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In the summer before his fifth year at Hogwarts, Harry found himself staring at a door that Hermione had said wouldn’t open for anyone.

After the Dementor fiasco, Harry arrived at Grimmauld Place, and Hermione and Ron filled Harry in on their summer. Harry hadn’t been happy with either of them; he’d much rather have been cleaning doxies and dark artifacts with his friends than weeding the Dursleys’ garden or washing the Dursleys’ floors for the third time in one week.

Even more irritating was the fact that their lack of communication with him had apparently been by Dumbledore’s orders. Dumbledore, who hadn’t even bothered to look him in the eye during his trial, had effectively commanded his friends to abandon him. Even more hurtful, they’d listened.

He’d made a half-assed attempt at hiding his irritation before his trial. After the trial, however, Dumbledore’s completely apathetic attitude towards Harry made him not bother holding it in any longer.

And on top of everything else, Ron and Hermione had been chosen for prefects of Gryffindor, while Harry, who had actually come face-to-face with Voldemort only months earlier, had nothing to show for it except a series of articles in the Prophet that portrayed him as ‘The Boy Who Is Touched In the Head.’

All of this had led him to be rather sour with Ron and Hermione. He knew he took his anger out on the wrong people, but it made Harry feel better. After that, it seemed, they’d taken to avoiding him.

Harry was oddly okay with this. The more they avoided him the less his scar prickled.

So he’d formed a new hobby of wandering around Grimmauld Place, staring at the oddities and peering at old portraits until he came across the door that Hermione must’ve been talking about. He knew she said it was on the top floor, at the end of a dimly lit hall.

There was something strange about the door. Harry couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but he found himself feeling drawn to it. To be honest, he wasn’t even sure why he went to the top floor in the first place; his feet just seemed to have taken him up the stairs. He knew that should probably have alarmed him considering he was in a house chock full of dark artifacts, but the door didn’t feel threatening.

He reached out and tried the knob, and the door opened.

Harry blinked, then wondered if it was something like a pickle jar in a Muggle sitcom; everyone trying the door earlier in the summer had loosened something so it could open for Harry.

As he poked his head in the door to peer in, a few torches around the perimeter of the room flared to life, and he saw walls lined floor to ceiling with books. A few chairs and a desk resided in the middle.

Harry’s first instinct was to get Hermione. After all, it was clearly a library, probably full of books Hermione had never heard of. But then he remembered that he was still irritated with his friends, and he stepped inside to explore without them. He could tell them later.

The torches seemed to brighten as he neared one of the shelves. He ran his finger along the spines of a few books; they were clearly old, but they seemed to be in good condition, although many didn’t have a title or author printed on the spine. He pulled one off of the shelf at random and flipped it open, and the text almost seemed to leap out at him.

Shadow Walking is a branch of shadow magic that can be immensely useful in a variety of applications. It is one of the first magics a shadow mage will learn and is a staple of the mage’s arsenal, as one must master shadow walking prior to commanding shadows to shift.

Obviously, to begin learning shadow walking, and therefore to begin learning shadow magic, one must have already completed the declaration rites of being a dark witch or wizard. It is recommended that the next step -

Harry stopped reading, startled. He flipped the book to the front cover, and a title appeared. Introduction to Specialized Arts of the Dark Path, it read. He turned the book over to glance at the spine of the book and then looked back up at the shelves, realizing that he could now read all of the titles, as if it just took time for his eyes to adjust.

As he took in the titles - Infusing Flame and Darkness, Mind Arts and Dark Magic, and Nearly Undetectable Curses and Hexes, to name a few - he abruptly realized that the entire library was dedicated to the dark arts.

He knew that should terrify him, but it didn’t.

Harry chalked up his lack of alarm to knowing what the house was. Sirius had told him that his family had been Voldemort sympathizers, at the least, and Hermione and Ron had said that they’d been disposing of dark artifacts all summer. He knew he should go get someone and let them know what he’d found, but something made him hesitate.

There might be something useful buried in here, Harry thought. After what happened in the graveyard at the end of last year, Harry didn’t want to risk losing something he could potentially use against Voldemort. In the back of his mind, Harry knew that was a strange thought for him to have, but chalked it up to wanting to use anything and everything at his disposal after seeing Voldemort resurrected. He supposed that Dumbledore’s complete lack of information likely wasn’t helping, either. Harry felt like if he found himself alone as he had in the graveyard, he wanted to be able to do more than a mere ‘expelliarmus.’

Voldemort killed Harry’s parents, after all. Cedric died because of him. Harry didn’t want to lose anyone else, and if there was something that could help him save even one person...

Harry pulled Undetectable Curses from the shelves and the book he already had in his hands fell to the ground and opened to a different chapter. He was just reaching down to retrieve it when something in the text caught his eye.

Dark healers tend to be much more proficient in healing damage caused by dark curses; in fact, only dark healers have managed to fully cure curse scars, which are scars left by extremely dark magic, whether on purpose or as unintended side effects. If they are unable to cure a curse scar, dark healers are far more willing than a standard healer or medi-wizard to remove the affected part of the victim’s body -

Harry found himself slowly sinking to the floor. He set the book on curses aside and kept reading, wondering if the book would cover exactly what curse scars were. He’d been told his own scar was a curse scar more times than he could count, but no one had ever bothered to explain exactly what that meant.

***

A few hours passed before Sirius found him.

Harry sat cross-legged on the floor and had completely surrounded himself with books by that point, having used bibliographies to track down other books mentioned in the ones he’d already skimmed. He’d gone from reading about curse scars to dark protections to wards that could be set to activate depending on the attacker's intent, and gone right on to flip through various volumes, trying to find more references to something called 'soul magicks.'

Above all else, it seemed like the dark arts were just a different branch of magic, and just like the magic he’d learned at Hogwarts, it could be used for right or wrong purposes. Sure, there were some fairly awful rituals mentioned, but many - like some of the dark healing spells he’d found in Specialized Arts of the Dark Path - seemed even more helpful than some of the spells he’d learned at school.

Harry knew that he was likely reading biased material but he kept wondering how dark arts could really be so evil and bad like he’d been told since he’d been introduced to the wizarding world. Wasn’t something like ‘dark healing’ an oxymoron?

“Harry?”

Harry looked up at Sirius, startled to see his godfather standing in the doorway. “Sirius! I was just -”

“The door opened for you?”

There was an expression on Sirius’s face that Harry couldn’t interpret. Harry shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, everyone else trying earlier probably just… loosened something.”

Sirius still had that strange look on his face. “Right.”

Harry felt like he was being judged, and he instantly became defensive. “I was just… I mean… I found something about curse scars, and nobody ever explained to me about mine, and I…” He trailed off, feeling awkward, and mentally prepared himself for a lecture from Sirius.

Sirius just stared at him for a few long moments, and Harry felt even more awkward. Harry grew uncomfortable, and he had to drop his eyes to the floor.

It made sense that Sirius would be disappointed to find Harry surrounded by books on dark arts; after all, Sirius left his family because of their immersion in the dark arts... hadn’t he?

Sirius finally broke the silence. “Is that ‘Nearly Undetectable Curses and Hexes’ over there?” He let out a laugh, and Harry looked up again. “I absolutely loved that book when I was in Hogwarts! Reg had to get me my own copy because I kept stealing his.” Sirius finally entered the room and sat down on the floor in front of Harry, picking up the book in question. He leaned over into a half-lying position, propping himself up on one elbow, and he flipped through the book while Harry watched, dumbfounded. Sirius came to a certain page he’d apparently been looking for and let out another laugh, more jovial than the last. “This one - carinitus - I used that one on your father more than a few times in the Gryffindor common room. It’s basically a pantsing hex. He never caught me at it, but I had a feeling he knew it was me.” Sirius grinned at Harry. “I can teach it to you, if you’d like, just as long as you promise to never cast it on a girl.”

Harry felt stunned. “Sirius, isn’t it…”

“Dark arts?” Sirius thankfully finished Harry’s question for him. “Technically. Barely.” He rolled his eyes. “Yes.” He sighed. “I mean, it’s one of the least harmful spells in this book.” He flipped through another few pages and pointed out a different spell. “This is actually one James asked me to teach him. Flips people up in the air and upside down. He liked using it on Snivellus, until it came out that Death Eaters had been using it on Muggles -”

“Wait,” Harry said. “Are you saying my dad used dark arts?”

Sirius shook his head. “James didn’t know it was dark until I told him. I know I probably should have told him, but I didn’t know how anti-dark arts he was until after I taught him, and by then he’d been using the hex for over a year…” He sighed. “That was the second biggest argument we ever had.”

For the first time since stepping into the library, Harry felt guilty. He knew his father likely hadn’t been a fan of the dark arts, but if he had gotten mad at his best friend over something so small, he probably wouldn’t be a fan of Harry surrounding himself with books on the dark arts.

Harry was also confused. “But… didn’t you leave your family because of their practicing dark arts?” he asked. “The way you were talking about this house… and them…”

“No,” Sirius replied. “I left because they supported Voldemort.” He sighed again. “There’s also dark arts, and then there are black arts that can eat away at your soul or start affecting your mind. My mother was really into that kind of magic, and she kept trying to drag Reg into it…”

“So… someone that practices dark arts isn’t necessarily a dark wizard?” Harry asked.

“Uh, that’s…” Sirius coughed. “Well, dark witches and wizards aren’t necessarily evil, and ‘dark wizard’ also doesn’t mean a follower of the so-called ‘Dark Lord.’ Dark just means dark, Harry.” He glanced up at the set of shelves behind Harry. “Actually, there’s a book here…” He stood up and started scouring the titles, obviously looking for something specific. “I was probably around eight years old when I read it, but seeing as how you’re just now looking into this… ah-ha!” He pulled a thinner book from the shelves and passed it to Harry. “If you’re really interested in all this, you should probably start here. I am many things, but a professor is not one of them.”

Harry slid his thumb under the title: An Introduction to the Dark Arts: The Power, Prejudice, and Politics. Harry grinned and he immediately flipped the book open to skim the table of contents. He felt like he could suddenly understand Hermione’s excitement over books.

“Harry.” He looked up to see Sirius still watching him. “Do me a favor. Please don’t tell anyone about this room. I may hate this house - and I mean, I really hate this house - but there’s a lot of knowledge here that can’t be found anywhere else. The Black Library is one of the best family libraries in all of Britain.” He sighed. “But some people won’t care about that, and they’d just want to destroy everything in here.”

Harry quickly agreed; after all, in addition to the possibility that he could find something useful in the library, he found that he quite enjoyed the few hours he spent there. If he had to admit it, he felt more at peace in that room than he’d felt all summer.

“You don’t have to read that now, though,” Sirius said, grinning. “There’s something else cool about this library. If you’re okay with learning them, how about I teach you a few of those undetectable hexes?”

***

As it turned out, the library had what Sirius called an ‘isolation ward,’ which Harry thought sounded like something from a hospital, but actually meant that Harry was able to use magic in it without setting off the Ministry trace. Due to what had happened with the Dementors only a week prior, Harry asked Sirius at least ten times if he was sure that the ward still worked, and Sirius told him to cast a simple ‘lumos’ and to wait.

He cast one, they waited, and no owls appeared.

Sirius may not have been a professor, but he was brilliant at practical teaching. He showed Harry a few of the more fun and creative spells from Nearly Undetectable Hexes and Curses, and to the astonishment of Sirius, Harry could cast them successfully after only a few attempts. He was already planning on trying them out on Malfoy once school started. They practiced together until dinner, and he was unable to stop grinning.

Mrs. Weasley was the only one who dared to comment on Harry’s improvement in his mood. “You’ve been in a right state since you got here, Harry,” she said. “It’s nice to see a smile on your face.”

Harry returned to the library the following day, and he started and finished the dark arts introduction book. Mrs. Weasley scolded him for disappearing when it was time to help with cleaning Grimmauld Place, but he didn’t care. The book was fascinating and enlightening.

From what Harry gathered from the book, until recently, dark wizards and witches had been considered more like a Muggle religion, or maybe even similar to a Muggle political party, than how they were currently viewed - dark cloaks skulking in the shadows, laughing maniacally, and plotting world domination. The Dark Lord Grindelwald’s actions had sullied the reputation of dark witches and wizards across all of Europe and Asia.

Although the book had clearly been written before Voldemort’s rise, he supposed that Voldemort hadn’t helped their reputation, either.

Harry also learned that using ‘dark’ magic was simply pulling on a different type of magic than the spells that he learned in school. Dark magic and light magic were the two biggest magic ‘families,’ but there were other types that weren’t studied as much, such as earth magic or wild magic.

Something else Harry found interesting was that it turned out to be true that the majority of dark wizards resided in Slytherin House at Hogwarts. Although it wasn’t all of them - there were a fair number in Ravenclaw, as well - the sullied reputation of dark witches and wizards was enough to have earned Slytherin the identical reputation as the ‘evil’ and ‘bad’ house. As Hogwarts began banning the use of all dark arts - including the more helpful arts - the split became even more prominent.

And as for dark wizards themselves, Harry discovered that a wizard wasn’t truly considered ‘dark’ simply because they practiced dark arts. They actually performed ceremonies before they could declare themselves dark, like some kind of rite of passage. After a dark wizard officially declared, they would have easier access to the dark arts and they could potentially become more powerful, depending on the witch or wizard. However, sometimes wizards could become temperamental, as dark magic was rather volatile. It was apparently important that a dark wizard work with the dark magic, rather than try to control it - or worse - allowing the magic to control them.

This didn’t dissuade Harry, and he also began trying more of the spells from the Undetectable Curses book. He learned a curse that made a victim unable to sleep, as well as a curse that would result in the victim becoming a magnet for a creature of the caster’s choice, such as spiders. Ron would keel over, Harry thought absently.

He wasn't actually able to test the success of those curses, so he tried some of the hexes. He perfected something called an ‘elemental mine’ in one afternoon - laying down an invisible glyph on the ground, and when someone walked over it, it could freeze or electrocute or burn the victim, depending on what spellwork was worked in with the glyph.

At some point, Harry realized that he was throwing himself headfirst into learning about the dark arts. He chalked it up to just wanting to learn any and every way he could defend himself against Voldemort, but there was something about it all that just felt right to him. He wanted to learn everything he can.

Harry was scouring the shelves to see if he could find any dark defensive spells when Sirius came into the library.

“Harry,” Sirius said, both his tone and face rather grim. “McGonagall is here to see you.”

“What?” Harry asked. “Why?”

***

“Simply put, Potter, you’ve been expelled,” McGonagall said.

A bolt of pain flashed through his scar. “What the fuck -” Harry started to say, but McGonagall cut him off.

“As we are not currently in school I will allow that comment to slide, Potter, but really -”

“Well, since I’ve been bloody expelled it’s not like you can take points, is it?” Harry said rather nastily. Sirius let out a bark of a laugh from the corner of the dining room.

“Mr. Potter!” McGonagall snapped. “If you would allow me to finish what I’m saying, you could fully understand the situation you’re in. Then you may make your smart comments. Please have a seat.”

Harry supposed that was McGonagall’s way of saying ‘sit down and shut up.’ He sat at the table, and McGonagall pulled out the chair across from him.

“In short, you were expelled after receiving the underage magic notice from the Ministry of Magic,” she said. “It was an error. It should never have happened, and the decision has obviously been reversed.”

“Then… why are you here?” Harry asked hesitantly.

“Because when the magic of the school detected that you had been expelled, you were removed from the school’s registry. When the decision was reversed, you were re-enrolled as a new student.”

“And that means what for me? I have to take all of my old tests again?”

“I should hope not. The thought of having to grade your second year Transfiguration work is a nightmare I’d rather not relive,” McGonagall said, giving Harry a slight smile. “No, it means that as of right now, you are no longer in Gryffindor.”

“So… put me back in Gryffindor?”

“We are confident that will indeed be the result. However, until the sorting hat officially places you back in Gryffindor, the magic of the school will not tie the award or loss of points to your house.”

Harry tensed up at the thought of the sorting hat looking into his head for a third time. He tried not to let his trepidation show, so he shrugged instead. “So what? Me not losing points anymore would probably help Gryffindor, so…”

“This includes any points earned from Quidditch.”

“Oh.”

“So we will need to have you officially placed back in your house at the sorting ceremony. We have decided that you will be treated as a transfer student, so you will be sorted after the first years.”

Her words finally started really sinking in with Harry. He was going to be sorted again. “Um, Professor?” he asked. “What happens if the hat puts me… somewhere other than Gryffindor?”

“As I mentioned earlier, we think it’s highly unlikely that you will be placed elsewhere,” she said. “However, if it does, you will simply join your new house.”

Harry wasn’t nearly as confident that he was going straight back to Gryffindor, but he didn’t say so.

“Do you have any questions, Potter?”

Harry’s mind raced, and he kept finding his thoughts returning to the sorting hat’s words to him in both his first and second years. The blasted hat wanted him in Slytherin then, and Harry didn’t think anything had happened to change its mind.

Especially since Harry had this shiny, new fascination with the dark arts, and that new determination to ‘use any means’ to defeat Voldemort… hadn’t the sorting hat said exactly that about Slytherins? And hadn’t he learned in his reading that Slytherins were indeed more invested in the dark arts than any other Hogwarts house?

Crap, Harry thought. I’m definitely going to Slytherin this time.

“Harry?” Sirius said quietly from the back of the room. Harry had honestly forgotten he was there. He realized that McGonagall is still waiting for his response.

“I don’t really have any questions, Professor,” he said. “At least not now. Except… can I at least sit with Gryffindor until my… re-sorting? I’d like to explain to them what’s happening. Just in case.”

“Understandable,” McGonagall replied. “And yes, you may.”

“Harry, there’s nothing to worry about,” Sirius said. “Both of your parents were Gryffindors, and you’re as Gryffindor as they come. There’s no way you’re going anywhere else.”

***

Hermione and Ron seemed to be just as confident as Sirius that Harry would go straight back to Gryffindor. Fred and George treated it as a joke, saying that Harry could potentially get them business for Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes in houses they didn’t have access to. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley agreed with the others, pointing out that both of his parents had been in Gryffindor. Harry began to doubt his certainty of winding up in Slytherin.

Even so, he turned back to the Black Library and started looking up ways to ward his bed and belongings. Just in case. Despite everyone else’s confidence that Harry would go back to Gryffindor, he could potentially wind up sleeping in the same room as the children of Death Eaters, after all.

He supposed there was a slight chance of Ravenclaw, what with how much he’d been studying, but he didn’t think Ravenclaws would approve of him only being especially studious in only one subject.

All the while something else wriggled around in the back of Harry’s mind - something he wasn’t yet entirely prepared to face head-on. Even so, his mind kept circling back to it: his newfound fascination with the dark arts.

Harry had accepted that he was too interested and invested in the dark arts to stop his new path of research. He absolutely knew it should alarm him, and that he should ask Sirius about how far could be too far. But Harry didn’t want to run the risk of Sirius telling him to stop when all he wanted was to learn more. Unlike the subjects he studied at school, which mostly felt like a chore, he wanted to soak up all of the dark arts knowledge he possibly could.

All that led Harry to his current dilemma.

It wasn’t just that Harry was worried that his new interest would make him a shoo-in for Slytherin; he was also worried about how he could continue learning about the dark arts while he was in Gryffindor. He would have to hide his interest in Gryffindor, whereas Slytherin might actually encourage him in his new studies.

Slytherin, of all houses, could actually wind up being useful to him, and that was making Harry not completely dread the fact that he could wind up among the snakes. He could learn from them.

That was the thought that scared Harry the most; he should have completely and absolutely dreaded the mere thought of going to Slytherin. He should certainly not have been almost intrigued by the idea.

But despite himself, it was intriguing him. Even though he had nothing to confirm that any of the Slytherins like Malfoy or Parkinson were into dark arts, he had enough circumstantial evidence to support his theory. And although he despised those Slytherins, he couldn’t help but wonder if they could pass him knowledge about the dark arts that he couldn’t gain from the Black Library.

The timing of everything seemed almost auspicious. He’d started learning about the dark arts almost by accident mere days before McGonagall told him of his need to be sorted again.

Harry’s entire life - everything he’d built since coming to the wizarding world - would change if he went to Slytherin. He’d likely lose his friends, and would probably have to watch his own back even more than he had in prior years because he wouldn’t be among people he trusted. Even Sirius, who seemed to be accepting and even a little encouraging of Harry’s new field of study, had expressed his dislike of Slytherin more than once.

He loved Gryffindor. Despite his recent irritation, he loved his friends. He loved what the house stood for. He didn’t want to lose any of the ragtag family he’d gained since entering the wizarding world.

The hat lets you choose, Harry desperately reminded himself. It takes your desire into account. I just have to want Gryffindor enough .

***

Aside from Sirius making an unannounced trip with them to the station, the train ride to Hogwarts was, thankfully, relatively uneventful, although awkward. Ron and Hermione quickly abandoned him for the prefect meeting, and he found himself in a car with Ginny, Neville, and an odd Ravenclaw named Luna Lovegood.

Ginny was the only other person in the train car that knew of Harry’s imminent sorting, and she didn’t mention it. Harry silently thanked her. Harry distracted himself with Luna’s strange magazine called ‘The Quibbler,’ and he was amused to see the article on Sirius.

It was relatively peaceful until Ron and Hermione joined them after their prefects meeting. Of course, Draco Malfoy appeared soon after, and everything about Harry’s re-sorting came rushing back to him.

I can’t possibly wind up in the same house as him, Harry thought, staring at Malfoy in barely-concealed horror.

“What are you looking at, Potter?” Draco demanded, snapping him out of his stupor.

“Nothing pleasant,” Harry muttered, wishing he could sink into his seat.

“Manners, Potter,” Malfoy said with a smirk. “Or I’ll have to give you detention -”

“Good lord, Malfoy,” Harry said. “I am so not in the mood for this right now. Please go away.”

Malfoy, as he expected, smirked even wider. “Did I touch a nerve? Not used to being second-best to -”

Hermione stood up. “Just get out!” she shouted. To Harry’s amazement, Draco departed, and Hermione slammed the door after him.

“Did you really just say ‘please’ to Malfoy, Harry?” Ron said, his mouth full of a chocolate frog.

Harry faced the window and rolled his eyes. The now-familiar prickling in his scar had returned, and he desperately wished he could just be alone for the rest of the ride.

***

“Where’s your uniform, Harry?” Dean asked as soon as Harry sat down. Harry’s black cloak wasn’t adorned with the Gryffindor crest like the others.

“Um.” Harry had specifically asked to sit with the Gryffindors prior to his sorting so he could explain what was going on, but now that he was here he had absolutely no idea what to say or how to even bring it up.

“Will they just reset it… after?” Hermione asked, and Harry feels a wave of gratefulness towards her. He knew she could tell how uncomfortable he was, and she was trying to give him a window to ease into the conversation.

“After what?” Dean asked.

“After I get… sorted,” Harry said. “Again.” Harry, with interjections from Hermione, explained to the other fifth years why and how he had to be sorted after the first years.

“But you’ll come right back here,” Ron said, somewhat unhelpfully.

“Hopefully,” Harry said. “I mean, it’s not like it’s guaranteed.”

“Where else would you go, Harry?” Dean asked. “Slytherin?” He started laughing, and Ron and a few others joined him. Harry didn’t, and he noticed that Seamus didn’t, either.

The sorting of the first years seemed to go by faster than it ever had before, and then Dumbledore stood up.

“We had a series of unusual circumstances occur over this past summer, which has resulted in one of our older students needing to be sorted again,” Dumbledore said. “We expect this is likely just a formality, but nevertheless, it needs to be done.” He paused for just a moment. “Harry Potter?”

Harry braced himself and stood up, and then he heard Pansy Parkinson shriek with laughter from the Slytherin table. “Did Potter flunk himself all the way back to first year?”

Perfect, Harry thought. Keep up that heckling; that way I won’t even be remotely tempted into wanting to be in the same house as you.

The hat seemed to loom even larger than it had when he was a small first year, but when he sat down and McGonagall placed the hat on his head, the rim of the hat no longer slipped over his eyes. That left him able to clearly see every person in the Great Hall watching him with interest, so Harry closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see them looking at him.

“Mr. Potter,” a familiar voice said in his ear. “It is so rare that I get to speak with a student twice, much less three times, and it’s even rarer that I actually get to sort a student more than once. You are a tricky one.”

Gryffindor, please, Harry thought as hard as he could.

“Now, then, Mr. Potter,” the hat said. “It is my job to place students where they will thrive and be happy - which is why I will listen to a student’s desire. However, I would like you to listen to me before I place you anywhere.”

Harry swallowed.

“Despite your insistence on Gryffindor, you don’t have nearly as much aversion to Slytherin as you did in your first year. I still stand by the fact that you would do extremely well in Slytherin.”

But there are the children of Death Eaters there, Harry thought. I would be in danger.

“Only as much danger as you put yourself in every year,” the hat replied. “The students themselves pose no danger. And I think the Slytherins will be able to teach you, whereas you have already learned everything Gyffindor has to offer you.”

Harry tried as hard as he could to not think about learning dark arts from the Slytherins, but the hat seemed to pick up on it anyway.

“It’s not just dark arts and magic generally unknown to Gryffindors,” the hat said. “You need to learn how to think like a Slytherin: how to use every tool at your disposal, and how to survive what’s thrown at you.”

I don’t want to think like a Slytherin, Harry thought desperately. They’ve been nothing but cruel to me and my friends.

“Those are not the defining traits of a Slytherin, though,” the hat said in reply. “And the Slytherins of recent years have been cruel more as a reaction to outside forces, rather than as an inherent part of their Slytherin traits.”

That comment just confused Harry, so he decided to try a different tactic. I’d lose all of my friends if I went to Slytherin.

“That would be entirely up to you and them,” the hat said. “You can be friends with those outside of your own house, after all. And who's to say you wouldn't make friends in a new house?” The hat paused. “But I fear we’re getting off track.

“Slytherin has more to offer you than Gryffindor - that much is a fact. Let me put it this way, Mr. Potter - what do you want to get out of your last few years here at Hogwarts?”

Harry paused. I want to defeat Voldemort, he thought. I want to be able to defend the people he’s attacking. I don’t want anyone else to die.

“Unfortunately, I think people dying in the upcoming war will be inevitable,” the hat said. “But with one track you may be able to lessen the blow, and you may be able to save more.”

Then that’s the one I want, Harry said. Gryffindors defend others. They’re brave and will stand up to anything. That's where I belong.

The hat chuckled softly. “But just imagine what a Slytherin with the heart of a Gryffindor could accomplish?”

The hat fell silent for a moment, and Harry realized that he could hear a growing crowd of whispers in the Great Hall. People wondered what could possibly be taking so long. Harry opened his eyes and to see that everyone still stared at him, and he shifted uncomfortably on the stool.

“Let them stare,” the hat said. “They will always stare, no matter where you wind up. You must answer me now - will you allow me to place you where you can accomplish what you wish to accomplish?”

Ever since McGonagall had come and spoken to him, Harry had imagined a thousand different conversations he could have had with the sorting hat, and none of them had gone the way this one had. He’d been determined to think of nothing but how much he wanted to go to Gryffindor, and instead the blasted hat made him doubt everything.

He’d started looking into dark arts because he wanted to defeat Voldemort. He wanted to stay with Gryffindor in order to save others. Even though the end goal was essentially the same, the two were clearly not compatible with one another, but Harry didn’t think he’d be willing to give up one for the other. Gryffindor wouldn’t allow him to continue researching the dark arts, and his continued study would surely get him in trouble in his old house.

“Mr. Potter, you are close to becoming a hatstall. Will you allow me to place you or not?”

Harry finally realized exactly what the hat was asking him, and he realized that he couldn’t delay any longer. He closed his eyes again. Put me where you think I belong, he thought in resignation.

Harry swore he could actually hear the hat smile in satisfaction, and a sudden wave of regret swept through him. A split-second decision made under pressure was going to determine his last few years at Hogwarts; what if it was the wrong one? No, he thought. Wait -

"Too late, Mr. Potter,” the hat said. “Despite your hesitation, it’s clear that you know exactly where you belong, and it’s been clear to me from day one that you belong in... SLYTHERIN!”

Chapter Text


“Too late, Mr. Potter,” the hat said. “Despite your hesitation, it’s clear that you know exactly where you belong, and it’s been clear to me from day one that you belong in... SLYTHERIN!”

The last word was announced to the hall, and several things seemed to happen all at once. The hat was torn off his head and McGonagall stared down at him just as Harry heard a crash of glass behind him at the head table. He heard gasping across the entire hall, and Ron yelled, “What?!” at the same time that Parkinson let out a shriek from the Slytherin table.

“Did the hat just - did it really just say that Potter is one of us now?” she said, obviously to her housemates, but loud enough that Harry could hear it clear as a bell.

Harry turned and craned his neck toward the head table, where it appeared that Snape was the one who knocked over his goblet. Shit. Snape, who had stood up and started marching toward him, was now Harry’s head-of-fucking-house.

Holy shit.

“Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said. “This did not turn out as anyone expected, but I must say that it’s been a pleasure to have you in my house, and you will be missed.” She visibly schooled her shocked expression as she began rolling up the roster scroll in her hands. “My door will be open should you wish to talk.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry said, almost robotically. “Thank you.” He didn’t want to look at the Gryffindor table, afraid of what he might see. He instead looked past McGonagall’s shoulder, where he could see Snape waiting for him with a murderous expression drawn across his face.

Nothing new there, then.

Harry took a deep breath and approached his new head of house, and Snape immediately grasped him by the shoulder and pulled him to the side of the great hall. Harry heard the growing roar of whispers in the crowd suddenly fall silent, and he realized that Snape must have cast a muffling charm.

“Potter,” he said, the vehemence dripping from his voice. “How and why are you now in my house?”

Harry wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that. “The hat put me here.” Harry winced. “Sorry,” he said. Despite the history between himself and Snape, he didn’t want to start out his time in Slytherin on a bad note, and Harry knew Snape well enough to know that he’d find his response to be sarcastic, even though he hadn’t been intending it that way. “Sorry, sir,” he corrected.

“It is obvious that the hat put you in my house,” Snape said. “I was present when the hat deigned to do so. The question I asked is why.”

Harry swallowed, unsure of how to proceed. He wasn’t exactly sure if he wanted to try to get on Snape’s good side, considering their turbulent history, but he certainly didn’t want his own head of house to be his enemy. “It wanted to put me in Slytherin in first year,” he said carefully. “I guess… I guess it got its way this time.”

Snape’s expression changed, but Harry couldn’t exactly read what that new expression meant. Neither of them said anything, and Harry just let Snape study him. He shifted his weight, the scrutiny making him feel uncomfortable.

Finally, Snape let out something that wasn’t quite a sigh. “With me, Potter,” he said, gesturing for Harry to follow him.

Snape began to lead Harry to the Slytherin table, and all of Harry’s defenses immediately rose. Snape was obviously leading him to the other Slytherin fifth years, who were all watching them. Harry caught Malfoy’s eyes, and the situation suddenly hit Harry like a sack of bricks.

He was in the same house as Malfoy. For the next three years, he was going to be in the same house as the boy who had lived to make his life a living hell for the previous four years.

Goddamn fucking manipulative sorting hat.

“Slytherins,” Snape said. “I realize that this recent addition to our house turn may come as a shock.”

No fucking kidding, Harry thought.

“I am well aware that some of you may have a turbulent history with your new housemate,” Snape continued. “I want to make it clear that despite any conflicts that may have arisen in the past, Mr. Potter is now a Slytherin.”

And there it was. Harry was a Slytherin. Actually hearing those words aloud made Harry’s breath audibly catch in his throat. He was fairly sure that Snape heard him, because he gave him a sideways glance.

“As he is now a Slytherin, he is to immediately be treated as such. I trust you all to help him understand what that means.”

Harry blinked.

“Any sign that past grievances are still being acted upon - by any of you - will result in extended detention with me.” Harry knew that comment was most likely directed at him, but he couldn’t help but notice that Snape’s gaze seemed to be directed towards Malfoy for longer than the others. “It should be noted that apparently, the hat wanted to place him in Slytherin from the beginning, and how did you put it, Potter? This time it ‘got its way?’”

“Yes,” Harry said quietly. “Sir.”

Snape had the nerve to smirk. “The hat has ultimately decided that Potter shall spend his last three years in Slytherin. I think it will take all of us to figure out precisely why.” Snape turned and looked Harry straight in the eye. “This includes you, Potter.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Take your seat.”

Two Slytherins - Zabini and Greengrass, he believed - slid apart to make a space for Harry. Snape grasped Harry’s shoulder again and guided him to the table.

Harry swallowed and then sat down between them, directly across from Malfoy.

“Have a nice feast,” Snape said, and then Harry was left alone with his new housemates.

Harry let out a breath just as Snape’s muffling charm seemed to fade away, and he heard that the hall had grown to a roar that was nearly deafening. Harry supposed he had a leg up on everyone else; he’d at least known this outcome would be a possibility. It must have been a blind shock to everyone else.

“How in the bloody hell is Potter a Slytherin -”

“His parents were both Gryffindor, weren’t they?”

“Bloody traitor -”

Silence! ” Dumbledore’s voice echoed over the hall, and the comments immediately ceased.

“I realize that this is an unexpected turn of events,” Dumbledore said. “I will be the first to admit that I fully expected Mr. Potter to be sorted back into Gryffindor. However, it must be remembered that although we may all grow and change as we progress through the years, we are still, at the core, the same people we have always been. Even though the hat has decided that Mr. Potter is now more suited to another house, he certainly has not lost the bravery, courage, and chivalry that made him a superb Gryffindor. Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said, addressing Harry directly, though without looking at him, “I wish you the best in finding your new place in Slytherin.”

Dumbledore immediately moved on to the standard start-of-term announcements, while Harry mulled over his words. “That was… vaguely insulting,” he muttered.

Next to him, Zabini let out a bark of laughter. “What, you mean how he basically said, ‘Potter’s a Slytherin now, but forgive him because he was once a Gryffindor?’”

Harry gave a half-shrug. “I mean, that’s what it sounded like.”

Parkinson, who sat next to Malfoy, arched an eyebrow at Harry. “I suppose we should take it as a good sign that you are actually ‘vaguely insulted’ on Slytherin’s behalf,” she said. “But get used to it.”

At the head table, Dumbledore was explaining about the Forbidden Forest, and Harry immediately tuned it back out to try and process what had just happened.

He was in bloody Slytherin.

He was in Voldemort’s house. He was in the house that had housed every single wizard that had ever gone bad, according to Hagrid.

Harry finally dared to look up and allowed his eyes to fall on the Gryffindor table. Ron appeared beet red and was looking straight down at the table, while Hermione watched Harry like a hawk. When she saw Harry looking, she let a weak smile spread across her face, and relief flooded through him. At least Hermione would likely give him a chance. Ron, on the other hand…

Harry couldn’t even find the will to smile back at Hermione, and he tore his gaze away from the Gryffindors. His eyes immediately landed on Malfoy, who has his head resting in his hand as if he were bored, but he also seemed to be studying Harry. The stare was familiar, although in much closer proximity than Harry was used to, and Harry stared back unflinchingly.

“Why are you in Slytherin?” Malfoy asked quietly.

Harry sighed. “Like I told Snape, the hat put me here.” Being sarcastic towards Malfoy was far less alarming than Snape.

“The hat listens to your own needs and wants, though,” Zabini said.

“And it doesn’t place people if they have any intent on sabotaging a house,” Greengrass said from his other side. “I heard some of the younger years mentioning that possibility, but that can’t be it.”

“For me it was completely split between Slytherin and Ravenclaw,” Zabini said. “If you had that same kind of split…” he said slowly, his lips curving upward into a smirk, “That means you chose to be here.”

Harry coughed. “I guess…” He paused. Despite Snape’s warning, he felt like he was walking on eggshells around his new housemates. “I mean, kinda. Not really.” Harry realized that he wasn’t making much sense and he shook his head to clear it. “Let’s just say the hat made a convincing argument. I just told it to put me where I belonged; I don’t think I would have...” Harry stopped himself. He wasn’t sure how much he wanted to reveal right away.

Malfoy lifted his head out of his hand and his eyebrows shot upwards. “That’s… intriguing.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Great,” he said, not bothering to hide his sarcasm.

“As fascinating as this is, can we please listen to the rest of the announcements?” a girl on Parkinson’s other side asked. Harry recognized her face but couldn’t place her name.

Her comment was well-timed, because Dumbledore was just getting to introducing the new professors. Harry was disappointed in the lack of an explanation for Hagrid’s absence, but he was horrified to finally notice a familiar squat, pink figure sitting at the head table, who was now being introduced as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.

What the fuck? Harry thought.

Even more shocking was when the pink toad interrupted Dumbledore with a falsely saccharine voice and proceeded to give a speech that nearly bored Harry to tears.

“That was… interesting,” Malfoy drawled after she sat down. “I wonder who she’s targeting with that tripe about… ‘pruning practices.’” He narrowed his eyes. “It best not be us .”

Harry wondered if Malfoy was referring to what he thought - hoped - he was referring to.

“Who is she?” Parkinson questioned.

“Umbridge. She’s the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic,” Harry said, glad to have some knowledge that the Slytherins didn’t.

“She works for the Ministry?” Malfoy said with a laugh. “That means…”

“That means that the Ministry is keeping a close eye on Hogwarts,” the girl next to Pansy finished.

“Tracey’s right,” Malfoy said, reminding Harry of the girl’s name - Tracey Davis. “Perhaps Dumbledore will finally be taken down a peg or two.” Suddenly, he seemed to remember who sat across from him, and Malfoy looked over to Harry. “That… likely wouldn’t make you very happy, would it, Potter?”

The comment wasn’t nasty, or condescending, or sarcastic - it was a simple matter-of-fact. Harry felt a little bewildered at Malfoy’s almost polite behavior, relatively speaking. But it also reminded Harry of the complete lack of information he’d gotten over the summer, which had apparently been by order of Dumbledore.

“Uh,” Harry said. “Well.” He knew why he wasn’t instantly jumping to defend Dumbledore, but even he was surprised at what actually wound up coming out of his mouth. “Truthfully, I’m not exactly Dumbledore’s biggest fan,” he said. “At least not right now.”

Malfoy turned and faced Harry directly. “Are you… trying to impress us, Potter?” he asked. “We all know that you’ve been Dumbledore’s golden child since our first year.”

“It’s not like we’ve forgotten how the House Cup was stolen from us that year,” Parkinson added snidely.

Harry sighed and shook his head. “No. It’s just…” He paused. “I’m not really… happy about how some things.... unfolded over the summer, and Dumbledore was responsible for those things. But if it comes to him versus Umbridge, I’m absolutely rooting for Dumbledore.” He glanced up at Umbridge. “That woman is a nightmare.”

“She dresses like a nightmare, that’s for certain,” Parkinson said.

“How do you know her, Potter?” Zabini asked. “I mean, how do you know who she is?”

“Good question. My father is extremely well-connected at the Ministry, and -”

“She was at my hearing,” Harry interrupted, not in the mood to hear about Malfoy’s father or his connections.

“Hearing?” Zabini asked.

“Uh… it’s kind of why I had to be sorted again,” Harry replied. “Only that part was supposedly an ‘accident.’”

“‘Supposedly?’” Parkinson asked. “Paranoid, aren’t you, Potter?”

“Considering the ‘hearing’ should have been only with Madame Bones and not the entire Wizengamot, yeah - I suppose I’m paranoid.”

“Wait. Back up,” Zabini said, sounding a little disbelieving. “You were tried by the Wizengamot? Why?”

“Underage magic,” Harry said. “Or maybe it was a breach of the Statute of Secrecy. A combination of both, I suppose.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. The charges were dismissed. I was just accidentally ‘expelled’ during that entire mess, so they had to treat me as a transfer student - hence the re-sorting.”

Malfoy stared at him. “What the hell did you do, Potter?”

Harry sighed. “Dementors came after me and my Muggle cousin. I cast a Patronus at them.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “So not only did I have my idiot Muggle relatives not believing me, the Ministry apparently also thought I made it up.” Harry vaguely wondered if the Slytherins were going to believe him or not, but that apparently wasn’t what was on their minds.

“You can cast a Patronus?” Greengrass asked, her jaw falling open. “That’s an extremely advanced spell!”

“Is it corporeal?” Davis asked.

“Um, it’s a stag,” Harry replied quietly.

“Now you are trying to impress us,” Malfoy said in by far the nastiest voice he’d had since Harry sat down at the table.

“Not on purpose!” Harry snapped, harsher than he intended. His scar prickled, and he rubbed it absently. “Look, I’m not…” He sighed. “I’m not trying to impress you, or brag, or… whatever. I’m just trying to… I don’t know. Be… honest with you?” He shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure why the hat put me here, but I’d like to not spend my first night in this house fighting with you,” he said. “ Malfoy. ” He might as well be forthright; Malfoy was the Slytherin he’d fought with the most, after all.

Malfoy sat back and started studying Harry again with an unreadable expression. “I wasn’t trying to pick a fight, Potter.”

“That’s a first.”

“You’re a Slytherin now. Professor Snape said to treat you as such.” Malfoy leaned forward, resting his arms on the table, and his voice grew quieter. “He also said to teach you what being a Slytherin means.”

Harry raised an eyebrow and gestured for Malfoy to continue.

“There's quite a bit I'm sure we'll have to teach you, but most of it revolves around one common theme: Slytherins protect one another,” Malfoy said. “We’ll explain more in-depth when we’re in our own common room, but the first lesson is that Slytherins do not pick fights with other Slytherins.” Then he smirked. “At least not in public.”

Harry wondered if that meant he should be expecting a fight in the common room after the feast.

And there was another alarming thought - he was going to have to be alone in the common room with the children of Death Eaters. He would have to sleep in the same room as the children of Death Eaters. Despite the hat saying his housemates would pose no danger, it still made Harry nervous.

“We have enough to worry about from the other houses,” Zabini said.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“Oh, as if you don’t know,” Parkinson said nastily. So much for not picking fights. Harry ignored it.

“He’ll know soon enough,” Zabini said. “Potter being who he is, plus being a Gryffindor-turned-Slytherin? He’s going to get more than his fair share.”

Harry had no idea what they were talking about, but decided he had enough on his mind and to not waste any of his energy wondering about it.

***

The feast was coming to a close, and Harry was still bewildered at how polite the Slytherins were being with him. He continued making small talk, and asked inane questions about life in the Slytherin dormitory, just so he could fill the awkward silence.

Parkinson actually managed to make him laugh when she warned that he would have to get used to Malfoy taking up the bathroom for an exorbitant amount of time in the mornings.

“He’s worse than any of the Slytherin girls, and I’m the worst of the girls,” she said, and Harry couldn’t help but grin and laugh. To his surprise, Malfoy laughed, too. Harry had never pictured either Parkinson or Malfoy being self-deprecating.

Harry saw the various house prefects start to flag down the first years, and he got to his feet as he spied Hermione trying to catch his eye from across the hall. “Uh, I hate asking this,” he said to Zabini and Greengrass. “But would you mind waiting for me for just a minute? I’m not sure of the way to the common room, and I just want to talk to… someone real quick.”

Malfoy looked across the room as he stood with Parkinson to guide the first years to the dungeons. “Is it your Mud… Muggleborn?”

Harry froze. He was honestly unsure if he should be enraged at Malfoy’s near slip, or grateful for the effort that Malfoy put into self-correcting himself, actually playing by the whole ‘Slytherins don’t fight in public’ part of whatever weird code the house had.

“Yes,” Harry finally said. “I’d like to make sure I still have one friend left in Gryffindor.”

Malfoy didn’t respond, or even truly acknowledge Harry, but Zabini nodded. “We’ll wait.”

“It shouldn’t be longer than a minute. She’s a prefect, too, so she’s gotta take the Gryffindor firsties up to the tower.”

Zabini shrugged noncommittally, and Harry started making his way across the hall.

Hermione met him half-way, and she instantly wrapped her arms around Harry. “I’m so sorry, Harry,” she said. “Everyone was just so certain that you’d be back in Gryffindor, and we never bothered to question… oh, Harry, are you okay?”

“I’m… fine,” Harry said. “They’ve been... weirdly polite.”

“What took so long? What was the hat saying?”

“It... “ Harry paused. “Some of it is a little personal. But basically, it said that I’ve learned everything I can from Gryffindor, and that it was time I learned from the Slytherins.”

“What will you be learning, exactly?” Hermione asked, her tone suspicious.

“It didn’t say.” It wasn’t quite a lie.

Hermione pursed her lips and studied Harry through narrowed eyes. Quite frankly, Harry was tired of everyone staring at him like he was an unknown specimen. “Harry, please promise me you won’t get caught up in their… antics.”

Harry frowned. “What do you mean?”

She made a sound that was halfway between a sigh and a grunt. “I mean… the bullying. The nastiness. The… blood purity nonsense.”

At first Harry felt like his heart was breaking, and then he grew angry. “Hermione, do you really think so little of me? Do you really think I’m capable of that - any of that?”

“Harry, I’m not -” Hermione seemed to cut herself off. “As bad as you’ve had it from them, you know how horribly they’ve treated me since back in first year. Can you really blame me for being worried?”

“When it comes to thinking that I’m suddenly going to turn into a prejudiced blood-purist just because I’m in Slytherin now - yes, I can blame you.” Harry’s voice came out nastier than he’d been intending.

“You were laughing with Malfoy and Parkinson, of all Slytherins,” Hermione said, “Those two have been the worst of the worst, right from the start. The only time I’ve actually ever seen either of them laughing is when they're picking on others or making fun of them. Seeing you laugh with them… oh, Harry - it hurt.”

“Parkinson was actually making fun of Malfoy,” Harry replied. “She was saying I’d have to get used to him spending so much time in the bathroom in the mornings. I thought it was funny. To my surprise, so did Malfoy.” He paused. “I suppose she was still making fun of someone, but…” He shook his head. “Honestly, I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. I’m not going to suddenly start subscribing to their pureblood nonsense. I’m a half-blood, Hermione. My mother was Muggleborn. Malfoy even -” Harry stopped. He hadn’t quite processed that Malfoy actually stopped himself from using his favorite slur only for Harry’s benefit, and he wasn’t sure that mentioning that odd comment from Malfoy would do him any favors with Hermione.

“I just…” Hermione sighed. “I do know you, and I know you’re not like them. I’m sorry. I just want you to be careful, Harry. Will you really be safe in Slytherin?”

Harry shrugged. “Well, the hat said I would be. And Snape gave them some spiel about how since I’m a Slytherin, I’m to be treated as such.”

“Well, he is a professor, Harry,” Hermione said reasonably. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to listen.”

“Besides, I’ve been reading up on how to defend myself,” Harry said. “If any of them try anything, they’re going to wind up… hurt.”

Hermione seemed to draw back at that, and then she glanced over her shoulder. “I really should be going, Harry; I feel like I’m shirking my responsibilities as prefect. Can we meet up tomorrow?”

Harry nodded. “I haven’t gotten the Slytherin time-table yet, but yes. I’ll make time.”

Hermione gave Harry another hug. “Please be careful, Harry.”

“I will.”

They parted ways, and Harry turned towards the Slytherin table, where it wasn’t just Zabini and Greengrass waiting for him, but the rest of the Slytherin fifth years, minus the prefects.

They had evidently been talking, and most likely about him, because they all shut their mouths as he made his way back towards them.

***

Harry still wasn’t sure if he should be expecting a fight in the common room, so he braced himself as Greengrass gave the password - ‘Veritaserum’ - to the door.

He walked into what appeared to be the end of a speech Parkinson and Malfoy were giving to the first years, explaining the rules, and where everything was. Harry vaguely wondered if he’d get the same spiel, or if he’d just have to figure it out on his own.

The Slytherins seemed to disperse to different corners of the common room, and Harry began studying it.

He’d been here once before, of course, but he now noticed just how different it was from Gryffindor tower. Moonlight refracted through the lake to the windows, which cast a green glow over everything. The couches looked only moderately more welcoming than they had before, and there were circular tables and chairs evidently set up for study. A few paintings hung on the walls, including one of a sleeping green snake overlooking one of the study areas. A little on the nose, Harry thought.

“C’mon, Potter,” Zabini said. “Fifth year meeting.” He started walking towards a group of couches, where Crabbe and Goyle already sat, and another boy - Nott - was pulling up a chair.

Part of Harry wanted to decline, but he reluctantly followed. “Is this so you can explain 'what being a Slytherin means?'” His voice was more sarcastic than he'd been intending; Zabini had been rather pleasant to him so far, after all.

Zabini laughed. “That’s part of it,” he said. “But our year has a tradition of getting together for a meeting one night a week. Since you are now in our year, you are taking part.” He didn’t phrase it as if Harry had a choice.

Parkinson and Malfoy were also making their way over. Harry stood in front of the other fifth years, feeling awkward, before Zabini pulled up a chair for him. “Sit, Potter.”

Harry sat as the rest of the fifth years gathered, and Harry looked at each of their faces, trying to see them as his housemates. Instead of Hermione, Lavender, Parvati, and the other Gryffindor girls, there were Millicent Bulstrode, Tracey Davis, Daphne Greengrass, and Pansy Parkinson. The Slytherin boys were comprised of Blaise Zabini, Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, Theodore Nott, and, of course, Draco Malfoy.

Draco Fucking Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy, of course, was the son of Lucius Malfoy. Nott, Crabbe, and Goyle, were also all sons of Death Eaters.

Those Death Eaters had been in the graveyard with Voldemort the previous spring, laughing as Voldemort tried to kill Harry.

Not for the first time that night, Harry found himself wondering how the hell he wound up in the same house as the children of Death Eaters. He’d known it was a possibility, of course, but the reality of it seemed far stranger than he’d imagined.

Now he actually sat with Malfoy and the rest, about to take part in what was apparently a weekly Slytherin plotting meeting.

Harry shifted uncomfortably in his chair while Zabini, by contrast, relaxed in the chair next to him, looking almost elegant as he crossed his foot across his knee.

After all of the fifth years sat down, Harry realized that they all looked just as awkward as he felt.

“Well,” Parkinson finally said, breaking the silence. “I, for one, cannot wait to see Potter in a Slytherin uniform.”

Harry stared at her in disbelief, and she smirked back at him.

“The Gryffindor red clashed with your coloring,” she said. “Slytherin green will bring out your eyes.”

Greengrass let out a giggle. “And that, Potter, is Pansy,” she said. “She’ll spin fashion into it somehow.”

“But something really must be done about those glasses,” Parkinson continued. “Magically fixing your eyesight would be far preferable, but at the very least you need something more... distinguished.”

“Is that… possible?” Harry asked. “Fixing my eyesight?” He’d never even considered that magic could accomplish that; after all, why would any wizard wear glasses if they could just magically fix their eyes?

“It’s possible, yes,” Malfoy said. “It just costs several hundred galleons, so not many can afford it.” And there was the snooty Malfoy that Harry was familiar with. It was almost a comfort.

“I’ll… look into it, I guess,” Harry said, unsure. “I guess it would be useful for Qui-” He cut himself off. Quidditch was the word that had nearly come out of his mouth, but the state of him playing Quidditch hadn’t even occurred to him until just then.

But of course, Malfoy seemed to know exactly what he’d been about to say. “What are you going to do about Quidditch?”

Harry sighed. “Considering all this just happened, like, an hour ago,” he said dryly, "I haven’t had much time to think about it.”

“You’ll be playing Seeker for Slytherin, of course.”

Harry froze. “What?”

Malfoy sneered. “Do you have a hearing problem in addition to a problem with your eyesight? You will play Seeker.”

“But… you’re Slytherin’s Seeker.”

“You’re better than me,” Malfoy said.

Harry sputtered. “Did you… did you just compliment me?” Holy shit.

Malfoy shrugged. “It’s merely simple facts. Besides, I’m more than a fair chaser,” he said, and then he grinned. “With you on Seeker and me on Chaser, Slytherin will likely go undefeated, and we will almost certainly win the Quidditch Cup.”

Harry felt like he’d entered an alternate dimension, but he considered Malfoy’s words. “Well… I mean… I like winning.”

Most of the Slytherins around him let out a laugh, Zabini loudest of all of them. “That’s the most Slytherin thing you’ve said so far,” Zabini said.

“Uh… thank you? I think,” Harry said. “But as for Quidditch… can I think about it?”

“Don’t think long,” Malfoy said. “Trials are next week.”

“Right,” Harry said.

Another awkward silence fell over the group. At least none of us seem to know what to say, Harry thought.

“So…” Harry finally said. “What are these rules or whatever you were talking about? Or was that just a joke?”

“No joke,” Zabini said.

“It’s why we wanted to sit down tonight,” Parkinson said. “We normally wait until Fridays, but with you joining our house…”

Harry raised an eyebrow. He started to feel like he’d been pulled into an intervention.

“You’re one of us, now, Potter,” Malfoy said. “It’s beyond bizarre, but you are a Slytherin.”

“I don’t need… reminding,” Harry said.

“See that you don’t,” Malfoy said haughtily.

“Draco, stop,” Parkinson said, lightly swatting Malfoy’s arm.

“Why don’t you just let me know what this Slytherin ‘code’ is?” Harry asked.

"Don't call it anything so plebeian as a 'code,'" Draco said, his lip curling.

"It's more like a covenant that we uphold through all of our actions," Greengrass added.

Zabini uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. “There’s quite a bit to it,” he said. “But it all amounts to this: Slytherins protect one another.”

In Slytherin, you’ll make your real friends...

Harry raised an eyebrow. “I mean… so do Gryffindors.”

“Not like us,” Malfoy spat. “We’ve seen how some Gryffindors have turned on you in the past. You’ll never get that from us.”

“At least not in public, right?” Harry said, remembering Malfoy’s comment at dinner.

“Right.” Malfoy shot Harry a wolfish grin.

“It’s more than that, though,” Parkinson said. “It means we look out for one another in the halls. We help each other out when someone needs it, because the success of one Slytherin helps all Slytherins.”

“And give each other free fashion advice?” Harry said sardonically and was surprised when Parkinson laughed.

“Right. We don’t want our house looking shabby.”

“We don’t turn each other in,” Nott said quietly, and Harry looked over at him in surprise. It was the first thing he’d heard from the boy since Harry had been sorted into their house.

The other Slytherins were nodding in agreement. “No matter what you see, no matter what you hear - you will never report it to a teacher,” Malfoy said.

Harry could read between the lines, and he instantly realized what they were talking about. It’s why you weren’t completely against being sorted here, Harry reminded himself. They’re talking about dark arts.

However, Harry realized that it could also be about something else - like expressing loyalties to a certain dark lord.

Harry gnawed on the inside of his cheek, wondering if they would just blatantly say what they meant, so he could say right back to them that he’d also been neck-deep in researching illegal magic.

Harry mulled over the idea of just broaching the topic himself, but he also wasn’t about to start trusting the people in that house on his first night, especially when he knew for a fact that some of them had parents that followed Voldemort, and some had expressed ideals that fell in line with Voldemort.

No, he needed to wait for proof. He needed to have something on them before he trusted them with his own secret.

That also sounds very Slytherin of me, Harry thought.

Instead, Harry shrugged. “Whenever I’ve reported something to a teacher in the past, they never believed me. I gave up on all that a long time ago.”

The Slytherins didn’t exactly seem satisfied with that answer, but no one commented, so Harry tried again, wondering if he could coax them into being more comfortable with him.

“Just out of curiosity, would that… part of the 'covenant' go both ways?” Harry asked. “If you caught me doing something against the rules, what would you do?”

“We’d tell you not to get caught,” Zabini said.

“Planning on more nighttime excursions, Potter?” Malfoy said, a bite in his tone.

Harry narrowed his eyes. It wasn’t the angle he’d been intending on, but he supposed it was still a valid question for him. “When it suits me,” he replied.

Zabini laughed. “See, guys - there is Slytherin in him.”

“Potter,” Nott said suddenly. “I really want to ask you something, but I think it’s going to make you angry.”

“Theo,” Goyle said, a warning tone in his voice.

“Oh, come on, Greg,” Nott said.

“No,” Malfoy said, his eyes dark. “Don’t get me wrong, Theo - I want to know, too. But I don’t think now is the time to be asking that.”

“Asking what?” Harry asked, curious.

“Not now. I want to know about something else,” Parkinson said. “Can you tell us about your… what did you call them…” She paused for a moment. “Your ‘idiot Muggle relatives?’”

Malfoy’s expression immediately lightened up. “Yes! No offense, Potter, but I had you pegged for a… Muggle lover.”

“It must be awful, having to live with Muggles,” Zabini added.

Harry was simultaneously annoyed and bewildered. They were spouting the usual anti-Muggle nonsense, but they were doing it in a way that made it sound like they were trying to be sympathetic with Harry.

Harry knew navigating the odd landscape of wizarding superiority and blood purity ideologies in Slytherin would be difficult, and they were making it even more difficult.

“I’m not… anti-Muggle,” Harry said slowly, his eyes narrowing. Despite wanting to at least try to get along with the members of his house, he didn’t want that rumor spreading. “My relatives are just…” He sighed. “Most Muggles aren’t like them.” Despite his dislike of the Dursleys, Harry found that he truly regretted making that throw-away comment at dinner.

“What are they like?” Davis asked.

“They’re…” Harry sighed. “I hate saying this, but they’d probably confirm every single anti-Muggle sentiment all of you have.”

“Hey!” Greengrass suddenly snapped, breaking her silence. “Don’t assume we’re all anti-Muggle. I take Muggle studies because I think the Muggles are impressive. I respect what they’ve done, especially in the last century or so. Did you know they’ve actually been to the moon?”

Parkinson laughed. “Please don’t get started on Muggle science, Daphne,” she said. “Last time you were ranting about it for days.”

“But they landed on the moon !” Greengrass said again, throwing her hands up. “Wizards have never done anything like that!”

“Why would we need to go to the moon?” Zabini asked dryly.

Harry, meanwhile, stared at Greengrass. It seemed navigating the Slytherin beliefs would be even more difficult than he’d imagined, but at least he wasn’t the only person who didn’t believe in wizarding superiority in the house. "My relatives are much, much stupider than astronauts," he finally said.

“They’re your… mother’s relatives, aren’t they?” Davis asked.

Harry nodded. “My mother’s sister, her husband, and her son - my cousin.” Harry rolled his head back to stare at the ceiling of the common room. “There’s... very little resemblance.” He really didn’t want to be talking about this, especially with the Slytherins.

“But if they’re so awful,” Greengrass said, “why do you have to stay with them?”

Harry coughed. “There isn’t a choice.”

“For you?” Malfoy said incredulously. “Of course there would be a choice!”

Harry snapped his gaze to Malfoy. “There’s a lot to it,” he said. “Can we please talk about something else?” He turned his stare to Nott. “What was it you wanted to ask me earlier?”

“Let’s talk about something else, but not that, either,” Malfoy said.

Another awkward silence fell.

“Can I just… go check out the dorm?” Harry finally said. “This has been… a very strange day for me.”

If Harry didn’t know better, he would have said that Parkinson’s expression almost looked concerned. “Of course.”

“Our dorm is in the left hall, third door on the right," Blaise said.

Harry stood up and then turned back to the Slytherins. “I…” He sighed. “This is going to sound strange, but I appreciate the fact that you… that we’re all…”

“I know our history, Potter,” Malfoy said. “Probably better than anyone else here. We’re taking Snape’s order seriously. We’ll figure out why you’re a Slytherin eventually. Until then, you’re still going to be treated as one.”

Parkinson abruptly sat up straight. “That’s right. Also, officially - as your prefects, you can come to us with any problems you’re going to have.”

Harry raised an eyebrow at that. “‘Going’ to have?” he repeated.

“You’ll see.”

Chapter Text


The Slytherin dorm had a different layout than Gryffindor tower. It was larger, for one, and it was rectangular rather than circular. Four sets of beds, nightstands, desks, and wardrobes rested on one side of the room, with two more sets on the other side. The extra space in the corner of the other side of the room was filled with a fireplace and a sofa, like a miniature version of the common room. The beds were identical to those in Gryffindor, though with dark green canopies and curtains rather than the familiar Gryffindor red.

Harry was grateful to find his trunk at the foot of the bed closest to the door. At least he wouldn’t feel trapped. Even so, he immediately went to his trunk and unlocked it with a tap of his wand. He first pulled out the knife he had tucked in a compartment under the lid and then dug to the bottom of his hastily packed belongings.

A wave of relief went through him as he felt the spines of the dozen or so books he’d brought with him from the Black Library. No one had found them and taken them away from him. It had been a risk bringing them with him, but he didn’t think he’d be able to find any similar material at Hogwarts.

He blindly felt around for the smallest book in the stack and pulled it out, upending most of what had been packed on top of the books. Harry didn’t pay any mind to the mess he’d made and slammed his trunk shut as he flipped the book open to a page he’d bookmarked.

Just in case, Harry thought. Looks like I actually need it, after all.

He placed the book, titled All The Wards You’ll Ever Need, on top of his trunk and studied the page. He was fairly sure he’d already memorized the whole thing, but he wanted to make sure. After all, he’d tried basic curses and hexes, but he hadn’t tried a blood ward yet.

The entire spell looked very simple. It was a basic ward that was only supposed to allow him and any close relatives to access whatever he had warded. Anyone who wasn’t of his blood that tried to access the warded object would be frozen in place until he let them out.

Harry supposed that since he didn’t have any living relatives aside from the Dursleys, he had little to worry about.

Harry read through the page two more times before standing upright and walking to the side of his bed. He braced himself, and holding the knife in his right hand, he made a cut on his left index finger. He squeezed the finger a bit to allow blood to well up and then began to trace a symbol on his right hand. “Footot sanguinis.” He then knelt by his bed and lifted up the bedcover, uncovering the dark wood of the frame underneath.

Lacquera! ” he said as he slammed his bloody palm onto the frame.

He actually saw the spell rise into place, with a dark purple-blue light originating at his palm and spreading over the entire bed before disappearing.

Harry had to admit that he felt rather impressed with himself. He could tell that he’d done the spell correctly and that the ward was in place; if he placed his hand near his bed he could actually feel the magic thrumming through it. He repeated the process on his trunk, even though it was already magically locked. If anyone tried to access his trunk, he wanted to know who it was.

Harry grinned in satisfaction, and then looked back to the book. He hadn’t studied the entire text yet; in fact, the only reason it had even come with him was because he’d found that blood ward, and he had known he would need it if he were sorted into Slytherin. After a moment’s consideration, Harry tucked the book under his pillow before opening his trunk to unpack.

His school robes were all still unadorned; no Slytherin crest or colors had appeared yet. Harry remembered that back in first year his robes remained solid black until the morning after he’d been sorted, so he supposed they would likely have green and silver accents by the morning.

Unpacking didn’t take him very long; he didn’t have very many belongings. But when he uncovered the photo album Hagrid had given him in first year, he paused. He flipped through a few pages until he came to a photo of just his mother and father leaning up against a fence. They smiled up at him.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered. “I know this isn’t where you wanted me to be.” He traced his mother’s face with his thumb and she laughed, as if it tickled.

In a split-second decision, Harry carefully removed the photo from the album and placed the book back in his trunk.

He looked at the photo again. “I’ll try to make you proud, anyway,” he said, then placed the photo on his nightstand, leaning it up against the wall. He wanted to see their faces watching over him, but he also felt like he wanted to remind all of his roommates exactly who his parents had been.

He changed into his nightclothes and got onto his bed. It might have been his imagination, but he could have sworn that his new bed was far more comfortable than the bed he’d had in Gryffindor.

Harry leaned back on his pillow and contemplated his day. All in all, it had gone a thousand times better than he’d expected. He hadn’t predicted that the Slytherins would actually try to play nice with him; he had truthfully expected to have to dodge attacks and insults from all sides.

He wondered what Ron and Hermione were up to in Gryffindor tower, and what new concoctions Fred and George were unleashing upon their house.

The thought made him ache, so he reached under his pillow for All The Wards You’ll Ever Need as a distraction. He drew the curtains and read by wandlight until he fell asleep.

***

Harry adjusted his new tie, drawing it up to his collar, and then stared at his reflection in the mirror on the inner door of his wardrobe.

As he expected, his uniforms had been decorated with the Slytherin colors overnight - probably by house elves - but the effect of actually seeing himself in them wasn’t something he’d been expecting.

He actually looked like a bloody Slytherin.

His tie was green and silver, and his robes had green accents. His chest bore the Slytherin crest, and the snake on the crest seemed to approve.

“You look rather striking in those colors, if I might say,” the mirror said.

Harry ignored the comment and just continued to stare.

Zabini came into the room and let out a chuckle. “Are you ready yet, or do we have another Draco on our hands?”

“What?” Harry yelped.

Zabini grinned. "Staring at the mirror is one of Draco's favorite hobbies."

Harry slammed his wardrobe shut. “No, it’s just…” He looked down at himself and he awkwardly held up his arm to inspect the green accents on his sleeves. “This is bizarre.”

“You look fine,” Zabini said. “Shall we go to breakfast?”

Harry nodded and followed Zabini into the common room, where they found Nott waiting in one of the chairs with half-lidded eyes.

“Uh, good morning,” Harry said.

Nott grunted in response.

Blaise laughed. “Don’t bother talking to Theo for at least another twenty minutes,” he quipped. “He’s not a morning person. Let’s go.”

They traveled through the halls in a line. Harry tried to take up the back of the group, but not-a-morning-person Nott kept dragging his feet and Harry found himself following Zabini with Nott trailing behind. As they exited the Slytherin corridor, Harry saw a group of fourth-year Hufflepuffs coming up the adjacent hallway.

The Hufflepuffs stopped when they saw the Slytherins, and Harry couldn’t help but feel that they were staring at him.

“Come on, Theo,” Zabini complained, ignoring the Hufflepuffs. “At the rate we’re going Pansy and Draco are actually going to beat us there.”

They began to ascend the stairs to the great hall, and more and more students began to appear. Harry was now certain that they were staring at him. It wasn’t as if they were being shy about it, after all.

They finally reached the hall and out of force of habit, Harry immediately looked towards the Gryffindor table. Ron and Hermione were nowhere in sight, but Neville’s mouth fell open when he spotted Harry sandwiched in between Zabini and Nott.

Harry smiled weakly and gave Neville a slight wave. Neville appeared flabbergasted, but he waved back hesitantly. A wave of appreciation ran through Harry. Maybe Hermione wouldn’t be his only friend that remained in Gryffindor.

He didn’t want to face the possibility that he could lose his friendship with Ron. He hadn’t even been a Slytherin for a full day yet; perhaps it would still work out.

As they walked across the hall, Harry could see more and more heads turning towards him. He stopped looking at the tables as they passed them, instead studiously focusing his eyes on a spot on Zabini’s neck.

When they reached the Slytherin table, Harry took the same seat he’d had at the feast the previous night and began filling his plate. While Nott remained silent, Zabini tried to make small talk with Harry. “I’m curious to see our fifth year time tables. All the upper years have said that the jump in coursework between fourth and fifth year is like night and day.”

Harry nodded, feeling rather dumb. “Yeah.”

“What electives do you take?”

“Care of Magical Creatures and Divination,” Harry replied. “You?”

“Arithmancy and Ancient Runes.”

“I’ve heard those are difficult.”

Zabini laughed. “The hat was torn between Ravenclaw and Slytherin for me, remember? I like the challenge. Besides, those subjects are useful.”

Harry smiled weakly.

“What’s Divination like? I don’t think any Slytherins in our year take it.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s a joke,” he said. “As long as I make up a prediction about my horrible and grizzly death, Trewlaney gives me at least an E.” He took a bite of his eggs. “If you dare to predict anything happy, she’ll fail you.”

Zabini raised an eyebrow. “That sounds -”

A shriek cut him off. “I knew it!” Parkinson and Malfoy were approaching the table, and Parkinson ran - actually ran - to the side where Harry and Zabini were sitting.

“Stand up! Let me look at you!” Parkinson demanded. She started tugging on Harry’s shoulder.

"Uh, I've already had enough of being looked at today," Harry said in feeble protest.

"I don't care. Up!"

Parkinson yanked on Harry's elbow so hard that he began to tilt backward over the bench, and he had to throw his legs over and get to his feet in order to prevent himself from falling on his skull. "What the bloody, buggering fuck -"

"Such eloquence, Potter," Malfoy said from the other side of the table. Harry shot him a glare.

Parkinson grabbed Harry's shoulder and rotated him so he was facing her. She looked him up and down with an appraising look. "Give us a turn, please."

"What?"

"Just do as she asks, Potter," Malfoy said. "She won't leave you alone until you do."

"Turn!" Parkinson commanded, and she put both hands on Harry's shoulders to spin him around.

"Why am I doing this?" Harry asked. He wasn't sure if he was asking why he was twirling, or why he was allowing Parkinson to manhandle him so bodily.

"Harry Potter," Parkinson said after she had gotten Harry to complete a full rotation. "You almost look like a proper Slytherin."

"’Almost?’" Harry raised an eyebrow. He’d thought he looked pretty damn Slytherin in the mirror.

"Those glasses, though…" Parkinson frowned. "They have to go." Without warning, she reached out and snatched Harry's glasses right off of his face.

"Hey!" Harry snapped. He’d been trying to play nice with his new housemates, but Parkinson was quickly pushing him to his limit.

"You have brilliant eyes," Parkinson said, ignoring Harry’s protest. "You shouldn't hide them behind those horrendous glasses."

"I need those horrendous glasses to see," Harry said flatly to the vaguely Parkinson-shaped blob in front of him.

"The hair might be hopeless, though," he heard Malfoy say, and Harry rolled his eyes.

"I think the hair works, actually," Parkinson said. "It’s an uncontrolled billywig nest right now, but just a touch of product will turn it into ‘just-rolled-out-of-bed’ tousled.”

Harry heard Zabini start laughing. "Is that an official style, Pans?"

"Yes." Parkinson's voice made it clear that she was not to be argued with.

Harry's glasses were abruptly jammed back onto his face. He glared at Parkinson, but movement over by the hall's entrance caught his eye.

Ron and Hermione stood there. They had apparently been watching the spectacle.

When Ron noticed Harry looking at them, he grabbed Hermione by the arm and began pulling her towards the Gryffindor table. Hermione didn't resist.

Harry sighed and took his seat again.

A few minutes later, Professor Snape came around with their time-tables. At first, Harry was relieved to see that his day would start off with Herbology, but then saw that it was immediately followed by double Potions.

He thankfully didn't have to face Umbridge until the following day.

“Herbology followed by Potions,” Malfoy said. “Thank goodness for Professor Snape. He clearly did that on purpose; Herbology is complementary to Potions.”

Harry sighed again.

His first Potions class as a Slytherin - which also happened to be his first class with the Gryffindors as a Slytherin - was sure to be eventful.

***

Herbology was not eventful. It was, thankfully, with the Ravenclaws, who seemed more interested in learning the material than spending their time staring at Harry.

Professor Sprout began the class with an unusually stern lecture - stern for her, anyway - about how it was the O.W.L. year and that it was high time to actually buckle down and get serious.

It wasn’t bad, aside from that. He partnered with Zabini, and the class went by without a hitch.

They walked as a group to Potions. Despite himself, Harry found himself curious about how the class would go. Professor Snape had been awful to Harry since his first year, assigning detention and detracting points from Harry right and left, but he had also always favored the Slytherins. Now that Harry was a Slytherin, he realized he had no idea what to expect from Snape.

I’ve never seen him take points from Slytherin, Harry realized, and he suddenly found himself marginally optimistic.

They filed into the Potions classroom and Harry started to make his way over to Ron and Hermione; they had occupied the same table together for years, and he was eager to try and talk to Ron. He sat down and opened his mouth to greet them.

“Potter,” Snape suddenly said from behind him. Harry couldn’t help it - he jumped. “Until you grow adjusted to your recent… change of residence, you will sit with members of your own house.”

Harry stared at Snape and contemplated arguing; this was, after all, one of the only chances he would have to spend time with his friends.

Across the classroom, the Slytherins had frozen in place, and then suddenly, amazingly, they began adjusting their seating arrangements to make room for him. They didn’t speak while they moved, but in some odd sort of silent communication, Crabbe and Goyle moved back two tables while Parkinson moved up to the table behind Malfoy. Zabini joined Malfoy on the left, leaving the seat to Malfoy’s right open.

Perfect, Harry thought unhappily. At least Zabini was there, as well - he’d been the most pleasant Slytherin thus far.

Harry got up with a silent sigh and took the seat next to Malfoy.

Snape, like Professor Sprout, opened his lesson with a lecture about their O.W.L.s, ending it with a threat that anyone who didn’t receive an ‘O’ on their Potions O.W.L. would not be continuing to N.E.W.T. level courses. The speech was far more intimidating than Sprout’s, and Harry sincerely hoped he would do well enough; he still thought being an auror was appealing, and he needed the Potions N.E.W.T. to accomplish that.

When Snape finally moved on to the practical, he revealed they would be brewing something called ‘The Draught of Peace,’ a potion that evidently came up quite often in O.W.L. exams. Without explaining it, he pointed to directions on the blackboard, opened the ingredient cabinet with a wave of his wand, and informed them all that they had an hour and a half to complete the potion.

Harry stared at the directions and sighed. Snape had set them with the most finicky potion Harry had ever seen.

Beside him, Malfoy was diligently writing on a piece of parchment. He kept looking up at the blackboard and then back down at his writing. Harry shrugged and went to retrieve his ingredients.

The potion was indeed ridiculous. It had to be stirred an exact number of times, sometimes clockwise, sometimes counterclockwise. The temperature had to be adjusted. The timing of every step had to be perfect, and the ingredients had to be added in a precise order.

An hour later, most of the class was nearly done, Harry included. He grabbed his wand and prepared to adjust the flame under his potion.

Suddenly, a hand grasped his wrist and pulled it away from his cauldron. Harry looked up, startled. Malfoy released his wrist and pointed at the blackboard. Harry glanced up and had to squint to see through the vapors, and he struggled to read the writing. Malfoy let out an overly dramatic, exasperated sigh and shoved his parchment in between them, tapping his finger on a line he’d written in elegant script. Harry read the line Malfoy was pointing at and realized that he’d nearly forgotten to add the syrup of hellebore.

In other words, Malfoy had just saved Harry’s potion.

Harry didn’t want to speak out loud in Snape’s quiet classroom, but he nodded at Malfoy in thanks. He added the hellebore, and then proceeded to use Malfoy’s written instructions for the remainder of the potion.

About ten minutes later, Snape proceeded to inspect everyone’s work. Ron’s potion was spitting and emitting a foul odor, and poor Neville looked like he was about to throw up at whatever resided in his cauldron. Hermione’s, of course, looked perfect, and Harry was surprised to realize that his own potion appeared identical.

Snape stopped at his and Malfoy’s table, and Harry, by instinct, tensed up.

“Mr. Potter,” Snape said.

Harry swallowed nervously and looked up at Snape.

“I believe this may be the first time you have achieved such an... adequate result in my class,” Snape continued. “You appear to have successfully brewed the Draught of Peace.”

Then a smirk began to draw itself across Snape’s face, and a sinking feeling began to develop in his stomach. Whatever Snape was about to say, he knew from years of experience it wouldn’t be pleasant.

“Ten points will be awarded to… Slytherin,” he said, apparently with much satisfaction, “for heeding your classmate’s advice.”

Harry’s mouth fell open. In all his years at Hogwarts, Snape had never awarded points to Harry. “What?” he exclaimed.

Malfoy promptly stepped on his foot.

“Mr. Malfoy, five points for assisting a classmate in need,” Snape continued, and then he began to proceed to the next table. “And Mr. Potter…” he said, pausing. “Detention for nearly concocting something potentially fatal in my classroom. See me after class.”

Harry would have ranted and raved about how unfair it was that he received detention when other people’s potions looked like death and he’d actually managed to succeed, but he was still too dumbfounded at having been awarded points by Snape.

He’d just won points for bloody Slytherin.

Harry had been expecting Snape’s Slytherin bias to shine through and to finally have a Potions class where he wouldn’t lose points, but Snape had actually given him points.

“You look like a fish, Potter. Close your mouth,” Malfoy muttered.

Traitor.” The comment came from the other side of the room with a poor attempt at hiding the word with a cough. Harry immediately came out of his stupor and looked over to the Gryffindor side, but he realized he couldn’t even tell the gender of the voice that had said the word.

He did note, however, that Ron looked furious.

“Do you know who said that?” Malfoy whispered as he bottled up his potion sample. Harry shook his head. “Well, we should make an effort to find out who it was.”

Harry shrugged. “It’s not important. They’ll get over it,” he said, reaching for his own flagon.

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. “We will figure it out,” he said, apparently ignoring Harry’s comment.

Harry finished filling up his flagon and stoppered it. Snape promptly assigned them an essay on the properties of powdered moonstone, and as everyone began to clean up their tables Harry quickly crossed the room.

“Hey,” he said to Ron and Hermione. Hermione smiled, but Ron wouldn’t even look at him. “Can we talk today? Maybe after dinner?”

Hermione nodded. “Let’s meet in the library,” she said.

“Can we just… go to the courtyard?” Harry asked. “Between all the fumes in here and then having to be in Trelawney’s stuffy classroom after lunch, I have a feeling I’m going to need some fresh air.”

“Of course, Harry.”

Ron, without a second glance, finished gathering up his things and left. Harry sighed.

“I guess I’ll see him in Divination,” Harry mused, feeling a little dejected. “Maybe he’ll speak to me then.”

Hermione gave him a small smile, and then a quick hug. “It’ll be okay, Harry,” she said. “You know Ron. Let him fume, and he’ll come around.”

“Right,” Harry said flatly.

“Are you okay, Harry?”

“I’m fine.”

“Potter, up front,” Snape said. “Goodbye, Granger.”

Hermione shot Harry a look of sympathy and then left. Harry sighed and went to the front of the classroom to face Snape.

“You will serve detention with me on Wednesday night,” Snape said without looking at Harry, instead choosing to inspect some of the flagons that had been turned in. “And you will henceforth follow Mr. Malfoy’s example of copying down all of the instructions prior to beginning to brew a potion.”

Harry nodded.

“I can’t hear you, Potter.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now leave.”

Harry supposed that despite actually gaining points from Snape, their relationship really wasn’t going to change all that much.

***

After lunch, Harry went to Divination. For the first time that day, he didn’t have another Slytherin to walk with since none of them took the subject.

He arrived and realized that his usual seat at his table with Ron had been taken by Dean Thomas. Harry sighed in disappointment but then was pleased to discover that the only open seat would result in him partnering with Neville.

“Hey,” Harry said quietly as he sat down.

Neville offered Harry a nervous smile. “Hi, Harry.”

Harry realized he had no idea what else to say.

Thankfully, Neville did. “Are you doing okay?” he asked. “In Slytherin, I mean?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah,” he said truthfully. “Better than I could have expected it to go, at least so far.”

“The Slytherins aren’t… I mean… are they…” Neville stammered.

Harry smiled, knowing what Neville was trying to say. “They’ve been… surprisingly friendly.” He rolled his eyes. “Honestly, they’re being nicer to me than… others. Do you realize you are one of two people from Gryffindor who have actually bothered to speak to me since yesterday?”

Neville frowned. “I’m sorry. That’s awful.”

Harry shrugged.

Trelawney, like the others, began with a lecture on O.W.L.s, but unlike the others, she quickly explained that a written test was not an appropriate way to determine one’s ‘inner eye.’ She immediately launched into the day’s lesson, which was dream interpretation. She instructed that they were to read the assigned chapter and then attempt to interpret a recent dream of their partner’s.

Harry sighed, probably a bit too dramatically, after he finished his reading. He definitely did not want to discuss his dreams of late; all he’d been dreaming about was the graveyard and Voldemort and Cedric, and that was the past - not the future.

Neville, however, apparently had no such hesitation. “I had an absolutely awful dream the night before leaving for Hogwarts,” he said. “I was wandering all through my house looking for my grandmother, but I couldn’t find her. I felt like I kept seeing her out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned to look she wasn’t there. And then I went into the drawing room and there was an absolutely gigantic pair of scissors - at least four meters tall, nearly touched the ceiling - and the scissors were wearing my grandmother’s hat -”

Harry stared at Neville. He had no idea how to begin interpreting that, but he began flipping through the pages of the book in order to look busy.

“Maybe scissors mean you’re going to to be… cut off from something?” Harry offered, squinting at one of the pages. “I’d hope it’s not your grandmother…”

“She likes you, Harry.”

Harry paused and looked up. “I’ve never even met her. How could she like me?”

Neville shook his head and leaned forward, lowering his voice. “I mean - she believes you about… You-Know-Who. She canceled her subscription to the Prophet because of what they were saying about you and Dumbledore. She called it ‘rubbish.’”

Harry felt a wave of gratitude rising in his chest. “Tell her… tell her ‘thank you’ for me, would you?”

Neville nodded.

Harry realized he still had to give Neville a dream to interpret. He improvised, weaving a lot of nonsense together.

Just like me and Ron used to do for this class, Harry thought sadly.

He told Neville that he'd dreamt of being chased by a stuffed animal anteater that could electrocute people with its snout. Neville was at a complete loss in his interpretation of Harry's fake dream, likely because Neville had been raised by wizards and could barely pronounce "electricity," but also because Harry had completely made it up.

By then class was just wrapping up, and Trelawney assigned them all to begin keeping dream journals before the students began to depart.

Harry didn’t want to miss his chance. He immediately stood up and approached Ron and Dean’s table. “Can I talk to you?” he asked Ron quietly.

Dean looked at Harry with wide eyes, then glanced at Ron, and quickly departed.

Ron and Harry stared at each for a few long moments.

“What is it you wanna say?” Ron finally said, breaking the silence.

“You’ve barely even looked at me since yesterday,” Harry said. “I just… I need to know…” He stopped, sighed, and tried again. “You know I’m still the same person, right?”

Ron didn’t respond immediately, then uttered a low, “Yes.”

“Good, then -”

“But now I’m not sure if I ever actually knew you,” Ron interrupted with a biting tone.

“Ron -”

“Harry, just… give me time, okay?” Ron said, throwing his hands up. “I need to think about… some things.”

Harry felt an ache open up in his chest, but at the same time, Ron wasn’t immediately writing him off. “Okay,” he agreed quietly.

“I guess… I’ll see ya,” Ron said, clearly uncomfortable. He gathered up his things and stood up.

“Ron, wait.”

“Harry, I just said -”

“It’s not… it’s not you who’s been low-key calling me a ‘traitor,’ is it?” Harry said. “I didn’t… I didn’t do this on purpose, you know.”

Ron sighed. “It’s not me,” he said. “I’ve gotta go.”

And then he was gone, leaving Harry alone with Trelawney.

“I see a very dark future ahead of you, Mr. Potter,” Trewlawney said. “You have many troubling choices that you will need to make. You need to be cautious.”

Harry rolled his eyes and didn’t even bother with a response before he left. It looked like his relationship with Trelawney would also remain unchanged.

***

Transfiguration was also relatively uneventful. Harry was relieved because the work was difficult, and he was grateful for the lack of distractions. In fact, the only person in their class who had successfully pulled off the vanishing spell was Zabini. As a result, he was the only one who wasn’t assigned homework - continuing to work on vanishing spells.

McGonagall asked him to stay behind before he went to dinner.

“Are you all right, Potter?” she asked. “Professor Snape has assured me of your safety in Slytherin, but I -”

“I’m fine,” Harry said. He was honestly a little tired of everyone asking that. “The Slytherins have been fine. Everything is fine.”

“I just want to reiterate with you that I still consider you one of my Gryffindors. Should you need to talk -”

“I’ll come to you,” Harry said. “Thank you. I mean that. I’m just… still...”

“It must be quite an adjustment,” McGonagall said.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Harry responded. “But so far, so good.”

McGonagall nodded, but still looked doubtful. “Enjoy the rest of your day, Potter,” she said, dismissing him.

Harry exited the Transfiguration classroom, then immediately stopped in his tracks. Zabini, Greengrass, and Davis were all leaning up against the wall on the other side of the hallway.

“Oh, good,” Zabini said. “McGonagall wasn’t trying to kidnap you back to Gryffindor, was she?”

Harry let out a laugh. “No,” he said. “She just wanted to check on me. I just think she still feels like my head of house.”

“Well, she can’t have you back,” Greengrass said.

Harry wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he just offered her a weak smile.

“Shall we go to dinner?” Davis asked. “I’m starving.”

Dinner was blessedly peaceful. The Slytherins made small talk about the day’s classes, and then they began wondering how their first class with Umbridge would go the following day.

“I heard from Lisa Turpin in Ravenclaw that the class is awful,” Davis said. “But she didn’t say why.”

“I’m pretty sure the Gryffindors just got out of it,” Harry mentioned. “I’m gonna be meeting up with Hermione after dinner. I’ll ask her.”

***

“We’re not actually going to use any magic in Defense Against the Dark Arts!” Hermione ranted. “She’s refusing to teach any of the practical work; she said that learning the theory should be enough to help us pass our O.W.L.s! It’s absolutely ridiculous, Harry!”

“So Voldemort’s back and the Ministry doesn’t even want us to learn how to defend ourselves?” Harry asked in disbelief.

“How could Dumbledore allow this to happen?” Hermione continued. “She’s a terrible teacher, and we’re never going to pass our O.W.L.s, and I’m not going to get a good job after leaving Hogwarts, and -”

“I’d be more worried about surviving Voldemort,” Harry said dryly, but he welcomed Hermione’s usual academic concerns. It felt familiar.

“It’s clearly propaganda!” Hermione said. “Don’t you see, Harry? The Ministry is denying that You-Know-Who has returned, and now they’ve sent in this so-called ‘professor’ who’s going to continue to spread the lie to students! It’s just awful!

“I don’t get it,” Harry said. “They believed Voldemort was back at the end of last year, so what changed?”

“I don’t think they did,” Hermione responded. “Believe it, I mean.”

“Why wouldn’t they?”

“Because… oh, Harry.” She sighed. “I don’t think you know, but it looked so strange from the perspective of anyone who wasn’t you. You just appeared with Cedric’s body, saying that You-Know-Who was back, but there wasn’t any proof.”

“But -”

“But their outright denial of it is just plain irresponsible of them,” Hermione continued. “But they’re saying that we’re all perfectly safe -”

“They’re lying!” Harry snapped. “Fudge damn well knows - I know he does. He just doesn’t want to be the minister that has to break the news.” He fumed.

“Harry, I’m sorry,” Hermione said after a moment.

He sighed, leaning his head back against a pillar.

Hermione gave Harry a sympathetic look. “We’ll figure out something. We always do.”

“Right,” Harry said sarcastically. “And it’s always gone so well for us.”

Hermione sighed. “How… how is Slytherin, then?”

Harry rolled his eyes. This again, he thought.

“It’s fine," he said. "They’re being friendly. I know they’ve been awful to us, but they’re still just teenagers, and I’m pretty sure they’re not going to murder me in my sleep. How’s Gryffindor?”

“It’s... “ Hermione paused. “It’s so odd without you there, Harry. I think everyone misses you.”

Harry snorted. “Oh, I’m sure they miss me loads,” he said in a sardonic tone. “Which is why only you and Neville have been the only two to even give me the time of day.”

“It’s not just me and Neville,” Hermione said firmly. “Ginny and I were talking at lunch today how strange it was to not have you in the tower, and Angelina Johnson was having a near-complete breakdown last night. She apparently wants to have ‘words’ with the sorting hat.”

“What? Why?”

“She’s the new Quidditch captain.”

Harry closed his eyes. “She needs a new Seeker,” he said, feeling guilty. “And a new Keeper, since Wood left.” He cracked open one eye to peer at Hermione. “But she didn’t seem… angry with me? Like, personally?”

“No,” Hermione said. “She’s not stupid. I think she’s just angry at the situation she’s found herself in.”

“What about the rest of the Quidditch team?” he asked.

Hermione pursed her lips. “I may as well be honest - Katie and Alicia aren’t pleased at all. Fred and George haven’t said anything, but they’ve probably been too distracted with all their… contraband.”

Harry was quiet for a moment. “Slytherin wants me to play Seeker,” he said. “For them, I mean.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “What about Malfoy? He must be furious!”

“Actually, he’s the one who suggested it,” Harry said.

Hermione’s mouth fell open. “Are you serious?”

Harry shrugged. “He’d apparently be okay playing Chaser if I’m on Seeker.”

Hermione stared at him in disbelief, then finally schooled her expression. “I… you know I don’t know all that much about Quidditch, but would that…” She trailed off.

Harry sighed. “It would be a good move,” he said. “If Malfoy is as good as he says he is at Chaser, I mean - and you know how much he… exaggerates.”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“Well, he is fast,” Harry admitted. “And that’s something the Slytherin Chasers have lacked since they just tend to go for muscle over speed.” He shrugged. “I just don’t know if he can handle the Quaffle.”

Hermione bit her lip. “So… are you going to? Play for Slytherin, I mean?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Harry said. “If Gryffindor’s pissed at me now, picturing what they’d be like if I actually agreed to play for Slytherin…” He shuddered.

“I think you should do it,” Hermione said.

Harry looked at her in surprise. “What? Why?”

“You love Quidditch, Harry,” Hermione said reasonably. “If you’re still being given the opportunity to play, you should do it.”

“But Gryffindor -”

“They can get over it,” Hermione said firmly. “It’s just a silly game.” Then she paused. “You won’t… be adapting to their play style, will you? Again, I don’t know all that much about Quidditch, but they do seem to produce a troubling amount of fouls…”

Harry laughed. “If they tell me to start ramming into people, I’m not playing for them.”

***

Harry left the courtyard feeling satisfied. After his rocky conversation with Hermione the previous night, he’d been more than a little nervous, but their talk had felt familiar and comfortable.

As he walked back to the Slytherin common room, his mind kept running back and forth between Umbridge and Quidditch. Hermione had warned him to not act out in Umbridge’s class - that she would likely be out for Harry, personally, after all of the tripe that had been published in the Prophet over the summer - but Harry wondered if the Slytherin class would go differently than the Gryffindor’s had.

As for Quidditch, Harry realized that Hermione was right - he loved Quidditch, and just because he’d lost Gryffindor didn’t mean he had to lose the feeling of flying on his Firebolt, especially when the offer had already been made.

He also had to admit that agreeing to play Seeker would likely score him some approval points within Slytherin, and could possibly ease his transition into his new house.

At the same time, he knew Ron would be furious, and since Ron still had to ‘think about some things,’ Harry worried that playing Seeker for Slytherin would destroy what little chance he had at salvaging their friendship.

Harry turned the corner and began to descend the stairs leading to the dungeons, mulling over what he should do.

About halfway down, something suddenly wrapped around Harry’s ankles and he pitched forward down the stairs. He flung his hand out to catch himself and a sharp pain shot up his arm from the impact. He landed on his shoulder and tumbled the rest of the way down.

He groaned in pain when he finally came to a stop at the bottom, and he reached up to clutch his shoulder. He craned his neck to peer up the stairs, but he realized his glasses had come off somewhere in the fall. Even if someone had been standing up there, he wouldn’t have been able to tell who it was.

He sighed in defeat and let his head drop back to the stone floor. His shoulder throbbed painfully, to the point that he realized he would probably have to go to the hospital wing.

Someone suddenly came into view, standing over him. Without his glasses it was impossible to tell who it was, and Harry tensed up and reached for his wand.

“Merlin's balls... are you all right, Harry?” the figure asked, and Harry found himself actually relieved to recognize Zabini’s voice.

“I’m good,” Harry said. “But I think I have to go to the hospital wing.”

Something was thrust in front of Harry’s face, and he squinted at it before he realized it was a hand. He accepted it and allowed himself to be helped to his feet.

“We’ll take you,” another voice said, and Harry identified Nott’s voice. “Here.” Something was placed in his hands, and Harry realized it was his glasses, thankfully still in one piece.

“I’m fine,” Harry insisted as he unfolded his glasses. “I just fell.”

“That was a tripping jinx,” Nott said. “Moreso, that was a tripping jinx while you were on the stairs.”

Harry placed his glasses on his nose, and Zabini’s face came into view. His expression looked grave.

“Potter…” he said. “Someone just tried to murder you.”

Chapter Text


“Nobody tried to murder me,” Harry said for the fourth time as Zabini and Nott helped him to the hospital wing. In addition to his throbbing shoulder, he felt like he had likely at least sprained his ankle; he wasn’t able to walk without leaning on Zabini with his good arm. Nott followed close behind them.

“Yes, someone did so,” Zabini said.

Harry shook his head. “It was just a prank.”

“Even if it was just meant as a prank, that fall could have still resulted in your death,” Nott said.

“I think you’re both being just a little dramatic,” Harry protested. “I mean, yeah - somebody has tried to kill me every year, so this is just a little ahead of schedule -”

Nott let out a choking noise from behind them.

“You have zero survival instinct, Potter,” Zabini said with a sigh. “That’s not very Slytherin of you.”

“Yeah, well - I’ve only been a Slytherin for a day,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. Even so, the sorting hat’s words to him from the previous night flew into his head: you need to learn how to survive what’s thrown at you.

The three are silent for a few moments. When they reached the hall down from the hospital wing, Nott asked, “If someone had tripped your friend Hermione Granger on the stairs, what would do?”

“I’d probably go after whoever did it,” Harry said without thinking. Then he paused. “After I made sure she was okay, I mean.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Zabini smirk.

“So it seems you’ll only take something personally when it’s not you that’s been personally hurt,” Nott said.

Harry blinked, confused. “What?”

“Harry, we cannot let an attack on one of our Slytherins just slide,” Zabini said. “Even if they only have been a Slytherin for a day.”

Harry sighed. “Right. The ‘covenant.’”

“Yes,” Zabini said, his voice firm. “But also if we don’t address the issue it will surely happen again, and you could be badly hurt.”

“Worse than you are now,” Nott added. By that point, they’d reached the hospital wing, and Nott went to the back of the room to fetch Madame Pomfrey.

“So,” Zabini said. “Do you have any idea who might have done it?”

Harry shook his head. “Not a clue.”

“Well, we need to come up with some theories to start,” Zabini mused. “I’m thinking either a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff.”

“What? Why?”

“Well, Ravenclaws don’t often go after us. But as for you, personally… some Gryffindors are obviously not very happy with you because you left their house for ours,” Zabini said. “And Hufflepuff…” He sighed. “I don’t really want to say this to you, but someone in Hufflepuff might be blaming you for…” He trailed off.

“For Cedric,” Harry said in realization. Hermione had just told him that Harry showing up with Cedric’s body had looked incredibly odd; he couldn’t imagine what the Hufflepuffs must have thought.

Zabini nodded.

“Mr. Potter, I think this is a record for you!” Madame Pomfrey declared as she marched across the wing. “It’s the first day of classes!”

“Sorry,” Harry said sheepishly.

“Don’t apologize!” Nott snapped. “It’s not your fault.”

“Mr. Nott said you were attacked?” Madame Pomfrey asked.

“I... “ Harry sighed. “Yeah. I guess.”

“Someone cast a tripping jinx at him while he was on the stairs,” Zabini said.

“What?!” Pomfrey exclaimed. “Zabini, help him to the bed over here. Nott, please firecall your head of house.”

“No!” Harry said. He did not want Snape involved; he’d likely immediately launch into a spiel about how Harry was a lying, attention-seeking brat. “We can leave him out of it.”

“This is not optional, Potter,” Pomfrey said firmly. “A head of house must be informed when one of their students is attacked.”

Pomfrey spent a few minutes casting various diagnostic spells. “Your ankle is merely a sprain, but your shoulder is dislocated. We’ll have to pop it back into place.”

Harry thought that sounded painful.

It was.

Even more unfortunate was the fact that Snape walked into the hospital wing just as Harry yelped in pain when Pomfrey put his shoulder back where it was supposed to go.

Snape immediately ordered Zabini and Nott to go directly back to the Slytherin common room.

“Sir,” Zabini said, “Potter really shouldn’t walk alone in the hallways -”

“If Madame Pomfrey allows him to return to the dorm tonight, I will escort him back to the dungeons,” Snape said in a clear dismissal. Zabini and Nott each shot Harry a glance, but left without further protest.

Snape remained silent as Pomfrey continued treating Harry. She gave him two potions that smelled and tasted like death and then began applying a balm to his ankle and his shoulder. She considered his shoulder for a few moments before deciding to place his arm in a sling.

“The ankle should be fine by tomorrow, and the shoulder can come out of the sling by Friday,” Pomfrey said. “You may still feel some pain in the shoulder but it should be gone by the end of the weekend, provided you continue to apply this balm.” She handed him a small jar.

“Okay,” Harry said.

“Severus, you may take your student now,” Pomfrey said. “I trust that you will take the proper steps to ensure that he’s not here again for the same reason.”

Snape nodded and then turned to Harry. “With me, Potter.”

They were both silent until they turned the corner. “Have you any clue as to who might have jinxed you, Potter?” Snape asked.

“No,” Harry said.

“Are you lying to me?”

“No!” Harry snapped.

“Mind your tone, Potter,” Snape said. “I am well aware of your history of taking matters into your own hands. Know that such actions will not be tolerated in my house.”

Harry bit back a retort. He hadn’t wanted to do anything, much less ‘take the matter into his own hands.’ He took a deep breath, and something suddenly occurred to him.

“Sir,” he said. “I mean no offense by this, but I’m a little surprised that you even believe that I was attacked. I feel like you would usually accuse me of lying about that, not that I was lying about knowing who did it.” He shook his head. “I mean, I don’t even really believe it; Zabini and Nott are the ones saying it…”

Snape didn’t say anything for a few moments, and Harry worried that he’d pushed the wrong buttons again.

“Slytherins being attacked in the hallways of this school is nothing new, Potter,” Snape finally said. There was an odd tone in his voice. “I thought you would have been aware of that.”

***

When they arrived back at the common room, Snape sent Harry in and called for Parkinson and Malfoy to see him in the hallway. Parkinson walked by Harry with wide eyes and Malfoy looked at Harry with a furious expression on his face.

Meanwhile, Greengrass, Nott, and Zabini crowded around Harry.

“Are you okay?” Greengrass said to Harry. “Theo and Blaise told us what happened.”

“I’m fine,” Harry said. “Pomfrey said I should be good as new in a few days.”

“We do need to figure out who did it, though,” Zabini said.

Harry sighed. “Snape just warned me against ‘taking matters into my own hands,’” he said. “I don’t think he wants me -”

“I said ‘we,’ Potter,” Zabini said, cutting him off. “Professor Snape isn’t just our head of house; he was also a Slytherin student at one point. He knows that we will make sure this doesn’t go unaddressed.”

Harry shook his head emphatically. “Snape despises me. I’ll get blamed if something happens -”

“No, you won’t,” Parkinson said from behind him. “Come sit down.” She grasped Harry’s elbow by his good arm and guided him over to the sofas by the fire. Malfoy crossed his arms and leaned up against the wall, his face pinched and clearly angry.

“Next lesson on being a Slytherin, Potter,” Malfoy said in a nasty tone. “A Slytherin on their own is target practice.”

“I didn’t get attacked on purpose, Malfoy!” Harry snapped. “Why are you acting like this is my fault?”

“We’re not,” Parkinson said quietly, clearly trying to be soothing. “Draco just gets like this every time something like this happens.”

“The first and second years have it the worst,” Greengrass said. “Even if there’s more than one of them, older students know the littles won’t be able to defend themselves.” She sounded quite unhappy at that.

“There’s a reason why we all travel in packs,” Zabini said. “Safety in numbers, after all.”

Harry stared at them in horror. “Are you… are you saying this happens a lot?”

“Oh, all the time,” Parkinson said. “It’s one of the first things we were all warned about when we were sorted here. I should have warned you, but I just assumed that you already knew.”

“Why… how would I have known?” Harry cried. “Do you think I would really go around attacking little kids?” No one responded, and Harry huffed and sank down into the sofa. “Well, I wouldn’t.”

“Clearly,” Nott said after a moment, “we need to get to know you better.”

Clearly,” Harry said viciously. He winced as a slice of pain ran down his scar. “First Hermione wonders if I’m going to turn into a blood purist just because I’m now a Slytherin, and now I have you guys assuming that I was bullying Slytherin children because I was once a Gryffindor,” he muttered.

“Granger said what?” Greengrass snarled.

“Potter,” Zabini said. “Harry. We’re not trying to accuse you of anything.”

“We’re trying to tell you that we’re on your side,” Parkinson added. “Or we’re trying to be, anyway.”

“Look, Potter,” Malfoy said, uncrossing his arms and taking a seat on the sofa across from Harry, “I honestly don’t think you have it in you to pick on children -”

“No, but you do,” Harry spat.

“We give as good as we get,” Malfoy snapped. “People attack us, and we attack them back.”

“But you take it out on the wrong people!” Harry shouted. “What has Hermione Granger ever done to you?”

“Accused me of bribing my way onto the Quidditch team in second year, hitting me in third year -”

“And Neville?”

“Potter!” Parkinson shouted. She stood up and moved right in front of Harry, staring down at him furiously. “Draco and I are mean. We’ve always been mean. We do it so people won’t think we’ll take their treatment of Slytherin lying down.”

Harry stared at her, flabbergasted. “Do you really think that’s the best way to go about that?”

“We do it as a way of warning people off,” Malfoy said. “We want them to know that we are not to be trifled with.”

“You’re bullying people!” Harry snapped.

“Is that really any worse than a sixth year Gryffindor hexing a first year Slytherin?” Parkinson said angrily.

Harry threw his head back in exasperation. “Haven’t you ever heard of ‘the golden rule?’”

His question was met with silence.

“No,” Zabini finally said after a few moments.

“Does it... have to do with jewelry?” Parkinson asked, obviously confused.

“No!” Harry said. “‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?’ Ringing any bells?”

“You mean…” Parkinson said with a frown. “You think we should just ignore what other houses are doing to us?”

“No!” Harry shouted. “It means you should treat other people how you want to be treated!” He was immensely frustrated. How was such a simple concept so difficult to grasp? “You don’t want people to pick on Slytherins because of the house. And you shouldn’t pick on Ron because his family isn’t rich. You shouldn’t pick on Hermione because she’s Muggleborn. You shouldn’t pick on Neville because…” He paused. “You seem to pick on Neville for no reason at all, honestly.” He stopped himself, feeling like he was getting off track. “I feel I should inform you all that Hermione and Neville are the only two Gryffindors who have actually been okay with me since I… went Slytherin.”

“Fine,” Malfoy said, sounding oddly tired. “Longbottom and… Granger -” He bit out Hermione’s name as if it left a bad taste in his mouth “- are now both off-limits. We’ll leave them alone. Would that make you happy?”

Harry blinked. “Yes, actually.” Then, after a moment, he added, “And Ron?”

“I notice you didn’t name Weasley in your list of ‘nice Gryffindors,’” Parkinson said snidely.

“He’s… being…” Harry stopped, sighing. “We still talked, at least. Kinda.” He suddenly realized he’d been distracted and placated. “Agreeing to leave them alone going forward doesn’t change how you’ve treated them in the past, you know. Or how you’ve treated anyone else.”

“And you are trying to distract us from the issue,” Greengrass said, her voice exceedingly calm in comparison to Harry, Parkinson, and Malfoy. “We Slytherins tend to get attacked, as you just were.”

“Slytherin has an unfair reputation -” Zabini said, but Harry cut him off in annoyance.

“Yeah, I know,” he snarled. “Because of Grindelwald. He gave dark wizards a shitty reputation, and since most dark wizards end up in Slytherin, Slytherin pretty much wound up getting the blame for his murders.”

After a moment of shocked silence, Malfoy said, “You are… surprisingly well-informed.”

Harry realized that what he’d just told them was information that he’d gotten from a book about the dark arts. “I… did some reading this summer,” he said quietly.

“Where did you read that?” Nott asked.

“A book,” Harry said unhelpfully. He needed to distract them from what he’d just said; he wasn’t prepared for that conversation with them yet. “The reputation of Slytherin was also one of the first things I learned about in the wizarding world. It’s a big reason why I begged the sorting hat not to put me here in first year.”

“So that was true, then,” Zabini said. “The hat really did want to put you with us in the first place?”

“And you allowed hearsay to influence your decision?” Greengrass said, frowning.

“That, and there was this kid that had been a right prick on the train, and he’d just been sorted there,” Harry said, and he looked pointedly at Malfoy. “I didn’t want to be in the same house as him.”

Unexpectedly, Zabini burst out laughing. “Are you… you…” He seemed to be having a problem getting his words out. “You’re saying that Draco being the brat that he is... actually prevented us from getting you back in first year?”

Harry nodded, and Zabini laughed even harder.

Malfoy looked bewildered. “What did I do?”

Harry had thought for certain that Malfoy would remember insulting Ron and his family, but he appeared clueless enough that he must’ve truly not known. “Honestly?” he said. “You reminded me of my Muggle cousin.”

He was satisfied to see a slight look of horror dawn on Malfoy’s face. “How could I possibly remind you of a… a Muggle?”

Zabini actually doubled over laughing at that.

“How you talked down about other people, implying that you were ‘better than.’” Harry put on a fake posh accent, and his lip curled upward in a sneer. “You came across as a bully. And that’s what this whole debate is about, isn’t it?”

“It wasn’t supposed to be,” Parkinson said quietly, and Zabini finally managed to curb his laughter.

“We were just trying to explain to you that you shouldn’t walk alone in the hallways,” Zabini said.

“In fact, you will not be walking alone in the hallways,” Parkinson continued. “That was what Professor Snape just spoke with us about. You are to have a Slytherin with you at all times.”

“What?” Harry said, annoyed. “I don’t need an escort.”

“Yes, you do,” Malfoy said firmly. “All Slytherins do.”

Their conversation lapsed into silence, and an unfamiliar voice broke it. “Have you fifth years finished your argument?” Harry looked over his shoulder to see someone he recognized as one of the Chasers for the Slytherin Quidditch team.

“Probably haven’t finished it yet, but I think we’ve hit a lull,” Zabini said. “What do you need, Cassius?”

“Potter, my name is Cassius Warrington,” the boy said, leaning on the back of the sofa. “I’ve played against you in Quidditch.”

“I remember,” Harry said hesitantly. He hadn’t yet made his decision about playing for Slytherin.

Warrington apparently recognized what Harry’s tone meant, because he let out a laugh and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not here to ask you about Draco’s proposal. He mentioned it to me this morning. I’m not team captain, so that’s not up to me.” His expression became serious. “I’m here because I’m one of the seventh year prefects, and we heard what happened earlier.” He glanced up at the other fifth years. “Do you all have a handle on this, or do you need the older Slytherins to step in?” he asked them.

“I think we’ve got it,” Malfoy said smoothly. “But we’ll let you know if we need something from you.”

Warrington nodded. “Potter, you come find us if you need something, too, okay?” He stood up, looking back down at Harry. “And for what it’s worth, I think Draco’s idea about Quidditch is a good one.”

Harry stared at him with wide eyes. “Oh.”

“Trials are on Monday.”

Harry nodded. “Okay.”

Warrington departed, and Zabini sighed. “Okay... Potter takes Divination, so that’s going to be the tricky one since none of us take it. I’m thinking Daphne and I could take him on Wednesdays, but what about Monday’s block after lunch?”

Harry sat, dumbfounded, as the other Slytherins came up with a tentative schedule for who would walk with Harry when, the argument from earlier apparently forgotten.

***

Later in the evening, they all departed for their dorms to get some homework in. Harry struggled with his essay for Snape; the Potions text hardly had any information on the properties of powdered Moonstone, and he had no idea how to expand what little there was into a full essay. He was also having difficulty writing; although his dominant hand hadn’t been injured, having his other arm in a sling while trying to write was awkward and annoying.

“Potter,” Malfoy said quietly from behind him.

“What do you want?” Harry said coldly. He was still rather crabby with Malfoy; their earlier argument had brought up a lot of bad feelings. At the same time, he remembered Snape’s warning about not acting on past grievances, so he sighed and turned away from his desk to face Malfoy.

“I meant what I said earlier,” Malfoy said.

Harry replayed the evening’s conversation, trying to figure out what Malfoy was referring to.

“About Weasley, Longbottom, and… Granger. We’ll leave them be - if you want us to,” Malfoy said. “But…”

Harry sighed. “Of course there’s a catch.”

“Don’t tell them,” Malfoy said. “Or anyone else, for that matter.”

“What?” Harry asked, confused. “Why not?”

“Slytherins protect one another, and we keep each other’s secrets,” Malfoy said, his eyes narrowing. “And this needs to remain secret.”

“I don’t -”

“Look, Potter,” Malfoy said, running a hand through his hair. “There’s a lot we’re going to have to hash out between us. There’s… history, and a lot of animosity and resentment. It’ll take us time, but I’m certain we’ll be able to work it out.”

Harry didn’t say anything; he wasn’t as sure.

“You know who my father is,” Malfoy said. “And… what he is.”

Harry blinked. He hadn’t expected Malfoy to admit to anything, so even just the implication of what Lucius Malfoy was - a Death Eater - seemed staggering.

“And you know what kind of man he is,” Malfoy continued. “If word was to get back to him that I was giving a free pass to a Mu… a Muggleborn…” He shook his head.

Quite frankly, Harry thought that was a weak excuse, but he nodded anyway. “I won’t say anything.” Then, after a pause, he added, “Thank you... for leaving them alone.”

Malfoy simply nodded and began to turn away, then paused. “That’s wrong, by the way,” he said, pointing at the last line Harry had written for his essay. “Moonstone is a gem, but it’s also a type of feldspar, which is why it enhances balance and stability.”

Harry gave Malfoy a blank stare. “What?”

Malfoy sighed. “Give me your essay tomorrow. I’ll correct it.”

Harry blinked. “Uh… thanks.”

Malfoy nodded once more, then went back to his own homework.

Harry stared at his essay, then scratched out his last line, rewriting it with the information Malfoy had given him. He looked up ‘feldspar’ in the glossary of his Potions text and realized Malfoy had been right, and thought he might actually be able to come up with enough information to expand his essay to the required length.

He worked for another hour or so, and then decided to call it a night. He drew his curtains and lay back on his pillow, staring up at the underside of the green canopy as he contemplated the day. His thoughts mostly swirled around the evening’s conversation with the other fifth years. Were children really getting attacked by the other houses, or was it a Slytherin exaggeration?

Suddenly, Harry remembered something and he sat up straight in his bed, a feeling of horror overtaking him.

“Slytherins being attacked in the hallways of this school is nothing new, Potter,” Snape had said. “I thought you would have been aware of that.”

And what had Sirius had told him just a few weeks prior? “This is actually one James asked me to teach him. Flips people up in the air and upside down. He liked using it on Snivellus…” A pit yawned open in Harry’s stomach.

Had his own father been one of those students that attacked Slytherins?

***

The next morning, Harry’s thoughts continued to revolve around his father. He considered writing Sirius, but he knew that he would also have to inform his godfather of his new house placement. Harry knew he would have to let him know eventually, but he had no idea how.

Harry also suspected that if his father had been attacking Slytherins, Sirius may have done the same. The thought wasn’t a pleasant one.

About halfway through breakfast, Greengrass pulled Harry out of his thoughts when she pointed out that they had Defense first thing. “Did you find anything out about the class from Granger?” she asked him.

Harry nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Hermione’s furious. Apparently, the class is all theory and nothing but.”

“What do you mean?” Davis asked.

“She won’t do any practical work for the entire year,” Harry said. “Meaning we won’t actually be using magic in the class.”

“At all?” Zabini asked, an expression of horror on his face. “In our O.W.L. year? We’re not going to actually learn how to use any of the spells that we’re going to be tested on?”

Harry laughed. “You sound a bit like Hermione right now, you know.”

Zabini blinked, looking aghast, and Malfoy snickered.

***

Harry took a seat beside Zabini and stared in trepidation at Umbridge. She was dressed in a pink frilly cardigan and had an enormous velvet black bow perched atop her head. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Parkinson sneer in disapproval.

Umbridge was clearly strict, demanding that the class answer her as a whole when she asked them a question. She explained that the curriculum was Ministry-approved, and would make up for the appalling teaching they’d had in previous years. She instructed them all to copy down the ‘course aims,’ which, naturally, said nothing about using magic.

Beside him, Zabini thrust his hand into the air before Umbridge could continue.

Umbridge peered at him for a moment. “Your have a question, Mr…?”

“Zabini,” he said, lowering his arm. “Blaise Zabini.”

“What is it, then?”

“I just need some clarification, Professor Umbridge,” he said. His voice sounded more proper than what Harry had heard from him so far. “I was just wondering when our practical lessons in defensive magic would be taking place, as they aren’t mentioned in the course aims.”

Umbridge made a ‘tutting’ sound. “The Ministry-approved course has been crafted in such a way that practical lessons are deemed unnecessary.”

“As you mentioned, this is our O.W.L. year, ma’am,” Zabini continued in that prim and proper manner of speaking. “Does the Defense O.W.L. not contain a practical exam any longer?”

“The practical exam still exists,” said Umbridge. “However, if you study the theory correctly, the practical part of the exam will not be a problem for you.”

Harry saw a few Slytherins shifting in their seats, and then, surprisingly, Malfoy’s hand shot up.

“Yes?” Umbridge said, turning to face him. “And what is your name?”

“Malfoy. Draco Malfoy.”

The way he said it was uncomfortably familiar to Harry, bringing up all kinds of bad memories from over the years, but when he saw the flicker of alarm on Umbridge’s face at hearing Malfoy’s name, Harry suddenly became pleased.

Umbridge calmed her expression and gave Malfoy a falsely saccharine smile. “And what is your question, Mr. Malfoy?”

“I’m concerned that without actual practice, we will not be adequately prepared for the practical exam,” he said. “Especially since, as you said, the classes in Defense that we’ve taken prior to this year have not been the Ministry-approved standard. I fear that without a strong foundation, only one year of theory will not be enough.”

“I can assure you, Mr. Malfoy, the theory will be enough,” Umbridge said.

“But what about learning how to defend ourselves?” Davis suddenly asked.

“You will raise your hand before speaking in my classroom, Miss -”

“Davis. We were learning basic shield charms in our second year. Surely we’ll need something stronger in order to defend ourselves against attack -”

“Are you implying that you’re going to be attacked in my classroom, Miss Davis?”

Parkinson interjected. “Not in your classroom, but -”

“Your hand is not up, Miss -

“Parkinson. We’re Slytherins, ma’am - of course we’re going to get hexed and jinxed. Potter was just attacked on the stairs last night!”

Umbridge’s eyes suddenly shot over to Harry. “Was he?” she said. Harry couldn’t read the expression on her face, but he could have sworn that it looked like she was pleased.

“Well,” she said after a moment. “I was a Slytherin, as well. And I can assure you that despite an occasional prank in the hallway, there is no need to practice defensive spells in this school.”

“And what about threats outside of the school?” Harry snapped. He’d been trying to heed Hermione’s advice of staying quiet in Umbridge’s class, but he couldn’t hold back any longer. “What good will all this ‘theory’ be when someone attacks us out there?”

Zabini swiftly kicked Harry in the shin. Harry ignored him.

An unpleasant smile spread across Umbridge’s face. “Who would possibly be attacking you outside of the school, Mr. Potter?”

“Gee, I wonder...” Harry said mockingly. “How about Lord Voldemort?”

They could have heard a pin drop in the classroom.

“Ten points from Slytherin, Mr. Potter, for attempting to incite panic,” Umbridge said after a moment. “You will immediately cease spreading such vile lies.”

“It’s not a lie.” Harry’s lip curled upward. “Cedric Diggory was killed right in front of me,” he said. “Who do you think was responsible for that?”

“Detention, Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said swiftly. “Class, please let me assure you that Cedric Diggory’s death was nothing more than a tragic accident -”

“It was not!” Harry shouted, rising from his seat. “You’re just too afraid to admit that he’s back!”

Umbridge stared at Harry. She opened her mouth, and then Zabini suddenly got to his feet, as well.

“This isn’t about fear of the Dark Lord, is it?” Zabini said. “This is about what you’re afraid of, Professor.”

“Blaise, what are you doing? ” Malfoy hissed.

Zabini ignored him. “You’re frightened of having to actually show us defensive spells.” His voice was scathing. “Maybe you just don’t want to have to demonstrate any of the practical work because you’re actually incapable of casting those spells.”

Umbridge’s mouth fell open, and Harry couldn’t help it - he laughed.

She then straightened herself up to her full height - which wasn’t much - and said, “Mr. Zabini. Mr. Potter. You will immediately come to the front of the classroom. Bring your belongings with you.”

Harry and Zabini glanced at each other, and then began gathering their books. They approached Umbridge’s desk, where she was just finishing writing a note. She folded it and handed it to Zabini. “You two will immediately bring this to Professor Snape. I will know if you don’t.”

Zabini took the note, and then gave her a bizarre kind of half-salute. He grabbed Harry by his good shoulder and began pushing him out of the classroom.

In the hallway, Zabini unfolded the note as they walked. “We’ve both been assigned detention for the rest of the week, starting tomorrow.”

“Well, I already have detention with Snape tomorrow, so bully for me,” Harry snapped.

“You really shouldn’t have said those things, Potter,” Zabini said.

“And what about you?” Harry said. “You actually insulted her, personally.”

Zabini rolled his eyes. “I was trying to get you to shut the hell up, actually,” he said.

Harry stopped in his tracks. “What?”

Zabini walked past him, throwing his arms up in frustration. “You wouldn’t stop running your mouth, and you obviously don’t realize how much danger you’re putting yourself in by saying those things -”

“Oh, so you don’t believe me, either?” Harry snarled.

Zabini finally stopped and turned around, a furious expression on his face. “I don’t know if you’ve put two and two together yet, Potter,” he whispered heatedly, “but you are now in the one house in this school that does believe you.”

Harry froze.

Zabini was almost certainly right - Slytherins would believe that Voldemort had returned because their parents had actually been there the night he’d been restored.

Harry wasn’t exactly sure what to do with that information yet, so he filed it away and started walking again. Zabini let out an exasperated sigh and followed him.

“Look, Potter,” Zabini said in a low voice. “I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been going through -”

“No, you really can’t,” Harry snapped.

“But repeatedly yelling that the Dark Lord is back without offering any actual proof isn’t going to net you the results that want,” Zabini continued, his tone even and patient.

“Oh, I’m so sorry I didn’t bring back any proof besides Cedric’s dead body,” Harry said nastily. “Next time I’ll just bring Voldemort himself.”

“Merlin, please don’t do that,” Zabini said, horrified.

“I’m just tired of being called a liar!” Harry shouted. He felt beyond frustrated and wanted to throw something, but he had nothing in his hands. Suddenly overwhelmed, he whipped his wand out of his robes and sent a blast of raw magic at the wall. Harry felt a trickle of satisfaction at seeing tiny bits and pieces of the stone fly into the air.

Zabini was silent for a moment. “You have quite a temper, don’t you?” he finally offered.

“What are you two doing out of class?” Snape’s voice rang out from in front of them. He stood further down the hall, his hand on the knob of the door to his office. Harry quickly tucked his wand away.

“Professor Umbridge sent us to see you,” Zabini said.

Snape sneered. “Why, might I ask?”

Zabini walked forward and held out the note from Umbridge, and Snape took it from him and unfolded it. As he was reading, his expression became more and more annoyed.

“In,” he said, holding open the door to his office. Harry and Zabini walked in, Snape behind them. The door slammed forcibly, and both of them jumped.

“You’ve both been assigned detention with for the rest of the week. How are you supposed to be in two detentions at once, Potter?”

“I… don’t know, sir.”

“What exactly were you two saying to her?” he asked as he walked around to the rear of his desk. “This note merely says that you, Potter, shouted at her, and that you, Zabini, insulted her.”

Harry remembered what Zabini had said, and he let out a snicker. Snape shot him a glare and he instantly quieted.

“Well?”

“She’s not including any practical work in this year’s course, sir,” Zabini said. That overly proper tone had returned. “This is our O.W.L. year. I may have implied that she wasn’t teaching us the practical part because she was incapable of casting any defensive spells herself.”

Snape sat down at his desk and pinched the bridge of his nose. “And you, Potter?”

Harry swallowed, knowing that what he was about to say would make Snape exceedingly unhappy. “I yelled at her because she’s denying that Voldemort’s returned.”

Snape fixed a long, hard stare at Harry. “Zabini, please wait outside.”

Zabini’s eyes widened. He glanced at Harry and exited the room.

“Sir -” Harry started.

“Silence.”

Harry shut his mouth.

“I do realize that you are only recently a Slytherin, Potter,” Snape said. “But you are going to have to learn how to start behaving like one.” He sneered. “Immediately.”

“So I should just accuse her of being a squib instead?” Harry bit out sardonically.

“I do not think you belong in this house,” Snape continued, amazingly ignoring Harry’s retort. “It will be up to you to prove me wrong. I’m aware of what Umbridge is, and, despite my better judgment, I believe you know, as well.” He paused. “You need to learn how to deal with her like a Slytherin, not a Gryffindor.” His expression then became almost murderous. “And I will not have you somehow convincing one of the most well-behaved Slytherins in your year to emulate your Gryffindor antics.”

Harry swallowed. “Yes, sir.”

“Dismissed.”

“Sir?”

Snape fixed another glare on Harry. “What?”

“Who should I report to for detention tomorrow?” he asked. “You or her?”

Snape sighed. “You will go to Umbridge tomorrow. You will serve your detention with me on Saturday afternoon, instead. Be here immediately after lunch.”

Harry nodded, unhappy at having to serve detention on a weekend, but he felt too drained to argue.

He exited Snape’s office and found Zabini leaning up against the wall.

“He didn’t murder you,” Zabini said. “That’s just… swell.” He was clearly irritated, and Harry remembered what Snape had said about Zabini usually being well-behaved.

“You don’t… get in trouble very often, do you?” Harry asked.

“Never,” Zabini replied with a bite in his tone.

“Sorry.”

Zabini shrugged. “So, did Professor Snape say if he was going to overrule the detention scheduling conflict? Will he be taking you tomorrow and leaving me to deal with Umbridge by myself?”

Harry shook his head. “No. He’s moving my detention with him to Saturday.”

Zabini’s eyes widened and he let out a low whistled. “The teachers clearly know something we don’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“Snape doesn’t often let other professors win, and he’s not even putting up a fight.”

Harry sighed. “Umbridge is shaping up to be the worst Defense Against the Dark Arts professor I’ve ever had,” he said. “Which, considering at least two of them tried to kill me, is saying something.”

“What?!” Zabini exclaimed.

Harry waved it off. “Never mind.”

“You really do have no survival instincts whatsoever.”

Harry glared at Zabini.

Zabini let out a sigh. “Well, since we’ll be suffering in detention together, let’s figure out how to tackle Umbridge like Slytherins.”

Harry laughed. “Snape pretty much said the exact same thing,” he said. “He said I need to stop acting like a Gryffindor.”

“Well, you do.”

“I was a Gryffindor for four years,” Harry said. “Just because the hat said I’d learned everything Gryffindor had to teach me doesn’t mean I have to forget what I’ve learned.”

“You don’t have to forget,” Zabini said. “But you still have lessons to learn in Slytherin.”

Harry rolled his eyes and sighed. “Fine. Teach me, you wise, Slytherin master.”

“You’re just hilarious, Potter,” Zabini said dryly.

Harry snickered.

Zabini sighed again. “Lesson one: being loud and brash isn’t going to get you what you want. What we need to do is use these detentions to figure out what she wants.”

“What do you mean?”

“We need to get her to reveal what she values,” Zabini said. “That way, we can strike at her where it will hurt the most.”

Chapter Text


In the Slytherin common room later that night, Malfoy beckoned Harry over to a circle of chairs. “Fifth year meeting tonight,” he said. “Everyone else already knows about it. Make sure you’re back here in half an hour.”

“I thought the fifth years met weekly, not nightly,” Harry said.

“Use the bathroom or whatever you need to do,” Parkinson said. “It’s going to be a long one.”

“I have homework,” Harry protested.

“The rest of us do, too,” Malfoy said. “Do it now, or do it after.”

Harry didn’t want to think about what the meeting could be about - perhaps another intervention about being ‘too Gryffindor’ towards Umbridge? He’d heard enough of that from Snape and Zabini.

He followed Malfoy’s advice and distracted himself with finishing up his essay for Snape, and he was moderately satisfied with the results. Perhaps, despite the mandatory meeting, Malfoy would still look over it afterward.

Harry found himself wishing that Hermione was looking over his essay, not Malfoy. At least Malfoy actually seemed decent at Potions. Despite what Harry had thought over the years, it hadn’t just been Snape’s Slytherin favoritism that made Malfoy shine in that class.

At the thirty-minute mark, the fifth years descended on the common room.

“So what is this about?” Harry said. He could already tell that it was almost certainly about him. If their ‘weekly’ meetings were getting moved up so often, it had to be the new factor, which was Harry, himself.

Malfoy didn’t dance around the issue, instead getting straight to the point. “We need to talk about the Dark Lord,” he said.

Harry stared.

“The rest of us know exactly where our families are aligned,” Zabini said. “You don’t know, and you should.”

“We want to make sure you feel safe in our house,” Parkinson said.

“And taking into account... what happened, I can’t imagine how you could feel safe here,” Nott said. “I mean…”

“I know you have no reason to believe us, all things considered,” Malfoy offered. “But you are in our house. You are a Slytherin. There is a rule in Slytherin - no matter your alliances or your family’s alliances, our covenant still stands.”

Harry looked at all of them with wide eyes. He could tell Malfoy had been right - this conversation would indeed be a long one.

“So, to start off,” Malfoy said. “I think we need to ask the question that Theo wanted to ask the other night.”

“We’re going to start there? Really?” Parkinson asked in disbelief.

“This question relates to… what you were so angry about this afternoon, Harry,” Zabini said.

Harry hesitated, then nodded at Nott. “Go ahead.”

Malfoy suddenly sat up and pulled out his wand. “Wait, Theo.” He whispered a spell and then re-pocketed his wand. “Silencing ward. I don’t think you want everyone hearing this.”

Harry tilted his head to the side, studying Malfoy. “I thought Slytherins kept each other’s secrets,” he said carefully.

“As a rule, we do,” Parkinson said. “But there are certain things that we simply don’t broadcast to the entire house.”

Harry stared at Malfoy and Parkinson for another moment, then turned his attention to Nott. “What’s your question?”

“I…” Nott sighed. “Like I said the other night, the question might actually make you angry.”

“I’d like to know, too,” Malfoy said. “I can ask.”

No, Draco,” Nott said.

“You lack tact,” Parkinson said.

“I do not!” Malfoy protested.

Harry just sat and watched the exchange, feeling a little bewildered.

He was quickly learning that Slytherins weren’t all that different from Gryffindors, at least in how they spoke to one another.

“Okay,” Nott said. “I want to ask you something, and I will completely understand if you don’t want to answer. Being in our house... it must be completely strange for you, and I don’t want to make you more uncomfortable than you probably already are. So if you don’t want to say anything, you don’t have to. Or if you don’t want to say anything now but would be okay with it later -”

“Theo, you’re babbling,” Greengrass quipped.

“Just ask whatever it is you want to ask,” Harry said tiredly.

Nott took a deep breath. “What actually happened... in the graveyard?”

Harry was taken aback. He’d been expecting a question relating to it, but not one quite so on the nose.

“Look - you know my father was there,” Nott said.

Your father, and other people’s fathers, Harry thought, but he was vaguely surprised to hear Nott admit it to him. Although Malfoy very nearly admitted it last night...

“And I’ve heard my father’s side of the story, but after this past summer I’m starting to think my father might be half-insane,” Nott continued. “I just…”

“Some… people... are clearly biased and might not be telling the whole truth,” Malfoy said quietly, and Harry turned to look at him, his eyes wide. Malfoy didn’t meet his eyes; instead, he stared down at his hands.

“I want to hear your side of the story, Potter,” Nott said. “Harry.” Harry’s first name was said very deliberately, not at all as an afterthought. “Because certain things in my father’s story don’t add up.”

"And his father's story and my father's story don't even align with one another," Malfoy added.

"And ours haven't said anything at all," Crabbe said, gesturing to himself and Goyle.

Harry took a breath and sat back in his chair.

This was bizarre.

Harry had been sorted into Slytherin - Voldemort’s house - and now he was being questioned about what had actually happened by the children of Voldemort’s followers.

After finding out that wizarding world had been painting him as an unhinged, pathological liar, the fact that the children of Death Eaters were willing to even listen to what he had to say seemed unbelievable. And it wasn’t just their willingness to hear him that was throwing Harry for a loop - it was the fact that they actually seemed to want to know.

That was far more than Harry could say for the rest of the wizarding world.

But as Harry started picturing that night again in his mind, he could hear Voldemort’s high pitched command - kill the spare - and he could see that flash of green light.

“Um,” Harry said. “I’m not angry. I’m actually kind of… glad that you want to listen to me. Or seem to.” Then he sighed. “I do want to, but I’m just not sure if I… can. I mean…” He closed his eyes. “Cedric was killed right in front of me,” he said quietly.

He expected heckling, or someone to call him weak. Instead, Bulstrode finally spoke up.

“I can’t imagine what that must have been like,” she said, her voice quiet.

“Potter,” Malfoy said, and Harry opened his eyes. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to hear it, but you don’t have to speak of this if you don’t want to.”

Harry was almost more startled at that than nearly anything else that had happened so far in his time in Slytherin.

Malfoy almost sounded kind.

“I want to,” Harry said again.

And, with difficulty, he did. He told them the whole grizzly tale - the end of the Triwizard Tournament, Cedric’s death, and the ritual. He struggled through a few parts, but he managed to get through it. The Slytherins simply sat and listened, until one thing seemed to grab Malfoy by the throat.

“The Dark Lord had you unarmed and surrounded, and he gave you back your wand?” Malfoy said, aghast.

Harry nodded.

Malfoy let out a noise of disgust. “That’s an immensely stupid move on his part.”

Harry stared at Malfoy, and Parkinson kicked Malfoy in the shin. He apparently realized how his words sounded, and he shook his head.

“I’m not… ungrateful that you managed to make it out,” Malfoy said. “I just find it odd that my father reveres someone who would be so stupid as to arm his enemy.”

Harry was a bit bewildered at that statement. He’d always thought Malfoy worshipped his father; he’d never heard him criticize Lucius before.

He continued. He included the part about their wands connecting, but he didn’t explain that he knew that it had happened due to their wands’ twin cores; that wasn’t information he wanted to share with anyone. He finished up by explaining that he summoned the portkey back into his hands, reappearing at Hogwarts.

The Slytherins stared at him for a few moments after he finished the tale.

“Yeah,” Nott said finally. “That’s not at all what my father said.”

“Among other things, my father essentially implied that you fell on that portkey, and that was how you got away,” Malfoy said.

“And who do you believe?” Harry asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Honestly? You,” Nott said. Malfoy agreed with a quick nod. “Your story makes much more sense than my father’s.”

“You can tell someone is lying when there are contradictions in their story,” Malfoy said. He had a contemplative look on his face, and he leaned back on the sofa, evidently deep in thought.

An enormous swell of gratitude suddenly came over Harry, and he had to look down at his feet. “Thank you,” he said. “I don’t think I can explain how good it feels to actually…”

“Have someone believe you?” Zabini finished for him.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I did tell you that you…”

Harry chuckled. “That I was now in the only house that actually would,” he said. “Yeah. It’s still appreciated.”

“I’m sorry you went through all that, Harry,” Parkinson said quietly. “No one should have to endure that, much less someone who was only fourteen years old.” Harry stared at her in shock and amazement.

“Right,” Malfoy suddenly said. “Potter, it’s time we cover some of the basics.”

Harry blinked. “What?”

“You know my father is a Death Eater,” Malfoy said. “As are Theo’s, Vince’s, and Greg’s.”

Harry nodded, and the Slytherins launched into explaining where their families laid on the ‘Dark Lord spectrum,’ as Zabini called it.

They laid out that Parkinson’s family were definite Voldemort sympathizers, but there weren’t any actual Death Eaters in her line aside from her mother’s cousin - who happened to be Nott’s father. Bulstrode, Greengrass, and Zabini’s families were all neutral and wouldn’t do anything to help either side, though Zabini said his mother had expressed hope that Voldemort would win.

Davis was the only one aside from Harry who came from a family that firmly stood against Voldemort. She revealed that she was a half-blood like Harry, and that she worried what would happen to her and her family should Voldemort win.

They talked far into the night, and Harry found that he genuinely enjoyed the conversation even though none of the Slytherins revealed where their own loyalties lay. Harry supposed he was actually okay with that; after all, they all seemed to agree that Harry himself had been pulled into the conflict far sooner than he should have.

Throughout their talk, Harry began to find himself growing more comfortable with them. He realized he enjoyed making them almost comically uncomfortable with jokes about Voldemort’s lack of a nose, and in turn, they teased him about his Gryffindor luck at being mortally threatened every year he’d been at Hogwarts.

The night broke down one barrier between them. On his third day after being re-sorted, Harry found himself already on a first-name basis with all of the Slytherins in his year.

Even Draco.

***

“As painful as it’s going to be, we’ll have to suck up to her,” Blaise explained as he and Daphne walked Harry to Divination the following morning. “We’ll have to start out by politely apologizing - even if we don’t mean it - and then we’re going to have to kiss her ass in a major way.”

“This is making me feel ill, Blaise,” Harry complained. “I think I’d feel dirty doing all that.”

“Well, sometimes Slytherins have to play dirty,” Blaise said, smirking. “This is one of those times.”

They arrived early to Divination, and the door in the ceiling remained closed.

“I still can’t believe you actually got detention, Blaise,” Daphne commented. “Have you ever even gotten one before?”

“No.”

Harry started laughing. “You’ve seriously made your way through four years at Hogwarts without getting a single detention?” he asked. “I’ve lost count of how many I’ve had!”

“Well, you were right, Harry - that woman is a nightmare,” Blaise said. “So this detention is worth it.”

Daphne pursed her lips. “I should hope so, since -”

“Your hand is not up, Miss Greengrass!” Blaise trilled in a high-pitched voice, turning his nose up into the air. “I won’t be showing you any spells because I think the only spell worth knowing is the one I use to turn everything I own a disgusting shade of pink!”

Blaise continued on with his impersonation for several minutes. Harry had to admit he was riotously funny, and he had Harry and Daphne laughing so hard that Harry had to lean against the wall to catch his breath. His sides ached.

It felt good.

They were still laughing when Ron, Dean, and Neville showed up, and Ron sneered at the three cackling Slytherins. “What’s so funny?” he asked, clearly displeased.

Daphne managed to collect herself before Harry. “Blaise here is going to replace Professor Um-Bitch,” she said, which set Harry off laughing again.

There will be no need to talk, Miss Greengrass!” Blaise’s voice quavered; he was struggling not to laugh, as well. Daphne, on the other hand, completely lost it again.

“What are you even doing here?” Ron demanded.

Daphne wiped her eyes and fixed Ron with a stare, a tight smile on her face. “We were just keeping Harry company on his way to class,” she said.

Just then, the door opened and the silver ladder dropped down.

“That’s just... tacky,” Blaise muttered, giving the ladder the side-eye. He looked back to Daphne. “We should get going or we’ll be late for Runes.”

Daphne nodded. “Bye, Harry.”

“Bye.”

“Detention brothers tonight, then?” Blaise asked Harry as they turned to leave. “You’re going to have to show me why it’s so cool.”

Daphne rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, we know. It’s your first detention ever. It’s a foreign world for you.”

Blaise cackled. “Two days of hanging out with Potter and I earn myself detention. I can feel myself becoming more unruly by the minute.”

“Mister Perfect is becoming a rebel. Let’s go.” They walked off down the spiral stairs, and their friendly bickering faded away.

Harry gestured for the others to go up the ladder before him, knowing he would take longer with one arm in a sling. He followed Neville up, and the journey was slow.

When he reached the top, Ron was waiting for him with a cross expression. “Pulling a Malfoy on us, Harry?”

Harry’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “What?”

Ron nodded at the sling on Harry’s arm. “So, did you get attacked by a hippogriff or is it just for show?”

“I... fell, Ron.”

Ron opened his mouth again, but, amazingly, Neville cut him off.

“Leave Harry alone, Ron.”

Divination was terrible.

***

When Harry finally reached the bottom of the ladder after class, he found Cassius Warrington and another seventh year Slytherin waiting for him. She introduced herself as Freya Yaxley, the other seventh-year prefect.

“You’re going to Care of Magical Creatures, then?” Yaxley asked as they began walking.

Harry nodded.

“I dropped that class as soon as I could after my O.W.L.s,” she said. “Most of the creatures were more scary than cute.”

“Given any more thought to Quidditch, Potter?” Warrington asked.

“What’s that?” Yaxley asked curiously. “Are you going to play for Slytherin?”

“I… might,” Harry said. “I haven’t decided.”

“Secret Quidditch strategy, Freya!” Warrington teased. “You don’t get to know.”

“Oh, please,” Yaxley said, rolling her eyes. “You know I don’t care all that much about Quidditch, Cass.” She looked at Harry. “I root for Slytherin, and I’ll go to Slytherin’s games, but there’s no way I could go to every single game as some people do.” She nudged Warrington with her shoulder.

“I’m on the team, Freya,” Warrington said reasonably. “I have to see how the other teams play.”

They arrived at Harry’s class, and he waved ‘goodbye’ to the prefects.

Hermione made a beeline for Harry as soon as she spotted him. “What happened, Harry? Are you okay?” she asked. “I saw the sling yesterday, but we didn’t get any time to talk. Why are the seventh year prefects escorting you to class? And how did your first class with Umbridge go?”

Harry smiled. Hermione’s endless questioning was familiar.

Unlike Snape, Professor Grubbly-Plank did not make Harry partner with other Slytherins, and, after she explained the day’s lesson, he used the time to catch up with Hermione. He confessed that he’d been caught by a tripping jinx on the stairs and that he wasn’t to walk anywhere without Slytherin companions.

He didn’t mention that the reason for that was because Slytherins were apparently always being attacked in the hallways.

When he revealed that both he and Blaise had been assigned detention by Umbridge, Hermione scolded him.

“I told you not to put yourself in her crosshairs, Harry!” she said. Then she became curious. “What did Zabini do?”

Harry chuckled, and relayed what Blaise had said to Umbridge. Hermione’s mouth dropped open; she obviously couldn’t imagine being that disrespectful to a teacher, even if it was Umbridge.

Harry also noticed that Draco and Pansy were fairly reserved for most of the class. Care of Magical Creatures tended to be one of their favorite classes in which to mock Gryffindors, so their silence was deafening. As he promised, he didn’t mention it, and he wondered if Hermione had even noticed.

One other person was oddly silent through the whole class: Ron.

He didn’t mention Ron’s reserved nature, and neither did Hermione. But towards the end of class, Harry saw Hermione look back and forth between himself and Ron with an unhappy expression on her face.

***

They stood outside the door to Umbridge’s office, and Blaise gave Harry a sideways glance. “You’re going to say exactly what you told me you would say when we were at dinner, right?” he asked. “No surprises?”

Harry gave him a jerky nod.

“You’ll keep that impressive temper of yours in check?”

“As long as she does,” Harry spit out.

Blaise sighed. “I suppose that’s the best I’m going to get, isn’t it?” He raised his hand and knocked on the door. They heard Umbridge tell them to come in, and they both took a breath and entered.

“Good evening Mr. Potter, Mr. Zabini,” she said as they stood in front of her desk.

“Good evening, Professor Umbridge,” they both said obediently.

She gave them a sickeningly sweet smile, and gestured to the two small tables beside her desk, each with a single piece of parchment. “Take a seat, please.”

“Professor?” Blaise said. “I was hoping we might both be able to say something to you before we begin tonight’s detention.” His voice had, as Harry expected, regained the proper tone. “I’ve never had a detention before, so I’m not sure if that’s… done, but -”

Umbridge’s eyes narrowed. “What is it that you want to say?”

“I want to offer my sincerest apologies,” Blaise said with a slight incline of his head. “I realize this is no excuse, but I believe that the stress of my O.W.L. year was affecting me far more than I expected it to. I fear that I may have taken that stress out on you.” He shook his head sadly. “I never should have said those appalling things to you. I’m truly ashamed of myself.”

Umbridge stared at him for a moment, and then gave him one of those disgusting, sugary smiles. “Apology accepted, Mr. Zabini.” She turned to Harry. “And you?”

“I also want to apologize,” Harry said. “The events of last spring were... confusing, to say the least. Cedric died right in front of me, and it’s been haunting me ever since. I may have been… mistaken about what I saw happen.” He hated every word coming out of his mouth, but he’d made a promise to Blaise. “I only shared what I thought I saw.” He swallowed. He didn’t want to say the next part.

He saw Blaise shift his weight as he clearly waited for Harry to continue. “I think Harry may have been… traumatized by what he witnessed, ma’am,” he said, obviously trying to fill the empty space that Harry had left.

Harry gave a jerky nod, despite the guilt at using Cedric’s death as an excuse. “And I fear that… certain people…” He took a breath to steady himself. “Certain people might have taken advantage of that.”

It wasn’t quite what Blaise had coached him to say, but Umbridge still got his meaning.

“You mean your headmaster,” she said slowly.

Harry hesitated, then nodded.

There. He’d done it. He’d thrown Dumbledore under the bus to Umbridge.

Despite his recent anger towards Dumbledore, it still made Harry feel ill.

Umbridge’s smile became even more sickening. “Well, Mr. Potter, I must say - this is most unexpected,” she said. “I’m pleased, but it’s unexpected.” Even with her smile, she didn’t sound entirely convinced.

“No one actually bothered to talk to me about what happened afterward,” Harry continued, and in the corner of his vision, he saw Blaise’s eyes widen slightly. It was understandable; Harry hadn’t planned on saying more, but he wanted to make sure Umbridge believed the lie. “I had the whole summer to go over what I thought I saw, with no one telling me otherwise, so I think I must have just… convinced myself it was true.” He swallowed nervously.

“Did you not read the reports in the Daily Prophet, Mr. Potter?” Umbridge asked. “Surely reading that the Dark Lord has indeed not returned should have given you some… peace of mind.”

“I have to admit that I stopped reading the Prophet when I saw how it was speaking about me, Professor Umbridge.”

Umbridge smiled. “I suppose that’s understandable.”

“I know now that it isn’t true. The... Dark Lord -” Harry imperceptibly clenched his teeth at that, "- is dead."

And that apparently worked, because Umbridge let out a titter. “I knew you would come to see it our way eventually, Mr. Potter,” she said. She sighed happily. “I do still need both of you to serve your detention, of course.”

“Of course, ma’am,” Blaise said. “We weren’t expecting to get out of it. We just wanted to make sure you knew how much we regret our actions in class today.”

“Naturally!” Umbridge said. “Take your seats, please.”

Harry and Blaise sat down, and Harry glanced at Blaise nervously.

“Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said, moving in between their two tables and looking down at Harry. “I must admit that I was quite surprised at seeing you move to Slytherin house. As I mentioned in your class, that was my house when I attended Hogwarts.”

Harry nodded.

“It seems we have more in common than either of us may have initially realized,” she continued, and Harry’s stomach twisted up at that. “I think that we will come to understand one another sooner than I thought we would have.”

Despite his ill feeling at having anything in common with the horrible woman, Harry said, “I wholeheartedly agree, Professor. I think we will.” Behind her, Harry saw Blaise flash him a now-familiar smirk.

Apparently, Harry was being a very good Slytherin.

Umbridge smiled widely at both of them, then turned back to her desk. “You’ll be writing lines today, children.” She retrieved two quills and inkwells and placed them in front of Harry and Blaise. “I admit that I was not expecting such admirable behavior from the two of you in this detention, so your lines will be as I initially planned… but despite your apologies, I think it’s all the better that you both walk out of here truly knowing what you did wrong. Don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Blaise and Harry said.

“Mr. Zabini, you will write ‘I must not insult a professor’s abilities.’ Mr. Potter, your line is ‘I must not tell lies.’”

A wave of fury swept through Harry, and he tried to tamp it down as he stared down at his parchment. “How many times?” he asked.

“As many as necessary,” she said. “I shall know when it’s enough.”

And so they set to writing their lines.

About twenty minutes into the detention, they both requested another piece of parchment, as they had been filled. Umbridge smiled and she handed them two more.

“Professor Umbridge?” Blaise asked as he dipped his quill in his inkwell to start on his new sheet.

“Yes, Mr. Zabini?”

“I was just wondering... I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to ask you this at detention, but…” Blaise sat up straighter in his seat. “I’ve heard that you work for the Ministry for Magic.”

“I do.”

“That’s very impressive,” Blaise said, putting his quill to paper again. “I know you must have things that you need to accomplish tonight, but I was wondering if you had any advice to a young O.W.L. student who aspires to work for the Ministry one day.” He scribbled down another line. “I mean - I’ll have to decide what N.E.W.T. classes to take at the end of this school year, and I was wondering which classes might give me an… advantage over other potential candidates. Or might you have any suggestions as to which Ministry departments might be willing to take on a recent Hogwarts graduate?”

Umbridge smiled broadly and seemed to puff up in her seat. “You seem like an intelligent, hard-working, and well-spoken young man, Mr. Zabini,” she said. “And I will dare to say that you would be an excellent fit for the Ministry.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Now, then, as for your N.E.W.T.s… what are your electives again, my dear?”

“I take Arithmancy and Ancient Runes.”

“Those would be excellent N.E.W.T.s to have,” Umbridge said. “Since the Ministry has such a wide array of responsibilities, having one or both of those will open many doors for you. Of course…” She tittered quietly. “While having the proper education does matter, something else that matters is who you know.”

“Naturally, Professor,” Blaise said smoothly.

“As the Senior Undersecretary, I have countless connections in the Ministry, and the more intelligent Ministry employees know who holds sway over many of their careers,” she said. “If you keep up your good behavior, Mr. Zabini, I may be able to arrange some introductions for you.”

“Really?” Blaise said, his eyes wide. “I would be extremely grateful if you could.”

As planned, Harry remained silent for the rest of the detention. He continued writing lines and watching Blaise be sickeningly sweet to Umbridge, and Umbridge just soaked it up.

Towards the end, she took their pieces of parchment and looked them over. “I think we can all agree that this night has gone far better than expected, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes, ma’am,” they both said.

“I know detention was assigned for the rest of the week,” she said. “But with your earlier apologies, I think one night was enough for both of you.” She peered at both at them and gave them that awful sugary smile. “Let’s not repeat this again, shall we?”

“I can assure you, Professor,” Blaise said. “It won’t happen again.”

***

“So?” Harry asked once he and Blaise had returned to the common room.

“She clearly values her power,” Blaise said. “Her position at the Ministry. The problem is that the only person I have any kind of connection to that would be able to actually strike at her power is…”

“Lemme guess: Lucius Malfoy,” Harry said.

“Right,’ Blaise said. “And I’m not certain if Lucius has said anything to Draco about what Umbridge’s role is here; if it’s a plot that Lucius is involved in or approves of, we’d be out of luck.” He considered that for a moment. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to ask him, though.”

Harry wondered exactly when the thought of Draco writing his father became one that he could actually appreciate, and then the guilt that overtook him at the idea of using an enemy against another enemy overwhelmed that thought.

“If that doesn’t work, we’ll just have to come up with something else,” Blaise said. “We know where to hit her; we’ll just have to figure out how.”

Harry returned to their dorm to use what little he had left of the night to work on homework. Draco was the only other person in the room, and he handed him his corrected Potions essay as soon as Harry walked in. Harry quickly rewrote his Potions essay, and then decided it was finally time he wrote to Sirius.

Harry ran into a problem at that, though: he still had no idea what to say.

He also knew that it was likely that Ron or Ginny or the twins had already written to Mrs. Weasley, or that Dumbledore had visited the Order headquarters. Sirius may have already known what had happened, and Harry felt guilty for not writing to his godfather sooner.

He scrapped one attempt after another. Some boldly asked if his father had made a habit of attacking Slytherins in the halls when they were at school. Others explained Harry’s re-sorting, and how being in Slytherin had been going far better than Harry could have ever expected. Still others begged Sirius to remember that, despite his hatred of Slytherin, Harry was still the same person he’d always been.

But are you? a nasty voice inside his head whispered.

At detention earlier that night, Harry had finally become what everyone in the wizarding world was accusing him of being: a liar. Even worse, he’d used Cedric Diggory’s death as an excuse to get out of trouble.

Harry knew that it was for the best; he needed Umbridge’s eyes off of him. That didn’t change the twisted up feeling in Harry’s stomach.

He sighed and crumbled up yet another note, and walked over to chuck the parchment in the fire.

“Having trouble with your homework, Harry?” Draco asked, evidently amused at how many pieces of parchment Harry had burnt in such a short amount of time.

Harry froze. Despite the recent inroads he’d made with the Slytherins, he didn’t want Draco to know who he was writing to. Harry thought about it, and realized that he didn’t have to discuss the recipient of the letter.

“No,” Harry said, shaking his head. “There’s just someone that I need to tell about my… my re-sorting, and I have no idea what to say.”

“What’s so hard about it?” Draco asked. “‘Dear so-and-so, I’ve been re-sorted to Slytherin. Hope you’re doing well. Ever yours, Scarhead.’”

Harry glared, but there wasn’t any true mirth behind it. He shook his head again. “It’s not just that… it’s…” He sighed, turning to face Draco. “This person knew my father when he was in school,” he said carefully.

“So?” Draco raised an eyebrow. “My suggestion still stands.”

“No, it’s just…” Harry clenched a fist. “I’ve been... hearing things, and putting the pieces together.” He let his eyes drift towards the picture of his parents on his nightstand. “I had no idea about these ongoing attacks on Slytherins, and I’m beginning to suspect… that…” He trailed off.

Draco waited patiently for him to continue.

“I think my father might have been one of those attackers,” Harry said quietly. “Back when he was in school here.”

Draco’s eyes widened. “Are you sure?”

“No,” Harry said. “And I feel like even asking about it is…” He paused. “I don’t know. Shitting all over my father’s memory?” He let out a frustrated sigh and walked over to his bed. He flopped onto his back and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“This… person,” Draco said thoughtfully. “Is he the only one you could ask?”

“Yes,” Harry said. Then he realized that wasn’t exactly true, and he sat up. “Actually, it might not be, but the only other person I could ask… completely and utterly hates my guts.”

“Let me guess: Professor Snape?”

Harry stared at Draco in amazement. Apparently, he was far more intuitive than Harry had thought.

Draco shrugged. “I know they had to be about the same age, and I’ve heard Professor Snape make more than one uncomplimentary statement about your father. They clearly knew each other, and they likely attended Hogwarts at the same time.”

Harry nodded. “They did,” he admitted.

“I think you should ask him,” Draco said, and Harry blanched at the thought.

“You haven’t missed the fact that Snape despises me, right?” he asked.

Draco smirked. “He also obviously despised your father. ‘Shitting on your father’s memory,’ as you say, might score you some approval points with him.”

“That’s… kind of gross, Draco,” Harry said, wrinkling his nose.

“That’s Slytherin,” Draco said. “And it may also get you the information you’re seeking.” He turned back to his desk. “Besides, Professor Snape is also your head of house,” he said reasonably. “You’re supposed to be able to go to him with problems you might have. I would say that being haunted by what your father may or may not have done constitutes a ‘problem.’”

Harry flopped back on his bed again, thinking Draco had just brought their conversation to a close.

“Harry, even if this thing about your father turns out to be true,” Draco suddenly said, “it could be worse.” He half-turned his head, just enough for Harry to see a melancholy expression on his face. “Look at my father.”

Harry could only stare in shock as his old rival turned back to his homework. He watched him for a full minute and wondered exactly what kind of relationship Draco actually had with Lucius Malfoy. Whatever it was, Harry supposed it was nothing like he’d imagined.

He finally returned to his desk and stared at yet another piece of blank parchment. He sighed, scribbled down a few lines, and blew on the ink to dry.

Dear Snuffles,

You may have already heard by now, but I was placed in Slytherin. Please write me back.

Hope you’re doing well.

Love, Harry

Chapter Text


“Professor Umbridge just informed me that she let you out of detention for the remainder of the week,” Snape told Harry at breakfast.

Harry nodded.

If Snape was surprised or pleased by Harry’s newfound Slytherin ability to slither out of Umbridge’s grasp, he didn’t show it. “Even so, the rescheduling of your detention with me on Saturday still stands,” he said. “I’ve already arranged for it. Immediately after lunch, Potter. Do not be late.”

“Yes, sir.”

As Snape walked down the length of the great hall, Harry began to wonder how he could possibly ask him about what Harry’s father had been like. Snape had made it clear to Harry over the years that he was biased against Harry’s father to an absurd level. Would he actually tell the truth if Harry asked him?

Harry doubted it.

Defense Against the Dark Arts was, once again, nearly unbearable, but the death glares he kept receiving from Blaise somehow managed to keep Harry from exploding in her class again. Umbridge seemed pleased as punch at how well-mannered her fifth year Slytherin class was, and she awarded the class as a whole 50 points for their exemplary behavior.

Blaise had heard from some of the other Slytherin years that she was doing the same in their classes. Apparently, she was just as biased as Snape in Slytherin’s favor.

That still didn’t endear many of the Slytherins to her, especially the fifth years and seventh years, who both had to complete tests at the end of the year that would potentially decide their futures. Harry overheard one of the seventh years complaining about her sabotaging their N.E.W.T.s, saying that she was currently plotting Umbridge’s murder and covering it up by making it seem like a horrific accident. Harry wasn’t entirely sure if the student was joking or not.

As they worked on their seemingly endless stream of homework in the library that night, Harry asked Daphne and Blaise about what he’d overheard the seventh year say, wondering if it could have possibly been true. Daphne shrugged, saying that she honestly didn’t care.

Harry stared. He may have despised Umbridge, and he desperately wanted her out of the school, but he couldn’t imagine actually wanting someone dead.

Except Voldemort, he thought suddenly. Pretty sure I want him dead.

“But… that does remind me,” Blaise said, tapping his quill on his chin. “Draco said he sent his father an owl about Umbridge this morning. I have doubts that Lucius will actually take any action against her or give Draco any useful information, so we need to come up with a backup plan.”

“So what should we do?” Harry asked.

You will do nothing,” Blaise said. “You need to stay out of her way. The rest of us can handle this.”

“Doing nothing isn’t really my style -”

“Too bad,” Blaise said as he flipped a page in his Charms text, probably a bit too forcibly.

“Hello, Slytherins.” Harry glanced up from his homework when he heard the familiar voice, and he spied Fred and George Weasley standing at the end of their table.

“How are you faring in your new house, young Harry?” Fred asked.

“Um… good,” Harry said. He still wasn’t sure where the twins stood on his re-sorting, and he knew them well enough that he definitely didn’t want to be on the receiving end of their bad side if they weren’t happy with him.

“We’ve come to notice that our dear brother is being a right twit about your new house placement,” George said. “We felt that we should inform you that won’t have to worry about the same from us.”

Harry smiled in relief. “Thank you,” he said genuinely. He felt as if the number of friends he had in Gryffindor had just doubled. Which, Harry supposed, was technically true.

“In fact, we’ll let you in on a secret that no one in our family knows aside from the two of us,” Fred said.

George looked around them for possible eavesdroppers, clearly being just a touch overdramatic. “The sorting hat told both Fred and I that we could have gone to Slytherin if we wanted,” he whispered conspiratorially.

“Cunning and ambition coming out of our bottoms, it said,” added Fred.

“But we’re a bit too reckless for your house, I think.”

“What?!” Harry exclaimed, his mouth falling open.

“Weasleys in Slytherin,” Daphne considered. “That would have been…”

“... a complete nightmare!” Blaise finished for her, a horrified look on his face. He then gave Harry a sideways glance and seemed to self-correct himself. “Not due to your name, of course, but because your propensity for pranks is… well-known.”

Both twins grinned at Blaise.

“Which is why we’re here, Mr. Slytherin,” Fred said.

“Zabini,” Blaise immediately corrected.

“Mr. Slytherin Zabini,” George said with a slight incline of his head. Blaise rolled his eyes in response.

“We have a proposal for you, dear Harry,” Fred said.

“One that may interest you as our investor,” George continued.

“Investor?” Daphne repeated, her eyebrows shooting upward in interest. “Have you neglected to inform us that you are an aspiring businessman, Harry?”

“Uh…” Harry said, somewhat stupidly.

“Young Harry here saw a prime financial opportunity and he took it,” George said.

“We should have seen the Slytherin in him then,” Fred added with a wink.

Harry sighed. They weren’t being entirely truthful, of course; Harry had only given them his Triwizard winnings because he hadn’t wanted them. “So what’s your proposal?” he finally asked.

“Your recent re-sorting, dear Harry, has opened a previously closed line of business,” George said.

“You can get our products into the one house in this school that we once had no connections in,” Fred continued.

Harry laughed. “You want me to push your wares in Slytherin.” They’d been joking about it after they’d first heard of Harry’s re-sorting. Harry should have figured that there would at least be a grain of truth to it.

“Precisely!” they said together, identical grins painted across their faces.

“We also heard about your recent trouble with Umbridge,” George said.

“As well as your new friend here taking her to task,” Fred added, nodding at Blaise.

“Fabulous provocation, Mr. Slytherin Zabini!” George interjected, sounding a bit like Percy. “Simply stunning work!”

“How did you hear about that?” Blaise asked curiously.

“Hermione Granger,” George replied. “We’re honestly not sure where she heard it.”

“Is that so?” Harry returned Blaise’s pointed look with a sheepish grin.

“Anyway,” George continued. “We thought you may be personally interested in some of our Skiving Snackboxes, Harry.”

“‘Skiving Snackboxes?’” Daphne said, sounding more than a little dubious.

“Fainting Fancies, Puking Pastilles, Fever Fudge, Nosebleed Nougat,” Fred said, counting them off on his fingers. “You can have your pick of the lot, Harry, as our financer. Eat one to suddenly take ill in Umbridge’s class, and have the other once you’ve been sent to the hospital wing.”

“Although the Nosebleed Nougat still needs some work,” George admitted. “It’s currently like a roaring waterfall and we’re still trying to get it down to a leaky faucet.”

“Charming,” Daphne said sardonically. “Not many Slytherins will be interested in purposely making themselves sick. Do you have any other products?”

Fred and George looked at each other in deliberation.

Harry considered Fred and George’s other inventions, scouring his brain to try and remember if they had come up with that Slytherins might find tempting, and then it struck him. “Extendable Ears.”

Blaise raised an eyebrow at that. “‘Extendable… Ears?’”

“Extendable Ears!” Fred and George said together, pumping their fists in the air, and they grinned at Daphne.

Daphne rolled her eyes. “Don’t look at me; I’m not saying it, too.”

“Yes, those would appeal to Slytherins,” George agreed.

“Do you have any more?” Harry asked. “Or did your mother manage to get them all?” He remembered Mrs. Weasley had found a huge swath of them and destroyed them in her usual fury.

A smirk worthy of a Slytherin appeared on Fred’s face. “She did not get them all, dear Harry.”

“What are Extendable Ears, exactly?” Daphne asked, curious.

George opened his shoulder bag and started digging. “An invention of ours that allow the user to - ah!” He found what he was looking for and pulled out a few long strings, with ears attached to the end of each one. He plopped them on the table and one of the ears bounced over towards Daphne.

“Eww!” Daphne slid her chair back noisily, disgusted. “Those look appalling!”

Madame Pince glared at them from across the room.

“But also oh-so appealing,” Fred said, lowering his voice. “These little delights will allow the user to eavesdrop on conversations in other rooms, provided the door to the room hasn’t had the Imperturbable charm cast on it.”

Daphne looked intrigued at that.

“We’ve also improved on the model you tried over the summer, Harry,” George said. “These will stretch up to 100 meters.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Impressive.”

“One on the house, dear financer.” George untangled one string and handed it to Harry. “Anyone else?”

“I’ll take two,” Daphne said, already opening her bag. “How much?”

Fred grinned. “For you, young lady? Five galleons for both.”

Harry thought this seemed a little steep, but Daphne dug out the galleons and handed them over without protest, and George unwound two strings for her in exchange.

“If these work as advertised,” Daphne said, tucking them into the front pocket of her bag, “I’ll be back for more.”

“Pleasure doing business with you, Miss Slytherin.”

“Greengrass.”

“Miss Slytherin Greengrass, then.”

***

Harry felt out of sorts the following morning. He hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep. For once, he didn’t dream of the graveyard, but of wandering through endless halls in search of something. He didn’t even know what he’d been looking for, but it felt like the thought was just out of his grasp every time he awoke.

It left an unsettled feeling in his stomach, and he picked at his food at breakfast.

“Are you okay, Harry?” Tracey asked.

Harry just grunted.

“You sound like Theo,” commented Daphne.

“I didn’t sleep well,” he admitted and continued swirling his food around on his plate.

“How’s your shoulder?” Blaise asked. The sling had come off that morning.

“Fine.”

Pansy and Draco took their usual seats across from Harry just in time for the mail to arrive. Harry looked up at the ceiling anxiously, hoping to see an owl winging his way. He hadn’t heard from Sirius yet. He’d only sent his letter the day prior, but he hoped that Sirius wouldn’t delay in getting back to him.

An owl did not arrive for him, and Harry tried to hide his disappointment. Fortunately, the other Slytherins were distracted by the eagle owl that came for Draco.

“That’s your father’s, isn’t it?” Blaise asked quietly, and Harry’s attention was instantly on Draco, as well.

Draco took the scroll and unfurled it. He read the missive quietly and then looked up at Blaise.

“So?” Blaise asked impatiently. Draco merely passed Blaise the parchment, and Harry read over Blaise’s shoulder.

Draco,

Dolores Umbridge has been posted at Hogwarts to do some much-needed house-cleaning, which is far more important than her abilities as a professor. Leave her be and allow her to do her job.

I have confidence that you will be prepared for your O.W.L.s, regardless of the structure of her course.

Sincerely,

Your Father

“That’s pretty much what I expected,” Blaise said with a sigh. “Looks like it’s on to plan B.”

“What’s plan B?” Harry asked.

“I’ll let you know when I figure it out,” Blaise said.

“I can always go back to shouting at her,” Harry offered. “It’d be easy.” He'd barely been able to reign himself during their last class.

Blaise rolled his eyes. “I will shout at her, if necessary,” he said. “You will stay quiet as a mouse and smile sweetly whenever she so much as looks at you.”

Harry made a face. “Gross.”

“Speaking of ‘gross,’” Daphne said. “Harry, let those Weasley twins know that I’m impressed with their work.” She wrinkled her nose. “Even if their inventions are gross. But my sister and I tried them out last night, and you would not believe what Isabella Pucey was saying -”

“I’ll pass it along,” Harry said, grinning at Daphne.

“You were consorting with Weasleys?” Pansy asked Daphne, clearly dismayed.

“Oh!” Harry said. “Draco, you know the list of “off-limits” students?”

Draco nodded, and based off of his expression of consternation it looked like he knew exactly what Harry was about to ask.

“Can you add Fred and George Weasley to that list?”

Draco let out an incredibly dramatic, long-suffering sigh. “Very well.”

“Although we don’t usually mess with those two, anyway,” Pansy admitted. “Their revenge tactics are a bit…”

“Slytherin?” Blaise said, smirking.

“Sometimes, yes.”

“Maybe that’s because they could have been sorted to our house, if they wanted,” Blaise said. “And the more I think about that claim of theirs, the more that makes sense.”

A look of dread appeared on Draco’s face. “The thought of the Weasley twins in Slytherin…” he shuddered.

“I’m actually a bit disappointed we didn’t get them,” Daphne said. “I find them highly entertaining.”

***

At dinner that night, Draco presented Harry with an invitation. “Would you like to accompany the Slytherin Quidditch team on a trip to the pitch?”

Harry paused in the middle of chewing. “I thought the Slytherin trials weren’t until Monday,” he said.

“They’re not,” Draco said, and a smirk slowly appeared on his face. “Gryffindor trials are tonight.”

Harry frowned. “You want to spy.”

“Let’s call it ‘surveillance.’”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Which is another word for ‘spying,’” he said. However, he had to admit that he was curious as to who would replace him as Seeker, as well as who would replace Oliver Wood as Keeper.

He ate the rest of his meal and considered. He knew the Slytherin Quidditch team showing up at the Gryffindor trials was sure to cause some major problems. He also knew he wouldn’t be able to convince the Slytherin Quidditch team not to attend, and as the trials were public…

“I guess I’ll go,” Harry finally said. “I haven’t ever missed the Gryffindor trials before, after all.”

Draco looked positively delighted.

On their way down to the pitch, Warrington slunk up beside Harry. “Does this mean you’ve made a decision about playing Seeker for Slytherin, Potter?” he asked.

Harry shook his head. “No.”

“Then why are you coming with us?” Montague, the Slytherin team captain, grumbled from the front of the pack.

“Well, I’m still deciding, aren’t I?” Harry said.

Montague stopped in his tracks and turned to face Harry. “You haven’t ruled it out, then?” he asked.

“I…” Harry paused, then sighed. “I haven’t ruled it out.”

Montague considered Harry for a moment, then began stalking forward again, looking like he exuded anger in every step. Harry quickly realized that was just how Montague walked. “You’ve been playing long enough that you know it would be a good strategic move,” Montague said.

“I… guess,” Harry said. He didn’t want to admit that he agreed.

They arrived at the pitch just as Angelina finished laying out how the trials would work. “Seeker trials will be first,” she said. “Keepers, you may practice with our Chasers and Beaters in the meantime. Don’t be nervous; nothing that happens during the practice will count against you.”

Harry peered at the Gryffindors trying for Seeker. There were five, most of them quite young, except one face that surprised Harry: Ginny Weasley. She seemed to tower over the other hopeful Seekers, none of whom could be older than third year.

He raised his eyebrows. When they’d played Quidditch at the burrow, Ginny had always played Chaser, and had been quite good at it, too.

Harry looked at the Keepers rising into the air to practice, and he found himself smiling at seeing Ron hovering in front of one of the hoops. He’d hoped Ron would try out this year, and was glad to see him at the trials.

However, he also thought Ron looked a bit sick to his stomach.

Angelina explained that the Seeker trials would be simple: whoever caught the Snitch the highest number of times over the next hour would be Gryffindor’s Seeker.

She had just released the Snitch when some of the Gryffindors finally noticed the Slytherins’ presence.

“What the hell are they doing here?” one of the Keeper candidates shouted unhappily, pointing at the Slytherins in the stands.

“Spying, obviously!” Alicia Spinnet was clearly not pleased.

Angelina stared in horror at the Slytherins. When she spotted Harry, her mouth fell open and her eyes widened to a near comical diameter.

Fred and George flew up to the stands, beckoning Harry over away from the Slytherin Quidditch team. Harry got up from his seat and made his way over to them.

“What are the Slytherins doing here, dear Harry-kins?” Fred asked in an obviously put-on polite tone.

“And what are you doing here, Harry?” George added in an identical tone.

Harry swallowed. Despite the peace offering Fred and George had made last night, he knew exactly how competitive the twins were when it came to Quidditch. They were also fiercely protective of the Gryffindor team, truly taking their positions as Beaters to heart. “They…” He sighed. “Look, I know they shouldn’t be here, but they were going to come with or without me, and I thought maybe there’s a chance they’ll be more… peaceful if I came with them,” he said in a low voice.

Fred and George looked over Harry’s shoulder and glared at the Slytherins. “Damn straight they shouldn’t be here,” Fred said.

“Trials are public, though,” Harry said, a hint of desperation creeping into his voice. “As long as they don’t do anything besides watch, they’re not breaking any rules.”

“They’re doing something right now,” George snapped.

Harry turned around to see most of the Slytherin team pointing and laughing at something on the field. He sighed.

Angelina joined Fred and George, and she fixed Harry with a hard stare. “Hi, Harry,” she said flatly.

“Angelina,” Harry greeted her, a nervous tone in his voice.

“You put a serious dent into my strategy for this year, you know,” she said accusingly.

“I know,” Harry said. “I’m sorry.” He suddenly felt awful for not having spoken with Angelina earlier; hadn’t Hermione said she’d nearly had a meltdown the night of Harry’s sorting?

“So what are you doing here?” Angelina asked. “And with the Slytherin team?”

“Apparently Harry here thinks his presence will shame the Slytherins into behaving,” Fred said.

“That’s not... exactly what I said,” Harry said, although he had to admit that the meaning was essentially the same.

“Yes, well - it’s not really working so far, is it?” George sneered. Harry glanced over his shoulder again to see Draco doubled over in laughter. Harry grimaced.

“I’m going to get back,” Harry said. “I’ll try to make them stop. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try.” The three Gryffindors turned to leave when Harry remembered something. “Fred, George!”

The twins turned back, both looking quite irritated.

“Daphne… Greengrass - she wanted me to let you know that she’s impressed with the Ears,” Harry said.

Fred quirked an eyebrow. “Nice attempt at an olive branch, Harry, but the Slytherins still shouldn’t be here.”

Then George let out a broad grin. “Still nice to hear, though!” They flew back to the pitch, and Harry returned to the Slytherin team.

“Is there any way you could tone it down with the heckling?” Harry snapped. Warrington and Montague looked obstinate, while Draco appeared offended.

“Their team is going to be awful this year, Harry,” Draco said. “You have to admit that’s funny.”

“Not really,” Harry said. “They’re at a disadvantage. None of us played last year, and they weren’t exactly expecting to have to replace their Seeker on top of their Keeper.”

“So what?” Montague grunted, leaning back against the stand behind him on his elbows. “We didn’t play last year, either, and we have to replace a Chaser and two Beaters.”

“They’re also my old team, whether you like it or not,” Harry snapped. “And I’m feeling somewhat proprietary right now. If you keep it up, there’s no way I’m going to play for you.”

Miles Bletchley, Slytherin’s Keeper, peered at Harry. “Does that mean… if we just stay quiet throughout their trials, you’ll agree to play Seeker for Slytherin?”

“No,” Harry said. “We’re not making some stupid deal. But if you keep ridiculing them, that would guarantee that I will not play for you.”

To his immense surprise, the Slytherins immediately started behaving, and they merely made small talk while they watched the remainder of the trials.

Slytherins don’t pick fights with each other, he remembered. At least not in public. Feeling somewhat satisfied, Harry took a seat next to Draco.

Harry watched with the Gryffindors with the other Slytherins, and he found himself envious as they swooped through the sky. He hadn’t played a real Quidditch game since third year, and he missed the feeling of being up in the air.

He had to admit that Ginny was a decent Seeker. Harry knew from seeing her play at the Burrow that she was a better Chaser, but she still blew the other Seeker candidates out of the water. She caught the Snitch four times, and not a single other player caught it once. She easily took the position.

Then came the Keeper trials, which were such a disaster that Harry felt completely awful for Angelina. Ron was nervous, Harry could tell; he knew his old friend well enough to recognize that Ron wasn’t playing to his full ability. The other candidates weren’t much better, letting goal after goal get past them.

After they’d seen all of the Keeper candidates, Angelina called her Beaters and Chasers over, where they began having a heated discussion. Nearly ten minutes passed before Angelina turned towards the Keeper hopefuls.

“Our new Keeper is Ron Weasley,” Angelina announced. Ron understandably appeared elated, and despite their recent problems, Harry found that he was genuinely happy for him. Ron had wanted to play for the house team for years.

Most of the Slytherin team departed, leaving Draco and Harry in the stands.

“The team is full of Weasleys,” Draco commented. Harry shot him a glare and Draco rolled his eyes. “All I meant is that more than half of the team are Weasleys. I know that three of the four of them are off-limits.”

All of them are,” Harry demanded. He wasn’t about to leave Ginny out.

Draco eyed him warily. “Your list keeps getting longer, Harry,” he said. “You can’t add the whole school, you know.”

***

Harry woke up in the middle of the night feeling disoriented and oddly unsatisfied. He’d again dreamt of searching hallway after hallway for something that he needed. The more he searched the more irritated he became. When he awoke, the knowledge of whatever he’d been looking for flew out of his mind in an instant.

He sighed and cast a quick Tempus, discovering that it was barely past 4 in the morning. He flung himself back on his pillow in frustration. He didn’t want to go back to sleep because he didn’t want to have that dream yet again, but he still had hours to go until Saturday morning’s breakfast.

After a few minutes of consideration, Harry got up. He didn’t put much stock into Divination and he despised the class, but he wondered if he could find something about his dreams in the Divination text. They were covering dream interpretation that term, after all. He opened his trunk to retrieve the book and paused.

Instead of pulling out his Divination text, he quietly dug to the bottom of his trunk and pulled out another book he’d taken from the Black Library, one titled The Dark Oracle.

He settled back on his bed, redrew his curtains and began skimming the pages of the book, looking for any mentions of dreams. He finally found a reference towards the back in a chapter called Rites and Rituals.

The rite of clarity will give the caster insight into their dreams. It will make nearly all of their dreams lucid, meaning they will be able to take control of their dreams. They will find themselves able to turn corners they hadn’t been able to turn before, open doors that had formerly been locked, and see through fog that might have clouded their vision. Additionally, if they find that an idea in the dream is fizzling away with the rising of the sun, this rite will allow the caster to grab hold and remember it in their waking hours.

This rite must be performed on one of the eight cyclical celebratory days as part of a dark circle. It will only be successful if the caster is a fully declared dark witch or wizard -

Harry stopped reading and sighed. This ritual looked like it was exactly what he needed, but as he wasn’t a dark wizard, he couldn’t use it. He remembered learning over the summer that a wizard had to complete something called ‘declaration rites’ before they could be considered dark. Harry still didn’t know what that meant, and besides - despite developing a recent interest in the dark arts, he wasn’t sure he would ever want to actually be a dark wizard. And even if he wanted it, he honestly wasn’t sure if he could be one.

Even so, the text had been interesting, so Harry flipped back to the beginning of the book and read until his roommates began to wake up.

***

Harry, again, did not receive a letter from Sirius the following morning. He had difficulty hiding his disappointment, and when Daphne asked him what was wrong he just shook his head.

If Sirius wasn’t interested in Harry anymore because he was now a Slytherin, there wasn’t anything Harry could do. He felt helpless.

And as unexpectedly welcoming as the Slytherins had been, Harry still missed Sirius. He missed his friends. He missed Ron.

After a moment’s consideration, he summoned up his Gryffndor courage and made the journey across the hall to his old, familiar table.

“Hey, Ron,” he said, taking a seat as if he belonged there.

Judging by the looks he was getting, he definitely did not belong there.

Harry ignored them. “Congratulations on making the team,” he said. “Tell Ginny the same when you see her, yeah?”

Ron’s expression changed from one of shock to one of indignance. “I can’t believe you were actually hanging out with those Slytherins spies last night, Harry,” he spat.

“They didn’t do much but watch, did they?” Harry pointed out. “The trials are public. There were some Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs there, too, weren’t there?”

Ron’s face softened, although he still looked a bit put-out. “Fred did mention that you only came with them because you wanted to make sure they didn’t do anything,” he said. “So, uh… thanks. I guess.”

“That, and I wanted to see my old team,” Harry said truthfully. “I kinda miss you guys, you know.”

Ron actually offered a weak smile at that, and Harry internally felt just a bit victorious. Maybe he could still fix whatever had been broken between him and Ron.

“I’d never seen Ginny play Seeker before,” Harry continued. “She’s not bad at all.”

Ron gave a hum of agreement. “Yeah, she’s actually all right at it. Not as good as you, of course, but she’s gonna be loads better than Malfoy, at least…”

Harry’s eyes widened.

Ron suddenly appeared anxious. “You’re… you’re not going to play for them, are you? I mean, they already have a Seeker, so there’s not an open spot for you, right?”

Harry swallowed. “There’ve been… talks,” he admitted hesitantly. “About me possibly playing. They’ve asked me to try out, anyway.”

“You’re not going to say ‘yes,’ are you?” Ron demanded. “And what about Malfoy? He’s Slytherin’s Seeker.”

“Um,” Harry said. “He would move to Chaser…”

“You mean you’re actually considering it?” Ron snapped.

Harry sighed. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” he admitted. “I haven’t decided yet. But I really miss playing, Ron -”

Ron stood up from the table, looking down at Harry in fury. “You’re saying you would actually agree to play for the dirtiest team in Hogwarts?” he shouted.

“Would that even be fair?” a familiar voice asked, although with a much more snide tone than Harry was used to hearing from it. He looked down the table to see Alicia Spinnet scowling at him. “You already know all of our strategies -”

“And I know that Angelina is good enough to come up with new strategies that I don’t know,” Harry said, trying to be placating. “Half of the plays that Wood used were crafted by Angelina, and you know it. You also have two new players on the team that weren’t on the team when I was on it -”

“No, but you’ve played with Ginny and me almost every summer,” Ron spat. By now, every person at the Gryffindor table had stopped what they were doing to watch the argument, and Harry noticed a few heads from other tables turning their way, as well.

“I…” Harry let out an exasperated sigh and tried a different track. “How is this any different from, oh, I don’t know - a player from Puddlemere United re-signing with the Falmouth Falcons?”

“Oh, so you’re comparing yourself to a pro player now?” Katie Bell said from a few seats down from Alicia. She tossed her hair and fixed Harry with a hard stare. “I’ll admit that you’re decent, Potter, but you’re not that good.”

“Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw wouldn’t see the difference, but you playing for them isn’t fair to Gryffindor, specifically, and you know it,” Alicia continued. “You know our weaknesses, you know our playing style...”

“I wouldn’t use anything like that against you!” Harry insisted.

“A Slytherin would,” Ron said with a sneer. “And that’s what you are now, isn’t it?”

Harry felt like his heart was breaking. He’d known that Gryffindor wouldn’t be happy at all if he agreed to play for Slytherin, but he’d hoped…

Honestly, he wasn’t sure what he’d been hoping for.

Harry shook his head. “I’m leaving,” he said dejectedly as he got to his feet. “You can stop yelling at me.”

“You don’t belong over here, anyway!” Ron shouted at his retreating back.

Harry made his way away from the Gryffindor table, and on his way back to the Slytherins his grief began to turn into outrage.

Sirius. Ron.

Harry had counted on them to always have his back, no matter what. Instead, he was unpleasantly reminded of Draco’s words to him on his very first night in Slytherin: “We’ve seen how some Gryffindors have turned on you in the past. You’ll never get that from us.

He reached the Slytherin table, and he heard a distant, “Good job on riling up the lions, Potter!” from one of the sixth years. He ignored it.

Fury had now completely taken over his anguish, and Harry, resolute, marched straight up to Graham Montague.

“Slytherin trials are on Monday, yeah?” he asked.

Montague looked up at Harry, a hint of a smirk appearing on his face. “Yeah.”

“I want to try for Seeker.”

Chapter Text


Despite his sour mood over his earlier confrontation with the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Harry reported for his detention with Snape on time.

Snape didn’t even greet him - not that Harry expected him to - he simply launched into his instructions. “You will be scrubbing cauldrons today. You may not use magic.”

Harry nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Once you have completed scrubbing them, you will coat them with this.” He handed Harry a bottle that read ‘Newton’s Neutralizing Oil - Eliminate All Traces Of Old Potions!’

Harry nodded once more, although he was feeling more and more dismayed as Snape continued to explain. “Yes, sir.”

“Once you have applied a coating to all of the cauldrons, you will wait for them to dry, and I will inspect your work. If I have deemed your work to be satisfactory, you will then be dismissed.”

“Yes, sir.”

Snape pointed to the side storeroom. “Proceed.”

Harry entered the storeroom and was unhappy to find a heap of cauldrons - at least twenty - all with thick coats of something that he could only identify as crispy and blue. He found a bucket, a scrubber, and a towel waiting for him.

He sighed and set to work.

He quickly discovered that underneath the crispy outer layer, the crust became gooey and sticky and nearly impossible to remove.

As he scrubbed, he ran through possible ways he could ask Snape about his father. He rejected all of his initial ideas. ‘Professor Snape, did my father used to bully and beat you up?’ he thought sardonically. That’d go over well, I’m sure.

He continued working, mulling over how to open the topic.

When he was about halfway through with the cauldrons and his muscles had begun to ache, he finally realized that he could just ask what he was truly most curious about - if his father had attacked any Slytherins while he’d been in school. He could leave Snape out of it entirely.

He had nearly scrubbed all of the cauldrons before he worked up the courage to finally ask the question. “Um… Professor Snape?”

Snape looked up from his desk, not bothering to hide his annoyance. “What is it, Potter?”

“I… uh…” Harry stammered.

Holy shit, what was he even thinking? How could he have ever thought having an actual conversation with Snape was even possible - especially a conversation about a man that Snape had made abundantly clear he despised?

“How thick of a coat of oil should I put on the cauldrons?” Harry finally asked.

Snape’s irritation grew more pronounced. “Read the directions on the bottle, Potter.” He looked back down at his work. “Isn’t not reading directions exactly why you are here in the first place?”

Harry picked up the bottle of oil to find the directions on the back, and started silently cursing. The oil had to dry for two hours. He should have been coating the cauldrons as he went along. Harry dropped his head back and thunked it against the wall of the storeroom.

Detention was, overall, mind-numbingly boring.

***

Harry,

We need to talk. Try to get yourself alone in the Slytherin common room late tonight.

Harry recognized the handwriting as Sirius’s. He read the note over and over as if he expected more lines would somehow magically appear. He couldn’t believe how little Sirius had actually said.

And throughout all of Sunday, as he tried to concentrate on his homework, he found himself becoming more and more irritated. At the very least Sirius could have said what kind of conversation to expect.

He found it hard to not to take everything about the note personally. It lacked emotion and didn’t even include any basic terms of endearment - not even a ‘Dear Harry.’ Harry became more and more convinced that not only had he lost his best friend; he was about to lose his godfather, as well.

He had a remarkably short fuse throughout the entire day. He snarled at Theo for borrowing his quill without asking. He yanked his Charms book away from Daphne when she tried to point out a line for their homework. He snapped at Vince for chewing too loud at dinner.

“I realize you must be out of sorts over the Gryffindors’ behavior towards you, Harry, but really!” Pansy sniped at him that evening when he lost his temper at her for laughing too obnoxiously.

Harry stormed out of the common room, up to the dorm, and slammed the door with as much force as he could muster.

It didn’t make him feel any better.

He stalked over to his bed and threw himself down on the covers, burying his face in his pillow.

His godfather hated him. He knew it.

Harry’s face hurt, and he realized that he was smashing his glasses into his nose. He rolled over and glared at nothing.

Then his eyes focused, and he realized he was actually glaring at the photograph of his parents, who were still smiling at him.

“You hate me, too, don’t you?” Harry whispered. He stared at his mother and father in accusation, and then he abruptly reached out and turned their photo face-down on the nightstand.

***

When all of his roommates came upstairs to get ready for bed, Harry departed for the common room. There were, thankfully, only a handful of older years left. Harry took a spot on one of the sofas and stared into the fire.

The other Slytherins eventually left, and Harry was alone.

Harry continued watching the fire and waited for Sirius to appear. The minutes seemed to drag, and his irritation bubbled more and more the longer he waited.

Finally, Sirius’s head materialized in the fireplace, and Harry immediately jumped to his feet. “Sirius!”

“Harry, I’m -”

“What the hell kind of letter was that?” Harry demanded, a pinched scowl on his face. “You couldn’t be bothered to give me just a little bit more information? What your thoughts were? Or even a ‘Love, Snuffles?’”

Sirius glowered right back. “Yours wasn’t much better, now was it?” he said nastily.

Harry shut his mouth and glared.

Three sentences, none of which said if you were okay or not, or if you were even safe!” Sirius continued, the volume of his voice quickly escalating.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Harry said mockingly.

They glowered at each other for a long moment.

“Could we start this conversation over?” Sirius asked, still looking irate.

“Yes,” Harry said, his tone surly.

Sirius closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then let it out, evidently in an effort to calm himself down. Finally, he asked, “Harry, are you safe? The Slytherins aren’t…”

Harry sighed and his eyes rolled upward. He’d already covered this far too many times. “Yes. I’m safe. I’m fine. The Slytherins are not trying to murder me.”

Sirius nodded. “Good.” He paused, then said, “Harry, I’m so sorry.”

Harry blinked.

“I should have contacted you sooner. Dumbledore told us what had happened the night you’d been sorted, and I… just…”

“Let me guess - you weren’t happy?” Harry asked flatly.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Sirius said. “I yelled, I screamed, I broke things…” He sighed. “I drank.”

Harry closed his eyes and looked away. “So you’re disappointed with me.”

“No.”

Harry’s head whipped back towards the fireplace. “What?”

“I’m not going to lie,” Sirius said. “I was angry when I heard you’d gone to Slytherin. I ranted and raved. I wondered if it was a trap someone had set for you, or that they were trying to... corrupt you. It just didn’t make sense to me; you remind me so much of your father, who was Gryffindor through and through. I wondered if I just… didn’t know you as well as I thought I did. I didn’t want to accept that you’d gone to the one house that I completely despise.”

Harry waited for Sirius to continue. So far, he wasn’t feeling much better, and it didn’t escape his notice that Sirius had just admitted to still despising Slytherin house.

“Then Molly tore me a new one.”

“Mrs. Weasley did?”

“Right. And then Remus tore me a newer, even bigger one, as well.”

“Professor Lupin?” Harry’s mouth fell open.

Sirius gave a weak laugh. “An angry Remus is… unpleasant, to say the least.” Sirius let out a shudder, which looked incredibly strange on a floating head. “Anyway - after we’d all finally calmed down, Remus suggested I firecall my cousin.”

Harry was drawing a blank. “Who?”

“Andromeda Tonks,” Sirius said, smirking. “Née Black. My favorite cousin. I told you about her, remember?”

“Tonks’s mother?” Harry asked.

“Yes. Pureblood who was disowned for marrying a Muggleborn.” Sirius let out a sigh. “Also... a Slytherin.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up. Sirius hadn’t shared that information about Andromeda when they’d spoken about her over the summer.

“And she’s not a… reformed Slytherin, or a... recovering Slytherin,” Sirius continued. “I’d always said that she didn’t belong in Slytherin, but she told me that she’s proud of having been in Slytherin house, and that she’s always been a Slytherin. And Harry…” Sirius’s eyes seemed to soften. “She’s always been my favorite cousin.”

Harry’s breath caught in his throat. “So what does that… mean for me?” Harry asked quietly.

“It means that you are my godson, Slytherin or not.”

Harry sank down in front of the fireplace and placed his head on his knees. “Thank you,” he whispered, relief blossoming inside him. He might have lost Ron, but at least Sirius would stay by his side.

“I’m so sorry to have ever made you think anything else,” Sirius said, his voice full of regret.

Harry didn’t lift his head, but nodded.

He heard Sirius let out a sigh. “There’s... more I want to tell you.”

Harry finally looked up, swallowing. “Okay.”

“I’ll admit that I don’t like most Slytherins. Literally my whole family had been in Slytherin, and I’d seen what Slytherins were capable of, first hand, for my entire life,” Sirius said. “And by that, I mean that I’ve seen Slytherins hurt people more times than I can count. Slytherins are ambitious and cunning, and that leads to having a tendency to step on people to get what they want - at the least.

“But Dromeda pointed out that Gryffindors have immense amounts of courage, which can lead to having a tendency of being bull-headed, rash, and stupid.” Sirius appeared slightly humiliated. “Specifically, me. She wasn’t very kind about it.”

Harry laughed.

“Dromeda - like the Slytherin she is - stops at nothing to get what she wants, such as marrying a Muggleborn named Ted,” Sirius said, smiling. “But then there’s Slytherins like Lucius Malfoy, or Snivellus…” Sirius shook his head. “I know you, Harry. I know you’re going to be a Slytherin like Andromeda, not one like Lucius Malfoy.”

Harry smiled, giving Sirius a quick nod.

“You might expect an owl from Dromeda sometime soon, by the way,” Sirius said. “She seemed intrigued by your… situation, and since, considering what you said - or didn’t say - in your very informative letter…” Harry smiled sheepishly at that. “I may have mentioned that I wasn’t sure if you were okay with being in Slytherin, and…” He let out a laugh. “Well, let’s just say she wasn’t going to let that stand.”

Harry had to admit he was interested in what Andromeda Tonks had to say. “Okay. Looking forward to it.”

Sirius’s expression then became unusually grave. “There’s one more thing I really want to say, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “Go ahead.”

“My brother, Regulus - he and I were very close at one point in our lives,” Sirius said. “I was technically the older brother, but he looked out for me as much as I looked out for him. We always protected each other, right from the start."

Harry thought that actually sounded quite Slytherin, but didn’t say so.

“When Reg was sorted into Slytherin, I was furious, but I told him that he was still my brother,” Sirius said. “Even so, I’m not sure I gave him as much of a chance as I should have. I started criticizing everything he did, questioning his motives. And as we grew older, he started showing the traits of Slytherin that have made me hate the house. He started…” Sirius pursed his lips. “He pushed people down if they stood in his way. He cheated to give himself an advantage. He began lying to me to get what he wanted.”

Harry swallowed nervously. He’d already begun lying to Umbridge, at the suggestion of his new housemates.

“Our relationship crumbled, and Regulus joined the Death Eaters.”

“I’m not going to join the Death Eaters,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes. Lying to Umbridge was one thing, but joining Voldemort was on a completely different level.

“I know you’re not,” Sirius said. “My point is that I…” He sighed. “I think my attitude towards Slytherin might have driven him away.” His eyes fell shut. “I fear his death might have been my fault.”

Harry felt a wave of sympathy rush through him. “Sirius… I don’t think…” He wasn’t sure what he could say. He hadn’t known Regulus, after all.

“I don’t want to do that to you, as well,” Sirius said, suddenly firm and determined. “I don’t understand Slytherins, so I might have questions. I might get angry. But you will always, always be my godson.”

Harry offered Sirius a smile. “Okay,” he said. “Thank you, Sirius.”

“And I’m sorry about the letter.”

Harry let out a laugh. “Mine, too.”

“There was just… so much information that I wanted to share with you, and I couldn’t put it in a letter because it would have been obvious who I was.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, I can see that.”

“So… how is Slytherin, then?” Sirius asked. “What’s it been like?”

“Well, surprisingly,” Harry said, “the Slytherins themselves have been polite. We all seem to be making a genuine go at me being here.”

“That’s… good to hear,” Sirius said, but he didn’t sound completely convinced. “How about Snape?”

“On my first day as a Slytherin, he awarded me points and then immediately gave me detention,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “So he’s showing Slytherin favoritism... but he also still hates me.”

“Greasy git.”

Harry grinned, then sighed. “The Gryffindors aren’t happy with me at all. Most of them, anyway. Ron… I don’t think we’re friends anymore.”

“Oh, Harry…”

Harry shook his head. “He was already pretty mad, and then he found out that…”

“Found out what?”

“... that I’m going to try out for the Slytherin Quidditch team tomorrow…” Harry said hesitantly.

“And I’m sure you’ll make the team,” Sirius said. “I’ve seen you fly, and you’re one of the best I’ve witnessed. Better than your father, and he was excellent.” Suddenly, a look of horror dawned on Sirius’s face. “Oh, no. Oh, balls.

“What is it?” Harry asked, concerned.

“I’m going to have to root for Slytherin in the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match, aren’t I?” Sirius sounded so completely appalled by the mere idea of it that Harry had to start laughing.

“It’s not funny!” Sirius insisted. “This goes against every single fiber of my being! This is the absolute worst part of you being sorted into Slytherin, Harry - it’s… unnatural!

Harry laughed even harder, but something Sirius had said made him pause. The mention of Harry’s father once again reminded Harry of the questions he had.

“Hey, Sirius?” Harry asked. “About my father…”

Sirius wiped the horrified look off his face. “What is it?”

Harry swallowed. “Was he… did he…” He internally sighed. He didn’t know how to phrase the question to Snape, and he certainly didn’t know how to ask Sirius, either. “Do you think he would have been… okay?” he finally asked, deciding against asking the question directly. “With my being Slytherin, I mean?”

Sirius smiled softly. “Your mother and father would have been proud of you, Harry,” he said, and then he smirked. “Even if you are a little snake.”

Harry rolled his eyes. He supposed that even with Sirius’s acceptance of him, he still wouldn’t let go of his old prejudice. “You’re hilarious,” he said flatly.

“No, I’m serious.” Sirius grinned.

Harry opened his mouth to make a retort when Draco suddenly appeared in the doorway from the dormitory. Sirius’s eyes widened, and his head disappeared from the fireplace.

“Uh, Draco! I-I… uh… was just -” Harry stammered, getting to his feet.

“You know the fireplace in our dorm is set up for firecalls on the floor as well, right?” Draco said.

“Uh, no - I didn’t know that,” Harry said.

Draco tilted his head to the side, fixing Harry with a contemplative look. After a moment, he said, “Was that Sirius Black? I’ve seen his picture before.”

“What?!” Harry exclaimed. A bolt of terror ran through his body. “What… what are you talking about?” he asked nervously. “I don’t -”

“Oh, please, Harry.” Draco rolled his eyes. “I know your godfather is an escaped convict,” he said. Then he set his mouth in a hard line. “I may as well inform you that I also know he’s innocent of the crimes he was imprisoned for.”

Harry’s eyes widened at that, but the nervousness didn’t abate. “Are you… are you going to tell anyone?”

Draco’s head fell back and he let out a dramatic sigh. “I’ve told you a dozen times now - Slytherins keep each other’s secrets.”

Harry didn’t want to point out that he still wasn’t sure who Draco was more loyal to - his house or his family - but since Draco had been so open with him, Harry decided he would return the favor. “Even from your father?”

Draco’s eyes widened.

“I have to know, Draco,” Harry said, insistent. “I haven’t been in this house very long. I still don’t know how far Slytherin loyalty can be stretched.”

Draco stared at Harry for a long moment, then crossed the common room to sit on the sofa by Harry. “I’d be lying if I told you that my father hasn’t inquired about you.” Then he smirked. “But I informed him that we had been ordered to treat you as a Slytherin, and that we were taking that order seriously.”

“Which means what, exactly?”

“My father was in this house, too, Harry,” Draco said. “He knows that means that we keep each other’s secrets. I’m sure he’s unhappy about it, but he hasn’t asked again.” A frown suddenly appeared on his face. “I’m certain I’ll be getting an earful next time I go home, though.”

***

The following morning, it was announced that Dolores Umbridge had been appointed High Inquisitor of Hogwarts.

***

“I agree that she’s a horrible Defense teacher, Harry, but I also have to agree with what my father said in the article,” Draco said. “You have to admit that some of the professors in this school are awful.”

Harry fumed. “No, I don’t have to admit that.”

“I remember that you’re fond of him, but… Rubeus Hagrid?” Pansy said dubiously. “He shouldn’t -”

“Don’t you dare talk about Hagrid,” Harry hissed.

Pansy raised her hand in surrender. “Fine. Don’t bite my head off again.”

“My point is, Harry, that reform is necessary,” Draco said. “The professors here need to know that they’re being held accountable, since Dumbledore won’t do it.”

“You really think someone like Professor McGonagall actually needs inspected?” Harry demanded.

“They all need inspected,” Draco said. “Some of the professors will pass with flying colors. Others, though? You can’t deny -”

“How about the class we’re walking you to right now, Harry?” Pansy said, cutting Draco off. “I’ve heard what you say about it. This Trelawney person is a perfect example of why Umbridge is necessary.”

Umbridge isn’t necessary,” Harry growled. “How could she possibly judge what makes a good professor or not when she can’t even do it right herself?”

“We don’t know for sure if she can,” Draco said placatingly. “She’s clearly afraid of training young students in defensive magic because she doesn’t want them defending themselves against the Ministry itself.”

“What, so she thinks Dumbledore’s building an army or something?” Harry asked as they turned the corner. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Fudge is likely the ridiculous one,” Pansy said. “How that simpering idiot ever came to be our Minister, I shall never know.”

“I still can’t believe you two are seriously on board with Umbridge,” Harry muttered.

“We’re not,” Draco said. “I only agree that something really must be done about the standards in this school.”

“I honestly don’t think Umbridge is the right person for the job,” Pansy explained. “But perhaps this appointment of hers will finally shake things up to the point that we’ll see some real change.”

“Nothing needs to change,” Harry spat. “It’s fine.”

“Change can be painful, but it’s often necessary,” Draco said. “If you don’t change anything you’ll never improve anything.”

“And there’s always room for improvement,” Pansy continued.

“You changed houses, and you’re already improving,” Draco said with an obnoxious smirk.

Harry shot Draco an irritated glare and then let out a sigh of exasperation. “I hate this. I hate her.”

“We know,” Pansy said, sounding partially sympathetic and partially tired of hearing it.

When they reached the top of the spiral stairs, Harry stopped in his tracks. As if she’d known they had been talking about her, Umbridge was waiting there, a clipboard tucked into her arms, and she stared up at the door in the ceiling with a clearly annoyed expression on her face. None of the other Divination students had arrived yet.

Pansy grabbed Harry’s arm. “Don’t do anything stupid,” she hissed quietly in his ear. “In fact, don’t do anything at all.”

Harry clenched his fist and desperately tried to school his expression into something more neutral despite the rage boiling in his chest.

Umbridge noticed them by the stairs, and her annoyance immediately dissolved into one of her sickening smiles. “Hello, Mr. Malfoy, Miss Parkinson, Mr. Potter!” she said in greeting. “I was only aware of Mr. Potter being a member of this class.”

“Pansy and I are merely keeping Harry company, Professor Umbridge,” Draco said, “considering the attack on his person last week.”

“Oh, yes - you did mention something about that, didn’t you? Quite unfortunate,” Umbridge said, though not looking like she actually cared. “Are you feeling better, Mr. Potter?”

“Quite,” Harry bit out. Pansy’s grip on his arm tightened. “Thank you for asking,” he added, somehow managing to even out his tone to something resembling polite.

“Marvelous to hear,” Umbridge replied, and she turned her gaze back up to the closed ceiling door.

Harry’s anger continued to bubble, and his fist tightened even further. He knew he needed to find a way to channel his fury, and he had to do it fast.

“Congratulations on your appointment, by the way,” Harry abruptly said. “We were just talking about it on our way up here.”

Harry wasn’t sure if saying the exact opposite of how he was actually feeling was the healthiest way of channeling his anger, but it was the best he could come up with on the fly.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Draco’s head quickly swing towards him, a look of surprise blossoming on his face. At the same time, Umbridge swiveled back towards him, her mouth open in an ‘o’ of surprise.

Draco managed to repress his shock quickly, but his eyes were still as wide as saucers.

“Why, thank you, Mr. Potter!” Umbridge tittered. “But no need to congratulate me; educational reform is long overdue at this school.”

“Of course,” Harry said, painting a fake smile across his face.

“In fact,” Umbridge continued. “That’s why I’m here. I’ll be inspecting Professor Trelawney’s class today.”

Just then, the door opened and the silver ladder descended from the ceiling. Umbridge looked at it disapprovingly. “Is that how the students are expected to enter the classroom?” she asked in disbelief.

“It is,” Harry said.

Umbridge scribbled something on her clipboard, tutting, then looked back to Harry. “I daresay I may have some questions for you about this class, Mr. Potter.”

“Looking forward to it, Professor,” he said. He was now clenching his fist so hard that his fingernails bit into the palm of his hand.

“Splendid,” Umbridge said with that annoying, saccharine smile. “I’ll see you in class, then.” She then tucked her clipboard under her arm and began to climb the silver ladder.

The moment she turned away, Harry’s fake smile immediately transformed into a deep sneer, and he glared daggers at her retreating form. “Looking forward to it, you vile, disgusting worm,” he spat as soon as she was out of earshot. He felt completely appalled with himself.

Draco spun on his heel to face Harry, a wide, smug grin spread across his face. “I know we told you to stay in her good graces, but you are performing beyond my expectations,” he said. “That was brilliant.”

“It also made me feel like throwing up,” Harry said, still glowering.

“I was nervous about you not having Slytherin company around her when I realized she was inspecting your class,” Pansy said, “but if you keep that up you’ll do fine.”

“I plan on keeping my mouth shut,” Harry said. “Don’t worry.”

“Good plan,” Draco said. Then he sighed. “Unfortunately, we do have to get going.”

“Please behave, Harry,” Pansy said, a pleading look in her eyes.

Harry waved them off, and they set off down the stairs. He stood at the bottom of the ladder for a moment. He knew he likely still looked he was going to murder someone, and he needed to calm himself back down before placing himself in the same room as Umbridge. He waited for the other students to arrive and climb the ladder before joining them.

***

Draco wouldn’t stop crowing about what a good Slytherin Harry was becoming.

“Slytherins do whatever we need to get what we want,” Draco said as they walked down to the Quidditch pitch, brooms in hand.

“I want her out of this school,” Harry said vehemently.

“And what you’re doing might help accomplish that goal,” Draco insisted. “So keep it up.”

“I don’t understand how making her happy would help get her out of the school,” Harry insisted. “If I can’t get her out of the school, I’d much rather just… piss her off.”

“Let Blaise piss her off,” Draco said. “He says he already has plans.”

“Wonderful,” Harry said flatly.

“And if it’s you, of all people, making her happy, it will make her complacent,” Draco said. “She’ll think she’s winning, which could make her careless. If she’s careless, she’ll misstep at some point. And if the misstep is big enough…”

“That’s a lot of ‘maybe’s’ for something I can’t stand doing,” Harry said unhappily.

“But if it works, it will be worth it, won’t it?”

Harry let out an exasperated sigh. “I suppose.”

“And if it doesn’t appear to be working, Slytherins try something else.”

Harry was beginning to think that Slytherin plans all sounded exceedingly complicated.

They reached the Quidditch pitch before anyone else, and Harry immediately started to crave being in the air. He turned to Draco. “Race?” he said, smirking. “First one to make three loops around the pitch wins?”

Draco narrowed his eyes. “You’re on, Potter.” They mounted their brooms and they were off.

As the wind whipped Harry in the face and rushed through his hair, he felt elated to finally fly again. He’d barely gotten a chance to fly his broom the previous year what with the Triwizard tournament and everything, and he pushed himself to fly as fast as he could. He slid his hands up his Firebolt, making himself as flat as possible in order to lessen the wind resistance, and he easily won the race.

Draco, surprisingly, didn’t seem terribly bent out of shape about it, but he apparently still couldn’t resist making his usual smart comment. “You do realize that your Firebolt gives you an advantage, don’t you?”

Harry considered for a moment and then held his broom out to Draco. “Let’s see if you’re right.” He could scarcely believe he was offering to let Draco Fucking Malfoy actually use one of his most treasured possessions, but he wasn’t about to let that challenge go unanswered.

Draco’s eyes widened, but he immediately handed his Nimbus 2001 to Harry.

Harry won again, though by a much narrower margin.

Draco, nonplussed, handed the Firebolt back to Harry. “You’re more familiar with the Firebolt, I suppose,” he said, sounding a bit put-out.

“Or you’re just heavier than me.”

Draco narrowed his eyes. “Did you just imply that I’m fat?”

Harry laughed, and then the Slytherin Quidditch team and a few hopefuls began to appear. They waited around for a few minutes for everyone to arrive, and then Montague began barking instructions.

“As Draco has expressed interest in wanting to change from Seeker to Chaser, it was announced to the house that the open positions on the team are as follows: one Chaser, two Beaters, and one Seeker,” Montague explained. “Those interested in Chaser, over here. Beaters, there. Seekers, to the right of the Beaters.”

Everyone quickly arranged themselves, and Harry found himself standing alone. “Oh, what a surprise,” Montague said flatly, clearly not surprised. “We only have one candidate for Seeker. How shocking.”

A ripple of low laughter ran through the team, and Harry blinked.

“You don’t officially have the position yet, Potter,” Montague said, flipping open the box containing the practice balls. He pulled out the practice Snitch and released it. “Not until you catch that.”

Harry nodded as he mounted his broom, and then he rose into the air.

He caught the Snitch in less than four minutes.

“Slytherin’s new Seeker is Harry Potter,” Montague said. Then, amazingly, he gave a toothy grin. Harry could remember such an expression on Montague’s face before, but he offered a tentative smile back.

They moved on to the Beater trials. There were only five candidates - Vince, Greg, two fourth years, and a third year.

Harry watched and was completely appalled. The Slytherin Beater trials were worse than the Gryffindor Keeper trials; none of the candidates were very good at all. Vince and Greg were both terribly slow flyers. The fourth years couldn’t even get their bats to connect with the Bludgers, and at one point the third year actually fell off of his broom when he swung his bat with too much force.

The Slytherin Quidditch team gathered off to the side of the pitch, and Montague beckoned Harry over. Harry raised his eyebrow and joined them.

“You’re technically on the team now,” Montague said. “What are your thoughts?”

Harry was faintly surprised that Montague actually wanted his opinion. “Honestly?” he said. “They’re all terrible.”

“Yeah,” Montague said, clearly unhappy. “But we have to pick someone.”

“Vince and Greg are your best bet,” Harry said. “They could at least hit the bloody Bludgers. But they’re incredibly slow on their brooms; they’re not going to be able to keep up with anyone on the team in order to protect them.”

“Maybe you can give them some pointers,” Warrington said.

“Me?” Harry asked. “Uh… I suppose.”

“Good.”

Montague turned around. “Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle - you’re our new Beaters.”

Chaser trials went much better, even though there were only three candidates - Draco, a third year, and a second year.

Draco completely blew the other two out of the water.

Harry watched him catch and pass the Quaffle with ease, feint before attempting to throw the Quaffle through the hoops, and more than half of his shots soared past Bletchley with ease.

Draco hadn’t been lying; he was indeed a fair Chaser, In fact, Harry thought he was a far better Chaser than he was a Seeker, and Harry told him so once Draco was done with his trial.

Draco grinned.

The choice was so obvious that Montague didn’t even bother holding a team meeting. “Draco Malfoy, you’re the new Chaser.” He looked at the other hopefuls, who looked disappointed. “You guys are young yet; try again after some of us graduate, yeah?”

Montague then called for the full team - old members and new - to circle up. “We’re gonna practice twice a week to start off,” he said. “Mondays and Thursdays.” He gave Draco a nod. “You’re pretty good, Malfoy. With some polish, I think you’re going to be one of the top Chasers in Hogwarts.”

Draco smirked in response, and then Montague peered at Greg and Vince. “Potter here is going to be working with our Beaters in order to improve their speed.” He then let out another one of those toothy grins. “I can’t believe we have the Harry Potter playing for Slytherin.”

Harry frowned, dismayed. “I don’t like -”

Montague shushed him with a wave of his hand. “It’s not ‘cuz you’re famous or anything. You’re just a damn good Seeker, Harry.”

***

After an impromptu celebration in the common room congratulating the new members of the team, Harry returned to the dorm to try to finish some of his insurmountable homework. The older students hadn’t been lying; O.W.L. year really was the worst they’d experienced thus far.

Harry was just pulling out his books when something on his nightstand caught his eye.

The photo of his parents no longer rested face-down where he’d left it the previous night. Instead, it was standing upright, and was now mounted in an elegant yet simple frame, brushed silver with tiny accents of gold on the corners.

Harry swallowed hard, reaching out to pick up the frame. His hand shook just slightly as he lifted it up. It might have been his imagination, but it seemed like his parents looked even happier than they had before.

It occurred to Harry that the only people who would have had a chance to frame his parents’ photo were his roommates.

Even though nearly all of his roommates were the children of Death Eaters, one of them had chosen to show respect for his parents, despite the fact that they were the last victims of Voldemort before he fell.

“Who…” Harry took in a shaky breath and tried again. “Which one of you did this?”

Blaise glanced up from his desk. “Did what?”

Harry held up the frame.

Blaise shrugged. “Dunno.”

Harry looked at the rest of his roommates, and none of them confessed.

Blaise let out a grin. “I don’t think anyone’s going to fess up to it, Harry.”

Harry nodded, and he stared down at his parents’ faces, and an enormous wave of gratitude rushed through him.

“Whichever one of you did do it…” he said finally. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text


Dear Mr. Potter,

Although we have never had the pleasure of meeting one another, I felt the need to send you this missive after a mutual friend of ours brought your unique circumstances to my attention.

I understand that you are in your fifth year at Hogwarts, and despite having spent your previous four years in House Gryffindor you have now found yourself in the great house of Slytherin. I am quite certain this must be confusing for you.

As our mutual friend may have informed you, I was a Slytherin. It has been many years since I was a student at Hogwarts, but I have always had a great amount of pride for having been Slytherin. I hope that you will eventually come to understand that pride, and that one day you will also hold that pride for yourself.

As you were once a Gryffindor, I am certain that you are aware of the despicable reputation that Slytherin has attained over the years. I will admit that although many aspects of that reputation are unfair and biased, some of that reputation is unfortunately well-deserved. Slytherins tend to make names for themselves through deeds both wonderful and terrible. While the Dark Lord was a Slytherin, I must remind you that Merlin, the greatest, kindest, and most powerful wizard that ever lived, was also a Slytherin. Slytherins can indeed be wicked, but they can also be honorable, virtuous, and admirable.

Slytherins are not inherently evil, just as none of the other houses are inherently good. Courage may lead to recklessness. Loyalty may lead to blind devotion. Intelligence may lead to arrogance. Ambition may lead to crookedness. All of the houses have the capacity to be good or evil.

Have you heard that the four houses are not only represented by their animals, but also by the four elements? As the older wizarding traditions have begun to fall into distant memory, the elements are not spoken of as often as they once were. Gryffindor is fire, Hufflepuff is earth, and Ravenclaw is air.

The element of Slytherin is water, and water is the element of change. This means that we are adaptable. It also means that we can make the environment around us adapt to the path that we are forging. We have the ability to carve the world into a new image, and we ourselves can adapt to whatever new situations we may find ourselves in.

Being Slytherin means we are cunning, resourceful, and ambitious. We have the ability to find clever ways to overcome obstacles which lay in front of us, and we have an unmatched desire to succeed. We are patient and we are determined. These traits mean that we are capable of changing the world, whether for good or bad.

Something that I chose not to mention to our mutual friend is that I do truly believe that Slytherin is the most excellent of the four houses. Being Slytherin means we often need to call on the traits of the other three houses in order to achieve our ends. We can be brave enough to face whatever fear stands between us and our goals. We use our intellect in order to figure out how to accomplish those goals. And, of course, we work hard to achieve our goals. Each of the Hogwarts houses are great in their own way, and I believe that we are the true culmination of all four.

We have an inherent drive to accomplish whatever it is we wish to accomplish. From what I have heard of you from our mutual friend, I truly believe that you are going to accomplish great and wonderful things in this world.

I look forward to seeing you grow into your new home in Slytherin, the greatest house of them all.

My kindest regards,

Andromeda Tonks

“You’ve been staring at that letter for over twenty minutes, Harry,” Pansy said. “It’s only a page long. You can’t possibly be that slow of a reader.”

Harry finally looked up, blinking, after having read and reread the letter multiples times. “I’m not. It’s just… a very nice letter.”

“Who’s it from?” Blaise peered over Harry’s shoulder.

“Hey!” Harry snapped, abruptly folding up the parchment to hide it from Blaise’s prying eyes. “Private!” Although Sirius’s name hadn’t been used, Harry didn’t want anyone asking about the ‘mutual friend.’

“Relax. All I saw was the signature. Who’s Andromeda Tonks?” Blaise asked.

Draco perked up at that. “Andromeda Tonks wrote you a letter?” he said to Harry, his eyebrows rising in surprise.

“Uh, yeah,” Harry said.

“Why is my estranged aunt writing to you?”

“Aunt?” Harry asked, then remembered the family tree that Sirius had shown him. “I completely forgot - she’s your mother’s sister, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” Draco said. “Mother doesn’t really speak of her. So why is she writing you?”

“Uh, well…” Harry considered what he wanted to say and what he didn’t. “She apparently heard a rumor that I might not have been happy about being sorted into Slytherin. She wanted to… reassure me.”

“Are you?” Pansy asked, frowning. “Unhappy about being in Slytherin, I mean?”

“If I was,” Harry said, smiling widely, “I don’t think I am anymore.”

***

Harry had managed to get through most of Defense Against the Dark Arts without a peep. As had become custom, Umbridge had them reading from the book without talking.

Towards the end of class, Blaise raised his hand.

“Why does Slinkhard bother with discussing his opinion on rhetoric and reputation?” he asked once Umbridge had called his name.

Umbridge frowned. “Whatever do you mean, Mr. Zabini?”

“He seems to have wasted an entire page discussing why the word ‘counterjinx’ is a misnomer, and that a counterjinx is also merely a jinx named by someone who wants to make the jinx sound more appealing,” Blaise said. “He repeated himself several times but merely rephrased his statement slightly each time. Why didn’t he simply state that he believed they were the same type of spell and move on? It seems irrelevant, and to have spent so much time on -”

Umbridge cut Blaise off with a deep scowl. “In this classroom, Mr. Zabini, Slinkhard’s opinion is never irrelevant.” She shook her head. “Past professors may have allowed you to question the course material, but not a single one of them would have passed a Ministry inspection. Although I do suppose Professor Quirrell may have passed; he at least taught you all age-appropriate material.” She looked back down to her desk. “Children, please continue reading to the end of the chapter if you haven’t already finished it. If you have finished, please sit quietly until the end of class.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed. Had Umbridge really just implied that the only teacher that had taught them well was the one that had Voldemort stuck on the back of his head? He clenched the side of his desk with a white-knuckled grip and he grit his teeth so hard that his jaw started to ache. He’d done well at keeping his mouth shut, but it was almost as if Umbridge knew exactly how to push his buttons.

Blaise must have noticed his enraged expression because Harry saw him shaking his head at him, silently telling him to stop, but Harry decided that he was through being polite.

He opened his mouth and began to rise from his chair when something suddenly collided with his chin and sent him flying to the ground.

Startled, Harry looked up to see Blaise standing over him, and he quickly realized that Blaise had just punched him in the face.

He got back to his feet, snarling at Blaise. “What the fu-”

“Mr. Zabini!” Umbridge cried. “This is absolutely outrageous behavior from you! Hitting Mr. Potter, in the middle of class, no less! Why - I never… why would you do such a thing?!”

Blaise raised his chin defiantly. “Oh, I simply overheard Harry complimenting the course material. I disagreed with him.” He smirked. “I think the book is complete and utter rubbish.”

Umbridge’s eyes bulged, and her mouth twisted unpleasantly. “Detention, Mr. Zabini.”

Harry was too shocked to even remember what he wanted to say about Quirrell, and then class was over.

In the hallway, out of the Umbridge’s earshot, Harry rounded on Blaise. “What the fuck was that?” he demanded.

“I have to admit, as hilarious as that was,” Draco said dryly, “I’m curious to know, as well.”

“You were about to open your big mouth again,” Blaise said. “I stopped you.”

“By hitting me?” Harry snapped.

“I was already planning on earning myself another detention, anyway,” Blaise said. “That’s what I was trying to lead into with my question there, in case you hadn’t noticed. You just offered a different excuse for me to get one, so I merely took the opportunity.”

Harry fumed. “And why the hell did you tell her I was ‘complimenting the material?’”

Blaise grinned wolfishly. “Draco and Pansy told me what you said to her yesterday. I was just helping to thicken the plot.”

“So you’re making me suck up to her - through you - by proxy,” Harry snarled. “That’s completely disgusting. Don’t ever do that again.”

Blaise rolled his eyes. “You seem far more irritated about sucking up to her than you do about me hitting you.” He shook his head with clearly put-on sadness. “There’s your complete lack of survival instinct again.”

Harry let out a frustrated cry, spun around on his heel, and began stalking down the hallway. “I’m going to the library,” he spat.

Pansy hurried her steps to catch up to Harry. “Draco and I can come with you,” she said.

Harry slowed his pace, then stopped. “I… don’t think that’s a very good idea,” he said. “I’m trying to find Hermione. I haven’t talked to her for a few days, and I know that’s where I’m most likely to find her.” He turned to face Pansy, frowning. “I know you guys have been leaving her alone, but considering all the… history…”

“I’ll go with you, then,” Daphne said. “I’ve never had any problems with her.”

“I suppose I’ll go, as well,” Blaise said, letting out a heavy sigh.

“As long as you don’t hit me again.”

***

As Harry expected, he found Hermione tucked into a corner of the library. Even though he knew she had just gotten out of class like they did, she had already surrounded herself with books. The sight made him smile at the familiarity.

“Hey, Hermione,” Harry greeted as he pulled out a chair across from her.

“Harry!” She beamed at him, but her smile began to fall when she noticed Harry’s Slytherin company.

“Hello!” Daphne said, taking the seat next to Hermione. “I know we take Ancient Runes together, but I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced. I’m Daphne Greengrass.” She held out her hand towards Hermione, grinning brightly.

“Uh... Hermione Granger,” Hermione said, tentatively shaking Daphne’s hand.

“I heard a rumor that your parents were Muggle doctors,” Daphne said. “Is that true?”

“They’re… they’re dentists,” Hermione replied quietly.

“‘Dentists…’” Daphne said the word as if she’d heard it before but couldn’t remember what it meant. “Oh!” she exclaimed in realization. “Those are like doctors for teeth, right?”

“I suppose that’s... actually a good way to explain it,” Hermione admitted.

Harry found himself smiling at the exchange, remembering Daphne's assertions about Muggles landing on the moon on his first night in Slytherin. He glanced up and noticed Blaise hadn’t taken his seat yet, and Harry used his foot to push out the chair next to him in invitation. Blaise stiffly took the seat, his expression neutral.

Harry thought Blaise’s poise looked a little strange, but Daphne was already off again and he quickly became distracted by the conversation.

“Muggle Studies has been my favorite class, especially now because we’re taking a closer look at Muggle science this term,” she said. “Muggle science is by far the most fascinating thing we’ve covered. The advancements they’ve made with… with technology, and medicine - they’ve made so much progress just in the last century, wouldn’t you agree? They’re curing diseases using science that we’re not able to cure with magic. They’re discovering elements that not even wizards know exist -”

Harry had never seen Daphne talk as fast as she was to Hermione. She was usually extremely proper and reserved, and the difference from her usual demeanor was staggering.

Hermione, meanwhile, started to appear more and more relaxed the more Daphne spoke. If anything she looked somewhat relieved, and Harry understood exactly why; Hermione hadn’t had many pleasant experiences with Slytherins.

“I’ve become especially fascinated with Muggle biology. The concept of being able to study microscopic organisms - the tiniest of creatures that we can’t even see with the naked eye,” Daphne continued. “It’s like there’s an entire world under our feet and we weren’t even aware it was there!”

“It is quite fascinating,” Hermione said, her face lighting up. “In fact, before I found out I was a witch, I was planning on studying evolutionary biology when I eventually went to university.”

“Really?” Daphne exclaimed loudly. “I don’t think our text covers that. What is it?”

“It studies the process of evolution,” Hermione said. “The process of change in all lifeforms from generation to generation -”

Suddenly, Madame Pince swooped down on their table. “You two will speak more quietly, or you will leave this library,” she hissed.

Daphne simply sighed and nodded, but Hermione looked horrified. Harry knew that one of Hermione’s worst nightmares had to be getting kicked out of the library.

“Annoying bat,” Daphne muttered after Madame Pince walked away to go quiet down some first years who were being much louder than she and Hermione had been. “Granger, I was wondering… if you were interested in studying it before, might you have any Muggle books on biology?”

Hermione shook her head. “Not with me; they’re all at home.” Then she smiled. “If you like, I can have my parents send me some of them.”

Daphne gave a quiet little clap and looked quite pleased with the idea. “That would be splendid! Thank you!”

Hermione’s smile blossomed into a grin, then she turned to Harry. “So what brings you here, Harry?” she asked.

“Nothing specific,” Harry said. “I just wanted to see you; we haven’t had a chance to catch up in a few days.”

Hermione gave Harry a fond look. “I hate not being able to talk to you every night,” she admitted. “It’s been quite an adjustment.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. His lips quirked upwards. “I guess we’ll have to adapt.”

“I suppose,” Hermione said with a sigh. “Congratulations, by the way. I heard that you made the Quidditch team.”

“Yeah.”

Their conversation fluttered from topic to topic before they finally came to Umbridge.

“Not only is she an awful teacher,” Hermione said, “but the book she’s assigned is clearly propaganda. That idea about ‘counterjinxes’ merely being a more acceptable term for ‘jinxes’ is ridiculous. I think counterjinxes would be quite useful in defensive situations.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Blaise actually said something about that in class today.”

“Really?” Hermione’s gaze swiveled towards Blaise.

Blaise’s expression changed to something Harry didn’t recognize. “I did,” he said slowly. “Not exactly.”

“What did you think of -”

Daphne cut her off by abruptly rising out of her seat. “Oh, no! I’m sorry, Granger. Our break is almost over, and I just remembered that I left my History of Magic text in the common room.” She looked expectantly at Harry and Blaise. “I hate cutting your visit short, Harry, but would you two mind accompanying me?”

Harry was disappointed, but if he didn’t go with Blaise and Daphne he’d have to walk to History of Magic without another Slytherin to watch his back. He sighed. “Okay. Can we catch up later, Hermione?”

“Of course!” Hermione said. “Although I was meaning to ask you something…”

“Just ask me quick.”

“I was hoping you would join me for our first Hogsmeade weekend in a few weeks,” she said hesitantly. “With Ron, as well.”

Harry scowled. “Ron hates me now, Hermione,” he said.

“He doesn’t, Harry - he’s just angry,” she said. “You know how ridiculous he can be about Quidditch.”

“He wasn’t happy with me before the whole Quidditch thing, either.”

“I made it clear to him that he was being an imbecile,” Hermione said firmly. “I believe his mother also wrote him and told him something very similar. He’ll come around, Harry - you know he will. He’s a buffoon, and he always eventually realizes that he’s a buffoon.” She shook her head. “So… will you come with us?”

Harry doubted that very much, but he said, “I’ll think about it.”

***

Snape descended on the fifth years shortly after they had taken their seats for dinner.

“Mr. Zabini,” he said. “It has come to my attention that you have been given another detention by Professor Umbridge.”

Blaise had the sense to at least appear ashamed. “Yes, sir.”

“This time for… striking Potter?” Snape’s dark eyes shifted towards Harry.

Across the table, Daphne’s shoulders started shaking and she covered her mouth with her hand.

“Yes, sir,” Blaise said, and Tracey let out a snort.

Snape’s ire was immediately and completely redirected towards Harry. “Potter,” he said, sneering. “I believe I already warned you about pulling your fellow Slytherins into your Gryffindor antics -”

“I didn’t tell him to punch me in the face!” Harry protested loudly, pointing a finger at Blaise.

The Slytherins completely lost it. Pansy shrieked in laughter first, Draco burst out in loud guffaws, and the others quickly joined them both until nearly all of the fifth years were laughing riotously.

Snape’s irritated expression quickly changed to one of confusion, which was not a look Harry had often seen on Snape. His eyes raked across his Slytherins before settling on Blaise, who merely tried to sit and appear innocent, and Snape’s confusion seemed to give way to recognition.

“Mr. Zabini,” he said. “Am I correct in understanding that you are…” He trailed off, narrowing his eyes.

“Yes, sir?”

“I’m not sure what plan you are hatching, Mr. Zabini,” Snape said, sighing. “But I will not interfere so long as you do not sabotage your future… or this house.” He then swept away, leaving his giggling Slytherins behind him.

“That was… bizarre,” Harry commented.

“That’s Snape,” Draco said. “He’ll leave us be as long as our plans get results.”

“What is your plan, by the way?” Harry asked Blaise curiously. “You mentioned you were trying to get a detention with her before you hit me. Why are you getting detention on purpose?”

“Information,” Blaise said.

“I don’t think another smarmy apology is going to work again,” Harry said doubtfully. “She’ll have learned her lesson the first time.”

“Oh, I know,” said Blaise. “Now I’m just going to try to get her to slip; she has to at some point. She’s clearly hiding something, and I’ll keep getting detention until she’s revealed it.”

Harry still didn’t quite understand Blaise’s angle, but he supposed he still had a lot to learn about Slytherin plots.

Suddenly, something from Andromeda’s letter came back to him. We often need to call on the traits of the other three houses in order to achieve our ends. Harry smirked.

“Snape’s definitely right about one thing, you know,” Harry said.

“What’s that?” Blaise asked.

“Deciding to punch me in the face in order to get detention?” Harry said, grinning widely. “That’s totally a Gryffindor move.”

Complete and absolute horror dawned on Blaise’s face. “You take that back!” he insisted.

Theo spit out his soup. The Slytherins all burst out laughing again, Harry along with them this time. Draco pounded on the table, Greg and Vince were both doubled over, and Daphne leaned on Greg’s shoulder crying with laughter.

A few people from other houses began to turn their heads towards their table, unused to hearing the usually reserved Slytherins be so raucous.

***

Dear Mrs. Tonks,

Thank you for your letter. I sincerely appreciate it. I’ll admit that initially, I wasn’t terribly thrilled to have wound up in Slytherin, but I also wasn’t as against it as our mutual friend might have implied. To be fair, I didn’t exactly tell him what my thoughts were when I told him what had happened.

Even so, a lot of what you had to say made sense, and I think I really needed to hear those things. I’m slowly coming to understand the Slytherins a bit more each day. It’s still hard to think of myself as a Slytherin, but I guess I don’t feel as out of sorts as I did at the beginning of term.

Something I’ll share with you that I didn’t share with our mutual friend - when I heard I was going to be sorted again, I knew that my winding up in this house was a distinct possibility. I just thought it was due to one specific reason, but I’m beginning to realize that I might actually have quite a few of the Slytherin traits you spoke of.

I’m settling into Slytherin better than expected, and I think your letter had a lot to do with that. So - thank you. It’s nice to know a Slytherin like you exists.

Sincerely,

Harry Potter

***

A few weeks into the month of September, Harry was just settling down to revise for Charms. As he flipped his book open, he noticed that the common room seemed unusually empty.

“Where is everyone?” Harry asked Greg.

Greg looked to Vince, and then back at Harry. He shrugged. “Dunno.”

As Harry read, he noticed most of the seventh years gathering by the door and then raised his eyebrow when they left as a group through the common room door. It was nearly curfew, and Harry wondered where they were going.

He shrugged and turned back to his Charms text. It wasn’t his business.

He did wonder where Draco and Blaise and the others were, though.

The unusual quiet of the common room quickly began to unnerve him. He sighed and glanced up at Greg and Vince. Harry hadn’t spoken to them much outside of Quidditch practice.

“I've been thinking,” Harry said, breaking the silence, “about how to improve your flying speeds.”

Vince looked up from his Transfiguration text with interest. “What are we trying next?”

“We try to use your size to your advantage,” Harry said. “If you’re up high and then fly down, you’ll pick up speed. You can use height to gain acceleration. The higher you are, the faster you’ll go.”

Greg screwed his face up in thought, and then looked excited at the idea. “We can stage ourselves higher than Beaters normally do.”

Harry nodded. “You’ll have a good vantage point, too, so you’ll be able to see the whole field. You’d be able to tell if one of our players needs defending.” The more they talked through it, the more Harry thought that the idea might actually work.

After the three of them had hashed out the plans for the next Quidditch practice, they again lapsed into silence.

Harry still couldn’t concentrate on Charms, and he had no idea what else to talk to Greg and Vince about. He realized that he missed the almost comfortable banter that he tended to have with Blaise and Draco. He let out a sigh, bid Vince and Greg a good night, and departed for their room.

Once upstairs, he traded Charms for another book he had hidden in the bottom of his trunk, Wizarding Traditions and Institutions of the Dark Arts Culture. He had a now-familiar ritual of reading on his bed with the curtains drawn, and he settled in with the book, preparing to read until he fell asleep.

He was halfway through the first chapter when he came across a passage that made him sit up.

Once celebrated among wizards both dark and light, the eight traditional cyclical days of the year are still held as sacred in the dark community. They represent the cycle of light leading to dark leading to light, as well as the cycle of death and rebirth. Four of the eight cyclical days are determined by the cycles of the sun, and the exact dates fluctuate from year to year. The other four represent the approximate midpoint between the days determined by the sun.

The most important day for dark witches and wizards is obviously Yule, or the Winter Solstice. This is the longest night, and it is the night when dark magic is at its most powerful. When light wizards still celebrated the cyclical days, they treated Litha, the Summer Solstice, with the same high regard, as that is the day when light magic is strongest. The declaration rite for beginning to walk the dark path is almost always performed on Yule, just as beginning light declaration rites were once performed on Litha.

Out of a sign of respect for all magic, there are two cyclical days where neither dark wizards nor light wizards perform declaration rites. Although dark witches and wizards may still participate in dark circles or festivals, no one dares to declare on the days when the light and dark are perfectly balanced. These two days of the year are Ostara, the Spring Equinox, as well as Mabon, the Autumnal Equinox.

Harry gaped. The autumnal equinox was that very night. Were all of the missing Slytherins at some kind of dark circle or festival, whatever those were?

Harry threw his curtains open and began to pace beside his bed.

He’d been keeping his ear low to the ground for any whispers of dark arts from his housemates, but he still hadn’t heard a peep. He’d been starting to think that what he’d read about Slytherin being full of dark witches and wizards was an exaggeration, or that perhaps the text he’d read was out of date. Most of the books in the Black library were old, and none seemed newer than 30 years.

But to have nearly the entire house disappear on one of these cyclical days… it was more than a little suspicious.

Harry still didn’t want to mention his involvement or interest in the dark arts until he had confirmation of the same from one of them. Although they all seemed very keen on keeping each other’s secrets, Harry had still only been in Slytherin for three weeks, whereas they had been housed together for years. He didn’t want to test the Slytherin loyalty towards him with something that could potentially get him in a heap of trouble.

After all, if word got back to Snape, and if Snape, in turn, told Dumbledore…

He shook his head. It was a terrible idea to just approach them and ask them, even though he was now almost certain that most of the students in his year were at least involved in the dark arts, if not ‘fully declared’ dark witches and wizards.

Harry sighed. The Gryffindor in him wanted to just brashly ask one of them, but the Slytherin in him told him to be patient.

He still only had circumstantial evidence, not proof. He wanted hard, indisputable proof before he asked them anything.

So basically - I need blackmail, Harry thought. He shook his head. Perhaps he really did belong in Slytherin.

***

Greg and Vince tried Harry’s strategy at the next few Quidditch practices, and it almost immediately seemed quite promising. The two Beaters quickly developed a method of diving down from up high, aiming for a Bludger while they were still in motion, and then using the inertia to climb back up again. It was a little unorthodox and looked incredibly bizarre, but Montague was thrilled.

He mentioned that he’d gotten the idea from watching a Muggle documentary on World War II fighter planes, and he was met with blank, somewhat uneasy stares. Harry didn’t care, and he promptly nicknamed the maneuver the ‘boom and zoom.’ The method still needed fine-tuning and practice, and there were flaws, but Harry was beginning to feel incredibly confident in the Slytherin Quidditch team. They were actually quite good. It would take a while for Harry to actually admit that they might have been better than his old Gryffindor team.

Harry, meanwhile, had also begun an odd kind of pen friendship with Andromeda Tonks. They hadn’t exchanged many letters, but Harry enjoyed them. He also enjoyed how bewildered Draco became every time Harry received another letter from Andromeda, wondering how in the world Harry had become pen pals with his estranged aunt.

True to his word, Blaise continued to get detentions from Umbridge, thankfully not by continuing to punch Harry in the face. He earned these detentions by more and more creative methods, though usually through insults. One day he compared Umbridge to a fuzzy pink pig, and on another day he brazenly asked if she had any gnome blood that would explain her squat face.

Likewise, Harry continued his sickeningly polite act with Umbridge, and surprisingly, it started to become easier for him. Although he occasionally had to allow his rage bubble and simmer in class, he would often allow himself to blow his top in one way or another when he left her classroom. Sometimes he simply shouted at one of his housemates, who usually tended to just let him vent, but other times he would blast raw magic into the stone walls of the castle. Draco found those explosions peculiarly amusing.

Harry also continued listening and watching his housemates for any signs of their involvement with the dark arts, but it was to no avail. Aside from the suspicious disappearance on the Equinox, there wasn’t a hint. Not a single one of them made even an oblique reference to the dark arts.

And at the end of September, Harry finally agreed to spend his day in Hogsmeade with Hermione and Ron.

***

Harry felt awkward, even though it was still oddly familiar. It was as if he was wearing old shoes that no longer fit him.

Fortunately, Harry felt some small satisfaction at seeing Ron appear just as uncomfortable.

Ron had never apologized to Harry for his earlier behavior, and it seemed abundantly clear to Harry that the only reason they were walking down the path to Hogsmeade together was to appease Hermione. At least Harry and Ron still had that in common - they both would do anything for Hermione Granger.

“This is nice,” Hermione said as they trudged down the gentle incline. “I’ve missed this.”

Both Ron and Harry grunted noncommittally, and Hermione rolled her eyes. “You two are both such… boys,” she said. “Letting a silly game get in the way of your -”

“Pretty sure it’s more than just Quidditch,” Harry reminded her, giving Ron the stink eye.

Ron, to his credit, simply frowned.

Hermione suddenly stopped in her tracks and rounded on both of them. “Oh! You are being such… blockheads!” she snapped.

“What did I do?” Harry complained.

“You… oh, nothing, I suppose,” Hermione said, exasperated. “This is just so frustrating! You two are friends! Ron, why can’t you -”

“I’m sorry.”

Harry jerked his head towards Ron, his eyes wide.

Ron stared at the ground, fists clenched, and swallowed hard. “Harry, I’m… I’m really sorry.” Harry didn’t say anything, and Ron finally looked up to meet his eyes. “Hermione tore into me, and then Mum wrote me a really nasty letter, then -”

“In other words, you’re only apologizing just so they won’t be mad at you anymore?” Harry snapped.

“No!” Ron shook his head emphatically. “I mean, having Hermione and my mum… and then Fred, George, and Ginny on top of it…” He let out a shudder. “I don’t know if you know this, mate, but Ginny’s really, really scary when she’s mad.”

Despite himself, Harry cracked a tiny smile at that.

“But then the other day, Neville just straight up asked me why we weren’t friends anymore,” Ron said. His face seemed to crumble. “And I realized that… I…” He paused, reaching up to scratch at the back of his head. “Well, I miss you.”

Harry swallowed.

“I hate that you got re-sorted,” Ron continued, “and into Slytherin, no less. And then you seemed to be… perfectly okay with it.”

Harry gave a half-shrug. “I guess my being able to actually… grow accustomed to my new house is a sign that I really am supposed to be there,” he said. “Slytherins are supposed to be adaptable.” He paused and then stared at Ron. “I can’t just be… miserable and alone for my last three years at Hogwarts, Ron.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ron said, nodding. “That’s what… well, that’s what pretty much everyone said.”

“Look, Ron…” Harry started, then he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “You don’t have to… understand why I’m in Slytherin. Siri… Snuffles told me that he didn’t understand it, and that he might have questions, but he’s still going to be there for me no matter what.” Harry narrowed his eyes. “And I’m sorry, but he’s got way more reason to hate Slytherin than you do.”

“I guess,” Ron mumbled. “But -”

Hermione thwacked him on the arm. “You’re still being stupid, Ronald.”

Ron gave Hermione the barest of glares, and then he sighed. “Snuffles is right. I don’t understand it. I still don’t like the house. After everything they’ve... “ He trailed off. “But I’m… I still want us to be friends, Harry,” he finally said. “It’s just not right if we’re not.”

Harry stared at Ron for a long moment.

It wasn’t the best apology, but Ron also wasn’t the best at apologizing. He also clearly hadn’t come to terms with Harry’s new house placement, either. Even so - Harry was beginning to realize just how much he’d missed the first friend he’d ever had.

“Yeah,” Harry finally said. “It feels weird.”

Hermione smiled brilliantly. “I told both of you that you would work this out, didn’t I? You two have been friends for too long to let something like this stand in the way.”

Harry shrugged. He still wasn’t convinced that he and Ron were in the best spot, but it was certainly better than it had been since the beginning of term.

Hermione, still facing the path behind them, squinted into the sun. “Isn’t that… Greengrass up there?”

Harry glanced over his shoulder and sure enough, Daphne and Tracey were waiting farther up the path, and he had to repress a smile. Apparently, the Slytherins still weren’t letting him travel anywhere without the watchful eye of at least one other Slytherin.

“Strange. Let’s go to Zonko’s, shall we?” Hermione said. She spun on her heel and led the way.

Despite his uneasiness, Harry genuinely appreciated the time with his old friends, and he had to admit that it was a good day.

Chapter Text


Do you hear that?” Harry asked Daphne and Pansy, frowning. They’d been on their way to dinner, and he slowed his pace when something that sounded like angry bellowing hit his ears.

Daphne gazed down the hallway. “Yes.”

They listened for a moment, and although they couldn’t make out much of anything that was being said, the word “snake” echoed down the hall.

Pansy narrowed her eyes. “It doesn’t sound good,” she said, and the three of them took off down the hallway.

As they reached the end of the corridor the shouting grew louder and the words became more distinct. “I asked you a question, you nasty, thieving Slytherin! Where did you get this? Answer me!”

A rush of alarm and adrenaline suddenly ran down Harry’s spine, and he doubled his speed, pulling ahead of the girls. He rounded the corner and spotted a sixth year Gryffindor hovering over a young girl in Slytherin robes.

“Where did you get this?” the Gryffindor demanded again, holding something long and stringy over the girl’s head. “This is a Gryffindor product! You stole it, didn’t you?” He shoved her up against the wall so hard that Harry could actually hear her back hit the stone, and she fell to the ground.

A wave of immense fury rushed through Harry, and he ran right up to the Gryffindor and pushed him away from the girl. “What the hell are you doing?” he shouted. Harry looked at his face and finally remembered that the boy’s name was Cormac McLaggen.

“Astoria!” He heard Daphne cry from behind him. The girl must’ve been Astoria Greengrass, Daphne’s little sister.

McLaggen sneered at Harry. “That little mini-snake stole a Gryffindor product!” he said, pointing at Astoria, and he dangled an Extendable Ear in front of Harry.

“No, she didn’t,” Harry said, smacking the Ear away from his face. “Her sister bought them. And they’re not Gryffindor products; they’re the Weasley twins’ invention.”

“Who are both Gryffindors,” McLaggen spat. “Slytherins have no business using them.”

“I did business with the Weasley twins to acquire them,” Daphne snapped as she bent down to check on her sister.

McLaggen barely gave Daphne and Astoria a second glance; instead his ire seemed to now be completely directed towards Harry. Even so, the voice that spoke next wasn’t McLaggen’s, and it was uncomfortably familiar.

“So you really have gone full-on Slytherin, eh, Potter?” Seamus sneered, and Harry blinked. Seamus hadn’t said a single word to him all term, not even before Harry’s re-sorting.

“You think it’s fine that these little Death Eaters-in training are buying devices to spy on us, do you?” McLaggen said, taking a dangerous step towards Harry.

“I wasn’t spying on you!” Astoria said, sniffling. “I wasn’t spying on anyone!”

“Shut up, you snake!” McLaggen spat. “You should be ashamed of yourself, but you don’t have the conscience to actually feel shame, do you?”

“You are a sixth year,” Harry snarled, “bullying a third year.” His upper lip curled in disgust. “You’re the one who should be bloody ashamed.”

“So should you!” Seamus shouted, and Harry was startled at the level of fury his old roommate was directing towards him. “Do you realize that my mum didn’t want me to come back to Hogwarts this year?”

A bubble of confusion formed amidst Harry’s anger. “What’s that got to do with me?”

“Everything!” Seamus roared, throwing his arms up. “Because of you and Dumbledore, and all the nonsense you were saying about You-Know-Who being back!”

“Oh, so your mum believes everything in the Prophet, then?” Harry snarled. “Can’t think for herself, can she?”

“Don’t you say a single word about my mum!” Seamus shot back.

“Well, your mum must be relieved now that we’re not sleeping in the same room anymore, right?” Harry replied nastily. “Can’t catch any of my ‘nutter’ cooties now.”

“I know I’m relieved you’re not there anymore,” Seamus said. “But don’t you dare have a go at my mum.”

“The crap you spouted about You-Know-Who was all made up, and you know it,” McLaggen hissed. “You got resorted to Slytherin because you’re a liar, Potter.”

Harry’s wand was in his hand and the tip shoved upwards into McLaggen’s chin in an instant. “Say that again,” Harry said, seething. “I dare you.”

Fear flashed in McLaggen’s eyes, but after a moment he sneered in defiance. “You’re nothing but a dirty, lying snake.”

Harry was so enraged that his ears seemed to pop, and his scar blazed with a burning hot fury. He whipped his wand out from under McLaggen’s chin and shouted, “Engorgio Skullus!” and threw the hex at McLaggen without a second thought.

Before their very eyes, McLaggen’s head started inflating, and Harry was reminded of his Aunt Marge in third year. But just his head started growing while the rest of the body remained the same, and it was much more disturbing to watch.

McLaggen pitched forward as his head continued to grow, the weight starting to become too much for him to hold up. When it reached the size of the wheel of a car, he fell face-first on the ground and started yelling incomprehensibly.

“What in the world… Mr. Potter! What do you think you’re doing?!”

Harry’s eyes widened at the voice, and a chill ran down his spine as he spun around to see Professor McGonagall hastily approaching the scene.

“That was an incredibly dangerous hex you just used, Potter! Twenty points will be taken from Slytherin!” McGonagall berated Harry as she bent down to check on McLaggen, and he swallowed nervously. “To use it on a fellow student… that’s -”

“Professor, that boy pushed my sister and accused her of -” Daphne started saying.

“That is still no reason to use dangerous hexes on your classmates!” McGonagall snapped. “You are all old enough to know that such behavior is strictly forbidden, and it will not be tolerated!”

“He’s not my classmate,” Harry mumbled.

“Make that thirty points, as well as a detention, Potter!” McGonagall said firmly. She cast the counterspell to Harry’s hex, and McLaggen’s head began to shrink back to a normal size.

Harry sighed. He was finally starting to cool down, and he realized that he likely deserved the detention. Seamus and McLaggen had never even drawn their wands, and Harry wasn’t even sure where that level of fury had actually come from. Umbridge had called him a liar and it hadn’t been like that.

“Professor, it really wasn’t Harry’s fault -”

“I am not in the mood to hear any rationalizations, Miss Parkinson!” McGonagall immediately retorted, and an expression of outrage appeared on Pansy’s face. McGonagall ignored her and turned to her Gryffindors. “Believe me when I say I shall be questioning the both of you about this. Now go to dinner.”

Seamus and McLaggen nodded, and they took off down the hallway.

“Potter…” McGonagall said. She studied him for a few moments, then shook her head. “You will serve your detention with me,” she said. “Tomorrow night, after dinner, you will come directly to my office.”

Harry nodded unhappily. “Yes, ma’am.”

McGonagall then turned to look at the girls. “I also want all three of you to come to my office at some point during the day tomorrow. I would like to know how this all started.”

Pansy appeared marginally placated at McGonagall’s willingness to at least hear their side of the story, but overall she still looked furious.

McGonagall peered at Harry once more with her mouth set in a hard, thin line, and then set off down the hall at her usual brisk pace.

Harry looked sheepishly at the girls. “Sorry for losing us so many points,” he said quietly.

“Nonsense,” Pansy said, waving her hand. “Umbridge has been awarding Slytherin so many points that it’ll be made up for by tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Harry,” Daphne said, finally pulling her sister to her feet. “I’ve told Astoria so many times not to walk alone, but -”

“I don’t like always having to be around people!” Astoria whined.

“I know, sweetie, but…” Daphne sighed. “We just have to deal with it.”

***

Harry knocked on McGonagall’s door, feeling a bit anxious. Pansy, Daphne, and Astoria said that McGonagall had spoken to each of them during the day, but because it was McGonagall, they couldn’t really get a good read on how those conversations had gone over.

He heard McGonagall’s voice beckoning him to come in. He entered quietly and stood in front of her desk, holding his hands behind his back.

“Have a seat, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said without looking up for her work, and Harry gingerly sat down in the chair in front of her desk. She appeared to grading essays, and she was shaking her head as she scribbled something across a ragged looking parchment.

“How some of these students are unable to keep their essays from looking like they’ve been stomped on by a Hippogriff, I shall never know,” she muttered. She finished writing and set her quill down, finally looking up at Harry.

“You look nervous, Potter,” McGonagall commented.

“I’m not,” Harry said, frowning. “I mean… I guess. It’s been a while since I’ve had detention with you, Professor.”

McGonagall leaned back in her chair and narrowed her eyes. She was silent for quite some time, and Harry began to feel like he was being studied.

“So… what are we going to be doing today, Professor?” he finally asked, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

McGonagall sighed and put her elbows back on her desk, clasping her hands in front of her. “Today, Potter…” she said, “you and I will be talking.”

Harry blinked.

McGonagall sighed. “I’m worried about you, Potter.”

“What?” he asked, confused. “Why?”

“There are a fair number of reasons, but the first one I would like to speak of is the action you took yesterday,” McGonagall said.

“Professor, I know that I fully deserve detention for what I -”

“And I am glad that you realize it,” McGonagall interrupted. “And from what I have gathered from the Greengrass sisters as well as Miss Parkinson, you were not unprovoked.” Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise at that, and McGonagall continued. “Even so, the hex you used is extremely dangerous. While I know you have occasionally hexed or jinxed people in the past, I’ve never seen you use one like that.”

Harry swallowed. The Engorgio Skullus hex wasn’t dark arts so he wasn’t worried about getting in trouble for that. In fact, it had been crafted in the healing field as a way to assist medi-wizards with particularly difficult surgeries or extractions. Harry had read about the hex at some point and thought it had sounded funny, so he’d added it to his arsenal.

McGonagall continued. “Had Mr. McLaggen not fallen to the floor, the weight of his engorged head could have very well broken his neck.”

Harry looked down at his feet, a chill running down his spine. “I… I didn’t know that.”

“I trust that you did not,” McGonagall replied. “However, that does not lessen my concern. Why did you use such a hex?”

“I wasn’t thinking,” Harry confessed. “They were both just... “ He paused and sighed. “They were spouting off that crap from the Prophet about how I was a liar, and how I’d made up that Voldemort’s returned.” He shook his head. “I’ve been dealing with it for months, and I think I just kinda… snapped. And I thought McLaggen had a big head so I…”

McGonagall studied Harry for a few moments and then let out a huff. “So you made him have a big head.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “That was exceedingly poor judgment, Mr. Potter.”

“I think it was a complete lack of judgment, ma’am.”

“Then we are in agreement.”

“Yes, Professor.”

They lapsed into silence for a few moments before McGonagall spoke up again. “I understand that you were assigned detention by Professor Umbridge at the beginning of the year for… something similar.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. Just the one, though.”

“So I’d heard. In fact,” McGonagall said, once again fixing Harry with that contemplative stare, “Professor Umbridge has since reported that you have been a model student in every single one of her classes.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Um… I’m trying…” He trailed off.

“That must be quite torturous for you.” McGonagall’s lips quirked at the edges as if she was trying not to smile, and Harry laughed.

“It really is,” he said, grinning, and McGonagall finally allowed herself to smile back.

“I confess that I’m surprised that you are able to keep a hold of your temper in her class,” she continued. “Even Miss Granger has had problems with Umbridge…”

“Uh, well…” Harry said. “I guess I’ve kinda had some… coaching.”

McGonagall’s expression became suspiciously neutral and she peered at Harry. “From your new housemates, I take it?”

“Yeah,” Harry admitted. “They’ve been pointing out how dangerous it would be for me to get in trouble with her, and -” he cut himself off. He didn’t want to tell McGonagall that the Slytherins all believed him, and how they had also said they knew that the truth about Voldemort being back would eventually come out.

“I see,” McGonagall said. “Prior to the beginning of the school year, I was quite worried about you being able to hold your tongue around Professor Umbridge. Then you were sorted into Slytherin, and I was worried about your new house placement, as well.” She shook her head. “Instead, it seems that your being into Slytherin may have been exactly what you needed in order to deal with her.”

Harry let out a laugh. “Yeah.”

“I’ll also admit that nearly all of the teachers have seen improvements in your grades, as well,” McGonagall continued.

“It’s… easier to work in Slytherin,” Harry admitted. “There are fewer distractions.”

McGonagall actually laughed at that. “I suppose merely being in the same common room as the somewhat… disruptive Weasley twins would be quite a distraction.”

Harry grinned.

“Perhaps your re-sorting will actually be a good thing, in the long run,” McGonagall continued, and Harry stared at her in surprise. “You seem to be the better for it.”

Harry wasn’t entirely sure he agreed; although he grew more comfortable by the day in Slytherin he still missed Gryffindor tower and his old friends, and although they were at least speaking again his friendship with Ron was still incredibly rocky.

“Professor Umbridge mentioned one other Slytherin from your year in our last staff meeting,” McGonagall said. “And it piqued my curiosity.”

“Who?” Harry asked.

“Blaise Zabini has apparently been… acting out in her class?” McGonagall said, raising a single eyebrow in question. “And has now received several detentions from her?”

Harry let out a laugh and then desperately tried to school his expression.

“It was quite surprising to the rest of the staff, let me assure you,” McGonagall said. “He has never misbehaved in my class in all of our years at Hogwarts. I was curious, so I checked his records and he’s -”

“Never had a single detention before Umbridge?” Harry said, now unable to hide his grin.

“Indeed,” McGonagall said.

“Maybe he’s just hit that… stage in his life…” Harry couldn’t hold it in any longer, and he started laughing.

McGonagall was smiling, as well. “That is… quite interesting,” she said.

His old head of house used the remainder of his detention to catch up with Harry, asking how he enjoyed his classes, how he felt about O.W.L.s at the end of the year, and if he was getting on with his housemates well enough. McGonagall didn’t look very pleased at Harry’s assessment of the Slytherin Quidditch team, but she didn’t say anything bad about it.

Harry was just getting up from his seat when McGonagall made him pause. “Potter, would you mind doing a minor favor for me?”

“Yeah?” he asked.

“Please inform Mr. Zabini that he has been awarded twenty points for Slytherin,” McGonagall said.

Harry’s eyes widened. “And what should I tell him it’s for?”

“Officially, for being an excellent Transfiguration student who consistently applies himself,” McGonagall said, looking stern. “Unofficially, though…” She let out a surprising grin. “... for making a certain professor’s tenure here difficult when others are not in a position to do the same.”

***

“She actually said that?” Blaise asked, sounding doubtful. “No way. I don’t believe you.”

“Believe it,” Harry said, laughing. “She also said that if you run out of ideas you’re free to go to her. Years of being the head of house for Gryffindor and having to deal with the likes of the Weasley twins, as well as my father…” Harry snorted. “Let’s just say she’s seen some really absurd things.”

“I’d rather not copy from Gryffindors, thank you,” Blaise said. Even so, Harry could see the hint of a smile on his face as he bent back over his Transfiguration essay.

Harry grinned as he took his seat with the others to dive into his own homework. Most were also working on their Transfiguration essays, and they proceeded to quietly ask each other questions and give pointers. At one point, Tracey asked if Harry knew of any tricks to get extra points from his old head of house.

Before Harry could answer, though, high-pitched shrieking and laughter erupted from another corner of the room.

“Bloody annoying first years,” Blaise muttered.

We certainly weren’t that irritating at that age,” Millicent quipped, and Blaise laughed in response.

Blaise, Harry has come to learn, loved to laugh.

They went back to their homework, and Harry finished his outline and began to actually craft the essay itself. Occasional outbursts of laughter continued to come from the first years.

I’ll bite all of the loud, disgusting, little imps.” Harry looked up at the comment.

“I think biting them might be a little extreme, Blaise,” he said.

Blaise glanced up, his brow furrowing. “What?”

Harry frowned. “Or was it you, Theo?”

“What are you talking about?” Theo asked.

“Nobody said anything, Harry,” Pansy said, looking confused.

Harry’s frown deepened. He was sure he’d heard something...

“Every year it’s the same - simpering little human hatchlings coming in and screaming for no reason…”

Harry’s eyes widened and he spun around in his seat, glancing up. The snake painting on the wall seemed to be awake, slithering in slow circles around in its frame.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I don’t think there’s much I can do about them.” He faintly heard the Slytherins around him gasp.

The snake in the painting stilled and stared at Harry. “You speak.”

“Yes.”

“There hasn’t been a speaker in here for…”

“Fifty years?” Harry hated the feeling of knowing that the last person that had spoken to the painting could have only been Voldemort.

The snake only hissed an affirmation. Harry and the snake studied each other for a few moments before he turned back around to dive into his essay again. He froze when he saw the Slytherins staring at him.

“I totally forgot about that,” Pansy said, her mouth hanging open. “You being a Parselmouth.”

Harry shrugged, uncomfortable with the attention they were giving him. “To be completely honest, I kind of did, too.”

“Will you come speak with me on occasion?” Harry heard, and he turned back to the painting. “It gets lonely here.”

Harry blinked. “Sure. I mean… I’m only here for another three years, not seven. I’ll try to stop by, though. But I really do need to work on this essay right now.”

“Very well. Proceed.” The snake seemed to settle down, spiraling up in the corner of the frame.

“What are you saying to it?” Draco demanded as Harry once again turned back to his essay.

“It was saying it gets lonely,” Harry said. “It wants me to visit.” He was painfully aware that the other Slytherin fifth years were still staring at him, and he tried to ignore it.

***

Draco and Harry were the first to retire to the dorm, and as they readied themselves for bed Draco turned to Harry.

“Something you said earlier reminded me of something,” he said. “Did you ever ask Professor Snape about your father?”

“Uh… no,” Harry admitted. “It’s a little hard to figure out how to phrase ‘did you used to get beat up by my father?’”

“Did you ask your godfather, then?”

“No.” Harry felt rather sheepish. “Because he would have been involved. ‘Say, were you and my dad bullying Slytherins when you were my age?’ Not any easier than Snape.”

“So they’re both biased,” Draco surmised.

“Definitely,” Harry agreed as he pulled his nightshirt over his head.

“Maybe you should consider asking Professor McGonagall, then,” Draco said, and Harry spun around to face him in surprise.

“Well, you mentioned that she had to deal with your father’s… antics,” Draco continued. “She might not have been aware of all of them, but she’s likely the most unbiased opinion you have access to.”

Harry thought about it. Draco was not only right, but Harry also didn’t have any fear or hesitation about speaking to McGonagall. She at least likely wouldn’t get angry at the question itself.

“That’s… actually a really good idea,” Harry admitted. “Thank you, Draco.”

Draco smirked and then shut the curtains on his bed.

***

The next day, Harry had the unfortunate luck of running into Umbridge right by the doors of the great hall. Harry sometimes went to extreme lengths to avoid her outside of class, but he hadn’t expected her to be there.

“Mr. Potter!” she greeted him, her usual gross smile painted across her face. “Such a pleasure to actually see you outside of the classroom.”

“Hello, Professor Umbridge,” Harry said with a fake smile. It had become habit by now. “How are you today?”

“Very well. Thank you for asking, dear,” Umbridge tittered. “How is Quidditch practice going, then?”

“Quite well, Professor.”

“That is so good to hear,” Umbridge said. “Although I never played, obviously, the Slytherin team was always top-notch in my years at Hogwarts. It would be so marvelous to see my old house take the cup again.”

“Of course, Professor,” Harry replied smoothly. “We’ll try our best.”

“I know you will.” Umbridge let out one of those disgusting little laughs of hers. “Have a wonderful day, Mr. Potter!”

“You, as well, Professor Umbridge,” Harry said as she turned and made her way up to the head table. He lost the smile and rolled his eyes as soon as her back was turned.

Harry took another few steps into the hall and almost immediately ran into Ron. “What the hell was that?” Ron demanded.

“Uh…” Harry had absolutely no idea what to say. “It’s…”

“You know what she’s doing, Harry!” Ron said angrily. “Or what she’s trying to do, anyway!”

“Yeah, I know exactly what she’s doing,” Harry hissed, pulling Ron over to the side of the hall while shooting a cautious look up at the head table. “When she first got here she was out for me, personally. After nearly getting bloody expelled, I’m trying to stay the hell out of her way.”

“That didn’t look like staying out of her way,” Ron whispered heatedly. “That looked like you were about to ask her out for tea!”

Harry blanched. “Eww!” he exclaimed, shuddering. “No, I’m just -” He cut himself off. He definitely couldn’t explain everything while they were in the hall - not when Umbridge was sitting in the same room. “Look, can we just… can we meet up tonight so I can explain?”

Ron scowled. “Fine.”

“Good,” Harry said. “About an hour after dinner, then? I’ll -”

“Don’t bring any Slytherins with you, Harry,” Ron said viciously. “I mean it. I’ve hardly seen you without at least one of them all year. I wanna hear what you have to say without them there.”

Harry frowned, but nodded. “I’ll come up with something.”

***

“I know you’re getting on with him again, but I don’t like this,” Draco protested, “especially after what happened the other day with McLaggen and Finnigan. Aren’t Finnigan and the Weasel roommates?”

“Don’t call him that,” Harry said, his voice tired. They’d argued all through dinner and had continued the argument all the way back to their dorm room. “It’ll be fine.”

“What if it’s a trap?”

“It’s not a trap,” Harry said for what felt like the hundredth time.

“Even if Weasley doesn’t have anything planned, what if someone else finds you alone in the halls?” Theo asked quietly. “We haven’t forgotten you getting caught by that tripping jinx at the beginning of the year, you know.”

“I can make it there without anyone seeing me,” Harry insisted.

“How?” Draco asked hotly.

Harry let out an exasperated sigh. He hadn’t wanted to tell them, but he was beginning to think they would never let him leave unless he did. “I have a… thing,” he said.

“Wow. That’s so helpful and descriptive,” Blaise said in a dry tone.

“Okay, look - only a handful of people in this school know about this,” Harry said, “so you have to promise me you won’t say anything to anyone.”

Draco cried out in frustration. “How many times do we have to tell you, Harry -”

“That we keep each other’s secrets, I know,” Harry said, opening his trunk. “It’s just… this was my father’s, and it’s really important to me.” Harry reached into his trunk and pulled out his invisibility cloak.

Draco gaped.

“What is that?” Blaise asked, peering at it curiously.

Harry flung the shimmering material around his shoulders, and his body disappeared behind the cloak. He couldn’t help but feel a little satisfied at seeing his roommates’ faces.

“Holy shit,” Blaise said.

“I’m sold,” Theo said with a shrug after wiping the shock off of his face.

Draco said nothing at first, and then he dropped his head back and sighed. “And the mystery of your floating head at Hogsmeade a few years ago is finally solved,” he muttered.

Harry laughed. “You deserved it.”

Draco glared.

Surprisingly, the Slytherins actually allowed Harry leave to meet with Ron alone.

***

Harry found Ron waiting in the clock tower. As he’d promised the Slytherins, he looked around carefully for unexpected company, but Ron was alone.

“Hey,” Harry said as he pulled off his cloak.

Ron looked down at Harry’s cloak. “Why are you sneaking around?” he asked suspiciously.

“It’s the only way my roommates would let me come without them,” Harry explained.

“‘Let you?’” Ron asked, alarmed. “Harry, are they… are they threatening you?”

“What?” Harry asked, then realized how he’d sounded. “No, it’s just… it’s kind of a safety thing.”

Ron looked confused.

“Slytherins tend to get cornered,” Harry said.

“Right,” Ron said, sounding doubtful. “So… what’s going on with you and Umbridge?”

“There’s nothing ‘going on’ with me and Umbridge,” Harry said, making a face. “That’s gross, Ron.”

“I didn’t mean it like that!” Ron said, appalled. “I just mean… why are you sucking up to her like you did in the hall today?”

Harry sighed. “It’s… you know she was at my hearing over the summer, right?” He was surprised when Ron shook his head. “Uh, well… she was. And aside from Fudge, she was the worst one in that room when it came to… trying to make me look like… like I was a bloody criminal or something.

“And then we got to Hogwarts, and she was here, too. The very first day of class she called me a liar, and said that Cedric’s death was an… an accident,” Harry spat, getting angry as he recalled the memory.

“So you’re repaying the favor by telling her to ‘have a nice day?’” Ron asked in confusion.

“No,” Harry said with a shake of his head. “I’m trying to make her think she’s convinced me that I was mistaken about what I saw happen.”

There was a beat of silence. “Why would you do that?” Ron asked, clearly unnerved.

“There’s… there’s a few reasons,” Harry said. “I was expelled this summer, Ron. It was temporary, and McGonagall said it was an accident, but I’m not convinced. In fact, I’m pretty sure Umbridge actually wanted me arrested. I don’t want to be arrested, but I definitely don’t want to go back to the Dursleys.” He shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Okay, I get that,” Ron said. “But that doesn’t explain why you have to actually be nice to her. Just… be quiet around her.”

“That’s... kinda hard for me,” Harry admitted. “I think saying the opposite of what I’m actually thinking is helping me not completely explode on her.” He sighed. “Also, being nice to her - and making her think that I’m actually feeling the exact opposite of how I’m feeling - it’ll make her think that she’s won. She’ll think there’s nothing else to worry about with me.”

Ron was quiet for a moment. “That’s… really sneaky, Harry,” he said softly.

Harry smirked. “Thanks.”

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

Harry blinked. “Oh.”

Ron crossed his arms. “It just feels really… gross.” He shook his head. “And it doesn’t sound like you, Harry. Not only are you pretending to be something you’re not, you’re also… you kinda seem like you’re actually proud of being so… cunning.”

Harry froze, and he realized Ron was actually right. Sure, he’d certainly hated it at first, and then he merely got used to doing it, but as of late the feeling of playing Umbridge so well had started becoming the tiniest bit satisfying.

“I feel like… I feel like you’re not the same person I knew,” Ron continued.

“Of course I am!” Harry insisted. It wasn’t like he’d never been sneaky before. After all, hadn’t he and Ron spent a good deal of their time together sneaking around the castle?

“Are you, though?” Ron said, anger beginning to creep into his voice. “Seamus told me about what happened with you and McLaggen the other day.” He narrowed his eyes. “You hexed him. They didn’t even have their wands out, and you hexed him.”

“Did Seamus also tell you that McLaggen was bullying a third year?” Harry bristled. “And it’s not like you’ve never done that - remember trying to make someone barf up slugs?”

“That’s not like inflating somebody’s skull!” Ron shouted. “I know he’s an arse, Harry, but McLaggen said he still had a migraine today!” Then his expression got especially nasty. “And if you remember, I only tried that curse because your new best friend Malfoy called Hermione… that word!”

“He’s not my best friend!” Harry shot back. “And I know I shouldn’t have used that hex. I wasn’t thinking. McGonagall already had me serve detention for it, and I agree that I deserved it.”

“Yeah, you did,” Ron spat.

They glared at each other for a few moments, and then Ron let out a frustrated cry and turned around. His shoulders heaved, and Harry could see him clenching his fists.

Slowly, Ron first seemed to relax, and then he seemed to deflate.

“I don’t think this is gonna work,” Ron finally said, his voice soft and sad.

“What?” Harry asked, confused.

“Us being friends,” Ron said, and all the air went out of Harry’s lungs.

Ron turned back to face Harry. All of his previous anger and accusations were gone, and Ron just looked like he was grieving.

“What… what do you mean?” Harry asked, a feeling of dread rising in his heart.

Ron shook his head. “You’re doing these things that are really…” He sighed. “Well, they’re really... Slytherin.”

Harry didn’t say anything.

“It was one thing to be sorted into Slytherin, but it’s a whole other thing to actually start actually… acting like a snake. I don’t like it,” Ron said, shaking his head. “It makes my stomach churn.”

“Ron -”

“I don’t wanna be around it,” Ron said. “And I don’t think I wanna be around you if you’re doing things like that.”

Harry felt like his chest was gaping open. “So… so that’s it, then?” he said, quiet but furious. “We’re just… not friends anymore? Just like that?”

Ron closed his eyes. “I can’t be friends with a Slytherin, Harry,” he said. “You’re… deceiving people and you’re hurting people. I can’t be friends with someone like that.”

“That’s not -”

“I’m sorry.”

Harry shut his mouth, shocked into silence. Ron walked past him and left the clocktower, leaving Harry there alone.

Harry just kept staring in front of him, his eyes glued to the floor where Ron had stood.

Ron hadn’t shouted at him, or called him any names. Somehow, that calm, somber, melancholy tone was far worse. Harry thought he would have preferred Ron shouting at him over the eerie stillness of it.

It made the end of their friendship seem much more permanent.

***

Pansy made a beeline for him as soon as Harry trudged back into the common room.

“Thank goodness,” she said. “When Draco said they’d actually let you… how did it go?” Harry just looked at her, and she must have been able to read the expression on his face. “That little… weasel,” Pansy seethed.

“He said he couldn’t be friends with me anymore,” Harry said. His grief was beginning to turn to anger. He hadn’t done anything truly terrible, after all. Sure, he may have been deceiving someone, but he was deceiving Umbridge, of all people. It wasn’t like he was deceiving anyone good - just one of the most rotten creatures on the face of the planet.

And he knew he shouldn’t have thrown that hex at McLaggen, but he hadn’t known how dangerous that hex was. Anyone could have made that mistake.

It wasn’t like he’d done anything unforgivable, and yet Ron had made it clear that Harry wouldn’t be forgiven.

“He’s a worm, Harry,” Pansy said.

“Yeah,” Harry spat. “He is.”

Pansy raised her eyebrows in surprise, and then she smirked. “Does that… does that mean he’s no longer off-limits for me and Draco?”

Harry looked at her for a long moment, and his anger at Ron bubbled. “Yes,” he said viciously. “Have at him.”

Pansy grinned. “Wonderful.”

Then Harry felt a little guilty, and he shook his head. “Just… don’t go after his family, yeah? Or the fact that his family’s poor. His family is great, he’s just…”

Pansy didn’t stop smiling. “Fine. We’ll just go after him, personally. Don’t worry.”

Harry nodded once, feeling a little unsure, but he turned to go to his dorm despite his uncertainty.

“Harry?” Pansy called after him, and Harry looked back over his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I know he meant a lot to you.”

Harry sighed. “Thanks, Pansy.”

He dragged his feet all the way to the fifth year boys’ room. He certainly wasn’t looking forward to hearing ‘we told you so’ for the rest of the night. He was quiet as he opened the door, and his entrance was apparently so silent that the Slytherins inside didn’t hear him; instead they just continued carrying on their conversation.

“I just can’t find anything on it in my family’s library,” Theo was saying. “You think you might have anything in yours, Draco?”

“Did you say it was called ‘shadow magic?’” Harry heard Draco ask. “The Malfoy Family library is abundant, and there are more books than I can count that focus on specialized dark arts, but I’ve never come across anything like that. Of course, I wasn’t looking for it, so it may have escaped my notice.”

Harry froze at the doorway, all thoughts of Ron disappearing from his mind.

It appeared that he’d finally walked into the conversation he’d been waiting for.

“Do you think you can look next time you go home for break?” Theo asked. “I’m really interested in it, but it seems like any material on that type of dark arts is practically impossible to find these days.”

“Of course, I just wish you at least had a title or something; it would make it far easier to - Potter!” Draco had finally noticed Harry at the door.

“Balls,” Blaise said blandly.

“How much did you hear?” Draco snapped.

Harry blinked. “Um. Enough.” He finally stepped all the way into the room and shut the door behind him.

“Remember the covenant,” Blaise said, his voice cautious. "This is a big part of why we have it."

“I figured,” Harry said.

“You are a Slytherin now, Potter,” Draco said. “You say nothing.”

“Besides,” Theo said quietly, nervousness evident in his voice, “There’s no rules that say we can’t talk about the dark arts…”

“You still say nothing,” Draco practically spat. “Slytherins do not turn in other Slytherins, and whether you like it not, you are a Slytherin now -”

“Draco - shut up,” Blaise said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Harry, what he means is -”

“I know what it means,” Harry said, interrupting him. “And I’m not going to say anything to anyone. I just have a question that I asked you guys before, but I just want to be very, very sure of the answer.”

Blaise leaned back and crossed his arms, nodding at Harry. “Ask away.”

“Does the covenant extend both ways?” Harry asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t turn you in,” Harry said, his eyes raking across the room. “And you… don’t turn me in.”

Draco rolled his eyes dramatically. “We’ve told you so many times, Harry - we keep each other’s secrets. Quite frankly, I’m tired of telling you.” Then Draco sneered. “Besdes, as if facing potential arrest could compare to your occasional after-hours excursions -”

“Draco, shut up,” Blaise insisted.

“Harry,” Theo said. “Are you… are you asking if we’re going to give information about you to our fathers?”

Harry blinked. Theo’s occasional bold directness still threw him for a loop. “No. Well, yes, actually - I suppose that is a valid question - but that’s not what I was talking about.”

“Harry,” Blaise said. “We’ve told you a hundred times now. Slytherins keep each other’s secrets.”

“But do you actually think of me as a Slytherin?”

Blaise raised an eyebrow. “You’ve definitely been behaving like a Slytherin lately, that’s for sure.”

“Yes - as I just repeatedly told you - you are a Slytherin,” Draco said, narrowing his eyes. “As long as you treat us accordingly, we will do the same for you.”

Harry took in a deep breath. This was clearly the window that he’d been waiting for. It’s not as good of a window as he’d hoped for - he’d really been hoping to walk in on one of his classmates actually using dark arts - but he wasn’t sure when he’d get another chance.

“What secret do you want us to be hiding, Harry?” Draco asked. “If you hide our use of the dark arts, what are we hiding for you?”

“It’s…” Harry sighed and started making his way over to his bed and trunk. “I hope I don’t wind up regretting this,” he muttered.

“What was that?” Draco’s voice was sharp.

Harry opened his trunk and started digging down to the bottom, a now familiar action. “You'd be hiding pretty much the same,” he said as he flipped through the books in his trunk. He found what he was looking for, pulled out the book, and slammed his trunk shut as he turned to Theo.

“Chapter six,” Harry said as he passed Theo Introduction to Specialized Arts of the Dark Path. “It’s not an instruction manual on shadow magic, but there’s a good deal of information on it. But the best part is that there’s a bibliography and a list of recommended reading at the end of each chapter.” Theo hesitated, then slowly reached out and took the book from Harry as Harry continued. “If you see some titles that you’re interested in, I’ll see if I can track them down next time I’m… in the… room where I got that book.” Harry frowned. He’d meant to say ‘library.’ He shrugged it off and continued. “It’s got a pretty wide selection of dark arts material.”

The silence that fell in the room was almost amusing, and then it became awkward, and then Draco and Theo exploded almost simultaneously.

“What the fuck, Potter -”

“You have a book on specialized dark arts in your bloody trunk?”

Harry wasn’t entirely sure who said what, but he just shrugged. “I… uh… have more than one book in my bloody trunk.”

Blaise burst out laughing at that. “You… we’ve… oh, this is just... ” He doubled over, the laughter completely overtaking him and leaving him unable to get out a complete sentence.

Harry blinked. “Um… are you all right, Blaise?”

Blaise’s only response was to laugh even harder, while Draco and Theo just continued to gawk at Harry.

“You -” Draco sputtered. “You have multiple books on dark arts in your trunk.”

Harry swallowed. “Yeah.”

Blaise was suddenly laughing twice as hard.

“Uh,” Harry said, suddenly incredibly self-conscious. Had he just handed Theo a book that all of them had? Was it nothing but a joke book? Maybe it wasn’t the perfect window that Harry had been waiting for?

Finally, Theo said, “Thank you, Harry.”

Hearing that seemed to help Blaise calm down, and he held his side with one hand while he wiped his eyes with the other. “This is hilarious,” he finally managed to say.

“Oh, really? And here you were giving us the impression that it was a grave and serious issue,” Harry said dryly.

Blaise lightly punched Harry on the arm. “No, I mean…” He snorted out another quick laugh, but thankfully didn’t completely break down again. “We’ve all been being so bloody careful around you, and pretty much felt like we’ve been walking on eggshells in our own bloody dorm, and all along you’ve had…” He trailed off and started laughing all over again.

Draco and Theo evidently didn’t find it nearly as funny. Theo was still staring at Harry in shock, while Draco’s expression looked like a mix of suspicion and wonder.

“You’re… not a dark wizard,” Draco said quietly.

Harry shook his head. “No. I really don’t know all that much about it all, but I’ve read enough to know that you have to do something called ‘declaration rites’ in order to be considered an actual dark wizard. I don’t even know what those rites are.” He sighed. “I really only started reading about all this a few months ago, if even that. I’m just… really interested in it.”

Blaise finally stopped laughing again and peered at Harry, while the suspicion painted across Draco’s face began to fade.

How interested?” Blaise asked.

“Have you ever done any actual dark arts?” Draco said right after.

Harry felt like he was being quizzed, even though it was only on his own activities. “Kinda. Barely. Just a few minor dark hexes.” He swallowed. “I’ve been reading about them almost non-stop since I found that book, though.” He gestured towards the book in Theo’s hands.

“Wait,” Blaise said, holding up his hand before pointing to the same book. “That’s the first book on dark arts you read?”

“I haven’t actually read it yet,” Harry said. “I just happened to pull it off a shelf and flipped it open to ‘shadow magic’ and there was a really interesting bit about dark healing -”

“Are you serious?” Draco asked, incredulous.

“Harry,” Theo said. “Have you… have you done an affinity rite?”

“Uh, considering I don’t even know what that is…”

“We all need to back up a little,” Blaise said. “Harry, what exactly happened this summer?”

“I… I was staying in this…” Something was stopping Harry from explaining, so he tried again. “I found this… room…” Again, Harry had meant to say ‘library,’ but the word just wasn’t coming out of his mouth. He wanted to explain how no one could open the door and yet he still managed to, but the words just weren’t forming. Suddenly, it hit him. “Shit.” He sighed. “I can’t tell you.”

Draco looked irritated. “I thought we made it clear that we wouldn’t reveal -”

Harry shook his head. “No, it’s not that. It’s not a ‘won’t.’ I literally can’t. The whole building is under fidelius.”

Blaise raised an eyebrow. “That’s difficult magic.”

Harry shrugged.

“Why don’t you… explain what you can? We’ll try to piece it together.”

So Harry tried, as best as he could, to explain. He could refer to the material he found, and what he’d read, but he couldn’t actually call the Black Library a ‘library.’ He could say he was drawn to the room, but he couldn’t explain that no one else could get in. He mentioned that the first book he pulled off the shelf had been Introduction to Specialized Arts of the Dark Path and from there he’d started pulling books off the shelves left and right, and that he’d read an introductory book that explained most of the basics. He left Sirius out entirely.

“So…” Blaise said. “You found a dark library - even though you can’t tell us it’s a library, we know what it is - and the very first book you pulled off the shelf just happens to have information that Theo is looking for months later?”

“And you just happen to walk into the middle of that conversation?” Draco added.

Harry nodded.

“When you tried those dark hexes you mentioned earlier,” Blaise said, “how did it feel?”

“What?” Harry asked. “Normal, I guess. They were pretty easy.”

“And you didn’t feel… sick to your stomach or anything?” Theo asked.

Harry shook his head. He’d gone from feeling like he was being quizzed to feeling like he was being subjected to a medical exam.

“Holy shit,” Draco said, and Harry blinked. He hadn’t lived with them for long, but he was fairly sure he’d never heard Draco swear before. “The bloody Boy-Who-Lived isn’t just dabbling in the dark arts; he’s almost certainly got a dark affinity.”

A wave of annoyance passed through Harry. “Please don’t call me that, and don’t talk about me like I’m not here.” After a pause, he asked, “What’s a dark affinity?”

“Let’s sit,” Blaise said. “I think this conversation is going to take a while.”

They wound up sitting in a small circle in the middle of the dorm floor, all of them with nearly identical postures - legs crossed underneath of them, hunched towards each other.

“You really should do an affinity rite,” Theo said.

“I think we’re all pretty sure that you probably have a dark affinity, but it’s something you should get confirmed,” Blaise continued.

“But what does having a dark affinity mean?” Harry asked.

“It means you’re naturally inclined towards the dark arts,” Draco explain. “The dark magic will call to you and it will work with you. The greater your affinity, the more powerful of a dark wizard you could become.”

“And how do you all seem to know that I have… a dark affinity?”

“Here’s something you need to understand about dark magic,” Blaise said. “If you have an affinity for it, it will start trying to guide you to it - like drawing you to a dark library.”

“Or guiding you to pull a specific book off the shelf that would wind up helping you - or a friend - months later,” Theo said.

Harry looked up in surprise. The Slytherins had been more friendly with him than he could have ever expected, but none of them had actually called him a ‘friend’ yet.

Finally, he said, “That all just strikes me as… coincidence.”

“That’s a fairly specific coincidence, Harry,” Blaise said.

“Dark magic always knows what you need, or will need,” Draco continued. “If you have a dark affinity and you continue to work with it, it will always be there to help you.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You talk about the magic like it’s… sentient.”

“All magic is, to an extent. Why do you think this castle has so much personality?" Draco responded. “Magic is like... a higher power, for lack of a better explanation.”

“Like God.”

“Nothing so… Muggle, but yes.” Draco’s nose wrinkled at the word ‘Muggle,’ as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.

Harry sat back, considering. “I’ve just been… interested in the dark arts, that’s all. I want to learn more about it, but I don’t think I could actually… have a dark affinity. Don’t you have to come from a dark family?”

“Not necessarily,” Draco said. “If your family is dark, it’s true that you’re more likely to have a dark affinity, as well. Although it’s rare, dark wizards have come from light families, and dark families have produced children that don’t have a lick of affinity for the dark.”

“Like Tracey,” Blaise said. “She has no affinity for the dark whatsoever even though her mother is a dark witch.”

“I still think it’s a bit of a leap to assume I have a dark affinity,” Harry said. “All I did was find a room and find a book.”

“And a specific chapter in said book,” Theo said.

“And wind up being sorted into this house, only to walk into a conversation where that specific chapter in that specific book would be useful,” Blaise added.

“It’s not just that, though,” Draco said. “You said you’ve cast a few dark hexes, and that they not only didn’t make you sick - they were easy for you.”

“Trying to use dark arts when you have no affinity for them tend to make people feel a bit sick to their stomach,” Theo explained. “It’s usually nothing major, but you’d definitely notice.”

“And people that have only a small affinity for it - which quite a few people do, honestly - tend to have difficulty even with low-level dark arts,” Blaise continued. “They have to really work at them in order to successfully cast dark spells.”

“It also sounds like you feel like you’re being drawn to it,” Draco said with a grin. “That’s the dark magic calling to you.”

Harry felt a little overwhelmed. While it was true that he’d been hoping to talk openly about the dark arts with his new housemates, he’d never expected the conversation to go in the direction it had.

“But you really should do an affinity rite,” Blaise said. “It’ll tell you for sure if you have a dark affinity or not, and it won’t hurt you if you don’t.”

“And what happens if I have a dark affinity?”

“Nothing, if you don’t want it to,” Draco said. “Daphne has a dark affinity and she has no plans on officially becoming a dark witch.”

“It’s a personal choice for everyone,” Theo added.

They fell silent for a moment while Harry considered all of the information they’d just given him. “How do I do an affinity rite?” he finally asked.

Draco grinned widely. “It’s one of the rites that has to be done on a traditional day - one of the eight cyclical days.”

“I’ve read about the cyclical days,” Harry said, perking up.

“The next one is Samhain,” Blaise said. “And lucky timing on our part, since it’s only four days away. I think you should join our circle, but Pansy will have to okay it first. It’s her big night, after all.”

“She’ll be fine with it after we explain,” Draco said with a wave of his hand. “Tracey didn’t want to do it, and Pansy knows that. Harry can be the seventh.”

Harry realized that the farther they got into the conversation, the less he understood what they were saying. “I have a lot to learn,” he murmured softly.

Draco still heard him. “We can help teach you,” he said. “The idea of you - of all people - potentially going… or, er, having a dark affinity… it’s…”

“It’s exciting,” Theo said.

Harry suddenly felt extremely suspicious. “Why are you all so excited about it?”

Draco and Theo glanced at each other, but Blaise was the one who responded. “The Dark Lord essentially has a… monopoly on dark witches and wizards. Since the ministry - or Dumbledore - aren’t exactly… accepting of dark wizards, there is no alternative for us.”

Harry frowned. “Are you saying that I could… be that alternative?” A rush of anger passed through him. “Not fucking interested.” He’d had enough of being a figurehead.

“No, that’s not what we mean,” Theo said quickly.

“Then what do you mean?”

Draco leaned forward. “You represent that fact that we might actually have a choice. Just because we're dark doesn't mean we have to choose the Dark Lord."

Harry was floored. Though they’d spoken openly about their families’ alliances and Draco had certainly expressed doubt, he’d never hinted so brazenly that he might not want to join Voldemort. “But you… buy into that whole blood purity thing that Voldemort touts -”

“Blood purity and the dark arts have nothing to do with each other,” Blaise said a little harshly, interrupting him.

“There are plenty of non-dark wizards who also understand the problem with Mudbloods,” Draco said. “It’s that widespread.”

Harry narrowed his eyes at Draco. “Well, I don’t understand the so-called ‘problem.’ You’ve been very good about it since I was sorted here, but don’t fucking use that word around me, Draco.”

“Fine. Muggleborns threaten our very society -”

“My mother was Muggleborn,” Harry said dangerously. “My best friend - the smartest witch in our year, in case you forgot - is also Muggleborn.”

“I suppose there’s always exceptions, but -”

“Draco, shut up,” Theo said blandly. “You’re not helping.”

Blaise, who had been sitting back to observe the exchange, crossed his arms. “I think it’s obvious that none of us want to fight, especially about this,” he said. “Let’s figure this out.”

They wound up talking far into the night. Crabbe and Goyle came in just after curfew and joined the conversation. Harry was surprised to learn that although their fathers were both Death Eaters, they were like Tracey Davis - they didn’t have an ounce of dark affinity in them. He also learned that Draco, Theo, and Blaise were all dark wizards, having already completed their declaration rites.

As they spoke, they decided to set boundaries with one another, deciding what was acceptable to talk about with one another and what was not. Draco revealed that it hadn’t been Harry’s imagination - he actually had been trying to restrain his comments on Muggleborns, and that he would continue to try to do so for Harry’s sake. Draco and Harry agreed they could continue to discuss the issue of purebloods and Muggleborns, as long as it was in the privacy of the Slytherin dorms, and as long as Harry didn’t mention those discussion to anyone. If word got back to Lucius Malfoy that his only son was even discussing the issue, it wouldn’t be pleasant for Draco.

They also agreed that if their discussions got too heated, they would stop and cool down before it got too far.

Theo and Blaise stayed quiet during that exchange, and Harry wondered if he would actually be able to convince Draco that pureblood ideology was inherently flawed.

At one shocking point in the night, Draco finally dropped the bombshell that Harry felt like he’d been waiting for.

“I’m honestly not certain I want to follow the Dark Lord,” he said quietly. “I get the feeling that he’s completely mad. But I’m not sure I’ll have a choice.” He looked Harry straight in the eye. “That’s why I’m so excited about you, Harry.”

“I really don’t want to be a third side - or a fourth side, if you include the ministry - in this war,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I just want to find a way to defeat him. I thought the dark arts could help me with that; that’s why I started looking into them in the first place.”

“They likely can help you,” Theo said. “And what’s more - you might be able to show dark witches and wizards that the Dark Lord isn’t the only option.”

“Which could weaken him,” Blaise added, “and add to the likelihood of his defeat.”

Their conversation drifted from topic to topic, often circling back to the dark arts or Voldemort’s followers or blood purity.

Through it all, in the back of Harry’s mind, his thoughts kept swirling around the fact that it almost seemed like the Slytherins wanted him to be their new symbol.

And that was terrifying.

Chapter Text


He’d stayed up talking with his roommates until an ungodly hour, but Harry still couldn’t fall asleep. His eyes stayed glued to the underside of the canopy of his bed, and his mind kept racing and revolving around everything that had been revealed over the course of the evening.

Three of his roommates were dark wizards.

Sure, Harry had suspected it, but having actual confirmation of his suspicions was something else entirely. He’d been reading about the dark arts for months, and now he could actually have conversations with someone about what he’d been learning.

The biggest shocker of the night, though, was Harry’s own supposed ‘dark affinity.’

Harry had never come across the term in any of his reading, although Draco had mentioned that magical affinities were simply common knowledge in the dark community. Actually explaining magical affinities in a book about the dark arts would be akin to a book about the ocean stating that water was wet.

And so Draco, Blaise, and Theo had explained affinities as best they could. Witches and wizards all had magical affinities that led them to be inclined towards certain types of magic. On one end of the spectrum were those with strong dark affinities - people who could access the dark arts with ease. The other end of the spectrum was apparently occupied by people with strong light affinities, or those that could more easily cast spells drawn from light magic. However, as old light traditions had fallen into obscurity, it was suspected that many of the spells had disappeared along with the light rituals.

The vast majority of witches and wizards fell somewhere in the middle - having just a minor affinity for one or the other. Someone with a tiny bit of affinity for the dark would be able to use the dark arts without feeling ill, but it would be more difficult for them and they would have to work harder to master a dark spell. The opposite was true for those with a small amount of affinity for the light.

His roommates also revealed that the vast majority of the magic taught at Hogwarts was neutral - the spells simply drew on magic as a whole, rather than dark or light. In fact, most spells in general use in the wizarding world were neutral.

Overall, Harry had left the conversation feeling like he had so much more to learn, and the thought of learning more was certainly enticing.

One thing worried him, though: the way his roommates had spoken about how the dark magic must have ‘called’ to Harry.

Something had drawn Harry to the Black Library, and according to his roommates, it was dark magic. Dark magic had taken him up the stairs, guided him to the door, and guided his hand to a specific book on the shelf. He hadn’t even noticed.

It was as if the dark magic had actually been controlling him like he was a puppet on a string, and Harry didn’t like the sound of that at all.

Even so, Harry still didn’t feel dissuaded from learning more about dark magic, and he found himself randomly smiling up at the canopy.

Perhaps McGonagall had been right - he really was in a better place in Slytherin. His roommates had already taught him so much more than he already knew in the span of one long conversation. He wouldn’t have learned any of that on his own in Gryffindor.

Besides, if Ron hadn’t been able to accept Harry’s newfound cunning, he certainly wouldn’t have been able to accept Harry’s study of the dark arts.

Harry’s chest tightened at the thought of Ron and what he’d said to Harry the previous day. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he couldn’t really argue with anything Ron had to say.

After all, Harry had been deceiving Umbridge, and he had shot a spell at McLaggen that could have seriously hurt him or even killed him. Ron hadn’t assumed anything, and he hadn’t been mistaken about what Harry had been doing.

Ron had simply started to see Harry’s Slytherin side and he hadn’t been able to stomach it, and that was what hurt the most.

***

The fifth year boys all woke up extremely late, and there was something of a mad scramble in the dorm to make sure they could get to the hall before the end of breakfast. Draco even skipped his usual morning bathroom routine and his hair stuck up in a few places, his bangs swept to one side. Harry thought it oddly looked better like that, but he didn’t say so.

“All of you look positively exhausted,” Pansy said when the boys finally got to the Slytherin table. Harry felt exactly as tired as Pansy said they looked. He was fairly sure he wound up getting less than an hour of actual sleep.

Draco shot her a sleepy grin. “We were all up quite late,” he said.

“We were having a long overdue conversation,” Blaise added, an identical grin plastered across his face.

Pansy’s fork paused halfway to her mouth. “Concerning… ?”

“A bit of everything, really,” Blaise said. “But all you need to be concerned with is that I think we’ve found a replacement for Tracey.”

Harry pointedly didn’t look at any of them, instead studiously concentrating on scooping a few slices of bacon onto his plate.

Pansy set her fork down and clapped once, smiling. “That’s wonderful! Tracey really doesn’t want to, and she was only doing it as a favor to me, but… oh, who is it, Blaise?”

A slow smile appeared on Blaise’s face. “Harry Potter.”

Anger flashed across Pansy’s face. “That’s not funny, Blaise!” she snapped.

“We’re not joking,” Draco said.

Pansy blinked, and then looked straight at Harry. “Really?” she said, sounding intrigued. Harry swallowed a bite of bacon and smiled sheepishly at her before shrugging.

“Hang on,” Blaise said, pulling out his wand but keeping it low to the table. “Muffliato.” Harry was grateful for the foresight, but he still didn’t feel comfortable discussing it in the hall. Draco and Blaise seemed unconcerned, though, so he just let them continue.

“This is part of why we were up so late, Pansy,” Draco said, still grinning. If Draco hadn’t been so damn proper, Harry would have bet he would be bouncing up and down in his seat.

“It looks pretty likely that Harry has a dark affinity,” Blaise said. “A strong affinity.”

Pansy, Daphne, and Tracey all seemed to mirror one another as their mouths fell open, and Millicent suddenly snapped her gaze over to Harry.

“H-how…” Pansy stuttered. “Harry, you’re essentially the symbol of the light!”

Harry frowned and looked down at his plate, shuffling his food around with his fork. “I never asked to be,” he said quietly.

Pansy did something unexpected at that - she reached across the table and placed her hand over Harry’s. Harry looked up at her, startled. “I know you didn’t, Harry,” she said sympathetically. She gave him a kind smile, squeezed his hand, and then looked back to the other boys. “What makes you all so sure of his affinity?”

“He’s got all the signs,” Draco said. “He’s essentially a textbook example.”

“And you think he should do an affinity rite,” Pansy concluded. She sat back, considering their words, and then she grinned. “That’s actually perfect for the circle! Having someone actually represent the beginning of the journey down the path...” She grinned and clapped her hands again, clearly pleased.

Harry really wished he could understand more than a quarter of what came out of their mouths. “Can I ask something?” he said. “Blaise said you had to clear me joining this… circle, because it’s your night. What does that actually mean?”

Pansy rolled her eyes. “Figures that they wouldn’t tell you,” she said. “Dunderheads, the lot of them.”

“Hey!” Blaise protested.

“I think we just forgot,” Theo said sheepishly. “We had a lot to talk about…”

Pansy ignored them both. “Samhain is the night I do my final declaration rite,” she said with a brilliant smile. “After that, I’ll officially be a dark witch.”

***

Over the next few days, the other Slytherin fifth years kept giving Harry more and more reading material on the dark arts. Pansy tracked down a book on dark circles and insisted that he read it prior to Samhain since he would actually be taking part in one. Even Tracey, whom Harry hadn’t really spoken to in depth yet, helped out, giving him a few books that she had tucked away.

“It’s not like I need them,” Tracey said. “I don’t have a drop of affinity for the dark. I’ve been wanting to get out of that circle for a while, and they knew it, but I really didn’t want to let them down. They’ve been looking for a replacement for a while.” She grinned at him. “You’ve finally given me my ‘out.’”

Harry barely kept up with his homework as he consumed every book the other Slytherins threw at him. Curiously, Draco - more than any of the others - continuously checked in with Harry and made himself available to answer any of Harry’s questions.

“There are several different types of dark circles,” Draco explained. “We like sticking with the traditional seven-stack for anything outside of Yule, although sometimes we meet up with the sixth and seventh years for either Equinox. On Samhain it’ll be myself, Blaise, Theo, Pansy, Daphne, Millicent... and you.” Harry thought Draco sounded positively delighted at that.

Pansy explained that her family had always been stringent traditionalists when it came to the dark, and that Harry’s presence in the circle when she declared fell perfectly in line with the rituals of old. “Having someone do an affinity rite in the same circle as me completing my declaration rites - it’s wonderful,” she said. “You represent the first step in the journey on the dark path.”

“I’m not sure if I’m taking a journey on any... path,” Harry said hesitantly, but Pansy waved her hand at that.

“It’s just the first step. Whether or not you want to continue the journey after that is entirely up to you.” Then she grinned. “I never imagined I would witness Harry Potter doing a dark affinity rite.”

Harry was beginning to think that Draco and Pansy were more excited about his affinity rite than he was.

What surprised Harry the most was that Hogwarts apparently allowed students to go out to the grounds on the cyclical days. They had to stay on the school’s property, of course, but they were allowed out past curfew in order to observe one of the oldest wizarding traditions. Harry was blown away; he thought for certain that the practice would have been banned.

“There are a lot of wizarding families that still observe the old ways,” Blaise explained. “Even if they’re not dark, the cyclical days are still widely upheld. It’s when we celebrate what makes us wizards. If they banned all celebrations simply because dark wizards also observed the cyclical days, there would be a huge uproar.” He shook his head. “There are also misinformed idiots that think the cyclical days are only about dark arts, but it’s really about all magic - light and dark.”

Harry found the affinity rite in one of the books Tracey had given him. It looked simpler than he’d been expecting; simply saying a few words, which would call down the dark magic. Depending on how the dark magic reacted and how he felt during and after the rite would determine if he had a dark affinity or not. He was also surprised to learn that all dark witches and wizards had to complete an affinity rite prior to beginning any kind of declaration rites, and that the affinity rite wasn’t done until the age of thirteen.

Even though it was simple, Harry just hoped he could do the rite correctly.

***

The night before Samhain, Harry walked into the dorm to just as Draco shot some kind of curse at the wall.

“Uh, are you angry about something?” Harry asked. “Should I leave?”

Draco was clearly startled, and he spun on his heel to face Harry. “I’m just practicing something,” he said after a moment. “We’d been so cautious what with you moving into our house that I feel I’ve fallen behind.”

“So that was something… dark?”

Secani,” Draco said. “It’s a basic dark cutting curse.”

“So it is possible to actually practice things like that in the dorm?” Harry asked, surprised.

Draco’s eyes widened. “You said you tried some dark hexes over the summer. Have you not done any dark arts since then?”

“Uh, just one thing,” Harry said. “I put a blood ward on my bed and my trunk the night I moved in here.” He grinned sheepishly. “Back when I wasn’t sure if I was going to be murdered in my sleep or not.”

Draco let out a laugh. “I suppose I would have done the same had I been in your shoes.”

“So you can practice dark arts in here?” Harry asked again. “Dumbledore doesn’t know?”

Draco laughed. “He has quite a lot of knowledge about what goes on in this school, but he doesn’t have eyes everywhere.”

Harry’s eyes lit up at that.

Draco’s lips twitched at the sides; he was apparently trying not to smile. “Was there something in particular you wanted to try?”

“Yes.” Harry didn't even hesitate. He went straight to his trunk and pulled out a book titled Dark Dueling. “There are a bunch in here that I wanted to try my hand at.” He already had several spells bookmarked, and he flipped it open to one of the markers. “This one - and one other - in particular.”

Draco peered down at the page. “Seems simple. This looks like it conjures a dark wall,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s supposed to,” Harry said. “It’s supposed to be like a ‘protego’ but larger, and you can use it to cover a group of people. But what’s even cooler is that you can layer spells on top of the wall, like adding lightning, or setting it on fire.”

“Let’s not set it on fire,” Draco said. “I rather like my belongings.”

Harry laughed and then set the book down on his desk. He was fairly sure he’d already gotten the wand movement down; after all, just as they were expected to do in Defense class, in the absence of actually being able to cast the spells he’d been reading about, he’d been studying the practical.

He doubted he’d be able to get it right away. Even the spells Sirius had shown him had taken a few tries.

“Here goes nothing.” He inhaled deeply, steadying himself. “Muros!” He pointed his wand at the floor and slashed it in a line, and then he thrust both hands up in front of him.

A shimmering, translucent curtain seemed to materialize from the ground up, stretching all the way to the ceiling.

Harry grinned and pumped his fist in the air. “First try!” he cried, and turned to Draco, who was staring at the magic wall with the faintest expression of shock.

“I’ll admit I’m impressed,” Draco said after a moment. “That spell doesn’t seem like it would be easy for someone who hasn’t declared dark.”

Harry grinned even wider before dispelling the wall.

“What’s the other one you wanted to try?” Draco asked.

Harry flipped the book to another page. “This one,” he said, passing it over to Draco.

Draco studied the spell for a moment, then laughed. “You certainly seem to like fire, Potter.” It’s not said with any mirth. “But this one looks far more difficult. It requires a great deal of mental concentration and connection with the dark in order to control it, and like I said - I would like my belongings to remain unburnt.”

Harry pondered for a moment. He really wanted to try the spell. “What if I cast the wall around it so it’s contained?”

Draco seemed to consider Harry’s proposal and then nodded, but he brandished his own wand. “Maintaining two spells at once is difficult, at best, so I’m going to disarm you if it looks like the sprite isn’t contained.”

Harry quickly agreed, then wondered when in the world he got to the point where he would allow Draco Fucking Malfoy to disarm him willingly.

Harry conjured the wall again, and then braced himself. Draco was right, after all - this would be far more difficult than any kind of dark arts he’d tried so far.

Hange,” he said, flourishing his wand in front of him.

Behind the wall, a flame springs into being. At first it was formless, and then it gained a shape until it looked like a small, genderless person made out of fire. It was only about a meter tall, but the body was distinct, nonetheless.

Dance, Harry thought, and the figure began to dance. It spun on one foot like a ballet dancer, and then leapt into the air, leaving a small puff of smoke in its wake.

“It’s kinda pretty,” Harry murmured.

“You are a pyromaniac, Harry,” Draco said.

Harry grinned and ended both spells. “Well, the element of Gryffindor is supposed to be fire. Maybe I’m just attached to my roots.” He then turned to Draco, who stared back at him with wide eyes.

“There is absolutely no way you don’t have a dark affinity,” Draco said.

Harry actually found himself hoping that Draco was right, but then something occurred to him. “Something’s been bothering me about that, actually.”

“What is it?”

“What you guys were saying… about how the dark magic guided me to that one book,” Harry said. “That makes it sound like dark magic took my free will away and made me do what it wanted.” He frowned. “Like a… sneakier, more powerful version of Imperius.”

Draco shook his head. “It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “Dark magic doesn’t make you do anything you wouldn’t want to do in the first place.”

“But just because I might want to do something doesn’t mean that it’s not still making me do those things,” Harry countered.

“It’s not actually making you do anything, though,” Draco said. “It might nudge you in a certain direction, but it’s entirely up to you. If you don’t want to go in the direction it’s telling you to go, you don’t have to. You have a choice.”

“But how can I tell when it’s… nudging me? I definitely couldn’t tell when it led me to that… room.”

“You’ll probably be able to recognize it next time it happens,” Draco said. “And once you’re a dark wizard you’ll be able to feel when the dark magic is speaking to you.”

“I haven’t agreed to become a dark wizard,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.

Draco smirked. “Yet.”

***

Pansy’s dress was gorgeous. It initially looked black, but depending on how the light hit it the color would shift to show iridescent greens and blues and purples.

Harry thought she looked like a proper dark witch, and he suddenly felt woefully underdressed. He understood that it was a special night for Pansy, and he felt like he should at least look like he cared. “Should I change?” he murmured to Draco.

Draco looked him up and down. “Honestly, we just need to get you an entirely new wardrobe,” he said. “Not enough time for that tonight, though. Don’t worry about it.”

“Your presence is enough, Harry,” Pansy said, evidently having heard them.

They were still waiting for Theo, so Harry leaned back against the wall and observed the other Slytherins. Several of them were gathering together in groups, and every once in a while a group would depart through the common room door. He’d seen this before - on the Autumnal Equinox. Mabon, he thinks. He’d been learning.

“Next Hogsmeade weekend, perhaps?” he heard Pansy say.

“Gladrags is there, I suppose,” Draco said. “Not as much of a selection as I would like, but it should be enough for a start. We can use the measurements to owl-order anything we might need."

“What are you talking about?” Harry asked.

“Burning all your current clothing and getting you replacements suitable for a Slytherin,” Pansy said. Harry laughed.

Theo finally came into the common room. “Are we ready?” he asked.

Pansy nodded, and they left as a unit.

They headed outside, and on the way Harry noticed a few other groups going off in different directions - some Slytherins, some Ravenclaws, and one even had Ravenclaws and a Hufflepuff. He grinned.

Draco must have noticed his smile, because he asked, “What are you so pleased about?”

“The fact that it’s not just Slytherins.”

Draco gave a hum of confirmation. “I doubt a Hufflepuff would be dark, but they are likely at least observant and respectful of wizarding tradition. Many of the old families are.”

Pansy led the way across the grounds, marching them all down to the shores of the lake. She turned around, and she looked like she could barely contain her excitement. “Shall we begin?”

Harry had been instructed by Pansy where he should go in the circle, and he took his place in between Pansy and Daphne, drawing his wand.

Draco raised his hands, his wand grasped firmly in one. “As the wizard among us who has been declared the longest, I open this circle.”

As one, they all turned to their right. They pointed their wands towards the ground at a slight angle and then slowly begin to walk around the circle, following in each other’s footsteps.

“We call down the dark to manifest among us,” Harry said along with the others. Pansy had told him he needn’t say anything - that the others would be more than enough to handle it - but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he joined in. “Protect us and guide us,” they continued. “Una cum nobis. Una cum nobis. Una cum nobis.”

A trickle formed in the back of Harry’s mind, and he felt something like warmth spreading from his neck and down through his entire body - a welcome feeling on that cold October night. It was pleasant. He found himself grinning as he continued to chant with the others. “We call down the dark to manifest among us…” Harry glanced down, and he swore he could actually see a faint circle of dark purple light forming around them at their feet, exactly in line with their wands.

They repeated the words a total of seven times, and by then Harry had traveled completely around the circle and back to his original place.

Draco nodded as they all turned back to the center of the circle. “A circle has no beginning and it never ends. This is our magic, and this is our strength,” he said. “One by one, you shall be called. If you choose to do a dark rite, you may do so at that point. You may also decline. I will begin.”

Harry watched as Draco stepped into the middle of the circle, and then he turned to face Pansy. “I wish to perform a rite of power.”

To his surprise, Harry heard Blaise let out a snort. “There’s a surprise,” he commented sarcastically, and a few of the others laughed. Harry’s lips twitched. It seemed that as seriously as they took the circle, they could still inject a little humor into it.

“It’s not for me, you idiot,” Draco said. “It’s for Pansy, as my gift to her on her declaration night.”

Pansy squealed a little and bounced on the tips of her toes.

“You didn’t do anything for me when I declared, Draco,” Blaise teased.

“Pansy and I have known each other since we were babies,” Draco said. “Now quit whining.” He smiled at Pansy. “Please step forward, Miss Parkinson.”

Pansy took a step towards Draco, and Draco’s expression turned serious as he raised his wand to point it up at the stars.

“I ask the dark to imbue Pansy Parkinson with the power to survive in this world, and in this coming war. I plead that it protects her, and guides her, and stays by her side on every step of her journey. Tenebrae, tueri ea.” Draco proceeded to chant in Latin, and Harry glanced over at Pansy. He swore he could see her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

In hac nocte, lucrum virtus,” Draco finished, and he pulled his wand down and pointed it at Pansy. Something purple and beautiful shot out of it, wrapped itself like a silk scarf around Pansy, and then disappeared into the night. Harry blinked.

Pansy took in a deep breath. “Thank you, Draco,” she whispered, and Draco smiled at her and took his place in the circle again.

“Millicent Bulstrode,” he said.

“I have no wish to complete a rite tonight.”

Draco nodded. “Blaise Zabini.”

Blaise moved to the center of the circle and performed what he called a ‘rite of memory.’ It was similar to Draco’s rite, except this time the magic swirled around Blaise himself. He let out a wolfish grin as he stepped back into his place. “Just trying to give myself an edge for our O.W.L. year,” he explained.

Draco let out a laugh. “And you say I’m predictable,” he quipped. “Theodore Nott.”

Theo declined to perform a rite, as did Daphne. Harry tensed up.

“Harry Potter,” Draco said, and he let out a grin.

This was it.

Harry took in a deep breath and stepped into the center of the circle. His fingers tightened around his wand. He knew it was a simple rite - much simpler than the rites Draco and Blaise had performed, anyway. And the Slytherins had explained to him a dozen times over that it wouldn’t hurt him - at worst, he would feel nauseous if he didn’t have any affinity - but he was still nervous.

“Don’t worry, Harry,” Pansy said. “We’ll take care of you no matter what happens.”

Harry nodded and steeled himself. “I wish to perform the rite of affinity.” He shifted his wand in his hand, and then pointed it above his head towards the stars.

“I seek to know if the dark can work within me and through me,” Harry said. “To know if the dark and I can work as one, and to know if the dark could accept me as its child.” He took in one more deep breath, then said, “Voco descendit in tenebris.

At first, nothing happened, and Harry worried that he’d done something wrong. He glanced up at his wand.

Suddenly, what looked like an arc of brilliant purple lightning streaks across the sky and shot down, heading straight for him. Harry didn’t even have time to be afraid before it struck his wand and he was surrounded with bright, beautiful, purple light.

He gasped in realization. This is dark magic, he thought. It’s gorgeous. And then thoughts were nearly impossible to form as pure pleasure seemed to surge through his entire body, from the top of his head straight down to the tips of his toes. The magic swirled around him, and he watched it dance across his body for as long as he could before he felt completely overwhelmed by the sensation and he had to close his eyes. It felt like it went on for hours, and he loved every moment of it.

As if through a tunnel, he heard the echo of one of the Slytherins. “Merlin’s fucking balls.” He thought that could only be Blaise, but he paid it no mind.

He was faintly aware of sinking to his knees with his arms outstretched as he savored the magic washing over him. He’d never felt this good in his entire life. He’d never thought it was even possible to feel like this.

Mingled in with the pleasure, or possibly adding to the pleasure, was a feeling of warmth and welcome and home.

The magic eventually started to fade away, either going back to where it came from or just disappearing. Harry fell from his knees down to his side and started laughing, curling up in the cool grass. He didn’t care what he must have looked like - he just felt so good.

“Harry,” Pansy said, her voice sounding far away. “How are you?”

He rolled onto his back and opened his eyes, lifting his wand hand up in front of his face, where he could see the last traces of purple light lick his skin and fade into the night. He laughed again, feeling giddy. “That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever felt.”

Pansy and Draco were suddenly standing over him, their expressions ones of awe. “Do you need help getting up?” Draco asked.

Harry blinked. “I’ve honestly got no idea.”

Draco let out a grin and extended his hand. “C’mon. We still need to get to Pansy.”

Harry grasped Draco’s wrist and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. He was a bit unsteady, but he still felt amazing. This must be what being drunk feels like, he thought.

Harry felt like he was on top of the world as he took his place back in the circle, and he was unable to wipe the smile from his face.

“Pansy Parkinson,” he heard Draco say.

Harry’s grin grew wider as Pansy took the center. He knew how much she’d been looking forward to this, and after what he’d just experienced he thought he was starting to understand why she wanted it so much.

“I am here to do my final rite of declaration,” Pansy said. Daphne let out a cheer and the others quickly joined in, Harry included.

Pansy grinned, and then took on a serious expression as she raised her wand. “I, Pansy Araminta Parkinson, have walked the dark path. The darkness has protected me and guided me, as I have protected and guided the dark. I have dedicated my blood, my magic, and myself, and now hope that the dark will accept me as I become its child.” She looked up towards her wand. “Tenebris, ego sum tuus.”

The purple light that Harry now recognized as dark magic appeared and swirled around Pansy, although it didn’t seem as bright and extreme as it had for Harry. Probably a matter of perspective, Harry thought absently.

The magic faded away, and Draco started clapping. The others quickly joined, and Harry, feeling more rambunctious than usual, let out a whistle. “Congratulations, Pansy!” a few called out.

Pansy took her place back in the circle, and Draco once again raised his wand. “A circle has no beginning and it never ends. This is our magic, and this is our strength. We bring this night to a close, but may the darkness stay with us from now until the next.”

They all swept their wands across the line of the circle. Harry swore he could actually feel the circle break, but he still felt incredibly amped - and powerful.

“Harry Potter!” Pansy shrieked, leaping from her place in the circle and towards Harry, enveloping him in a hug. Harry laughed and wrapped his arms around her in response.

“Congratulations, Pansy,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said. “But you certainly stole the show.” She laughed. “And I don’t mind one bit!”

“I guess you guys were right about me having a dark affinity,” he said, grinning and burying his face in Pansy’s hair.

“It’s not just that, Harry,” Blaise said.

“I have never seen an affinity rite like that,” Draco said. “And to be completely honest, I doubt any of our parents have seen anything like it, either.”

Harry looked up. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“It was brighter, more intense, and it lasted longer than normal,” Blaise said.

“It felt like it went on for hours,” Harry said.

“It was just a few minutes,” Daphne said. “But most people’s rites only last a minute, at most.”

“The dark magic must really like you,” Millicent said.

Harry grinned again. “Well, I definitely like it.” He wasn’t sure what possessed him to do so, but he winked at Millicent, who giggled at him. Harry’s pretty sure he’d never heard Millicent giggle before.

“Harry, if you don’t declare dark it would be a crime against all magic,” Pansy said firmly. “I truly mean that.”

“You could be such a powerful dark wizard,” Draco added, and Blaise laughed.

Harry suddenly felt like he was being put on the spot. “Um,” he said. “I’m not ready to decide any of that right now.”

“You don’t have to decide right now, silly,” Pansy said. “I’m just saying…”

“I know,” Harry said. “I just…” He shook his head, and he felt like the smile was permanently plastered on his face. “I want to make a decision like that when I have all of the information and a clear head, and I honestly still feel like I’m high or something…”

Still?” Blaise asked. “Wow.”

“Nobody’s pressuring you to make any decisions tonight, Harry,” Pansy said.

“Tomorrow, though…” Draco said, and Harry laughed.

Pansy suddenly grasped Harry’s hands and started tugging him around in a loop. Harry spun with her, laughing, and they whirled around in a strange kind of dance. Through it all, Harry felt powerful and wild and amazing.

***

As they started seeing the silhouettes of other groups making their way back up to the castle, they slowly started to follow.

Harry didn’t want the night to end. He realized he was actually excited at what the next year might bring. Despite all his troubles with Ron and Gryffindor and Umbridge, he felt genuinely happy.

He lingered in the back of the group with Pansy, and they kept stopping to dance and twirl aimlessly again. When they finally reached the steps to the castle, Pansy wound her hand into his.

Harry looked down at their hands, suddenly hesitant. “Pansy, are you…”

“Don’t worry. I’m not interested in you, Potter,” she said firmly. “At least not like that. I’m just very touchy with my friends.”

“Get used to it,” Harry heard Draco call from the front. “At least she gives excellent head massages.”

Harry laughed and squeezed Pansy’s hand, and he realized that he was genuinely happy to have Pansy as a friend. If someone had told him a year ago that he would find himself pleased as punch to be friends with Pansy Parkinson, he’d have thought them insane.

The two of them dragged their feet as the others pulled further ahead.

“How are you enjoying Slytherin, Harry?” she asked.

Harry considered. “It’s… different than I guess I was expecting,” he said finally. “Better than what I was expecting, I mean.”

“You mean, we’re not all in the dungeons plotting world domination?” Pansy asked.

He grinned. “Something like that.”

“Well, not all of us are, anyway,” Pansy said. “Sometimes I’m not sure about Draco.”

Harry let out a laugh, and then realized that they’d caught up to the others, who had stopped walking.

“... if you had paid any attention during the last prefect meeting, you would know that students would be out for Samhain tonight, Weasel,” Harry heard Draco saying, the pretentious, snooty tone out in full effect. “It is sanctioned by the school.”

“Probably shouldn’t be since Samhain is all about the dark arts. Everyone knows that.” Harry heard Ron before he saw him. “They have the Halloween feast because that’s what we should be celebrating.”

“That’s nothing more than a Muggle-bastardized version of the proper wizarding holiday,” Draco sneered. “It’s only to appease the Muggleborns -”

“Draco,” Harry said, his voice low. Draco was skirting dangerously close to the boundaries they’d set up only days earlier.

Harry?” Ron said, his voice incredulous. “You went out with these… you went with them for Samhain?”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “I did.”

Ron rounded on Draco. “You’re corrupting him with dark arts, aren’t you? What the bloody hell did you do to him?”

“He didn’t do anything to me,” Harry said. “Neither did anyone else. I just… wanted to see what it was about, that’s all.”

“Samhain is only for dark wizards, Harry -”

“As if you actually know anything, Weasel,” Draco said.

“As if you’re not a dark wizard,” Ron shot back, and Harry realized just how ridiculous Ron sounded. He knew Ron meant it as an insult, but it was just a simple fact. It was a fact that Draco couldn’t or wouldn’t admit to, but it was a fact nonetheless.

Ron turned back to Harry. “Lying to people, hurting people, and now this?” he shouted. “You really are going all-in on being a Slytherin.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Yes. I was re-sorted to Slytherin. We were all there when it happened, Ron.”

Ron pursed his lips. “I’m really worried about you, Harry -”

Excuse me?” Harry snapped. A bolt of pain ran through his scar and he winced, but then he narrowed his eyes. He let go of Pansy’s hand and made his way through his housemates, stepping up dangerously close to Ron. “I thought we weren’t friends anymore. You ‘couldn’t be friends with a Slytherin,’ you said. You made that call, not me.” He shook his head, sneering. “You don’t get to have it both ways… Weasley.”

He pushed past Ron, knocking him in the shoulder, and continued heading towards the common room.

“Harry!” he heard Ron call.

“Uh-uh, Weasel,” he heard Draco say, and Harry glanced over his shoulder to see all six of Slytherins standing shoulder to shoulder as if they were a wall, preventing Ron from following. Harry stopped and turned around to watch, his mouth parting slightly in surprise.

“You will leave him alone,” Daphne said.

“Or you will have us to answer to,” Pansy finished.

A wave of gratitude suddenly rushed through Harry.

Slytherins protect one another. Harry felt like he finally fully understood the covenant. What’s more, he abruptly realized that he seemed to have far more friends in Slytherin than he’d ever had in Gryffindor.

In Slytherin you’ll make your real friends…

For the first time since his sorting, Harry felt like he truly was a Slytherin.

Chapter Text


The fifth year and the seventh year Slytherins ran into one another at the entrance to the common room as they returned from their respective Samhain celebrations.

“Potter,” Warrington greeted, his eyebrows shooting upwards when he spotted Harry. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Uh, hi,” Harry said as he stepped through the door.

“Did you go out for Samhain, then?” Yaxley asked as she came in behind him.

“Yeah,” Harry said hesitantly.

“Did you have fun?”

Harry wasn’t sure he wanted all of Slytherin to know that he had a dark affinity, but the memory of his affinity rite came back to him and he couldn’t help it - he grinned. “Definitely.”

Yaxley raised her eyebrows and a hint of a smile formed on her face. Pansy giggled.

“Congratulations, Pansy,” Warrington said. “I heard it was the night of your final declaration.”

“Thank you, Cass,” she said, smiling brilliantly.

“First Quidditch match of the year in two days, Potter,” Warrington said. “You ready to play your old team?”

Harry grinned. “Sure am.”

They slowly dispersed throughout the dungeons. Blaise, Draco, and Theo went up to the dorm, but Harry didn’t feel the least bit tired. Pansy also seemed amped and alert, and he and the rest of the girls settled onto the couches by the fire.

“Will you really be okay playing against Gryffindor, Harry?” Daphne asked. “After the way Weasley -”

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “Fred and George would be the ones to worry about, and I’m pretty sure they’re still okay with me.” He shrugged. “Even if they aren’t, they’ll be playing to win, not to come after me. They’re not going to try to knock me off my broom or anything.” He shook his head. “I’m honestly more worried about us playing fair. Having been on the other side of Slytherin-Gryffindor matches, they’ve been a little… rough.”

“It’s nothing you don’t see in pro matches, though,” Pansy said reasonably. “Those can get terribly violent.”

“We’re not pros, though, so -”

“Harry!” Theo came bounding back into the common room. “We need you up in our room immediately.” He had a somewhat uncharacteristic grin on his face.

“What?” Harry asked, confused. “Why?”

“Because,” Theo said, obviously holding back laughter, “Vince is stuck under your bed.”

“Why is he - oh!” Harry’s eyes widened in horrified realization. “Oh, no!

Theo immediately started laughing his head off as Harry took off out of the common room and up to the dorm.

He entered the room to find Blaise face-down on the floor, howling with laughter. He pounded the floor with one hand and rested his head on his other arm, and his shoulders were shaking uncontrollably. “I can’t… I can’t…” he seemed to be saying, but Harry found it hard to understand what the words actually were. Draco was also doubled over, nearly roaring.

Vince's legs were sticking out uselessly from underneath Harry’s bed. One foot had lost its sock. Greg sat on the floor near him, also laughing uproariously.

“Shit!” Harry exclaimed. “I’m sorry, Vince! Hang on, I need to…” He threw open his trunk and started dumping its contents in every direction, desperately trying to find All The Wards You’ll Ever Need.

“Sure. No problem,” Vince said, and although his voice was muffled Harry could tell how unhappy he was. “I’m not going anywhere, after all.”

Harry found the book and flipped through the pages until he found the one he was looking for. He grabbed his knife and made a quick gash on his palm. “Conlidite!” He slammed his palm on the frame of the bed so hard that it hurt. The ward fell.

He and Greg each grabbed one of Vince’s legs and dragged him out from underneath the bed and helped him into a sitting position. “I’m so, so sorry, Vince,” Harry said pleadingly. “I didn’t… how long were you under there?”

“Just over half an hour,” Greg said, grinning.

Vince leaned against the wardrobe door and glared up at Harry.

Blaise rolled over onto his back and pressed his palms into his eyes. He was still howling.

“What… what were you doing under there, anyway?” Draco asked after he’d managed to calm down.

“I dropped my orange,” Vince said unhappily. “It rolled.”

“I’m really sorry,” Harry said again. He then realized that Vince didn’t have an orange in his hand, so Harry dropped to the floor and shimmied under the bed. He found the orange, pushed himself back out, and held the orange out to Vince. “Here. I’m sorry.”

Vince took it and glowered at Harry.

“Why did you have a blood ward on your bed, anyway?” Theo asked from behind him. “Draco said you’d mentioned it the other day-”

“But I thought you meant you’d removed it!” Draco said, laughing again.

“I…” Harry paused. He hadn’t exactly forgotten about it; he’d just grown so used to the magic of the ward pulsing through the bed each night that it had become somewhat soothing.

“I believe he put it up the first night he was here,” Draco said, still chortling. “Just in case one of us decided to carry out some secret orders from the Dark Lord and try to murder him while he slept.”

“You don’t still think that, do you, Harry?” Theo asked, concerned.

“No!” Harry said, shaking his head. “I just kinda… got used to it being there.” He sighed. “I really am sorry, Vince.”

Vince sighed and rolled his eyes. “I know. You can stop apologizing.” He pushed himself up from the floor and trudged over to his bed.

Blaise had finally deflated, but he was still snickering. He managed to sit up and he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “You know we’re not going to hurt you, right?” he finally managed to say.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I just didn’t know what to expect when I first got here, you know?”

Draco walked over to Harry and grabbed his hand, holding it up as if it to inspect it, and Harry realized it was still bleeding. He’d forgotten. “Episkey,” Draco said, pointing his wand at Harry’s hand. His hand felt warm and then cool, and the skin knitted up before his eyes.

Harry blinked, astounded. “Uh,” he said. “Thank you.”

“I was tired of waiting for you to do it,” Draco said, releasing Harry’s hand.

“I… don’t know that spell,” Harry said. He flexed his fingers up and down. His hand felt perfectly normal now.

Merlin, Harry,” Blaise said, exasperated. “How do you get injured as often as you do and still not know any basic healing spells?”

***

Breakfast the next day was unusually cheerful; everyone in Slytherin seemed to be in high spirits. It was the day after Samhain, the last day of the school week, and the first Quidditch match of the season was to take place the following day. Even Theo managed to start forming complete sentences ten minutes earlier than he usually did.

“I have something special planned for the match tomorrow,” Pansy mentioned. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

“What is it?” Harry asked, curious.

“Not telling. It’s a surprise,” Pansy replied with a smirk.

Harry might have considered Pansy a friend now, but he was sure he wasn’t going to be a fan of whatever plot she’d come up with.

Blaise was trying to tell the girls what had happened the night before with Vince getting stuck under Harry’s bed, but he kept laughing and couldn’t get through the whole story. At one point he put his head down on the table and completely lost it again.

Daphne rolled her eyes. “Theo already told us last night,” she said.

“But… but…” Blaise said, nearly howling again.

“Blaise, quit it,” Tracey said, smacking him in the arm. “Snape’s coming over, probably to see why you’re losing your mind.”

Harry’s eyes widened and he glanced down the table, and sure enough - Snape was headed their way. “Say nothing about the ward,” he hissed at Blaise.

Blaise managed to get himself under control and he peered at Harry. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing!” Harry hissed again just before Snape reached the fifth years.

“Hello, Professor Snape,” Draco said. “Is that what I think it is?”

Harry turned in his seat to spy a small potion in Snape’s hands.

“It is what you think it is,” Snape said. “Here, Potter.” He held the bottle out towards Harry, who blinked.

“Uh… what is it?” Harry asked, tentatively taking the bottle from Snape’s hand. He held it up to inspect, observing that it was a gentle, milky orange color.

Snape sighed. “Did you not tell him, Mr. Malfoy?”

“Well, I wasn’t certain that it would be approved,” Draco said, and Harry thought he sounded slightly more posh than usual.

“It was. Madames Pomfrey and Hooch both just finished their inspection,” Snape said.

“Madame Hooch?” Harry asked curiously. “What is this, and what does it have to do with Quidditch?”

“That, Potter, is a basic vision potion,” Snape said. “It will improve your eyesight to 20/20 for approximately twelve hours.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “What? Really?” He looked back down at the bottle in amazement.

“It was suggested to me after you made the Quidditch team,” Snape said, his eyes flickering over to Draco.

Draco grinned. “Pansy’s the one who gave me the idea.”

“I brewed it last week,” Snape added. “Madame Pomfrey and Madame Hooch had to test it to make sure it was what I said it was, and they’ve cleared it for use in tomorrow’s match.”

Harry was completely unable to hide his shock. Snape had brewed a potion - a good potion - for him. Severus Snape, renowned hater of Harry Potter, had actually given him something incredibly beneficial, and it wasn’t a minor gift, either. From what he remembered Draco saying at the beginning of the year, fixing someone’s vision was incredibly expensive, and he was sure even a ‘basic’ vision potion couldn’t have been easy to concoct. “Uh… wow,” he said. “Thank you, Professor Snape.” He felt immensely strange saying the words.

Snape looked just as uncomfortable to be accepting a ‘thank you’ from Harry Potter as Harry was in saying it. “Indeed,” he said, sneering.

“Now you won’t have to worry about losing or breaking your glasses,” Draco said. “When you played for Gryffindor I’d always secretly hoped a Bludger would smash into your face.” He smirked. “When you started to play for Slytherin, I instead became extremely concerned for your well-being.”

Harry laughed. “Thank you, too.” He was still concerned about one thing, though. “I know Hooch approved it, but aren’t the Gryffindors still going to accuse me of… ” He frowned. Even Fred and George wouldn’t approve of him if they suspected he was using an illegal potion.

“Johnson has already been informed by Madame Hooch. She should pass on the news to the team,” Snape said. “I expect a victory for Slytherin tomorrow, Potter.” Then he turned back to the head table, robes billowing behind him. Harry was left feeling like he would get the sole blame from Snape if Slytherin wound up losing.

Harry immediately snuck a look over towards the Gryffindor table. Sure enough, Angelina did not look very happy at all. She glowered at Harry from across the room, having watched the exchange with Snape.

Harry sighed and tucked the bottle away in his bag.

“What was that about not talking to Snape about the ward?” Blaise whispered. “You know he’s a dark wizard, right?”

“No, but I suspected,” Harry whispered back. “Thanks for the confirmation.

“He’s not going to discipline you for doing dark magic, Harry,” Blaise said. “He’s a Slytherin, and -”

“I’m pretty sure that above all else, he still completely hates me and he loves getting me in trouble,” Harry hissed back. “If he has the opportunity to make me look bad to Dumbledore, he will.”

Blaise still looked doubtful, but he agreed not to say a word.

***

Transfiguration filled the last block of the day, and everyone was eager for the end of class and the start of the weekend.

“You assignment for next week is an essay on Switching Spells,” McGonagall said. “The essay must be no shorter than three feet and no longer than five feet. If you tend to write in letters that are unusually large, you will write ten feet.” She paused and gave Greg a pointed look before continuing. “Considering the variety of applications for Switching Spells, it should not be a problem to complete the essay within the required length.”

Harry saw Draco roll his eyes. “I bet you didn’t assign Gryffindor an essay on Quidditch weekend,” he muttered darkly.

“Five points from Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall said. “Gryffindor has the same assignment. Switching Spells will almost certainly be on your O.W.L. no matter what house you are from.” She peered around the classroom with her customary stern demeanor. “Any questions?”

“No, ma’am,” the class murmured.

“Very good. Dismissed.”

They were starting to gather up their things when McGonagall suddenly called out, “Oh, Mr. Zabini?”

Blaise paused in adjusting the strap on his bag and looked up. “Yes, Professor?”

“Ten points to Slytherin for showing up on time with both shoes tied.” Blaise gawked at McGonagall and Harry laughed.

“Hey, can you wait for me outside?” Harry quickly asked Blaise as they turned to leave. “I wanted to talk to McGonagall right quick.”

Blaise raised an eyebrow, but nodded. “I’ll grab Theo. We’ll meet you in the hall.”

Harry waited for the rest of the classroom to completely empty out before approaching McGonagall’s desk. “Professor?”

McGonagall didn’t even look up from the stack of papers she’d been shuffling through. “Yes, Potter?”

“I wanted to ask you something,” Harry said. He took a breath. “About my father.”

McGonagall put the papers down and turned around, giving Harry her full attention. “What is it?”

“When he was a student here... “ Harry paused, then sighed. “Look, I’ll just… cut right to it. Slytherins tend to get attacked. We get cornered. We get hexed. It’s apparently been going on for years.”

McGonagall frowned. “I have heard of a few isolated incidents, but I hadn’t heard it was… widespread.”

“It is,” Harry said. “People hate us. I suppose I can even understand the reason for that hate, but…” He shook his head. “The younger kids, getting bullied and attacked by older students. Hexes and jinxes that never get solved. Someone cast a tripping jinx on me on my second day in Slytherin, and that’s not even the worst of it.”

McGonagall looked alarmed. “The tripping jinx was brought up in one of our staff meetings. I believe it is still under investigation. But Potter…” she said, full of concern, “are you saying that this is a regular pattern?”

“It is.”

McGonagall studied him for a moment. “Are you asking me about this as Deputy Headmistress or as someone who knew your father?”

“Someone who knew my father,” he said. “Although if we could somehow put a stop to the attacks…”

“I can assure you that I will be investigating these claims quite thoroughly, Potter,” she said. “Now, then - what does this have to do with your father?”

Harry sighed. If McGonagall wasn’t aware of the attacks on Slytherins, she likely wouldn’t have been aware if her father had been a perpetrator of those attacks.

“I’ve just… put together comments about my father. Some things that Snape said, and some that… friends of my father said.” Harry paused, swallowing. “I heard that he liked… using a curse on my father that flipped Snape up in the air and upside down. And then there was the ‘prank’ that Siri… Snuffles played on Snape involving Professor Lupin…”

McGonagall’s mouth was set in a grim line. “You’re wondering if your father may have been behind some of these attacks on Slytherins.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

McGonagall studied Harry for a moment, and then she walked over to one of the student desks and pulled out a chair, sitting down. “Have a seat, Potter.”

The invitation only served to give Harry a sinking feeling in his stomach, but he still took the seat across the aisle from her.

“Your father and Professor Snape never did see eye to eye. As I’m sure you are aware, the rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin is storied and rough, and those two took the rivalry to extreme measures. In fact, their relationship was not unlike you and Mr. Malfoy once were, at least up until this year,” she said. “Although I do suspect that in their case, it may have had something to do with your mother.”

“What?” Harry asked. A chill ran down his spine. He felt like he could deal with finding out one of his parents was a bully, but not both. “She wasn’t… involved, was she? In the attacks?”

McGonagall shook her head. “No. She was once friends with Professor Snape,” she said. “I would often see them talking or studying together in their younger years.”

“What?!” Harry was completely blindsided. His mother and Professor Snape had actually been friends? How had no one ever mentioned that to him?

“I believe that James may not have… well, to put it bluntly, I believe he was jealous,” McGonagall said.

Harry’s eyes widened. “My mom and Snape… they didn’t…” He didn’t even want to picture it, much less say it.

McGonagall let out a laugh. “I don’t believe Lily and Severus were ever… romantically involved,” she said. “And whatever friendship they had, it must have dissolved when they were around your age. I did not see them speaking for the last few years they were at school.

“Now, as for your father and Snape,” she continued, “they did indeed have an incredibly turbulent rivalry. They were quite often hexing or cursing one another.” She paused, and then sighed. “But I suspect that James may have taken it too far more than once.”

Harry swallowed hard. It wasn’t as clear of an answer as he wanted, but now that he had a partial answer, he was unsure if he actually wanted to know more. Even so, he looked down at his toes and asked quietly, “Was he… was he cruel?”

McGonagall didn’t answer for a moment, and Harry glanced up at her to see her looking at him with a somber expression. “Children are often cruel, Harry,” she said gently.

That was the only answer Harry needed. He nodded once and got to his feet, an icy cold winding its way through his heart.

“I’m not done, Potter,” McGonagall said. “Please stay.”

Harry stared at her for a moment. The more they spoke the worse he felt, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear anything else.

“Your father may have been a nitwitted child,” McGonagall said, “but he grew up into a decent man.” She smiled sadly. “Much more than decent, in fact. He was one of the kindest, bravest souls I have ever had the privilege of knowing. The man he grew up to be was your father, not the child he was in the past.”

That only made Harry feel marginally better, but he still appreciated McGonagall saying it. “Thank you.” He turned to leave, but McGonagall stopped him once more.

“If you have managed to find a way to forgive Mr. Malfoy for all of his cruelness and misdeeds towards you and your friends,” she said, “I am certain you will eventually find it within yourself to forgive your father for his own misdeeds.”

***

Harry found Blaise and Theo just outside the door.

“Ah, Harry!” Blaise said. “I was just telling Theo that it’s likely time I reassess my approach with Umbridge. The detentions aren’t getting me results. But it’s clear that she’s hiding something. I’m beginning to wonder if her obvious Slytherin bias is affecting how…”

Harry unintentionally started tuning Blaise out. After his rather depressing conversation with McGonagall, he was finding it difficult to switch tracks in his head. “Um… okay,” he mumbled.

“Are you all right, Harry?” Theo asked.

“Yeah.”

“No, you’re not,” Blaise said, studying Harry’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“I…” Harry sighed. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Blaise studied Harry for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay. Let us know if we can do anything to help, though.”

Harry looked over at Blaise suddenly found himself overcome with gratitude. Blaise didn’t pressure him or try prying into Harry’s mood or even try to make him feel better; it was as if he had just accepted Harry’s melancholy and offered help for when Harry was ready.

Blaise was a good friend to have, Harry realized.

“Shall we drop our things off and go to dinner?” Theo asked after a moment.

Harry nodded, and they set off down the Transfiguration corridor.

“Umbridge was a Slytherin, too,” Blaise said, continuing his earlier train of thought. “Perhaps she knows that I’m looking for dirt, so she’s being extra cautious with me.”

“If she knew that you were looking for dirt, do you really think she would be so calm about it?” Theo asked.

“Yes, I do,” Blaise said. “Especially if she thinks it’s well-hidden. She also knows how we Slytherins think, and she knows not to underestimate us. I may not have Draco’s level of well-connectedness through his father, but she knows that I would not remain quiet about it if she did anything truly… untoward.”

“So what’s your next -” Theo cut himself off when they spied Ron, Dean, and Seamus ascending the stairs they were about to go down.

Harry knew that they were likely only headed for Gryffindor tower, but he instinctively tensed up.

“What are you doing up here?” Dean asked rather darkly when they spotted the Slytherins at the top of the stairs.

“Leaving class, obviously,” Blaise said dryly.

“Class has been over for a while,” Ron said.

“I had to talk to Professor McGonagall about something,” Harry said. He felt drained.

“Don’t worry, we’re leaving now,” Blaise said. “I’ll do anything to get away from the horrific stench of Gryffindors.”

Harry didn’t want to do this.

He didn’t want to take any part in the ancient Gryffindor-Slytherin rivalry. He’d played at it for years, but now that he was on the Slytherin side of it, he just felt tired. More than anything, he just wanted to keep walking, and so he did. He took a few steps to the side and then forward, trying to avoid the Gryffindors in front of him.

Seamus stepped directly into his path, and Harry met Seamus’s hard gaze with a fatigued eye.

“Heard something interesting about you, Potter,” Seamus said nastily.

Harry sighed. “What did you hear, Seamus?” he asked.

“That you went out with a bunch of dark wizards for Samhain last night,” Seamus said, his eyes flicking over to Blaise and Theo and then back to Harry.

Harry, meanwhile, looked directly at Ron. Obviously, Ron had been talking about him in Gryffindor tower.

“You sacrifice anyone to Crom Cruoch?” Seamus demanded. “Or maybe the Fomorians?”

Harry’s face screwed up in confusion. “What?”

“Or maybe you just called up the dead,” Seamus spat. “Samhain is when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Made any Inferi lately, Potter?”

“What are you even talking about?” Harry said.

Seamus’s nostrils flared, and he took another step towards Harry, invading his personal space. “Where I’m from, we don’t like dark wizards, Potter. They’ve done too many awful things o’er the years.” He’d known Seamus was already angry with him, but apparently hearing even a hint that Harry was involved in something dark had set off something that was rooted much deeper than the lies being printed in the Prophet. Seamus never used to get involved in the Gryffindor-Slytherin fights if he could help it before, but apparently something about Harry was making Seamus take it personally.

“I’m not a da-”

“You’re hangin’ out with them now, aren’t you?” Seamus shouted, nodding towards Blaise and Theo. As his voice got louder his accent became thicker. “You’re going with them to their… dark orgies or whatever?”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. “What?

“Oh, I wish,” Blaise commented loudly, and Seamus’s gaze instantly snapped towards him.

“So you admit that you’re dark?” Seamus spat. “You dark wizards have done so much damage -”

“I admitted nothing,” Blaise said, sounding bored. “It was a joke. You’ve heard of those, right?”

“Can’t help but notice that you’re not denying it, either,” Dean said, and Blaise’s disinterested expression immediately turned irritated as he moved his gaze from Seamus to Dean.

Harry sighed.

“Oh, yes,” Blaise said, rolling his eyes dramatically. “We’re so evil. We have wild, evil, dark orgies every night of the week.” He smirked. “Except Sundays. That’s the day of recovery.”

“You’re Zabini, aren’t you?” Seamus asked.

“At your service,” Blaise said, sneering.

“We heard about you, too,” Dean said. “Some of the upper years were talking about you.”

Blaise smiled sardonically, and Harry thought he looked a bit like a predator. “And what did they have to say about me, hmm?”

“What in the world is going on here?!” Hermione came marching up the stairs behind the other Gryffindors with a pinched, stern expression, and Harry was forcibly reminded of McGonagall. “I heard shouting. You’re not fighting, are you?”

“Just having a conversation, Granger,” Blaise said, never taking his eyes off Dean. “Thomas here was just about to inform me of a rumor he’d heard. So what did you hear?”

“That if anyone in Slytherin is a dark wizard, it’s definitely you,” Dean spat. “Your mum’s been married seven times, and every single one of her husbands mysteriously died. You’re apparently only rich because you’re living off all of her dead husbands’ fortunes. Not much of a 'mystery' when it comes to what's going on in your family."

Blaise’s expression immediately lit up with fury.

“This is outrageous!” Hermione snapped. “Stop this immediately! Dean, how dare you say such terrible things!” She rounded on Ron. “And you! You are a prefect! Why weren’t you putting a stop to all this?”

Neither boy said anything back to her, so Hermione turned back to Blaise with a sigh. “I’m quite sorry, Zabini. Rest assured it will be report-”

“Shut up,” Blaise snapped, and Harry’s eyes snapped back to his friend. Blaise looked angrier than Harry had ever seen him.

Hermione looked taken aback. “Well, I -”

“I said shut your filthy mouth,” Blaise spat. “I don’t need a Mudblood to protect me from a Mudblood!”

Harry’s breath caught in his throat and his entire body went cold.

Hermione drew back, gasping, and Dean’s face twisted up in rage. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Theo put his palm to his face and let out a sigh.

“You nasty little snake!” Ron shouted, and his wand was in his hand and pointed at Blaise in an instant.

Harry's scar blazed hot.

Harry reached out and grabbed Ron’s wand right out of his hand. He was not in the mood for curses. “What the fuck, Blaise?” Harry hissed, tossing the wand up against the wall where it clattered to the ground.

Blaise’s gaze swiveled towards Harry, and his furious expression into morphed into something that resembled embarrassment. “Harry, I’m sorry -”

“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to!” Harry shouted.

He’d begun to think of Blaise as a friend - a potentially great friend, in fact. He really had.

Blaise had never even mentioned his thoughts on blood purity to Harry, even though he and Draco had been openly discussing it just a few nights ago.

Hearing Blaise spit out such a hateful word without a second thought made Harry’s stomach do somersaults. He’d insulted not only a former friend, but also one of the only friends Harry had left in Gryffindor.

He’d honestly expected it from Draco, but Draco hadn’t even said anything to Hermione all year. He also had at least offered to engage in discourse about such a sticky topic. Blaise had made no such offer.

Not only that, but Harry knew to be on guard around Draco. Blaise, on the other hand, had almost started to feel safe.

Harry had obviously grossly misjudged who Blaise actually was, and Harry wasn’t sure if he could stomach the person Blaise turned out to be.

Harry didn’t want to be there anymore. He needed to get away.

A wave of anger rushing through him, he pushed past Seamus and started marching down the stairs.

“Harry, wait,” Blaise said, jogging down after him. He reached out and grabbed Harry by the arm.

“Don’t touch me, Zabini,” Harry spat viciously. He yanked his arm out of Blaise’s grasp and took off running across the castle.

Chapter Text


Harry stared down at his Quidditch uniform with a frown.

‘Potter’ was emblazoned in silver across green shoulders. Silver accents ran down the sleeves and a snake was coiled on the back. The robes looked sharp and crisp and new.

They were apparently a gift from Lucius Malfoy.

Harry had overheard Warrington mentioning them when they were at breakfast that morning; Lucius Malfoy gifted the Slytherin team with new uniforms every season.

In Gryffindor, Harry had worn used Quidditch robes every year. Harry didn’t necessarily mind the fact that the Slytherin robes were new, but he certainly minded the provider of those robes.

Harry sighed and pulled his sweater over his head. He supposed that wearing a gift from Lucius Malfoy was the least of his worries.

Harry hadn’t spoken to anyone since the previous day. After the confrontation with the Gryffindors on the stairs, he’d stormed straight back to the dungeons and gone right up to the dorm. In a fit of rage he replaced the blood ward on his bed, drawn the curtains, and had seethed the rest of the night. He’d even skipped dinner.

At breakfast, he’d sat at the far end of the table. He had noticed that seemingly all of the fifth years looked unusually downtrodden, and he felt viciously satisfied at seeing Blaise’s miserable expression. He refused to engage anyone in conversation.

That had left him to be alone with his thoughts for hours on end.

Harry supposed that, in retrospect, he should have known that Blaise was a staunch blood purist. Just because he’d never said anything overtly didn’t mean he didn’t hold that ideology. After all, he had made a few snide comments about Muggles, and Harry also remembered the day he’d been in the library with Hermione - Blaise had seemed uncomfortable. Harry had brushed it off and ignored it at the time.

Just like he’d been somewhat ignoring the blood purity issue that was so deeply rooted in his new house.

Harry had initially thought he’d been dealing with it rather well; after all, he’d known their views before he’d been sorted into Slytherin, and aside from a few minor arguments with Draco, their purist political views hadn’t come in the way of his being in the house. They accepted his dissension and they’d still accepted him. He’d become comfortable with it being discussed in a controlled debate, and was grateful that Draco had at least been willing to speak about it; it had given him the illusion that he might have been able to change their minds.

But it turned out that they were merely hiding their prejudice for Harry’s benefit, and that just because they didn’t say anything didn’t mean they didn’t still hold such hateful ideology.

Actually having to see that hatred, first-hand, was forcing Harry into a hard reality check.

He was in a house full of prejudiced blood purists.

There was Daphne, he supposed, as well as Tracey, who seemed to be the only other half-blood in the entire house besides himself, but Daphne and Tracey were obviously the exception and not the rule. It also hadn’t escaped Harry’s notice that Slytherin was the only house in the entire school without a single Muggleborn.

Slytherin had been tolerant of Harry’s views, and seemed tolerant of Daphne’s and Tracey’s as well, but Harry wasn’t sure he could return that tolerance. He didn’t think he could be tolerant of blood purity - the opinion that witches and wizards born from Muggles were somehow lesser human beings.

Now he was in a house full of blood purists and was about to play a Quidditch game on a team full of blood purists while wearing a gift from a blood purist.

Harry scrubbed his face with his hand in frustration. When his hand hit his glasses, he suddenly remembered the potion Snape had given him. He pulled it out of his bag and set it on the bench in the Slytherin changing room.

He still wanted to win the game. He was furious with Blaise and furious with the views that much of his housemates held, but he would still play to the best of his ability.

Harry dressed and strapped on his gear, and then picked up the potion. He studied it for a moment, then uncapped it and swallowed it down. Amazingly, it was the best-tasting potion he’d ever had; it tasted like an orange creamsicle.

Slowly, his vision began to grow blurry, but when Harry removed his glasses it began to grow sharper, instead. Finally, everything around him came into focus and he stared around the changing room in amazement.

Everything was so clear.

He blinked a few times. He could see far better with the potion than he could with his glasses. He actually had peripheral vision, and everything was incredibly crisp. He idly wondered if that was how most people actually saw the world around them. He placed his glasses in the locker on top of his clothes and turned around.

Draco stood in front of him with his broom in hand, dressed in a matching uniform. Draco looked Harry up and down and his lips parted slightly in surprise.

“What?” Harry asked, somewhat surly.

“Pansy was right about your eyes,” Draco said quietly. “You’ve never looked so Slytherin.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, then started adjusting his wrist guard just so he didn’t have to meet Draco’s gaze.

“I wanted to check on you,” Draco said. “You skipped the fifth year meeting last night.”

“Wasn’t in the mood,” Harry said shortly.

“I know,” Draco said. “But you missed what was probably the biggest argument our year has ever had. You really should have been there.”

Harry just grunted and turned around to slam his locker shut.

“You should talk to Tracey,” Draco continued, “after the game.”

Harry glanced back at Draco in surprise. “Why?”

Draco sighed. “I think it’s a conversation you’ll appreciate,” he said, “but we don’t have time to get into it right now. I know you had a terrible day yesterday, and I know you must be in a right mood. But we have a game to play, and I wanted to make sure your head is in the right spot.”

“It is,” Harry bit out.

“Good,” Draco said. “There’s one other thing I need to warn you about.”

“What is it?”

“My father is here.”

Harry spun on his heel to fully face Draco again, his eyes widening in alarm. “What?”

“He always comes to at least one game every year,” Draco explained. “I hadn’t known it was going to be this one; he didn’t warn me. He usually comes down to see the team before the game - probably so we can thank him for the uniforms in person - but I suggested to him that it wouldn’t be a good idea this year. He wasn’t happy about it, but he agreed.”

Harry let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he said genuinely.

“I can’t guarantee that he won’t come see us after, though,” Draco said. “My father very much tends to do as he pleases.”

Harry nodded once, then went to the broom stand to grab his Firebolt. “Let’s go.”

***

“Folks, this game certainly promises to be an exciting one!” Lee Jordan belted out through the loudspeaker. “Gryffindor versus Slytherin is always the roughest game of the year, full of intrigue and drama - and this time around we have the added tragedy of one Harry Potter!”

Harry rolled his eyes as he rose into the air on his broom. He should have known Lee would have something to say about him.

“As we all know, Potter was once Seeker for Gryffindor,” Lee continued unkindly. “But at the beginning of the year, an unusual re-sorting took place and, to everyone’s great surprise, Potter was placed in Slytherin instead of his old house of Gryffindor. Now he’ll be playing his first game as a Slytherin, and against his former team, no less!”

Both teams got into starting formation and Harry hovered above the rest of the Slytherin team, the traditional starting position for Seeker. He peered down to see Montague and Angelina shaking hands in front of Madame Hooch, and then Hooch proceeded to talk to them both with a stern look on her face.

Harry looked up and his eyes immediately landed on Ginny across from him, who was openly staring at Harry with wide eyes.

He supposed he didn’t fault her for it. He hadn’t looked in the mirror after getting into his uniform, not wanting to see himself in clothes provided by Lucius Malfoy, but Draco had said Harry had looked incredibly Slytherin. Adding in the fact that he wasn’t wearing his glasses, Harry supposed he must not really have looked anything like he usually did.

Harry met her gaze, and he offered her a tentative smile and a nod. After a moment, Ginny nodded back, and Harry’s small smile turned into a grin. He peered back down to where Montague and Angelina were still getting lectured by Hooch, who was apparently more concerned than usual about the game being clean.

“Adding to the intrigue is Potter’s controversial use of a vision potion in order to correct his eyesight for this game,” Lee was saying. “Madame Hooch has assured Gryffindor that this potion is well within regulation, but some members of the Gryffindor team have wondered why Harry didn’t do the same when he played for the lions…”

“Well, that’s completely unfair,” Ginny commented. “It’s not like you had a potions master for your head of house when you were in Gryffindor.”

Harry snapped his eyes back up to Ginny in surprise, and a swell of warmth blossomed in his chest. “Thank you, Ginny,” he said genuinely.

She smiled back at him. “We’re still kicking your ass today, though - vision potion or no.”

Harry laughed, and then Angelina and Montague were finally released by Hooch. Ron and Bletchley flew to the hoops on either end of the pitch, the Snitch was released, and then the game began.

Harry soared high above the playing field and began searching for the Snitch. Below, Slytherin already had possession of the Quaffle and was heading towards the Gryffindor side of the pitch. Warrington passed to Draco, and Draco weaved through the players, dodging a Bludger on the way. He feinted to the right and then fired the Quaffle through the left hoop, scoring easily. A wild cheer erupted from the Slytherin section of the stands.

Vince and Greg’s boom and zoom maneuver actually seemed to be working, and Vince sent a Bludger flying away from Montague and towards Katie Bell. She easily dodged, and then she glared up at Harry.

Harry rolled his eyes and continued scanning the field, looking for a glint of gold.

Slytherin scored again, Warrington tossing the Quaffle right over Ron’s head into the center hoop.

Angelina finally scored one for Gryffindor but then Slytherin scored again, another one from Draco.

Ron was awful. Harry could tell he was letting his nerves get to him, but Harry was still somewhat infuriated with Ron, and he didn’t care. It was all the better for the Slytherin team, after all.

Just as Montague scored his first point of the game, Harry started to hear singing from below. He looked down, confused, and realized it was coming from the Slytherin section. He cupped his ears to listen to the words.

Weasley cannot save a thing,

He cannot block a single ring...”

Harry’s eyes widened, and he peered at the Slytherin section anxiously, where Pansy seemed to be directing the Slytherins in their song. Pansy had mentioned the day before that she’d had something planned… was that it?

That’s why Slytherins all sing

Weasley is our king!”

Harry’s mouth fell open in shock, and he looked over towards Ron. Ron seemed to be getting even worse, if that was possible, and Montague and Warrington promptly scored goals back to back.

“Weasley is our king…”

The song continued, and Harry noticed Fred and George shooting furious looks towards the Slytherin stands and team - Harry included.

By now the score was now already 90-30, and Ron kept missing saves.

“Weasley is our king,

He always lets the Quaffle in,

Weasley is our king!”

Harry took a handful of his hair and gripped it in frustration, feeling absolutely awful. He’d already been in a terrible mood before the game even started, and now he felt even worse. Harry may have still been furious with Ron, but he still didn’t deserve such treatment.

Even worse was that Harry felt responsible. He’d told Pansy that Ron was no longer off-limits, and he should have remembered how vicious Pansy could be.

Weasley cannot save a thing…”

With a split-second decision, he sped off towards the Slytherin stands in a fury.

“Knock it off!” he roared at Pansy. One by one the Slytherins stopped singing, and Pansy turned around to stare at Harry with wide eyes.

“But... you said he wasn’t -” she protested, looking immensely angry.

“I don’t care!” Harry spat. “There are three other Weasleys still on that list, and you’re still using their name, aren’t you?”

“But -”

“It’s cruel and it’s unnecessary,” Harry hissed. “And more importantly to you and this team - it’s distracting me.”

Pansy set her jaw for a moment before sighing in disappointment. “Fine. We’ll stop.”

“Thank you,” Harry snapped, and he turned back to the playing field. He immediately stopped his broom in mid-air.

Ginny was right behind him. She must have thought he’d seen the Snitch and followed him.

Harry sighed, continuing to fly past her.

“Harry,” Ginny said. “Thank you.”

Harry glanced at her and nodded, and then Montague flew by. “You just flew out of the boundary, Potter,” Montague said, looking cross. “You lost us possession of the Quaffle.”

Harry looked back out towards the field. “You guys will get it back in no time,” he said with a sigh. “Our housemates were being incredibly distracting. I wish someone had told me about what they were planning.”

Montague rolled his eyes and pointed up to the sky. “Get back up there, Potter.”

Harry rose back into the sky. The score was now 160-40 in Slytherin’s favor. If they kept it up, he wouldn’t even have to catch the Snitch if order for them to win. He glanced down the field towards Ron, who didn’t seem to be getting any better.

Just as Draco scored another goal, Harry spotted the Snitch by the Gryffindor hoops. He scouted for Ginny’s position out of the corner of his eye - something he wouldn’t have been able to do had he still been relying on his glasses to see - and noted that although she was somewhat close, she was currently patrolling the pitch closer to the Slytherin side, looking the other way.

He took off.

“It looks like Potter has spotted the Snitch!” Lee shouted into the loudspeaker, obviously to give Ginny the heads up, but Ginny had already noticed Harry’s movement and was chasing right behind him.

Harry honed in on the little golden ball, and he flattened himself out against his broom to pick up speed. The Snitch darted down the side of the goalpost and he followed right behind, Ginny trailing.

The Slytherins started singing again, and Harry felt a wave of irritation. He’d already told Pansy not to sing it, but she was apparently not going to listen. He blocked it out and concentrated on the Snitch.

It dashed to the left, and then straight up again, and Harry pulled up on his broom hard in order to change direction. Ginny flew right past him as he closed in on the golden ball, stretching his arm out, and then his fingers wrapped around his prize.

Just then he noticed he was on a collision course with Ron, still hovering in front of one of the hoops. Harry did a vertical barrel roll to the side in order to avoid him, and then shot upwards into the sky.

“Did… did he get it?” Lee asked, clearly uncertain as to what had just happened.

Harry looped around and flew above the pitch, holding the Snitch high in the air.

Slytherin had just won against Gryffindor for the first time since before Harry had started attending Hogwarts.

Draco let out an uncharacteristic roar of delight. The Slytherins in the stands exploded, and then the song they’d started grew impossibly loud. Harry turned towards them in annoyance, and then he noticed the words. It was to the exact same tune as what they’d been singing earlier, but the words weren’t the same.

Potter is a Slytherin

So Gryffindors are witherin’

They lost their star; now he’s ours

And we’ll surely win!”

Harry released his broom with his other hand and put his palm to his face, shaking his head.

“That was phenomenal!” Draco cried as he flew up alongside Harry.

“Do they have to sing that?” Harry asked, still covering his eyes. “It’s embarrassing.”

“Yes,” Draco said firmly. “Pansy spent quite a bit of time coming up with those lyrics. You already put a stop to version A, and you are not allowed to stop version B.”

Harry put his hand back on his broom with a sigh. “Well, I hate it.”

“She doesn’t care.”

They descended back down to the ground, where the rest of the Slytherin was waiting for them. Harry was surrounded as soon as his feet touched the ground.

“320 to 40!” Montague crowed. “We haven’t beaten Gryffindor that badly in years!

Draco wrapped his arm around Harry’s shoulders, and Harry felt unusually warm. “I told you - with you on Seeker and me on Chaser, that cup is ours,” Draco said, grinning. Harry couldn’t help but grin back.

Despite all of his turmoil over his housemates' beliefs, the victory still felt good.

“That was very well flown, Mr. Potter,” said an uncomfortably familiar voice from behind them.

Draco immediately released Harry, and Harry spun around to come face to face with Lucius Malfoy.

A swell of loathing rose in Harry’s chest and he narrowed his eyes.

“Very well flown, indeed.” Lucius’s eyes flickered over to Draco. “You also did rather impressively, Draco,” he said. “You make a fine Chaser.”

Draco seemed to puff up at that. “Thank you, Father.”

Harry continued glaring at Lucius, seething.

“Nicely done, all of you,” Lucius said, addressing the entire team.

“Thank you for this year’s uniform, Mr. Malfoy,” Montague said. “This design is my favorite by far.”

Movement from behind Lucius caught Harry’s eye, and he realized that Dumbledore was approaching them. Apparently even though Dumbledore had spent the last several months virtually ignoring Harry’s existence, he still had the sense of mind to realize that Lucius Malfoy should not be anywhere near the vicinity of Harry Potter.

His scar flared. A sudden spike of extreme hatred the likes of which Harry had never felt suddenly overcame him, and found himself sneering. “I have to go,” he spat viciously. He spun on his heel and marched off towards the changing room.

As he walked the hatred started to fade, leaving Harry feeling incredibly unsettled. He was entirely unsure who the hatred he’d felt had been directed towards - Lucius Malfoy or Dumbledore.

***

Harry spent a long while in the Slytherin changing room trying to get his head back in order. He still didn’t understand where that sudden surge of hatred had come from.

He supposed he would have been able to understand hating Lucius Malfoy, especially with all the raw feelings he’d had concerning blood purity, and Malfoy was one of the biggest blood purists he’d ever met.

But even if it had been about Malfoy, Harry had never known he was even capable of feeling hatred like that.

It left him feeling out of sorts and confused, and he was completely unsure as to what was going on inside his own head.

The celebration was in full swing by the time Harry got back to the Slytherin common room, but he didn’t feel like joining in. The strange, foreign hatred he’d felt earlier compounded with all the hurt he still felt about what had happened with Blaise resulted in him feeling slightly overwhelmed.

“I think you offended my father,” Draco murmured in his ear, and Harry spun towards him, startled. He hadn’t even noticed Draco approaching him.

“No offense, but I really don’t care if I offended him,” Harry said crossly.

“I know.” Draco smirked. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you actually enjoyed it.”

Harry shrugged. Draco wasn’t wrong; he would normally quite enjoy pissing off Lucius Malfoy, but the feeling was overtaken by the unsettled feeling over whatever had happened to him.

“Have you spoken to Tracey yet?”

Harry shook his head. “I haven’t seen her yet.”

Draco pointed over to the corner where Tracey sat, then gave Harry a pat on the shoulder. “You need to go settle this issue with Blaise.”

“I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to ‘settle’ with him,” Harry growled, and then immediately felt almost guilty. It was a horribly sticky situation that he’d found himself in. Draco had been ten times worse than Blaise for years, and yet Harry was still speaking with him. Harry supposed that Draco had made a concerted effort to tone down his prejudice - at least around Harry, anyway - and the hurt from Blaise’s comment the day before was still incredibly fresh.

“Slytherins don’t fight in public, Harry,” Draco said, by way of reminder. “Even if you’re not pleased with him, you should still make an effort in figuring out how to make that happen.”

Harry let out a long-suffering sigh, and then crossed the room to the corner where Tracey sat.

As he approached, Blaise sidled up to Tracey and whispered something in her ear. Harry stopped in his tracks. When Tracey wrapped her arms around Blaise’s shoulders in a hug, Harry rolled his eyes and turned away.

“Harry!” Tracey called. “Come back here.”

Harry glanced back and shook his head. “No, thanks,” he said.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake…” Tracey rolled her eyes and walked over to Harry and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him off to the side of the room. “I know Draco told you to speak with me.”

Harry just let out a grunt in response.

“Please come sit with me and Blaise, Harry,” Tracey said. “You missed an important fifth year meeting last night - the most important one we’ve ever had, in my opinion. We really do need to talk.”

Harry looked at her for a long moment. He’d never spoken to Tracey at length before, despite being in the same house as her for months. But when she offered him a hint of a smile, he was reminded of the sense of camaraderie he’d felt with her a couple of months ago, when they’d all spoken of their family’s alliances.

She was a half-blood - like him - and her family was firmly against Voldemort.

Despite the recent discovery of his dark affinity, he probably had more in common with Tracey than anyone else in the house.

Harry let out a huff. “I’m not really in the mood to talk to Blaise, Tracey,” he said.

“I know. But it’s important.” She tugged on his arm again, and he let himself be led over to the far corner where Blaise waited.

Blaise looked up at Harry and gestured to the chair next to him.

Harry briefly considered not taking the seat, but realized that seemed extremely petty. He sat down in the chair ungracefully, sinking down in the seat and glaring at his shoes. Tracey took the seat adjacent to them and fixed them both with a look of expectation.

“Hi,” Blaise said.

“Hi,” Harry grunted.

There was a long moment of silence.

“Harry,” Blaise said, sighing. “I’m really, really sorry about what I said yesterday.”

“I already told you -”

“ - that it’s not you I should apologize to,” Blaise said. “I know. I’m still sorry.”

Harry looked up at the ceiling and shook his head. “Not making it any better yet, Blaise.”

“You missed our -”

“- meeting last night,” Harry said. “So I keep hearing.” He paused and snuck a glance at Blaise. The boy who loved to laugh looked more somber than Harry had ever seen him. “I also heard there was an argument.”

“It wasn’t so much an argument as much as it was Tracey tearing most of us a new asshole,” Blaise said miserably. “With some help from Daphne.”

Harry looked up in surprise. “What do you mean?” He let his eyes fall on Tracey, who just grinned at him.

“I wish you had been there with me to help me tear them new… ‘assholes,’” Tracey said, “but I think you had a prior obligation to mope in the dorm all night.”

Harry rolled his eyes.

“I do understand why you wouldn’t join us, though,” Tracey continued. “Blaise is an idiot.”

Blaise let out a sigh. “Yes, Tracey,” he said flatly. “I’m an idiot, as well as an ass. You’ve made that abundantly clear.”

Harry watched the exchange with interest. “So what exactly was this argument about?”

Tracey looked pointedly at Blaise, who shook his head and sat forward in his chair, leaning his elbows on his knees. “So…” He sighed and rolled his eyes. “This isn’t easy, you know.”

“I don’t really care how hard it is,” Harry snapped.

“I know,” Blaise said, and he looked down at his clasped hands. “So... for years, most of us would sit around this common room and talk about… Muggleborns. How they shouldn’t be allowed in this school, and how they weren’t… worthy of the gift of magic.”

“They fed into each other’s beliefs,” Tracey said. “Although I’m convinced that most of you were just repeating things you’d heard from your parents.”

Blaise shrugged. “When you joined Slytherin, Harry, we toned it down quite a bit - for your sake. We’d seen you get fired up over blood status before, and we didn’t want to make you any more uncomfortable in your new house than you already were.”

“I picked up on that, yeah,” Harry said shortly.

“And I realized how nice it had been after you joined us,” Tracey said. “After years of having to listen to them…” She suddenly appeared quite cross.

“Tracey, I’m sorry,” Blaise said. “I truly had no idea we were -”

“Well, you were!” Tracey snapped.

“They were what?” Harry asked.

Tracey glared, although Harry could tell that she wasn’t glaring at him. “They’d been making me feel uncomfortable in this house for years.”

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Tracey said last night that she felt personally insulted and… well, apparently, we’d just been making her feel completely awful every time we brought up the purity of blood,” Blaise said, giving Tracey a mournful look. “She felt like we were insulting her, personally - or that we were just kind of… snidely reminding her that she was worthless.”

Harry looked over at Tracey, who had crossed her arms and had a pinched scowl on her face. “I… but you’re a half-blood, like me,” Harry said. “You’re not Muggleborn.”

“But also like you, I have a Muggleborn parent,” Tracey said. “And if Muggleborns hadn’t been allowed in this school, my parents would have never met, and I wouldn’t exist.” She glowered at Blaise again. “And quite often, you all made it sound like you would very much like my father to be dead.”

Blaise’s expression fell even further, if that was possible. “Tracey, I’m sorry. I really had no idea…” He sighed. “I feel like I’ve been repeating myself over and over since last night.”

“Well, I’ve had to feel the way I’ve felt for four years,” Tracey said. “You can stand to repeat it a few more times.”

“I know. I feel truly awful about this,” Blaise said. “If I have to be honest, Tracey, you’re one of my favorite people in this house. I hate knowing that I’ve been making you feel unwelcome. I adore you, and I never want to do anything to hurt you.”

Tracey raised an eyebrow. “Well… thank you.”

Blaise shook his head and turned to face Harry again. “Apparently nobody but Daphne even had a hint as to how Tracey felt,” he said. “And since Daphne had never said anything, Tracey was even upset with her for deciding to remain silent. And Draco was angry with Tracey for never having said anything before..." He sighed. “There was quite a lot of yelling.”

Harry’s eyes widened. He had no idea how much he’d missed in the span of one night.

Blaise let out an enormous sigh. “So I… I don’t know, Harry.” He shook his head and sat back in his chair with a miserable look on his face.

“So where are you going from here?” Harry asked after a moment.

“I have… no idea,” Blaise admitted. “But Tracey and Daphne - and now you - have put an awful lot of… all of this - in my head. I haven’t been able to think of anything else all day.”

“Good,” Tracey said, looking simultaneously gleeful and vengeful.

“What do you mean by ‘all of this?’” Harry said, narrowing his eyes.

“There’s just… so much to all of this, Harry!” Blaise snapped, jumping out of his chair. “It’s because of Muggleborns that the old wizarding traditions are starting to dwindle -”

Tracy cut him off. “That’s not true, Blaise -”

“But it is!” Blaise said insistently. “What Draco and the weasel were talking about on Samhain, Harry - Halloween was introduced to our world because the Muggleborns brought it with them, and then Samhain fell into obscurity!”

“That doesn’t mean it’s their fault!” Harry snapped.

Blaise let out a frustrated noise and turned his back, crossing his arms. He took a few deep breaths in and out, and Harry could see him shaking his head. “It’s also because of Muggleborns that the dark started to be persecuted,” he said.

Harry frowned. “How so?” he asked.

Blaise huffed and faced Harry again. “I think it’s because Muggleborns remembered the witch hunts of old, where Muggles hunted down witches and wizards for… worshipping Satan or… or sacrificing babies or whatever. They saw the dark arts and called it evil.

Harry’s frown deepened. He’d thought Grindelwald had been responsible for the sour reputation of the dark, not Muggleborns. “Is that… actually true, though?” he asked.

“Or is it just a rumor?” Tracy added. “It’s not like all that happened last week. This was hundreds of years ago.”

Sighing, Blaise looked over at Tracey with an unhappy, contemplative look. “I honestly don’t know.” He swallowed and his eyes drifted up towards the ceiling. “It’s just one of those things that’s… common knowledge in the dark community, but I don’t know if there’s any real… truth to it.”

Tracey opened her mouth to say something, but Blaise kept going.

“The thing that’s been rolling around in my head all day - what I am being forced to acknowledge,” he said, “is that someone like Granger isn’t responsible for whatever happened to the dark’s reputation.”

Harry’s eyes widened in shock.

“Your friend Granger actually is one of the most talented witches in this school, and I’ve known it for years! I’ve just… now…” He huffed. “She’s not cheating to be better at me in Arithmancy or Ancient Runes; she just actually is better. And she has every right to be, no matter what I’ve been muttering under my breath in the back of class.”

“Blaise,” Tracey said dryly, “you’re beginning to not make a lot of sense.”

“I know,” Blaise said, shaking his head again. He looked to Harry with a deep frown. “I know you care about her deeply, Harry, and I… don’t like feeling like I said something so insulting to her.”

“You did say something insulting to her,” Tracey said pointedly.

“I did,” Blaise acknowledged. “And I feel badly for it.” He paused. “And not for your sake, Harry - but for hers.”

Harry felt completely floored. Blaise obviously still a firm hold on his blood status prejudices, but he was also obviously feeling incredibly conflicted. “I… you should tell her that, though.” He sighed. “And Dean, too. He may have been out of line, but -”

Blaise sighed. “And therein lies the problem,” he said.

“What’s the problem?” Harry asked. “Is it Dean, because of what he said?”

Blaise shook his head and snuck a look at Tracey. “I’m acknowledging that I’m… willing to look at this blood status issue more closely. I believe I’m an intelligent person -”

Tracey let out a laugh at that, and Blaise kicked her foot.

“I believe I’m an intelligent person, and it wouldn’t be very smart of me to accept it all at face value,” he continued. “But I can’t apologize to Granger.”

“Why not?” Harry demanded.

Blaise sighed. “You know what Thomas was saying about my mother?”

“The seven dead husbands thing? Yeah. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t -”

“It’s almost certainly true,” Blaise said, and he shook his head. “I may be her only son, but I can’t even imagine what she’d do if she heard a rumor that I was… having doubts.”

Harry stared at Blaise. It seemed that many Slytherins had incredibly complicated relationships with their parents, and Harry abruptly realized that, despite not having been a Slytherin, it didn’t sound all that different from Sirius’s relationship with his own family.

Tracey let out a sigh. “Blaise said this all so much better earlier, Harry. His point is that he’s going to be looking at his own prejudice very, very closely.”

Harry nodded. It wasn’t perfect, but it was far more than he expected.

“You know Hermione wouldn’t say anything to anyone, right?” he said to Blaise.

“I know you trust her, Harry,” Blaise said. “But I don’t.”

***

The Slytherins went to dinner late, having celebrated the victory for the rest of the afternoon. Harry took his usual seat next to Blaise, feeling like his soul had been sucked out by a Dementor but then put back wet. He was exhausted, but he felt far more at peace than he had since the previous day.

His housemates may have been blood purists, but it apparently wasn’t all that hard to sow some seeds of doubt in their beliefs. Harry smiled to himself. Slytherins were, after all, supposed to be quite adaptable.

Maybe they could change.

“You should apologize to Pansy, by the way,” Blaise murmured to Harry as he began filling up his plate. “She really did work hard on the song.”

Harry sighed dramatically and looked across the table. “Pansy, I’m sorry for putting a stop to your… rousing hymn.”

Pansy turned his nose up at him. “Very funny.”

“You said the weasel was no longer off-limits,” Draco pointed out.

“And he hurt you,” Pansy said. “I thought I was doing you a favor.”

“We wanted to make badges, too, but there wasn’t enough time,” Draco added.

Harry’s eyes widened. “I am so glad you didn’t.”

“The badges would have been about the weasel, not you,” Blaise said. “No worry about embarrassing your humble sensibilities.”

Harry punched Blaise in the arm, and Blaise laughed. Harry grinned back at him.

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Hermione standing up from the Gryffindor table and begin stalking out of the hall, clearly upset.

Harry’s eyes widened, and he immediately clambered out of his seat, jogging down the side of the hall. “Hermione!”

Hermione ignored him, and he picked up his pace. “Hermione, wait!” he called after her.

He couldn’t catch up to her; she’d had too much of a head start. He didn’t see her anywhere outside of the hall, and he deflated in disappointment.

Hermione had obviously seen he and Blaise laughing together, just one day after Blaise had called her a ‘Mudblood.’

That wasn’t going to go over well, and Harry knew it.

“Hello, Harry-kins.”

Harry looked up to see Fred and George coming his way.

“Very nice look, the lack of glasses,” George said.

“Quite dashing, if I must say,” Fred added.

“Uh… thank you?” Harry said, hesitant.

“We just wanted to thank you for what you did at the match,” George said.

“Not for catching the Snitch - that was a terrible, awful thing for you to do,” Fred said, shaking his head.

“But for putting a stop to the Slytherin peanut gallery,” George said, all traces of humor uncharacteristically gone.

“Ginny told us,” Fred said, nodding.

“So - thank you.”

Harry swallowed, then nodded at them. “I… I’m sorry that it happened at all. They didn’t tell me.”

Fred shrugged. “Slytherins are little sneaky snakes, and they snuck it right past you.”

Then George grinned. “But you’re turning out all right… for a Slytherin.”

***

The next day, Harry spotted Hermione in the courtyard and he made a beeline for her. He waved at Draco and Pansy to go on without him. “Go. I’ll be fine,” he said quietly. “I need to do this.” Draco looked from him to Hermione, and then, astonishingly, gave Harry a nod that looked more understanding than not.

To his great surprise, Hermione spied Harry making his way over to her, and she headed straight for him. They met in the middle of the yard, and at the exact same time they both asked, “Can we talk?”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Go ahead.”

“No, you first,” Hermione said.

Harry swallowed nervously. “I’m really sorry about what Blaise said the other day. It… it won’t happen again.” Harry desperately wished he could say more.

Hermione pursed her lips. “It’s nice to hear you say that, especially since it looked like you were quick to forgive him.”

“We had… a very long conversation,” Harry said hesitantly. “That’s all I can really say.” Then he sighed. “I knew when I was sorted into Slytherin that I’d definitely be in the minority when it came to… all that. But at least I’m not alone, which is more than I expected. There’s Tracey - she’s a half-blood, like me - and Daphne, too. She’s a pureblood, but you’ve spoken with her and you know she’s all right.” He paused, sighing. “And I know you probably want to talk to me about… still talking to Blaise, after what he said, but…”

Hermione didn’t look at all happy, but she shook her head. “I… appreciate it, but that’s not why I wanted to speak with you.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Well, then, what’s up?”

Hermione took a deep breath, and she seemed to be looking very closely at Harry’s face. “Harry, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said truthfully. “Bit of a rough go for the last few days, but I think I’m… actually better than I’ve been in a while.”

“I’m worried about you.”

Harry froze. McGonagall had said the same thing to him, as had Ron - right before Ron had abruptly ended their friendship. “Why?” Harry asked suspiciously.

Hermione sighed, and then glanced around the yard. She grabbed his arm and pulled him over to an alcove. “Ronald is convinced that you may have participated in some sort of… dark arts ritual,” she whispered heatedly.

Harry let out an exasperated sigh. “He caught me and the other Slytherins coming back from Samhain.”

“Which Ron insists is a holiday to celebrate the dark arts, when dark wizards do awful spells and rituals, and worse,” Hermione said. “Seamus, Lavender, and Parvati all said the same. And then, since I know how they all can be - especially Ron - I did my own research in the library, and -”

“And it told you that Samhain used to be celebrated across the wizarding world?” Harry said, interrupting her. “One of the traditional eight cyclical holidays?”

Hermione pursed her lips. “The book I read essentially confirmed everything they were saying.”

“Which book was it?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. “I can probably recommend a different one for you.”

“Harry, don’t you dare -”

“Hermione,” Harry said, feeling odd. It wasn’t often that he felt more well-read than Hermione on a topic - never, in fact. “All wizards once celebrated all of the eight holidays. It’s just that certain traditional days were more important to certain wizards. Holidays like Beltane and Litha were more important to light wizards, but dark wizards still celebrated them. Samhain is a holiday that’s important to dark wizards, and light wizards used to celebrate it, too. That doesn’t mean Samhain is necessarily all about dark arts.”

He knew he was technically telling Hermione the truth, but he also knew he was getting dangerously close to having to actually lie to her, and not just lie by omission.

After all - he actually had participated in a dark circle on Samhain, and he’d even performed a dark rite. She was just assuming those things for the wrong reasons, and besides - he couldn’t ever admit to her that he’d had an unyielding interest in the dark arts since the summer.

She wouldn’t understand.

Hermione consistently got all of her information from the Hogwarts library, which, according to Theo, had apparently been completely cleansed of anything that was even remotely positive about the dark arts. And even if Harry did explain or confess, he wouldn’t have time to convince of her anything before she went running off to McGonagall or Dumbledore.

“Seriously, Hermione - read up on old wizarding traditions,” he continued, knowing that enticing Hermione with knowledge she didn’t have would set her in the direction of endless research. “I have been, and it’s fascinating. There’s so much I didn’t know.”

Hermione let out a weak laugh. “You sound like me.”

Harry laughed back. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

“There’s something else, though…” she continued.

Harry nodded at her to proceed.

“Are you… are you dating Pansy Parkinson?”

Harry spluttered. “What?” he asked, his mouth falling open.

“Ron said you two were… holding hands.”

Harry scrubbed his hand down his face. “Oh, geez...”

“So are you?”

“No!” Harry stared up at the sky, sighing. “No. Pansy is just super touchy-feely with her friends.” His comment was met with silence, so he looked back at Hermione to see her staring at him with a frown. “What?”

Hermione appeared to brace herself, as if waiting for bad news. “So she’s your… friend, now.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. I think I might finally be friends with all of the Slytherins in our year,” he said, smiling faintly.

“Even… even Malfoy?”

“We still argue,” he said. “But it’s much less... vicious now.” He let out a wry grin. “It’s actually kind of funny, sometimes…”

Hermione sighed. “I’m still worried.”

“Why?” Harry asked, a little irritated. “You seemed to… be understanding earlier this year - I wasn’t just going to be alone and miserable for the rest of my years at Hogwarts. I don’t understand what you’re worried about.”

“I just…” Hermione shook her head. “I’m concerned that they’re putting… ideas into your head. And now you’re talking about wizarding ‘traditions,’ which is something that purists have brought up -”

“Are you seriously accusing me of buying into the whole blood status thing?” Harry snapped. “Again?” He shook his head. “I get that what Blaise said was…” He let out a sound of frustration. “Just because I’m friends with them doesn’t mean I share their beliefs!”

Hermione didn’t respond at first, and then she too, grew angry. “You were also just thoroughly explaining the ‘blood status’ of you and two other Slytherins. ‘You’re a half-blood, someone else is a half-blood, this other person is a pureblood…’” She huffed and shook her head. “Harry, you never used to worry about things like that!”

Harry put his palm to his face and let out a groan, realizing how what he’d said earlier must have sounded. “We’ve just been talking about it a lot, considering what happened, and -”

“And in these talks that you’re having with them, how do I know they’re not convincing you of their beliefs, rather than the other way around?” Hermione said, looking absolutely furious. “You’re certainly talking about blood status in a way you never have before!”

“Because you know me, Hermione!” Harry snapped. “You’ve known me for five years!”

“And you are also telling me that you are now friends with people that feel I am worth less than the dirt underneath their fingernails,” Hermione snarled. “How do you think that makes me feel?”

“I’m not asking you to be friends with them, or to even forgive them!” Harry shot back. “I just wish you would trust me!”

“I do trust you, Harry!” she said. “Our friendship just means so much to me, and seeing you being able to just… completely ignore how they’ve treated me and ignore that they think I’m disgusting and dirty - as if you were perfectly okay with it, as if it was all fine…” She let out a choking sound. “It just hurts so much, Harry.”

Harry stopped and looked at Hermione - really looked at her - and finally realized that he felt absolutely awful. Hermione felt awful about him being friends with blood purists, and he felt awful for making her feel awful. He abruptly reached out and pulled her into a hug. “Oh, Hermione… I‘m so sorry,” he said regretfully.

“I honestly don’t know if that makes it any better.” Hermione’s voice was muffled; she’d buried her face in Harry’s shoulder.

Harry again found himself desperately wishing he could tell her about the discussion he’d had with Tracey and Blaise the day before. He briefly considered telling her, anyway, but Blaise had only tentatively admitted that he was reconsidering his position on blood status. Harry didn’t want to do anything that would break whatever spell had come over him.

“Hermione… I’ve made it clear to them that I’m not okay with those views of theirs,” he said instead, figuring that was safe to say; after all, it was about him and not his fellow Slytherins. “It’s not a topic that we avoid. We do talk about it, and we’re going to keep talking about it, but they’re not about to convince me of anything. I’m not… ignoring what they’ve said to you - or accepting it, even.”

“And I’ll admit that aside from Zabini’s comment the other day, the rest of them have been surprisingly… apathetic towards me so far this year,” Hermione said with a sniffle, drawing back from Harry. “Which I am absolutely certain is for your benefit and not mine.”

Harry shrugged, then nodded. She wasn’t wrong.

“But I can’t begin to forgive them,” she said. “Not even for you.”

“I can understand that,” Harry said. “I do just want to be clear that my interest in ‘wizarding tradition’ has nothing to do with any of the other archaic views they might hold. It just… I don’t know. It helps me feel more like a wizard, I suppose?” He was reaching for an excuse, and he knew it.

“How have you not felt like a wizard?” she asked, bewildered.

You try growing up with the Dursleys.” He hoped that would be good enough.

Hermione sighed. “I’m not entirely satisfied, but… I do believe you, Harry.”

And Harry believed her completely - including her not being satisfied with his answers. He could tell she wasn’t happy, but Harry had absolutely no idea what to do about it.

Hermione glanced around the courtyard cautiously; it was surprisingly empty - just a few students sat on the other side, out of earshot. “There’s one more thing.”

Seeing as how the other topics they’d covered hadn’t exactly been pleasant ones, Harry braced himself.

“We really need to do something about Umbridge.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Funny enough, I agree,” he said slowly.

“We’re never going to learn proper Defense in her class, and we’re not going to pass our O.W.L.s, and we’ll be completely defenseless against… V-Voldemort.” Harry’s eyes widened at that; she’d never said his name before. He also recognized the stubborn set of her jaw.

“Exactly what are you proposing, Hermione?” he asked.

Hermione gave him a strange look. “You’re starting to talk differently than you used to, you know.”

Harry waved a hand dismissively. “Company I keep, I suppose.”

She shook her head. “I’m… proposing... that we have someone teach us what we need to know.”

Harry tilted his head to the side to consider her words. “I could write Lupin, but I think he’s too busy with… Order things.”

“I’m not talking about Lupin, Harry,” Hermione said. “I’m talking about you.”

Harry froze and stared at Hermione.

“It makes perfect sense, don’t you see?” she said, insistent. “I really wanted to ask you earlier this year, but I figured you had enough going on with your re-sorting and everything, but…” She huffed. “You are the best in our year in defense - oh, don’t look at me like that, you know you’ve beat me in class more than once - and you’ve actually come face to face with life-and-death situations and survived. We can get people from all the houses, anyone who wants to learn - you could even invite some of the Slytherins, if you think they won’t tell -”

“Stop,” Harry said, cutting her off. He shook his head. “I’m not doing it.”

“Oh, Harry - at least think about it before you refuse -”

“No,” Harry said, his voice firm. “If you remember, I was literally expelled this summer. That’s how I wound up in Slytherin in the first place.” He shook his head. “Hogwarts is my home, Hermione - no matter what house I’m in. Umbridge is out to get me, personally, and you want me to put myself at risk of getting expelled again?”

Hermione actually took a step back at that. “That… that doesn’t sound like you, Harry.”

“How does it not sound like me?”

“You’re the boy that risked his life to get the Philosopher’s Stone, and against the basilisk, and to save Sirius,” she said. “You put yourself at far more risk than expulsion. And now you’re just… ignoring this?”

“I’m not ignoring it,” Harry said. “This just isn’t how I want to deal with it. It’s too…” He cut himself off. It’s too Gryffindor, he thought.

“I just wish you would at least consider it,” Hermione said again.

“I’ll think of something else,” he said, not mentioning that Blaise had already been thinking about it since the beginning of the year.

An awkward silence fell between them.

“So… how’s Gryffindor?” Harry asked in a desperate attempt to change the subject.

Hermione threw her head back and sighed. “I miss having you in the tower so much, Harry. It’s really not the same without you.”

“I miss you, too,” he said, and it was the truth. Despite the fact that he’d been growing more comfortable in Slytherin, he genuinely did miss the tower.

“I feel like I’m the only fifth year prefect, with how seriously Ron takes it,” she said. “And sometimes it’s hard to be an example to the others; I nearly hexed McLaggen and Seamus the other night for what they were saying about you.”

“What were they saying?”

Hermione huffed. “Seamus is really upset, Harry. I mean - he was already upset before, but with the stories going around the tower about you being involved in the dark arts, he’s absolutely furious now. From what I can gather, his mother’s side of the family was really hurt by dark wizards in the past… I think someone may have been murdered, from the way he was talking. And McLaggen…” She paused and shook her head. “It’s really not that important, Harry; you know that everything that comes out of his mouth is complete hogwash.”

“What did he say, Hermione?”

She sighed again. “He was saying that your tale about… V… Voldemort returning was just to distract everyone from you…” She paused, pursing her lips. “... from you working on becoming the next Dark Lord, and that your being sorted into Slytherin just showed how similar you were to him...”

Harry was first shocked, and then enraged. “What?

“It’s utter tripe, and most of us know that… oh, I shouldn’t have even told you…”

Despite Hermione’s words, underneath the bubbling anger there was a nasty thought whispering to him. Voldemort himself told me how similar we were in your second year… and now I’m also a Slytherin, throwing myself headfirst into the dark arts...

“Just ignore them, Harry. You know it doesn’t mean anything.”

***

Harry dragged his feet as he walked back to the Slytherin common room. He stopped outside the door and stared at it. How many times did Tom Riddle walk through this door?

He knew it was an absolutely absurd thought to have; Voldemort was a Slytherin, too. Of course they would walk through the same door, and into the same common room.

But I’m still becoming more and more like him, Harry thought. Within a few months, I started researching the dark arts, and then was resorted into his house…

Then a horrible thought suddenly occurred to him. What if I’m only interested in the dark arts because Voldemort is interested in the dark arts?

He knew it was entirely possible. After all, Dumbledore had told him that he was likely a Parselmouth because Voldemort was a Parselmouth: that the ability had been transferred to Harry the night Voldemort tried to kill him.

What if Voldemort had transferred more than just parseltongue?

He sighed and desperately wished he had someone to talk to about this, but there wasn’t a soul in the castle that he could possibly speak to about it. He definitely wasn’t ready to discuss his connection to Voldemort with the Slytherins - that was more than he’d even told Ron and Hermione. On the other side, he couldn’t mention his interest in the dark arts to Hermione, and definitely not to Dumbledore.

Not that Dumbledore would even speak to me, he though somewhat bitterly.

You promised to come speak with me, and you have not.

Harry turned his head and looked up at the snake painting and saw that the snake was staring at him. “I’m sorry. I’ve been distracted,” he replied.

“You do seem troubled.

Harry nodded, and then something suddenly occurred to him: anything he said to the snake likely wouldn’t make it anywhere else. After all, the only other person that could speak with the painting was Voldemort, and he wasn’t likely to appear at Hogwarts anytime soon.

I’m worried about something,” Harry said, and he found himself unloading all of his worries onto the snake - the similarities between himself and Tom Riddle, that Harry’s new obsession with the dark arts wasn’t coming from himself, and that he really was becoming more and more like Voldemort.

“The one you’re referring to - he was the last speaker here, wasn’t he?” the snake said when Harry finished ranting.

Yes,” Harry said.

You do look quite a bit alike,” the snake said. “And your voices sound the same.”

Harry immediately absolutely regretted talking to the snake, because now he just felt even worse.

***

Alone in the dorm, Harry lay on his four-poster and pulled out his wand. He held it up by both ends, balancing it between his fingertips, and studied it with a deep frown set on his face.

His wand shared a core with Voldemort’s wand. The insides were the same. Yet another thing to add to the list of the ways he and Riddle were similar.

He heard the door open. “Did I just walk into a moment of teenage angst?” he heard Draco ask.

Harry let out a weak laugh. “Pretty much.”

Draco came into view, leaning over Harry’s bed. “Is this still about… what Blaise said the other day?” he asked quietly. “The… blood status… conundrum?”

For a moment Harry considered saying ‘yes,’ knowing that would function as a perfectly valid excuse for his melancholy. But before he could say anything, though, Draco continued.

“No, that’s not it - I can tell just from looking at you,” Draco said, narrowing his eyes, and Harry glanced up at him in surprise. “What’s wrong?”

Once again, Harry was astounded by Draco’s insight. He sighed and sat up. “I… I don’t think I can tell you.”

Draco narrowed his eyes. “Harry, I keep telling you - Slytherins won’t turn each other in -”

“It’s not that simple, Draco,” Harry said, cutting him off. “It’s…” He looks down and slowly rotated his wand in his hands, studying each mark in the wood. “It’s something about me, and it’s…”

“Harry, if I must say it… you look terrified,” Draco said. “I don’t remember ever seeing you be scared of anything.”

Harry blinked, and then realized that Draco was right - he was terrified. Some Gryffindor he was.

“What if I swear?” Draco asked suddenly.

“What?”

Draco pulled out his wand and held it upright in front of him. “I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, hereby swear to the dark and by my own magic, that I will not reveal to another soul whatever secret Harry Potter is about to tell me.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Hey, I didn’t say I was going to -”

Draco ignored him. “If I dare to reveal his secret without his permission, the dark may strike me down and strip me of my magic. So mote it be.” The tip of his wand flashed, and Harry could actually feel the magic of Draco’s oath drop into place.

Draco pocketed his wand. “Now tell me,” he said demandingly.

Harry thought he sounded rather spoiled, and he just stared at Draco.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “You’re obviously eating yourself alive from whatever angst is haunting you. It’s not like I can tell anyone, including another Slytherin.”

Harry sighed. “Honestly, I’m not sure if you want to hear it,” he said.

“That’s a poor excuse.” Draco sat on the edge of Harry’s bed, leaning up against one of the posters.

Harry looked at Draco for a few long moments, and he suddenly realized that Draco was the only person that he felt he’d really, truly confided in that year. Draco was the one that had talked him through his issues with his father and gave him advice on who to talk to. Draco was the one that had explained that dark magic wasn’t controlling him. Draco, more than anyone else in the house, had given him the information on the dark arts that Harry had been looking for.

Quite abruptly, Harry realized that he felt comfortable talking to Draco.

How in the world had his relationship with Draco had changed so rapidly?

“Okay,” Harry finally said, and then wondered where he should start.

“I’m waiting.”

“Shut up,” Harry said, somewhat kindly, then he let out another sigh. “Okay. There’s this wizard. He’s an orphan, and a half-blood, was raised by Muggles. He’s a Slytherin. He’s a Parselmouth.” Harry paused and took in a deep breath. “His wand has a phoenix feather core. And he’s got this weird... fascination with the dark arts.”

Draco looked confused. “I know you said this was about you, but...”

Harry let his eyes fall shut. “Yep, that’s me. But all of that also applies to someone else.”

“Who?”

“A wizard named Tom Riddle.” Draco’s blank look indicated that he’d never heard the name. “You know him as Voldemort.”

Draco didn’t say anything at first. When he finally did, his voice was quiet. “The Dark Lord is a half-blood?”

Harry felt incredibly annoyed. “Of course that’s the first thing you jump on,” he muttered. The sticky issue of blood purity would always be in the undercurrent of any conversation he had with Draco, no matter how comfortable he’d become with speaking with him.

“No, I just…” Draco paused. “I wonder if Father knows,” he said, seemingly more to himself than to Harry. Draco suddenly leapt up from his spot on the bed and began to pace in front of Harry.

Harry felt his heart sink. Draco wouldn’t even look at him. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you,” Harry said with a sigh.

Draco stopped in his tracks. “What? Why?” Understanding then seemed to dawn on his face. “You think you’re similar to the Dark Lord.”

“We are similar,” Harry said. “I’ve even been told more than once that I look a little like he did when he was our age.” He didn’t mention that a young Tom Riddle had been the first to make that comparison.

Draco seemed to consider Harry’s words. “Most of these… similarities… seem rather superficial, Harry.”

“Our wands have the same core,” Harry said.

“Phoenix feather is a very common core -”

“No, I mean they are literally the same,” Harry said insistently. “The tail feathers came from the same phoenix, and that phoenix apparently only gave two feathers.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I’ll admit that part is strange. But you’re not the same person, Harry.” He let out a slight scoff. “Not even close.”

“I know we’re not. It’s just…” Harry stopped and sighed. “Dumbledore has a theory that I can speak parseltongue because Voldemort may have transferred the ability to me when he…” He trailed off and merely pointed to the scar on his forehead. “What if that wasn’t the only thing he transferred?”

“What do you mean?”

“I came from a light family,” Harry said. “I know sometimes it happens, but what if I only have a dark affinity because… because of him?”

Draco frowned at that.

“What if I’m becoming more and more like him? This dark arts thing is rather… new. And then I was sorted into Slytherin...”

Draco studied Harry for a long moment, to the point that Harry started to become uncomfortable. “It sounds like the situation with you and the Dark Lord is rather… unique, but I’ve never heard of someone’s affinity being affected like that. Affinity is either born or… manifested, not transferred.”

Harry could tell from the look on Draco’s face that there was something else he wanted to say. “But…?”

Draco sighed. “I have heard a theory that if extremely dark magic is used on a child when they’re very young, it can affect their affinity. There’s no proof of it, but -”

Harry felt his heart sink. “So it is true, then.” He looked away from Draco and began studying his wand again. “My affinity is only dark because of him.”

“Would it… don’t take this the wrong way, but…” Draco took a deep breath. “Would it really matter if was because of him?”

“Of course it would matter!” Harry snapped.

“Why?” Draco asked. “I’m not… trying to be dismissive of your concern. I’m just trying to understand why it should matter.”

“Because that means it’s not me!” Harry said, jumping up to his feet. “Parselmouth is his ability. His affinity is dark. All of it came from him!”

Draco suddenly reached out and grasped one of Harry’s hands with both of his. “I really don’t think affinity works like that. Your affinity might be dark because of what he did to you, not because he somehow… transferred his own affinity to you.” He huffed. “And even if it did happen like that, though, it’s yours now. It’s your scar. Parselmouth is your ability. Your affinity is dark. Even if the Dark Lord caused all of those things, they all add up to who you are today.”

“But -”

“You can’t help what was done to you. Nobody can,” Draco continued. “All you can do is accept those things as part of who you are now.” He sighed. “You can’t change the past, Harry. All you can do is adapt, so that you’re able to change the future to what you want it.”

Harry blinked, realizing that Draco had nearly exactly echoed what Andromeda had told him. “That’s… astoundingly level-headed.”

“Are you saying I’m not level-headed?” Harry just raised an eyebrow in response, and then smirked. Draco rolled his eyes. “I’ll understand if this… influences your decision to declare dark or not,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t, though.”

Harry nodded, then glanced down to where Draco’s hands were grasping his own. “So… are you telling me you’re just as touchy as Pansy?” he said with a smirk.

Draco released Harry’s hand, and then, to Harry’s astonishment, he winked.

Chapter Text


“Potter, see me after class.”

At Snape’s words, Harry looked up from his Invigoration Draught and wondered what he’d done wrong. He peered into his cauldron and then into Draco’s; the two potions certainly appeared identical. He looked over to Draco, who shook his head and gave Harry a shrug.

“Uh… yes, sir,” Harry replied.

“Do you know what that’s about?” Draco murmured as they began bottling up their samples.

“Not a clue,” Harry whispered back.

They cleaned up, and Harry waited for the classroom to clear out before approaching Snape’s desk.

Snape didn’t waste a moment, not even bothering to wait for Harry to speak. “I thought I made myself clear,” he sneered, “that you were not to take matters into your own hands when it came to punishing whoever cast a tripping jinx at you.”

Harry blinked. “What?” he asked, confused. “I didn’t do anything. I mostly forgot about it, to be honest -”

“Stop talking.”

Harry shut his mouth and looked down at the floor.

“Explain to me why Professor McGonagall is now asking me to inform her if there are any other mysterious attacks on Slytherin.” Harry snuck a peek at Snape’s face, and he appeared quietly furious. “She specifically cited the attack on you.”

Harry’s eyes widened. With everything that happened with Blaise, and then the Quidditch Game, then Hermione, he’d managed to shove the conversation with McGonagall to the far recesses of his mind. “I was… I was asking her about something else,” he said hesitantly. “It… came up.”

“You’re going to have to be much less vague, Potter,” Snape said, glowering. “You went over my head -”

“I didn’t go over your head!” Harry snapped, and then his eyes widened. “Sorry.”

He was honestly surprised Snape hadn’t assigned him detention already.

“I didn’t mean to… go over your head,” Harry said quietly. “I needed to ask her about something else. It was somewhat… related, so it came up.”

“What were you asking her?”

Harry swallowed nervously. He’d gone to McGonagall precisely because he hadn’t wanted to talk to Snape.

“What was the ‘something else,’ Potter?” Snape said, more forcefully.

Harry desperately tried to come up with an answer. He was a Slytherin, damn it - he should be better at improvising by now.

“Potter, if you do not answer me, you will -”

“I went to ask her about my father!” Harry finally snapped.

Snape froze. He stared at Harry with an expression that Harry didn’t have a hope of interpreting.

Despite himself, the words kept tumbling out. “I… I needed to know if all the things you’ve always said about him were… if it was all true,” Harry said, his voice shaking. “And I got my answer!”

Harry spun on his heel, grabbed his bag, and stalked out of the room.

Snape didn’t follow.

***

Harry paused outside the potions classroom when he saw Daphne, Blaise, and Draco waiting for him, and a wave of apprehension rushed through him.

At that moment he wanted nothing more than to just be alone. He suddenly understood Astoria’s complaint of always having to be around people. He’d only been at it for a couple of months; she’d been having to deal with constant Slytherin company for three years already. He would have to endure three more years of constant bodyguards, and he was entirely unsure how he would be able to cope with it.

He shook his head and continued down the hallway, trying his hardest to exude a ‘fuck off’ quality in his posture.

“Harry!” he heard Draco call.

He heard footsteps behind him and he cringed. He swung around, preparing to shout at Blaise or Draco to leave him the hell alone.

It was Daphne.

She frowned at him. “You don’t look happy,” she stated simply.

Harry huffed. “I’m not. I’d really like to be alone. I’ll keep an eye out for any avenging Hufflepuffs,” he spat, and he turned to leave.

Daphne grabbed him by the arm before he could take off. “Granger stopped me after class. She asked if you could meet her in the library when you were done talking with Professor Snape.”

Harry threw his head back and let out an enormous sigh. “Great,” he muttered sarcastically. He wasn’t in the mood for any company, not even Hermione. But with the way his conversation with Hermione had gone the day before, he probably couldn’t ignore her request.

“Well, you don’t have to go, you know -”

“No, I really should,” Harry said. “I’m pretty sure I’m already on thin ice with her.”

“What?” Daphne asked. “Why?”

“She’s pissed at me because of what Blaise said to her!” he said, his voice rising. “Guess she’s not really a fan of me hanging around a bunch of people that hate her for existing.” He shot a glare towards Blaise and Draco, and Blaise frowned.

“Well, that’s not very fair of her,” Daphne said reasonably. "Blaise is the one who was an idiot, not you."

“It might not be fair, but it’s also completely understandable,” Harry said, letting out another heavy sigh. “I said something stupid, and now I think she believes that I’m being… converted or something.” He shook his head. “She’s one of my best friends, and I don’t want… I have to go see her.”

“I’m going with you,” Daphne said. Harry groaned.

***

Hermione was, as usual, completely surrounded by towers of books.

“Hey,” Harry said hesitantly. He felt oddly nervous.

Hermione looked up and her eyes instantly drifted over to Daphne. “Greengrass!” she said. “I’m pleased you came with him. I have something for you.” She opened her bag and pulled out three textbooks.

“Are these…” Daphne’s eyes lit up. “Thank you, Granger!”

Harry glanced at the cover of the top book; it had an unusually long title, but the word ‘Microbiology’ jumped out at him. “Geez, Hermione - are those university level texts?” he asked.

“Yes,” Hermione replied. “They took me a long time to get through when I was ten years old, but it’s such a fascinating topic.”

Daphne was already sitting down in the chair next to Hermione. She flipped the book open eagerly and seemed instantly engrossed. Harry let out a quiet laugh and sat down, as well.

“What’s up?” Harry asked Hermione.

“Concerning our conversation yesterday…” Hermione said, and Harry’s hackles instantly rose. She pulled a book out from one of her stacks. “I wanted to show you what I’ve been reading.” She flipped through the pages before finding what she was looking for. She turned the book around and pointed at a passage.

 

Samhain has long been celebrated by dark wizards and witches across the entire world. It is a night when dark magic is easier to access by dark wizards. Although dark magic isn’t as powerful as the longest night - the Winter Solstice - it is a night where dark wizards are apparently more powerful than usual. It is for this reason that this night is often filled with the darkest of rituals, including human sacrifice and dark blood rites, as well as vicious attacks against the enemies of dark wizards. Among the most famous of these attacks was the attack on Godric’s Hollow and the subsequent near-destruction of the Potter family in 1981, perpetrated by the Dark Lord You-Know-Who.

Harry’s eyes widened.

He knew his parents had died on Halloween, but he hadn’t yet made the connection that they’d also died on Samhain.

“I’ve been finding nothing but awful things about Samhain, Harry,” Hermione said, and Daphne suddenly looked up from her reading with an alarmed expression. Her eyes briefly met Harry’s, but she didn’t say anything.

“You said you could recommend a different book when it came to these so-called ‘cyclical days,’” Hermione continued. “What’s it called? Everything I’ve found so far hasn’t exactly been… pleasant.”

Harry swallowed nervously. He should have known that Hermione would stop at nothing to find answers. He couldn’t tell her that he’d read about cyclical days in a book about dark arts culture; that would just confirm all of her worries, and she would go straight to Dumbledore.

“I’ve been reading a lot this year,” Harry said, proud of how even he kept his voice. “I’m not sure if I can remember the title…”

“It must have been ‘The Wheel of the Year,’” Daphne said suddenly. “You borrowed it from Astoria, remember?”

Of course, Harry had never borrowed a single book from Astoria. An enormous wave of gratitude rushed through Harry, and he silently reminded himself to thank Daphne later. “That’s what it was!” he said, nodding. A little note of guilt sang in the back of Harry’s mind; it was the first direct lie he’d told Hermione in relation to the dark arts rumor.

“‘The Wheel of the Year?’” Hermione repeated, her eyebrows knitting together in consideration. “I don’t think I’ve come across that one in the library.”

“It might not be here,” Daphne said. “It’s an old book, and although this library is vast it can’t possibly hold everything. If you can’t find it in here, I can ask my sister if she’d be willing to let it leave the dungeons.”

“What is the ‘wheel of the year?’” Hermione asked, frowning.

Daphne appeared to consider for a moment before reaching into her bag and pulling out a spare piece of parchment. “Here,” she said, drawing a circle on the parchment. “This is the year.” She made two marks on either side of the circle, directly across from each other. “This one would be the Winter Solstice, while this one would be the Summer Solstice.” She then made two more marks on the top and bottom of the circle. “These represent the Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes, respectively.” She then made four more marks around the circle. “These days are the midpoint between each Solstice and Equinox. “Imbolc takes places between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Beltane follows the Spring Equinox. Lammas is between the Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox, and Samhain is the midpoint between the Autumnal Equinox and Winter Solstice. The entire ‘wheel’ represents the cycle of death and rebirth.”

Hermione peered down at the parchment with a frown. “That doesn’t explain why all of these books say that Samhain is a dark holiday.”

Daphne pointed to the marks representing Samhain, Yule, and Imbolc. “Historically speaking, these three days were the most important to dark wizards, because it’s when dark magic is supposedly at its strongest.” She then pointed to Beltane, the Summer Solstice, and Lammas. “Likewise, these three were the most important to light wizards, because that’s when light magic is supposed to be stronger.” She looked up at Hermione with an unusually stern, serious set to her mouth. “But many wizards celebrate all of the holidays as a way of celebrating all magic, because magic is what makes us witches and wizards."

Hermione nodded, studying Daphne’s drawing with a pinched expression. “I see,” she said, her voice sounding doubtful.

“If you’re really interested in learning more, you might also consider asking Terry Boot in Ravenclaw,” Daphne said. “I’ve seen you studying with him occasionally. I know his family still observes the old traditions, and he might be able to answer more of your questions.” She smirked. “That way you’re not just getting an evil Slytherin’s perspective.”

Hermione looked abashed. “Oh, I’m sorry!” she said. “I didn’t mean to…”

Daphne waved a hand dismissively. “We’re used to it.”

Hermione glanced down at the parchment again. “Can I keep this?” she asked.

“Of course.”

Hermione was just stuffing the parchment into her bag when a familiar voice spoke up. “Granger.”

All three of them looked up to see Blaise standing at the end of the table with an unusually serious expression. Draco was behind him, pulling out a chair at the table adjacent to theirs.

Hermione’s face instantly became guarded. “Zabini,” she said cautiously.

Blaise studied her for a moment before taking the seat next to Harry. “Granger, I wanted to…” He swallowed and looked down at his hands resting on the table. “I wanted to offer my apologies for what I said to you the other day.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Blaise had sworn up and down that he couldn’t apologize to Hermione.

Hermione’s expression mirrored Harry’s, but she also still looked incredibly uncomfortable, and she peered at Blaise in suspicion.

“I was completely out of line,” Blaise continued. “What I said… it just kind of popped out.”

“That’s part of the problem, Blaise,” Daphne said.

“I know,” Blaise said, and Harry could tell from their tones that it wasn’t the first time they’d had that exchange. Blaise looked back to Hermione. “Granger, I…” He sighed. “My mother raised me to value a certain set of beliefs. I realize that’s no excuse, but I…” He swallowed and looked down at his hands again, looking miserable.

“I heard a rumor that you may have been upset with Harry for what I said to you,” he continued. “I just want to make it clear that he is no way responsible for my own stupidity.”

Hermione studied Blaise for a long moment. “I appreciate the apology, Zabini,” she said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that you still view me as a lesser human being.”

“I’m not sure that I do, though,” Blaise said. “There are… certain things that I’m working on… unraveling.” He took in a deep breath. “And I’d like to make sure that you continue to give Harry the time of day while I figure them out.”

Hermione’s lips parted slightly in surprise. “That’s… unexpected,” she said. “Pleasantly unexpected, really.”

Blaise nodded and then leaned forward. “I just beg you to not be very vocal about my… second thoughts,” he said quietly. “That is to say - please don't mention this to anyone - not even Thomas. I’m not going to name names, but we’ve been talking about this in the dungeons quite a bit. If word got back to certain people’s parents…”

As if by instinct, Harry’s eyes flicked over to Draco, who stared back at him with an unreadable expression.

“I suppose I can… accept that,” Hermione said slowly.

“I’ll take that as a good thing,” Blaise said. “So, to make it official: I’m very sorry, Miss Granger.”

Hermione nodded. “I accept your apology,” she said, and then her eyes narrowed. “We’ll see where it goes from here.”

***

Harry soon left with Daphne, Blaise, and Draco, and almost immediately after they turned the corner Daphne grabbed Harry’s arm and began dragging him to an empty classroom.

“Hey!” Harry protested. “What are you doing?”

She shoved him into the classroom, and Blaise and Draco followed, both looking a bit bewildered. She slammed the door and rounded on Harry with a furious expression.

“You,” she sneered, “need to be more careful about what you say to people outside of our house.”

“What happened?” Blaise asked.

“Granger was just asking a lot of questions about the cyclical days and Samhain,” Daphne said, never taking her eyes off of Harry. “Why was she? What did you say to her?”

Blaise and Draco both looked at Harry in alarm, and Harry swallowed nervously. “It’s because Ron saw me with you guys on Samhain,” he said. “There’s apparently a rumor going around Gryffindor tower that I’m involved in the dark arts now, and she was asking about it. I was trying to explain to her that it was just an old tradition, but…” He sighed. “I may have suggested she research Samhain for herself. I know how much she throws herself into books when she comes across something she doesn’t know about.”

Daphne raised an eyebrow. “So you tried to throw her off the scent,” she said.

“I suppose,” Harry replied, crossing his arms. “Yeah, I guess I kinda did.”

Daphne let out a laugh. “That’s very Slytherin of you, Harry.”

“What?” Harry asked, bewildered. “How?”

“It almost sounds as if you tried to distract her from the rumor about you,” Daphne said with a smirk.

Harry was stunned. Daphne was right, of course, but hearing it phrased like that made him feel unsettled.

“We should have thought of this after we ran into the weasel on Samhain," Draco said, "but I think we got distracted by..." He paused, shooting a sideways glance towards Blaise. "We need to move your dark arts books out of your trunk, just to be safe,” he continued. “If that rumor is circulating around all of Gryffindor, it’s likely that it will eventually reach the ears of McGonagall or Dumbledore.”

“And because it’s you, they may not brush it off as the usual talk about Slytherins,” Blaise added.

Harry swallowed. “I messed up, didn’t I?” he asked softly.

“I suppose you didn't really,” Daphne said. “You are in Slytherin now. The rumor was certain to start up sooner or later.” Her face then became serious. “But you really can’t give Granger any more hints. She’s remarkably intelligent, and she could easily figure you out.”

"She was asking about it directly," Harry said. "What else could I have told her?"

"That you were just taking advantage of the lack of curfew," Blaise said.

"Or exactly what you told Weasley - you just wanted to see what it was about," Daphne said.

“I’ve seen some of the books you have,” Draco said. “Even you would be arrested if the wrong person discovered them in your possession.”

“If Granger really suspected you of being involved in the dark arts, what do you think she would do?” Blaise asked.

Harry sighed, remembering Hermione turning his Firebolt over to the teachers back in third year. “She would most likely tell someone,” he said, and he suddenly felt a bit cross. “Is this about… Muggleborns destroying the dark’s reputation again?”

“It’s not because she’s Muggleborn,” Draco said calmly. “It’s because she’s Gryffindor.”

“So was I,” Harry shot back, “up until a couple of months ago.”

You have an unusually strong affinity for the dark,” Daphne said. “You are predisposed to be attracted to the dark arts.”

“We have no such guarantee about Granger,” Blaise said.

Harry had no idea what to say in response to that, so he just let out an unhappy sigh.

“Come on,” Draco said. “We need to move your books before we go to lunch.”

They exited the classroom and began making their way to the dungeons. Harry remained silent on the way there, mulling over their conversation with a frown.

While he hadn’t directly lied to Hermione the day before, he’d still manipulated her. He’d recommended that she try to research the cyclical calendar herself, hoping that she would throw herself into her books like she always did. And he’d done it with the sole intent of distracting her from the rumors about him and the dark arts.

Even more disturbing, he hadn’t even noticed what he’d done until Daphne had pointed it out to him.

In addition to that disconcerting thought, he realized that although he hadn’t been willing to teach a secret defense class due to potentially getting expelled by Umbridge, he was more than willing to continue his research into the dark arts at the risk of getting arrested.

Six months ago, he more than likely would have been disgusted at the thought of manipulating Hermione or researching dark arts to the point of risking arrest.

He’d insisted to Ron and Hermione that he was the same person he’d always been, but both Ron and Hermione had both told him that he wasn’t sounding like himself.

Maybe they were right.

***

Dear Andromeda,

I honestly have no idea how to even ask this, or what I’m even asking. I’ve tried to write this letter at least ten times and it’s still coming out wrong.

You said that the element of Slytherin is water, and water is the element of change.

I feel like I’ve been changing, and I’m not sure I like whatever I’m changing into.

I’m worried about certain things that I’ve been doing. The worst is that I manipulated a friend in order to guide them away from the truth about something. I feel like I’m becoming deceitful.

I do feel like these things I’ve done were for a good reason, but I’m not sure I’m happy with how I’m doing these things.

I guess my question is - is this “normal” Slytherin behavior, or is it the "crookedness" you mentioned that Slytherins are sometimes capable of?

I hope you can shed some light on this, because I’m not very happy with myself right now.

Sincerely,

Harry

***

The following day, Umbridge also asked Harry to stay behind after class. Harry instantly tensed up, but plastered on a fake smile and nodded. “Yes, Professor Umbridge.”

“What’s going on that all the teachers need to talk to you?” Draco whispered as they packed up their books.

Harry shook his head. “It can’t be about the same thing,” he said back.

Blaise shot Harry a cautious look on his way out the door, but didn’t say anything. Pansy gave him a brief hug, using the cover to whisper in Harry’s ear. “You’ll do fine,” she said. “Blow up afterwards if you need to, but don't do it while you're around her.”

Harry nodded and gave Pansy a weak smile, and then he and Umbridge were alone.

Umbridge was pulling up a chair in front of her desk. “Have a seat, Mr. Potter.”

Harry took in a deep breath and then sat, looking at Umbridge expectantly. She sat down at her desk and clasped her hands in front of her, affixing Harry with one of her disgusting smiles.

“I thought it was high time we had a conversation without your housemates around,” she said.

The hair on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end. Blaise hadn’t received detention that week, citing the need to revisit his strategy with her, but if she had figured him out…

“I’ve been extremely impressed with your behavior in my class, Mr. Potter,” Umbridge continued. “I would be lying if I were to say I had been... optimistic about what to expect out of you this year, but aside from that one tiny incident at the beginning of the term you have performed quite admirably.”

Harry swallowed, but kept his expression neutral. “Thank you, Professor.”

“Now that you and I have put all of that nonsense about the Dark Lord returning behind us, I was wondering…” Umbridge let out a titter, “... I was wondering if you might be willing to give a tiny statement to the Prophet about your… mistake.”

Inside, Harry instantly began fuming. She wanted to use him to spread the Ministry’s propaganda. It was not a situation where Harry could simply say the opposite of how he felt, because he knew he could never agree to lie to the entire wizarding world about the danger surrounding them. He clenched his hand around the strap of his bag so tightly that his knuckles turned white.

He took a deep breath and out and tried his hardest to keep his voice steady. “I’m sorry, Professor,” he said, “but I don’t think I will.”

Umbridge’s eyes bulged. “Whyever not? I am certain that if the public saw you, Harry Potter - of all people - tell them they are indeed safe -”

“After what the Prophet wrote about me this past summer, I’d rather not speak with the Prophet at all,” Harry said. “I’ve had enough of being in that paper.”

Umbridge frowned. “Surely you know that telling the truth would clear your name?”

Harry shook his head and searched for the right words; he had to find a way out of this situation. “It’s not just this past summer, Professor Umbridge,” he said slowly. “The Prophet has never been favorable towards me.” He narrowed his eyes. “I’m sure you recall Rita Skeeter’s work last year? She misquoted me and spread lies about me, as well as my friends.”

“Well, Mr. Potter -”

“To put it bluntly, Professor,” Harry said, proud of how even he kept his voice, “I don’t trust the Prophet, and I believe I have good reason.”

Umbridge looked furious, her mouth curling unpleasantly. “I must say that I am most disappointed, Mr. -”

“If your name had been repeatedly and unfairly dragged through the mud before you were even old enough to take your O.W.L.s, what would you have done?” Harry asked, interrupting her. He narrowed his eyes in thought; he had to appeal to her somehow. “What would you have done, as a Slytherin?”

Umbridge shut her mouth and appeared to actually consider the question.

Suddenly, it hit Harry. She valued her power, Blaise had said, and she liked it when people pointed out how much power she actually held. He tried to channel Blaise as he spoke. “I will be frank with you, Professor,” Harry said, leaning forward in his chair and clasping his hands on her desk. “It is clear that despite protestations from both sides, the Ministry for Magic does hold some sway over what is printed in the Prophet. Would you say that is true?”

Umbridge let out a short, unpleasant laugh. “It may or may not be true.”

“I see,” Harry said. He raised his arm and placed his chin in his hand, imitating Draco when he appeared to be deep in thought. “If you could somehow guarantee that the Prophet would never slander my name again, I may be willing to… consider your proposal.”

Umbridge’s eyes lit up at that. “I can certainly see what I can do, Mr. Potter, but…”

“I want to be clear, Professor,” he said. “After how they’ve treated me, I will not accept a mere handshake from them. I want something... binding.”

Umbridge frowned. “That may be difficult. You know how reporters are -”

“I certainly do,” Harry said. “That’s exactly why I’m asking for this in the first place.”

Umbridge didn’t look pleased at all, but she nodded. “Your terms are… understandable. I will speak to a few people to see what we can do for you.” Then she smiled, her lips curling disgustingly. “You certainly seem to be adapting to your new house rather well, Mr. Potter… Slytherin to Slytherin.”

Harry swallowed, but nodded. “I think I am, ma’am.” He picked up his bag and put the strap across his shoulder. “Is there anything else?”

Umbridge waved a dismissive hand. “No, Mr. Potter,” she said. “You may go.”

Harry got to his feet and inclined his head towards Umbridge just slightly. “Thank you, Professor. Have a good day.”

“You as well, Mr. Potter.”

Harry exited the room, and almost immediately began sprinting down the hallway. His wand was already in his hand and as soon as he turned the corner his frustration came barrelling out of him, and he sent blast after blast of raw magic into the wall of the castle.

He hated her. She expected him to contribute to the lie that the Ministry continued to spread, and he couldn’t even give her a straight denial out of fear of being expelled from Hogwarts again.

“Harry!”

He sent one more furious blast of magic into the wall before spinning on his heel to see Daphne, Pansy, and Draco jogging towards him.

“I know you need to let off some steam after that conversation,” Pansy said, “but you’re going to attract attention.”

“That… fucking… toad!” Harry let out a cry of frustration. “Do you know what she wants me to do?”

“Yes,” Pansy said.

An arrow of confusion pierced through Harry’s fury. “What?”

Daphne held up a long string with an ear attached to the end, and Pansy and Draco followed suit. All three of them had obviously used Extendable Ears to eavesdrop on the conversation.

Harry stared at them in disbelief before shaking his head. “Slytherins,” he muttered.

Draco grinned wolfishly. “And you were a very, very good Slytherin in there, Harry,” he said, almost purring. “You played her perfectly.”

Harry shook his head, feeling frustrated. “What if she actually manages to come through with that deal from the Prophet? What do I do then?”

“She probably won’t,” Daphne said. “The Prophet is under the Ministry’s thumb, but she’s right - they are still reporters. They won’t agree to anything that’s… how did you put it?”

‘Binding,’” Draco said, laughing. “So even if by some miracle she does manage to secure a deal, whatever statement you give to the Prophet would be on your terms.”

“Meaning we can help you think of something to say,” Pansy said.

“But even if it does happen, a deal like that would take a lot of time,” Daphne said. “The truth might already be out by the time you both came to an agreement.”

“And once the truth comes out the Prophet will be licking your boots,” Draco said, cackling. “Just like Umbridge was just doing.”

Harry blinked. “What?”

Draco reached out and placed a hand on each of Harry’s shoulders. “The way she was speaking to you… she’s clearly preparing for the time when your name is cleared. She wants to be in your good graces.”

Harry screwed his face up in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Draco released Harry. “What I don’t understand is how you manage to be such a good Slytherin without even knowing your resources.”

“You are just confusing me more and more, you know,” Harry complained.

Draco stared at Harry for a moment, then shook his head. Pansy and Daphne started laughing. Harry was left feeling completely bewildered, his earlier anger forgotten.

***

Dear Harry,

I’m sorry that this is troubling you so. This issue may be harder for me to explain, as I was always a Slytherin while you were not. As a Gryffindor I’m sure you saw this as black and white, while as a Slytherin I don’t believe it is ever black and white.

Deceit is not always a bad action to take. I deceived my parents for years when I began to fall in love with Ted, and I feel that I was justified in doing so.

You mentioned that you felt that you were doing these things for the right reasons. I am unsure what those reasons are, or what your end goal is, but I think the general rule is that in order to avoid the crookedness we spoke of, your deceit must not cause harm to those around you.

This is, admittedly, a difficult rule to pin down. My parents would have said that I harmed the Black family by choosing to marry a Muggleborn, but their reactions were driven by their prejudice.

It is hard to say whether or not I feel your actions are justified without knowing the specifics of what happened, but I will say this: just from the short time that we have been communicating with one another, I can already tell that you are not a crooked person, Harry. You have a good heart and I believe that even if your deceit may have been for selfish reasons, it was likely still just.

I am confident that you will be able to work through this. You seem to be becoming an impressive young Slytherin, and I cannot wait to see what you have in store for the world.

Please continue to reach out to me should you need anything.

Sincerely,

Andromeda Tonks

Harry folded up the letter and found that he felt much better - better than he expected to, really. Andromeda had become an odd source of comfort for him, but he wasn’t expecting her to be able to say much that would reassure him. Once again, she’d surprised him.

He had deceived Hermione, but it had been due to the fact that she had the same prejudice against the dark arts that much of the wizarding world held. Andromeda had deceived her parents due to their own prejudice, although that prejudice had been against Muggleborns.

It wasn’t Hermione’s fault that she held that prejudice, Harry reasoned. She got all of her knowledge from books, and Harry had learned that the Hogwarts library was supremely biased against the dark arts. The content the library held actually contributed to the bias of the wizarding world.

And he wasn’t harming Hermione personally; her feelings would likely be hurt if she found out Harry was purposely trying to lead her away from the truth, but he wasn’t actively causing her pain.

With that settled, he felt he could move on to something that he’d been putting off, and so, at the next fifth year meeting, Harry announced to his housemates that he wanted to learn more about declaring dark.

Naturally, Draco was absolutely delighted.

“I’ve not made a decision,” Harry clarified. “I just want to know more. One of the books I read over the summer said it could… change my personality, or my temperament. I want to know why some people declare on certain cyclical days. I want to know what’s involved in the declaration itself. I want to make sure I know everything before I make a decision either way.”

And so they set to educating Harry on the ins and outs of dark declaration, and Harry soaked up the knowledge. Some of the information they gave him Harry had already learned on his own, but he was finding it easier to understand with more context.

Nearly all dark witches and wizards would start the path to declaring for the dark on the same day - Yule, or the Winter Solstice.

Different families had different traditions and rituals for each step of the path, but the basic steps were always the same.

After performing what was called the ‘rite of intent’ on the Solstice, the witch or wizard had to complete three other rites - the rite of blood, the rite of magic, and the rite of self. The personal rites could be completed whenever the witch or wizard chose. After the three personal rites were completed, the final declaration would then take place on a cyclical day - one that tended to speak to the witch or wizard.

Pansy explained that the reason she declared so much later than Blaise, Draco, Theo, and Millicent was because she wanted to perform the personal rites on specific dark cyclical days and then complete her final declaration on Samhain. “It’s the way my family has always done it,” she said.

Nearly all dark wizards did their final declaration on Samhain, Yule, or Imbolc - the three days that Daphne had mentioned to Hermione as being traditionally dark. Likewise, light wizards once tended to declare on Beltane, Litha, or Lammas.

No wizard - light or dark - would ever declare on either the spring or autumnal equinox, because equinoxes were the days when magic as a whole was respected.

“However,” Millicent mentioned, “it doesn’t really happen anymore, but it might suit you. Witches and wizards that came from traditionally light or neutral families and wind up declaring dark have declared on Beltane in the spring. Beltane is traditionally a light day, so declaring dark on that day shows that you don’t intend to forget the light roots that you came from.”

“Some people would say that dark witches or wizards that declare on Beltane aren’t worth trusting, though,” Theo said quietly. “My father says they have split loyalties.”

“My mother says that’s a recent development, though,” Draco said. “In reality, even dark wizards that are from dark families have declared on Beltane. It’s supposed to represent wanting to protect wizarding kind of all walks of magic - light and dark. Light wizards used to declare for the light on Samhain for all the same reasons.”

Blaise waved a dismissive hand. “The day on which you declare is more symbolic than anything else. It’s not going to change what kind of dark wizard you are.”

Harry shrugged. “That might be true, but having an option that would show I still respect my parents no matter what path I’m taking… that’s certainly appealing.”

He didn’t fail to notice Draco trying to hide a smile.

“And what about… the potential of you… changing after you declare?” Harry asked. That was what he was truly concerned about. He’d already been insanely temperamental this year, and he didn’t want to start regularly blasting the castle walls every time someone made him angry.

“It’s rare,” Theo said. “But it can happen. You are opening yourself to the dark, which is raw and wild, and sometimes that can make you question your conscience less, or…”

“Turn someone like Blaise into a giggling loon,” Draco quipped.

Blaise laughed. “Or make Draco even more of a pointy, sarcastic git than he was before.”

“Ass.”

Harry grinned at the exchange, and Theo continued. “If anything does happen, it’s not like it truly changes you. It’s more like it might amplify parts of you that are already there.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “So what’s changed about Pansy?” he asked, glancing over at the witch in question.

“Well, she’s starting to beat me in time spent in the bathroom every morning,” Draco said, and a cushion from one of the couches promptly flew into his face.

***

November rolled into December. The air grew colder and the nights longer, and their homework load seemed to get heavier and heavier with each passing day.

One the last Hogsmeade weekend of the year, Pansy and Draco finally convinced Harry to allow them to give his wardrobe an overhaul.

“Muggle clothing is appalling as it is, but yours is especially awful,” Pansy quipped as they walked down the path.

Harry sighed. “I should grab a fashion magazine next time I’m in the Muggle world,” he said, stuffing his hands in his cloak to protect them from the cold air. “I think you’d actually like some of the dresses they tend to wear to red carpet events and the like.”

“Oh, could you?” Pansy asked. Harry raised an eyebrow at Pansy’s willingness to actually look at something Muggle. “Daphne and Tracey have insisted the same thing - that Muggle glamor actually puts wizarding glamor to shame.”

“What’s a red carpet event?” Draco asked.

Harry shrugged. “Award ceremonies and parties for… politicians, movie stars, and the like,” he said. “Muggle celebrities. They enter the events on long, red runner carpets.”

“So if you were Muggle, you would walk on a red carpet,” Draco said, snickering. Harry rammed into him with his shoulder, and Draco's snicker turned into a laugh.

They entered Gladrags, which was unusually crowded, and the blast of sudden warmth made Harry let out a sigh of relief. He pulled his hands out of his cloak and rubbed them together, blowing on them.

“Oh, for pity’s sake,” Draco muttered. He grabbed Harry’s hands and cast a warming charm on them. “I swear, sometimes I think you’re barely a wizard. That’s a first year spell, Potter.”

Harry grinned sheepishly, flexing his fingers. “I always forget.”

“How you’ve managed to get to fifth year, I shall never know.”

Harry let out a laugh. “Well, good thing I have you for the next three, right?”

Draco rolled his eyes. His cheeks seemed pink from the cold, and Harry wondered why Draco wouldn’t just use the warming charm on his face, as well.

Harry was quickly distracted by Pansy’s flurry of movement, already pulling item after item off of the racks. She occasionally held up an item next to Harry’s face, considered it, and then either handed it to Draco or discarded it by throwing it back on top of the rack.

“Shouldn’t you at least put them back properly?” Harry said, simultaneously amused and mildly irritated.

“It’s what they get paid for,” Pansy said, paying no mind to Harry’s comment as she moved on to the next rack.

With cloaks, slacks, and shirts draped over each of Draco’s arms, Pansy flagged down an employee. “Excuse me, we need to get measurements on this young man here,” she said, gesturing to Harry, “and then we need these items in those measurements so he can try them on.”

The employee gave the stack of clothing a baleful eye. “It may be a bit of a wait, ma’am,” he said. “It’s the holiday season, so we’re a bit -”

“You do realize that this is Harry Potter, correct?” Draco said. “And this is Miss Pansy Parkinson, and I am Draco Malfoy. Surely you can find someone to assist us immediately.”

The employee’s eyes widened, and then they did the ever-familiar flick up to Harry’s scar. Even with whatever lies the Prophet said about him, Harry’s name still struck witches and wizards with awe. Harry let out a silent sigh.

“One moment, sir,” the employee said. “I’m certain I can find someone…” he trailed off and jogged over to the counter, where two other employees were ringing out customers.

“Why did you do that?” Harry hissed at Draco. “We have plenty of time. I don’t mind waiting.”

“Well, I do mind,” Draco said, his familiar snootiness turned on to full effect. “You should learn how to use your name to your advantage, Harry.”

“To get clothes five minutes faster than we would have otherwise?”

“You have an advantage and you should use it,” Draco said. “Much like Umbridge wants to.”

“What?” Harry asked, confused.

Draco rolled his eyes. “You mean you still haven’t figured out why Umbridge wants to strike that deal with you, and isn’t punishing you for not immediately agreeing?”

Harry let out a frustrated noise. “I don’t think I really care -”

“It’s because your name has power,” Draco said quietly. “Lasting power. More than my father, more than the idiot Fudge. Umbridge recognizes that.”

Harry’s eyes widened.

“She’s buttering you up. She wants to be on your good side whenever your name is cleared,” Draco continued. “She knows that your name could get her things that Fudge’s name could not.”

Harry felt completely horrified. “That’s… awful!” he hissed. “I don’t want to do anything for her - ever!”

“You should let her, Harry,” Pansy said reasonably. “Even if you don’t intend on ever doing her any favors, she clearly wants to do favors for you in order to get on your good side.”

“She’s even trying to speed up the process of getting your name cleared, so that way you're actually in a position to do her a favor,” Draco said. “She thinks it's mutually beneficial for you both. You’re a Slytherin, Harry. Just let her do it. As long as you continue to be careful around her, it will be nothing but an advantage for you.”

***

Later that night, Pansy, Daphne, and Tracey joined the boys in their dorm, and Harry - quite against his will - modeled some of the clothing they’d picked up in Gladrags.

“We have a shipment or three coming in just after the holidays,” Pansy said. “But this is enough for a start.”

“This is already like… a month's worth of clothing!” Harry moaned as he pulled yet another turtleneck over his head.

“Ooh, I like that one,” Daphne cooed. “The green-gray is perfect for his coloring, Pansy.”

“Isn’t it?” Pansy grinned.

Harry sighed mournfully and turned to look at himself in the wardrobe mirror. Once again, he was struck by how much he actually looked like a Slytherin. This time, however, he didn’t have the school uniform or the Quidditch robes to bring it out; it was the fine slacks pressed perfectly along the fronts of his legs, and the soft turtleneck that somehow made him look taller. He felt like he was dressed much like how Draco, Blaise, and Theo tended to dress.

“The hair will be taken care of soon,” Pansy was explaining. “I already have his Yule present ordered.”

“I thought this was my Yule present,” Harry said, turning back towards her. Pansy and Draco had insisted on paying for most of his new apparel. Harry wouldn’t let them pay for all of it, but they still had forked over an impressive amount of galleons at Gladrags.

This was simply to get you to start dressing like a Slytherin instead of a house elf,” Draco said. He looked Harry up and down and nodded in approval. “Try the sweater vest next,” he said.

***

A few nights later, just before the end of term, Harry and Draco went through some of the hexes from Nearly Undetectable Curses and Hexes in the dorm. Trying out new dark arts spells at least a few times a week had become something of a regular practice for them; they liked to reward themselves after completing a particularly gruelling homework assignment. As their homework had continued piling up, these nights became more and more frequent.

Draco flipped through the book, and Harry was trying to perfect a temporary blinding hex when Draco started laughing. “Retorsus!” he exclaimed. “I never knew a favorite of the Death Eaters was from such a… basic book.”

Harry glanced over his shoulder. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Draco turned the book around to point out a page. “This one. The Death Eaters use it to make Muggles float in the air, and then it flips them upside down.” He let out another laugh. “I think you may have seen it in action at the World Cup last summer.”

Harry scowled. “Yeah, I saw it,” he said in recognition. “It was apparently also a favorite of…” He trailed off, his eyes widening in realization when something finally occurred to him.

“Favorite of what?”

This is actually one James asked me to teach him. Flips people up in the air and upside down. He liked using it on Snivellus…

“Holy shit,” Harry said, staring vacantly at the wall. How had he not put two and two together before?

Draco walked around Harry to peer at his face. “What’s wrong?”

Harry swallowed, and he met Draco’s eyes. “Sirius… he told me…” He shook his head. “Why didn’t I realize this sooner?” he muttered, mostly to himself.

“Told you what? Draco asked.

“My father liked using this spell on Snape,” Harry said. “With all the worry about how my father treated Slytherins, I guess I just completely forgot that…”

Draco seemed to have caught on much faster than Harry had, because his eyes widened in surprise. “Your father used a dark arts hex?”

“Sirius said that my dad didn’t even know that it was dark, but… yeah, he did,” Harry said. “Would he even be able to if he didn’t have... even just a tiny bit of affinity for the dark?”

“It would make him feel sick if he had no affinity at all,” Draco confirmed.

“Holy shit,” Harry said again.

“Harry,” Draco said, his voice low, “this doesn’t necessarily mean that your father was…”

“I know he wasn’t a dark wizard,” Harry said. “Sirius said he hated the dark arts. And I know it’s likely that if he did have a dark affinity, it might have just been a small amount, but still…” He shook his head. “Do you know what this means, Draco?”

“It means your father wasn’t the picture perfect light-aligned wizard that everyone always assumed he was,” Draco said.

“It’s more than that, Draco,” Harry said. “It means that my affinity might not be dark because of Voldemort, after all.” He finally allowed himself to smile. “Maybe - just maybe - it’s because of my father.”

***

Harry found himself in the endless sea of hallways, but something had changed since the last time he was there. His body was different; he was smooth and powerful, and his belly was flat on the ground as he slid into crevices he never would have normally been able to fit into. Even though he wasn’t in his usual form, it felt normal, like he was familiar with this new body, as if he’d lived in it every day.

He glided across the floor without a sound. There was hardly any light in the corridor, but all he had to do was stick out his tongue to know where he had to go. He scented the air and knew that at the end of this hallway there was a man.

The man sat in front of something he wanted desperately. It was whatever he’d been searching for. The man was sleeping, and Harry let out a hiss of frustration. His instincts screamed out at him to bite the man, but he knew he could slip past the sleeping man without incident. Harry had to do as his master commanded; that was far more important than Harry’s desires.

But just as Harry moved to slip past the man, he stirred, and then he spotted Harry on the floor, the long body nearly surrounding him. The man jumped to his feet, brandishing a wand, and Harry, satisfied that he would get to do as he wanted after all, moved to defend himself.

Harry rose off the ground, baring his fangs, and then he struck before the man could even get off one spell. Harry’s teeth sank into the man’s flesh, and he felt a sense of satisfaction as he felt blood spurting from the wound. He reared back and struck again and felt bones splinter between his jaws. He struck a third time, and then the man let out a cry of pain and then fell back against the wall and was still.

Harry’s forehead exploded in pain.

“Harry!”

Harry heard screaming, and he felt like there were firecrackers in his stomach. He rolled over and was vaguely aware of being sick over the side of his bed, and it was only when the screaming stopped that he realized that the screams had been coming from himself. His scar flared in pain and he felt like his head was being split in two.

“Harry? Harry!” A hand grasped his shoulder and Harry struggled to open his eyes. Draco hovered over him, his expression grave and full of concern. “Greg and Vince are getting Professor Snape. Are you okay?”

“Arthur Weasley,” Harry groaned. “He’s been attacked!”

“Isn’t… isn’t that the Father Weasel?”

Harry wasn’t really in the mood for Draco’s jokes about the Weasley family right now, but he was also in no shape to tell Draco off.

“A snake - a big snake - attacked him,” Harry groaned.

Snape appeared in a sweep of billowing robes, and a bottle was forced into his hands. “Drink this, Potter,” Snape demanded. “Pain relieving potion.”

Harry obeyed and it felt as if a vice was released from his brain. It felt glorious. “Please, sir, I saw it - Arthur Weasley has been attacked -”

“Stop,” Snape snapped, his voice harsh. “Get up.” He grabbed Harry’s arm and forced him to his feet. He swept Harry out of the dorm and through the Slytherin common room. Harry felt like he was being half-dragged through the halls of Hogwarts, and he realized he had absolutely no idea where they were going.

“Sir, Arthur Weasley was attacked by a snake -” Harry tried saying again.

“We’re on our way to Dumbledore, Potter,” Snape said in a hissing whisper. “Tell him when we get there.”

“But -”

“You do realize that your being in my house is beginning to put my… position at risk?”

“Your position?” Harry asked, confused. “You’re a professor…” He trailed off, realizing that Snape was referring not to his job at Hogwarts, but to his position as a spy within Voldemort’s followers. “I’m sorry,” he said. Even though Harry had found himself beginning to trust his roommates, Snape had still been forced to help him, right in front of the children of Death Eaters.

Harry abruptly realized that he was also immensely grateful to Snape - he hadn’t questioned what Harry had seen, nor had he wasted any time. Harry hadn’t even asked to see Dumbledore; Snape had simply understood what needed to be done before Harry even really had. His roommates hadn't cut corners, either - Draco had said that they had sent for Snape before Harry even woke up.

Snape said nothing more, and they were both silent until they reached the door to Dumbledore’s office.

“Fizzing Whizbee,” Snape hissed at the door, and the gargoyle slid aside and a staircase sprang into being, sliding up through the floor. Snape dragged Harry onto the staircase as it ascended. At the top of the stairs Snape reached up and rapped the door with the griffin knocker. The door opened and Snape pushed Harry inside.

The room was dark, but they weren’t alone. “Professor Snape? And…” Dumbledore’s voice rang out, and dim light suddenly illuminated the office. Dumbledore sat at his desk, dressed in a brightly colored dressing gown, and his gaze was firmly planted on Snape. “I see,” he said quietly.

Harry narrowed his eyes. Dumbledore still wouldn't even directly acknowledge him.

“What brings you two here tonight, Severus?”

“Professor Dumbledore,” Snape said, still grasping Harry’s arm, “two of my Slytherins came to retrieve me tonight. They reported that in his sleep, Harry was hissing and thrashing, and then he began screaming… and clutching at his scar.”

Harry’s eyes immediately snapped over to Snape, and furious understanding suddenly washed over him. The way Snape spoke of what had happened, and the fact that Harry had barely gotten to tell him anything he’d seen, he could tell why Snape had brought him here - Dumbledore had obviously asked Snape to report to him if anything unusual had happened with Harry.

Dumbledore couldn’t be bothered to speak with Harry himself, but he could tell his head of house to essentially spy on him.

“Potter, now you can tell the headmaster what happened,” Snape said. He finally released Harry, and Harry took a step away from him.

“I… I was asleep,” Harry said quietly. He glanced up at Dumbledore, and felt another pop of irritation at seeing that Dumbledore still wasn’t even looking at him. “But it wasn’t… a dream. It was real.”

“What did you see, Potter?” Snape asked.

“A huge snake - it attacked Arthur Weasley,” Harry said. He needed Dumbledore to believe him. He needed Snape to believe him. He’d had enough of not being believed. “He’s in a hallway. He's badly hurt, and he needs help.”

Dumbledore leaned back and rested his head on the back of his chair, staring up at the ceiling. “How did you see this?” he asked quietly.

“I…” Harry was confused, and angry that neither of them seemed to understand how badly Mr. Weasley had been injured. “In my head.”

“That’s not what I mean, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “I meant to ask - where were you when you saw this happen? Were you… down the hallway, or perhaps watching the scene unfold from above?”

Harry’s eyes widened. Dumbledore knew - he had to know. He wouldn’t be asking, otherwise. “I was… I was the snake,” Harry said. “I saw everything through its eyes.”

He heard Snape’s sharp intake of breath, and Dumbledore immediately looked over to his potions professor. “Is Arthur very badly injured?”

“I already said he was!” Harry snapped.

“I see,” Dumbledore said, nodding, and he immediately got up from his chair and faced the paintings that surrounded his desk. He quickly commanded a few paintings to check their other portraits and to make sure Arthur was found, which confused Harry.

“But… Mr. Weasley could be anywhere,” Harry said. “I just know he’s in a hall.”

Dumbledore ignored him before turning to another portrait. “Would you please wake Professor McGonagall?” he asked the painting. “Please have her retrieve the Weasley children and bring them to my office.”

Apprehension rose in Harry. He didn’t want to have to face the Weasleys to let them know he’d seen their father be killed.

Even worse, he’d actually been the snake that had done it.

Dumbledore then went to his shelf full of trinkets and toys and pulled down something silver and fragile looking. He placed it on his desk before tapping it with his wand. A puff of smoke emerged from the tube at the top and the smoke swirled before taking the form of a snake, its jaws opening wide.

Harry looked from the tiny instrument to Dumbledore, hoping the headmaster would confirm what Harry had seen, but Dumbledore still would not even glance at him.

“I understand,” Dumbledore murmured quietly. “But in essence divided?”

The smoke snake then split into two, and the snakes swirled and coiled around each other. Dumbledore looked grave, and he tapped the instrument once again with his wand. The snakes dissipated into the air.

They waited for several minutes in awkward silence, and all the while Harry grew more anxious and irritated. Finally, one of the portraits that Dumbledore had commanded to find Arthur returned.

“We found him,” the portrait said. “He is alive. I ensured that one of your aurors found him. He is being transported to St. Mungos as we speak.”

“Excellent, excellent,” Dumbledore said, turning to another painting. “Phineas?”

Harry tuned it out, the relief of Arthur Weasley being found alive washing over him. But as he became more and more relieved, a trickling fear started in the back of Harry’s mind.

He’d been the one that had attacked Arthur Weasley. Just as Harry had found some relief that perhaps his dark affinity hadn’t been from Voldemort, he’d found himself attacking one of the kindest adults that he’d ever encountered in the wizarding world. And that snake had seemed so familiar...

The door to Dumbledore’s office opened, and Ron, Ginny, and the twins came pouring in, McGonagall behind them.

“There are several concerned Slytherin boys at the bottom of your stairs, Professor Dumbledore,” McGonagall said. She peered at Harry curiously, and the Weasleys’ eyes followed hers. Harry looked down at the floor.

Snape let out a sigh. “I will escort them back to their beds,” he said.

“Let them know that Harry likely won’t be returning tonight,” Dumbledore said as Snape turned to leave. Once Snape was gone, Dumbledore faced the Weasleys. “I am sending you four, along with Harry, to Grimmauld Place immediately.” He grasped an old kettle from his desk and he tapped it with his wand. “Portus.

“What? Why?” George asked.

“What happened?” Ginny added.

“I regret to inform you that your father was attacked,” Dumbledore said, his voice and expression grave. “It was only due to Harry’s quick thinking that his life was saved.”

Harry swallowed nervously. Dumbledore hadn’t mentioned how or why Harry had been able to do anything at all, which would likely leave him to explain. And Harry certainly did not want to explain anything.

“You have all used a portkey before?” Dumbledore asked. “Good. Now then - gather round.”

Harry crowded in between Ginny and Fred, not wanting to be anywhere near Ron. Harry reached out to grasp the kettle and he chanced one more look at Dumbledore.

“One… two…” Dumbledore, amazingly, finally looked up from the portkey and he met Harry’s eyes for the first time in months.

Severe pain suddenly sliced through Harry’s scar. A burning hot hatred suddenly flared up inside of Harry, and it felt frighteningly familiar - he’d felt it on the pitch when he’d been with Lucius Malfoy. But now Harry not only felt that awful hatred, but something else was rising within him. He instinctively wanted to bite Dumbledore. He wanted to strike at him and make him bleed. He wanted to hurt him - to kill him…

“Three.”

The portkey yanked at them and Dumbledore’s office swirled off into the distance, and Harry felt like his prey had been taken away.

Chapter Text


They landed in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place with a clatter. The odd, foreign feeling of wanting to bite and tear into something dissipated as soon as Harry hit the floor.

Harry gasped as he sat up. He hadn’t been back to Grimmauld Place since the summer, and he felt almost comforted just by being in the house. He could actually sense dark magic running through it, and it seemed as if the magic in the floorboards was reaching up to reassure him. Harry felt simultaneously soothed and uncertain about what that could mean.

Sirius came barrelling into the room. He looked haggard; he was unshaven and had clearly slept in his clothes.

“Phineas said Arthur’s been hurt,” Sirius said as he helped Harry to his feet, and Harry could smell a faint whiff of alcohol on his breath. Sirius made sure Harry was steady, and then he looked to the Weasleys. “What happened?”

“Not sure,” Fred said, frowning. “Harry?”

“Dumbledore said his life had only been saved because of you,” Ginny said. “What happened?”

Harry swallowed and suddenly felt like he was surrounded. He moved to the side of the kitchen. “I… well, I guess I kind of had… a vision,” he said quietly.

He felt sick to his stomach again, though it wasn’t from the pain in his scar this time; he just didn’t feel comfortable telling the Weasleys how he had seen their father attacked. There had been so much blood...

But he explained, as best as he could, what he’d seen, though he changed the story just a bit; he made it sound like he had just observed what had happened, instead of actually being the snake that had attacked Arthur Weasley.

“Where’s Mum?” George asked Sirius. “Is she here?”

Sirius shook his head.

“We need to go to St. Mungo’s!” Ginny insisted.

“You can’t,” Sirius said, and then proceeded to argue with all of the Weasley children about why they needed to stay put. Harry tuned it out. He leaned up against the counter and worried about what exactly was happening to him.

His affinity was dark. He’d had the briefest of hopes that it could have come from his father, but now he was also having visions through the eyes of a snake - Voldemort’s snake, to be exact. Harry knew she’d felt familiar; it had just taken him a while to place where he knew her from. Coupled with that strange, foreign feeling of wanting to kill Dumbledore that had struck him in the office, Harry felt unsettled and ill.

What the hell is happening to me? he thought desperately.

That rage he’d felt in Dumbledore’s office hadn’t been his, and neither had the hatred he’d felt on the Quidditch pitch a couple of months prior. Harry now knew that for certain; he wasn’t capable of feeling hatred like that. Harry could admit to himself that he’d been angry with Dumbledore for much of the year, but he certainly didn’t wish death on the headmaster. And Harry himself had been feeling so angry for months now, and now Harry was wondering how much of that anger had actually been his own.

He suddenly found himself wishing that Draco was there with him. Draco’s earlier reassurances about his connection with Voldemort would have been invaluable at that moment. The worries just kept piling on and on, and Draco was the only one Harry had told about any of them.

"You can't keep us from him!" Ginny shouted furiously, shaking Harry out of his thoughts. Ron had been right - she was a bit scary when she was mad.

“We can’t let the Ministry know that Harry is having visions of events happening hundreds of miles away!” Sirius insisted.

“We can say we heard it from someone else!” Ron snapped. “Our father might be dying!”

As the shouting continued to rise in volume around him, Harry’s feeling of nausea grew, and he walked out of the kitchen and straight to the nearest bathroom. He emptied whatever contents were left in his stomach - which wasn’t much - and sank down to the floor next to the toilet.

He stayed there for a long while, letting the magic of the house wrap around him like a warm embrace, and he worried about what exactly was going on inside his head.

***

He eventually joined the others back in the kitchen, where Sirius had provided everyone with a Butterbeer. Sirius pulled Harry to the side. The quietness of the room was a stark contrast to the screaming argument he’d left earlier, but somehow it felt more intense.

“Molly sent word that Arthur is still alive,” Sirius said softly. “But it doesn’t sound good, Harry.”

Harry nodded, and he sat down with the others. He didn’t feel like he belonged with them. He was not only intruding in this family’s grief and worry, but he was also the lone snake among the lions.

He was the snake that had possibly taken their father away.

Hours went by and it seemed like days.

Finally, Mrs. Weasley swung the door to the kitchen open. She looked pale and tired. Her children looked at her expectantly. “He’s going to be okay,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “He’s asleep. You all can go see him later.”

A collective sigh of relief swept through the kitchen. As the Weasley children rose to hug their mother, Harry again felt like he was intruding, and so he decided to help Sirius with breakfast.

Mrs. Weasley stopped Harry in the middle of him setting the table, sweeping him into a hug. “If it wasn’t for you, Harry…” she said, choking back a sob, “we could have lost him tonight. No one would have found him for hours, and by then it would have been far too late. Oh, Harry…” She released him and cupped her hands around his face. “Thank you so much, my dear. We’ll never be able to repay you.”

Harry only nodded, unable to say anything else. He couldn’t. The guilt was too great, and it caught in his throat. His stomach twisted unpleasantly.

Mrs. Weasley and Sirius quickly began talking about staying for Christmas, and Harry pulled Sirius aside as soon as he was free. “Can I talk to you?” Harry asked quietly.

Sirius studied Harry for a moment, and then nodded and led him into the parlor. Sirius waved his hand and the candles flared to life, illuminating the dim room.

Harry didn’t waste a moment. “Something’s happening to me, Sirius,” Harry said, and he explained his vision again, but this time he included the fact that he had actually been the snake that had attacked Arthur Weasley.

Sirius was quiet for a moment. “Did you tell Dumbledore all this?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, but he didn’t tell me what he thought.” He shook his head. “Of course, Dumbledore doesn’t really tell me anything these days…”

“If he’s not worried about it, then I’m not,” Sirius said firmly. “He would have said something if -”

“But that’s not all, Sirius,” Harry insisted. “Right before we took the portkey here, I wanted… I felt like I wanted to attack Dumbledore. I felt like I was a snake again - like I wanted to bite him.”

“An aftermath of your vision, maybe?” Sirius said, frowning.

“I don’t think so,” Harry said, shaking his head emphatically. “It felt like there was a snake inside of me…”

“You’re tired,” Sirius said. “You should -”

“Sirius, don’t,” Harry said pleadingly. “I’m really worried. This thing with the snake… it’s just the most… recent thing. There’s more.”

Sirius’s eyes widened. “I… let’s sit down.” He pulled Harry over to one of the armchairs, taking the one across from him.

Harry wasn’t sure where to begin. “I…” He sighed, flopping back in the chair and running a hand through his hair. “I have… kind of a weird question, I guess.”

“What is it?”

“My father…” Harry sighed. “You said he liked using Retorsus on Snape… before he knew it was dark arts.”

Sirius’s face took on an unreadable expression. Harry thought it looked quite similar to when he’d found Harry in the Black Library over the summer.

“When he used it, did it… did it make him feel ill at all?” Harry asked hesitantly. “Like… sick to his stomach, or…”

Sirius stared at Harry for a few long moments, and then he let out a half-laugh and shook his head. “I had a feeling this would happen.”

“What?”

“With you being sorted into Slytherin... I knew there was a good chance you’d come back knowing more about the dark arts than you did when you left.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “So… then…” He swallowed. “Is it possible that… my father had a dark affinity?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Sirius sighed. “If he did, he was just over the edge of dark,” he said softly. “That hex is barely dark, and James struggled for days to get it to work correctly. He never mentioned if it made him feel sick or not. He wasn’t the type to complain of things like that.” He let out a weak, wry smile. “He was also stubborn enough to keep trying it even if it did make him feel rotten.”

Harry felt the barest of hope that he’d been clinging onto crumble into nothing. He should have known - after all, the Slytherins had explained to him that Harry was attracted to the dark arts because of his affinity, and Sirius had already told him that his father had apparently hated the dark arts with a passion.

Harry sighed and pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs.

He was finally starting to admit to himself that he might want to declare for the dark, but he was right back to wondering if his affinity was only dark due to Voldemort.

He’d never felt so conflicted. He again found himself desperately wishing that he could talk to Draco.

“Harry…” Sirius said. “I need to ask you something, and I want you to be completely honest with me.”

Harry looked at Sirius through bleary eyes and nodded.

“Do you have a dark affinity?”

Harry squeezed his eyes shut. “I do,” he admitted. “I did an affinity rite, and it...” He sighed. “I have a pretty strong affinity for the dark, apparently.”

“I knew it,” Sirius said, almost more to himself than to Harry.

Harry looked over to Sirius in surprise. He knew he’d picked up on the hexes fairly quickly, but was that really enough for Sirius to tell that he had a dark affinity?

“And I’m assuming your new housemates guided you through how to perform an affinity rite?”

Harry nodded, frowning.

“I’m not sure how much you know, but… having a dark affinity is nothing to be ashamed of, Harry,” Sirius said.

“I know it’s not. But what if… what if it’s not mine?” Harry asked. “I know that it isn’t always hereditary, but if I didn’t get it from my father, what if it came from… from Voldemort?”

Sirius’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “How do you mean?”

Harry quickly began explaining his parseltongue, and his wand, and all of his other fears of the things that tied him to Voldemort. Sirius just frowned as Harry spoke.

When Harry was finished, Sirius shook his head. “I don’t think it’s possible, Harry. Affinities for types of magic are inherent. You can’t Imperius someone into having a dark affinity, after all - you’ve either got it or you don’t.”

“But -”

“Do you want to know exactly why I had a gut feeling about your affinity?”

Harry shrugged. “Because the hexes you showed me were easy?”

Sirius grinned. “Partly, but before that - it was because the Black Library actually opened itself to you.”

Harry blinked. “What does that have to do with my affinity?”

“That library only opens itself to those that it trusts,” Sirius said. “It’s usually just members of the Black family, or anyone with an extremely dark affinity that doesn’t have ill intent.” Sirius smiled. “That library looks at everything about you, too. It looks at your heart, your mind, and your soul. No matter what’s happened to you, I doubt that Voldemort could influence all of those parts of you.”

Harry let out a shaky breath. “So… I’m not… becoming more and more like him? Even with being a Slytherin, and having this affinity…”

Sirius shook his head. “You are still you, Harry. You’re not him. And whatever’s happened to you isn’t your fault - all you can do is move forward from whatever’s been done to you.”

Harry felt an immense wave of relief rushing through him, but he still couldn’t help but let out a bark of a laugh. “That’s almost exactly what Draco told me.”

“Draco… Draco Malfoy?” Sirius looked and sounded appalled.

“Uh… yeah,” Harry said. “He’s one of my roommates.” He remembered how Sirius had spoken about Lucius earlier in the year, and he suddenly felt defensive. “Draco might be Lucius Malfoy’s son, but he’s been… he’s not like his dad. He’s… kind, in his own weird way.”

“A kind Malfoy, Harry?” Sirius said doubtfully. “It’s almost certainly an act.”

“It’s not,” Harry insisted, growing irritated.

“Harry…” Sirius said, looking gravely concerned, “how much of all this have you told to the littlest Malfoy?”

Harry took in a breath. “Pretty much all of it, actually,” he admitted. “But not until after Draco swore an oath on his magic to not mention a word of it to anyone else.”

Sirius’s eyes widened at that. “A Malfoy… swore on his magic?” He shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like something Lucius would do.”

“It’s like I said, Sirius,” Harry said, “Draco isn’t his father.”

***

Harry’s talk with Sirius left him with barely a shred of doubt about his affinity. Sirius and Draco were in perfect agreement - Harry’s affinity was all him, and Harry found that he feared the possibility of walking the dark path less and less the more he thought about it.

Harry was actually starting to find himself excited at the possibility of declaring dark. He thought back to his affinity rite, and how much the dark magic had welcomed him. Even just being present in Grimmauld Place, where dark magic seemed to have seeped into the house itself, was a comfort. He found himself more and more certain that the dark was where he belonged.

He desperately needed to speak with his housemates.

Harry finally exited the parlor only to immediately run into Ron. Harry narrowed his eyes and stepped to the side, going around him without a word.

“Harry,” Ron said quietly. Harry stopped in his tracks.

“What?” Harry said shortly, not bothering to turn around.

“Thank you,” Ron said. “For whatever you did - seeing what had happened to Dad…” Ron’s breath caught in his throat.

Harry closed his eyes. Despite Sirius’s reassurances about his affinity, he still had no idea what was happening with him seeing through Voldemort’s snake’s eyes.

“And I’m sorry,” Ron continued, “for…”

“Ending our friendship?” Harry said in a cold voice, finally turning to face Ron. It came out harsher than he intended, but he found that he didn’t regret it.

“I… yeah,” Ron said, sighing. He looked absolutely miserable. “I’m just… I’m serious, Harry. I really am worried about you.”

Harry felt worried about himself, as well, but he was certain it was for completely different reasons than Ron. “What for?” Harry asked. “For beating you in Quidditch?” It was a low blow, but Harry wasn’t really in the mood to have any kind of conversation with Ron.

Ron frowned. “Because you’re saying things like that. It just doesn’t sound like you, Harry.”

“If you think back over the years, I think you’ll find it sounds exactly like me,” Harry said, thinking of all of the fights he’d gotten into with Draco in the past. The difference was that now his ire was directed towards Ron, instead.

Ron shook his head. “You… it just seems like you’ve gotten so close with all of those Slytherins, and -”

“I am Slytherin, Ron,” Harry spat. “They are my housemates, and yes, we have gotten close.” He narrowed his eyes, and then he took a step into Ron’s personal space. “And you should be thanking them, as well,” he hissed.

Ron’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”

“By the time I woke up from having that vision, they’d already sent someone to get help,” Harry said. “Without them, I never would have gotten to Dumbledore in time for him to do anything.” He shook his head. “Without them, your father couldn’t have been saved.”

Ron stared at Harry, his lips parted in surprise, but said nothing.

Harry let out a huff and turned around, stalking away from Ron.

Harry knew he probably should have been kinder, considering what Ron had just been through, but he could tell - his friendship with Ron really was over.

After all, even if they somehow managed to repair whatever was left, Harry knew that Ron would never accept the path that Harry was considering.

***

“We’ll be able to visit St. Mungo’s this afternoon,” Mrs. Weasley was saying. “Dumbledore is having all of your trunks sent here, and you’ll be able to stay through the holidays.”

Harry’s eyes widened. He desperately wanted to see his roommates before the end of term, but if he had to stay through the holidays he wouldn’t be able to.

After all, Yule was only a few days away, and Harry desperately wanted to speak to them one more time. If he actually was going to make a decision about declaring dark, he didn’t want to put it off for another year.

“Can I…” He cleared his throat. “I mean, I’m really glad Mr. Weasley is going to be okay, but…”

“But what, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“Is there any way I could go back to Hogwarts for the rest of the day?” he asked quietly. "I'll come back right after."

“You actually wanna go back to class, Harry?” Fred said, letting out a laugh.

Harry shook his head. “I’d like to… to say goodbye to my housemates.”

Mrs. Weasley’s eyes widened. “You’ve become… very comfortable in Slytherin, then?” she asked, frowning.

Harry looked away, sighing. With what Sirius had told him earlier in the year, he’d hoped that Mrs. Weasley didn’t have the same Slytherin bias as others. He pushed his disappointment out of mind and finally, he nodded. “It’s not just that, though,” he said. “Last night… if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to tell Dumbledore what had happened. At least… I don’t think it would have been in time.”

“Harry…” George said, “are you saying that we have to be grateful to a bunch of Slytherins for saving our dad?”

Harry let out a weak laugh.

“Harry’s a Slytherin, too, you know,” Sirius said from behind him, ruffling Harry’s hair. “And he’s turning out like Dromeda.” Harry ducked away from him, flashing Sirius a grin.

“Eh, that Greengrass girl is okay, too, I suppose,” Fred said, shrugging. “I guess you snakes aren’t all bad.”

“I’ll send Dumbledore a message, then,” Mrs. Weasley said. “You be sure to thank your… housemates for us.”

***

Amazingly, they were able to arrange for a portkey back to Hogwarts, though not until the afternoon. Dumbledore hadn’t even questioned it, and for once Harry found himself somewhat grateful for Dumbledore’s new apathy towards him.

The portkey surprisingly took him to Snape’s office rather than Dumbledore’s, and his head of house greeted him with a deep frown.

“I’m not entirely sure why you wanted to come back, Potter,” Snape said, looking quite irritated at Harry’s presence, “but you’ve already missed the last of the classes for the day, and your housemates are finishing up dinner.”

Harry nodded, deciding he would meet them in the dorms. Snape barely said two words to him as he escorted him to the common room.

He waited on one of the couches, and he stared into the fire and contemplated what he needed to tell them.

He wanted to know what he would have to do on the Solstice should he decide to take the first step on the dark path.

He also wanted to tell them exactly what had happened in his vision. Harry still didn’t know what it meant - seeing through Nagini’s eyes and feeling emotions that he was sure weren’t his own. If Dumbledore couldn’t - or wouldn’t - tell him anything, perhaps his roommates, intimately familiar with the dark arts, would be able to shed some light on what was happening to him.

The common room door slid open and Harry looked up eagerly.

“Potter!” Yaxley exclaimed as she entered the common room. “I thought you’d gone for the holidays already.” Warrington and Montague came in behind her, and they peered at Harry curiously.

“I… needed to come back for something,” Harry said, deflating in disappointment. “Do you know if the others on their way?”

“If you mean the other fifth years, they were just getting up when we left,” Warrington said. “I think Daphne and Millicent mentioned that they were headed to the library, but the others should be here any minute.”

Harry nodded, and then Yaxley came over to the back of the couch and wrapped her arms around Harry’s shoulders. Harry stiffened in surprise.

“I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but I’m glad you joined our house, Harry,” she said.

Harry swallowed. “I… I am, too,” he said genuinely.

She let him go and then smiled down at him. “I hope you have a very good Yule,” she said with a smirk.

Harry grinned. “You, too, Freya.”

The door slid open again, and Harry was flooded with relief as he saw Draco, Blaise, Theo, and Pansy enter. Harry immediately got to his feet.

“Harry!” Pansy shrieked when she spotted him. She launched herself at Harry and enveloped him in a hug. “The boys told me what happened last night, and I’ve been out of my mind with worry all day.”

Harry hugged Pansy back, and he met Draco’s eyes over her shoulder.

“Are you okay?” Draco asked.

“I…” Harry sighed. “I’m not sure.” He swallowed nervously. “I really need to talk to you guys.”

“Let’s go to our room,” Blaise said.

Blaise, Theo, and Pansy crowded onto the little sofa by the fire in the dorm room, and Draco leaned up against the wall, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Harry paced in front of them, trying to figure out what to say.

“Just… start somewhere, Harry,” Draco said softly. “Anywhere you want.”

Harry paused in his pacing and shot a look of gratitude towards Draco before turning to the others. “Something’s happening to me,” he said nervously, “and even though I’m fairly sure Dumbledore has an idea of what it is, he isn’t giving me a clue as to what it might be.”

His eyes, almost unwillingly, drifted back over to Draco, who simply nodded at him to continue.

“Last night - that wasn’t a dream I had,” he said softly. “It was a vision. It actually happened.”

“So the elder Weasley really was attacked by a giant snake?” Draco asked, raising an eyebrow. “Is he…”

“He’s going to be okay,” Harry said. “And it’s likely because you guys acted so quickly in getting Snape. So… thank you.” He gave Draco a wry smile. “Mrs. Weasley even wanted me to thank you all.”

Theo shifted uncomfortably. “I hope that doesn’t… make it back to my father,” he said softly.

Harry shook his head. “I don’t think it will,” he said. “They don’t want anyone knowing that I’m having visions of…” He took a shaky breath. “In the vision… I was the snake.”

A moment of silence fell, then Blaise finally spoke up. “Last night… before you started screaming, you were hissing. I thought it might have been parseltongue.”

Snape had mentioned him hissing, as well. “It… it might have been,” Harry admitted. “I have no idea what was coming out of my mouth before I woke up.”

“So you… you saw this all through the snake’s eyes?” Draco said. “Like you were… trapped inside the snake?”

“Not… not really,” Harry said, swallowing nervously. “I mean I actually was the snake. I could feel everything she felt. I wanted to… to bite him, to attack him, and…”

‘She?’” Draco said, his eyes widening.

Harry nodded, and then looked down at the floor. “The snake was Nagini.”

Theo let out a choking sound. “That’s the Dark Lord’s snake.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. He raised his hand to run it through his hair, and he saw that he was shaking almost uncontrollably. Pale fingers suddenly reached out and wrapped around his own, and he looked up to see Draco had moved to his side.

“Harry, sit down,” Draco said, pulling Harry down to the floor, never releasing Harry’s hand. Harry sank to the ground in front of the sofa, folding his legs up under him.

“So you’re… seeing things from inside the Dark Lord’s snake,” Blaise said quietly.

Harry nodded. “And… I’m…” He shook his head, and Draco gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Later, when I was in Dumbledore’s office, I wanted… I felt like I was a snake again. I wanted to attack him.” Harry was starting to feel ill again, and he buried his head in his free hand. “It wasn’t me. I know I’ve been pretty pissed at Dumbledore lately, but I would never…”

“Merlin’s fucking tits,” Blaise whispered.

Harry looked up at Blaise in alarm. “Do you know what any of it means?”

“Not… not really,” Blaise said, but Harry didn’t think he sounded like he was being entirely truthful.

“But it’s awfully... suspicious,” Theo said, narrowing his eyes.

“Being inside the Dark Lord’s snake, and then wanting to attack Dumbledore…” Blaise mused. “You know who hates Dumbledore more than anything?”

Draco’s hand suddenly grew tighter around Harry’s. “The Dark Lord,” he said softly.

Silence fell on the group again, and then Pansy, who had remained quiet during Harry's explanation, leaned forward from her seat on the sofa. “Harry… I think it’s more than just you being in his snake’s head,” she said. “It sounds like…”

“It sounds like the Dark Lord is in yours,” Theo continued.

Harry took in a sharp breath, and his insides felt cold. “If… if he’s in my head…”

“He might be able to see everything that you see,” Theo said. He sounded more frightened than Harry had ever heard him. “And if he’s aware of it…”

Harry’s eyes widened, and his breath turned quick and unsteady. “You… you all shouldn’t be anywhere near me,” he choked out. Considering the allegiances of his housemates’ families, he was risking their safety.

He shouldn't have come back. His selfishness was putting his housemates in danger.

Draco’s grip on his hand became almost painful, but Harry was still glad for the contact. He felt like he was on the verge of completely crumbling, but the touch helped Harry feel calmer, and he took a deep breath, trying to get himself under control.

“I hate saying this,” Theo said, his voice still full of terror, “but I think you’re right.” He abruptly stood up from the couch. “I’m about to go home, and if the Dark Lord has talked to my father about anything he’s seen through you…” He shook his head and suddenly stalked out of the dorm, leaving the door open behind him.

Blaise and Pansy looked at each other in alarm. “I’ll go talk to him,” Blaise said. “Considering some of the conversations we’ve had, I get why he’s scared, but…” He shook his head, and he quickly followed Theo.

Pansy, too, got to her feet. “Harry, don’t worry,” she said. “I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as Theo’s making it out to be. We’ll figure this out, okay?”

Harry nodded, not believing her in the slightest.

Pansy bent down and gave Harry a tight hug. “I’m going to go help Blaise round up Theo,” she murmured as she stood back upright. “Draco, you take care of Harry, okay?”

“Not a problem,” Draco said. Harry glanced at Draco in surprise, and then they were alone.

Draco shifted on the floor so he was facing Harry directly, and he grabbed Harry’s other hand. They sat across from each other in identical positions, and Draco’s fingers twined around Harry’s. “You know it’ll be okay, right?” Draco said softly.

Harry shook his head. “I’m honestly… surprised that you didn’t take off like Theo,” he said. “I’m pretty sure Voldemort talks to your dad way more than his…”

“My father has also made it sound like the Dark Lord holds his cards close. The likelihood of this actually getting back to my father is next to nothing,” Draco said calmly. “And even if it does, I’ll think of something to tell him. I always do.”

Harry stared at Draco for a long moment, and found he almost wasn’t able to believe his eyes. Draco wasn’t leaving. He wasn’t abandoning Harry, even though Draco could be risking getting into extreme trouble with his father, and Harry knew from experience just how dangerous Lucius Malfoy could be.

Most importantly, Draco didn’t seem scared of the fact that Harry could potentially have Voldemort peering out through his eyes.

Harry suddenly felt completely overcome with emotion. “Thank you, Draco,” he whispered, “for staying.”

Draco smirked. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I think I’ve grown rather attached to you.”

Harry grinned, despite himself. “Oddly enough, I feel the same,” he said. He let out a laugh. “If someone had told us a year ago where we’d be right now…”

“I probably would have hexed them,” Draco said simply.

Harry rotated his hands so he was holding Draco’s as much as Draco was holding his. “There’s… there’s another reason I wanted to come back today,” he said. “A pretty big reason, actually.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “What’s that?”

“I want… I wanted to ask about Yule.”

A smirk slowly spread itself across Draco’s face. “Does that mean what I think it means?” he asked eagerly.

Harry let out a laugh. “I… I’m not completely sure yet, but… yeah,” he said. “I think I want to.” He smiled weakly. “Despite everything going on with me right now, it just feels… right.”

Draco’s smirk turned into a full-blown grin. “You have to come to the Solstice celebration, even if you decide not to declare. It’s the longest night - when dark magic is at its peak. It’s the biggest celebration of dark magic every year.”

“I have no idea how I’ll manage that, though,” Harry protested. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to get away without anyone noticing. Is it possible to perform the rite of intent… on my own?”

Draco shook his head dismissively. “You can, but you really don’t need to. The celebration starts at midnight. Unless you’re staying with a bunch of night-owls, you should be able to leave wherever you are without anyone knowing.” Draco abruptly released Harry’s hands and got to his feet. He crossed the room and pulled out a parchment and quill from his desk. He started scribbling across the parchment, occasionally looking up at Harry to explain what he was writing.

“There’s an incantation you say at a certain time, and, provided the dark magic trusts you - which it’s already shown that it does - it will take you directly to the Solstice celebration.”

Harry blinked. He got to his feet and moved behind Draco, peering down at the elegant handwriting on the parchment.

“How many people attend this celebration?” Harry asked.

“Usually around fifty or so,” Draco said, continuing to write.

Harry’s eyes widened. “That many? Draco, I don’t know...” He sighed. “I’d imagine there will probably be Death Eaters there, then?”

Draco laughed. “There will likely be at least one or two, but that’s the magic of Solstice, Harry,” he said. “You won’t be in any danger. It’s a time of celebration, so the magic prevents anyone from harming anyone else who’s there.” He grinned. “It will also prevent anyone from revealing the identities of anyone else in attendance to anyone who wasn’t actually there.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. He knew that dark magic was powerful, but he had no idea that it was capable of protecting wizards to that extent. “Are you serious?” he exclaimed.

Draco nodded. “The Solstice is actually the only dark celebration where this happens, because it’s the night when the dark is strongest,” he continued. “No will be able to hurt you, and no one will be able to reveal that you were there.”

“And what if… what if Voldemort shows up?”

“My mother mentioned that the Dark Lord never used to attend prior to his fall,” Draco said. “I can’t imagine he’d start now.”

“Would I be able to leave whenever I wanted?” Harry asked. “If he did show up, I mean?”

“Yes.” Draco scribbled down a few more sentences, and then passed the parchment to Harry. “This is the incantation you say to take you to the celebration. No matter where you are, it won’t set off the Ministry trace,” he said, pointing to the paragraph he’d written at the top, and then he moved his finger to the bottom of the parchment. “This is what you say when you need to leave. You can use it at any point.”

Harry felt more and more certain the more he read through Draco’s instructions. “I want to do this,” he said softly. “I…” He looked up at Draco, meeting his eyes. “I’m going to declare dark.”

Draco looked more elated than Harry had ever seen him. He let out an enormous grin, and Harry couldn’t help but grin back. It was infectious, and Harry felt an excitement he’d never really felt before. He realized that despite all of the doubts that had been plaguing him for months, he felt like he was meant to declare for the dark.

“Okay,” Draco said, his expression becoming contemplative. “Since you don’t come from a dark family you don’t have any traditions to follow, so I’ve been thinking about what you could do instead...”

Harry laughed. “Why am I not surprised that you’ve already got a plan?”

“I wanted to be prepared,” Draco said. “It’s not often that someone from outside the dark community declares, you know.”

Harry shook his head, amused. “Okay,” he said, “so what do you think I should do?”

“You could follow the Black traditions,” Draco said, “since your godfather is a Black.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know what those are…”

“I do,” Draco said, grinning. “My mother is a Black, and I followed the Black traditions for my declaration, rather than the standard Malfoy rites.” He pulled out another parchment, this time sitting down. “Even better, you’ll be able to follow the Black traditions more properly than I could when I declared.”

“What do you mean?”

“Black tradition requires a mentor and a peer - fully declared dark witches or wizards that you can reach out to for guidance as you walk the dark path. I didn’t have a Black peer, but for you…” Draco smirked. “I can be your peer, as I am the obvious choice.”

Harry laughed.

“And I’m certain my mother would agree to serve as your mentor,” Draco continued. “Honestly, I think she’d be thrilled. She’s always complaining that the dark needs new blood.”

Harry paused at that. He’d never directly spoken to Narcissa Malfoy, but the woman was married to Lucius. He wasn’t sure he’d enjoy having to go to her with his questions.

But Narcissa isn’t necessarily my only choice, Harry thought, already formulating a plan.

“I’ll… take you up on your mother, if necessary,” Harry said slowly. “But I think I’ve got someone in mind.”

Chapter Text


Harry felt far better prepared for the portkey back to Grimmauld Place the second time around. He actually managed to land on his feet, although he stumbled, nearly knocking Hermione over. He caught her by the elbow just as Mrs. Weasley came into the kitchen.

“There you two are!” she exclaimed. “Everyone is in the family room having a nice dessert.”

“How is Mr. Weasley?” Harry asked as Mrs. Weasley bustled them out of the kitchen.

“He’s awake and he should be coming home in a day or two,” Mrs. Weasley responded with a smile. “He wanted me to thank you.”

Harry immediately looked down to the floor. He’d been feeling so much better after telling Draco of his plan to declare dark, but the reminder of his vision brought the underlying feeling of fear rushing back.

Voldemort could be in his head.

He abruptly stopped in his tracks.

“What is it, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“Should I… be here?” he asked quietly. If Voldemort really could see into his head, he could be looking into the Order headquarters right at that very moment.

Hermione paused, as well, turning to look at Harry curiously.

“What do you mean, Harry?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

Harry looked at Mrs. Weasley, wondering what he should say. Surely if the Slytherins had figured out that Voldemort could potentially be in his head, the Order would know it, as well.

“What’s going on?” Hermione asked.

Harry took a breath, trying to grasp onto the reassurances that Draco and Pansy had given him. “I... “ He sighed. If Voldemort was in his head he would feel it, like he had in Dumbledore's office. “Nothing.” He continued on into the family room.

As soon as he entered, he could instantly tell that something had changed since he’d left. The twins were staring at him with grim expressions, and when Ron spotted him his eyes widened in what looked like fear. “What’s wrong?” Harry asked, alarmed. “Did something else happen?”

“No,” Ginny said, climbing out of the armchair she’d been curled up in. “They’re just being stupid. Can I talk to you, Harry?”

Harry raised an eyebrow and nodded. Ginny glanced over to Hermione. “You may as well come, too,” she said. “That way you’ll know why my brothers are being such idiots.”

Ginny led him and Hermione into the parlor and shut the door. “We eavesdropped on Mum and Dad, along with Moody, when we were at St. Mungo’s.” She took a deep breath. “What we heard, Harry…”

A sinking feeling developed in Harry’s stomach. “It’s… about me, isn’t?”

Ginny nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “But considering what was said, I wanted to be the one to talk to you about it.” She then put her hands on her hips and set her mouth in a tight line, and Harry was struck by how much she looked like Mrs. Weasley at that moment. “Was there something you… neglected to mention when you told us about your vision?” she asked.

Harry swallowed nervously.

“Vision?” Hermione asked. “Is that what happened? Nobody’s told me much of anything except that Mr. Weasley was hurt.”

“Harry had a vision of a snake attacking our father,” Ginny said, her eyes never leaving Harry’s face. “But that wasn’t the whole story… right, Harry?”

Harry sank down into one of the chairs and buried his fingers in his hair, his elbows resting on his knees. “Yeah.”

“Harry, what happened?” Hermione asked.

Harry sighed. Ginny was making it abundantly obvious that she already knew what he had left out. “In the vision, I was the snake,” he said slowly. “And I know that it was… Voldemort’s snake.”

Ginny nodded. “That’s what we heard,” she said. “But that’s not all, Harry…”

Harry looked up at her, alarmed.

“Moody said that it meant… that it could mean…” Ginny took a deep breath. “... that You-Know-Who could be possessing you.”

Hermione gasped.

Harry closed his eyes. “I know,” he said quietly.

“You… know?” Ginny asked, her eyes widening.

“I mean…” Harry sighed. “I never really landed on the word ‘possession,’ but…” He stared down at his hands, unwilling to meet their eyes. “I was in his snake’s head, and it seems likely that he’s… in my head.” He took in a shaky breath. “That was kinda why I wanted to go back to Hogwarts… Dumbledore wasn’t telling me anything about what he thinks might be happening to me, and I needed to try and figure it out.”

“You… you asked your housemates… ?” Hermione said quietly.

Harry nodded.

Hermione paused for a moment before responding. "Do you… often talk about… Voldemort with the other Slytherins?"

Harry picked at one of his fingernails in a pathetic effort to keep his hands busy. Their conversation was skirting on breaking the Slytherin covenant. "Sometimes," he answered.

He heard Ginny take in a sharp breath. “That was something else that Moody mentioned, Harry.”

Harry finally looked up at her. “What?”

“He thinks that… your being in Slytherin…” Ginny trailed off, sounding uncertain.

Despite his feeling of dread, Harry rolled his eyes. “Don’t you start on this, too, Ginny. I’m in Slytherin because of me. That’s not Voldemort.”

“I figured,” Ginny replied softly. “I’m just… letting you know what was said.”

“Harry, are you okay?” Hermione asked, looking at him in concern. “This seems like a lot to be dealing with.”

“I’m nervous about being here if Voldemort’s actually in my head,” Harry said. “But I…” He sighed. “My housemates also had reason to be nervous, considering…” He trailed off. He couldn’t get into the Slytherin family alliances - not with them.

“Considering what?” Hermione asked, her eyes narrowing.

Harry shook his head. “I can’t really talk about it.”

Hermione looked decidedly unhappy about that, but she didn’t respond.

“I wanted to ask you something,” Ginny said. “Do you have any gaps in your memory lately? Like… big chunks of time where you had no idea what you’d been doing?”

Harry screwed his face up in confusion. “No… why?”

Ginny smiled. “I told them so,” she said. “You’re not being possessed by You-Know-Who, then.”

“How do you…” Harry trailed off, and his eyes widened in realization. “The diary.”

“I kept telling them - considering I’m the only one we know of who’s actually been possessed by him…”

“You would know,” Harry finished for her, and he smiled at her.

***

Harry pulled Sirius aside as soon as he could, although he almost regretted interrupting Sirius’s jovial mood. Sirius had been singing Christmas carols and dancing in the halls; he was clearly happy with having company. If he’d really been mostly alone for months, Harry supposed he couldn’t really blame him.

They went into the parlor, and Sirius shut the door and turned to Harry. “What’s up, pup?”

Harry swallowed. He’d practiced his questions in his head a thousand times over, but he still felt nervous.

“I need to ask you something,” Harry said. “And I honestly have no idea how you’re going to react. I mean… I think you’ll be okay with my asking, considering some of the things we’ve talked about, but…” He trailed off when he realized he was babbling.

Sirius had grown up in a dark family, he wasn’t against the dark arts, and he clearly had at least some level of affinity for the dark.

Only one question really remained. Harry had never asked, and Sirius had never offered the information. Harry figured there was a good chance of it going either way; after all, it seemed like Sirius had rebelled against his family in every way he possibly could have.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”

Harry steeled himself, and then finally asked the question that had been burning brighter and brighter ever since the summer, even though he hadn't really put words to it until that very day. “Are you a dark wizard?”

Sirius didn’t say anything for a few moments, and Harry’s nervousness grew. Perhaps Sirius was like Daphne - he could have a dark affinity, and not have any problem with the dark arts, but he might have never declared. He’d been a Gryffindor, after all, and he seemed to hate most dark wizards quite vehemently.

“Are you… are you thinking of declaring for the dark, Harry?” Sirius finally asked, his voice quiet.

Harry hesitated, then nodded. “I feel like… like I’m meant to,” he said, his voice unintentionally coming out in a whisper. "Like I'm supposed to." Saying it out loud made him realize just how true it was.

Finally, a soft, gentle smile appeared on Sirius’s face. “I was only a bit younger than you when I declared.”

Relief flooded through every inch of Harry’s body. He’d had his suspicions, but hearing Sirius actually say it made the tension drain out of his shoulders.

Sirius apparently noticed how on edge Harry had been about asking, and he pulled Harry into his arms. Harry almost felt like crowing in satisfaction. “I was fourteen,” Sirius continued. “And it caused such a massive blow-up between your father and me. He didn’t speak to me for a month.”

Harry drew back from Sirius and looked up at him in surprise. “My father knew?” he asked. “About you?”

Sirius nodded. “I told him the night before my final declaration,” he said, and he frowned. “I had hoped my best friend would understand that it was what was best for me, but…” He sighed. “Even though James was furious with me, I could never find it within myself to regret it.” He let out a lopsided grin. “I’m the black sheep no matter where I go. The only Gryffindor in my family, and the only dark wizard in Gryffindor…” He gave Harry a gentle poke in the ribs. “You are at least a Slytherin. Dark wizards fit right in there, don’t they?”

Harry let out a weak laugh. “You’re… not wrong.”

“I don’t even really fit in with most dark wizards, either,” Sirius said, sighing. “I still attended celebrations until I was… well, about your age - when the war really started getting dangerous… but most of them tried to ignore the fact that I was there.” He grinned. “That’s another part of why Andromeda was my favorite. She never pretended I didn’t exist.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Andromeda is a dark witch, then?” He’d wondered - and he knew it had been likely considering she was both a Black and a Slytherin - but it had never come up in any of their letters, and Harry had no idea if it was even safe to ask something like that in a letter.

Sirius nodded. “Although as far as I know, she also stopped attending after falling out with her sisters…”

Harry filed that information away. It was nice to know that he might be able to be a bit more open with Andromeda. He had to move on to his most pressing questions first.

“Um… speaking of celebrations…” Harry started. “Yule is tomorrow…”

Sirius let out a sigh. His eyes drifted up to the ceiling and he gave a shake of his head. “You want to go, don’t you?”

“Uh, well… yes,” Harry said.

Sirius looked back down and studied Harry’s face for a long moment. “You know that a good chunk of the dark community will be there, right?” His eyes narrowed. “Including Death Eaters?”

“Yeah, but… doesn’t the magic prevent anyone from… attacking me?” Harry asked. “Or revealing to anyone that I was there?” He found that he trusted Draco, but getting confirmation from his godfather would be safest.

Sirius nodded. “It’s really powerful stuff. It even guards against things like Veritaserum, or mental attacks and Legilimency.” He snorted. “Pissed James off again when I told him I couldn’t reveal anyone else.”

Harry had no idea what Legilimency was, but he didn’t want to distract Sirius from the question. “So… you’d be okay if I go?” Harry asked hopefully.

Sirius sighed again, more exasperated this time. “I probably wouldn't be able to stop you if you're really determined to do this, short of knocking you out and tying you to a chair," he said. "So… yes, but I’m going with you. Safe or not, I’m not about to let you walk into that situation alone.”

Harry grinned. “Good, because I was kinda hoping you’d come, anyway,” he said. “But that’s not the only thing I wanted to ask.”

“What is it?”

“Since I’m declaring… I want to do the rite of intent,” Harry said. “And Draco suggested that -”

“Draco Malfoy again,” Sirius huffed, rolling his eyes upward.

Harry ignored him and plowed on. “Draco suggested that since I don’t come from a dark family, I could follow the Black rites… because you are my godfather.”

Sirius’s eyebrows quirked upward, and his lips parted slightly in surprise.

“Draco said he followed the Black traditions when he declared, and that he could serve as the peer. He suggested his mother for the mentor, but…” Harry took a breath. “I’d rather it be you.”

Sirius let out a bark of a laugh. “Malfoy’s only son choosing to end the Malfoy rites with him… oh, that’s priceless.” He gave Harry a wry grin. “Perhaps he’s not a giant git, after all.”

Harry glared at Sirius, annoyed. Sirius had never even met Draco.

“And of course I’ll serve as your mentor, Harry,” Sirius said, the humor slowly dropping from his face. “If you are completely sure - if this is what you really want to do… I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Harry’s irritation immediately faded into elation, and he grinned. He officially had everything he needed in order to start walking the dark path. He threw his arms around Sirius. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Sirius hugged him back, and they stayed like that for a long while.

“I can’t believe I’m going back to a Yule celebration,” Sirius muttered in disbelief. “It’s been… well, literally decades.” He shook his head.

“Thank you,” Harry whispered, and then he finally drew back from his godfather. “Sirius… about my father…”

“Yeah?”

“Did he ever… I mean, you guys were clearly friends at the end, but… did he...” Harry trailed off. He’d already given up on Ron, but he couldn’t help but wonder if he could ever be completely honest with Hermione again.

Sirius sighed. “We… got over it, eventually,” he said. “But I don’t think James ever really looked at me the same after that.” He let out a bitter laugh. “I've always wondered if that was why..." He trailed off.

"What?"

"Nothing." Sirius gave him a weak smile. "But that’s why I was so surprised when he asked me to be your godfather. I mean… godfathers are supposed to spoil kids rotten and give them great presents, but they’re also supposed to… provide spiritual guidance.” He shook his head. “I guess James decided he was okay with having a dark wizard provide spiritual guidance to his son, so maybe he really did… finally accept it.”

Harry found himself grinning. “Or maybe he knew that I’d be like you.”

Sirius laughed. “I doubt it, Harry.”

“Either way, Sirius… I’m glad you’re my godfather.”

"Me, too, pup." Sirius grinned wryly at him. "Andromeda and I could use the company, too."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

"Me, her, and soon, you - I think we're the only dark wizards who aren't aligned with Voldemort."

Harry nodded, but a thought sprang up, almost unbidden, in the back of his mind.

Not if I can help it.

***

Harry had a hard time sleeping that night, and he could barely contain his excitement all throughout the next day. More than once he found his knee bouncing up and down whenever he took a seat. Sirius had to keep standing on his foot, hissing at him to settle down.

Fortunately - or unfortunately - Fred and George served as a great distraction, apparently having gotten over their earlier apprehension. Unfortunately, that also meant they kept jumping up and screaming dramatically every time Harry moved - more to scare Ron than Harry. Harry did not appreciate it, especially since it didn’t look like Ron had truly believed Ginny’s assessment that Harry was not, in fact, being possessed by Voldemort.

Finally, it was five minutes from midnight, and most of the residents of Grimmauld Place were in bed. Harry and Sirius were the only ones still awake, and they went to the top floor together. Harry tugged the hood of his cloak over his head and Sirius eyed it warily.

“What?” Harry asked. Sirius was the one who had asked Harry to hide his face, at least for when they first arrived at the gathering. Although Sirius acknowledged that the magic of the night would keep Harry safe, he still wanted to assess who was in attendance before they revealed Harry’s presence.

“You’re dressed very… Slytherin.”

Harry laughed. “It’s a black cloak, Sirius,” he said. “Not that unusual.”

“It’s very… nice.” Sirius didn’t make it sound like it was very nice at all. “Well-made, I suppose.”

Harry stuck his tongue out at his godfather in a fit of immaturity. “Pansy and Draco took me shopping a few weeks ago, so I guess it is kinda Slytherin.” He shrugged. “Slytherins picked it out, anyway.”

Sirius let out a sigh. “It’s fine. You just… remind me of someone.”

Harry blinked. “Who?” he asked softly.

“Regulus,” Sirius said, and the briefest flash of grief ran across his face. “I don’t think I ever mentioned… he was Seeker for Slytherin, just like you.” Then he smirked. “Not as good as you, though. Slytherin didn’t win the cup the entire time he was on the team.”

Harry grinned. “Well, we fully intend to get the cup this year.”

“Spoken like a true Slytherin,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes. “I know you already walloped Gryffindor.” Then he sighed. “I’m just checking one more time, Harry… are you sure you’ve thought this through?”

“Thoroughly,” Harry responded.

“Even though the magic of Solstice will prevent anyone from revealing you were there, it won’t stop those who were there from knowing,” Sirius said. “You’re ready for that?”

Harry nodded, but truthfully, he wasn’t entirely sure if he was ready for Death Eaters to know that he was preparing to declare for the dark. However, the urgency he felt about declaring trumped whatever fear he felt.

Sirius let out another sigh, and then he suddenly stood up straight, as if sensing something in the air. “It’s time.” He glanced at Harry. “You ready, pup?”

Harry nodded and pulled out his wand.

“You remember the words?” Sirius asked softly, drawing his own wand.

“Yes,” Harry said. He’d been repeating them in his mind all day, along with the words he needed to say for the rite of intent.

The two of them faced one another, holding their wands straight up in front of their faces. Harry took a breath, and they began.

Obsecro tenebris,” they said together. “Aperta porta, ut cultui nocte...” Harry felt something rising around them. It licked at his skin and his heart hammered in his chest. “Ubi fidem et reverentiam lava per pia.

Grimmauld Place disappeared and Harry saw nothing but beautiful purple light, and when it faded he and Sirius stood in a beautiful, starlit clearing. It was surrounded by tall trees and the wind rushed through the bare branches in a gentle, percussive whisper.

Harry could feel dark magic thrumming in the air, which felt warm and comfortable despite the winter night, and Harry let out a sigh of wonder.

In the distance, he could see a few silhouettes, while still others continued winking into existence. In the middle of the field, a giant bonfire suddenly flared to life. He heard Sirius let out a breath, and he glanced at his godfather. Sirius’s eyes were wide, his lips parted.

Finally, Sirius shook his head as if to clear it and he turned to Harry. “Come on,” he said, putting his arm around Harry’s shoulder.

They began walking towards the fire, and as they drew closer the more Harry could feel the magic swirling around him. It seemed to be whispering wordlessly at him - welcome, you’re safe, you belong. Harry found himself looking up into the sky and smiling in delight, and then Sirius tugged his hood farther down his face, forcing his head back down.

“Sorry,” Harry whispered.

Sirius just flashed him a lopsided grin.

As they got closer, Harry started to realize that the fire was the biggest he’d ever seen - nearly the size of the Burrow - and it cast beautiful dancing shadows all over the witches and wizards as they approached.

One witch looked to be heading straight for them. He and Sirius noticed her at the same time, and Sirius centered himself in front of Harry. Harry ducked his head down under his cloak but dared to take a peek at her face, and his eyes widened in recognition. He’d only seen her once before, but he still knew her instantly.

It was Narcissa Malfoy.

“Hello, cousin,” she greeted Sirius.

“Cissy,” Sirius replied, his lips curling in distaste.

“It’s been an age since I’ve seen you at a Yule gathering - since before Draco was born, I’m certain.”

“Well, twelve years in Azkaban tends to keep one away,” Sirius said, not bothering to hide his sarcasm.

Mrs. Malfoy clasped her hands in front of her elegantly. “It’s dreadful that anyone imprisoned there can’t use the incantation to come here. I would like to see Bella…”

Sirius let out a bitter laugh. “Bellatrix actually deserves to be there, Cissy.”

Mrs. Malfoy frowned and then sighed. “Sirius… please,” she said quietly. “Let’s not argue or snipe at one another. It’s a night of celebration.” She swallowed, and Harry saw her face become softer. “There are so few of us left.” Her voice was nearly a whisper. Harry wasn’t sure if she was referring to dark wizards or Blacks - or both.

Sirius seemed to study Mrs. Malfoy for a few moments. “Fine,” he finally said with a huff.

Mrs. Malfoy smiled. “What brings you here tonight, then? You’ve been… out… for a few years now. Is there a rite you needed to complete?”

Sirius paused. “Of sorts,” he said slowly. “I’m going to be performing the Black dedication rite tonight.”

Mrs. Malfoy’s eyes widened in surprise. “You’re serving as mentor to someone?” she asked. “Who?”

Harry watched Sirius’s shoulders heave up and down once in trepidation, and then Sirius stepped to the side. “My godson,” Sirius said quietly, putting an arm around Harry’s shoulders.

Harry took that as an invitation and he raised his chin just a bit, but Narcissa still had to tilt her head to the side to peer underneath the hood of his cloak. When she saw Harry’s face, her mouth fell open in shock and she let out a gasp, and Harry suddenly realized that Draco hadn’t said a word about him to his own mother.

Slytherins keep each other’s secrets.

Not knowing what else to do, Harry smiled sheepishly at her. He had a feeling he was going to be getting a lot of similar reactions throughout the night.

Mrs. Malfoy quickly schooled her expression - proper pureblood lady that she was - but her sheer astonishment still shone in her eyes. She was just opening her mouth to say something when someone suddenly flew past her.

“You made it!” Draco cried, launching himself at Harry in a manner that was reminiscent of Pansy. Harry had to take a step back with the force of Draco’s near-tackle, and he laughed as he reached up to hug Draco in return.

“Hey,” Harry said quietly, holding Draco tight.

“I worried all day that you were going to change your mind,” Draco murmured in his ear before drawing away. His hands lingered on Harry’s back.

Over Draco’s shoulder, Harry saw a gamut of emotions run across Mrs. Malfoy’s face - shock, amusement, then understanding - before she finally regained her composure. “Draco, please show some decorum,” she said in a scolding voice.

Draco stepped back from Harry and stood up straight, clasping his hands behind him. “I’m sorry, Mother.”

“Cissy, it’s the Solstice,” Sirius said. “Let them be teenagers.”

Surprisingly, Mrs. Malfoy let out a laugh. “You have always been a teenager, Sirius.” She smiled down at Draco and Harry. “Draco informed me that you had moved to Slytherin house, Mr. Potter,” she said, “but he didn’t tell me much more.” Her smile grew broader.

Harry felt Sirius roughly tugging his hood back over his head; it must have flown off when Draco had tackled him.

“If Sirius is performing the dedication rite for you, Mr. Potter, am I right in assuming that my son is serving as your peer?” Mrs. Malfoy asked.

Harry nodded, and Draco grinned.

Mrs. Malfoy was silent for a moment, and then she gave another small smile. “Why don’t you two… go see what friends of yours are here?” she said, and then she glanced up at Sirius. “If it’s permissible to your godfather, of course…” Harry could tell from her demeanor that she wanted to speak with Sirius in private, and it looked like Sirius knew it, too.

Sirius sighed. “Just stay where I can see you, okay?” he said quietly to Harry. Harry quickly nodded in agreement, eager to see some of his other housemates.

“Be back before we begin,” Narcissa added.

Draco and Harry agreed and began to saunter across the clearing, and Draco leaned towards Harry to whisper at him.

“Sirius Black was my second guess,” he said. “You said you had someone in mind, and I knew it had to be either him or my Aunt Andromeda.”

Harry laughed. “I honestly hadn't even really realized that Andromeda was a dark witch until yesterday,” he said.

“Then what are you two always writing about?” Draco asked demandingly.

Harry shook his head. “It’s private.”

Draco let out a melodramatic sigh, and Harry smiled. At some point Draco’s theatrics had become somewhat endearing rather than annoying, and Harry found he quite enjoyed them.

Something was nagging at Harry, though. “Draco…” he said. “Is your… father here?”

Draco shook his head. “My father seems to have less and less time for tradition these days,” he said. “Bit hypocritical of him, if you ask me.”

“What do you mean?”

Draco didn’t say anything, but he pursed his lips together and frowned. Harry peered at him for a moment, and then decided not to press. Draco clearly didn’t want to talk about it.

“Draco!” Pansy’s voice rang out from behind them, and they both turned to see Pansy grinning at them widely. Her dress was even more beautiful than the one she’d worn on Samhain, Harry thought. It looked to be entirely made of a crushed velvet in deep purple. The neck was high and the sleeves had a long slit running from shoulder to elbow, showing off just a hint of her skin.

“Hi, Pans,” Draco said as Pansy enveloped him in a hug. “Happy Yule.”

Pansy drew back from Draco and peered at Harry curiously. “Who’s your…” She peered into Harry’s hood and let out a shriek when she saw his face. “Harry!”

“Quiet,” Harry said with a shushing noise. “My godfather wants to make sure he knows everyone who’s here before they know I’m here.”

“Sorry,” Pansy said in a staged whisper, not sounding sorry at all. “I just… I’m quite excited you’re here. I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Did you not tell anyone, Draco?” Harry asked curiously.

Draco laughed. “I didn’t want to disappoint if you couldn’t make it, after all.” Then he smirked. “Or maybe I just like having a secret.” Harry let out a laugh.

“Are you…” Pansy paused and bit her lip before continuing. “Are you just… checking out Solstice, or are you…”

Harry grinned. “I’m planning on doing the rite of intent, yeah.”

Pansy jumped up and down, clapping, and then tightly wrapped her arms around Harry. “You’re going to love being a dark wizard,” she whispered. “This is my first Solstice as a dark witch, and it’s amazing. I can actually feel the dark magic all around us, protecting us.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “It was a bit… intense when I first got here.”

Pansy pulled back from Harry and stared at him in shock. “You can feel it now?” she asked. “Before you’ve even really started walking the dark path?”

Harry blinked. “I mean… yeah,” he said. “Is that not…” Normal, he’d almost said, but he’d had quite enough of not being ‘normal.’ He’d been sensing dark magic the more and more he practiced the dark arts; he’d assumed that was what happened to everyone with a dark affinity.

“It’s not… unheard of,” Draco said, and then his mouth curled into a wolfish grin. “But it does mean that Harry Bloody Potter is going to be an immensely powerful dark wizard.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Sometimes I think you only like me for my name, Draco,” he quipped.

“Nonsense,” Draco replied, waving a hand dismissively. “I like you for your power.” He laughed.

Pansy let out a giggle. “Draco has always been attracted to powerful things,” she said.

Harry found himself feeling flush, and he wasn’t entirely sure why. Before he could really process the comment, though, he saw movement over Pansy’s shoulder and spotted Daphne approaching them.

Daphne recognized Harry instantly, which made Harry tug on the hood of his cloak to pull it farther over his face. Daphne smirked at him. “It’s your glasses,” she said. “The fire is reflecting off of them, and they’re quite distinctive.”

“You mean they’re quite hideous,” Pansy said, huffing. “I still think we should either fix your eyesight, or find a pair that don’t look like someone cut off the bottom of Butterbeer bottles and stuck them to your face.”

Harry snorted once, and then burst out laughing. “I am so glad I’m here,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done without your daily criticisms of my appearance.”

“I’m surprised to see you here, Daphne,” Draco drawled. “You didn't come last year."

“Astoria is doing the rite of intent tonight,” Daphne replied. “I wanted to be here for my sister.”

Harry peered at Daphne curiously. “Can I ask you something, Daphne?”

Daphne nodded. “Of course.”

“You have a dark affinity...” he said.

Daphne smiled. “I do. And you’re wondering why I’ve never declared,” she deduced. Harry nodded, and she shrugged. “I’ve just never felt the need to. You know if it’s right for you or not. I’ve never felt like it would be a… bad thing, I just feel like I’m already... complete without it.” She let out a full-blown grin. “I know there are advantages, but I just like keeping my options… open.”

Harry puzzlement at that response must have shown on his face, because Daphne continued on. “If you feel like declaring dark is right for you, you should do it.”

“Daphne just enjoys being strange,” Pansy said. “Obsessed with Muggle science, refuses to declare dark…”

Daphne rolled her eyes, but then grinned at Pansy. Harry couldn’t help but smile. He loved the feeling of being surrounded by protective dark magic, but he loved the fact that he was with his friends even more.

“We should get back,” Draco said. “They’ll be starting soon.”

Harry nodded. He’d been hoping to see Blaise or Theo, but he wasn’t even sure if they were there.

Harry and Draco rejoined Mrs. Malfoy and Sirius, and Harry noticed that the witches and wizards were surrounding the fire in the center. Draco had been right - there were several dozen, and Harry felt a kind of kinship that he’d never felt before. Even if they weren’t declared, every single witch and wizard there had a dark affinity.

Sirius pulled Harry to a spot a healthy distance away from the others, but still helping to complete the circle. Harry decided they were far enough away from the Malfoys to inquire about what Mrs. Malfoy had wanted.

“She was asking about you,” Sirius whispered back. “She knows that you clearly have to have a dark affinity in order for you to even be here, but she was wondering if you had some kind of ulterior motive for wanting to declare.”

Harry blinked. “I…” He paused. “I guess it’s understandable that she’s asking that, actually. But I don’t.”

“I explained that to her,” Sirius said. “She seems quite interested in you, Harry, and I’m… not sure that’s a good thing. Keep an eye on her.”

Harry nodded, and then silence fell over the crowd.

Four silhouettes stepped towards the fire in the middle. They spread out around the fire and each one took a point on each side of the circle. From what Sirius and Draco had explained to him, these witches and wizards were taking the cardinal directions.

Harry felt like he was practically vibrating with excitement. He’d never seen the elements called before.

The red-headed witch that stood up and to the right of him - the east corner - raised her arms, her wand clasped in her right hand. “Eurus,” she said in a melodic voice. “De aere et vento. Coniungere nobis in hoc maxima noctis.

Coniungere nobis in hoc maxima noctis,” Harry repeated, along with the others in the circle. Join us on this longest night.

A sudden wind swept through the circle, and it took Harry’s breath away. The air had answered.

The wizard to his left - the south - repeated the witch’s motions, raising his arms. “Auster,” he said, his voice low and rumbling. “De flamma et ignis. Coniungere nobis in hoc maxima noctis.

Harry again repeated the line with the others, and the fire in the middle suddenly roared twice as large, before fading back to its original size. Harry couldn’t restrain the smile that spread itself across his face. Draco was right - he did like fire. The next witch, a woman with beautiful dark hair and wearing a long blue dress, began. “Favonius. De aqua et pluvia. Coniungere nobis in hoc maxima noctis.

Misty rain suddenly began cooling Harry’s warm face. He tilted his head up into it, closing his eyes. Then it was gone as fast as it had appeared, but Harry could still feel its energy surrounding him.

Finally, the wizard at the north corner raised his arms “Septentrio. De terra et lutum. Coniungere nobis in hoc maxima noctis.”

Coniungere nobis in hoc maxima noctis,” Harry said, one last time, and the ground beneath his feet trembled ever so slightly, like a tiny earthquake.

At his back, Harry felt the dark magic move around them. He could see over the heads of the other witches and wizards that a faint purple haze formed a kind of wall, surrounding the circle.

Harry suddenly felt almost overwhelmed with emotion. He’d understood Draco’s explanations that magic was sentient, in a way, but it was the first time Harry had truly witnessed it and understood what that meant. The dark magic surrounding them wasn’t just protecting them; it was watching them.

Dark magic had been guiding Harry every step of the way to get him to the clearing on the Solstice, and Harry was immensely glad that he had let it do so.

The same wizard who had called down earth began to speak once more. “A circle has no beginning and it never ends. This is our magic, and this is our strength,” he said. “The wheel has turned once more, and we come together for this, the longest night. This is when the dark is strongest, and thus it is our night. It is a time for the gathering of strength, personal renewal, and reflection, as well as the beginnings of new journeys.

“You may now begin any personal rites that you wish to complete,” the man continued. “The elements have been called, so you may ask them for assistance should you need them. I just ask that everyone return when the bell sounds so we can bear witness to those taking their first steps on the dark path.”

Sirius suddenly reached out and squeezed Harry’s shoulder, and Harry smiled at him before glancing over to see that Draco and Mrs. Malfoy were making their way over to them.

“I can’t believe I’m about to complete a dedication rite with a Malfoy,” Sirius muttered unhappily. Harry glared at him.

“My son is also a Black,” Mrs. Malfoy said, obviously having heard him.

Sirius had the sense to look slightly abashed, but Harry could still hear him muttering, "Blacks aren't much better…" Harry gently kicked Sirius in his ankle.

“Mother would like to know if you mind if she witnesses the dedication,” Draco said softly. “I told her I would ask.”

Keeping Sirius’s earlier warning in mind, Harry looked over to Mrs. Malfoy cautiously, who smiled at him.

“In these times, it is so rare that someone born outside of the dark community declares, Mr. Potter,” she explained. “It used to be a few every year, and now it’s one every few years. As of late, even that small number has dwindled. The dark needs new blood.”

Harry blinked. Draco had mentioned his mother complaining of exactly that, so it must have been a phrase that she used often.

He glanced at Sirius. “It’s up to you, Harry,” he said quietly.

“Um…” Harry said hesitantly. “I guess it’s fine.”

Mrs. Malfoy’s delicate smile blossomed into a full-blown grin, which looked a bit odd on a woman who held herself so properly. Harry was struck by how much she looked like Draco. His face may have resembled his father’s, but his smile was all his mother.

Sirius nodded. “Okay, Harry. Mal… Draco and I will swear our dedication with the element that speaks to you the most. Did you decide which one?”

“I can probably guess,” Draco said, laughing, and Harry grinned.

“Fire,” Harry said, and Sirius smiled in response.

“That was mine, too,” he said, putting his arm around Harry and guiding him to the southern corner of the circle.

“It’s the Gryffindor in us,” Harry said with a laugh. “Gryffindor is supposed to be fire.”

“And Slytherin, water,” Mrs. Malfoy said, a note of surprise in her voice. “Not many people know how the elements correspond to the houses anymore. Who did you hear that from?”

“A… a friend,” Harry said. He wasn’t sure he should mention Andromeda to her sister, not with how fractured their relationship seemed to be. And if Sirius wanted Harry to be cautious around Mrs. Malfoy, Harry certainly didn’t want to offer her any information about who he’d been communicating with.

The closer they drew to the south corner, the warmer it became. Harry wondered if the other corners had similar sensations - if the east would be windier, or the west damp and humid.

Sirius moved Harry between himself and Draco, Sirius on the left and Draco on the right, with Harry facing outward. He and Draco turned inward to face Harry.

“You ready?” Draco asked softly. Harry nodded.

Sirius raised his wand. “Devotio vestri itineris,” he said.

Draco repeated his actions. “Devotio vestri itineris.”

Auster,” Sirius said. “Ignis. We beg you to help us protect this young wizard as he begins to walk the dark path.”

“We beg you to help us guide him as he takes each step forward,” Draco continued.

“I am the archer.”

“I am the bow.”

“And Harry James Potter is our arrow,” said Sirius, “that we will send blazing forward.”

Sirius then pointed his wand at the ground and with a twist of his hand, he conjured a beautiful, pristine rose. He bent down and picked it up. Harry’s eyes widened as Sirius gripped the stem tight and dragged his hand down it. When he pulled his hand away, it was covered in cuts and Sirius’s blood shone in the firelight.

Sirius passed the rose to Draco, who repeated the action, and then Draco moved to stand in front of Harry.

“The dark, like a rose, is beautiful,” Draco said as he held the rose out to Harry with a bleeding hand. “But it has thorns.”

Harry, breathless, reached out and took the rose.

“We will not protect you from the thorns of the dark,” Sirius said as Draco moved back to Harry’s side. “But we will give you the tools you need to see that the thorns hold beauty, even if they might cause pain.”

Sirius then moved to Harry’s front and an affectionate smile appeared on his face. “Harry, when I first realized that you likely had a dark affinity, I’ll admit I was… scared,” he said. “For you, I mean.” He shook his head. “Being a dark wizard in this world is not easy. I wanted nothing more than for you to have an easier life, especially with how difficult yours already is.

“But now that we’re here…” Sirius let out something that wasn’t quite a sigh. “I look at you now, and I can tell that you truly do belong here.” He bent down and enveloped Harry in an embrace. “I will stand with the dark, and the dark and I will protect you and guide you as you walk the dark path.”

“Thank you, Sirius,” Harry murmured. He swallowed hard; something of a lump had formed in his throat.

Sirius stepped back to the side, and Draco took his place.

They just stared at each other for a few moments. The silence stretched out, and Harry raised his eyebrow at Draco.

Draco smirked. “Hi, Scarhead.”

Harry let out a laugh.

“Harry.” Draco sighed, and his smile faded into something more serious. “When you were sorted into Slytherin, I was… completely baffled. But I’ve come to realize that your Slytherin qualities and Gryffindor qualities actually compliment each other quite well.” He paused for a moment and tilted his head to the side in consideration. Whether he was considering what to say next or consider Harry himself, Harry couldn’t tell.

“You are a Slytherin with no fear,” he continued, and he gave Harry a wicked smile. “And I am so very excited to watch as you walk the dark path. Even though your lack of fear scares me, I think it’s going to lead you to discover things the rest of us have not.”

He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Harry’s shoulders, and Harry lifted his arms to return the embrace. “I will stand with the dark,” Draco said, “and the dark and I will protect you and guide you as you walk the dark path.”

When Draco stepped back, they both had identical grins on their faces, and then Draco took his place back to Harry’s right.

“Draco Malfoy,” Sirius said, “do you accept the privilege of being this wizard’s peer?”

“I accept,” Draco responded. “Sirius Black, do you accept the privilege of being this wizard’s mentor?”

“I accept.”

As one, Draco and Sirius raised their wands, and they spoke together. “Devotio vestri itineris.”

Harry’s eyes widened as the now familiar purple light of dark magic swirled around and weaved in and out between all three of them. The rose in Harry’s hands started to glow with the same iridescence, and then, amazingly, the rose began to break apart and dissolve. Each piece shone with the same purple light and they danced up into the air, joining the dark magic already surrounding them. The magic became focused and something of a twister formed around Harry, and then it disappeared into the night.

Harry glanced at Draco, who grinned at him.

“Mr. Potter,” said Mrs. Malfoy. Harry turned around to see her with a look of elation on her face. “You are going to give the dark community quite a surprise tonight.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Sirius muttered. Harry had to admit that he agreed, but he wasn’t going to let his worry stop him.

“I saw his affinity rite, Mother,” Draco said. “And I think they’re going to be far more surprised at how much the dark magic likes him.”

***

The four of them wandered aimlessly for the next twenty minutes or so, sometimes stopping to witness a wizard’s rite or to watch as someone performed some impressive bits of dark magic.

One witch in a sleeveless dress was covered in deep scratches all down her arms, and blood was dripping onto the ground around her. She was crying, but she was also smiling.

Harry thought the sight probably should have disturbed him, but she looked so happy that instead he was just curious as to what she had done.

“She performed a blood rite for fertility,” Mrs. Malfoy explained quietly. “She’s likely had problems conceiving, so she’s asked the dark magic for help.” She reached out and put a hand on Draco’s shoulder and she gave him a soft smile. “The scratches must not be healed by a spell; she needs to allow them to heal naturally. Once they are healed, she will try for a child again, and she will almost certainly be successful.” She placed a kiss on the top of Draco’s head. “I was, at least.”

“What?” Draco asked in disbelief.

“You wouldn’t have been born if not for the blessing of the dark,” Mrs. Malfoy said.

Draco stared at her. “I never knew that,” he said quietly.

A deep bell chimed and rang out across the clearing.

“It’s time,” Sirius said.

Harry nodded, smiling. “I’m ready.”

The entire crowd gathered at the west side of the circle, where the woman who had called water stood waiting. “I ask that any who are performing the rite of intent to please gather behind me,” she announced.

Sirius gave Harry’s shoulder a squeeze, and Harry joined the other children. There weren’t as many as Harry had been expecting - there was Astoria Greengrass, of course, and four other Slytherins from third year, as well as one other student that Harry recognized as a fourth-year Ravenclaw. There were seven in all, including Harry.

“Gather round, now,” the woman said. “I want to make sure you all can hear me.” She waited for the seven of them to surround her in a half-circle, and she smiled at all of them. “My name is Violetta. Witnessing the next generation perform their rites of intent has always been my favorite part of every Solstice. This is your time. We are gathered here to celebrate you, as you take your first steps on the dark path.” She paused. “I need to speak with each of you to ensure that you have performed the necessary steps prior to the rite of intent, and that you are all at least thirteen years of age. I may also ask you a few questions. Your answers will not prevent or hinder you from performing the rite, but they are questions that you must ask yourself before you take this step.”

Violetta pulled Astoria aside first, and she quickly waved her wand over their heads. Although Harry could see their mouths moving, Harry couldn’t even hear a whisper of their voices; Violetta must have cast a silencing charm.

One by one she moved through the others, and then she finally came to Harry. She waved her wand and smiled. She didn’t waste a moment. “You are certainly older than thirteen, but how old are you, dear?”

“Fifteen,” Harry responded.

Violetta nodded. “And what is your name?”

Harry hesitated.

Violetta frowned at Harry’s silence. “Stating your name is a part of the rite, you realize...”

“I know,” Harry said, sighing. “I’ve just kinda been… putting it off.”

“Putting what off?”

Harry swallowed nervously, and then he reached up and drew the hood of his cloak back.

Violetta blinked, and then her eyes widened in recognition. Her gaze automatically drifted to Harry’s scar. “Is this a trick?” she whispered. She didn’t sound angry, just disbelieving.

“No,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I swear it’s not.”

“You’re not… under polyjuice or anything of the sort?” Violetta asked. “You really are… Harry Potter?”

Harry nodded.

Violetta stared for another few moments before neutralizing her expression, but she wasn’t smiling like she had been before. “You must perform the rite of affinity before performing the rite of intent. You could become gravely ill if you and the dark have not spoken yet.”

“I did,” Harry responded. “I did it on Samhain.”

Violetta narrowed her eyes. “And why do you wish to declare for the dark?”

Harry took in a shaky breath. “It’s been… pushing me here… or guiding me, maybe?” he said quietly. “It took me a while to realize what was even happening, but… the dark wants me here. And I want to be here. When I did my affinity rite, it… I felt like the dark was home.” He sighed. “It’s hard to explain. I just know that the dark is where I’m meant to be.”

Violetta’s expression changed to one of surprise. “I understand how difficult it is to explain, and it must be even harder for you,” she said, a hint of sympathy in her voice. “With not having been raised in this community…” The smile reappeared on her face. “You are going to give these witches and wizards the shock of a lifetime.”

“I know,” Harry said. “I wish…” He trailed off, not entirely sure what he wanted to say.

Violetta grinned at that and Harry was reminded of someone, though he couldn’t quite place who. “The rites are performed from youngest to oldest. You are the oldest, so you’re going to be quite the finale.”

Harry sighed, then nodded.

“Good luck, Harry Potter,” Violetta said, and then she ended the silencing spell and looked to the other children. “Please line up.”

As the silencing spell ended, Harry could hear faint whispers from the people standing closest to him. He dared to sneak a glance, and he could see a few them staring at him. Only a few seemed to have recognized him so far, and even those who did seemed unsure who they were actually looking at. He knew it wouldn’t last for long, and he took his place at the rear of the line.

“We are here to bear witness to these young witches and wizards as they begin walking the dark path,” Violetta announced to the crowd. “We are also here to pledge ourselves to help them as they make their way to their final declaration. The stronger and deeper the roots, the taller the tree will grow.”

Violetta was handed a pitcher by the wizard who had opened the circle. She held it up to the crowd. “They perform their first rites in front of Favonius, the water. Water is the element of the journey, and it will also allow them to put down strong roots.” She then tilted the pitcher and water streamed out of it. She poured the water in a small circle around her, and then stepped out of it.

The circle lit up with that gorgeous purple light that Harry was now becoming accustomed to.

Violetta handed the empty pitcher back, and turned to Astoria. “Come, child.”

Astoria stepped into the circle and crossed her chest with her wand. She took a breath and began to speak. “I, Astoria Nova Greengrass, intend to start walking the dark path. I ask for the dark to protect me and guide me, as I will protect and guide the dark.” Her voice shook as she continued speaking the words of the rite, and then she raised her wand. “Tenebris ambulant mecum!

Light surrounded her, and she stepped out of the circle on shaking legs.

One by one, the children stepped into the circle and repeated Astoria’s actions. Some had light that was a bit brighter than the others, and some seemed more unsteady on their feet as they finished.

The Ravenclaw boy stumbled as he finished his rite, and Harry took in a deep breath and held it before stepping into the circle.

He gripped his wand and raised it to cross his chest, his hand just below his sternum, and the tip of his wand up by his ear. He let out his breath, and he heard that the whispers were starting up again. He blocked them out and steeled himself. If this was anything like his affinity rite, he didn’t want to fall to his knees like he had on Samhain.

“I, Harry James Potter, intend to start walking the dark path,” he said, and he ignored the gasp that ran through the crowd. “I ask for the dark to protect me and guide me, as I will protect and guide the dark. I will dedicate my blood, magic, and self, in the hopes that the dark will accept me as its child.” His hair stood on end as he lifted his wand and pointed it to the stars. “Tenebris ambulant mecum!

The light was so bright that the crowd faded into nothing, and Harry gasped.

It wasn’t like his affinity rite - it was far more intense. Harry felt as if every part of his body - inside and out - was being caressed by dark magic, and it sent tingles running all over his skin. The wordless whispers started up in his mind again - welcome, you are safe, you are protected, you belong - but this time there was another feeling that seemed louder than all the rest combined.

Love.

And it was unconditional. The dark wanted Harry, even with all of his flaws and questions. Harry felt almost overcome; even his dearest friends always had questions, but he knew that the dark would never question him.

It didn’t last as long as his affinity rite, but with how strong it felt, Harry was grateful. He wasn’t entirely sure if he could even stay conscious if the magic remained any longer. The light faded, as did the magic, but that feeling of being loved stayed with him, and Harry felt like crying.

He nearly fell out of the circle, but he somehow managed to stay on his feet. He leaned over and rested his hands on his knees.

He heard a shriek of joy and arms suddenly wrapped around him. Another pair tackled him from the other side, and he came back to himself to suddenly realize that Pansy and Draco were surrounding him. He grinned and then sagged in their arms, just letting them hold him upright.

To his side, he heard one person start to clap. He glanced over Draco’s shoulder and saw Mrs. Malfoy, front and center in the crowd, applauding. One by one, others around her joined in.

It didn’t spread through the entire crowd - most of them seemed much too shocked to even move. But he did see a few familiar faces begin to make their way over to him.

Blaise got to them first, and he started laughing when he saw Harry peeking out over Pansy and Draco’s arms. “Your face is beet red, Harry!” he said.

“It’s a little embarrassing,” Harry muttered. “I wish this wasn’t a big deal.”

“It is, whether you like it or not,” Draco whispered in his ear. It tickled. “I’m sorry.”

"You've been keeping secrets, Pansy," a voice said from their side. Harry glanced over and saw Violetta with an amused expression on her face.

Pansy laughed. "You know how it is, Mother." Harry blinked and looked from Pansy to Violetta; there certainly was a strong resemblance.

“Are you okay to stand up yet?” Pansy said. Harry put his weight on his feet again and felt steadier, and he nodded.

Almost immediately after Pansy and Draco released him, Harry was nearly tackled by someone taller than him, who lifted him off of his feet as they squeezed him tighter. He felt alarmed until he looked up to see Freya Yaxley grinning down at him. She was apparently stronger than she looked.

“Harry, you have no idea how huge this is,” she said quietly. “You made my father completely speechless, and he always has something to say.” She set Harry down and whispered to him. “And he’s a Death Eater.”

“What?” Harry exclaimed. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised; his housemates couldn’t be the only children of Death Eaters in his house, after all.

“He’s not the only one here, either,” Freya continued whispering, ignoring Harry’s shock. “What you’ve done… what you’re going to do…” She smirked. “It just might change everything.

***

Harry had to deal with a few random witches and wizards introducing themselves. He seemed to get a mix of everything in their reactions - disbelief, gratitude, wonder, and more. A few even offered their assistance with his personal rites, and he thanked them, informing them that he already had the help he needed.

Sirius never strayed far, and it seemed that Mrs. Malfoy didn’t either.

One person, though, made him grit his teeth. Something about his demeanor and the way he carried himself set Harry on edge. He was an older gentleman, dressed completely in black, and he gave Harry a long look before beginning to speak.

“Mr. Potter, I am Rasmus Nott,” he said. “You are now housemates with my son, I believe?”

He didn’t offer his hand, and neither did Harry. “We’ve met,” Harry bit out. “Sort of.”

“I know,” Nott said. “I find myself wishing that we hadn’t met under such… strenuous circumstances.”

Sirius was immediately at Harry’s side, and Nott’s gaze drifted to him. “Sirius Black,” Nott said. “I spotted you earlier and wondered what could have possibly brought you back after so many years.” He smirked, looking back at Harry. “Now I understand.”

“I think you need to leave,” Sirius said, sneering.

“I simply wanted to congratulate Mr. Potter on beginning his journey,” Nott said. “I look forward to seeing what sort of dark wizard you will become… should you finish walking the dark path.”

“Is that a threat?” Sirius growled, taking a step towards Nott.

Nott shook his head. “It’s not intended to be,” he said. “I’m just bearing in mind that people from outside the community who decide to declare often don’t finish all of the necessary rites.” His smirk widened disgustingly. “They don’t seem to have the stomach for it.”

“I have every intention of completing the declaration,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes.

“I hope that you do,” Nott said. “And I do genuinely mean that.” He turned to leave, revealing Theo right behind him.

Theo quickly moved into his father’s place. “I’m sorry about that,” Theo said quietly. “I can’t even begin to tell what he must be thinking right now.”

“Who’s this?” Sirius asked, frowning.

Theo looked at Sirius, his eyes widening.

“This is Theo,” Harry offered hesitantly. “One of my housemates.”

Theo swallowed, clearly nervous. Harry supposed Sirius was slightly intimidating. “I’m Theodore Nott. And that…” He glanced over at Mr. Nott’s retreating form. “... is my father.”

Sirius scowled. “Harry, how many of your roommates in Slytherin have Death Eaters for parents?”

Harry elbowed Sirius. “Stop it,” he hissed.

Theo sighed. “There are four of us, sir,” he said quietly.

“They’re my friends, Sirius,” Harry whispered. “Please don’t… don’t be cruel.”

“I’m not my father, sir,” Theo said.

Sirius looked like he desperately wanted to say more, but he simply pursed his lips and glared at Theo.

“Can I talk to you, Harry?” Theo asked.

Harry nodded, and they stepped away from the crowd.

“Harry…” Theo sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry for…”

He instantly knew what Theo was talking about. “It’s okay, Theo. I don’t blame you for being worried.” He sighed. “Hell, I’m worried, and it’s my head.”

Theo gave Harry a wry grin at that, and he opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by another familiar voice, one that usually set Harry’s teeth on edge. “Potter.”

Harry turned, and sure enough - Professor Snape stood behind him.

His eyes widened, and he swallowed. “Professor,” he said hesitantly.

Snape’s expression was oddly more neutral than Harry had ever seen it - at least when it was directed towards him, anyway. Snape simply stared at him for a long moment, and Harry began to grow uncomfortable. It reminded him of when Snape had studied him right after being sorted into Slytherin, but there was something almost deeper about his scrutiny this time.

“Sir?” Harry finally asked, wanting to break the silence.

Snape seemed to snap himself out of whatever spell he’d fallen into, and a familiar scowl appeared on his face. “When do you intend to complete your final declaration?” he asked.

Harry blinked. “Um…” he said. “I was hoping to do it on Beltane.”

Snape scoffed. “Yes, that would suit you,” he said, seemingly more to himself than to Harry. “In more ways than one.” His eyes pierced into Harry. “I feel I must inform you, Potter - if you are truly serious about walking the dark path, you must take every caution to not allow the headmaster to find out what you are doing,” he said.

Harry swallowed. “I am serious. And I wasn’t intending on letting him find out.”

After your final declaration, though…” Snape actually appeared somewhat thoughtful.

“Get away from my godson, Snivellus,” Sirius said, suddenly swooping in, stationing himself firmly between Harry and Snape.

Harry sighed. “Sirius…”

“Black,” Snape sneered. “I understand that you must want to feel… useful, but your protection of Potter is completely unnecessary and useless here.” He paused. “You should know that.”

“I don’t want you even speaking to him,” Sirius snapped.

Snape looked at Sirius for a moment, and then a particularly nasty smile appeared on his face. “Speaking to him is inevitable. I am his head of house, Black,” he said. “Your godson is now a Slytherin. Did you forget? Or perhaps… force it out of your mind?”

Sirius moved as if to snatch Snape, or hit him, and Harry reached out and grabbed Sirius’s arm. “Sirius, don’t,” he pleaded.

“Harry!” Draco’s voice rang out from behind him, but Harry didn’t dare turn around. He had no idea what would happen if Sirius tried to attack Snape in a place where dark magic supposedly prevented it, but Harry was certain that he didn’t want to find out.

Suddenly, cutting through the tense silence, Harry heard music. It was eerie, ethereal, and haunting, but also somehow beautiful. Harry blinked. “What is that?” he asked.

The tension slowly ebbed out of Sirius’s body, and he glanced down at Harry. “It’s the start of my favorite part of Yule,” he said, smirking. He shot one more dirty look at Snape before turning away from him, and Harry finally let go of his arm, looking back to see Draco and his mother.

Draco was grinning at him. “You ready to dance?”

Harry felt completely appalled, remembering the Yule Ball of the previous year. He shook his head emphatically. “I’m complete shite at dancing, Draco.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Draco said, and he sidled up to Harry, looping their arms together. “With how much the dark magic likes you, all you have to do is listen,” he whispered. "You'll find that you want to move with it."

Sirius snorted. “Cheers,” he said, and then he pulled out a flask from his pocket. He uncapped it, saluted Draco and Harry, and took a deep swallow. He moved to put the cap back on, but then paused in consideration. After a moment, he held it out to Mrs. Malfoy.

Mrs. Malfoy eyed the flask warily. “That is most…”

“It’s the fuckin’ Solstice, Cissy,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes. “Cut loose.”

There was a beat of silence from both of them, and then, astonishingly, Mrs. Malfoy took the flask. She sipped it delicately at first, and then tipped it back fully.

Sirius laughed, and Draco’s eyes went wide as saucers before he started laughing as well.

“Come on, Harry,” Draco said, tugging on Harry’s arm.

All around the fire, witches and wizards were gathering, swaying in time to the melody that seemed to be coming from nowhere. Harry stood and watched them for a moment, before Draco leaned over and whispered in his ear.

Let go.

Harry closed his eyes and let the music wash over him.

The music started soft and slow, but began picking up the pace and soon became lively and almost frantic. Harry found himself dancing with Pansy, then Daphne, and even Astoria, who looked just as pleased as he felt.

Witches and wizards all around him danced wildly, and a select few even started losing their clothes. Harry didn’t mind. The night was frenzied and free; they all could do exactly as they pleased.

Then Draco took Harry’s hands and they started whirling around recklessly, not caring if they ran into anyone or if they fell down. Anytime one of them lost their footing the other would stop and help the other, and then they would resume their wild dance. Harry couldn’t stop laughing.

As the night went on, Harry and Draco danced with each other. Sometimes Pansy or Blaise or another would join them, but it always went back to just the two of them, and they let the wild, dark magic of the night spin them together, one constantly orbiting the other.

Harry didn’t think it was possible to feel more certain in his choice to declare dark, but with every passing moment he found himself more and more sure.

He was where he belonged.

Chapter Text


No matter how much she tried to distract herself, Hermione’s thoughts kept returning to Harry.

She tried everything to get her mind off of him. She revised endlessly, she read, and she had inane conversations with Ginny, but she would always inevitably start thinking about one of her dearest friends again the moment her thoughts weren’t occupied.

Her problem became even worse when they arrived at Grimmauld Place, where she got a chance to spend time with him and observe him in a way she hadn’t been able to since he was still in Gryffindor.

Although there wasn’t anything terribly obvious - aside from the possibility of Voldemort being able to get into Harry’s head - a lot of little things had made Hermione realize that something was definitely going on with him.

Despite Ron’s assessment of Harry’s recent ‘changes,’ Hermione couldn’t see that Harry was truly acting any differently.

The sharp new clothes he’d recently acquired were quite the change from his old, baggy flannels and oversized hoodies, but she quickly decided those were a non-issue. Clothes weren’t the problem, and she had to admit that he had apparently also picked up some new habits and quirks that he definitely hadn’t exhibited before.

He smirked far more often than he smiled, for one. He’d always been a little bit mischievous - although usually with good reason - but his brilliant smile had given way to an odd twitch of his lips that made him look like he knew something that others did not.

Harry was also starting to talk a bit differently than he used to. His phrasing was often a bit more proper than how he used to talk, and at times he even sounded just a little posh and old-fashioned. It wasn’t a constant thing; for the most part, he sounded exactly like how he always had. But Hermione had noticed his manner of speaking changing more and more often, and it startled her every time he did it.

Hermione knew she could attribute those little, almost superficial changes to his placement in Slytherin. It wasn’t a bad thing, she supposed, and she knew that the company one kept could affect how one dressed and spoke; it was why people who moved to a new region would start unconsciously mimicking an accent that they heard every day. Hermione just hadn’t realized how fast someone could really pick up on it, or that it would be noticeable when Harry had just moved to a different house within the same school.

If Hermione had to admit it, Harry was starting to speak more like Daphne Greengrass, Blaise Zabini, and Draco Malfoy, and she wasn’t entirely certain how she felt about Harry picking up on their mannerisms.

Admittedly, Greengrass had been surprisingly pleasant to Hermione; she seemed to be just as fascinated with Muggle academics as Hermione was with Wizarding academics. Even so, Greengrass had never bothered to give Hermione the time of day until Harry had joined Slytherin, and it was hard not to suspect that Greengrass was only reaching out to her as a favor to Harry.

Zabini, on the other hand, was somewhat of an enigma. He’d never been awful to Hermione in the past; he’d mostly seemed like a well-behaved, applied student. She’d had no idea that he subscribed to the blood purity prejudice until he’d called her a Mudblood in the middle of the hallway. His apology had been incredibly unexpected, but Hermione truthfully wasn’t sure which bridge he was trying to mend - with Hermione, herself, or with Harry.

And then there was Draco Malfoy. Malfoy had notoriously been the most unpleasant person in the entire school by far, and then as soon as Harry had joined Slytherin he’d been completely silent towards Hermione. But what had shocked Hermione even more than that was that the animosity that had been so palpable between Harry and Malfoy for years seemed to dissipate almost instantly after Harry joined Slytherin.

Even more surprising was that as the months went on, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy appeared to actually become friends. She’d often seen them laughing or talking with one another at meals, and they were regularly seen in the halls together. They always sat at the same table in Potions, and she’d seen Malfoy help Harry day after day in that class. He achieved such improved results that Professor Snape had actually given Harry points more than once.

Hermione certainly couldn’t fault Harry for improving his schoolwork, but she couldn’t help but be alarmed that he was spending so much time with Malfoy. It wasn’t simply because Malfoy had bullied Hermione relentlessly for years - although Hermione had to admit that seeing Harry get along with him so easily made her stomach twist up in a knot - it was because Malfoy was the son of a Death Eater.

Even more alarmingly, Harry told Hermione and Ginny that he’d sometimes spoken with his housemates about Voldemort, and it was apparently his housemates that had informed him that Voldemort could actually be in Harry’s mind.

Hermione had to keep reassuring herself that Harry would never reveal any information that could hurt their allies, but considering what Sirius and Mrs. Weasley had said about not wanting the information about Harry’s vision getting out, the fact that Harry had gone to his housemates with that information made Hermione feel incredibly uneasy.

The children of Death Eaters knew that Voldemort could insert himself into Harry’s head, and Hermione didn’t like to think about what could be done with that information.

On the other hand, Ron had reluctantly told her what Harry had said about his housemates - that if they hadn’t gone for help when Harry had the vision, Mr. Weasley likely wouldn’t have survived the attack.

So Harry was starting to dress differently, talk differently, and he was confiding in people that were once his enemies, as well as unconsciously emulating their facial expressions. Hermione knew that all of those things shouldn’t be any cause for alarm, but she just couldn’t get her mind off of her friend.

Her gut kept telling her that she was missing something, and it was frustrating her more than answering a question on a test incorrectly.

With everything that had happened in the past few months, Hermione honestly couldn't pin down exactly what it was about Harry that was making her feel like something more was going on with him. Ginny was fairly certain that Harry wasn’t actually being possessed by Voldemort, and Hermione supposed that she should trust Harry’s judgment about what to tell his housemates and what not to tell them.

Whatever it was, Hermione was grateful to have the holiday break to get the chance to finally spend some time with her friend - if only to reassure herself that Harry was actually okay.

But then, just a day after their arrival at Grimmauld Place, she observed him acting incredibly odd; he seemed on edge and impatient for the entire day. He didn’t seem to be able to stay still. Even when he sat down, he seemed to bounce up and down in his seat. She saw him check the time more than once, as if he had somewhere more important he had to be.

Even more bizarre was the fact that whenever he seemed to be behaving incredibly anxious, Sirius would swoop down on Harry. They would exchange a few words that Hermione couldn’t hear, and then Harry would smile sheepishly at Sirius and seem to calm down for a short while.

It wasn’t until the evening that it suddenly occurred to Hermione that it was one of the cyclical days that Harry and Daphne had spoken about earlier - it was the Winter Solstice, otherwise known as Yule.

Hermione had taken Daphne’s advice and spoken to Terry Boot about the cyclical days, and he’d confirmed Daphne’s words - many witches and wizards still observed the old wizarding traditions. In fact, Boot almost seemed offended when she’d asked about their association with the dark arts. He confirmed that his family observed all eight of the days throughout the year, and that they would celebrate Samhain instead of Halloween, as well as Yule instead of Christmas.

Could Harry’s impatience have had something to do with Yule? He had said he’d been reading about the cyclical days, but he hadn’t given her any indication that he wanted to start observing them. She had assumed that he only went with the Slytherins on Samhain to see a tradition he’d never seen before.

And if Harry really did want to start celebrating the cyclical days, wouldn’t he have spoken with her about it? They’d already discussed them before; Harry wouldn’t have a reason to keep it to himself.

Even coupled with Sirius’s odd behavior, Hermione thought she could likely rule Yule out as a reason for Harry’s unusual hyperactivity. Sirius had made it clear what he’d thought about his family and their observations of wizarding tradition.

Unless Sirius’s attitude towards wizarding tradition was the reason why he kept standing on Harry’s foot…

Hermione had to admit that she knew far too little about what was going on with Harry to actually determine if she was right in feeling perturbed. However, the fact that she knew so little to begin with was troubling in and of itself. Harry had been her best friend since their first year, and she used to know everything that was happening with him. Now, it felt as if she was only on the outskirts of his life.

She supposed that it wasn’t just his moving to a different house to cause them to start drifting apart; it could also be that they were getting older. After all, she hadn’t told him everything going on in her own life, either.

The day after Harry’s day of constant anxiety, though, just added to the puzzle. He seemed to be on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of energy - he looked and acted so exhausted that it appeared as if he had played a Quidditch match, fought a basilisk, and outrun a dragon all in one night. She kept seeing him nearly nodding off while he, Hermione, and Ginny were hanging out in the sitting room. He finally just appeared to just give in, laying down on the sofa and almost immediately fell asleep.

Only a few minutes later, Sirius nearly stumbled into the room, took one look at Harry, and then collapsed onto the adjacent sofa and started snoring away, as well.

She and Ginny quickly left so as not to disturb them, and Hermione settled into the dining room to revise for Charms. A few hours passed before Mrs. Weasley marched into the sitting room and Hermione could hear her irritated tones.

“Why in the world are you both so knackered?” she asked.

Hermione could hear Sirius mumble something, but she couldn’t make out what the words were.

“And what were you two doing that caused you up so late?” Mrs. Weasley demanded.

There was a moment of silence, and then Sirius responded. “Talking.”

“You are a terrible influence!” Mrs. Weasley snapped. “Your godson is fifteen; he shouldn’t be up until all hours of the night!” She clucked her tongue. “I’ve told you before, Sirius - he isn’t James.”

“I know he isn’t!” Sirius snapped, and Hermione froze. She hated hearing Sirius and Mrs. Weasley argue, but they seemed to rub each other the wrong way more often than not.

Sirius’s next statement was so quiet that Hermione could barely hear it.

“I was actually starting to think he’s more like me than James,” he said. “But now I’m finally learning that Harry is completely his own person.” There was another pause. “That’s part of why we were up so late, Molly. We haven’t gotten a good chance to really get to know each other.”

Hermione thought she heard Mrs. Weasley let out a sigh. “Well, make sure he wakes up soon,” she said. “We don’t want him up all night again tonight. He’ll ruin his sleep.”

“I’ll get him up,” Sirius said, and then whatever he said next Hermione couldn’t make out. Mrs. Weasley soon exited the sitting room, closing the door behind her, and Hermione put an extra effort into looking like she was concentrating on revising.

A few minutes later, Harry came out of the sitting room, his glasses in one hand and rubbing his eyes with the other. He placed his glasses back on his nose and then blinked owlishly at Hermione.

“What are you studying?” he asked.

“Charms,” Hermione responded.

“Okay,” he said, and then he turned and left the room.

Hermione frowned at his retreating back, but she quickly turned her attention back to revising.

Within a minute or two, though, Harry pulled out the chair across from her and plopped his own Charms text down on the table.

Hermione stared in shock as he flipped open his text. “Are you… are you willingly going to revise with me?” she asked. “During the holidays?”

Harry’s lips twitched - and there it was again, that new smirk of his - and he shrugged. “I’ve been doing fairly well in Charms this year, so I may as well not lose it.”

Hermione blinked at him. “You’ve been doing better in Potions, too,” she said carefully.

Harry nodded. “All of my classes, really,” he said, and then he grinned. “McGonagall even pointed it out.”

Hermione stared at him for another few moments, and then she let out a laugh. “I feel like I should be offended that you ignored my advice for years, and then as soon as you leave Gryffindor you start taking it,” she joked.

Harry laughed, and then they settled in to study. Hermione found that she actually quite enjoyed revising with Harry. They quickly came up with a rhythm: one quizzing the other with a few questions and then switching. They kept it up for just over an hour before they heard some shuffling out in the front hallway, and then Mrs. Weasley appeared in the doorway.

“Harry, Professor Snape is here to see you,” she said.

Harry blinked. “What?” he asked. “Why?”

“He didn’t say,” Mrs. Weasley responded. “He’s waiting in the kitchen.”

A flicker of something Hermione couldn’t pinpoint ran across Harry’s face before he got to his feet, looking a bit grim. Hermione gave him a sympathetic look before Harry appeared to steel himself, and then he went through the door into the kitchen, closing it behind him.

Hermione strained her ears to see if she could hear anything, pushing down the guilt at eavesdropping for the second time that day. Unfortunately, she could only hear the timbre of their voices, and wasn’t able to make out a single word.

And then, quite abruptly, she heard nothing at all.

Hermione blinked, staring at the door. Someone had obviously cast a silencing spell.

What in the world could Harry and Professor Snape have to talk about that was so private? While their relationship didn’t seem nearly as full of animosity as it had been in years past, she couldn’t picture either of them ever getting to the point of confiding anything private to one another.

Whatever it was, it didn’t last long. Harry exited the kitchen only a few minutes later carrying a small box, looking a bit perturbed.

“What’s that?” Hermione asked.

“Uh,” Harry said, letting out a little laugh. “They’re presents from my housemates. Apparently the owls couldn’t make it through the Fidelius.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “Are you… are you saying Professor Snape made a special trip to bring you gifts?” she asked incredulously.

Harry grinned. “No. That’d be the day hell freezes over.” He shook his head. “He was coming here to talk to me anyway.” He then peered into the box. “McGonagall stopped him on his way out, too, which I’m convinced is the only reason he even bothered to bring them…” he said, reaching in and pulling out a flat package. “This one is for you.” He extended it towards Hermione.

“What?” Hermione asked, taking the package from him.

“It was apparently in the Gryffindor common room yesterday.”

Just then, Ron and the twins entered the dining room, followed by Mrs. Weasley. “We’re supposed to set the table for dinner,” George said.

“Apparently you two are excused from helping out since you’re revising like good little students,” Fred added.

“What’s all that?” George asked, eyeing the box and the neatly wrapped gift in Hermione’s hands.

“Uh… presents from my housemates,” Harry said quietly.

“Christmas isn’t for a few days,” Ron said, his tone a bit dark.

Harry looked uncomfortable and awkward.

“They’re for… Yule, aren’t they?” Ron continued, frowning.

“You’re celebrating Yule now, Harry?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“Uh…” Harry said, his eyes widening. “Most of my housemates do.”

“So does Terry Boot!” Hermione said, suddenly feeling strangely awful about all the scrutiny Harry seemed to be under, despite the fact that she’d been quietly studying him for two days straight. “I asked him about it, and he said his family celebrates Yule instead of Christmas.”

“The Prewett family did as well when I was a child,” Mrs. Weasley said, and both Harry and Hermione looked at her in surprise. She smiled. “We would light a Yule log and keep it burning throughout the night in order to keep the darkness away, and in the morning we would celebrate that the light was returning.” She looked somewhat nostalgic as she spoke.

Ron was just opening his mouth to say something, but Hermione spotted it. “That’s really interesting!” she exclaimed. “I only recently started hearing about all these old traditions.”

“Why don’t you celebrate it anymore?” Harry asked Mrs. Weasley.

Mrs. Weasley sighed. “After my brothers…” she paused, and an expression of grief flickered across her face. “We started celebrating the Muggle holiday of Christmas when Arthur and I were married. We just kept up that tradition, instead.” She smiled wistfully and then swept into the kitchen.

“So what’d you get, Hermione?” Harry asked, reminding her of the gift she still held in her hands.

Hermione looked down at the parcel, turning it over in her hands.

“Wait… Hermione is getting presents from Slytherins, too?” George said with a laugh.

“There’s a note,” Hermione said, unfolding the small bit of parchment taped to the parcel.

“To Miss Granger,

Thank you for the loan of your Muggle books.

In case you haven’t bothered to speak to Boot yet, I thought you might find this interesting. Upon returning home for the holidays, I realized that my family had more than one copy. I figured you would get more use out of it than we would.

Happy Yule to you.

Your Possibly Evil Slytherin Acquaintance,

Daphne Greengrass”

Fred and George let out identical snorts. “I knew that Greengrass girl was all right,” George said. “At least she has a sense of humor.”

“But isn’t Harry Hermione’s Slytherin acquaintance?” Fred added.

“Greengrass said ‘possibly evil,’ dear brother,” George responded. “And we all know that Harry is actually evil.”

Harry rolled his eyes, but grinned at the twins.

Hermione was already unwrapping the package, and her eyes lit up when she saw that it was a copy of The Wheel of the Year. Greengrass was right that it was an old book, but it seemed to be in good condition.

“I’ll have to write her and thank her,” Hermione said, smiling. “I have been rather curious about it.”

Harry smiled and then took his box of gifts out of the room. Hermione sighed internally and wondered if she’d be able to catch Harry alone to find out what Snape wanted.

Even if she did manage to pull him aside, she doubted that Harry would actually tell her anything at all.

Chapter Text


Judging from her expression and demeanor, Harry could tell that Hermione wanted to speak with him.

Fortunately, Mrs. Weasley bustled around the kitchen as her children set the table, so he was given ample reason to avoid having any kind of private conversation with Hermione. Harry was at least grateful for that; although he knew he’d be able to tell Hermione at least some of his conversation with Snape, there were pieces he would have to leave out.

Despite his certainty of the path he was on, Harry was getting a little tired of having to dance around the truth.

Dinner was an unusually silent affair, possibly because Sirius seemed to be in an absolutely rotten mood. He’d grown quite upset when he learned that Snape had come to speak with Harry while he slept. In retrospect, Harry found himself quite glad that Sirius hadn’t been there; after their miniature confrontation at Solstice, he didn’t want them anywhere in the vicinity of each other.

After they finished cleaning the table, Sirius pulled Harry into his bedroom.

“What’s up?” Harry asked.

“What did Snape want?” Sirius immediately asked.

Harry sighed. “He’s going to be training me in Occlumency,” he said, “once school starts up again.”

A host of emotions flickered across Sirius’s face. “You’re going to have to spend quite a bit of time alone with him,” he said, scowling.

Harry nodded.

Sirius let out a sigh. “I suppose there isn’t really an option, though.”

“That’s what Snape said, too,” Harry replied.

Sirius muttered something under his breath and turned to his dresser, opening the top drawer and pulling out three small packages. “I was saving one of these for Christmas, but Yule seems more appropriate for you now,” he said.

The first package was cylindrical, and Harry peered at it curiously before unwrapping it. He uncovered a black pillar candle that had obviously already been used at least once; the wick was charred and a divot laid in the top where it had been melted. He looked back up at Sirius in confusion.

“You’ll need that for your personal declaration rites,” Sirius explained. “Malfoy should be giving you one when you get back to school, provided he followed the Black rites correctly.”

He handed over another package, one that was thin and flat. Harry pulled it out of the wrapping to discover a small black book that was obviously incredibly old; it had a hard leather cover and it had clearly been hand-stitched together at some point. There wasn’t a title, but when he flipped it open he discovered what it was.

“‘The Declaration Rites of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black,’” Harry read. The first page also had the Black crest, reading ‘Toujours Pur.’

“That will explain why I’m giving you a candle,” Sirius said. “The candle is from when I declared.” He then gave a little scoffing noise and pointed at the crest. “There are at least two parts of the rites that you may want to skip or alter because they’re all about pureblood superiority.” He smirked. “I just changed them to my liking and I still managed to complete my declaration.”

Harry idly flipped through a few of the pages, and sure enough, there were a few lines that mentioned upholding the purity of wizarding blood. “How will I know what to change them to?”

“You can ask me if you’re not sure what you’d like to do instead,” Sirius said. “The rites aren’t set in stone. As long as the basics are covered, the dark will consider them complete.” He turned the last package over in his hands before handing it to Harry. “And if you have questions - even though I can’t be with you at Hogwarts - you can contact me whenever you want with this.”

Harry pulled the wrapping off and uncovered a small hand mirror, which confused him even more than the candle.

“It’s a two-way mirror,” Sirius said. He reached back into his dresser and pulled out an identical piece. “Just look in the mirror and say my name, and we’ll be able to talk. It should prevent any of your house -” He paused. “- anyone from listening to our conversation, provided you just go somewhere private.”

Harry ignored the near slight against his housemates. At least his godfather seemed to be trying. “Thank you, Sirius,” he said quietly.

“You haven’t chosen an easy path, Harry,” Sirius said, wrapping his arms around Harry. “But I will be with you every step of the way.”

***

After Harry snuck his gifts from Sirius into his room, Hermione finally managed to catch him in the hallway.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” she said. She didn’t even need to explain what she was talking about.

Harry let out a sigh and turned back around, opening the door to his bedroom. They entered and Harry closed the door behind him.

“You want to know what Snape wanted,” Harry said.

Hermione nodded. “You have to admit that it’s a bit strange that Professor Snape stopped by to see you during the holidays,” she said. “And I doubt he only stopped by to give you your… Yule gifts from your housemates.”

Harry sighed and leaned against his bed, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, that was just…” He paused. He hadn’t even had a chance to open the gifts from his housemates yet. “He came to tell me that he’s going to be training me in Occlumency.” He glanced up at Hermione, wondering if she’d ever come across the term in all her reading. Snape had explained it and Harry still barely knew what it was.

“I’ve never heard of it,” Hermione said.

Harry nodded. “I guess it’s a little obscure,” he replied. “But it’s… supposed to help guard my mind against mental attacks.” He gazed down at his feet as he spoke.

Hermione’s eyes widened. “So… they really do think that… Voldemort might be in your head?” she asked.

Harry sighed. “Sounds like it,” he said quietly, then he looked up to meet Hermione’s gaze. “And you can’t tell anyone,” he said. “If it gets out that Snape’s training me, it might put his position as a spy at risk.”

Hermione let out a breath. “That’s why he put the silencing spell up, isn’t it?”

Harry nodded, ignoring the flip-flop in his stomach as he did it. Of course, it wasn’t actually the reason for the silencing spell, but that was exactly what he needed Hermione to believe.

Snape had used the silencing spell to reveal that there were only two people in the school that were capable of training him in Occlumency - the other being Dumbledore. Snape had explained that the very nature of the training would allow him to see Harry’s memories, and that Harry should be grateful that Dumbledore ordered Snape to do it rather than taking on the task himself.

After all, whoever looked inside his mind would easily be able to see his recent involvement in the dark arts.

To Harry’s immense surprise, Snape truly did not want Dumbledore to find out about Harry’s intention of declaring dark. Snape actually seemed incredibly determined to ensure that Harry completed the declaration rites, though he didn’t explain why. Despite the unusual topic, Snape had been his usual bristly self through the entire conversation, and knowing their history it likely had nothing to do with Snape wanting to ‘look out’ for Harry.

Like Snape would actually go out of his way to help me. Harry internally rolled his eyes.

“So when does this training start?” Hermione asked, pulling Harry out of his thoughts.

“Once the term starts back up,” Harry replied. “Twice a week.” He smirked. “He requested that I tell everyone that I was getting remedial potions lessons, but I pointed out that nobody would believe that considering certain people have noticed that I’ve been doing much better in Potions this year.” He gave Hermione a pointed look with a slight smile.

Hermione laughed. “So what are you supposed to say instead?”

Harry shrugged. “We decided that it would just be regular Potions tutoring,” he said. “It fits, since I genuinely do want to get an ‘O’ on my Potions O.W.L. - I still kinda want to be an Auror, after all.” Then he let out a sigh, crossing his arms. “But Occlumency… Snape is actually going to be in my head. I hate knowing that.”

“Is there anything you can do to prepare for this… training?”

“He said something about ‘clearing my mind’ before I went to sleep,” Harry responded, “but I have absolutely no idea what that means.”

Hermione’s face screwed up in concentration, and Harry smiled at the sight. It was exactly how Hermione always looked when she was faced with a puzzle that she’d very much like to solve. “I’ll look in the library once we get back to Hogwarts,” she said. “There has to be a book on the basics, right?”

***

In the privacy and silence of his room that night, Harry finally opened his gifts from his housemates.

When Harry opened Blaise’s gift, Harry was immediately glad that he hadn’t chosen to unwrap anything in the company of others. His eyes widened as he saw that it was a book that described the origins of several dark arts spells and rituals, including the Unforgivables. He tucked the book into his hiding place with the candle and Black rites from Sirius - on a bookshelf, hidden behind a few other nondescript titles - and then reminded himself to punch Blaise in the arm when they were back at school.

Pansy’s gift was exactly what he expected; after all, she’d be talking about it for weeks. He unveiled a bottle of hair potion. He smiled as he turned it over in his hands, but he had no intention in using it until Pansy showed him how.

Theo’s gift was simple - an incredibly soft scarf in Slytherin colors, but what touched him even more was the note of apology included with it.

Tracey and Millicent had gone in together on their gift for him: it was another bottle of basic vision potion. He grinned, deciding to save it for the next Quidditch game in case Snape didn’t give him another. If Snape did continue to supply it, Harry would find another use for it.

Harry saved Draco’s gift for last. It was the smallest package of the bunch. He unwrapped it and discovered a beautiful figurine carved from a light purple stone that fit perfectly into the palm of his hand. It was a lion that sat regally, and a snake was draped over its shoulders. Unlike most wizarding figures it wasn’t animated, frozen in its pose. The snake’s head was raised, and it bared its fangs as if protecting the lion. Harry smiled at it before unfolding the note that Draco had included.

Harry,

I’d already special-ordered this before you had that one awful ‘dream,’ so I’m sorry if this dredges up any bad feelings for you. However, I also thought it represented you quite well.

You are the Slytherin with the heart of a Gryffindor, which is going to make you a very dangerous Slytherin.

With each day, I grow more and more pleased that you joined our house. I trust that you’ve come to enjoy Slytherin, and I hope you eventually embrace it.

Happy Yule,

Draco Malfoy

Harry’s eyes widened. Draco’s letter not only echoed what he’d said to Harry the night before during the dedication rite, but it was also almost identical to what the Sorting Hat had told him at the beginning of the school year.

Harry decided that while he’d been feeling more comfortable being a Slytherin as the months passed he still wasn’t exactly ready to ‘embrace’ it. However, he was okay with being a combination of a snake and a lion, and he smiled down at the figure.

He could probably embrace being a Slytherin with the heart of a Gryffindor.

***

Christmas was just a few days later. To no one’s surprise, Hermione got both Harry and Ron homework planners, though Harry was infinitely more amused than Ron at how the planners shouted at them to do their work. Harry’s shouted considerably less than Ron’s, considering most of his holiday assignments had already been completed.

The gift that Harry found himself appreciating the most came from Mrs. Weasley. She, as usual, had made him a jumper as she had for all of her children, but his was the only one knitted in Slytherin colors. Harry jumped up from his spot on the floor to give her a hug of appreciation, and she seemed relieved that she hadn’t misjudged the situation, stating that she hadn’t been certain whether or not Harry was pleased with his new house placement.

Harry proudly wore his jumper to St. Mungo’s to visit Mr. Weasley and he found himself in a good mood, at least up until they ran into Neville and his parents. Harry had heard what had happened to the Longbottoms - tortured to insanity by the Lestranges - but seeing them first hand made him see Neville in a new light.

He laid awake in bed that night, strange conflicting emotions dancing across his mind. Harry’s own parents had been killed, while Neville’s were still alive but barely a part of the world around them. He hated thinking it, but Harry honestly wasn’t sure which of the two of them had it worse.

That wasn’t the only thing haunting him: Bellatrix Lestrange seemed to be the worst kind of dark witch, but Harry knew that she was far from alone. He wondered what could drive a witch or wizard to that kind of evil, and he remembered reading about how some dark witches and wizards would sometimes let themselves be controlled by dark magic.

There was apparently a line somewhere, but Harry had no idea where that line was.

And with how much had changed in Harry in the last few months, Harry wondered once again if he should be worried that the dark magic was controlling him. Even with the fear of Voldemort being in his mind, Harry had still chosen to start walking the dark path simply because it had ‘felt right.’

Draco had said the dark magic didn’t take free will away, but that seemed almost contrary to what he’d read.

Harry knew he still had a lot to learn about the dark arts, and he had to find out more about what it meant when dark magic controlled a person. He knew he could ask Sirius, but he also found himself wishing that the holidays were already over because he really wanted to speak to Draco.

Harry slept fitfully that night.

***

Morning arrived and after a quiet breakfast, Harry again found himself revising with Hermione. She seemed delighted to actually have someone to discuss schoolwork with, and they worked companionably until they heard a crash at the door, followed by screeching.

Filth! Despicable half-breeds! Begone -”

The screaming was quickly muffled as someone had obviously drawn the curtain over the painting of Mrs. Black. Hermione and Harry glanced at one another, wondering who had arrived.

“Happy Boxing Day!” Tonks grinned as she entered the dining room. Barely more than her eyes and her blue hair could be seen, bundled up as she was.

“Is there an Order meeting?” Harry wondered.

Tonks shook her head. “No. Just popping by for lunch,” she said. “By request of Sirius.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Though I’m not entirely sure why he wanted me to bring Mum,” she muttered.

Harry’s eyes widened as a woman with beautiful, almost royal features appeared behind Tonks. She had thick, shining brown hair and pale skin, and she seemed to carry herself just like Narcissa Malfoy - proud and proper. Her eyes almost immediately landed on Harry, and she smiled.

“Andromeda?” Harry asked quietly, rising from his chair. “Andromeda Tonks?”

“You must be Harry,” she said. “It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

Harry couldn’t believe it. After months of writing back and forth with her, she was actually in front of him, in real life.

Andromeda’s smile widened, and then she extended her arms. Harry immediately took the invitation and crossed the dining room, and he found himself grinning as they embraced one another. He’d never even properly met her, but he felt like she was just as much a part of his life as Sirius.

“I… I’m confused,” Tonks said, scratching her head. “You know each other?”

“We somewhat do, Nymphadora,” Andromeda said as she drew back from Harry. She cupped his face in her hands affectionately. “We’ve been writing one another since Harry was sorted into my old house.”

“And I can’t begin to describe how much I appreciated your letters,” Harry said. “You explained Slytherin much better than anyone else did.”

Andromeda let out a melodic laugh. “We Slytherins are difficult to explain,” she said, “even when you are Slytherin yourself.”

“I’ve been trying to understand my mother for years,” Tonks said dryly. Harry grinned.

“Harry, Hermione?” Mrs. Weasley called from the kitchen. “Could you clear your books off the table and help set it for lunch?”

“Be right there!” Harry called over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off Andromeda.

“I’m really glad you’re here,” Harry said. “I’d really like to talk to you.”

Andromeda smirked. “We’ll make time for a conversation, Harry,” she said. “Go give Molly a hand.”

***

Lunch was enjoyable, although nearly everyone save Sirius and Harry didn’t seem to know how to speak to Andromeda. She’d obviously been raised as a proper pureblood lady, and her manners seemed so impeccable that she seemed to shame the Weasley children simply by existing at the same table as them.

She insisted on helping Mrs. Weasley clean up when they were done eating, and she and Mrs. Weasley chatted for quite some time, trading cleaning spells. Tonks kept rolling her eyes and making faces at the table.

“She always makes me feel like I’m a giant disappointment whenever she gets into one of those conversations,” she said quietly to Harry and the twins. “I could never get a single one of her cleaning spells right.”

“Your strengths clearly lie elsewhere, Nymphadora,” Andromeda called from the kitchen.

“And her hearing is like Moody’s vision,” Tonks groaned, her head dropping down to the table with a ‘thunk.’ “I swear, she must’ve done some crazy ritual in order to have hearing like a bat.”

Harry’s eyes widened imperceptibly at that; fortunately, the others were distracted by Andromeda and Sirius coming back into the room.

“Or you simply speak louder than you think you do,” Andromeda said. “You’ve always been loud.”

Tonks scowled, but then laughed and gave a shrug. “I guess you’re not wrong.”

“You’re like Sirius in that regard,” Andromeda said, glancing at her cousin.

Sirius raised an eyebrow at that. “I’m not sure if you’re complimenting me or insulting your daughter.”

“You’ll just have to continue wondering,” Andromeda said, a slight smile on her lips. She then raised a hand and beckoned for Harry to join her, and he quickly got to his feet. “It’s high time we spoke with one another, Mr. Potter. I have a few questions about some of the issues you’ve raised in your letters, and I daresay you might have some questions for me.”

Harry nodded eagerly.

“Is this a ‘Slytherins only’ meeting?” Sirius said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

“Yes,” Andromeda replied, her tone making it obvious that she was not to be argued with. Harry laughed, and Andromeda draped her arm around Harry’s shoulders and led him out of the room.

They went into the parlor, and Harry let out a laugh. “I seem to be having a lot of private conversations in here lately.”

“Let’s make it more private than usual,” Andromeda said, drawing her wand. She waved it over their heads without a word, but it was obviously a silencing spell. They sat in opposite armchairs and Andromeda appeared to study Harry for a moment.

“Sirius dropped a hint to me that you may be… walking a certain path?” Andromeda said first.

Harry’s eyes widened. “Um… yeah,” he admitted.

Andromeda smiled. “That’s wonderful to hear,” she said. “Most of us were born into it, and those like myself and Sirius seem to get driven out when we go against the grain. The dark needs new blood.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. “You’re…” He paused, unsure if he should mention that he’d heard the exact same words from Narcissa Malfoy only a few days prior. The most he really knew about their relationship was that Mrs. Malfoy didn’t even really mention her sister.

Andromeda raised an eyebrow. “I thought Sirius would have told you that I am a dark witch,” she said.

“He did,” Harry responded. “Does… does your family know?” he asked curiously.

“They do,” Andromeda said. “Although they are under the impression that I am a non-practicing dark witch, which is… mostly true.” She let out a sigh. “My own daughter choosing to be an Auror has made me particularly conflicted, but I truthfully haven’t observed the cyclical days in years, much like my cousin.” She smirked. “Which is why I was all the more surprised when Sirius mentioned that he’d attended Yule… with you.”

“I…” Harry paused, his eyes widening in shock. “I thought he wasn’t able to tell anyone that I was there!” he exclaimed.

Andromeda’s smirk widened. “He didn’t tell me,” she said. “You did.”

Harry blinked.

“You need to be careful, Harry,” Andromeda said, shaking her head. “The magic of Solstice may prevent anyone else from revealing that you were in attendance, and it may help prevent anyone from tearing it from your mind, but you can still reveal your own secrets simply by saying the wrong thing.”

“You…” Harry trailed off. “Did you even know that I was actually...”

Andromeda sighed. “Sirius only told me that he’d attended Yule, and I knew there had to be a reason why. I was able to piece together the rest from things you’ve said in your letters. You merely confirmed my suspicions.”

Harry frowned. “I don’t think I’ve mentioned dark arts in my letters…”

“You didn’t,” Andromeda said. “But I could tell there was something you weren’t saying. I am quite capable of reading between the lines. You also mentioned… deceiving a friend.” She sighed. “I don’t know you well, but you don’t seem the type to be deceptive unless the situation truly calls for it.” She sighed. “From… personal experience, I suspected that it may have been about the dark arts.”

“Yeah,” Harry admitted. “That’s exactly what it was about. I hate it.” He shook his head.

“It is a part of the burden we bear,” Andromeda said. “I lied to my Ted for over a year when we first started becoming friends.” She sighed. “I also feel it was with good reason. If he’d found out the truth about me in the beginning stages of our friendship, I fear that we would have never gotten to where we are today.”

Harry frowned. “I’ve already been friends with Hermione for years, though,” he said. “Since first year.” He sighed. “But the thing with me and the dark arts… it’s rather new.” He took in a shaky breath, looking down at his hands. “I also don’t think I could… do what you’ve done. I don’t want to give up one for the other.”

“Once you are declared, you don’t ‘give up’ being dark,” she said. “It’s part of your identity. And just because I don’t attend the cyclical celebrations anymore doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally sneak a little dark arts here and there.”

Harry let out a laugh. “Like a ritual to improve your hearing?”

Andromeda just smirked in response.

Harry grinned, and then sighed, remembering what they were actually discussing. “With Hermione… she’s already implied that she’s suspicious of me, and it doesn’t sound like she’s heard anything flattering about dark wizards or the dark arts.”

“She likely hasn’t,” Andromeda said. “There is an inherent prejudice against the dark. I suppose I can understand some of it; after all, it is often the dark arts that are used to cause extreme pain and suffering, and it requires someone with a darker soul to use such magic.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “What?” he asked. “I’ve never heard that.”

Andromeda sighed. “It’s mostly just an expression,” she said. “It’s an old theory as to why some people have dark affinities and some do not.”

“What does it mean to have a ‘dark soul?’” Harry asked.

Andromeda shook her head. “I probably shouldn’t have used that phrase,” she said, “because I honestly don’t know.”

“Do you have a theory?” Harry pressed.

“Everyone does,” she responded. “Some believe it’s hereditary. Others believe it’s environmental, which could also explain why so many dark families produce dark children. Still others think that it could be exposure to the dark arts at a young age, which would also explain why it appears to be hereditary.”

“What do you believe?”

She let out a laugh. “I think the dark chooses its children based on what a person is willing to do.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “That would explain so many dark witches and wizards being in Slytherin.”

“‘Any means to achieve our ends,’” Andromeda said, smiling. “That’s precisely why I believe what I do.”

Harry sat back, considering. “That definitely sounds better than ‘having a dark soul.’”

“Why is that?” Andromeda asked.

“Because it makes it sound…”

“Evil?” Andromeda said lightly.

Harry nodded.

“You seem to still have a prejudice against the dark yourself,” Andromeda said. “Dark doesn’t mean evil.”

“I know that,” Harry said, sighing. “Just… when it’s attached to a soul rather than just… magic… it sounds…” He trailed off, unsure of what he wanted to say.

“Well, you weren’t raised in the dark community,” Andromeda said. “The dark’s notoriety, however false, is a difficult one to overcome.” She sighed. “The reputation the dark has gained in the last century or so has made it difficult for us to simply exist.” She fixed a searching look on Harry, and he shifted uncomfortably.

“What?” he asked.

“Has it occurred to you that…” She paused, frowning. “... that you, of all people, being a dark wizard could help improve that unfortunate reputation?”

Harry scowled. “It’s been… hinted at, yeah,” he said. “But I’m just… I don’t want to be…”

“A figurehead?” Andromeda asked. “You do realize that you’ve already been one for much of your life, right?”

“Yeah,” Harry responded. “And I hate it. I don’t want it.”

Andromeda made a humming sound and sat back in her chair, continuing to study Harry with curious eyes. “Well, then, my little Slytherin…” she said, “what do you want?”

“What?” Harry asked.

“Slytherins have goals. It’s part of being Slytherin,” Andromeda said. “Harry, what is it that you want more than anything else?”

Harry sighed, slumping back in his own chair. “I want to see Voldemort defeated,” he said. He was fairly certain that he could already see where this conversation was leading.

“That’s quite the goal,” Andromeda said lightly.

Harry let out a cynical laugh.

“I suppose it’s occurred to you that your declaring dark could actually weaken You-Know-Who’s support?” Andromeda said.

Harry nodded. “It’s been… pointed out to me,” he said. “My housemates already said the same.”

“And I agree with them wholeheartedly,” Andromeda said. “Being the figurehead that you so despise could actually help you reach your goal.”

Harry frowned, staring down at his hands.

“Slytherins use any means to achieve our ends,” Andromeda said, “even when we are not a fan of the means.” She suddenly reached out and took one of Harry’s hands. “You’ve already shown that you aren’t afraid of using means you’re not exactly happy about, and you were sorted into Slytherin for a reason.”

Harry’s scowl deepened. “The reason being to ‘improve the dark’s reputation?’” he asked sarcastically.

Andromeda shook her head. “I’m not talking about anything so trite as fate, Harry. I’m saying that you already have the ability to do this because you are Slytherin.”

Harry sighed. He’d already thought about how he wanted to save his housemates from being forced into Voldemort’s service, but he’d been avoiding thinking about how to actually make that happen.

“How?” he asked cynically. “By announcing to the world that I’ve been neck-deep in the dark arts?”

“Don’t do that - not until after you’ve declared,” Andromeda said sharply, and then her face softened. “You have time to figure it out,” she continued. “You also have the time to decide if you want to do it at all. Desires can change with time, after all. If you decide that there’s something you want more than seeing You-Know-Who ended…”

Harry let out a bitter laugh. “That’s not likely.”

“You won’t be alone, Harry,” Andromeda said, her voice firm. “I will stand with you. And I’m certain others will do the same.”

***

The rest of the holiday break passed mostly uneventfully.

He rarely got a few moments to himself, but he did manage to sneak up to the Black Library twice. Due to his housemate’s warning about the potential of his things being searched, he didn’t want to bring anything back with him - or anything more than what he already had, rather. Even so, he was determined to research whatever he could about what happened when a dark wizard was controlled by dark magic.

There wasn’t much to be found, but from what little he did read, it seemed that being ‘controlled’ by dark magic was much like a kind of addiction; those that gave in to it would find themselves with an inherent need to use the dark arts, and they could often exhibit signs of insanity.

That made Harry feel a bit better; although he felt a need to learn more, he didn’t feel like he needed to use the dark arts.

He wanted to spend more time looking, but he kept getting pulled away by Mrs. Weasley or Hermione or the twins.

He used his nights to read through the Black declaration rites, and he understood what Theo’s father had meant about some people not being able to stomach them. Harry was fairly certain he’d be able to handle it, but he could actually see why someone might be scared off. There was going to be blood and pain in the first rite, followed by a rite where he had to open himself completely to the dark. Based off of how he’d already felt during his affinity rite and his rite of intent, Harry was unsure how much more intense it could get.

That was the second rite, though, and Harry decided he was going to concentrate on getting through the first rite before worrying about the next. He wanted to complete all three before Beltane, and he wanted to make sure he did them correctly. He studied the first rite - the blood rite - over and over again until he could recite the entire thing from memory.

That only occupied some of his time, and he spent much of the holidays bored out of his mind. The holidays seemed to drag on and on, and Harry felt more eager to get back to Hogwarts by the day.

The last night of break he found himself nearly too excited to sleep, and the silence felt oppressive. He felt on edge, and it felt like there was somewhere he had to be. He kept figuring that he was just excited to finally return to Hogwarts, but he also felt like he was missing something.

He lay in bed staring into his dim room when the dark magic of the house suddenly reached up to him again in a way it hadn’t since he’d first arrived at Grimmauld Place after his vision.

He suddenly sat upright in his bed.

He did have somewhere to be, and Draco had been right; now that he knew what he was sensing, he could tell that the dark magic was trying to guide him somewhere, just as it had led him to the Black Library over the summer.

He sat on his bed for a few minutes, breathing in and out. He wanted to test Draco’s words; he needed to make absolutely sure that the dark magic wasn’t actually taking his free will away, so he simply sat and tried to understand what was actually happening.

It wasn’t like the Imperius, he decided, and it didn’t feel as if he had an undying need to go wherever the magic was trying to take him. It was more like a nudge than a push, and he finally decided that Draco had been absolutely correct: he didn’t have to do whatever the dark magic wanted him to do. If Harry wanted to, he could ignore it.

Even so, his curiosity was definitely overriding the desire to resist it, and he finally swung his legs over the side of the bed and closed his eyes, letting the magic wash over him.

Now that he knew what was happening, it was a strange sensation. The magic seemed to lick at him gently, and he smiled at the feeling. He let his feet guide him, and he left his room, turning the corner. He paused at the stairs and looked up.

It was taking him back to the Black Library.

Harry suddenly felt a pang of regret that he hadn’t made more time to spend in the Library, but perhaps the dark magic would guide him to something important. It had before, after all.

He silently scaled the stairs and opened the door to the familiar, comfortable room. He walked over to the shelves and looked up at them, then reached out with one hand and ran his fingers along the spines of the books.

He found himself stopping at one book, and he pulled it down off the shelf. He had to tilt the cover to read the title in the dim candlelight.

It was called Blood Magic: Rites, Rituals, Sacraments, and Sacrifices.

He frowned, and suddenly realized that the dark magic’s pull had stopped. It was apparently only this book that it wanted him to find. He flipped it open and skimmed through the table of contents, but nothing jumped out at him as being particularly important. Maybe the dark thought he might need it for his first declaration rite, but he didn’t see anything that looked related.

He shrugged, slamming the book shut again. Including the Black rites, the book Blaise had given him, and this new one on blood magic, he was sneaking only three books on dark arts back to Hogwarts. Perhaps he’d stuff them in his bag rather than his trunk, and pass them to one of his housemates as soon as he arrived.

Harry left the library and tucked the book back with the others once he reached his room. He crawled back into bed and was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Chapter Text


After a stomach-lurching and somewhat awkward ride on the Knight Bus - where Harry had been forced to sit by Ron in painful silence due to a lack of seats - they finally arrived in Hogsmeade.

Harry was relieved to be away from the prying eyes of the passengers, and he could barely suppress a grin as his eyes landed on Hogwarts in the distance. The walk up the icy path to the school seemed to take ages, as they were slowed even more than usual as they dragged their trunks through the slush.

They’d arrived just after the rest of the students that had come by train, and Harry quickly parted ways with the others when they reached the Great Hall, making his way over to the Slytherin table.

There you are!” Pansy exclaimed, jumping up from her seat to give Harry a hug. “You weren’t on the train.”

“We were getting worried you’d been expelled again,” Blaise joked. “So I - ow!” he exclaimed as Harry swiftly punched him in the arm. “What was that for?”

“If I’d been expelled, it would have been your fault,” Harry whispered furiously. “What were you thinking, sending me that book? I’m lucky I opened it when no one was around.”

Blaise’s eyes widened. “With you almost certainly being under Fidelius again, I wasn’t expecting you to actually get it until you got back to school,” he said sheepishly.

“Somebody brought my gifts to me,” Harry said. “Just warn me next time, okay?”

“If you got your gifts, why does your hair still look like a Hippogriff molted on your head?” Pansy demanded.

“‘Cuz you have to show me how to use that hair potion,” Harry responded with a laugh.

“Oh, come on, Potter,” Draco said, rolling his eyes dramatically. “Didn’t you read the directions?”

“No,” Harry said, grinning. “That’s what you’re for.”

“Do you have it with you?” Pansy asked. “Or did you leave it in your trunk?”

Harry sighed and reached into his bag, but also felt proud of having been able to predict Pansy so well. Blaise peered over his shoulder and his eyes widened.

“You have dark arts book here?” he hissed quietly when he spotted the books. “In the fuckin’ Great Hall?”

Harry elbowed Blaise in the side as he quickly shut his bag again. “I figured my person was less likely to get searched than my trunk,” he whispered back as he passed the bottle over to Pansy.

Blaise pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “You’re probably right.”

Pansy, meanwhile, immediately spun the cap off of the bottle. “Bring me your head,” she said.

“Can’t this wait until after dinner?” Harry asked, his gut telling him he already knew what the answer would be.

“Blaise, bring me Harry’s head.”

A twisted grin on his face, Blaise manhandled Harry around the Slytherin table, forcing him into the seat between Pansy and Draco. Pansy smoothed the cold liquid into Harry’s hair, and her fingers worked their way all the way down to Harry’s scalp.

“Draco was right,” Harry said, closing his eyes. “You do give good head massages.”

A hand suddenly reached under his chin to turn his head, and Harry’s eyes popped open to see Draco studying him. “It’s an improvement,” Draco said, smirking. Pansy laughed, and Harry wondered what his head looked like.

The spectacle appeared to entertain the Slytherins around them, and Harry finally noticed that quite a few of the older students seemed to be looking at Harry with a more appraising eye than they usually did.

Considering he’d seen most of the students that were staring at him at Solstice a few weeks earlier, Harry didn’t think their scrutiny was due to his fashionable new hairstyle.

***

After dinner, Harry trailed behind the rest of his house as he adjusted the straps on his bag, making sure that his books wouldn’t be seen. Blaise turned around to wait for him, and Harry hurried to catch up.

“I am sorry about sending you the book,” Blaise said when Harry reached his side. “I really didn’t think it would actually make its way to you until we got back to school.”

“It’s fine,” Harry said, sighing. “Nobody saw it.”

“Did you check any of it out yet?” Blaise asked. “I got it for you because there’s some really interesting history in there - like how some spells that are used to attack these days have origins in dark healing.”

“Just skimmed it,” Harry said. “I -”

Without warning, Blaise suddenly shoved Harry to the ground, and Harry groaned as his elbow collided painfully with the stone floor. Over their heads, a curse flew through the air and blasted into the wall. Harry’s eyes widened as Blaise raised his head to look behind them.

“Hey!” Blaise shouted. Ahead of them, Harry could see the others had stopped to look and see what had happened, and Draco was already running towards them.

“Down!” Draco hissed, and Harry ducked his head again, thinking another curse was flying towards him. Instead, Draco leaped over his head, taking off down the hallway. Blaise quickly got to his feet and sprinted after him.

Adrenaline pumping through Harry’s veins, he also sprang to his feet and followed them down the hall.

But when they turned the corner, it was empty.

“You stupid coward!” Draco shouted, his normally pale face more than a little flushed. “You're going to find out why this school fears our house!”

“What in the world are you shouting about, Mr. Malfoy?” Professor Sprout appeared behind them, looking more frazzled than usual.

“Someone tried to curse Harry - again,” Blaise snapped. “And it had to be one of your Hufflepuffs.”

“What?” Sprout exclaimed. “What happened?” She looked over at Harry. “Are you all right, Potter?”

“I’m fine,” Harry said. “They missed.” Even so, she proceeded to inspect Harry from head to toe.

Blaise held his hand out towards Harry as she did so, and Harry looked at him in confusion. Blaise rolled his eyes and took Harry’s bag off of his shoulder so Sprout could check him out thoroughly.

Harry’s eyes widened, and he nodded at Blaise in thanks. He doubted she would have spotted his books, but he certainly didn't want to chance it.

“Well, I don’t think you need to go to the hospital wing,” Sprout decided, apparently satisfied that Harry was unharmed. She turned to Blaise. “What makes you think it was someone from my house, Mr. Zabini?”

“We figured at the beginning of the year that whoever attacked Harry had to be Gryffindor or Hufflepuff,” Blaise explained. “And considering the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws go to the towers...”

Sprout frowned. “Are you certain it couldn’t have been another Slytherin?” she asked. “Or that someone from one of the other houses may have followed you down here?”

“Of course you don’t believe us,” Draco said nastily.

“Mind your tone, Mr. Malfoy,” Sprout said, frowning. “I do believe you that someone attempted to curse Mr. Potter, but I’ll need more than circumstantial evidence in order to figure out who did it.” She sighed. “Rest assured that I’ll be reporting this and that the matter will be investigated. Run along to your common room, now.” She shooed them away.

“Well, at least she didn’t brush it off,” Blaise muttered. “But it’s not like they’ve turned up anything from the earlier supposed ‘investigation.’”

“Someone is still after your head, Harry,” Draco said, an infuriated look on his face. “When we find out who, it will not be pleasant for them.”

***

Draco tugged Harry up to their dorm as soon as they got back to the common room. He flipped open his trunk and reached into one of the top pockets, pulling out a black pillar candle identical to the one Sirius had given Harry.

“I’m hoping Black explained what this is for?” Draco asked as he passed the candle to Harry.

Harry nodded. “He gave me a book on the rites, too,” he said. He threw his bag up on his bed and pulled out the small, hand-bound book that Sirius had given him.

Draco’s lips quirked. “I’m surprised he kept it,” he said.

“He said I could just ignore or change the crap about blood purity,” Harry said, smirking. “I suppose you followed it all to the letter?”

“Of course I did,” Draco said, scowling. “They’re my family’s sacred rites.”

“Well, I hope I’m not offending you by choosing not to swear that I’ll ensure that the family’s blood remains pure,” Harry replied sardonically.

To his surprise, Draco laughed. “Most of that language is just flowery crap, anyway,” he said. “The actual ritual is far more important than the words.”

“I’ve pretty much got it memorized,” Harry said. “I’m going to try to do the first rite this week or next.”

“You’re intent on completing your final declaration on Beltane?” Draco asked. “My mother was wondering.”

Despite the flicker of alarm at being reminded of how interested Narcissa was in Harry, he let out a laugh. “Yeah. I know it’s less time than people normally take, but I don’t want to wait until next year to finish it.”

“Good,” Draco replied, a hint of satisfaction in his voice. “I don’t want you to, either. The rituals and rites that will open up to you once you’ve declared…”

Harry nodded. “There was one I read about that mentioned being able to take control of my dreams,” he said. “I wonder if it’ll help with… visions.”

Draco raised an elegant eyebrow at that. “You… received my Yule present with the others, right?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Thank you, by the way. I love it.” He reached into his pocket at pulled out the little purple figurine.

“It’s made from Lepidolite,” Draco said. “When I ordered it, I was actually thinking of the possibility of you declaring dark; the gem is supposed to help with transition and… journeys.” He smirked. “But it’s also supposed to help keep your mind balanced and clear. I think I made a good choice.”

Harry laughed. “Snape said I’m supposed to work on clearing my mind, too.”

Draco blinked. “What for?”

“Occlumency,” Harry responded. “He’s going to be training me in it.”

Draco’s eyes widened. “Why is… he the one training you in it?” he asked, his tone sounding just a bit suspicious.

Harry paused, suddenly feeling a bit guilty; Snape had requested that Harry not tell anyone about the training. It just felt natural to tell Draco, but he imagined Snape wouldn’t be happy about it. “Apparently Dumbledore asked him to,” Harry said slowly, “but Snape is apparently also interested in making sure that Dumbledore doesn’t find out about… me.”

“About you walking the dark path, you mean?”

Harry nodded. “Please don’t tell anyone,” he said. “Not even another Slytherin.”

Draco tilted his head, his eyes narrowing in consideration. “It’s difficult magic, but I agree that it’s smart to learn it.”

“You know what it is, then?”

“It’s the art of protecting your mind from outside attack,” Draco responded. “Like what happened to you right before the end of term.”

Harry nodded. “That’s what Snape said, yeah. But I’m still not entirely sure what he means by ‘clearing my mind.’”

Draco frowned. “During the holidays, were you in the same place you were in over the summer?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t look in the library for material on Occlumency?”

Harry blinked, then smiled sheepishly. “I didn’t think of it.” Then he shrugged. “But that library seems to be mostly focused on dark arts, and I didn’t think Occlumency was dark…”

“It’s not. It’s neutral.” Draco rolled his eyes. “But dark wizards tend to learn it since we tend to have something to hide. A dark library would have almost certainly had something on Occlumency.” He shook his head. “For Merlin’s sake, Harry… you are hopeless.”

Harry laughed. “Sometimes.”

“You clearly snuck at least one dark arts book out of there, but you seriously didn’t think to...” Draco trailed off, and then he sighed. “When does this training start?”

“Tomorrow,” Harry responded. “Twice a week.”

Draco frowned.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“It’s…” Draco paused, crossing his arms and leaning up against the bedpost. “You need to be careful, Harry,” he said quietly. “Around Snape.”

“Why?”

“Professor Snape may be our head of house,” Draco said, “but he is also a Death Eater.”

Harry’s eyes widened in shock, and Draco must have misunderstood the reason why.

“It’s true,” Draco said, his tone insistent. “And I know he got away from Azkaban in the first war because Dumbledore said he turned spy, but he’s back with the Dark Lord again. My father was talking about it over the holidays…” Draco frowned and his gaze dropped down to the floor, frowning.

Harry continued to stare at Draco in surprise. He knew that he and Draco had become closer, but he still found himself surprised that Draco would actually betray Snape to him. Harry briefly considered telling Draco the truth about Snape’s allegiances, but something about that felt wrong; it wasn’t his secret to tell, after all.

And despite how close they had become, Draco was still Lucius Malfoy’s son.

Harry then noticed just how forlorn Draco appeared. “Are you okay?” he asked quietly.

Draco swallowed, his eyes darting to the side. “Over the holidays, my father…” He took a breath, and Harry found himself becoming more and more concerned.

“What happened?” he asked.

“My father dropped some hints that he… I think he wants me to take the mark,” Draco said. “This summer.” A chill ran down Harry’s spine, and Draco continued. “When the Dark Lord first came back, my father implied that the earliest he’d allow it was when I was seventeen, but now…”

“Draco,” Harry said, reaching and placing a hand on Draco’s arm. “You don’t have to.”

“I might not have an option!” Draco snapped. “If my father wants me to be a Death Eater, then I -”

“Your father shouldn’t get to make your decisions for you,” Harry said viciously.

“It’s not that simple, Harry!” Draco bit out.

Harry scowled, and then took a breath, trying to calm himself down. “I know it isn’t,” he said, softer, but the fury was still clearly evident in his voice. “But if you don’t want to -”

“I don’t,” Draco said, jerking his arm out of Harry’s grasp and stalking past him. He stopped in the middle of the room and let out a sigh, his eyes drifting up towards the ceiling. “The Dark Lord clearly isn’t… all there.” He was silent for a moment, and then he let out a noise of frustration. “And he’s a bloody hypocrite.”

Harry froze, frowning. “What… what do you mean?” he asked slowly, a sinking feeling forming in his gut.

Draco didn’t say anything at first, then he turned and looked at Harry. “He’s… taking advantage of people’s beliefs,” he said. “He preaches the value of wizarding blood, and keeping blood pure, but he -”

“He’s a half-blood?” Harry spat in disbelief. “You don’t want to be his Death Eater because Voldemort is a fucking half-blood? Is that what you mean?” Harry wasn’t sure why he was surprised.

Draco’s eyes widened. “No,” he said quickly, shaking his head. “I mean… not exactly.”

“Then what do you mean?” Harry demanded, his voice rising. His stomach twisted unpleasantly. He felt like this argument was one that he and Draco had to have eventually, but despite agreeing to discuss it, they’d been mostly avoiding it. “I know you’re a blood purist -”

“I don’t know if I am!” Draco snapped, then he took a breath and ran a shaking hand through his hair. “I don’t know, Harry -”

“Oh, give me a fucking break,” Harry said, scowling. “You were going after Hermione for years for being Muggleborn. The only reason you stopped is because you didn’t want to piss me off!”

“I know that!” Draco shot back. “At first, yes - I didn’t bring it up because I was trying to keep the peace. But -”

“Just because you’re now keeping your mouth shut about it doesn’t make your beliefs okay!”

“Would you please allow me to finish a sentence?” Draco sneered, his eyes flashing.

Harry leaned back, crossing his arms. “Fine. Continue.”

Draco took a breath. “This is a complicated issue, Harry -”

Harry let out a bitter laugh. “Not really.”

“You said you would let me talk,” Draco said, his voice sounding tired.

Harry shut his mouth with a scowl and he gestured to Draco that he had the floor.

Draco appeared to steel himself, and it looked like he was having a hard time finding the right words to say. “Certain… certain things have come to light recently,” he said. “Things that have been making me doubt what my parents say about wizarding blood.” He swallowed. “Like how they’ve always said that only purebloods can have an affinity for any kind of magic - light or dark.”

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. “Nobody… nobody has mentioned that before.”

“It’s something Blaise and Theo have always doubted,” Draco said. “But I was convinced that it must have been why Tracey doesn’t have any dark affinity even though her mother is a dark witch. And even though I’ve never met her, I know my cousin can’t possibly be dark.”

“Tonks?” Harry asked. “She’s not.”

Draco nodded. “The truth is, Harry - I’ve never encountered a single witch or wizard with a dark affinity that wasn’t a pureblood. At least, not that I know of.” He paused. “Until you.”

Harry paused. “I told you about Voldemort…”

“Yeah,” Draco responded. “And not only that, but… the Dark Lord is one of the most powerful dark wizards ever. And then there’s you…” He let out a short laugh. “You’re not exactly short on power, either.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, and for more than one reason. He never really liked it when Draco brought up the potential of his power, but something else nagged at him - he and Voldemort couldn’t really be the only two dark half-bloods, could they?

Draco let out a sigh before he continued. “And it’s made me think about something my mother has said more than a few times - ‘the dark needs new blood.’”

Harry blinked. “Andromeda said the exact same thing,” he said, “over the holidays.”

Draco’s eyes widened. “So it is some kind of family saying,” he said. “I’d wondered.” He shook his head. “But… I’ve always been confused about what it actually meant. If only purebloods could be dark, how do we get new blood? Do we just wait around for a light family to have a child with a dark affinity?”

Harry’s expression mirrored Draco’s as his words sank in. “So you think… it might mean people like… like me? Or… Muggleborns, maybe?” he asked. “I mean, it doesn’t really seem likely; if it’s a Black family saying…”

“‘Toujours Pur,’” Draco recited. “It seems odd to say something that implies introducing new blood - Muggle blood - when the family prides itself on being pure.”

“I wonder if Sirius has heard it...” Harry mused.

“Ask him when you get a chance,” Draco said.

Harry nodded.

Draco then let out an exasperated sigh. “Anyway…” he continued, “all this has been giving me some doubts. But something even more frustrating is the fact that the Dark Lord is a hypocrite.” His scowl deepened.

Harry felt like he was getting whiplash. “If you’re having doubts about… about blood purity, why does it matter that he’s a half-blood?”

“I don’t think it does,” Draco said, “at least not in the way that you think. It’s bothering me that he’s lying about who he is, seemingly in order to get dark wizards to fall in line with him.”

“I think it’s more to do with the fact that he’s ashamed of it,” Harry said with a shrug. “So he hides it.”

Draco gave him a strange look. “How do you know that?”

“He… uh…” Harry coughed. “He’s mentioned it. And I know he chose the name ‘Voldemort’ because he didn’t want to keep his Muggle father’s name.”

Draco blanched. “Sometimes I forget that you’ve actually spoken with him.”

“You’ve never met him, then.”

Draco shook his head. “I’ve just seen him once. Through a window, from two floors up.” He shuddered.

Harry frowned. “And your father expects you to be a soldier for a man you’ve never even met?”

A pained look flashed across Draco’s face, and he looked away from Harry. “Yes. And I don’t think I’ll have a choice.”

Raw determination suddenly flooded Harry. He knew their discussion about blood purity was far from over, but he wasn’t about to let Draco be caught up in Voldemort’s fanaticism - especially not when it seemed like Draco was just beginning to see the truth. Harry immediately moved to Draco’s side, grasping his wrist.

“Draco,” he said, “I will do everything I possibly can to make sure you have a choice.”

***

Classes the following day went smoothly, even though the professors piled on twice as much homework as they had the previous term. It seemed that the closer they got to their O.W.L.s the worse it got.

Then evening was upon them, and Harry sighed with trepidation. Draco and Theo walked him to Snape’s office, and while the two of them tried to make small talk about the day’s classes, Harry was silent the entire journey.

“What time should we come get you?” Draco asked quietly when they reached Snape’s door.

“Snape didn’t tell me how long the… tutoring session would be,” Harry responded. While Draco knew the true purpose of the lessons, Theo did not. Even though Harry was growing tired of keeping secrets from so many people, he was at least trying to respect Snape’s wishes. “It’s fine; we’re close enough to the dungeons that I -”

“Absolutely not,” Draco said.

“Somebody tried to hurt you again just yesterday, Harry,” Theo added.

“You are not to walk in the hallways alone,” Draco continued.

The door abruptly opened, and Snape regarded the three of them coolly. “I will escort Potter back to the dorms after tonight’s tutoring session,” he said. “After today, we will set a time for you or the others to pick him up.” His eyes flicked between Draco and Theo. “Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Theo said.

Snape stepped to the side and Harry let out a sigh. “See you later,” he said to his friends before stepping into the office. The door shut behind him before Draco or Theo even had a chance to respond, and Harry flinched at the sound. Snape gestured at the chair in front of his desk, and Harry took a seat, eyeing Snape warily as he sat down across from him.

“You know why you are here,” Snape said, scowling.

“Yes, sir.”

“I do hope that you will find Occlumency to come to you easier than Potions does, as you will not have Mr. Malfoy here to hold your hand,” Snape continued, sneering. “It is not possible to receive help with Occlumency as you can with your schoolwork. You will have to rely solely on your own mind.” He paused. “Do you recall what I explained to you about Occlumency?”

“Um,” Harry said. “You said it was a branch of magic used to guard against attacks on my mind.”

“And?”

“Uh…” Harry racked his brain, trying to recall the exact words that Snape had used weeks earlier.

Snape rolled his eyes. “It is how you will protect yourself against mental intrusion and influence.”

Harry thought that was basically what he’d already said, but he didn’t point that out. “So you think Voldemort really is -”

“Do not say the Dark Lord’s name!” Snape snapped.

Harry scowled. “Dumbledore does.”

“You have a mere fraction of the power that Professor Dumbledore has,” Snape spat.

Harry glared at Snape, tempted to argue, but quickly decided that it wasn’t worth it - it was more important to figure out exactly why they wanted him to learn Occlumency. “So you and Dumbledore really do think that - he - is getting into my head?”

“It’s obvious that you are getting into his mind, if even by accident,” Snape said. “And the Dark Lord has now realized this.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “How do you know that?”

Snape’s expression became even more pinched. “It is enough that we know, wouldn’t you agree?”

Harry frowned.

“The Dark Lord is highly skilled at Legilimency, meaning that unlike your… accidental excursions into his mind, he will likely be able to access your mind at will.”

Harry swallowed, not liking the sound of that at all, but something about Snape’s words jumped out at him. “‘Legilimency?’” he asked. “I’ve… heard of that.”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “Surprising, Potter, that you’ve heard of Legilimency but know nothing about Occlumency.”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know what Legilimency is, but I heard that… the magic of the Solstice protects against it.”

Snape’s expression changed; he was clearly studying Harry again, just as he had when they met at Yule. He was silent for a moment before responding. “That is protection provided by the dark for a specific purpose. It will only protect knowledge about what happens at Yule itself,” Snape said slowly. “That will not help in this situation.”

“So what is Legilimency?”

“It is the art of extracting feelings and memories from one’s mind.” Snape sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “As I mentioned, the Dark Lord is quite adept at it. Occlumency is the only defense against it.”

Harry studied Snape for a moment, contemplating whether to ask his next question or not, before deciding to throw caution to the wind. “And… Dumbledore is capable of it, too?” he asked. “Legilimency, I mean?”

Snape’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly before they turned steely again. “Indeed,” he said. He stood up from his chair and drew his wand. Harry tensed up, eyeing Snape’s wand cautiously. “Get up, Potter, and draw your wand.”

Harry did as he was instructed, swallowing nervously.

“You may attempt to defend yourself through disarming or other means,” Snape said.

“What are you going to do?” Harry asked.

“I will attempt to access your mind,” Snape said quietly. “You will attempt to resist.” He raised his wand. “Brace yourself. Legilimens!”

Harry wasn’t ready, not that he would have known how to get ready - he had no idea how to resist Snape reaching into mind. Before he knew it, the image of Snape’s office became wavery, as if he was underwater, and it faded away.

Instead, he was in the backseat of the Dursleys’ car, listening to Vernon scream at him about how motorcycles couldn’t fly. Then he was at the zoo, talking with a snake, and he realized how much alike he and that snake were. The snake disappeared and he was refusing Draco Malfoy’s hand on the train, waves of indignation coursing through him as he realized just how much the young boy reminded him of Dudley. And then he was listening to the sorting hat back in first year, when it told him he could be great in Slytherin…

Ouch!” Harry cried out as Snape’s office came rushing back into view, and he felt a sharp pain just below his kneecap. He’d apparently run into Snape’s desk and fallen to the ground. He shook his head to clear it, then peered up at Snape, who was rubbing his wrist and looking incredibly irritated.

“Did you mean to cast a stinging hex, Potter?” Snape asked.

“No,” Harry said, his voice bitter. He hadn’t even recalled doing so. He unsteadily got back to his feet and glared at Snape.

“We’ll try again,” Snape said. “Try to not waste time shouting.”

“I don’t even remember shouting -” Harry snapped, and then Snape cast the spell again.

He was opening the door to the Black Library, torches on the walls flaring to life, and he was pulling book after book after book down from the shelves. McGonagall was telling him he’d been expelled, and he realized that it was incredibly likely that he was going to Slytherin, not Gryffindor. Cedric lay on the ground in front of him, deathly still, his eyes open and staring sightlessly…

Get out!” Harry shouted, and he found himself back on the ground.

“You’re not even trying, Potter,” Snape sneered. “Each memory I find is tantamount to handing me a weapon to be used against you.”

“Well, you’re not explaining to me how to keep you out!” Harry snapped, jumping back to his feet.

“You will mind your tone,” Snape replied, his upper lip curling unpleasantly. “You must clear your mind - rid yourself of all emotion!”

“How the hell am I supposed to do that?” Harry asked incredulously. He didn’t think emotions were something that could be controlled.

Snape’s expression became even harder, if that were possible, and then he pinched the bridge of his nose. “How do you control yourself around Umbridge, Potter?”

“I…” Harry paused, frowning.

“You’ve been controlling yourself in her class, which has been… surprising,” Snape continued. “How have you managed to do that?”

“I guess... I pretend I’m feeling the opposite of how I actually feel,” Harry said. “And sometimes, I…” He paused.

“Sometimes you what?

“I’ll let off steam… after,” Harry said. He didn’t want to mention how; he didn’t think Snape would be very receptive to Harry trying to blow holes in the castle walls.

Snape appeared to actually consider Harry’s words, but he still looked unhappy. “I doubt ‘pretending’ would be helpful in this case. You cannot ‘pretend’ at Occlumency.” He shook his head and raised his wand once more. “Ready yourself again.”

Harry’s eyes widened in alarm. Snape still hadn’t explained how to ‘get rid of his emotions.’ “Wait -”

Legilimens!

Harry was up late in the Slytherin dorm, his curtains drawn, and he was reading yet another book on the dark arts. Then he saw his affinity rite and recalled just how gorgeous the dark magic was, as well as how it had made him feel. Then he was in the dorm practicing dark curses with Draco, when he suddenly made the connection that his father had used the dark arts, and he found himself wondering if his dark affinity had actually come from James Potter...

This time, Snape cut off the spell before Harry fell down, and Harry opened his eyes to see Snape fixing him with an unusually furious glare, and then it suddenly occurred to Harry what Snape was actually doing.

“You’re using this training as an excuse to look at my memories about the dark arts, aren’t you?” Harry asked with a deep frown.

“Your father used a single dark arts spell simply because he enjoyed causing embarrassment and pain to others,” Snape said, ignoring Harry’s question. “It takes more than the temptation of one spell to show signs of a truly dark affinity.”

“You’re not explaining to me how to defend myself because you want to see in my head!” Harry repeated. “Why don’t you just ask instead of digging for it?”

“Because others will not ask for permission before digging for the information they desire,” Snape replied.

“I thought you wanted me to learn this!” Harry protested. “How am I supposed to figure this out when you -”

“I do want you to learn this, you idiot child!” Snape snapped. “You need to be able to defend your mind against both the Dark Lord and Professor Dumbledore. The Dark Lord accessing your mind puts us all in danger.”

“And Professor Dumbledore?” Harry said, his tone dark.

“If you want to succeed in walking the dark path, Dumbledore must not find out what you are doing,” Snape snarled.

“Why are you so interested in me succeeding?” Harry demanded. “It’s not like you’ve ever wanted to help me before!”

Snape once again fixed another one of those strange, hard looks on him; he studied Harry carefully, and Harry began to find himself growing furious. He realized that he preferred the old, just plain nasty Snape over his newfound hobby of looking at Harry like he was a puzzle he couldn’t solve.

“We’ll try again,” Snape said, brandishing his wand once more. Harry didn’t even have the time to protest. “Legilimens!”

Mr. Weasley was leading him down a dark corridor, and Harry spied a door at the end of the hall. Harry wanted - needed - to go through that door, but Mr. Weasley yanked him in a different direction…

That’s it!” Harry hissed, and Snape released the spell. Harry once again found himself on the ground of Snape’s office, and his scar prickled painfully.

“What was that, Potter?” Snape asked, his eyes narrowing.

“I remembered…” Harry trailed off, his mind racing.

“Remembered what?” Snape demanded.

Harry didn’t answer. He’d repeatedly had that dream since the autumn - of walking down endless corridors, searching for something - but as soon as he woke, he couldn’t remember what he’d been looking for. He hadn’t realized that he’d actually been in those halls before - when Mr. Weasley had taken him to the Ministry of Magic for his hearing with Fudge.

Whatever he was looking for was through that door, and that door, Harry remembered, led to the Department of Mysteries.

Even more revealing was the fact that it was the same hall that Mr. Weasley had been standing in when Nagini had attacked him.

Something was there, and the Order of the Phoenix knew what it was.

“What’s in the Department of Mysteries?” Harry asked, lifting his gaze to meet Snape’s.

Something like alarm briefly flickered across Snape’s face, and Harry felt oddly satisfied at that, knowing he must be on to something significant. “Why would you ask that?” Snape asked quietly.

“Because I’ve been dreaming of it for months,” Harry said, watching Snape’s expression carefully. “And that’s where Mr. Weasley was attacked, wasn’t it?” He narrowed his eyes. “What was he guarding?”

“It does not concern you,” Snape said, his voice cold.

“It does when I see it almost every single night!” Harry snapped.

“Perhaps you need to work on not seeing it, then,” Snape replied.

“Something’s in there,” Harry insisted. “Something that Voldemort wants -”

Do not speak his name!” Snape hissed.

Harry fixed a hard glare on Snape, and his scar flared in pain. Snape’s expression seemed to mirror Harry’s. Hatred seemed to ooze from both of them, and Snape’s lip curled in disgust.

“We’re done for tonight,” Snape said.

Harry finally sprang to his feet, snarling. “You haven’t answered a single question I’ve asked all night,” he spat. “You won’t -”

“Potter!” Snape spat out his name forcefully. “You should not want the same knowledge that the Dark Lord desires!”

Harry froze, a chill running down his spine, and his eyes widened in alarm. Did Snape mean that the reason Harry wanted to know what was behind that door was because Voldemort did?

“I will take you back to Slytherin,” Snape said. “We will continue on Wednesday.”

Harry didn’t respond.

“You are to clear your mind every night,” Snape continued. “You must rid yourself of all emotion before going to sleep.”

“Right,” Harry responded, even though he didn’t understand at all. He absently rubbed at his scar, which still throbbed painfully.

They walked back to Slytherin in silence.

***

Harry felt like his brain had gone through a grater, and it seemed to become worse with every passing moment. He stared sightlessly down at his homework, not comprehending a single word in his text.

“Harry, are you okay?” Pansy asked.

He nodded, even though he felt sick to his stomach, as well as simultaneously flushed and freezing, as if he had a fever. He leaned forward and tried to concentrate, but that seemed to just make the pain in his scar even worse. He raised his hand and pressed it against his forehead, as if trying to hold the burning in.

“That’s it,” Draco said, standing up. “You’re going to the hospital wing.”

“No,” Harry said, wincing at the sound of his own voice. “I just need to go to bed.” He stood up, as well, starting to gather his things. “I’ll work on this tomorrow.”

Another slice of pain ran through his scar and he teetered forward, his eyes clamping shut, and two hands suddenly reached out to steady him. Harry opened his eyes to see that Draco was the one who had grabbed him.

“Theo, can you bring Harry’s things up to our room when you come up?” Draco asked quietly.

“Of course,” Theo responded.

Draco guided Harry to their room, his hands never leaving Harry’s arms. He opened the door, and Harry could see Blaise across the room, looking up from his desk.

Harry had barely taken two steps into the room when the pain in his scar increased a hundred-fold, as if a knife was being driven straight into his skull. He couldn’t see in front of him, he could no longer tell where he was, and he briefly even forget his own name.

He heard maniacal laughter, endless and ecstatic. He couldn’t recall feeling that happy in years. Something wonderful had happened, something that was to be celebrated…

“Harry!” someone said. “Harry!

It felt like something slapped him in the face. The gleeful laughter stuttered into a grunt, and then started right back up again. The happiness he’d felt started to dissipate, but the laughter continued ringing out all around him.

His eyes snapped open, and he was suddenly aware that the mad laughter was coming from his own mouth. His scar throbbed in time with his own heartbeat, rapid and forceful.

He immediately stopped laughing, and his vision suddenly came into sharp focus. His back was flat on the floor and Blaise and Draco hovered over him, staring down at him. Blaise looked somewhat frightened, but Draco was full of nothing but concern.

“Harry?” Blaise said quietly, as if he wasn’t sure who he was speaking to.

“What happened?” Draco asked.

“He’s… really happy,” Harry said with a gasp. He forced himself to sit up to his elbows, and Draco helped him sit up all the way.

“Do you mean the… the Dark Lord is happy?” Blaise asked, his voice shaking.

“Something… something good happened,” Harry said, slowly getting to his feet with Draco’s help. He didn’t feel like the words coming out of his mouth were his own, but he knew they were true. Every single one of his muscles seemed to be trembling uncontrollably. “He’s been hoping for it…” He trailed off and immediately turned to his bed, and Draco released him and Harry collapsed onto his pillows.

“Something good for -” Blaise cut himself off with a grunt, and Harry looked at Draco and Blaise through bleary eyes.

“Go to sleep, Harry,” Draco said softly.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, and his stomach roiled unpleasantly as he tried to think of what could have possibly happened to make Voldemort the happiest he’d been in over a decade.

Chapter Text


When Harry awoke the next morning, his clothes were unpleasantly damp, his muscles ached, and he felt as if something had crawled in his mouth and died overnight. He rolled over and let out a groan, placing a hand over his eyes.

“Harry?”

He raised his head at Blaise’s voice and almost immediately dropped it back onto the pillow, regretting the action as his skull seemed to throb in time with his heartbeat. “I feel like I got hit by a lorry,” Harry mumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“A what?”

Harry absently waved a hand, and then regretfully rolled to his side in order to retrieve his glasses from his nightstand. He groped blindly for a moment; they weren’t on the corner closest to his bed where he usually placed them each night. He finally found them near the photo of his parents, and he slowly sat up as he unfolded them.

“Draco, he’s awake,” Harry heard as he slipped his glasses onto his face. He squinted across the room, where he saw Blaise shaking Draco’s shoulder.

Draco was up and out of bed so quickly that Harry wasn’t even sure if he’d actually been asleep. He immediately crossed the room, staring at Harry with concern. “How are you?” he asked quietly.

“What?” Harry asked, momentarily confused. And then he remembered what had happened the night before - the foreign feeling of elation and that terrifying, maniacal laughter falling from his own lips. His eyes widened as he realized just how disturbing it must have appeared to anyone looking on. “I’m… better,” he said. “I think.”

“You think?” Blaise asked, sounding rather uncertain.

“I kind of feel like crap,” Harry admitted. “But…”

“You’re not in the Dark Lord’s head anymore?” There was a hint of fear in Blaise’s voice.

“Right,” Harry said in affirmation, but Blaise’s expression didn’t change. Harry suppressed a sigh and took a quick glance around their dorm; Theo, Greg, and Vince were all still asleep. “Did you… were you up all night?” Harry asked, realization suddenly dawning on him.

“We each took a shift,” Draco said. “What happened last night…”

“We wanted to make sure you got help immediately if anything else happened,” Blaise continued. His voice trembled as he spoke, even if it was barely noticeable.

A flash of guilt sparked inside Harry. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Draco said. Blaise nodded in agreement despite his almost palpable fear.

Something sparked through the guilt, though; his friends had made sure someone was watching him all night. He supposed that Slytherin protection must come in many forms. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

Blaise grunted and walked back to his bed, leaving Harry and Draco staring at each other for a few long moments. Finally, Draco gave a single nod before turning away.

Harry found his bearings and finally dragged himself out of bed in order to get a shower before breakfast. As he paced through the familiar routine his headache subsided, but he again found himself worrying over what Voldemort could have been so happy about the night before.

***

They didn’t have to wait long to find out.

At breakfast Tracey let out a strangled gasp, and her copy of The Daily Prophet was quickly passed around for the other fifth years to read. Draco, who had foregone his usual seat in order to sit at Harry’s side, reached out and spread the paper across the table in front of them so he, Harry, and Blaise could all see.

The first thing that leapt out at Harry was a photo of a witch on the front page. His first thought was that it was Andromeda, but then tiny differences started to become apparent as he continued to study the photograph. The photographed witch’s hair was darker, and there was an unpleasant, curled sneer drawn across her lips. The biggest difference was in her eyes, which looked more than a little mad.

Bellatrix Lestrange, the caption underneath the photograph said, convicted of torture and permanent incapacitation of Frank and Alice Longbottom.

Harry’s breath caught in his throat, and for more than one reason. The woman was Andromeda’s sister as well as Draco’s aunt, and she was also the witch that had put Neville’s parents in St. Mungo’s.

Nine other convicted Death Eaters had escaped from Azkaban alongside Bellatrix Lestrange, and a pit yawned open in Harry’s stomach as he realized just how grave the situation was.

“This is almost certainly why the Dark Lord was so pleased last night, Harry,” Draco whispered. Harry nodded in agreement, and his eyes drifted up to the main headline. A chill ran through Harry as he read the words.

“Is Fudge actually blaming…” Draco shoved an elbow in his ribs and Harry snapped his mouth shut.

Ten Death Eaters had escaped from Azkaban, and the Ministry was pinning the escape on Sirius. Harry fumed silently, shooting a glare at Draco. Draco seemed to know that the anger wasn’t directed at him.

“Be wary of who could be watching you, Harry,” Draco whispered, his expression unusually neutral. His eyes flicked up to the head table and then back to Harry.

Harry risked a glance up towards the professors, and his gaze instantly fell on Umbridge. However, she wasn’t looking out across the Great Hall, instead glaring down at her porridge with a pinched scowl.

Meanwhile, the other professors all certainly seemed to be aware of the news. Some hunched together talking in low whispers, much like Harry and Draco had been, while others had the Prophet propped up in front of them, expressions of horror dawning on their faces as they read.

Harry then glanced out into the hall, and quickly deduced that unlike the professors, hardly any of the students appeared to know what had happened. Most of them seemed calm and unafraid, as if it were a perfectly normal day. He supposed that made sense; not many students received The Daily Prophet. However, Harry definitely knew of one other who took the Prophet besides Tracey, and his eyes drifted towards the Gryffindor table.

Almost as if she could sense him looking at her, Hermione raised her eyes to meet Harry’s. She held the Prophet in front of her, and her eyebrows drew together in a combination of concentration, fear, and worry.

Not knowing what else to do, Harry simply shook his head at her. It wasn’t an answer to an unasked question; it was simply a commiseration of the terrible news.

“Don’t show anger,” Draco whispered furiously. “Don’t show anything.”

The pit in Harry’s stomach seemed to widen at Draco’s order, and he wasn’t entirely sure why.

Breakfast at the Slytherin table was the most subdued Harry had ever seen it, but he couldn’t help but notice a few Slytherins in sixth and seventh year looking unusually pleased and smug. One of them was Warrington. Harry jerked his eyes back to his food when he spotted them, feeling a bit flushed.

He supposed that as much as the Slytherins in his own year seemed to be straddling the fence, there still had to be at least a few students in his house that were staunch supporters of Voldemort. Hell, knowing what he did about purebloods, Draco couldn’t have possibly been the only one in their house who was related to one of the escaped Death Eaters.

Harry took a breath and tried to take a page from Draco’s book, attempting to neutralize his expression, and then stood up from the table. Across the hall, Hermione seemed to have been waiting for Harry to do so, because she mirrored his action and then pointed towards the entrance, evidently wanting Harry to meet her there.

“I’ll see you guys outside the Hall in a few minutes,” Harry said, gesturing for Draco and Blaise to sit back down. “I need to talk to Hermione.” Despite Blaise’s earlier, somewhat awkward apology, his two shadows wouldn’t be welcome presences.

Harry quickly made a beeline for the entrance, and Hermione arrived at almost the exact same time. “Are you okay?” Hermione asked, not even bothering with a greeting.

Harry shrugged. “I kind of think I have to be,” he said.

Hermione’s eyes widened. “What does that mean?” she whispered.

“Considering what happened last night, a certain toad in a pink sweater is more likely to be watching me now,” Harry replied, scowling. He sighed and tried to wipe the frown off of his face. “So what’s up?”

Hermione’s face was almost immediately full of her familiar determination. “I have an idea,” she said, “but I don’t want to set it up without…” She trailed off.

“Without what?” Harry asked.

“I don’t want to set it up without making sure you’ll… comply,” she finished.

“‘Comply?’” Harry repeated, confused. “What are you talking about?”

“I won’t have time to explain it before we have to go to class,” Hermione said with a shake of her head. “Can we meet in the library during our first break?”

Harry frowned. “I suppose,” he said. “But can you at least give me a hint? I have to go to Defense first, and I’m not going to be able to think of anything else.”

“Good,” Hermione said. “Maybe it’ll keep you distracted from getting too furious with Umbridge. She’s going to be determined to retain control, so she’s going to be even worse than she already was.” She let out a sigh. “And if you think she’s going to be watching you, in particular, you’re going to need to be on your best behavior.”

***

Hermione, as usual, was absolutely right.

Umbridge was obviously in a horrid mood. She didn’t often take points from any Slytherin, but Vince had ten points taken away for coughing, and she snapped at Pansy for asking a question about the reading, removing twenty points.

That made it all the more strange when, in a disgustingly simpering tone, she asked Harry to stay after class.

Blaise shot Harry a dubious look, and Draco’s eyes were wide as the other Slytherins filed out of the classroom. Harry felt like he was on edge, and he clenched his fist under his desk before steeling himself and approaching the front of the room. Every single muscle in his body seemed so tightly wound that he felt as if something might snap.

“Yes, Professor?” he asked quietly.

“How were your holidays, Mr. Potter?”

Harry blinked. Whatever he’d been expecting her to open with, that wasn’t it.

“They were fine,” he replied. “I’m very sorry to rush this along, Professor, but I’m supposed to meet a friend in the library to study during the break.” He just wanted to get the conversation over with. “What did you need?”

A brief flash of irritation showed on Umbridge’s face before her lips curled into that disgusting smile of hers. “I was simply wondering if you’d given any more consideration about giving a statement to the Prophet.”

It only took a moment for Harry to realize why she was asking; she was worried about the reaction once the news about the Azkaban break inevitably started spreading. He was tempted to point that out to her, but he knew that wouldn’t gain him anything.

“Have you made any progress in getting a guarantee from the Prophet about not slandering my name?” he asked instead.

Umbridge didn’t look surprised or angry at his response. “I haven’t,” she said. “However…” She leaned forward over her desk as if she was about to tell him some secret information, even though it was only the two of them alone in the classroom. “Minister Fudge has informed me that he may be able to lean on the Prophet for you if you could sit down for a conversation with him.” She let out a high-pitched giggle. “I daresay the Minister for Magic could -”

No!” Harry spat out before he could stop himself. There was no way in hell Harry was sitting down with the man that had orchestrated a full criminal trial for Harry purely out of spite. Harry clenched his teeth, trying to will himself to calm down before saying something he’d regret.

He needed to find a way out of the conversation as soon as he possibly could.

Your name has power. Lasting power. More than my father, more than the idiot Fudge. Umbridge recognizes that.

Draco’s words came flying out of the back of his mind, and Harry decided to risk giving it a shot.

“I just need to make something clear, Professor,” Harry said. “I’m not interested in being the Minister’s chess piece.”

A gamut of emotions seemed to run across Umbridge’s face: first confusion, then shock, and then she settled on anger.

“And to make something else clear,” Harry quickly continued, knowing that he had to defuse her, “I’m not interested in being Dumbledore’s chess piece, either.”

Umbridge’s anger seemed to instantly fall away, revealing something that resembled curiosity.

“I really do need to be going,” Harry said, his ears feeling oddly warm. He turned on his heel and stalked out of the classroom, leaving Umbridge behind without another word.

***

Harry wasn’t the least bit surprised to find that a few of his housemates had listened in on the conversation again with the Extendable Ears, and Draco’s reaction to the conversation served as a terrific distraction from Harry’s irritation and worry. As they walked to the library, Draco kept swinging wildly between being impressed at Harry’s refusal to meet with Fudge, being concerned that Harry had pushed back too hard, and filled with wonder at what Harry had said about Dumbledore.

“How serious were you about that?” Draco asked, his eyes wide. “I know you said you were unhappy with him, but…”

“I…” Harry sighed. “I honestly don’t know.” Truthfully, Harry found himself to be incredibly confused about Dumbledore and the current state of his relationship with the headmaster. He knew the headmaster was, at his core, a good and decent person, but Harry couldn’t help but feel personally slighted by him.

The summer holidays had been bad enough, but when he added in that Dumbledore had never bothered to speak with Harry about what his thoughts were about the vision he’d had of Nagini, Harry was starting to feel more and more irritated with Dumbledore.

Mixed in with all of that was the fact that Harry was taking steps to become a proper dark wizard, and that was something that Harry was certain Dumbledore wouldn’t be happy about.

“You do realize that despite your earlier protestations,” Blaise said dryly, “that you essentially just told Umbridge that you are becoming a third side in their conflict?” He smirked, then dropped his voice to a whisper. “Or a fourth side, if you include the Dark Lord?”

Harry let out a noise of frustration. “I’m not…” he protested. He trailed off, frowning when he realized why the words sounded so familiar; Blaise was echoing words Harry had said earlier in the school year.

They reached the library and Harry waved Blaise and Draco off. They moved to the opposite side of the study area, and Harry swiftly made his way over to Hermione.

“Are you okay, Harry?” she asked by way of greeting. “How was Defense?”

Harry sighed. “Fine. Umbridge is…” He paused in hesitation, suddenly realizing that he hadn’t told Hermione very much concerning his odd Slytheirn method of dealing with Umbridge. “She’s kind of... changed her tact with me.”

“What do you mean?”

He shook his head. “She seems more interested in convincing me that I should side with the Ministry than punishing me for what I said at the end of last year.” He let out a sigh. “At first she just wanted me to make a statement to the Prophet, and now she actually wants me to sit down with Fudge.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “And what did you say to that?” she said cautiously.

“She definitely knows I’m not sitting down with Fudge,” Harry snapped with more force than he’d intended.

“And… and the Prophet?”

Harry studied Hermione’s face, which held a barely concealed expression of worry. “She… well…” He trailed off, unsure of how Hermione would react to what he had to say. “She currently thinks that I’d consider it if she could secure a guarantee from the Prophet.”

“A guarantee of what?” Hermione asked, frowning.

Harry opened his mouth to respond, and then shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he searched for the right words to use. The exact phrasing had worked with Umbridge because she was a Slytherin, but Harry had a gut feeling that Hermione might have a different reaction. “Basically a… guarantee that they wouldn’t print anything about me without… clearing it with me first.” It wasn’t exactly the truth, but it sounded better. He shrugged. “I don’t think the Prophet would ever agree to it, but it’s been keeping Umbridge off my back for the time being.”

Hermione stared with wide eyes before responding. “This is a… remarkable coincidence,” she said.

“What?”

“It’s just… what I wanted to talk to you about,” Hermione responded. “I know you don’t want to talk to the Prophet, but would you be willing to… to make a different statement to a different publication?”

Harry blinked. “What do you mean?”

“The Prophet never actually published your account of what you said happened last spring,” Hermione said. “In fact, I don’t think you ever actually got to tell your whole story to anyone, aside from Dumbledore. You’ve never even really spoken about it to me. I barely know what happened.”

You never asked. The thought rose unbidden in Harry’s mind. But the Slytherins did.

Hermione plowed on. “If you actually got the chance to tell the full story, where the public could see it, it could change more than a few minds.”

At first, the idea certainly appealed to Harry; he remembered how relieved he’d felt when he told his housemates what had happened in the graveyard. But if he were to go public with the full account, he’d likely have to name his housemates’ parents as Death Eaters, and that was almost certainly against the Slytherin covenant. Of course, he could simply leave their names out of it…

“Which publication are you thinking of?” Harry asked. “I don’t think Witch Weekly normally publishes stories like that.”

Hermione took a breath before responding. “Since we have a way of getting in touch with the publisher… The Quibbler.”

Harry let out a short laugh. “Are you joking?”

“No,” Hermione said, shaking her head. “I know how it sounds, Harry -”

You’re the one who said it was nothing but a rag!” Harry said incredulously. “The wizarding world already thinks I’m a joke, and you think getting the story published in a tabloid is going to change that?”

“If the story is written by a journalist that the public already trusts, though -”

“Yeah? Who?”

Harry could tell from the expression on Hermione’s face that he wasn’t going to like the answer. “Rita Skeeter.”

Skeeter?” Harry’s voice was a furious whisper. “Skeeter, who writes nothing but rubbish, publishing the story in a paper that prints nothing but rubbish? How could you possibly think this is a good idea, Hermione?”

“Do you have a better plan?” Hermione shot back, scowling. “Months have gone by and -”

“Why do I have to have a plan?” Harry snapped.

“Because it’s in your power to do something about it!” Hermione responded, clearly frustrated. “People are dying, Harry, and you’re doing nothing!”

Harry snapped his mouth shut, furious, but a sliver of guilt started piercing through his anger. Hermione was right - Harry really hadn’t done anything about Voldemort. Harry had witnessed his resurrection, had seen Cedric die right in front of him, and had even grown irritated at Dumbledore for his apparent lack of action, but Harry had remained passive.

He knew it was mostly due to the insistence of his housemates that he keep his head down, but that certainly wasn’t the whole reason.

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” Hermione said. “I didn’t mean… it’s just…” Hermione took a breath, apparently in an effort to calm herself down. “I know that you’ve had a lot on your plate, Harry,” she said. “What you saw last spring, and then lately these… visions. Not to mention being sorted into Slytherin, which I’m sure must have been quite an adjustment…” She sighed. “I’m sorry. I know it’s too much to ask…” she trailed off.

The sliver of guilt suddenly tripled in size. Despite Voldemort’s return, Harry’s attention had been focused elsewhere. But it wasn’t on his visions, and he had to admit that he was already quite adjusted to being in Slytherin house. Hermione was offering him some perfectly viable excuses for not taking action, but the reality was something she was completely unaware of.

Lately, most of his energy had been honed in on only one thing: the dark arts.

At first, Harry had told himself that he wanted to learn the dark arts because he wanted to make sure he had the tools he needed in order to defeat Voldemort. But that thought had been overtaken by Harry’s almost obsessive need to not only learn more and more dark arts, but also to actually declare for the dark.

But so many dark witches and wizards had implied or boldly pointed out that Harry declaring for the dark would be a blow against Voldemort. Even Andromeda had voiced the same sentiment - that Harry was in the unique position to actually offer another choice for Slytherins and dark wizards besides turning to Voldemort.

Harry stared at Hermione, wishing he could unload all of his thoughts on his old friend.

Instead, he shook his head. “I’ll think of something else.”

Even as he said it, that statement was beginning to feel weak.

***

When Harry reported to his next Occlumency lesson, Snape barely waited for the door to close before descending on Harry like a hawk.

“I thought I had made myself clear that you were not to reveal the purpose of these lessons to anyone, Potter,” Snape sneered. “So why, pray tell, did you think it was appropriate to inform Draco Malfoy, of all students?”

Harry’s eyes widened, but Snape continued before he could respond.

“I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that Draco Malfoy is the son of Lucius Malfoy, one of the Dark Lord’s most trusted Death Eaters,” Snape said, his scowl deepening. “If this information makes it back to the Dark Lord -”

“He’s my housemate,” Harry said, “and he’s my friend.”

Snape raised an eyebrow, but his fury didn’t seem to abate. “That happened… quickly.”

“I was sorted into Slytherin!” Harry snapped. “You’re the one who said I needed to figure out what that meant, and why, and -”

“That does not mean you should instantly begin trusting your housemates,” Snape hissed.

Harry frowned. “What about the ‘Slytherin covenant?’” he asked, suddenly wondering if it had been around when Snape was a student. “Or is that something… new?”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not ‘new,’” he replied, “but for the Malfoys, familial loyalty trumps Slytherin loyalty. When it comes time to choose between you and his father, Draco will choose his father.”

A chill ran down Harry’s spine at that, but at the same time a fire seemed to ignite in Harry’s gut. “I don’t know if that’s true,” Harry said quietly.

“Don’t be ignorant, Potter,” Snape snapped. “You’ve been a Slytherin for all of four months. Draco has been Lucius’s son for his entire life.”

Harry’s eyes dropped to the floor, and he stared at his trainers with an unseeing gaze. “How…” He swallowed. “How did you even find out that he knows?” he asked.

Snape let out a frustrated sound. “Draco approached me yesterday and told me of the… episode you had on Monday night,” he said. “He implied that our lesson had actually made the problem worse.”

Harry looked up, startled.

“He didn’t sound concerned for you, Potter,” Snape continued. “It sounded far more like a… status report.”

“That’s because he knows you’re a Death Eater,” Harry responded before he could stop himself.

“Precisely,” Snape said. “No matter how close you appear to have become with him, you should never lose sight of where Draco’s loyalties truly lie.”

“So you think he only told you because he thinks you’re… fattening me up for Voldemort’s mental attacks?”

“Do not say his name!” Snape spat.

“Well, you should know,” Harry plowed on, “that Draco also told me you were a Death Eater.”

Snape seemed to freeze, and his eyes bore into Harry. “And what did you tell him in response?”

Harry scowled. “If you’re asking if I told him you’re a spy - I didn’t tell him,” he said. “I haven’t told any Slytherins about that. But I think it says a lot about Draco’s loyalties if he’s warning me about you.”

Snape didn’t respond, and Harry could have sworn that he actually looked shocked.

“Is it possible that Draco came to you more as our mutual head-of-house?” Harry asked. “He’s also the one that sent for you after that vision I had before the holidays.”

Snape’s lips curled unpleasantly. “You sound as if you’re searching for a different explanation for Draco’s betrayal of you.”

“He didn’t betray me,” Harry said. “He betrayed you.”

Even as he said it, something wriggled in the back of Harry’s mind. It wasn’t doubt about Draco’s loyalties; they’d had enough conversations about Draco doubting Voldemort’s cause for Harry to know exactly how conflicted Draco was about the impending war.

Instead, it was the sheer shock that Harry was now defending Draco’s loyalties. Their relationship had shifted, and Harry was astounded at how natural it felt, and how sure he was.

Harry shook his head and sighed. “Draco has told me more than I think you’d believe,” he said. “He doesn’t want to become a Death Eater, but he thinks his father is going to force him to.”

Snape’s eyes widened at that.

“And I’m not stupid, despite whatever you think,” Harry said. “I haven’t revealed any Order secrets to Draco or any other Slytherin.”

“Aside from these lessons,” Snape replied with a scowl.

“That was…” Harry sighed, his eyes dropping to the floor again. “Honestly, it was almost an accident. He gave me a piece of lepidolite for Yule, and -”

“That is rather... apropos,” Snape said quietly, and Harry glanced up in surprise at his tone of voice. “Both for help in clearing your mind and for your… journey on the dark path.”

“Draco is interested in making sure I succeed in my declaration,” Harry said, and then he narrowed his eyes. “And so are you, but you haven’t said why.”

Once again, Snape took on that strange, searching expression, as if he were dissecting Harry with his eyes alone.

“So why are you?”

Snape sneered. “Any sane dark wizard would welcome your declaration for the dark, because your declaration would be nothing but good for the dark.”

Harry’s gaze never wavered. “But not good for the ‘dark lord.’” The words felt strange in Harry’s mouth.

Snape’s lips twitched before settling into his familiar scowl. “You seem to be more… aware of the possible outcome of your declaration than I expected you to be.”

If Harry didn’t know any better, he could have sworn that statement was something almost resembling a compliment.

Perhaps Harry’s relationship with Snape was shifting, as well.

Even so, Snape immediately decided to actually begin the Occlumency lesson, which was just as terrible as the first.

***

The days seemed to fly by faster than Harry could truly believe, and he suspected that it had something to do with the impending O.W.L.s. Blaise in particular seemed to grow more stressed by the day, even though the tests were still months away.

Harry was beginning to feel the pressure, as well, as every free moment of his time seemed to be taken up by homework, Quidditch practice, and Occlumency lessons.

Despite Harry and Snape somehow managing to have somewhat civil conversations - though not without their usual snipes and barbs - Occlumency was still Harry’s least favorite part of his week. He still didn’t understand what Snape meant by ‘clearing his mind,’ and Harry was still dreaming of the corridors and the Department of Mysteries. The lessons didn’t seem to be helping at all. His scar prickled more and more each day, and he continued to feel strange lurches of foreign emotion - smug satisfaction in the middle of Divination, anger after a particularly good Quidditch practice, and in one of the more bizarre occurrences, amusement during a particularly boring History of Magic class.

Even as distracted as Harry was, he kept finding his thoughts returning to his place in the war. His housemates, Andromeda, and even Snape had all implied how Harry’s declaration for the dark could potentially shift the outcome of the war, making it unfavorable for Voldemort.

In other words, if Harry was known to be a dark wizard, he could present a new rallying point for dark witches and wizards.

And on the other side of that, Hermione wanted him to make sure the public was fully aware of Voldemort’s return; in other words, to rally all of the other witches and wizards. Harry was certain those other witches and wizards wouldn’t be very receptive to him being a dark wizard.

Blaise was right - Harry was forming another side in the war, whether he liked it or not. Every single action Harry had taken that year was leading towards it.

But Harry didn’t feel like he was making a new side; he felt like he was taking a side. And it was the side opposite of all of his old friends - Hermione, Neville, Ginny… Ron. Despite their friendship fracturing, Harry still didn’t want to oppose Ron in a possible war.

But he couldn’t give up the dark.

Harry knew that. He felt it down to his bones. He had an inherent need to walk the dark path, regardless of what he was going to leave behind.

Two weeks into the term, Harry took the next step on the path.

***

Harry’s invisibility cloak offered no protection from the elements, and the air was bitterly cold. The wind stung his cheeks and hands before he finally remembered to cast a warming charm. He was certain Draco would be rolling his eyes at him if he knew, and Harry grinned wryly as he drew closer to the shore of the lake.

He had chosen the location because it was where he had completed his affinity rite - where he and the dark had spoken, as Pansy’s mother said. Even though the ground was covered in snow and the wind swirled around him, it felt appropriate to perform his first personal rite in the same place as his first dark rite.

He removed his bag from his shoulder and set it on the ground beside him. His stomach seemed to do a strange little flip, but not for the reason he’d expected. He’d been certain that he was going to feel nervous - it was the first dark rite he would perform without company, after all - but the only thing he could really feel was excitement.

He knelt down in the cold snow, reaching into his bag to remove the two black pillar candles, as well as his small dagger. Leaving the dagger in his lap, he set the candles on the ground in front of him, Sirius’s to the left and Draco’s to the right, and then brandished his wand. He reached over the candles and touched the tip of his wand to the ground, taking a deep breath in and out before he began.

“I call down the dark to manifest. Protect me and guide me,” he whispered as he drew his wand around him, clockwise, drawing a faint circle in the snow. “Una cum nobis. I beg for its presence as I take this first step on the dark path.” He had to pass his wand from his right hand to his left behind his back, and he continued drawing the circle around him. “Obsecro te venire. Mecum, tueri, dirige. Offero tibi sanguinem.”

As his wand completed the circle, Harry felt something that now seemed familiar - dark magic falling into place, completely surrounding him. It even seemed to block the wind and the cold as it swirled around him, and he let out a little contented sigh.

“A circle has no beginning and it never ends,” Harry continued. “I seek to know that magic. I seek to know that strength.”

The dark magic around him seemed to pulse in answer, and Harry smiled before looking down at the candles in front of him.

“Two wizards guide me down this path,” Harry said, pointing his wand at the candle Sirius had given him. “The mentor: Sirius Black.” He pictured Sirius in his mind’s eye: tousled black hair, grey eyes, a haunting gauntness set into his cheeks. The candle let out a spark and then ignited, and Harry moved his wand to the second candle.

“The peer: Draco Malfoy.” Harry found it was easier to picture Draco in his mind: blond hair so pale it was nearly white, lips curled into an arrogant, playful smirk, and the same grey eyes as Sirius; it must have been a family trait. Draco’s candle also flared to life, and the two candles cast a warm glow on Harry’s tiny circle.

Harry bit his lip. This was one of the parts that he had to improvise; he wasn’t a Black, and he wasn’t interested in explaining how devoted he was to blood purity. He knew Sirius had said that speaking words that meant something to him would work much better than following the Black family rites to the letter, anyway, but Harry was still worried that he could mess up the rite by saying the wrong thing.

“Sirius and Draco are both of Black blood,” Harry finally continued. “I am not a Black. I…” He paused, taking a breath. “I’m not even from a dark family. But the darkness still spoke to me, and these two dark wizards agreed to accept me for who I am and where I came from, as well as devote themselves…” Harry’s voice unexpectedly caught in his throat at that, but he continued. “... as well as devote themselves to my journey.

“And I devote myself to this journey,” Harry said. “I accept their guidance, as well as the guidance of other Blacks before me.” He smirked at that, thinking of Andromeda. “And I would accept the guidance of the dark, if it will have me.”

The two candles suddenly flared up, the flames doubling in size before receding.

Harry let out a relieved smile before picking up the dagger from his lap. He grasped it in his right hand and held out his left, palm up.

“My blood isn’t pure,” Harry whispered. “I’m the son of a pureblood and a Muggleborn, and my blood is just as red as any pureblood.” He paused and set his teeth, bracing himself as he set the blade against his palm.

And then he froze.

Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken…

The graveyard flashed in front of his eyes, seemingly out of nowhere. Harry gasped at the force of the memory and he yanked the knife away from his hand. He found himself taking in breath after breath, suddenly feeling like he wasn’t getting enough air.

His blood had already been used in a dark ritual. Harry knew this - had known this - but the feel of the blade against his skin had suddenly made it all come rattling back.

Why was it affecting him now? Harry had already used blood magic back in the beginning of the school year. It was even the same dagger. He’d been fine; he hadn’t even thought about the ritual at the time.

But his blood was the reason Voldemort was back. His blood had been the catalyst that brought about Voldemort’s resurrection.

Harry curled forward, hunching in on himself, and tried desperately to get his breathing under control.

Suddenly, dark magic reached out and seemed to lick at his skin, gently comforting him. It wrapped around him and he found himself relaxing in its embrace.

This time, it’s not being taken, Harry found himself thinking. It’s being given.

Harry breathed in and out a few times, steadying himself, before he sat back up and slowly placed the dagger back on his palm.

“Blood is life,” he said, his voice determined and his jaw set. He dragged the blade down his palm diagonally and blood instantly began welling up. He held himself steady as he switched the dagger to his bleeding hand, repeating the action on his right hand.

He placed the dagger on the ground and then held his hands out in front of him, squeezing them into fists. Blood dripped down in between the two candles, red slowly pooling in a stark contrast against the pristine white snow.

“Blood is life, and life is magic,” he whispered. He unclenched his fists, his hands now completely coated in red, and picked up the candles. “I ask the dark to take my blood and to help it blossom.” He tilted the candles towards the center and black wax poured out on top of the tiny red pool. “Dabo meum sanguinem forma.”

The effect was almost instant - the black wax, his red blood, and the white snow swirled together, rising up from the ground. The colors twisted and coiled together, at first mixing together quite evenly, but then the white disappeared, followed by the black, leaving only red. The swirling mixture began to slow and it began to gain form, and then it finally settled into a cylindrical shape before it floated back down to the ground.

A red pillar candle, identical in shape to the black candles in his hands, stood in front of him, and Harry let out a wild grin. He’d done it correctly.

“Thank you,” he said, and his smile widened. “I will return to you, when I come to dedicate my magic. I hope you will accept it and nurture it as you have with my blood.”

He blew out Sirius’s candle, then Draco’s. “Until we speak again.”

Ignoring the fact that his hands were still dripping red, he set down the black candles and reached out to pick up the red one, feeling somewhat protective of it. The candle was something like a talisman; it would both accompany him and represent him as he walked the dark path.

He glanced at the other two candles. The hollowed divots where the wax had melted still glistened in the moonlight. Harry’s red candle would soon be black, just like Sirius’s and Draco’s.

Harry felt an odd sense of pride as he began gathering his things, carefully stuffing them into his bag. He pulled out two handkerchiefs and wrapped them around his bleeding palms. Just like the woman he’d seen at Solstice, who had performed the blood rite for fertility, he had to let the cuts on his hands heal naturally. Harry supposed it was likely a common part of blood magic; after all, if you instantly healed the injury, it wasn’t truly a sacrifice.

He finally got to his feet and scrubbed out the evidence of his circle with his foot. His footprints would still be all around, of course, but he left no evidence that a dark ritual had been performed. He threw his invisibility cloak over his head and began the trek back up to the castle.

Harry quickly found that there was a new spring in his step, and it didn’t take him long to realize why. It wasn’t just pride and excitement he was feeling; he felt like he was more at peace than he’d been in a very long time.

The guilt over his inaction on Voldemort, the fear about his recent visions, his anger towards Dumbledore, along with everything else that had happened in the recent months - it all seemed muted. He still felt all of those things, of course, but he also had the odd sense that it was all going to be okay.

He was on the right path.

Chapter Text


I hate O.W.L.s,” Vince said unhappily as he picked at his porridge. “It’s Sunday, and we can’t even enjoy the day off from classes.”

“We all agreed that we’d spend the day in the library,” Tracey said. “No going back on your word now.”

“Besides, it’s completely frightening outside,” Daphne added. “What could you possibly do with your free time if we weren’t revising?”

“I’d go flying,” Harry said wistfully. “I love flying in the snow.”

“That’s not snow,” Blaise quipped. “That’s a blizzard.”

Harry peered at the ceiling of the hall, where the enchantment allowed them to see just how nasty the weather had turned overnight. The sky seemed to be completely white with how heavy the snow fell.

A light kick to his shin tore Harry’s attention away from the sky, and he shot Draco a playful glare. “What?”

“You and I won’t spend the whole day revising,” Draco said quietly. “You still need to tell me how last night went.”

Blaise suddenly perked up. “That’s right! I forgot you did the first rite yesterday.”

Harry sighed. “You guys were still up when I got back,” he said. “I told you it went fine.”

“But I want details,” Draco said with a whine. “And as your peer, I should be getting them.”

“And I want details because I’m nosy,” Blaise added, grinning.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Later,” he said. “Right now I’m mentally preparing myself for my brain to start leaking out of my ears from all the revising we’re about to do today.”

“You paint such a lovely picture, Harry,” Pansy said, her nose wrinkling in disgust, and Harry laughed.

Despite the bleak prospect of spending their entire free day in the library, Harry felt like he was in better spirits than he had been all term.

The news of the Azkaban breakout had put a damper on his mood, especially after word had started spreading throughout the school. A handful of students had approached him to tell him that they now believed him after seeing the news about the escaped Death Eaters, but Harry had no idea what to say in response; he couldn't risk word getting back to Umbridge, but he also didn’t want to deny the truth. He wound up saying nothing at all, and it left him feeling confused and guilty. He found himself second guessing his actions, wondering if he should have taken Hermione up on her offer of doing an interview - Umbridge be damned.

But the completion of the first rite had put a bounce in his step that had been missing for weeks, despite his turmoil over everything else.

In an odd kind of unspoken agreement, Harry and the other Slytherins dawdled over breakfast. They all knew they were procrastinating before finally heading up to the library for the day, but none of them would admit it. When it finally seemed like they wouldn’t be able to drag their feet any longer, they reluctantly headed towards the doors of the hall. They made their way to the library, and Harry paused at one of the halls.

“I’ve got to use the loo before we settle in,” he said.

“You’re just delaying the inevitable, Harry!” Daphne said teasingly.

“Or I’ve actually got to take a piss,” Harry replied with a roll of his eyes.

“Oh, I’m sure…

Blaise let out a laugh and waved the others on. “I’ll wait. We'll meet the rest of you there,” he said. “Make sure to get us a good table, preferably in the back.”

Harry and Blaise turned the corner and headed for the bathroom only to come across Colin Creevey blocking the entrance. Harry hadn’t spoken to Colin that school year - thankfully - and though Harry was a bit surprised that the kid had finally had a growth spurt, he still barely came up to Harry’s shoulder.

Colin had propped the door open with his foot, and his ever-present camera was glued to his face. It was pointed at a slightly downward angle, as if he was trying to take a picture of the floor.

“Morning, Colin,” Harry said. “‘Scuse us.”

“Hi, Harry,” Colin responded without glancing up from his camera. “Hang on. There’s a crack in the stone that looks like a lion, and I want to…” He trailed off as he adjusted the lens.

Blaise sneered and opened his mouth, but only let out a grunt as Harry elbowed him in the stomach. As annoying as he could be, Colin didn’t deserve Blaise’s scathing insults.

“Colin,” Harry said in what he felt was a reasonable tone. “We’ve got to use the loo.”

“Almost got it!” Colin didn't budge.

A wave of irritation suddenly bubbled up inside Harry and before he even realized what he was doing, he reached out and snatched Colin’s camera out of his hands before forcefully shoving Colin to the side of the doorway. “Move,” Harry snapped.

Colin winced as the back of his head hit the doorjamb, and then he gawked at Harry with wide eyes.

Harry felt just as shocked at his actions as Colin looked, and Colin continued staring at Harry in surprise and what seemed like a hint of fear.

Blaise finally broke the awkward silence. “Excuse us,” he said, his voice dripping with disdain. The fear on Colin’s face became more pronounced, and Harry’s eyes widened.

“Uh,” Harry stuttered as Blaise pushed past them. “Here.” He held out the camera and after a beat of hesitation, Colin took it. Before Harry could apologize, Colin bolted down the hall.

Harry stared after him, feeling guilty, but also incredibly alarmed at what he'd just done. It wasn’t like he needed to go to the loo that badly, and he didn't think he had it in himself to shove people over something so trivial. And while Colin was a tad annoying, he didn’t deserve to be physically pushed simply because he’d been trying to take a photograph.

“Has he always been like that?” Blaise asked snidely as Harry finally followed him into the bathroom.

“Uh, yeah,” Harry said quietly.

Blaise turned his back as Harry relieved himself.

“So if he’s always been like that,” Blaise said, “are you always like that with him?”

Harry winced. It seemed Blaise knew him well enough to know that it hadn’t been like him; he wouldn’t be asking otherwise.

Harry didn’t respond, but his silence appeared to be enough of an answer for Blaise. “So you were just channeling Draco?”

Despite himself, Harry let out a laugh. “No.” But Blaise was right - shoving people was more like Draco - or McLaggen - than Harry.

Harry finished up, readjusted his cloak, and headed to the sink.

After a moment of silence, Blaise continued. “The Dark Lord, then?”

Harry jerked his head up, his eyes meeting Blaise’s in the mirror over the sink. “I…” Harry swallowed, then shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“Why don’t you think so?” Harry had to give credit to Blaise for how steady he kept his voice, especially considering how much Harry’s connection with Voldemort seemed to frighten Blaise.

“My scar didn’t hurt,” Harry responded. “It usually does when…” He trailed off.

Blaise’s reflection smirked at him. “So that was purely just your impressive temper.”

Harry let out a noise of frustration. “Merlin, Blaise - stop!” he snapped, whipping away from the mirror to face Blaise directly, his lips curled into a snarl.

Blaise blinked, and then his smirk widened.

Harry sighed, turning back to the sink. He scooped up some of the cool water and splashed it on his suddenly warm face.

“Don’t get me wrong, Harry,” Blaise said. “I have no complaints about you shoving annoying little Gryffindors.”

“But that’s not like me,” Harry said quietly.

“Are you sure?”

“What?”

“You do have a temper,” Blaise said, crossing his arms. “I’ve seen you unleash it more times than I can count. You just usually make the walls your victims."

“So?” Harry said, frowning.

Frustratingly, Blaise only smirked again. “I’m just saying… that might’ve been all you.”

Harry didn’t want to dignify that with a response, and a sliver of worry began worming its way under Harry’s skin.

Even though Harry had been so sure of declaring dark, he still had fears about it. He knew that the possibility of his temper getting worse than it already had been was a distinct possibility, but he didn’t think anything would actually change until he officially declared.

Besides, Harry had been half-hoping that his recent short fuse had actually been Voldemort’s influence, rather than Harry, himself.

“Are you ready yet?” Blaise asked, interrupting Harry’s thoughts. “Or are you still having a crisis?”

Another sudden pop of irritation swept through Harry, and he whipped out his wand. Before Blaise could even blink, Harry had pointed his wand at the stream of water coming from the faucet and redirected it towards Blaise’s face.

“Hey!” Blaise spluttered, ducking away as the water hit him dead on. “What the bloody -”

“Quit being annoying,” Harry snapped. “Or you’re going to get more of my “impressive temper.’”

To his surprise, Blaise just laughed before turning to leave. Harry made to follow him but then immediately stopped in his tracks.

Colin had been right. There was a crack in the stone that looked just like a lion.

But just to the side of it was another series of fractures. It was uncannily shaped like a jaw ready to swallow the lion whole, fangs extended. The jaw was connected to another long, serpentine fissure that seemed to extend across the bathroom. It was long and curving, like a worm, or…

Harry hurried after Blaise, deciding not to spare the cracks on the floor another thought.

***

In a somewhat hilarious coincidence, Blaise and Harry found the other Slytherins in the library watching the spectacle Draco was creating as he scathingly insulted a few second-year Hufflepuffs, apparently in an effort to get the table Draco wanted.

“You’re just now learning about aconite? That’s a first-year topic, and a basic one at that,” Draco was saying, hovering over one of the little Hufflepuffs threateningly. “If you haven’t learned it by now, you shouldn’t be at Hogwarts at all.” The prissy and posh accent was out to full effect. “You should be spending your time more wisely - perhaps by bathing? You stink." Pansy laughed.

Harry let out a quiet groan. It wasn’t like it was the first time Harry had seen Draco pointlessly picking on kids, but seeing it right after Blaise had compared Harry’s earlier behavior to this particular aspect of Draco’s personality made it feel a little raw.

“What do you want?” one of the little Hufflepuffs demanded.

“Draco -” Harry spoke up, but Draco ignored him.

“We need this table,” Draco said haughtily. “We’re revising for O.W.L.s.” He sneered. "Move."

“We were here first!” the same boy shot back, and Harry had to give him credit for standing his ground.

“We can find another table, Draco,” Harry said, pushing through his housemates and grasping Draco by the arm.

Draco shifted his glare from the Hufflepuffs to Harry. “Why should pathetic excuses for students that are a year behind in their studies get to take the best table in the library?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s not -”

“We were finishing up anyway!” another one of the little Hufflepuffs exclaimed, and she grabbed her friends by the arms. The three of them scampered, and Harry noticed that they didn’t head in the direction of the door.

Draco scowled at Harry, and Harry frowned right back at him. “That was completely -”

“Slytherins don’t fight in public, Harry,” Pansy said, patting Harry on the shoulder as she took a seat at the now-vacated table.

“I wasn’t fighting,” Harry said. “I just don’t like… bullies.”

“Don’t be a hypocrite, Harry,” Blaise said, snickering.

Harry shot him a terrifying glare. “Shut up, Blaise.”

Draco arched an eyebrow. “What’s he -”

“Nothing,” Harry said, cutting him off. “Can I talk to you?” Not waiting for a response, Harry dragged Draco to the back of the stacks.

Draco didn’t miss a beat. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Harry swiftly drew his wand. “Muffliato,” he whispered, glancing around to make sure they were sufficiently alone before facing Draco. “I have… kind of a weird question,” he said.

Draco nodded for Harry to continue.

Harry swallowed, knowing that Draco wasn’t going to react well to what he had to ask. “Do you… do you think the reason you’re so nasty to people sometimes is because of… the dark arts? Or being dark, rather?”

As expected, Draco shot Harry a deep scowl. “No,” he said. “I think you would tell me that I’ve never been exactly pleasant, and I didn’t start walking the dark path until my third year.”

“But you’ve always had a dark affinity, right?”

“Almost certainly,” Draco responded. “Why are you asking all this?”

Harry quickly explained what had happened earlier with Colin, feeling a bit flushed as he did so.

Unfortunately, Draco only laughed. “Annoying little mouse deserved it,” he said, smirking in satisfaction.

“No, he didn’t!” Harry insisted. “And even if he did deserve it, it’s just not like me to do things like that!”

Draco’s smirk slowly dissolved, and he seemed to study Harry for a moment, his eyes appraising. “How is Occlumency coming along?” he finally asked.

“What?” Harry asked. “Rotten, I guess.” He scowled at the thought of the miserable lessons he’d been having with Snape.

“Then you pushing little Gryffindors could be the Dark Lord’s influence,” Draco surmised. “You have been feeling his emotions…”

Harry shook his head. “That’s what Blaise said, but my scar didn’t hurt,” he said. “It’s hurt every other time I’ve felt… him.”

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t him,” Draco said. “It’s not like your… connection with him is precedented. We have no idea how it actually works.”

Harry stared at Draco in horror, and Draco let out a sigh.

“I suppose neither possibility is preferable,” Draco mused. “You don’t want it to be the Dark Lord, but you clearly don’t want it to be you, either.”

“I…” Harry ran a hand through his hair, and then started picking at the bandages on his hands. “I was worried that it might have been because of doing the rite last night…” He paused. “If anything about me was gonna change, I didn’t think it would be…”

“So soon?” Draco finished for him, and Harry nodded. “It usually isn’t, but…”

“But what?”

Draco frowned. “You’re not going to like hearing this, but you do have a rotten temper. If you had more power you’d have blown up half the castle by now.”

“But -”

Draco plowed on. “And that’s all the more reason to work harder on your Occlumency. If you can block him out, you’ll know what’s you and what’s not.”

Harry let out a frustrated sigh. “Too bad Snape’s an awful teacher.”

“Or you’re a rotten student.” Then Draco sighed. "I wouldn't worry too much about it, Harry. You pushed one Gryffindor one time. That's not that big of a deal."

***

Harry threw himself into revising with the others in order to distract himself from his worries. They’d spent a couple of hours on Herbology and had just started on Transfiguration. Harry was grateful for a subject that required his full concentration, especially as they started digging into their fourth-year material. As Harry had been preoccupied with the Triwizard Tournament the previous year, he felt a bit shaky on most of the spells and theories they’d covered in fourth year.

He’d finally driven the incident with Colin from his mind, and he and Blaise quizzed each other on Transfiguration. Blaise seemed to know ten times the material that Harry did, but Harry knew he’d have one up on Blaise when they moved on to Defense.

Harry was racking his brain for the exact definition of the multiplication charm when Daphne suddenly reached across the table and tapped on Harry’s book to get his attention. Harry looked over at her and Daphne pointed towards the head of the table.

Hermione stood a few feet away, looking a bit unsure of herself - especially when her presence was noticed by the other Slytherins - but a look of gratitude came over her face when she caught Harry’s eye.

“Hermione?” Harry asked, sitting upright. “What’s up?”

“Could I see you for a moment, Harry?” she responded.

“Of course.” Harry climbed out of his chair and walked to the other side of the library with Hermione.

Hermione set Harry with a firm scowl. “I just got done talking to Colin Creevey -”

“Shit.” Harry’s eyes widened. “Hermione, could you apologize to him for me?”

“What actually happened?” Hermione asked. “He told me, but -”

Harry cut her off with a regretful sigh. “He probably told you the truth. I mean…” He let out a huff. “I was completely out of line.”

Hermione’s severe frown deepened. “So you really did take his camera and shove him?”

Harry closed his eyes. “Yeah,” he admitted.

“That sounds more like Malfoy than you, Harry.”

“Trust me,” Harry said, “you’re not the first to make that comparison.”

Hermione placed her hands on her hips in an excellent impression of Molly Weasley. “What’s going on with you, Harry?”

“Nothing!” Harry insisted. “I’m just… I think I’m stressed.”

Hermione’s scowl softened just a bit. “‘Stressed?’” she repeated.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I mean, there’s obviously the O.W.L.s, and I’m dreaming about hallways and doors that I can’t get into almost every night…” He shook his head before continuing. “... plus the Azkaban breakout, and then there’s the fact that Voldemort is probably invading my mind…”

“Oh, Harry…” Hermione suddenly pulled Harry into a tight hug. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

Harry stiffened in her arms, suddenly painfully aware that although he had indeed been a bit stressed recently, he truthfully didn’t think anxiety wasn’t the reason for his earlier behavior. He’d used the truth of one thing as a lie about something else, and he’d done it without even really thinking about it until after the fact. “I…” He paused, swallowing. “You’re not the one that should be apologizing,” he said. “I was an ass to Colin, and I know it.”

“But I should have known,” Hermione said. “You’ve had so much going on this year, Harry…”

“I don’t think that’s an excuse,” Harry said. “Can you please let him know that I’m sorry? Or tell him to come see me?” He sighed. “If he even will… I think I might have scared him.”

“You did,” Hermione said. “But I’ll let him know.” She drew back from Harry, leaving her hands on his arms. “And honestly, it scared me, too. That didn’t…”

“... sound like me?” Harry finished for her. “Trust me, I’ve been worrying about it all morning.” He could at least afford her that truth.

Hermione offered Harry a smile. “Hearing you say that makes me feel better, though,” she said, and she let her hands drift down to grasp Harry’s. “I...” She paused, looking down.

Shit.

She raised Harry’s hands to inspect the bandages wrapped around his palms. “Harry!” she exclaimed. “What happened?”

“It’s nothing,” he said, pulling his hands away from Hermione’s. “I was just being an idiot when I was trying to fix something on my Firebolt.”

Again, the lie fell from his lips all too easily.

“That’s from your broomstick?” Hermione said, gaping.

“From the twig clippers,” Harry said. “Too much force, and…” He sighed. “Like I said, it was stupid.”

“Well, let me fix it for you,” Hermione said, moving to draw her wand.

“That’s okay,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I’ll go see Madame Pomfrey later.” Sensing she was about to insist, he added, “I was going to go ask her about getting Dreamless Sleep, anyway.” He held up one of his bandaged hands and wiggled his fingers. "This gives me a good excuse to see her in the first place."

Hermione sighed, then nodded. “Are your dreams really that bad?”

“Sometimes,” he said.

Hermione fixed Harry with a sympathetic look before sighing. “I suppose I should let you get back to revising,” she said.

Harry grinned. “It wouldn’t be like you to keep me from studying.”

Hermione gave Harry a light thwap on the arm before they fell into step together as they began walking back. “Well, I’m setting up three tables over. If you need help with anything that the Slytherins can’t answer…”

“I’ll come find you,” Harry responded, smirking.

They were nearly to the row of tables in the back when Hermione spoke up once more. “I’ve been meaning to ask…”

“Yeah?”

“Were you planning on… on observing Imbolc? I know it’s next week...” Her voice was quiet, even for the library, and Harry glanced down at her to see her staring down at the floor as they walked.

Harry quickly determined that lying to her about that could likely lead to trouble; after all, Ron or Hermione herself could come across him on Imbolc, just as Ron had on Samhain. “I… think I probably will, yeah,” he responded, his voice hesitant.

He braced himself for criticism or questions, but Hermione simply bid him farewell as they parted ways.

***

After spending the entire day revising - breaking only for meals - the fifth year Slytherins intended to let off some steam in the common room that evening. Millicent, who kept to herself more than anyone else in the house, surprised everyone by supplying them with a steady supply of sweets from Honeydukes.

They were all in rather high spirits, and Daphne quietly admitted to Harry and Pansy that she enjoyed acting like a third year again. The Pepper Imps resulted in such riotous laughter that Freya came over to scold them. She first tried shushing them, then gave up and cast a silencing ward around the unusually obnoxious fifth years.

The Fizzing Whizbees led to an odd challenge between Draco and Theo, where they tried to see who could float in the air with their legs crossed the longest. The two of them kept trying to outdo each other, and when the charm of the confection wore off they would wind up crashing violently to the ground.

Harry had to admit it was nice to see the normally reserved Draco wildly flailing as he hit the floor. Even more amusing was that he appeared to be enjoying it.

Harry laughed with the others as he tucked himself into the sofa by Pansy.

But even as much as he enjoyed letting loose a bit with the others, it wasn’t as distracting as revising had been, and what happened with Colin that morning continued resurfacing in his thoughts.

At first, Harry tried to let Draco’s words reassure him, as they had so many times recently; it was only one time, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

But Harry knew that this was one area where he and Draco wouldn’t see eye to eye. Harry still had a hard time stomaching it when it appeared that Draco was bullying someone, and he hated the thought that he was capable of the same.

As Harry observed the others having their fun, his thoughts kept wandering back to what he’d done. As uncomfortable as he was in being compared to the worst part of Draco, another laughing, jeering face kept appearing in his mind’s eye: his pig of a cousin, Dudley.

And that, almost more than any of his other recent worries, completely terrified Harry. For some reason, it left an even bigger pit in his stomach than when he thought of all the similarities he had with Voldemort.

Perhaps it was due to having so much more personal experience with Dudley than with Voldemort.

He didn’t want to be either of them. He wanted to be Harry.

Abruptly, Harry got up from the sofa and Pansy peered up at him curiously. “I’ll be back in a bit,” he said, and without waiting for a response, he took off for the dorm.

Once in his room, he immediately dug into his trunk, silently cursing that he couldn’t ever keep it organized. It took a bit of shuffling, but he finally found what he was looking for: the small mirror Sirius had given him for Christmas.

Harry twisted and sat on the ground, leaning up against his trunk, before lifting the mirror to peer into it. “Sirius?” he said out loud, and his reflection shimmered before disappearing.

He had no idea what he was looking at. A ceiling, perhaps? It wasn’t Sirius, whatever it was.

He waited a full minute, then sighed. Sirius had said Harry could speak with him at any time, but Harry couldn’t have expected Sirius to keep the mirror on him at all times.

Then Harry heard a faint voice from the mirror, as if it was far away, followed by footsteps that got louder and louder. A shadow appeared in the mirror, and then the image rotated and spun around, and a familiar face finally appeared in the reflection.

It wasn’t Sirius.

“What… Harry?” Lupin said.

“Professor!” Harry exclaimed.

“Is everything all right?” Lupin immediately asked.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I just…”

“Sirius is in the other room,” Lupin said. “I’ll bring you to him.” It was bizarre, watching Lupin as he made his way through Grimmauld Place, and if Harry had to be honest, it wasn’t pleasant to watch; it almost made him feel motion sick.

“You have a call,” Lupin said, and his face disappeared from the mirror, the image twisting and turning and briefly showing what Harry assumed had to be the ceiling, and Sirius finally appeared.

“Harry!” Sirius said. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just…” Harry paused. Lupin was there with Sirius. Harry sighed. “I can… call back later.”

“Harry, what’s wrong?” Sirius asked. “And…” He glanced away from the mirror and then back again. “Just so you know, Remus knows about… me,” he said quietly, “and he’s fine with it.”

“Fine with what?” Lupin’s voice rang out faintly.

Harry’s eyes widened. “So it’s okay to…”

“You can say whatever you want,” Sirius said, smiling, “and ask whatever you need to ask.” Then, after a pause, he added, “If you want to, I mean. It’s up to you.”

“What…” A few footsteps sounded out, and then Lupin’s face appeared in the mirror next to Sirius’s. They looked a bit crowded, and Harry let out a brief grin at how absurd the two of them must have looked, huddled together over a small mirror. “I can leave the room if you need to talk to Sirius in private, Harry,” Lupin said. “Don’t let him convince you to tell me something you don’t -”

“I’m declaring dark,” Harry blurted out.

Lupin’s eyes widened almost comically. “What?” he exclaimed. Then he grunted, and he shot a dirty look at Sirius.

“I’m serving as Harry’s mentor, Remus,” Sirius said.

“I… how?” Lupin looked back at Harry, and Harry felt a bit relieved to see only curiosity written on his face; there wasn’t a hint of fear or disgust.

“What… what do you mean?” Harry asked.

“You have a dark affinity?”

Harry nodded. “I… you know about affinities?” Then he shook his head. “Wait, that’s a stupid question; you were the best Defense Against the Dark Arts professor I’ve had. Of course you would know.”

Lupin let out a laugh. “Thank you for that, but I actually learned everything I know about affinities from Sirius. I guess I just don’t understand them all that well. Sirius I can understand, but you having a dark affinity…”

“I’ll give you the crash course again later, Remus,” Sirius said. He turned back to Harry, and Remus seemed to shrug and went out of the mirror’s line of view. “What’s up, Harry?”

“I… I did the first personal rite last night,” Harry continued quietly.

“How did it go?”

“It went fine,” Harry responded. “But…”

“What's wrong?”

“I’ve read about how someone can… change once they declare,” he said. “And my roommates said it was more like… amplifying what’s already there.”

Sirius nodded. “Yeah. They’re talking about when something about you becomes more than what it was before after you solidify your relationship with the dark,” he said. “The really lucky ones become more artistic or... get a better memory. For most dark wizards it’s something completely useless, like… enjoying biscuits turning into an obscene love of biscuits, or...”

“Becoming more sarcastic?” Harry offered.

“That’s likely, yeah,” Sirius said. “For most wizards, it’s usually a slight change in temperament.”

Harry frowned.

Lupin’s voice rang out from the mirror. “Is that why you became a reckless idiot in fourth year, Padfoot?”

The mirror’s image suddenly jerked and Harry heard a scuffle followed by Lupin’s laughter. Despite his worry, Harry let out a faint smile. The image stopped spinning and finally settled on Sirius’s face again.

“Despite Moony’s rather prejudiced assessment, I suppose I did become a bit... wilder after I declared,” Sirius said.

“What about before you declare?” Harry asked.

Sirius’s expression suddenly became pensive, and his eyebrows drew together. “What happened, Harry?” he said. “Why are you asking this?”

Harry sighed, then proceeded to explain what he’d done to Colin Creevey. “I know it’s… relatively small, I’ve just…” He swallowed. “I’ve never done anything like that before.”

The concern on Sirius’s face seemed to soften. “Harry…” he said, “I appreciate why you’re worried about this, but I’ve never heard of someone changing before their final declaration.”

“Then why -”

“Harry,” Lupin said, and he suddenly appeared beside Sirius once more. “You are a remarkably kind young man, and the fact that you are this concerned about what you did only makes that even more apparent.” He paused. “But it also sounds like fairly typical behavior of a fifteen-year-old boy.”

“But that… that’s even worse!” Harry exclaimed, horrified.

“It’s also possible that it is because of the first rite,” Sirius said quickly. “It’s not like there’s ever been an extensive study on the effects that one’s declaration could have on someone… at least not one that I know of.”

“I know next to nothing about dark declaration, Harry,” Lupin continued, “but either way - you are still a teenager. Teenagers sometimes do stupid things without thinking.”

“I know I did,” Sirius said, grinning. “As did your father.”

Harry scowled. “So I’ve heard.”

“Who…” Sirius said, then he sneered. “From Snivellus, right?”

“Professor McGonagall,” Harry said. “She said he was a ‘nitwitted child.’”

Lupin raised an eyebrow. “She’s… not wrong.”

“Remus was the only innocent one among us,” Sirius said.

“Or I was guilty by association,” Lupin said, rolling his eyes. “It’s not like I ever tried to stop you two from being idiots.”

Harry didn’t think he had a single person in Slytherin that would stop him from ‘being an idiot,’ as Lupin said. In fact, he thought it was incredibly likely that they would be encouraging.

“Harry,” Lupin continued, his tone soft. “I can tell you’re incredibly worried about this. You’ve just got to keep your temper in check.”

“But I don’t know how,” Harry said miserably. “I seem to suck at everything having to do with… emotional control.” He stopped himself before mentioning Occlumency, not wanting to rile up Sirius when it came to how his lessons with Snape were going.

“I may not be a dark wizard, Harry,” Lupin said, “but I am a dark creature, if you recall.”

“Only once in a while,” Harry said.

“That’s just when the wolf is out,” Lupin said. “I’m still a dark creature all the time, with the wolf just beneath the surface. And if I can control my temper, you can control yours.”

Sirius was nodding. “No matter what’s ‘changed’ about a dark wizard, you still have free will. You can choose to have restraint.”

“That’s sound advice, Sirius,” Lupin said. “You should take it.” Lupin grunted again, and Harry realized that Sirius must have elbowed him in the stomach.

Despite his worries, Harry laughed.

“And I’m sorry, Harry,” Lupin said.

“What?” Harry said. “What for?”

“Dark wizards get almost the same kind of rap that dark creatures do,” Lupin said, his face somber. “Nobody trusts us.”

***

You seem unhappy again.

Harry sighed and looked up at the painting of the snake. None of their conversations had been pleasant, so he hadn’t kept up with his promise to speak with it on occasion.

But as he waited in the common room for Blaise and Theo to come down so they could leave for breakfast, the snake persisted.

It’s lonely and annoying here,” the snake continued. “At least you are not confined.”

You can’t visit other frames, like the other paintings here?” Harry asked.

No,” the snake replied. “I was trapped here by a previous headmaster.”

How long have you been here?” Harry said, raising an eyebrow. “Not trapped, I mean… when was your painting hung?”

I don’t know,” the snake said.

Do you know which headmaster trapped you, then?”

The snake slithered furiously all around the frame, hissing. “I do not wish to speak of my entrapment.”

“Sorry,” Harry responded.

“You are troubled again. Why?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “No offense, but -”

“If you feel troubled, you should shed your skin.”

Despite himself, Harry started laughing. “I’m human. We don’t shed.”

“Of course you do,” the snake replied. “Little by little, you all shed your skin. Snakes are just more intelligent and do it all at once.”

“I don’t think humans can do it all at once.”

Then do it however humans do it,” the snake said with what sounded like condescension. “But shedding gets rid of the bad and allows us to grow.”

He just stared at the snake for a moment. “You're awfully metaphorical for a snake."

“Harry?”

Startled, Harry twisted around at Blaise’s voice. He and Theo, who appeared far more awake than he usually did at that hour, were both gaping at Harry.

Harry quickly bid the snake farewell, ignoring the hissing protests as he crossed the room to greet Blaise and Theo. “Shall we go?” he asked.

Blaise started laughing.

“What?” Harry asked.

“Nothing,” Blaise responded. “Just that you… act like talking to a snake is… completely ordinary.”

“Trust me,” Harry said, “it’s not.” He paused, wrinkling his nose. “And that snake is a little annoying.”

They quickly departed, and to Harry’s chagrin, Blaise wanted to continue to talk about Harry’s parseltongue abilities. He was curious about what parseltongue sounded like to Harry’s ears, wanted to know why Harry had never bothered to get a pet snake, and if he thought it was possible to write the language down and teach others.

“I don’t think so,” Harry said. “It’s honestly hard for me to even realize that I’m speaking it sometimes.”

Blaise continued peppering Harry with questions all the way to breakfast.

“I know you gave it away to the whole school in second year,” Blaise said, “but have you always known you were a parselmouth?”

Harry sighed. “I didn’t know what it was called,” he said. “But I guess I knew I could talk to snakes. I set a python on my Muggle cousin once. I just didn’t know it was… unusual.”

They had just reached the main corridor and were about to head up the stairs to the hall when Theo suddenly rammed into Harry from behind, and Harry heard Theo cry out. Theo fell to the ground, and after a moment, he started screaming in pain.

“What happened?” Blaise demanded.

“I’m… burning!” Theo cried. “My skin is on fire!”

“Curse,” Harry spat out, and he and Blaise both drew their wands.

Although there were more than a few students around, it was almost laughably easy to figure out who had thrown the curse; there was an older Hufflepuff standing only feet away from them, his wand still out. Harry recognized him as one of the chasers for the Hufflepuff Quidditch team.

“You really are the next Dark Lord,” the student growled. “Aren’t you?”

“What are you on about, Applebee?” Blaise said. His voice was drawling, but still had more than a hint of a threat behind it.

“Potter just admitted to ordering a python to attack his cousin,” Applebee shouted, and his eyes turned on Harry, sparkling with fury. “Just like you ordered a snake to attack Justin a few years ago!”

“No, I didn’t,” Harry said. “Even Justin doesn’t think so anymore -”

“You made up that story about You-Know-Who!” Applebee snarled. “You killed Cedric, and then you blamed the dark lord that you already -”

A hot rage suddenly burned through every fiber of Harry’s being, and he raised his wand. “Carinitus!” he shouted, and Applebee’s pants suddenly dropped down to his ankles. Harry took another step forward and waved his wand once more. “Expulso!” Blue light flared from his wand and hit Applebee dead on, and he went flying backward. He hit the wall behind him and fell to the ground.

He lay prone, and an eerie silence fell in the corridor.

The fury fell away, and Harry realized, with sparkling clarity, that he’d just used dark arts on a student.

Chapter Text


“Mr. Potter! What is the meaning of this?”

Harry, stunned at what had just unfolded, glanced over his shoulder to see McGonagall quickly descending the stairs from the entrance hall.

Had she seen? Had she heard the actual curse? Did she know what Harry had done?

And damn it, he’d attacked someone without thinking again. What in the the hell was wrong with him?

He looked back to Applebee’s still form. He was still breathing, at least. He must have just been knocked out when he hit the wall.

Harry quickly glanced around to see what bystanders were present. While it thankfully wasn’t a huge crowd, there were still enough students to cause worry. If any of them had recognized the curse…

“It was self-defense, Professor McGonagall!” Blaise shouted.

“It was not,” a Ravenclaw said. “We saw the whole thing.”

“Then how do you explain Theo?” Blaise shot back at the Ravenclaw. Harry spun on his heel, Blaise’s words reminding him of their housemate. Theo lay prone on the ground, apparently having lost consciousness at some point.

“Is he okay?” Harry asked, kneeling down beside Blaise.

“I don’t know,” Blaise said, shaking his head.

“‘Self-defense’ means defending against an active attack,” the Ravenclaw continued snootily.

“He said his skin was on fire,” Harry said, ignoring the Ravenclaw’s words.

Blaise reached out and placed a hand on Theo’s forehead. “He’s not on fire,” Blaise said, his voice shaking. “He’s cold.”

“He...,” Harry swallowed nervously and then twisted around, looking straight at McGonagall. “Professor! Theo needs help!”

“I quite agree,” McGonagall said from where she was inspecting Applebee. “Both of these students need to go to the hospital wing immediately.” She stood and with a wave of her wand, Applebee’s body started floating beside her. “You, Potter - with me.” Her expression was more stern than Harry had ever seen it, if that was even possible. “Your behavior was completely uncalled for, self-defense or not.” She waved her wand a second time to levitate Theo alongside Applebee.

Harry got to his feet, and his anxiety over whatever was about to happen started to feel almost overwhelming. What would McGonagall do if she figured out what spell Harry had used?

Shit.

McGonagall continued with her lecture, even while she concentrated on keeping two unconscious students in the air. “You are aware that there are far more acceptable ways of disarming an opponent-”

I will take care of Potter, Professor McGonagall,” said a familiar voice from behind Harry. That voice almost always sent his skin crawling, but for the first time in his life, Harry found himself relieved at hearing it. “As his head of house, I believe Potter’s… misbehavior is my responsibility.”

Harry slowly turned to look at Snape. He couldn’t believe his luck, and he meant that without a lick of sarcasm. Snape, of all freaking professors, was the best possible staff member to take him in the immediate aftermath of what had just happened.

That was, quite possibly, the most bizarre, surreal feeling Harry had encountered all year.

Snape was sure to still punish him for what Harry had done, but he could almost certainly find a way to prevent Harry from getting arrested for using dark arts on a fellow student. And since Snape seemed to be so invested in Harry declaring dark, Harry had a feeling that he was no longer looking for excuses to expel Harry.

Snape would help him. Harry was sure of it.

As Snape grabbed Harry’s arm and began dragging him down the hallway, Harry mentally kicked himself for needing Snape’s help in the first place.

“I’m an idiot,” Harry said quietly.

Snape didn’t look at him, but the grip on Harry’s arm tightened until it was like a vice. “We are in agreement on that, Potter.”

They made the rest of the long walk back to the dungeons in silence, which left Harry to his thoughts.

He’d used two spells on Applebee. One was dark, and the other neutral. And now that he was safe in the hands of Snape - which was just so damn strange to be thinking - his anxiety was giving way to annoyance.

The more Harry thought about the possible consequences of someone revealing his use of the dark arts, the more ridiculous the persecution of the dark arts seemed.

After all, it was the neutral spell - Expulso - that had clearly caused actual harm. The dark spell he’d used was, as Sirius had called it, a pantsing hex.

Harry had risked going to Azkaban over pulling someone’s pants down.

He really was a bloody idiot. And the fact that he could have gone to prison over that just didn’t make sense to Harry.

When they reached Snape’s office, Snape shoved Harry inside and slammed the door behind them. Harry braced himself for the beratement of a lifetime.

Instead, Snape was silent for a moment, once again setting that odd, contemplative stare on Harry. “What spells did you use?” he finally asked.

Carinitus and Expulso,” Harry responded quietly.

Snape’s eyes rolled upward and he muttered something that Harry couldn’t quite make out. “Draw your wand,” Snape commanded.

Harry blinked, then did as Snape ordered.

“I am going to teach you a spell,” Snape said. “It is called the Enlargement Charm, and it’s one that I am quite certain you’re unfamiliar with as it isn’t taught until NEWT level Transfiguration.” He narrowed his eyes. “But as McGonagall has been… impressed with the recent improvement in your work, I’m certain she’ll believe that you somehow learned it on your own.”

Harry was confused, but as Snape had essentially just rescued him from probable arrest, he wasn’t sure asking questions would be wise.

Snape placed a small jar on his desk and demonstrated the spell, which enlarged the small jar to the size of a pitcher. The spell, though NEWT level, was far easier than learning the Patronus charm in third year or the summoning charm from fourth year. It took Harry nearly ten minutes to cast it successfully.

Cresceretus!” Harry grinned in satisfaction as the jar finally grew. Despite the circumstances, he always enjoyed getting a new spell to work.

Snape, Harry realized, was far better at teaching spells than he was at teaching Potions. Harry wisely didn’t say so.

Snape, as expected, didn’t offer any kind of praise for Harry’s work. “Now, cast several spells that you use daily,” he said. “Lumos, Calidium - and then perhaps throw in a few spells that you’ve been practicing for classes. Cast at least twenty.”

Harry stared at Snape for a moment, and as Snape’s lips started curling in displeasure at not being immediately obeyed, Harry quickly began casting lighting spells and warming charms and multiplication charms. As he was casting, it suddenly occurred to Harry why Snape was having him do this.

He needed to write a new spell history on his wand.

“You think someone will actually cast Priori Incantato on my wand?” Harry asked when he finished, leaning over and resting his hands on his knees. Even as simple as the spells were, he was unaccustomed to casting so many spells over such a short period of time.

“No,” Snape said. “But it would not be wise to assume that someone would fail to do so.” He paused and his eyes narrowed. “And by ‘someone’ I mean Headmaster Dumbledore.”

Harry nodded. “I know,” he said quietly.

“While ‘Carinitus’ isn’t likely to be enough to send for aurors, it would still... alert the headmaster to your recent studies,” Snape said.

Harry looked up in surprise. “So even though it’s dark, that spell isn’t…”

“It’s still technically illegal,” Snape said. “But it’s such a minor dark hex that the Ministry likely wouldn’t bother with prosecuting it. Besides,” he continued, “it’s also obscure enough that only wizards who have studied the dark arts would be familiar with it. Not many wizards would… confess to knowing what it truly was.”

Harry nodded. Then, after a moment, he asked, “How did you know I’d used dark arts?”

Snape sneered. “I didn’t.”

“Then why did you ask me what spells I’d used?”

Snape rolled his eyes once more. “It is a question I ask all of my Slytherins in situations like these,” he said. “They know to tell me the truth.” He paused, his upper lip curling. “Thankfully, you have apparently become Slytherin enough to know that telling me the truth will always be the wisest course of action.”

Harry stared at Snape in surprise. Being ‘Slytherin enough’ was damn near a compliment coming from Snape. And he supposed Snape’s other words made sense. He couldn’t have been the only dark wizard in Slytherin to have let a dark spell loose without thinking.

“You need to cast two more spells,” Snape continued. “The first is Cresceretus, once more,” he said, gesturing to the jar on his desk. “If you are questioned by anyone besides me concerning the spells you used, you will state that you enlarged Applebee’s pants, which is what caused them to fall down.”

Harry wanted to laugh at that but he wisely did not, instead obediently casting the spell.

“Now Expulso,” Snape said.

“On what?” Harry asked. He wasn’t keen on destroying anything in Snape’s office.

Snape summoned the cushion from his chair, levitating it in front of Harry. Harry sent the cushion flying back against the wall, and then looked back to Snape.

They stared at each other for a few long, awkward moments.

“Detention with me for three weeks, Potter,” Snape finally said.

Harry’s eyes widened. Snape had been so immensely helpful over the last half hour that he’d nearly forgotten who he was actually dealing with.

***

“Three weeks?” Draco said incredulously. “Are you serious?”

“Snape does still hate me, in case you forgot,” Harry said. Snape had thoroughly proven that with the extensive verbal thrashing he’d given Harry after assigning his detention.

“What about Quidditch practice?” Draco demanded. “We have the Ravenclaw match coming up!”

Harry sighed. “I’m excused only for practice,” he said, “which is why detention is for three weeks - to make up for missing those nights.” Harry supposed he should be grateful for that; had he still been in Gryffindor, he still would have had detention for three weeks, only Snape never would have let him out of detention for Quidditch practice.

He also supposed that detention nearly every night with Snape might be the best possible way to work on controlling his anger. After all, no one could piss him off as much as Snape.

Theo would be okay, they’d learned. Applebee had hit him with a basic frozen fire hex, which was easily countered. They’d heard that Applebee had also woken up; Harry had been right that he’d only been knocked out when Harry hit him with expulso.

Harry picked at his lunch unhappily and once again wondered why his temper had been so volatile of late. First Colin, then Applebee. Harry desperately wanted to figure it out before he exploded on anyone else without thinking.

“There are all sorts of interesting rumors flying around about you now, Harry,” Pansy said, smirking.

“Yeah,” Blaise drawled, nudging Harry with his shoulder. “I don’t think throwing Applebee across the room was the best way to dispel the ‘you’re the next dark lord’ story.”

Harry groaned and pushed his lunch away. He pillowed his arms beneath him and let his head sink down to the table. “I’m a fucking idiot,” he said, his voice muffled by his cloak.

“It’s not that bad, Harry,” Blaise said. “You’re definitely not the first Slytherin to let the wrong spell fly.”

Harry was glad his face was hidden as he frowned. While he appreciated his housemates' assurances that what he’d done wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary, he didn’t think they realized just how out of character attacking people was for him.

Draco nodded in agreement. “And that stupid Hufflepuff had it coming.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one who’s been attacking you,” Blaise surmised. “Of course, if he isn’t, then we have a far bigger problem on our hands.”

“But he hit Theo, not me,” Harry said.

“He was aiming for you,” Blaise said. “Theo jumped in front of it.”

“What?” Harry raised his head, his eyes widening in shock. Theo had actually taken a curse for him? Harry supposed he wouldn’t have been as surprised if it had been Draco - or Blaise, even - but he and Theo weren’t all that close. “Why would he do that?”

“Slytherins protect one another,” Draco said in annoyance as if he’d said it a million times before. Which, Harry supposed, he had.

“By acting like… like a Gryffindor?” Harry asked in disbelief. Then he sighed. “‘Any means,’ right?” he asked sardonically.

“Right,” Blaise said dryly. “And don’t worry, I won’t tell Theo you said that.”

Despite himself, Harry snorted out a laugh.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione wave at him from across the hall. Once she had his attention she pointed towards the entrance, her expression stern.

She clearly wanted to talk to him, and Harry wanted nothing more than to not talk to Hermione. He didn’t want to deal with the inevitable questions and concerns, especially when he didn’t have anything resembling an answer aside from ‘dark arts.’

It wasn’t like he could tell Hermione that, after all.

Later,” he mouthed, shaking his head.

She looked decidedly unhappy at that, but the expected silent insistence was absent.

***

“Mr. Potter,” that hated, simpering voice said in Defense the next day.

Harry tensed and looked up. “Yes, Professor Umbridge?”

“Please see me after class.”

Internally, Harry found himself wishing he could hit her with some dark arts. Outside, though, he simply gave her an obedient smile. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, sneering as soon as her back was turned. Beside him, Blaise barely muffled a snicker.

It was starting to become a familiar scene - Harry waiting for the room to empty before approaching Umbridge’s desk. Umbridge gave him that sugary smile, and to his surprise, she pulled a chair out a chair from one of the student desks and gestured for him to sit.

Harry tensed, then sat down, his spine rigid. He eyed Umbridge warily but tried to hide it with a fake smile.

“How are you doing after that… awful, cowardly attack on you and your friends yesterday?” she asked.

Harry couldn’t help it - his eyebrows shot upwards in surprise. “I’m fine, Professor. Theo is the one who got hurt, and he’s supposed to be released from the hospital wing this afternoon.”

So glad to hear,” Umbridge said, her smile widening to a disgusting level.

“And I am sorry for attacking Applebee,” Harry said. His surprise was starting to slide into suspicion. After all, the main reason he’d attacked Applebee was that he’d called Harry a liar. “I’m aware that I… overreacted.”

“Nonsense,” Umbridge said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You were merely acting in… self-defense.”

Harry didn’t exactly agree, but he didn’t say so.

“I wanted to let you know that Tasmin Applebee confessed to being the person behind the other attacks on you earlier in the year,” Umbridge continued.

“I… really?” he said, carefully keeping his tone even. While Harry had agreed with Blaise that it was probable that Applebee was his attacker, he found it hard to believe that the Hufflepuff had actually confessed.

Umbridge was nodding. “Yes, Mr. Potter,” she said. “He confessed everything yesterday evening in my office. And this morning…” Her smile grew nasty and disgusting, and every hair on the back of Harry’s neck suddenly stood up. “Well, I have the pleasure of being the one to inform you that Mr. Applebee has been expelled.”

“What?!” Harry exclaimed.

Expelled?

Something twisted up in Harry’s gut. While Applebee was an ass, he was clearly emotionally distraught over Cedric. They’d been teammates and friends, after all. And the curses he’d thrown at Harry hadn’t been that bad… had they?

Except for trying to kill me on the stairs, Harry thought, then wondered when he’d finally started believing his housemates that yes - that really had been an attempt on his life.

“Yes, Mr. Potter,” Umbridge confirmed. “As the… High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, an educational decree was put into place that allows me to… personally... expel students.” She tittered. “He’s already in Hogsmeade, waiting for his parents to come and retrieve him.”

Harry swallowed.

Was that a threat? After all, Umbridge had already tried to have him expelled…

But that wasn’t it. She was looking at him expectedly, and she didn’t really look like she wanted to frighten Harry.

She wanted Harry to thank her.

So he did. “I…” Harry’s voice came out scratchy, and he swallowed in order to clear his throat. “Thank you, Professor Umbridge.”

Umbridge’s froggy smile became toothy, and it looked terrible. “You’re quite welcome, Mr. Potter.”

***

The word of Tasmin Applebee’s expulsion spread quickly.

And unfortunately, every time the topic came up, people also had to speak about the circumstances surrounding his expulsion.

Applebee had accused Harry Potter of being the next dark lord, Harry immediately attacked Applebee in response, and then Applebee was expelled.

It didn’t take long for people to wonder if Applebee’s accusation might have had some truth to it. After all, Potter was a Slytherin, and he’d apparently attacked Applebee without remorse.

That was how it must have appeared from their perspective, anyway.

It was second year all over again, only this time, Harry thought, it might’ve been worse. After all, he’d at least had being in Gryffindor going for him at the time. Facing the rumors as a Slytherin felt completely different.

Harry knowing he could actually be a danger to those around certainly didn’t help him feel any better.

Whispers followed Harry wherever he went.

Fortunately for him, so did the Slytherins.

***

Hermione finally managed to corner Harry on Friday afternoon by waiting just outside the Great Hall before dinner. Theo and Millicent immediately stopped in their tracks, eyeing Hermione warily, but Daphne merely rolled her eyes and pushed them a healthy distance away.

With hands on her hips, Hermione gave the three of them a discerning look when she noticed that they didn’t actually enter the hall, instead choosing to wait at the other side of the entrance hall. “Do they ever leave you alone?”

“Not lately, no,” Harry said. He’d somehow managed to dodge her for days, but he knew he couldn’t delay any longer. He braced himself for the questions he knew he couldn’t answer. “What’s up?”

Hermione frowned, then grabbed Harry’s arm. “You’ve been avoiding me,” she said as she pulled him towards the wall, away from the crowd. “Don’t even try to deny it.”

Harry sighed. “I won’t deny it,” he said. “I’m sorry. It’s just…” He shook his head. “I was just a bit overwhelmed.”

“And are you still overwhelmed?”

“A bit,” Harry admitted, and then he gave her a crooked grin. “But I’m more whelmed than over, now.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You do realize that means you’re still…” She shook her head in annoyance. “Never mind. How are you?”

“As well as can be expected, I suppose.” Harry knew that wasn’t all she wanted to ask.

“Will you tell me what happened on Monday?”

He let out a sigh. “Applebee tried to hit me with a curse and hit Theo instead. I cursed him back.”

“Harry, I know that part,” Hermione said, scowling. “I was there.”

“You were?” Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. “I… I didn’t see you.”

“What was that first spell you used? I didn’t recognize it.”

Despite the fairly rough, hard detentions he’d had all week - along with even rougher Occlumency lessons - Harry sent Snape a silent word of gratitude. “‘Cresceretus,’” he said. “Enlarging charm sent at his pants -”

“Are you sure?” Hermione asked quickly.

Harry gave Hermione what he hoped was a disbelieving look, raising an eyebrow. “Pretty sure I know what spell I used, yeah.”

“It sounded more like ‘Carinetus,’ or maybe ‘Carinitus,’” Hermione said, her eyebrows screwing together in concentration, and Harry had to fight every muscle in his body in order to prevent himself from reacting to her words. She shook her head. “But I’ve looked up every possible spelling and I can’t find anything…”

“Maybe because that’s not a spell,” Harry said, and he silently congratulated himself for keeping his voice steady.

“I feel like I would have recognized ‘Cresceretus,’ though,” Hermione mused. “It’s covered in our sixth year material.”

“You must have misheard,” Harry said.

Hermione frowned again, then shook her head with a sigh. “And I suppose I don’t need to tell you that you knocking Applebee down didn’t do you any favors when it came to the utter tripe pouring out of his mouth.”

Despite himself, Harry let out a laugh. “That’s almost exactly what Blaise said.”

Hermione didn’t look nearly as amused by that as Harry was, and he quickly schooled his expression.

“I also feel like I should warn you,” Hermione said after a moment, “that the Hufflepuffs are exceedingly unhappy with you right now.” Her eyebrows knitted together in concern. “You really need to be careful.”

Harry gestured to Daphne, Theo, and Millicent waiting on the other side of the entrance hall. “There’s a reason why Slytherins travel in packs, Hermione.”

A look of surprise fell over Hermione’s face as she glanced over her shoulder. “Protection?” she asked.

“We all watch each other’s backs,” Harry said, giving her a small smile.

Hermione appeared to consider that for a moment. “Slytherins are turning out to be much different than what I expected,” she finally said.

Harry thought Hermione didn’t know the half of it, but he didn’t say so.

“Imbolc is tomorrow, isn’t it?”

Harry blinked at the sudden change in subject. “Yeah,” he confirmed.

“And the next cyclical day after that… Ostara, correct?” Hermione asked. “The equinox?”

Harry couldn’t help but let a small, genuine smile spread over his lips. “That’s right.”

Hermione nodded. “Tomorrow is probably too soon to ask, but maybe for Ostara,” she said, almost more to herself than to Harry.

“What?”

“I just wonder if it would be possible for me to observe an Ostara celebration…”

Harry swallowed nervously. “Uh…” he stammered. “I’d invite you, but the others like having a specific number of people, and...”

Hermione’s eyes suddenly widened, and she shook her head. “Oh, no!” she said. “I didn’t mean to sound… I wasn’t trying to… invite myself to the one you attend. No offense, but I don’t think I’d have a very good time among… Slytherins.” She gave him a wry smile. “I was thinking of asking one of the Ravenclaws.”

An odd, warm feeling suddenly wound its way around Harry’s heart, and he smiled at her. “You should!” he said, his tone insistent.

“I’m really interested in it,” Hermione said. “Hearing you talk about these cyclical days surprised me, but the book that Greengrass gave me… it’s made me want to know more.”

Something in Hermione’s words sounded familiar, but Harry couldn’t place a finger on what it was.

“You should check out one of the celebrations,” Harry said, shaking off the thought. “I think you’d enjoy it.”

***

When they broke the Imbolc circle the following night, the fifth-year Slytherins immediately began hurrying back to the castle, eager to get out of the cold night air. Despite the chill, most of them seemed to be in high spirits, and Millicent started an impromptu snowball fight.

Harry hung towards the back of the group, finding that he wasn’t really in the mood to join in. Draco soon sidled up to him, shaking powdery snow from his hair. “Are you okay?” Draco asked.

Harry shrugged. “For the most part, yeah,” he responded. “I’m just kind of…” He trailed off, completely unsure as to what he could say.

“You didn’t perform a rite tonight,” Draco observed.

“Well, it’s not like there’s all that many I can do until I finish my declaration, right?” Harry said.

Draco narrowed his eyes. “There are still a fair number of basic rites that you have access to,” he said. “And considering the way the last week has gone for you, I would say that you could definitely use some assistance from the dark right now.”

Harry let out a sigh. “Right. I just… didn’t plan ahead of time.”

“Are you sure that’s the only reason why you didn’t?” Draco asked.

“What other reason would I have?”

Draco let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh, I don’t know,” he drawled, “how about the fact that just a week ago you were implying how worried you were that the dark was changing you?”

Harry swallowed and looked away, forcefully shoving his hands in his pockets. Draco had hit the nail on the head.

He seemed to be doing that more and more often when it came to Harry.

“Are you… having second thoughts?” Draco asked when Harry didn’t respond.

“I…” Harry sighed. “Not really. I really do know that I’m… doing what’s right for me,” he said. “I’m just…”

“What?”

Harry drew in a shaky breath, and when he finally spoke, his voice was quiet. “I’m walking the dark path, and I’m not sure if I’ll like who I am when I get to the end.”

Draco abruptly came to a halt. “Harry,” he said, and he reached out to grab Harry’s arm to stop him. “I’ve told you before that the dark doesn’t take your free will away. It doesn’t force you to do anything.”

Harry swallowed and absently looked up at the silhouette of Hogwarts, stark against the bright winter sky. “I know.”

“So if you’re afraid of who you might become,” Draco said, “then just don’t become that person.”

Harry’s eyes drifted back to meet Draco’s, and he mulled over his words.

“And for the record, I like who you’ve been becoming,” Draco added.

Harry let out a frustrated laugh. “Of course you’re gonna like it if I’m shoving students, or attacking them -”

“That’s not what I mean,” Draco said. “You’re becoming Slytherin, and I don’t just mean that you’re beginning to know and use your resources, or that you’re playing Umbridge like a fiddle. I know you still don’t get how good things can come out of all that -”

“Yeah,” Harry said bitterly. “I’m still not exactly a fan of manipulating people.”

“But good things will come out of that,” Draco said, plowing on. “And that’s not all.” He paused and looked Harry straight in the eye. “You’re becoming Slytherin, and you are watching out for the rest of our house. You were re-sorted here, and despite how I…” He paused again, swallowing. “Despite how I treated you before, you still gave our house a chance. You aren’t writing us all off as hopeless, evil junior Death Eaters.” Draco shook his head. “I might not have known you all that well in the past, but I feel like you likely wouldn’t have done that before.”

Harry tried to picture himself as a Gryffindor protecting the younger Slytherins, as he had protected Astoria, and he was surprised to find that he was having trouble even picturing himself as a Gryffindor.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have argued with the hat back in first year,” Harry said quietly.

Draco let out a laugh and opened his mouth to respond.

“What are you two dragging your feet for?” Blaise’s voice cut Draco off as he marched away from the other fifth years and towards the two of them. “It’s freezing!” Blaise swooped in behind Harry and Draco and started shoving both of them towards the castle. “Have your heart to heart inside, for Merlin’s sake.”

This led to a three-way scuffle in the snow, where both Harry and Draco were at first trying to dump Blaise into a snowbank, but it soon became ‘all men for themselves’ when Draco hit Harry in the back of the head with a snowball. Their game lacked rules or goals, but they were all laughing by the time they reached the steps to the castle.

A group of Ravenclaws traveled up the stairs in front of them, and Harry suddenly remembered his conversation with Hermione the previous day.

“Hermione wants to observe an Ostara celebration,” Harry said.

“What?!” Both Blaise and Draco spoke at the same time.

“I… why?” Blaise asked. “Is it because she’s suspicious of you?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t think so. She’s not trying to come with us; she mentioned talking to Terry Boot.”

“A… a Muggleborn wants to see wizarding tradition?” Draco asked skeptically.

“Why is that so surprising?” Harry asked.

“Muggleborns generally… don’t,” Blaise said. “But I suppose Granger has always been... curious.”

“They’re just... usually more interested in keeping hold of their Muggle traditions,” Draco said.

“Has anyone ever tried inviting Muggleborns?” Harry asked, knowing full well that Blaise and Draco never had. “How do you know they’re not interested?” He shook his head. “I mean, Hermione didn’t even know about the cyclical days until this year. How would you know what Muggleborns are interested in if they don’t even know about them?”

Draco opened and then closed his mouth, scowling.

“She wants to know more,” Harry said. “She said she’s really interested…” He trailed, blinking. “Huh.”

“What?” Blaise asked.

Harry had finally figured why Hermione’s words the previous day sounded so familiar.

“Could Hermione have a dark affinity?” he asked abruptly.

Blaise and Draco glanced at each other. “What makes you ask that?” Blaise said slowly, as if he was choosing each word carefully.

“She… she sounds like I did when I first started studying the dark arts,” Harry said. “I mean, I know I learned about the dark arts first, and then the traditions, but… she genuinely seems really interested in it.”

“Like I said earlier,” Blaise quipped, “Granger has always been curious.”

“But there’s never been a dark Muggleborn,” Draco said quietly.

“That you know of,” Harry said. “Besides, you also thought that only purebloods had dark affinities… up until me.”

Draco and Blaise didn’t say anything in response to that, but Harry didn’t miss the thoughtful look that came over both of them.

***

The following weekend was the Quidditch match against Ravenclaw. While Slytherin won, the score was far closer than it had been against Gryffindor. The score had been tied when Harry caught the snitch, but he didn’t feel he had a choice; Chang was more than a capable seeker and he couldn’t risk her getting to it first.

Their homework, which had already been daunting, now seemed insurmountable. The closer they got to their O.W.L.s the more work the teachers assigned, and the more stressed Harry and his housemates became. Blaise, in particular, became peculiarly snippy with everyone, in stark contrast to his usual jovial demeanor.

On the last night of Harry’s detentions, Snape decided to throw in an extra Occlumency lesson, citing the fact that Dumbledore did seem suspicious of Harry, after all. He’d apparently questioned Snape quite thoroughly about what Harry had done, what Snape thought had set Harry off, and most alarmingly - what spells Harry had used.

Harry should have been relieved that Dumbledore hadn’t just asked Harry himself, but he found himself irritated, instead. It wasn’t like he needed a reminder that the headmaster was avoiding him.

And to make matters worse, Harry’s Occlumency didn’t seem to be improving at all. He felt completely terrible after every session with Snape, and he continued to dream of corridors and doors nearly every night. He wondered if it was possible that his odd connection with Voldemort circumvented Occlumency, or if he was just that truly terrible at it.

Somehow, between Quidditch, homework, Occlumency, and dreams, Harry still managed to make time to prepare for his second rite.

***

Unlike his first rite, where he’d only felt the excitement of taking the next step on the dark path, Harry felt nervous, along with more than a hint of fear.

The second rite was the rite of magic, where he had to completely open himself up to the dark.

Considering how dark magic had made him feel during his affinity rite, and again during his rite of intent, Harry wasn’t sure what would happen to him. Because of that, he’d given Draco and Blaise explicit directions of where he was going to complete the rite. If he wasn’t back in the Slytherin dorm by midnight, they would come looking for him.

Of course, Harry wasn’t sure what he was more worried about - losing consciousness to the intensity of dark magic, or losing himself so completely that he cursed the first person he saw.

While it was still chilly, Harry was thankful that it wasn’t as cold as it had been during his first rite, or even as it had been on Imbolc. Warming charms could only do so much, and Harry’s warming charms kind of sucked, besides.

Harry knelt on the ground and began emptying his bag and laying out its contents - two black candles, one red, as well as a small pouch of salt. He placed his red candle directly in front of him, with Draco’s black candle to the right and Sirius’s on the left. He placed the pouch in his lap and held out his wand in front of him.

He braced himself for whatever was about to happen to him and then began. “I call down the dark to manifest. Protect me and guide me,” he said, drawing the circle around himself. “Una cum nobis. I beg for its presence as I take this next step on the dark path. Obsecro te venire. Mecum, tueri, dirige. Offero tibi veneficia.”

The dark again fell into place around him, and despite his nervousness, he let out a little sigh of contentment.

“A circle has no beginning and it never ends,” he continued. “I seek to know that magic. I seek to know that strength.”

He then pointed his wand at Sirius’s candle. “My mentors have guided me this far, but I must take each step on my own.” He lit Sirius’s candle, then Draco’s. “May they illuminate where my feet land.” He then lit his own red candle.

He studied the three candles for a long moment, watching the flames dance in the light winter breeze. Then he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and continued.

“I only recently discovered the dark,” he said. “I wasn’t raised in it, like most dark wizards. But every time the dark reaches out to me, I feel like I belong.” His voice caught at that. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I truly belonged anywhere.

“Something has been drawing me to it, and I don’t know what it is,” he continued. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to find out eventually. I’d like to know for sure why I have an affinity for the dark. I’d like to know why it affects me so… deeply.” He paused. “But I’m also… I think I’m okay with not knowing... because just being with the dark makes me feel…”

He trailed off, as the sensations of his affinity rite and his rite of intent came back to him. “It’s comforting. It’s warm. It makes me feel welcome and safe and protected and… and loved.” He smiled. “I don’t know if it’s like that for everyone, but that’s why I trust the dark.”

Harry opened his eyes. “I’m willing to let the dark in completely because I trust it.” Dark magic seemed to brush his cheek in response, and he let out a shiver that was more pleasant than not.

And the words were true. Harry might not have trusted himself, but he trusted the dark implicitly.

He set down his wand, then picked up the pouch in his lap and tipped it until there was a tiny pile of salt resting in his hand. He took it and poured it on top of the circle he’d drawn earlier. Little by little, the tiny granules of salt seemed to glow and then spark, growing in intensity until it seemed as if he were surrounded by small fireworks.

The sparks gave way to a gentle purple glow, and Harry picked up and blew out Sirius’s candle. He stuck his right index finger in the melted wax and quickly brought it to the back of his hand and drew a crescent - the symbol for the moon and the dark.

He then picked up Draco’s candle, blew it out, and used the wax to draw a triangle on the back of his hand - the symbol for fire, his chosen element.

He rested his hands on his knees and then braced himself. He had no idea what was about to happen. He took another deep breath, then spoke. “Intrare.

Before his eyes, the symbols on his hands began to shift and change, forming new shapes, but they never seemed to settle on one form. He recognized some from astronomy class, such as Mercury, Ceres, and Vesta. He also knew that some were runes, having looked at Hermione’s and Blaise’s homework enough times to recognize them, but he didn’t know their meaning. Most of the symbols, though, were completely unfamiliar to him. The wax kept swirling and changing until Harry couldn’t hope to keep up with them, and then it hit.

He gasped as dark magic suddenly flooded into him in a way it hadn’t before.

It was nothing like his previous encounters with the dark. His vision went black, and his mind seemed to spiral into thoughts he’d never had before.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Ron’s face came to mind and a fury that Harry had never felt suddenly washed over him. It suddenly struck him how laughably easy it would be to make Ron pay for abandoning him and throwing away their friendship. Harry’s lips curled into a devious smirk as he imagined using one of the spells he’d learned over the summer; he could curse Ron to be a spider-magnet. And that wasn’t the least of it. Harry could make Ron hurt even worse than Ron had hurt him in all sorts of creative ways.

Dark magic coursed through his entire body, head to toe, fingertip to fingertip.

Then Dumbledore’s face replaced Ron’s in his mind’s eye, and the rage seemed to grow tenfold. How could Dumbledore know what Harry had faced in the graveyard and then not bother to even speak to him? Harry let out a dark laugh as he realized how easy it would be to gain the headmaster’s attention now. He wanted to march in Dumbledore’s office and unleash all of the dark arts he’d been learning just to spite him; after all, no one disapproved of the dark more than Dumbledore.

He could feel the dark in his ears, his eyes, and he swore he could taste it on his tongue.

Dumbledore suddenly began to morph and shift, twinkling blue eyes giving way to red. Voldemort laughed, and Harry snarled in response. How he wanted to show Voldemort what he’d been learning. He wondered what it would feel like to hold Voldemort under a Cruciatus curse just like Voldemort had done to Harry in the graveyard. He wanted to make Voldemort scream in pain. He wanted to know what those screams sounded like.

The dark magic was wrapped around every bone and every muscle and every organ, and he wasn’t entirely sure where he ended and the magic began.

And Voldemort wasn’t the only one he wanted to make scream. The Dursleys appeared, and Harry started laughing again, almost maniacally this time. He had so many ideas for how he could make them pay for how they treated him over the years. He could break every single frail-looking bone in Petunia’s body. He could make Vernon light the stove and hold his hands over the flames. And he could make Dudley fall into starvation in the blink of an eye, his weight falling away until all of his skin hung off of his bones like a ragged old coat. He could do all of that and so much more.

Maybe there was no separation between him and the dark. Maybe he’d always been a part of it.

His old house - the Gryffindors - would judge him for those desires, as well as the ability to make those desires a reality. They would think him evil just for being capable of those deeds. And Harry suddenly realized that he felt like he was superior to them for being able to access the dark while they couldn’t, and for having knowledge of something they couldn’t begin to understand.

It was something that Harry didn’t understand until that very moment.

Just because he was capable of those awful things didn’t mean he would actually commit those acts.

He knew where the line was between right and wrong, and he would never cross it.

Draco had been right, after all - Harry had free will.

And Harry understood, with startling clarity, that he was changing. He wasn’t who he’d been the previous year, or even six months ago, and his metamorphosis would continue. It wouldn’t stop when he completed his journey on the dark path, or when he finished his schooling at Hogwarts. It would be constant.

Most importantly, he could steer that change; in fact, he was the only one who could. The only person who could control what he turned into was himself.

Yes, he’d lost control of his temper a few times in recent days, but that was all him. He couldn’t control what was done to him, but he could figure out how to control himself. He would figure it out.

The dark wasn’t changing him. Or maybe it was; he and the dark were so closely connected that they could have been one and the same.

Harry let out a breath of relief, and it was somewhat startling to realize that he could actually feel the air leave his lungs; he’d been so consumed by dark magic that he’d lost awareness of his own body. The magic was slowly leaving him, and he came back to himself little by little.

When he finally had enough awareness to open his eyes, he stared up at the clear night sky, and he realized he must have fallen backward.

He sat up with a gasp, wondering how long he’d been out.

Then he decided he didn’t really care.

The dark had brought out the absolute worst of him and made him face the fact that it was there. He’d felt hatred and rage and all sorts of terrible emotions, and he’d come out the other side with answers to the questions he’d been asking himself for weeks.

He let out a laugh of delight, feeling giddy.

***

Harry couldn’t stop grinning.

The second rite, as terrifying as it had been, had made everything so crystal clear - at least when it came to him and the dark. He might change as he walked the dark path. He might change after he declared. But as long as he kept a firm hold his morals, it simply didn’t matter.

After all, sometimes people changed.

He actually let out a laugh at that, then quickly covered his mouth when he remembered that he was out after curfew.

His chosen element may have been fire, but he was also a Slytherin. Slytherins were water - the element of change. And change was something to be welcomed, not feared.

Harry felt good.

He wished he could let out a cheer of delight, or whistle tunelessly, or even just skip through the hallways like he was a young child. He wanted to be able to share his joy with someone.

Fortunately, he knew that Draco would be thrilled to hear of the epiphany that had come from Harry’s second rite, and so Harry decided to traverse back to the Slytherin common room as fast as he could.

He took off running down the hallway. Since he wore his invisibility cloak, no one had to know that he occasionally threw in a little skip as he went.

Then he turned a corner and slammed into someone so hard that they both fell to the ground. Harry screwed his mouth shut to prevent himself from crying out, and a wave of adrenaline coursed through him at the thought that he was about to get caught. He’d somehow managed to land with his invisibility cloak still in place, and he quickly sat up, trying to figure out how he could get away.

Then he noticed that the person he’d run into was none other than Hermione Granger, and he couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief.

“Harry?” Hermione asked quietly, looking around the hallway. “Is that you?”

Harry yanked his cloak off. “Thank Merlin it’s you, Hermione,” he said, clambering to his feet and quickly helping Hermione to hers. He grinned wildly at her, and then he suddenly grasped her and spun her around in a strange kind of whirling dance. “If you had been anyone else…” He laughed.

He quickly realized that he must’ve still been feeling some of the effects of the second rite because Hermione looked completely bewildered at his behavior. Harry released her and tried to wipe the smile off of his face.

“What are you doing out?” she asked.

“I needed to go for a walk,” Harry said without a missing a beat, bending over to gather up his cloak. “Considering how the school has been... behaving lately, the Slytherins haven’t been giving me much time to myself.” He bundled his cloak up in his arms and fixed Hermione with the best pleading look he could manage. “Are you… are you going to go all Prefect on me?”

Hermione frowned. “I probably should, but no,” she said. She then seemed to study Harry for a moment, looking him up and down, and Harry started racking his brain for an excuse as to why he had a bag with him when he just needed to take a walk.

But the bag apparently wasn’t what Hermione had noticed. “What’s that on your hands?” she asked, reaching out and grasping one of Harry’s hands with her own and raising it to inspect - much like she’d inspected his hands when they still bore the cuts from the first rite.

Harry lowered his eyes to the hand that Hermione was studying and realized that there was still wax affixed to his skin and caked under his fingernails. Thankfully the symbols had mostly flaked off, so it just looked like random smudges. “I was just playing with a candle earlier,” he said easily. “Forgot to wash it off.”

Hermione’s gaze immediately flicked from Harry’s hand to his face, and Harry’s heart inexplicably sped up. Even so, he made sure his expression was calm and serene as he stared right back at Hermione.

“Harry…” she said, dropping his hand. “I’m about to make you angry, and I’m sorry.”

“What?” Harry asked, blinking. “Are you gonna turn me in after all?”

Hermione shook her head. “No. I just want… I need to ask you something, and it’s not going to make you very happy.”

Harry’s heart thundered in his chest. “Okay. Shoot.”

Hermione took a deep breath, and a somber, concerned expression fell over her features. “Are you…” She paused, swallowed, and then tried again. “Are you messing around with the dark arts?”

“Wh-what?” Harry asked, his eyes widening and a cold, icy feeling slamming into his chest.

She knows.

Harry stared at Hermione in very real horror, but then another emotion started creeping in among the panic and terror.

Even though she was right, he felt angry.

She was absolutely right, but Harry had been so damn careful. The only reason Hermione would ask him that were because of the rumors - not the facts.

Even so, Harry still allowed himself to have a sliver of hope. After all, he’d wondered if it was possible that Hermione could have a dark affinity, just like him. Maybe she was asking out of curiosity, or maybe she wouldn’t turn away from him if he confirmed her suspicions?

“You know what the dark arts could do to you,” Hermione said, “how evil they are…”

Harry’s minuscule hope instantly drained out of him.

“Are you… are you seriously hopping on the whole... ‘Harry’s the next dark lord’ train, Hermione?” he asked, his voice quiet and a tad dangerous. He shook his head in disbelief.

He knew it was hypocritical of him to ask that considering Hermione was right, but he just felt betrayed.

“I can handle it coming from the rest of the school,” Harry continued, his voice wavering with barely contained emotion. “It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve dealt with it. But I can’t handle it coming from you, Hermione.” He took a step away from her, shaking his head. “Not from you.”

“It’s not because of the stupid rumor, Harry!” Hermione shot back at him. “I know most of the people telling that lie are full of it.”

“Then why are you asking me that?” Harry demanded. “Don’t you know me?”

“Yes!” Hermione cried. “That’s exactly why I’m asking!” She paused, taking in a shaky breath, then continued in a quieter tone. “I do know you, Harry. That’s why I know you’ve been acting strangely.”

“You’ve already admitted to me that you know I’ve been having a pig’s shit of a year,” Harry spat. “So now you -”

“You also told me that Voldemort was most likely in your head!” Hermione cut Harry off with a furious, hissed whisper. “You’re pushing students - attacking students - and you’ve never done anything like that before. And there were the strange injuries on your hands a few weeks ago, and I’ve read about blood magic, and...” She shook her head. “And that spell you used on Applebee - I know I didn’t hear ‘Cresceretus!

“If Voldemort’s in your head, is he…” she paused, swallowing. “Is he doing something to change you?”

Harry stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. “I can’t believe this,” he said. “You’ve been… doing nothing but accuse me of this or that since I was re-sorted to Slytherin,” he sneered. “I suppose I’m grateful that you didn’t completely turn on me like Ron did, but -”

“I’m just fucking worried about my friend!” Hermione shouted suddenly, and it took Harry’s breath away.

Never, in all the time he’d known her, had he heard Hermione Granger swear. He paused and looked at her, and he could see unshed tears in her eyes, and all of his fury suddenly crashed to the ground.

Hermione figured things out. It was what she did. It was one of the many reasons Harry loved her so much. So did he really have any right to be angry that she had figured him out?

He didn’t, he realized. He really, truly didn’t.

But even so, he couldn’t let her know that she was right. There was too much at stake.

He let out a sigh. “Hermione…” he said, his voice quiet. “Voldemort doesn’t control me. It doesn’t work like that. And I don’t like fighting about this.”

“I don’t like fighting at all,” Hermione said unhappily.

“Yeah,” Harry said in agreement. “I just wish you would… trust me.” He shook his head. “It really hurts that you don’t.”

Even though she’s mostly right and I’m lying about it, Harry thought, it still hurts.

“Harry, you are one of my best…” She paused, then pursed her lips. “No, you are my best friend.”

And that, more than anything else, made Harry’s heart feel like it was breaking.

Because he had to keep lying to her. He couldn’t risk her telling anyone about what he was doing because he couldn’t risk someone stopping him from walking the dark path.

“Harry, I…” She sighed. “I don’t mean to…" She paused, fixing Harry with a look that seemed to contain everything Harry loved about his friend. "But just…”

“Yeah?”

“Just promise me that you’re not fooling around with the dark arts,” she said, her voice pleading. “Promise me.”

Harry gave her what he hoped was a comforting smile. “Hermione…” he said, enveloping her in a tight hug, “I promise that you have nothing to worry about.”

Even though Harry told himself that his words weren’t technically a lie, he still didn’t feel any better about saying it.

Chapter Text


The year seemed to be flying by faster than it ever had before.

Harry thought for certain it had to be the pressure of their upcoming O.W.L.s, but Freya explained to him that it was actually just a part of getting older, saying that her sixth year seemed to have gone twice as fast as fifth despite not having any year-end exams, and now that she was in seventh year she had no idea where the time had gone.

Harry liked Freya. After the Solstice she made sure to find time to speak with Harry at least once a week, and Harry found her dry sense of humor refreshing. She was also open with Harry about her Death Eater father, and she also made it clear that she didn’t share Voldemort’s ideals. At the same time, though, Freya’s best friend was Cassius Warrington, and Freya confirmed Harry’s suspicions that her friend was a staunch supporter of Voldemort, and that he hoped to join him when the school year was over. She’d spent so much time trying to convince him otherwise, but she knew it was hopeless.

Harry appreciated the time he spent with her. She approached her entire family situation quite differently than Draco or Theo, often making crude jokes about how her father was nothing but a henchman and how he loved kissing Voldemort’s feet. Harry soon figured out that it was simply how she dealt with the knowledge of what her father was.

Harry was surprised to discover that he was capable of making friends in Slytherin outside of those in his year. He tolerated his Quidditch teammates - Warrington included - but he couldn’t see himself becoming friends with them. Freya was different.

He found himself spending most of the Ostara celebration with Freya. Per tradition, the fifth, sixth, and seventh years came together for one circle, but overall it seemed to be less of a big deal than Samhain or the Solstice. The two equinoxes, Harry remembered, were the cyclical days that were meant to celebrate all magic, but the Slytherins didn’t seem all that interested in celebrating the light.

“It’s also because this is the vernal equinox,” Freya explained to Harry as they took a seat on the cool grass. “This is when the light begins overtaking the dark. We tend to be a bit more jovial on Mabon in the fall.”

“Do you think it’s also because so many of the light traditions have been lost?” Harry asked.

Freya considered his question. “It could be. There’s no balance anymore, so when it comes to celebrating all magic, it feels like us dark witches and wizards are just… going through the motions. Like we’re just keeping the tradition for the sake of tradition.”

Harry frowned, wanting to know why that was, but Freya continued before he could ask.

“When are you planning on completing your final declaration?” she asked. “Are your personal rites going smoothly?”

“Beltane,” Harry said. “And they’re going fine. I’ve already completed the first two.”

“Really?” Warrington’s voice rang out from behind Harry. “You actually are declaring dark, then?”

Harry glanced over his shoulder, his eyes widening.

Warrington took a seat on the grass by Freya and Harry and appeared to study Harry. “And what are you planning on doing after you declare?” he asked.

“Cass, don’t,” Freya said with a slight bite to her tone.

“I think it’s a fair question,” Warrington said, never removing his eyes from Harry, “especially considering who you are, Potter.” He smirked. “You really think the light side will accept a dark wizard in their ranks?”

Freya sat up, shooting Warrington a glare. “Cass -”

“I’m not joining Voldemort, if that’s what you’re asking,” Harry spat.

“You’re going to be a dark wizard,” Warrington said, as if he was stating the most obvious fact in the world. “And he is the Dark Lord.”

“Cass, stop it,” Freya snapped.

“You must be joking. Voldemort killed my parents,” Harry said, scowling. “And I hate everything he stands for.”

“Except for the right to use the dark arts openly again,” Warrington said. “He’s the only one that will protect us dark wizards. If you two were able to… put aside your differences -”

“There’s not a chance in hell, Warrington,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I don’t know why you’re even bothering to ask.”

“So you think Dumbledore will protect you, then?” Warrington said, his voice dripping with disbelief. “What do you think will happen when he discovers that you’ve declared dark?”

“I don’t expect him to protect me,” Harry said. “And I don’t want him to.”

“But -”

“Cass, go away before I curse you,” Freya said.

Warrington smirked and got to his feet again. “Just think about it, Potter.”

“Oh, I’ll be sure to,” Harry said sarcastically.

Freya glared at Warrington’s retreating back before shooting Harry an apologetic look. “I’m sorry about him,” she said. “I should have expected that to happen eventually. I love him, but he’s turning into a fanatic.”

Harry sighed. “If I have to be realistic, it probably won’t be the last time I get asked that question.”

“And if you have to be realistic, he is also right about one thing,” Freya asked. “The light side won’t take kindly to you being a dark wizard.”

“I know.”

“Maybe you can just stay neutral.” She smirked. “You can join me in the ‘fuck everything’ club.”

Harry shook his head. “That’s not an option,” he said before letting out a bitter laugh. “Even if I wanted it to be it wouldn’t be an option.”

“I figured,” Freya said. “But I hope you’re prepared for what will happen should the wizarding world figure you out.”

***

“Where are Draco and Pansy?” Harry wondered as he and Blaise wrapped up their Transfiguration essays. “I thought they were going to be working on these with us.”

“Were they on Prefect duty tonight?” Blaise asked.

“I don’t think so,” Harry said. “Besides, they wouldn’t be patrolling until after curfew.”

They continued working in silence, and Harry passed his essay over to Blaise when he finally finished. Blaise dutifully began reading through it, making notes and crossing out entire lines. He seemed to be making far more edits than usual, and the more he scribbled, the more despondent Harry became.

“Is it really that bad?” Harry asked, dismayed.

“Honestly?” Blaise asked. “Yes.” He held up Harry’s essay, using the end of his quill to point at the parchment. “This entire section needs re-written. It sounds like you misinterpreted Gamp’s Law.”

“Ugh!” Harry cried out in frustration and slammed his text shut before pushing up from his seat at the table and launching himself onto a nearby sofa. “I hate O.W.L.s.”

“So you’ve said,” Blaise responded.

The door to the common room opened and Harry glanced over to see Draco and Pansy step through, speaking hurriedly in hushed tones.

“Where have you two been?” Blaise asked. “I suppose I can understand extra Prefect duties, but -”

“We were hunting Gryffindors with Umbridge,” Draco said as they approached Harry and Blaise. He had a wicked smirk drawn across his face.

“What?” Harry said, sitting up in alarm.

To his surprise, Draco’s lips curled unpleasantly and he fixed a nasty glare on Harry. “I can understand keeping some secrets from us, but don’t lie to us, Potter.”

Harry blinked at the bite in Draco’s tone. “What?” he asked. “What did I lie about?”

“You’ve been leading us to believe that you weren’t in Dumbledore’s pocket anymore.”

“I’m not, though,” Harry responded, confused. “What are you guys on about?”

Pansy shot Harry a deep scowl, crossing her arms. “If you don’t think you lied... maybe there was something that you’ve just neglected to tell us, Harry?” she asked. “Something to do with your old Gryffindor friends?”

Harry racked his brain for anything that he could have hidden from them, but aside from the existence of the Order and who was a member, he was drawing a blank. “No?” he said hesitatingly. “I don’t think so, anyway.”

“So you knew nothing about the little army that your friend Granger put together, then?” Draco’s voice was dripping with disdain that hadn’t been directed towards Harry since before he’d been re-sorted to Slytherin, and it startled Harry to hear it.

“‘Army?’” Harry asked in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

Draco’s sneer began to fall away. “You sincerely didn’t know?”

“Know what?” Harry asked. “What army? And what does it have to do with…” He paused, his eyes widening. “Is Hermione okay?” he demanded, clambering to his feet.

“Physically, she’s fine,” Pansy said.

That still didn’t sound good. “What happened?” Harry asked, his eyes narrowing.

“Granger apparently organized an army of students on Dumbledore’s behalf,” Draco said.

“What?!” Harry’s voice rose. “What the hell do you mean?”

“It also seems that every single Gryffindor that you are still friendly with was a part of this army,” Pansy said, sneering.

“Granger, Longbottom, all of the Weasels,” Draco continued.

“And we thought it was unlikely that they hadn’t told you, but…” Pansy trailed off.

Harry’s head was spinning. His friends had formed an army for Dumbledore? “How did you find this out?” he asked.

“Umbridge came and asked if we could assist her with something,” Draco said. “This army of Dumbledore’s had students from all the houses, but a Ravenclaw wound up telling Umbridge of its existence.”

“All the houses but Slytherin, that is. What a surprise,” Pansy added sarcastically. Then her face softened. “Although it is a bit surprising that you weren’t invited to be a part of it.”

“Does that mean they don’t trust you anymore?” Blaise asked Harry. “Your friends, I mean? Or Dumbledore doesn’t?”

That was certainly what it sounded like to Harry. It stung that his friends hadn’t said anything, even though he wasn’t sure he would want to be a part of an army belonging to Dumbledore. “I… I don’t know,” Harry admitted.

“They were meeting in the Room of Requirement,” Draco continued. “And Umbridge wanted our help in catching them in the act.” He smirked, then appeared to force himself to wipe it off his face. “I have to inform you that… I caught Granger.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“Most of them scattered, but Draco tripped Granger so she got caught,” Pansy said. “Besides, it didn’t really matter that the others ran. In their immense stupidity, they left a list of all the members in the room.” She paused. “I turned it into Umbridge.”

Harry’s upper lip curled in disgust. “You’re actually helping her now?” he asked. “I thought we hated her.”

“Oh, I do,” Pansy said. “But she’s the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, and she was asking us Prefects for help.”

“What were we supposed to do?” Draco asked. “Refuse?”

“I don’t know,” Harry snapped. “Maybe.”

“Harry, we’re not Gryffindors,” Pansy said, sneering. “We’re not going to defy her if it doesn’t gain us anything.”

“Pansy, hush,” Draco said, placing a hand on Pansy’s arm. “Umbridge took Granger up to Dumbledore’s office,” he continued. “Fudge was here, too - with aurors.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Aurors?” he asked. “Is Hermione… what happened to Hermione?” he demanded.

Pansy and Draco shared a glance before Pansy spoke. “From what Umbridge said, Dumbledore admitted that he’d asked Granger to recruit for him. Fudge ordered his arrest, but then Dumbledore knocked the aurors out and fled.”

Harry took a step forward and placed a hand on each of Pansy’s arms. “What happened to Hermione, Pansy?” he snarled at her.

“She’s fine, Harry,” Draco said, moving in between Harry and Pansy and gently pushing Harry away. “She’s back in Gryffindor’s den, safe and sound.”

Harry let out a relieved sigh, and then his eyes widened in realization. “Dumbledore’s gone?” he asked in disbelief.

Pansy nodded.

“Did you ever figure out exactly how Granger became suspicious of you?” Blaise suddenly asked. “About you and your recent… hobby, I mean?”

Harry shook his head. Hermione hadn’t asked him about the dark arts again aside from that one time. He desperately wanted to know exactly what had made her suspect him in the first place, but he had no idea how to ask that question without setting off her suspicions all over again.

Blaise raised an eyebrow at Harry’s response. “Well, then,” he said. “I think this answers that.”

“Snape did tell you that Dumbledore was almost certainly beginning to suspect you,” Draco said, nodding.

“What do you…” Harry paused, feeling a tad horrified. “You think… Dumbledore... you think he had Hermione…” He trailed off, shaking his head emphatically. “No.”

“Look at the facts, Harry,” Blaise said. “Granger forms an army on Dumbledore’s behalf and doesn’t ask you to be a part of it. Based on what you said Snape told you, Dumbledore suspected that you were using dark arts. And then Granger straight-up asks you if you’re involved in the dark arts.”

“She’s keeping tabs on you for Dumbledore,” Pansy said.

“No, she isn’t!” Harry snapped.

“Harry,” Draco said, placing a hand on Harry’s arm. Harry shrugged it off and walked a few paces away, trying to calm himself down.

“I just…” He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “Something about all this sounds really... off.” Dumbledore wouldn’t make an army of students. Hell, hadn’t they been joking about how that was exactly what Fudge feared earlier in the year, and hadn’t they determined it to be a ridiculous notion?

But what if Blaise was right? If Dumbledore truly was concerned about Harry’s activities, Hermione would probably have been the person to turn to.

“I need to talk to her,” Harry said, and he took off for the dorm without a second thought. He quickly grabbed his invisibility cloak out of his trunk and headed back to the common room, but his path out the door was blocked by Draco.

“Harry -”

“Don’t!” Harry snapped. “I don’t want to hear it. She’s my best friend. I need to…” He trailed off.

He needed to what? To make sure she was okay? To find out if Dumbledore had set off her suspicions about Harry? To ask her why she’d kept something so big from him?

The last question was a bit hypocritical considering what Harry had been up to all year. He shook his head, scowling.

“I’ll be back,” Harry said, and he pushed past Draco, swirling his cloak over his shoulders as he headed out into the castle.

***

The walk to Gryffindor tower was strange. Harry hadn’t been to the tower since last year, and the path felt strange - intimately familiar, yet he knew he didn’t belong anymore.

Upon reaching the fat lady’s painting, he paused, feeling more nostalgic than he’d expected. He shook it off and finally pulled his cloak over his head.

“Mr. Potter!” The lady exclaimed in surprise as Harry materialized in front of her. “In Slytherin colors, no less. I’d heard, but I didn’t quite believe…” She trailed off, making a ‘tutting’ sound.

“I know you can’t let me in,” Harry said. “But can you see if Hermione Granger can come out to talk to me?”

“Hmpf.” The fat lady frowned and seemed to study him for a moment, then sighed. “This is most unusual, but as you were once a Gryffindor, I’ll make an exception.” She disappeared from the frame, only to reappear moments later. “I’m afraid she’s not in the common room. She must have already retired, and there aren’t any frames in the girls’ dormitory.”

Harry deflated, but he still felt determined to find out what the hell had actually happened. “How about Neville Longbottom?” he asked.

“I’m afraid I didn’t see him there, either.”

Harry was beginning to feel alarmed. What if they had actually been expelled, after all? “Then what about the Weasleys?” he asked desperately. “Fred, George, Ginny?” He paused. “Even Ron, although he probably won’t want to talk to me…”

“Sit tight, Mr. Potter,” she said before disappearing from the frame once more. She was gone longer this time, which Harry took as a good sign.

A full minute passed, though, and Harry found himself pacing in front of the door before the portrait hole finally opened and Ginny stepped through.

“Harry?” she asked, looking quite unsure how to react to Harry’s presence.

“Are you okay?” Harry immediately asked. “Is Hermione okay?”

Ginny’s uncertainty gave way to surprise. “I’m fine, Harry. So is Hermione. She went to bed. She had… a bad night.” As she spoke, the uneasiness came back, as if she wasn’t sure what she should actually say to him.

“Draco and Pansy told me what -”

“Oh, did they?” Ginny cut him off, and in the blink of an eye, her hesitation turned to contempt.

“But I don’t think they have the whole story,” Harry said, hoping he hadn’t made a mistake in mentioning them. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“Why?” Ginny spat. “Your friends were there. They must have already told you.”

“But what they said didn’t make any sense!” Harry said, shaking his head. “They said you were all part of some kind of army that Dumbledore had Hermione put together!”

Ginny’s anger instantly dissolved as she burst out in laughter.

Harry blinked. “Am I… missing something?”

Ginny nodded. “Yeah, you are,” she said. “It wasn’t an army - not really, anyway. We just called it ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ to spite Fudge. I don’t think Dumbledore even knew about it.”

“What?” Harry asked, confused. “Then why… why did he flee the school?”

“He took the fall for Hermione,” Ginny said. "She's the one who put it together, but Dumbledore took the blame." She swallowed, frowning. “Hermione is understandably pretty upset. She’s blaming herself for Dumbledore being gone.”

Harry’s eyes widened. Dumbledore had let himself be driven from the school for Hermione’s sake. It seemed unbelievable but also sounded so completely like Dumbledore that it wasn’t entirely surprising. “Then… if it wasn’t an army, what was it really?”

Ginny shrugged. “Basically a Defense club,” she said. “Umbridge wasn’t teaching us the practical, so we were trying to teach ourselves.” She sighed. “We just wanted to… we want to make sure we’re not sitting ducks when the next war actually starts.”

Harry felt simultaneously relieved that they hadn’t formed an actual army, but he couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of hurt that he hadn’t even known about it.

“Everyone tried to bring one thing to teach the others,” Ginny said. “I taught everyone the Bat Bogey Hex, and Hermione decided to concentrate on shield charms. Terry Boot is really good at the stunning spell, and…” She trailed off. “Well, we all did what we could. I think we all managed to learn quite a bit, though.”

Harry nodded and considered her words when a memory suddenly flashed into his mind, and he smacked a hand to his forehead in realization. “Holy shit,” he said. “Hermione did ask me about it! She asked if I would teach others...”

Ginny nodded, then frowned. “She said that you said ‘no,’ though.”

“I did,” Harry confirmed.

Ginny seemed to study him for a moment before responding. “Can I ask why you refused?” she asked. “Hermione didn’t say.”

“I… well...” Harry sighed and leaned against the wall, suddenly feeling quite unwilling to meet her eyes. “Umbridge - she was put here to keep Hogwarts under the Ministry’s thumb. Dumbledore, specifically, but also...” He paused, shaking his head. “I’m pretty sure she and Fudge were the ones who tried to have me expelled, and she was definitely trying to squash the story about Voldemort returning.” He narrowed his eyes in irritation. “And she did that by trying to squash me.”

“And it worked,” Ginny said. Her voice was soft, but her words packed a punch. Harry looked up in shock.

“What?” he said, and then shook his head. “No, I -”

“Umbridge tried to silence you because you told everyone what happened last spring,” Ginny said, “and since then you’ve given the world nothing but silence.”

“Ginny -”

“I know you were re-sorted to Slytherin, Harry,” she said, turning back to the fat lady’s portrait, “but I didn’t think that would turn you into a coward.”

She whispered the password to the fat lady, apparently unwilling to let Harry hear it, and she disappeared into the tower.

Harry was left having a staring match with the fat lady while Ginny’s words seemed to hang in the air.

***

“You look upset,” Draco said as soon as Harry returned. The common room was mostly empty by then; he and Blaise were the only occupants.

“We were right, then,” Blaise surmised. “Granger was -”

“No, she wasn’t,” Harry said, shaking his head. “It’s…” He sighed. He didn’t particularly want to talk about what Ginny had said with either of them. They hadn’t been Gryffindors, and they certainly wouldn’t understand why Ginny’s words had upset him.

Back in the beginning of the school year, Dumbledore had told the entire school that Harry’s re-sorting didn’t mean he’d lost the bravery that made him a Gryffindor.

Except he apparently had.

“Harry?” Draco asked. “What happened?”

“Did you find out why your friends didn’t loop you in on Dumbledore’s ragtag army that was made up of nothing but students?” Blaise asked snidely.

Harry let out a derisive snort. “That’s just it, though,” he said. “I was looped in on it. Hermione asked me months ago if I would…” He let out another sigh. “I just… forgot.”

“What?” Draco said, his voice flat. “How in the hell do you ‘forget’ being asked to join an army?”

Harry shook his head. “It wasn’t an army at all,” he said. “They were just practicing Defense Against the Dark Arts since our useless ‘professor’ refuses to teach it properly. They only called it ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ as a way of flipping the bird at Fudge.”

Blaise let out a laugh. “That is such a perfectly Gryffindor way of getting under Fudge’s and Umbridge’s skin,” he said.

Harry couldn’t help but wince at his words. The entire reason why Harry had refused to teach it was because it had been too ‘Gryffindor.’

Ginny was right.

“If it turns out that you were invited, after all, why are you still upset?” Draco asked.

Harry sighed and collapsed into the sofa by the fire. “I’m just…” He trailed off and stared sightlessly into the flames, frowning.

“Are you going to finish that thought?” Blaise asked after a few long moments of silence.

Harry closed his eyes, and his frown turned into a full-blown scowl. “My friends managed to prepare for our O.W.L.s and trained to defend themselves in case all hell breaks loose. And what have I actually accomplished this year?”

“What do you mean?” Draco asked. “You’ve accomplished plenty. Umbridge was out for your blood in the beginning of the year, and now you’ve managed to get her in your pocket -”

“But what good does that actually do?” Harry snapped. “All that’s come out of it is that it makes me feel like shit!”

“Just because you don’t see results instantly or know what the exact outcome will be doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile,” Blaise said.

“But the only reason I started doing it in the first place was to get myself out of trouble with her,” Harry said.

“So?” Draco said.

“So that makes me a coward!” Harry said.

“What?” Blaise asked. “That’s not a bad thing. It means you finally have some survival instinct -”

“Blaise, stop,” Draco said. His eyes remained on Harry, and his face was set in a contemplative expression.

Harry leaned forward and buried his hands in his hair. “Being called a coward is worse than when the wizarding world was calling me a liar,” he said quietly. “It’s actually true, so it…” He trailed off and then shook his head. “I don’t think you guys would understand.”

“You feel like you’re losing whatever made you a Gryffindor in the first place,” Draco said quietly. “I suppose I would feel odd if I thought I was losing what makes me a Slytherin.”

Harry was beginning to despise how well Draco could read him. “Umbridge is terrorizing this school, and I’ve done nothing,” Harry said.

The three of them were silent for a moment before Blaise finally spoke up again. “Harry, don’t take this the wrong way, but… what would you actually be able to do besides antagonize her?”

“And if you did antagonize her, what would it gain?” Draco added.

Harry sighed. “I don’t know.”

***

The following morning, it was formerly announced that Dolores Umbridge had replaced Dumbledore as the new headmistress of Hogwarts.

It was an odd, muted day. Most of the students seemed subdued - cowed, as Pansy put it - but the other houses were particularly nasty to all of Slytherin whenever they thought they could get away with it. More than one fight broke out in the hallways, and Daphne earned herself detention with Professor Sprout for cursing a student that tried to corner her little sister.

Harry somehow managed to stay out of the line of fire. He caught Hermione at lunch but didn’t have the time to do much of anything besides give her a hug and makes plans to meet up with her after dinner.

He fought to hold his tongue during Defense Against the Dark Arts, and by the time he left the class his hands hurt from how hard he’d clenched his fists. Umbridge seemed to be in an almost jubilant mood and her favoritism towards Slytherin shone more than it ever had before. Harry was fairly sure she’d awarded their class alone nearly one hundred points, most of them to Draco and Pansy.

He tried his hardest to avoid Umbridge the rest of the day, but she, unfortunately, descended on the Slytherin table at the beginning of dinner.

“Mr. Malfoy and Miss Parkinson,” she said, giving them all a simpering smile. “I was wondering if you two would be able to join me in my office after dinner today.”

Pansy nodded dutifully. “Of course, Professor,” she said in an unusually toady manner. “I mean… Headmistress.”

Umbridge tittered before wishing them all a nice evening and departing for the head table.

“Kissass,” Harry hissed to Pansy, who gave him a swift kick in the shin under the table.

“There’s nothing to gain by refusing, Harry,” Draco said.

Harry violently smashed his fork into his potatoes, wishing he had something better to take his irritation out on. “I don’t get the point in using ‘any means’ when you don’t even know what the ‘ends’ are gonna be,” he muttered.

“What?” Pansy asked.

Harry sighed, rolling his eyes. “Never mind.” He turned to Daphne. “When is your detention?” he asked.

Daphne sighed. “Tomorrow,” she said. “Greenhouse duty, naturally.”

“Would you mind coming with me to the library after dinner tonight, then?” he asked. “I’m meeting up with Hermione and Neville, and I’m pretty sure you’re the only other Slytherin they’ll tolerate being around, all things considered.”

“Of course.”

***

Neville eyed Daphne a bit warily as she and Harry sat down but seemed to relax when Hermione greeted her cordially before immediately turning to Harry.

“Harry, I hate to ask this, but I have to,” she said.

Harry couldn’t help but stiffen; the last time Hermione had something along those lines was when she’d asked him about the dark arts. Nevertheless, he nodded at her. “Go ahead.”

Hermione didn’t waste a moment. “Did you tell anyone that I asked you to teach Defense last fall?”

Harry shook his head. “If you’re asking if I told Draco and Pansy, I didn’t. They were only there because Umbridge asked for their assistance as Prefects,” he said. “I didn’t tell anyone.” He let out a wry smile. “I’ll even admit that I spent a bit of last night being a little salty that you hadn’t invited me. I just kinda forgot that you had.”

“That’s what Ginny said,” Hermione replied. “And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that I went ahead and did it. We decided to swear each other to secrecy…”

“Which is why Marietta Edgecombe is walking around with ‘sneak’ written across her face, isn’t it?” Daphne asked, smirking.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you went through with it anyway,” Harry said, smiling fondly at Hermione. “Once you’ve got an idea, you don’t ever let it go.”

“But you were right, though, Harry,” Hermione said. “If you had said ‘yes,’ you would almost certainly be expelled right now.”

“Well, I’m quite relieved about that,” Daphne said. “I wouldn’t want Slytherin to lose Harry so soon after we gained him.” Harry rolled his eyes as Daphne continued. “But for the record, Granger, I think you had a very good idea.”

Hermione shook her head. “We got caught, and now Dumbledore…” She swallowed. “I just made everything worse.”

“You did what Umbridge is wilfully neglecting to do,” Daphne said. “And you made an effort to learn how to defend yourselves, and I think everyone at this table would agree that’s more important than getting in trouble.”

Harry looked down at the table at Daphne’s words, suddenly feeling ashamed of himself.

“Also, for the record,” Daphne continued, “there would have been a few Slytherins that would have loved to take part in it.”

“Like who?”

Daphne smiled. “Me. And…” She paused, considering. “Well, most likely just me. But with how concerned Blaise is about O.W.L.s I’m certain he would have loved to cover the practical piece, provided he could have gotten past his own stupidity.”

Neville finally spoke up. “You seem nice enough,” he said to Daphne, sounding nervous. “But we voted on it, and it was unanimous to not invite any Slytherins, especially after…” His eyes seemed to dart over to Harry, who sighed.

“After I said ‘no?’” Harry asked, and Neville nodded in response.

“And it was smart of you to refuse, Harry,” Daphne said. “Umbridge wouldn’t have let it go if you’d been involved.”

“I agree, Harry,” Hermione said, then she leaned forward and placed a hand over Harry’s. “It wouldn’t have done you any good to risk expulsion.”

Harry gave a half shrug. He certainly didn’t agree, but he didn’t feel up for convincing the others of his own cowardice.

“It would have been nice for you teach us the Patronus charm, though,” Hermione said. “We did cover quite a bit and I think we gained a lot from what we all taught each other, but no one knew how to cast one.”

Daphne shook her head a little too emphatically. “It still wouldn’t have been worth it,” she said.

Harry offered Hermione a weak smile. “Maybe I can teach you later,” he said. “There’s nothing against the rules about regular gatherings of two, right?”

***

The four of them made idle conversation for another hour or so before they decided to depart. They stood outside the library doors, finally allowing themselves to laugh out loud about Umbridge’s failed attempts in entering Dumbledore’s office. Rumor had it that she’d stood outside the phoenix statue for much of the afternoon demanding entrance, but the statue had refused to budge.

“Harry!” A familiar voice cried from down the hallway, and the four turned to see Draco and Blaise hurrying towards them.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Draco. “I suppose we’ll be leaving, then,” she said, scowling.

“We need to talk to you,” Draco said when he reached the four of them, panting. It appeared as if he and Blaise had run across the entire castle. “Now.”

“Goodbye, Harry,” Hermione said, turning to leave.

“Wait, Granger,” Blaise said.

Hermione stared at Blaise in shock, and to Harry’s surprise, Neville suddenly stepped in front of Hermione, facing down Draco and Blaise.

“You need to hear this, too,” Draco said to Hermione, ignoring Neville.

Hermione’s shock grew to almost comical proportions at Draco Malfoy directly addressing her without an insult or a barb.

“But not here,” Draco continued, looking over his shoulder. “We can’t be seen.”

Loathing replaced the shock on Hermione’s face. “You mean you can’t be seen speaking with a Muggleborn?” she spat, scowling.

“More like I can’t risk Umbridge seeing me speaking to anyone that was a member of ‘Dumbledore’s Army,’” Draco sneered. “I was trying to do this as a favor to Harry since you are his friend, but if you’d rather -”

Please, Granger,” Blaise said, looking vaguely uncomfortable as he said it. “You really do need to hear this. It’s about Umbridge.”

Neville and Hermione shared a look, and Hermione finally sighed and nodded. “Fine.”

“There’s an empty classroom around the corner,” Daphne said. “Come on.”

They quickly filed down the hallway and into the classroom. Blaise shut the door and promptly cast an Imperturbable Charm on it before circling back around to stand next to Draco, leaving Neville and Hermione nearest to the door.

Harry raised an eyebrow, recognizing Blaise’s actions as being deliberate; he didn’t want the two Gryffindors to feel cornered in an abandoned room full of Slytherins. Harry couldn’t help but notice that Hermione and Neville both had their hands in their cloaks, obviously grasping their wands. He let out a silent sigh, supposing that he didn’t blame Hermione and Neville at all, especially considering what had happened the night before. Two Gryffindors and four Slytherins in one room would usually be asking for disaster, even if one of the Slytherins was Harry.

“What happened?” Harry said, wishing he knew of a way to ease the tension.

Blaise and Draco glanced at one another. “Who should go first?” Blaise asked.

“Probably you,” Draco said.

Blaise rolled his eyes. “That’s just because you know you’re going to piss Harry off.”

“So are you.”

Daphne rolled her eyes. “Would you two just get on with it?” she said. “The suspense is positively killing me.”

Blaise sighed and leaned back against an old, worn-out desk, fixing his eyes on the ground. “I’ll just get this out of the way, first,” he said. “I borrowed your cloak tonight without asking you, Harry.”

“My invisibility cloak?” Harry asked. “Why?” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione shoot him an alarmed look.

Blaise glanced up with a raised eyebrow. “Huh. That’s not the reaction I was expecting,” he said.

“Why did you need it?” Harry repeated.

Blaise swallowed. “I overheard Lee Jordan mentioning ‘torture’ when he was talking about having detention with Umbridge,” he said. “Considering how much she favors us, I had a feeling that Umbridge handled Slytherin detentions differently than the rest of the school. I wanted to do some digging to see if I could figure out what she was doing.”

“But… weren’t Pansy and Draco in Umbridge’s office?” Harry asked. “Did you just -”

“I didn’t go to her office,” Blaise said, shaking his head. “I went to her private quarters.”

“Oh, is it also a terrible palette of every shade of pink?” Daphne asked, and Blaise let out a short laugh.

“It is,” he said, and then his expression turned unusually serious. “But that wasn’t the worst part of it.” He shot a glance towards Hermione and then dropped his eyes to the ground again.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“I found paperwork for a piece of legislation she’s working on,” Blaise said.

“Legislation?” Harry asked. “Like another educational decree?” Blaise shook his head, but before he could respond Hermione spoke up.

“Do you mean something she’s planning on introducing at the Ministry?” Hermione asked. “A new law?”

Blaise nodded. “And it’s…” He paused. He swallowed nervously. “Granger, you are not going to like this.”

“What is it?”

Blaise opened his mouth, then shut it again, as if he couldn’t decide what words to say.

“It’s apparently called the ‘Muggleborn Registration Commission,’” Draco said quietly. Hermione immediately looked at him, annoyance painted across her features, but then his words seemed to sink in with her.

“Muggleborn… Registration…” She paused, before suddenly growing alarmed. “What does that mean?”

Blaise finally raised his eyes to meet Hermione’s, and he set his jaw. “You’re really not going to like this.”

“You’ve made it clear that we’re not going to like anything you two are about to say,” Harry said impatiently. “Just tell us what that means, Blaise,” Harry said.

Blaise nodded. “It’s… it implies that the Ministry found evidence that magic is only passed down through blood, meaning it can only be inherited,” he said. “She’s trying to claim that Muggleborns must have stolen their magic from a ‘real’ witch or wizard.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Hermione snapped. “I didn’t steal anything!”

“We know that,” Blaise said. “The claim is obviously false.”

“Then…” Hermione shook her head. “Why would she make something like that up? What’s her goal? And what do you mean by ‘registration?’”

“The Muggleborn Registration Commission proposes that all Muggleborns need to be registered as such with the Ministry,” Blaise said. “The registered Muggleborns would be arrested, their wands are to be confiscated, and then they would be put on trial to determine how the magic was supposedly stolen.”

Hermione’s expression of horror grew as Blaise spoke.

“Any Muggleborn that doesn’t register would also be placed under arrest,” Blaise continued. “It makes it clear that the intention is to start hunting down all Muggleborns.”

“But that’s if it passes, right?” Neville said, scowling. “And the Ministry might be screwed up, but there’s no way something like that would ever happen.” He paused, suddenly looking a bit alarmed, almost as if he hadn’t really intended on speaking up. “Right?” he added quietly.

“It very well could with enough support and… money thrown at it,” Draco said evenly. “And someone like my father would almost certainly support it.”

“And you don’t?” Hermione said, sneering at Draco. “Haven’t you been asking for exactly this for years?”

Draco didn’t respond, and Harry narrowed his eyes.

“Draco?” he said, frowning.

Draco took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before he spoke. “I admit that I thought... ” He paused, shaking his head. “I thought this is what I wanted. But actually hearing it - picturing it… it doesn’t sit right.” He swallowed and looked away.

“I just keep thinking about Tracey and her dad,” Blaise said. “She said she was terrified of what could happen to her and her family, and…”

“From what Blaise said, the entire piece of legislation is based on blatant lies,” Draco said. “And besides that, no witch or wizard should have their wands taken away.” He crossed his arms, sneering. “Muggleborn or not.”

Hermione scowled at Draco. “Do you actually expect me to believe that you - of all people - has had a change of heart when it comes to Muggleborns?”

“I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure where I stand on Muggleborns,” Draco said, sneering. “But I do know that this isn’t right.”

Hermione’s eyes flashed. “You still think I’m dirt, but you don’t want me arrested, then?” she said sarcastically.

“You don’t have to believe me,” Draco said, shooting Hermione an annoyed glare. “But you should believe that what Blaise is saying is true.”

“I still don’t understand how you two think something like that would actually fly,” Harry said. “I get that your dad has a lot of sway there, Draco, but I can’t picture our aurors actually going around rounding up Muggleborns.”

“I keep telling you, Harry,” Draco said, “that anti-Muggleborn sentiment is much more widespread than you think it is.”

“And there’s enough anti-Muggleborn idealism in Ministry that it could easily gain traction,” Blaise said. “But even if it doesn’t, this does point at something else that could be even worse.”

“Worse than rounding up Muggleborns?” Harry snapped.

“Well, ‘worse’ in terms of it possibly being a more immediate threat,” Blaise said.

“What’s that?” Hermione asked.

“Fudge is an idiot, but he isn’t known for having any real anti-Muggle views,” Daphne said, her expression horrified. “But…”

Draco nodded. “Umbridge’s ideals appear to fall exactly in line with the Dark Lord’s.” He swallowed nervously. “And the more I think about it, the more it all seems to fit.”

“You think Umbridge is a Death Eater?” Harry said doubtfully.

“No,” Draco said, shaking his head. “I don’t think she’s marked. I do think it’s likely that she’s an agent of the Dark Lord’s, though.” He sighed. “It would certainly explain why…” He trailed off, suddenly shooting a wary look at Hermione and Neville.

“Explain what?” Hermione asked.

Draco scowled and shut his mouth, and Harry and Blaise’s eyes met. Harry instantly understood why Draco was clamming up - his father had known about Umbridge and why she’d been placed at Hogwarts. Explaining why that pointed towards Voldemort would involve Draco directly admitting that he knew his own father was a Death Eater, and that was something Draco almost certainly didn’t want to admit to two Gryffindors.

Harry wondered if he should tell Draco that Hermione and Neville already suspected his father.

Blaise leaned over and began whispering something in Draco’s ear. Draco swallowed, then looked at Harry and then to Daphne. Draco shook his head and Daphne rolled her eyes in response, and Hermione and Neville looked a bit bewildered at their silent communication before Draco finally continued.

“Even if she isn’t an agent of the Dark Lord’s, it’s likely that certain things were manipulated to put her in place here,” Draco said. “Whether that was just to spread the propaganda that the Dark Lord has not returned, or to just make sure everyone is unprepared when the rumor becomes fact…”

“To put it mildly, it’s not good,” Blaise said. “Everything she’s doing is helping the Dark Lord’s cause, whether she’s cognizant of it or not.”

Hermione seemed to consider their words for a moment before shaking her head. “While it's easier to believe that you're not supporters of Voldemort, I’m still having a hard time believing that you two have both suddenly come to realize that Muggleborns aren’t -”

“Believe what you will,” Daphne said. “But I’ve known these two for far longer than you, and they wouldn’t lie about that.” She shot a broad grin at Draco and Blaise.

“Trust me when I say there’s nothing to gain by lying about that,” Blaise said dryly. “In all honesty, it probably puts us both in danger.” He shook his head. “I still don’t… I just know that this Registration Commission isn’t right.”

“Then what do we do about it?” Neville asked. “How do we stop her?”

Blaise sighed. “There’s nothing illegal about introducing legislation into the Ministry,” he said. “And we don’t know for sure if it would gain traction or not, but all the pieces are there for it to… make things very troublesome for Muggleborns.”

“Enough people will believe the lies about Muggleborns stealing magic,” Draco said. “Those that are on the fence will easily be swayed.” He crossed his arms, sneering. “Mainly because most of the wizarding world is vastly stupid.”

“We have to stop her before she ever introduces it, then,” Harry said. “So we have to get her some other way.” Blaise shot him a smirk.

“Exactly.”

“Did you find anything else in her quarters?” Harry asked. “Anything that points to the ‘torture’ Lee was talking about?”

“No.” Blaise shook his head. “And I’ve had more detentions with her than I can count, but the most she tortured me was with her stupid cat plates that won’t shut up.” He shuddered. “Which is certainly torture enough, but I got the feeling that Jordan was being more literal.”

“Have either of you heard anything about this from Lee?” Harry asked Hermione and Neville.

“No,” Hermione said, shaking her head. “I suppose I can ask him.”

“In the meantime, I think we need to strike her where it hurts,” Blaise said, shooting Harry a pointed look, and Harry’s eyes widened.

“Her power,” he said.

“You do remember,” Blaise said, grinning. Harry rolled his eyes.

“So how do we do that?” he asked. “You haven’t found anything out in your detentions with her, and -”

“We do that by making her think she has more power than she actually does,” Draco said. “Which relates to why she pulled Pansy and me into her office tonight.”

“Draco’s turn,” Blaise said. “And I’m just warning you, Harry - you are going to have to watch your unusually volatile temper.”

Harry looked from Blaise to Draco in alarm. “What did she do? What happened?”

Draco sighed. “It’s more… what’s going to happen,” he said. “Umbridge is forming something called the ‘Inquisitorial Squad,’”

“What… what’s that?” Neville asked nervously.

“Officially, it’s to help ensure ‘order’ in the school,” Draco said. “Inquisitorial Squad members will be a step above Prefects. We’ll have the power to give and take points from all houses, like professors.”

Harry frowned. “‘We?’”

Draco nodded. “She’s enlisted Pansy and me.”

“And you accepted,” Harry said, sneering.

“Of course.”

“Why do I get the feeling that you’re going to enjoy taking points?” Harry said, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

“Oh, I will,” Draco said with a smirk. “Especially with students like Weasel. But the point is that we can use the Inquisitorial Squad to try and find out what she’s doing to cause students to say she’s ‘torturing’ them.’”

“She’s hiding something,” Blaise said. “It’s obvious. She just doesn’t subject Slytherins to whatever she’s doing to the others because she favors us even more than Snape does.”

Hermione let out a laugh, startling Harry.

“I never thought I’d hear a Slytherin actually admit that,” Hermione said.

“Our ultimate goal is to get her fired from her position at the Ministry, but at the least we’d like to remove her from this school,” Draco said, ignoring her comment. “Considering she also wants to interrogate all of the members of Dumbledore’s Army with the Inquisitorial Squad’s assistance, we may be able to find out what she’s actually doing.”

Harry’s eyes widened in alarm. “You might also be able to protect them,” he pointed out. “You could prevent it from happening at all.”

Draco didn’t look like that appealed to him at all. “Possibly,” he said. “It will depend on her, and if she’s confident enough to let us in on what it is. The more confident she is, the more likely it is that she’ll let us know what she’s doing.”

“So… that’s what you mean by making her think she has more power than she actually does,” Harry said.

“I don’t understand how this ‘Inquisitorial Squad’ is supposed to do that, though,” Hermione said, frowning.

“That’s part of why we needed to tell you two, specifically,” Draco said to Hermione and Neville, scowling. “As I said - officially, the Inquisitorial Squad is being created to ensure order. Unofficially, though, she clearly wants us to target you all. She wants to crush whatever rebellious spirit is left in anyone who was a member of your charming little student ‘army.’” He paused. “I figured I should let you know considering we’re going to have to violate Harry’s little ‘list.’”

Hermione blinked. “‘List?’” she asked. “What list?”

Draco raised an eyebrow and looked to Harry. “You never said anything to them?” he asked.

Harry shifted his weight, suddenly feeling a tad uncomfortable. “I mean… you specifically asked me not to,” he said, and Draco gave him a broad grin in response.

“What list?” Hermione demanded.

Draco rolled his eyes and fixed his gaze back on Hermione. “Considering our… history, I’m certain you must have noticed that I haven’t said two words to you all year before tonight?” He glanced at Neville. “To either of you?”

“I did notice that, yes,” Hermione said. “And I’m certain that it was more for Harry’s benefit than anything else.”

“You’re absolutely correct,” Draco said before turning back to Harry. “Everyone single person on your ‘off-limits’ list is a member of this... army.’”

“Was there seriously a list?” Hermione asked.

“There was,” Draco said, sneering at Hermione. “And now there can’t be.”

“I don’t think there was ever a physical list,” Daphne offered, sounding exasperated. “Draco, you’re being difficult.”

“Basically… Draco and Pansy agreed to leave you two alone at the beginning of the year,” Harry reluctantly explained. “Plus Fred and George and Ginny.”

Hermione frowned. “Not… not Ron?”

Draco let out a gleeful laugh. “The Weasel was on the list at first, but Harry removed him.” Hermione shot Harry a horrified look.

“Can we please not get hung up on this stupid list?” Daphne asked. “It’s nearing curfew. You’re warning these two that you’re going to have to give them a hard time again, but that it’s also for a good cause. Is that all, Draco?”

“Not… not quite,” Draco said, his smirk falling away. If Harry had to say so, he thought Draco actually looked a bit nervous.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“This is the part that’s going to make you angry,” Draco said.

“Just tell me, Draco.”

Draco sighed. “Umbridge also asked me and Pansy for recommendations about what other students would be suitable for the Inquisitorial Squad.”

“Okay,” Harry said. “And?” Then he paused, his eyes widening in horror. He knew exactly what Draco was about to suggest. “You didn’t,” he said, aghast. “Please tell me you didn’t recommend me.”

“I didn’t,” Draco said. “I recommended Vince, Greg, and Millicent.” He paused. “And then she specifically asked about you.”

Harry’s gut felt like it was doing somersaults. “And you said what?”

“That I supposed it wouldn’t hurt to ask you,” Draco said. “She’s going to, and I think you should accept.”

“No!” Harry snapped, shaking his head. “No fucking way.”

“Harry -”

“No!” Harry shouted. “I’m not doing it.”

“I quite agree,” Hermione said, frowning. “I don’t understand what you think this will accomplish, Malfoy.”

“Harry, you were just lamenting about how you haven’t been in a position to actually do anything about Umbridge,” Draco said. “This would put you in that position.”

“How?” Harry spat. “How would being one of her… lackeys help anything?”

“We need to figure out what she’s doing, Harry,” Blaise said. “You’ll have access to her office, you’ll be present at interrogations -”

“And the more power she thinks she has, the more power she’ll throw around - meaning she’s more likely to expose what she’s actually been doing to the other students,” Draco said. “And she’ll think she has all of the power if she thinks she has you, Harry.”

Harry shuddered. “No. This is… it’s…”

“If Harry says no, would she ask someone else instead?” Neville suddenly asked Draco.

“Almost certainly,” Draco said. “Another Slytherin. Maybe Cassius Warrington. And while most of the Slytherins also aren’t fans of hers, they wouldn’t do anything to prevent her from torturing rebellious little Gryffindors.”

“And you would?” Hermione asked, scowling.

Draco gave her a half-shrug but didn’t respond.

“So you want Harry to spy on her while you do nothing?”

Draco narrowed his eyes at Hermione. “I’m not a Gryffindor, nor have I ever been one. If there’s nothing to be gained, I see little point in taking action.” He shook his head as Hermione opened her mouth to respond. “I’m going to see what I can find out, but I won’t be throwing myself on a sacrificial sword.”

“But Harry, I think most of your former housemates would benefit from you being the one to dish out punishments as opposed to Warrington,” Blaise said. “Even if they didn’t realize they were benefiting from it.”

“So I’m just supposed to be the lesser of two evils, is that it?” Harry said unhappily.

“Harry, you really should consider this,” Daphne said reasonably. “Umbridge is clearly a threat. You are being handed an opportunity to mitigate that threat, as well as possibly put a stop to that threat entirely.”

Harry shook his head and turned away from the group. He hated every part of Draco’s idea, but he supposed he understood why it could be beneficial. It just seemed like it was based too much on hypotheticals; after all, what if whatever Umbridge was hiding wasn’t enough to get rid of her?

“What if this doesn’t accomplish anything at all?” Harry asked quietly.

“Then we think of something else,” Draco said. “But in the meantime, doing this would accomplish far more than what you’re accomplishing now.”

“I think you should do it, Harry.”

Harry’s eyes widened as he pivoted towards Neville. “What?” he asked in disbelief.

“Harry,” Neville said. “If I’m going to be questioned by Umbridge, I’d rather you be there than… another Slytherin. The others probably would, too.”

“Except you can’t tell them,” Draco said. “The more people that know about this, the less likely it is that she’ll believe that you’re… in her pocket.”

“You’re talking like I’ve already agreed to this,” Harry said, annoyed. Even as he said it, though, Harry was starting to think that they might be right.

Slytherins use any means to achieve our ends, even when we are not a fan of the means.

As much as he hated the entire idea, he wanted Umbridge gone, and he couldn’t think of anything else.

“I’ll do it,” Harry finally said, closing his eyes.

“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed. “You don’t have to, and I think this runs the risk of being counterproductive -”

“Are you only disagreeing because you know what Harry will have to do in order to make Umbridge believe him?” Daphne said.

“What do you mean?” Neville asked.

Harry knew. He didn’t want to say it, but he knew.

“If she’s hoping the Inquisitorial Squad is specifically going to crush the spirit of anyone who was a member of ‘Dumbledore’s Army,’ he won’t be able to be seen speaking with any of you,” Daphne said.

“Not entirely,” Blaise said. “He can speak to you, but he certainly can’t be seen saying anything nice.”

“Are you able to do that, Harry?” Draco asked.

Harry knew what he was asking. According to Draco, Harry had been a very good Slytherin, but this would entail him needing to be a mean Slytherin. “I honestly have no idea,” he said quietly. “I suppose I can… try.”

“If you’re truly insistent on trying this, are you certain we can’t inform anyone else?” Hermione asked. “Maybe Fred and George?”

“And Ginny,” Harry immediately said, shooting Draco a stern look. “The whole list.”

“That’s far too many,” Draco said, shaking his head. “I didn’t even want these two to know.” He gestured at Neville and Hermione.

“Are you sure you want to risk retaliation from the Weasley twins?” Daphne asked, smirking. “I have a feeling they can be quite vicious.”

“So can Ginny,” Neville said. “She taught us all the Bat Bogey Hex, but hers is still the worst.”

Draco let out a frustrated sound, throwing his hands up in the air. “Fine.”

“Harry, are you certain you want to do this?” Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head. “No,” he said. “But right now, it’s literally the only idea we have.”

***

The following morning, Dolores Umbridge asked Harry to meet in her office before his first class. As expected, she invited him to become a member of the newly formed Inquisitorial Squad.

Harry accepted.

Chapter Text


Six Slytherins formed a semi-circle around Umbridge’s desk, and Harry snuck a glance at the others. Vince and Greg stood to the right with their hands hanging at their side. Next to them was Draco, who had a pompous air to his entire stance, chin in the air and an arrogant smirk painted across his features. Pansy was next in line, and she clasped her hands in front of her with a simpering smile. Millicent seemed to be taking a militant approach, feet set apart and hands meeting at her back, as if she were standing at parade rest.

They all looked comfortable in their skin while Harry felt like he was about to jump out of his. He shoved his hands in his pockets and just concentrated on appearing casual.

Harry had never realized how difficult pretending to be at ease could actually be, especially when the situation he'd found himself in was anything but easy.

Behind her desk, Umbridge folded her hands in front of her and gave them a toothy smile. “I’m so pleased that you’ve all decided to take this opportunity,” she said. “This is not only a chance to finally raise this school to the Ministry’s standards, but it is also an excellent professional opportunity for each and every one of you.” She let out one of her disgusting, high-pitched laughs. “In addition, you are the very first iteration of the Inquisitorial Squad, which I daresay might make your group somewhat… historical. I’m certain that you’ll all be mentioned by name in a future edition of Hogwarts: A History.

Harry heard a few of the others shift, and Pansy let out a giggle. Harry didn’t dare glance at them, but he imagined that they were likely smiling at her words. Even so, he couldn’t bring himself to change anything in his expression and instead continued to stare at Umbridge flatly.

Unfortunately, Umbridge looked directly at him right at that moment. “Does this not please you, Mr. Potter?” she asked, a slight frown on her face. “Your fellow squad members all seem quite excited for this.”

Harry’s mind raced to come up with a response. “I’m… already in a few wizarding history books, Headmistress, so I’ll admit that it isn’t very important to me,” he said, before offering Umbridge what he hoped was a pleasant smile. “I’m far more excited at being given a chance to…” He paused, trying to find the right words. “... maintain order in this school.”

Umbridge smiled terribly. “You feel that the school has lacked a certain order, then?”

Harry nodded. “I was attacked on the very first day of classes,” he said, “and while I was repeatedly reassured that the matter was ‘under investigation,’ nothing was actually done about it until… you handled it.” He shook his head, hoping the movement didn’t appear as stiff as it felt. “I don’t want any other student to find themselves in that situation.”

Once again, it appeared that he nailed the response he needed to give Umbridge because her smile widened to a disgusting proportion. Her eyes finally left Harry and they drifted across the line of students in front of her. She then slid her chair back from the desk before opening the top drawer, pulling out a small pouch. She uncinched it and tipped it into her hand, shaking out six tiny silver pins shaped like the letter ‘I.’

“Now, then,” she said, standing up and strutting around her desk, “to make it official…” She approached Vince first and neatly pinned the badge to his robes, right above the Slytherin emblem on his chest. Vince smiled at her, looking a bit proud.

She made her way down the line before finally coming to Harry. Harry felt his skin crawling as she attached the pin to his own robes, but he somehow managed to eke out a smile when she was done.

“I’ve already spoken with each of you, but let’s just summarize your responsibilities again, shall we?” she said, turning back to her desk. “You have been given the authority to give and take points from all houses,” she continued as she grabbed a few pieces of parchment and turned back to them. “You will be regularly patrolling the hallways of the school in order to get any wrong-doers back in line. If you don’t feel that detracting points will get the message across, you may defer to myself or Mr. Filch to assign detention.” She smiled at each of them in turn, as if ensuring that they were all still following her. “You will be monitoring student owl post coming to and from the school, and you will occasionally assist me in note-taking as I... question a few students that have proven themselves to be particularly troublesome.”

She then passed out the pieces of parchment. When Harry looked down at it, the name Hermione Granger seemed to leap out at him, the letters stark across the very top of a list of names.

He moved his eyes down the list, his heart sinking as he read each name. Ginny Weasley. Ron Weasley. Neville Longbottom. Terry Boot. Angelina Johnson.

These were the members of Dumbledore’s Army.

The list was far longer than Harry had expected it to be; nearly thirty students had been involved, most of them Gryffindors. Hermione didn’t do anything by halves, that was for sure.

“These are the… troublesome students that I just mentioned,” Umbridge said. “I ask that you all make sure to keep a very close eye on them. I expect you to tamp down any signs of trouble immediately, as well as to report any suspicious behavior that you see from any of them.” Her voice hardened ever so slightly. “Is that clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” came the instant response, and Harry mentally kicked himself for not joining in.

“Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said, turning back to him. “Will you be able to remain… objective in this responsibility? I understand that you are a close friend of Miss Granger’s.” She was studying him very carefully to observe his reaction and his response, and Harry knew it.

“It won’t be a problem, ma’am,” he said as smoothly as he could manage, and it seemed to come out far better than he’d expected it to. “If I’m to be completely honest, I’m not very pleased with her right now.”

“Oh?” Umbridge asked curiously, her eyes flashing.

Harry didn’t feel like he could meet her eyes any longer, so he concentrated on neatly folding the parchment in half as he spoke. “Friends should trust one another,” he said, folding it again into quarters. “She’s proven that she doesn’t trust me anymore, so I’m not certain that we’re still friends at all.” He carefully placed the parchment in his robes and finally steeled himself to look back up at her.

Umbridge looked so damn pleased, and Harry hated it. “Marvelous to hear that, Harry,” she said, and an unpleasant chill went down his skin.

“You should all run along to class now,” she said. “I believe it’s History of Magic, yes?” She shook her head. “Let me assure you that a ghost will not be teaching you that subject for much longer.”

Harry barely remembered walking to class, and he couldn’t remember a word of what Draco said to him on the way there. He sat in class in a haze as he prepared himself for what he knew he had to do.

***

As they headed to the Great Hall for lunch, Harry felt like he was walking to his own funeral. His legs were jelly, his stomach was tied in knots, and his heart was on the verge of leaping out of his chest.

“If you don’t think you’ll be able to pull this off, Harry, just don’t say anything,” Pansy whispered. “Just stand back. You wearing the badge should be enough to anger them.”

“As fun as it'll be, I didn't think the point of all this was pissing off Gryffindors. Umbridge will almost certainly be watching,” Draco reminded them. “You just can’t -”

“Just do me a favor,” Harry said, interrupting him. “Both of you.”

“What is it?”

“Don’t call Hermione a Mudblood.” Harry swallowed, once again glancing down at the silver ‘I’ pinned just above the Slytherin crest on his robes. “There’s no way I’ll be able to do this if you… say that.”

Pansy raised an eyebrow at him. “Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say… that word. How… unusual that you’re saying it now.”

“I just wanted to get to the point fast,” Harry hissed. “You two are both silver-tongued enough to insult her in other ways.” He narrowed his eyes. “Just don’t… don’t go after her blood.”

Pansy let out a noise of frustration. “You realize that destroys our easiest -”

“I don’t care!” Harry snapped, probably a bit too loudly. He hushed himself and shot Pansy a fiery glare. “I can’t -”

“We won’t, Harry,” Draco whispered.

They’d reached the bottom of the stairs leading to the entrance hall, and Harry stared up in trepidation. Draco shot him a questioning look, and he swallowed, then nodded. They headed up the stairs, Pansy and Draco in the lead.

Just as they were reaching the top of the stairs, Hermione’s voice rang out clear as a bell.

“I bet she fancied herself sitting in Dumbledore’s office,” she was saying. “Lording it over all of the other teachers, the stupid puffed-up, power-crazed -”

“Are you quite sure you want to finish that sentence, Granger?” Draco said, his voice full of malice.

Harry somehow managed to hide a wince. It sounded so bloody familiar. It had been directed at him