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The Re-Sorting of Lions

Chapter Text

The Re-Sorting of Lions

Chapter 1 - Waking up in Diagon Alley

As she sits next to him in the table at the Leaky Cauldron, she is already rattling at twice the speed of the average human, he thinks with a sleepy smile. “Are you excited to be going back to school tomorrow, Harry? I can´t wait! I´ve been going through my books for the year and we have so many interesting things to learn!” She grins at him while tying her mass of curls into a messy knot. “Morning, by the way!”

“Morning, Mione! How could you possibly have gone through your books already? You got them yesterday and we spent the rest of the day together!”

“Well, sure. But you know I can´t go to bed without some light reading to relax my head and get settled, especially after the day we had. I mean, did we need to visit so many shops, Harry?” The smile she gives him is unquestionably fond, though, so he knows there is no real scolding behind her words.

He gives her an exasperated smile, and pours her tea with lemon and sugar as she takes it first thing in the morning. She acknowledges this with a nod and starts buttering their toasts while he takes care of the drinks. Harry likes taking care of his friends, he never had the chance to take care of another being before, aside from Hedwig, but he got her along with his human friends. Sure, he had to make the Dursley´s meals and serve them, but it was not out of care for their well-being. Now he finds value in what is normally a chore in the summer. It´s an act of love instead of an act of servitude, and he rather prefers to take charge of his life and reshape the meaning of his actions. He hates how powerless he feels at Privet Drive. Going to Hogwarts showed him he had options, he could have a different future and he did not need to be a victim. But when he tried to get help and avoid returning to the Dursleys after his first year of school, he was denied.

He knows now that he is not a freak, just magical, and that kids are not supposed to be treated as house elves, or punching bags. He heard about Hermione´s stories of night time reading with her dad, and afternoons of tea and movies with her mom. She saw the way the Weasleys treat their kids, even if they don´t have much to share, they share it all. Even Malfoy, annoying git that he is, gets weekly care packages from his mother. But he also understands that he is only an unwanted orphan, and the sodding Boy-Who-Lived at that, so he can´t do much about his summers. The Headmaster told him about the blood wards and pretty much admitted that he knew Harry was mistreated, but there was nothing to be done about it. Therefore, he uses any chance he has to get back some of his self-worth and feel useful. Taking care of his friends means he can do something small for others, to make them feel good and valued. Hermione is the only one who returns his little acts of care, normally by fixing his toasts or porridge while he makes tea, or making him a plate during lunch and dinner. She knows he is not good with feeding himself, although she doesn´t quite get that at the root of it is the fact that Harry sometimes forgets he is supposed to eat, or that he deserves food at all. For all her book smarts, Hermione sometimes utterly misses social cues or hints that other people´s lives are different than hers. He supposes she doesn´t place much value in appearances so she might not see how small and skinny he is. And if she sees the bruises on the first week of classes, she probably thinks he was being a boy and playing rough. She would never suspect abuse. She knows he does not talk about his life at home, and so she does not ask. Harry thinks he would be able to tell her, if she asked. But how do you even start a conversation like that? He does not want pity, and he knows he can´t change anything. So why bother?

“How you are not a Ravenclaw, I still can´t figure! And I told you I wanted to pay a last visit to them all. I have been here in the Alley for some time now and everyone was so helpful and kind. I swear it was the best summer I ever had. Florean actually makes history entertaining, not to mention he gets me free ice-cream, Garrick has been showing me how he makes the wands and telling me all about how he harvests the materials – did you know he gets most of the wand cores donated voluntarily by creatures and beings he has good relations with? – and I have been visiting the snakes at the menagerie every day. I will miss them all, and it seems mean to leave for school without a proper goodbye, ungrateful, you know?”

“I know what you mean. I’m a bit jealous, actually, that you spent some time this summer in company with interesting people from the magical community. I do feel isolated from this all when I´m home.” Hermione looks at Harry and bites her lip, a guilty tone into her next words. “I know I shouldn´t feel happy that Ron is not here, and I DO miss him! But I can´t really see him sitting still and enjoying the company of Mr. Fortescue for more than 10 minutes, and I desperately want him to finish that story of how the Romanian Dragon Reserve was founded! He would be pouting and insisting we go see whatever is new on the window of Quality Quidditch…”

“Well, she is gorgeous! I´d definitely be up to seeing her again!” Harry bursts out laughing when he sees the reporter from the Daily Prophet, who thinks she is so subtle in her eavesdropping, perk up at his declaration. Obviously, she heard the last bit of their conversation only. He should clarify he was speaking about a broom, but an exchanged look with Hermione has him laughing louder as they both imagine the speculations going through the reporter´s head.

As they continue their breakfast together, the Prophet is delivered to them by a smiling Tom, as he tells them to look at page 4 for news of the castle. Hermione insists on reading the whole paper. She only arrived at the Leaky yesterday for her school purchases, and she insists that this is her only link to the magical world during the summers, so she refuses to miss any minor details. Of course, there are still headlines about Sirius Black´s escape and the Ministry´s inability to capture him, some boring articles about the importation of potions ingredients and their regulations that would make Percy piss himself with excitement, and finally they find the headline about Hogwarts:

Tampering discovered in Sorting Hat. Students from previous two years to be re-sorted.

The teens look at each other with matching expressions of surprise and then read the article, only issuing small noises of concern and undisguised anticipation. According to the article, a group of aurors was meeting with the Headmaster to arrange the protection of the castle and students, as the search for Black was still in process. One of them carried a sneakoscope (a device to detect dark magic, evil intent and tampering) and it was triggered by the Sorting Hat. A compulsion charm was detected, although the Auror Department did not provide further information to the reporters as to the nature of the charm. However, it was determined that the tampering had been done two summers ago and therefore all students who had been sorted under the altered procedure had to be re-sorted. The Aurors did say that the compulsion was mild, more in line with a suggestion, and they did not expect a lot of the students to be assign to different houses.

“You know, the Hat did want to place me in Ravenclaw first… But Ron had been so insistent that only swots and know-it-alls went there, that I was afraid I would have no friends and be bullied, so I insisted on another house. I do like it in Gryffindor, but I often wonder if I was better suited to be an eagle. I think finding studying partners, at least, would be less of a nuisance. Not to mention that none of the girls in my bedroom are particularly clever or interesting to be friends with. They can be downright mean too, when I don’t care about my appearance or boys.” Through this whole speech, she kept her eyes on the table, her hands tightly clapped on her lap. When she finally looks at Harry, trepidation clear on her face as if expecting him to be angry or feel betrayed. Instead, he is looking at her wistfully and biting his lip. Her own insecurity about the topic, clear on her face, encourages him to share his own concerns.

“It wanted to place me in Slytherin, actually. I asked to be placed elsewhere, after meeting Malfoy and Ron´s comments about evil slimy snakes, but some days I wonder if I made the right choice for myself.” The confession leaves Harry in a rush and he looks at Hermione with wide eyes, barely believing himself. “Oh God, don´t tell Ron. He´ll hate me!”

“I don´t think he will. He is a bit biased against snakes, true, but he is your friend and he would never hate you for such a silly thing as house placement. If he did, he would not be a really good friend, would he?” She said this with such reassurance that Harry can´t help but relax a bit, with a small grateful smile on his face. “And I can see it too. Sure, you are brave and passionate, definitely stubborn and you learn by practice rather than quiet reading, but you also have so many qualities that would place you in the snake pit. You are resourceful and cunning, ambitious and hard working for the goals you value, and you are prone to trust very few people. You are also extremely self-reliant and driven. It really is rather ridiculous that we think those traits apply only to a quarter of the school body. I would say most people have qualities of many houses, but once sorted we only see what we want to see. Not to mention that there is an incredible amount of prejudice attached to the house system, even in the staff, which is utterly unacceptable. Didn´t you tell us that Hagrid said most dark wizards come from Slytherin and that you should be careful around them? Staff members should not see a child and think they are evil based on the colour of their tie.”

“What if I´m re-sorted into Slytherin, though?”

“Well, green is much more your colour than red is, it will bring out your eyes.” There is such a finality and reassurance on her statement that Harry can´t help but smile. She really is the best of friends. “Maybe this will be good for us, a second chance of sorts, to perhaps fit in better in a world where we are already the outsiders.”

Hope surges in his heart. He knows he should shut it down, hope never led him in the right direction. Hope only makes real life hurt more. But perhaps Hermione is right, she tends to be. This might be a second chance for them both. A chance for someone to care enough, a chance for someone to notice what he can´t say, a chance to – at least – learn to be more careful and tap into his self-preservation. He can´t really imagine any snake to care, but he did expect the Headmaster to care and he was wrong, so hope now awakes with the desire to be wrong about the Slytherins as well.

“Let´s go for our last walk of the Alley! Garrick suggested I get a second wand, for safety, and I think it´s probably a good idea. And one of the snakes has been dropping subtle and less than subtle clues about wanting to come to school with me.” Harry grins as he remembers Sally´s both sarcastic and protective remarks about his ability to protect himself at school and the suggestion of a strong and, perhaps venomous companion. “Come with me?”

“Of course, Harry. Always.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 – Back to the Hat

“Rather feels like we’ve done this before, right mates? No way we looked THAT small, though!” Ron points to the scared looking group of first year students, as they all wait with Professor McGonagall to be sorted or re-sorted.

“I don’t know, mate. Harry still looks THAT small!” Harry is used to Seamus’s teasing and the roaring laughter it receives as response, but it always bothers him to be reminded of how small he really is compared to all the boys in his year. Ron apparently grew a whole 10 centimetres during the summer and is now towering over everybody else there, so of course he would feel the firsties are tiny. Malfoy also seems to have used the summer for nothing other than growing, Harry can’t help noticing. And he is also styling his hair differently now, without the obnoxious hair gel and, instead, shorter in the back and loose over to the side on top. He looks older than them as well, more elegant, and Harry hates it. Or at least he hates his own appearance in the light of how much better Malfoy looks. At least now he is wearing his best clothes (the school uniform) and has been eating somewhat regularly before coming to school, not to mention that he is for once not sporting any bruising, so there is at least that. Nothing to be done about his hair, though, or his scars.

The other boys are still laughing and joking, but Harry has lost the thread of the conversation by now. He seems to be the only one worried about the re-sorting, and he is still a bit chilly and unbalanced about the whole encounter with the dementor. Professor Lupin’s chocolate had help, but he couldn’t help noticing none of the others had fainted, and all the memories brought forward by the creature were still fresh in his mind. Without much conscious thought his hand goes to touch Sally’s head, resting on his chest under his robes. The snake’s presence is a quiet comfort for the boy, and although he knows he could get in trouble for bringing an unauthorised pet to the castle, he can’t really regret his decision to buy his new companion. Hedwig would always be his first friend, and the summers at the Dursleys had greatly improved by her being there. But it’s not the same to talk to an owl, as smart as the girl might be, as to talk to a brilliant snake, who actually responds. For the first time ever, Harry had been able to discuss his life in Privet Drive, knowing that Sally couldn’t help him but was interested in listening anyway. The boomslang had been the one to recommend that he searched for answers in books, if he was not ready to talk to other people. And between the history and wandlore books recommended by Florean and Garrick, and the ones on mind healing and quidditch he had found himself, Harry now had a new appreciation for Flourish and Blotts.

“Settle down, now, children. We are about to walk into the Great Hall. For those of you coming to us for the first time, welcome to Hogwarts. For those returning students, welcome back. After we get into the Great Hall, all of you will be sorted into your Houses. As we walk into the Hall, you will do so in an orderly manner, forming a line and with the gravitas that the Sorting Ceremony merits. This applies to you two as well, Mr. Finnegan and Mr. Goyle! Please follow me, students.”

The tables look much emptier without the second- and third-year students, as those to be sorted walked into the Great Hall. While normally in standard black Hogwarts robes, this year’s group was made of robes hemmed with all four Houses behind the smaller kids, who remain the only ones dressed in black. Their robes will be transfigured into the correct House colours, should their housing change during the re-sorting.

After the Hat’s song and the Headmaster’s entirely too brief explanation on the need to re-sort them, the first-year students were quickly separated into the four Houses. Harry is in his own head, and so he barely notices when the second-years are called. Finally, Ginny is reinstated in Gryffindor and Professor McGonagall starts calling their year. There are not many surprises here, and most students go through the Hat very quickly and confirmed into their previous House.

“Hermione Granger” calls the professor, and Harry watches his friend march ahead with a look of firm resolution on her face. She sits on the stool and for the first time during that evening, the Hat delays in making a decision. Patience and hunger soon make most students start whispering and gossiping about what could possibly be going on. Hermione smiles and looks directly and Harry, as the Sorting Hat announces “RAVENCLAW” to the Hall. The applause, which had completely ceased after the first-years were classified, breaks loudly from the Ravenclaws and Professor Flitwick rises on his chair to join them. A beaming Hermione walks to her new table as the detailing on her robes is switched from red to blue. While this breaks the monotony of the evening, there is no real surprise in Hermione’s new House, and she is welcomed in their midst enthusiastically.

The second surprise of the night is delivered by Neville, as he is sorted into Hufflepuff almost immediately after the Hat touches his head. Professor Sprout actually leaves her place at the Head Table to hug Neville in welcome, as his robes are transfigured to match his new House. Finally, it’s Harry's turn to be re-sorted and he places the Hat on his head, a bit wary but determined to seek his second chance, and allow it to do its work free of prejudice and peer pressure.

“Mr. Potter, it’s good to see you again. I see you had been wondering about my previous choice. I have also been second guessing some of my decisions lately. Now I feel a lot more clear-headed, or at least as clear-headed as something without a head can be. You appear to be a lot more open-minded this time around as well.”

This time he was ready for the conversation inside his head. “Yes. I think last time we were both influenced. You by that compulsion spell and me by the opinion of others. But I am not sure I made the right choice in going to Gryffindor. I mean, I met good friends and have fun with them, but…”

“But it didn’t afford you the safety you expected as you came into the wizarding world, and actually got you involved in hot-headed actions that placed your life in more danger. I see. I do maintain what I said the first time, you would do well in Slytherin… you have ambition and a desire to prove yourself, but this time you also have hope to learn how to stand for yourself and a peculiar new companion as well. I see now your domestic life is not ideal, it’s shocking that I missed this before! I’m sorry for this, Mr. Potter. I would have insisted on Slytherin for you if I had.”

“Why? How could the snakes help in this situation?” Harry thinks of sharing a dorm with Malfoy and is certain that he will have to continue hiding his home life, or else he will be ridiculed by the blond in front of the entire school. It might get him help eventually if everyone knew of the scars on his back, sure, but it would also bring him shame. And some things don’t need to be in the front page of The Prophet. The thought of Snape as his Head is also concerning. Sure, McGonagall had pretty much dismissed him when he tried to talk to her about his summer accommodations, but he can’t even imagine bringing up the topic with the sour potions master.

“The Slytherin Head is the school’s strongest protector against violence and abuse on children, Mr. Potter. Don’t be so surprised! He does appear cruel to the other houses, and he might be at that, but he takes the health and well-being of his snakes very seriously. You appear to be open to change in your life, Mr. Potter, and the bravery required to deal with this is all yours and will not leave you, if you are sorted out of Gryffindor. Perhaps is time to allow your adaptability and self-preservation to come forward… If you feel you are ready to trust, even those you never thought of trusting before, you will find a safe haven in the dungeons.”

The Hat allows Harry time to consider this, and he starts to notice every eye in the Hall is on him, even as most students are gossiping, rather loudly too. He should be used to this; almost is, really. People always have an unnatural interest in his life, or at least what they think of his life. Being the sodding Boy-Who-Lived comes with the longest list of expectations. He’d tried being the one they all wanted him to be, the good boy and little lion. Dumbledore’s tool, really. He recognises this now after the experiences with the philosopher stone and the Chamber. But being as they wanted got him nothing in exchange. No one noticed, no one helped. People only saw what they wanted to see.
Now the Hat was asking for him to be open to trusting those who despise him. But he already tried asking for help of those who appear to like him, only to be sent to the Dursleys again. Could the Slytherins ever see behind the manufactured image of the Boy-Who-Lived? Could Snape ever look at him and see him for who he was? His eyes meet Hermione, who simply smiles and nods reassuringly. Right, second chances. Whatever happens, he will still have his friends, so life at Hogwarts won’t be so different, just his sleeping arrangements. And he might get help, be freed. So the question is: Is Harry truly ready to trust?

“Alright, then.” He says, with a determined nod, not noticing he is speaking aloud.

“Good luck, Mr. Potter.” He hears in his head, and immediately for the Hall “SLYTHERIN”.

Severus is hungry and bored. The Sorting Ceremony is usually the most bothersome bit of the welcoming feast, but the fact that this year is three times as long is tempting him to swallow a Vomit Inducing Tincture and excuse himself for the rest of the evening.

What could possibly be taking so long? Surely the Hat cannot have found much of interest in Potter’s mind. Perhaps it got lost, surrounded by the absolute emptiness, as a man can be lost in the desert surrounded by sand dunes and confused by the wind. He knows for a fact that Potter cannot produce a complex thought even under threat of torture and death, so why is his re-sorting the longest so far? He can’t possibly be a hatstall. Surely the Hat was supposed to scream Gryffindor, to the sounds and lights of fireworks and applause from his adoring fans, the moment it got remotely close to Potter’s head. The brat is just like his father: uneducated, brash, spoilt, reckless and irresponsible. Basically, 100% Gryffindor. All of Lily’s talents and potential gone to waste. He is certain of this, even if Albus is fool enough to fall for his poor-orphan act. Severus has been watching the boy for two years now, in and out of class, and he has total certainty of his character. And he is, after all, an expert at observing people, he has to be, to survive so long as a spy. But then, what is the Hat seeing that he has missed? There is no possible hidden depth, is it? Could he have miss something? Perhaps Minerva should check if Potter has managed the impossible and actually induced the Sorting Hat to self-destruction.

Severus continues to ponder while filling his stomach with apple cider. He shouldn’t have skipped lunch, but the last few hours of peace before the arrival of the students were prime brewing time and he could not waste it by taking a lunch break, especially as he knew there was a feast coming. But now Potter has, obviously, found a way to ruin even this by prolonging the sorting unnecessarily. Indubitably, with his stunts with the philosopher stone and the Chamber of Secrets Potter has demonstrated his appalling Gryffindorish qualities. Honestly, who walks into a waiting basilisk with nothing but a wand and good intentions? Could the Hat be considering this a mark of loyalty to the Weasley family, sufficient to switch the boy to Hufflepuff? Possibly. Although on second thought, that can’t be. The boy might be loyal, but Potter is a far cry from a hard-worker or a team player, always wanting the attention for himself.

Severus contemplates on the possibility that he might need to start occluding in Potter’s presence more often. He is nothing if not self-aware and he knows he is a bitter man prone to carrying grudges. Consequently, there might be a miniscule chance that he is allowing his sentiments for James Potter to colour his perception of the child. And the added imposition of the werewolf this year would not make things easier, either. It’s been so long since the war that he lost the practice of occluding every day, and perhaps the Hat is observing more from this child than he is. And how can he protect the brat, as he vowed, if he cannot predict how he will act?

The Hall is now decidedly loud as people continue to gossip in ever-rising volume. Potter’s re-sorting is taking an absurd amount of time and Minerva has glanced at the Headmaster twice already, as if expecting him to interrupt the proceedings. Albus is looking more and more worried as time passes. And isn’t that interesting? The Headmaster is concentrated on the back of the Sorting Hat as if he could perform legilimency on it without eye contact. This is obviously not what the old man was expecting, and that thought at least brings a measure of amusement. Severus watches the student body and he focuses his glare on Granger, one of the few students to have actually been re-sorted, along with Longbottom and Creevy. No surprises in any of those, they did not belong in Gryffindor. As he observes her, the know-it-all locks eyes with Potter, smiles and subtly nods her head, at the same time as Minerva silences the Hall. In response to Granger, Potter settles his shoulders and speaks aloud. “Alright, then” he says with a nod, as if agreeing with the Hat’s imminent decision.

The first sound to be heard is the Hat announcing Potter into his House, the second is the shattering of his glass as Severus drops it. Utter silence is what follows, all gossiping and conversations giving way to shock as Potter rises from the stool, winks to Granger in the Ravenclaw table and walks over to Slytherin as the hemming on his robes transforms, going from red to green. By the time Potter sits down amongst his snakes and turns his eyes to the Head Table and looks at him, Severus has been able to occlude and school his expression to bland neutrality. He cannot deal with this now, having Potter as one of his charges, without occluding. Most surprising of all, this boy who has never looked at him with anything other than contempt, or hate even, is watching him now with something akin to hope in his eyes, and nods to him respectfully. Who knew Potter could do anything respectfully?

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 – First impressions

Finally, the re-sorting is done with Ron and Zabini confirming their original placements. Ron’s re-sorting took seconds and as he rose from the stool, he looked at Harry with a hurt expression. They will be able to speak tomorrow, surely, and reassert their friendship. Harry has no doubt of this. Of course, they will miss each other, not sharing a dorm, but most of their time together wasn’t even in the dorms, as they would have excluded Hermione too. Perhaps he should have told Ron that the Hat might place him in a different House, he must be pretty surprised now, which explains why he is avoiding Harry’s eyes from across the Great Hall. But the redhead is his best friend, so he can be patient now and give him time to process. They can talk tomorrow and all will be great. They can arrange to visit Hagrid during the weekend too, and show them both Sally!

Mione, on the other hand, is in her element! Lisa Turpin sat next to her after her own re-sorting and they are not chatting non-stop. Apparently, Hermione found someone who matches her talking speed. If they keep at it, he wouldn’t be surprised to see smoke coming out of their jaws! And, yes, look at that! There are books on the table already. Who would have seen that coming? Harry thinks with a laugh. Lisa is really good at most of her classes, except Herbology as she hates to get her hands dirty. But she is also known in their year for her loud and ever-present laugh. Harry has never been very close to her, but she looks like she can be a fun friend for Hermione to have, to share studying but balance it with more laughter as well. And he is certain Lisa never had to fight trolls or find a new home for an illegal dragon, so definitely a safer friend for Mione as well.

In the Slytherin table, no one has said a word around him since he sat down. Shock appears to be the order of the day. The re-sorting had continued, but the surprise of his placement is clear on the third-years faces, and lasts until Zabini sits himself in front of Harry and breaks the silence. “Well, Potter… Or should we call you Harry now?” he says this with a playful smile, almost as issuing a challenge Harry has not problem picking up. “I must say that was rather surprising. Hilarious, though. I should bottle up the memory of Professor Snape dropping his glass in pure shock and sell it!” he continues with open laughter now, and all his year mates around him are still too shellshock to join him, not that Blaise seems to mind entertaining them. “That was most likely the first time he’s had an expression other than boredom or contempt on his face outside of the dungeons!”

And isn’t that an interesting notion. “You mean to say he shows other emotions in the dungeons? Who would have thought! I assumed his face was frozen.” Harry responds with an easy smile, dripping in sarcasm. He decided to give every one of his new dormmates a second chance as he is hoping to get, and relieved in Zabini’s (Blaise’s!) laidback nature. “And, of course, Harry is fine. We are sharing a dorm now, we should probably all be on first name basis, right?” Well, the challenge was too hard to resist, and seeing the reaction on Malfoy’s face is priceless. Speaking about bottling memories to sell! “Breath, Draco, or your head might explode for lack of oxygen…” a lopsided smile on his face breaks in his face as he watches the blonde’s gobsmacked expression.

This finally seems to bring Malfoy out of his silence and he frowns at Harry. Apparently, the blond is not ready yet for friendly smiles or first names. “What the hell were you thinking? Why didn’t you just insist that the Hat places you back in Gryffindor?”

“Er, you know, it’s the Hat’s decision, not mine… although I do agree this time. It tried to place me here before, on our first year, but I ended up in Gryff. Perhaps that was part of the compulsion on it, all the re-sorted students came from there, right? Finally, the food is here! I’m starving!”

His new classmates exchange looks, as if surprised that he made the connection. Of the two re-sorted years, six students were moved to a different house, and all of them came from Gryffindor. The thought now safely in all heads across the table. Could the Hat have been compelled to lead students into the schools’ favourite House?

Draco notes that for all of his claims of being ‘starving’ as he said, Potter barely eats during the feast. Perhaps he is more nervous that he is letting on… Now he was taking the smallest possible portions of those platters around him, as if this was only the first of a 16-course tasting menu instead of a feast. Strangely enough, Potter also takes to refiling their glasses as they empty (knowing exactly which drink everyone around him is drinking tonight). How weird is this boy? He doesn’t really participate on the conversation around him other than to ask how their summers have been, but barely issues a single-word response to any question he is asked, mostly from Blaise and Tracey who -as usual- adapt to the strangest situations head on.

As they are walking to the common room after the feast is ended, Potter positions himself on Draco’s side. The prefects need to lead the first-years and they have been told to show the entrance to Potter, sure, but that does not mean they need to walk side-by-side. And does he consider himself his equal, to do such a thing? Sure, the Potters were an old family and he is the Boy-Who-Lived, but they are not friends, to be walking like this! The nerve! Draco resolutely stares ahead and ignores the infuriating presence on his right side.

“I shouldn’t have rejected your friendship in first year.” Draco starts as Potter delivers this line as if this was appropriate hallway, casual, conversation. Of course, he has manners and knows not to show all his emotions, unlike the uncultured prat next to him. Inside, though, Draco is frozen by the statement. He has been waiting for two years for Potter to recognise this, to come to his senses and realise that he had made a mistake by rebuffing his friendship. But he would never show any outward signs of having heard him, or even of feeling vindicated. Pansy, though, gasps from somewhere behind them, obviously having been eavesdropping. “I only learned that I was a wizard on my eleventh birthday” Potter continues in complete obliviousness of his surroundings. And what the hell does he mean by that? How could someone not know they are magical? “It was the same day I actually met you in Madam Malkin, not sure if you remember that…”

Of course, Draco did. He had told his mother all about the green-eyed boy he met and how exciting it was to meet potential friends that were not introduced by his father. He knew he was lucky in Pansy and Theo, but many times the other children his father forced him to be social with were complete dunderheads. Take Greg and Vincent. They were loyal and good friends, of course, but soooo boring. Between the two of them, Draco was sure they could not string together a full sentence. Merlin knew they were barely passing in school due to hours of tutoring from the rest of the year. Consequently, making new acquaintances was high on his list of expectations for Hogwarts. He had been so excited that day, even if he was already eleven and should have been a bit more proper. But he was buying his uniform and wand! And his father was not around to scold him, so he had allowed himself to show a little enthusiasm.

“You kept talking about blood purity and all these things about the magical world that I knew nothing about, and how you were certain to be a Slytherin. I guess you were excited about coming to Hogwarts. I can see that now, but I was just in shock of it all. And then you criticized Hagrid, who had been very kind to me and took me shopping for my school supplies. He is also the one who told me I was a wizard, and how my parents had actually died.”

As much as he was going for ignoring the prat, and showing him his superior breeding, there is no way to hide the astonishment this last statement incites. In fact, he is not the only one to stop on his tracks and turn to face Potter, who doesn’t seem to notice the bewilderment of those around him and continues with his tale, walking with a quickly following Draco. “Then, in the train, I met Ron. He was the first person, other than Hagrid, to be kind to me and want to be my friend. And then you came in and insulted him on his family’s poverty and the state of his clothing too…” Draco would respond to this, surely, if he could speak at all. What does he mean by that? Does he think for a moment that they will believe this sob story for one moment? Does he intend them to be so naïve as to believe that he was not spoilt, surrounded as he is by adoring fans? “I’m not trying to argue or anything, just explaining. I tend to have a strong reaction to bulling. And by that time, I had been warned not to trust Slytherins, by a staff member no less! Which is preposterous, Hermione is right on that! So, when you offered your hand in friendship, I could only see you as a bully and someone to be wary of.” After a long pause and more walking, he continues. “I know now that I was influenced, and that prejudice runs both ways. It’s ridiculous to judge someone on their House, and evil is not a Slytherin trait. Which is why I was now open to be sorted here, as I should have been all along.”

“Anyway, this is a long-winded way to say I’m sorry, and I would welcome the possibility to be friends now. To all of you, since you are all clearly listening…” He finishes with a low laugh as the group reaches the entrance of the common room. By now is safe to say that not only the third-years were listening to Potter, as stunned silence seems to be the general mood. Did he really mean to say all this in front of pretty much the entire House? Does he not have a sense of propriety at all? Or is this a manipulative way to get into their good graces? Draco doesn’t think Potter can really manipulate anyone. He is too daft to be subtle. But the whole story, apology and offer of friendship could work on some soft minded Gryffs or Puffs. He can’t be expecting that little tale to work with the snakes! They knew when someone was playing them. Most likely, the lion-turn-snake was now realising the mistake he made allowing the Hat to place him in the dungeons and was trying desperately to make some allies.

Draco would have to analyse all this interaction again later, in the privacy of his four-poster bed. While Potter was blatantly lying, obviously, there must be some grain of truth in that speech. No one lies like that without some truth intermingled for credibility. But to say that he didn’t know he was a wizard… Well, Potter was obviously lying there. And who had raised him? How could they allow him to go shopping with a stranger? A stranger that looks like Hagrid! And, couldn’t they teach him how to properly hold a fork, since we are at it? And does he really mean to say he had no friends before Hogwarts? He can’t possibly think they will believe him…

Again, it was Blaise (bless his nonchalance) who manages to answer first. “I always welcome new friends, Harry. And you are certain to shake things up at the pit. We’ll keep you around, if only for the entertainment value! Let us show you the common room and our quarters.”

Harry shakes Blaise’s hand with a friendly smile, and follows him inside. Sure, he did not mean for everyone to hear him, especially the other years. He just wanted to repair part of the damage with Malfoy, seeing as they had to share a room now. And if he was really going for a second chance with them all, Malfoy is probably the hardest of the group to crack. But, of course, they all wanted to listen in. He is the new one and the unknown quantity here, so curiosity is natural. Not that he wasn’t used to being looked at anyway. And he did promise himself a new start, and that includes being more open and trusting those he would not have trusted before, right? As the Sorting Hat said. He had revealed a bit more than he planned to, but the nerves had made him blubber a bit. Hopefully they will not think him a freak. But no, he knows that is his aunt’s voice in his head. He is no freak. He is a wizard. He is a normal boy. He is a snake now. And he needs snake friends if he is to survive down in the pit.

Speaking of which, Sally’s weight on his shoulders, under his robes, is comforting. He has been speaking to the snake recently and telling him why he was not with his guardians during the summer, which is why the small boomslang had wanted to come with him. To protect him, he said. Perhaps this new openness he found with Sally is what allowed him to open up to his new dormmates. And shocking Malfoy into speechlessness was definitely an unexpected, but, very welcome consequence of his honesty. Perhaps he should start thinking of the blond as Draco. He did say they would use first names…

He contemplates on this while he is shown the common room and his new bed on the third-year dorm. He knows as a Slytherin he will be expected to be more discreet in the future that he was today on the walk to the common room. They certainly never advertise their feeling as much as he does, unless the feeling is anger. But he likes this about himself, his honesty. And he has been forced to hide so much of himself for so long, to be invisible, to act as if he didn’t exist at all, that he does not feel ready to give it up.

Also, all the books on mind healing he read on the last few weeks all said that opening up and talking was healthy. He couldn’t buy any, of course. The Boy-Who-Lived could not be seen buying a book about overcoming abuse, or learning not to feel like a victim, or taking control of his life. But he could discreetly browse the section in the bookshop. And they all agreed, silence only helps the abusers. And if Harry wants a second chance, and he does desperately, he needs to do his part as well.

“Come now, Harry. Professor Snape will come any moment to welcome the new ones and inform the House rules. We don’t want to make him wait. He is not the most patient man, even with us. It’s Nott, by the way, Theo Nott. I know we’ve had classes together but we’ve not been properly introduced.” Well, at least there are two friendly ones in his dorm. He can work with that.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 – Rules to live by

Surely, arriving in the snake pit smelling of firewhiskey would be inappropriate, right? Even if he has to face Potter as one of his charges. And trust those little buggers to know too, and latch into any vulnerability… no, he cannot drink before facing them. Occlumency will have to do. But honestly, how can he be responsible for a Potter now? A Potter. In Slytherin. What the hell was that stupid Hat thinking. Perhaps they replaced the compulsion spell with a confounding one, even if it has been in auror hands while casting a cluster of protective spells until just a few hours ago.

Could this be a sign that traditions need to be updated? If the Hat can be the target of compulsion, and if it later makes such ridiculous decisions as this… should they continue to honour tradition for the sake of it? They are allowing a piece of headwear to affect their lives. No wonder muggleborns find it difficult to adapt. Some of the traditions in the Wizarding World are utterly nonsensical.

Well, nothing to be done about it now but to endure. Story of his life, really. He always knew Potter would be a pain on his backside until he graduated.

“Good evening” As he enters the common room, he is pleased to find that Potter hasn’t managed to completely upend his expected order. All snakes are in formation, first to seven years with the younger at the front, and waiting for him. Even the new third-year brat is there. He decides to ignore him for now and address the group. At some point he will need to meet with Potter one-on-one, as he does with all his new snakes, but that day does not need to be today. In fact, he will try to push it as much as possible.

“To the new students, welcome to Slytherin. To the older ones, welcome back home.” It pains him that now Potter has to see this – softer – version of himself. But he is always pleasanter (though by no degree kind ) to his charges and he won’t allow Potter to ruin this safe space for the younger children who will be missing home soon. Severus knows better than most what a haven the dungeons can be, in a school determined to be prejudiced against them, and he’ll be damn if he will fail to provide a small measure of comfort to his snakes. “I am Professor Severus Snape. I am the Potions Master, and I am your Head of House. This will be your home away from home, and those you see standing here today will be your family. As with any family, we support each other, we stand by each other and we expect each and every one of you to represent us to the best of your capacity.” What Potter could contribute to the House is left unsaid. Of course, he might now be able to fly for their quidditch team… but if his academic performance in potions class is the boy’s standard, Nott and Davis will be hard press to have him pass the year at all. Merlin knows Draco is busy enough as it is with those oafs of his, not that his godson would ever want to help Potter. Is it too much to ask that they at least don’t end up duelling the first week?

“This is a school, and as such, you are here to learn. Consequently, we will have rules about study times as well as expectations about your contributions to Slytherin success.” He stops in his speech to look at all of the students, and make sure they are paying proper attention. Potter is smiling like a simpleton. Does he think that Severus will go easy on the Boy-Who-Lived and not force the rules on him, by virtue of his placement on Slytherin? It takes such a great amount of effort to prevent a sneer to show, but he must continue, and soon enough Potter will understand how closely he will be to his new housemates and the smile will be gone.

“Your roommates are now your study partners. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses. Find which are yours and keep them present as you study together, knowing when to help and when to ask for help. On the back of the room you can see a notice board. It holds a copy of the rules, along with your daily study timetables. You will also find me here every Wednesday for two hours before dinner to assist with any academic matter, preferably regarding Potions. Your prefects and the older students are also available, although if at all possible, try not to disturb fifth- and seven-year students as they focus on their examinations this year. It is our job to support them as they transit through this year that will mark their future, and therefore any distraction will be punished. You will note that the common room is divided in two sections, a side with tables and extra lightning for studying, and a side with couches for relaxing. There is a silencing spell between the two areas and all students must respect the silence of those studying. Lastly, I do not want to hear complaints from other professors about my snakes not producing their assignments in time or failing to be prepared for class. I shall be informed with sufficient time, before examination are upon us, to assign a tutor if any of you are close to failing any subject. Is that clear?” He knows he is being hard, but the academic aspect of the House cannot be left to chance, and teenagers are rarely responsible enough to be left to their own devices all year. The Ravenclaws might be organised enough, but he never wants to see his Slytherins panicking in June like a bunch of Gryffindors who wasted the entire year on gossiping and star gazing.

“Having said that,” and here he allows his voice to soften a bit, to let them know the stricter of the rules are behind. Severus wants to make sure his charges always know he is there for them. “This is also your home for nine months of the year, and I want all of you to feel comfortable and happy here.” The surprise of Potter’s face should be funny, if Severus wasn’t so irked by the fact that the brat was now seeing past his out-of-the-dungeons mask. “Know my door is always open to you, even after office hours if you need me, although you should also rely on your prefects. They have been chosen to provide guidance and support in matters both academic and personal, and they all know how to reach me immediately in case of an emergency, so keep that in mind.”

“As I said, the House rules are posted in the notice board in the back of the room. I ask that you read them and take them to heart. Ignorance of them will not be accepted as an excuse to break them. As of tomorrow, you will all be accountable to follow them. You should know each year has an expected bedtime and I intend for you to comply. Don’t be surprised to see me or the prefects in the evenings verifying compliance of this rule. Sleep is fundamental to your brains retaining your lessons. If you have trouble sleeping, please come to me. Also, other than at feasts or on weekends, you will notice that our table will have a healthier offer of foods. Sugar cannot be the only source of sustenance and I expect you all to eat a well-balanced meal, including vegetables. Fruit will be available for dessert. You may call the Slytherin house elf, Mimmy, if you wish to have tea while your study or a snack of fruits or nuts. She already has orders not to provide you with any other options, so don’t test her. She is also not to be called outside of the common room, so do not summon her to your dorm or other parts of the school. However, you may call her for dire emergencies if you need me to come to you immediately. She has many other duties, so expect to be punished if you summon Mimmy to compensate for your laziness or for frivolous reasons.”

“You are expected to come to me or Madam Pomfrey if you are unwell. Failure to show to class due to illness will only be accepted if you have been instructed to do so by either of us. Lastly, you know or will soon know that there is much prejudice in the school against us. Please restrain from travelling through the castle on your own, as much as possible. It’s always wise to keep company, to offer a less desirable target for pranks or bullying. Of course, at the slightest sign of trouble, find a prefect or a teacher. Do not engage in situations that will earn you detentions. I expect the older students to support the youngest, as usual. Lastly, but most importantly, Slytherins stand together. I will not allow any of my snakes to bring embarrassment to our House by fighting in public. If you have any conflict with another Slytherin, you will hash it out in here, or in my office. Out of these walls, we are one team. I hope that is clear, even if this means leaving rivalries in the past.” With this last sentence he finally settles his sight on Potter, to make sure he understands this is meant for him. For some idiotic reason, the former lion has a small smile on his face.

“Now, I know it’s late so I will allow you to go to bed now. But please come to me during the day tomorrow to inform me of any changes in your circumstances that I should know about. First-years, and Mr. Potter, once I take a look at your itineraries, I will arrange for a private meeting to get to know each other better. Please make sure to hand over the copy of your relevant medical history - as was requested in your invitation letter - when we meet, as I need to be informed of any allergies or conditions you may have.” With this last statement, he nods to his students and is ready to swipe out of the room. Well, that could have been worse. The routine of welcoming the snakes and reciting the rules was somewhat reassuring in its familiarity, making it possible for him to oversee the fact that he is now counting Potter as one of his. Merlin, but he needs a glass of that fine firewhiskey Minerva sent him for Christmas.

Harry is ecstatic as he listens to the rules of being a snake. The Hat was right! Professor Snape really does care! Why else would he insist on them eating healthy, having enough sleep and having help with their study? And oh, won’t that be great!? To be able to exchange help with his study partners and not feel awful about having to ask about Potions? He is top of his year in Defence, after all, so he can pull his weight too! Mione will be so jealous of that! McGonagall was great, but she never had any rules like this. Perhaps she thought that parents made rules and their children knew about them and followed them, like Hermione. But Harry never had rules made with his well-being in mind, and he loves them. Not to mention that knowing the rules is a basic survival skill. When you don’t know what is expected of you, you mess up and you get punished. And yes, punishment now is probably detention instead of belting, but he wants to avoid trouble as much as possible.

“What medical history?” Harry is lost as soon as the professor starts talking to them about that. He read his invitation letter so many times, trying to convince himself that Hogwarts and magic were real, that he knows for certain that the letter never mentioned anything about a medical history. Oh, no. Snape looks angry now. Was he not allowed to ask questions? Shit! He knows adults don’t like questions!

“Mr. Potter, you are a third-year. Surely you know that all students were told in their acceptance letter to provide a history of their medical records.” The professor is now looking at him as if he were trying his hardest not to mention the Boy-Who-Lived as an excuse for not following the rules. Harry can practically see it written on his face, but he at least is trying and that has to count for something.

Harry is not sure if he is supposed to respond now, but the Professor is still there and looking at him, just as all the other students are, like he is an idiot. And he feels he has no choice but to clarify the issue. “My invitation letter didn’t mention this, professor.”

“That’s impossible, all letters are duplicates of the same original, they are all the same and everyone else in your year was asked to provide this, as proven by the fact that they all showed up in their first day with their medical records. You cannot possibly think your letter was the only different one.” The professor visibly takes a breath to calm himself before continuing. “I shall ask professor McGonagall for yours, as your guardians probably submitted it directly to her without your knowledge.”

And now Harry is certain that this has not happened. God, he is getting in trouble already, he can see. And as every time he gets nervous lately, his brain goes for babbling instead of shutting down. This is Sally’s fault, for making him talk in the first place. “No, professor. I don’t mean to be difficult, I swear, but I am certain my letter didn’t say anything. I have it here in my trunk so I can show you. And my guardians most definitely have never had any contact with anyone from the wizarding world, other than me, I mean. They don’t like anything magical. Also, I’ve never been to the doctor so I don’t see how I could even have a medical history. Other than Madame Pomfrey, of course, but she told me I didn’t need to be checked when I asked.” Well, he’s done it now. Snape is back to looking at him like a piece of flobberworm stuck to the sole of his shoe. And now is apparent the professor really was making an effort not to despise him… he needs to fix this! “But I am happy to comply with any rules, though, so I can see Madam Pomfrey or a healer now and get you a report, sir.”

There, that should settle it and show that he is not being confrontational. Although the professor’s face is now a study in rage, so perhaps he failed in his first day as a snake.

Severus can’t believe what he is hearing. The boy is annoying and clueless, sure, but he was clearly not lying right now. Could it be possible that he has truly never seen a doctor in 13 years? But Dumbledore assured him that the boy was happy, healthy and spoilt with love and attention by his family. No, he must be a better liar that Severus knew. This is good to learn now, on the first night of the former lion in the dungeons. Well, this is just the first hurdle of having Potter here. For whatever reason he doesn’t want to provide his medical records, this is easily solved. A charm can write down a person’s entire medical history in only a few minutes. It’s only as a courtesy to Madam Pomfrey that students are requested to provide them, instead of asking her to waste her time by doing it for every one of them. He will talk to Minerva and Poppy first and get a copy of Potter’s records, just to show him up, and present them to the boy in his interview next week.

This time he doesn’t stop the disbelieving sneer to show on his face. The boy has the nerve to lie to him to his face, when he was trying his best to treat him fairly. He hasn’t been a Head of House for over a decade in vain. “Very well, Potter. I’ll accompany you to your dorm so you can show me this very special version of your acceptance letter. The rest of you, dismissed.” The sarcasm in his comment is not lost and they are joined in their way to the dormitories by a chorus of snickers.

Of course. He really should have seen it coming. The school’s elves, in all their non-existent wisdom, decided to place Potter’s bed next to his. Were they expecting Draco to braid Potter’s hair while sharing secrets about boys? This is so vexing. At least he will have a front row seat for the imminent humiliation that his godfather had obviously in his mind.

“Let’s see this letter then, Potter. You did not think I would give you time to manufacture one before our meeting, did you?" Draco is glad to see that their Head has gone back to saying the git’s name as an insult, forgoing the niceties of ‘Mr.’ as well. At least no one will take umbrage if he wanted to continue to address their new dormmate in the same manner.

And Potter has obviously heard the change in tone as well, because he goes directly to his trunk without a second to spare. Does is intend to alter the letter? He can’t possibly think his godfather will give him the time to do so. The blond is smirking to himself as he seats on the side of his bed to observe the exchange.

Potter opens his trunk, clearly trying to conceal the interior from the rest of them. At this point, the other four occupants of the room are also blatantly watching. They all know how much his Head likes an audience when humiliating a lion (yes, yes, Potter might be a snake now but he will always be a lion inside, Hat insanity aside). All they can see is books, parchment and some rags on the side. Where are Potter’s clothes? Did he bring another crate or bag?

“Accio Potter’s acceptance letter”, professor Snape drawls lazily as soon as the trunk is opened. He is not one to suffer fools gladly, and Potter will soon learn that, to the enjoyment of his year mates. Still, Potter is in luck that he still has his letter with him. Merlin knows where Draco’s letter went after buying his school supplies for first year. As the letter flies into the potion master’s hand, the professor raises an eyebrow at the address. How Draco wishes he could see what it says! “It appears you were telling the truth this time, Potter. Your letter does not inform you of the necessity to bring your medical history. Evidently, a personalised letter was required for the Boy-Who-Lives and in their enthusiasm in writing to you, they must have forgotten to add that bit.” Well, isn't that a disappointment.

“Perhaps it was in my original letter, Sir. I never managed to read that one. This is the only one I was allowed to see.” Is this Potter’s new line of deception? He is trying to get them to believe he lost his letter and so he was sent a follow-up version? It does not paint him in a better light, surely, if he lost his Hogwarts’s letter. Does he not see this?

“What do you mean your ‘original letter’? How many letters are you saying you received?”

“I’m not sure, Sir. Hundreds by the look of it. At one point they were coming from the post slot, the muggle fireplace, and even inside the eggs delivered in the morning.” Muggle fireplace? Inside eggs? Potter must notice now how crazy this all makes him sound. He takes a deep breath and lowers his head before continuing. “My relatives didn’t want me to come to Hogwarts, sir. They kept destroying the letters so I would not see them…” Draco can’t believe his ears. So, Potter’s family thought he was too good to come to Hogwarts like the rest of them! Of course the boy has an ego to match the size of the castle! He must have grown up hearing how marvellous and special he was.

“This letter here is the one that Hagrid brought me when he told me I was a wizard, Sir. May I have it back, please?” Again with this not-knowing he was a wizard. Could it be true? Surely, not. Although Potter is clueless enough that Draco could actually believe he didn’t know about their world before… at least it explained why he kept the letter. He must think of it as a memento. Merlin, was this boy weird!

“Yes, of course. I will talk to Professor McGonagall about your medical history. I will inform you when your meeting with me will be, Potter. Try not to cause much trouble until then.”

“Say, Harry… Is that bread in your pocket?” Blaise pounds on the new boy as soon as Snape walks out the door. “Why did you bring bread from the Hall?”

Potter’s eyes might just fall out of their sockets with how large he opens them. Does he think he will get in trouble for some bread?

“It’s for my owl” it's all he says before grabbing his pyjamas and closing the curtains around his bed, without even changing first. “Good night”, he adds from inside, before obviously casting a silencing charm, as even the noise of him dressing is muted.

The boys exchange amused looks and all start changing for bed pondering how strange the whole interaction was, and wondering what to expect from Potter in the next days.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 – Break down and re-group

Harry wakes up with a start the following morning, still crying and screaming from the nightmare that roused him. It was too much to ask, he guesses, to have the first night on a new bed be dreamless. Good thing he remembered to set a silencing spell the night before, or his new roommates would had been up for a very rude awakening, both literally and figurately.

A tempus shows him that is already 5.45 am, so there is really no point in going back to sleep. He is used to getting up earlier than the sun to start his morning chores and breakfast for the Dursleys, anyway. A lifetime of early mornings is somewhat conditional and near impossible to change. At least it will allow him to shower and get dressed in privacy, before the other boys get up to start the day. Sure, the Hat can ask him to trust, but he is not ready for that level of openness. The only person who has ever seen his scarring is Ron, and not even all of it. It had been an accident, really. He was changing his shirt in Ron’s bedroom at The Burrow, after getting grass stains on the one he was wearing. Ron walked in just as the clean T-shirt was sliding to cover his back, and immediately lowered his eyes. Harry had seen this in the reflection on the window. Harry knows Ron must have seen some of the scars, because it was clear on his friend’s face, but the redhead must have been so disgusted by the sight of it that he didn’t even mention it later.

He leaves Sally, still sleeping, in bed. The bedding is still warm enough for him to be comfortable. Maybe in the winter they will need to set up a vivarium, but now Sally had insisted on sleeping at the end of his bed. He should probably bring up the topic with Professor Snape in their meeting, or at the very least before winter, to get permission. Hopefully none of his roommates is afraid of snakes… Harry snickers as he realises the irony of a Slytherin being afraid of snakes.

As usual, he showers in less than four minutes and is in his uniform and ready to go before 6 am. Breakfast is not served until 7 am, though, and the House rules said he was not to wonder the castle on his own, so there is no point getting in trouble by going to the Great Hall just to wait for tea. Instead, this will be prime time to explore the common room and get started on some reading for his Potion class. He doesn’t think his new Head will pick on him in public again, as he would not want to deduce points from Slytherin, but perhaps being prepared is not the worst thing. After some exploring and a review of the notice board (Professor Snape had posted a list of the potions each year will see in class for the next month! That’s why the snakes were always ready for class!), Harry settles on a comfy chair to read. At 5 minutes to 7 am, a pair of seven-year students come out to the common room and find him. Oddly, they offer to walk with him to the Great Hall for breakfast, so Harry quickly dashes to his room for his books and Sally, only to come back and find them still waiting for him. I guess Slytherins do stick together, then. Good to know.

The seven-years walk by him in silence, clearly not morning people. Which is fine as he would not even know what to talk to them about. In the Entrance Hall, though, he runs into Hermione and Lisa, so he joins them at their table. He’s never had a meal at another House’s table, but he can’t see how it would be a problem. Particularly since there is hardly anyone awake yet to see him. They can tell that Lisa finds their morning tea-and-toast exchange amusing and Hermione explains how forgetful Harry is with food, which remains him of the House rules.

“Speaking of food, I have to tell you all about my new rules! Snape said only healthy food will be served at the Slytherin table, so we don’t eat sugar for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. He also set up bedtimes and mandatory study groups in which each one of us helps with our strongest subjects to help those who struggle with it.” He doesn’t say more, because he can already see the words forming in his friend’s mind before they come up.

“Mandated study groups?” And while in any other person this would have been said in dismay, Hermione is clearly jealous, and going into overdrive. “Oh, I see that is why all of the Slytherins are always on top of their assignments! We should absolutely do the same, Lisa! Get a study schedule going from September and formal study hours, that we all respect and adhere to!”

“We do, Hermione, every year!” By now Lisa is once more exhibiting her trademark laugh, amused by Hermione’s enthusiasm for study even before their first class of the year. “Really, girl, don’t worry. You’ll find it much easier now to rally people into study sessions, especial research projects and book swaps. You are now officially part of swot heaven! And we expect you to be proud like us, too!” Really, Lisa will be good for Mione. Harry is certain. She can teach Mione that is acceptable to have fun and still be top of your class. And that is fine to love to learn and have unending curiosity about everything.

“How was your first night in Ravenclaw, Mione?” Harry enquires while refilling both girls’ tea cups, and starting on his sausages and eggs. “Do you like the tower? Everyone says they have the best view of the forest.”

“I’m sure, though not much of a view at night, Harry” she replies with a fond smile. “I liked it, though. The Tower is similar to Gryff, but much bluer! There are books all over the place, I might actually never leave, come to think of it… and everyone was so nice, too! Although Professor Flitwick came to talk to me about my electives last night and I was a bit disappointed. You know how I wanted to take them all, but it seems it’s not possible, as their class schedule overlaps. He did make the very good point that I would not learn much in Muggle Studies -”

“Just as I said last week, yes…” And really, the sarcastic tone should be enough, but Harry still finds the need to send her a raised-eyebrow look.

“Yes, well. He also pointed out that I could read their class book – and then some – in only a fraction of the time it would take me to actually attend classes and write the assignments, and I could still get their perspective on the muggle world while using my time more efficiently.” She finishes with a dejected sigh, as if – even though she agrees with the logic – she would still have liked to simply have more time, to take all classes. “He also rather discouraged me to take Divination, you know. He implied that the professor teaching the class is a bit of a fraud, actually” this is delivered in a whisper, seeing as their table is rapidly filling of eager students by now.

Lisa is nodding excitedly at this and takes a big swallow of tea to down her porridge fast, only so she can comment. “Oh, a big fraud, if you ask my sister and her friends! She graduated last year, so she had great advice on electives. Apparently, Professor Trelawney keeps making these outlandish predictions in class, and always starts her third-years with a death omen. Purely to scared them, mind you. None of her students has actually died yet, don’t worry!”

Harry feels as if his lungs deflate at her statement. “Oh, man. I signed up for Divination! Ron said it would be an easy class, and his brothers all took it. Should I see if I can swap, or is it too late now? I don’t need more promises of death, thank you very much, and she is bound to target me if I’m in her class!” Well, Ron would be there with him, so they can share that class and spend time together. If he is not able to change subjects, that at least should be a relief.

Just then, Ron walks in with Seamus and Hermione waves him over. By the time Ron reaches them at the middle of the table, he is wearing a sneer that would find itself more at home in Snape’s face than in the redhead’s, and Harry and Hermione exchange a questioning look.

“Well, if it isn’t the turncloaks…” Harry has never heard his friend use such a tone before, other than when fighting with Malfoy, and it disconcerts him for a moment.

Hermione is much faster to react, though. “What are you talking about, Ron? We are still the same people, you know… the ones that rode the Express with you yesterday. No cloaks have turned, just slightly changed the trimming colour. Surely that doesn’t change who we are.” she says. It’s clear from her tone that she didn’t like his comment, but is trying to give their friend a chance to rectify the path the conversation is going.

Ron’s sneer deepens and he is in full hatred mode, a look Harry never thought his friend would direct to him. Those around them have caught up to the excitement of new gossip now, and more and more people are watching. It’s almost as if the red hair, higher than all around them by nature of being standing amongst sitting people, is acting as a lighthouse to attract attention. “You might be the same people, but you are obviously not who we thought you were. A slimy lying snake, and his friend the swotting swot. You had us all fooled, didn’t you? We thought you were honest, noble, brave. Clearly you were hiding your true nature. I mean, I always knew you were a know-it-all, Granger, but I thought we were taming you and teaching you how to be less arrogant and more human. I guess the Hat finally saw your need to show everyone how much better than them you think you are!”

Harry can’t believe what he is hearing, as if changing Houses would make Hermione any different. And she is not arrogant! She has been a wonderful friend to Ron. How dare him hurt her like that! There are tears coming down Hermione’s face and Harry sees red. He is on his feet and pointing his finger at the Gryffindor, faster than he can think. Of course, at this point, even the teaching staff is following their argument. “That’s uncalled for, Ron! You are being a git, and Hermione doesn’t deserve you to treat her like that! You are the one being arrogant now, in case you haven’t noticed. How dare you imply that Hermione needs to be ‘tamed’ or changed at all? She doesn’t owe it to you or anyone else to alter herself to fit your standards, or be anything other than her brilliant self! And it’s actually RICH of you to complaint about how clever she is, when she has carried both our asses and helped us with most of our classes so far. You are being selfish, prejudiced and hypocritical, and it’s not a good look on you.”


“Ron, shut up. You are not thinking… you wouldn’t be saying this if you were thinking.” Harry’s voice is a mere whisper, shock and grief clear on his tone and his face.

“So now you are calling me stupid, are you?”

“No, I’m not. Stop this! I’m your friend. And there is nothing wrong with being in Slytherin, Ron. Evil is not a House trait, you know! I’m still me. Still the same friend…”

“Some friend you are! You were just waiting for the chance to betray us, I’m sure. And to think I allowed you to spend time with my family, in my home, all because I felt sorry you didn’t have any. And you were just biding your time before you showed your fangs and poisoned all of us. Good thing you were re-sorted. Good riddance! Now we all know who you truly are! You probably don’t even know what being a good friend is, Potter!”

Before he knows what is going on, or how to respond, Theo Nott has walked to the Ravenclaw table and has a hand on his shoulder. “Harry, there you are! We didn’t know where you’d gotten to!” Harry turns around to find not only Theo, but Tracey and Pansy as well, and isn’t that a shock. “Professor Snape is about to hand out the class schedules, so why don’t you come back to our table?” Theo is all smiles to him and both girls who were having breakfast with him, Harry notices, but turns an icy stare out to Ron while lifting an eyebrow, as if challenging the Gryffindor to continue his insulting tirade now that there are Slytherins here to have Harry’s back.

“You know what, yes. I’m done here” Harry says pushing his half-full plate, to Hermione’s dismay. She always hates it when he leaves food. His stomach is in knots now, anyway, and he couldn’t possibly eat anymore. He can feel his heart beating fast and the moisture in his eyes, and refuses to break down in front of Ron… or the mostly full Hall, for that matter. Sally can clearly feel his agitation, as the boomslang is touching his wrist softly with his tongue in a soothing manner under his sleeve. “See you later, Mione. Lisa” he nods to both girls and turns. But Ron can’t accept not having the last word and shouts to his back. “YOU’D THINK THAT BEING A PARSELMOUTH YOU WOULD AT LEAST BE THE ONE CONTROLLING THE SNAKES, NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND! YOU’LL NEED TO PRACTICE A BIT MORE BEFORE BECOMING AN EVIL DARK LORD, SCARHEAD!”

As he starts to walk to his new table, he – and likely the entire school, as they were all silent still – can hear Pansy’s scathing comment, made loud enough for all to hear. “I might have my gossip wrong, Weasley, although it’s never happened before, but wasn’t it Harry who only a few months ago went into the Chamber of Secrets to save your sister? Is that really who you are now calling a bad friend? Merlin, I shudder to think of what your measure for good friendship is, if life-risking and basilisk-slaying doesn’t cut it…”

Lisa’s is the next voice to be heard, laugh gone and ice in its place. “I think Professor McGonagall is ready with the Gryffindor’s timetables, Weasley. Time to go.” At least Harry knows that Hermione will not be alone to deal with the fallout.

Harry’s almost made it to the seated Slytherin third-years when Pansy catches up to him and slides her arm on his elbow, getting close enough to subtly whisper in his ear. “Chin up, Harry. Deep breath. Don’t let him know he’s affected you. We’ve got you, now.” He does not think he can speak now, so he quickly squeezes her wrist with his free hand as his only response, hoping to convey his thanks. And he can finally start to feel that Slytherins do have each other’s backs, and he is where he belongs.

Hhnm… right. The great thing about Minerva’s firewhiskey is that it helps forget you have a Potter in your House. The awful, despicable, decidedly unfriendly thing about Minerva’s firewhiskey is that 3 tumblers or more bring along the most persistent headache possible. And now I remember why I still have most of the bottle left in September, when this was a Christmas gift. She probably is the only person who can survive it unscathed. Good thing I brew those Headache Relievers for the infirmary yesterday and forgot to deliver them.

After downing a vial, showering and dressing himself in impeccable black teaching robes, Severus makes it to breakfast at his usual time, glad to see most of his snakes are there, presentable and somewhat awake. The Hufflepuffs likely had a welcome party last night, if their caffeine ingestion and eyes bags are any indication.

The Gryffindors are looking untidy as usual. As if actually wearing the tie in their necks was an insurmountable trial and – what the hell is Potter doing in the Ravenclaw table? Oh. It appears he is sharing breakfast with Granger. He must think himself too good to have tea in his own table. Or perhaps his welcoming last night at the dorm was less than ideal. Severus knows he will have to look into this later, make sure he stops any uprising before they even start. He knows they all have to deal with the challenges that a Potter in the dungeons will bring, but they need to have a unified House. And that includes the new third-year addition.

When he looks down, there is a small parchment that has been delivered to his empty plate. Good thing he didn’t fill it without watching. Albus wants to have a ‘short meeting’ as soon as convenient. Likely, this will be to discuss Potter. As if he needed a meeting to know exactly what the Headmaster wants to tell him. Severus, all the other professors report that he is a well-mannered, studious and kind lad. Can you not find it in your heart to see the best in him, instead of the worst? Or maybe Severus, my boy, you must be fair and kind to Harry now. He is your responsibility, and he does have Lily’s eyes. though hopefully the old fool would not attempt to go as far as Severus, my dear boy, can’t you learn to love him? Surely you can be forgiving of the little orphan boy if he breaks a few school rules, can’t you? We can let a few misdemeanours slide, he always means well. Well, perhaps not that one… though the professor does notice that he gets ‘dearer’ in Albus’ esteem, the more he wants Potter to be cut some slack. Well, he will tell the Headmaster that he is simply too busy with start of term to meet with him, and wait until he has his little talk with Potter. Then he will at least have some material with which to respond to Albus. And he will have uncovered the whole mystery of why the boy didn’t want to share his medical history with him.

Oh, jolly. A Weasley is joining the party at Ravenclaw table. Exactly what we all want in the early hours on the morning, ginger with tea… He tries to ignore them but, naturally, they are starting to make a spectacle of themselves. Did Potter not understand a word he said last night about upholding the honour of Slytherin? At least he is not fighting Malfoy, this time. He will count his blessings when he can find them.


Oh, he will crush Weasley for insulting his entire House. And he has the nerve to turn his back on Potter? When he almost died to save his sister? Aren’t Gryffindors supposed to value those sorts of idiotic stunts? Severus shifts his watch to the Slytherin table and catches Nott’s eyes, who has been clearly waiting on instructions on whether to intervene or stay out. He nods subtly to the boy, who rapidly stands up and walks to the Ravenclaw table, followed by Davis and Parkinson. Good, those two are good. Weasley would underestimate them because they are girls, but they can show Slytherin support without starting a fist fight.

Draco needs to control his outer mask, though. He is clearly livid with Weasley now, not understanding how he could throw Potter’s friendship in such a manner. His godson might get his wish now and have the Boy-Who-Lived as his friend. It might even be to Draco’s benefit, if things with the Dark Lord progress as they seem to be. It will be good for him to have options other than those offered by his father.

Oh, good girl, Pansy! I always knew you could put that forked tongue of yours to good use. I wonder how the girl learned about the Chamber of Secrets. Albus never confirmed what happened, only that Potter saved the youngest Weasley from certain death. There were rumours of the basilisk, of course, mainly from portraits and ghosts, but it was never confirmed. Weasley’s face is confirmation enough. He needs to get the full story from Potter. One more thing for his growing Potter-related To Do List.

After the commotion has settled and he made sure that Minerva was scolding Weasley for publicly picking up a fight and demonising a quarter of the student body, the potions master raises from his seat and calmly walks to the Slytherin table to start handing out class schedules. As he reaches the third-years, he notes that Potter hasn’t moved since he sat down, not even to drink the tea that Davis set in front of him. Whatever Parkinson said to him, however, seemed to have worked, as his face was a blank mask showing nothing of the turmoil he must surely be feeling. Severus can sympathise, at least, with the wretchedness of losing your best friend in an irreparable manner. “Here I have your timetables. Please double check that the electives you have chosen are reflected in your charts. Malfoy, here you go, Zabini, Bulstrode, Goyle. Potter, I asked Professor McGonagall for your electives, let me know if they are incorrect.”

This finally brings Potter out of his apathy. “Actually, Professor, I wanted to discuss my electives with you. These are the ones I chose last year, but since then I have been advised differently. I was wondering if I could switch Divination for Ancient Runes.” With a nod, Severus taps on the boy’s scheduled and the change is made. So Potter can recognise and heed good advice. He might not be a total fool, after all. “Thank you, sir.” And is the boy trying to continue last night’s respectful but out of character manner, or is this shock? He will have to closely monitor Potter.

“Why were you having breakfast at another table, Mr. Potter? Was there a problem with this one? The lightning not right your aesthetics? Perhaps they had Earl Grey and we only had English Breakfast?”

“I woke too early and when I came here at 7 am there were no other third-years to have my meal with, Sir. And I wanted to check with Hermione about her first night in Ravenclaw. Is it not allowed to have meals at other tables?”

“You may, it’s not forbidden. But do you mean to tell me you came here on your own, after I clearly said only last night that you were not to wander the castle without company?” Potter is shaking his head even before he finishes the question.

“No, sir! I waited for an hour in the common room, reading, until a couple of seven-years came out and we all walked into the Hall together.” Severus just nods at the boy to acknowledge that he had indeed complied with the rules and is not in trouble, for now. Waited an hour in the common room? What was Potter doing out of bed, and ready to come up, at 6 am? Merlin and Morgana both, let this not be another thing he needs to keep an eye on! He did tell the children to inform him if they are not sleeping well, did he not? Perhaps this is a one-time occurrence, and Potter will let him know if it happens more often.

“Nott, here is your schedule and 10 points to Slytherin for defusing an escalating situation in a mature fashion. Davis, 5 points for supporting a fellow Slytherin. Here is your schedule. Crabbe, Greengrass. Parkinson, 10 points for your use of gossip in a productive way to set the record straight. Please, all of you review your charts and let me know if there are any further changes to be done. And… rest assured that I do not take it lightly for my snakes to be publicly insulted.”

As he moves further down the table, the third-years stand together and start going either to their classes or back to the common room for their free periods. Well, at least it appears he will not have to be concerned about Potter being unable to form bonds in his new House. Nothing breeds unity as a common enemy, and Ronald Weasley has just painted a huge bullseye on his own back for all Slytherin to see.

Severus has classes all day, but he will go talk to Minerva about Potter before dinner. He will definitely postpone meeting with the Headmaster until he has actually sat down with the brat first.

“Is it too soon to say that I always said Weasley was an idiot?” Draco decides to break the ice as they all walk out of the Great Hall, in uncomfortable silence. Greg and Vince snort, and then take off to Divination with Pansy and Daphne. “I say good riddance. Who wants to see that much red hair and freckles up close every day? Not to mention he is loud and uncouth. You are better off without him, I say.”

Draco is not sure if Potter will be offended on behalf of his former friend, or appreciate his comments. He is not really trying to incense the other boy, though, so perhaps he should shut up. Why he is even trying to cheer up the former lion, is a mystery. He doesn’t even like Potter. The prat rejected his friendship two years ago and now is seeing the true value of the one he chose instead. Draco knows that, at the very least, he would never be so uncivilised to break a friendship in such a public and boorish style. The blond should be rejoicing in having been proven right. But, somehow, he can’t find the joy when Potter is looking so sad. What is the purpose of goading someone who is so down they won’t even respond? And, also, he knows he is not to fight with Potter anymore. They are dormmates, for Merlin’s sake. Uncle Sev would be furious if he continued.

Maybe it is too soon to joke or to try cheer him up. He knows he would be devastated if he lost Pansy’s or Theo’s friendship, his oldest friends. Even Blaise, Greg or Vince, come to think of it. Is not like he cares about Potter, but he does pity him a bit right now.

And, alright, in his private mind he can also confess that he is fuming. How could Weasley do that? How idiotically Gryffindor does a person need to be, to fail to appreciate the sort of friendship that he had, and just throw it away? Does the redhead not see that his only value so far was being best friend to Harry Potter? Does he think he would ever amount to anything by himself, other than that? Or without hanging on Potter’s coattails? At least the Granger bint has brains, even if she is only a muggleborn. He can admit that she is clever and ambitious, and she has so far proven to be a much better friend than Weasley, at least.

The other thing that Draco cannot understand, and it infuriates him to his core, is that Potter defended Granger passionately and loudly for the whole Hall to hear. But then when the insults were turned on him, he looked dejected and somewhat accepting. Why didn’t he shout back? Why not defend himself, when the entire school knew that Weasley was in the wrong? Even Severus was angry on Potter’s behalf, and the git couldn’t even speak up. What happened to Potter’s fire? The fire that had him fighting trolls two months into the first school year, and apparently going after a blasted basilisk for his friend’s sister (he needs to confirm this information with Pansy soon). And bantering with Draco at every chance. Where is that fire now? Can it really be quenched so easily with a few insults and low blows? And it was a low blow, what Weasley said about Potter’s lack of family. One he recognised he has used before, but one that must’ve hurt much more coming from one you thought as your best friend.

He is still in his head as they enter the common room and they find themselves some couches to relax, while they have their free period. Later in the year they will have to use such times for studying, but today they can talk and (at least in the privacy of his mind) plan insults for Weasley. Now that Potter is in his House, he will need to channel that energy to a more worthless cause.

Harry is sitting in the green couch, slowly caressing Sally’s head, trying to be inconspicuous about it and not sure if he is succeeding. At least no one has asked him about it yet, so…

He knows he can’t quite measure yet how much Ron’s denunciation on their friendship will end up affecting him. Right now, he knows he is hurting, sodding broken-hearted to be honest. And he can’t believe that Ron would even consider that he is now a different person simply because he is re-sorted. Or that he was evil inside all along, and hiding it before. On the other hand, Ron is right that he has been hiding a significant part of himself, only the redhead is completely wrong on what that was. And it’s not an evil nature, just his family life.

But how is he to trust people, when the person he trusted the most (along with Mione) has just basically told him he wants nothing to do with him? What if he trusts someone and they stab him in the back too? Then again, the Slytherins actually stood by him today. Even the ones who didn’t come to his aid were clearly concerned about him, even Draco was trying to lighten his mood. And the other years were sending daggers with their eyes to Ron. So, perhaps there is a true loyalty inside of Slytherin.

“Thank you, guys.” He thinks he has interrupted them, but he wasn’t paying attention to the conversation around him. Now, however, they are all looking at him as if he’s sprouted a second head. Is thanking such a foreign concept for the snakes or did they not expect it from him? “For standing by me, you know. I don’t think I was expecting a demonstration of House values quite so early in the year, but I appreciate it. I’ll make sure to thank Pansy as well, later.” He can finally manage a small, lopsided smile to offer them. Is not much of a conversation started, but it appears to be enough to tell them that they can allow their curiosity to flow freely.

As usual, Blaise is the first to engage him in conversation. “Don’t mention it. Did you truly go into the Chamber of Secrets? Only, we know Dumbledore said it was dealt with, and awarded you a bunch of points, but we assumed he was lying through his teeth to calm the parents. But then rumours started popping up about you being in the Hospital Wing because you’d gone to the Chamber and killed the monster. And Weasley today pretty much confirmed it by not denying it, know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I did. Hermione was the one to figure out what was inside. When she was petrified, we visited her and we found a paper on her hand explaining how the monster was moving through the castle. Honestly, Hermione could rule the world if she put her mind to it. Even unconscious she was still more efficient in solving the matter of the Chamber than the Headmaster and all the teaching staff…” He knows he sounds too fond, and he is not sure how his opinion of Hermione will be received in this crowd, but she is his true friend and he won’t ever stop treasuring her. “Anyway, I finally realised where the entrance of the Chamber must be, and it required a parselmouth to open, so yes. Long story short, I did go.”

“What do you mean ‘long story short’? We want the long story, if you please.” Draco has by now lost all haughtiness in the face of a rumour he is not getting in full.

“It is a long story though, and to be honest I’m not sure you’ll like some parts of it. Not to mention that Pansy will want to hear it… so can you grill me about it another day?”

“Alright, we’ll bench our questions on the events of last year for the weekend. Surely there will be plenty of time for long stories then.” Tracey is now fixing him with an expression that clearly conveys that she won’t allow further excuses later on. “But do tell us now, why are you caressing your arm? Are you hurt or just touch deprived?” Now there is definitely a glint of amusement in her eyes.

“Hm… shit. Can you keep a secret? I’m not sure he can be here…” As they all nod, Harry gently coaxes Sally with soft hisses to come out and introduce himself.

“Wicked” Theo responds “Pansy and Greg will want to see this!”

After passing Sally around and allowing him to smell them all and catalogue them, they slowly make their way to Transfiguration to meet with the rest of their year, and the Gryffindors. All of those coming from Divination are pale and look scared, except for Pansy who just looks bored. “Hey, Harry. You were right about changing your electives. Divination is ridiculous. She is clearly a fraud and completely bonkers, and kept making the inanest predictions. She was actually waiting for you to show up, as she must had seen your name on the list, until she had to ask us why you weren’t there! I told her that I was surprised she had not foreseen your absence and she then predicted my imminent death, HA! I predict I’ll be joining you in Ancient Runes soon.”

At that moment, the cat that was looking at them from over the teacher’s desk jumps up and transforms mid-air into Professor McGonagall, to the oohhs and aahhs of most students. “Do not let that worry you, Miss Parkinson.” The professor looks smug that at least part of the class is impressed with her animagus skills. “Sybil tends to predict at least one student death a year, but has yet to actually been proven right. Divination is a rather… unprecise form of magic.”

After class they all walk together to the Great Hall for lunch. As usual, Harry makes sure all his new friends have drinks and is paying attention to any requests for bread or salt. He is not too hungry, though. Ron’s words are still ringing in his head and he feels as if his breakfast was transfigured into stones. After one sharp stare from Hermione, he manages to down four brussels sprouts and several cups of tea, but not much more.

As Harry checks his schedule for the afternoon subjects, he notes he has a double period with the Gryffindors again. Thus, another uncomfortable class with Ron in it, apparently. The Slytherins had managed to grab all the front seats in Transfiguration, so he had been able to pretend his former friend wasn’t there. At least this class will be Hagrid’s! He hopes the Groundkeeper will not think differently of him because of his changed House… Hagrid did have a huge prejudice against Slytherin. Was he about to lose another friend? Well, now he knows for sure he cannot eat another bite. But before he gets himself worked out, he should give the new Care professor a chance, right?

With an enthusiasm that is partly faked, he looks at his new friends (can he call them friends yet?) and starts contributing to the conversation. “I’m excited about Hagrid’s first class! I bet we’ll learn so much! Hagrid knows heaps about magical creatures and has managed to domesticate so many!”

Of course, Draco has to disagree. “Oh, please, Potter. What can that oaf teach? Honestly, he can barely speak proper English!”

“Don’t be like that, Draco! He is my friend and he’s been very kind to me. And, as I said, he knows a lot about magical creatures. Just give him a chance and you might be surprised. Everyone has something of value to offer.”

Draco looks like he wants to argue further, but he is quickly quelled by looks from the other boys. Once they actually reach the class, though, he is quiet and respectful. A picture of perfect pureblood manners, clearly for Harry’s sake and not Hagrid’s, which elevates him in his esteem. In fact, the entire Slytherin group is clearly making an effort to show a united front to the Gryffindors and to be respectful to their new professor, as requested by their newest member. They applaud when Harry is the first to approach the hippogriff, and cheer him as he flies above the padlock. Draco follows Harry into the air and then all the others follow Hagrid’s instructions to get closer to the rest of the herd in an orderly manner. Hagrid gives Harry and Draco points for Slytherin and doesn’t seem to be holding his re-sorting against him.

They are walking back to the castle when Harry once again decides to place himself next to Draco. And, while he is still annoyed by the prat, he also knows that he must now make an effort to be non-confrontational for the sake of House unity. Draco doesn’t want to have to sit with his godfather for a one-on-one repeat of the rules. So, he holds back the scowl. Also, while he does not care for Potter at all, he is a tiny bit sorry for how he lost his friend this morning. Therefore, he can be the bigger person and cut Potter some slack for addressing him so informally, without his express permission. And if Weasley happens to be walking a few steps behind them, and Draco is able to make the idiot jealous, well… that is extra.

“Thanks for being so cool with Hagrid, Draco. I appreciate it.” The blond doesn’t think he has ever seen Harry smile so brightly before, at least never so close to him and definitely not at him.

“It wasn’t such a terrible class after all. Hippogriffs are a regal and interesting creature; we actually have some in the stables at the Manor. I guess it could have been worse.”

“Well, even so. Thanks.” As Harry bumps his shoulder and shoots another blinding smile his way, Draco is left to wonder once again how stupid could Weasley possibly be. Is not like he wants to be Potter’s best friend, not at all, but if he were he would know not to ruin it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 – Of pains and plans

Severus made it the whole day with a headache unfalteringly in place. Three Headache Relievers couldn’t diminish it, so a fourth would most likely make no difference whatsoever other than making him feel guilty about misused ingredients. He might as well put up with it a few more hours, and take his irritation with him to see Minerva about Potter. And just that thought would be kindle to the fire of a headache if he didn’t already have one. So, really, why even waste another good potion?

The day had gone as well as first days of classes can, really. With lots of cluelessness and students who seem to have obliviated themselves about everything they have learnt the previous years, including even how to hold the stirring rod or how to find the cauldrons. The Gryffindor-Slytherin confrontation from breakfast leaked into his fifth-year class, which contained the twins-of-hell. Some of his snakes purposely sabotaged the lions’ potions. They know better than to do this, and they know much better than being caught doing it. But, for just this once, Severus decided to look the other way and take points from the idiots who allowed their potion to be tampered with. They are, after all, in their OWLs year. They should have learnt by now not to look the other way while brewing. It meant a spike in his headache, though, quickly joint by a burn on the back of his hand when the concoction bubbled over. But a soothing paste took care of that, and the slow but steady campaign against Gryffindors was well worth it. Soon they would be in negative points, if Severus has any say in it. They can thank Ronald Weasley later.

Once back in his chambers and done for the day, he kneeled in the hearth of his private office to call the Transfiguration professor to see if she was available and back from her own classes. “Severus, how are you? Did you want to come through?”

“Yes, actually. I need to talk to you about Potter.”

She actually has the audacity to laugh at him, laugh! “Of course, I didn’t expect any different. Come, and I’ll put on the kettle.”

He patiently waits while she gets the tea ready and pours them both a cup, while sharing niceties and discussing their first day of classes. When they are both finally settled, she pierces him with that knowing gaze of her and brings the topic to the Boy-Who-Lived-To-Pain-Him. “So, what is it about Mr. Potter? How has he managed to trouble you less than 24 hours of being in your House.” She pretends to show patience, as if she was talking to a child, but Severus can see that she is actually annoyed by him. And a bit resentful, at that, which might be at the root of her lack of patience. Of course, she didn’t want to give up on the Golden Boy. “You know I’ll be happy to take him back if I could, and not only for his seeker skills…” Although her frown clearly conveys how dissatisfied she truly is to have lost her star seeker.

“It’s not that he has troubled me, Minerva. And please don’t mock me, would you? He has actually been bizarrely respectful since yesterday actua– “

“He has always been respectful, Severus, you just didn’t want to see it. And I guess after some time, he must have grown tired of your own attitude, as well.”

“Be that as it may, he has been polite. I guess we’ll see how long it lasts. I’m not here to complaint about him. That is not why am here. Give it a week and then I might.” He can be childish if she insists on treating him like one. “There are two things about Potter that I wanted to discuss with you. The first is, of course, about that ridiculous outburst that Weasley displayed at breakfast. He was disrespectful not only to Potter, but also to all of Slytherin. In fact, he implied that by merely being sorted into the House, all members were recognised as evil, amongst other abuses. I need to know which punishments are being handed out to him, and I also request that he makes a public apology.”

“He was completely out of line. I can’t imagine how Mr. Potter and Miss Granger must have felt! And I agree with you that the slights to Slytherin were uncalled for. I have already dealt with him. I have deducted 50 points, not that we had any points to deduct yet, so they will be tallied once we gain some… if you ever allow us to accumulate 50 points, that is. Further, I have given him detention with Filch. I believe he is now polishing the silver in the Trophy Room.” Minerva might think that was a just punishment, but Severus knows this will only be the beginning. Once he is done with the brat, he will be begging his parents to send him to Durmstrang.

“I don’t see how that makes up for his rudeness to my students, though. If an apology is not delivered in the same manner in which the insult was, and neither is the punishment, how can my charges see that Mr. Weasley was condemned for his actions? In fact, how can the rest of the school learn that we will not accept such conduct, if we do not show we oppose them?” Oh, he will not back down from this, and she knows it. The important detail is that she might think a public apology would be enough to satisfied his desire for revenge. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

“Well, I think that is rather harsh and humiliating for Mr. Weasley, but I can see you are firm in this. And he did humiliate your students, so I cannot say it is not a fair punishment. I will approach him at breakfast tomorrow and request that he apologises to the Slytherin House. Mind you, I will not be monitoring the wording of his apology nor demanding that he mends bridges with Mr. Potter. I dare say that ship has sailed, anyway.”

“Indeed. Thank you, Minerva. The other thing I wanted to ask you for was your file on Potter, in particular his medical history. I need to be aware of any medical conditions and allergies, as you know, and he does not seem to have a copy on hand.”

Minerva gives him the most unusual look he has ever seen on her face, ever. She actually looks as if she does not understand what he is saying, as if he were speaking a different language altogether. The potion master cannot recall a time when she did not know something, so it is baffling to see her now like this. “What do you need his medical history for? Surely you can see that Harry is healthy.” Now that is truly shocking, and Severus is certain that the one looking strangely now must be him.

“Minerva, you know the Hogwarts by-laws require that all students provide a copy of their medical history.” He stops now, because he wants her confirmation that he knows this. He knows that she knows this. She has been a Head of House for decades!

“Yes, of course, Severus. I do have plenty of experience as a Head, you know. No need to remind me of the rules governing us.” And now she is back to glaring at him, as if he has insulted her.

“Do you have Longbottom’s medical history? Granger’s?”

“I certainly do, Severus. As you said, it is a mandatory requirement for all students and as their former Head I was responsible to have them. I will make sure to send them along to Pomona and Filius now that you have brought it to my attention. Thank you. Anything else?”

To say that he is astonished would be an understatement. She cannot seem to be able to see the loophole of what she has just said. Yes, the by-laws require this of all students. And yes, she is responsible for all Gryffindors complying with this regulation. However, Potter does not need to follow this rule and she did not require him to do so in two years.

“No, actually. Thank you, Minerva. Have a good evening.” Severus is beginning to suspect that the Hat was not the only one affected by a compulsion spell at this stage. After all, the students who have been re-sorted all came from Gryffindor. And Minerva’s odd behaviour about Potter’s medical history is even more notable. Well, he supposes this will be another thing to add to his list of things to investigate further. Oh, rue the day that Potter was sorted into his House.

With a pounding headache and another mystery to solve, Severus decides to leave his conversation with Madam Pomfrey for another day and retire for the day. Is not as if Potter is in urgent need of medical care at the moment, so really, he can wait a few more days. It just irks him that the brat thinks himself above the rules. Not to mention that if Poppy should give him the same answer as Minerva, this whole situation would take a whole different meaning. One he refuses to analyse now, while there is a loose bludger inside of his skull. And that is without even considering the implications of having provided medical attention to Potter the past two years without a clue to potentially relevant history. But no, he will leave that as a problem for future Severus. Current Severus needs a hot meal, in private, and his bed. His comfortable, softer than clouds, warmer than hot chocolate, wonderful bed.

“Mimmy!” he calls the house elf to his chambers, because the idea of facing the Great Hall now makes him want to cry. “Would you please bring me some light dinner? A salad with some chicken, perhaps, or something equivalent from what is made for today.” He normally saves his ‘hermit practices’, as Albus calls them, for later in the year, but this day is simply too long and needs to be finished. By the time Mimmy is back with his dinner tray, he has finished a detailed account for Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, emphasising how personally insulted he felt by their younger son’s statements regarding Slytherin House and how poorly he has treated Mr. Potter (not that he cares much in this regard, but he knows it will enrage them even further). That should guarantee a Howler in the morning, he smirks at the thought.

It’s a good thing he went to bed early, as he is woken at 2 am by a crying first year. She misses her home and needed reassurance. He knows it’s part of the job, and he did tell them that his door was open at any time, but they normally have the decency to wait at least a week before crying on him. Is he perhaps not looking as foreboding and scary this year? He knows and delights on the fact that, if the students from the other Houses could see him, they would still rather believe their eyes were deceiving them than believe that he was actually comforting a young student. Even so, he would never let one of his own snakes to suffer alone. That was one of the promises he made to himself when he took the responsibility as Head of Slytherin. He would do better for them that the previous Head did for him. He calls the night elves for hot chocolate and listens to Madelaine talk about her puppy until she calms enough to go to bed. Tomorrow he will ask one of the prefects to keep an eye on her.

When Severus wakes the next morning, the blasted headache is gone. He must remember to only indulge in one glass of the tempting firewhiskey in the future. He could dispose of it completely, but that would be such a waste… and it’s not like he has any other alcohol in his quarters, for such emergencies. He barely drinks at all, really, always needing to be alert for either a potion or a student. And he never wants to be like Tobias. But sometimes it’s good to have something to take the edge out of a day, or to offer a guest.

Today, at least, should prove to be a better day than yesterday. It was a Friday, in the first place. All school years should start mid-week, in his opinion. That way, they are all eased into the rhythm of the castle for one or two days, and then they have the weekend to re-group and get mentally ready for a full week of children and chaos. In the second place, breakfast should be served with a side of Gryffindor humiliation, which is just as a school year should always begin as well. Never too soon to deflate those big heads.

When Draco woke up, he couldn’t help noticing that Potter was out of bed again. And he literally couldn’t avoid seeing this, as his bed was next to the green-eyed boy’s empty one. Now, Draco knows he wakes up earlier than the rest of the dorm, because it takes him longer to get ready. Hair potions and sleepiness are not a good match, he’s learnt; but he has an image to maintain, so he doesn’t mind the extra 30 minutes of bedtime lost. He is midway to being dressed and ready by the time the rest of the boys start to stir, and he normally has to poke Vince once or twice to prevent them being late for breakfast. So, how come Potter is up and out of the dorm before he even noticed, for a second time?

Is the boy not sleeping well or was it something else altogether? Draco assumes that it could take a while to adapt to a new dorm, new noises and new people around. He doubts Potter would be used to the sound of the lake on the window. But still, the boy had also been the last to go to bed last night… again with the ludicrous act of shutting himself inside his curtains fully dressed instead of changing into his pyjamas like a normal person. It’s not that Draco was paying attention or looking for what Potter would do. Certainty not. But now his curiosity was piqued. Was Potter hiding something?

Perhaps he had a birth mark. He was too young to have a tattoo, wasn’t him? And if that was the case, why hide it? No, it had to be something he didn’t want everyone to know… Maybe he was getting some chest hair already and was ashamed? Or he was embarrassed that he didn’t have much muscle? Who knows what goes on in the minds of a former-but-not-entirely-former Gryffindor? It would be just like Potter to be self-conscious about a silly thing and try to hide it.

Draco knew, he knew, that his days of finding Potter’s vulnerabilities and flaws were meant to be a thing of the past. But it’s hard to break a habit of two years, ok? And who could it hurt, really, if he learnt this little thing about his new roommate? Curiosity is healthy, his mother always said, and he’s always been curious about Potter. It couldn’t be helped and he was no longer questioning why. And his father was perpetually reminding him of the value of information. He just needs to know. He would only be acting as a true Slytherin if he found out Potter’s little secret. And he was nothing if not a true Slytherin! Is not as if he intended to use the information he gathered! He would draw the line there and uncle Sev would not be able to blame him for anything, as he would not actually do anything. Flawless plan, he congratulated himself. Now he only needed to catch Potter in the perfect moment.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 – Shattered

If Draco had only seen a fraction of the boy’s torso, he might have doubted how Harry had gotten those terrible scars. Perhaps an accident in the muggle world. They do have some terrifying contraptions! But the view of the entire upper body was a telling sight. He could see – and count – all of Potter’s ribs. Never had he seen a person so slim, as if the boy was simply made of bones and skin, and not much more. The back was the worse, though. The scars were deep and crisscrossing from neck to trousers, likely continuing down as well, some clearly newer than others. Really, if he had only seen a fraction, he might have doubted. But having seen all, he knew that there was no possible explanation… other than someone having intentionally hurt the boy. Repeatedly. And viciously.

Nothing that day had clued any of them about how their lives were soon to change. Harry woke up around 6 am, just as usual, and went on with his morning routine and then to wait for whoever woke next, to walk to the Great Hall together. There was some faint green light coming from the big windows, as the sunlight filtered through the lake and into the common room. And he read his history book, one recommended by Florean, looking up every few minutes to see how the light changed everything it touched. How could he had thought last year that this common room looked unfriendly?

In their dorm, Draco was the first to rise and soon all the other boys were rushing through the door to get to breakfast early enough to pretend that they had not actually had to rush.

Harry was sitting at their table today, quietly chatting with the second-years who had joined him, and using his fork to move around some eggs. As his dormmates found him, he quickly got to the task of fixing their teas as was quickly becoming his custom, while they each assembled their own plates. The side glances were exchanged, but who were they to tell Harry how weird he was about breakfast? Surely, they all had they quirks, right?

Because it was a Friday, they were treated to dinner a show – courtesy of their Head of House – as Weasley was forced to stand in front of the Head Table and apologise to the entire Slytherin student body for his words from yesterday. The performance was lacking, as there was no honesty in it, but the entertainment value was through the roof. Even as most of the table managed to maintain a low-key level of snicker or to cover their laughs with teacups, Blaise was laughing and patting Harry in the back. “Really, I knew you would shake things up in the pit. Didn’t I say so the first night? But even I am impressed of all the selling-worthy memories I am collecting since you were re-sorted! I should get a deal with Zonko’s or someone and start a collection, and I will be rich!”

“You are already rich, Blaise.” Not that Tracey’s comment had any censure on it, she just liked data to be precise. Just then, there was a flutter of owls as the mail was delivered and no one failed to notice the red envelope going to the Gryffindor table. Weasley almost looked resigned as it exploded and his mother’s wailing voice was heard by all. Amusingly, this prompted the redhead to walk to the Head Table again and extend a personal apology to the Potions Master. His mother had made it clear that she expected this, and would continue to send him Howlers if he did not apologise to his professor.

Later they had double Potions with the Gryffindors, only to have their Head torment Weasley, deduct points and assign five detentions. The excuses for the detentions were uncertain. The actual reason, crystal clear. Snape’s expression clearly told them that while the apology was publicly accepted, the penance was just starting.

After the last of the classes of the day, Harry invited Tracey and Theo to the library to meet with Hermione and Lisa. He did not intend to give up on this friendship, and some integration might be eventually required. As a half-blood, Tracey was the perfect choice to ease the Ravenclaw into his new Housemates; and as a library obsessed human, Theo would find common ground with Hermione in no time. Also, they had publicly shown support to Harry before, and that would be sufficient reason for his new oldest friend to accept them. No slurs were exchanged, to Harry’s relief, and the five students soon agreed to meet every Friday after classes for a study session before relaxing into the weekend. Always better to get some homework out of the way soon, instead of panicking about it on Sunday evening.

Severus carried the rewarding feeling of vindication that came with a double apology from a Gryffindor during the rest of the day. It wasn’t Potter and Black, but he would take it. And Lupin was still present, to feel the shame of knowing one of his dear lions was being called out for bullying and for spreading prejudiced views of Slytherin.

It was only as the entire castle was slowing down and getting ready for the night that their worlds were shattered, and they would all be forced to gather the pieces.

Draco is up to something… It was all Blaise could think about all through dinner. He was certain, because the blond has his scheming face on, and that never bodes well. Especially if his devious planning has anything to do with Harry. And just when I thought that our days of Draco being stupid around Harry Potter were over. What the hell are you going to do, Draco? Don’t break the peace in the dorm, please, I beg of you.

As dinner progressed and they retired to their common room, he began to relax. Perhaps he had been mistaken and Draco had no ill intentions. Or he hadn’t had a chance to break havoc on their peaceful evening. Good. I’m starting to really like this new Harry, or same-old Harry that we actually get to know now. Hopefully Draco won’t ruin this.

Right before curfew, Harry, Tracey and Theo burst into the common room laughing at some joke and joined the rest of the third-years in the couches by the furthest window. Tracey and Pansy are arguing with Daphne about the best nail polish for their skin tones, with Draco following the discussion attentively, to Blaise’s amusement. As their bedtime approaches, they say good night to the girls and retire to their dorm. Just in case this is when Draco’s plan will come to play, Blaise decides to observe his friend. He has perfect position for eavesdropping, as his bed is across from Harry’s.

Just like the previous two nights, Harry takes off his shoes, but nothing else, climbs into bed holding his pyjamas and closes the drapes. From what he can see of the folded garment, his sleepwear looks a bit old. Perhaps the new boy is embarrassed or has outgrown them, and doesn’t want them to see him in too-short trousers. Nor even 30 seconds after Harry closes his curtains, Draco purposely walks over and yanks the curtains open just enough to look inside. “Potter, have you seen m-”

Draco is perhaps the palest boy at the entire school, along with that Ravenclaw cousin of him who started last year. Their white-blond hair only adding to the effect. But Blaise is certain that he has never seen Draco just as pale as he is now, holding a shacking hand to his mouth and looking into Harry’s bed in absolute horror. There is no other way to name the expression on his friend’s face. What has he seen? What the hell does Potter have in there?

Surely, Harry is too young to have someone else in bed with him, right? And also, when would he had the time to smuggle someone into the dorm without them knowing? That can’t be it. Unless that snake was an animagus and has transformed back to human now, but what kind of person would voluntarily spend their days as some kid’s pet?

They don’t have any time to react, as Harry sees Draco opening his curtains and is not happy. Blaise can’t remember Harry Potter ever being this loud, or this angry before. It’s positively terrifying. And as the bed curtains start to smoke, the picture frames shake on the walls and the glass on Draco’s framed photos shatter. “GET THE FUCK OUT, MALFOY! PISS OFF, YOU WANKER! PISS OFF!!!! WHAT THE SODDING HELL ARE YOU LOOKING AT, YOU BASTARD? GET THE HELL OUT! OUT!!”

Draco is at least smart enough to get out of the way when hexes start shooting out of Harry’s bed curtains, before they are hastily locked back in place. Although Blaise doesn’t think that the shock is allowing the blond to notice that he is, in fact, crying. There is something obviously very wrong here, but the strength of Potter’s reaction has them all immobile for a few moments, until Theo gets a grip and plucks at the magical cord at the end of the room. This will let Professor Snape know that there is an emergency in their dorm, and he needs to come now. In fact, if Harry’s curtains continue to smoke, they might have a very real emergency, very soon.

Silence falls once again from Harry’s bed, indicating he has cast a silencing spell. In perfect synchronisation and without uttering a word, the rest of the boys turn to Draco with questioning looks on their faces, only to find him still covering his mouth with his hand and shacking all over. Vince’s protective instincts take over and he is manhandling Draco into sitting on his bed in an instant, and they all wait for their Head to come over and make sense of what just happened. Oh, Draco. What the hell have you done now?

Severus is jolted by a pulse of magic that is felt through his rooms, leaving him shaken. What the hell was that? He is about to firecall the Headmaster when he feels the pull of the emergency cord in the third-years’ dorm. Of course, this would have something to do with Potter. He doesn’t know how, yet, but of that he is certain. It had only taken Potter two days until he is somehow extinguishing the peace in his House. And he was so looking forward to the rest that the weekend would bring. Was Potter utterly and completely unable to lay low, follow the rules and not destroy his harmony?

He is not about to disregard the summons though, even if he suspects Potter was merely pranking them or being an idiot. It would be just like that brat to think it funny to pull on the cord to see what happened. He charmed those emergency cords years ago, after a suicide attempt from a former student, so he could know right away if he was ever needed. He barely made it in time to save Kate that day, and only because some seventh-year had had the clarity of mind to send him a Patronus. So now he made sure that every dorm had a device simple enough to summon him without the need for complex magic, and that they all were familiar with their elf, as well. All his snakes take the cords seriously, and he has only been called twice so far. Both times, he was glad to have the system in place, as he was clearly needed. He was not the sort to take chances, and he wasn’t about to start now. Not even for Potter. There would be time to punish the little brat later if this turned out to be a joke. And, yes, that magical pulse was something different too.

Before he knows it, he is running into the common room in his nightgown and slippers, only to find it nearly destroyed and full of the cries and voices from most of the House. Ok, not a prank then. Every glass if the rooms appears to have exploded, the couches are broken in half with their filling pouring out, and the portraits have fallen off the walls. Thank Merlin that Salazar had the forethought to use unbreakable glass on the lake windows, or they would be underwater right now! Circe, what the bloody hell happened in here?

A sixth-year prefect runs to him as he sees the professor enter the room. “I’ve been summoned to the third-year boy’s dorm. Please get the other prefects, calm everyone down and send them to bed. If you can, see if you can fix some of this mess, Reparo should do with most. Keep the third-year girls here, and get them some tea, please.” He relies his instructions as he walks to the dorm, not even looking back but knowing Jackson will follow them. Before opening the door, he takes a moment to settle himself for whatever he is going to find in his godson’s room. Deep breath, Severus. Can’t be worse than the common room if they are well enough to pull on the emergency cord and wait, instead of running out.

“Good evening, gentlemen. You wanted to see me?” He wants his voice to communicate an impression of calm, even as his eyes scan the entirety of the dorm in seconds. Surprisingly, it looks much better in here than in the common room. Some glass has broken, as he can see the shards in the floor, but there are no exploded pillows or fallen portraits. One bed has its curtains shut, but all the others are open and the boys are huddled together in two beds, he notices. All but Potter. Of course, this had something to do with Potter.

He approaches the students and only then he is aware that Draco is crying and trembling, Vince on his right and holding his hand; Greg on his left and sending him glances as if expecting his godson to break at any moment. “Who can explain what happened?” He almost asked about Potter, but perhaps open-ended questions are the best right now. He doubts they would be so quiet if the new roommate needed emergency medical care, and there is no visible sign of blood. So, there’s that. Theo is the one who answers, while keeping his eyes on Draco. “I’m not sure exactly what happened… but we were going to bed, Harry went into his curtains to change and a minute later Draco went in to ask him something. Then all hell broke loose.”

“All hell broke loose… Could you elaborate? What happened when Draco approached Potter’s bed?”

“Well, Draco” Theo says while pointing at the blond with his head, and finally turning to look at his professor “sort of opened the curtains and looked inside. Harry was not happy -” he emphasised his by widening his eyes “- at all! He started screaming at Draco, while the curtains started smoking and the room was shacking. Then we saw jinxes being shot from inside the bed, and then nothing. He seems to have cast a silencing spell, but we also cannot open the curtains to check on him and he does not respond to us. We had to put out a small fire on the corner of his bed, over there, and Draco hasn’t spoken since.” Goodness, could this really be a dispute over privacy? Teenagers can be so angsty sometimes, but even so… wrecking the common room and burning the curtains is a bit extreme. Can Potter never have a normal reaction? Are fist-fights out of fashion?

“I see. Thank you, you did well by summoning me. 20 points to Slytherin.” He wanted to make sure that good practices in-House were awarded just as much as bad deeds were punished. And while Draco could be a huge drama queen sometimes, he looked particularly distressed now, so he was glad to have been called to help his godson. Severus kneeled in front of the blond to try and catch his eyes. “Draco, do you need medical assistance or a Calming Draught?” At this, the blond shakes his head, sight still lost in the wall. “Can you tell me what happened with Potter? Did he hurt you?” He is not one for hysterics, but the professor is beginning to be concerned by his students. He has never seen Draco so out of it, not even at his grandfather’s funeral, though the man was such a bastard that perhaps the family was happy.

Finally, his godchild looks at him with hunted eyes and shakes his head again. “I… sorry… I thought… I didn’t know, didn’t think. He… uncle, he needs you. Please, help him.” And that is all they can get out of the boy before he’s bawling again in Vince’s arms. And now Severus is truly concerned. Draco is very obviously distressed, beyond his normal histrionics and in need of support, and yet he is telling him to go and help the other boy. He has never known his godson to be selfless, or demand less than what he thought was deserved. What the hell had he seen in Potter’s bed, to have broken him so?

With a last lingering look at the blond boy, and a glance to his classmates to make sure they know the severity of the situation, he finally rises to check on his newest charge. Potter doesn’t respond to his call, just as Theo said. Is the boy ignoring him, or has he truly cast a two-way silencing spell? Taking out his wand, he addresses them without taking his eyes away from Potter’s bed. “The girls should be waiting in the common room with some tea. May I please have the room? I’m sure they would be glad for your company.” Whatever is going on with Potter, two-way silencing charms are advanced for a 13-year-old, not to mention that he is also unable to physically open the bed’s curtains, so a ward appears to be in charge. If the new snake was, in fact, responsible for the magical pulse and this warding… well, then he might be a lot stronger than they knew, or his magic was extremely unstable. In either case, he wanted the other students out of danger.

It takes the Potions Master almost ten minutes to dismantle the wards around the curtains and finally reach the boy inside. The sight that greets him takes his breath away, and finally explains Draco’s reaction. He needs a minute or two to compose himself, but he doesn’t think Potter would mind. The boy doesn’t even seem to have noticed his arrival. Oh, Albus. You are such a filthy liar… healthy, and happy and loved. You promised, you ghastly old coot! And we all believed you, didn’t we? It was convenient to believe you, so we never checked. Oh Merlin, what the fuck have we done?

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”…have the nerve to tell us that you didn’t have the time to complete your chores? How dare you, boy? You should be on your knees thanking us that we even allow you to earn your keep! You ungrateful, disgusting little freak! How is it our fault if you are too incompetent and too stupid to get it all done?”

The kicks were meeting with his side and he could already feel the edge of a rib breaking the skin. He needs to be a smaller target, and protect his head. Last time he was kicked in the head, he lost all memories of what had happened, and it was too awful to wake up bloodied and in pain in his cupboard, and not know what you did to deserve it. “And then you come here, to where we have housed you, out of the generosity of our hearts, and do FREAKISH things? After we took you in, when no one wanted you! NO ONE! When your kind left you on our door step, in the middle of the night! Of course, they knew we would reject such a freak if they asked! But since no one wanted to keep you, they didn’t bother to ask, did they, boy? No manners, no consideration, the lot of you!” Harry now knew what his lot was, he had gotten the visit from Hagrid and was informed he was a wizard. But it hardly mattered when they didn’t want him. And it’s not like he could explain to his uncle that he didn’t know how the cupboard door had cracked! Freakish things DID happen all around him… He knew it was magic now, but it’s not like he could control it.

“And still, after all we’ve done for you, you repay as by committing one infraction after the other! Do you think I enjoy having to punish you?” Well yes, he was sure his uncle enjoyed beating him. The bastard did laugh half the time, when he was not struggling to breath for the exercise. Harry was certain his uncle spent the day sitting and waiting for a chance to discipline him, especially lately. It was almost as if Uncle Vernon wanted to pack all the punishments of the year into the next month, before he went off to Hogwarts. “Do you think I have nothing better to do than to look at your revolting face all day and then try to fix you? You are a disgrace! You are a sick freak, good for nothing boy! You should beg us for more ways to make yourself useful, to pay us for how much we do for you! You are such a burden! In fact, get on your knees and I will show you how. Faster boy, I don’t have all day. Open your mouth, that’s it. And if you dare bite me, I will murder you and be done with you, don’t think I won’t. Is that clear?”

He didn’t wait for Harry’s response before he was pushing himself on the boy’s mouth. It’s not like it was necessary. What could he possibly do or say to make a difference? He was just an unwanted freak. And he knew his uncle was mean, and cruel, and this was wrong, but he didn’t have any other option, did he? At least now he knew that at the end of the summer he would be going away. He just needed to hide his freakiness once he was at school.

The first time it happened, Harry had just turned nine. He only knew because the teacher at school had told him to have a good birthday on the last day of classes. So, he knew his birthday was during the summer. On day, his uncle had an important business dinner and Harry had accidently dropped the pie on the floor as it came out of the oven. There was no time to make a new desert and Aunt Petunia had had to improvise an Eton Mess, which she said was unseemly. His uncle had dragged him to the main bedroom and stripped him. After using the belt to punish him, so he didn’t have sore hands for the dinner, he decided to show the freak the only thing he would ever be good for. When his uncle was done, he had locked him on his cupboard for four days with no water or food. Harry’s bum had bled for days after that, and he had to use an old t-shirt rolled into his underpants to soak up the blood, so he did not make a mess on his mat. Before it was given to him, the mat had belonged to Aunt Marge’s dogs, and it was dirty enough without him bleeding on it.

Now, the boy was used to these new punishments. The beating and beltings were the norm, he’d learnt. He’s uncle’s prick was saved for especially brutal reminders of what a freak he was. He could only hope that today his uncle would be done in his mouth. It was gross, but it hurt a lot less than the alternative. In his head he could just go away and imagine he was back in Diagon Alley. If only one magical street was so amazing, what would a whole magical castle be like? He couldn’t wait to see.

As he went, Uncle Vernon kept sending a spew of insults his way. “Disgusting, worthless freak! You’ll see, boy, you’ll see… I will make you normal. You are nothing but a freak and a piece of shit. This is all you can ever be good for! No one will ever want you. No one can love you. Your own parents couldn’t love you enough to stay sober. You are revolting. See what happens if someone ever saw your body… they will know you for the freak you are, won’t they? They will know and they will send you back to us. No one wants a freak!”

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Severus had been trying to get the boy’s attention for several minutes now. He dared not touch him. Harry was on his school trousers, no shirt, likely as Draco had found him. His tiny arms were wrapped around his knees and he was slowly swaying back and forth. His eyes were shut tight, he was crying and clearly lost inside his head. The professor could see the boy was muttering, but couldn’t hear what was said.

If he had ever thought of this boy as arrogant, conceited, proud, he was now proven wrong. How could he had been so blinded? Was his hatred so deep that he failed to see an abused kid, because he was expecting to see his own bully? Apparently, Albus had prepared him for years to hate the boy. The headmaster had told him all about how Potter was being raised with all the riches and comforts he could ever want, that he was spoilt and had no care in the world. That he looked so much like James, it was hard to tell them apart. Every year Severus would ask, as he felt his vow required him, but he had never actually checked. He has taken the word of the Headmaster. Yes, he had been prejudiced against the student before he even set foot on the train. And yet… and yet, he had been an idiot. He knew abuse first hand. He was always the one, along with Poppy, to find and help abused kids. The school robes hid a lot, but there are always other signs. Signs he has grown to look for and recognised. But he had failed Harry because he had allowed his mind to be poisoned. He was such an idiot! Happy and healthy, my arse!

With slow movements, he removed his dressing gown and lowered it over the child’s back. It was always a bit chilly in the dungeons, so the boy must be cold. He also could not stand to see his back right now. It was as if the scars littering the small frame were telling him what a failure he was. He felt guilty for each and every one of those mutilations, as much as if he had been the one holding the belt. He had sworn to protect Lily’s child. And his rage and resentment with his own sad history had taken over his life, and made his foreswear his vow. Not only had he ignored Harry for a decade, thinking his commitments were met because he asked a clearly unreliable source, he had continued to ignore his plight when the child was standing right in front of him. Two year. He had seen this boy at classes and mealtimes for two years.

The story written in scars in Harry’s back was one of years of the deepest misery and pain imaginable. No wonder Draco had looked traumatised. A boy who grew up being pampered and spoilt, told that magical children were gifts from Lady Magic, to be cherished and loved… this would be a cruel lesson to learn that not all adults were nice to kids. But now was not the time to dwell on his guilt, or Draco’s mental wellbeing. He needed to break Harry out of the state he was in.

“Harry, can you hear me?” Severus tried to make his voice as soothing as possible. The complete opposite from his classroom voice. “Harry, you are safe. You are in your bed at school and no one can hurt you. Can you hear me, Harry?” Getting no response, he started casting bubbles with his wand and blowing them his way. Hopefully, the stimuli would be enough to bring him to the present, without startling him too much. As a few of them popped on the boy’s arms and face, the boy opened his eyes, looking terrified around him as if searching for something.

“Uncle Vernon?”

“No, Harry. Your uncle is not here. It’s only me, Severus. You are safe here. I promise.”

Everyone said that Harry had his mother’s eyes. But as the boy locked eyes with him now, there was nothing of Lily there. She had never had such sadness and despair on her eyes. It looked like he was trying to say something, but instead of words, he dissolved in sobs and tears. Severus wasn’t sure what comfort the boy would be able to accept, so he just sat on the side of the bed and left his hand open next to the sobbing child, available to be taken.

After some minutes, Harry looked up directly at him. “You are still here. You saw… but you are still here. Now you know how disgusting I am. Guess you were proven right; you have a true reason to hate me now. Why are you still here?” As if Severus could be any other place right now. “You are not disgusting and I’m here for as long as you need me, Harry” it was all it took for the child to launch himself into his professor’s arms and finally accept some level of comfort. “It’s okay, child. I’m sorry we didn’t know before. You are safe. I’ll help you now. It’s okay. You are safe.” All he could do while the boy cried was draw circles on his back, and tell him he was safe as many times as it took. He knew he would have time later to swallow in his well-deserved wretchedness and guilt. How wrong he had been! How stupid… But right now Harry needed him, and he would not fail him anymore.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 – Midnight Confessions

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m done now. I’m sorry.” The boy starts apologising as soon as he catches his breath, cleaning his tears on the sleeve of his professor’s dressing gown.

“You don’t need to apologise, Harry. We all cry sometimes, and I did say that I was available for anything you might need. I’m your new Head, am I not?”

The boy looks at him sceptically. “Yes, well. I bet you weren’t expecting me to cry all over you… and you don’t even like me, so I did not think it applied to me as well. I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologising, Harry. There is nothing for you to be sorry about. And yes, I do expect my snakes to come if they are not well, all of them. In fact, you should know you are not even the first student who cried on my shoulder since beginning of term.” The professor reveals this with a small smile, to the surprised boy still in his arms. “So, don’t concern yourself with it. As far as me not liking you, Harry. I don’t truly think I knew you. It was your father I was disliking, not you.” Those green eyes look up at him as if asking what he is on about, and if he truly expects him to believe he hated the father and not the child. Severus sighs deeply and, for once, allows an expression of regret to show on his normally stern face “I know it doesn’t make sense, but just because we are adults it doesn’t automatically mean we have to make sense. I am sorry, though, very much. I shouldn’t have treated you like that. If you allow me, I would like to get to know you now.”

Somewhat mollified, but ignoring that last bit, Harry looks around expecting to see all his roommates, who are nowhere to be found. “Sir, where are the others?”

“They are in the common room with the girls, giving you some privacy.” Severus thought the boy would be pleased, but he looks terrified again. “Don’t worry, I sent them out before I opened your curtains.” There, that’s what was concerning the child. “But they were very concerned about you, Draco in particular. And I bet they would like to know that you are better now. Do you think we can call them in?” After some time without an answer, he continues “I know it’s hard to talk about it, trust me, but we can only help if you tell us what is going on.” The boy looks aghast at the idea of discussing his homelife. He is now clutching Severus’ dressing gown tight around his chest and taking deep breaths as if to calm himself.

“Trust you?” There is so much pain in those two words that Severus knows he will carry the guilt for the rest of his life. “As I said, I know it’s hard. It was hard for me to trust when I was in your position too. But do you think you can?” And finally, something lights up in the boy’s eyes and he minutely nods his head, breaking eye contact.

“Must I tell them as well, though, professor? I understand you need to know, but…” Harry doesn’t lift his head to speak and he doesn’t finish the sentence. He is biting his lip and clearly distressed.

“You don’t have to, Harry, but I do suggest it. I did tell you on the first night here that Slytherin is now your family. I meant it. Within this family, I agree with you that not everybody needs to know everyone’s business. But your year mates are the closest people to you now, while you are in the castle. They will share your classes, meals and night time. Your spare time, and study. As well as your successes and your challenges, your joy and your sorrow. Wouldn’t it be nice if they knew you better, so they can support you? And… I believe they have already proven that they can take your side and support you, have they not?” He hadn’t thought he would ever be glad for a Gryffindor’s taunts, but they now served the purpose of showing this boy that he was not alone. “I believe they need to know, and they will want to know too. This is just how we work, how we keep each other safe, by knowing what to look for and how to help. I also think it’s best to just tell them all at once, instead of re-telling a story a dozen times…”

“Alright. Ok. I… I am trying to trust more this year. But I should also tell Hermione. She is my best friend and I would feel awful if I finally share this with others, and not with her. I’ll talk to them tomorrow.” Even when distressed, the boy is thinking about his friend first. How did he miss this? Severus is certain than, once in his quarters, he would have to put up his strongest mind shields and take advantage of occlumency to re-evaluate every interaction he ever had with this child.

Bringing a girl from another House, especially so late, was unusual. But the Potions professor knows how hard it is for people to be ready to discuss their abuse. It is one of the hardest things to do, and it shows tremendous strength for Harry to want to trust them and tell them. Thus, he is not about to lose momentum, only for Harry to have to gather up his courage again tomorrow. “How about we invite her to join us here. It’s a bit unorthodox. We normally don’t allow Ravenclaws into our dungeons, you know, but I can make an exception for today. I will have to go and talk to Professor Flitwick though, to get the girl out of her dorm after curfew.”

“Oh, no. No, no” Harry is shaking his head in near desperation. Clearly, he does not want to let more people know than necessary. “Can’t we send Mimmy with my invisibility cloak? Nobody has to know she left her bed! Please!” Invisibility cloak. Of course. That explains so much!

“Well, if we are already breaking the curfew, we might as well go all the way. And if she is invisible, she could hardly be caught out, I guess. Mimmy” he catches the sigh of relief from his charge as he calls the elf “I need an unconventional favour, if you please. We need you to go to the Ravenclaw tower, third-year girl’s dormitory, and bring Miss Hermione Granger down here. Please apparate directly into her bed, so no one else sees you, and bring her here under the invisibility cloak that Mr. Potter is fetching now.” As the elf leaves to follow her instructions, the professor conjures a fabric and slightly hits it with Aquamenti. “I’ll get the others; you can use this to freshen your face a bit.”

As he is about to leave the room, Harry asks one more question. “Sir, where did this dressing gown come from? I’m sure I never had one, so it’s not mine.”

“It’s mine, actually. You looked cold. Be right back.” And with that, he leaves Harry with a gobsmacked face and a few chuckles.

“Oh, there you are! We were all so worried about you all! The entire House was here, except for your dorm! Draco, what is wrong?” Pansy is in one of her moods that results in unending questions and no time for answers. She was on her feet and running to them while shooting her questions. Soon, though they were joined by the other girls who simply could not wait for the boys to reach the couches.

“What happened? Where is Harry? The prefects said Professor Snape went into your dorm. Is this related to that magical pulse we felt? Is Harry hurt?”

“Dear Merlin, Pansy! Give a bloke a moment to respond, would you?” He knows he is harsh but softens the blow with a fond smile. It’s late, they are all tired – and a bit frightened – and he loves her but she needs to calm down. “Let’s sit and we’ll tell you what we know.” Blaise was not even certain himself of what had happened, so it’s not like he could respond all of Pansy’s questions anyway. But as they all sat together, heaped on top of each other as they used to do when they were kids, the boys tried to deliver as close an explanation as they could. They knew Snape was with Harry, so there was not much they could do about that. But Draco’s continued silence had them terrified. At least the blond was not crying anymore, but the red shot eyes and tear tracks were evident still.

It was a rather short story, as they told their Head, so there was not much they could add to the conversation. The girls had felt a magical pulse that made their dorm shake, and they had come out to the common room only to find it in chaos. The prefects had done a fine job of putting it back together, and followed Snape’s orders and sent all the students to bed except for the third-year girls. They were now alone in the common room. Tomorrow they would need to explain things to the rest of the House, they were sure. For now, they drank some tea to occupy them and waited.

“Evening, ladies. Thanks for waiting. I know you are all distressed by the events of earlier, but I needed to calm Harry first before coming to talk to you.” A few eyebrows rose as his ever-inquisitive snakes noticed the way he had addressed Potter. Even in trying circumstances, they were sharp as goblin-forge daggers. They would soon adapt their own views of the Boy-Who-Lived and understand, too. “I’m afraid that tonight Draco stumbled upon very upsetting information about your newest year mate. It appears that we’ve all had a… misleading understanding of him, we can say.” He can’t help a guilty sounding cough to accompany that. “Upon this situation being found, Harry panicked and his magic reacted by sending that pulse you felt earlier, and by locking himself up in incredibly strong wards. And then inside his own head as well. I’m sorry it took me a while to reach him, and as a consequence you were all kept you out of your beds.” All eyes were on him now. Sombre looks in the 13-year-olds, as they start to understand something far more serious than a few destroyed pillows is going on.

“As you know, I expect us Slytherins to help and support each other. This is a time in which we must show our unity.” Even before he finished the phrase, a determined looking Draco is on his feet. If this has managed to affect a notoriously self-centred Draco so strongly, what will it do for the rest of them? Do they even recognise they are about to have their innocence crushed? “There are things we should know about Harry and how his life has been so far, so we all know how to care for him better in the future. It will take a great deal of courage and strength on his part to share with us, as we have not been his most enthusiastic supporters thus far, so please be respectful. I should warn you that it might be… shocking and distressing. I ask you please to let him talk, and provide as much support as you can.” He then leads them to the boy’s room.

They all file in, quickly arranging themselves in the beds around Harry, but with no one daring to actually climb on his. Harry has taken the time the professor had been out to clean his face, close and tie the dressing gown around him, and shelter himself with all the available covers the bed offers. Both his hands are inside the robe’s pocket, which is large enough on the boy that the pocket sits on his lap instead of his side. He is looking at them all as they walk in, silently holding their gazes and much more composed than Severus expected to find someone about to share their deepest darkest secrets to a room of former rivals and a bullying authority figure. No wonders Slytherins have such a horrid reputation… we have been such bastards to this boy.

Now that he looks again, not everybody has found their way into a bed. Draco is still standing barely inside the door, eyes locked on the ground. His hair is not gelled back, and is falling in front of his face, allowing them only to see the boy biting as his trembling lower lip. Severus is about to go to him, when the blond boy takes a deep – slightly quivering – breath and finally walks into the room, straight to Harry’s bed.

“I apologise.” That out of the way, his godson takes another breath and continues speaking, with a broken voice that tells them he is making an effort not to cry. “I should have respected your privacy. I thought… It was stupid, see, but I thought you were hiding something and I wanted to know what, but it was none of my business. And I am, you know, truly sorry. I… I’ll try to be a better friend now, if you even want that anymore… you said you wanted before but perhaps now… Anyway, I promise to respect your boundaries from now on, friends or not. And I hope you can accept my apology.”

If he had not been strongly occluding, Severus would not had been able to control the look of utter shock that wanted to break on his face. The kids were not as lucky, most of them were sporting open mouths and eyes full of surprise as if it was the latest of teen fashion. He’s seen Draco stubbornly decide to lose flying privileges for a month, go to bed without desert, and even be forced to clean his own bathroom for a month without elves… instead of taking the alternative of apologising for whatever he’d done to land him in trouble. Come to think of it, he can’t even remember one instance in which the proud Malfoy heir had actually apologized before. Severus can clearly picture in his head the face that his godson had completely mastered by the age of five, and would make an appearance each time the boy knew for a fact he had messed up but had no intention what-so-ever to say sorry: chin up in the air, lips tightly sealed, eyes looking to the right corner of the ceiling.

“Of course, I accept it.” Harry was too forgiving. Draco had stronghanded him into discussing his abuse, had invaded his privacy and had shown no respect for the other boy’s wishes. And yet, the fact that Harry was so easy to forget will probably work on everyone’s favour now, as they were all guilty of being royal arses to the boy. “And I am also sorry about the way I reacted. I think I was a bit out of it, so I don’t remember everything I said and did, but I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”

Just as Draco was walking to Harry’s bed, Mimmy had entered the room, hopefully with their invisible guest. Draco will be mortified if he realises that the Granger girl has heard his very first apology. “Mimmy. Have you managed to bring our guest?”

“Yes, sir. Mimmy did as sir said and no one saw. Can I gets sir anything else?”

“Bring me my other dressing gown, please. And I believe hot chocolate for all of us is in order, and a camomile tea for Miss Greengrass. Miss Granger, is hot chocolate okay for you?” Just then, the invisibility cloak is removed and a pyjama clad Hermione Granger is revealed. “Yes, sir. Thank you, Mimmy.” She then nods to both and resolutely walks amongst the slack jaw Slytherins right to her friend’s side. By all standards she should be at least a bit intimidated, in nothing but slippers and a nightdress and in enemy territory, but the girl is nothing if not confident. Is that something they teach at the Gryffindor Tower, or do both her and Harry have that quality naturally?

“Are you alright, Harry? You look fine, you are not unconscious or bleeding, and at least this time I am not visiting you at the Hospital Wing, so I should count that as a win, right?” She delivers this line with a self-deprecatory chuckle and a fond look. So that’s what it is, then. Seems not much can faze her after being friends with Harry for two years. She quickly sobers, though, and shows she truly is concerned for her friend. “I was so scared when you sent your cloak with a house elf, that I ran all the way to the infirmary before Mimmy could explain that we were coming here. I know you don’t really part with it much.” She then folds the cloak as if it was the most precious thing in the world, which it might be for Potter, lays it on top of his trunk, and sits down next to her friend in his bed, both their backs on the headboard. “What happened? Did it have anything to do with that magical pulse from a few moments ago?” Harry’s face of embarrassment and desolation are all the answer she needs to understand, and she bursts out laughing. “So that was you, then! What the hell did Malfoy do to piss you off?” And just how powerful is this boy, that his accidental magical burst was felt on the top of her tower?

Does she actually know that this was my fault, or is she going for the usual suspect? Dear Merlin, I hope she did not witness my apology. The others will tease me for months, but at least they know me. And I had to do it this time! I didn’t just break an invaluable sculpture or insulted one of my instructors. This was so bad, so bad. I had no choice but to apologise. Why don’t I think about things first when it comes to him? And just when he said he wanted to be my friend... I’m so stupid. Why couldn’t I respect his privacy? And now we are forcing him to remember all the horrid things he must have gone through. And what exactly has he been put through? Who would do that to a child? And don’t they know who this boy is? How special he is?

Soon, they all have their drinks and they catch up Granger on the events of that night. When the scars on Harry’s back are mentioned, she moves as though to lift the nightgown and see them, but Harry denies her fervently. He clearly doesn’t want others to be as stupid as Draco and see him. Stupid, stupid Draco.

When she is all caught up, Granger looks right at their professor and starts her usual questioning. “Professor, I appreciate being brought here to see Harry. But why exactly are we all here? Have you checked if he needs medical assistance? Is he truly ok? What was that magical pulse? Was it really coming from Harry? Could it have depleted his magical core? That has happened before, you know, when Quirrelmort tried to kill him, so have you checked?” WAIT! What? Who tried to kill Harry? When was this? Did she say Quirrel? Draco is at least proud that he is managing to, barely, keep his questions to himself. For now. He will need to discuss this with his godfather. He lost track of Granger’s questions, but manages to drop back into reality for the last one. “Or, is this about how he got those scars? Surely, that is a subject better addressed in private, is it not?”

“That was an impressive amount of questions, Miss Granger, even for someone as inquisitive as yourself. Particularly as you seemed to have made them all in one breath. If you have now exhausted your list, I’ll respond.” Uncle Sev is always able to quiet a room with a few words. “I haven’t checked Harry yet, but I will perform a diagnostic charm soon. I don’t think he is physically unwell, though, so please don’t concern yourself.” He then addresses the rest of them. They are all respectfully and quietly waiting for their Head. “As you have been able to see for yourselves, we have a guest with us tonight.” He delivers this with a smirk, because by now Granger has made her presence very much known. “You know we don’t allow students from other Houses inside the snake pit, but we are making an exception now and I would like all of us to treat Hermione as an honorary Slytherin for the evening.” The Potions Professor makes an effort to emphasise her name, showing he is also addressing her as one of his own snakes.

“As for the reason we are gathered, this is how we do things here, Hermione. We treat each other as a family, to support and care for. And in order to be able to do that, we must know what is affecting the others and what needs they might have. More importantly, we must be aware of any conditions that need to be closely monitored to keep our health. For some, it might appear to be invasive, but we see it as a two-way commitment to each other. Harry has agreed to explain to us whatever he is prepared to share about his family situation and how he might need our help, so we get hot chocolate and we listen. Another day, he might be the one on the listening end, seeing how he can show his support to another.” All the Slytherins nod, confirming they agree with everything their Head of House said, and that they are here to stand by Harry and help him if he needs them, as he clearly does. Merlin knows what the Gryffindors were doing the past two years! And they think we are the selfish ones.

“Uncle Sev, perhaps it would be easier if we start? After all, Harry should also be aware of some things, especially as he insists on making our breakfasts!” Draco hopes he can break a bit of the tension with a laugh, and is glad when a small smile shows up on Harry’s face. He can’t imagine what this must be for the poor boy, having his most difficult secrets laid bare and having to open up to what basically amounts to strangers. Perhaps, if they share with him first, he will feel a sliver more comfortable when is his turn.

“Quite right, Draco. Let’s see. Pansy here is allergic to strawberries. It’s easy for her to avoid them as they are normally visible, but you should restrain from offering her any food that contain them, even hidden. If she ever has a would-be suitor who gifts her chocolate covered strawberries, you know what to do with him. Just make sure I don’t find his body; I would hate to deduct points from my own House.” The mood is further lightened by his joke, and by the laughers of the former-Gryffs who never expected their stern professor to have a sense of humour. “Draco, on the other hand, is intensely allergic to parsley. This is much more severe as he will stop breathing if he ingests it. The elves are aware and so he always sits on the same section of the Slytherin table, which is never provided with any food containing parsley. If you wish to have any, you may use any fresh parsley that is available at other sections of the table, but never dry one, as tiny volatile particles may be accidentally ingested.”

“It’s fine, I can live without parsley. The benefits of having it are not worth the risk of someone’s life.” Oh, he really shouldn’t feel this happy that Harry is willing to forgo a herb on his behalf. Harry is noble, after all, he would likely do it for anyone he was in close proximity to. But Draco can’t help the warm that fills him at the easy way that the green-eyed boy had decided to make a change in his life to keep him safe.

“My thoughts exactly. What else? Theo’s mother passed at childbirth. His father didn’t take things well and so Theo is now living with his uncle and grandmother. His father does contact him, though, and each time he does we can all expect the missive to be nasty and demanding. We will most certainly have hot chocolate when Mr. Nott Sr. contacts the castle. Nothing to be done about it, we can’t choose our families, can we?” That seems to light a spark on Harry’s eyes, Draco can’t help noticing.

“Millicent and Tracey are both forbidden both by myself and their parents from adopting any more cats. It doesn’t matter how big their houses might be, they have enough cats to provide pets for all magical Britain. Under no circumstances are you to encourage them to get another cat.” The two girls pout, but there is no denying the truth of that statement.

“Lastly, Mr. Zabini is part-veela. As such, some potions have no effect on him. If he catches a cold, he won’t be able to take a Pepper-Up Potion to counter the symptoms and you will find yourself taking care of a sick dormmate. I’ve been told he gets fairly bad cases of man-flu.” The last is 100% true, Draco thinks, and hopes this winter Blaise doesn’t get sick. He can be so annoying, Merlin. “It’s important that you know this, as it is for them to know your relevant medical conditions, so we may take care of each other.”

Right then Theo adds “We are also dreading the day Blaise get his first veela heat…” He delivers this with a dead serious face to the guffaws of the rest of the boys, except the affected one. “You are such a prat, Theo! I told you before, veelas don’t have heat cycles, and even if they did, only the female would be affected by heat! You are such a git!” This has been a running joke on their dorm, so Blaise is not really offended. But they all know he will remember to embarrass Theo later.

Granger, of course, misses nothing and is soon asking Daphne about her drinking tea instead of chocolate. “I’m slightly lactose intolerant. I prefer to have my dairy intake with the morning yogurt than on milky drinks.” She responds primly, nodding to their professor as to see if he is happy that she is responsible about her eating habits. It only lasts a second, as soon Tracey is correcting this information, always with her zeal about accuracy, “such a liar, Daftney! (“don’t call me that!”) It’s about cheese. She’s obsessed about cheese. Blames it on her French influences. It’s so she can have all the cheese she wants later!”

Draco is so proud of his friends; he wouldn’t change them for the world. Harry hasn’t said much since they exchanged apologies and is clearly ill at ease. But all of them are making such an effort to comfort him, even if it’s by being quieter than usual (Pansy and Millicent are biting their tongues to keep some comments to themselves, clearly), or by just laughing and helping them relax even when they don’t feel relaxed at all. He just hopes they have what it takes to help Harry. They were all kids when Theo was taken to his uncle’s house to live, as his father was getting louder every time he had gin, and started slapping the boy. So, they knew about it, but they had not really participated much, and there had been no lasting damage. The adults were quickly made aware and took it upon themselves to provide proper housing. He had the impression that they were now going to be dealing with a much bigger and much harder situation, and would have to put all their combined cunning and resources to support their newest snake.

And now Draco knew, and couldn’t deny anymore, that he had been wrong about the Boy-Who-Lived. But he wanted to be friends with Harry, not the press-created figure, and yet he had added to the other boy’s pain tonight and forced his hand. So it now fell on him to make things better. This was not about his pride, or his status. And it was definitely not about his father’s plans for the Malfoy family, although he would have to address that eventually. Now he wanted to be a part of Harry’s life and be the one to help him, and nothing was going to stop him from making things right.

It was unsettling to have all of their attention now, and so suddenly. Why were they looking at her? Oh, right… it was her turn apparently. Honorary Slytherin and all. That had been awfully nice of Professor Snape, actually… “So, no allergies. But I do hate white chocolate and cigarette smoke, so sometimes I fake allergies to have a valid excuse to avoid them or force people to keep those away from me.” Well, at least they are laughing with me now. Guess they approve of my avoidance technique!

“I’m also part-muggle” she said jokingly with a nod to Zabini, but then her face fell when she realised her crowd. She braced herself for the slurs to come, but was surprised when Pansy responded as firmly and clearly as she had defended Harry from Ron. “You are 100% witch, Hermione. We all know that, so you can’t trick us” she ended with a wink. “Oh, don’t be so shocked. I’ll have you know that I’ve become quite the fan of muggleborns lately.” And if that wasn’t a surprise enough, the next one to talk was no other than Draco Malfoy “And she is not the only one. But that is a story for another day, Hermione.” Did he just call me Hermione? Is this a dream? Blazing bells, this was so weird. They have apparently adopted her into their nest of snakes. Jesus.

“Right, ok. I will most certainly want to hear it, though. In fact, there are so many things I am thinking to ask later… can someone lend me some parchment to make a list?” Her request was met with laughter again, though more amused than cruel, and Theo quickly handled her a piece of parchment and a muggle pen, a muggle pen! in the snake pit. Would wonders never cease?

She turns a sad look at Harry, he’s been her best friend and almost like a brother to her since they battled that troll in first year. Ron was always the louder of the trio, but they had always been closer to each other, sharing quiet study time in the library and talking about their wishes for the future. But she has clearly been missing things, important things, if the scars Malfoy has seen are as bad as they had implied. “So, it seems I have been keeping my head inside my books too much, right? I missed some relevant things…”

And that finally gets a response from the new snake “oh, Mione, no. You are amazing. You knew I was lonely during the summers and kept writing to me, and you always make sure I eat when I feel I haven’t earned it.” Oh, shit. Is that really why he doesn’t eat? I thought he was an anxious eater, and he forgot to get food when he was nervous. Shit. Some of her thoughts must show on her face, though, because Harry keeps going with even more vehemence “Please don’t feel bad. I’ve been sort of hiding it, actually. I always thought people would find me disgusting and stop being my friends if they knew. Remember when we talked about the re-sorting as our second chance? I was kinda thinking about this… that I might be able to finally discuss it. It wasn’t until I run away from Surrey and I met Sally that I’ve been able to talk about my aunt’s house.”

“I’m glad you can talk to us now, Harry.” Is all she manages to respond, before their professor catches on the one thing they were hoping he had missed.

“Who is Sally?”

Well, nothing says ‘don’t worry about it’ like eleven teenagers pretending to look at their nails at the same time. At least they are all united in hiding this. “Will you make me ask again?”

“Oh, bugger! I wasn’t supposed to say anything. I know he is not allowed, but he was so insistent that he wanted to come with me! He wants to protect me, he said. And I would miss him too much if I left him in the menagerie…” A look of absolute guilt transforms Harry’s face, as he bites his lip and reaches inside the pocket of his robe. And of course, when he said he talked to someone in the menagerie, the answer was clear enough. But of all the types of snakes in existence, why must this boy bring the most venomous into his room?

“A boomslang, Harry?” His voice comes as a mix of resigned and horrified, he knows. “Do you know how dangerous they are? What if Sally bites another student?”
“Oh, no professor!! He is not biting anyone, he promised… unless they attack me, he said. But, listen, please! His bite is not always venomous, and even when it is, it takes hours for the venom to kill, right? So there is plenty of time to administer the antivenom. And I checked in the bookstore and the antivenom potion has a very long shelf life, so I thought I can brew it now and it will keep until the Christmas break, at least. And he is so good, and he is my friend, please don’t make me give him up, please. Please.” Right, like he could say no now.

“Seems like you thought of everything, didn’t you? Planning to hide him until inevitable discovery and then you had all the answers to our objections, right?”

“Yes, well. I also planned to brew the potion, but I forgot myself and accidently told you today.” Severus knew that, even without the kicked puppy eyes and biting lip routine, he would never be able to say no to Harry right now. He could not refuse the boy his friend, of course, and he did have reasonable responses and appropriate precautions to avoid problems. He also desperately wanted Harry to trust him now, and denying him his friend was not the right course of action to achieve that. As a Head, he had the authority to allow unusual pets, as long as there were no risks to other students. And he knew for a fact that Minerva had allowed a tarantula and a lizard in her tower.

“Very well. Sally can stay, on the condition that he provides potion ingredients both for the antivenom – which will work much better if we have venom from the snake, we want to protect his victims from – and for other potions. Do you think you could collect the shed skin?” Well, he was a Slytherin, and he couldn’t miss a chance for rare and expensive potions ingredients, could he?

Severus thought he would be ready for the parseltongue, but it would still take some getting used to, it appears. But soon enough Harry had acquired permission from the snake to collect ingredients and a promise not to bite anyone in the castle, unless they attacked Harry. The boys also confirmed they were happy to have Sally in their room and were soon passing the boomslang from hand to hand as the snake preened proudly under their praises.

He knew the moment Harry was placed in Slytherin that his life would be affected by the boy. He never expected this, but he was glad now for the re-sorting.

“Harry, do you think you can share with us now? Only what you are comfortable talking about. But we want to know what we can do to help and for that, we need to know.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 – Nightmare fodder

“I don’t really know where to start…” Harry tensed when all eyes were on him in a visible way. It was not lost on any of them how he tightened his hold of the bed covers and reached to pet Sally. It couldn’t be easy to open up about something like this. Severus was heartened, at least, by the strength the boy seemed to draw from the snake.

“You know what I’ll say…” Hermione smiles gently and some of the tension leaves the boy’s shoulders. Yes, it was a good idea to have her come down.

“The beginning. I know.” Harry throws a small smile her way and takes a moment to look around, exchanging a look with each of them. He then turns his eyes to his hands and the snake coiling around them, and starts talking. “I guess, then, the beginning for me was the night my parents died. I don’t have any details and I don’t know why I survived when they didn’t, so please don’t ask.” Severus can tell Draco and Blaise wanted to question something, but he is glad they understand this is no time for interruptions. Starting is the hardest. Just in case they are too tempted, he looks straight at the boys and shakes his head slightly. They’ll get it. “After that, I was sent to live with my mother’s sister, Aunt Petunia, and her family, Uncle Vernon and Dudley, my cousin.” And how telling it is that he does not call them his family, but his mother’s family. “They are muggles, and they like everything to be ‘normal’. They hate magic, of course, because it doesn’t fit in their image of normality. And as a consequence of that, they always hated me and my parents. They actually told me that my parents were drunk layabouts who had died in a car accident because my father was driving intoxicated. That was also where I got my scar, according to them. They knew they were wizards and they had been murdered, but they didn’t want me to know.” Now, Severus might despise James Potter, but not even he would say that the man was a drunk or an idle person. He was an auror, for Merlin’s sake! The professor needs to bite his tongue from interrupting the tale, but he will make sure that Harry has accurate information about his parents, both of them… even if it pains him to find positive things to say about Potter.

“I don’t have much information on how I came to be left with them, although they are the only family I have left, so it makes sense. But I have learnt the past few years not to believe anything they tell me, as they mostly lie. They told me that someone left me on their doorstep, with a letter explaining that I was an orphan, and they were not given the chance to reject me. So, I don’t know how true that part is, but I figure it must be… if they had been asked, they would surely have said no. They never wanted me, see? And they always used that as an excuse to make me do things to earn my keep.” How could this kid be so calmed? Perhaps he could clarify a few things as they go along.

“What exactly does it mean to Petunia to ‘earn your keep’, Harry?”

“Um, you know. Chores, mostly. Nothing terrible, really. I’m really fast now at doing them, so it’s not a hardship.”

“I’m glad some parts of living with them were not a hardship, but how many chores? Were they divided with your cousin?”

“Well, no. But he was wanted, I was just a freak.” Yes, because that makes sense. “When my cousin was three, I barely remember but I think it was mostly having to pick up the toys after he played, setting the table, taking out the trash. Then as I grew up, I started having more responsibilities to keep up with the burden of raising me. So, I had to clean Dudley’s room, make his bed, takes his clothes to the laundry, weed the garden, water the plants, clean the windows, and when he was five I was responsible for cooking breakfast for the family so my aunt could help him get ready for school. And after they ate, I had to clean the dishes and the kitchen. By the time my cousin was nine, I did all of the cooking, unless they had guests, the gardening and cleaning the bathrooms, kitchen, scrubbing floors and windows. And now, I do the same when I am back for the summer, except I also paint the fence and the house, and last summer I had to reupholster the dining room chairs. That was tricky, but I managed to find a book in the library with instructions, though.”

It’s good the kid never looked up, because all of the others in the room are incredulous even to the fact that a house could need all that work, let alone that a child their age could keep up with all that. “That’s a lot of work for a growing boy, Harry. When did you have time to play, or do your own school assignments?” Severus is stunned to hear the boy so naturally call himself a freak and discuss his chores as if this was the easy and normal part of his childhood.

Harry sniffs ruefully, as if the question was simply too silly. “Freaks don’t get to play. And it was best if I didn’t do school assignments. If I did better than Dudley, I would be punished.”

“Don’t call yourself a freak, Harry! You are not a freak!” There is such determination in Hermione’s voice that even Harry is surprised by her vehemence and finally looks up at her. Once she has his attention, she once more releases her inquisitive nature, though thankfully in a measured way. “Is your cousin your same age? Why are you telling us his age instead of yours?” Yes, Severus had found that odd as well. It couldn’t possibly be what he was thinking… it better not be.

“Oh, I just didn’t know my age growing up, Mione. We only celebrated Dudley’s birthday, so I knew his. But we were in the same grade at school, actually, even if I started a year later, and so I knew we had to be around the same age. School was awful, though. I was already behind with reading and everything, and my aunt had convinced all the teachers that I was a pathological liar and a trouble boy, so they all hated me. It didn’t help that I didn’t know I was Harry Potter, so during roll call I never answered and they got so angry about that.” He didn’t know his own name. The shock in the room could be felt, palpable and solid as the four-poster beds. Yet Harry didn’t even realise what he just said had struck them to their cores.

“It was actually Hagrid who told me when my birthday was and how old I was, when he came to find me and give me the Hogwarts letter. He brought me my first birthday cake, it was awesome, though Dudley ate it all before I could taste it. But going by everything else we tasted that came from Hagrid’s kitchen, it might be a good thing!” How Harry finds it in himself to joke about this, is incredible. Children are, truly, resilient. And this one is more than most.

“Did you never ask your aunt and uncle when your birthday was, Harry?” He doesn’t even know why he bothers asking, when the answer is obvious.

“Yes. But they said the same thing they said every time I asked for something. ‘Freaks don’t get birthdays’ or ‘freaks don’t get presents’ or ‘freaks have to earn their food’. You know… at one point I just stopped asking.”

“Wait. Is this why you barely eat? Because you have to earn your food?” Draco asks, eyes opened huge. Harry just bites his lower lip and doesn’t answer. Severus can see from that their Ravenclaw guest is writing down follow up questions as they go, but not wanting to interrupt her friend. It’s a good thing someone is keeping a record of what is most certainly going on in most of their heads, because he is utterly lost in guilt and grief right now.

The professor is not sure how he would be able to have this conversation without his strongest occlumency shields in place. Even like that, he was livid. He has missed this one. He always catches the children at risk in their first year, he knows above all others how to recognize the signs. How could he have been so blind? And how in Merlin’s name did no one notice before? There is something strange in the whole situation. Potter has been in the infirmary more than most students, how has Poppy missed this?

Could it be that everything he said before, and I thought was a lie, was actually true? He said he did not know he how his parents had died and it was Hagrid who told him… now that seems to be true. As well as the fact that his relatives didn’t want him to come to Hogwarts. Well, they would miss their slave, wouldn’t they? So most likely he also didn’t know he was a wizard, and received several letters as well. Did he also never get a medical examination in 13 years? That’s crazy. It certainly appears that Hagrid and Weasley were the first people to show him any kindness. That will change now. Draco wasn’t the only one who was lost in thought for a moment. They all needed to process what Harry was saying, even their professor, who looked older and sadder than they had ever seen him.

“So, you really didn’t know you were a wizard. I thought you were lying before.” There is regret in his tone, but he is not about to apologise for a second time in one night.

“No, I didn’t know. You’ll find I rarely lie. There were very few things I could actually control in my life, and whether I was truthful and honest, or not, was one of those. I always hated to be called a liar! It’s just that, for some reason, people won’t believe me when I speak the truth. Like last year, when I said it wasn’t me opening the Chamber of Secrets, or when I told them all that Voldemort was trying to get the Philosopher’s Stone. I told you, professor, didn’t I? But adults never believe me! And then everyone gets angry when we have to get involved ourselves.”

“Yes, of course you are right, Harry. I’m sorry -” Draco doesn’t know what is more astounding, that his godfather is confirming this story, or that Hermione actually interrupts him!

“You are right, Harry. Off topic, perhaps, but right. No one would believe us about You-Know-Who and you almost died.” Now this is getting too confusing and we still don’t know the whole story about Harry’s home life, since we didn’t get to how he got those scars in his back.

He needs to intervene to bring back the conversation to where they want it. “Hermione, why don’t you make a note that you and Harry will explain all about that tomorrow? So now we can get back to Harry’s home life. Please?” She doesn’t get angry with his intervention, and if the look on her face is any indication, she wants to get to the bottom of this issue as well. “Harry…” Damn it. He doesn’t want to sound all soft and mushy. Why is he sounding soft? “I really do hate to ask, I do, but you mentioned punishments…?” Shit. Why did I have to ask that? I should have let Uncle Sev do it? He looks so broken right now!

Harry holds Draco’s gaze for what was probably seconds, but felt like a lifetime. Then he slowly lowered his eyes to the floor between their beds and remained silent. The only response they got from the boy was a shrug. The girls seem to take this as their cue to get involved. Their chocolates are finished, so there is really no reason to be so apart… that appears to be their reasoning anyway, and Draco wholeheartedly agrees. There is comfort in their human heaps, as mother calls them. Soon, Tracey has sat herself next to Harry, also leaning against the headboard as Hermione was, on the opposite end. She has her head on Harry’s shoulder, just as the Ravenclaw gets the picture and hugs the boy with her left arm. Pansy, Daphne and Milly, as well as Blaise and Draco, also find their ways to Harry’s bed, quickly making a pile at the end, intermingling arms and legs to be connected. That, at least, got Harry’s attention back and the green-eyed boy is smiling amused as Draco extends his hand to hold his. “Alright. You can tell us now. We’ve got you.”

It was the same thing Pansy had told him when Ron decided to end their friendship. And she had come through that day, as had the others. But it was only one day away. How could he tell them this? It was an awful lot of trust they were asking of him. And even if he did tell the Hat that he wanted to trust, it didn’t mean here and now. What if he told them the worse, and they found him repulsive? He felt repulsive, so how could they not. They didn’t grow up with a freak like him. They didn’t know what it was like. They already knew so much, how could they ever look at him the same way again?

{Sally, I don’t know what to do. I can’t tell them. They’ll hate me.} Sally always gave him good advice. And he had not thought Harry was a freak or disgusting, but he was also only a snake.

{They won’t hate you, little one. I’ve said this before. They are asking because they want to know how to help you. Everything you told them is good, you did so well. But you need to tell them the most important parts, so your professor can find you another home.} Harry knew what the snake was saying was true, but it was so fast. He felt both that he wasn’t ready, and that he had been ready since he got to read Hogwarts’ letter. This was supposed to be his safety, his chance. And now he was getting the second chance he wanted, if only he could be brave enough to tell them all his worst secrets. {It’s ok to cry, hatchling. Did I ever tell you how I came to be in your land?} At Harry’s shake, Sally tells him the story in the hope of distracting him, no doubt. {I used to live in green lands with all the other hatchlings. One day, a man took me away and put me in a tiny, dark box. Like your cupboard. I was there for very long. I was lonely and hungry, and he shook me so much I was getting sick. Next thing I knew, I was out of the box and the man was trying to take my skin away. But I wasn’t ready to shed yet, I had not grown because I had no food. I was also weak. But then a friend helped me. An orange cat jumped on the man’s head, and then I bit him and climbed on the cat’s back, and coiled all around him. He took us to that shop where you found me, such a smart cat. The owner of the shop said I might die, as I was hurt badly, and he also called me exotic. I guess I am not from this land, so he was not certain on how to care for me. But he had so many books about snakes, that he finally managed to read all about me and get me healthy. You came soon after. This is how I know that books help, and humans can help if they learn the problem, and cats help too.}

Harry was mesmerised with the story, completely unable to keep his eyes away from the small, brave snake, who had suffered so much and now wanted nothing but to protect him. He could see the similarities, of course, and why the boomslang had chosen to tell him now. If only he had a brave cat, too… But he had promised Sally that he would ask for help. And he had promised the Hat he would trust. Most importantly, he had promised himself. And now was the time to be brave and not let himself down. He closed his eyes, took a big breath to steady himself and then looked right at Tracey and Milly “remind me to tell you later about Sally’s cat story.” And yes, he knew he sounded crazy, first listening to the snake’s hisses for so long, and then talking about a cat. He sounded ready to join Lockhart in St. Mungo’s.

“Basically, I get punished a lot. Sometimes, it would be just keeping food from me for several days, or keeping me locked up, mostly when I was little. The food thing I could get around, by finding food in the garbage bins around the neighbourhood. I could not be seen or I would get worse, obviously. At some point, my uncle started being in charge of correcting me, as he called it, and things got worse. Now, most punishments are physical.” He really wants to stop, but he knows he can’t or he’ll never continue. Sally understands, because he is flicking him on the wrist in a comforting way. “He says he is trying to make me normal. I didn’t get what he meant by that. I was a freak, so how could I become normal? But now I think he was trying to subdue the magic in me. Every time I did something freaky, his beatings would get worse. One day he came home angry because a colleague had commented how he was hurting his hands in boxing classes. Boxing is a muggle sport. But my uncle got angry at me, said it was my fault and since then he usually prefers a belt instead of his fists, so he doesn’t get sore knuckles. So, that is how I got the scars in my back… I’m sorry you had to see them, Draco. I know how gross I am.”

“What are you talking about?” What the hell. Why is Draco mad now? “You are not gross. You are not a freak, nor disgusting, nor gross. You are remarkable, and strong and resilient. I could never have survived half of what you told us today. Your family is disgusting, not you.” Harry can’t believe what he is hearing. But he looks up to catch everyone else’s faces, and they all show the same thing. They still accept him. They don’t hate him.

Professor Snape then stands and gets closer, placing one hand on Harry’s head. He can’t remember anyone ever touching him like that, almost like a parent would, and he unconsciously leans on the touch. “I truly am sorry, Harry, that we didn’t help you sooner. I promise you are safe now. I’ll do my very best to keep you safe now. May I call Madam Pomfrey? I would like to get a full medical diagnostic on you, and the sooner the better.” Harry knows he nodded, but everything else happening around him is a bit of a haze. He finally told, and the professor promised to help. It worked.

Hermione can see than Harry needs a minute, and Professor Snape has summoned Mimmy again and called for Madam Pomfrey. This had been a night of earthshattering revelations for her. When Harry started his story, she knew she would not walk out of the snake pit the same person she was when she walked in. Not only she had learned heart-breaking truths about her friend, she had seen the real Slytherins, as they are behind their masks, and even been accepted as one. How could she not have seen this? Poor Harry, with all the pressure that the wizarding world places on his shoulders, should have had some solace at home, at the very least. She should have known. She calls this boy her brother, yet she didn’t know he was being punished for being magical.

Well, if she knew one thing about Harry, is that he wasn’t comfortable with attention on him for too long. So she can at least help with that, while her friend takes a moment to get back together.

“I don’t think I would have ever imagined the Slytherins having this ‘hot chocolate and hugs’ tradition” Hermione says with a teasing smile. “I mean, I know the Huff must do this all the time, but you lot act so cool, and then you are all softies inside…” She is soon unable to keep a soft laughter, as some of the looks she is getting in response. Good. Now they are not looking at Harry. Honestly, as if the thought of them being soft is the worse they have talked about this evening. Still, she wants to lighten the mood and take the attention from Harry, who is now crying softly, decidedly uncomfortable and tired from the ordeal. “So, how often do we do this? Because, as an honorary Slytherin I think I should be included every time from now on. I do appreciate good hot chocolate. I can even bring the marshmallows next time!” A sidelong look confirms Tracey and Draco are still occupied with the new Slytherin, which should get him some comfort without being overwhelming, while she entertains the rest.

“Hey! Who are you calling soft, Hermione?” Millicent was quick to catch on the fact that she is distracting them away from Harry. Well, that’s good. I wouldn’t want to start a fight by accident. I still don’t understand how they could accept me so easily now, when only last year I was prime basilisk snack in their books. “And just so you know, we don’t have a schedule. We wouldn’t want to be predictable like that. We are not Ravenclaws, after all.” And now they are all laughing, nothing like some clichés to bring them all together.

Pansy is now looking straight at her with the oddest look on her face. “Actually, the last time we had one of these was last school year, in May. We were told my baby brother, Ash, was going to die, actually. He is only four. My parents had talked to Professor Snape, but I wasn’t allowed to go see him in St. Mungo’s as I could carry an infection and kill him even faster. Not even my parents were permitted to remain with him. He was all alone in a cold room, dying. And we stayed up all night with our hot chocolates.” Pansy still doesn’t take her eyes off of her, and Hermione can’t understand why the girl is looking at her like that. Or how she finds the strength to tell this story, although from her tale it appears that her brother survived. “My parent’s and Draco’s were at the hospital and made sure the best and most experienced healers treated little Ash, but they all agreed that there was nothing to be done. Then, an apprentice came over and talked to my parents about a muggle alternative. He was only a healer in training, and a muggleborn at that. We were all brought up to believe muggles and muggleborns were inferior, not as smart, right? But Ash was a lost cause, so my parents were willing to try anything. Turns out that healer Bates was from a medical family, both his parents are doctors, and so he was up to date with muggle medical research. At 4 am my mother came to our dorm and told me that Ash was saved. He was healthy enough that my mother could actually come and see me. Healer Bates had applied the muggle technique, with the aid of magic so the process was much faster and had less risk. And he saved my brother.” Hermione had never seen the other girl with such an earnest look on her face.

“I’m happy to hear your brother is healed. Is… Is this why you said earlier that you had changed your views on muggleborns? Is it insensitive to ask?

“We all did.” It was Draco’s simple answer, even while still holding Harry’s hand. “I don’t know what our parents think, if they changed their minds or not. I thought it best not to ask, in case they want me to align myself with them. But… We all saw Ash minutes after birth, didn’t we? We held him, played with him, babysat him. And then he would have died, if not for the ingenuity of a muggleborn. I couldn’t keep saying that the monster in the Chamber should kill all muggleborns now, could I? If Bates had not received a magical education, he would not have been a healer.” He delivered all this with a raised chin and an absolute certainty in his voice. Now he was looking directly at Hermione’s eyes.

“So you don’t hate me anymore, just based on my birth?” She is not used to asking stupid questions, but it was late and she was emotionally exhausted, so she needed to know.

“Well… I still hate your hair.” It was such a Malfoy response, that she couldn’t help but burst into giggles. Oh, how inappropriate!

“Ok, now that this is all clear. Hermione is one of us now, right? We are all friends, aren’t we?” And why did Daphne declaring them friends had to sound so ominous? Oh no, that conspiratorial look between Daphne and Pansy could mean nothing good for her. What have I gotten myself into? “Why, yes, Daph. We are friends. And you know what that means, don’t you?” SHIT

Daphne’s sweet smile fools no one. “Mione, is ok if I call you Mione, right? Harry does.” Without waiting for Hermione’s nod, she continues “Tomorrow, you come to breakfast in our table. Mind you, we might be a bit late as we are still up. I’ll bring my bottle of Sleakeasy for you and teach you how to use it. I can share Pansy’s until we order one for you.” Before she could even respond to that or ask what the bloody hell was going on, both Pansy and Daphne are looking at her with solemn expressions. “Friends don’t let their friends have awful hair.” It was all the explanation Pansy gave. This was all Malfoy’s fault, why did he bring up her hair?

“Is that so?” If she is coming down, she is taking him with her. “Then you must not be Draco’s friends, right? If you allow him to style his hair as if he kept a cow down here to lick it back each morning…”

“Hey! What is wrong with my hair? And, just so you know, I am not gelling it back anymore…” Did he look a bit hurt? Could hair be Draco Malfoy’s vulnerability? How ridiculous! Just then, Madam Pomfrey is escorted into the dorm by Mimmy. Saved by the elf

“Severus, what is going on? This is rather late and you have quite a group of students out of bed!” He won’t even acknowledge this with an answer. She should have known. There is no way she didn’t. Severus knew how punctilious she was about the care of those in her wing, so there is only one possible explanation for her ignorance and negligence.

“Poppy, do you happen to have a record of Mr. Potter’s medical history? I need to keep a copy on his file now that he is in my House, you see.”

She looks at him as if he were insane, bringing her out at this hour to ask for a medical file, but she takes it in stride as the professional she is. “I can get you a copy of the record of the small injuries I healed since he came to school. Mr. Potter is very healthy and very happy, and he does not need a full medical history.” To say that he is baffled by this response is an understatement. Small injuries? Is a broken arm a small injury? He has been unconscious for days at the end of the past two years! And she has never been one to disregard a situation like this. Alright, so we are in the worst-case scenario then. She will be so pissed with Albus.

“I see. Poppy, please forgive me as I do something rather intrusive now.” He casts immediately without giving her time to respond, or consent, other than widening her eyes. Sure enough, the spell shows evidence of mind tampering. He Accios a Mind Restoring Potion from his stores and instructs her to drink it.

“What is the meaning of this, Severus? I see the result of your scan, but how could I have been under a compulsion spell? I don’t feel a thing? I’ll drink your potion, though, if it will clear it…” Poor Poppy is clearly confused by the results, but she is never one to distrust a diagnostic charm, even if the patient denies the symptom, so she is not about to ignore it now.

After a few moments, while the entire dorm waits in silence to see what happens, Madam Pomfrey shakes her head as if to clear it. “Oh great Helga, did I just tell you that Mr. Potter’s injuries were small enough that they did not warrant a full medical profile? He was bitten by a basilisk, for Merlin’s sake!”

“WHAT? How could that be possible, he would be dead! And, of course, he needed a full medical history, he gets hurt all the time! And where the hell was McGonagall in all this? Does she not care about the students in her charge? This is preposterous!” It had taken a rather long time for his godson to react, but now Draco was expressing his own feelings as if taking them verbatim from his mind. Of course, if Poppy was under compulsion, the logical explanation is that so was Minerva.

“I’m sorry Madam Pomfrey, my letter didn’t say I should provide this medical check. And I did ask you once to do a full diagnostic, just in case, but you said it was not necessary and just fixed my broken arm. And Professor McGonagall never asked for it either, I guess she runs her House differently…”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Potter. It was remiss of me, even under a compulsion spell I should have followed procedure. I am enraged now to think that I might have put you at risk by not knowing if you have any medical condition or allergies. No worries, dear, I will collect your history now with a quick charm. Please, everyone, could you leave some room around him. And is that a snake? Dear me, I won’t even ask, Severus. Just get the child on his own so I can cast. It should only take a few seconds for any illnesses or lesions you have sustained to be on the parchment, Mr. Potter.” Severus can’t help but think, while all the other students scramble up from the bed and take the boomslang, that even after everything Harry shared, they are still in for a horrible surprise.

Finally, Poppy casts the Historical Diagnostic Charm non-verbally and a parchment is conjured next to her patient’s head and begins to write down his basic information and medical history. It should only take half a foot of parchment, or a foot at most. Especially considering this particular kid’s quidditch and basilisk related injuries. However, time passes and the charm is still writing. All eyes fall on the parchment, which is now reaching 4 feet long and displays a gruesome and vivid recollection of near fatal wounds, injuries and illnesses that they would not have expected in a retired auror or hit wizard, least of all a 13-year-old child.

Severus turns back to Harry, who was defiantly holding his chin up when this charm started, and has now lowered his face in shame as the parchment continues to grow to the floor, where it is now curling as it continues to detail the horrors of what has been his existence. His year mates are all pale and shocked. They haven’t read the parchment but they know no one should have such a long list of medical occurrences if they have lived a happy life. It’s clear that Harry was downplaying his so-called punishments. I should make a copy and use it as a guide for retribution on that despicable excuse for a human. There is no doubt on his mind that he will get revenge for his new snake.

As the parchment unfurls, Madam Pomfrey loses the colouring she had from treading down to the dungeons. She was evidently not expecting results such as this. She most likely doesn’t even notice that she is reading some items aloud, although the strong voice of the professional nurse she always has starts to lose volume with each line. “All immunisations from the first year are done. Hit by Killing Curse at 15 months of age, I have to say it’s so strange seeing this at the top of the parchment, instead of at the end. There is some residue of dark magic from that, Mr. Potter. We should check that later. And this is very unusual! There was a lock placed on your magic the very next day. Who would do such a thing? Locking a wizard’s magic can be very, very dangerous! Has this been addressed? It looks like about 60% of your magic was locked! This is outrageous, Severus! Who would do such a thing to a growing baby? What if his magic was needed, and he died for lack of it? Or he could have lost it completely, if the magical core were to burn.”

“There sure are a lot of burns and bruises for a toddler. A contusion at four? What in Merlin’s name happened to you, Mr. Potter? And it appears it went untreated. Did your guardians not know you were struck? Malnutrition? Brain swelling and optic nerve damage at five… evidence of beatings, beltings, Merlin. And so many unhealed wounds and injuries. Animal bites, pneumonia, numerous broken bones, infections from untreated wounds, magical exhaustion… probably from your magic keeping you alive in the fasting periods, even with that lock in place. I can assume by now the starvation was not voluntary.” She looks sick from the accumulation of all this, likely as they all must look now. It’s one thing to have the boy tell his story, including his relative’s poor excuses for their treatment, but to have it all in parchment just shows the depth of the depravity they inflicted in this innocent child. A child whose only fault was to be a wizard.

“It was punishment, ma’am. They don’t like magic, and I didn’t know what was happening. I know now it was accidental magic. Whenever something freakish happened, as they called it, I was locked in my cupboard for a few days, with only some bread and a glass of water.” No one should be able to say that with such natural acceptance, as if it was the normal state of affairs. Which most likely it was…

After a few moments of silence, it was again Draco, with an expression of barely contained rage, who managed to ask what they were all thinking. “What do you mean your cupboard?”

“Oh, I haven’t said? Sorry. My bedroom was the cupboard under the stairs. At least until my first Hogwarts letter, which was addressed to the cupboard and my aunt thought they were being watched. So, they moved me to my cousin’s second bedroom.”

“Of course, your cousin had two bedrooms but you slept in a fucking cupboard. Disgusting muggles!”

At Poppy’s gasp they all turn, to find her sobbing and looking back at Harry. “You were nine… how could he?” Severus is not sure he wants to know, but he needs to. He now needs to know the extent of the damage, so he can avenge Harry, and help him heal. He takes the parchment from Poppy’s hands and locates the injuries listed at nine years of age. And there it is, the worst-case scenario or child abuse in his mind, rape. After the first instance, it continues to appear between the extensive list of torture, between beltings and beatings, every few months there is an instance of rape, accompanied by severe thrashings every time. The last annotation in the parchment is dated at the beginning of August, just about three weeks before the start of term, when the boy escaped his hell and was allowed to remain in Diagon Alley. And Severus thought he was being a brat and getting special treatment with all the security increasing in the Alley to protect him. It was probably the first break the boy has had in his entire life. This was sickening. What kind of sick bastard rapes a nine-year-old boy? His own nephew! What misdeed could, in this sick and perverted mind, warrant such punishment?

Everything he thought he knew about this boy was wrong. How was he even still alive? It’s clear that he only survived so far with his magic sustaining him through periods of food deprivation, and whilst healing him from his wounds. He has utterly failed him. He vowed to protect him but he allowed Dumbledore to lie to him, and his hate of James Potter kept him from seeing what was right in front of his eyes.

Of course, he is not the one having this realization now. Draco is barely holding back tears. He grew up with the certainty that children are a gift, especially magical children, and they are to be cherished and loved. Tracey’s hold of Harry’s hand is so strong that it must be hurting them, but neither seem to notice. Pansy has now moved to the bed, next to Harry, and is has placed her hand protectively on his shoulder. Blaise and Theo look ready to murder, and Greg and Vincent are having a very quiet conversation while looking both at Draco and Harry, clearly trying to understand who to protect now. They are not the smartest of the lot, but they know loyalty and protection. And they seem to have decided Harry deserves it. Millicent, Hermione and Daphne are sobbing behind embroidered handkerchiefs. At least he does not have to worry about how Harry will fit into the group now. All he needs to do now if find another home for the Boy-Who-Lived, while hiding it from the Headmaster, the press and the Ministry, and help the boy heal.

Harry can’t believe this is all happening so fast. He was ashamed that they all knew about this cupboard and his punishments. His classmates have not read the parchment but knew part of it, as was read by Madam Pomfrey. He would have preferred all of this to come out in the privacy of an office, but there was a sense of a weight being lifted from his shoulders now, knowing he didn’t have to hide in front of his friends anymore. He thought they would be disgusted by him, or see him as a disgrace to wizards for being hurt by muggles. But instead they were all supporting him, and even holding his hand or leaning on him.

He sees as his new Head of House stands and comes to kneel in front of him, and places a hand on his cheek. As they look into each other’s eyes, he knows they now see the truth, they see Harry and not the Boy-Who-Lived. And now he can hope that, as the truth is unveiled, he can have a better future. “I’m amazed that they didn’t manage to break your spirit. That after all of that, you still find it in your heart to have hope, to open your heart to new friends, to trust new people. You are the strongest person I have ever met, Harry, but now you don’t have to be strong on your own ever again. Now we are strong for you, as well. I meant it when I said we are your family now. You are never going back to those monsters; I promise you that. You are never going back, no matter who I need to defy to make it happen. And they will never hurt you again.” And with that, Harry finally breaks down and his stoic posture gives place to tears, as he launches himself into his professor’s arms.

“The Hat was right. It told me to trust you, and it was right.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 – New beginnings

As if prompted by a child’s tears, the moment Harry breaks down crying Madam Pomfrey snaps and shakes herself, immediately regaining the professional demeanour and no non-sense way she is known for. “Alright then, Mr. Potter. That was a detailed medical history. I will make a copy for your own records, if you wish, another for Professor Snape and I will keep this one in your confidential file. For the time being, I believe it’s best I keep this information private, as I find it very concerning that a compulsion spell was cast on me to prevent me from giving you proper medical assistance before.” Very concerning to say the least. Who has such an invested interest in this child to determine he shall be deprived of medical care? To what purpose? And whoever cast that spell on me must have known the secrets a proper check would reveal. If the mediwitch was certain of only one thing at the moment, it was that her sole concern should be with the child in front of her, who was evidently a victim of domestic abuse in the hands of muggles, but with the complicity of a witch or wizard who was attempting to conceal it and rob him from help.

“I agree, Poppy, that this should be kept private for the time being, including from the Headmaster. I have asked him before, every year in fact, about Harry’s living situation and Albus has told me repeatedly that the child was ‘happy, healthy and loved’. Which sounds verbatim to your own response, and that of Minerva, when I enquired about his medical record while you were still under compulsion. Taking into account that a spell of the same nature was placed on the Sorting Hat, which resides in the Headmaster office, when Harry was coming to the school, and it resulted in his placement in a different House, I find all of this extremely worrying indeed. I believe it’s in Harry’s best interest to keep this between us present until we can secure a safe home for him, where the Headmaster cannot remove him.”

“Sir, the Headmaster really told you that?” Harry was again in the midst of his friends, looking smaller but somewhat calmer than he had been when she first walked in.

“Yes. He also emphasised how you were spoilt by your relatives and looked identical to your father, in fact. No doubt with the… fruitful… intent to condition me against you for years before you even came to Hogwarts. I am a natural occlumens, you see, and as such I am not susceptible to mind controlling magic such as compelling spells. I was, however, rather a fool who allowed himself to be compelled by the traditional method. The Headmaster also implied that he saw you regularly, that he personally checked on you. Was that not the case?”

“I’ve never seen him before coming here. No one has ever checked on me, either. But… he did know what was going on with my relatives, though. He told me himself, when I asked if I could remain here for the summer, that I had to return to the Dursleys. Something about blood wards being there to protect me. He said that he knew, when he left me there as a baby, that he was condemning me to hard years, or something like that, but it couldn’t be helped.” That old intervening fool! That is not how blood wards work! Not to mention that he prevented us all from monitoring his living conditions and providing help. I have been indulgent with many of his hare-brained notions before, but this takes the cake! I’ll make sure that man is never near children or a position of making decisions about them ever again!

“That fool!” Well, now was not the time to let wrath out, not in front of patients. “My apologies, Mr. Potter. I have not been acting very professional. I was shocked about the results of your diagnostic, as well as the discovery of the mind controlling spell, but I shouldn’t have behaved in this manner. I… I suppose you deserve to understand the source of my anger. You are, under no dispute, a victim of a situation in which no child should ever find himself in. I don’t deny that I could not have helped you when you were younger, but I would have absolutely unearthed and addressed this within days of your first arrival to school if I had not been played with. And in this, certainly minor but not less grievous part, I was also made a victim. You see, just as Lady Magic gives, she also demands. She has allowed me to train in healing magic, which is a great gift. In turn, all medical professionals are required to take an oath to never harm another person and to provide our healing to all who require it, without discrimination. Even if Sirius Black were to walk into my Wing asking for help, I would be very much obligated to assist him before informing the aurors. Failing to do so has a price. If I don’t uphold my oath, I lose my magic and my ability to perform my duties. Whoever placed that spell on me, forced me to provide you with less than adequate care and, as such, made it so that I might have been held accountable for breaking my vows. Not only was a forced to leave aside my professional integrity, I could have become a squib. So I now make another vow, one I very much intend to keep, to provide you with my unwavering succour in anything you require, be it medical or not, to facilitate you a better living situation and seek justice for what was forced upon you.” Oh, no one was going to mess up with her again, that was for certain. But if this was, in fact the Headmaster, they will need to tread carefully.

That is good news. Severus knows more than most that Poppy will be a good ally for them now. Not only was a child endangered, she was also personally injured in a manner that could have kept her from continuing what is indubitably her life mission. “I’m glad we can count on you, Poppy.” No need to get more emotional than that, surely. She knows how highly I think of her and how invaluable she is when we are faced with a child at need. We do make a solid team. “Now, you said something about a lock on his magic. We must remove this at once.”

“Yes, indeed. Let’s get to business. Harry, my dear, I note much of your privacy was discarded so far this evening, but if you prefer, we can continue in a more secluded setting.” And now the Slytherin in her comes out. She knows how the House is run now, since he took charge of it, and that everyone will want to remain as support. But it’s good that she is asking Harry to allow him the possibility to make a choice. “Very well. I will cast a diagnostic charm now on you, if your friends give us room just once more. Unlike the previous one, this one will tell us the state of your current health, so we can address anything that is ailing you and make a plan.”

“Ok. But nothing hurts now, and I have been eating regularly since I ran from my aunt’s three weeks ago.”

“That is good, but the scan shows you still have effects for the malnutrition you suffered growing up, including weaker bone structure, shorter stature than you should have, some nutrients and vitamins deficiencies and, naturally, you are underweight. Severely. Not to worry, nothing permanent! And this is when having a Potions Master as your Head of House comes into help, as we can address all of that with a regular diet and a potion regime.” Indeed. Of course, Harry should have his potions.

“He ate very little today, hardly anything at all. In fact, he normally eats tiny amounts. What must he eat to get better? And how much? We will make sure he gets it, and he never misses any meal, of course.” It’s entertaining to see his godson become such a mother hen. Hopefully his parents won’t ruin this for the children. Draco will be good for Harry, just as Harry could be a good influence of him as well. Just see what a difference a few days have made!

“Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. That is helpful. Unfortunately, his stomach is much too small for big meals. I expect today he ate as much as he could. So, I will recommend not to miss any of the meals provided at school, in which you will want to eat a protein and some vegetables. You should also try and have some kind of snack between classes, such as a fruit or a pastry. I know Professor Snape doesn’t want you to have sugar during the week, but we I could hardly have you eating chicken between Herbology and Transfigurations, can I?” He nods to show his concession to the change in rules. It’s not as if the boy has been rotting his teeth for years.

“You will also take a Nutrition Potion with lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future. On waking up, you will take a potion to promote regaining some of the height you should have, every day for a week. The effects will be noticeable in the next few months, so don’t expect to wake up taller in a weeks’ time!”

That sounds like a good plan. Severus will make sure to combine the Nutrition Potion with some Antinausea and a Stomach Soother, which should allow Harry to eat more without getting sick.

“I will brew all the potions you need fresh, as I wish to add some components to them to better suit you, Harry. They will be delivered to you in the morning, and at the Great Hall as required. Stop your protestations, it won’t be the first nor the last night I stay up brewing. I rather enjoy making potions…” Harry was already complaining at the first sign that someone wanted to do something for him. It is clear that his physical injuries will be healed much faster than the emotional damage he suffered.

“As for the dark magic around your curse scar, I am not an expert on dark magic. I suggest either a specialist or the goblins, as their magic can detect such traces much better and they have knowledge we don’t have. In fact, the goblins are most likely your best option, as they can also unlock your magic very easily. We can do it as well, but not without some risks and, most likely, unwanted attention. The goblins are very discreet, for the right price.” That’s good advice, actually. Very good.

“You are right, Poppy. And as things are unravelling, I believe he should also check the state of his vaults and accounts, as he is likely to be uninformed of much. We will visit Gringotts on Saturday after breakfast, Harry. As your Head of House, I am happy to go with you and the Headmaster happens to have a conference to attend in Rome this weekend.”

“Thank you, sir. You as well, Madam.”

“You are welcome, but we are not done, young man. While the Nutrition Potion will take care of your iron deficiency, and you have been eating regularly lately, I still want you to take a Blood Replenisher now, along with a Bone Strengthening Draught. In a week, you will come see me for a Nerve Restoring Charm followed by an Oculus Potion. Those are not compatible with the potions you are taking today, but combined they should repair the damage to your optic nerve and then fix your eyesight. After that, I will see you every two weeks. If you don’t come and see me, I expect your classmates to drag you to the Hospital Wing. Is that clear?”

“Yes, ma’am!” Everyone was happy to have a clear plan of action in helping their new friend. Severus can already imagine how they will be pestering the poor boy at meal times!

“Then, I am done here. I will go to my office now and send the potions with a house elf. I’m sure your professor will make sure you have the ones you will need tomorrow. Again, I am sorry I did not see this before, Mr. Potter. I failed you and I feel terrible about this. Please come to me for anything you need, and rest assure that you can trust my confidence. And when you are ready to seek justice, I will be standing next to you, with extensive records to support you. Have a good evening, children, Severus.”

“Before I retire and escort Hermione to her tower, I want to address your scars. No, not that one. I am afraid we don’t have the means to erase a curse scar, but the ones made by your uncle are very much within the scope of our magic. I have a Scar Removing Ointment that will restore your skin to its original form. However, it needs to be applied every evening before bed and every morning after you shower. I can apply it for you, or if you are more comfortable, one of your roommates can do it. Depending on the age and severity of the scar, it might take several applications for them all to vanish completely, up to some weeks perhaps.” Severus knows how scars can be a constant reminder of the pain and sorrow. He himself had experienced the comfort that came with eliminating the evidence of his father’s heavy hand.

Harry’s face is changed completely now from how he started the evening. A big smile and hope in his eyes. “Thank you, sir! I never thought I could remove the scars! I hate them so much!! Every time I shower or change, I just close my eyes so I don’t have to see myself. I… please don’t take offence, sir, but I never expected you to be so nice with me. I know that’s in the past now, though.”

“Harry…” Draco starts hesitantly “if you want, I would have no problem applying the ointment. I have already seen the scars, anyway, and it’s the least I could do to.” At Harry’s accepting nod, Draco relaxes again. He is maturing in front of their eyes, although a situation as this is likely to affect all of the teenagers under his care. The professor knows he will have to address that soon, and make sure they are all well.

“Very well. I will send it momentarily with Mimmy. I know this was a hard night for us all, but let us concentrate on the fact that Harry will be healthier now, and his future will be much happier. And of course, we will all be there to make it so, won’t we?” Merlin, he is beginning to sound like a Hufflepuff after too much brandy. No, he will need to leave the comforting of the masses to a professional, he is close to getting a toothache just from listening to himself. “We now leave for the night, boys. Shall we, ladies?”

“But no, wait!” Millicent is rarely so forceful, what could be wrong now? “There was a story about a cat!”

Salazar, give me strength…

Once the Slytherin girls were sent to their room, and Professor Snape made certain that they stayed inside, he accompanied Hermione to Ravenclaw Tower. She didn’t have a watch, but it was so late that there was no one walking the castle, not even Mrs. Norris. The castle was beautiful like this, only lighted by the moon coming from the windows and their combined Lumos. It was so quiet, and yet there was no stillness in the night. The warmth still in the air, the sounds of birds and owls outside mixed with that of their steps on stone and carpet, the gentle snores from the portraits, even that smell she always associated with the castle – old wood and ozone from the magic – it all swirled around them as they went up and up and up. Hogwarts felt alive at night, as if she was finally resting from a busy day, just as her inhabitants. In the calm of the night, Hermione was sure that she could feel the magic of the building as a gentle caress against her skin. How peculiar that she had never felt that during the day, or perhaps she was so busy and they were all so loud that the magical castle took a background role.

She would have imagined the long walk to be in awkward silence, but apparently, they both had much on their minds to worry about lack of conversation. The girl was still shocked from everything she had learnt, and from what all this meant. It was clear that Harry had been unable to talk about his abuse, and Gryffindor had not given him the space to do it either. How remarkable was it that it only took a couple of days with the Slytherins, of all people, to reveal all? She could not remember ever seeing Harry so open, so free. In pain, as well, but vulnerable and willing to be it, because he had proper support for once. She thought she had been doing right by him. Library visits, help with homework, illegal potion brewing, endless reading and researching. That was the aid she had provided him. But had she stopped to ask if it was the aid he needed instead of what she assumed he wanted? Was she too concentrated on learning, that she was missing out important things outside of the academic world? Well, obviously, you dolt. And all for what? Be top of the year but have one friend abandon you and the other in pain without you noticing. Time to take your head out of your bookbag! This was the year of second chances, at least. What those chances were used for, was entirely up to them. She might as well use it to be a better friend, she was already a top student. She didn’t want to be the friend who didn’t notice anymore.

“Thank you for having me over tonight, Professor. I think I learned more in a few hours than in the entire two years I’ve been in the margins of the wizarding world. And thank you for the kindness you showed Harry, as well. I can tell you are not a person who is comfortable in that position, but it made a world of difference for him.

For the length of the entire corridor, his only answer was a nod. She could not say if he was considering what to answer or had gone back to his own thoughts. Perhaps she should not have interrupted him. It was evident that he had much to ponder, just as she did. Before they reached the next flight of stairs, he asked in a quiet voice and without turning to her or slowing down “and what is it that you have learnt tonight, Miss Granger?” Ever the educator, I guess.

“The most obvious thing I learnt was that I didn’t know Harry as well as I thought…”

“Humans are fallible.” And he is clearly including himself in that. She obviously didn’t know her professor at all either, though she never would have claimed to know the man.

“Yes. And we’ve proven that in regards to Harry, haven’t we? We all failed.” What else is there to add to that? She was so confident of her brains, she thought so highly of her deductive capacities. Well, she was only thirteen, too, as her daddy would say. She needs to leave some things to learn or she will have nothing new to know as she grows.

“Indeed. What else?” Man of few words. Or perhaps he doesn’t want to interrupt the night. What else has she learnt, then? “I have placed too much weight in academics, and relegated friendships and emotional growth. I’m not sure that is the kind of person I want to grow up to be.”

“That’s an important lesson. I confess it’s one I learnt too late. I’m glad you haven’t, Miss Granger. I also don’t know how we could have taught you that in class, to be frank. It is something life has to teach you at its own pace. Was there more? You did say there were multiple lessons.” And this time he glances at her, only slightly shifting his head to his side to look her way.

“I have seen a side of Slytherins I didn’t expect, one that makes me pleased to know is surrounding Harry now. And… no disrespect, Sir, but I have seen a side of you I also never thought to see. It certainly made me respect you more, if I may say so.” This time he is smirking, whether because he is mocking her or glad with her comment, it’s impossible to know.

“I thought you respected all your professors…” Ah, mocking it was.

“I did, at first. But if there is only one lesson that Lockhart taught us well – and it’s shocking that he managed to teach us anything at all – is that a person doesn’t deserve my respect solely because they are an authority.” That idiot. She had tried, really tried, to give him a chance and respect him. But he was such a fraud! And to try to Obliviate Harry and Ron! What a disaster!

“Another good lesson” he responds with a tiny smile that she would have missed if she had not turned right in time. “But you seemed to have missed his most important one.” What? Could he have something of value to teach? Her apprehension at having missed a valuable lesson must be plain in her face, because one look at her and he continues. “The lesson is this: not everything that is in a book, or that is published, is a fact or universally true.”

“I guess you are right. But that is not comforting. I was right that you weren’t very good at it, Sir. Sorry, it was just a joke!” Oh, God! Did I just insult a professor to his face? What is wrong with me? Why is he looking so remorseful now?

“You are right. I meant it to be, for the record. If you know not to trust one source absolutely, you eliminate a vulnerability. By diversifying the sources, you would gain more knowledge and reinforce what you learnt. I meant to give you a tool, not a reason to lose your self-confidence. I do admire your thirst for knowledge, and I thought it was related to what you said about being in the margins of the wizarding world. You shouldn’t feel that way. For all of us, you are very much a part of it, just as every magical person is. But I can imagine why you would feel that way, and you are not the first muggleborn who finds solace in books. But no book holds all the answers, unfortunately.”

After that, they continue their silence. Ravenclaw really was on the other side of the castle! Just as they reached her destination, she turned to her professor one more time. “Harry said the re-sorting would be a second chance for us. I thought he meant for fitting in better, meeting more people or finding kinship in others more suited to us. But I think what happened tonight is precisely what he had in mind. Thank you for letting me be a part of his second chance, Sir.”

“You are welcome. It was what my snake needed, after all. And I meant what I said about your honorary status. Though by no means you should be in the common room, is that clear?”

“Of course, professor! Good evening.”

Once she was back on her bed, Hermione couldn’t help thinking and reviewing everything that had happened tonight. The Slytherins could teach them all a lesson on loyalty, but of course that would mean lowering their defences, which was impossible. But they had really embraced her today, made her part. She had never felt part of anything before. They accepted me. I should probably return the favour and be open to see them as they truly are.

She wasn’t how sure how it had happened, but she had apparently gained a human heap of friends. And that was the thought that cradled her to sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 – Hairy Business

If Hermione had known that she would be dragged through a make-over session before she could have one meagre cup of tea, she would have stayed in bed. And that was just the theory! They would get to the actual hair improving after breakfast, Daphne and Pansy agreed on this as they shoved her into the Slytherin table in the Great Hall. The worse part was when Lisa and her perfectly straight hair joined them in the Slytherin table – and how was that even humanly possible, when she had seen the girl going to sleep with her hair still wet and wrapped in a towel! Wet!! And in a towel! The world was so unfair to her. In fact, after attempting for a third time to get a bloody cup of tea and having the pot moved away to show her another diagram which, surprise surprise, also had hair on it, she was convinced the world hated her. Jesus, she was so ready to swap places with Black and go live in Azkaban. It really couldn’t be worse than this, they probably had tea.

“You need to stop this, right this second or I swear I will hex you all bold for a month!” Finally, silence. “Three times. That is the amount of times you blocked me from getting a cup of tea. I will hurt you if you stop me again.” She hoped she looked as serious as she felt, because they needed to listen. “Good. Thank you. Now, you were saying?”

“Girl, you really are a lioness in the morning, aren’t you? Sure you did right by moving into the Eagles Nest with us?” Honestly, making jokes before tea. What was she thinking befriending Lisa? Hermione could feel her frowning so heavy on her face that, if she had glasses, they would surely fall off.

Once her first cup, which she was allowed to drink in complete silence, was empty and she was pouring the second one, she quickly realised that she had perhaps not been in the bests of moods before. It was good that she was surrounded by amused faces instead of offended. Her mother would be horrified. Yes, they had deprived her of tea, but she had better manners than this! With a small cough she proceeded to explain to her new friends, “Em, sorry about that.” Way to make new friendships, Hermione! “You were being awfully nice trying to help me, I know that, I just wasn’t in a position to hear you out. According to my mother’s extensive research, I seem to have two possible early morning moods, you see. It’s either extreme eagerness for whatever I am expecting to happen during the day, which prompts lightning speed comments and questions, or… murderous dragon who would stop at nothing to get a cup of tea. And she doesn’t even know dragons are real, mind you. I didn’t get much sleep last night, so the dragon came out. That side of me is normally kept hidden because Harry is quick to pour me a cup ever–. Where’s Harry?”

Lisa’s uproarious laugh was the first, and all the others joined her soon. But Millicent could see the worry on her face. “Professor Snape meets with all of us when we join Slytherin, to get to know us. He took Harry for his one-on-one meeting just after they had breakfast. Both Harry and Draco were the first up this morning, so they were done by the time we came in.” Which Hermione knew to interpret as ‘Draco took care of Harry’s scar ointment and they came to breakfast together, after which Professor Snape took him to Gringotts’. These snakes were smooth. She nodded to tell the other girl that she had understood. And went back to her make-over team, who were both waiting with amused smirks on their faces, barely concealed behind a teacup in Daphne’s case, and openly in Pansy’s. She could do worse than friends who thought her dragon mornings were funny and were eager to tame her untameable hair.

“So, I’m all ears now. How do we tackle the beast?”

The professor had clearly made an appointment with Gringotts, because they were allowed to floo into an inner office, without being seen in the entry hall. There were also two goblins already waiting next to the fireplace. Both of them immediately focused on Harry, making him very much aware of the state of his clothing. He was, of course, wearing part of his school uniform even though it was a Saturday. Black shoes, trousers and white shirt were somewhat neutral. But he was not able to wear his school robes, so he had instead chosen the ‘best’ of the rags that were once Dudley’s sweaters. His Head had noticed too, but said nothing before they entered the floo. Perhaps he could now withdraw some coins and get a proper sweater that actually fitted him well and had no visible holes. Why hadn’t he purchased some clothing in the summer? His own grubbiness was exacerbated by the fact that his professor was wearing much better robes than those he used for teaching and brewing, and both goblins had what looked to be expensive garments. Nothing to be done about this now. At least I have shoes that are in one piece. That will have to do.

“Thank you for seeing me today, sirs.” Harry started, “I appreciate your flexibility in taking an appointment with such short notice, and on a Saturday morning, no less.” Snape’s face was impassive as always, or at least always outside of the dungeons as he now knew. But both goblins displayed surprise and then suspicion at his words. What exactly were they expecting? Perhaps it was the norm for wizardkind to be disrespectful to them, but Harry knew not to expect anyone to be accommodating of him.

“Please take a sit, sirs. My name is Ragnok and I am an Elder Vault Overseer. I will be assisting you with the review of your accounts and holdings. This is Warwick, one of our contracted healers, who has agreed to see a human client this morning. Warwick has an ongoing contract with Gringotts which stipulates – on penalty of exile from our society – that any information disclosed either by ourselves, our clients or discovered in the execution of his job, is strictly confidential. He also has extensive experience with dark magic injuries, and Mr. Snape indicated that was preferable. We did not expect you would bring the Boy-Who-Lived, professor, but I dare suggest these provisions are appropriate?” Harry can’t help but notice, while his professor nods, that the questions was rather rhetorical.

“Indeed, thank you Ragnok. We have recently discovered that there is a block in Mr. Potter’s magic, and that he has residue from the Killing Curse in his scar. Both Madam Pomfrey and I agree that your knowledge and magic would make you the ideal consultants for a solution. Neither of us felt confident about addressing those issues, certainly not as well as Gringotts could.” Everyone in the room knew he was sweet-talking them, but Harry couldn’t say it wasn’t working. Both goblins had puffed up at the praise.

Healer Warwick then approached Harry, who was still sitting, placing both their faces at the same height. He was the total opposite from Ragnok. While the banker was tall – for a goblin – and had a presence of confidence about him, with his rich clothing, jewellery and speech; the healer was much older and had a pinched look on his face, behind his glasses, almost as evidence left from years of reading and learning. “I’m very grateful you are willing to see me, Healer Warwick.” This, again, seemed to surprise him, and he took a moment to look back at his colleague before finally addressing the boy. “I came this morning as a favour to Ragnok, but now that I met you and heard about those discoveries, I am also intrigued. May I examine you, Mr. Potter?” At his affirmative response, the goblin began chanting in Gobbledegook and soon a light pink light started to surround Harry. He could feel the magic pocking and prodding him, digging in some parts like his forehead and quickly leaving. It was a strange feeling, and the magic very different to Madam Pomfrey’s diagnostics, but it was done fast. It was soon made evident by the Healer’s face that he has found more than he expected. He locked eyes with his professor first, before looking back at the boy sitting in front of him. All the interested looks, surprise at being in front of the Boy-Who-Lived and intrigue about the residue of the Killing Curse were gone from his face, and Harry could then see how the goblins were called warmongering and bloodthirsty in many history books. “Who’s been responsible for this child’s upbringing, Sir?” he asked the professor without taking his eyes from the boy.

Harry would have cowered if anyone had talked to him in that tone, but the Potions Master seemed to be pleased that the goblin was angry on his behalf. “I see you have performed a full diagnostic. I am pleased to know that any information unveiled today is strictly confidential.” His Head said the last word with notable emphasis. “I do not need to remind you who this boy is, nor who has been self-appointed his magical guardian. As you have seen, this guardianship has been utterly lax, I would say beyond the point of negligence and well into criminality. But I assure you that Mr. Potter is not going back to his so-called carers. Madam Pomfrey and I have reached the same conclusions you have, only last night, and in fact started treatment already. Which should now explain the lack of notice for this meeting. I would be, however, most grateful if you could provide a report of your findings to both compare with ours, and verify we haven’t missed anything, and to keep as evidence for when we are able to take this matter to justice.” By the end of this response, Healer Warwick had visibly calmed, seeing as his professor had not had anything to do with Harry’s condition, and had in fact taken immediate action to overcome any conditions he had.

“Certainly. I will send you a report within the day, and I will also make myself available as a witness, should you require it in the future.” And now it was Snape’s turn to look surprise. Clearly, human-goblin relations were as strained as the books suggested. “Now, to business. Mr. Potter, you do in fact have 60% of your magic locked. This is remarkable, as a normal wizard would be unable to do much other than a sustain a Lumos before exhausting their core with merely 40% of their magic available. Our bodies use much of their magic for daily functions, as much as the brain is used, and 40% of a regular magical core would barely cover survival. In fact, we call it magical exhaustion when humans have 30% of their available magic still. However, it appears that your magical core expanded beyond standard capacities as your body needed your power to keep you alive. Make no mistake, had you been a muggle or a less powerful wizard, you would not have survived past your fifth birthday. It was your magic sustaining you, feeding and healing you, and growing to accommodate your ever-increasing need for it. In most humans, even magical ones, your core would have burned out.”

“Right. I see.” Harry was shaken. Could he not have a single day without bad news coming his way? “Do you think it is possible to remove the block, Healer Warwick? Or do you recommend leaving it? I mean, if I am ok like this and I am able to keep up at school, perhaps I should just leave it and be normal.”

“You will not be normal, Mr. Potter, you will be incredibly powerful.” Harry was fidgeting uneasily in his chair. He just wanted to be normal, could he not leave the block in place? “But I do recommend waiting before we remove the block. The same for the residue of dark magic, which is very strong indeed, but completely localised in your scar. I see you are not wearing your Potter ring, and I would suggest waiting for that as well. Your body needs to heal and be strong before we move forward with any of those actions, to prevent causing you further damage. Mediwitch Pomfrey should be more than capable to inform you when you are well enough to attempt, but perhaps we should be able to meet over Yule school break. Less chance of anyone noticing your absence from Hogwarts.”

It was his professor who responded, as Harry was still processing everything. “Very well, Warwick. Thank you for your advice, we will do as you say. May we ask to see you specifically for these procedures, when Harry is well enough?”

“I insist that you do, Professor. I don’t have many opportunities to see the after effects of a Killing Curse in a living specimen.” That made Harry incredibly uncomfortable, as if he was a study case or a museum exhibit. But at least it meant less people were on the know of his personal business. The next information from his goblin healer was upsetting, but not surprising. “You should know, it was Albus Dumbledore who performed the block on Mr. Potter’s core. His magical signature is clear, and I know it well from previous dealings with him. I will make sure to include that information on my report, Mr. Snape. The cost of his consultation should be managed with Ragnok. I shall leave you now to discuss your finances.”

Before the goblin could exit the room, Harry was on his feet and extending his hand to his healer. “Again, thank you for seeing me, and for your wise advice. I am very grateful for your assistance today, sir, and it was a pleasure to meet you.” Warwick had frozen where he was standing, looking at Harry’s hand as if he had never seen one before. Before responding, he looked at the other goblin for about three seconds, before a smirk appeared on his face as he faced the boy again. “Mr. Potter, believe me when I say that the pleasure was mine.” He said as he finally shook his hand, before adding “I am happy to accept your human handshake, which is not often offered to us goblins. In turn, let me respond with our own form of address.” Then, the little goblin bowed his head. “May your gold ever grow, Mr. Potter,” he said before rising again. “And to this, you may respond: And your coffers overflow.” Harry beamed at the goblin, overjoyed that he was taught how to address them respectfully and at being included in their customs. “And your coffers overflow, Healer Warwick,” he quickly responded with a bow himself.

He was disappointed that they could not remove the dark magic or the block from the child, of course, but the outcome of their meeting was very positive. Somehow, Harry had charmed both goblins and managed to bring them as allies against the Headmaster. They had also been provided with a detail account of the Potter vaults, as well as solid financial advice. Admittedly, most of it went over the boy’s head. But Ragnok had offered to personally oversee the accounts and implement some long overdue enhancements and investments.

Now they were back at his office. He would have liked to take the child to purchase some appropriate clothes, but they could not exactly be seen outside the school. And it was also rather pointless, as Harry would be growing very quickly now for some months. If there was one good thing to be said about his rags, is that they had room to grow. “Harry, shall we have a cup of tea before you join your friends? I noted you had a small breakfast.”

“I tried, Sir, but I wasn’t very hungry. I had an egg, though, that is protein, right?”

“Yes, it is. Well done.” How could such a small reassurance change the boy’s demeanour so much? He made a mental note to start being vocal when Harry did well, as it clearly had a positive effect. “I want to talk to you and see if you had anything you wanted to discuss, or any questions. I understand it can be overwhelming for so much to change so quickly. I am impressed on how well you adapted to everything so far.” Again, a slight compliment and a bashful smile. Well, he couldn’t say he had ever seen James Potter looking at him that way. He was not bound to mistake the two again in the future if Harry kept gazing at him with smiles and hope on his face.

After tea was poured, and his newest snake had a plateful of fruit in front of him, he asked again if there was anything he wanted to discuss. It couldn’t be easy for the child to be sorted into a new House, where he was unsure of his welcome, and to have all his awful past come to play in front of them. And to learn it was the Headmaster, to boot, he wanted to harm him. He hoped that the boy took some comfort on the fact that he had so many people on his side now. “I don’t know that I have anything else to talk about now, Sir. I think I want to process everything first. But I do want to thank you for everything you’ve done, and for taking time out of your free day to take me to Gringotts.”

Again with all that thanking and the surprise that people were doing the job they were paid to do, and helping him. “Harry, you do know that it is one of my responsibilities as Head of Slytherin to make sure you are healthy and safe during school, right? It is not a bother, or a burden, and I most definitely do not mind spending a few hours of my Saturday making sure you are ok.” He didn’t continue until he received at least a nod from the child in front of him. They would have to work on verbal responses, shrugs, nods and grimaces were not an acceptable form of communication in his book; but he would allow it for now. Enough change was being demanded of the former lion at this time. “May I ask why you treated the goblins as you did? Not that there was anything wrong with it, just that it is unusual for wizards.”

“Yeah, I figured when they were surprised. But I know what is like to feel used, to feel you are only seen as a means to an end, someone with no value on its own. I never want to make another being feel like that. And it’s not exactly difficult to be respectful and grateful, is it? It costs nothing, really, but it’s invaluable to those who receive it. Particularly if they are used to being treated as less. I should know.”

“That is very wise. Perhaps you can teach it to Draco” he could help adding, with a teasing grin.

At that, Harry actually laughed, before hitting his professor with an amused gaze. “Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus.” As they both shared a joke on his godson’s ‘aristocratic manners’, Severus realised he hadn’t actually laughed like this in so long, he was unable to remember when it had been. Quickly vanishing the troublesome thoughts from his mind, he concentrated on the fruits that Harry favoured, to tell Mimmy later. She would want to know what to keep at hand.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 – Rest and Re-assess

His first weekend as a Slytherin could not have gone better, even if it continued the same path of change, reshaping relationships and surprises from the half-week prior. For the first time in his life, Harry felt that he could show who he really was and not only he was not judged for it, but encouraged to be himself. The snakes all knew and accepted that people are not perfect, no one is 100% without some darkness, everyone makes mistakes and it’s ok to sometimes put yourself first. Gryffindors would call you selfish for it and condemn you, while Slytherins would praise you for your self-preservation and boost you. Keeping the moral high ground appeared to be having the lions too busy to keep their feet on the ground. But as much as they claimed to be the honourable ones, Harry knew that he had not been so readily accepted or supported in the Tower as he was now in the dungeons. The past two years had been of each lion for itself, with small pockets of conditional support and never a unified House; but woe betide anyone who failed to meet their standards. Hadn’t they all turn their backs on him when they discovered he was a parselmouth? Hadn’t Ron abandoned him the second he perceived something that didn’t even exist?

He had thought things would be complicated for some time, living in a new part of the castle, attending classes with different people, trying to make new friends. And after Friday night, he was sure no one in his year would look at him the same way or, even worse, that there would be an article in The Daily Prophet with all his secrets laid bare for the world to read. But he was, happily, proven wrong as soon as he left Professor’s Snape office and went back to his dorm.

“Hi, Harry.” Vince said, “the others are prepping a picnic next to the lake, so we stayed back to walk with you. Ready?” Well, it was nearly noon, but he just had tea and fruit. However, a few hours outdoors before the winter took its claim in Scotland sounded wonderful. Before he could think again and wonder how they would treat him, he grabbed his Nimbus and Draco’s, and turned to the other boys. “Do you want to take yours as well? We could fly a few laps or charm something to fly so we can catch it. I miss flying!”

“We’ll do one better, actually. Draco has a training snitch, let me get it, he won’t mind.” Greg added before they grabbed all their equipment and started walking to the grounds. Harry was certain he had never heard their voiced before being re-sorted, even in shared classes. So, it was no wonder that he didn’t know how to make conversation with the quiet boys. He simply didn’t know what to talk to them about, but was warmed over by the knowledge that they had stayed behind to wait for him, to make sure he was safe! Yet, to his surprise, it was Greg who broke the ice. “Do you have Sally with you? Only, I didn’t see him on your bed, and I was worried he might have gotten lost. It’s a big castle for a small snake.”

“Oh, he is right here. Do you want to carry him?” Greg took Sally off his hands in an instant, and was soon cooing to the boomslang as if he was a kitten. Sally, naturally, loved every bit of attention he got. He is such an attention seeker! Are all snakes like that?

“Did you think he was a girl when you named him, Harry? Or do snakes not make a difference between boy and girl names?” As it turns out, delving into gender stereotypes and how they applied (or not) to snakes proved to be such a fruitful conversation that he was only starting to respond the initial question, about the name, when they reached the lake and their friends.

“I just thought it was funny that I would be living in the castle with a snake familiar, just like Salazar Slytherin, and so I named him after the founder. His proper name is Salazar Potter, Sally for short. When I explained it to him, Sally thought it was really amusing to have a gender-ambiguous name as a tribute to a traditionalist who lived 1000 years ago! And before you ask, yes, I gave him my last name. It’s not like there are too many Potters around anyway, and Sally is family. Even if he doesn’t have legs.”

“Well, maybe the scandalous name is more appropriate than you think, Harry.” Clearly Pansy couldn’t even wait for them to reach them, before she started gossiping. Being at hearing distance was plenty for her to feel she could join the conversation. “There are rumours that Salazar was in intimate relations with both Godric and Helga. It’s not quite so clear if simultaneously or not, the outrageous rascal. So, who knows how traditional about gender preconceptions and roles he was! Anyway, how was your meeting with Professor Snape?” He understood it for what it was, a constructed lie to protect the truth. And just then Harry noticed that, along with Hermione, Lisa was also sitting with the Slytherins. It was clear that the snakes were not going to let anything slip about what they discussed last night, or his visit to Gringotts, in front of the Ravenclaw. As much as she was fun and was evidently going to be around Mione much more in the future, Lisa was still on the outside of their group. At least for now. And the Slytherins were protecting him.

With that realisation, it was easy to beam at them and follow along. “It was great, we talked about our secret crushes, read each other our horoscopes from Witch Weekly and I braided his hair. Guys, listen.” And he put a completely stern expression on. “It’s much softer than it looks, I tell you.” He deadpanned. And of course, that got Lisa’s laughter going, and soon everyone else’s. “We brought your snitch and broom, Draco. You up for a fly before lunch?”

They had been in the air for about half an hour when they saw three red-haired figures in brooms rushing to meet them mid-air. Harry landed warily and soon Vince and Greg were standing next to him waiting for the new-comers, while Draco joined the others in the picnic blanket. The three turned out to be the twins and Ginny, not Ron, and they soon joined them in the ground. “It’s such a glorious day for flying, isn’t it?” one of the twins said. “Gin here wants to try out for the quidditch team this year, so we were just going to run some drills with her, to get her comfortable before the big day.” After the explanation, the group was deep in awkward silence, each of them waiting to see what the other would say. Ron’s absent spoke volumes, was almost deafening, and they were all unsure as to how to address it. Harry was troubled, though. Was he about to lose more friends? He knew that with Ron cutting ties, and so drastically, he would not be able to count on the Weasleys as his adopted (albeit informally) family anymore, but just the thought of all of them hating him was too much to deal with right now. Harry didn’t think he was ready for more bad news or heart-break today. And so, he kept quiet, waiting to see if he could perhaps delay the inevitable by not speaking.

“Look, Harry.” Ginny started, and was all business. “It’s good we run into you now, because we’ve been wanting to talk to you. We have been trying to make Ron see reason since the Welcoming Feast. But we don’t understand why he is acting like such a humongous git! But Parkinson was dead right! You saved my life three months ago, and it’s not something I will ever forget. If not for you, I would have literally been rotting in the Chamber of Secrets by now, or be basilisk snack. And I don’t give a shit about which House you are in, and neither do the twins!” Both boys were nodding solemnly and beseeching him with his eyes to believe what their younger sister was saying. Could it be possible that he still had some Weasleys he could count as friends?

“Do you mean that?” He sounded like a four-year-old confirming that he was being promised an ice-cream, he knew. Pathetic, but he couldn’t do much about it.

“Of course, Harry. Ginny is right. You saved our baby sister. And even if you hadn’t, if you had been a regular bloke who did nothing remarkable, you changing Houses doesn’t mean anything. We liked you before, and we still like you now. As far as we are concerned, you only changed the colour of your tie, not your values. I don’t know just what got into Ron. We have a theory that he was afraid that he might lose your friendship, so he reacted pre-emptively. But the end result is the same, he ended up losing you. Which is so stupid. And we don’t want to lose your friendship, even it we lost our star seeker!” Harry wasn’t sure which twin had spoken, George maybe? Was he the one with the big freckle in the left side of the nose? But he knew it was a mark of how serious they were being, that they were not playing around and cutting every phrase in half to deliver it.

“Oh. Shit.” Ginny’s eyes were huge, and she was half amused and half fake-worried. “You have two seekers now, what on earth are you going to do?”

“Harry can be seeker; he is the better one” was Draco’s calm answer from the picnic area. “I prefer to score, really, but seeker was the only position available last year and I really wanted to make the team and compete with this git. Not that I could ever beat him! The real question here is what are you going to do. From my viewpoint, two seekers are still better than no seeker.” And no one missed the fact that, though his sneer was still very much in place, Draco had just freely complemented Harry and was just engaging in playful banter, instead of aggressive insults as they had come to expect. It wasn’t lost on anyone, especially the Weasleys as they shared a surprised glance, that Draco was being friendly with them, for Harry’s sake. “Now, since you did bring out the subject, I believe Harry owes us the story of that actually happened in the Chamber of Secrets last year.”

“Yes! Finally! I hate to be made to wait!” Tracey took out her wand and transfigured three rocks into more pillows. “Join us, will you? You can fly later, as it’s still early, and we have plenty of food. Unless, of course, it’s a sensitive subject for you…” she trailed off as she realised that Ginny had almost died in this story, and perhaps she didn’t want to hear it.

“What do you say, Gin? I am curious about the details, and we didn’t want to pester you during the summer as mom would have grilled us for supper and served us with her best sprouts and corn.” Ginny agreed that she wanted to tell her own part of the story, and was curious about what had happened when she was unconscious in the Chamber. Of course, everyone was suitably horrified when the redhead was telling them about being possessed by Tom Riddle, who she later learnt was actually You-Know-Who.

“That sounds petrifying, Weasley, no pun intended. Honestly. I guess you are Gryffindor strong, after all.” Tracey’s voice had lost all the enthusiasm from the beginning when she heard about the lapses in memory coinciding with student being petrified, and how Ginny would wake up in the middle of the castle with blood in the fingers or roster feathers and had no clue as to what had happened to her. However, as the story progressed and they got to Lockhart’s involvement, Harry’s audience was back to shouting expletives about DADA professors and duplicitous authors (Theo and Hermione were united in their absolute disgust with the literary business that allowed such libellous books to be published). As the story continued, they all nibbled on the picnic provided by the elves, and Harry couldn’t help but notice that his plate seemed to be surreptitiously filled by Draco, as the blond made sure he ate without actually saying anything about it. Hermione’s own time to shine came as Harry explained the discovery she made just before being petrified, and how she had been the only one at the school to realise what the Chamber held. Brilliant she was, truly brilliant. Harry was so happy that he could brag about his friend.

“OH, HELL NO! You are full of shit, Potter. There is no way you can kill a basilisk with a sword!” Pansy was enraged. “That didn’t happen. I’m sorry. I’m not saying you are a liar, but I refuse to believe without proof.” Well, what proof could he show? It’s not as if he had a piece of the basilisk with him… wait…

“Do you want to see it, the Chamber? It might stink with the basilisk decomposing down there, but I told you I’m not a liar! Let’s go! I’ll show you.” Harry was getting up as he said this “I’ll take you now and you can judge whether I’m lying or not!” At the end, all Slytherins decided to go. Their founder’s Secret Chamber was something they couldn’t miss. Would they find something else down there? There were rumours of secret libraries and treasures, but who knew if there was ever a grain of truth to them. But the Weasleys, in deference to Ginny, and both Ravenclaw girls decided that the story was quite enough, thank you very much, and they did not need to see or re-live that horror, and they parted ways for the afternoon.

Theo was, as Harry would soon learn was the norm, the voice of reason “guys, we cannot go into the Chamber without telling Professor Snape. First, basilisk parts are incredibly expensive potions ingredients, so he will definitely want to join us. But also, if we get in trouble down there, he would be incensed that we didn’t come to him first.” They all knew this was true, and so they went down to the Potions’ office to seek their Head and hope he was available for an adventure.

First, Snape thought they were mad, but once he was told about the dead basilisk, with its basilisk venom and its basilisk skin and its basilisk blood, their professor could not really say no. He had been trying to get his hands in such ingredients since he first set foot in Hogwarts, but basilisks were extremely rare and the ingredients collected from them, even more difficult to find. And outrageously expensive. So, with their faculty chaperon, Harry took them to Myrtle’s bathroom, opened the Chamber and – as suggested by the professor – used parseltongue to ask the entrance to turn the slide into stairs, so they would not need to go down in slime or fly to come back up. Useful, that.

This is probably what the muggles meant by exposure immunisation. Surely, if you are sufficiently exposed to a certain entity, you grow used to it; you adapt. So, now it was safe to say that having Harry in his House – even if for less than a week – had made him immune to surprises and eccentricities. By now, Severus could safely say that nothing would ever shock him again. He was cured, without the need for mental shields. So the boy had slayed a 15-meter-long basilisk with an average-sized sword when he was twelve. It happened, seemingly. It was perfectly ordinary, he estimated. He had read that children went through phases as they grew up, and so Harry had a fighting-lethal-and-unconquerable-beasts phase, Severus could deal with it. A matter of no consequence, to be sure. He would deal with it.

Seeing the carcass of the king of serpents lying there, larger than life and terrifying beyond the grave, was stupefying. But if Harry could face it alive, the professor trusted he could face it dead, surely. Right? It’s just that the thought of one of his snakes being face-to-face with a basilisk was a daunting realisation. So, he did the only thing he could do. He occluded and started collecting venom and other useful bits. “Harry, do you wish to sell any of this. I can help you gather the ingredients. You could make a fortune with just a few millimetres of venom, and you did slay the beast, so it’s your right to make profit from it.” Did the boy even know that they were standing in front of a life-supply of galleons in the shape of basilisk parts?

“No, professor. I don’t know if I feel comfortable introducing these into the market for anyone to use for nefarious plans. I trust that you would know what to do and how to keep them safe.” He trusts me. Just like that? How could this child trust him? Before he knew what his body was doing, Severus had cut the distance between him and Harry and hugged the boy. “I can’t believe you actually faced this basilisk” he whispered into the boy’s hair. So, he wasn’t handling quite so stoically as he wanted. But it was a horrifying monster.

On the way back up from the Chamber, Harry had evidently told Milly and Daphne the story about Sally and the cat. This became evident as Hermione heard an echoing ruckus coming from the corridor, as she was finding some books in the library. She turned to see what the emergency was, just as both girls came barrelling down at full speed, as if chased by the entire Headless Hunt, and with Harry and Theo coming – at a much more sedated pace – behind them. Madam Pince was quite right in shushing them, as their disturbance was not only unnecessary, but also inefficient. In fact, both girls were still catching their breaths by the time the boys finally reached them.

“Hermione!” Millicent was still breathing with difficulty from her jog, but could not wait any longer to make her plight. “You HAVE to adopt a cat. It’s a hero cat! Please! We are not allowed and this cat needs a home where he can be adored as the hero that he is!” Thank you for that very logical explanation. The cat is a hero, naturally; hence I need to adopt it. No, thanks. She kept her thoughts to herself though, and decided to tackle the confusing bit first “a hero, you say?” The brunette looked at Harry then and whispered “did you perhaps try to explain Batman and Catwoman to them?”

“Catwoman? Who is that, an animagus?” Daphne was already looking excited about the prospect of another cat animagus, and how was this her new life? Sure, she still had the money her parents had given her for her upcoming birthday and she had considered getting a familiar. But her thoughts were more in line with an owl. Owls were more sensible, surely, and useful. The only trouble she had with purchasing an owl is that she would hardly see the animal, as they normally resided on their own tower, instead of the student’s dorms. Honestly, she wanted the companionship that an owl would not provide. But she had never even considered a cat. Her aunty had cats and they were the most aloof and indifferent animals she could think of. She liked them ok, but could she bond with one? Unlikely.

She was, therefore, about to stop this whole conversation down when Harry explained that the cat truly was a hero, and how he had saved Sally’s life and rescued the boomslang. Apparently, the orange half-kneazle had also remained next to the snake for an entire week to keep him safe while healing. That doesn’t sound aloof at all. It actually sounds like this is a rather clever and caring cat. And it would almost be cruel not to reunite the two friends now. “Well… my parents did give me extra money before I went to Diagon Alley so I would purchase myself something for my birthday, and I never got around to it. I did want a familiar. Do you think this cat would be happy to come to Hogwarts?”

Milly’s smile was blinding as she responded “happy to come? Let me put it this way, would you be happy to have never-ending supply of petting and head scratching, boundless rocks to climb, a cosy place to sleep and unrestricted access to juicy rats?” Hermione’s grimaced at the last part, but had to admit that it sounded like a very good prospect for a cat. Harry and Theo were shaking their heads and chuckling at her. Soon, the two Slytherin girls had grabbed Hermione and were escorting her not too gently to the owlery to place an order for the orange cat, hoping it was there still. The Ravenclaw received an intensive course in all things feline in the way to the tower, and soon contracted the same buzzing energy the other two had.

Hogwarts. Saturday, 4th September 1993.

Dear mother,

I hope this letter finds you and father well.

I’m aware that I have barely left our home a few days ago, and yet I have been amidst so much change that it hardly seems the same year at all. As you are likely aware, published at it was in the paper, the sorting ceremony this year included up to us third-years. In a bizarre turn of events, the only students who ended up in a different House that they were originally sorted into came all from Gryffindor (something suspicious there, to be sure). Amongst those, Harry Potter was re-sorted into Slytherin and is now my new dormmate.

You’ll find, no doubt, this living situation endlessly amusing, as I have been rather outspoken in the past regarding my animosity toward him. However, he has presented a challenge I had not expected, nor could I foreseen, and I find myself admiring his character. Some of his personal information has also been revealed since he is housed with us, and I have come to the conclusion that I did not have a complete nor accurate picture of him, rendering my previous adverse feelings inert and obsolete.

Please, do not mock me, as I can already imagine you doing. I can picture you clear as day, in the breakfast table at the conservatory, buttering your crumpets and laughing at me with this letter levitated in front of you. However, I ask that you reserve judgement until such time as you come to meet him personally, as no doubt will eventually happen, as he will continue to insert himself in our society now that we share friends (he has already befriended and charmed his way into the majority of the snake pit!). I shall only say that he is not what I expected. Far from it.

Now, there is a purpose to this letter, other than simply to provide you with entertainment in the form of my discomfiture. I wish to ask you for two favours. One should be rather simple: it pertains the truffle boxes from the kitchen. I require two more, please, for new acquaintances I have already cultivated (no, I will not say who yet and please restrain from enquiring about it). I believe they, through frequent contact and shared time with my group, will come to see that everyone else has one of them, and I wish to prevent ill feelings or offence from developing. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.

Now, as to the second favour: perhaps you might need to engage the elves for this one. There is a new student in Slytherin that we have discovered comes from a thorny (read: completely unacceptable) family situation. While I am sure Uncle Severus will handle the legalities and such, there is a matter of his attire, which is preposterous and does not reflect the status of our House. He has begun a nutrition plan that would have him regain lost height in a few months, and so it’s not convenient to purchase a wardrobe at this time. As such, I was wondering if the elves and you could put together a selection of my garments from the previous two years, so that he is covered until such time as he obtains his own. Please include plenty of warm items, and shoes, as he is severely lacking.

I admit, mother (and I hope I won’t be betraying his confidence in addressing this situation in this letter), that it was harrowing to learn what some people will be willing to do to children. It has already sent me into many episodes of contemplation about our society and how we support each other, particularly those most vulnerable. Who would have thought I’d be having any thought at all about supporting others, you might say, and it would be a good reflection on how much this whole ordeal has shaken my beliefs.

Anyway, I did not intend to disclose so much of my inner turmoil into this parchment, nor do I expect you to solve it for me. I am simply reassessing and reordering my thoughts, which is a task I must undertake on my own. But you know how I have always consoled myself in your enduring support, and knowing you are on the other side of my letter is a source of peace at the time. Please don’t read too much into it, I assure you I am well, and knowing I can provide a small measure of assistance in the form of proper attire is also a comfort. I do feel a measure of responsibility as I was partly (mostly exclusively) to blame for the situation revealing itself… I do hope I am allowed to help alleviate any pain I caused.

I’ll leave you then, since most likely you haven’t even had time to properly miss me yet, and will write to you again soon.

Please send my regards to father.

Your loving son,


Sunday had been just as animated and positive as Saturday. Neville had intercepted him on his way to breakfast and complained about what a prat Ron was being, and how he personally didn’t think anything about Harry was different. As it had become usual, Harry was accompanied by several of his housemates, and was pleasantly surprise that they were able to have a decent conversation with Neville. Pureblood manners coming to the surface as they were required to interact with a Hufflepuff to support Harry and his friends.

As Harry asked Neville about his summer, the boy got excited explaining all the changes he had implemented in his personal greenhouse to allow it to be self-sufficient until Christmas. Draco quickly perked up at this and joined the conversation, eventually steering the Puff to their table so they could continue the conversation about plants that provided ingredients for potions, and their care, over breakfast.

They were done now, only remaining at the table to continue their conversations and to wait for the newspaper, as Blaise was as rigorous about reading it as Hermione, who was today at her own table. “Post is here” said Blaise “Draco, is that your mother’s owl?”

Harry could see a lovely snowy owl, that could easily pass as Hedwig’s sibling, descending in front of Draco and carrying a large package. “Oh, such efficiency! Got to love my mother for her dedication.” As he said this, he opened a rather long letter, which he swiftly refolded to read later, surely. “My apologies, Longbottom. This was a surprisingly interesting conversation, if you don’t mind me saying. I’ll be happy to continue later, but I must be off now. I promise to ask mother next time I write about the specimens we discussed, and if they are thriving as I suspect, we can arrange for you to take some during the holidays.” Harry had not followed the conversation, but was entirely too please to see his friends be welcoming to one another. It was unfortunate that Ron picked up that time to loudly comment from his side of the Hall on the fact that Neville was sitting with them.

“What the bloody hell?! Neville too? Was I surrounded by a gaggle of traitors and backstabbers?”

“Right” Draco recuperated without losing a bit “I must take these packages to our dorm. Would you accompany me, Harry? Let’s pick up Hermione, I need to have a word with her.” The two, Blaise and Theo stood then and went to Ravenclaw’s table, where they were readily joined by the brunette, as well as Pansy and Tracey.

Draco guided them towards the dungeons, but stopped at an empty classroom and signalled them to enter. “I have a few things for you two.” He opened the package, which contained a bigger box, clearly shrunk, and two smaller delicate ones. He then handled the smaller boxes, one each for Harry and Hermione. Pansy let out a squeak of joy and hugged Draco, to the mounting confusion of the two former Gryffindors. “Well, go on then. Open them!” As they did, and found the delectable contents, Draco elaborated. “These are self-replenishing truffle cases. Any time you open them, you’ll find four truffles. We have a French-trained chocolatier elf who makes them daily with only the best of Belgian chocolate and it’s a Malfoy tradition to give a box to our dearest friends ‘to keep their days sweet’, as my mother would say. They have temperature and humidity regulating charms, as well as protections against physical damage. I should say, Hermione, that you are the first non-Slytherin to ever receive one.” He finished with a side smile, an almost vulnerable expression on his face, as if wondering if the gift would not be well received.

“This is such a lovely gesture! And the carving on the boxes is divine as well. Thank you, Draco! I’m touched that you included me in the gifts!” Hermione launched herself into the blonde’s arms for a hug. “Think nothing of it. We did agree we were friends, did we not?” Harry could tell Draco was not used to making himself vulnerable, even in front of friends, and it was the first time that he could think of seeing the other boy uncertain, as if unsure of himself. He was effectively declaring their friendship in a public manner, and it was evident that he was afraid of being shunned (for a second time, in his case!). Seeing the crease on his forehead, the bitten lip and the lowering eyes was probably the reason at that time, but in the minutes and months to come, Harry couldn’t – for the life of him – explain what had compelled him to react as he had.

“Thank you, Draco. This is such a wonderfully thoughtful gift, and I bet the truffles are perfect.” And then, against logic, social conventions, decency and common sense, he leaned in and kissed Draco’s cheek, immediately provoking a furious blush in both of them. Oh, Jesus! What the bloody hell kind of idiot am I? Did I really just kiss his cheek? Voldemort, if you are around, now would be a good time to barge in and finish me off… shit.”

He was mortified, Blaise had turned around to compose himself and Tracey was giggling behind her hand. Theo was just looking at Hermione, and Pansy was now narrowing her eyes at Harry, as if trying to find the meaning of something, probably to see if she could find evidence of him having a brain or not. Draco, though, didn’t seem to have minded terribly or was at least relieved to be accepted as a friend, as he gave Harry a small smile. “Well, the last one is also for you, Harry. I…” he cleared his throat and fixed his face to worried again “I don’t know how you are going to take this. Please, please, don’t read anything bad into it. Is just that the girls and I have noticed that your relatives have failed to provide you with a suitable wardrobe. We thought about procuring some owl-order catalogues and help you selecting a few pieces, but since you are going to be getting taller rather quickly I… Well… I asked mother to send a selection of things I’ve outgrown, so you are warm enough until we can all go shopping. They’re just a loan, you see, just until you reach your height. Not charity.”

This was uncomfortable. Harry wasn’t good with accepting help, and Draco’s show of concern was so kind that he didn’t even know how to feel about it. But he was also beyond mortified at this point. To have presented himself so obviously dishevelled that his new friends had to get an emergency closet for him was, to say the least, embarrassing. “Em, I – thanks. I’ll go to our dorm and put them away now. Please thank your mother and the elves for me as well, for everything. I think I’ll use the rest of the morning to catch up on reading, ok? See you at lunch.” And he fled. As fast as he could, to his dorm.

The clothes were, as he expected, of exquisite quality and everything looked new. Likely Draco had only worn them once or twice each. There were even two winter cloaks, dragon leather boots, wool socks and more sweaters than he had ever seen in his life. He had never had such beautiful clothing before, and he was not bothered about the fact that they were hand-me-downs. He took the better part of an hour putting everything in his closet, appreciating every item and making sure to fold them perfectly to prevent creases. He was almost worshiping them, but he couldn’t help it, he’d never had something to pretty and soft to wear before.

After he had emptied the package, he chose an outfit for the day, including an emerald green sweater made of the softest material on earth – honestly, was it made of baby unicorns? – and left them on top of his trunk, to change before joining the others for lunch. No point in dressing in nice things now, only to read in bed.

When he met the others for lunch, he couldn’t help smiling at seeing Draco’s jaw drop. Daphne was quick to shower him with compliments, and Pansy made him swear to keep the sweater for the rest of his life. It was still a bit large on him, so he promised to at least keep it until it no longer fit, if Draco didn’t mind. The blond was speechless, and still unable to stop looking, but nodded his agreement. Then he finally found his voice “yeah, yes, I mean. Emerald green is definitely your colour. It never looked that good on me, so please keep it.

Just after lunch, Hermione’s new cat was brought to the gates of the castle, and Hagrid had brought it over to them in great excitement, just as any other time he was interacting with such an interesting creature. Mione loved Crookshanks on first sight, and no one was as happy as Sally, who got his hero back. They all spent the rest of the day in the unused classroom in the dungeons, getting to know their new cat, finishing their homework and listening to Harry’s update from Gringotts.

They were now in their dorm, getting ready for bed and Draco had come into Harry’s bed curtains to apply the Scar Removing Ointment. Harry had casted a silencing spell, for privacy, and a few floating globes of light that created a soft bluish glow inside their shelter, for Draco to be able to see where to apply the paste. The whole situation was a bit awkward, as Harry was in his pyjama bottoms (they had decided to start with the back, and move to the legs later) laying on the bed, on his stomach, and was not used to showing his scars. He felt helpless, but of all the people that could be doing this right now, he felt strangely safe with Draco. Merlin knows why.

Draco was obviously trying to be extra gentle, as if Harry could still feel pain from the lashes. “Harry, I’m sorry if I made you feel bad with the clothes. It was never my intention. I just wanted you to be warm and stop wearing those ratty rags.”

“I know. I didn’t feel bad, honestly. I was embarrassed that I had presented myself like that, not that you were giving me the clothes. To be frank, I’ve never had such nice things before.”

“You deserve to have nice things, Harry. Don’t frown like that, I can still see you. And I’m always right, so if I say you deserve good things, then you do!”

“Yes, sir!” Harry responded with a laugh. “Don’t mind me. These last few days were a lot. I’m just processing, ok? I’m still a bit worried about my magic and the residue of dark magic I have. I swear to god, all I want is to be normal.” He was just venting his frustrations now, but Draco was a surprisingly good listener. Which had been another gift from being sorted into the pit. But just the idea that, for the rest of his life, he would be different, have different magic, it just made him feel like a freak. Like his aunt was right all along, even a freak amongst freaks.

“You could bever be normal, Harry. You might as well eradicate that idea.” Draco responded in all seriousness, still drawing lines with the ointment on his back with the softest of touch. Which was such a contradiction to his words. What was he playing at? Was he calling him a freak? He must have seen the confusion in his face, as he hastened to elaborate. “I mean that it would be impossible for you to be normal, ordinary, because you are so much more than that. You are extraordinary, you’ll always be. I’m happy that I can finally see it now.”

“That’s your back done now. Remember to wake me up tomorrow if I’m not up by the time you are done showering. Goodnight, Harry.” But he couldn’t respond. He has been rendered speechless. He replayed Draco’s words in his mind and was hooked up on the raw honesty in his voice when he said it. He had never been called that before. And perhaps he didn’t need to be normal, if he could make Draco think he was extraordinary.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13 – Is There a Potion for That?

Severus had worked quickly and efficiently on Friday night, almost until sunrise, to make certain that Harry had all the potions he needed in time for his morning doses. He had doctored some formulas to add supplementary nutrients or to include additional properties, such as increased appetite and a mild energy enhancer, to compensate for lack of energy from food. He would have to remove that last one in a few weeks, as the boy became stronger with consistent diet. Unsurprisingly, the professor had not managed to sleep a blink during the night, between brewing and planning his next steps. Nothing for it but to take a Wideye Potion to keep him awake until the evening, as he loathed to sleep during the day. Not only some snake might need him and be unable to find him, but it also had the unpleasant side effect of affecting his regular sleeping pattern for days. Hm, the Wideye will keep me up, but it won’t do much for my endurance. Better take a Girding Potion as well, as revolting as it might be. Being forced to down potions as this one made him more sympathetic, if only slightly, with the students who complaint about foul smells or unpalatable tastes. He would much prefer the Invigorating Draught which tasted better and would achieve roughly the same results, but the combined billiwig stings from both that and the Wideye would place him too close to the threshold of maximum recommended dosage for his preference. At least now I’ll have a productive day. And I will need it to get started on my retribution to Petunia.

“Mimmy” he called and waited only a second for the elf to pop in, “oh, I was about to ask for coffee, but you prove yourself once more by anticipating my needs.”

“It’s easy, sir. Potion Master’s needs haven’t changed much in a decade, but Mimmy is happy to keep her master satisfied. Shall I also bring breakfast, sir?” The little elf was so happy in the morning. Was it an elf thing? He couldn’t remember ever being cheerful at this time of the day; except perhaps on the first day of the summer holidays, knowing he was waking to an empty castle.

“No, Mimmy. I must attend breakfast at the Great Hall today, to keep an appearance of normality. I don’t wish the Headmaster to be aware of any irregularities in my House, and if he somehow heard of my staying up brewing all night or being absent for another meal, it would certainly alarm him. I trust you have not discussed last night’s events with other elves, right?” It would be truly regrettable if Albus were to find out about this through the elves. No, they must act in the strictest of secrecy.

“Mimmy hasn’t said anything, sir… however, my cousin is visiting now that he is no longer employed, and Dobby is curious about my midnight activities. All he knows is that I was attending master, sir, and some of the small masters in Slytherin. But Dobby is… quite peculiar, sir. He is an odd elf. And rather obsessed with little master Potter. Mimmy worries that Dobby might try to contact him, or… well, spy from a distance if Dobby doesn’t dare get close to master Potter.” Oh, what a palaver! Why must I deal with a snooping free elf now?

Elves were known for being curious, but never out of line or against their master’s orders. But if this was a free elf, as Mimmy said, he would not be compelled to remain apart from Harry and enquiring about his life. What if he repeated what he heard or saw to a new master, after he found employment? No, absolute secrecy didn’t allow rogue elves. “Thank you for alerting me of this, Mimmy. I need to attend to breakfast now, as I promised Mr. Potter that I would accompany him out of the castle for an errand after. I must insist that you do not mention anything about last night or my absence today, especially to your cousin. When I return, I will call for you. I will like to meet with this Dobby then, please.” He will deal with the elf later.

After they returned from Gringotts and tea was had, Severus was ready to implement the first steps of his revenge. Harry said that what the Dursleys most wanted to put forth an image of “normality” and to be free of any freakish thing in their house and neighbourhood. He so yearned to end them quickly and painfully, so much that he could never remember feeling such ire… but that was not what they deserved. No, they had tortured and harmed one of his snakes, for a decade, inflicting physical, emotional and psychological damage to an innocent, helpless child in their care. Swift death was too merciful for those villains. Oh, they will suffer. Severus was good at revenge, at putting all his rancour and spite to proper use. And this time, retribution demanded extended, unrelenting and ruthless desecration of all they held dear. They will suffer for every tear and every drop of blood they forced out of his snake. He would shatter their calm and normal daily existence, obliviate their sense of tranquillity at home, destroy their hope for a bright future, debilitate their bodies and minds, keep them in a constant and self-sustaining state of dread and despair until they couldn’t sleep, eat or breath without anxiety. So, to begin with, he was going to send them a plant. “Mimmy!”

“Sir is back, shall I call Dobby now, master?” Oh, that’s right. Hm, this was decidedly anticlimactic. “Very well, bring him in.”

Now stood in front of him the oddest house elf he had ever seen, wearing children rubber boots (purple with little yellow ducks on them), what appeared to be a shrunk women’s bathing suit from 1920 in magenta with royal blue frills, and an orange tea cosy as a hat. This might explain why we don’t give clothes to house elves. Merlin! “Dobby is very happy to meet Potions Master Snape, sir. You is kind to receive Dobby!”

“Pleasure, I’m sure. I understand from Mimmy that you are currently residing in the castle. Is that so?”

“Yes, sir. Dobby is looking for work, but no wizard will hire him. Dobby is wanting payment for his work, sir.” Well, that is different. He chanced a glance at Mimmy, to see what her reaction to the odd elf would be, to find her looking ashamed and apologetic for this weird cousin of hers. At least she was not about to demand payment as well. Not that he would mind, the creatures were hard working, but they did so normally in exchange for protection and housing, as they could not live in the muggle world, and were susceptible to illness and weakness if they ventured out of magical areas for too long.

“How come you are a free elf now? Who was your master before?” And so, Severus was told about Abraxas Malfoy – a right bastard and soulless shell of a man if there ever was one – and his predilection of elf torture. To hear Dobby’s tale was so reminiscent from Harry’s own recollections last night, that it would be impossible not to grasp the similarities and the patterns of abuse blatant in both cases. Abraxas had trained the elf to punish himself several times a day, as a precautionary measure, and routinely kicked, crucioed and belittled the elf until he died, two years ago right before Draco came to Hogwarts. Then, he had been inherited by Lucius, who looked almost identical to his father and who, while not openly cruel to his elves, tended to be rather demanding and short-tempered with them. Dobby had difficulties separating both men sometimes, and Lucius had no patience for an elf having a panic attack believing his old master was coming back from the grave to haunt him. In the end, the elf had told him about the events from last year that ended with Harry tricking Lucius into freeing the elf. His devotion to the child was beyond normal, which led Severus to believe that Dobby had in fact spied some of the boy’s living conditions and identified with him. It wouldn’t be farfetched to think that the elf had seen a hero Harry Potter bearing the trappings of a house elf, and as a result had exacerbated his admiration. Perhaps he would not be a hindrance or a risk, but an ally in this situation…

“I see. Thank you for your honestly, Dobby, and for telling me your story. I do happen to have some tasks that need to be undertaken, that could be very well be done by an elf. From what you have just told me, I understand that you might be pleased with them. It entails making people pay for harming Harry Potter.” He was about to ask more about Dobby’s intentions and skills, when he was interrupted by the elf jumping up in excitement.

“Sir does not need to hire Dobby to hurt people who have hurt Mister Harry Potter, sir!! Dobby will do anything Harry Potter wants or needs. Harry Potter is a friend to all elves and Dobby will always be happy to help him.” Oh, dear. Perhaps the elf’s enthusiasm was too much. Hopefully he was not getting himself into more trouble than was worth. But he had such a soft spot for abused beings, it was his one true weakness, along with sad green eyes. And Dobby had both, in spades. He was the elf version of Harry.

“Dobby, please listen first. It pleases me to see that you are loyal to Mr. Potter. I am sure that he will appreciate it as well, in the future. The job I have, and that I would like to discuss with you, is to provide justice for Mr. Potter, but it must remain completely secret now to protect Harry. Therefore, I would prefer to have a contract with the elf who performed this job, so that magic binds us, although it does not need to be a traditional bonding. If you so desire, then, I can offer you employment with a salary of 10 galleons a month. You may also have two free days a month. In exchange for this, I will ask you to perform normal elf duties to the best of your ability, and assist me in this especial project to avenge Harry Potter. What say you?”

Dobby looked horrified now. What had he said? “Dobby cannot work for Potions Master Snape for 10 galleons a month, sir! It’s too much! Dobby could accept 2 galleons per month, and no free days.” Merlin, he will have to practice patience with this one. And Mimmy was looking too amused for his liking. At some point, he would have to talk to her as well and see if she also wanted payment and free days, as they were well deserved and he did not want to keep her in a disadvantageous position.

“Dobby, my final offer is this. 6 galleons and 1 free day per month. And I could arrange for you to visit Harry, in secret. I do have an essential condition, and it is that you must wear a uniform befitted to the private elf of a reputed Potion Master. As you are a free elf, I do not expect you to dress as the others. You would have to procure dark trousers, either blue or black, and a white shirt which I expect to see always clean. A perfectly clean and presentable white shirt is the mark of a good assistant. And black shoes. You may accessorise with one personal item at a time, be it a hat, scarf or whatever you wish as long as it does not interfere with your tasks. I live in the castle during the school year, and so you must as well, if you agree.” And so it was that Severus hired his own free elf. Whether he would regret it or not, remained to be seen.

“Now that we have everything signed, this is what I want you to do.”

A basilisk! Merlin save us! Of course Severus knew, in theory, how big an actual basilisk could be, but to see its corpse there, next to the boy who had slayed it and looked miniscule compared to the beast… it was sobering. He hadn’t expected to become so emotional, as he hardly ever was, even with the Slytherins. But Harry had told him he trusted him to preserve and keep the basilisk parts, instead of selling them for his own profit. He wasn’t certain if Harry understood the consequences of allowing him to basically control the only supply of basilisk parts in the UK. For if Harry did want to sell, the most likely destination for such deadly poison would be the hands of Death Eaters intending the boy harm. Saying he trusted him, he was basically accepting that his professor would never allow the ingredients in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, they had used their time at the Chamber mostly to explore and look for hiding places, and hug Harry thanking that the boy was still alive. He had only managed to collect about a sixth of the available ingredients, so he would have to return later to gather the rest. He had cast a preservation charm to prevent rot, although the Chamber was so deep in the earth and so cold that the animal had conserved almost perfectly. No doubt he could wait a while to return for the rest.

As the Potions Master was labelling the last of the jars with basilisk scales, Dobby returned from his tasks. Severus was pleased to see the elf looking neat in his uniform already, having selected royal blue trousers instead of the dark ones he had imagined, but they suited the little creature well. He was doubly pleased when the elf explained, “Dobby waited for Professor Snape to be alone and to finish his task before appearing, sir, as you says Dobby is to be secret.” He had to give it to the elf, he had sense and was sneaky enough that neither Severus nor the students had noticed him checking in. This was very good; discretion would be vital. “But Dobby finished his task an hour ago, and acquired the uniform as Professor instructed.” Well, he was also wearing a golden tiara, likely held with a temporary sticking charm to his head, but Severus had given the elf permission to accessorise, so complaint he couldn’t. “Dobby did not want the plant professor to notice a missing pot, so Dobby goes to the forest and collects a mature screechsnap and plants it himself, sir. The pot, with a big golden bow, was left in the doorstep of Mrs. Horseface’s house and she took it inside thinking it was a gift. Dobby then places a Sticking Charm to keep the plant on the soil, and one to keep the pot in their mantle. Horseface and the Whale will not be able remove the plant once it starts screeching. Dobby is also pouring the sedating potion in the soil, so the plant is silent for now, Sir.”

“That’s very good, Dobby. I am pleased that you thought about he sticking charm inside the soil as well, as I had not considered that they could replant it and remove it. Also, your uniform is very good. You’ve done well.” Goodness, it was the same as with Harry, only worse. A few compliments for a job well done and Dobby was already crying. “Dobby, stop crying this instant. I do not deal well with tears. Thank you.” At least he could order the elf to stop, which was a relief. “Now, I need to meditate for the rest of the day, likely tomorrow as well. You shall discuss with Mimmy what her regular tasks are and assist her, except dealing with the Slytherins. I do not wish for other people in the castle to be aware of you yet. Perhaps she can instruct you how to clean my private potions lab, which is a very delicate task. And from now on, remember to keep that delightful plant alive, without being seen by the muggles, of course.”

When Dobby had left, after insisting that he would prepare tea to help him relax before his meditation, Severus sat by the fire going through the events of the past few days again. The tea truly was relaxing, Dobby had been right. He had managed to avoid the Headmaster today, as Albus was away in that blasted conference this weekend, but before long he would insist on that meeting he wanted. Severus needed to organise his thoughts and plan his next steps carefully, to be able to help Harry before the interfering old man even knew what was going on. Tomorrow he would dedicate the day to reinforcing his occlumency, and revising all previous interactions with Harry, trying to get a factual picture of the boy.

It was almost supper time on Sunday when a taciturn Severus emerged from his occlumency meditations. He had been an arrogant and a fool. Voiding his mind from emotions and reviewing his past few years objectively, as if seeing someone else’s life, had left him with a sour taste and a guilty conscience. He was well aware of his many personality flaws, and how deeply he was disliked by almost all students, but he had always placed the blame on others. He had felt misunderstood and wounded by the existing prejudice against Slytherins. And those had certainly been a great part of the reasons for his loneliness and sullenness when he was a teenager. But he had somehow forgotten that he was the adult now, the one with authority and control, the one supposed to be mature enough to be educating younger minds. And instead, he was ruled by bitterness and took revenge in the kids for the faults of the parents.

As he sat up, he noticed that either Dobby or Mimmy had stopped by to leave tea and his correspondence. The pot remained hot, fortunately, and there were biscuits which he managed to make disappear in under two minutes. He also summoned the box of Malfoy truffles, which were always marvellous. He was ravenous from an entire day in his head. With his second cup, he found a letter from Gringotts with the transcript from the diagnostic made by Healer Warwick. It was very detailed and, as opposed to Poppy’s, it detailed the culprit for each time the boy had been hurt. He was reminded once more of the vindictive nature of goblins. They would want to know who was responsible for an injury, to demand payment or execute retaliation. There was still an hour for dinner to be served in the Great Hall, so he had time to show this to Poppy and see if they had missed anything.

“Afternoon, Severus. What can I do for you? You are not ill, are you?” Poppy was behind her desk writing what looked like a personal letter. So early in the year, there were no students yet in her beds, he had made sure she was fully stocked of potions and everything was likely in order, so evidently, she had some spare time. Severus closed the door and gestured to the chair in front of her, seeking her permission to sit before casting a strong privacy spell in her office. All this caution was met with barely a raised eyebrow, as Poppy likely imagined the reason for his visit.

“Not ill, don’t worry. It’s about Harry Potter, actually. Thank you for seeing him late on Friday, I admit I was stunned and wanted the boy looked at. Didn’t stop to think to look at the time.” She had left the Slytherin area after 2 am on Friday; Saturday actually. And in truth they had not found anything that was urgent enough to summon her at that hour. “I took him to Gringotts as you suggested, and the healer provided by the goblins recommended we wait until his overall health is better before proceeding with removing the block and the residue of dark magic. We could do so at Christmas, so I don’t have to risk taking him out of the castle before then, but let me know if you think he is well enough much sooner. I could always find a way, if needed. Anyway, I requested a copy of their diagnostic, for you to see, and they sent it today. I would like you to go through it when you have a moment and let me know if there is any other treatment you recommend. Just so you are aware, I provided him with an ointment to vanish a significant number of scars he has on his back. It has nothing that should create interference with other potions, but a portion of his magic will be working for a few weeks with the paste. If you notice that, don’t concern yourself.”

"Here is a duplicate for your records. I am keeping the original in a folder I am compiling for the aurors. He has started on the potion’s regime, and I am thinking of putting him in contact with a mind healer, as well. Of course, I would have to ask Harry first. I am concerned with his mental health. The body will heal in a few weeks, magic is useful for that, but the mind takes longer. As much as I can help with bespoken potions for his mind, I fear the damage they’ve done is rather deep. What do you think?”

“Sounds good to me, Severus. I’m in contact with a few mind healers that I could recommend, if Harry is agreeable. Let me know.” She then narrowed her eyes at him, as if studying him. “Are you quite alright? You seem out of sorts?” Was his inner turmoil so evident? Or perhaps she knew him well enough by now to be able to read him better than most.

Before replying, he took a few moments. He had the answer already, as his thought were always the clearer after one of his marathon-length sessions of occlumency, but he was unsure whether to share them or not. Of all the people in the castle, he would say he felt the most comfortable with Poppy and Minerva, but he had never quite shared his feeling with either of the women. And see where that attitude led me: a bitter, lonely man. Unable to acknowledge or share emotions. There was one thing clear to him now, and that was the need to evolve. He could very well start with Poppy.

“I’ve spent the better part of the day deep in my mind, trying to find all the memories of Harry that I had and to interpret them in the light of what we now know. I had realised that I’d allowed Albus to shape my perception of the boy, based on a father he likely doesn’t remember. In order to be his Head of House, and to help him as he traverses the path we must now help him find, I needed to see him for who he is.” The great thing about Poppy was that her training had showed her the value of patience. She was now waiting in silence while he constructed his ideas, decided what to share with her.

“As I went through each and every time we interacted in the past two years, I did confirm that he is nothing like I thought he was. After the way he had been acting with me since his re-sorting, and the discovery from Friday night, I can’t say that it was a surprise. I found no arrogance, no despondency, no lack of respect. He is not James. Nor he is Lily. I say this out loud and it sounds so stupidly evident, that I can’t help my disappointment with my own self.”

“I’m sure Mr. Potter will appreciate your changed attitude towards him, Severus, and forgive you.”

“I believe he already has, actually. What has me preoccupied now is a different thing altogether. You see, as I went through all those days of my past, I saw Harry as he was. That is the curse and the blessing of occlumency: that is shows things as they are, devoid of our own pre-existing conditioning, our assigned values and emotions. It was natural, perhaps, that I also saw myself as I am. It was as if I had been living the same day of my life, over and over, since I set foot in this school. The only difference, that I now sit at a different table. It has only intensified since I became a professor. Absolutely every day of my life is the same: I wake up in the same bed I had for the past decade, alone and pre-emptively bitter, ready for the disappointments the day will likely carry. I eat the same breakfast, avoid the same Gryffindors, receive the same correspondence. Then I attempt to teach to a group of uninterested children the same things each year, with likely the same results, as no doubt no one makes much of an effort to apply themselves in a subject if the professor refuses to recognise the effort. Then, I have the same inconsequential conversations at supper, complain loudly to myself for my lot in life, and read a Potions Journal or a novel before going to bed. That’s the life I made for myself. I always want to blame my circumstances, and I suppose it was accurate when I was young, to an extent. I was trapped in my family, with a drunken violent father I could not do much about, I had no means to acquire better clothing or school supplies, I was bullied by the idiotic Gryffindors and I did nothing to save the one friendship I had, but that one was entirely on me. Now, though, I keep the blame for my current plights in the same foes, when they are all dead or gone, and I am here and doing nothing.” Once the dam was broken, his words were out faster than he could control them. He had seen the truth of them before, but he was feeling them now. Such emotions were so foreign to him, that Severus wasn’t certain he could even name them.

“Now… now I look back and I am not sure that I could pinpoint the moment in time… that exact moment my life became so empty, so dreary. But the result is clear as day in front of me. And I find myself wishing that I had not taken the steps that led to where I am standing now. I always prided myself on being self-aware, but at some point, I stopped looking at myself and now I’m not sure I like what I see.” He knew his defences had dropped, and he was allowing Poppy to see him as no one other than his mother ever had. And terrible he must really look, as she stood up, rounded the table and kneeled next to his chair to embrace him. “What do I do now, Poppy?” And he sounded so broken, he hardly recognised his own voice.

“Now you change, Severus, dear. Simple as that. Find each thing you dislike, and everything that is missing, and change.”

She was making it sound so easy, but he would learn it wasn’t so. It would be hard, but completely worth it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14 – When Harry Finally has a Normal Week

“Hey Potter, Malfoy,” Flint sat down heavily in the bench across from him at the Slytherin table, “I’m glad I caught the two of you together. We need to talk about quidditch. I assume you are trying out, right?” The team captain looked straight at Harry when he asked this, leaning over the table, almost crushing the plate of bacon, and excitement clear on his face; but then moved only his eyes to glance at Draco, and frowned with some concern about the blonde’s reaction. He was evidently not expecting that the boy who had been their seeker last year, and who had sponsored the team with new broomsticks, would be happy to surrender his position in the team. But Draco had decided he was Harry’s friend, and it was beginning to be very obvious that his friendship entailed absolute loyalty and encouragement to help his friends reach their full potentials.

“You should hold try-outs, Flint, for appearances sake. But everyone in the school knows Harry is the best seeker, and I actually would rather play chaser. I think I would be really good there, I have great aim and my dodging while flying is impeccable, as you well know.” He kept buttering toast, and loading Harry’s plate with food. They had seen a slight change in the offer of foods in their part of the table, which now included eggs benedict, small French quiches like aunt Petunia used to have him make for their Sunday brunch, a spread of yogurts with delicious looking fruit, berries and almonds, goat cheese and asparagus omelettes, and even a packed box – clearly made for his mid-morning snack – with a cinnamon bun and a plate of sliced fruit. It was obvious that the elves had taken to heart the mission to tempt him to eat more and put some weight on.

Harry, however, was on a mission of his own. “How do you take your tea, Flint?” He had just finished preparing Draco’s just right for the boy; milk first, then tea from the pot with the darkest brew, and no sugar. At that point he just looked up to wait for Flint’s response, but the older boy was busy discussing training strategies and schedules with Draco, something about how Wood had not trained him properly in the Gryffindor team. It didn’t matter, Hermione had just walked into the Hall and Harry already knew how she took hers. He quickly made her a cup, and levitated it to the Ravenclaw table as she sat down with her Charms book. When the cup was delicately lowered in front of her, she looked up and smiled at Harry, but seeing her company she gestured that she would remain in her own table for breakfast. “Flint? Tea?” he tried again, but the quidditch captain just waved his hand dismissively. This was starting to be annoying.

“Flint!” Draco interrupted the older boy’s monologue rather abruptly, “you will bloody tell him right now how you take your damn tea, and you will start eating something right this second, or by Morgana’s tits I will tell Professor Snape that it is your fault when Harry faints in the middle of Herbology.”

“Hey! I don’t faint!” Harry defended himself. But Flint was just looking at him, rather startled by Draco’s intensity. “Black, one sugar, then.” Well, that wasn’t that hard. But his friend was not done, apparently. The blond placed a full plate, with twice as much food as Harry could ever eat in one sitting, in front of him and gestured forcefully for him to start eating. Just in case the message wasn’t clear, he actually instructed him to do so. “Eat, Harry. We’ll not leave until you have at least half of what’s on that plate. And since you were not paying attention, let me tell you all about the seeker-specific training we are planning for you.”

By the time quidditch try-outs were settled for Sunday afternoon, and Harry had been elucidated on the extent of his ignorance about the training of a seeker, the rest of his year had joined them, had taken their Harry-poured teas and breakfast, and they were ready to walk out to Greenhouse 3 for Herbology.

His timetable could not be better if he had planned it himself. The Slytherins shared Herbology and Astronomy with Hufflepuff, which meant he could share a table with Neville and have quiet classes in the evening. Draco had been happy to sit together with Neville and Susan Bones on Friday, seeing as he wanted to partner with Harry; and now that they had spent their Sunday breakfast discussing plants, both his friends knew that they could at least have civil conversations and shared a common interest. Then, they had Charms and History of Magic with Ravenclaw, which Harry thought was brilliant to take advantage of Hermione’s talent for the first and her sharp elbows for the later. If only Binns could explain history as Florean! The best part was that he only had to see his former best friend in Potions and Transfigurations. And as much as Ron wanted to pick fights with him now, he was hardly able to do so in front of their Heads of House and the strictest professors in the school. And while they also shared Care of Magical Creatures with Gryffindor, the class was noisy and outdoors, and Harry could easily avoid the redhead. For some reason, their schedule did not indicate who they were sharing DADA with, but they would know after lunch, as they had their first class with Lupin then.

He had been looking forward to this class since the moment Albus had approached him with the job offer. Actually, he thought about the Gryffindor Third Year class then, but it was of no consequence to him that Harry was now a snake, he just wanted to get to know him. Their serendipitous meeting in the Hogwarts Express had left him with a feeling of worry for the boy. Why had Harry fainted? By all accounts, the boy was happy and healthy, so there was no reason for the dementors to have such an effect on him. It was fortunate that his wolf had been alerted, and he could take care of matters in the train, but it had also cut his time short in talking to his friend’s son.

But now he was here, eager to have those green eyes looking at him once more. He felt like a teenager waiting for his date to pick him up! Shaking with anticipation, shifting and rearranging the papers on his desk, checking for the third time that he had everything ready for the class… It had come as such a surprise when Albus flooed him over the summer! He did have a mastery in Defence, and had studied dark creatures since the moment he first got to Hogwarts – or what the Ministry deemed ‘dark creatures’ anyway – but jobs in the magical world did not come his way often. He’d also was never able to keep a job for longer than a few months. His condition was quickly either discovered, or posed too much of an inconvenience for his employers. It all came down to the prejudice in the Ministry and the increasingly stringent laws issued by Umbridge, and sanctioned by the Wizengamot. Albus had told him how he tried to fight them, but couldn’t be too insistent or risk losing his position. So when the offer to be a professor, and to his pup no less, came he hardly needed to think about it, specially since it included Wolfbane Potion for the duration of his contract. In fact, he had requested to move into the castle immediately, though the Headmaster had explained it was impossible. Just to think that he had a job now, with stable salary and housing for the next ten months… well, it was incredible!

The door to his classroom was open, welcoming his next class, and he turned his back to the incoming students to write on the blackboard and allow them some time to settle and finish their conversations. His hearing, of course, picking up on much more than they intended and allowing him to get an early impression on the youths. “Merlin, he looks positively derelict.” He heard a posh young voice say. “Is the old bat running out of options and has now started picking up his professors from the sewers?” Well, his clothes were a bit worn, but surely not so badly. Teenagers could be so judgemental over the silliest of things. Though perhaps he ought to talk to Filius about some mending charms. The reply to the posh boy came from a voice he had heard before, and filled his heart with warmth. “Stop it, Draco! His clothes don’t define him. And I looked like that, or worse, in my regular clothing just until last week, did I not?” And now he was truly sorry that he had his back to the children, as he could feel the heavy silence and the professor would have liked to see their faces. What did Harry mean? Was he perhaps not very good at picking up clothing? Not stylish enough for Slytherin standards? “And remember I told you he was the one who chased away the dementor in the train. That fact alone places him higher in a scale of proficiency than the two other twats we had before! Let’s just give him a chance, ok?”

“Too true!” said a different, warm and low voice, “and we only need him to know defence after all, not fashion.” The boy finished in a whisper as the group finally approached the front of the class. He did feel bad for eavesdropping, a bit at least, but it was not his fault that his wolf senses could pick up more than most.

“Welcome, class” he said as he turned to them all with a smile. His mother always said a smile was the best first impression, or second apparently in this case. He was met with mostly neutral faces, a number of sceptical ones and Harry’s shy smile. I seem to have my work cut out for me with this lot. “As you can see, this will be a Slytherin only class. Though unusual, we had to rearrange timetables after the re-sorting, based on class sizes and electives, and it was simply more convenient to place you in this timeslot on your own, rather than moving around four or five other classes for all Houses.” They had also assumed that if any House would be happy to have a class for their own, it would be the snakes. “I believe this can be a great opportunity for us, since we can now tailor the class to your preference and the speed in which you learn. This, of course, does not mean that we can leave out anything important from the curriculum, but we can see how fast we move through it all and add anything you might want to learn about and you don’t see on the board now. I am happy to add further topics you wish to learn.”

“I have a copy of the syllabus for all of you” he said as he lifted his wand and sent copies to all desks “so that you can read ahead and be prepared for class. Ideally, in each lesson we will be able to review that you all know the theory, answer any questions you may have, and use our time together for practical lessons.” Now that got their attention! Perhaps they had not had much practice before, considering the terrible teachers they had the past two years. “I want to divide our attention between magical creatures and wandwork, and if everyone is comfortable and doing well, we can add some duelling practice, as well. BUT, that would be conditional on how well we are covering the mandatory curriculum, alright?” Now they were certainly interested and following his every word, not much caring about his appearance at all. Well, they are young. They probably repeat much of the prejudice they hear at home, but they still have much of the curiosity and energy of children. And at least Slytherins are cunning enough to know the value of learning, regardless of the source. This is something I can work with; just need to keep them interested.

“As you can see in the board, my idea was to start with boggarts today, but I am still trying to find one in the castle for you to practice on, so I thought instead we could deviate from the programme and talk about wards. You can take notes now, as this is not in your book, and then we will practice. If any of you wants more information on this topic, I can recommend several books that I found very informative and useful at your age, and are available at the library.”

“As some of you may know, there are countless types of wards and of varying degrees of complexity, but at their core a ward of basically a protective enchantment for a physical space or an object. Some of them are technically a charm, and you will eventually learn some with Professor Flitwick, but wards can also be drawn from runes, or strengthen by blood in the most ancient types, or even use the powers of the earth as the wards used by goblins. However, they are always protective in nature, which is why I thought they could be covered in this class. We use wards to protect our homes from unwanted visitors, or to keep magical spaces hidden from muggles, even to keep buglers off the shops in Diagon.” While he was going, he could hear only the sound of quills moving through parchment as his students were taking all in. Yes, this was a good subject to get them involved. “Of course, the extent and complexity of warding could bever be covered in one class and certainly not in third year. Many people make the casting and maintaining of wards their life’s work, combining expertise in Defence, Ancient Runes and Charms. But there are smaller, less complex wards that are very much available for your current level.”

“We all know examples of protective warding. Who can name one?” He looked expectantly at his new class, knowing some would be shyer and needed encouragement to participate in class. “Vincent, was it? Can you tell us an example?” The boy looked stunned to be called in class, but quickly rallied. It probably helped that this was an all-Slytherin audience. “Well, our houses have wards, don’t they?”

“Yes, house wards are very common in the wizarding world. Just as muggles place metal bars or install alarm systems, so we have wards.” Now they all had confused looks on their faces, except for Harry and Tracey. Perhaps I should keep the muggle references to the other Houses. He continued with the topic, before he lost their interest. “And I would be very surprised to hear of a magical dwelling with no wards. If any of you lives in a traditional ancient wizarding manor,” and the question with this group was if any of them, other than Harry, didn’t “your home likely has a network of extremely complex wards. Draco, could you give us an example of some of the wards in your home. You don’t have to divulge family secrets, don’t worry, just a few standard ones.”

“Certainly, sir. Malfoy Manor has some of the oldest functioning wards in the Wizarding World, in fact. Many of my ancestors have added to our wards, making them quite a network indeed. Some of the features of our wards prevent non-authorised people from apparating inside our lands, inform my father of the presence of visitors at our gates, make the house invisible to muggles, of course, and they also keep track of the health of all inhabitants of the manor while we are in residence. I believe there are some minor wards to maintain temperature and humidity in the wine cellar and greenhouses, but I don’t have complete knowledge of that.” So that was the posh voice from before. At least he was polite now; if it was because of Harry’s admonition or for respect towards professors, he didn’t know. Could Harry be such an influencing presence with the snakes already?

“Great examples, Draco. You can all see how complex wards can get. You may start with a simple security ward, to keep outsiders from entering, and soon end with climate control. It also outlines the intricacy of casting wards. Who has another example? Millicent?”

“Hogwarts, sir.”

“Yes. What do you know about Hogwarts’ wards?” He smiled and nodded to show her, in what he hoped was an encouraging way.

“Well, you can’t apparate in or out of the wards, they make muggle see a ruin instead of the castle, and intruders are prevented from entering, are they not?”

“Yes, indeed. In that sense, Hogwarts wards are very similar to what Mr. Malfoy was telling us about his home’s wards. Hogwarts also has wards that serve specific purposes such as keeping students away from teacher’s quarters, to help maintain the grounds and greenhouses and many smaller ones. You’ll find that wards are fundamental to our way of life, especially to comply with the Statute of Secrecy. Diagon Alley is hidden behind wards, as is Hogsmead, the Ministry of Magic, this castle… so you can see how important they are. Some of the largest wards need so much magic, that they cannot be casted by a single person, and they are many times supported by other means.”

“Like blood, sir?” Harry would know about blood wards, wouldn’t he? “Yes, Harry. Blood is not so common to use these days, as it might be frown upon by some, but it creates incredibly strong protective wards.” Like the ones around your house keeping dark creatures like me out… “Now, I’m not an expert on blood magic, or warding to be honest, but I wanted us to practice casting smaller wards today. We don’t always need to protect whole castles, you see, sometimes we just want to protect our school trunks, or our coin purse. So, I will give you each a small box today and we will try to keep a stone protected inside. We could try to hide the box altogether, or make so people can see the box but they cannot open it, which is what I want you to try today. The incantation is on the board and there is no wand movement, only pointing at the object, as the limit of the charm will be defined by the walls of the object. Let’s see who is the first to protect their stone!” After that, the class became much noisier and the students were gleefully competing to be the first to successfully cast their wards. Harry was such a natural at protective magic, that he managed to ward the box in his first try, though the wards fell quickly with just a bit of pressure. By the end of the hour, all of them had managed to ward their box and, in a dynamic that he had not expected, nor seen in his other classes of mixed Houses, the firsts to accomplish the charm had moved to help the others to make sure they were all successful.

“Great job everyone! Before you go, let’s see… 5 points to everyone who answered a question today: Vincent, Draco and Millicent. 10 points to Harry for being the first to successfully cast your ward, and an additional 10 points to Slytherin for the teamwork you showed by assisting each other. As homework for tomorrow, I want you all to practice warding a possession. If you can manage, try to ward your trunks from being opened by other people. If that proves too hard, try with your bedside drawer, and we can discuss later.”

“I also wanted to let you know that you can find me in my office during working hours if you have any questions, related to Defence or not, if you think I may be of assistance. See you tomorrow!” That had been a wonderful class! Everyone was leaving with a smile, feeling they had accomplished something, and evidently his students were much more impressed now as they had been walking in. They were already in the corridor, but he could hear them with the door open “I have to say, Harry, I think you were right. He does seem to be much better than the previous ones… I mean, he managed to teach us something interesting and useful in only one class, which is more than we can say about an entire year with Lockhart. Here, eat this while we walk to Charms” What a peculiar boy was Draco Malfoy, handing out food between classes.

“What have you got there, Harry?”

To say that he was lost would be an understatement. Technically, he knew what he was looking at, but – in reality – nothing made much sense. “I have no clue, Blaise! I mean, it’s my vault and property statements from Gringotts, they sent them to Professor Snape along with the other document they said they would send, you know….” He didn’t want to address his medical examinations out in the Slytherin table of all places, where you could always count on someone eavesdropping. “But there is just so much information that I don’t know how to interpret it all. Like, see here, they mention multiple vault numbers, but I only have one. And they mention properties, but I should know if I had any, right? Not to mention that, if I understood this correctly, there is one vault that has been gaining money while I am doing nothing to add to it. And there is just a whole section about investments that went completely over my head!” He could tell he sounded frustrated and had attracted the attention of some of his other friends. But this was just too much. One vault, he could deal with, but seven? Where the hell did those come from?

“I’d be happy to help you figure it out, if you’d like.” Blaise offered before elegantly breaking some bread. These Slytherins did everything elegantly. It was ridiculous. Was he going to learn to act all fancy as well, by virtue of being a snake? Or were they just bred like that? Probably the last, which would explain how Blaise could understand these financial documents. He should take him on his offer.

“For now, one of the goblins offered to manage the accounts, but I would like to understand what is going on. If you really mean it, I would be so grateful for your help! How do you even know this? Do all of you know finance?”

“Don’t look at me.” Said Draco, “father hasn’t started that training yet. He says I will have to learn to manage our assets eventually, but so far, I am as lost as you… well, not quite. I, at least, know where most of our money comes from! Not that I could read that.” He pointed at the documents still clutched to Harry’s hands with a mocking smile.

“Just so you know, the account receiving regular payments – that it likely from the licencing of the Sleakeasy patents.” What is Daphne talking about now? “You look lost… the Sleakeasy line? You know, the hair potions?” Is this something he should know about? His face must have given him away, because she felt the need to continue her explanation. “Your grandfather, likely because he had the same hair you do, created a line of hair potions. They are now the most popular in the market. They are mostly to tame wild hair and reduce frizz, though there are a few to improve quality, which is why he purchased some for Hermione. Did you notice how beautiful her hair is now?” Harry turned to the Ravenclaw table and noticed how Mione’s hair was indeed looking much more controlled and shinier than before. How did he not notice it while they were next to each other in Charms? “So, we are the ones filling your coffers. You are welcome.” Daphne finished with a smile and a wink, after imitating Draco’s face when he wanted to act all self-important.

“Well, you can look at your paper later, Harry. Have some dinner now, and don’t forget your potion.” Who would have thought Draco would be such a mother hen?

The week passed quickly. Harry couldn’t believe how fast he had adapted to being in the dungeons, and how openly he had been accepted by the other years. Along with Draco, as he was still applying the scar ointment, they were usually the firsts of their year at the breakfast table and it was becoming normal for them to share tea with some of the second years. On Wednesday, when Professor Snape came to the pit for two hours, he had approached Harry to check on him. It was still rather bizarre that the professor who had so openly hated him was now asking about his wellbeing. He had also invited Harry for tea on Sunday, and the boy was strangely looking forward to it. It was so rare for him to have the attention of an adult who cared about how he was doing. Not that he would ever make the assumption that Snape cared about him, of course, but he had been accepted as a snake. And that was a great improvement in his book.

On Thursday, after discussing it with the professor the night before, he had been approached by Mimmy as soon as he awoke to give him some untreated basilisk skin, bounded together in a soft fabric, and some fang shavings in a jar. He had remembered how Garrick liked to experiment with parts of magical creatures and wanted to send him some now, as it was unlikely that the wandmaker had ever run into a wild basilisk to request materials from. As they had a free period first thing Thursday morning, Blaise and Draco had accompanied Harry to the owlery to send a long letter with the extra presents. Now he needed to find something equally exciting to send to Florean. They had truly been great to him during the summer, and he wanted to keep their friendships even if the other boys thought it strange to be friends with adults.

As he was petting Hedwig and trying to think about all the things he had discussed with Florean, an idea came to him. “Hey, Blaise. You know all those jokes you make about selling memories, could that really be done? I mean, technically, how do you contain a memory and how do other people see it?” He really hoped Blaise had been joking, but based on a real thing. There was so much that he didn’t know about the wizarding world, that it wouldn’t surprise him to know you could put memories in a bubble and send them by owl.

“I was jesting, Harry. I mean, memories can be bottled and they can be duplicated. They can even be viewed by others if they have a pensieve, but such magical artifact is expensive and rare. I know the aurors use them to view witness’ memories in the investigation of a crime, but I would be surprised if they have only one or two pensieves for the entire department.”

“We have a pensieve at the Manor, but Blaise is right that they are not easily available.” Was Draco’s contribution.

“Well, sounds like the hardest part is done, though. I mean, muggles can reproduce images created by others and TVs are in every home and cinemas in every town. If we can already bottle and copy a memory, could we not show them in a different medium than a pensieve?” Both boys were now looking at him as if he had spoken in a different language, and he had to spend the rest of the hour and the walk down from the owlery and up to Transfiguration explaining movies and TV. Blaise was fascinated and Draco very confused. He would need Hermione’s natural explaining capacities.

If he could bottle a memory and have a way for Florean to see it, he just knew the amateur historian would be thrilled to see the Chamber of Secrets. He could even write an amend to Hogwarts, a History.”

“Hello, Harry! How’s it going?” Harry turned around on his way out of the Entrance Hall to find Colin Creevey. Ever since last year, when the younger boy had been petrified on his way to visit him at the Hospital Wing, Harry had felt awful about the way he had dismissed him before. Colin was a good kid, even if he was a bit obsessed about the Boy-Who-Lived. Harry stopped to wait for Colin, which meant the rest of the Slytherins walking with him stopped as well, slightly confused. But they were all walking the same way to watch the Gryffindor try-outs, he might as well allow Colin to catch up with them to walk together. Safety in numbers and all of that.

“Hey, Colin! Everything alright? How was your summer?” He could try to be kinder. Perhaps he would need to explain that he didn’t like his celebrity status, and preferred to be valued as himself.

“Oh, busy! You know I missed most of the year being petrified, so there were conversations about me re-taking it completely. But I didn’t want to be in the same year as Dennis!” He sounded so horrified that Harry chuckled, though he was not sure who Dennis was. Neither did the rest, so Tracey asked. “You know, my younger brother, he started this year. Anyway, I was also concerned that I would have to make all new friends and housemates. Which turned out to be true either way, as I was re-sorted. I guess I just didn’t want to start all over again. The first few months in Hogwarts, coming from the muggle world, are hard enough and I thought at least I would already know everyone in my dorm. But that’s a bust since they all look at me funny now, as if I were traumatised by the experience… honestly, I don’t remember anything at all!” Well, shit. Of course! He would be devastated if he had to be held back and lose his friends.

“That sounds hard, I imagine. Colin was it? I’m Blaise, nice to meet you.” Harry shot Blaise a smile, he could always count on him being friendly with everyone. “So how did you manage to remain in your year? Were you home-schooled in the summer?” Blaise probably didn’t know that Colin’s family lived in the muggle world.

“Yes, basically. Dennis and I live with our dad, and he is a muggle. And I couldn’t do magic outside of school, either. But Professors McGonagall and Sprout developed a system. See, one of them would pick me up at home every day, Monday through Thursday, and took me into the Ministry of Magic for four hours. They got a special permission for me to do magic there, but only in their training rooms and with the supervision of one of the professors. Then I studied on my own during the afternoons. It wasn’t the same, of course, and I am terribly behind in Potions and Herbology because I couldn’t do the practical work at the Ministry. But I am catching up quickly and at least I was able to sit my exams at the end of August.” Harry didn’t want to be that person who is jealous of other’s good fortunes. He also felt that he had most likely not deserved any special treatment, but… he was a bit hurt. When he saw the way in which Professor Snape had made such an effort to make sure they were safe, and how he was now concerned about him, he had assumed that McGonagall wasn’t the same sort of Head of House. That is why she had not noticed his situation. And why she had brushed him off when he had told her that he was afraid to go home for the summer. Surely, he had thought, it wasn’t the professor’s job to worry about what happened to him outside of school. But now he was confronted with the undeniable evidence that she did care for, at least, some students during the summer. Just not him.

Something of his thoughts was clearly evident on his face, because Colin asked if he was alright. “Yeah, of course. I was just trying to remember all that we learned first year, and how much you had to study to learn it all in just two months. It’s impressive! I’m happy that you were able to catch up, and your re-sorting into Hufflepuff makes sense. That was a lot of hard work in a short amount of time, to make up for most of the year in just the summer and with limited access to magic.” And he smiled, perhaps not his brightest smile ever, but he was happy for Colin and didn’t want to be bitter about missed opportunities. He just had to remember that he had his own knight to help him now. “I’m sorry that I cannot help you much about those two, as they are not my strongest subjects. But you know Neville, don’t you? He is brilliant in Herbology, and he is a Puff now as well. I’m sure he would be more than happy to tutor you or at least help you out.” There, he had done better in being friendly.

“That would be great! I’ll look for him later then. Now I want to take some photos of the quidditch try-outs to send dad. He still can’t believe that flying in broomsticks is not part of a fairy-tale!”

“Oh, tell me about it! The first time I saw a broom in Diagon Alley, I thought it was weird that all of these kids were so excited about a store selling cleaning supplies!” Both Harry and Colin were laughing and sharing a few more comments about how difficult it was to wrap their head around everything that was real in the magical world. And at least now Colin was not trying to take Harry’s photo, since he was no longer a novelty. Much better.

Soon the sky was full of brooms and hopeful flyers, and the conversation was focused on that for most of the time. Colin had sat next to them in the stands, but was unobtrusively taking his photos now, clearly still not very comfortable with the group of older and unknown Slytherins. Not that he had seemed to care about Harry’s change of House, but perhaps this was part of being raised in the muggle world. He had not come to Hogwarts with a baggage of prejudice against them. They all cheered for Ginny when it was her turn, and she turned out to be a fabulous flyer. She was chosen as the seeker at the end, as she was trying out for both seeker and chaser positions. Oliver Wood had not been happy when they all walked into the field, but when he saw they meant no trouble and were there to support Ginny he left them alone. After some time, and some shared mid-morning snacks, Harry was attracted to the photos again.

“You know, growing up I always thought it would be fun to take photos.” He could sense that the snakes had paused in their conversations and were now solely focused on him, hearing him mention his childhood voluntarily for the first time. “I don’t really like being in them much, but I remember there was this man who went to the school every year to take photos of the kids. He was really cool, with a leather jacket and the tinted lenses from the TV commercials.” Harry could remember it vividly. He didn’t have many memories of adults being kind to him growing up, so he had cherished that day when the really cool one had taken time to talk to him. “When my cousin and I were eight,” he made sure to mention his age as a normal person this time “my relatives had forgotten to pay for my photo, but I was fascinated by all the equipment. You know, the camera, the extra lenses, the lights, everything! I was hovering around him as all annoying kids do, but instead of telling me to bugger off he showed me how the camera worked and how to take a photo. He let me stay for a bit and help him, even shared his biscuits. At the end of the day, he took my photo wearing his leather jacket even if I hadn’t paid. It was a shame that the next year the photographer was a different one.”

Harry could tell that his friends had probably picked up on a lot more than he said. His aunt hadn’t forgotten to pay, she just wouldn’t waste money on a photo of Harry; the photographer saw his stained and horrible shirt and covered it with his jacket to make him feel better, and shared his biscuits because he had not eaten in two days and his stomach was growling. Anyway, it was the only photo he had from his entire childhood, and it came with such a lovely memory attached to it, that it was a valued possession for him. Colin had no reason to read all this into the story, of course, so he followed up with Harry’s interest in photography asking why he hadn’t bought a camera to take his own photos. “I don’t know. I guess I didn’t want to make a big investment only to realise later that the interest wasn’t so strong, or that I was crap at it.”

“Oh, yeah. They don’t come cheap. But the best part for us is that the same camera can take muggle and magical photos, you only need to cast a spell on the camara to make sure it captures a longer moment in time, and then the difference is on how they are developed. There is this potion that can make photos move. The charm you only cast once, and it can come off easily if you want to take a regular photo, too.”

As they were walking back for lunch, Colin brought up the topic of the camara again. “If you want to try it out, you could borrow mine for some time, say one or two weeks. Get a feel of whether you like it enough to invest on your own. I’d be happy to share the passion with someone else, for sure!”

“Yeah, I might take you up on that! Perhaps I should read a bit about photography first, though. To see what makes a good photo and learn some about lightning, I remember it was a big deal but not why!” Colin offered to ask his dad to send some of his own books, and lend them to Harry first.

Then Draco did something that Harry could not have seen coming. “Colin, if you don’t have previous engagements, we meet on Fridays from 5 to 7 in the evening, in one of the big tables at the back of the library. Next to the forbidden section, which is silent. We bring our homework, so it’s mostly quiet time, but we each have a subject in which we are stronger, and we help each other out. Seeing as you are Harry’s friend, I would be happy to help with any questions you have about Potions. The foundations you learn in first year are very important, so you don’t want to have any gaps in knowledge. I’m top of the year, and Uncle Severus is my godfather and has been tutoring me since I was five.” He then stopped as he thought about something. “Come to think of it, it’s probably not very fair to muggle raised kids. Hermione would call it pureblood privilege or something like that; would be right too.” He added the last bit in a much lower volume.

After they reached the castle, they each went to their own tables, but Harry had a smile on his face. He kept finding that he still had friends that didn’t see him differently for changing Houses, and he had gotten some perspective too. He evidently wasn’t the only one who had challenges, and while he had faced some difficult and dangerous situations in the past two years at school, and one of his teachers did try to murder him, he had never been petrified for most of the year. So, there was that.

“Draco, darling, are we collecting muggleborns now?” Pansy sometimes had the most ludicrous thoughts. “I’m not saying there is anything wrong! Just, it seems like we are. Collecting them, that is. Are we expecting them all to become wise healers?” She nudged Draco as they filled their plates, while the blond boy was mostly concentrated on plating a healthy and balanced meal for Harry before making a plate for himself.

“Just expanding our social circles, Pans. Friends of our friends, and all that rot. You never know, he might end up being a famous photographer, or reporter. Always good to have a good standing with the press.” He winked back at her. “And I just invited him to study group. Its not as if I gave him a truffles box.” And just like that Harry was reminded just how special he was to his new group of friends… he had gotten a box, after all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 – New roles

I have to be made chaser. I can’t be off the team now that Harry is here. And I’m one of the best flyers in Slytherin anyway. They can’t have expected me to get the snitch against Gryffindor, obviously, and it’s not like the other Houses got it either. Now I’ll just assume my natural position as scorer and we’ll have the best team. We still have father’s brooms, after all. His mind was busy giving himself a pep talk before the try-outs, which left Draco oblivious to what his friends were talking about on their way to the pitch after breakfast.

As they finally reached the area, they could see the stands were busier than expected. Almost all of Slytherin was there, either to support the hopeful candidates or to stop any attempts to sabotage the whole thing, likely. Of course, the newly formed Gryffindor team was in attendance as well. They had seen their try-outs yesterday, so it was only fair that they allowed the lions to watch now. I couldn’t care one fig about fair, but they are bound to fly off the handle if not permitted to stay. There were other groups of students, as well, from all four houses. Evidently, they would have to get used to having an audience now that Harry Potter was flying with them. Draco was all for it, he was ready to put on a performance. If they came to see some extraordinary flying, I guess I have to deliver what they want. The puffs who were gossiping about how tall and good-looking I am this year are already in the stands, I am sure to give them more to talk about today. His nervousness about the outcome of the try-outs was completely forgotten when faced with the opportunity to show off his superior flying skills. At least he will shut once and for all the rumours that he purchased his way into the team. “See how popular you made us, Harry!” Draco had a huge grin on by now. “Though perhaps they are all here to see me. I’m told my new hair style is making me even handsomer, or so the Hufflepuffs say.” He added with a wink. Unfortunately, it didn’t make Harry laugh as all the rest. He looked absolutely disgruntled by the joke and his frown was at its peak. Was he concerned about his own looks? Surely, not! His new friend had nothing to worry on that front… and he looked almost jealous! No, that couldn’t be it either. Harry couldn’t like any Hufflepuff!

Flint saw them walk into the pitch and immediately started the proceedings. “Alright everyone, quiet down! Anyone not trying out, first years or not Slytherins, leave the grass now and move to the stands!” That, and the intimidating appearance of Professor Snape beside him, got most of the people out of the way. “Right, listen up! I am not holding try-outs for all positions right now. We still have our keeper,” he said as he nodded to Bletchley “Warrington and I will remain as chasers and Bole as beater.” The captain continued, also giving the other boys a slight nod to make sure everyone recognised them. “However, Peregrine has offered me his resignation as a beater, to concentrate on his academic pursuits,” which was code for Snape kicking him out of the team because he was likely struggling with his grades. But all the other non-Slytherins avidly listening did not need to know that, and they were not about to give them ammunition against one of their own. “Therefore, I need a new beater first. That is the only position open at this time, but as Montague wants to try for it, I might have other openings as we move forward, so you are all welcome to warm up regardless of the position you want to have. Let’s start with a few laps around the pitch.” About twelve brooms carrying expectant Slytherins rose to the air, leaving the gossiping and speculations of the student body in the ground. A lot of them were loudly wondering what was Harry even doing there, as he clearly did not have the build of a beater. It was a bit like putting on a show, anyway, as they already knew who would end up in the team.

Draco had told Flint that the act was necessary, to give a sense of transparency, and it was even more so now that they had the eyes of the school watching. But they had known before end of the last year that Peregrine would not be allowed to continue on the team and Montague had already been taking over the position of beater in some of their trainings, to get ready. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind who would be taking on that role, which is why neither Greg nor Vince were flying today. They only liked playing beaters, so why bother? They figured they could try to get on the team when they were a bit older. On his part, Draco had spent the better portion of the summer practicing to fill the chaser position that would be freed once Montague was confirmed in his new role. The blonde did like being a seeker, but continuously losing against Harry was a pain, and he had always preferred to be more active during the games. The fiery competitiveness that took hold of him – to the point of irrationality – when he was in front of the former Gryffindor was lessen by the distance in the holiday months. The fact that they had now been gifted with their own Harry Potter just as their seeker wanted to move to a different position was simply evidence that the gods were favouring them.

At the end of the day, Draco had impressed the spectators, if he said so himself, with his scoring and dodging skills, and was confirmed as the new chaser in lieu of Montague, who had moved to beater. Harry, as expected, had out-flown them all and caught the practice snitch faster and more times than any other contestants could. Not that there were many trying to beat the new snake into the position, no one was stupid enough to even waste their time. Flint had actually asked Draco to try for it as well to give Harry some competition and demonstrate that the best players had been selected for each role. Once all the members of the team were confirmed, even their Head of House looked pleased, or as pleased as he would ever look outside their domains.

“Congratulations, boys!” Both him and Harry were entrapped in hugs and back pats from all their friends as soon as the session was over. “Let’s go sit by the lake! We should take advantage of the sunny days before they are gone, and while you were doing your laps, the twins and I were being efficient and got a whole basket of treats and juices from the kitchens!” As if Daphne really needed an excuse for a lake-side picnic! It’s about time for Harry’s snack anyway, especially after all that flying.

As they were walking out of the pitch, they were just behind a smirking Professor Snape, who was walking back towards the castle with a fuming McGonagall who obviously knew that her lions had nothing on the new snake team. “I’d say, Minerva, I was firmly opposed your idea of allowing Mr. Potter to play in a quidditch team one year earlier that the rest of the school body… however, now I do have to thank you for the additional training of my new seeker.” They were all sniggering silently, while their Transfigurations professor harrumphed and turned into a cat to leave the grounds faster, clearly unamused by the goading.

“Superb flying today, Harry. I’m not surprised in the least that you made it into the team, though I admit to being relieved that Draco was not displaced. I would not want to explain that to Lucius.” Though perhaps a small chat with both him and Narcissa is in order now, with Harry being one of my snakes and getting rather close to my godson. Professor Snape gestured to a couple of comfortable looking armchairs situated in front of the fireplace, required in the dungeons even on warm days. “Do you have any tea preference?” he wanted to help the boy relax in his presence, and while he had been trying to call him by his given name, and made an effort to show a changed attitude in class and in their common room, the professor was also aware of the manner in which he had treated Lily’s son the past two years. The level of resentment and mistrust that he had managed to create between them was not easily fixed in a few days, intense as their interaction last weekend may have been.

“I’ve only ever had black, sir. But I’m not picky.” Of course, he wasn’t picky; this was a child who was probably never given the opportunity to make his own choices, and took what little nourishment was given without complaint. That won’t do. “Come, then. I have a few and you can pick the one you think has the best scent.” And so he guided Harry into his personal kitchen, or rather tea prepping area, as nothing more complex than tea or coffee had ever been made here. With a flick of his wand and a non-verbal command, ten tins of tea were summoned and lowered into the surface in front of his guest. Another flick had them open, and the professor waved his hand in a gesture that clearly invited Harry to choose the best one for them to have today. “The sense of smell is truly remarkable. Did you know that the flavour of what we eat or drink is actually perceived mostly by the nose, and not the mouth?” The boy looked at him with amused and sceptical eyes, but continued reaching the tins to smell the offered teas. “Indeed. The taste receptors in the tongue can determine only sweet, sour, salty, bitter or umami. But they can’t tell you if the sweet thing is caramel or a strawberry, for example. The retronasal passage allows the scents of foods to travel up to your nose and they combine with the taste receptors, forming the actual flavour. We can do an experiment if you want to try, and you’ll see. Picked the tea?”

Harry passed him one of the teas, a Twinings Voyage that was one of his own favourites, while the professor picked a jar of almonds and set the kettle to boil. “Great choice. Here,” he passed a few almonds to Harry “pinch your nose and start chewing them – I won’t chastise you for chewing with your mouth open, don’t worry – and before swallowing, release your nose and breathe normally. You will see how you can’t really perceive the flavour of the almonds with your nose pinched.” Severus watched, highly amused while preparing their teas, as Harry tried the experiment and his face went from cynical disbelief, to open curiosity, to wonder. Once more, he questioned how could anyone abuse children. If even a bitter and emotionally unavailable man such as himself could feel the contagious nature of their enjoyment and experiment such a deep desire to protect them, how could anyone harm them?

“Grab those biscuits, would you?” He told the boy as he grabbed both mugs and started walking back out.

Both child and professor were soon sitting in the cosy armchairs in front of the crackling fire, drinks and biscuits at hand, enveloped in the wondrous aromas rising from their cups of tea, hibiscus and pineapple. Severus wished Harry would relax more, as he could see the boy sitting stiffly and careful. I suppose he shall need time. It’s the least I can do, being patient.

“There is no cause to be concerned here. I merely wanted to sit with you and check how you were adapting to Slytherin. It can’t be easy.” The Potions Master thought to start there, but the child in front of him had his eyes fixed in the cup, held between both hands, and kept silent. All the amusement from the little experiment in the kitchen forgotten as their conversation seemed imminent. Last week he had been trusted, perhaps out of necessity, but they couldn’t build an open relationship in one week. “I hope you know that I am here if you need anything, anything at all. I’m aware that our interactions prior to this year have not portrayed me in the best of lights. I know I haven’t been kind to you, Harry, and I have apologised already and therefore won’t again. But I do want you to know that I have deeply scrutinised my actions and manners from the past years due, partially, to the events that unfolded since your re-sorting, and I can see my faults clearly. I am trying to change, and to open up more to people.”

At that, Harry finally looked up. “Are you?” it was all he enquired. Was it so hard to believe that he wanted to improve himself?

“Yes, I am.” Severus spoke emphatically, trying to convey with his eyes the strength of his desire to change, and be a better man.

“It’s hard. Opening up. Changing.” Ah, so this is why he asked. We might have more in common than we think.

“Yes, well. Everything that is worth anything will be hard to achieve. You’ll have to let me know if I am falling into the same patterns and reinforcing my hermit habits instead.” That at least got him some tiny smile, barely a twitching of the boy’s lips. “And speaking of habits, I was very glad to see you eating better this week. Even if it is Draco filling your plate.” A snort, that’s progress. “I swear, the harder Lucius tries for my godson to emulate him, the more that the boy acts like Narcissa.”

“Now, how was your visit with Madam Pomfrey? She said she wanted to see you on Friday, did you manage?”

“Yes, professor. I was already planning on going after class, but Tracey insisted we went during lunch so we did not mess up the study session in the evening. Madam Pomfrey gave me a check-up, and she was happy that I gained some weight. That is normal, though, in the first weeks of classes, as I get food more often. I am done with the height restoring potion, and she promised I will see results before Christmas!” Now Harry was significantly more cheered, clearly his appearance was troubling him as he did look much younger and smaller than his peers. “I’m to take the nutritional potions still twice a day, though, and she performed some charm and gave me a potion that, combined, greatly improved my eyesight. She said there was nerve damage making it worse than it should be. Now I only have to get another check-up in two weeks.”

“That’s good, Harry. And how is your back? Is the ointment working properly?” Severus knew Draco would be just as punctilious about applying it as he was about making his new friend eat. He would need to meet with his godson this week, as well. It couldn’t have been easy for the pampered boy to face such a terrible case of abuse, and feel responsible for unveiling it. His efforts to take care of Harry were evidence that Draco was trying to lessen the weight of that guilt.

“Yes. But perhaps we will need more before we are done, sir.” Harry was biting his lip, as if still doubtful of whether he could ask for more. Severus just summoned two more tins of ointment and silently passed them to the boy. He had made extra, just in case. “Thank you, professor.”

“It’s no problem. Now, there is one last thing I wanted to discuss with you. I believe, and Madam Pomfrey agrees with me, that you would benefit from talking with a mind healer.” At the clear confusion in the boy’s face, he clarified, “it’s the magical equivalent to a psychologist, but their work is normally combined with mind mending potions.”

“No. I don’t want to talk about the Dursleys with some healer.”

“I think it’s truly imperative and would help you greatly. Now, I can brew the potions, of course and they can be customised to you with just a drop of your blood, but they will work so much better if you talk to someone as well. Abuse can leave invisible marks, Harry, and I know trusting and opening up is hard. We said so earlier. But we both need to try, don’t we?”

“I’ll talk to you then, not some stranger. Please, sir?” Severus was now ensnared by those green eyes he could not resist, silently begging him and promising trust. And how could be ever deny him? “It still counts as opening up, right? If it’s with you, sir?”

He had to take a deep breath and look aside for a moment before answering. It wasn’t ideal, surely, but it was better than nothing. And the potions would help greatly. “I’m not a professional, but of course you can talk to me. I did say I was here for anything you needed. But if we are to open up and trust each other, then perhaps you should call me Severus while we are in here. Let’s meet after lunch on Sundays, shall we? We’ll have some tea and talk, and next week I expect you to eat the biscuits…” he gave his sternest glare, followed by a small smile that would never see the light outside of the dungeons. He did want to change, but not so much.

“Before you go,” he said summoning a navy velvet box as they stood up “I cleaned this for you. It’s one of your basilisk’s fangs. The venom is gone and I submerged it in preserving potion for 24 hours, so you may keep it as a little trophy. Or a reminder not to run headfirst into danger, and exercise some self-preservation, and of how lucky you were last year.” He smirked, knowing the boy understood the message for what it was. A aide-mémoire to hone his more Slytherin traits from now on.

“Harry, what in Merlin’s name are you doing?” Pansy just wanted to have a normal supper, and here Harry was acting like a crazy person, pinching his nose while eating. Meanwhile, Theo had his head inside some old books his uncle had sent him, making it impossible for the boy to hold a conversation, even if he was sitting on her right; Greg and Vince were discussing the quidditch try-outs from earlier, again, with some forth-years; Blaise was not even sitting with them, as he had decided to join Ginny and Luna at the Gryffindor table, much to Ronald Weasley’s annoyance; and Daphne and Millicent were talking to Hermione about Crookshanks’ latest adventures, on her other side. Apparently, they had seen him running near the Forbidden Forest with a stray dog he had befriended. Riveting, to be sure.

As soon as Harry explained his experiment from earlier, half their table had started chewing with their mouths open to try and breathe while pinching their noses. She could admit it sounded interesting, but must they be so uncouth? It always ends up being my responsibility to bring some culture to our group. This is what happens for befriending so many boys.

“Theo, what is so interesting about those books? Care to share with us?” The path to holding Theo’s interest was discussing books, particularly when he was in such scholarly moods. It would rope Mione and Draco into the conversation as well, placing her perfectly in the middle of the dinner conversation. Her mother had taught her well, she commended herself while daintily patting her lips with her napkin.

“Sorry, are you talking to me, Pans?” Clueless boy! Honestly! “Yes, I was asking about those books. You sure look absorbed, what is so interesting about them?”

“Oh. I asked my uncle to send them from our library, as I couldn’t find much information here about blood wards. Remember Harry mentioned he had some where he lived?” Well, that was a sure-fire way to get the attention of their entire year. Even Greg and Vince were paying attention now. “I was talking to Professor Lupin about this earlier and he actually wanted to borrow these, so I am re-reading them before I give them to him.”

“What is so interesting about blood wards? Do your books say if they can be moved?” Harry was reasonably interested in the topic. They knew the blood wards around his relative’s house were the reason the Headmaster had sent him there in the first place.

“Well… actually what I found is that there are two types of blood wards. The books at the school didn’t mention this, but this one here does.” He responded as he passed the book to Harry, though the green-eyed boy kept his attention on his classmate, leaving the books for later. “One of them is the traditional ward we all have in our manors. It’s the voluntary donation type. It basically comes down to the head of a house voluntarily bleeding in the grounds to be safeguarded, to guarantee the protection of any current and future generations of his blood that inhabit the property. They can be reinforced through the years, by new blood donations and a small ritual.”

Theo now looked nervous about disclosing the information on the other type of ward, but realised by the look in Harry’s face that he wouldn’t be allowed to keep the knowledge he had found. “The other, well, it’s the sacrificial ward.” Everyone of them was paying close attention to Theo now, but it was clear that the boy was now speaking directly at Harry. Biting his lower lip, he looked more anxious than Pansy had ever seen him. If she knew Theo well, and she did, he was not looking forward to saying what he was about to say. So, it was perhaps natural that she extended her hand and took hold of Harry’s. Our boy is about to get some nasty news, most likely.

“Look, Harry. I’m no expert in wards, alright? This is why I wanted to discuss with Professor Lupin. But what the book seems to say – and it says so rather clearly, I’m afraid – is that sacrificial wards are the only ones that are not attached – so to speak – to a property or land. Instead, they attach themselves to the person they were created to protect. It is known that magic reads intention, and so these wards do just that by accompanying the person wherever they settle. Essentially, anywhere you feel a sense of home and the love of a family, which were the conditions in which the blood was spilt, you would be protected by your mother’s sacrifice.”

Gone were the laughter from the nose pinching and open-mouth chewing, the calm and relaxed conversation about cats, the entertained discussions about quidditch. The air around them seemed heavier; the silence overwhelming. In all their minds, there was just the one thought, that only Harry with his leftover Gryffindor courage was brave enough to say. “So the wards never existed, then. And the Headmaster must have known. He told me, he told everyone, and conveniently there were no books in the school library about blood wards. He must have known, and he sent me there anyway.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 16 – Boggarts

“Dobby!” Severus called for the house elf to check on how his revenge was coming along and – what in Merlin’s name is this elf wearing now? Indisputably, he had his uniform in impeccable condition, white shirt buttoned up and tucked in, black shoes shinning, a sensible black belt and even a small dark grey best to complete the elderly butler look and keep him warm, as suggested by the Potions Master in their last meeting. But the little elf was also sporting a Christmas garland – a lighted, frost-tipped garland complete with a plethora of golden ornaments – as a feathered boa, wrapped twice round his skinny neck and trailing a path behind him. Surprisingly, instead of sweeping the floor, the garland end was floating just a few centimetres above it, keeping it pristine and bobbing and swaying with every step the elf took. It was so garish! But what could he possibly tell the elf? He was in fact complying with his instructions on the manner of his attire, as he only had one accessory; it just so happened that said accessory was taking over the entire outfit.

In their previous meetings, Dobby had showed up with red, heart-shaped sunspecs; then with bejewelled shoes – and Severus hated that his vocabulary had to include the word bejewelled to describe any of his daily interactions; and last time he had a bright gold cape hanging from his shoulders, with a lightning bolt pattern that actually emitted light. Likely a tribute to Harry, no doubt. Severus knew that he couldn’t really say anything to the elf. Dobby had been abused and treated as his feelings and opinions were irrelevant all his life, and only now he had the chance to express himself. It was actually a good sign that he felt able to do it. And it will make his meeting with the Dursleys even better.

“What can Dobby do for Potions Master sir?” The elf was almost bouncing with happiness at being called. It was Sunday and they both knew that it was the day Harry came for tea, so Dobby was looking forward to making little treats for his favourite wizard.

“I would like a report on Privet Drive, please Dobby.” Whatever Lucius had been thinking, and his fashion sense aside, Dobby was cunning and resourceful, and incredibly loyal to those who treated him with respect. The professor knew that the abused elf felt pride in being tasked with relevant jobs such as this retaliation, and he wanted to give him the satisfaction of recognising the importance of his contribution. It would have been a waste to have him scrubbing toilets. And I do want to be the type of person that values every being. I guess I can follow Harry’s lead on this.

“Oh, Master Snape!” Dobby was shaking now from the excitement “Those bad bad muggles are slowly going crazy, as they deserve for hurting the most honourable wizard! Dobby has done as instructed, and the cupboard under the stairs and the bedroom with the cat-flap in the upper floor are magically sealed. The screechsnap is very happy with its new home, and Dobby is taking good care of it. All the noises in the house set it to scream, and Mr. Big Whale is unable to watch his football in the sitting room.”

“Interesting. I have never seen a screechsnap in a muggle home. Have you witnessed what sort of noises would provoke it?”

“Yes, Professor Snape, sir! Their muggle devices all set it off, the ones they call telephone, wireless and television. Also, the small erumpent boy running up and down the stairs and slamming doors because he cannot watch his shows. The mean muggles are attempting to be very quiet now, they hardly talk, but the plant screeches when the neighbours close their car doors, when the dogs outside bark, or when the doorbell sounds.” Dobby expressed, too amused by their plight, and Severus did not doubt for a minute that the elf was spending most of his free time invisible in the muggle home to witness all of this. Then, he saw something he did not expect to ever see in a house elf’s face. Dobby had a wicked smirk on before he continued his tale. “The best, sir, is when magic happens. They hates it. They calls it freakishness. Madam Pomfrey sends a Howler every Wednesday, and the muggles are terrified to open them, but theys explode. Dobby is very happy to be there every Wednesday to hear the screechsnap and the mediwitch screaming at the bad muggles at the same time.” And Severus could imagine the racket that would cause, having both the ear-splitting plant going off at the same time as a Howler. The normally soft spoken and kind Poppy could be a banshee when incensed.

“I see. I suppose I could send them a few Howlers myself. Not on Wednesdays, of course. But I think, perhaps, since they are so frightened of magic, I would not need to raise my voice. I could simply recite a passage from a book. I can imagine how terrifying it would be to have a letter insulting you, so I shall be merciful and read to them instead.” Severus was pacing in front of one of his bookshelves looking for a suitable book. They already knew about magic, but they were stupid enough not to understand fully the capabilities of a grown wizard. He was, after all, an educator, so he felt the onus was on him to expand their knowledge. “Ah. This one will do nicely.” He was holding a copy of ‘101 Darkest Curses’. By the time we actually meet, they shall be very aware of the extent of damage I can do to them.

“Everything is working, then. Thank you for your help with this Dobby, you are doing well. You know I can’t be seen yet, or leave the school regularly without it being noticed.” The elf was standing proud under the appreciation, eyes shining and a posture fit for a Malfoy. If only he had learnt elegance from them, as well. “I believe they are ready to see more magic, don’t you think? As they start to realise that we are aware of the manner in which they have treated their nephew, it’s possible they may want to erase any evidence of their wrongdoing. It’s time, then, for a visible, magical, guard to be posted outside the cupboard.”

“Dobby will do as sir says… but the cupboard is already warded, Sir. Theys cannot touch it.”

“Yes, we know that. But they don’t.” He smirked as understanding came into the little elf’s face. “But listen closely, Dobby, I do not want you to spend all day there. We know the ward is there, so I just want them to see you monitoring them a few hours a day. It is merely to mess with their minds. I do not intend for you to forgo sleep, food or any of your other needs, is that clear?” If he was not very specific, he just knew Dobby would post himself for 24 hours in that dim hallway. “You may also tell Mimmy to assist you with your guarding duties.”

“Yes, Professor Sir! Dobby will do, sir!”

After he had his new instructions, Dobby left the professor’s private quarters by – there really wasn’t another way to describe it – sashaying away in a whirl of festive garland, instead of apparating out of the room. Why did he have to go and hire the campest, most dramatic elf in existence?

It was Monday, or the first hours of Tuesday truly; it would be the full moon in two more nights, and Remus knew he had to get all the rest he could now. The next few days were bound to be exhausting for him, surrounded as he was by the abundance of scents and the constant presence of people and animals in the castle. He had forgotten how stressing transforming in Hogwarts could be, as he started to feel the pull of the moon in the days leading to its peak. In the small hut where he normally lived, in the midst of nature and without so many distractions, he was able to relax and meditate; but now, each person, each noise, each whiff brought the wolf inside of him to a frenzy. Moony wanted to come out and Remus felt that they were both silently howling at the moon every night, desperate for some release.

No one paid much mind to the pets and owls, the rats scurrying in the corners, the cats giving chase as their owners slept. No one, except the lone werewolf who couldn’t ignore them but wished he could. It all had him at edge. By all accounts, this full moon should be the calmest of his life so far. He had Wolfsbane now, and the doses he had started taking this week were already supposed to be making his inner turmoil calmer. It was still difficult to believe that Severus was willing to brew it for him, despite the hours it took and the terrible way they had treated the man in the past. Remus felt so undeserving of this kindness. But the point was that he had the potion now, but still Moony was rebelling inside him. It felt as if the wolf was clamouring to get out sooner, bashing against his skin, crawling to reach out. And so, he had been tossing and turning for hours now, unable to close his eyes and get the much-needed sleep. It felt almost as if Moony knew something he didn’t, as if his wolf had something to do. It was the most bothersome feeling, actually.

Remus knew it had something to do with Theodore and his books about warding. Ever since they had their first class in which he lectured about them, the Slytherin had showed a lot of interest in the subject and had even done extra reading. In fact, the boy had requested some books on the matter to be sent from home and had been kind enough to share them with him. They had discussed their findings today after class for a few minutes, before his student had to dash for his Charms lesson. And Remus had read the parchment the boy had put together, when he was finished for the day. But it all didn’t add up with what he already knew on the subject. He would be the first to admit that he was no expert on blood magic; but Dumbledore was. It was one of the lesser known facts about the Headmaster, who preferred to be recognised for his work with dragon blood instead, but his contributions to the branch of magic were even mentioned in some of the books he had in his room now. And it had been him who had explained blood wards to Remus. Perhaps if he re-read them, he would put the topic to rest… even if rest was not in the stars for him tonight.

With that thought, Remus turned his night light on, summoned the borrowed books and an extra pillow, and resigned himself to another sleepless night. Moony would be pissed tomorrow, tired and so close to a full moon, and he would have to make an extra effort to keep it calmed. Perhaps he should take a Calming Draught with breakfast. He never wanted to lose his professional demeanour in front of students or, Merlin help him, scare them.

Only because it’s not mentioned in the books, it does not mean that it was not true. These authors may not have been able to experiment with dark creatures and blood wards. And he trusted that Albus had their best interest at heart. After all, it had been due to the Headmaster’s generosity and tolerance that the werewolf had even been able to get an education. He had gone out of his way and put his own reputation in line, only to help a child. How could he not trust the man? These were only books, not flesh and blood. They might even leave some details off, to be able to write more about them in another edition. And there’s no denying that I was in a retched place. It was probably for the best that Harry did not meet me, or remember me really, until now. And Moony should shut the hell up. At least we know our cub was happy and healthy and loved growing up. Just look at all the friends he has, how loved he is. Even the other teachers are saying that it’s the first time they are seeing a group of friends from all four Houses. And Harry was doing that. That manner to give and receive love so freely, that is what you learn from having a proper family. What could I give him? Poverty, prejudice from society, guilt, loneliness? The boy didn’t need that.

“Come now, Harry. Finish your plate or we’ll be late for Defence!”

“Give it a rest, Draco! How can you stand all the nagging, Harry?” Blaise was sure he would have drowned Draco in the lake two weeks ago if he were the object of his constant bossing around. In fact, he was half tempted to do so even as an observer.

Harry, on the other hand, seemed more surprised than anything by Blaise’s question. “Um… I don’t mind. It’s not nagging to me. Draco just wants to make sure I’m healthy.” Merlin, he even sounded defensive of the blonde.

“But honestly, it’s all day! Nag, nag, nag!” He insisted, and then put on what he thought was a dead-on imitation of Draco’s posh accent. “Go on, Harry, take your potions. Harry, you are not eating your vegetables, and you need proper nutrition. Oh, Harry, have you wiped your arse after shitting?” Greg, Vince and Theo were all laughing now. They all knew how irritating Draco could get about Harry, sharing a dorm with them both. Draco was flushing the most vibrant shade of red, from neck to forehead, and clearly pissed with him. Harry, though, looked ready to jump over the table and throttle him to the ground.

“You shut up, Blaise!” Harry’s eyes were pure green fire. “What’s it to you? If I say it doesn’t bother me, what do you care?”

“Well, we all have to hear him, don’t we? And it gets annoying!”

“Well, I’m sorry if me finally having someone who cares about my wellbeing is annoying to you. It’s not as if Draco is telling me who to be friends with, or how to live my life. He just wants me to be healthy. No one ever cared before if I took my medicine, or if I ate enough. Or even if I lived or died. So I actually like that Draco cares. You don’t have to sit there, if it bothers you so much. But don’t ruin things for me!”

Well, shit. I’m an arsehole… “I’m sorry. I didn’t think of it that way.” No one is laughing now. Great job, Blaise.

Now Draco was blushing for a completely different reason, but he also looked very smug. That bastard, he even got Harry’s support when he was being insufferable. “You have exactly 30 seconds to finish the broccoli in your plate, Harry, or we will all be late. Lupin has already left the Hall. Chop-chop.”

***************************** TRIGGER **********************************

The Slytherins were still not there, not one of them, even if the bell would mark the start of the class in less than a minute. He’d noticed that pattern before. They travelled together, so you would get all of them at once, or none at all. But really, they were cutting it really close.

Just as the bell rang, they all burst into the classroom at a brisk, almost running, pace. “Good to have you all here! I thought you were all skiving off there for a minute.” He greeted them with a chuckle. Theo and Tracey’s faces at the mere thought of them doing so were comical. “Don’t bother taking anything out of your bags. I finally found another boggart for you to practice with. I know you were jealous that the other third-years had already had this class.”

“We weren’t jealous, Professor!” Draco sounded so appalled at the idea of him being jealous of Gryffindors. I really shouldn’t tease them now that I’m a professor, but it would be so easy!

“As you say. Nevertheless, I have a boggart for you now. We already reviewed the theory and practised the incantation. So, without any further delays, please form a line here and we can get started! Remember, it’s Riddikulus and you need to picture a way to turn your fear into something to laugh at!”

This was always an entertaining class. They had enjoyed it with the three other Houses. Except, of course, when they had someone with a sick family member, afraid to lose them. This class was not the exception, it was great fun as they all found a way to laugh at that which scared them. It is highly therapeutic to face one’s fears and learn how to overcome them. That is, of course, until Tracey stepped to face the boggart.

In front of her, the boggart transformed into something tremendously alarming; her fear not an object or creature, but an action. There was a small child, trembling, crouched on the floor, face hidden in his knees and arms wrapped around his legs. And a big man, faceless, as if the boggart couldn’t focus on the person but rather on the act being performed. The scene created was eerily silent, even as the man was spitting and yelling in an absolute rage, no sounds came out; like a horrifying parody of a silent film, his hand on a whip that kept mutedly hitting the boy in the bared back. Remus could only be grateful that they didn’t have to hear the leather making contact with skin; it wouldn’t be a sound easily forgotten. What could possibly bring this on? I need to speak to Severus about this. And should I interfere or allow her to confront it? She looks as if this wasn’t a surprise, as if she was expecting it.

“RIDDIKULUS!” The spell hit the boggart and, in a flash of coloured light, the whip transformed into satin ribbons, and the man started a bizarre gymnastic routine hopping and twirling with his ribbons. She had cast the spell correctly, but the result was not exactly laugh inducing. Blaise stepped forward to face the boggart, turning it into a small, round table holding a single bottle of poison.

There were only Harry and Draco left now, and Remus was afraid that Harry’s fear would be Voldemort. It wouldn’t be unreasonable, considering his past. The mood hadn’t quite picked up after Tracey’s fear, so perhaps they didn’t need to see Voldemort here as well. The students were mostly silent now, barely nodding after Blaise’s spell turned the poison into fireworks.

Just as Remus was considering whether to stop Harry or allow him to face the boggart, Draco walked up to the front of the line, pale but proud. It couldn’t be easy for the boy to show his fear to the others. At least they were only Slytherins. The boggart focused on the blonde in front of it, and immediately transformed into an even worst image that the one conjured by Tracey. Right in front of them – on the floor – laid one of Remus’ own worst fears, only second to the terror of losing control over the full moon and hurting someone. Even knowing that this was a boggart, and even facing the evidence of this not being real, Moony was howling and in pain inside of him.

Harry, his cub, was sprawled on the classroom floor covered in blood, pummelled and… visibly lifeless. It felt as if they were surrounded by dementors, the temperature in the room even dropping. Only one of those expressive green eyes remained open, but its light lost. The other was swollen and bruised to the point of deformity; glasses cracked in half and hanging from an ear. The boy’s limbs were folded in unnatural directions, broken. And Harry’s white school shirt was in tatters, wrecked and blood-soaked, clearly shredded by the belt lying next to the boy on the floor. The sight had almost brought Draco to his knees, only stopped by Harry, the real and very much alive Harry, jumping in front of him and catching the other boy before he hit the ground.

“Draco, it’s not real! Listen to me! I’m here and I’m fine. That is just a boggart. It’s not real!” Harry was holding Draco in both arms, trying to help him out of the shock, while the blonde couldn’t tear his eyes away from the image of his dead friend. Amongst all the anguish from his students, the boggart impersonating his cub dead on the floor, Moony raging inside and a classroom filled with despair, Remus still had the clarity of mind to note for one short moment that the only person not shocked or surprised was Harry himself. “Draco, come on! Just listen to me! Look at me, I’m right here!” He still held his friend, placing his body and face right in front of the blond, in an attempt to block his line of sight. “LOOK AT ME! I’M HERE IN FRONT OF YOU! LOOK AT ME!”

As if called by Harry, the boggart noticed that there was a different person in front of it now.

“Are you a faggot as well as a freak now, boy?” The words spoken through gritted teeth, laced with such hatred that made Remus’ hair stand on end. Harry’s entire demeanour shifted in a second, his back straightening, his features hardening and turning on his heals to face the boggart. “I was right, wasn’t I, when I said all you could ever be useful for was to be buggered.” The man started then to unbuckle his belt while approaching Harry with a face of undiluted loathing and repugnance. “I will set you right if it’s the last thing I do, mark my words, you freak! After all we’ve done for you, putting a roof over your head, taking you into the family… and you pay us by being a freakish monster!”

Remus’ mind couldn’t process what was happening. He was healthy and happy and loved. This cannot be. This is a mistake. It’s impossible. Moony, however, was having none of it and was forcing him to act and moving him to intercede for his distressed cub. As he started walking, Theo placed a hand on his arm to stop him. “Give him the chance, alright? Just one moment. He needs it.” It was merely a whisper, but enough for the professor to hear, to stop him on his tracks and evaluate. The disgusting red-faced man kept insulting and threatening the boy. Just then, Harry reached his limit and confronted his fear.

“I’m not the monster here, YOU ARE! YOU ARE THE FREAK AND THE MONSTER AND THE WASTE OF SPACE. I HATE YOU! I HATE THE WHOLE LOT OF YOU! BUT I’M NOT ALONE ANYMORE, AND YOU CAN NEVER HURT ME AGAIN, YOU LOATHSOME PIECE OF SHIT!!!” And without casting any spells, a blast of pure magic came shooting out of his outstretched hand, rushing like molten lava heating the air around it and slamming the boggart right in the chest, obliterating it.

Remus still couldn’t wrap his head around what just happened in his class. “I… Impossible. Harry, who was that?”

Harry sighted and pinched the bridge of his nose before straightening up and facing him “Professor Lupin, meet my Uncle Vernon. Sorry he couldn’t stay longer; he is not fond of magic, as you could see.” And then on a lower voice, almost inaudible if it wasn’t for his enhanced senses “shit.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 17 – Counselling

This was supposed to be the fun class. Theo thought dejectedly while witnessing the chaos around him. Their professor knew too much now, that was for certain, though he seemed to be in shock for the moment. A grown ass man and he cannot handle some unexpected news? Professor Snape managed much better when he found out. Lupin is probably a bleeding heart Gryffindor who thinks there is no bad people in the world.

He would normally take a back seat and let Draco call the shots, or even Harry for some things now. Theo did not enjoy the lime light, and Draco always thought of what was best for the lot of them. But his life-long friend was in no condition to act or even think now. He was still frozen in place, just as he became the moment that the boggart turned into his worst fear. Next to him, Harry was shaking from what just happened, and they were both surrounded by Vince, Greg and the girls, who were trying to get them to sit down and breathe more calmly. Theo knew only Blaise and him were keeping their heads on their shoulders now. That’s when he finally heard what their professor was mumbling on and on, as if caught in a mental loop that he couldn’t break from. “Healthy, and happy, and loved. He was healthy and happy. And loved too. No, no, no, no, no. Impossible. He was happy. And healthy. He promised me. This is impossible. No, no, no…” Well, shit.

“Mimmy” he called almost too softly, knowing the elf would hear nonetheless and respond. Sure enough, the little elf popped in quietly, and with a huge disapproving face and a raised eyebrow that left no doubt as to who her master was. Theo raised his hands defensively without thought and got closer to her, to whisper his instructions. “I know we are not to call you here. This counts as an emergency, ok? We need professor Snape.” Mimmy looked at the scene around her then, clearly understanding that this was not normal classroom behaviour, and her face softened first, losing her anger, and then looked determined at Theo. “Tell him to bring the potion he gave to Madam Pomfrey at the beginning of term. Some calming draughts, as well, I think.” The Slytherin could see the moment understanding dawned at the elf’s mind, as her eyes grew considerably and she focussed on the pitiful professor shaking his head frantically in the corner. With a quick nod and a pop, she was gone.

Severus was finishing up with his fourth-year Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff class when Mimmy showed up, discreetly standing in a corner by the locked ingredient cabinet where only he would see her. He knew immediately the implications of the elf appearing in one of his classes, without having to hear her speak. One of his snakes needed him. “Cast a stasis charm on your cauldrons and leave, you are dismissed. You’ll be graded on the progress made.” The Potions Master was briefly entertained at the antics of his students working in a flurry to pick up all their belongings and rush out of the room. All except one. There is always one. “Miss Sparks, are you actually deaf? Stop adding ingredients to your potion and leave. I will start handing out detentions to anyone still in this classroom in five, four, three, two.” He did want to change, as he told Poppy, but the Potions class was not the place to allow airheaded Hufflepuffs to disregard direct orders. That road only led to accidents and melted cauldrons. At the sound of the last scurried feet crossing the doorframe, Severus shut the door and turned to Mimmy, only to find her right in front of him.

“Your third-years, Sir.” Mimmy had learnt to be efficient in times of emergencies, after all the years of his spying and being Head of House, so she simply bowed while she spoke and wasted no time with empty salutations, just as Severus preferred. “In the Defence classroom, with the werewolf. Mr. Nott suggested that sir brings the potion administered to Madam Pomfrey and calming draughts.”

“I see. Thank you. Please fetch Miss Granger and send her along as well.” With a small nod, the elf left to find Hermione, while Severus accioed several vials of potions and, as quickly as he could, climbed out of the dungeons towards the Defence classroom to see what kind of misfortune the werewolf had brought upon them now.

Just typical of Lupin. That poxy excuse of a man! He always manages to be trouble-adjacent, doesn’t he? Always making wolf puppy eyes at Dumbledore to get out of any tight spots his friends or other’s actions had landed him on. Of course, it’s never his fault! Oh no, he was just a witness, an innocent bystander. Wonder what excuse he will make now, as the only adult in his own class. He has better not endangered my snakes to some rabid beast!

As Severus entered the classroom, it was to find it in utter disarray, with clusters of distressed students and concern clear on his Slytherins’ faces. It was worriedly reminiscent of that first night when they found out about Harry’s abuse, which went a long way into increasing his sense of foreboding. And just as that same night, the professor turned to Theo for an explanation. No more than a locking of gazes and a raised eyebrow was required; his snakes knew him well by now.

“Boggart class, professor Snape.” Oh, Severus had heard about the infamous boggart classes that Lupin was giving to all the third-years. His own manifestation in one such class, as Longbottom’s greatest fear – no less – had been making the rounds of Hogwarts’ gossip mill for weeks now. Of course, Lupin had left the Slytherins for the last and they were only now getting this lesson when the Gryffindors had it a fortnight ago. “We, eh… met Harry’s uncle.”

That would undoubtedly explain some of the ache that he could see in his student’s eyes. “Draco and Tracey also had boggarts related to Harry, sir.” Trust Theo to deliver him the whole story in a detached and succinct manner, even when he himself looked in the verge of tears. Severus could only provide a small comfort by placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder. He needed to know the last detail to determine what to do first. “And what, pray tell, is the matter with your… instructor?”

“I… well, I believe he is under a similar compulsion spell as Madam Pomfrey, sir. He keeps repeating that Harry was happy and healthy. I thought it best that you check, just in case. Also…” Theodore took a step closer and a deep breath as if steading himself for the last bit “well, sir… I’m afraid our professor might need to be obliviated, sir, or sworn to secrecy.” He finished in a whisper.

The gravity of the situation hit Severus then. Lupin had been, after all, a close friend to the Potters. Close enough to maintain contact with Harry even after his parents were gone, actually. But Harry had not seen nor heard about anything to do with the magical world until his 11th birthday, which evidently proved that Lupin had not visited. But a compulsion spell on a werewolf? Would that even work? Or was Lupin even weaker than he suspected? In any case, Harry’s personal details needed to remain private until Severus found alternative housing and a safe situation for his new snake, before Dumbledore found anything out and tried to intervene again.

“Thank you, Theodore. I need to see to Harry,” but before moving to his student, Severus casted a mind diagnostic spell on Lupin and confirmed a mild case of compulsion. Perhaps the wolf had been fighting it, after all. “Could you administer these two potions to the professor?” He gave his student a look that clearly said to make sure it was drank, even if they had to stun the other professor and pour it down his throat “and keep him from making a mess of things until I break Harry and Draco out of their states.” Without waiting for an answer, the Potions professor walked right up to his distressed students. Tracey, who Theo had said had been affected also, already looked much composed, and the hot chocolate that had just appeared in the middle of the room would help her. His concern now was with the boys, one shaking and the other almost catatonic.

Soon, he was able to gently guide Draco and Harry to a far corner, where they would get a modicum of privacy. “Mimmy, have you managed to locate Miss Granger?”

“Yes, sir. She is on her way.” He truly did have the best house elves, what was Lucius thinking when he complained endlessly about the creatures?

“Well done. Please bring Sally, then, if you will.” He quickly turned to Harry, assuming Mimmy would pop out to fetch the snake, but no tell-tale popping was heard to show that she actually had. Sceptically, the professor looked back at the elf to make certain she was still there “is there a question?”

“There is, sir. Mimmy is not sure about her orders, Master. Did sir wish for Mimmy to fetch the extremely lethal, larger than an elf, incredibly defensive snake who gets irritated when moved without her master’s consent?” Sass was apparently a family trait with these ones! And Sally was still young and by no means larger than an elf. So dramatic. As if an elf could not subdue a snake.

“Ah, my mistake, Mimmy. I thought you could manage such as simple task as fetching an emotional support pet for a distressed student. No worries, you may leave now.” Severus turned back to Harry resolutely, knowing this time he would be hearing a disapparating from his left. Mimmy was nothing if not a proud elf, and of course she could bring Sally. Despite the boomslangs menacing appearance, he was just a small tame snake.

“A stunned snake coming up, sir.” He chuckled as he than heard the pop.

“Here, Professor Lupin, take these. They will help you calm down.” Theo and Blaise were now framing their DADA professor from both sides, and hoping he would be too distressed to question them. No such luck, though, as Lupin sniffed the first potion shoved his way, and regarded them confused. At least he is confused and not angry that we are trying to clear his mind. Theo thought.

“I don’t recognize this. What is it?”

“It will help you, sir.” Blaise jumped in when Theo didn’t know what to say, unsure of whether their professor would accept the truth as easily as Madam Pomfrey had. “Professor Snape brought it.” His friend added, with a gesture to point out that the school’s Potions Master had come. If Lupin was surprised to see Snape in his classroom, he didn’t show. Merely nodding and accepting the potion, saying that he trusted Severus. After the first one, they quickly passed him the Calming Draught, to avoid further drama.

“Alright” Theo started, and looked up at his professor with all the seriousness he could gather. “You were under a compulsion spell, professor. That first potion took care of it. Can you tell what it was about?” They already knew it was about Harry, but it was imperative that they understood all about what information they had to contain. And while the professor was recovering from shock and under the effects of the calming potion, he was more likely to blab.

“Yes. It was to keep me from questioning Harry’s living situation. I was his Uncle Moony when he was born, you see. But I think Dumbledore did not want me to visit him while growing up. He also convinced me that the blood wards around his muggle house would not allow me entry, but your books clearly dispute that. I’ve been fighting in my head with that information for weeks! Now it all seems so clear…” He looked so broken-hearted now, as he realised he had been manipulated into breaking contact with Harry.

The boys remained quiet for some time, allowing their professor to process everything. They knew that, if they handled the situation cunningly, they could repeat the success they had with Pomfrey and gain another ally. She had been invaluable to Harry’s recovery, and had kept it all under wraps while at the same time building evidence for the future. How Lupin could help was still not clear, but it was evident he was more invested in Harry than in Dumbledore right now. Tears were now running uncontrolled down his face, while he silently looked at the corner where Snape was wrapping Sally around his owner’s shoulders. “It’s Harry then?” he asked his student without shifting his eyes from the corner.

Theo and Blaise exchanged glances confused, clearly neither of them understood. “Is Harry what, sir?”

“Clearly, the boggarts were about child abuse. I thought it might be Tracey first, but the other two were rather apparent. So, I was kept away while he was being hurt.” In a heartbeat, their professor transformed right in front of them. If asked, they could almost believe they had seen two different men. Lupin scrubbed his face, took a deep breathe and changed his stance so completely that he looked ready for battle. Theo could swear even his eyes had sharpen and were almost feral now. “Please, boys, could you confirm this so I can confront the Headmaster?” Yes, definitely a Gryffindor. Ready to charge ahead and yell, without stopping to think for one second. Thank Merlin he wants to check his facts, at least.

“You’d do no such thing!” Theo grabbed his professor and looked at him with all the authority he could master, being more than a head shorter than the man. “Stop and think for a second! Sir.” he gulped, pretty sure he had crossed the line and was well on his way to earning a detention. Well… in for Knut, in for a Galleon… If I’m already getting detention, I might as well make sure Harry’s privacy is maintained. “What do you think would happen to Harry if you just go into the Headmaster’s office and let the cat out of the bag? Just think, ok? Who placed Harry with those muggles in the first place? Who casted all these compulsion spells so no one would find him or help him? Trust me, we all want revenge. But, for now and until we can know for certain that Dumbledore cannot hurt him anymore, we need to keep this completely secret.” Theo hoped he would not be serving detention over the Yule break at this point. But at least Lupin was a lot more composed, not so deadly anymore. “If you care for Harry as much as you claim, then you need to make an oath right now swearing that you will not let the Headmaster or any other person know about this.”

“He can’t go back to those disgusting people.” Lupin replied, and it was surprisingly measured compared to the state he was in just a few moments ago.

“No.” It was Blaise who responded now. Sure, now you know he is not going to curse us for telling him off, you chip in. Ta so much, Blaise. “Agreed. But for now, we are all focusing on getting him healthy again, which is the first priority, and there is still time until the summer.”

“But you promise he is getting help?”

“Yes, professor. Not just from us…” and Theo looked over to Professor Snape, who had managed to get both Harry and Draco talking and drinking their hot chocolates. Lupin followed his eyes and seemed to deflate with his exhaled breath.

“Alright. As long as he is getting help from someone. I clearly failed him, so I will not push my way in. Let’s get a hot drink, come on.” Just like that, as if Theo had not disrespected and ordered his professor around, Lupin walked to the centre of the room and poured them a cup. The rest of the class, minus the trio still huddled in the corner, were already drinking calmly and talking in subdued voices. To Theo’s surprise, Hermione had joined them at some point. How had she known?

“There’s still the matter of the oath, professor.” Blaise reminded them rather loudly, catching everyone’s attention. It was evident that he wanted an audience to guarantee that Lupin would not try and fool them.

“Of course. Let’s see how to make it as good as possible…” After a few moments of deep thought, the DADA professor drew out his wand. “I vow upon my magic to never disclose by any means – including written, oral, pensieved memory, or any other type of communication – the information of any nature gathered today or at any future days, regarding the students and professor present now as witnesses, as long as that information is not solely related to their academic performance and needs to be addressed with other members of staff or their parents. I also vow that, should any of these students come to me at any point in the future with the intention to discuss these matters, I will keep their discussions private. I shall only break this vow with their express permission, either at full or for individual persons. This had been sworn upon my magic, and my magic shall enforce it. So mote it be.” They all saw his wand light up and a thread of light envelop the professor for a second, and then vanish.

Theo had to give it to the man, that was a very good oath. He had not only promised to protect Harry’s secret, but all of theirs, including Hermione since he had not made it exclusive for Slytherins. Now they had someone else in the castle they could go to, and from the wording it almost seemed like he was offering to hear their problems.

“I know from my own experience with difficult situations and trauma that is healthy to talk, and since I don’t have the responsibilities of being Head of House or any other school need, I have plenty of time if you want to. You can be certain that I will respect your privacy from the vow.” Professor Lupin said, looking kindly at them all. “I have a free period now, and this has been a rather distressful class, so if anyone wants to remain and talk for a bit… well, we already have hot chocolate, don’t we?”

They all exchanged glances, unsure of whether or not to take him up on the offer. The class had made it clear that many of them had issues to talk about, but Lupin was also an unknown. Harry was the first to respond, in the end. “If you don’t mind, professor Lupin, I think I rather need a lie down. But,” he bit his lower lip with concern “I’m already talking about things every week with Professor Snape. I guess I didn’t realise you were all affected by my mess, as well, and needed someone to talk to. You should stay.” After that, they quickly agreed and formed a circle with the chairs in the centre of the classroom.

“Thank you, Severus, for the potions. I will drop by for the other one later today.” They all wondered what other potion the professor might need, but were too polite to ask, of course.

They had been talking for about half an hour, after Harry had left with Professor Snape, and Draco already felt like a weight was lifting from his shoulders. He had been so concerned about Harry, so worried that he was unwell or not responding to treatment, that he had turned himself into a ball of anxiety. Just as Blaise had mentioned at lunch… “I still feel so guilty, though, from exposing all of this. I feel that I can only stop worrying once his scars are gone, and he gains the height he was supposed to have and… I don’t know, get’s a new home, I guess.” Oh, how he loathed talking like a commoner. He was just too distressed to use his proper ways, and he was – after all – amongst friends (and a professor sworn to secrecy).

“Don’t feel guilty, Draco.” Hermione responded to him, “Guilt is not useful and if not for your actions that day, as silly as they might have been initially, we would not have known about Harry’s abuse. I know he says he wanted to tell someone this year, but I was only with him hours before and he was nowhere near opening up. And I know for a fact that he is so terribly grateful now, because he has help. He told me this, so please don’t beat yourself up. And… if anyone should feel guilty, it really should be me. We were friends for two years without me knowing anything.”

“As you said yourself, Hermione, guilt is not useful. And I guess we all can feel a bit guilty for something.” Their professor was doing a remarkable job of letting them speak and only guiding them gently. “We should see how we can channel that guilt into something productive.”

“Like revenge.” Pansy added, not entirely in jest. Lupin chuckled a bit, but didn’t reply.

“What I don’t understand,” added Milly, who had been deep in thought for a long time, “is why muggles hate magic so much! Or fear it, whatever the case might be. Why? And how do they justify abuse based on the child having magic? It’s barbarian!”

“That’s not true!” Hermione flushed as they all turned abruptly to look at her. “I’m not saying that Harry’s relatives were not barbarian! Please!” she huffed. “What I am saying is that not all muggles hate or fear magic. And I think this is an important point to make, here. Or otherwise we are just feeding prejudice.”

She continued to look at all of them defiantly, as if expecting to be fought on the issue. They all knew she was by far much more knowledgeable than they were about muggles, so of course no one contradicted her. “My parents are muggles too, you know, and they never resented my magic or used it against me, never! It’s just that magic can be very scary for parents! Ugg.. I can’t think of an example that would work here! Tell me something that is completely impossible, even with magic.” She asked them.

“Bringing people from beyond the veil, that is a big one. There is no magic that can do that, even if you have a time-turner and go back in time, once someone is dead… well, it’s final.” Blaise responded.

“Yes. Same thing with conjuring food or money. You can summon it from somewhere else, but not conjure it.” Draco added for Hermione’s benefit.

“Thanks. That works. Now imagine this situation. A mom walks into their child nursery to see if their two-year-old daughter is ok, only to find her sucking on a lolly that they saw earlier on a commercial, but cannot possibly had been summoned from the pantry as they don’t have lollies in the house. A few years later, their dog dies. As they are digging a grave in the garden, their daughter walks to the dog, touches him and the dog comes back to life. Some time later, the parents look out the window and there is their daughter flying without a broomstick or any other magical aid. I thought of that one myself, by the way. It’s impossible, isn’t it? The parent’s might actually start thinking that they have gone mad, because their child could not possibly be reviving dead dogs or flying.” They all nodded in understanding. “Or they might think their child is a dark lord, or something evil… ignorance can be just as bad.”

“Well, magic is just as crazy for muggles. When I was a new born, I kept changing the colour of my blanket to match my mom’s clothing. My dad never saw it, and mom thought she was going crazy for lack of sleep. As I grew up, I started doing some weird accidental magic too, like levitating my plushies or making the fire bigger when I was cold. Once, mom had finished reading me a bedtime story and I wanted another one. She said no and I threw a tantrum.”

Theo snorted and got an angry glare from Hermione. “Of course, you would throw a tantrum over more books!” he sniggered.

“AS I WAS SAYING… I reached out and suddenly the book I wanted was flying to my hand from the other side of the room. My mom was just shocked. Not only that, but – since she was still not reading it to me – the book started to read itself, or so we thought. My dad walked in at that point, having heard a strange voice, and they were just speechless. After that, they knew I was different from the other kids. But they were never cruel to me, nor were they ever scared! They protected me, kept it a secret from even other family members who might insist they take me to a doctor to see what was wrong with me. They always told me that I was their special girl, and that they were proud of my skills, even if they didn’t know what they were. A lot of parents probably get their kids a bunch of medical procedures they don’t need, or try to make them hide their magic, but only because they are afraid for their children. For what society might do to them. Some are probably afraid of their children, and those are the saddest cases. But most muggles would never ever hurt a child! Harry was just placed in a rotten home.”

“I guess I never thought what a struggle it must be to grow up with magic in the muggle world. I bet my parents would be just as concerned as yours were, Hermione.” Pansy told the other girl. “So you knew nothing until you came to school? That’s terrible!”

“Yes. I guess that is part of the reason I read so much. There is a lot to catch up compared to all of you. I just wished the Ministry would tell muggle parents earlier! Can you imagine how much better it would have been for my mom and dad if they knew I had magic? Or if they even had someone to support them when I did weird things? I started a fire once!”

After that, Hermione took out a muggle notebook and started writing down her ideas about notifying muggle families earlier to support them. She had been looking for a project for some time now, and this one spoke to her in a personal way like no other. Soon, they were all giving her ideas of how to start research by talking to the other muggleborns in the school, how to gather literature and planning her next steps.

As they were leaving the classroom, Draco suddenly remembered Blaise’s boggart. “Hey, Blaise. Why was yours a poison?” Draco knew that the vial had undoubtedly been a poison, as it had a distinctive purplish shimmering tint. “Surely you know your mother loves you more than anything! She would never hurt you!”

“Oh, I know that. It’s not what the boggart was about…”

“Then?” He was being pushy, but Blaise knew he could tell him to shove it and there would be no hard feelings.

“It’s not fear that she would hurt me. It’s fear that what they say about her… that it might be true.” Draco didn’t need to question him any further. He knew very well what it was to fear that your parent might be a murderer. He also did not want to know the answer.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18 – Drag on

Hogwarts. Tuesday, 28th September 1993.

My dearest mother,

I trust you and father are both going well. It was lovely to find your photograph in the social pages of The Prophet during the weekend, and seeing you as beautiful as ever.

I’m deeply regretful that I have forgotten our weekly missive last Friday, as it has been our tradition the past two years. I hope its absence did not cause any undue concern on your part; I assure you nothing bad happened to prevent me from writing other than sheer exhaustion and lack of time. As it happens, Fridays are turning out to be my busiest day of the week with not only a full schedule of classes but also our inter-house study sessions at the library.

As you know, that all started with an attempt from Harry and Hermione to maintain their friendship while sorted into different Houses, and they both shortly enlisted their closest friends to join them. Naturally, this led to my attendance in the group and soon too members of both Hufflepuff and, most intriguingly, even Gryffindor were annexed as well. I believe it rather dazzles the professors, witnessing second to fifth years from all four Houses studying together, but in a rather unexpected turn of events, each of us have found our own distinctive way to contribute. For instance, I was most astounded with Hermione’s unique and efficient organisational skills. She is, by all accounts, an astoundingly brilliant witch, easily achieving top marks in all her classes. But, regrettably, she is dreadful at explaining her knowledge to others, to everyone’s frustration! However, it is fair to say that – as a good and dedicated Ravenclaw – she is the driving force behind our sessions and has elaborated remarkably detailed study plans for each of us, with achievable but challenging personalised goals. As such, I am glad to report that every member of our group (including Vince and Greg!) have seen improvement in our academic performances. You may be proud to know that your son is not only top of the year in Potions, but also tutoring students two years my seniors.

I digress, however, and my intention in mentioning my thoroughly busy Fridays was to propose that I move my future correspondence to you, shall you wish to continue it, to Tuesdays instead. Apologies for breaking the tradition, mother, since I am aware that you enjoy starting your weekend with news of Hogwarts, but we will both agree, I’m certain, on the fact that my main priority must be with my studies and you’ll no doubt approve my focus on them. In appreciation of your expected acceptance of this change, I will endeavour to make this a doubly long letter (it is, after all, covering last week as well as this one).

Since you enjoy a good gossiping, even if you refuse to admit it, I’ll start with Blaise! Theo and I had noticed that our local Veela-boy had been acting strange lately, turning up at the dorm nearly at curfew and leaving our company for extended periods of time. He has also stopped attending our Quidditch trainings and we hardly ever see him out of classes or asleep! We were most concerned for this new-found need for solitude and, sensibly, we were on the verge of making enquiries or even bringing up the issue with Professor Snape. However, it all came to be elucidated when Blaise arrived 45 minutes late at Hermione’s birthday picnic sporting numerous lovebites on his neck, no less! We could hardly believe it, but he has been ‘getting to know’ (as he calls it) a fourth-year Ravenclaw girl. He claims is all about having fun and he was, in fact, completely unable to tell us anything about the girl other than her House and her physical attributes. If I were you, I would not run to Aunty Marianne to plan the wedding just yet.

On other news, Milly and Tracey have recruited another cat-obsessed person in Hermione. The half-kneazle she has adopted is probably the ugliest cat alive, but also the most sociable. He is best friends with Harry’s boomslang, Sally, and is not unusual to see them curl together sharing heat in front of the common room fire (how he gets into the Slytherin area is anyone’s guess). Crookshanks has also befriended a huge black mutt that lives on the forest and we are almost tempted to bring the ugly thing inside just to see how the three creatures would interact (Sally does not go out without Harry, as he is very protective of his human, so we don’t believe he has met the dog). You’ll notice, undoubtably, that a whole paragraph was dedicated to pets. I trust this will be evidence enough for you to understand the level of monotony in the girls’ conversations! It seems this year girls are becoming remarkably dull. I almost envy Harry’s parseltongue, as it would allow me to maintain a parallel conversation with Sally as well, while they go on and on about cats. The only enjoyable dialog I am able to have with them lately is about fashion, even if they tease me mercilessly for my insights and interest. It’s not my fault to be naturally stylish! Pansy loved that mauve nail polish you sent her, by the way.

Theo has been spending a significant amount of time lately working and researching on blood magic and wards. The subject was briefly approached on our Defence classes, and since then Theo had been unrelenting on his pursuit. He has even gone as far as to declare that this might be an interest he might continue as a profession after schooling. For some unknown reason, however, the Hogwarts library has proven disappointing on this topic, as books on both of these branches are notoriously missing. Fortunately, his grandmother has been able to forward him some material from their own collection, but I am certain that he would welcome anything you could find in ours. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to visit the Manor during Yule break and discuss our wards with Father. Let me know, after you reach the end of this letter and make your decision, if I should extend an invitation to him now.

Apart from my studies, that I have pointed out above are going very successfully, I am doing very well myself. I don’t believe it was mentioned on my previous communications, but I am enjoying flying tremendously! As a matter of fact, since both Harry and I are on the team now, we have made it a bit of a routine to pack a hamper, during breakfast, to take our lunch on the grounds after practice and remain in the pitch for some freeform flying. The weather is still relatively sunny and warm enough to be out during the day. We do need to be wary of remaining close to the castle, as dementors are stationed just outside the gates and their presence is felt strongly as we roam the grounds.

The only minor matter that I could mention is our latest Defence class, which was in fact earlier today. We were studying boggarts and Professor Lupin managed to locate one for us to hold a practical lesson (all the other third-years had already done this, actually, and we were the last ones). I did mention to you previously about the new boy in Slytherin who came from an unpleasant family situation; as I am sure you remember, having provided clothing for him. As it happens, the issue of child abuse (as I am regrettably afraid was very much the case in this situation) made an appearance in multiple of the boggart’s manifestations during this exercise. I cannot deny that it was a shock to us all, including our professor I wager, and we were all rather shaken by the episode. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that Lupin managed remarkably (after properly recovering his own calm) and invited us all to remain for the following period, which we all had free, and discuss the situation in a semblance of collective mind healing session. Overall, a bit on the dramatic side for what we thought would be a regular or even entertaining lesson.

There is no other big news from Hogwarts, but the year is just starting so one can only hope that more interesting topics will arise in time. I hope to have given you a pleasant account of my previous days, and the value of my friendships and how they enrich my life, on the paragraphs above.

On other business, please let Gustav know that his latest creations (the lavender, apricot and 70% Ecuadorian dark chocolate truffles, in particular) were very well received by us all. On that note, do you happen to know if it is possible for one of the boxes to avoid being filled with white chocolate? By now I assume you have divined, as I am positive that you read more between the lines than in the actual text of my letters, that the truffle boxes I sent for at beginning of term were for Harry and Hermione. I confess that I had concerns regarding how you and father would react if you knew of the intended recipients, them being the Boy-Who-Lived and a muggleborn witch from Ravenclaw.

My fears on that regard have not waned, and in fact they have become rather prominent in my thoughts and an increasing cause for anxiety as I continue to grow closer to them both in admiration and esteem. I believe is time I told you and father, in the most straightforward manner I can, that my views on blood supremacy and the preservation of wizarding culture by the vanishment of new blood have been irrevocably altered. Since Ash’s recovery by means of muggle ingenuity and by a muggleborn healer, I began questioning the traditional teachings I was raised in and I started to value the contributions that can be made by those who come into our world with fresh perspectives. While I very much intend to contribute to our culture and its advancement, and I take pride in the legacy of the Malfoy family, I find the very notion of purebloods being in any way superior in intelligence, magical ability or biological strength rebutted in front of my eyes on a daily basis.

I understand this will make me, to father’s and your eyes, a blood traitor. I purposely left this for the end of the missive in case it comes to be the last one you will accept from me; in which case you may wish to tear it and keep only the good thoughts and news. You should trust that this is not an easy letter for me to write, but so many events have coalesced in the past month that I can no longer hide my feelings and my allegiance from myself, nor from my parents. While Harry and Hermione are the main influences (and the closest to my heart) driving this change, they are far from the only half-blood and muggleborn who have joined our group. As a matter of course, I have also learnt that father was responsible for the release of a basilisk in my very own school, where my friends and I were, and where so many magical children live, and I cannot help but disagree with father’s actions and motives. If such is the path you intended for your son and heir to walk, I need to be clear now in my resolve not to follow it.

It is with a heavy heart that I beseech you to share the contents of this letter with father, as I cannot find it in myself to write directly to him. My wish is that I will remain your son, not only in name but in your love and your pride. However, if father cannot accept me now, and if he continues to act in opposition to Harry and muggleborns, I fear that he will find me fighting back at their side and against him. I don’t even want to contemplate the agony that would cause me, for my views have changed but my love for you both has not, and I will very much remain – with or without your acceptance,

Your ever-loving son,


Grey and black fumes were rising in twirls from the cauldron, merging to form a dark cloud of ominous mist above his head, and Severus couldn’t be happier. Well, happy was pushing it, but savouring the delectable taste of revenge was on spot.

He had been working on this potion for several weeks now, and it was fuelled merely on resentment and need for vengeance. Yes, he was working on being less bitter, but this had nothing to do with it. If anything, he could argue that he was funnelling bitterness for a good cause. Even go as far as call it justice instead of retribution. His calculations had been remarkably easy, as all he truly needed to accomplish was an absolute reverse of an existing potion. As such, the professor had only needed to find an exact opposite ingredient to each component of the first potion and mirror all actions and brewing details, stirring clockwise instead of counter-clockwise and so. And in a fortunate turn of events, this potion took only six minutes to brew once all the ingredients were prepared, the briefest he had ever known, in clear opposition to the decidedly long brewing time of six months that were needed for his inspiration potion. Luck, it appears, was on his side in this endeavour.

Just as Severus quenched the fire, there was a knock on his door. Confident on the knowledge that no one would be able to recognise the potion by the contents of the cauldron nor the fumes, he invited them to enter. It had to be Lupin, of course, coming for his dose and probably to rehash the events from earlier. Severus just ignored the werewolf while he vanished the fog and decanted the potion to cool.

“Were you under a black cloud just now, Severus? Is everything alright?” There was a shed of amusement in the tone of the question, as if Lupin found it hilarious that he had burnt a potion. How like the wolf to assume that because he is unable to excel in his field, so must everyone else fail too.

“If you must know, and I honestly don’t see why you would, those were the expected fumes of a successfully brewed potion I invented and was just now testing.” The Potions Master could see congratulations coming out of the other professor imminently, and the wolf’s admiration or compliment was the last thing he desired. “Your dose is behind you. Drink it now.”

“Thank you, Severus. I really do appreciate so much that you brew this for me.”

“Yes, you said that yesterday already. No need to repeat yourself.” Lupin had finished his goblet of smoking Wolfbane Potion, but had yet to leave his lab. Severus was rapidly losing his patience. “What?”

“I wonder if you had a minute. I want to talk about Harry.” How dare he? Lupin had been the only one left to the boy, and had completely forgotten about his best friend’s child until a month ago! And he promised to keep his mouth shut only a few hours ago, and now he comes running to me for gossip?

Through gritted teeth, and with a considerable amount of effort, Severus managed to respond without physically flinging himself at the excuse of a man standing before him. He might be weak for the incoming full moon, but there was no doubt that the potion’s professor would never be able to win in a fight with a werewolf. “I thought,” he spat, “you had vowed not to discuss the topic.”

“Actually, I purposely included you in the secrecy so I could come and talk about it. You can trust that I will not discuss with anyone else. I just want to make sure that Harry is receiving help, and Theodore mentioned that you were doing that. I won’t interfere, either.” Severus was still staring at the Defence professor as if he could stun him with a glare. That had been more cunning than he would ever suspect the werewolf to be.

You are attempting to be a better person. And Harry will need all the help he can get, and allies against Dumbledore. It was also impossible to deny that Lupin had been under a compulsion spell, as he had diagnosed him and provided the cure. “Very well. Sit, then.” Severus did not need to be friendly, but knowing exactly what the Headmaster had wanted to force the other professor to do, or not do, would be useful knowledge. “Let’s start with talking about the compulsion. Can you determine what was its purpose?”

“Yes.” Lupin was immediately remorseful, but it wasn’t Severus’ job to offer compassion. He merely lifted an eyebrow to make it clear that a more elaborate answer was expected; it was completely effective with his students. “Well, it’s evident that Dumbledore wanted to keep me away from Harry. After that night… he only said that Harry had been sent to live with his only remaining blood relatives, as Lily’s sacrifice had created blood wards that would protect him from any Death Eaters. At first, I was devastated. You must understand, Lily and James gone, then Peter, and Sirius a traitor! It would have broken any man, I would think, but for me it was even worse. My pack was broken, I was alone, and I had not been able to keep them safe. It took me months of dreadful transformations, of hurting myself under the full moon, to even begin to function as a person again.”

“When I finally went to Dumbledore to ask about Harry, he told me that the blood wards would not allow dark creatures to cross them.”

What the hell was Lupin talking about now? Was that his excuse? “Dark creatures? You think you are a dark creature? Can you be so idiotic?”

“Werewolfs are considered a dark creature, Severus. I was told my entire life that I was one. It keeps me from obtaining employment if I reveal it, purchasing property, getting married, having custody of children… You know all this!”

“Yes, I know that. But that is only the Ministry’s bigoted views and its restrictive laws. Werewolfs are not a product of dark magic, nor they possess dark magic! You are not a dementor, a lethifold, an inferi! You are a perfectly average wizard most of the time, other than a few hours per month!” Was this really their Defence professor? Is it ignorance, or simply the power of persuasion? As it had been the case with Harry?

Lupin was now looking at him as if no one ever had told him how average he was, and he looked grateful for it. Merlin save me from Gryffindors! “Thanks, Severus. Those are good points but, in any rate, I am not an expert on blood magic or wards, as the Headmaster is, so I believed he was telling me the truth about my inability to reach Harry at home. I suggested to arrange meetings with the boy outside the wards, and I believe that is when the compulsion spell was cast. After that meeting, I was convinced that Harry was happy, healthy and loved and that I could not meet him because learning about the magical world would be detrimental to his growth and emotional wellbeing.”

So that’s what it had been for Lupin. Lies, manipulation and compulsion to stay away. Albus’ most effective tools. “There is still something I don’t quite understand.” Severus started, “As a werewolf, your mind is somewhat compartmentalised. It is not the same as being an occlumens, but how could you be so affected by a mind-altering spell?”

“Ah, well… Albus wasn’t the only one convincing me that I should stay away from Harry. I was convinced that I had nothing to offer him, you see? What good could come from meeting with me? I was a poor, sad, broken man for too long. I did not deserve the comfort that it would be to spend time with my cub, I had already failed him.”

“You were a fool” It was just a statement, a fact. But the heat from earlier was gone from Severus’ voice. He knew too well how guilt could eat you from inside, have you doubt your worth and keep you from moving on. “So was I. We all failed Harry.” And for the first time since starting his tale, Lupin looked up straight at his colleague’s eyes.


“Yes. He was Lily’s child… I vowed I would protect him, for her sake. But I could not stop the guilt, the regret, the bitterness. Mostly, I could not forget that Harry was James’ son. So, I too was a fool. I trusted Dumbledore when he told me multiple times how happy and healthy, and spoilt even, the boy was. It’s a miracle I’m still alive, since I clearly forsworn the vow. In fact, I went out of my way to make him miserable when he stepped foot in this school.” Severus wasn’t quite certain why he was freely giving this man, one of his school bullies, so much information. But the werewolf had been honest with him, and it felt almost as if the confession was forcing its way out of his chest. “I convinced myself that I could do my best to keep Harry alive, and that would be sufficient. I had allowed the resentment to build powerful strongholds inside me, keeping everyone out and drowning myself in self-loathing and bitterness.” It was a good thing that Lupin kept quiet, not even attempting to provide a measure of comfort, or he would never had been able to continue.

“It wasn’t until I saw Harry, really saw him, covered in scars and in so much pain… only then I could accept that he wasn’t a newer version of James; nor he was a replacement for Lily.” Only now he could look back at Lupin, and a strange sense of peace was finally settling in him, as if the words took with them the pain they described and were then gone forever. “So, yes, I am helping him. I will continue to do everything in my power to help him, until he has a happy home, the love he should have always had; until he is healthy, and happy and loved…” Both men managed a scoff and a smirk at that. “And until he is avenged.” He finished with a darker note.

“On that note,” Lupin focused on him intensely and his eyes were suddenly amber instead of brown, “do you happen to know the address of those relatives?”

“I do, and you can’t have it. Stop growling, you idiot! You’ll not help Harry one bit if you are shipped to Azkaban for murdering them!” This was exactly why he had not cured Minerva’s compulsion! Gryffindors get revenge into their heads and lose all sense of rationality!

“And you think I can help him in any other way?”

“Naturally. You can be a witness, or an injured party, when we take Dumbledore to justice, to begin with. You can also support Harry, tell him stories about his father, be there for him even if you cannot adopt him. He has no adults in his life that he can trust. Besides, a swift death is not what those muggles deserve.”

“What are your plans, then?” Lupin enquired with a wicked grin, clearly catching up to Severus’ intentions.

“The Dursleys value their ‘normal’ life and hate magic. So, naturally, I have recruited a couple of house elfs…” and so Severus told Lupin all about the guarding elfs on the cupboard door, the screechsnap, the howlers both he and Poppy were sending and Mimmy’s latest addition. “I truly don’t know where she got the idea, but she started wandlessly adding hot chili sauce to every item of food. She has essentially placed them all in a strict dieting program, as they cannot eat anything other than fruit and vegetables.” Lupin was laughing by the end of it, and Severus was very pleased himself.

“Have you thought about taking a more visible step?” At his famously enquiring eyebrow, he continued. “Such as graffiti in their walls, or destroying their garden… I assume it was Harry who did the gardening?”

“Yes, that could work… I could concoct something acidic to snuff their flower beds and burn patches of their grass.” That had actually been good thinking on the wolf part, have their neighbours see them in disarray.

After some thinking, Lupin asked the potions expert, “could a Shrinking Solution be applied topically?”

“To what purpose?”

“Shrink only someone’s penis.” Ouch, that’s ruthless! Deserved, though. Note to self, never mess with a werewolf’s pack.

“Indeed. And as for the Headmaster, what you walked into a few moments ago was the culmination of my development of what I called a Calamitas Infortunii; an exact opposite from a Felix Felicis.” He allowed himself a satisfied, slightly smug, sneer. “It requires a magical core to affect the drinker, so I cannot use it for them, but I am afraid that the Headmaster will have some very unfortunate days coming soon. Whatever selfish whim occupies him now, should most assuredly fail.”

“That is brilliant, Severus!” Agh, the werewolf was now looking at him with admiration again. Make it stop!

“Yes, well.” It’s really all he managed, with some awkward coughs in between. Severus was distinctly unaccustomed to compliments, and he dearly hoped that being civil to the wolf would not force him to receive them. Or, Merlin preserve us, offer them! “Thank you for taking care of my snakes today, Lupin. I had been focussed on Harry and failed to see that they would need support as well. Did I hear correctly that you will continue these sessions?” There, topic successfully changed.

“Yes, of course. As I said, I know you have Head of House duties, as well as brewing for the school and for myself. I am happy to offer my time, and I have some experience with therapy that could help them.” The Defence professor was once more looking nervous. “I noticed you don’t like me saying it, but I am grateful for your brewing. Mostly, as I know I have not done anything to deserve your time and your kindness… in fact, I owe you an apology.” There it was, the categorically earnest look only Gryffindors could possibly accomplish. Severus had seen in before in Lily, and in Harry. “We treated you dreadfully when we were students. I knew even then that it was wrong, but I was to frighten to lose my only friends to stand up to them. I would be appalled now, as a professor, to see a student behave in such a manner. I hope, now that we are colleagues and on the same team to help Harry, that we can start again.”

Severus could only stare at the man for some time. He had finally gotten an apology from the marauders. Naturally, it was from the more passive one, but he couldn’t deny that it felt good to have his grief acknowledged. “I have never been known as one to stand by the notion of letting bygones be bygones…” Who knew werewolfs could have sad puppy eyes? “however, as I said earlier, I have allowed hatred and bitterness to rule my life, and now that I have seen it, I do not wish to continue in that path. I suppose I could agree to be civil.” And that should be enough, really.

“Thank you, Severus. If I may say, I have in fact heard that you were not the most approachable staff member…”

“If you are referring to your atrocious boggart lessons and Mr. Longbottom’s fear, well… damn it to all hells! What am I supposed to do about that? Once I would have been proud to be so feared. But now, the thought of one of my students, a child in our care, thinking me so deplorable just sickens me.”

“Perhaps you could talk to him? Or show him that you are not so fearsome?” It was a weak suggestion and even Lupin knew it.

“How does that help with all the rest of the student body? I want them to respect me, not be terrified of me.”

“Empathy goes a long way, you know. Neville is even more frightened now as he expects retribution from the entire school hearing about his boggart. Perhaps you could let him know you are not angry at him for that, and start from there.”

“I shall think about it. Would you mind giving me a copy of your memory of the situation? It might help somewhat, but I’ll have to think about it tomorrow. It’s late now.” Lupin quickly took the hint and left him to his thoughts, after providing a copy of the memory in a vial. Severus knew the problem was not Longbottom, and he could not be the only student afraid of him. How could he possibly change so fast and so notoriously as to tell the entire student body that they needn’t fear him? It was a hopeless situation.

Impossible! “George!” Fred was frozen in place, jaw hanging open and eyes bigger than saucers. All he could possibly do was swat his twin to try and get his attention. “George, please confirm that you are seeing what I’m seeing!” There was no need to point out, as the Hall was rapidly falling in an astounded silence, as jaws dropped and everyone turned to the front, where none other than Professor Snape was calmingly strolling in.

George finally managed to respond to his twin, with a quick exchange of shockingly delighted glances. “I think it’s Christmas and our birthday today! This is the best gift we could ever have asked for!” Fred could do nothing other than nod in agreement. “I really hope Colin has his camera with him today!”

Second chances. He is doing this to show Neville that he doesn’t need to be afraid of him. But he is also doing it because this is also his second chance, as we said. This would be the year of trying again, changing, opening up. This time around he does not need to be terrifying. And that is so brave! For the first time in his life, Harry found himself being proud of an adult, and knowing that there was someone willing to do hard things to make sure they were happy.

While the mass of the student body watched in thrilled shock, Harry couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he watched Severus, dressed on what was evidently Augusta Longbottom’s green frock, accompanied by a fur collar, a big black handbag hanging from his elbow, and – most extraordinarily – a green pointed hat with a life-size vulture! How the man managed to maintain his usual dignified stance while walking down the central aisle in almost absolute silence, Harry could tell. But there was no doubt that the professor had poise. The only sounds heard were his steps, a few muffled and slightly nervous giggles, and the shutter from Colin’s camera.

Finally, the Potion Master had reached his destination. He was standing in a pose of pure confidence in front of a shell-shocked, pale-face Neville. “I must thank you, Mr. Longbottom, as I had failed to notice that juniper green would work so well with my complexion.” The sentence was delivered in Severus’ natural deep voice and slow drawl, but the expected mockery or derision were notably missing. “I expect I shall go back to my traditional brewing robes, as this hat along could be a hazard in a lab, but this has certainly been a learning experience. 10 points to Hufflepuff for your creativity.” With a nod, he turned in a dramatic twirl of fabric, and made his way to the Head Table for his breakfast. It seemed that no one knew quite how to respond, as professors and students alike were silent, only some delicately covering their laughs with their hands.

Of course, it would be nearly impossible to keep the twins quiet forever. Harry couldn’t tell at this distance if it had been Fred or George, but one of them was clearly one of the bravest people he had ever met as he had the courage to address their Potion Master first. “I personally think pink would be a delightful choice as well, sir. I mean, if you are experimenting with colours.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 19 – The waiting game

“You realise this is ALL you, right Harry?” Blaise whispered in an awestricken voice, still completely unable to remove his eyes from their Head of House, who was by now gently spreading raspberry jam on his toast as if he wasn’t the focus of the eyes of the entire school. “This is the best birthday present I could have asked for!”

“Oh, so should we cancel the celebration and presents we had planned for Saturday?” Pansy responded without missing a bit, a mischievous grin on her face, the annoying bint.

“Absolutely not!” Blaise responded with an offended gasp, finally able to look away from the Head Table. “And I really need to get moving with this whole selling memories thing. Do you think Hermione would allow us to visit her during winter break to see that muggle implement you mentioned, Harry? The teevee, you said, right? And you mentioned another one, what was it?”

“Well, I’m sure you can have her ask her parents.” Harry sounded a bit uncertain, though, as if he did not know if it was acceptable to visit friend’s houses or something. “But TVs are really normal, even if you cannot visit Mione, you can go to any shopping area and you will see them. The other is easier, they’re called cinemas and they are in every city. They are like TV but public, and you only pay a ticket to be admitted. There is a huge screen where movies are played for a whole room to see. I think that would work really well for your idea!” While answering the other boy and providing him with data for his invention, Harry was pouring their teas and fixing them just as they liked them.

Blaise had learnt yesterday not to mock Harry on his eating habits, after the disaster with Draco before DADA class. Clearly, the boy had unresolved issues about care and food, but for the life of him Blaise could not understand this one quirk. Was there a way to ask it politely? “Say, Harry,” he started when they all had their breakfast ready and were quietly digging in, “would you mind me asking about your tea-making? Not that I mind, though! It’s nice! Just… why do you do that?”

Harry was now biting his lower lip, in what they knew was one of his habits when nervous, but did not appear to be upset or embarrassed, thank Merlin! “You are gonna think I’m silly…” he finally responded, a little bashful now. Thankfully, they could count with Tracey’s no-nonsense attitude for times like this. “No one here thinks you are silly, Harry, don’t worry. But we are a bit curious about the tea thing.”

“Right, ok. So, you know the Dursleys made me cook for them and serve them, right?” They all nodded, with a few frowns and the sombre looks that were now usual at the mention of his relatives. “For them, it was about making me feel less, belittling me. They didn’t even look at me, as if I was worthless. But when I do it voluntarily for people I care about, it’s like I am giving new meaning to the action. I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense outside my head. But basically, I feel like instead of an act of servitude, it’s made into an act of care and love. And it normally is acknowledged too, with a thank or a nod, or a smile. I’m not invisible anymore. And sometimes, like with Mione or Draco, they even fix me a plate or prepare my breakfast too and then I also feel like I matter. Because you don’t learn someone’s preferences and tastes, or waste time serving their food, if they don’t matter.”

They were all thoughtful for a brief moment, before Milly responded “I don’t think that’s silly at all. It’s actually rather cunning. It’s not about the action itself, but the meaning you are giving it and the results it gets you.” She was rewarded with one of Harry’s biggest smiles. “And for what is worth, I do like it when you pour my tea. It makes me feel a bit less homesick, because you prepare it just like my mom does. So, thanks for that!”

“We like taking care of our friends, too, Vince and I, so I get it, Harry. We just do it differently.” Blaise knew he wasn’t the only one looking at the quiet boys in a different light. He really needed to stop underestimating people.

Just then, the owls flew in with their newspapers and correspondence. Draco immediately looked up at the sound of their wings, searching rather franticly for his family’s owl, only to find it wasn’t there. “Expecting anything, Draco?”

“Not really. I wrote to my parents last night, so I thought perhaps I would have a response today.”

“They never get back to you so quickly, Draco!” Pansy saw fit to remind the blonde. But there was a degree of disappointment in his friend even if he confirmed that it was true that a response was not actually expected.

As they exited the Great Hall to the entertained chatter from all students, still amazed at the vision of their Head of House in a dress, they stopped to wait for Hermione to join them for a study session during their free period, when they ran into Ron Weasley and Seamus Finnegan. Of all the people we could see coming out of breakfast, why does it have to be these two? Since the re-sorting, Weasley had become a sore spot to them all and was constantly trying to pick up fights with them. Harry tended to ignore him, so the redhead had quickly learnt that the only true way to provoke him was to attack his friends.

“No letter from mommy, Malfoy?” The Gryffindor had also clearly noticed the distress from earlier and had gripped it as a perfect opportunity to mock one of them. In a second, they had formed a united front with Vince and Greg towering over Draco, and an enraged Harry staring daggers at his former best friend. Yes, going after his friends was the best way to get to him, and Weasley was exploiting that expertly.

True to their word, Vince was the one to jump to their defence, albeit in a much more subtle way than his normally flying fists. “Everybody likes to call me and Greg dumb and we might not be as bright as Draco or Hermione but, in comparison, Weasley here can’t even count yet. He hasn’t realised that there is only two of them and eight of us.”

“Are you threatening us?” Ron did not appear to realise the truth of Vince’s statement, but Finnegan was pulling on his robes and trying to get him to shut up, with absolutely no success. Unfortunately, they were beginning to get some attention from prefects and, in no time, the professors would start leaving the Hall for their classes. A quick look exchanged with Harry told Blaise that he was not the only one who had noticed the need to de-escalate the conflict. Naturally, the former lion intervened. “I just remembered I haven’t written to Mrs. Weasley in a long time, and she did want to hear how I was doing. Thanks for the reminder, Ron. Let’s go, guys. I have a letter to write.”

However, as with each time that he was giving a way out, Weasley was determined to get his foot in his mouth and yell his way into a detention. “Oh, of course the orphan threatens to tell on me with my mom. And it’s Hermione now for you all, is it? Why don’t you write to your own scaly parents about that? Do they even know that you are so friendly with a mudblood?” he spat the last word with such a venom that they all froze for a moment, only to notice too late that the excited voices and loud chatter from earlier had all but stop around them.

“40 points from Gryffindor, Mr. Weasley. And detention with Filch after class.” They heard the menacing voice of their Head. He had it coming. It was obvious that a teacher would come out any second now. The redhead turned around so abruptly that he nearly fell, to find not only Professor Snape looking down on him menacingly but his own Head of House shaking her head in clear disappointment. “I so abhor that word! And don’t concern yourself, Mr. Weasley, that I will be the one sending another letter to your mother today.” Snape finished with a deadly tone, and placed his hand on Hermione’s shoulder, who Blaise had failed to see before but who had evidently heard one of her former best friends just call her a mudblood. “Be off now, before I decide to double your punishment.”

“Come, Mione. Blaise wanted to know more about the cinema.”

That Weasley brat was becoming insufferable. Of course, their friendship had already been beyond repair, but to call Hermione that was unforgivable. He had learnt that lesson only too well. Likely, the boy would not have done it to her face, but it was a bad coincidence that the girl had been leaving the Hall at the same time. At least, Severus thought, he had been able to catch him in time to not only hear the slur, but stop any retaliation from his snakes. Just now, Harry was holding Hermione’s hand and leading her outside, when he turned back with a small side-smile to look right at him. The Potions Master merely gave him his trademark raised eyebrow and, sure enough, got an immediate response from his student. “Nice dress, Professor Snape. You are right, green really does suit you.” That cheeky brat! And he managed to say it almost without smiling, though his face probably hurts from the effort.

“Mr. Potter,” if the Entrance Hall had been silent following Weasley’s insults, it was positively still with dread now. Not even the whispering of portraits or the scuffing of feet could be heard, as both professors and students held their breath for the expected explosion that was expected from Harry Potter prodding Severus Snape. Minerva herself, standing still as if one of the statues of the castle, seemed to have paled slightly. Once, not so long ago, he would have been sure that the boy was trying to humiliate him or was being blatantly disrespectful. But now the professor knew exactly what Harry was doing. He was recognising his effort to seem less terrifying to his students, and helping him too. Sure, the boy was containing a laugh, but that was to be expected. He was, after all, showing that he could laugh at himself… but there was also something in those green eyes that he had not realised how much he had missed, they were proud of him. “I think you’ll find that this is not so much a dress, but a frock.”

“Oh. I’m not so good with words as you are, sir. Isn’t that another way to call a dress?” Harry doubled the bet with his most innocent face. Innocent, my arse. So you want to mock me, do you?

“Call it what you like, Mr. Potter. In any case, I thank you for appreciating my ensemble of the day. You see, when one is as tall and has such bone structure as I do, is easy to pull off even wearing a dress. Perhaps one day you’ll know what that is like.” This time he did allow a smirk to accompany his banter, after all they both knew Harry was effectively getting taller. At least it got the rest of the Entrance Hall breathing again. Harry, though, was offended.

“Hey! You can’t call me short!” He responded with a gasp, as if he never expected a professor to mock him, but soon he was beaming brightly at him as he realised the same thing that Severus had already noticed. “And I am getting taller!”

“That, you are. Now, I suggest you all run along,” he finally addressed the rest of the gathered crowd, “or those with classes on the first period will be late. I, myself, need to get going as walking on these shoes is near impossible.” Severus finished and leisurely strolled towards the dungeons, leaving behind a gaggle of equally confused and amused people and knowing for a fact that everyone was now focused on how well he was indeed walking. And of course he would, he never did anything in public without practicing beforehand, after all.

All through their free-period study, Draco had been unable to concentrate on anything at all. He knew it had been unlikely that his mother would reply so quickly, as he had sent the owl in the evening and it was possible that the elves had not even deliver it to her until morning. And still, he had hoped that she would read it and immediately respond to him, with reassurances of their continued support and love.

Oh, there was no doubt on his mind that he had made the right call in rejecting the pureblood supremacy ideals. The parallel to Harry’s relatives was too evident to avoid, only they stood at the exact opposite end of the spectrum – hating all magic just as much as supremacists hated all muggles. No, he couldn’t support those actions; that hate. He could not consent the activities of people willing to hurt others merely because they were different. And if only in May he had been willing to accept that muggleborns had a place in their world, based only on one apprentice healer, how could he deny it now that he was faced with the reality of what Hermione was? If anything, he was beginning to really admire her, Colin and Harry, being raised in such different circumstances and thrown into the magical world, expecting them to perform to the same exacting standards as those who were born into it. It was such an unfair and perverse system, condemning them if they failed and never extending a helping hand. And pureblood supremacy was not preserving their culture! It was creating gaps and trying to leave people behind, people who could be prodigious and had the potential to improve all of their lives.

Draco didn’t know in detail what the Death Eaters had done, only hearing whispers and accusations from the likes of Weasley, but not an actual and accurate description from any of the involved parties. It was all before their time, after all, thanks to Harry. But he did know muggles had been killed, Harry’s family and many others had been killed, and he knew that his aunt was in prison for torturing Neville’s parents.

Perhaps it could be argued that there was no need to bring up the issue at this time. He had spent most of the night awake wondering if he had been right in showing his cards so soon. After all, the Dark Lord was gone for the time being and his parents weren’t even here in the castle to tell him who to be friends with. Draco knew that there would come a time in the near future when He would return. Harry had told them about the spirit in the back of Quirrell, and he had seen it himself in the forest, drinking unicorn’s blood. But that was not even why he had sent that blasted letter. In his heart of hearts, Draco was aware that there were two undeniable reasons for his confession.

In the first place, learning that his father had been the invisible hand responsible for opening the Chamber of Secrets and releasing the basilisk in the school had shook him. This had only been last year! He had thought that all of his father’s Death Eater activity was at least a decade ago, but it was clear that he was very much still active, and that was frightening. Should the Dark Lord return tomorrow, would his father run to serve him? To place the family’s name and fortune at his feet? Would he expect the same from Draco? And had his mother known? The blond had always thought that his mom would always care for him above everything else; but if she knew about the diary and the Chamber, then she had consented to endangering him. A basilisk was not like Sally, a tame little snake who they could reason with. It was a rogue beast that, once unconstrained, would kill everyone in its way without stopping to enquire about their blood status. It hurt quite a bit to think that his father had not consider his own child’s safety.

The other thing was that, as trivial and Gryffindorish as it sounded, Draco wanted his parents to continue to love him and cherish him, but for who he actually was. Every time he received a package from home, or a letter from his mother telling him how she missed him, he couldn’t help but wonder if her feelings would be the same if she knew his true nature. Could she still be proud of him if he was a blood traitor? Would his parents still believe him to be the perfect Malfoy heir, if he told them that he did not believe in blood purity anymore?

So, while he was aware of the risk involved in the writing of those words, he had felt that he couldn’t bid his time anymore. He couldn’t fake ignorance any longer. If his parent’s affection came with the strings of expectations placed on his shoulders, he would need to cut them at once. For better or for worse, he was convinced that he absolutely had to confront his parents – even if it meant to lose them. Pansy would say that if they couldn’t love him as he was, they didn’t deserve him. Easier said than done, though. She would also remind him how propense he was to make everything into a drama. But what would even happen to him if he was disinherited? He had been certain that this would be his biggest fear. And that is why the DADA class yesterday had been such a shock to him, when the boggart did not in fact turn into his father telling him that he was no longer a Malfoy. If anything, seeing Harry there had cemented his determination and made it clear that it would be much worse to lose his new friend that his family. Though, to be frank with himself, he had rather hoped that he would be able to keep both.

Now here he was, so distracted that McGonagall had already called on him twice and even taken 5 points from him. He hardly ever lost points! But while, all around him, his classmates were turning all manner of objects into rabbits, Draco’s mind was in Wiltshire, painstakingly cataloguing every room of the Manor and every plant and creature on the grounds and wondering if he would ever see them again.

“Come on, Draco.” Harry whispered next to him, “McGonagall is coming this way and you need to at least try this. Go on, is Lapifors. Just try it, ok?” But for the life of him, Draco could not perform the charm. His head was not in it.

“Mr. Potter, let’s see how you are doing then.” Suddenly their professor was standing in front of their desk and Draco forced his concentration to remain here for, at least, enough time to avoid detention. He couldn’t help a small smile when Harry managed to transform his flowery teapot into a perfect white rabbit with cute little flapping ears and a pink nose. “Very well done, Mr. Potter!” McGonagall congratulated him as she summoned another teapot. “Do you think you could transfigure it into a different breed?” And just like it was the easiest thing in the world, Harry said ‘Lapifors’ and frowned in concentration… and a grey fluffy Angora rabbit sat on their desk, his little twitching nose the only part of his face visible under the impressive bangs, and a puff of hair at the end of each ear. Harry had done well in Transfiguration in the previous years, but Draco knew that this year he was much improved. Their regular study sessions and his friend’s improved health and nourishing plan were clearly at work here, and it made Draco feel proud to see how their friendship and care was helping Harry reach his potential.

“10 point to Slytherin, Mr. Potter! I must say that I am very pleased with your academic performance so far this year. In fact, everyone in your… peculiar inter-House study group is doing much better; don’t think for a moment that us professors have failed to notice. Now if you could assist Mr. Malfoy with the Lapifors Spell, please, he seems a bit out of sorts today.”

Something was clearly bothering Draco, Harry could tell. He hadn’t been himself all day, hadn’t even retorted to Ron when he insulted them. During meals and breaks, he would only respond in monosyllabic words when they asked him something, and in class he hadn’t been there at all. It was so unlike the blonde, who had actually had points deducted in both Transfigurations and Care, for lack of attention. In quidditch practice he had been useless too, mostly floating about in his broom and staring into nothing. Flint was not happy, but at least he had recognised that this was not normal behaviour and had simply ignored Draco and focused on the rest of the team.

“I wish you would tell me what’s wrong.” Harry had had enough of silently worrying and stopped his friend as they were about to enter the Slytherin changing rooms. “I know something is upsetting you. You know you can confide in me, right? Just as I do in you. I want to be there for you as well, you know? But I can’t if you close yourself up like this all day. Please, Draco!”

His friend merely looked at him, as if he had just noticed Harry was standing next to him. “Sorry. Yes, I’m preoccupied with some family situation. But I rather not talk about this for the moment, alright?” Harry must have looked as hurt as he felt, he always had a hard time hiding his feelings, because Draco placed a hand on his arm and reassured him. “We can talk tomorrow, ok? I expect I shall have more information after breakfast, and then we’ll talk.” He gave him a last squeeze on his arm and walked inside.

Without really thinking what he was doing, Harry followed his friend in, only to realise when the rest of the team turned to look at him, that this was the first time he had done so. Normally, after practice, he went back to shower and change in the privacy of their dorm. He had never washed in a communal shower before, where his scars would be seen and commented on, and now that he was here it would be strange to walk back out. Evidently, his hesitation was plain as his teammates started sniggering and teasing him. It wasn’t meanspirited, but Harry was not quite certain how to react.

“Finally decided that we were not going to harass you in the showers, Potter?” Warrington threw at him with a laugh, “don’t worry, I’m not really into scrawny third-years!”

“Cut it out, Cassius,” Flint interjected, and Harry thought for a moment that the banter would end there at the word of their Captain. “It’s clear he is not afraid of you; he probably has a third nipple… or a tiny prick!” Oh, so they were all jokers in his team! Harry could recognise that this was simply locker-room talk, and there was no intention to hurt him. But still, he was glued to the spot and completely unable to respond, even in humour.

Draco quickly understood his predicament and turned to look at him, “for what is worth, we are all Slytherins here, family.” He reminded him quietly, to prevent being overheard by the others. “And they are mostly gone, should be completely vanished in a week. But we can go back to the castle if you want, I’ll go with you. Sod them and their teasing.”

And it was good to have Draco and his protecting ways back, if only for a moment. Surely, he would go back to worrying after showering. But so far, all of the Slytherins had been adamant about making him feel part of their House, and welcome. The moment the Hat had re-sorted him, they had accepted him. Many of the other years had seen Sally in the common room and heard them interact in parseltongue without freaking out, and without sending the exclusive to the Daily Prophet. And he had found that he could trust them, as unlikely as that would have sounded a month ago.

He nodded to Draco, and walked deeper into the changing room, to a bench adjacent to the wall to disrobe. There were towels and toiletries available here, and Draco always had more than one change of clothes in his bag, so he really had no other excuse. As he marched on, the other boys were playfully teasing him, wolf-whistling and jesting about him finally showing them the bum-who-lived. Of course, all their games meant that Harry was the first to be ready to walk into the showers, and he would have to parade in front of most of them to get there, with only a towel wrapped around his waist. Resolutely, he straightened his shoulders and glared at them, “I don’t want to talk about it, ok?”

He had not seen his back this week, as he attempted to avoid seeing it most of the time and it took a voluntary effort to see one’s back, which he mostly didn’t partake. But Draco had been consistently applying the ointment for almost four weeks now, and he knew the scars would be mostly gone or slight pink lines at the most. His teammates might guess or suspect what had caused them, as it was rather evident, but at least they would not see the deep red gashes that had deformed his skin and the muscles below. Once he started walking, the leering comments and catcalling resumed, in what was evidently a rite of passage for any new team member. But as Harry made it closer to where they all were all huddled, it was clear that they had in fact seen and understood the nature of his scars – faint as they might be – for the room was flooded in silence and Marcus Flint stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“That’s fucked up, Potter.” His captain said softly, his harsh words clearly not meant for him. But Harry had been clear, so he simply shrugged his shoulder to try to disengage the hand laying there, which grabbed harder, and looked at the older boy. “I said I didn’t want to talk about it, alright?”

Marcus was speechless for a moment, his eyes going from Harry’s face to Draco’s a couple of times, confirming that the other third-year was aware of the situation. But apparently, he couldn’t let it go. “Professor Snape knows?” was, blissfully, all he asked. And as both boys nodded their confirmation, he finally released Harry’s shoulder. “Right. None of our business then, if Snape is taking care of things.” It was reassuring to see that the older snakes all accepted that their Head would intervene and help in a situation such as this. “We keep our mouths shut, then. But you come to us if you need anything, ok? Slytherins support each other, remember that.”

“Thanks.” Harry responded softly as he resumed his walk to the showers. “I bet now you are all wishing I had a tiny prick instead…” he added in a louder voice and a laugh, as he turned the water on.