson spread quickly, and many began looking at Harry in fear.

"They actually think it was me?" Harry snorted. "Even though I was at the Halloween Feast?"

"It's because you're Harry Potter," Draco pointed out. "You were meant to be in Gryffindor, remember?" Sarcasm dripped heavily from his voice.

"And by not," Pansy added, "well, clearly you're a dark wizard."

"The most evil wizard since You-Know-Who," Blaise added with a fake shudder.

"Run for your lives, everyone!" Tracey called in a bored tone.

Harry rolled his eyes. "They can believe what they wish. I'm used to rumors."

 

 

 

The first Quidditch match of the year came as a good distraction. Harry watched as Draco whooshed by, a blur of green and silver. The Slytherins' brooms were proving to be superior as the Gryffindors struggled to keep up with the newer models.

It ended with Slytherin in the lead, almost two hundred points ahead. Harry caught sight of Wood looking furious as the Slytherins landed.

"Nice one, Draco," Harry said.

"Thanks." Draco looked thoroughly pleased.

The next morning, though, the Quidditch game was last on everyone's mind. Colin Creevey had been petrified. Once again, many eyes turned to Harry despite the fact that they had no evidence that it had been him. The first years traveled in groups, fearing that being alone would attract the attacker. Neville took the precaution of buying a large onion, a pointed crystal, and a rotting newt tail to ward them off. Ginny looked even more upset with this attack, and Percy went to write home to their mother.

 

 

 

Two days later, Harry was surprised when Snape told him Dumbledore wished to speak to him. They walked in silence up to the Headmaster's office.

"Professor?" Harry said. "Will you be attending this meeting?"

"I do not believe the Headmaster intended for me to stay," Snape answered.

"Hogwarts: A History states that the Head of House may if the student requests it," Harry replied.

"I assume you wish for that to be the case."

Harry looked up at Snape with an expression quite like the one the potions master himself portrayed. "Obviously."

Snape nodded slightly. "Lemon drop."

Harry raised an eyebrow at the password as the gargoyle stepped aside. "What a sophisticated password," he drawled.

"Indeed," Snape said.

Dumbledore smiled as they came in. "Thank you, Severus. You may go."

"Actually, Headmaster, Mr. Potter had requested I stay."

"Ah, I see. Very well, then. Lemon drop, Harry?"

So that's where he gets his ridiculous passwords from. Candy. "No, thank you, sir."

Dumbledore nodded, and his face grew more grave. "I am sure you know why you are here."

"No, sir." Sure, Harry had a very good idea, but until he was told, he couldn't be 100% certain.

"I am afraid that your friends have brought you down a dangerous path, my boy," Dumbledore said. "You cannot allow them to influence you. Your parents would not want that."

Harry's jaw clenched. His parents would not want Dumbledore manipulating the students, yet here he was. "What are you suggesting, Headmaster?"

"There is no use pretending, Harry. You mustn't cause any more damage to the students."

Harry abruptly stood up. His eyes were blazing, but his voice was collected. "How dare you imply that I was behind the attack without any proof! I was at the feast when Mrs. Norris was attacked and in the common room when it was Creevey!"

Dumbledore stood, too, and Snape couldn't help but marvel at the way Harry held firm, refusing to be intimidated. "If this goes on, Harry, I will have no choice but to suspend you."

"Fine," Harry said. "Then if there's another attack, maybe you'll consider that's there's another threat in the school."

He whirled around and left without being dismissed.

"Severus," Dumbledore said, suddenly sounding very much his age, "you must speak to him. Help him understand that the school cannot be closed down."

"Albus, are you even listening to yourself?" Snape said. "Mr. Potter could not be behind the attacks."

"Are you certain, Severus? He's a Parselmouth, and only a Parselmouth can open the Chamber of Secrets."

"That doesn't mean—" Snape protested, surprising himself by his continuous defense of the boy.

"Please, Severus."

"Fine," Snape said. "But know this, Albus, he will not forgive you for these groundless accusations."

He exited the office and stalked down to his own, only relaxing when the door closed.

"He really thinks he knows everything, doesn't he?"

Snape whirled around, wand raised. To his credit, Harry didn't flinch, even as the wand tip came inches from his face. "How did you get in?"

Harry raised an eyebrow. "I opened the door."

Clearly, he wasn't going to share what exactly he did. Snape lowered his wand. "The Headmaster is adamant in his belief that you were behind the attacks."

"I know."

"Are you?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "You already know the answer. Of course not. True, I find Mrs. Norris annoying, but so does literally everyone else, including the staff members. As for Creevey, why would I be against Muggle-borns? My mother was one, after all."

Snape swallowed hard at the mention of Lily. "What are your long-term goals?" he blurted out.

Harry cocked his head to one side. "Are you willing to listen if I tell you?"

His green eyes bore into Snape, who felt himself shiver despite himself.

"I'll tell you this," Harry went on, "they'll be good for the wizarding world. I don't intend to destroy it like another I could mention."

Snape's first thought was the Dark Lord, but somehow he felt that he would be wrong.

Harry gave Snape a look that told the potions professor that he knew what he was thinking. Without another word, Harry swept out silently. Snape sensed the wards that he did not notice earlier come down.

 

Chapter Text

On Thursday, as Harry was working on the Swelling Solution, there was an explosion from Goyle's potion. Harry yanked the students nearest him— Blaise and Draco— back before they could get hit, but Goyle's hands had grown to the size of dinner plates and some of the potion hit Daphne and Tracey ear.

"Silence! SILENCE!" Snape roared amidst the turmoil. "Anyone who has been splashed, come here for a Deflating Draft— when I find out who did this—"

He scooped out the black remains of what looked like firework. "If I ever find out who threw this," Snape whispered, "I shall make sure that person is expelled." He was looking at Ron when he said this, and although there was no way to prove it, Harry had a feeling that Snape wasn't wrong in his suspicion.

When Snape turned away, Harry caught an almost smug look on Ron's face out of the corner of his eye.

 

 

 

"Gather round, gather round! Can everyone see me? Can you all hear me? Excellent!" Lockhart beamed at the students all around.

"Now, Professor Dumbledore has granted me permission to start this little dueling club, to train you all in case you ever need to defend yourselves as I myself have done on countless occasions— for full details, see my published works.

"Let me introduce my assistant, Professor Snape. He tells me he knows a tiny little bit about dueling himself and has sportingly agreed to help me with a short demonstration before we begin. Now, I don't want any of you youngsters to worry— you'll still have your Potions master when I'm through with him, never fear!"

Lockhart and Snape turned to face each other and bowed; at least, Lockhart did, with much twirling of his hands, whereas Snape jerked his head irritably. Then they raised their wands like swords in front of them.

"As you see, we are holding our wands in the accepted combative position," Lockhart told the silent crowd. "On the count of three, we will cast our first spells. Neither of us will be aiming to kill, of course."

"Shame," Tracey muttered from beside Harry.

"One— two— three—"

"Expelliarmus!" Snape shouted, sending a jet of scarlet light at Lockhart, who was thrown back off the stage.

Lockhart stood up unsteadily. "Well, there you have it!" he said, tottering back onto the platform. "That was a Disarming Charm— as you see, I've lost my wand— ah, thank you, Miss Brown— yes, an excellent idea to show them that, Professor Snape, but if you don't mind my saying so, it was very obvious what you were about to do. If I had wanted to stop you it would have been only too easy— however, I felt it would be instructive to let them see..."

At Snape's murderous look, Lockhart said quickly, "Enough demonstrating! I'm going to come amongst you now and put you all into pairs. Professor Snape, if you'd like to help me—"

Professor Snape walked over to Ron and Hermione. "Time to split up the dream team, I think," he sneered. "Weasley, you can partner Malfoy. Miss Granger— you can partner Miss Bulstrode."

Hermione gave Millicent a weak smile, but the heavier girl did not return it.

"Face your partners!" called Lockhart. "And bow!"

Harry and Tracey inclined their heads.

"Wands at the ready!" shouted Lockhart. "When I count to three, cast your charms to disarm your opponents— only to disarm them— we don't want any accidents— one... two... three—"

Tracey's wand came flying out of her hand and into Harry's.

They heard a commotion and Lockhart shouted, "Stop! Stop!"

Neville and Justin Finch-Fletchley were on the floor, Ron's feet were moving in an odd dance, and Millicent had Hermione in a headlock. Harry sighed and walked over, pulling them apart.

"Dear, dear," Lockhart said. "Up you go, Macmillan... Careful there, Miss Fawcett... Pinch it hard, it'll stop bleeding in a second, Boot..."

"I think I'd better teach you how to block unfriendly spells," said Lockhart, standing flustered in the midst of the hall. "Let's have a volunteer pair— Longbottom and Finch-Fletchley, how about you—"

"A bad idea, Professor Lockhart," said Snape. "Longbottom causes devastation with the simplest spells. We'll be sending what's left of Finch-Fletchley up to the hospital wing in a matchbox. How about Malfoy and Weasley?" said Snape.

"An excellent idea!"

Ron and Draco stepped up to the platform.

"Now, Ron," said Lockhart. "When Draco points his wand at you, you do this."

He raised his own wand, attempted a complicated sort of wiggling action, and dropped it. Snape smirked as Lockhart quickly picked it up, saying, "Whoops— my wand is a little overexcited—"

"Drown it in a Calming Draught," Harry grumbled. It would mean no more of the incompetent man's— he refused to call him a professor— antics.

Snape moved closer to Draco, bent down, and whispered something in his ear. Draco smirked. Ron looked up nervously at Lockhart and said, "Professor, could you show me that blocking thing again?"

"Scared, Weasley?" Draco said.

"You wish."

Lockhart cuffed Ron merrily on the shoulder. "Just do what I did, Ron! Three— two— one— go!" Lockhart shouted.

"Serpensortia!" Draco bellowed.

The end of his wand exploded, and a long black snake shot out of it, fell heavily onto the floor between them, and raised itself, ready to strike. There were screams as the crowd backed swiftly away, clearing the floor.

"Don't move, Weasley," said Snape lazily as Ron squeaked fearfully. "I'll get rid of it..."

"Allow me!" shouted Lockhart. He brandished his wand at the snake and there was a loud bang; the snake, instead of vanishing, flew ten feet into the air and fell back to the floor with a loud smack. Enraged, hissing furiously, it slithered straight toward Justin Finch-Fletchley and raised itself again, fangs exposed, poised to strike.

'Stop!' Harry said. The snake paused, uncertain now as what to do. 'Don't. Attack.'

The snake slumped, docile now.

Justin let out a puff of air. "Thanks."

Harry nodded. He looked up to see Ron glaring at him and wondered what the hell the redhead was thinking.

The students were dismissed, and Harry waited for Draco to join him before leaving.

 

 

 

It was snowing heavily the next day, so Professor Sprout canceled the last Herbology lesson of the term.

Harry decided to use his free time and went to the library. He was surprised to see a group of Hufflepuffs there, but they didn't have any books or assignments out in front of them; they seemed to having a deep conversation. Harry ignored them and walked past, noticing how they stopped talking as soon as he came into view.

"What?" he said.

Ernie Macmillan was the first to speak. "We know it's you," he said bravely.

"Behind the attacks? No, and who came up with that brilliant deduction?"

"Weasley did. It makes sense to me," Ernie said. "You survived You-Know-Who when he tried to kill you, not to mention you're a Parselmouth. And only a Parselmouth can open the Chamber of Secrets."

"Ever thought that maybe my mother, being the brilliant witch she was, did something to ensure I lived?" Harry pointed out. Of course, he knew the real reason behind that, but they didn't have to know that particular detail. "And I already gave the 'Parseltongue-isn't-actually-a-bad-trait' speech last year, remember?"

Ernie looked a bit sheepish now, and Hannah Abbott gave him a look that clearly meant that Ernie was mental.

"Whatever," Harry muttered. "Keep whispering behind my back. It's not going to change anything." He went deeper into the library.

He was brought out moments later by Peeves' screaming. "ATTACK! ATTACK! ANOTHER ATTACK! NO MORTAL OR GHOST IS SAFE! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! ATTAAAACK!"

Harry followed the Hufflepuffs out into the corridor to see Justin Finch-Fletchley lying on the floor, his face frozen in shock. Nearly Headless Nick was floating above him, face set to an identical expression of shock.

Peeves began singing. "Oh, Potter, you rotter, oh, what have you done, you're killing off' students, you think it's good fun—"

"That's enough, Peeves!" Professor McGonagall snapped.

"I was in the library," Harry said. He was getting really tired of everyone thinking it was him.

Professors Flitwick and Sinistra carried Justin away, and McGonagall instructed Ernie to waft Nick with a fan. Harry turned to head to his dorm but paused when he caught McGonagall's expression. He nearly growled out loud; clearly, Dumbledore had hinted that Harry was a threat.

 

Chapter Text

Almost everyone booked seats to leave for the holidays.

Fred and George made the atmosphere slightly lighter by walking Harry down the halls whenever they saw him. "Make way for the Heir of Slytherin, seriously evil wizard coming through..."

The Slytherins looked amused by this, a few going as far as helping them escort Harry.

Percy and Ginny did not find this as funny. Ron, too, looked very angry and tried to warn his brothers to stay away before they were attacked next. It was strange; he and Hermione seemed very keen on the Chamber and continued to sneak glances at him when they thought he didn't notice. And perhaps Harry wouldn't have noticed some of those stares if Azure didn't tell him.

On Christmas morning, Draco woke Harry up by excitedly jumping up and down on his bed. "Merry Christmas!"

Azure hissed as she was disturbed from her slumber. 'Who's there?' she demanded, rearing up. 'Show yourse— oh, it's the tiny, blonde one,' she added, relaxing when she saw it was just Draco.

"What did she say?" Draco said.

"She called you the 'tiny, blonde one,'" Harry answered.

"Tiny? I'm not tiny." Draco was actually a bit taller than Harry, so he was offended.

Down in the Great Hall, Harry was amazed by the snow that fell from the ceiling. Dumbledore led them into some of his favorite carols, and Fred secretly bewitched Percy's prefect badge to say "Pinhead."

Harry could feel Ron and Hermione casting furtive glances at him like they have been, and his puzzlement only grew when Hermione ushered Ron out of the hall.

Afterward, Harry and Draco went back to their common room. Crabbe and Goyle were unsurprisingly late, but when they still did not arrive, Draco stood up and go look for them.

When he came back, only Crabbe was with him. "Where's Goyle?" Harry asked.

"Knocked himself out," Draco said before Crabbe could answer.

That sounded strange, but Harry didn't say anything else on that.

Draco handed Crabbe a newspaper clipping.

INQUIRY AT THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC

Arthur Weasley, Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office, was today fined fifty Galleons for bewitching a Muggle car.

Mr. Lucius Malfoy, a governor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, called today for Mr. Weasley's resignation.

"Weasley has brought the Ministry into disrepute," Mr. Malfoy told our reporter. "He is clearly unfit to draw up our laws and his ridiculous Muggle Protection Act should be scrapped immediately."

Mr. Weasley was unavailable for comment, although his wife told reporters to clear off or she'd set the family ghoul on them.

Crabbe laughed, though to Harry it sounded forced.

"Arthur Weasley loves Muggles so much he should snap his wand in half and go and join them," said Draco scornfully. "You'd never know the Weasleys were pure bloods, the way they behave."

"Draco, don't be mean," Harry said. "There's nothing wrong with Mr. Weasley's interest in Muggles."

"Right, sorry."

Harry sat back, shaking his head. "It feels so good to be here alone," he said. "Less hostile stares and stuff."

"Because of the attacks?" Crabbe asked.

Harry sent him a withering look. "Obviously. Honestly, though, me petrifying the students? Could they be any more dense?"

Crabbe's jaw dropped, but Harry didn't notice.

"It's like they've forgotten about my mother. She was a powerful witch." A wistful tone crept into his voice.

"You must have some idea who's behind it all..." Crabbe said.

Harry rolled his eyes. "No, Crabbe, I don't. I'm trying to figure it out, though."

"Has Azure said anything?" Draco asked.

"No, she hasn't. She's still afraid of that voice."

"Father won't tell me anything about the last time the Chamber was opened either," Draco added. "Of course, it was fifty years ago, so it was before his time, but he knows all about it, and he says that it was all kept quiet and it'll look suspicious if I know too much about it."

"The last time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, a Muggle-born died," Harry said thoughtfully. "So I bet it's a matter of time before one of them's killed this time... Granger needs to watch out. She's an open target."

Crabbe was blinking stupidly at them. "D'you know if the person who opened the Chamber last time was caught?"

"Oh, yeah... whoever it was expelled," said Draco. "They're probably still in Azkaban."

"Ho!" Crabbe suddenly exclaimed, jumping up.

"What's wrong?" Harry demanded worriedly.

"Medicine for my stomach." Crabbe raced out of the common room.

"He was acting weird," Harry said.

"He's always acting weird," Draco countered.

"More than usual. And where the hell is Goyle?"

Harry later learned that Hermione was in the hospital wing. He froze in horror, only for Draco to reassure him that she wasn't petrified.

"Madam Pomfrey moved her curtains. I couldn't see what had happened. Her hair looked a bit bushier than usual, though."

 

 

 

"If I'd sprouted whiskers, I'd take a break from work," Ron said one evening.

"Don't be silly, Ron, I've got to keep up," said Hermione briskly. "I don't suppose you've got any new leads?" she added in a whisper, so that Madam Pomfrey couldn't hear her.

"Nope," said Ron. He was still very surprised by the clear concern in Harry's voice when he spoke of Hermione. Dumbledore had clearly been suspiscious of Harry, and so had Professor McGonagall. And they were rarely wrong, so Ron and Hermione had assumed Harry was guilty.

"Maybe we should apologize," Hermione said.

"Why? I mean, even if Harry didn't attack them, he could have made someone do it for him. Keep his own hands clean."

"You said he didn't have a clue who was behind the attacks," Hermione reasoned.

"Yeah, but he might have been bluffing."

Hermione sighed but dropped the topic. She sincerely doubted that Harry was guity, which begged the question: Who was?

 

 

 

Harry wandered around on the second floor corridor, coming to a halt when he saw that it was flooded. He crept inside, ignoring the OUT OF ORDER sign, and found a female ghost crying.

"What's wrong?"

"Who's that? Come to throw something else at me?"

"It wasn't me. Who are you?"

The ghost turned to him. "Myrtle. Everyone calls me Moaning Myrtle, though."

Privately, Harry could see why. "Why would someone throw something at you?"

"Don't ask me," Myrtle shouted. "Here I am, minding my own business, and someone thinks it's funny to throw a book at me..."

"Who threw it at you?" asked Harry.

"I don't know... I was just sitting in the U bend, thinking about death, and it fell right through the top of my head," said Myrtle. "It's over there, it got washed out..."

Harry caught sight of a soaked black book. Cautiously, he picked it up and opened it. On the first page, in smudged ink, was the name "T.M. Riddle."

Heart pounding, Harry stared at them name. Tom Riddle? This was his soulmate's diary? He pocketed it and hurried back to his dorm.

 

 

 

The pages were blank. Harry frowned and took out his wand. "Aparecium!" Nothing happened. He tried erasing it and yielded no results. After a few more attempts, he gave up, staring at it frustratedly.

He could feel the magic in the diary just begging for him to understand. Harry sighed; he had to find out what was so special about it beside the knowledge of the previous owner.

It wasn't until later after Valentine's Day, when he was forced to listen to a dwarf give him a singing valentine, did he finally figure it out.

He knew he had dropped ink onto the diary, yet the pages were still blank. Carefully, he wrote out, "Hello?"

His words faded and were replaced by another set. "Hello. Who is this?"

"Harry Potter."

"Harry Potter?" The writing became slightly messier as if Riddle had gotten excited. "How did you come by my diary?"

"Someone tried to flush it down a toilet."

"Lucky that I recorded my memories in some more lasting way than ink," Riddle wrote back. "But I always knew that there would be those who would not want this diary read."

"What do you mean?" Harry scrawled.

"I mean that this diary holds memories of terrible things. Things that were covered up. Things that happened at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

"Do any of these terrible things have anything to do with the Chamber of Secrets?"

"Some of them do."

"And the other terrible things?" Harry prompted when Riddle did not elaborate.

There was a pause, as if Riddle was contemplating what to reveal. "It might be best if I show you."

"Okay."

Chapter Text

He landed in Gringotts. A tall boy that looked about eleven in age was sitting in front of the goblins. "Hello?" Harry said uncertainly.

"They won't be able to hear you," a voice said from behind. Harry turned to see an older version of the boy standing there.

"Tom?"

He nodded but didn't speak.

Movement made Harry turn back around. The goblin, one Harry did not recognize, was holding out a dagger and parchment. "Prick your finger and let two drops fall."

The younger Tom did as he was told and watched as words materialized in the parchment, much like how they did with Harry. His dark brown eyes widened as it got to the bottom. "What's a soul bond?" he asked.

Harry's breath hitched, and he leaned forward.

Soulmate: Harry Potter, the parchment read.

"It is a link between two people of equal or similar power," the goblin explained. "Very rarely do they form, and when they do, it is best not to ignore them. Lady Magic herself has chosen, and to disregard would be seen as an insult."

"I don't know anyone in the wizarding world, though," Tom said. "Do you know a Harry Potter?"

"Currently, there is no Harry Potter on record," the goblin told him, "which means he has not been born yet."

"How long will I have to wait?" Tom asked. He looked hopeful, and Harry suddenly became painfully aware of just how much time would pass before he was even born.

"That I do not know. But do not fret. Lady Magic knows what she's doing."

Gringotts began to blur around Harry, morphing into a new setting: the Transfiguration office. Instead of Professor McGonagall, though, there was a fifty-year-younger Dumbledore with auburn hair.

The door opened and Tom walked in.

"You called me, sir?" he said politely as he sat down.

"I did, my boy," Dumbledore replied. "Lemon drop?"

"No, thank you, sir."

"Please, I insist." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled.

Harry glanced at Tom, who would surely be suspicious of the professor's insistence. To his surprise, Tom took one. "Am I in trouble?"

"No, no, don't worry. However, I would like to ask you something." Dumbledore leaned forward, blue eyes boring into Tom's brown ones. "Did you go to Gringotts over the holidays?"

Tom nodded. "I did, sir. The Headmaster allowed me to."

"And what did you find?"

"My father was a Muggle, my mother a witch."

"Is that all?" Dumbledore asked.

Tom frowned. "I'm sorry, Professor, but I do not see how this concerns you."

Harry watched Dumbledore's face carefully. Outwardly, he didn't seem to take offense, but his eyes dimmed for the smallest moment. "I have overheard you have found out something else."

"Overheard?" Tom said sharply. Harry stiffened as well, having recognized that Dumbledore really meant he had somehow eavesdropped or had someone eavesdropping for him.

"You have a soul bond," Dumbledore said. "With someone named Harry Potter. And don't try to lie, Tom."

Tom's eyes widened. "How did you find out?"

"I have my sources," Dumbledore replied mysteriously.

"That's an invasion of privacy," Tom protested, beginning to stand.

"Sit down, Tom," Dumbledore commanded.

Tom sat down with a thump. "What did you do?" he demanded.

Harry took a step back as Dumbledore stood, towering over Tom with his wand out.

"Professor—" Tom began, only to be silenced.

"I do apologize, Tom," Dumbledore said as Tom began to panic. "But I cannot allow you to continue."

He waved his wand, and Tom went limp, eyes going blank. "You will forget about the soul bond," he commanded. "You will hate your half-blood status. The Dark Arts will be your passion, and you will learn all you can. You will do everything you can to ensure immortality."

While Tom sat there catatonic, Dumbledore pulled out a roll of parchment and a knife. Harry watched, sick with apprehension, as he pricked Tom's finger, letting three drops of blood drip onto the parchment.

He's adding compulsions, Harry realized as words began to appear. Compulsions to hate Gryffindors, hate Muggles and Muggle-borns, fear death, worship Salazar Slytherin...

Tom had begun to groan in pain, eyes squeezed shut. His head turned from side to side, but he did not respond. When no more compulsions were added, Dumbledore put the parchment away and spoke to Tom once more. "You will go to your dorm and forget you ever came down here."

Like a puppet, Tom jerked to his feet and walked out of the office.

"How do you remember this?" Harry wondered out loud.

"You will see," non-memory Tom said softly.

Harry braced himself. "What's next?"

In answer, the office began to spin around him, morphing into the dungeon where Snape taught Potions.

"Evening, Rubeus," said Tom as he entered. He now looked like the Tom that stood beside Harry.

A younger version of Hagrid whipped around. "What yer doin' down here, Tom?"

Harry involuntarily flinched as Tom stepped forward. This version of him seemed darker, and he wondered just how much had changed thanks to Dumbledore's actions.

"It's all over," Tom said. "I'm going to have to turn you in, Rubeus. They're talking about closing Hogwarts if the attacks don't stop."

"'N at d'yeh—"

"I don't think you meant to kill anyone. But monsters don't make good pets. I suppose you just let it out for exercise and—"

"It never killed no one!" Hagrid protested, backing against the closed door. From behind him, Harry could hear a funny rustling and clicking.

"Come on, Rubeus," said Tom, moving yet closer. "The dead girl's parents will be here tomorrow. The least Hogwarts can do is make sure that the thing that killed their daughter is slaughtered..."

"It wasn't him!" roared the boy, his voice echoing in the dark passage. "He wouldn'! He never!"

"Stand aside," said Tom, drawing out his wand.

His spell lit the corridor with a sudden flaming light. The door behind the large boy flew open with such force it knocked him into the wall opposite. A vast, low-slung, hairy body and a tangle of black legs emerged from being the door and bowled Tom over in its haste to escape. Tom scrambled to his feet and raised his wand, but the huge boy leapt on him, seized his wand, and threw him back down, yelling, "NOOOOOO!"

"Hagrid opened the Chamber of Secrets?" Harry asked, dismayed, as the room faded from from view.

"No, I framed him." Tom said. "Myrtle happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Moaning Myrtle? The ghost?" Harry said.

Tom nodded. "In my... altered state of mind, I decided to use her death as my first Horcrux."

"Horcrux?"

"Watch."

 

 

 

"Sir, I wanted to ask you something."

"That is Professor Slughorn," non-memory Tom told Harry. "He was the Potions teacher at the time."

"Ask away, then, m'boy, ask away..."

"Sir, I wondered what you know about... about Horcruxes?"

"Project for Defense Against the Dark Arts, is it?" he said doubtfully. 

"Not exactly, sir," said Tom. "I came across the term while reading and I didn't fully understand it."

"No... well... you'd be hard-pushed to find a book at Hogwarts that'll give you details on Horcruxes, Tom, that's very Dark stuff, very Dark indeed," said Slughorn. 

"But you obviously know all about them, sir? I mean, a wizard like you— sorry, I mean, if you can't tell me, obviously— I just knew if anyone could tell me, you could— so I just thought I'd ask—"

"Well," said Slughorn, "well, it can't hurt to give you an overview, of course. Just so that you understand the term. A Horcrux is the word used for an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul."

"I don't quite understand how that works, though, sir."

"Well, you split your soul, you see," said Slughorn, "and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one's body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged. But of course, existence in such a form... It is not something most would like. Few would want it, Tom, very few. Death would be preferable."

"How do you split your soul?"

"Well, you must understand that the soul is supposed to remain intact and whole. Splitting it is an act of violation, it is against nature."

"But how do you do it?"

"By an act of evil— the supreme act of evil. By commiting murder. Killing rips the soul apart. The wizard intent upon creating a Horcrux would use the damage to his advantage: he would encase the torn portion—"

"Encase? But how—?"

"There is a spell, do not ask me, I don't know!" Slughorn shook his head. "Do I look as though I have tried it— do I look like a killer?"

"No, sir, of course not," Tom said quickly. "I'm sorry... I didn't mean to offend..."

"Not at all, not at all, not offended," said Slughorn gruffly, "It is natural to feel some curiosity about these things... wizards of a certain caliber have always been drawn to that aspect of magic..."

"Yes, sir," said Tom.

The memory faded, and in the next one, Harry glimpsed the ritual of creating a Horcrux and saw how the Horcrux Tom's memories slowly broke through the compulsions and blocks, screaming in pain much like how Harry had back in Gringotts, sweat pouring down his face as he realized what he had done. He was unable to communicate this with the other part of him and became stuck in the diary until it was dropped into Ginny's basket.

It took a moment for Harry to process what he had just witness. When he did, his legs began to give way. "Oh, Merlin," he whispered, staggering backwards. He would have fallen over completely if it weren't for Tom's arms catching him.

Chapter Text

Tom closed his eyes with relish as he held his soulmate for the first time. For fifty years, he had been stuck in that damn diary. Fifty years of longing for human contact. Of dread for what the future held for his Harry. He had guaranteed that Dumbledore would have taken measures to prevent him from being born and, if that failed, to prevent him from ever finding out about his relation with Tom. Yet here he was, face buried in Tom's robes as he processed what he had learned.

"How have you coped for so long?" Harry said once he had recovered enough to speak. He suddenly realized that he was on the floor, leaning heavily against Tom. Normally, physical contact, especially with strangers, would have made him draw away. For once, though, he was content in being in another person's arms.

"Mostly a desire for vengeance," Tom said, warm breath fanning over Harry's cheek. "When Ginny came around, I had decided I would use her to get my body back."

"It's no wonder she's been acting strange," Harry said. "I thought she would be more persistent in her flirting as time went by."

"Why would she be flirting with you?" Tom demanded, tightening his hold. "She's barely spoken a word to you." The part about Harry being his was left unsaid.

"Because I'm Harry Potter," Harry said ruefully.

Tom scowled, wishing he could strangle Ginny. "How did you find out about the soul bond?" he asked.

"Gringotts," Harry replied. "We found that there had been blocks and compulsions put on me, so I had them removed. After that, the parchment revealed the bond." He paused. "What did Ginny write about me?"

Tom made a face as he recalled her words. "She made it seem as though you were a lonely boy that had been Sorted into the wrong house." That had only only served to make him more determined to break free from the diary. He had waited for fifty years for Harry to even be born; he was not going to let him slip away again, even if he did fear that Harry was too far under Dumbledore's control.

Harry snorted. "The sorting hat is rarely wrong. I wonder what we could do to get you back. You know, one that does not involve murder." Not that he cared for Ginny, but he didn't want the school to shut down. Plus, most people would probably blame him like they did with the attacks.

"There may be something down in the Chamber," Tom mused. At Harry's confused look, he clarified. "There's a library back there. Athanasia guards it."

"Athanasia? Who's that?"

"She's Salazar Slytherin's Basilisk," Tom said.

'Basilisk?' Azure detached from Harry, looking awed.

"A Basilisk?" Harry ehoed. He had begun reading to get an idea of what had been terrorizing the students, but nothing said anything about petrification. Unless... "Everyone that's been petrified had been lucky they haven't looked in her eyes directly," he said more to himself.

'I wanna see! I wanna see!' Azure slithered around Harry in excited loops.

"This must be Azure," Tom said.

Azure stopped circling Harry and raised her head. 'That's me.'

"Careful," Harry said as Tom leaned down and stroked her head. "She takes pleasure in insulting people she likes."

'You'd better watch your mouth, Tart-boy, or else I'll leave another dead mouse in your bed.'

Tom let out a smooth laugh, smiling down at the snake. 'I like you.'

'No need to feed into her ego,' Harry said, a smile crossing his own face.

'Keep feeding my ego,' Azure argued. 'It's starving.'

"How do I get in to the Chamber?" Harry asked, changing the subject.

"Stand in front of the sink and say 'Open' in Parseltongue. It'll open and you'll go down the slide. Or ask for stairs."

'Slide? I want to go down the slide!' Azure said.

'You're really enjoying this,' Harry noted, raising an eyebrow at his companion.

If snakes could shrug, Azure probably would have done so. 'Slides are cool.'

'And you are a child in a snake body,' Harry retorted.

Azure didn't try to deny it, just stuck her tongue out.

"All right, then. Tomorrow morning before breakfast."

Tom nodded. "Then I shall see you then," he said, and then Harry was back in his dorm, falling off his bed.

At the same time, Draco was coming in. "You all right?" he said, looking down at his friend who was tangled up in the bedsheets on the floor.

"Yeah," Harry said, sitting up and trying to act normal.

He failed.

And Azure just laughed at him until she fell of the bed as well.  Then she continued laughing.

 

 

 

'Open,' Harry hissed as he stood in front of the sink. Slowly, it opened, revealing the slide Tom had mentioned.

Azure threw herself down the pipe with a snake-like squeal. Rolling his eyes fondly at his familiar, Harry followed. They continued down until they came across a wall with stone snakes that seemed to stare right back at him. 'Open,' he repeated and went through.

He removed the diary from his robes. "All right, I'm here."

Tom materialized in front of him. He looked very smug as Harry looked around the vast space. "Athanasia. She won't... you know, try to kill me if you call her, will she?"

Tom shook his head. "No, it won't. Did you know that its gaze is not fatal to Parselmouths?"

"No." Now Harry was really interested in seeing her for himself.

Chuckling at the raw excitement in Harry's eyes, Tom stepped forward and hissed, 'Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four.'

Out of the mouth came a giant serpent, hissing as it spotted Harry.

'Don't hurt him,' Tom said. 'He is my soulmate.'

'Soulmate?' The Basilisk moved closer, hostility vanishing. Harry was looking directly into her large yellow eyes, but as Tom had said, he was unaffected.

'Yes, I'm Harry Potter.'

'Harry Potter.' She seemed to be scrutinizing him. 'You are a small one.'

Harry was suddenly very self conscious of his shorter height compared to Tom. Tom was already taller than an average sixteen-year-old, but Harry would bet that he would always be at least four inches shorter than him. 'It's not my fault I hadn't always eaten enough,' he muttered mutinously.

Tom scowled a little at that. He hadn't really paid much attention to their height difference, but looking closer he could see that Harry wasn't just short; he was skinny. Not overly so, but it was clear years of malnutrition had stunted his growth. Whoever did this to his Harry would pay.

He glanced at Azure, who seemed to have followed his line of thoughts for she nodded sadly.

Unaware of Tom's thoughts, Harry reached up and stroked Athanasia's nose.

Azure peeked out from behind Harry's leg and approached. 'Greetings. My name is Azure.'

Athanasia lowered her great head to gaze at Azure. 'Another snake.' She sounded pleased. 'It's been so long since I've spoken to another one.'

'Tom not good enough?' Harry teased, grinning when Tom gave him a look.

'Tomling's fine, but he is still not my kind.'

Harry looked at Tom, who looked like he had swallowed a lemon. "Tomling?"

'If it makes you feel better,' Azure said cheekily, 'I call Harry hatchling.'

'Better than Tomling,' Tom groused.

"All right, enough fooling around," Harry said. "What are we going to do about all this? Dumbledore keeps subtly insisting I'm the one behind these attacks—"

"As if he doesn't know the truth," Tom scoffed.

"True." An idea was forming in Harry's mind, but he didn't know if it would work.

"What are you thinking so hard about?" Tom enquired.

"I think I know how we can end this whole Chamber fiasco and make it look like Dumbledore's plans are working."

Tom's eyes lit up. "Let's hear it."

Chapter Text

The plan was quite simple, in all honesty. Harry knew Ginny was trying to get the diary back; she was back at stalking Harry and didn't seem to care when Snape took points off her or even gave her detentions. She stopped when Harry pretended to drop the diary and proceeded to make a show of rummaging his bag during dinner when he realized it was gone.

While with Ginny again, Tom continued what he had been doing, comforting her and being the good friend he was. The only difference was that he was finding it more difficult not to jump out and strangle her. Harry was his, not some crazy first-year stalker. He felt very smug when Ginny complained that Snape was always there, taking points away but pretended to be sympathetic and supporting.

"I'm sure he's just very anxious about the petrifications," he wrote.

"I doubt it," Ginny replied. "He hates everyone. Except his Slytherins. Slimy snakes."

Tom inwardly snarled as she went on.

To make himself feel better, he had Ginny open the Chamber and let Athanasia out to petrify another student. He didn't mean for the Ravenclaw prefect to be caught up in it; he was only aiming for that annoying Muggle-born, Hermione Granger, who Ginny kept whining that she was not the top student in her year like she wanted to be.

 

 

 

"Dumbledore is gone!" Ginny wrote down frantically. "And Hagrid's in Azkaban. What are we going to do?"

"Shh, calm down, Ginny," Tom said, inwardly rolling his eyes. He really would rather be with Harry at the moment. Or anyone, really. "I'm sure it'll all be fine."

Ginny didn't reply, just sniffled and closed the diary, much to Tom's relief. He didn't know how much more he could take.

 

 

 

It was time. Harry knew it as soon as he heard McGonagall announce for all students to return to their dorms. He waited until all the Slytherins were in the common room before standing up.

Grabbing his Invisibilty Cloak, he exited the dungeon and headed straight for the Chamber.

 

 

 

The small, black robed figure of Ginny Weasley lay at the end of the dimly lit chamber. Tom stood above her, scowling.

"She better not be dead," Harry said.

"She's alive. Unfortunately. All her constant whining, so unfitting for someone who wants to be with someone so powerful," Tom said, looking at Harry.

Harry shuddered, not envying Tom for having to put up with her. "Better call Athanasia."

Tom stood in front of the statue. 'Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four.'

Athanasia came out of the tunnel eagerly, tongue flicking out as she tasted the air. 'You're back,' she said, nudging Harry affectionately.

Harry nearly fell over; it was like being poked by a mountain. "I'm back," he said as he regained his footing.

"We have to make it convincing." He reached into his robes and brought out a second diary. "Dobby managed to copy it in a way Dumbledore shouldn't notice. How do we destroy it?"

'Athanasia, bite the fake diary,' Tom commanded.

Athanasia did as she was told, and black ink spilled out of it.

'Thank you, Athanasia,' Harry said. 'I believe that is all for now.'

The Basilisk looked at Tom, who nodded, then disappeared back through the mouth of the statue. "And now to face Dumbledore," Harry muttered.

"You'll do fine," Tom said. "Just be careful not to look him in the eye." With that said, he was gone.

Ginny let out a faint moan and sat up. When she saw Harry, she burst into tears. "Harry— oh, Harry— was me, Harry— but I— I s-swear I d-didn't mean to— R-Riddle made me, he t-took me over- and- where is that— that thing? The last thing I r-remember is feeling very tired and blacking out—" Tom had made sure she was knocked out before stepping out of the diary; the less she knew of him the better.

"It's all right," said Harry, holding up the fake diary. "Come on."

"I'm going to be expelled!" Ginny wept as Harry helped her awkwardly to her feet. "I've looked forward to coming to Hogwarts ever since B-Bill came and n-now I'll have to leave and— w-what'll Mum and Dad say?"

Harry gritted his teeth; man, she was annoying! "I'm sure you won't be expelled," he tried to reassure her.

He reached the entrance and hissed, 'Stairs.'

"You really are a Parselmouth!" Ginny exclaimed.

"Yes," Harry said warily. "Shouldn't you already know that?"

"Well, yes. But I've never seen you speak it before. It's very cool." She was gazing up at him in wonder, despite the fact she clearly was uneasy about the ability, given its history.

Harry refrained from rolling his eyes as he led her up the stairs and went to find Professor McGonagall.

 

 

 

Dumbledore never apologized for basically accusing Harry of the petrifications. Of course he didn't; he most likely expected him to forget about it. Harry pretended to be surprised when Dumbledore said that there was a connection between him and Voldemort. A connection. Harry mentally scoffed. As if Dumbledore didn't know.

McGonagall, however, did apologize in a roundabout way. Harry forgave her more quickly, knowing that Dumbledore was just that good at manipulating others' ways of thinking.

The petrified students were cured. Slytherin won the House Cup again thanks to Harry's two hundred points. All exams were canceled, and Ginny was back to normal. Unfortunately for Harry, that meant she was back at it with her obsession. Her twin brothers joked about Harry being her personal hero, which made Harry wish Tom had Obliviated her like Lockhart had done to many others. The man had been caught trying to leave and was brought in for questioning. By the next day, thousands of copies of his books have been thrown out or sold.

Harry continued to write in the diary, asking him all kinds of questions.

"Parselmagic?" was one of them. "That's a thing?"

"Of course, it's a thing!" Tom scoffed. "I should have given you one of the books from Slytherin's library before you left with Ginny."

"When you said she was annoying, I think you were underexaggerating."

"Regret letting her live?"

"Close to it, yes."

Harry closed the diary as Draco, Pansy, and Tracey joined him on the train. "Looks like you're a hero again."

"Yep," Harry said ruefully. Ginny had been very vocal for someone who had just gone through a traumatic experience, bragging about how Harry had sacrificed his life to save her. It was destiny, she said, that it had been him and no one else. They were meant to be. She didn't seem to notice that barely anyone listened to her exaggerated tales.

When the train pulled up at King's Cross, Harry spotted his relatives looking terrified as always when among Harry's kind, as they would put it.

"Let's go," Harry said. "I know you don't like hanging around here any more than you have to."

Uncle Vernon glared at him for ordering him around, but he did agree with that statement, no matter how much he would deny it.

"I'll see you later," Draco said from behind Harry.

"You, too," Harry said.

Aunt Petunia gave Draco a wary look, as if he would suddenly take his wand out and hex her or something. "Is he a.. friend?" She sounded like she couldn't believe Harry could ever make one.

"One of my best friends, yes," Harry replied. "His family's pretty influential in the wizarding world."

Uncle Vernon looked torn between fear for Draco being a wizard and respect for the power his family held. "Pleasure to meet you," he said gruffly.

"Pleasure is all mine," Draco replied. Not, he mouthed to Harry, deliberately in full view of Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia.

Tracey was eyeing Dudley, wondering just how much food he ate in a day— no, an hour. Dudley noticed and snapped at her, "What are you looking at, freak?"

His voice carried, and many heads turned in shock. Harry wanted to smack him upside the head for his words. He was used to being called a freak, but the minute someone else, especially a friend, was receiving the same treatment...

Tracey's eyes widened ever so slightly before she recovered, giving Dudley a condescending smile. "It would be a real shame if something were to happen to you because of our... freakish ways, don't you think?"

Dudley squeaked and tried to hide behind his mother, which was impossible due to his much larger body.

"Come one, then," Aunt Petunia said sharply. "Don't worry, Dudleykins, they can't hurt you."

"Not here, anyway," Pansy said dryly, earning another squeak.

Harry grinned at them as he followed his relatives. The grin slid off his face once they were alone. "Never call my friends freaks ever again," he said to Dudley coldly.

Dudley opened his mouth to protest, but Uncle Vernon wisely pushed him into the car.

Chapter Text

Over the summer, Harry's main source of communication was Tom, who was still stuck in the diary. When Harry was alone in the house, Tom could risk coming out of the diary to converse in person, as writing took too long.

The first time he had done so, Tom was not very impressed with the house. "This is your room?" he had said, quirking an eyebrow.

"It used to be Dudley's second bedroom," Harry informed him.

"Second bedroom? Where the hell did you live, then?"

Harry sighed. "In a bloody cupboard under the stairs."

"A cupboard?" Oh, Tom really wanted to hurt his so-called relatives.

"Calm down. The last thing we need is for the Aurors to come here wondering about a second magical signature."

Azure had took that moment to slither into sight. 'Tomling, you're back!' she said happily.

Tom promptly disappeared back into the diary, making Azure do what was equivalent to a pout.

Every night before bed, Harry would meditate to strengthen his mind shields. He had not been entirely surprised when Tom said that Dumbledore most likely used Legilimency to read unsuspecting students' surface thoughts. So Tom had Harry practice as often as he could to prepare himself. Dobby was ordered to get a book on Occlumency for Harry to read to better understand its importance.

Tom performed Legilimency on him a few times to test out his shields and became satisfied that Harry would be able to keep out people reading surface thoughts.

Now, Harry was waking up, feeling very tired after writing with Tom late into the night. He had gotten caught up in discussing the advanced technologies and ideas in the Muggle world, something he brought up a week ago. Tom had been against talking about them at first, but gradually he became more and more interested. Of course, when Harry teased him about liking Muggle-related things, Tom had abruptly stopped writing.

"Happy birthday," came his soft, velvety voice.

"Wha'?" Harry sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Oh, I'm thirteen. Yay me."

He didn't sound very thrilled, not that Tom could blame him. None of the Dursleys made an effort to remember his birthday, and this year would be no different.

"When I get my body back, I will make sure we celebrate every single birthday," Tom promised.

Harry smiled up at him. Even being cooped up in his room most of the summer did not dampen his summer. In fact, this was probably his best summer yet, as sad as that may sound.

There was a knock on the door. Tom swiftly disappeared back into the diary, which Harry shoved out of sight.

"Breakfast is ready," Aunt Petunia called.

"Coming." He opened the door.

The reporter on the television was in the middle of talking about an escaped convict.

"... the public is warned that Black is armed and extremely dangerous. A special hot line has been set up, and any sighting of Black should be reported immediately."

An image of a gaunt-faced man with long, matted hair appeared onscreen.

"The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will announce today—"

"Hang on!" barked Uncle Vernon, staring furiously at the reporter. "You didn't tell us where that maniac's escaped from! What use is that? Lunatic could be coming up the street right now!"

Aunt Petunia whipped around and peered intently out of the kitchen window. Harry refrained from pointing out that the likelihood of Black wandering around a neighborhood in broad daylight was very slim.

"When will they learn," said Uncle Vernon, pounding the table with his large purple fist, "that hanging's the only way to deal with these people?"

"Very true," said Aunt Petunia, who was still squinting into next door's runner-beans.

Uncle Vernon drained his teacup, glanced at his watch, and added, "I'd better be off in a minute, Petunia. Marge's train gets in at ten."

Harry stared at him. "Aunt Marge?" he said. "She's coming over?"

Uncle Vernon stiffened. "Yes," he said. "For a week. And she doesn't know about your freakishn— abilities—" he hastily changed the word at Harry's glare— "so no funny business."

"When's the last time you saw me doing 'funny 'business?'" Harry said rhetorically. Especially since it was actually Dobby doing it.

"We also told Marge you attend St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys."

"Wonderful," Harry drawled. "I'm a criminal. I'll try to behave—" Uncle Vernon looked hopeful— "if you sign my permission slip."

Uncle Vernon scowled, but he did want Harry to behave. He nodded, and Harry went to fetch the permission slip. "Thanks. See you later."

Harry went back to his room, where he unlocked Hedwig's cage. "Looks like you're gonna have to go to Draco's for a bit again. Dobby will take you." The house-elf popped in briefly to do as instructed.

Azure was looking at him hopefully.

'You are not going to eat Ripper,' Harry deadpanned.

'Not even one bite?'

'No.' Even if that does sound tempting.

Harry wrote to Tom, informing him of his Aunt Marge.

"Sounds like a delightful woman," he wrote back.

"Absolutely charming. You'd love her."

All too soon, he was called downstairs. "Wish me luck."

Tom was barely able to say anything before he felt the diary close. He let out a small huff. "Just for that, I'm not wishing you luck," he muttered, sitting back as he waited for Harry's return.

"Get the door," Aunt Petunia said.

Harry bit back a retort as he obeyed. He supposed he would have to get used to being treated worse than dirt again.

"Where's my Dudders?" roared Aunt Marge, shoving Harry aside. "Where's my neffy poo?"

Dudley came waddling down the hall, his blond hair plastered flat to his fat head, a bow tie just visible under his many chins. Aunt Marge thrust the suitcase into Harry's stomach, knocking the wind out of him, seized Dudley in a tight one-armed hug, and planted a large kiss on his cheek.

"Petunia!" Aunt Marge said, kissing her cheek as well.

"Tea, Marge?" Uncle Vernon said pleasantly. "And what will Ripper take?"

"Ripper can have some tea out of my saucer," said Aunt Marge as they all proceeded into the kitchen.

Harry took the suitcase into the spare bedroom, taking as long as he needed to. He came back down, hoping to remain unnoticed.

Aunt Marge, unfortunately, turned to him. "So!" she barked. "Still here, are you?"

"Yes," Harry replied flatly.

"Don't you say 'yes' in that ungrateful tone," Aunt Marge growled. "It's damn good of Vernon and Petunia to keep you. Wouldn't have done it myself. You'd have gone straight to an orphanage if you'd been dumped on my doorstep. Where is it that you send him, again, Vernon?"

"St. Brutus's," said Uncle Vernon promptly. "It's a first-rate institution for hopeless cases."

"I see," said Aunt Marge. "Do they use the cane at St. Brutus's, boy?" she barked across the table.

"Yes. All the time."

"Excellent," said Aunt Marge. "I won't have this namby-pamby, wishy-washy nonsense about not hitting people who deserve it. A good thrashing is what's needed in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. Have you been beaten often?"

"Oh, yeah," said Harry, "loads of times." He made himself look smaller, as if the memories were getting to him.

Aunt Marge looked pleased. "Petunia, I'd write if I were you. Make it clear that you approve the use of extreme force in this boy's case."

Uncle Vernon quickly changed the subject at Harry's look. "Heard the news this morning, Marge? What about that escaped prisoner, eh?"

 

 

 

By day three, Harry wanted to scream. Aunt Marge kept him in sight all the time, meaning he couldn't write to Tom. He knew he'd understand, but he longed their easy conversations and hoped the hours would speed up.

He could stand the remarks about him, but Aunt Marge just had to start talking bad about his parents. Harry's magic reacted and Aunt Marge ended up swelling like a balloon and floated upward.

Harry grabbed all his belongings and made for the door. "She deserved it," he spat at Uncle Vernon, who cowered away. "I'm going. I've had enough.”

 

Chapter Text

'Hatchling?' Azure whispered.

'I know, I know, I shouldn't have let my temper get the best of me,' Harry said, slumping down tiredly.

'No, not that. I smell someone.'

Harry turned around, alert at once. He thought he could see something, but it was too dark to make it out. "Dobby," he whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "can you knock it out?"

There was no verbal response, but a moment later, there was a dull thump and Dobby appeared, hauling something large out in the open. It was a dog, a very scary, vicious-looking black dog. Azure recoiled. 'That's a person. An Animagus,' she told Harry.

"Is there a way to force him to transform?" Harry asked.

Dobby snapped his fingers, and the dog changed into a scrawny man with long, matted hair. Harry flinched back, hand gripping wand. "Sirius Black," he murmured. "What's he doing here?"

"Should Dobby take him away, Master Harry?" the elf asked.

"No," Harry said after a moment. "Tie him up and wake him." He'd do it himself, but he didn't want to get in trouble with the Ministry. Dobby snapped his fingers, causing thick cords to wrap around Black securely.

Black's eyes blinked open. When he realized he was bound, he lifted his head to face Harry. "Harry," he rasped.

Harry pushed his wand into his neck. "What are you doing here?" he demanded coldly.

"Wait," Black said. "Please, hear me out before you do anything else."

Harry glanced down at Azure. The snake was eyeing Black curiously and warily. For all the information she had gleaned from the wizarding world, the man in front of them was an unknown except that he had committed a huge crime about twelve years ago. "Why would I do anything?"

"You don't know who I am?"

"I know you're Sirius Black," Harry said uncertainly.

"Well, yes, but that's not all. I'm your godfather."

"I have a godfather?"

"Dumbledore never told you? Oh, who am I kidding. Of course he didn't."

"What are you talking about?" Harry said, bewildered.

"As I said, I am your godfather, Harry. And—" he took in a shuddering breath— "I am the reason your parents are dead."

The grip Harry had on his wand tightened.

"Wait!" Black exclaimed, stiffening as the wand dug deeper in his neck. "Please, let me explain."

'You should listen,' Azure insisted. She could sense the man's desperation as she flicked her tongue out. 'Something's off about the whole thing.'

Harry lowered his wand but kept it out. "Fine. Talk."

He listened silently as Black explained how his parents have gone into hiding and switched the Secret Keeper from Black to Peter Pettigrew, who then faked his death and framed Black.

"He cut off a finger and that was considered proof that he was dead?" Harry said incredulously.

"I'm afraid so," Black said. His gray eyes were full of sorrow and guilt. "I'm so sorry, Harry. If I hadn't insisted on going after him, if I hadn't listened to Dumbledore..."

"Dumbledore?" Harry repeated.

Black nodded. "He was the one who suggested I switched out. I was a fool. I listened to him, even though I didn't trust one hair on his—" He broke off, shaking his head in disgust.

Azure spoke close to Harry's ear. 'He's telling the truth,' she said.

'You sure?' Harry knew that animals often had a keen sense of people's motives. It was one of the advantages of having an animal as a friend.

'Positive.'

Black looked between them, not seeming surprised that Azure was there. "Dumbledore wasn't pleased when you spoke Parseltongue in front of him," he said softly.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

"Not long after you were born, Dumbledore came by to see you," Black replied. "He seemed... eager about you. Overly so. It was one of the reasons why I started questioning him. You were outside, talking to a garden snake. Your parents, Remus, and I didn't care for it much, but Dumbledore— well, I could tell he was uneasy. I told your parents of our suspicions and they took you by Gringotts. You can imagine their surprise when they saw the writing at the bottom."

"My soul bond?" Harry guessed.

Black's eyebrows shot upward before settling back down. "Ah, so you already know."

"That Voldemort is my soulmate?" Harry said, ignoring Dobby's squeak of alarm. The elf had been petrified at the name, but once Harry had told him what he knew, he slowly got more used to it, though he still flinched every now and then.

Black's lips twisted wryly. "Ironic, isn't it? I do not think it was a coincidence when Dumbledore told your parents that Voldemort would be targeting them barely a month later."

Harry scowled. "You think he did that deliberately."

"You think so, too," Black remarked.

"I do," Harry said. "Who's Remus, by the way?" The name sounded familiar, but Harry couldn't recall from where. A friend of his parents, perhaps?

Black confirmed this with his response. "Remus Lupin. He was another friend," he said, sounding wistful.

"Was? Can we not trust him?" Harry asked.

Black hesitated. "I'm not sure," he admitted after a moment. "Last I remember, he seemed to be in league with Dumbledore, but I don't know if he really is or not."

Harry frowned. It sounded as if this Lupin person was a potential ally, although he didn't know where to find him. Plus twelve years have gone by; he had no idea if Lupin was even around.

"We'll deal with Pettigrew first," he decided. "Any idea where he is?"

"He's a rat," Black said distastefully. "Specifically that Weasley boy's rat."

"Scabbers?" Harry said, surprised. He vaguely remembered hearing Ron talk about him sometimes but hadn't paid much attention. For some reason, Azure had not voiced a desire to eat Scabbers, although Harry supposed it made sense now.

'How fitting,' Azure said. 'He did rat out his friends, after all.'

"What did she say?" Black asked as Harry gave the snake an exasperated look.

"She made a rat pun," Harry said. "A terrible one, at that."

'You're a terrible one.'

'You make the worst comebacks.'

'You're a worst comeback.'

Harry gave up. "Dobby, untie Sirius, please."

Dobby snapped his fingers, and the cords disappeared.

Sirius rubbed his wrists, looking at Dobby with a thoughtful expression. "I've seen that elf before."

"He belonged to the Malfoys once," Harry replied. "Sirius, where will you go?"

Sirius gave Harry's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Don't worry about me. Just get to the Leaky Cauldron. All right?"

Harry nodded.

"Good luck, pup."

"You, too." Harry watched as Sirius transformed back into a dog and disappeared from view.

"All right, Dobby, you know what to do. Take us to the Leaky Cauldron."

When Dobby Apparated them, he took Room eleven and went inside to settle down.

After changing into his pajamas, he took out the diary. Tom appeared, looking very disgruntled. "It's about time."

"Don't look at me, Tom. Aunt Marge barely let me leave her sight."

"That bitch," Tom muttered. He looked around the room. "Why are you at the Leaky Cauldron?"

"Uh..." Harry wondered how he was going to explain this. Maybe he should throw himself out a window.

Seeing his eyes wandering, Tom stepped closer and met Harry's eyes sternly. "Harry. Tell me what happened. Now."

"I may have blown up my aunt and took off into the night."

Tom closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he opened them again. "You mean to tell me you ran away while there is a criminal on the loose?"

"If you must know, Sirius is actually innocent of his crimes," Harry shot back.

"You spoke to him? Are you mad?" he couldn't help but snap. "He could have hurt you!"

Harry flinched. "I know that!"

"I don't think you do!" Tom hissed back. "You walked away from Privet Drive like a mindless Gryffindor!" He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Just be more careful, Harry."

He sounded calmer now, but Harry didn't miss the slight tremor in his voice and winced guiltily. "I'm sorry."

"Just get some sleep," Tom said gruffly, not looking at him.

Harry laid down in bed, still watching the other boy. Without another glance, Tom disappeared back into the diary.

Chapter Text

Tom didn't come out of the diary the next morning. Harry wrote in it, but the ink merely faded into the pages with no reply.

'Give him time,' Azure said. 'He had a bit of a scare. Why don't you go get your supplies? I can try and talk to him.'

Reluctantly, Harry agreed, carefully warding the room to alert them if anyone was coming. He first headed to Gringotts to take out some money. Griphook, who had grown to have more respect for the boy, greeted him with as much friendliness as a goblin could give. He gave an update on Harry's vaults and checked him over, relieved to see that Dumbledore had not attempted anything. Yet.

"Voldemort had made Horcruxes before he... disappeared," Harry explained as he was stepping out of a vault. "Is there any way we can reconnect the soul pieces?"

"There is," Griphook replied, scowling at the thought of such dark magic. "Obtain all the Horcruxes and bring it here. There is a ritual we will do."

"The price?"

"500 Galleons."

Harry nodded. That hardly made a dent in his fortune. "All right. We'll see what we can find."

He dipped his head to Griphook before leaving, money bag refilled. He walked around Diagon Alley, hearing snatches of conversation here and there. Most of them he heard involved purchases that have been made or, more solemnly, Sirius' escape. Harry finished his essays outside Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor, where Florean Fortescue himself gave him free sundaes every half hour and the occasional pointer.

About a week into his time at the Leaky Cauldron, he caught sight of a crowd outside of Quality Quidditch Supplies.

"Just come out— prototype—"

"It's the fastest broom in the world, isn't it, Dad?"

"Irish International Side's just put in an order for seven of these beauties!" the proprietor of the shop told the crowd. "And they're favorites for the World Cup!"

"'150 miles per hour in ten seconds,'" Harry read the sign out loud. "Impressive."

At Flourish and Blotts, Harry was surprised by the large iron cage that contained about a hundred The Monster Book of Monsters. Ten minutes later, he got his answer as he left the harassed-looking manager with a vicious book in his possession.

As more days passed, Harry saw some of his fellow classmates. Seamus and Dean from Gryffindor were admiring the Firebolt. Not far from them, their dormmate, Neville, was being reprimanded by his grandmother, and farther down, Draco was grumbling about the Monster Book to his parents.

"Got all your supplies?" he asked.

Harry nodded, wishing he could tell Draco about Sirius. But instead Harry asked about the Firebolt.

"Father won't buy it," Draco muttered. "He said that the brooms from last year would be all we would get."

Harry smiled sympathetically. "Well, you beat Gryffindor with them, so there isn't a real need for new brooms."

"True."

Outside of the Magical Menagerie, there was a loud commotion, followed by "NO, CROOKSHANKS, NO!" and a large orange blur whipped by him.

"Scabbers!" Ron's voice sounded as he ran after it.

Harry had to refrain from growling at the mention of the person responsible for his parents' demise. He wondered if Pettigrew was actually on Dumbledore's side and therefore aware of what he was doing or merely another pawn that unwittingly helped him. If the latter were the case, then he would not be punished as severely. If the former... well, they'd cross that bridge when they got there.

Lucius Malfoy sneered slightly at Ron and strode by without another glance. Shaking his head, Harry and Draco followed. Harry tagged along for a bit before separating and returning to the Leaky Cauldron. To his slight annoyance, he saw that the Weasley family was there.

They greeted him in a friendly manner, even Ron, as if he hadn't spent much of the year prior accusing Harry of petrifying students.

Percy, ever the formal one, shook his hand. "Harry. How nice to see you."

"Hello, Percy," said Harry. He liked Percy enough with his more serious attitude regarding school. Sometimes, Harry wondered if he should have been a Ravenclaw.

"I hope you're well?" said Percy pompously, as if he were talking to the mayor.

"Well enough—" Harry began, his conversation with Tom still fresh in his mind. He was almost relieved when Fred elbowed Percy aside and bowed deeply.

"Harry! Simply splendid to see you, old boy—"

"Marvelous," said George, pushing Fred aside and seizing Harry's hand in turn. "Absolutely spiffing."

Despite himself, Harry found himself grinning. Out of all the Weasleys he had met, the twins were definitely his favorite. They didn't treat him any different just because he was the Boy-Who-Lived or a Slytherin. The pranks they pulled were harmless, although they never seemed to target him specifically.

"That's enough, now," said Mrs. Weasley, stepping forward.

"Mum!" Fred turned to her and grabbed her hand. "How really corking to see you—"

"I said, that's enough," said Mrs. Weasley, depositing her shopping in an empty chair. "Harry, dear. I suppose you've heard our exciting news?" She pointed to the brand-new silver badge on Percy's chest. "Second Head Boy in the family!"

"And last," Fred muttered under his breath.

"I don't doubt that," said Mrs. Weasley, frowning suddenly. "I notice they haven't made you two prefects."

"What do we want to be prefects for?" George looked aghast at the mere thought. "It'd take all the fun out of life."

"You want to set a better example for your sister!" snapped Mrs. Weasley as Ginny giggled.

"Ginny's got other brothers to set her an example, Mother," said Percy loftily. "I'm going up to change for dinner..."

He disappeared and George heaved a sigh.

"We tried to shut him in a pyramid," he told Harry. "But Mum spotted us."

 

 

 

Three tables were put together for the Weasleys and Hermione. Mrs. Weasley insisted Harry joined them, and after a few futile attempts to get away, Harry gave in. He found himself situated next to Ron and Hermione.

"How has your summer been, Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked.

"All right, I suppose," Harry said.

"Are you thinking of trying out for Quidditch at all?" Ron enquired, spraying bits of food.

Harry flinched as a few drops landed on his arm. "No, not interested."

"Not interested?" Ron repeated incredulously, spraying more food.

"Honestly, Ron!" Hermione groaned. "Must you speak with your mouth full?"

"You do realize that if I did, I'd be playing against Gryffindor, right?" Harry added, effectively shutting Ron up before he could snap back at Hermione.

After dinner, Harry went to his room to get some rest. But Percy and Ron started arguing, so Harry got back up and headed downstairs for some peace and quiet.

"... makes no sense not to tell him," Mr. Weasley was saying heatedly. "Harry's got a right to know. I've tried to tell Fudge, but he insists on treating Harry like a child. He's thirteen years old and—"

"Arthur, the truth would terrify him!" said Mrs. Weasley shrilly. "Do you really want to send Harry back to school with that hanging over him? For heaven's sake, he's happy not knowing!"

The truth? Harry listened closely.

"... If Black can break out of Azkaban, he can break into Hogwarts."

"But no one's really sure that Black's after Harry—"

The pieces fell into place. They believed that Sirius had escaped Azkaban to finish what he had started, which was supposedly to finish what Voldemort had started that night.

Harry waited, but when there was nothing else of substance, he headed back up.

Fred and George were heaving with laughter as they listened to Percy practically tear apart the room in his search for his badge.

"We've got it," Fred whispered to Harry. "We've been improving it."

The badge now read Bighead Boy.

Harry rolled his eyes and lightly smacked them on the head. "Gred, Forge, you two are the biggest idiots on the planet."

"We know," they said with proud grins.

Chapter Text

"There you are," Draco said as Harry came into the compartment.

"Yeah, Mr. Weasley wanted to talk to me about—"

The reason he broke off was because of the man that was fast asleep next to the window. Although young, there were lines on his face and gray flecks in his hair that spoke of premature stress.

"That's Professor R. J. Lupin," Pansy told him. "I'm guessing he's the DADA teacher this year."

"Most likely," Harry said, remembering Lockhart with no small amount of distaste. "He better be good."

"Anyone would be better than the other git," Draco said, having followed the same thought.

Pansy nodded in agreement. "So," she began, giving an excited little bounce, "Hogsmeade. I can't wait."

"Do you know what they have there?" Harry asked.

"Well, there's this sweets shop, Honeydukes, that's really popular," Pansy replied. "You can get all kinds of stuff there."

"I've seen some of the older students with pepper imps," Draco recalled. "They make you smoke at the mouth."

"There's also the Shrieking Shack," Pansy added in a hush. "They say it's the most haunted building in all of Britain."

"Haunted? We literally live with ghosts," Harry pointed out, not understanding the logic. Upon reflection, there were many things he didn't understand. Who in their right mind would think that first years would be able to get to class on time when they've never been at Hogwarts before?

"Well, yeah, but they're all friendly," Draco said. "I mean, there's Binns, that boring tosser, and Peeves, but besides them."

One o'clock hailed the arrival of the trolley witch.

"Should we wake him up?" Pansy asked uncertainly, glancing at Lupin. She prodded him, but he did not stir.

"Don't worry, dear," said the witch, as she handed a large stack of cauldron cakes. "If he's hungry when he wakes, I'll be up front with the driver."

It began to rain mid-afternoon. Lupin continued to sleep on, occasionally letting out a grunt and shifting around.

'He's in pain,' Azure remarked softly. 'Poor wolf.'

'Wolf? As in a werewolf?' Harry asked, surprised.

'Yes.' She could smell the difference in his scent in comparison to those of Harry and his friend's. Werewolves had a slightly more rank odor to them, and according to other snakes, vampires were almost just as bad.

 

 

 

The train began to slow, but Harry knew they weren't there yet. Then the lights went out.

"What's going on?" Draco said.

"Do you think we've broken down?"

"Maybe."

Azure was pressed against Harry. 'Bad creature out there. Very bad.'

"What did she say?" Pansy asked, having guessed correctly that the snake was worried.

"There's a bad creature, but she didn't say what kind."

"There can't be," Draco said, sounding as if he were trying to reassure himself as well as the others. "They wouldn't allow anything dangerous on the train."

"Quiet." It was Lupin that had spoken. A light flickered on, revealing the flames in his hand. "Stay where you are," he said.

The door opened again, and a dark hooded creature appeared. A slimy gray hand was visible for a split second as it moved forward. It seemed to suck in a breath of more than just air.

A strange coldness swept through the compartment. Harry felt like he was drowning. He watched as Lupin held out his wand and said, "None of us is hiding Sirius Black under our cloaks. Go."

But the creature didn't move back. On the contrary, it glided forward.

Lupin muttered something under his breath, and a bright silvery mist shot out of his wand, driving away the creature.

"You all right?" Draco asked anxiously. Harry suddenly realized he had slumped against his friend.

"I think so."

Lupin broke off pieces of an enormous slab of chocolate. "Here. Eat it. It'll help."

Harry took it in his shaking hands. "Was that a Dementor?" he asked.

"It was. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to have a little word with the driver." He stood up and opened the door, pausing to give Harry a smile. "Eat. You'll feel better."

"That was horrible," Draco said with a shudder.

Pansy nodded but didn't speak, just wiped the sweat off her forehead.

Harry took a bite of the chocolate, feeling a sense of warmth throughout his body.

Lupin came back in. "We'll be at Hogwarts in ten minutes," he said. "Are you all right, Harry?"

"Fine." Harry briefly wondered if Lupin had recognized him by his scar or from when he was a baby.

Ten minutes later, as Lupin had said, they pulled up to Hogwarts.

"Firs' years this way!" Hagrid called.

Harry followed his friends into the Great Hall, where they watched the Sorting. Astoria Greengrass looked pale as she sat down next to her sister, Daphne. She gave Harry a grateful nod when he handed her a small piece of chocolate and took a bite, color flooding back into her face.

Professor Dumbledore stood up to give his speech. "On a happier note," he said after warning the students of the Dementors, "I am pleased to welcome two new teachers to our ranks this year.

"First, Professor Lupin, who has kindly consented to fill the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."

There was some scattered, rather unenthusiastic applause as everyone took in the shabby and patched robes he wore next to all the other teachers. Professor Snape, Harry noticed, had an expression of loathing as he stared at Lupin. Harry wondered if there was a history between the two.

"As to our second new appointment," Dumbledore continued as the lukewarm applause for Lupin died away. "Well, I am sorry to tell you that Professor Kettleburn, our Care of Magical Creatures teacher, retired at the end of last year in order to enjoy more time with his remaining limbs. However, I am delighted to say that his place will be filled by none other than Rubeus Hagrid, who has agreed to take on this teaching job in addition to his gamekeeping duties."

Loud applause rang in the air, especially at the Gryffindor table.

"Well, I think that's everything of importance," said Dumbledore. "Let the feast begin!"

The plates and goblets filled with food and drinks, and Harry dug in eagerly.

Harry could feel Lupin's eyes flicking over to him every once in a while and wondered once more whether or not he could be trusted.

Dumbledore soon announced that it was time for bed. Over in Gryffindor, Ron and Hermione stood up and went to congratulate Hagrid.

Harry found himself feeling extra sluggish as he followed the Slytherins down to the dungeon. He ended up falling asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

 

 

 

Remus limped into his office and shut the door. He wanted nothing more than to turn tail and flee Hogwarts, but he knew that if he did, he would be hunted down again.

There was a knock on his door. He went to open it and stiffened as he saw who it was.

"Hello, Remus," the Headmaster said, smiling benevolently. "May I come in?"

To an outsider, his words would have meant that this was nothing more than a friendly visit. But Remus knew better. "Yes, of course."

He stepped aside. Dumbledore walked in, shutting the door behind him.

"How can I help you?" Remus asked.

"I just wanted to go over the plan, my boy."

Remus nodded, not meeting his gaze.

"Harry, as you know, has no allies in Slytherin," Dumbledore began, lying through his teeth. "He also has no adult that can tell him about his parents."

"And you want me to bond with him," Remus summarized heavily.

"Exactly. I am so glad you understand." He was beaming; Remus wondered if his face had ever frozen because he always seemed to have a smile on his face in public.

To Remus' relief, Dumbledore began to head for the door. Just as his hand was reaching out for the handle, he turned back. He wasn't smiling anymore. "Remember, Remus, if you don't succeed..." He let himself trail off as he finally left.

Remus swallowed and suddenly realized his hands were trembling. He clenched them into fists as he tried to calm down. It wouldn't do to freak out, not when Harry was in danger.

One hand absentmindedly trailed over his ribs, making him wince. Perhaps he should have gone to see Madam Pomfrey, but he quickly pushed the thought away. He didn't need her to become suspicious.

Chapter Text

It wasn't even one day in and Hermione and Ron were arguing already. Normally, Harry would ignore them, but something caught his attention.

"Professor Trelawney said you didn't have the right aura!" Ron snapped. "You just don't like being bad at something for a change!"

Hermione slammed her Arithmancy book down on the table. "If being good at Divination means I have to pretend to see death omens in a lump of tea leaves, I'm not sure I'll be studying it much longer! That lesson was absolute rubbish compared with my Arithmancy class!"

Harry exchanged confused looks with Daphne, who had been in Arithmancy with him at the same time as Ron was in Divination. "Wasn't she in...?" Daphne trailed off.

Harry shrugged and sat down to eat.

 

 

 

After lunch was over, it was Care of Magical Creatures. Harry nearly rolled his eyes when he overheard Ron as he petted a Hippogriff, a cross between an eagle and a horse.

"This is so easy," he boasted loudly. "I bet anyone could have ridden you. Ugly brute."

In a flash, the Hippogriff, Buckbeak, reared up and came down, slashing into Ron's robes and leaving a deep gash in his arm. Hagrid wrestled Buckbeak back into his collar before picking Ron up and carrying him away.

"What was Weasley thinking?" Tracey exclaimed. "Hagrid specifically said not to insult a Hippogriff."

"Who cares?" Pansy sneered. "Did you hear him scream?"

"You wouldn't be saying that if it had been one of us," Harry pointed out. Although the idiot had deserved it, disregarding Hagrid's instructions.

Hermione took off at a run after Hagrid, hoping he was okay. That looked like a nasty wound, but Madam Pomfrey would be able to fix him up in no time.

'What a bunch of dunderheads,' Azure grumbled later that evening. 'At least you and Tommy aren't as idiotic.'

With a jolt, Harry realized he hadn't spoken to his soulmate since that night in the Leaky Cauldron. His mind had been occupied with Sirius, Lupin, and of course, the Dementors. 'Come on, we're going down to the Chamber.'

The snake perked up at this and wrapped herself over Harry's shoulders as he grabbed his invisibility cloak and the diary and snuck back out.

He reached the bathroom and, after checking to make sure he was alone, hissed 'open' and slid down. Then he continued along until he reached the end of the chamber. "Tom?" he said, hoping the older boy wouldn't still be angry with him.

To his relief, Tom emerged from the diary. Harry went to speak— whether that was to say he was sorry again or not, he didn't know— only for Tom to demand several panicked questions at him.

"What happened on the train?" Tom looked his soulmate over. He didn't look hurt, but that was a small relief. "It felt cold all of a sudden."

"You could sense the Dementors even within the diary?" Harry asked, surprised.

"Dementors?" Tom paled. "On the train? Did anyone get Kissed?"

"No, they didn't," Harry said quickly. "Professor Lupin managed to force it out."

Tom frowned. "A professor rode on the train with you? That doesn't sound suspicious at all."

"Sirius said he should be able to be trusted," Harry replied.

"Are you sure we can trust Black?" Tom asked, not wanting to yell at Harry again but also wanting to shake some sense into him.

"Yes," Harry said. Azure nodded as well.

"Very well."

Azure suddenly felt impatient with the tense atmosphere. 'Hey, Tomalongadingdong, guess what happened?'

Tom scowled at the snake while Harry threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, shut it, you," he muttered, but there was no heat behind his words. "What happened?"

Harry briefly explained Hagrid's first lesson and the moment leading up to Ron's injury.

"Weasley is an idiot," Tom muttered, rolling his eyes. Most of them seemed to be, which was quite a disappointment given their past family members. Septimus Weasley had been quite intelligent for a Gryffindor, enough that he had caught the attention of Cedrella Black. Out of all the Weasleys Harry had talked about, only Percy seemed to have inherited any of Septimus' common sense, although the twins certainly seemed to have received Cedrella's cunning.

Harry snorted. "I'm pretty sure everyone at least thinks that at least twice a day."

'I think of it four and a half times,' Azure piped up.

"Hagrid is an oaf and shouldn't be teaching classes, but I have to admit he does know his creatures," Tom remarked.

"Was it hard?" Harry asked, blinking up at Tom.

"Was what hard?"

"Admitting that?" Harry blinked up at Tom with faux innocence.

"Harry?" Tom said sweetly.

"Yes?"

"Do shut up."

"I don't think I will."

Azure began circling them. 'Harry and Tommy sitting in the Chamber,' she sang. 'B-O-N-D-I-N-G.'

'You are the worst,' Harry groaned, eyes flicking away from Tom's intense stare. 'Where did you even learn how to spell?'

'I can read,' the snake huffed. 'I know big words, too. Like— like— equanimity.'

'Which you do not have,' Harry deadpanned.

Azure recoiled indignantly. 'Do, too!'

'You literally thought the world was going to end when you fell off the bed.'

'That was one time!'

Tom looked between the two, stifling a snort of fond exasperation. "Are you two always like this?"

"Yes."

'No.'

 

 

 

"Weasley's back," Blaise noted, watching as the redhead walked in and took a seat next to Hermione, who began fretting over his bandaged arm.

"Lovely." Harry didn't need to hear what he was saying to know that he was retelling the incident in a very dramatic fashion if the expressions on those around him were anything to go by.

"He'll probably try to use his arm as an excuse to not work," Draco said scornfully.

"I bet Professor Snape will love that," Pansy said viciously.

Draco turned out to be right.

"Your arm is fine, Mr. Weasley," Snape said. "If Madam Pomfrey released you as quickly as she did, then there should be no reason why you cannot participate in class."

Ron fumed and began cutting up the daisy roots, somewhat clumsily with his arm in a sling. Admittedly, he was doing better than Neville, whose potion turned orange instead of a bright, acid green.

"Hey, Potter," said Seamus Finnigan, "have you heard? Daily Prophet this morning— they reckon Sirius Black's been sighted."

"Where?"

"Not too far from here," said Seamus. "It was a Muggle who saw him. 'Course, she didn't really understand. The Muggles think he's just an ordinary criminal, don't they? So she phoned the telephone hot line. By the time the Ministry of Magic got there, he was gone."

"That's not good," Pansy said, giving Harry a worried glance.

"Gonna go catch him all by yourself?" Ron taunted.

"No, I'm not an idiot," Harry replied, eyeing Ron's bandaged arm. The meaning went over Ron's head, but Hermione glowered at Harry. She opened her mouth, but Snape spoke up at that moment.

"You should have finished adding your ingredients by now; this potion needs to stew before it can be drunk, so clear away while it simmers and then we'll test Longbottom's..."

Harry put away his unused ingredients and cleaned up his table. Once everyone was done, Snape tested Neville's potion on the toad, Trevor. To the relief of the Gryffindors, Trevor turned into a tadpole. But Snape was quick to ruin their good mood.

"Five points from Gryffindor. I told you not to help him, Miss Granger. Class dismissed."

Ron looked furious as he stormed out. "Five points from Gryffindor because the potion was all right! Why didn't you lie, Hermione? You should've said Neville did it all by himself!"

But Harry suddenly realized that Hermione was nowhere in sight. How odd...

 

Chapter Text

On Saturday, Harry snuck back down to the Chamber with his Invisibility Cloak on. "I'm here," he said.

Tom materialized out from the diary. "I do so hate being cooped up in that damn book."

"You've been in it for fifty years, Tom. You can wait a little longer."

Tom rolled his eyes as Harry stepped up and hissed, 'Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four!'

He turned back to Tom as the mouth opened. "Egotistical much?"

Athanasia greeted Harry warmly by licking him with her tongue. 'You have come back, little one.'

'Yes, I have,' Harry replied as he staggered backwards. 'I am here to look at Slytherin's library.'

'Oh, yes. Tomling spent much of his time in there.'

Harry snickered, still not over that nickname.

Tom shoved him forward. 'Get moving.'

'I'm going, I'm going. Tommy.' He laughed as Tom groaned loudly behind him.

His jaw dropped in awe as he took in the massive space. "Merlin's pants, this is amazing!" he exclaimed.

Along the walls were bookshelves, many, many bookshelves. It was clear that the room was one of those that were bigger on the inside, for Harry doubted that all this would have fit without magic. The furniture was dark green and brown and looked as if they were brand-new. On the far side was a dark gray door.

"That's the potion's lab," Tom said, following his gaze.

Harry whipped his head around, eyes gleaming. "There's a potion's lab?"

"There is."

Tom had a smug smirk on his face that softened slightly to a half-smile as he watched Harry walk alongside the shelves. It was times like this that he forgot Harry was still fairly new to the magical world.

'What do you think, Azure?' Harry asked the snake that was slithering past the bookshelves.

'It's lovely, hatchling. I could live down here.'

Harry, still looking around the massive space, couldn't disagree.

He browsed the books eagerly for a while before picking out one written in Parseltongue.

"That's the first one I read," Tom recalled. "You'll find a lot of good information in there."

"Well, no time like the present!" Harry said, sitting down on one of the couches and opening the book. He took a seat next to Tom on the couch, unconsciously leaning over while Tom's long fingers ran through his hair.

Harry spent a good couple hours reading before Azure hissed he should eat. With great reluctance, Harry closed the book and raised his head. He started as his eyes met Tom's. He hadn't realized that he had relaxed completely into the taller boy's side. "Um..."

Tom just smirked as he returned Harry's gaze boldly. "Something wrong?"

Harry stood up quickly, but he could not hide his reddening face. "You're a creep, Riddle."

"Am I not allowed to admire my soulmate?" Tom asked rhetorically.

Harry put the book back up. "The first thing I'm doing when I get back to the dorm is put a Parselward on my things."

Tom nodded approvingly. He stood up as well, glaring at the diary in Harry's hands. "If I must," he muttered before fading away.

"No need for the theatrics, Tom," Harry said, snickering when the diary heated up indignantly.

 

 

 

Upon leaving, Azure suddenly became alert.

'What is it?' Harry asked. He hoped it wasn't Ron or Ginny. Ron was almost always scowling when he saw Harry with Draco and Pansy, which was pretty much all the time, and his sister was still giving him longing looks.

'Tricky twins,' the snake replied.

Harry relaxed ever so slightly. He could handle the twins. 'Where are they?'

'Behind the door.'

Harry turned and silently cast Alohomora. The door opened, and two identical boys fell forward with a yelp.

"Having fun?" Harry said, sauntering over and leaning against the wall.

"Very much so," George said from where he was lying facedown on the floor. His brother had fallen over on top, so they were literally stacked on one another.

"How did you even find me?"

"Excellent question!" Fred said, jumping to his feet and stepping over George to stand in front of Harry. "The answer, my friend, is in this little trinket."

He pulled out a large square piece of parchment and handed it over.

"What does it do?" Harry asked, knowing that it wasn't what it seemed, especially when it came to the twins. "And where did you get it?"

"Well... when we were in our first year, Harry— young, carefree, and innocent— we got into a spot of bother with Filch."

"We let off a Dungbomb in the corridor and it upset him for some reason—"

"So he hauled us off to his office and started threatening us with the usual—"

"— detention—"

"— disembowelment—"

"— and we couldn't help noticing a drawer in one of his filing cabinets marked Confiscated and Highly Dangerous."

"So you stole it," Harry concluded.

"Stole?" Fred clutched at his chest while George let out an exaggerated gasp. "We would never steal! We were just giving ol' Filch a hand. Trust me, if you saw the mess in that cabinet..."

Harry snorted. "Yes, I bet Filch is forever grateful. So how does this work?"

George removed his wand and tapped the parchment. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

Words began to appear in great, curly green letters that read:

Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs

Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers

are proud to present

THE MARAUDER'S MAP

As the name suggested, it showed a map of Hogwarts. But what really caught Harry's attention were the tiny dots moving around, each with a name connected to it. Professors Snape and McGonagall were in their offices, Mrs. Norris was prowling the second floor, and even Peeves the Poltergeist was labeled in the Trophy Room.

He realized, too, that there were passages, many of which seemed to lead—

"Right into Hogsmeade," said Fred, tracing one of them with his finger. "There are seven in all. Now, Filch knows about these four"— he pointed them out— "but we're sure we're the only ones who know about these. Don't bother with the one behind the mirror on the fourth floor. We used it until last winter, but it's caved in— completely blocked. And we don't reckon anyone's ever used this one, because the Whomping Willow's planted right over the entrance. But this one here, this one leads right into the cellar of Honeydukes. We've used it loads of times. And as you might've noticed, the entrance is right outside this room, through that one-eyed old crone's hump."

"Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs," George said in awe. "We owe them so much."

"Noble men, working tirelessly to help a new generation of lawbreakers," said Fred solemnly.

"Right," said George briskly. "Don't forget to wipe it after you've used it—"

"— or anyone can read it," Fred said warningly.

"Just tap it again and say, 'Mischief managed!' and it'll go blank."

'Look, it's me!' Azure pointed with her tail. Sure enough, overlapping Harry's name, was Azure's.

"This is pretty cool," Harry said.

"And we have thought long and hard on this decision—" George began.

"— just now, actually—"

"— and we are giving it to you as a very late birthday present—"

"— or a very early Christmas one," Fred added.

"Thanks." Harry honestly didn't know what to say. This map may help him in finding Pettigrew faster. Ron had lost the rat, claiming that Crookshanks had eaten him. Harry hoped that Pettigrew had managed to escape getting caught and was now roaming the halls.

"See you around, Harry." The twins patted him on the back before running away.

Harry looked down at the map. "I don't see Pettigrew," he said, confused.

'Me, neither. Could it be because he's an Animagus?' Azure suggested.

'Perhaps. But where's Lupin?' Harry would have thought he'd see Lupin's dot in his office, but the only one there was Dumbledore.

Harry muttered, "Mischief managed," and headed back to his dorm to ponder over this.

 

Chapter Text

Professor Lupin was late to his first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson. When he finally did arrive, he looked a bit healthier than back on the train, though Harry could see he still looked rather gaunt. Nevertheless, he smiled warmly at the students.

"Good afternoon," he said. "Would you please put all your books back in your bags. Today's will be a practical lesson. You will need only your wands."

Curious now, the class did as they were told. This was a bit different than normal than their previous teachers. Of course, one of them was a nervous wreck most of the time and the other was more focused on his blinding smile and fake accomplishments.

"Right then," said Lupin once everyone was ready. "If you'd follow me."

He led them into the staffroom, which was empty except for an old wardrobe where the teachers kept their spare robes toward the end. As Lupin went to stand next to it, the wardrobe gave a sudden wobble, banging off the wall.

"Nothing to worry about," said Lupin calmly as several students jumped. "There's a Boggart in there."

The class eyed the wardrobe apprehensively. Harry glanced at Lupin uneasily. What did he bring a live Boggart into the school for?

"Boggarts like dark, enclosed spaces," said Lupin. "Wardrobes, the gap beneath beds, the cupboards under sinks— I've even met one that had lodged itself in a grandfather clock. This one moved in yesterday afternoon, and I asked the headmaster if the staff would leave it to give my third years some practice.

"So, the first question we must ask ourselves is, what is a Boggart?"

"It's a shape-shifter," Daphne said. "It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most."

"Couldn't have put it better myself," said Lupin. "So the Boggart sitting in the darkness within has not yet assumed a form. He does not yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. Nobody knows what a Boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears.

"This means that we have a huge advantage over the Boggart before we begin. Have you spotted it, Harry?"

"Because there are so many of us, it won't know what shape it should be."

"Precisely. It's always best to have company when you're dealing with a Boggart. He becomes confused. Which should he become, a headless corpse or a flesh-eating slug? I once saw a Boggart make that very mistake— tried to frighten two people at once and turned himself into half a slug. Not remotely frightening.

"The charm that repels a Boggart is simple, yet it requires force of mind. You see, the thing that really finishes a Boggart is laughter. What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.

"We will practice the charm without wands first. After me, please... riddikulus!"

"Riddikulus!" said the class together.

"Good. Very good. But that was the easy part, I'm afraid. You see, the word alone is not enough. Any volunteers?"

Tracey hesitantly stepped forward.

"Right, Tracey," said Lupin. "First things first: what would you say is the thing that frightens you most in the world?"

"Storms, sir."

Lupin looked thoughtful. "Storms... yes, they can be quite scary. Is it the storm itself that scares you?"

Tracey shook her head. "It gets very dark."

Well, Harry thought, that explained why she often slept with a light on according to her dormmates.

"Hm... how could you make it less scary?" Lupin asked.

"By imagining a rainbow or the sun or some other bright object."

"I'll tell you what. When the Boggart bursts out of this wardrobe, Tracey, and sees you, it will assume the form of thunderclouds," said Lupin. "And you will raise your wand— thus— and cry 'Riddikulus'— and concentrate hard on either one of your suggestions. If all goes well, that storm will be replaced."

He turned back to the class. "If Tracey is successful, the Boggart is likely to shift his attention to each of us in turn. I would like all of you to take a moment now to think of the thing that scares you most, and imagine how you might force it to look comical..."

The room went quiet. Harry tried to think about what he feared most. He knew most people might think Voldemort, but he was his soulmate. Well, not Voldemort technically— it was Tom Riddle that Lady Magic had linked him with, and Harry didn't consider them the same person. He still hadn't figured his Boggart out when Lupin spoke. "Everyone ready?"

"Tracey, we're going to back away," said Lupin. "Let you have a clear field, all right? I'll call the next person forward... Everyone back, now, so Tracey can get a clear shot—"

They all retreated, backed against the walls, leaving Tracey alone in front of the wardrobe.

"On the count of three, Tracey," said Lupin, who was pointing his own wand at the handle of the wardrobe. "One— two— three— now!"

A single dark gray cloud appeared in the air, lightning crackling within it. Thunder boomed loudly. Tracey pointed her wand at it. "Riddikulus!"

The thundercloud split and a rainbow appeared, seeming to quite literally kick the cloud away. The class laughed, and Tracey grinned.

"Daphne! Forward!" Lupin shouted.

The Boggart rounded on her, morphing into a giant doll with a creepy grin. "Riddikulus!"

The doll transformed into a more innocent version of itself, skipping around without a care in the world.

"Blaise!"

With a crack, the doll became a large, hissing snake until— "Riddikulus!"— and it changed into a mouse— then an eyeball.

"It's confused!" Lupin said. "We're getting there! Theodore!"

Crack! A screeching banshee. "Riddikulus!" The banshee lost her voice.

Harry raised his wand, but Lupin jumped in front of him. Crack! A wand of fifteen inches hung in the air. "Riddikulus!"

Crack!

"Forward, Tracey, and finish him off!" Lupin said.

The thundercloud came back, but Tracey stepped forward, more confidently than before. "Riddikulus!"

The Boggart exploded into a thousand tiny wisps of smoke and was gone.

"Excellent!" cried Lupin as the class broke into applause. "Excellent, Tracey. Well done, everyone... Let me see... five points to Slytherin for every person to tackle the Boggart— ten for Tracey because she did it twice... and five each to Daphne and Harry."

The Slytherins left, all whispering in excited, hushed tones. Harry paused, giving Lupin a concerned look. "You all right, sir?" he asked. He knew he hadn't imagined the stiffening of Lupin's shoulders when the wand had appeared, and he most definitely was not imagining Lupin stiffening now, either.

"Yes, Harry," Lupin said, giving him an unconvincing smile. "Go join your friends."

Harry hesitated before turning away.

"Lupin's not as bad as I thought he'd be," Draco said to Harry as he caught up to the Slytherins. "Too bad we didn't get to go."

"What would your Boggart have been?" Harry teased. "Running out of shower gel?"

Draco huffed. "Shut it, Potter."

"Or maybe being bald," Pansy added, grinning. "You must take more time in the shower than the average girl."

"Not you, too!"

"There's a reason Azure sometimes calls you the Silky Slytherin."

Draco gave Harry a look of horror that had Harry and Pansy bursting into laughing.

Chapter Text

On Saturday morning after breakfast, Harry was situated in Salazar Slytherin's chamber once more, opening up the diary. Before he could call for Tom, Tom practically jumped out.

"I know where one of my Horcruxes is," he said, face mere inches from Harry's.

"Good morning to you, too," Harry said, leaning back just a bit. "So how did you find the Horcrux?"

"I could feel its presence while in the diary," Tom replied. "It's in the Room of Requirements."

Harry regarded him with a blank stare.

"It's this hidden room located on the seventh floor. To get inside, you have to walk past it three times while thinking of what you need from that room. You know that tapestry, Barnabas the Barmy?"

Harry nodded.

"It's across from that. Come on, I'll show you." With that, Tom disappeared back into the diary.

 

 

 

True to Tom's words, a door appeared after Harry paced in front of it three times, thinking, I need to find a Horcrux. He had felt a bit silly but pushed it aside when it worked.

"You felt the Horcrux here?" Harry said as Tom popped back out again.

"Yes, follow me."

Tom took off at a power walk, and Harry had to practically run to catch up with him. "Can you slow down?"

"I can," Tom replied, proceeding to take longer strides. His lip twitched as Harry huffed and ran forward to overtake Tom. Tom merely grabbed his arm, pulled him behind, and continued walking. Harry glared at him but gave up.

"There it is." Tom pointed to a discolored old tiara.

Harry picked it up, turning it over in his hand. "Ravenclaw," he murmured, recognizing the quote etched in its surface: Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure. "Is there a reason you would have chosen something from Rowena Ravenclaw?" he asked Tom.

Tom pondered over this. "I've always had a liking to the Founders' items."

"Like the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw," Harry said, looking at the tiara. "What other items do the Founders have?"

"Hufflepuff's Cup, the Sword of Gryffindor, Slytherin's Locket," Tom said. "But I couldn't feel anything here except for the diadem."

"Which most likely means they're all outside of the school. Great. I doubt I’d be able to sneak out during Hogsmeade. What am I supposed to do, get a teacher to do it for me?"

He had grumbled the last sentence, but Tom looked like he was considering it. "Professor Snape trusts you, doesn't he?"

"I'm pretty sure I scared him shitless back in first year," Harry grumbled. Then again, he had kept an eye out for him and took points whenever Ginny stalled him or someone said something bad about Harry. In fact, he was doing it again, although Ginny wasn't being quite as creepy as she was the previous year. "What? You think we should tell him?"

"Why not? You saw it for yourself; he's marked. I doubt he'd be against you anyway if you told him about our esteemed Headmaster."

"Never use the words esteemed and Headmaster in the same sentence," Harry said seriously. "Fine, I'll do it. Get back in the diary, butthead."

Tom sent him a deadpanned stare before disappearing.

"For such a terrifying Dark Lord, you are extremely sensitive," Harry said. He yelped as the diary grew hot. "Only proving my point, Tommy-boy!"

 

 

 

"Come in!" Snape said, not looking up. It was probably Dumbledore, here to remind him yet again that he needed to be nicer to Lupin. As if he’d be nice to the man who nearly killed him as a student, even if he hadn’t been aware of what he was doing.

He turned around, eyes slightly wide as he heard soft hissing. "Mr. Potter, I certainly did not expect to see you here on this fine day." Normally, he’d be with Draco and Pansy, with Tracey occasionally tagging along.

"Neither did I, sir," Harry said, putting his wand away once he was satisfied the wards were up.

Snape gestured for him to sit down, waiting for him to speak.

“Remember the Chamber fiasco and me saving Ginerva?"

"Yes."

"Well, I omitted some details. Here's the diary." Harry tossed it onto the desk.

Snape stared at it in alarm. "Why are you carrying that around with you?" he demanded, standing up with his wand tightly clutched in his hand.

"Calm down, sir," an unfamiliar voice drawled.

Snape gaped as a tall, black-haired boy materialized out of the diary, taking the seat next to Harry. "Who are you?"

"Tom Riddle, but you may know me better as Voldemort, the Dark Lord, You-Know-Who, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named... how many names do I have right now?"

"Well, let's see," Harry piped up helpfully, "we have Tomling, Tommy, Tommy-boy—"

"That was a rhetorical question, Harry," Tom interrupted him.

"Let's not forget the beauty that is Tomalongadingdong," Harry went on, counting on his fingers. "That was pretty hilarious."

"Harry," Tom warned.

"Oh, what about that other one Azure made up? Mr. Tom, a d—"

Tom clapped his hand over Harry's mouth, face turning slightly pink. "Not. Here."

Snape wondered if he had hit his head as he watched "Voldemort" banter and blush— actually blush!— like a normal teenager. "You're the Dark Lord," he stammered, reclaiming his seat.

"Would-be Dark Lord," Tom corrected him, wiping his hand on his robes— Harry had licked it, the nasty little shit. "That title goes to the mad guy running around."

"Mr. Potter," Snape said in a low voice, "explain. Now."

So Harry did, starting from his first trip to Gringotts and leading on to telling Tom about their bond. Then came the Horcruxes. "Tommy here thought it would be a good idea to split his soul, hence the diary." He gestured to the book. "He ended up making more— which is stupid if you ask me—"

"No one asked."

"— and so now we're trying to gather them all up," Harry continued, flipping Tom off. "Unfortunately, only one is at Hogwarts as far as we are aware. We need help getting the others."

"And that help is me,” Snape stated shrewdly.

"Yep. If not, we'll figure something out. I mean, with Dumbledore here, it's too risky for me to sneak out."

"What does Dumbledore have anything to do with this?" Snape had known that Harry had no particular love for the Headmaster, but the way he was speaking about him suggested something deeper.

Harry's face darkened. "He put blocks and compulsions on me," he growled. "He knew I was Tom's soulmate, and that's why he wanted Voldemort to come after me."

As Snape opened his mouth to deny it, Harry added sharply, "Don't waste oxygen, Professor. We need it to breathe.”

Snape’s jaw snapped shut, too taken aback to think of reprimanding Harry for his words. "Why?" he said weakly. “Why would he do such a thing?”

"Power, probably," Tom said. "He already defeated one Dark wizard, Grindelwald. Why not create another and defeat him for further glory?"

“I have a feeling he put compulsions on you as well," Harry said, looking Snape over. "You should go to Gringotts to get that checked out before we proceed."

"And what exactly would we proceed on to?"

"As you had already guessed, we need your help collecting the Horcruxes and bringing them here so we can use them to get Tom's body back. Will you help us?"

"Is there anything I get out of it?" Snape said, ever the Slytherin despite his shock.

"We'll bring you down to Salazar Slytherin's library," Harry replied.

Snape's eyes gleamed but he still didn't budge.

"He has a potion lab there, too," Tom added.

"Deal."

Harry glared at a smug Tom. "You should have said that first."

"Shut it, dildo lover."

Tom hissed, sounding eerily like his future self, before going back into the diary.

Snape groaned. "You two are going to send me to an early grave."

"Get used to it," Harry said unsympathetically, putting the diary back into his robes. “At least you don’t have to worry about him jumping out and scaring you shitless in the middle of the night.”

Snape almost asked what he meant, then decided it was probably best if he didn’t know. He watched Harry leave and rubbed his face, feeling very out of place. One would think that this powerful couple— especially the would-be Dark Lord— would have more decorum. Apparently not.

Chapter Text

Snape's dot moved toward one of the entrances to Hogwarts before disappearing. Harry nodded in satisfaction and stood up, intent on going down to the Chamber for a bit. Most of the Slytherins were out of the common room, either in the library or in classes at this time.

"And where do you think you're going?"

Key word: most.

'Busted,' Azure sang as Harry slowly turned to face his friends. Pansy had her arms folded, while Draco leaned against the wall in feigned nonchalance.

"Out."

"Obviously," Draco drawled, rolling his eyes. "But where?"

"Over five feet away from the dungeon?" Harry said.

"Harry," Pansy said exasperatedly, lowering her arms. "Come on, tell us. You just seem to disappear into thin air these days."

"Hey, what's that?" Draco asked, catching sight of the diary. Before Harry could do anything, the blonde had grabbed it and was flipping through it. "There's nothing written in here," he said, puzzled. He gasped as words suddenly appeared on the page and dropped the diary.

Harry picked it up and snorted at what Tom wrote: "Unhand me, you tiny blonde fucker."

"Who the hell is that?" Draco demanded, staring at the diary as if it were about to explode.

Harry looked around. No one else was hanging out near them. "I was down in the Chamber of Secrets," he admitted.

Pansy tilted her head. "What in the name of Merlin were you doing in there?"

"Training. There's this room that's perfect for dueling and another for potions."

"And you didn't tell us sooner?" Pansy demanded.

Draco nodded. "Yeah, we could have all gone down."

Harry made his decision. "Fine, let's go."

"Now?" Pansy and Draco chorused.

"Are you complaining?"

"No."

 

 

 

His friends stared around the Chamber with wide eyes. Pansy spoke first.

"You've been sneaking down here all this time?"

"Mhm."

"To train?"

"Yes."

"Wow." Pansy nudged Draco. "Isn't this great?"

"Yeah," Draco rasped. He cleared his throat. "Amazing." He tore his gaze away and glanced at the diary again. "You didn't tell me who was writing in that thing."

He jumped back as Tom stepped out of the diary. "It's me, you tiny blonde fucker."

"Who's that?" Draco demanded, looking torn between indignation at the nickname and shock at the sight of him. To make matters worse, Azure was going around him, hissing in delight.

'Tiny blonde fucker, tiny blonde fucker,' she was saying merrily.

"He's hot," Pansy declared fearlessly. She raised an eyebrow at Harry's glare. "Oh, no need to stick your wand up your arse, Harry. You're thinking the same thing."

Harry notably didn't deny this, only let out a long sigh. "What I'm about to tell you cannot be shared with anyone else. "What do you know about soul bonds?"

"They're very rare," Draco said. "And to interfere would mean to go against her, which is one of the worst things you can do."

Pansy nodded. "Also, contrary to popular belief, it's not always romantic or sexual. It's often based off of magical compatibility." She looked at Tom. "So you and Harry are soulmates, I presume?"

"We are," Tom said.

"But who are you?"

"His name is Tom Riddle," Harry said, "also known as Tomling, Tommy, Tomalonga—"

"Not this again!" Tom groaned. "You may be more familiar with the title Lord Voldemort."

"Say what?" Draco looked like he was about to faint.

"Isn't the Dark Lord a— you know— an adult?" Pansy asked.

"Well, that's where things get complicated," Harry said, sitting down.

The other Slytherins exchanged baffled looks before also sitting down. "So when did Voldy lose his hot looks?" Pansy asked.

"And his nose?" Draco added, averting his gaze when Tom whipped around and scowled fiercely.

"When he became insane as fuck," Harry replied.

Tom rolled his eyes. "Get a move on, Harry."

"All right, all right. So as you have figured out, he and I are soulmates. I found out when I first went to Gringotts."

"And I found out after this was made about fifty years ago," Tom told them, gesturing toward the diary.

"But how are you still a kid?" Draco wondered.

"There was a ritual I performed," Tom said. "It split my soul and somehow seemed to free me from all the shit Dumbledore put me under."

"Dumbledore?!" Draco and Pansy exclaimed.

"But if all that was fifty-some odd years ago, then that means Dumbledore has been doing this since..." Pansy trailed off, looking like she was about to lose her lunch.

"Practically as long as he has held some kind of power," Harry finished for her.

"Do you think your parents knew?" Draco asked.

"Sirius said they did, which is most likely why Dumbledore took measures to make sure they were dead."

"Sirius? As in Sirius Black?" Pansy said. "But he led the Dark Lord to your parents! Isn't he on Dumbledore's side?"

"No, he was framed," Harry told her, not elaborating. "As for Professor Lupin, I'm unsure. He should be."

"Have Dobby or Azure keep an eye on him," Draco suggested.

"Good idea," Harry said, mentally berating himself for not thinking of that before. "Dobby!"

The house-elf popped into view. "What can Dobby do for Master Harry?"

"We think Lupin may be under Dumbledore's influence. Keep an eye out but don't be caught."

"Yes, Master Harry." He popped out of sight.

"You should have told us sooner," Pansy said. "We could all train down here."

"Yeah, especially considering we don't know how long Lupin will be teaching," Draco added.

Tom stood up. "You're here now, get your wands out."

The third years jumped up at once, eyes alight.

 

 

 

Later that evening, Harry spotted Professor Snape back in his office. "So? How did it go?" he asked after tossing up the wards.

"It went just how I expected," Snape said grimly. His feelings toward James and his group and Gryffindors in general had been magnified greatly, and Dumbledore used key words like Lily to make sure he did as was expected. His initial disdain of anything Potter related had clashed with his growing respect for Harry, making it very difficult to not lash out in the first two years.

Harry nodded. "Well, a deal's a deal. Do you want to see Salazar Slytherin's library?"

Snape perked up. "Yes."

"Great." Harry's eyes gleamed. "Come on. Tom's waiting for us." He pulled out his Invisibility Cloak. "Let's go."

Snape had to crouch down slightly to get underneath and let him take the lead.

"A girl's bathroom?" he said skeptically as they reached it.

"Apparently so." Harry softly hissed out the password. 'Stairs,' he added, and the smooth slide transformed. "Here we go."

They walked down and reached the chamber that led to the library.

"Athanasia is somewhere else in the chamber, so you don't have to worry about her."

"Athanasia?"

"The Basilisk," Harry said casually.

"Basilisk?" Snape thought he sounded like an idiot for echoing everything Harry said, but after the confirmation that Dumbledore had altered his state of mind and the removal of the compulsions, he was not feeling like himself at all.

"She won't hurt us. Plus, she has an extra set of eyelids to prevent killing anyone accidentally." Harry walked up to the statue and hissed again. "Shall we go?"

Snape had to force himself not to race inside. He walked in, staring at the large room.

"The potion lab is in there," Tom said, lazily pointing behind him. He was petting Azure, who was hissing in pleasure. "There are also ingredients inside, magically preserved for centuries."

"Here," Harry said, holding out a book to Snape. "I looked through it a bit. There's a lot of potions that I bet you'd love to try."

Feeling dazed, Snape took the book and sat down. "Thank you," he said hoarsely.

"You're welcome, Professor," Harry said, smiling at him as he took a seat next to Tom.

"When we're not in class, you can call me Severus," Snape said. "But no ridiculous nicknames."

"Too late for that," Harry said. "Azure already calls you Sevvie."

Severus glared down at the snake, who stared back innocently. With a very resigned eye roll, he opened the book and began reading.

Moments later, he was quite literally fidgeting until he couldn't take it anymore and all but bolted into the potions lab. Screw his dignity, he had potions to experiment with.

"He'll be in there for a while," Harry predicted. He grinned as Tom let out a short laugh.

Chapter Text

Defense Against the Dark Arts had quickly become everyone's favorite class. Lupin brought in Red Caps and Kappas to study, and they each proved to be just as intriguing as Boggarts.

The only person who didn't seem to like Lupin was Snape. The potions professor was noticeably more surly thanks to the Gryffindors' Boggart lesson. It had taken on his form for Neville, and to counter it, Neville had it dress in his grandmother's clothes. Harry had teased his professor, telling him he bet Snape looked good in a lace-trimmed dress and a vulture hat.

"You know, a handbag might be useful to carry potions," he added cheerfully. "Although I don't think red would be a good color on you. Too Gryffindor-ish."

"Three points from Slytherin," Snape snapped. To his annoyance, the brat merely grinned and sauntered off.

Harry's mood dropped soon after, though, when Snape approached him the morning of the first Hogsmeade weekend. "What do you mean I can't go?" he protested.

"The Headmaster—" Snape sneered at this— "thought it would be safer if you remained here for Hogsmeade."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that the Headmaster cares for my safety," Harry replied.

"We'll bring you a treat, okay?" Draco suggested when Harry told them to go off without him.

Harry nodded, aware of Ron's smug expression a few feet away.

The redhead deliberately knocked into him as he and Hermione passed. "I can't wait to try out all those Honeydukes sweets," he said loudly.

"I can't wait to see your teeth rotting from all those Honeydukes sweets," Harry said just as loudly, not sparing the other boy a look. If he had, he would have seen Ron's red face as he tried to lunge at him. Only Hermione grabbing onto his robes stopped him from starting a physical fight.

"Ten points from Gryffindor for almost starting a fight," Snape said as he strode by.

"Greasy git," Ron muttered.

"That'll be another five points."

Harry rolled his eyes as Ron continued to grumble nasty words under his breath as Hermione dragged him away. Honestly, some people just wouldn't change. Pretty soon, he was alone in the entrance.

Feeling dispirited, Harry wandered up toward the Owlery. He hadn't seen Hedwig much since arriving and thought maybe a visit would cheer them both up.

"Harry?"

Harry doubled back to see Professor Lupin looking around his office door.

"What are you doing?" he asked. "Where are Draco and Pansy?"

"Hogsmeade," Harry said.

"Ah. Why don't you come in? I've just taken delivery of a Grindylow for our next lesson."

Curious, Harry walked in. A large tank stood in the corner of the office with a sickly green creature inside. It was pulling faces and flexing its fingers as Lupin approached it.

"Water demon," he said. "We shouldn't have much difficulty with him, not after the Kappas. The trick is to break his grip. You notice the abnormally long fingers? Strong, but very brittle."

The Grindylow bared its teeth and buried itself in the weeds.

"Cup of tea?" Lupin said, looking around for his kettle. "I was just thinking of making one."

"Sure."

Harry waited patiently as Lupin filled a chipped mug and handed it over.

"Anything worrying you, Harry?" he said, taking a sip from his own mug.

There were many things worrying Harry, but he settled with something more obvious. "Why did you stop me during the Boggart lesson?"

Lupin raised his eyebrows. "I would have thought that was obvious, Harry."

"Well, it's not," Harry replied, slightly taken aback at the lack of denial.

"I believed that if the Boggart faced you, it would assume the shape of Lord Voldemort. Clearly, I was wrong," Lupin said. "Regardless, it wouldn't have been a good idea for Lord Voldemort to materialize in the staffroom. I imagined that people would panic."

"I actually thought about the Dementors."

"I see," said Lupin thoughtfully. "Well, well... I'm impressed. " He smiled slightly at the look of surprise on Harry's face. "That suggests that what you fear most of all is— fear. Very wise, Harry."

Harry nodded absentmindedly and drank some more tea.

"So you've been thinking that I didn't believe you capable of fighting the Boggart?"

"Something like that," Harry said. In all honesty, he hadn't given it much thought.

Someone knocked on the door. "Come in!" Lupin called.

Professor Snape came in, holding a smoking goblet.

"Ah, Severus," said Lupin, smiling. "Thanks very much. Could you leave it here on the desk for me?"

Snape set down the smoking goblet, his eyes wandering between Harry and Lupin.

"I was just showing Harry my Grindylow," said Lupin pleasantly, pointing at the tank.

"Fascinating," said Snape, without looking at it. "You should drink that directly."

"Yes, Yes, I will," said Lupin.

"I made an entire cauldronful," Snape continued. "If you need more."

"I should probably have some again tomorrow. Thanks very much, Severus."

"Not at all," said Snape before leaving.

Harry looked at the goblet curiously.

"Professor Snape has very kindly concocted a potion for me," Lupin said. "I have never been much of a potion-brewer and this one is particularly complex." He picked up the goblet and sniffed it. "Pity sugar makes it useless," he added, taking a sip and shuddering.

Harry nodded a bit. So this was the Wolfsbane potion werewolves drank before the full moon. "He is an excellent potions master," he said.

"I agree."

Harry set his empty teacup down. "That was lovely. Thanks for having me."

"See you at the feast later."

 

 

 

Harry looked up at Lupin as he chatted with Professor Flitwick. Was he on Dumbledore's side or not? he continued to wonder.

So far, Dobby had not found anything of suspicion regarding the teacher, but he agreed that there was something up with him. The hyper elf had grown to like Lupin, saying that he was very polite and almost always had a witty response ready. He also seemed to be the only teacher who managed to evade the Weasley twins' pranks.

Harry managed to push his concerns to the back of his mind for the time being and concentrated on the feast. Draco and Pansy had brought back some sweets they thought Harry might like. Personally, Harry found himself enjoying the creamy chunks of nougat and the pink coconut ice.

The Slytherins left for the dungeons, still chattering amongst themselves. They had barely gotten settled when Professor Snape was calling them back to the Great Hall.

"What's going on?" Tracey asked worriedly, falling into step beside him.

Harry shrugged, just as clueless as she was.

Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw looked confused as well, but the Gryffindors looked downright frightened.

"The teachers and I need to conduct a thorough search of the castle," Professor Dumbledore told them as Professors McGonagall and Flitwick closed all doors into the hall. "I'm afraid that, for your own safety, you will have to spend the night here. I want the prefects to stand guard over the entrances to the hall and I am leaving the Head Boy and Girl in charge. Any disturbance should be reported to me immediately," he added to Percy, who was looking immensely proud and important. "Send word with one of the ghosts."

Professor Dumbledore paused, about to leave the hall, and said, "Oh, yes, you'll be needing..."

He waved his wand twice, once to push the tables against the wall, another to conjure sleeping bags. "Sleep well," he said.

The Gryffindors immediately began passing on the news, raising alarm that Sirius Black had been in the castle.

"I wonder how he broke in," Draco said.

"Maybe he knows how to Apparate," said a Ravenclaw a few feet away, "Just appear out of thin air, you know."

"Disguised himself, probably," said a Hufflepuff fifth year.

"He could've flown in," suggested Dean Thomas.

"You can't Apparate in Hogwarts," Harry pointed out.

"You can't?" the Ravenclaw asked.

"It's in Hogwarts, A History," Hermione butted in loftily. "The castle's protected by more than walls, you know. There are all sorts of enchantments on it, to stop people entering by stealth. And I'd like to see the disguise that could fool those Dementors. They're guarding every single entrance to the grounds. They'd have seen him fly in too. And Filch knows all the secret passages, they'll have them covered..."

Merlin, did she ever shut up? Harry mentally thanked Percy when he spoke up. "The lights are going out now! I want everyone in their sleeping bags and no more talking!"

The candles went out, leaving only the lights of the ghosts that drifted about and the ceiling.

Harry slipped into an uneasy sleep. A few hours later, he was awoken by Snape's voice.

"It seems— almost impossible— that Black could have entered the school without inside help. I did express my concerns when you appointed—"

"I do not believe a single person inside this castle would have helped Black enter it," Dumbledore interrupted him.

"Didn't they want to help, sir?" That was Percy speaking.

"Oh yes," the Headmaster said. "But I'm afraid no Dementor will cross the threshold of this castle while I am Headmaster."

Dumbledore left the hall quietly, leaving a slightly abashed Percy and a resentful Snape behind.

Chapter Text

Sirius Black was the main topic for the next few days. Harry found it a bit irritating that he was being watched over like a helpless child. Teachers found excuses to walk along corridors with him.

Even with the supposed threat of Sirius hanging over their heads, the first Quidditch match was still being held. Draco claimed he felt too ill to play, though Harry (and the Gryffindor team) knew he just didn't want to play in the storm.

Tracey, who was still slightly wary about storms, was torn between wanting to watch the match and staying inside. Harry suggested that they took the time to catch up on homework, which she agreed.

So they were completely fine, dry and unshaken, when Draco came to inform them of Gryffindor's defeat as boastfully as if it had been them. Then he sobered up and explained that the Dementors had been attracted by the crowd, scaring everyone. Luckily, no one was hurt, and everyone had some chocolate to counter the depression the Dementors brought with them.

Lupin, who had missed the previous lesson due to the full moon, looked more ragged and gaunt, robes hanging loosely on his skinny frame. Nevertheless, he smiled at the class as he greeted them and showed them a Hinkypunk, which looked relatively harmless.

"Wait a moment, Harry," Lupin called as the bell rang. "I'd like a word."

Harry waited until everyone was gone.

"I heard you and Tracey were in the library during the match," Lupin said.

"We were. Good thing, too. All those Dementors..." Harry shivered a little just thinking about them.

"Yes. Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself— soul-less and evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

"Why did they show up?"

"They're getting hungry," said Lupin coolly, shutting his briefcase with a snap. "Dumbledore won't let them into the school, so their supply of human prey has dried up... I don't think they could resist the large crowd around the Quidditch field. All that excitement... emotions running high... it was their idea of a feast."

"Still can't believe Black made it out of Azkaban with those things flying about," Harry said.

Lupin looked up sharply, his briefcase sliding from the desk. He stooped to pick it up quickly.

"Yes," he said, straightening up, "Black must have found a way to fight them. I wouldn't have believed it possible... Dementors are supposed to drain a wizard of his powers if he is left with them too long..."

Lupin paused, but Harry didn't have anything else to add. "I believe it is important for you to learn how to fight them off."

"You mean the Patronus Charm? You're not suggesting we should bring a Dementor in to practice on?" Harry said, alarmed.

"No, of course not. But you told me that you were thinking of one during our Boggart lesson. If I can find one, maybe you can practice on it."

Harry pondered over the pros and cons. This would be a good opportunity for him to get to know Lupin more in person. "Why not? When should we do it?"

"I'm afraid it won't be until next term. I have a lot to do before the holidays. I chose a very inconvenient time to fall ill."

Harry nodded. I bet, he thought as he left.

 

 

 

On the last weekend of the term, it was announced that there would be another Hogsmeade trip. For once, Harry didn't mind being unable to go. He just spent the time in the Chamber practicing spells with his friends.

Harry and Tom had started teaching them basic words in Parseltongue in case they wanted to come down to the Chamber in their own free time.

"It's a shame it's considered dark in the wizarding world," Pansy remarked as evening fell.

"Hypocritical, too," Draco agreed. "They're scared of it, yet they wish they knew how to speak it."

Harry sighed ruefully. "Well, that's human nature for you." Even back in his second year, when some students suspected he was behind the petrifications, he would overhear them talking about how cool it would be to speak to snakes.

"You coming?" Pansy said. "Dinner will be starting soon."

"In a moment. I'll meet you there," Harry replied.

She and Draco waved as they left the chamber.

"Any news on Black?" Tom asked once they were out of earshot.

Harry nodded. "Dobby said that he's in the Shrieking Shack. I was going to go see him after dinner."

"Don't rush," Tom said. "You've been on your feet all day. Sit down."

Before Harry could argue, Tom had pulled him into his lap on the couch. Harry grunted in surprise but didn't try to fight his way free. "Hey, Tom?"

"Hm?"

 

"Do you ever change in the diary? Or have you been wearing the same robes since the Horcrux was first made?"

Tom looked down at his mate in exasperation, only to be met with that impish expression Harry often wore when he was in a good mood. "Out of all the things you could've asked, that's what you go with?"

"Hey, it’s a valid question!" Harry protested. He leaned in and sniffed Tom's robes. "Can't smell anything bad. Actually, I can’t smell anything at all."

"I'm a memory. While you can interact with me, I haven't taken enough of Ginny's soul to become completely human." And that irked him somewhat, but Harry had not wanted him to kill the foolish Gryffindor, and Tom could not say no.

Harry had cringed at the mention of Ginny. "Don't speak of her here. She gives me the creeps."

Tom scowled. "What did she do?" As always, even the mere thought of her trying to get close to his Harry fueled his anger.

"What doesn't she do?" Harry countered. "She constantly follows me, although Severus is usually there to chase her away, she stares at me when she thinks I'm not looking, and if Fred and George are anything to go by, she will be writing another singing valentine in February."

"Oh, that." Tom grimaced.

Harry raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"

"I may have helped her write the first one."

Harry and Azure exchanged looks before bursting into laughter. The snake rolled onto her back, letting out small hisses of amusement, and began singing her version of the Singing in a Tree song.

"It's not funny," Tom muttered through gritted teeth. "I was trying to get her to shut up." He didn’t think she’d actually give it to Harry.

"So you like my eyes that are green as a fresh pickled toad?" Harry said, batting his eyelashes.

'And his hair as dark as a blackboard?' Azure added. 'As opposed to a whiteboard or a grayboard or a brownboard or a redboard—"

"And you think I'm truly divine?" Harry finished. "Tom, you are so sweet."

Tom would do anything right now to shut them up. Instead, he disappeared into the diary. But to his great annoyance, Harry began writing in it.

"His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,

His hair is as dark as a blackboard.

I wish he was mine, he's truly divine,

the hero who conquered the Dark Lord."

"How the hell do you remember it?" Tom demanded.

"Kind of hard not to memorize it when you have a snake singing it constantly forte next week and a half," Harry replied, grinning cheerfully. The grin turned into an offended frown when Tom scrawled what was clearly a hand flipping him off. "Rude."

He turned to Azure, who was still singing. 'The nerve of some people, huh?'

Azure nodded. 'Nerve, nerve, nerve.'

Still snickering, Harry stood up. "Let's go, Azure. I'm going to meet up with Sirius about dinner."

'Yay, black doggy!' Azure wrapped herself over Harry's shoulders.

Chapter Text

Sirius nearly leapt out of his skin when he heard the dinstinctive pop. His head shot up, fearful that Dumbledore had somehow found him, only to grin when he saw who it was. "Harry! How have you been?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Harry replied.

"You didn't answer my question."

"I'm fine, Sirius." He looked around the room. "Nice place you got here," he remarked, looking around at the dust-covered room. The furniture, he noted, was broken. Ghosts definitely didn't do that.

"Yeah, well, it worked in our favor."

"Our?" Harry said, turning back to his godfather with a raised eyebrow.

"You know I'm an Animagus," Sirius began to explain. "Well, I didn't become one for the heck of it. Your father, Pettigrew, and I all became one to help Remus with his transformations."

"What was my father's?" Harry asked.

"A stag." Sirius smiled sadly, lost in his memories. "That's why we called him Prongs."

'What a coincidence,' Azure commented as Harry stiffened in realization. 'It's like Prongs from the Marauder's Map— oh.'

Harry began fishing around inside his bag. "I'm pretty sure this is familiar to you," he said, holding out the map.

The widening of Sirius' eyes confirmed this. "Where did you get that?"

"Fred and George Weasley had it," Harry replied. He removed his wand. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

The now familiar words appeared on the parchment. Sirius chuckled wryly. "Same old map," he said fondly.

"So my dad was Prongs, and I'm guessing Lupin is Moony," Harry said. "Which one are you?"

"Padfoot. Which leaves Pettigrew as—"

"Wormtail," Harry finished unenthusiastically. "When you all made the map, did you do something to it? Because I can't see Lupin or Pettigrew anywhere."

Sirius nodded. "Only us four can see each other's names. But we can add people. Here, give me your hand."

Harry extended his right hand. Sirius took it and pressed it to the map. Warmth shot through Harry as Sirius concentrated on his magic. A moment later, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew appeared on the map.

"Wicked," Harry whispered.

'I still can't see,' Azure whined. 'Where's the rat?'

'In the Gryffindor dorm,' Harry replied, staring hard at the name as if he could somehow inflict pain through the map. Sirius was also glaring at Pettigrew's name, which was mingled with Ron's.

Professor Lupin was moving about in his office in an agitated way. Harry made a mental note to ask Dobby what was wrong with him.

"You still don't know whose side Remus is on?" Sirius asked.

Harry shook his head. "No, but Dobby is keeping an eye out," he told him.

"That's good," Sirius said, somewhat appeased.

"Sirius, are you sure Lupin would be on our side? I mean, quite a bit of time had passed since you last saw him." And if there was one thing Dumbledore was good at, it was manipulating others.

"I doubt he would change allegiances on his own accord," Sirius argued. "And since our fifth year, whatever trust he may have had in the Headmaster had gone for good."

"What happened in your fifth year?"

Sirius ran a hand through his long, dark hair. "That's the thing, Harry. I don't know! I mean, I do, but it's all confusing. It was as if I were a completely different person."

"What did you do?"

"I nearly got Snape killed."

Whatever Harry had been expecting, that was not it. "You what? How?"

"I lured him down here on the night of the full moon. You finish the puzzle." Bitterness and guilt tinged his voice.

Harry gaped at him for several seconds. "Why?"

"Because something in my brain thought it would be a good idea to traumatize the poor kid," Sirius said, eyes closed in shame.

"How did Severus escape?" And without being turned in the process?

"James saved him. Of course, Snape hated us even more after that, not that I can blame him."

Harry took a moment to collect his thoughts. "You said you felt like a completely different person?"

"Yes. I think we both know the answer as to why."

"What would that have accomplished, though?" Harry wondered, struggling to find a reason, regardless of how twisted it may be.

"If Snape had died, then it would have been one less person on Voldemort's side," Sirius said grimly. "But since he lived, that didn't happen. He was already showing signs of being drawn to Voldemort's side, and after that night, it just got worse." He sighed. "Lily tried to persuade him to stop, but he never listened. Not fully."

"Severus had been under compulsions," Harry told him. "He went to Gringotts a while ago and was found to have been made to hate Gryffindors more than the average Slytherin."

"You're friends with Snape?" Sirius asked, but there was no judgement in his tone.

"Yes. He knows about Tom, although I have yet to tell him about you."

"You never did say how you found out."

"Through Gringotts," Harry explained. "Same as my parents. But it wasn't until last year that I met him."

He removed the diary from his robes. "Come out, dildo lover. You wanted to meet Sirius."

A very disgruntled Tom stepped out of the diary and scowled. "How many times do I have to tell you to not call me that?"

"Well, it didn't work the first eight times," Harry said thoughtfully. "Maybe you should try for a ninth."

Tom raised his head toward the ceiling as if to say "Why me?" Then he looked at Sirius, who had not stopped gaping since Tom had appeared. "Shut your mouth, Black, before you attract flies."

Sirius blinked several times. "How did you— what is— why?"

"Have you heard of Horcruxes?" Harry asked.

"Living with my kind of family, you get to know about much of the Dark Arts," Sirius said.

"Great, that means I don't have to explain what they are. Long story short, Tom made some, lost his sanity, his handsome looks— and most tragically— his nose, and became Voldemort. What you're seeing here is his first Horcrux."

Sirius looked between Tom and the diary. "That was a stupid move."

"Thank you!" Harry exclaimed.

"Yes, thanks," Tom said more sarcastically. "I've already heard this little shit tell me that. Countless times."

"And I'm about to tell you gain. That was a stupid move, Tomling," Harry said, nodding at him with a very solemn expression on his face.

Tom looked as if he wanted to scream but settled for turning his back to Harry. Harry was positive he saw a pout forming on Tom's lips.

Sirius barked out a laugh. "I can see why you two were deemed soulmates."

"So do I," Harry said.

"I don't," Tom groused at the same time.

"Oh, Tom, you know you love me," Harry cooed, reaching up to stroke Tom's cheek affectionately. "Anyway, on to more serious matters," he went on to Sirius. "Your little break-in at the Gryffindor dorm. You couldn't have picked a better time to break in, it being Halloween and all that."

"You know why I did," Sirius growled.

"Yeah, but why risk it?"

"Because while I'm on the run, I'm basically useless," Sirius said bitterly.

"You're not useless, you're just an idiot." Harry didn't acknowledge the indignant huff from the older man.

"My way was awesome," Sirius grumbled, stung.

"It really wasn't. What do you think, Tom?" Harry asked.

"That was a stupid move," he said.

"Of course you'd agree with your boyfriend," Sirius grumbled.

"Duh," was the intelligent response from the Dark Lord. "Come on, Harry. You need to get to bed."

"All right. Night, Sirius."

“Good night, pup.”

Chapter Text

 

Both Draco and Pansy went home for the holiday, so Harry spent most of his time down in the Chamber or hanging out with Tracey. Unlike most of the other girls in their year, Tracey didn't have much to say, preferring to work alone or with Harry. Unfortunately, the latter choice often meant Ron and Hermione butting in an attempt to join. Hermione still hadn't apologized for ruining Tracey's essay back in first year, not that anyone expected her to.

"Have you noticed how strange Professor Lupin's been acting?" she asked Wednesday morning during breakfast.

Harry chewed his eggs slowly as he pondered over her words. Dobby had told him that Dumbledore had been speaking to Lupin about bonding with Harry through the Dementor lessons. Harry might've thought Lupin was in with Dumbledore's schemes if it weren't for the fact that, after Dumbledore left, he began pacing the room, looking torn between fear and anger.

"Strange how?" Harry said aloud.

"Well, he just seems more tense. I mean, he missed that one lesson back in November because of the full moon, but that didn't cause this much concern."

"Figured it out, then? About his lycanthropy?"

Tracey shrugged. "It wasn't hard. He was sick the week leading up to full moon, missed the day of and the next couple of said full moon, not to mention, Professor Snape assigned us that essay on werewolves."

Harry hummed in agreement. It was times like this when he wondered how Tracey wasn't a Ravenclaw. "Does that bother you?"

"No. It's not like he asked to be bitten."

No, Harry agreed silently, but he also didn't ask to be used by manipulative Headmasters.

 

 

 

"Hello, Harry Potter." A second year with dirty blonde hair smiled at him as she passed.

"Hello. Luna Lovegood, I believe? Of Ravenclaw?"

"Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure," she replied in a singsong voice. Her smile grew more vacant. "How is your mate doing?"

Harry was taken aback. "Pardon?"

"Your mate. Have you forgotten about him? There are a few Nargles floating around your head."

“How do you—?"

"I have Seen you with him in my dreams. Quite a good-looking young man, is he not?"

"That's an understatement," Harry muttered before he could stop himself.

Luna giggled. "I shall wait for his return to our world," she said as she turned away.

Harry watched her skip off. A Seer? They were very rare, he had read, and could interpret more than just omens in tea leaves like Professor Trelawney. He continued to mull over this as he headed to his dorm.

"So you think it's an understatement that I'm a good-looking young man, hm?"

Harry jumped as the smooth voice sounded directly behind him. "Tom!" he shouted, very thankful that he was the only one in the dorm. "How many times do I have to tell you to not do that?"

"Well, it didn't work the first two times," Tom said, eyes wide in faux innocence. "Maybe you should try for a third."

Harry scowled and turned around to stare at the wall, ignoring Azure, who had fallen off the bed laughing. He absolutely refused to react in any way that would bolster Tom's ego. That failed when Tom leaned forward, lips lightly brushing his ear.

"If it's any consolation," he practically purred, "I think you're a rather good-looking young man, too."

His face flushing profusely, Harry whipped back around to stare at Tom, who had the audacity to wink before going back into his diary.

As always, Azure was greatly entertained by the pair.

 

 

 

The rest of the holiday went by, and before Harry knew it, it was time for his first Patronus lesson with Professor Lupin.

Lupin carried a large case inside the History of Magic classroom and set it down on Professor Binns' desk.

"So," he began, "as you are already aware, the charm I am about to teach you is the Patronus Charm. It is highly advanced magic, well beyond Ordinary Wizarding Level, and even experienced wizards struggle with it. Do you know what it does?"

"It produces a shield against the Dementors," Harry said. "You have to focus on a happy memory."

"Correct. And each one is unique to the wizard that conjures it. The incantation is this: Expecto patronum!"

Harry raised his wand. "Expecto patronum," he said, thinking back to when first stumbled upon Azure.

A wisp of silvery gas whooshed out of the tip. "Did you see that?" he said excitedly,

"Very good," Lupin said, smiling. "Right, then— ready to try it on a Dementor?"

Harry nodded and refocused on Azure.

Lupin opened the case, and a Dementor rose into the air, facing Harry. The lights flickered around them, but Harry paid them no mind. "Expecto patronum! Expecto patronum! Expecto—"

"Not Harry! Not Harry! Please— I'll do anything—"

"Stand aside— stand aside, girl—"

"Harry!"

Harry's eyes snapped open. "Harder than it looks," he said as he sat up.

"It is, which is why these lessons are good," Lupin said. "Not a bad start, Harry. Here." He handed him a chocolate frog. "Eat this before we try again."

Harry took a bite, feeling warmth flooding through his body. "Thanks."

The second try wasn't any different. "I heard my dad this time," he whispered hoarsely.

"You heard James?" Lupin said.

"Yeah..." Harry sat up, wiping his brow. "You knew him, right? Professor Snape mentioned it." But it was Sirius that had told him about James, not that Lupin needed to know that tidbit.

"He was one of my best friends," Lupin replied quietly, but to Harry's disappointment, he didn't expand on that. "Listen, Harry— perhaps we should leave it here for tonight."

"Just one more time," Harry said. "I just haven't found the right memory yet."

Lupin reluctantly agreed and stepped back over to the case. "Ready? Concentrating hard? All right— go!"

"EXPECTO PATRONUM!" Harry bellowed, mind conjuring up the anticipation of getting Tom's body back. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!"

What looked to be the head of a snake burst from his wand, driving the Dementor back.

"Riddikulus!" Lupin said, forcing the Boggart back into the case. "Well done, Harry!"

Harry grinned, pleased with himself.

Lupin seemed to falter slightly as their eyes met, but he moved on so quickly Harry didn't have time to process it.

He handed Harry some more chocolate. "Eat the lot, or Madam Pomfrey will be after my blood."

Harry accepted it but didn't eat any just yet. "Professor, will you tell me about my dad? Snape's told me about my mum, but he didn't know Dad that well."

"Perhaps in our next meeting?" Lupin suggested. "You should rest for a bit."

Harry's shoulders slumped just slightly, although he was a bit confused. Given Dumbledore's instructions on Lupin bonding with Harry, he would have thought Lupin would have jumped at the chance that was quite literally handed to him on a silver platter. "Yes, sir."

He left the room. As soon as the door closed, Lupin groaned and put his head in his hands. "What am I going to do?" With a tired sigh, he grabbed the case and hauled it out, taking it to his office.

Lupin fumbled to get the door opened and stepped inside. He set the case down on his desk and was just about to call it a day when he heard that voice he had grown to fear.

"Hello, Remus."

"Albus," Lupin replied curtly, turning around. He noted the wand that was held loosely in the Headmaster's hand and felt a shiver of foreboding.

 

 

 

"You're telling me that Black is not the cause for your parents' deaths?" Severus felt like grabbing some Firewhisky after hearing this.

Harry nodded. He had come down to Severus' quarters directly after his lesson with Lupin to discuss his worry, but the conversation had turned to Sirius and Pettigrew after a passing remark.

"That traitorous rat had been under our noses the entire time," Severus snarled. His dislike for Pettigrew had never been quite as bad as his dislike for James and Sirius, especially after that night, but now...

His expression was dark, and Harry proceeded with caution. "You're thinking about fifth year, aren't you?"

Severus glanced at him sharply before realizing Black must've told him. "Yes, I am."

"Sirius and I think Dumbledore may have set it all up," Harry told him. "If you had died, no big deal, but you didn't, so he had to make some adjustments to his plans."

"It's possible," Severus said. Thinking back now, without the immediate loathing distracting him from his thoughts, he realized Harry may have a point. It was out of character for even someone as idiotic as Black to do something that could have ended in someone's death.

Adjustments... that was an understatement. He remembered his confusion when he heard that Dumbledore had been the one who vouched for him, removing him from Azkaban. It had been made clear that he didn't really care after Severus' fifth year, so why would he want him out of Azkaban? It was obviously so that he would be of use. Severus let out a bitter huff.

A sudden pop made them both turn around. It was Dobby, but he was not alone.

"Lupin!" Harry exclaimed, kneeling beside the unconscious wizard. He was shaking uncontrollably, and Harry felt panic well up inside him. He had just seen Lupin barely an hour ago, what could have happened in that amount of time?

"Severus, do something!" Harry snapped, seeing the potions master frozen in shock.

 

Chapter Text

 

Severus snapped out of his stupor and summoned a potion. He turned Lupin over and carefully poured it down his throat, massaging it to ensure it went down. Gradually, the shaking ceased.

"Bad Dumby hurt Master Harry's wolf," Dobby said, wringing his hands anxiously.

"Should we wake him?" Harry asked uncertainly as Severus moved Lupin to the couch.

"Not yet," Severus answered, checking Lupin over for any other injuries. "He'll be out for a while. You should leave. Fretting won't speed up the healing process."

"But—"

"Harry," Severus said sternly, "I will stay with him. Go." He looked up and met Harry's gaze. It was a bit unnerving, seeing the raw distress in it as opposed to the blank Slytherin mask he normally wore in public.

Harry reluctantly stood up and headed for the door. "Send Dobby if anything happens," he said, closing the door behind him.

His mind still whirling, Harry headed straight for the Chamber, where he shakily took a seat on the couch.

Tom sat down next to him, a concerned frown crossing his features as he observed his mate. "Harry? What happened?"

"Dumbledore hurt Lupin," Harry said numbly.

Tom's eyes widened. "How badly?" he demanded, hand automatically combing through Harry's hair.

"Pretty badly," Harry replied, immediately beginning to relax under the movement. "Severus is tending to him right now."

Footsteps made him look up. It was his friends, who quietly took a seat opposite of Harry.

"We just saw Professor Snape," Draco told him. "Lupin was with him, but he wouldn't say what happened."

"The Headmaster happened," Harry said shortly. He was beginning to feel drowsy from Tom's fingers as they gently moved over his scalp.

Draco swore under his breath. "Will Lupin speak up? Dumbledore can't get away with this."

"He shouldn't," Harry agreed, "but he'd probably find a way. The fact that Lupin's a werewolf would be enough reason to lessen or even avoid punishment."

And that sickened him. It was like Tracey had stated: It wasn't as if Lupin or any other werewolves asked to be bitten. The Ministry went on about needing to protect its people, yet they turned their backs on those that needed it the most.

Vaguely, he heard Tom say something to the other third years before letting his eyes drift shut.

Only minutes seemed to have passed when Harry jolted awake. For a moment, he looked around, disoriented, before remembering where he was. And why he was here.

"Anything?" he asked hopefully.

"No," Tom responded.

"Where are Draco and Pansy?" It was just him and Tom, Harry realized.

"I sent them off to the dorm. It was almost curfew."

"What?" Harry tried to get up, only for Tom to pull him back down into his arms. "You should have woken me up."

"I didn't want to disrupt you," Tom said. That was true, but he also liked the feeling of his mate snuggled against him, not that he'd admit it out loud.

Harry gave him a skeptical look, as if sensing the half-truth. "What time is it?"

"5:20."

"Breakfast will be starting soon, then." This time, Harry did manage to free himself from Tom's hold. "I better go. Don't want my friends to worry. Or for Dumbledore to get suspicious."

Tom scowled at the mention of him. "No, that wouldn't be good."

Harry waited until he was back in the diary before throwing on the Invisibility Cloak and exiting the Chamber. Once out, his mask fell back into place. He set off at a brisk pace to his dorm to shower and change and came back out, looking as if this were just a normal Friday morning.

He greeted Draco and Pansy, neither of which showed their relief on their faces as they responded. They hadn't been completely sure if Harry would join them, but they saved a seat just in case.

Harry sent a discreet look toward the High Table. Dumbledore was up there, smiling indulgently as he spoke to McGonagall. Severus, however, looked furious, his eyes flicking to Dumbledore. Harry looked at Lupin's seat, which was predictably empty. He wasn't the only one who noticed; Hermione was frowning as she gazed at the chair, then seemed to shrug off her worries as she turned to her breakfast. Looking past her, Harry caught Luna's gaze. Her pale eyes flicked toward Dumbledore and back, and she gave a discreet nod of reassurance.

"How long do you think Lupin will be out?" Pansy wondered, bring Harry back to his own table. "Surely people will become suspicious if he's not back by Monday."

"He should be all right by then," Harry said, speaking with more conviction than he felt. The fact that Lupin was absent more frequently to begin with made it easier to evade probing questions.

"I hope so." Pansy shook her head. She quite liked Lupin. He was better than their previous Defense Against the Dark Arts professors by a long shot. That was a sentiment shared by every student from all the houses for once, especially for the fifth and seventh years, who would be taking their OWLs and NEWTs respectively.

While the students were conversing, Severus was listening to McGonagall and Dumbledore.

"Is Remus not joining us this morning?" McGonagall asked, glancing at Lupin's unoccupied chair.

"I'm afraid not," Dumbledore replied. "He isn't feeling very well at the moment."

Severus resisted the urge to snarl at him. Lupin had woken up in the middle of the night, flinching when Severus had approached. It took some time of explaining before he relaxed enough to trust Severus and accept the Sleeping Draught. In the morning, before coming out for breakfast, Severus had given Dobby clear instructions to stay with Lupin and make sure no one knew he was in Severus' quarters.

To Severus' annoyance, McGonagall didn't say anything else on the matter. She truly believed Lupin was merely slightly unwell and not in any danger. Well, he couldn't blame her completely. Dumbledore had most of the wizarding world fooled; even Severus had fallen for his manipulative nature.

Excusing himself when he was finished, Severus stood and headed back to his quarters.

Lupin was eating breakfast when he arrived.

"How do you feel?" Severus asked, feeling a bit awkward.

"I'm fine," Lupin said quietly. "Thank you. Where's Harry?"

"He is in the Great Hall.”

Lupin nodded absently. "I take it he knows I'm a werewolf?" he questioned. The house-elf had referred to him as Master Harry's wolf, so obviously he found out at at some point.

Severus answered the unspoken question. "Harry doesn't care about that. He’s more concerned about your wellbeing and what the Headmaster will do next."

"He should be more worried about himself. The Headmaster has done terrible things, Severus. I don't know how much you know—"

"I know of the soul bond," Severus interrupted him.

"Oh." Lupin looked pleasantly surprised. "That's the best news I've heard in a while. Anything else?"

"The Dark Lord had made Horcruxes. Immortality," he added before Lupin could ask. "They split his soul, and one of his pieces was somehow able to remember all the damage Dumbledore had done to him. Harry currently has the first Horcrux with him."

"Wow." Lupin slowly shook his head as he processed this. "That's incredible." And that was only a brief rundown of that topic; Lupin would reckon the full story was even more daunting.

"Indeed." More briskly, Severus went on. "The Headmaster will most likely check on you to make sure you are well enough to get on with school."

"Yes, it would be a shame if I had been rendered useless, wouldn't it?" Lupin said bitterly. He continued to eat in silence.

Severus let his eyes wander over Lupin's body. He was very tense, as if he were afraid Dumbledore would leap out and kill right then and there. His fingers were twitching, too, but Severus didn't think it was from the curses inflicted on him the previous day. The lines on his face were more pronounced than ever, reminding Severus once more how harsh his life was.

Dobby popped in, breaking into Severus' musings. "Bad Dumby is heading toward wolf's office," he warned.

Severus and Lupin both paled, the latter even more so. "Shit," Lupin muttered. "What do I do?"

He looked close to hyperventilating, so Severus quickly summoned a Calming Draught. "Take this. If I were you, Lupin, I'd tell him you came to see me for some aches."

"Won't he think I told you about—?"

"I doubt it, but he'd probably come down here to verify it just in case." Lupin still looked uneasy. "I can tell him your previous transformation did not go as smoothly as usual and you gave up on ignoring it. Now go!"

With a last desperate glance at him, Lupin allowed Dobby to take him to his office.

Severus sighed. He hoped the Calming Draught would help. Lupin was terrified of Dumbledore, and after what he went through, Severus couldn't blame him.

 

 

 

It was a good thing Harry had locked the door because as soon as he passed the news to Sirius, the Animagus was on his feet and pounding on the door. "Sirius, wait!"

Sirius, whipped around, gray eyes blazing with rage. "Let me out!" he snarled. "I'll kill him! I'll rip him apart!"

"Remember what happened last time you ran after someone in revenge?" Harry snapped. "You ended up falsely imprisoned for over a decade! Not to mention," he added sharply when Sirius still didn't relent, "you're still a criminal in the public's eye. Dumbledore could and would use that to his advantage if you made an appearance."

Sirius slumped, all the fight draining out of him as fast as it came. "I know, pup," he said tiredly. "How is he doing?" he asked.

"He's recovering," Harry assured him. "Severus has been helping him."

"Thank Merlin for Severus, then," Sirius said. "Will he be able to come down here soon?"

He spoke casually, if if he were just talking about something as minuscule as the weather, but his eyes gave away his longing and hope to see his friend.

"He should. I'd have to ask Severus." And it would be soon, Harry had no doubt. Severus wasn't a potions master for nothing. "But you have to promise not to go rushing in like a lunatic."

"I won't," Sirius said. After the initial fury, he had no intention of doing anything that would make the situation worse.

Satisfied that Sirius was calm enough, Harry said goodbye and snuck back to the dorm.

 

Chapter Text

 

Harry found himself having a hard time concentrating. Severus had given him a note saying that Lupin would be all right now, but he had had no time to go see for himself. The only reassurance he had was when he saw Lupin during lunch. Their eyes locked briefly, and Lupin gave him a small nod. Harry blinked in acknowledgement and turned away.

When classes were over for the day, Harry took his chance and headed over to see Lupin.

He was relieved when he answered the door. "Hello, Harry," Lupin greeted him.

"Hi." Harry stepped in. "How are you feeling?" he asked. It felt like a stupid question to ask, but Lupin answered nevertheless.

"Still a little shaky, but overall, I'm all right." Lupin smiled at him briefly. "Severus told me you know about the soul bond."

Harry nodded.

"I'm glad to hear that. I was afraid you would never find out, or that you would find out but wouldn't want anything to do with him."

"Well, when I first learned who he was, I was in quite a state of shock," Harry admitted. "I didn't want to accept it at first, but he was chosen for a reason. Right?"

"Indeed, he was." Lupin sat down at his desk, looking at his students' assignments. "No one knows how exactly bonds are chosen, but it is widely believed that they are based off of power and compatibility and that Lady Magic will guide those she believes will be a good couple, whether that would be romantic or sexual."

"What about neither?" Harry asked, remembering what Pansy had said when he had first brought them down to the Chamber.

Lupin gave him a speculative glance. "Is that the kind of relationship you want with Tom?" he asked curiously.

Harry shrugged. "It doesn't sound that bad." He honestly hadn't put much thought into it, not that he had had a lot of time.

"Well, if that's what you wish, there is nothing wrong with that." Lupin glanced back down and groaned softly. "How does Hermione write so small?" he muttered.

"Did Severus tell you anything else?" Harry asked, changing the subject. All this talk about soul bonds and relationships was interesting, but like any teenager, it was uncertain territory to venture into.

"Yes. This morning, he told me Sirius is innocent. I take it that's true?"

Harry nodded.

"I should have known," Lupin murmured. "There had been quite a bit of wariness surrounding him and me before that night. I had doubts of Sirius' allegiance, and he had some of mine. It should have been obvious something was off."

"It's not your fault, Lupin. You were played. Pretty damn well, I hate to admit."

"Call me Remus when we're not in class," Lupin said distractedly, making a note on Hermione's assignment before moving on. "Anyway, how did you find out about Peter being alive?"

"Sirius told me. And I have the Marauder's Map," Harry replied, removing it for Remus to see.

Remus' eyes widened as he stared at the parchment. "Where did you get this?"

"The Weasley twins nicked it from Filch."

"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me," Remus said with a chuckle. "Back to Tom, Severus mentioned Horcruxes. Do you know how many he made?"

"Not exactly. So far, we have the diary—" Harry held it up— "Ravenclaw's diadem, and Marvolo Gaunt's ring." He remembered how spooked Severus had been when he showed him. Apparently, there had been several dark curses on it, including one that would have resulted in inevitable death. Fortunately, Severus had removed them all.

"Three is still a large number," Remus noted in alarm.

"I keep reminding Tom of what a stupid move it was to do even one."

"Not this again!" Tom leapt out of the diary to glower at Harry, who merely grinned.

Remus sighed. "Severus did also say that you two are pains in the arses."

Tom would deny it to his dying breath— not that he had any currently— but his voice took on a whiny edge. "I'm not a pain in the arse."

"I bet you got a nice one under those robes, though," Harry remarked, shamelessly staring at Tom's rear.

Tom blinked at him, a faint blush coating his cheeks. Then he turned to Remus, who was biting his lip to stifle his laughter. "Okay, maybe we are a bit of a handful," he conceded reluctantly.

"I'll say." And then Harry grabbed a handful of Tom's bum, making him yelp.

This time, Remus couldn't hold back his amusement and chortled into his hand. "Oh, you two are perfect for each other. And not just magically, either."

"That's what Sirius implied," Harry said.

The laughter died in Remus' throat, and when he spoke, he sounded hesitant. "How is he?"

"He's all right, considering the circumstances," Harry reassured him. "He was pretty angry when he heard about what happened to you."

"More like furious," Tom added.

Azure took that moment to speak up. 'Furious, curious, delirious—'

"Enough!" Harry and Tom groaned.

Azure just hissed in reply.

Remus shook his head. Merlin help them all if these two would be one of the most powerful couples in the wizarding world. "Well, I'm glad that everything is fine now. I'll see you later, Harry."

"You, too, Remus."

 

 

 

Feeling better now that he knew for certain that Remus wasn't too hurt, Harry entered the dungeons in higher spirits. Draco and Pansy noticed and didn't have to ask to know what cheered him up. They spent most of Saturday finishing up their current assignments and then playing chess.

"Honestly, Harry, you are hopeless at chess!" Draco said, exasperated, as he won for the third time in a row.

"I know," Harry grumbled.

"Move aside, Potter," Tracey said. "Let me show you how it's done."

Draco gulped. If there was one person who made a challenging chess opponent, it was Tracey Davis. Ronald Weasley was even better, not that anyone in Slytherin would admit to that.

Tracey ended up beating Draco within ten minutes.

"Pay up," Daphne said to Theo.

"You bet on me?" Tracey said, raising an eyebrow as Theo grumpily handed over a Galleon.

"Theo thought it would take fifteen minutes for you to win. I said ten," Daphne replied triumphantly.

"Have you ever won any game of chess, Harry?" Tracey asked.

"Once, and that was against Azure, so it doesn't really count."

'Chess is hard!' the snake groaned.

"You literally moved the king into the pawn's path," Harry recalled. "A pawn!"

"Oh, Azure, you silly snake," Tracey said, rubbing her head.

Azure preened. 'I like her.'

"That's what you said when Blaise called me an idiot."

"You can be," Daphne said with a shrug.

'I like her, too.'

"Dammit," Harry muttered as Daphne laughed. It didn't take a Parselmouth to know what Azure had said.

 

 

 

Sirius yelped in surprise at the popping sound and turned, looking a bit cross. "A little warning would be nice," he griped. His expression sobered upon seeing who it was.

Remus stood there next to Harry, looking nervous. "Hey?" he offered.

Sirius continued to stare.

Harry sighed impatiently. "Can we hurry up and get the awkward reunion out of the way?"

Sirius snapped out of his daze and ran over, kissing Remus fully on the lips. Taken aback, it only took a second for Remus' mind to catch up, and when it did, he returned the kiss enthusiastically.

'It's like one of those cheesy films,' Azure muttered to Harry, who grinned.

Remus seemed to remember where he was and pulled back first, face flushing. "Er— sorry, Harry."

"No, no, please," Harry said, "continue."

"Gladly," Sirius said, leaning forward. He pouted when Remus turned his head away.

"We have other business to discuss, Padfoot. This can wait."

"But I did my waiting," Sirius protested. "Twelve years of it in Azkaban."

"Relax, you'll have all the time in the world once you're free. Hey, Tom, come out, would you?"

Tom stepped out of the diary. "I don't know why you need me to come out, Harry. You already know I'm gay."

Harry narrowed his eyes at him before turning away. "Anyway—"

'Anygay.'

"Shut it, you. About Pettigrew—"

Azure hissed.

"Sirius, how the hell did they not find out you were innocent at your trial? Some Veritaserum would have cleared everything up."

"Yes, if I hadn't been thrown right into Azkaban without one."

Four pairs of eyes stared at him.

"You didn't receive a trial?" Harry said.

"Apparently, the fact I was the only one standing was enough proof I was guilty," Sirius replied.

'Hippogriff shit!' Azure hissed.

"Language," Harry and Tom said in unison.

"Who taught her how to swear?" Remus said.

"Not me," the teens replied together. It was hard to see who was lying; they both had the perfect mask of innocence.

"Draco's father is high up in the Ministry, isn't he?" Tom said after a moment.

Curious, Harry looked up at him. "Yes, why?"

"If he uses the right words, he could convince Fudge to look into the crime. Then Black can get his trial."

“Brilliant! I’ll write to him tonight.”

 

 

 

Lucius Malfoy stepped into Fudge's office.

"Ah, Lucius," the Minister greeted him pleasantly. "How may I help you?"

"I have heard rumors regarding Sirius Black," Lucius began.

"He was spotted?" Fudge demanded, instantly alert. If so, then why wasn't he informed?

"No," Lucius replied, hiding his irritation at the interruption. "It is about his trial, or lack thereof."

"He didn't receive a trial?" Fudge said.

"No, and the rumors suggest that it was a setup of some sort."

"I hardly think it matters," Fudge replied. "You know what Pettigrew said before Black blew him up."

"All the same," Lucius said, "if it is a setup, the public will eventually find out and it will reflect badly on the Ministry."

"That's true." And if there was one thing that Fudge didn't want, it was bad publicity. "Very well, we shall get to the bottom of it at once," he decided.

Lucius nodded once and turned away. He had been skeptical at first when he received the letter from Harry Potter, but the boy was smart. It baffled Lucius that the Headmaster continued to treat him like the rest of his Gryffindors.

Chapter Text

Madam Bones had to bang her gavel several times to call order to the court as Sirius Black was dragged into the room. The shouting died down, though muttering could still be heard.

"Murderer."

"Death Eater.”

"Traitor."

And those were some of the nicer words Sirius heard thrown his way as he sat down in the chair. His eyes quickly sought out Remus, who was sitting off to one side. Remus gave him an almost indiscernible nod of encouragement, his eyes were reflecting the apprehension Sirius felt.

Madam Bones continued once the muttering fully ceased. "Sirius Black, you have been accused of serving the Dark Lord Voldemort and murdering twelve Muggles and Peter Pettigrew. How do you plead?"

"Not guilty."

The murmuring started up once more, filled with disbelief and hostility.

"Very well. Unspeakable Bode, please administer the Veritaserum."

Two drops were given, and Sirius' eyes grew blank.

"State your full name," Bones said.

"Sirius Orion Black."

Madam Bones nodded and began the questions. "Were you the Secret-Keeper for the Potters?"

"Originally, yes."

"Please elaborate."

"James asked me to become the Secret-Keeper. I accepted," Sirius began in a dazed voice. "But it became apparent that I would be the obvious choice since most people were aware of my friendship with him. So I suggested we switched out but didn't tell anybody."

"Who became the new Secret-Keeper?" Madam Bones asked.

"Peter Pettigrew."

"What happened that night of the Potters' deaths?" Madam Bones inquired amidst the ripple of surprise.

"I arrived to see the house completely wrecked. James and Lily were dead." Even in his trance, his grief and despair were evident in his voice. "Harry was in his crib, alive but bleeding from his forehead. There wasn't much I could do for James and Lily, so I took Harry out, intent on bringing him to Remus.

"Hagrid had just arrived and convinced me to hand Harry over. I thought he'd be safe, so I did and went after Peter, eventually cornering him. He shouted at me, wondering why I have betrayed my friends before blasting the entire street and turning into a rat and disappearing down the sewer. I was too shocked to realize what had happened, which was why I was found laughing like a maniac."

The courtroom had been silent throughout the retelling. When Sirius paused, they erupted in shocked yells.

Even Madam Bones was having a difficult time keeping her composure. "You said Peter Pettigrew turned into a rat? Do you mean to say he is an Animagus?"

"Yes," Sirius said. "He, James, and I became one to help Remus with his transformations."

"Are you unregistered?"

"Yes, but we intended to register after the war."

"How did you know Peter was alive?"

"I saw him in the Daily Prophet when Fudge came down. When I looked at the youngest male in the picture, I saw the rat on his shoulder. He was missing a toe, the same one as Pettigrew's finger."

"One last question: Have you ever supported Lord Voldemort?"

Several wizards flinched at the name.

"No."

"I see. Unspeakable Bode, please administer the antidote while the Wizengamot confers."

Sirius slumped in the chair as soon as the effects wore off. He had stated the truth; there was no way they'd find him guilty, right?

He could have almost cried in relief when Madam Bones stepped back up and announced, "Mr. Black, you are hereby found not guilty. You will be given two million Galleons to compensate for your time in Azkaban, and any medical treatment required will be paid for in full by the Ministry. This session is now closed."

The Wizengamot began to disperse, murmuring among themselves.

None of them were more shocked than Sirius, who stood up from the chair and slowly made his way over to Remus. They faced each other in silence for a few seconds before Sirius flung himself at Remus. "I'm free," he rasped, tears soaking Remus' robes.

"You're free," Remus echoed, holding him tightly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Madam Bones coming their way.

"Mr. Black," she began, "I would advise you to go to Gringotts. I can have an Auror go with you, as no one will know of your innocence until the papers come in."

"That's fine." Sirius looked at Remus. "I'll see you later," he said, slightly uncertain.

"I'll be fine." Remus gave him a quick kiss, knowing what Sirius was implying, before leaving. Once out of the Ministry, he Apparated outside of Hogwarts.

 

 

 

Remus walked through the corridor, mind still reeling. Sirius was free, he was finally free. His mate would not suffer any longer in that horrid place. He couldn't wait to tell Harry.

"I take it it went well?" Severus' voice made Remus look up. He had just passed Severus' office.

"Yes. Sirius is free." He didn't think he'd get tired of saying that anytime soon. "Now we just need to get Harry away from his relatives," Remus added.

"Why do I have a feeling that won't be as simple?"

"Because it probably won't be," Remus replied. "But for now, I'm just glad we accomplished something."

Severus nodded in agreement. "Have you told Harry yet?"

"No, I just got back. I was just on my way."

"No need," Harry said from directly behind him. "I'm right here."

Remus nearly jumped out of his skin. "Merlin, you startled me." He turned around but didn't see anyone.

"I'm not Merlin, but I can see where the confusion would be. Shall we?"

Now that he was aware of his presence, Remus heard his footsteps as he walked by, heading for Severus' office.

Remus raised an eyebrow at Severus, whose lip twitched slightly in amusement, then followed him.

Harry cast the wards around the office and removed his cloak. "How did it go?" he asked. He nodded his thanks as Severus handed him a cup of tea.

"It went well, all things considering. Madam Bones was overseeing the trial. She's very fair."

"Is she related to Susan Bones?" Harry said curiously.

"She's her aunt," Severus said.

Harry hummed in acknowledgement. "So where's Sirius now?"

"Last I saw him, he was being escorted to Gringotts. And given that he's been in Azkaban for twelve years," Remus said, his tone slightly bitter at this, "he will most likely be seeing a mind healer for the next month or so."

"I can guarantee Dumbledore will be calling you up to his office soon," Severus predicted. "He will want to discuss Black with you."

"Great," Harry grumbled. Oh, well, it shouldn't be as bad as his second year, when he had been accused of opening the Chamber.

 

 

 

Severus was right. Harry received a note the next morning from the Headmaster. Together, they stepped into his office. "You asked to see me?" he said, taking a seat. Behind him, Severus stood by the wall, ready to intervene if necessary.

"Indeed, I did, my boy." Dumbledore smiled at him. "Lemon drop?"

"No, thank you."

Severus only scowled.

"That's too bad," Dumbledore said, popping one into his own mouth. "They are very delicious. Now, I'm sure you are aware that Sirius Black has been cleared of all charges yesterday."

"I have, sir. Why, is there a problem?"

"A small one, admittedly, but it can easily be rectified. You see, Harry, being in Azkaban for long periods of time can cause severe damage to your mental health. You are aware Sirius had been named your godfather, correct?"

"Yes, sir." Harry had a good idea of what he was about to say next.

"Well, if it weren't for the circumstances, I'd be more than happy for you. Unfortunately, given Sirius' current state, I am worried that he will not be able to care for you properly."

Harry wanted to laugh. Dumbledore was worried? When he dumped Harry onto the Dursleys' doorstep without warning and left him there to endure hardship and meaningless punishment? Yes, he clearly was very worried.

"So you want me to go back to Privet Drive," he said.

"Yes," Dumbledore agreed, glad to see Harry understood. "I'm sure your relatives will be very happy."

Severus almost winced. That had been the wrong thing to say. He watched Harry's face become closed off.

"Happy," he echoed. "Yes, I'm sure they will."

Dumbledore frowned. "Pardon?"

"Headmaster, I told you at the end of my first year that they didn't like me. You dismissed me."

"Now, Harry, I'm sure it is all a—"

"— slight misunderstanding," Harry finished. "You said that then, too. However, you have not been there since you dropped me off. You don't know what they were like to me."

"Harry, I've had many children want to stay at Hogwarts over the summer, but that just isn't possible. They, along with you, are much better off with your family where you are loved."

"Well, Sirius Black is my family," Harry said sharply. "And once he gets cleared by the healers, he will take me in."

"And your relatives?"

"Will pay for their 'love,'" Harry said.

Dumbledore sighed. "I see. Very well, Harry, you may go. Severus, stay."

Severus bit back the retort that he was not a dog as Harry stood and walked out.

"Severus, you must speak with Harry," the Headmaster said urgently. "Convince him not to press charges."

"And why should I do that?" Severus said. "If Harry feels it is the best course of action, he will do it."

"I'm sure his relatives love him. They are family, after all."

Severus refrained from bringing up his own family. He had asked to stay in the magical world over the summer much like Harry had, only to be rebuffed and sent back to an abusive dwelling. He refused to call it home.

"Please, Severus. Speak to him. Make him see reason. Lily would not want him to take such unnecessary action."

The mention of his friend made Severus bristle slightly. "I will speak to him," he said grudgingly.

Dumbledore smiled. "Thank you, Severus. You may go."

He sat back as the potions master exited, cloak billowing behind him. Well, at least Dumbledore still had Severus on his side.

Or so he thought.

Chapter Text

 

SIRIUS BLACK INNOCENT

Yes, my dear readers, you have read correctly. Sirius Black, who had been charged with the murder of twelve Muggles and Peter Pettigrew, is innocent!...

The corner of Harry's lips twitched upward as he read the newspaper. Things were starting to look up. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Dumbledore's reaction. He did not look happy at all.

"I kind of feel bad for Weasley," Blaise said from two seats over. "Imagine finding out you've been sleeping with a supposedly dead guy."

Between Sirius' trial and the papers, Aurors had come into Hogwarts to take Peter Pettigrew in. Poor Ron had been so confused, fretting over "Scabber's" deteriorating health and wondering why the Ministry would need a rat.

Now he looked sick as he stared blankly at the papers. But it was Percy that was most affected. Harry remembered George telling him that it was Percy who had taken Scabbers in and later gave him to Ron. Beyond him, Fred and George were speaking with Lee Jordan. Ginny's face was slightly green.

"What are you going to do about your relatives?" Draco asked Harry.

"Already handled them," Harry replied. "They're going to be so mad when they realize what's going on."

 

 

 

Vernon Dursley had been enjoying a perfectly normal day without his imperfectly abnormal nephew when the doorbell rang. Getting up, he lumbered over and opened the door. "Can I help you?" he said brusquely.

"Vernon Dursley, you are under arrest," Auror Kingsley Shacklebot announced.

"What?!" Vernon's face blanched. "What nonsense is this? I didn't break any law!" Then his face went purple as a new thought crossed his mind. "It's the freak, isn't it? That lying, no-good freak! We took him in and fed him and gave him a roof over his head! When I see him..."

As he continued to scream, the Aurors cuffed him and began dragging him away, all slightly disturbed by the fact that Vernon was immediately blaming someone else.

Petunia came to see what the ruckus was all about and was promptly cuffed as well. Aware of the neighbors, she didn't screech but futilely tried to calm Vernon down.

And Dudley, who was still in school, would later come home to find the police there, ready to take him to his Aunt Marge until everything settled. Well, if everything settled.

 

 

 

It didn't take long for the Wizengamot to agree that Vernon and Petunia were not the loving guardians that Dumbledore had led them to believe. They didn't even have to use Veritaserum, not that they could since they were Muggles. But the rant Vernon spewed out along with Harry's memories showed just how little they cared.

Harry himself spoke, mostly answering questions to elaborate on a particular memory here and there. Perhaps the biggest outrage was the fact that he did not know magic until he met Azure. Betrayal was written on the courtroom's faces as their eyes turned on Dumbledore. He had stated time and time again that Harry was fine, loved, and even hinted he was spoiled. What they were hearing contradicted all of the above.

Dread coursed through Dumbledore as he watched. He had hoped to diffuse the tension, but it was clear that his usual tactics would not work. His mind was working in overdrive as he tried to come up with a solution. It had been bad enough that Harry had been Sorted into Slytherin, but if he allowed Sirius to take custody of him, he would be lost forever.

When the Dursleys were sentenced to a lifetime of prison, Dumbledore decided to finally speak.

"I believe the next course of action would be to find a good home for Harry," he began. "Since Sirius is seeing a mind healer, I am concerned that Harry will be vulnerable under his care."

"Yes," Madam Bones said dryly. "You are concerned now, yet you did not check up on Mr. Potter at all while he was living with his relatives."

"Yes, but—"

"Despite the fact that you were, at the time, his magical guardian."

Murmuring sprang up around them. In the shock of the revelations, many had forgotten that Dumbledore was the magical guardian for all Muggle-raised wizards and witches. If he hadn't check on Harry Potter, their savior, did that mean he didn't check on other children as well?

Dumbledore almost shrank back at the furious gazes. "I would have checked, but I am a very busy man," he defended himself weakly.

"It would've taken less than an hour of your time to visit and even less time to see that he was abused."

"Very well." Dumbledore lowered his head, knowing that he was not getting away with this. "But we should still talk about Harry's new placement."

"Mr. Black is doing very well for someone who had been imprisoned as long as he had," Madam Bones said, not wavering in the slightest. "By the time school is out, he should be perfectly capable of taking Mr. Potter under his wing."

When Dumbledore didn't have a response, the session was closed.

 

 

 

Once more, Rita Skeeter's article sent the Great Hall into disarray. Even those that had looked up to Dumbledore could not find anything to counter the accusations made against him. The students that were not as blind to the Headmaster's faults were more focused on Harry's abusive upbringing. It was no wonder that he didn't idolize Dumbledore and made an effort to avoid him as much as possible.

McGonagall's face blanched and she turned to face Dumbledore. "I warned you," she hissed, sounding very much like her Animagus form. "I warned you they were the worst sort of Muggles. And you never even bothered checking on him. Not even once!"

"I didn't think it would be a problem!" Dumbledore protested, very obviously lying. "Petunia is Lily's sister. Family is everything."

"Not to Petunia," Remus growled, fists clenched so tightly around his copy that it crumpled in his grasp. "You've met her before. It wouldn't have taken a minute to realize just what kind of person she is."

Dumbledore gulped, seeing the golden glint in Remus' eyes. His wolf was very close to the surface, and it didn't help that the full moon had just passed. "I thought Petunia had changed, Remus. You have to believe me."

"Well, I don't." Remus stood and, ignoring all eyes on him, marched out of the Great Hall. It had been bad enough knowing about the abuse, but to hear Petunia and Vernon screaming horrible words at Harry as they were dragged away hurt worse than any curse or transformation.

Harry watched him go by. "I'm going to go see how he's doing," he said, standing up.

The Slytherins murmured their goodbyes as he made his way out of the Great Hall.

 

 

 

"I can't believe this," Hermione said, tears pricking in her eyes.

"It's Rita Skeeter," Ron said, knowing very well his argument was weak. "She says stuff like this all the time."

"But there's proof," Hermione argued. "There's concrete proof that Dumbledore did this." She may not like Harry, but child abuse wasn't something she wished on anyone. It completely went against what she had been told, that children were deeply cherished and loved within the wizarding world.

Ron shifted in his seat, fork absently pushing around the food on his plate. "Why would anyone do that?" he wondered. First Scabbers had turned out to be a full-grown man that had murdered a dozen innocent people and framed another, now this. Sirius Black had given him an owl to replace Scabbers, but it didn't do much to cheer him up.

Hermione sighed and threw the copy down as if it would hex her. She tried to eat, but the food was dry on her tongue; she could barely swallow.

 

 

 

Harry knocked on the door. "Moony?" He stepped inside. "Are you all right?"

"No, I'm not." Remus was sitting by the empty fireplace, staring into it distractedly.

"Yeah, that was a stupid question," Harry said, seeing Remus' briefcase against the wall, its contents scattered across the floor. He sat down next to him. "What are you going to do?"

"Right now, I don't know. What I want to do is make Dumbledore choke on those wretched lemon drops of his," Remus growled.

"Make sure you coat them with cyanide first," Harry suggested.

Remus gave a short laugh. "I'll keep that in mind." He went quiet, and Harry was content to sit there with him.

The silence was broken by a second knock at the door. It was Professor McGonagall, who walked in with an uncharacteristic hesitance in her step. "All classes are canceled for the day," she told them quietly.

Remus didn't seem to have noticed her, too wrapped up in his thoughts.

"I do want to apologize, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said. "If I had known, I would have taken you in myself."

Harry stared at her. "Apologize for what? You didn't know I was being placed there, did you?"

"I did." And McGonagall was not about to hide that, either. "I had been watching them all day and thought they were very... unflattering."

Harry snorted. "Five points to Gryffindor for understatement of the year," he said dryly.

McGonagall's lip twitched for a fraction of a second. "I had too much faith in Albus. I thought he knew what he was doing."

He definitely knew, Harry thought darkly.

"I just thought you should know."

"Thank you for telling me," Harry said.

McGonagall dipped her head and, with a concerned glance at Remus, left the room.

 

Chapter Text

"Tom, Tom! Guess what?"

The diary, which had been left in the Chamber until after things cooled down, glowed briefly before Tom appeared. Harry skidded to a halt and narrowly avoided crashing into him.

"What is it?" Tom asked.

"I don't have to go back to the Dursleys," Harry said breathlessly.

Tom's eyes lit up and he quite literally picked Harry up and spun around in midair, making him yelp.

'No more Dirtleys, no more Dirtleys!' Azure was chanting, moving back and forth in front of Athanasia, who had come out to hear what Harry had to say.

'Disgusting Muggles,' Athanasia hissed, shaking her great head. 'Can't hurt Tomling's Harry anymore.'

"Nope," Harry said smugly. "And that's not all. Dumbledore's reputation is starting to crumble."

"Good." Tom smirked. Just thinking about getting one over Dumbledore sent a thrill of satisfaction up his spine. "And the Gryffindors?"

Harry tilted his head to one side. "They didn't react well. Can't blame them, really. They looked up to him. Hopefully Ron will quit glaring at me when he thinks I'm not looking."

"And Ginny?" Tom said pointedly.

"I can handle her."

 

 

 

Tom rubbed his eyes exasperatedly. "I thought you said you could handle her."

Harry shrugged sheepishly. "Oops."

He had completely forgotten the twins' warning of her giving another singing valentine until it was dropped off at the Slytherin table. Azure wasted no time in telling Tom all about it, and boy, was he unhappy.

"If it makes you feel any better, I dunked it in Draco's plate before it could finish singing. You should have seen his face. Knowing him, he probably went to write about it to his father as soon as possible."

'My father will hear about this!' Azure mimicked, sounding very much like Draco.

Tom glared daggers toward the entrance. If looks could kill, even from this distance, Ginny would have fallen through the floor and into the Chamber.

"If it makes you feel any better, your poem was much better."

A deadpanned stare was thrown his way. "I'm not even going to ask what she wrote."

"Attaboy, Tommy. Now come on, Severus should almost be be finished with that potion."

 

 

 

Severus made his way to Remus' office and knocked on the door.

"Come in," Remus called.

Stepping inside, Severus paused, raising an eyebrow at the sight. Two stacks of parchment surrounded his colleague, one noticeably taller than the other. Another sheet of parchment lay between them, and Remus had his face squashed against it.

"Lupin?" Severus said.

Remus lifted his head. "Hi, Severus.”

"Which dunderhead are you grading now?"

"Hermione Granger. She writes very small."

"You do realize there's a charm to enlarge the text, don't you?"

Remus blinked. "Dammit." He flicked his wand at the parchment and the words seemed to magnify on it.

"There you go," Severus said, a hint of sarcasm coloring his tone. "Now you don't have to—"

Thump.

"— do that," Severus finished lamely.

"You've been doing this for two, going on three, years now," Remus muttered, turning his head to peer at Severus through his hair. "How?"

"Believe me, I've wondered that constantly." Remembering why he was here, Severus held up the goblet. "Your new and improved Wolfsbane potion."

That caught Remus' attention. "New and improved?" he asked, accepting it and peering into it as if he could physically see the difference.

"Harry had found the beginning of what looked to be an early version of the Wolfsbane potion made by Salazar Slytherin. It was incomplete, but he burst into my office and dragged me down to the Chamber to take a look." If it had been anyone else, they would have regretted it. Then again, only Harry would have the courage— or stupidity— to drag the potions master around.

"And how is it improved?"

"You shouldn't have to take anything for your transformations ever again."

Remus' eyes widened. "Wow. That's amazing."

"Harry said it was an early birthday gift for you," Severus said.

"Well, I shall thank him in person when I get the chance." He took a sip. "Eugh, it tastes even worse than the other one. It's a shame there isn't anything we can do to rectify it."

"Yes, tragic. Now drink it and suffer in silence." Severus turned to leave.

"Thank you for brewing it," Remus called after him. "At least now you don't need to worry about me anymore.”

Severus gave Remus a strange look. "I'm sure you and Black will be back to your old antics before long," he said as he reached the door.

As he was closing it behind him, he heard the distinctive sound of Remus' face meeting Hermione's assignment once more.

 

 

 

Sirius never thought he'd see the day where he'd be coming back to number twelve, Grimmauld Place, yet here he was. It wouldn't be permanent, though. After the goblins had cleared him, he had looked through the properties and was pleasantly surprised to see there was another unplottable dwelling: Black Manor. Dumbledore was unaware of it, so Sirius decided to check it out.

As with Grimmauld Place, Black Manor had a lot of work to be done before moving in. With the help of Kreacher, the Black house-elf, they were able to clear out the dust and return it to its former glory once more.

"Where does Master Sirius want locket?" Kreacher asked.

Sirius glanced down at the elf, briefly marveling at the change in attitude in such a short amount of time. Kreacher had never liked Sirius when he was younger due to his rebellious nature, but after a long talk, Kreacher had begun to show respect for him. It was the mention of the Horcruxes that prompted Kreacher to show Sirius Salazar Slytherin's locket, which Regulus had told him to hide before his death.

"Put it with Hufflepuff's cup for now," Sirius told him. That had been another surprise: finding the cup in Regulus' vault. It seemed as though Regulus knew more than he let on. Sirius wished he knew what happened to him.

Kreacher had dipped his head in compliance and popped away, leaving Sirius alone.

Sirius looked around, already feeling restless now that everything was cleaned up. He wondered what Remus was doing at that moment. Probably something boring, like grading essays. He would likely welcome Sirius' presence; Sirius would definitely welcome his.

With that in mind, Sirius went to the fireplace and threw in a handful of floo powder. "Remus Lupin's quarters," he called.

 

 

 

"Wow," Remus said hoarsely, staring around the vast space.

"Pretty neat, isn't it?" Sirius said smugly.

"Neat?" Remus laughed. "It's brilliant!"

"There's a garden out back," Sirius told him. "Everything's overgrown, of course, but we can take care of it. And there's what looks to be a small stable of some sort..."

Remus nodded, only half listening. He was mostly trying to take everything in at once. The interior consisted mostly of neutral colors, from warm amber to dark brown. Slytherin colors were also mixed in as well: the furniture sported the distinctive green, and Remus caught a glimpse of silver in the curtains.

"— and there's also this huge library," Sirius said loudly.

"Library?" Remus repeated, eyes bright.

"Oh, Moony, you were always such a bookworm," Sirius teased him.

"Well, someone had to be," Remus muttered, crossing his arms.

Sirius laughed. "So how is teaching? Is Snape still bringing you your Wolfsbane potion?"

"Oh, I haven't taken it since February."

"Wait, what?" Sirius spluttered. "But why?" It couldn't be bad since Remus wasn't freaking out.

"Apparently, Salazar Slytherin had made his own version of it, though it was never published for some reason."

"And what makes it better than the other one?"

"I only needed to take it for the week before one transformation."

"And that's it?”

"And that's it," Remus affirmed.

"Damn," Sirius whispered. "I wish we knew of that sooner. So you keep your human mind?"

"I do." Remus could remember nearly panicking when he saw he didn't have any Wolfsbane, only to calm down when he recalled not needing it anymore.

"Thank Merlin for Salazar Slytherin," Sirius said. "Want to see the bedroom?" he asked, changing the subject. "It's all tidied up now, but you know that won't last."

"I thought you were going to show me around."

"I am. First stop: the bedroom."

Remus bit his lip. All right, that did sound tempting, especially considering this was the first time they were alone together since before that terrible night. It didn't help that Sirius was pouting, gray eyes large and hopeful.

"Fine," he gave in.

Sirius beamed and quite literally dragged Remus up the stairs.

 

 

 

When Harry next saw Remus in his office later that evening, he had bite marks covering his neck. Next to him sat a very smug Sirius.

Harry whistled. "Five points to Gryffindor."

Remus ducked his head, avoiding Harry's gaze.

"I take it the bedroom is satisfactory?" Harry inquired, his serious tone contradicting the massive grin on his face.

"Shut up."

"What? It's a valid question. I mean, who would want to sleep in a bed that's uncomfortable? Not me."

"Harry, I'm trying to concentrate." It wasn't easy with Sirius' hand creeping up on his thigh, though.

"On what? That book or Sirius?"

"Oh, Merlin!" Remus groaned.

"How many times do I have to tell you, Moony? I'm not Merlin." Harry shook his head in mock disappointment toward Sirius. "That's the second time he called me that. May as well change my name to Merlin Potter. Bye!"

Sirius let out a bark-like laugh as Harry waved and skipped back out. "Is he always like this?"

Remus flashed back to all those Thursdays when he had been teaching the Patronus Charm. "Yes," he mumbled.

But he wouldn't have it any other way.

Chapter Text

The remainder of the year seemed to fly by and before anyone knew it, the exams were upon them. Harry quite enjoyed Remus' exam, which was an obstacle course filled with the creatures they have learned throughout the year, and finished with full marks.

Draco was next, and when he emerged from the trunk that contained the Boggart, Harry's first question was: "Was it an empty bottle of hair gel?"

"No, it was conditioner," Draco shot back as they began to walk back inside.

"Darn. I owe Pansy a Galleon," Harry said, snapping his fingers.

"You are insufferable."

"Love you, too, Dray."

Throughout dinner on Friday, the main topic seemed to be of the exams. One first year fretted over her pineapple falling off the desk before it could dance properly. A fifth year at the Hufflepuff table was wondering why knowing all of Jupiter's moons would have any impact on their career. Over in Ravenclaw, Harry heard someone say they got the dates all mixed up for the goblin wars. He couldn't hear what the Gryffindors were saying, but Oliver Wood looked disgruntled, probably at the fact that Slytherin had won the Quidditch Cup once more.

 

 

 

There were no Dementors to disrupt the cheerful atmosphere of the Hogwarts Express. Harry, Pansy, Draco, and Tracey played a few games of Exploding Snap.

"Oh, before I forget," Draco said suddenly, "the Quidditch World Cup is this summer. Are any of you going?"

"That sounds like fun," Harry said. It would be a great bonding experience with his family.

"I'll have to ask my dad," Tracey said, not sounding completely convinced. "Pansy?"

She nodded. "Most definitely. Especially since Britain is hosting this year."

Their compartment door slid open. The twins poked their heads in.

"Weasleys!" Draco said. "What are you doing here?"

"We just wanted to ask Harry a question," George said. "Nothing major."

"Actually, it's very major," Fred corrected. "Not one bit of mischief anywhere."

"You can even say it's managed for once."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "You figured it out? How?"

"Simple." George plopped down next to him. "Professor Lupin is a werewolf."

"And we've heard him muttering something about pads more than once,” Fred added.

"Not to mention, he seems to know exactly how our minds work."

"So, Harry, is Lupin a Marauder?"

"He most certainly is," Harry confirmed.

"And Padfoot?"

"Is Sirius Black. My dad was Prongs."

"We bow to your greatness!" George got down onto the floor and groveled at his feet.

"What about Wormtail?" Fred asked.

Harry's amusement vanished. "Take a guess."

George lifted his head. "He was that guy, huh?"

"As opposed to this guy," Fred said, jabbing a finger in Draco's direction.

"Or the guy in the next compartment. Or the next. Or the one across. Perhaps it's—"

"All right, you two," Pansy broke in. "We get it. Is there anything else?"

"Nope, that was all!" Fred answered.

George jumped to his feet. "See you later."

They exited.

"The Marauders?" Tracey asked.

"They wreaked a lot of havoc during their school years," Harry summarized. "Not unlike the twins."

"I am so glad it's only two people we have to deal with," Draco said. His father had mentioned the four younger boys that did not seem to know how to shut up. They had sounded like quite the group.

The train reached King's Cross station, and the students stepped off and through the platform barrier.

"There's your godfather," Tracey said, nudging Harry. Following her gaze, Harry spotted Sirius, who was fidgeting like a kid waiting for his mother to stop talking to that strange woman she knew back in primary school.

When he saw Harry, he beamed and ran over. "There you are, pup! Ready to go?"

"Yes."

"See you at the World Cup," Draco called from where he stood with his parents.

Harry bade his friends goodbye as he grabbed onto Sirius' arm. He felt a jerk in his stomach, and the train station disappeared behind them.

 

 

 

Black Manor was truly a sight for sore eyes. Stepping through the gate, Sirius guided Harry inside. "I'll have Kreacher make us something to eat, then I'll show you your room, okay?"

Harry nodded.

Kreacher popped into view. "Master has returned," he croaked. "And he has brought Harry Potter." His voice held a notably higher amount of respect when looking at Harry.

"Hello," Harry said.

Dobby popped in beside him. "Master Harry has come home at last," he squeaked.

Home. That was a word Harry never thought he would associate any place with. Perhaps he might have considered Hogwarts a home, but Dumbledore's presence soured his experience. The Headmaster may have backed off for now, but Harry knew he was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Harry followed Sirius into the dining room. A long table was situated in the middle with twenty or so chairs around it. There was a tall window at one end that opened up to a beautiful view of the front.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Sirius said, coming to stand behind Harry.

"Very. What about your other house? Grimmauld Place?"

Sirius wrinkled his nose. "Not even close to as pretty, though Kreacher prefers to sleep there. Good memories for him, I suppose."

Footsteps sounded behind them, and Harry turned to see Remus. "I thought I heard you, Harry. Come on. You must be hungry."

"Starving."

Harry took a seat, and food appeared on plates. As he began cutting into his steak and kidney pudding, he realized the strangeness of this new environment. Sure, he had imagined what it would be like to not eat more than a couple slices of bread with a lump of cheese and wondered how eating with family would feel like, but actually experiencing it was a real treat. It was just as good, if not even better, than the food.

But what really made his day was when Sirius told him they had found the remaining Horcruxes thanks to his now-deceased brother, Regulus.

"Tomorrow morning, I'll be taking them to Gringotts," Sirius told Harry, whose smile lit up the room.

Afterward, Sirius and Remus showed him around— Harry was very relieved the door to their room stayed shut. Definitely Harry's favorite stop was the library. Remus had alluded to it being massive, but his words did the actual size no justice.

At the end of the tour, Sirius showed him the garden out back. Harry recalled with a pang all the hours of tending to Petunia's garden. The excess hours and the overbearing heat of the summer sun did not diminish his love for the work. Planting the seeds and watching them grow over a period of weeks was very fascinating. Plus, that was how he met Azure. He voiced his thoughts out loud, and Sirius grew thoughtful.

"I'm sure the elves would love to help you with it," he said.

Harry nodded and yawned, which in turn made Sirius yawn. And then Remus. And then several of the people reading this.

"I don't suppose you can show me my bedroom," Harry said.

"Follow me."

His bedroom was quite large, although given the size of the manor that wasn't a total shock. His trunk had been set down on the bed, and Hedwig's cage sat by the open window. Hedwig herself was outside exploring.

"I, uh, hope you like it," Sirius said, scratching the back of his neck. "There's plenty of rooms if you don't."

Harry, who had spent most of his life with virtually nothing of his own, let out an incredulous laugh. "Are you kidding me? This is perfect!"

"Well, if you need us at all," Sirius said, brightening up, "come find us. Our door is always open."

"Figuratively speaking," Remus added as Harry was opening his mouth, no doubt about to make a cheeky remark. "Good night."

"Night." Harry waited until the door had closed before changing into his pajamas and going into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

He reentered his room and climbed into bed. Almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was asleep.

 

 

 

Waking up, Harry felt strangely content. Frowning, he opened his eyes and looked around. Ah, right, he wasn't at Privet Drive anymore. Exhilaration thrummed through him. No more Dursleys, no more walking around on eggshells, no more fear of magic. He allowed a grin to cross his face. Life was looking up.

"You slept well," Tom's voice sounded.

Turning, Harry saw his mate sitting in a chair by the window. From where he lay, Harry thought Tom looked like he was in a romantic tragedy dramatically staring out longingly for a girl who had rejected him. Or maybe Azure made a snarky comment and now he was sulking. Either way, he was gorgeous.

"I certainly feel like it," Harry agreed. He sat up and stretched, breathing out as he felt his muscles relax.

'Tommy has a body again!' Azure announced.

Suddenly very awake, Harry shot out of bed, nearly tripping over the covers, and stumbled over to Tom.

"Easy," Tom said, watching his clumsy approach. "You just got here, you don't want to hurt yourself."

Harry placed a hand on each side of Tom's face. "You feel real," he said. Before, Tom had been cool to the touch, like an inanimate object. Now there was warmth, a little bit more than normal, although that was probably because Tom was blushing.

He put a hand to Tom's chest. "Yep. You're real."

"You don't need to feel me up to confirm that," Tom said.

"I don't see you complaining," Harry shot back.

"Well, you know this means, right?"

"You can't hide in the diary anymore?"

Tom winced. "That, but now I can fart in your face."

"Which means I can fart in your face back!" Harry retorted immediately.

A knock at the door distracted them briefly. It was Remus, who opened the door. "Morning, you two. Breakfast will be ready in twenty minutes." He paused. "Why were you talking about farting?"

"It's a battle strategy," Harry said solemnly. "We're gonna trap a fart cloud on Dumbledore's head and let him suffocate in it."

Remus blinked at him several times as if he didn't know whether to laugh or walk away. He chose the latter. "See you in twenty,” he said and closed the door.

He knew he still looked weirded out and wasn't surprised when Sirius questioned him about it. "Harry and Tom are going to rid the world of its problems via farting," Remus said.

Sirius stared at him for a long moment. "The hell?"

Chapter Text

The next few weeks passed by very quickly. Harry slowly got used to getting up later and not being forced to do everything around the manor. The only chore he did was the garden, and even that wasn't so much a chore as it was a hobby. It was even more fun with the house-elves helping.

Azure and Hedwig were free to roam around the manor as they pleased, and more than once, Harry was certain he saw Hedwig carrying the familiar, slender shape around for a joyride.

His relationship with Sirius and Remus had strengthened in the short time they lived together. Not for the first time Harry wondered if this was what it was like to have a loving and caring family. If it wasn't, he didn't know what was.

It had been amusing watching Tom try to navigate having a real, functional body once more. He had to eat, drink, and use the loo, things he all but forgot about. And without a diary to escape into, he was forced to endure the constant annoyances he called Harry and Azure. Aside from that, they've gotten closer without the interruptions of school life and the constant need to be on guard for anyone unaware of Tom's existence.

Right now, Harry was in the library, head on Tom's lap as Tom read. It had been silent for almost an hour so far, which was surprising given Harry's tendency to make his presence known.

"You have that constipated look on your face that indicates you're thinking," Tom said. "So what is it?"

"Have you ever masturbated in the diary?"

Tom sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I knew I shouldn't have asked."

"But you did, and I answered. So did you?" Harry lifted his head to get a better look at Tom.

"I am not answering that." Seeing Harry's pleading expression, Tom groaned. "No, stop. You're making that face again. Stop it."

"You love me, though."

"Unfortunately," Tom said, exasperated. "Now stop looking at me like that."

"Aw, I love you, too, Tomling."

Tom groaned again and held the book up to his face, shielding it from Harry's view.

"You still didn't answer the question."

"Shut up."

 

 

 

Before Harry knew it, it was the end of July. For once, he didn't stay up until midnight to wish himself a happy birthday. No, he was awoken by a slobbery lick to the face.

"Ugh! Sirius, get off!" Harry yelped, laughing.

Sirius' grinning face appeared. "Wake up! It's your birthday! You're fourteen!"

"I'm aware, now move your butt. I have to brush my teeth."

Sirius jumped off the bed and ran downstairs.

Shaking his head, Harry headed for the bathroom. He rubbed the drool off his face off with a towel and went on his daily routine. As he was coming out, he saw Tom just closing his door. His hair was sticking up in odd places.

"Sirius?" Harry guessed.

A disgruntled nod was all he received in response. "I have your present." He went back inside, Harry following close behind, and handed him a small box.

Harry accepted it and removed the lid to reveal the Gaunt ring. "What's in it?" he inquired, sensing the magic inside.

"After the fusion of the Horcruxes, I had the goblins add some charms to protect you from any minor and most major spells," Tom explained. "No one but you can remove it. You can also make it invisible to others."

"Thank you," Harry said. "You know, I could just kiss you right now."

"What's stopping you?" Tom retorted lightly.

He had only been teasing, so when Harry grabbed him by the front of the shirt and pulled him down to press his lips against Tom's, it elicited a startled grunt from Tom. It was magnificent, it was extraordinary, it was... extremely uncoordinated and awkward.

Harry drew back, smiling sheepishly. "That was—"

"The worst kiss ever?"

"Yes."

"Luckily you have me to show you how it's done," Tom said.

But as he was leaning in, Sirius' voice sounded loudly from just outside the door. "I hope I'm not cockblocking you two."

Harry rolled his eyes. "No, you're lip-blocking. Back off."

They heard a loud huff and footsteps receding.

Harry looked back up at Tom. "We better go or else he'll send the werewolf."

Tom sighed. "Fine." He was going to kick Sirius' arse for interrupting them.

 

 

 

It seemed as though Sirius was more excited than Harry himself; he was very jittery and kept glancing at Harry's plate throughout the entire meal.

And Harry, being the wonderful person he was, took his sweet time eating and making sure he didn't miss a single crumb.

As soon as Harry had scraped off the last bit of sauce, Sirius leapt to his feet and dragged Harry along. Remus gave Tom exchanged a look before getting up and following more slowly

Apparently, they were walking too slowly for Sirius ran back and grabbed both of them by the arm.

"Anyone would think it's your birthday today," Tom griped as he was dragged along.

"Oh, like you weren't dying to show Harry what you got him," Sirius shot back.

Tom didn't attempt to deny this.

"Your friends sent their gifts the last couple days," Remus told Harry, handing them over one by one.

Harry huffed in amusement as he looked over the packaging, which consisted mostly of Slytherin colors. Only Sirius had Gryffindor colors, though Harry suspected it was deliberate.

He didn't receive half as many presents as Dudley would have, but that didn't matter. Harry was still amazed that there were people that actually cared enough to get him something, even after three years of Hogwarts.

Unsurprisingly, he got several books, one that came with a note from Draco that said: "To add to your evergrowing personal library."

Tracey had given him a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which Sirius recognized as a classic children's tale in the wizarding world.

The twins had sent a bag of what they called canary creams.

"They look inconspicuous," Tom said, peering at them.

"Eat one. I dare you," Harry goaded.

"You eat one. It's your birthday."

"Which means I'm the boss. I double dare you, dildo lover."

Tom grumbled under his breath but popped one in his mouth. Seconds later, a large canary stood in his place.

"Ah, canary creams," Remus said, impressed. "Those twins sure are ingenious." Even he, a professional Marauder, had had trouble escaping their pranks. He was almost dreading going back to continue teaching.

Tom reappeared a minute later, shaking his head. "That was weird."

"You made a very pretty canary. Any other presents?"

"Me!" Sirius said, thrusting a large package forward.

"Any at all?" Harry asked, looking around and promptly ignoring his godfather.

"Me! Me!"

"Oh, Sirius, I didn't see you there," Harry said, eyes wide with feigned innocence.

Sirius groaned dramatically but brightened up as Harry (finally) opened his.

"A broomstick?"

"A broomstick?" Sirius echoed indignantly. "Not just any broomstick. It's a Firebolt."

"Oh." Harry looked at it with renewed interest. Madam Hooch had said he was a natural back in first year, but he had never tried out for the team.

"Aren't you going to try it out?"

"I just ate. I don't want to throw up in midair on my first proper birthday," Harry pointed out.

"If you do, I'll make sure Sirius is directly underneath you," Tom said.

"That's a horrible idea," Remus said. "He already stinks enough as he does."

Sirius, who had been looking at Tom smugly when it seemed as though Remus was defending him, whipped around. "Hey! This is Harry's birthday, not Pick-on-Sirius Day."

"Why not both?" the other three all said in unison, making Sirius throw his hands in the air.

 

 

 

The rest of the day flew by quickly. Harry couldn't believe just how much fun he was having. Sirius had continued to urge him to try out the broomstick, which he finally gave in after a lot of begging.

"James was right," Sirius remarked, watching him soar through the sky. "He is a natural."

"When did he say that?" Tom asked.

"For Harry's first birthday, I bought him a toy broomstick," Sirius explained. "It only went two feet off the ground, but apparently Harry broke a vase with it."

Tom chuckled. "And James said he was a natural?"

Sirius waved it off. "It was a vase from Lily's sister. No real loss."

Harry finally landed, his hair windswept. "That was fun."

"Sure you don't want to try out for the team?" Sirius asked.

"Positive. Besides, Slytherin's done fine without me." He used his shirt to wipe the sweat off his face.

Only Sirius witnessed Tom's eyes trailing down the exposed skin, and he smirked to himself.

Tom wrenched his gaze away. "Hungry?" he said.

"Yeah."

'Wait!' Azure called. 'Hatchling, I got you something!' She was pushing forward a large ball of mud. 'It's the biggest one yet,' she stated proudly, poking her head out from behind it.

'I see that.' Harry picked it up. 'Thank you, Azure. You're amazing.'

'I know.'

"What's with the mud?" Tom asked, grinning slightly.

"It was my first gift," Harry said. "She came up to me when I was outside and gave one to me. After that, it became tradition. I preserved them using wandless magic."

He was looking at the mud in his hand with such fondness, and Tom felt guilty for almost laughing. "That's sweet of her."

"Yeah, but don't let her hear you say that," Harry joked. "She has a reputation."

At that, Tom did laugh, throwing his head back in amusement. "Yes. Yes, she does."

"What about Dobby?" Sirius said as they reached the door.

"Well, you've seen how big Dudley is. Dobby would take some of his cake and bring it to me. Sweet revenge. Literally."

"And no one noticed?"

"Are you kidding? With the amount Dudley eats, one small piece is hardly going to be missed. Besides, Dudley always sneaks down to eat some cake before it's even his birthday. Aunt Petunia wouldn't know the difference."

 

 

 

That night, once the excitement died down, they all finally went to bed. As Harry reached his room, Tom grabbed his hand and pulled him into his own room.

"Wha—?" was all Harry had time to say before Tom was pressing his lips to Harry's.

"And that is the proper way to kiss," he said smugly after a moment.

Harry blinked up at him, voice caught in his throat. It was an unusual sight; normally, it was Harry that left Tom speechless. His eyes flicked over Tom's face. His stupidly handsome face...

"Bed?" he squeaked.

He allowed Tom to guide him to his bed, where he laid down. "Good night, Tom," he mumbled.

"Night."

Harry snuggled up against Tom's chest and immediately fell asleep. Tom pulled him even further into his arms and closed his eyes, Harry's snoring lulling him to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

From that night forward, Harry slept in Tom's room. Sirius and Remus didn't make a huge deal out of it, although Sirius did want to take a picture. If only he had a camera... and if only he got off his butt to go buy a camera, the lazy git.

Azure now had an entire room to herself, although she didn't stick around much. However, Harry would sometimes come in to find her bouncing on his bed like a spring. When he first asked her how she was doing that, she stopped for a few seconds to contemplate this before continuing.

Harry slowly blinked open his eyes. The first thing he was aware of was Tom's arm that was draped over his shoulder, pulling him close. He would have loved to stay put, but his bladder was calling out like a kitten calling for its mother.

He shifted in an attempt to wriggle free. But Tom frowned and tightened his hold, letting out a small noise of protest.

"Tom, I have to use the loo."

Tom mumbled something in response.

"I'll be right back, all right? Just let me up."

Harry managed to dislodge Tom's arm, slipping out of bed and quickly going into the bathroom. When he came back, he paused, watching as Tom shifted around slightly, a frown marring his handsome face. Harry finally took pity on him and began climbing back into the bed. He was immediately grabbed and pulled up to Tom again.

He didn't wake up the entire time.

Harry relaxed, gazing up at Tom softly. "Who knew the big bad Dark Lord was such a cuddler?" he murmured.

A small noise answered back.

"And a snorer," Harry added with a small laugh. He wriggled into a more comfortable position and closed his eyes.

About an hour later, Tom stirred.

"Morning," Harry said.

"Morning," Tom echoed. "What has got you so giddy so early in the day?"

Harry grinned at him cheekily. "Not much. Just the knowledge that you, the most feared Dark Lord of all time, is a big cuddler."

"I am not a cuddler," Tom retorted.

"Liar. Every night since we started sleeping together you would hold me so close I could barely breathe. You also snore," Harry added.

Tom groaned. "Great."

"Relax. It's not like I'm going to share this with anyone."

"Except for Remus and Sirius."

"Five points to Slytherin." Harry patted Tom's arm. "You know me so well."

Tom rolled his eyes. "Just shut up and sleep."

"You mean cuddle."

"I— sure." Tom gave up. "Cuddle."

Harry beamed and somehow scooted even closer, head buried in the crook of Tom's neck.

And that was what Sirius came in to find about twenty-five minutes later. Part of him wanted to let them sleep for a little while longer. The other part, the Marauder in him, had him jumping on the bed and lying on top of them amidst the startled protests.

 

 

 

 

Harry trudged downstairs, rubbing his eyes.

"Morning, pup," Sirius greeted him cheerfully as if he had not just interrupted their cuddle session.

Harry merely grunted in response as he grabbed a bowl and poured in some cereal.

"Tom coming down?" Remus said, yawning behind his hand.

"He should be." Tom always took longer showers, although Harry didn't see why he needed to, that tall, gorgeous butthead.

Sure enough, Tom arrived and slid into the chair next to Harry.

A few minutes in, Harry announced, "Tom's a cuddler."

Tom shot a scorching glare at Harry, hissing when Sirius cooed and ruffled his hair. "Touch my hair one more time—"

"Isn't he adorable?" Harry said.

"Extremely," Sirius agreed.

"My adorable little Tommy-boy." Harry nuzzled into Tom's side. Sirius wrapped his arms around the pair.

Tom just sighed. "I hate you two."

"No, you don't."

'I wanna join!' Azure exclaimed, slithering up until she sat atop Tom's head.

"Remus, help me," Tom begged.

"Sirius, get off."

"Fine." Sirius reluctantly released Tom, who raised an eyebrow and glanced pointedly at Harry.

"He's your boyfriend, you deal with him," Remus said, leaning back in his chair.

Hedwig came flying in through the window and dropped an envelope on the table. She took one glance at Azure and Harry, both of whom still clung to Tom, and promptly joined them by sitting on Harry's head.

"Not you, too!" Tom groaned.

Hedwig just hooted in response and flapped her wing in his face.

Meanwhile, Sirius had opened the envelope. "It's the tickets to the Quidditch World Cup," he said. "I guess the Ministry is hoping to make up for my imprisonment. We're in the Top Box."

"We still need to think of a disguise for Tom," Harry reminded him. "Perhaps we should make him have neon hair and give him a high-pitched voice."

"No," Tom said, his tone indicating they discussed this before. "People don't normally go for outlandish appearances like that for disguises."

"Implying I'm a normal people, Riddle?" Harry retorted as he stood up, taking a last sip of his pumpkin juice, not seeming to care that Hedwig was still perched on his head.

"No, you are not a normal people— person!" Tom rolled his eyes. Harry was so infuriating sometimes.

"Your grammar is atrocious, Tom. Maybe you should be homeschooled."

"Says the guy who can't tell the difference between 'your' and 'you're.’”

"That was one time!" Harry defended himself as they began heading back to their room.

"One time more than me."

Their argument continued as they disappeared from view.

Remus and Sirius, who had been sitting in silence watching them, exchanged bemused looks before dissolving into laughter.

"Were we like that when we were younger or worse?" Sirius wondered as the laughter ceased.

"Both, I'd say," Remus replied. "At least these two don't call too much attention to themselves."

"Aw, Moony, but that's what made us so cool."

"In your dreams, Padfoot."

"Want to know what else happens in my dreams?"

Remus coughed, glaring at Sirius, who simply grinned. "That's enough out of you," he said, giving a quick flick of his wand.

"But—" was all Sirius managed to get out before he transformed into a donkey.

Remus stood up, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "Do be quiet, Sirius. You don't want to make more of an ass out of yourself."

The donkey brayed indignantly.

"You say the sweetest things." Remus smiled and made his way out of the dining room, the donkey continuing to bray insults after him.

 

 

 

On the morning of the Quidditch World Cup, it was Harry who woke up the others, starting by slapping a wet sponge he borrowed from Dobby onto everyone's faces.

"Har har," Sirius deadpanned as Remus yelped and bolted upright.

"Seriously?"

"Nope, just me!" Harry grinned mischievously. "Now hurry up, will you?"

Sirius groaned, wiping his face with his arm. "I stink."

"Sirius, love, you've always stank," Remus replied.

"I thought Pick-on-Sirius Day was July 31st."

"Not anymore."

While the adults were bickering, so were the teens.

"I am not going to have spiky hair," Tom deadpanned.

"All right, all right." Harry took a step back, hands raised in surrender. "Go on, Tomling. Show me what you got."

'His dick.'

"Gross." Harry didn't spare his snake a glance.

Within seconds, Tom had made himself have dark blonde hair with hazel eyes. His height had been reduced, but he was still slightly taller than Harry.

"What do you think?" Even his voice had changed, though anyone who knew him would recognize the way he spoke.

"Perfect. Now, on to names. Tom Riddle is certainly going to raise red flags," Harry said thoughtfully. "Maybe we can call you Rob Tiddle."

"That's a horrible idea. You, Harry Potter, are terrible at naming things."

"Well, I gave Azure her name. Do you think that sucks?"

"There's always an exception for everything."

"You would know, Tomalongadingdong."

Tom inhaled sharply. Why, just why was he destined to be the most infuriating person on the planet?

As if he knew what he was thinking, Harry stepped forward and planted a quick kiss on his lips. "Come on. We're going to be late."

They rejoined the adults outside.

"All right, we got Tom a new makeover and the wonderful name of Rob Tiddle."

Tom pinched the bridge of his nose. "Just call me Cody or something."

"Fine, Something. How are we getting there?" Harry asked.

"Since there's only four of us, we'll be Apparating," Remus said. "So each of you grab onto me or Sirius."

Harry grabbed onto his arm, while Tom took Sirius', and they disappeared from sight briefly. Moments later, after the sensation of being sucked through a tube, they landed in misty moors.

"There should be a Muggle up ahead," Remus said. "Let's go."

Twenty minutes later, they came across a small stone cottage next to a gate. Hundreds of tents lay beyond it.

A man stood in the doorway of the cottage.

"Morning," Sirius said. "Are you Mr. Roberts?"

"I am," the man said."And who're you?"

"Black— one tent."

"Aye," said Mr. Roberts, consulting a list tacked to the door. "You've got a space up by the wood there. Just the one night?"

"Yes."

"You'll be paying now, then?" said Mr. Roberts.

It was Remus who answered, handing over some notes.

"You're the first person in a while to not to have had trouble with money," Mr. Roberts remarked.

"Really?" Remus said.

"Two tried to pay with great gold coins the size of hubcaps, and there was this large group of redheads that took a while to sort through their notes."

Mr. Roberts fished out the change and a map and sent them on their way.

The four trudged on between the tents. Harry wondered how many times Mr. Roberts had to be Obliviated. Most of the tents looked inconspicuous enough, but here and there were tents that were obviously not Muggle-made.

"Time to set up the tent," Sirius said, rubbing his hands together.

Having never been camping, it took a while to figure out what went where, but together, they managed to prop up a decent looking tent.

"Teamwork," Harry said smugly, high-fiving Tom. "Now we can go exploring."

"Bring back some water," Remus said, holding out a saucepan and a kettle.

"And no sneaking off," Sirius added.

"We won't," Harry promised. "Let's go, Something."

For the umpteenth time that week, Tom rolled his eyes heavenward and followed.

Chapter Text

By now, the campers that have already settled in the day prior and before then were beginning to stir. A two-year-old was poking at a slug, which was growing at an alarming rate. Beyond him, two young witches were flying around on small broomsticks barely a foot off the ground.

The adults were cooking breakfast, some attempting it the Muggle way, others discreetly using their wands to make a fire. Here and there, wizards and witches from other nations huddled together, most chatting amiably in other languages.

"That's a lot of green," Harry remarked as they came across a patch of tents that were covered in shamrocks.

"Yes, let's get out of here." These greens were way too bright for Tom's taste.

Harry glimpsed Seamus with a sandy-haired woman and his friend, Dean. He waved back at them as he moved on.

Upfield from them, there was the Bulgarian flag with a larger patch of tents situated around it. Moving closer, they noticed the posters of Viktor Krum, the Bulgarian Seeker, who did nothing but scowl and blink.

"He doesn't look like he knows how to have fun," Harry said, looking around at the posters. Tom snorted but hushed him as a couple of witches passed them.

They reached the tap in the corner of the field and filled the kettle and saucepan with water. On their way back, Harry spotted more familiar faces, including Tracey and Pansy, both of whom ran over.

"Hi, Harry," Pansy said, embracing him. "I see you made it. Who's your friend?"

"This is Cody. Cody, Pansy and Tracey."

"Pleasure to meet you both," Tom said, shaking their hands.

Pansy seemed to perk up in realization. "You, too."

"Are Lupin and Black with you?" Tracey asked.

Harry nodded. "They're at the tent, yes. Speaking of which, we should probably go. We don't want Sirius to destroy anything."

The girls cringed at the thought and went back to their families.

"Do you really think Sirius would have destroyed something in this amount of time?" Tom said.

"With Moony here, probably not," Harry conceded.

To their surprise, it was Remus was struggling with the matchsticks when they finally returned. Nearly half of the matches they had brought were splintered, and several of them were burnt, suggesting he was somewhat successful in his attempts.

"Moony, let me help," a very exasperated Sirius was saying.

"No. I got this. See? Oh!" He dropped another matchstick on the ground. "I don't got this."

Rolling his eyes, Sirius took another matchstick and deftly lit it up and started a fire. Remus stared at the flames, then looked up at Sirius’ smug face. “I don’t like you.”

“Liar.”

Even with a fire now it took nearly an hour of waiting before they could begin cooking the food.

"Is this really how Muggles camp?" Sirius said, intrigued.

"Yes, except they don't use their wands," Harry said, voice raising slightly as he looked over at Remus.

The werewolf had not-so-subtly removed his wand and was about to use it on the fire when Harry had begun speaking. "Oh, fine," he grumbled, putting it away.

"Hey, you were the one who insisted on doing everything the Muggle way," Harry pointed out.

Night began to fall. The Ministry, which had been monitoring the usage of magic all day, finally seemed to give up on fighting it.

Salesmen began Apparating every few feet, carrying trays and pushing carts full of merchandise. Harry and Tom wandered around and ended up buying a few items before returning. Harry was especially excited about the Omnioculars, which were binoculars that could replay and slow down a moment.

Neither Sirius nor Remus were in sight when they came back to the tent.

"Oh, I do hope they aren't doing anything in there," Tom said with a grimace.

"Only one way to find out." Harry cleared his throat. "WE'RE BACK!" he yelled into the tent.

There was a thud, followed by shuffling, then Remus pushed the tent flap open. "Already?" he asked, trying to smoothen down his ruffled appearance but forgetting to button up his shirt.

Sirius poked his head out from behind, looking as if he had run through a tornado. "Hello," he said casually, zipping up his pants.

Tom facepalmed, and Harry just said, "Clean up, you two."

"Am I allowed to use magic now?" Remus asked snidely.

Harry's gaze flicked downward at a certain area and back up. "Yes, please."

With Harry's "permission," the adults were tidied up in no time. A deep, booming gong sounded beyond the woods, and green and red lanterns lit up a path to the field.

"It's time!" Sirius said, eyes bright. "Let's go!"

 

 

 

The four headed up to the Top Box, where they met up with Fudge and the Bulgarian minister. The Malfoys and Weasleys were already there, along with Hermione. In the second from last seat at the end of the row behind them sat a house-elf. She was shielding her face despite the dimness of the Top Box, but she seemed to temporarily forget about her fears when she saw Harry. "You is surely Harry Potter!"

"Yes. And you are?"

"Winky, sir."

Harry was about to ask why she seemed so agitated when Fudge stood up, shaking his and the others' hands.

"Harry Potter, you know," Fudge said to the Bulgarian minister, although the other wizard didn't seem to understand a word he was saying. "The boy who survived You-Know-Who... you do know who he is—"

The minister suddenly began gabbling loudly and pointed at Harry's forehead.

"Knew we'd get there in the end," said Fudge wearily to Harry. "I'm no great shakes at languages; I need Barty Crouch for this sort of thing."

Draco was staring at Tom with a questioning look. Tom returned his gaze and gave an almost indiscernible nod. Draco's eyes lit up, but he looked away with an air of indifference.

"Everyone ready?" said Ludo Bagman. "Minister— ready to go?"

"Ready when you are, Ludo," said Fudge comfortably.

Ludo whipped out his wand, directed it at his own throat, and said "Sonorus!" and then spoke over the roar of sound that was now filling the packed stadium; his voice echoed over them, booming into every corner of the stands.

"Ladies and gentlemen... welcome! Welcome to the final of the four hundred and twenty–second Quidditch World Cup!"

There was a loud cheer from the stands; it felt like the entire stadium was shaking.

"And now, without further ado, allow me to introduce... the Bulgarian National Team Mascots!"

The Bulgarian mascots happened to be about a hundred Veela came out and began dancing.

Harry thought they were very beautiful with their moon-bright skin and white-gold hair fanning behind them without wind, and he wasn't the only one who noticed. Ron looked like he was about to dive out of the stands and probably would have succeeded if it weren't for Hermione grabbing him and shaking him back into the present.

"And now," roared Bagman's voice as the Veela stopped dancing, "kindly put your wands in the air... for the Irish National Team Mascots!"

A green-and-gold comet zoomed into the stadium and split into two smaller comets. A rainbow connected the two, and the crowd oooohed and aaaaahed. The lights merged and began showering heavy gold coins down at the audience.

Sirius scrambled for the coins, and Remus leaned over. "You do know Leprechaun gold disappears, right?"

"Yeah, but I may as well have fun while I can!" Sirius said, unperturbed as he snatched the coins.

Harry shook his head at his godfather and turned back in time to see the Bulgarian team fly out.

"That's him, that's him!" Ron was heard yelling as he watched Viktor Krum zoom past.

The game was unlike any that Harry had seen at Hogwarts. The players moved at such a speed that Bagman barely had enough time to say their names as the Quaffle was passed from one Chaser to the next. Harry was thankful more than ever that he had bought the Omnioculars, for he didn't think he would have been able to keep up.

As the match went still faster, the brutality increased. The Bulgarian team was giving all they got, but the Irish were in the lead.

There was no doubt as to why Krum was considered the best. As he dove down, with Aidan Lynch following, he pulled up at the last second. Lynch was not quite as lucky and slammed into the ground with a dull thud that reverberated through the stadium.

"That gotta hurt," Tom said gleefully.

"Go figure, this is what entertains you," Harry retorted.

Remus, who clearly did not agree with Tom's statement, had his knees pulled up and was peeking through his fingers.

"You can look now, Moony," Sirius said, trying to pry his hands away from his face.

A very pale Remus lowered his hands warily.

If Harry thought the match was ferocious to begin with, it was nothing compared to now. The Bulgarian Beaters were swinging their bats erratically, not caring if they made contact with Bludger or human. Even the leprechauns and Veela were losing control. The former made a very rude sign to the Veela, who retaliated by throwing handfuls of fire.

The Irish Beater Quigley hit a Bludger toward Krum, who was too slow to duck and received a direct hit to the face. But the blood leaking from his broken nose didn't deter him as he and Lynch made a dive that was most definitely not a Wronski Feint.

"They're going to crash!" Hermione shrieked.

Remus squeaked and grabbed onto Sirius.

Hermione had been partly correct; only Lynch hit the ground. Krum, on the other hand, rose into the air, the Snitch clutched in his first.

"IRELAND WINS!" Bagman shouted, sounding very taken aback. "KRUM GETS THE SNITCH— BUT IRELAND WINS— good lord, I don't think any of us were expecting that!"

"That," Remus said hoarsely, "was vicious."

"And so is your grip on me," Sirius mumbled, making Remus smile sheepishly and let go.

Bagman pointed his wand at his throat. "Quietus. They'll be talking about this one for years, a really unexpected twist, that... shame it couldn't have lasted longer... Ah yes... yes, I owe you... how much?" he said as the twins scrambled over, hands outstretched.

Harry peered closer as Bagman fished out a handful of coins. "That wouldn't happen to be Leprechaun gold, would it?" he asked loudly.

"What's wrong with that?" George asked.

"It's not actually worth anything, first of all," Harry replied. "Secondly, it disappears after a while."

A disapproving expression appeared on Mr. Weasley's face. Bagman stuttered out an apology and handed over another load of coins, which Harry confirmed was legitimate.

 

 

 

"That was insane!" Sirius exclaimed as they trudged back to their tent.

"Have you ever played Quidditch?" Harry asked.

"Not me," Remus said. "I can't stand it, balancing on a thin stick in midair."

"No, you balance on another stick."

"A very large one, I bet," Harry whispered loudly to Tom, who sniggered into his hand. "What about you, Padfoot?"

"Quidditch? Not officially, but I tried out as a Beater," Sirius replied. "Your father was a Chaser, as you likely heard, and he was the one who dragged me out."

"Tom?" Harry inquired.

"I tried out," Tom said. By his tone, Harry guessed that he was also forced to go. "Couldn't block a damn thing."

"You'd have made a good Seeker," Sirius said, poking Harry with his finger. "Got the right build and all."

"Draco's better at it," Harry said. "Although he did try to get me to try out once."

"And how did that go?"

"He may have spent the rest of the day looking like a piñata exploded over him."

Sirius and Remus laughed at the image, and Tom shook his head in amusement.

 

Chapter Text

SCENES OF TERROR AT THE QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP

"Ministry blunders... culprits not apprehended... lax security... Dark wizards running unchecked... national disgrace... brought to you by Rita Skeeter," Sirius said, tossing the newspapers onto the table.

"Who else would write such wonderful things about the Ministry?" Tom drawled. He was back to his normal self now, although that didn't stop Harry from calling him Cody or Something among his many other nicknames.

The day after the World Cup had begun in complete chaos. A group of masked wizards had marched through the tents, causing everyone to flee. Sirius and Remus had gone to help the Ministry, leaving Harry and Tom to run for the woods. They joined Pansy and Tracey, who had twisted her ankle after tripping in the darkness, and huddled together, waiting for the turmoil to cease.

An unknown man not far from them shot an image of a skull with a snake protruding from its mouth into the air. Despite the severity of the situation, Tom couldn't help but scoff inwardly at the design. Harry was right. His future self really was into aesthetics.

Unfortunately, the man escaped, leaving behind very unsettled Ministry workers. Yesterday, Tom had suggested sending their elves out to look for the man that had cast the Dark Mark. So far, they had found nothing.

"Well, they aren't exactly the most competent group, are they?" Harry said, opening the parcels containing his school supplies.

In the last parcel, Harry pulled out a set of dress robes that looked much like his school ones except they were deep emerald in color.

"What are these for?"

"They're on the school list," Remus told him.

"They're lovely," Harry said, carefully folding them and placing them in his trunk. "But you still didn't answer my question."

 

"I know."

"And you're not going to."

"Yep." Remus smiled cheekily, and Harry threw a napkin at him.

"Don't you have a moon to howl to?" he grumbled.

'Be nice to the wolf,' Azure said, patting the top of his head with her tail.

'Why are you defending him?'

'He didn't forget to feed me yesterday,' she hissed pointedly.

'You're the one who insisted on hunting for everything while you're here!' Harry protested.

"It is so weird hearing a full conversation in Parseltongue," Sirius said, shaking his head. "I never have any idea what you're saying. You could be insulting me for all I know."

Harry considered this, then turned to Tom. 'Sirius is an idiot.’

'And he reeks.'

'Eugh.'

"What was that about?" Sirius asked suspiciously, eyes narrowed.

"Just saying how beautiful your eyes are," Harry replied without missing a beat.

"Stunning," Tom added.

Sirius' eyes narrowed even more. "I don't believe you."

"They are pretty," Remus muttered. Because of Azkaban, Sirius' eyes had dulled to a stormy gray. Now they were back to their vibrant blue, and the idiot loved batting his eyes at Remus whenever possible.

"You think so?" Sirius said, and predictably batted his eyes.

Harry let out what seemed to be something between a sigh and a huff and stood up. "I'm going for a walk. Coming, Tom?"

Tom rose from his seat and followed.

The two strolled through the garden in silence. The clouds overhead covered the sun, casting everything in shadow.

"What do you think the wizard was doing?" Harry wondered, sitting down on a rock by the fountain. Tom followed suit. "I doubt anyone would just cast a Dark Mark for no reason."

"Voldemort was never fully destroyed," Tom recalled. As always, he found it strange to be referring to himself as such. Just what could have possibly been going through Dumbledore's mind when he brought him up into his office that day? Surely not even he would have fathomed the consequences of basically altering a person's identity.

Harry raised his head to look at him. "You think he's still out there? Sending a message that he's back?"

"Yeah."

"It does make sense. Although given the Death Eaters' reactions, I don't think it did much more than scare them."

He turned back to the fountain, watching the water as it made its way down. "Do you think any of the later Horcruxes would have broken away from the compulsions if given the chance?"

"They might have," Tom said thoughtfully, reaching down and picking up a small pebble in his hand. He turned it over between his fingers idly. "Although, given that splitting your soul tears at your mind, I doubt it would have made much of a difference."

Harry hummed in agreement. A drop landing on his shoulder made him look up. "The rain's coming down a bit earlier than I thought."

Tom wrinkled his nose as a raindrop hit it. "We should go back inside."

"Why?" Harry said. "It's refreshing."

"Is this the part where we dance and kiss in the rain like in those Muggle films?"

Harry scoffed. "As if either of us need an excuse to kiss each other." To prove his point, he leaned over and pressed his lips to Tom's. Tom immediately responded by running his hand through Harry's hair, pulling him closer.

It was the rain that brought them both back to their senses. "We're wet," Tom commented.

Damp would be more accurate since it was only lightly sprinkling. But with the rain persisting, they would be soaked very soon.

"Fine, let's go."

They set off at a brisk pace back to the manor. Lightning flashed from somewhere beyond the building, and thunder boomed faintly behind them.

Harry noticed that the lower-hanging branches were already dipping under the weight of the rainwater. Grinning mischievously, he nudged the tree.

An unsuspecting Tom let out a squeak as water suddenly seeped through his robes, soaking him to the skin instantly.

"You just squeaked!" Harry said, trying to stifle his laughter. When Tom turned to glare at him, he completely lost it.

Glancing up, Tom wandlessly cast a charm that shifted all the branches above. Harry's laughter was cut off abruptly as he too was soaked.

Tom sidled up to him and leaned down. "Sorry to rain on your parade, my dear, but you can't be the only one enjoying yourself on this fine day."

He smirked at Harry's dumbfounded expression and sauntered off. A few seconds later, he heard the pattering of feet hurrying to catch up.

"Just you wait," Harry muttered darkly. "I'm gonna make you regret that."

"We're both wet, I'd say we're even."

"Well, what if I want to be odd?"

"You're already odd."

Harry's only response was to scoop up a wad of mud and fling it onto Tom's head.

To Tom's credit, he didn't make any embarrassing sounds like the squeak from earlier. Instead, he paused, took a deep breath, and continued walking with dignity.

"I was wondering when you were going to be back," Remus said, leaning against the doorway like a very unimpressed mother who had caught her sons doing something idiotic, which wasn’t far off from the truth. "Dinner will be ready soon, I expect, so go and clean up."

Tom shivered in revulsion as he flicked off the majority of the mud from his hair. "That's nasty."

"Relax, dildo lover. You still look beautiful." Harry gave him a disgruntled look over. "Unnaturally so."

Tom sniffed. "Yeah, well, you're not ugly, either. You and those big green eyes of yours."

As one could see, both Harry and Tom were excellent in compliments.

"You want to shower first?" Tom asked as Harry grabbed his toiletries.

"I was hoping you'd join me," Harry replied.

"Really?" Tom gave him an incredulous look.

"Why not? It would save time. Plus, isn't this what couples do?"

"I suppose." Remus and Sirius certainly showered together frequently, sometimes coming out much longer than usual.

They headed up to the bathroom and stripped off their wet robes, tossing them into the hamper, where they disappeared for the elves to wash. Tom was first in the shower and turned in the water. As with most things magical, they didn't need to wait for it to heat up. It came out as whatever temperature it was set out.

Harry joined him, a sigh leaving his lips as the warmth drove away the chill from the rain. "Much better," he murmured. He let out a small noise of protest as he felt Tom begin massaging shampoo into his hair. "I can do it myself."

"What's the point of me being here, then?"

Harry shrugged and fell silent.

He was slightly tense, Tom observed, head slightly turned to the door as if expecting someone to barge in. When there was a knock a few minutes later, Harry minutely flinched, gripping the shower head tightly.

"Dinner's ready, just so you know," Sirius told them.

"We'll be out shortly," Tom replied. Harry remained silent.

"You're both in there?"

Tom could just picture the grin on his face. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Black, and go away."

"Sorry, sorry." They heard his footsteps recede.

Harry only fully relaxed once he no longer heard Sirius' retreat. He shook his head slightly, wishing he would stop reacting like a deer in headlights. Unfortunately, some scars ran too deep to forget easily. Like the ones on his back. He hadn't done anything about them, having forgotten them for the most part. With a jolt, he realized Tom had probably seen them. The thought made him turn around abruptly.

Tom nearly jumped as Harry whirled around but refrained from commenting. Instead, he took the shower head from Harry's tense grip and rinsed his own hair out.

Harry’s eyes roamed Tom's form. In the time they've shared a bed, he had never gotten a good look at his mate. Tall, pale-skinned, lightly freckled...

Tom felt a hand gently touch his face and looked down. "What?"

"Freckles," Harry said, staring at them in awe.

Tom's face flushed lightly. "Yeah, they're not exactly..."

"Not exactly what?" Harry said sharply.

"Nothing." No one had ever noticed his freckles before. Normally, he would hear whispers from girls saying how they could cut their hand on his jaw or something else that was even more disturbing.

"I'm finished," Harry said.

Tom blinked. It hadn't even been ten minutes. "Okay."

Harry stepped out of the shower and dried off, once again rushing like there was no tomorrow.

Tom gazed at the door, suddenly feeling very exposed without Harry by his side.

 

 

 

"That was a fast shower," Tom said as they were heading back up to their room.

Harry halted. "I was hungry," he said, suddenly finding the painting on the wall very fascinating. It was a simple one, streaked with blue and gray and hints of pink. If one were to squint, they may notice the flecks of gold...

"Harry," Tom said pleadingly.

It certainly wasn't the first time he had noticed.  Harry almost never took more than ten minutes in the shower. The longest he had been in the bathroom was approximately seventeen minutes, and when he finally came out, he had looked skittish, as if expecting someone to say something about it. Tom had refrained from saying anything at the time, but he stored the information for later.

Harry stopped trying to feign ignorance. "I rarely got to properly bathe myself," he began. "And when I did, I only had ten minutes, fifteen if Vernon was in a good mood."

"And if you went over?"

Harry's face became closed off. "What do you think?"

"Right." Tom mentally berated himself. That had been a stupid question. "It should have been obvious. Those damn Muggles have messed up a lot of things with you."

"They're in prison now," Harry said, still not completely used to people defending him. "It's not a big deal. Besides, I only went over the time limit twice."

The pride in Harry's voice made Tom wince. To be proud of something you shouldn't even have to think about made his stomach churn. "You can go over that pathetic time limit here," he said. "Hell, the rest of us do all the time."

"Not as much as Draco does," Harry commented, shaking his head.

Tom grinned despite himself. Then he said more seriously, "You should try taking longer showers. You'll feel better."

"If you say so. Did I ruin it?" he asked as they slid into bed. Part of him regretted suggesting they showered together. He had thought he was over the past, but apparently not.

"You could never ruin anything," Tom replied.

"Except your hair."

"Yes. And that was not an invitation to ruffle it!" he yelped as Harry reached up.

"But you look adorable!" Harry protested, raising his hands and successfully tousling up Tom’s hair. "Like a fluffy hedgehog."

"Dark Lords are not adorable."

"And they apparently don't cuddle, either."

Tom looked at him exasperatedly, though the smile spreading across his face betrayed his fondness. "I thought we were over that."

Harry kissed him. "Never. Love you, Something." He laughed as Tom shoved him with a groan.

"I love you, too, you prat."

 

Chapter Text

 

"I don't wanna go," Harry mumbled, burrowing further into Tom's side.

"I don't want you to go, either," Tom said, fighting the urge to lie back down and never get up again. "But aren't you interested in what they're doing this year?"

"No."

"Fair enough, but you're still going." Tom began to get out of bed.

Harry sighed and followed suit, making no further protests until it was time to leave. Then he latched back onto Tom.

"We can talk through the mirrors," Tom reminded him.

"It won't be the same. You won't be too bored without me, will you?"

"Course he won't," Sirius said, coming up in time to hear his question. "You're not the only one trying to get an education." Tom still needed to take his N.E.W.T.s since he was still a sixth year. It wouldn't take long for him to catch up, especially given the Black library. They were hoping to be done by the spring.

Sirius threw an arm around Tom's shoulders. "Just think. We could talk about how annoying our mates are."

"I would rather do that with Remus," Tom muttered. Unfortunately for him— and fortunately for Harry— Remus would be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts again.

The Board of Governors had been reluctant to allow him to return, but many parents spoke in his defense, saying that he was in a controlled environment that would prevent him from hurting anyone. It helped that Severus had made Slytherin's Wolfsbane public.

"You ready, Harry?" Sirius said.

"Yes." Harry gave Tom a quick kiss and followed Sirius out the door. They reached the gates and Apparated to King's Cross.

"So will you tell me what's going on?" Ever since he had gotten his dress robes, he had been trying to get them to spill the beans.

Sirius shook his head. "Sorry, pup. You're just gonna have to wait until tonight."

"Fine. I'll mirror-call you after dinner. Bye."

"Say hi to Moony for me."

"I will if you tell me what—" Harry began.

"Nice try. Get moving."

With a very dramatic groan, Harry gave up and climbed onto the train. He found Draco, Pansy, and Tracey in their usual compartment and took a seat.

"Hi, Harry," Pansy said.

"Hello, Pansy." He turned to Tracey. "Your ankle all right?"

"All better now, thank you. Just a simple Ferula and I could walk without limping."

The rain, which had started early that morning, grew heavier, darkening the sky more and more as the train moved farther north. The lunch trolley came rattling along the corridor, and the Slytherins bought an assortment of food off it.

"Do any of you know what's happening this year?" Harry asked as he took a bite of a Cauldron Cake.

Pansy and Tracey shook their heads.

"You don't know?" Draco said, eyes lighting up gleefully. "My father told me about it ages ago... heard it from Cornelius Fudge."

"What is it?" Pansy demanded.

Draco grinned and leaned back. "Not telling," he said.

"I will mess up your hair," Harry said seriously.

"Won't make me talk." But Draco made sure to move as far away from Harry as possible.

That didn't stop Pansy from pouncing on him and tousling up his hair. "Tell us!" she commanded.

"Never!"

Tracey rolled her eyes and stood up. "If any of you need me, I'll be with Daphne and Millicent."

"Good choice," Harry said. He took out a book and began reading. When the wrestling pair showed no signs of stopping, he finally spoke. "Knock it off, Pansy. He won't be sharing anytime soon."

Pansy sat back with a huff. "Fine."

"You could've stepped in sooner," said a very disheveled Draco.

"But I didn't."

Their compartment door opened. It was Luna. "Hello, Harry. Do you mind if I sit here?"

"Not at all."

Luna took the seat next to him. "Is your mate finally with us again?"

Pansy and Draco stiffened.

"How does she know about—?"

"Oh, was I not supposed to?" Luna asked.

"Not unless Harry told you," Draco said uncertainly.

Pansy was eyeing Luna with interest. "You're a Seer, aren't you?"

Luna didn't confirm nor deny this, just smiled vaguely before turning back to Harry. "So is he?"

"He is."

"That's wonderful," Luna chirped. "The air was much calmer when I came home."

She pulled out a copy of the Quibbler and began reading.

By the time the train arrived, the rain was coming down very thickly.

"No point in this event if we all drown before getting inside," Harry said, shivering. He didn't envy the first years, who would be sailing across the lake to get to Hogwarts.

He let out a relieved sigh as they arrived at the castle, only to jump as a large, water-filled balloon came crashing down a few feet away onto Ron's head. Another burst at Luna's feet, sending a wave of cold water over their shoes. It was Peeves, who was about to take aim again.

Thinking fast, Harry picked up the broken pieces of the balloon and whispered, "Waddiwasi!"

Instantly, the pieces shot upward and into Peeves' eyes. Cursing, he abandoned his game and zoomed off up the marble staircase.

"Interesting spell," Luna said, not seeming to notice that she and everyone else were soaked to the skin.

"Remus taught it to me." Harry looked around at the soaked students and cast a Drying Charm on them. "Let's get moving," he said.

The Great Hall was much warmer and the students all entered with a breath of relief. Luna wandered off and joined her fellow Ravenclaws.

"Hiya, Harry!" Colin Creevey said, running over from the Gryffindor table.

"Hi, Colin."

"Harry, guess what? Guess what, Harry? My brother's starting! My brother Dennis!"

"That's good," Harry said.

"He's really excited!" said Colin, practically bouncing up and down in place. "I just hope he's in Gryffindor! Keep your fingers crossed, eh, Harry?" Without waiting for a response, he ran back to his table.

"Do you think Dennis will be as hyper?" Draco wondered.

"With Colin as his brother, I'd be surprised if he wasn't," Harry replied.

He looked up at the High Table. Hagrid and McGonagall were not there, the latter presumably drying the entrance hall floor, but he spotted Remus next to Severus.

Harry wasn't the only one who noticed. Several students seemed to be pleasantly surprised that Remus was back. Despite his lycanthropy, he was a favorite among the staff, his easygoing nature making it easier to approach him. It baffled many of them as to how he got along with Severus, though, especially given how hostile he had acted in the beginning of the previous year.

The first years came in, all soaked to the skin. Harry spotted a tiny boy with mousy hair wrapped in Hagrid's moleskin coat. He looked very out of place with the excited expression on his face. There was no doubt as to who he was.

The Sorting began with Stewart Ackerley, who was visibly trembling as he made his way up to the stool.

"RAVENCLAW!" shouted the hat.

"Baddock, Malcolm" was next, and he became the first of the group to be Sorted into Slytherin. The boy wearing Hagrid's coat, who was indeed Dennis Creevey, was next and joined a very pleased Colin in Gryffindor.

Once the Sorting was over, Dumbledore stood up. It was difficult not to feel hatred bubbling up inside Harry at the sight. He had to hand it to him, though; Dumbledore looked as if nothing had occurred the previous year that had damaged his reputation.

"I have only two words to say to you. Tuck in."

The students eagerly dug into the food that appeared on the tables.

As usual when eating, Harry let his gaze wander around absentmindedly. Despite the cold from the rain, most of the students seemed to be in good spirits. He noticed that many of the first years were dry now thanks to the older years.

A clanging sound made him look toward the Gryffindor table. Hermione had knocked over her goblet, sending pumpkin juice spreading over the tablecloth. She was looking up at Newrly Headless Nick in horror and, as Harry watched, pushed her cutlery away and refused to take another bite. Even Ron's attempts to get her to eat failed, and he gave up when she shot a scorching stare that was eerily similar to McGonagall.

Harry wasn't the only one to have noticed.

"What's going on with Granger?" Draco said scornfully. "Is the food not good enough for her?"

"If that were the case, she would have stopped eating a long time ago," Tracey pointed out.

When everyone had finished, Dumbledore stood up. "So! Now that we are all fed and watered, I must once more ask for your attention, while I give out a few notices..."

Harry only listened with half an ear, perking up when Dumbledore began explaining the Triwizard Tournament. He quickly lost untested at the death toll, but he seemed to be one of the very few. Most of the students were whispering excitedly among themselves.

"That's it? That was what all the fuss was about?" Harry griped after Dumbledore sent them off to bed.

Draco gave him an incredulous look. "That's it?" he repeated. "Are you kidding? It'll be great!"

Harry nodded noncommittally but said nothing else.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, back at Black Manor, all was quiet. Almost too quiet, which unnerved Sirius somewhat as he made his way to Tom's bedroom. "Dinner's ready," he announced, rapping the door with his fist. When there was no answer, he peered inside.

Tom was lying facedown on the bed, feet sticking up in the air.

"Uh, Tom? Did you hear me?"

"Yes," came the muffled response. Tom rolled over and sat up. "It's quiet," he said, unknowingly echoing Sirius' thoughts. After listening to Harry and Azure chattering up a storm for so long, it was rather strange to be without.

"I expect Harry will be giving us a call soon," Sirius said. "Now get off your arse and come eat."

Tom obeyed, muttering about kicking Sirius' butt under his breath. And then kicking Harry's butt because it was his fault Tom was missing him so damn much.

They ate in silence. Tom kept shooting glances at the mirror as if sheer will would make Harry call.

"You're going to bore a hole right through the table if you keep doing that," Sirius remarked as he moved on to dessert.

"I'll bore a hole through you if you don't shut up."

Sirius raised his hands in surrender.

Just as they were finishing up, the mirror glowed. Sirius answered it, grinning. "Hiya, pup."

"Hello, Sirius. Is Tom there?"

"Yes." Tom nudged Sirius over so they were both in Harry's view.

"So, the Triwizard Tournament, hm?" Harry said. "Honestly, you made it sound like this grand event."

"It is!" Sirius exclaimed indignantly.

"It's literally a death trap, who in their right mind would want to participate?" Harry shifted around in a more comfortable position. "At least they made it for those seventeen and up. I don't doubt the twins will try to get in."

"Remus settling in all right?" Sirius asked.

"He looks fine. Hadn't spoken to him yet."

A dark, slender shape peeked in on Harry's right. 'Tomling! Grimmy!'

Harry and Tom snorted, leaving a very puzzled Sirius. "What did she say?"

"Nothing," Tom said between snickers, "Grimmy."

Sirius looked as if he didn't know whether or not he should be affronted or amused. After a moment, he settled on affronted. "I hate everything about that."

"At least you don't have like a million nicknames," Harry said. "Not like Something over here."

Tom let out a loud groan and hit his head against Sirius' shoulder. He was never going to live that down, or any of the others. Sirius patted his back sympathetically. "Does she have a name for Remus?"

"Not exactly," Harry said. "She used to call him Wolfy, but she thought that was too bland. You already call him Moony, so that was out. She referred to him as the witty werewolf once."

"That's not too bad," Tom said.

"Not as bad as Lupey." Harry let out a yawn. "It's getting late. I'll talk to you two later."

"Good night, pup."

Harry deactivated the mirror, and Sirius' reflection appeared once more.

 

 

 

Dumbledore let out a small sigh as he reached his office. His summer had been hell, to put it bluntly. The Howlers and letters demanding why he had allowed for Harry to go to abusive Muggles had ceased, but so had the respect and awe in people's eyes. Now they either avoided his gaze or shot looks of betrayal and shame toward him. The adults pulled their children close to them as if they were afraid Dumbledore would swoop in and take them away. He even overheard a couple of witches fretting over his next move.

Rita Skeeter had had a field day writing all about him, and there was nothing he could do since they were true, albeit with her normal twist.

Getting in touch with Sirius and Remus had been a disaster.

He had first sent letters coated in mild compulsions, but they came back unopened and without the compulsions. Next, he tried to contact Grimmauld Place via the Floo Network, only to be spat out. Dumbledore unconsciously rubbed his temples as he recalled the headache that had followed. It had taken almost an entire hour before fading away completely.

Snape had no luck getting into Grimmauld Place, either. Not that Dumbledore spoke to him that much; Snape had been busy brewing Slytherin's Wolfsbane potion.

Thanks to the Wolfsbane, the prejudice against werewolves had been reduced drastically and more of them were able to obtain jobs.

Dumbledore hadn't been able to believe it when he heard Remus was coming back to teach. There wasn't anything he could do about it, and he was wary not to do anything to him.

"Dammit!" he muttered, wishing he had just killed the pathetic werewolf when he had te chance. Admittedly, using the Cruciatus Curse four times in the classroom had been a bit extreme, but he needed to remember that Dumbledore was in charge.

To make matters worse, even his staunchest supporters had wavered. The Weasley family had stood behind him for as long as he could remember but not anymore. Molly hadn't gotten in touch with him since the abuse had been publicized, and neither she nor Arthur did anything to back Dumbledore up.

The youngest son, Ron, had been perfect for the role of Harry Potter's best friend. But the briefest glimpse in his mind told the Headmaster he was of no use anymore. The same went for Hermione Granger.

Dumbledore closed his eyes. He really needed to stop thinking about what went wrong and look toward the future. What should he do next?

 

Chapter Text

"And one of them decided its arse wasn't good enough and blew it off!" Harry groaned, waving his arms around haphazardly.

It was two weeks into the first term. He was sitting in Remus' office telling Remus of all the horrible (not really) things that have transpired so far.

"Well, they aren't called Blast-Ended Skrewts for nothing," Remus pointed out.

"I suppose it's better than Butt Poppers," Harry muttered.

"Butt popp...? Tom was right. You are terrible at naming things."

"What about your parents?" Harry shot back. "They literally named you Wolfy McWerewolf."

"They did, didn't they?" Remus grumbled ruefully. "James and Sirius used to tease me about it all the time."

"And Sirius is the Dog Star. His Animagus form is a dog." Harry rubbed his face with his hands. "Anyone else with coincidental names?"

"Dumbledore has 'dumb' in his name."

"Perfect." Harry went silent for a moment, leg bouncing restlessly. "I heard you took Neville Longbottom to get a new wand. What was that all about?"

"I recognized the wand he had been using as his father's," Remus told him.

"Wait. You mean he's been using a wand that wasn't right for him?" Harry said. "But the wand chooses the wizard."

"His grandmother gave it to him. I do not know why, but what's important is that he has a better wand."

Thanks to Remus' sharp eyes, Neville was doing much better. He didn't ask Hermione for help as much as he used to, and even Potions, a subject he struggled with, couldn't completely dampen his spirits.

"Better late than never," Harry remarked, fiddling with his own wand. Ollivander had said it shared the same wand core as Voldemort's— phoenix feather. Interestingly enough, when Tom had gone to purchase a new wand, he ended up getting it, too. The only difference was the wand was made of ebony instead of yew.

If Ollivander had known who Tom was, and he most likely did, he hadn't said anything. As with all wandmakers, he was not permitted to share who came into his shop nor what they walked away with.

"The elves have finally found the wizard from the Quidditch Cup," Remus announced.

"Oh?" Harry perked up. "Who was it?"

"Barty Crouch Jr."

"But he's dead."

"Obviously not. It's just as we suspected. He did it on Voldemort's orders."

Harry made a small noise of confusion. "I'm guessing Sirius and Tom are going to check it out?"

"You would be correct. They should mirror-call tonight, so better have your Invisibility Cloak with you." Remus looked up to see it wrapped around Harry so only his head was visible. "I can see I didn't need to remind you of that."

"Nope. Hey, has Sirius made a visit yet?" He peered at Remus more closely. "Your clothes look as neat as ever. No sign of bite marks or glamours to hide them. I take that as a no."

"Haven't you got anything better to do than invade in my personal space?" Remus asked, leaning away. It was a bit disconcerting to have a floating head mere inches from his face.

"Well, I could be invading Tom's personal space," Harry mumbled, staring at the floor mutinously. "But he's not here."

"Go and irritate someone else. Like Severus."

Harry's eyes lit up. "Great idea! I'll see you later, Moony."

Remus gulped. Only he would forget that Harry was the kind of person that would do just that. "No, I was joking!" he protested as Harry jumped up, stuffing his cloak back into his bag. "Don't actually bother Severus. I— aaand you're gone and I'm dead."

He prayed the potions master wouldn't be too harsh on him.

 

 

 

"Care to explain why Professor Snape is in a mood?" Tracey asked as Harry sat down.

"Remus told me to bother him," Harry said, smiling at her innocently.

Tracey's gaze slid past him to look at a very embarrassed Remus and very irritated Severus and back to Harry. "Right."

"That explains why Gryffindor is down by five points," Draco said, snickering.

"He'll be deducting more if Granger keeps going on about spew," Pansy groaned.

The Slytherins collectively winced. Apparently, the reason for Hermione not eating at the Welcoming Feast was because she had learned that house-elves had been making the food. House-elves that didn't get paid or were given sick leave. She had badgered Ron into joining her pursuit for justice of the elves. At one point, she had even approached Harry, asking if he could tell the Slytherins. He did, but he made no real effort to persuade them.

Harry asked Dobby about the daily lives of house-elves to verify her words. Some of what she said was reasonable enough: They were unpaid, some were abused, and they did not get sick leave. What she did not seem to realize was elves needed to be bonded to a wizard or witch to survive.

"She's going to drive everyone barmy if she keeps going on like this," Harry predicted.

 

 

 

Tom's eyes swept around the foggy landscape, alert for any sign of movement as he moved forward. Sirius was in the lead as Padfoot, using his heightened senses to their advantage.

"This place reeks," Tom murmured, mostly to himself. Padfoot swished his tail in agreement.

A jet of red light shot toward them.

"Look out!" Tom shouted.

Sirius ducked just in time. The light hit a tree a little way behind them.

Tom whirled around, sending a spell in the general direction of the Stunner. Through the fog, he only just made out the figure as it moved back. "Barty Crouch Jr.?" he said.

"Ah, it was you that sent those damn elves," the other wizard said. "My Lord had gotten rather irritated with their constant interfering."

Sirius, who had turned back into his human self, cast a silent Stunner Barty's way. Barty dodged it and the fight was on. He was good, Tom would concede, good enough to hold off two opponents at once.

They were so preoccupied with Barty they didn't notice the second person come up behind them.

A thump made Tom whirl around to see Sirius unconscious. Barty used his distraction to his advantage and promptly Stunned him as well.

"About time you showed up," he said gruffly.

"Stop talking and bring them inside. Our Lord is waiting," the other person snapped.

They levitated Sirius and Tom and headed toward the house.

 

 

 

"Rennervate."

Tom's eyes snapped open and he tried to sit up, only to realize he was bound. Beside him, Sirius was already up, also bound.

'If it isn't my little Horcrux,' a high-pitched voice hissed.

Tom felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. There was only one person he could associate the voice to: Lord Voldemort. He looked up and had to choke back a shocked yell.

If he thought Voldemort sounded different, it was nothing compared to how he looked. Huddled in black cloth, a small creature that looked like a crouching child stared back with slitted red eyes.

"Bellatrix?" Sirius croaked, staring not at the child-like creature but the tall woman beside him.

"My dear cousin," she sneered back, wand clutched in hand.

Bellatrix... Sirius had briefly spoken of her when talking about the family tree. After Voldemort's downfall, she had all but vanished, somehow managing to evade capture. No one even got a glimpse of her, and eventually the Aurors stopped looking for her, declaring her deceased.

Tom nearly jumped as something large slid pass him. It was a snake, about twelve feet in length. It paused, flicking its tongue in confusion.

'Master?' it hissed, gazing at Tom confusedly.

'Come, Nagini,' Voldemort murmured.

Nagini stared at Tom for a few more seconds before obeying, moving forward until she was on the opposite side of Bellatrix.

At an unseen signal from Voldemort, Bellatrix grabbed Tom and dragged him forward. She paused for a fraction of a second as his magic wafted over her. It was very familiar... She dismissed her thoughts and stepped back.

Tom had grunted at the rough treatment but refused to show any other sign of weakness. He forced himself to meet Voldemort's gaze.

Voldemort gazed back at his younger self, eyes narrowed. "How?" he demanded.

Tom's mind whirled. What was he supposed to say? That Dumbledore had done something completely horrendous and manipulated him into what he was looking at? That Harry Potter, the boy who Voldemort had gone after, was actually his soulmate? Would Voldemort even believe him? A Horcrux made a person unstable, never mind five of them.

Apparently he had been silent for too long, for Voldemort let out an irritated hiss. Suddenly, he was tearing into Tom's mind with surprising strength, eliciting a cry of pain from the teen.

Memories flashed by as if in a film: finding out about the soul bond... Dumbledore adding compulsions... Tom making his first Horcrux... showing Harry his memories... regaining a full body... him and Harry kissing in front of the fountain...

And then he was back in the house, panting heavily as he laid on the floor. He barely had any energy to sit up. He flinched at the cold laugh from above.

"How sweet," he sneered.

"What did you see, my Lord?" Bellatrix questioned. "And who is this boy?" And why was he magic so eerily similar to Voldemort's? There was only one reasonable explanation she could think of, but it seemed so far-fetched.

"One of my Horcruxes have gotten free," Voldemort said.

Bellatrix's eyes widened. Apparently, the explanation wasn't so far-fetched after all. "And?" There had to be another reason why her Lord looked so shocked.

Voldemort continued to stare at Tom's limp form, lip curled in disgust. "Harry Potter, the savior of the wizarding world, is my soulmate." The word was spat like poison.

Bellatrix and Barty, however, gasped. Even Nagini recoiled in shock.

"My Lord?" Barty spoke tentatively. "If that is true, then what of Potter?"

"I have no need for a soulmate," Voldemort snarled. "Kill Black and take my... other self into the other bedroom. I could make use of him in the future."

"No!" Sirius yelled. "Bellatrix, Barty, you know how sacred soul bonds are. You don't want to interfere, do you? Not like Dumbledore did?"

The Death Eaters exchanged mystified glances. Not like Dumbledore did? Sirius didn't actually mean that. No, they may hate Dumbledore, but he would never actually... Although, Sirius was very adamant, and he had been considered a blood traitor for many years for turning his back on his family's values.

"What are you waiting for?" Voldemort shrieked. "Kill him!"

Barty looked between his Lord and Sirius, then at Bellatrix as if silently begging her for an answer.

The witch stared down at Tom, who was struggling to get up but falling back down with a low groan.

Voldemort couldn't believe the audacity of his most trusted Death Eaters. "You will pay for your insolence. I am your master!"

Bellatrix looked at Barty again. This time, there was a determination in both of their stances.

"No," she said in a clear voice. "Not anymore." She turned to face Voldemort, wand raised.

A blinding flash of green light illuminated the room.

Chapter Text

 "So let me get this straight. You were supposed to use Polyjuice to act as me and enter Harry in the Triwizard Tournament. He would do each of the tasks, and at the end of the third task, he would be transported to a graveyard to ressurrect an insane Dark Lord. Did I miss something?"

As Remus spoke, his voice progressively grew louder until he was practically shouting. A touch from Sirius calmed him down somewhat.

"No, that's pretty much it," Barty said almost sheepishly. The way Remus had phrased it made him realize what a foolish plan it was. There were so many things that could go wrong, like Harry dying before he made it to the third task.

Remus rubbed his face. "I need a drink."

Sirius silently passed him a glass of Firewhiskey, and Remus took a swig.

"On the bright side," Sirius said, "Voldemort's dead."

"Yes." Remus set down his glass. "And now we have these two—" he waved a hand impatiently "—sitting in the manor."

"Where else were they supposed to go?” Sirius said. “They're officially dead."

"Thanks for the reminder," Barty muttered.

"You mentioned Dumbledore interfering," Bellatrix recalled. "What exactly did he do?"

Sirius cleared his throat. "I think a better question is what didn't he do?"

The Death Eaters exchanged uneasy glances. That didn't sound good.

 

 

 

"What did Voldemort see?" Harry asked.

"Everything," Tom muttered, still winded. His mind shields, while very strong, had been no match for Voldemort. It didn't help that they had not been up completely when the attack happened.

The mirror call had indeed come as Remus predicted, but it was brief. Sirius simply told them to come into Black Manor and deactivated before either could respond. With Dobby and Kreacher making sure no one came by— specifically a nosy Headmaster— Remus and Harry stepped through the fireplace.

While Remus stared at the two new people warily, Harry immediately turned to Sirius, demanding where Tom was. When he got his answer, he made his way to the bedroom, not even blinking as he passed Nagini.

"Even the soul bond?" Harry said, running his fingers through Tom's hair.

"Yes. Not that it mattered." Tom slowly relaxed at the contact. "He thought soul bonds were beneath him," he added indignantly.

"He also thought making a bunch of Horcruxes was a good idea," Harry pointed out. "I don't think we should expect him to have any common sense at this point."

The corners of Tom's lips twitched. "True."

"As angry as I am at Voldemort for doing this to you, I can't help but notice how cuddly you are."

"Shut up." Tom swatted halfheartedly at Harry, who simply caught his hand and linked their fingers together.

"You are, though," Harry insisted. "You're literally lying on my stomach."

Tom grunted in response.

A knock at the door made them start.

"Come in," Harry called.

The four adults walked in, Nagini slithering in after them. Azure was wrapped around her, riding piggyback— or would it be snakeyback?

Bellatrix had her head bowed as she stepped up to the bed. "My Lord," she said.

"Er, none of the 'my Lord' stuff," Harry said uncomfortably. "Just Harry will do." He looked between her and Barty. "I take it we have two more for the anti-Dumbles team?"

"We do," Remus said, quirking an eyebrow at the name.

'Technically three,' Azure said.

'I can already see you two will get along wonderfully,' Tom remarked, watching them both.

'Azure's funny,' Nagini said.

'And annoying,' Harry warned her.

"Oh, boy," Sirius said. "Now I can have four people insulting me in a different language."

Remus rolled his eyes. Sirius could be so dramatic. "We need to discuss what we’re doing next.”

“Right,” Harry said briskly. Beside him, Tom sat up, though he still leaned against Harry.

They made plans for the next hour until Remus noticed how sleepy Harry looked.

“We should get back to Hogwarts.”

“All right,” Harry agreed, too relieved to argue. He kissed Tom and stood up,

“See you later, just Harry,” Tom said, grinning.

Harry just stuck out his tongue before following Remus.

They arrived back at Hogwarts through the Floo.

“Night, Moony.”

“Good night, Harry.”

Harry went to his dorm, and in the morning, he headed back to Remus' quarters. "I just realized something. Severus will probably have felt the difference in his Dark Mark."

"And let me guess, you want to see his reaction," Remus said.

"Aw, Moony, you know me so well," Harry gushed.

Remus buried his face in his hands. "It's too early for this, cub."

"Early?" Harry said indignantly. "It's not early." He yawned. "Okay, maybe it's a little early," he conceded.

Just then, there was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” Remus called.

Severus stepped in, his eyes were a bit wider than normal.

"Dark Mark?" Remus said casually, leaning back in his chair.

"Yes,” Severus said, not entirely surprised they knew. "You had something to do with it?"

"Not quite, Sevvie," Harry said. "Sit down and we'll tell you."

Severus slowly took a seat on the opposite side and looked at them expectantly. As they began to tell him about the two Death Eaters, his eyes gradually widened until they were looked as if they would fall from his head.

"What do we do now?" Severus asked after several minutes of processing.

“Well, now that we have two more people on our side, we can focus more on researching Dumbledore,” Harry said. “We’re hoping to expose Dumbledore’s true colors to the public via the Daily Prophet.”

Severus glanced down at the bouncing teen. "You're enjoying this."

Harry just shrugged. “You know it.”

"Brat." Severus stood. "Now, if you excuse me, I have a meddling fool to deal with." Dumbledore had been calling him into his office more frequently to check on the Dark Mark. It had baffled Severus, but it made more sense now.

"Try not to bash his head in for breathing," Harry called after him.

"I'm making no promises," Severus shot back.

 

 

 

"Ah, Severus, right on time," Dumbledore said.

Severus didn’t wait for Dumbledore to speak further, just pulled his sleeve back.

Dumbledore let his magic sweep over the mark, nodding grimly. “Just what I had feared.”

“And what is that?” Severus asked, barely managing to not sound sarcastic.

“Voldemort is planning something.”

Severus didn’t flinch at the name, which irked Dumbledore somewhat. He knew saying the Dark Lord’s name caused marked Death Eaters pain.

“Like what?” Severus said tensely.

"That I do not know. But we will be prepared,” Dumbledore replied, being vague as always. “Now,” he added more brightly, “shall we go down to the Great Hall? I'm absolutely famished."

Severus sneered but didn't say anything else as he followed. Dumbledore thought Voldemort was planning something? If all went well, Voldemort would be the last thing he'd be worried about. The thought made Severus smirk darkly. He couldn't wait.

 

 

 

Pretending he didn't notice Dumbledore watching him was very irritating, Harry quickly found out. If this was how Tom felt back when he was a student, it was no wonder Tom was constantly on edge.

"Now I'm starting to want to bash Dumbledore's head in for breathing," he complained to Severus one day when they were down in the Chamber.

"Welcome to my life," the potions professor said.

"On the bright side, Dumbledore's head has not been prematurely bashed in."

He bottled up the vial and put it next to the others. "I'm gonna read for a bit," he announced and exited the lab, leaving Severus to continue brewing.

For the past week, Severus had been extra quiet. Coincidentally— or not— Sirius was also acting strange.

No matter how much Harry begged, neither man would tell him just what was about to happen, but Severus advised him to pay extra special attention during dinner. So far, though, nothing transpired.

Harry read for the next hour, stopping when he saw it was dinner. "Can't you tell me what you're planning?" he begged.

"I can, but I'm not going to," Severus replied.

"Sevvie," Harry whined.

Severus' left eye twitched. "It's tonight," he revealed.

Harry's eyes lit up. He threw his Invisibility Cloak over him and headed for his dorm, where he dropped off his bag. Then he went out to the Great Hall.

"What got you so jittery?" Pansy asked, eyeing her friend warily.

"You'll see." Harry forced himself to calm down and pile food onto his plate while he waited.

He didn't have to wait long.

The professors closest to Dumbledore only just moved away in time as he jumped up and spat out his food. The headmaster was sweating, and he looked like he had bitten into a pepper. He drank from his goblet to get rid of the taste, only to spit that out as well.

McGonagall, who sat next to him, jumped backwards into Remus to avoid the spray. Remus lost his footing and fell toward Severus. Instead of helping him, he merely stepped back and let Remus hit the floor with a yelp.

Dumbledore panted harshly, face burning from humiliation and the steak he had bitten into. To make matters worse, none of the teachers were telling the students off for laughing.

"What did you do?" a sixth-year Gryffindor asked the Weasley twins.

"Nothing," Fred said.

"Although," George added thoughtfully, "I'd give it a ten out of ten."

"Who could have done it, then?" Hermione wondered. Considering how unpopular Dumbledore was at the moment, it wouldn't be easy to figure it out without the person or persons involved showing themselves.

After several minutes of watching the staff flounder about, Dumbledore finally calmed down enough to sit back down, though he took extra care in what he ate. To the disappointment of virtually every student, the rest of dinner went by as normal.

And that night, when Dumbledore had gratefully retired into his office, he popped a lemon drop in his mouth.

Only the portraits were privy to the coughing and swearing of the normally composed headmaster.

Chapter Text

"Harry, Harry! Did you hear?"

Harry started and raised his head from his book. "No, what's up?" he asked, taking in his friend's bright gaze.

Pansy plopped down next to him. "The other schools will be here tonight. Beauxbatons and Durmstrang," she added when Harry regarded her blankly.

"Really?" Harry closed his book. "Do you know how they're coming?"

"No clue. All I know is that classes will be cut short so we can come down to welcome them."

Theo and Blaise came trudging in and sat down at a table looking very disgruntled.

"What's up with you two?" Harry called to them.

"Filch," Blaise answered irritably. "He basically screamed at us for not wiping all the dirt off our shoes."

"It wasn't even us," Theo added. "There was this group of Ravenclaws in front of us."

Harry winced sympathetically. It wouldn't be the first time Filch made a scene. He terrified a pair of first-year girls into hysterics and yelled at Crabbe and Goyle when they dropped candy onto the floor.

The day of the other schools' arrival was filled with anticipation. Hardly anyone was paying attention in class; even Hermione looked keen on Potions ending quickly. When the bell rang, everyone went to their dorms to deposit their bags and books and came back out to the entrance hall.

The Heads of Houses were ordering their students into lines.

"I wonder how they're getting here," Daphne said, standing on tiptoe as she tried to look around a particularly tall third year.

"Apparation?" Theo guessed.

"Not possible in Hogwarts," Draco reminded him.

Beauxbatons were the first to appear, traveling by a large, horse-drawn carriage. A boy in pale blue robes unfolded a set of golden steps from the bottom of the carriage and sprang back. Out stepped a large woman with a handsome, olive-skinned face and large, black, liquid-looking eyes. She walked over to Dumbledore and spoke briefly with him before taking her students inside.

It wasn't long before Durmstrang came in a large ship over the lake. Their headmaster was a man with short white hair. When he smiled, Harry saw his teeth were rather yellow.

Draco took in a sharp breath. "Viktor Krum!" he said in a stunned voice.

He wasn't the only one to notice. Not far from them, Ron was grabbing onto Hermione as he pointed at Krum excitedly. A group of sixth-year girls frantically searched their pockets for a quill.

"Do you think he'd sign my hat in lipstick?" one of them asked.

Immediately, the girls converged on her.

"Girls," Tracey scoffed as they passed the squabbling group.

"You're a girl," Draco pointed out.

"I know. I get reminded every month," she retorted.

Draco hadn't heard her; Krum and his fellow Durmstrang students had just settled down at their table and were taking off their coats. Immediately, Draco leaned forward and began chatting excitedly.

Harry observed their other guests. The Beauxbatons students had chosen to sit with the Ravenclaws. They looked rather glum, especially compared to those from Durmstrang, who were examining their surroundings and holding up the goblets in awe.

Once all the students had settled down, the staff entered and took their seats. Dumbledore remained standing, beaming around at the foreign students.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and— most particularly— guests. I have great pleasure in welcoming you all to Hogwarts. I hope and trust that your stay here will be both comfortable and enjoyable.

"The tournament will be officially opened at the end of the feast. I now invite you all to eat, drink, and make yourselves at home!"

He sat down, and the plates were filled with food, some of which Harry didn't recognize.

"What's this?" Harry asked, looking at some sort of shellfish stew.

"Bouillabaisse," Draco said. "Try it, it's delicious."

Harry scooped some onto his plate and took a bite.

"Are you enjoying the bouillabaisse?" a voice asked.

It was a girl from Beauxbatons. She had long silvery-blonde hair and large, deep blue eyes.

Draco stared at her, face flushing. He didn't look as if he knew what to say. Theo and Blaise seemed to be in a trance. Obviously they weren't going to be speaking anytime soon.

"It's wonderful," Harry said, smiling at her.

She smiled back, revealing very white, even teeth. "You have finished with it?"

When Harry nodded, she picked up the dish and carried it carefully off to the Ravenclaw table. Several other boys turned to stare at her with the same dazed expression on Draco's face.

Draco was still goggling at the girl, completely forgetting about Krum, who had turned his attention to his schoolmates. A nudge from Pansy had him snapping back to the present.

"Wha'?"

"You're going to spill food over your robes," Pansy said.

Draco set his fork down loudly. A few students glanced his way before going back to their conversations.

"She must be a veela," he said, eyes darting over to her.

Harry hummed in agreement, looking at the Gryffindor table, where a very purple Ron Weasley sat, mouth half open.

"Hey, look," Daphne said, nodding her head toward the staff table, where Ludo Bagman and Mr. Crouch had appeared.

"They must be here to oversee the tournament," Harry said.

After dessert, Dumbledore stood up again. He introduced Bagman and Crouch, and Harry couldn't help but wonder how he'd react if he knew his son was still alive.

Filch carried a wooden chest encrusted with jewels to the table. Dumbledore tapped it three times and the lid creaked open.

"Anybody wishing to submit themselves as champion must write their name and school clearly upon a slip of parchment and drop it into the goblet. Aspiring champions have twenty–four hours in which to put their names forward. Tomorrow night, Halloween, the goblet will return the names of the three it has judged most worthy to represent their schools. The goblet will be placed in the entrance hall tonight, where it will be free accessible to all those wishing to compete."

Harry looked toward the Gryffindor table at the mention of the Age Line. Fred and George looked mutinous and were undoubtedly plotting to get around this obstacle.

"I was wondering if he'd do anything to prevent underage students," Tracey said as they all stood up, ready to head for the dorms.

"Not that it's going to stop anyone from trying," Harry said. It wasn't just the twins who had scheming looks on their faces.

Karkaroff came up and began guiding his students. "Back to the ship, then. Viktor, how are you feeling, did you eat enough, should I send for some mulled wine from the kitchens?"

Krum shook his head. Throughout the feast, he hadn't said much, even when Draco was speaking to him.

"Professor, I would like some vine," another Durmstrang student said.

Karkaroff turned to him in disgust, his warmly paternal air vanishing like mist. "I wasn't offering it to you, Poliakoff. I noticed you dribbled good all down the front of the robes again, disgusting boy—”

He froze, having just caught sight of Harry.

Harry scowled as the Durmstrang students stared at him. Poliakoff nudged the girl next to him and pointed openly at Harry.

"I believe you are holding up the doorway," Remus spoke from behind Harry.

Karkaroff's eyes snapped upward. He looked even more revolted at Remus' presence than at Poliakoff's messy eating habits. Without another word, he swept his students away with him. Remus stared after them, looking very unlike himself with the intense dislike in his eyes.

 

 

 

Several students woke up early to go down to the entrance hall. Harry, Draco, and Pansy were among them.

As they were reaching the entrance hall, Fred, George, and their friend, Lee Jordan, came running out.

"I take it the Aging Potion worked?" Harry said, taking in the twins' beards.

"Sort of," George said. "We're heading to the hospital wing."

"On the bright side," Harry said, "I can tell you apart now."

The three sixth years chortled and continued on to the hospital wing.

Theo was already there when they stepped into the hall. "Cassius put his name in earlier," he told them.

"Anyone else?" Pansy asked.

"All of Durmstrang, Angelina Johnson from Gryffindor, and the Hufflepuffs are talking about Diggory," Theo listed. "But I'm sure some put their names in after we'd all gone to bed."

"Smart move. It would've been a pleasant surprise if their name came out," Harry said.

The students from Beauxbatons came through the front doors from the grounds. Madam Maxime organized them into a line. One by one, they stepped across the Age Line and entered their slips of parchment into the goblet. Harry noticed many eyes on the veela.

Tracey came wandering over, rubbing her eyes. "Morning," she said around a mouthful of toast.

"Tracey, you just missed Beauxbatons," Pansy said as they exited the way the came.

"And the Weasley twins' amazing beards," Harry added.

"I did? Damn, that's too bad." But Tracey had moved on, apparently more interested in her toast.

The four headed back to the dungeons and spent the rest of the day talking about the upcoming tournament and speculating what challenges the tasks would hold.

A light rain started to fall by midafternoon. Harry was attempting to plait Tracey's hair while Draco and Pansy played Exploding Snap.

Harry tied the hair band at the base of the plait. "What do you think?"

Tracey held up a mirror. "Not bad, Harry. Maybe later you can paint my nails."

"That sounds good." Living with other males didn't leave much room for trying traditionally feminine things. He had stolen one of Petunia's magazines once, but Dudley tattled on him. Thankfully, Vernon just taunted Harry about wanting to be a girl. Petunia completely avoided him for a week, even neglecting to get Harry to do some of his usual chores.

"It's almost time," Pansy said, checking her watch. "Come on."

 

 

 

Everyone waited eagerly and impatiently for Dumbledore to finish eating, their own food barely touched. Harry wondered what was the point of having two feasts in as many days. It kind of ruined the point of having a feast.

At long last, Dumbledore deemed the goblet ready. The flames turned red and spat out a piece of parchment before turning back to blue-white. Dumbledore caught the parchment and held it to flames to read the name.

"The champion for Durmstrang will be Viktor Krum."

Krum stood and headed for the High Table. He turned right, walked along the staff table, and disappeared through the door into the next chamber.

"Bravo, Viktor!" boomed Karkaroff, so loudly that everyone could hear him, even over all the applause. "Knew you had it in you!"

"The champion for Beauxbatons," said Dumbledore, "is Fleur Delacour!"

The veela-girl stood and followed the same path as Krum did. Two other Beauxbatons girls were sobbing in despair.

Last but not least...

"The Hogwarts champion," Dumbledore called, "is Cedric Diggory!"

Every single Hufflepuff had jumped to his or her feet, screaming and stamping, as Cedric made his way past them, grinning broadly, and headed off toward the chamber behind the teachers' table. Indeed, the applause for Cedric went on so long that it was some time before Dumbledore could make himself heard again.

"Excellent!" Dumbledore called happily as at last the tumult died down. "Well, we now have our three champions. I am sure I can count upon all of you, including the remaining students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, to give your champions every ounce of support you can muster. By cheering your champion on, you will contribute in a very real—"

He stopped speaking suddenly as red sparks burst from the goblet for a fourth time. For a moment, he didn't speak, but his eyes slid over to the Slytherin table.

"Harry Potter."

Chapter Text

Numbness began to settle in Harry's stomach. This could not be happening. Voldemort was dead. There was no reason for his name to be called. He turned to his friends, who stared back equally shocked.

"Harry Potter!" Dumbledore called once more. "Harry! Up here, if you please!"

Harry shakily stood up and began walking forward.

"Well... through the door, Harry," said Dumbledore.

Harry moved past, still unable to speak.

The other champions were huddled in front of the fireplace.

"What is it?" Fleur said. "Do they want us back in the Hall?"

Cedric was watching Harry, comprehension dawning on his face.

Harry confirmed the unasked question with a small nod, causing Cedric to blanch.

Ludo Bagman came running in.

"Extraordinary!" he muttered, squeezing Harry's arm. "Absolutely extraordinary! Gentlemen... lady," he added, approaching the fireside and addressing the other three. "May I introduce— incredible though it may seem— the fourth Triwizard champion?"

"Evidently there has been a mistake," Fleur said. "He cannot compete. He is too young."

"Well... it is amazing," said Bagman, rubbing his smooth chin and smiling down at Harry. "But, as you know, the age restriction was only imposed this year as an extra safety measure. And as his name's come out of the goblet... I mean, I don't think there can be any ducking out at this stage... It's down in the rules, you're obliged... Harry will just have to do the best he—"

The door opened and in came the Headmasters along with Severus, Remus, and McGonagall, and Crouch. Remus and Severus immediately went to stand by Harry's side.

"Madame Maxime!" said Fleur. "They are saying that this little boy is to compete also!"

Madame Maxime had drawn herself up to her full, and considerable, height. The top of her handsome head brushed the candle-filled chandelier, and her gigantic black-satin bosom swelled.

"What is the meaning of this, Dumbly-dorr?" she said.

"I'd rather like to know that myself, Dumbledore," said Professor Karkaroff. "Two Hogwarts champions? I don't remember anyone telling me the host school is allowed two champions— or have I not read the rules carefully enough?"

He gave a short and nasty laugh.

"C'est impossible," said Madame Maxime, whose enormous hand with its many superb opals was resting upon Fleur's shoulder. "Hogwarts cannot have two champions. It is most injust."

"We were under the impression that your Age Line would keep out younger contestants, Dumbledore," said Karkaroff, his steely smile still in place, though his eyes were colder than ever. "Otherwise, we would, of course, have brought along a wider selection of candidates from our own schools."

Remus swung his head around and glared at him. "Harry has never been interested in the tournament from the moment it was mentioned, and if you think otherwise, clearly you haven't been paying attention."

Karkaroff sneered. "And you're so sure of this?"

"I know him better than everyone else in this room, so I'd suggest you listen."

"I don't have to listen to a werewolf!" Karkaroff spat.

Remus' eyes flashed, but he did not otherwise react. Severus, however, was not so forgiving and took a menacing step forward.

"Enough," Dumbledore said commandingly before he could make a vicious retort. He turned to Harry. "Did you put your name into the Goblet of Fire, Harry?" he asked calmly.

Harry refrained from sighing. "No."

"Did you ask an older student to put it into the Goblet of Fire for you?"

"No," Harry repeated. Again with the lack of common sense. Who in their right mind would want to risk death for a thousand Galleons and glory?

"Ah, but of course he is lying!" cried Madame Maxime.

"He could not have crossed the Age Line," McGonagall said sharply. "I am sure we are all agreed on that—"

"Even if I could, I wouldn't have," Harry said through gritted teeth.

At Karkaroff's derisive scoff, Harry added, "I can prove it. I'll make a vow."

"That won't be necessary," Dumbledore said. "We know you wouldn't lie."

"No, no," Karkaroff said, baring his yellow teeth in an ugly sneer. "If Mr. Potter is willing to risk his magic, let him swear a vow."

"I swear on my magic that I am telling the truth," Harry said before Dumbledore could say anything. "I did not put my name in the goblet, nor did I ask for someone to do it for me. Lumos," he said. His wandtip lit up, proving his words to be true.

It was silent for a long moment. Karkaroff was no longer smiling.

"While I am glad Mr. Potter is being honest, there is nothing we can do," Mr. Crouch said. "We must follow the rules, and the rules state clearly that those people whose names come out of the Goblet of Fire are bound to compete in the tournament."

"Well, Barty knows the rule book back to front," said Bagman, beaming and turning back to Karkaroff and Madame Maxime, as though the matter was now closed.

Harry stared at him. Did Bagman not care that his life was at stake? That he was now forced to partake in whatever the tournament held?

Remus' hold on him tightened. "Nothing you can do?" he said scathingly. "Prove it, then. Show me what the rule book says about underage wizards and witches participating."

"Now, Remus," Dumbledore admonished, "I am as devastated as you are of this turn of events, but there is no need to undermine Mr. Crouch's knowledge."

"I'll undermine him as much as I desire to keep my son out of the tournament!" Remus snarled, turning on him.

His declaration was met with silence.

Harry was gazing up at him as if he had never seen him before, a lump in his throat threatening to overwhelm him. He quickly ducked his head before Remus would notice.

"Well," Mr. Crouch faltered, "I'm sure that there's nothing— the rule book— excuse me." He pulled out a large, tattered book and began flipping through.

The room remained in tense silence as he skimmed for anything regarding underage participants.

"Ah, here we go!" Mr. Crouch said. "Any wizard or witch under the age of seventeen must have consent of a parent or magical guardian."

"Which he doesn't," Remus announced. "I am officially pulling Harry out of the tournament."

There was a brief flash of light as magic accepted Remus' decision.

"His name came out of the goblet," Dumbledore said. "That must means Harry has to compete."

"Did you not hear what Mr. Crouch just said?" Remus said in disbelief. "Parental consent for underage wizards and witches."

"Harry's parents are dead," Dumbledore reminded him.

Behind him, the other champions flinched. Cedric was openly scowling at Dumbledore.

A look of pure fury crossed Remus' scarred face.

"Why are you insisting he must compete?" Severus asked Dumbledore suspiciously, giving Remus a warning look.

Dumbledore gave the slightest start of surprise, as if he had forgotten he was not alone. "I am not insisting anything," he said. "I am simply making sure this is what Harry wants."

"He made it pretty clear to me he had no intentions of joining if given the choice," Remus shot back. "Now, if there is nothing else to discuss, I shall take Harry back to his dorm."

Dumbledore nodded, the twinkle in his eyes nowhere to be seen.

With one hand pressing against Harry's upper back, Remus guided him out the door. Severus followed close behind.

"What was that about?" Severus wondered. He had seen the triumph that had flashed briefly in Dumbledore's eyes when he read Harry's name and the anger when Remus turned away.

"I don't know," Remus said grimly. "But Harry's safe now. He doesn't have to compete."

"He shouldn't have had to worry about it to begin with," Severus pointed out.

"No, he did not," Remus agreed heavily.

They reached the dungeons. Remus glanced down at Harry worriedly. He had not spoken since making the vow.

"Harry?"

Harry stood up straighter, though he didn't meet Remus' eyes. "I'm fine. I'll see you tomorrow." He quickly disappeared into the common room.

"I'll make sure he's settled," Severus said.

"Thank you." Remus smiled gratefully before sighing and turning away, looking years older.

When Harry entered the common room, he saw that everyone was waiting for him.

"What happened?" Draco demanded, running up to him. "Do you have to compete? Please tell me you don't!"

"How did you do it?" one first year asked, a mixture of envy and admiration on his face.

"Of course, he had to pull a stupid stunt," Cassius sneered. "Famous Harry Potter."

"I didn't put my name in," Harry said through gritted teeth.

There were a few uneasy murmurs of disbelief, and that's when Harry's patience snapped.

"I made a vow, Remus managed to pull me out of the competition, I'm not a champion. Now, if you have nothing better to do than stand around gossiping, get to bed!"

The Slytherins flinched at his harsh tone and scrambled to get away. Draco hesitated, but a nudge from Blaise had him going to the dorm.

The anger that had briefly consumed him vanished almost instantly in the wake of the empty common room. Harry sighed, rubbing his face with one hand, and made his way to his dorm.

His dormmates were feigning sleep. Draco sounded as if he was forcing himself to snore; the sound was louder than normal. Not even bothering to change into his pajamas, Harry fell into his bed and let sleep claim him.

When morning came, Harry moved slower than usual, having no desire to speak to anyone. Normally, he was among the first to be ready, but today he was the last to arrive in the Great Hall.

He heard whispers around him, but the hostility in their voices were not directed at him. Cedric was surrounded by a group of Hufflepuffs, talking in a low voice. Similarly, at the Ravenclaw table, Fleur was conversing with her schoolmates. Several of them were casting dark glances up at the High Table.

Harry slumped into the seat next to Tracey.

"The champions were quick to spread around what happened," she informed him. "Will you be all right?"

Harry shrugged and forced himself to eat. The food, although prepared the exact same way as it has been the past three years, was like sawdust in his mouth.

Draco cleared his throat. "Do you want to, er, read in the library or something?"

Harry shook his head.

"Common room?" Pansy suggested. "Or we could sit by the lake."

"I bet Severus wouldn't mind if you brewed potions with him," Draco added.

"Guys," Tracey said, shaking her head, "not now."

Draco and Pansy fell silent and continued eating.

Word had spread to the Gryffindor table as well.

Hermione was watching Harry. "That could have been really bad if he was unable to pull out," she said.

"It's Harry Potter," Dennis said, voice filled with admiration. "He would've made it out alive."

"But at what cost?" Hermione shook her head irritably at the lack of understanding.

Ron, who had been very vocal in his desire to put his name in, didn't seem very keen anymore. "Horrible injuries or even death?"

"Exactly. And he's only fourteen years old. At least someone like Krum is used to the more vicious side of competition," she added, remembering the Quidditch Cup.

"Some people are saying Dumbledore put his name in," Ginny said. "Do you think that's true?"

At one point, Hermione would have immediately jumped to the headmaster's defense. Now, though, she just sighed heavily. "Honestly, at this point, I wouldn't be surprised."

Ginny shuddered. Ever since Dumbledore's reputation had crumbled, she had been thinking over her actions. It had been a huge wake-up call when she realized she was being foolish. Harry was never going to look her way as anything more than a passing glance, and that was fine with her.

It wasn't just the students who were unhappy with the headmaster. Professor McGonagall had a privacy ward around her as she shouted at Dumbledore. Professors Flitwick, Sprout, and Sinistra were engaged in hushed conversation, all shooting glances at Dumbledore. Even Hagrid, who was known for his unfailing loyalty to him, avoided looking at him.

When McGonagall was finally finished tearing into Dumbledore, he let out a silent breath of relief. No matter what he said, she hadn't wavered. He looked back at the students and felt a flicker of unease. The students were united, it seemed, and against him. That wouldn't do at all.

Dammit! Why did Remus have to speak up? He was ruining all of Dumbledore's plans.

 

 

 

The glow from the mirror had Sirius hastily closing the book and grabbing the mirror. "Hey, Moony," he said brightly.

"Hey." Remus smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.

"What's wrong? Is it Harry?" Sirius asked, grin vanishing.

"In a way. Is Tom there?"

"Yes." Tom's voice came directly behind Sirius, making him jump. "What is it? Is he hurt?"

"I can't tell you if you keep talking over me," Remus snapped.

It was rare that Remus lost patience with anyone, so Tom was understandably taken aback. "Sorry."

"No, it's fine." Remus rubbed his face. "Harry's name came out of the goblet."

Tom's eyes widened, but he remembered in time not to make a sound.

"Thankfully, I was able to pull him out, being one of his... guardians." An odd expression crossed his face momentarily. "Dumbledore insisted he had to compete."

Tom gritted his teeth.

"The only good thing that came out of this was that Beauxbatons and Durmstrang are more aware of Dumbledore's reputation," Remus continued flatly.

"Where's Harry?" Tom asked.

Remus shrugged. "Probably in the common room or something. I hadn't spoken to him since yesterday."

"He hadn't come by your office?" Sirius said.

Remus shook his head. "I think he's still in shock," he said, "which is understandable. He's been avoiding most people, even Draco and Pansy."

"What about Tracey?" Sirius asked.

"Severus said he's spent the morning plaiting her hair and sitting with her in silence."

"Just give him time," Sirius suggested. "Talk to him on Monday. I'm sure he'll have recovered enough by then."

"I hope so. I'll talk to you later."

"Bye," Sirius and Tom chorused, watching the mirror go blank.

"I'm gonna tell the other two," Sirius said, standing up. "You coming?"

Tom shook his head. His emotions were all over the place, and if he didn't do something about it he'd explode.

Sirius patted him on the back and left the room.

Chapter Text

Although they were now fully aware of Harry's innocence, the other students were notably more awkward toward him. During Transfiguration, the Hufflepuffs generally avoided looking his way, which would have been fine if it weren't for the reason why.

Care of Magical Creatures was a little bit better, though the pitying looks from Lavender and Parvati were not welcome. At least they were quickly distracted when Hagrid told the class they would be taking the skrewts on a walk.

"Take this thing for a walk?" Draco squawked. "And where exactly are we supposed to fix the leash? Around the sting, the blasting end, or the sucker?"

"Roun' the middle," Hagrid said. "Er— yeh might want ter put on yer dragon-hide gloves, jus' as an extra precaution, like. Harry— you come here an' help me with this big one..."

Puzzled, Harry followed him.

"So— yeh nearly became a champion," Hagrid said.

Ah, that was why he singled him out.

"Yeah." Harry really didn't want to talk about it. "I wish I knew who put my name in."

He watched Hagrid look away. "Yeah. I do, too. An' I don' know why Dumbledore was so insistent, either." He let out a long sigh. "I wish I had known about yer relatives. I wouldn't 'ave taken yeh to 'im."

Harry shrugged. He didn't blame Hagrid for trusting Dumbledore. Most of the wizarding world did.

"Look like they're havin' fun, don' they?" Hagrid said.

Harry winced as a skrewt's end exploded, causing it to shoot forward and drag Theo along. Daphne, who was being dragged across her stomach, tripped Lavender, causing her to lose her grip on the leash. "Sorry!" Daphne shouted as Lavender fell face first into the mud.

"Oh! Before I forget, Professor Lupin wants to see you after lunch," Hagrid informed him.

Harry felt his stomach twist. He had not spoken to Remus since his name was pulled, but he knew he couldn't avoid him forever. "Thanks, Hagrid."

"Don' mention it," Hagrid said, patting him on the back and sending him falling to his knees.

Harry took his time eating, keeping his gaze focused on the food in front of him and not looking up whenever he felt concerned eyes watching him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Remus stood and headed for the entrance. Harry waited a moment before following.

Remus and Severus were quietly talking together when he stepped inside the office. For a moment, they all stood there in tense silence.

"Do you really view me as your son?" Harry blurted out.

Remus' eyes widened. "Is that what's been bothering you?"

Harry shrugged, unable to meet his eyes.

"Oh, Harry, of course I do. And I know Sirius does, too."

"I'm guessing he knows," Harry said, forcing himself to meet Remus' gaze. "About the tournament."

"Yes. Do you want to talk to him?"

Harry nodded. After a whole day of ignoring virtually everyone, he realized he needed to speak to... someone.

With one hand on Harry's shoulder, Remus gently steered him to the Floo. "Black Manor," he said in a strong voice.

The office disappeared from view. Harry stepped out into the manor, looking around warily.

Tom was pacing the living room when the fireplace flared green. "Harry!" He made a move as if to run forward but stopped himself, choosing to wait for Harry to decide.

Wordlessly, Harry walked forward and wrapped his arms around him. Tom returned the embrace fiercely, running his hand through his hair in a calming gesture.

"I swear I'll kill that son of a bitch," Barty snarled. Seeing his lord so shaken did not settle with him at all.

"Is there any proof that Dumbledore put his name in?" Tom said.

"Nothing concrete, no," Severus answered, scowling. "But you can bet Rita Skeeter will use this to her advantage."

"Good." The grin on Tom's face was almost feral.

Remus had been speaking quietly to Sirius while the others were talking. "Harry, can I talk to you for a moment?" Sirius said. "In private?"

Harry reluctantly stepped away from Tom and followed him out of the living room.

Sirius leaned back and regarded him for a moment. "How did you feel when Remus said that?"

Harry didn't have to ask what he meant. "Surprised. I mean, you've only officially had me for what? Five months? I don't understand. I'm not worthy of this."

"Not worthy?" Sirius echoed. "Since when did a person have to have a value attached to them?"

"I'm your best friend's son," Harry mumbled, looking down at his feet. "I can't possibly mean any more than that."

"You are James' son, yes, that's true," Sirius conceded. "And yes, I was named godfather before you were born. But that does not mean I don't love you like a son, Harry. And the same goes for Remus."

Harry blinked a few times, trying to clear away his suddenly blurry vision.

"And now I've made you cry," Sirius said, chuckling lightly. "Come here, you."

For the second time that day, Harry was brought into someone's arms. He allowed the tears to flow, not caring that they seeped into Sirius' shoulder. When he pulled back, he was certain he saw a slight wetness in his eyes as well. Nevertheless, he was smiling like his whole world was in front of him, which wasn't far off from the truth.

"You ready to head back to Hogwarts?" Sirius asked. "It's okay to say no."

Harry, who had been about to say yes automatically, paused. "Actually, I would like to stay here a little bit longer."

If possible, Sirius' smile grew brighter. "Very well. Let's tell the others."

Harry spent most of his time with Tom, walking around the garden and just being content in each other's presences.

Tom gently ran his fingers through the mess that was Harry's locks as he dozed off. He let out a weary sigh. Dumbledore was really pushing it these days, trying to force Harry to participate in something he had no desire to participate in.

Harry didn't deserve any of the turmoil he had been through. Tom could only wish he was there by his side at Hogwarts. At least he had friends there, he reminded himself.

Azure came slithering up. 'It's time to go back to the school,' she said. She looked at Harry. 'It's been a while since he had looked so peaceful,' she remarked sadly.

Tom had to agree. He supposed it was true that people looked younger when they were asleep. He reached down to shake Harry awake but paused before making a decision.

Harry opened his eyes a crack as he felt himself being moved. "You don't have to carry me," he said as he wrapped his arms around Tom's neck.

"Hush, you, and enjoy the free ride."

Tom carried him all the way inside. Beatrix positively cooed at the sight, and Harry grumbled in protest.

"Oh, good, you're here," Severus said. "Can you get the mutt off of me?"

Harry looked to see that Padfoot was sprawled over Severus' body. "What is he doing?"

Remus was leaning against the wall, making no move to help Severus. "He's in the process of making Severus an official Marauder."

Padfoot barked and licked Severus.

"Get. Off," Severus ground out, grimacing at the slobber covering his face.

"You look so comfortable, though!" Harry said as Tom set him down.

"He reeks of things I do not want to think about, so no, I am not so comfortable, as you put it," Severus retorted.

"All right, Padfoot, get off Sevvie," Harry said, taking pity.

Padfoot whined but transformed— while still on Severus. He then proceeded to nuzzle into his body.

"Black, what are you doing?" Severus snapped.

"What? Padfoot is not on you any longer," Sirius said, grinning.

"You are Padfoot!" Remus pointed out. "Now let him up. He's a Marauder now."

Sirius climbed off the potions master. "You jealous that wasn't you under me?"

Remus snorted. "In your dreams." But there a faint flush on his neck.

"I bet a lot of things happen in your dreams," Tom muttered, making Harry snicker.

"Let's go, Harry," Remus said loudly, grabbing a handful of Floo powder.

Still snickering, Harry stepped into the fireplace. Severus glared at Sirius and followed suit.

 

 

 

Rita Skeeter did write about Dumbledore being insistent on keeping Harry in the Triwizwrd Tournament as Severus had predicted, but she also went around and interviewed students about Harry. She was wise not to say anything bad about him, but that didn't stop her from nosing around.

Harry has at last found love at Hogwarts. His close friend, Colin Creevy, says that Harry is rarely seen out of the company of one Tracey Davis, a stunningly pretty girl who, like Harry, is one of the top students in the school.

"That's not what I meant!" Colin rushed to defend himself when he saw Harry. "I just said you have three really good friends."

Despite his annoyance at the article, Harry couldn't help but find some amusement in Tracey's reaction. He had been bottling up potions with Severus when she bathed in, looking very frazzled.

"Stunningly pretty? Me?" she shouted, waving the newspaper around. "What could she have been judging against— a dead pigeon?"

"You're not ugly," Harry said.

"Neither are you, but that's not the point!"

"Ah, Tracey, come on! You wouldn't want to date little old me if given the chance?" Harry teased.

"I'd rather stick my finger in Professor Snape's ear," Tracey deadpanned.

"Then do it."

A thoughtful expression crossed Tracey's face.

"Don't," Severus said sternly, but Tracey merely stared at him.

A few minutes later, both Harry and Tracey were racing out of the lab, nearly doubled over in laughter.

Remus poked fun at the article as well. "'Harry has at last found love at Hogwarts.' I mean, it's not wholly inaccurate. You did meet Tom while you were here."

Harry groaned. "Shut up."

"I do hope you won't neglect Tracey because of this," Remus said more seriously.

"Of course not!" Harry said. "I helped paint her nails just this morning."

It had been somewhat messy, but Tracey kept it on all day. And if anyone dared to point out the slight smear on her thumb, those people would mysteriously find themselves with itchy trousers.

 

 

 

On a Saturday before the first task, Harry and Tracey went into Hogsmeade together. They knew it would fuel the rumors they were dating, but they were Slytherins and they were damned if they let one article end their friendship.

One brave third year came up to them and asked if they were together.

"That depends," Tracey said. "Do you mean together distance-wise? Because as you can see—" she gestured between her and Harry— "we are standing together."

"No, I mean like, together together," the third year said.

"Oh, you mean are we touching?" Harry said, snapping his fingers as if he had a eureka moment. "No, although Tracey did step on my foot a few moments ago."

"Hey, it's not my fault it's so crowded," Tracey defended herself.

"I meant are you in a relationship?" the third year shouted impatiently. Those within earshot laughed at his misfortune.

"Why didn't you say so?" Harry asked. "The answer is no."

The third year stomped back to his friends, who were still laughing.

"I love the English language," Tracey announced, grinning up at Harry.

"Except for the 'I before E' rule."

Tracey grimaced. "Yep."

They entered the Three Broomsticks. Inside was warm and comforting compared to the chilly November air.

Many people were already situated at the tables, students and other magical creatures alike. Tracey went to save a seat while Harry bought drinks. He passed Ron and Hermione, who had a notebook with their names on it.

Beyond them, Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott were swapping Chocolate Frog cards. Cho Chang, the Ravenclaw Seeker, was with her friends by the door.

Harry returned to Tracey with two butterbeers. "Here you go."

"Thanks, Harry." She accepted it and took a sip. "I wonder what the first task is going to be."

Harry nodded in agreement. He hadn't put much thought to it since recovering from the shock. "Whatever it is, it can't be overly horrible. None of the champions seem badly affected. Unless they don't know what it is," he added darkly.

"Why would they do that?" Tracey said, bewildered.

"To challenge them?" Harry said. "I don't know, I'm just glad I'm not in it."

Tracey let out a humorless laugh. "Yeah, me too."

 

 

 

"They actually expected seventeen-year-olds to go against dragons?" Harry said as he watched Cedric narrowly avoid the worst of the flames spouting from the Swedish Short-Snout.

"Relax, they have dragon trainers if anything goes wrong," Draco said.

Fleur was next. She put the dragon into a trance and quickly approached it. She would have gotten away if the dragon hadn't let out a low snore that sent a jet of flame toward her. Fleur's skirt caught on fire, but she quickly put it out before it could reach her skin.

Last but not least was Krum. He shot a spell directly at his dragon's eyes, causing it to crush its own eggs in its agony.

"That was intense!" Draco said, eyes wide with excitement. "I can't wait to see what they're planning next."

Harry laughed nervously, more relieved than ever he had not participated.