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down the path untrodden

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Harry pressed his forehead against the sickly green curse which crouched over the clutch of eggs. “This is for you,” he whispered. “I promise.” Closing his eyes, he drew away.

“Ready?” asked the basilisk.

“I think so,” Harry said softly. “Oh, no, wait—I forgot something in Sal’s room.”

The basilisk followed him, watching in silence as he rifled through Sal’s desk drawers. “Here,” he said.

“His stew recipe?” 

Harry shrugged, shoving it in his bag. “Okay, I think that’s it. Oh, wait—no, there’s something in the den I need.” 

The basilisk followed as he clambered into the den, moving piles of clothes until he found a ratty green scarf. He wrapped it around his neck. “In case—in case my other one gets lost.” 

“Is that it?” 

“I think so. Oh, wait—” 

“Snakeheart.” 

Harry looked at his shoes. “I don’t want to leave you.” 

“I don’t want you to leave. I have precious little time with you already. But this was your decision. Are you changing your mind?” It shot him a sideways glance. “You can change your mind.” 

“I haven’t changed my mind,” Harry said miserably. “I know this is the right path.” 

Everyone thought it was. Limmy, Araeo, Ava, even the acromantulae, though it meant a waning of his duties. He thought it was a good idea. And yet....

Harry let out a sob and flung his arms around the basilisk’s nose. “I’ll see you at winter holiday. I’ll miss you.” 

The basilisk flicked its tongue over his face. “I will be right beneath your feet.” 

purple sprout

Invisible, Harry lurked in the toilet of  Hogsmeade station, waiting for the train to arrive. 

It was Myrtle who had told him that students took the train to Hogwarts, and, having found the Hogsmeade train station, there had been notices up about the arrival time of the Hogwarts Express. He’d shown up and locked himself in a stall an hour early, just in case. 

He tried to practice some calming breathing exercises as he sat there, perched on the toilet tank, scuffed and haggard trunk at his feet and bag in his lap. He had only been to Hogsmeade the once, when he had ventured out to purchase school supplies with strange currency that Myrtle and the basilisk had collected over the years, and half the basilisk’s had been too old to use, and he’d gotten strange looks from the shopkeepers over it. 

Today, he would officially become a student at Hogwarts. 

He had been living beneath the castle for three years, but he had never, ever thought he might be one of the school’s students. It still seemed an alien concept, like this whole thing might be some sort of practical joke. 

He sighed and pressed his hand to his necklaces in reassurance. He was only wearing Araeo’s Stargazer Band pendant, Samba’s pearl, and Limmy’s wand: the ones he could never remove. He felt absolutely naked without his necklace of Chikkeritt’s hair. But Myrtle said he should wear as little odd jewelry as possible. At least all but Samba’s pearl could be tucked beneath his robe. 

And he had kept only one bracelet on: the braid of thestral hair, around which he’d woven a single strand of unicorn hair. He rubbed it against his cheek now for comfort, feeling like he was going to throw up. 

Illustration of Harry on top of a toilet tank, holding his bag, looking worried

Invisible, Harry lurked in the toilet of  Hogsmeade station, waiting for the train to arrive. 

Outside, there came the loud whistle of a steam engine. Harry jolted in place, hitting the back of his head against the wall. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard a train whistle. 

This was it.

Heart in his throat, he forced himself to count to a hundred, until he could hear a rush of people flooding into the station. Then, pulling his favorite purple hat down over his forehead, wanting very badly to have a long cry, he slung on his pack, picked up his taped-together trunk, and exited the bathroom to join the throng. 

It wasn’t unlike how he’d used to lurk around the corridors, he tried to convince himself. It wasn’t unlike that at all. 

It was very unlike that. Students were simply everywhere, dragging trunks, hauling owls and cats in crates, screaming each others’ names, embracing. Harry knew half of them, and yet he was lost in the crowd. Utterly overwhelmed, he let himself be swept away. 

“Firs’ years over here!” came a booming voice. Harry looked to it like a beacon—Hagrid, head and shoulders above the students, waving his pink umbrella in the air. “Firs’ years! Over here!” 

Harry attempted to shoulder his way towards the man, with difficulty. He ran smack into someone’s chest, knocking his hat askew. 

“Here now, Fred!” 

“I’ll be, George!” 

“That’s never Titchy T, is it?” 

Harry looked up into the Weasley twins’ faces. They were astonished and delighted. “Hello,” he said smally.

“You’re going to Hogwarts!” shouted George gleefully.

The twins maneuvered him so they were a wall between him and the surging crowd. Fred leaned down, snatched his hat off, ruffled his hair, and shoved the hat back on. “Merlin’s soggy knickers, Snake! I can’t believe it!” 

“Call me Harry now,” said Harry, scowling. The name tasted funny in his mouth. “And don’t say a word about me, understand? Pretend you never met me.” 

Fred clapped his hands to his heart. George put his to his forehead, as if he would faint. “You wound us, Sna—Harry. We never break a promise!” 

“And didn’t we promise?” Fred demanded. “On the forefathers of mischief themselves?” 

“That’s a promise for life,” George said. “Say, you look a bit pale.” 

The crowd was dwindling. He had to get to Hagrid. “I’m going to be sick,” he told them.

“Never fear,” George said. “For do you know who else is a wee firstie this year?” 

“Our ickle brother Ronnie,” said Fred.

“There’s more of you?” demanded Harry.

They guffawed. Fred said, “Just spy the tall one with red hair and freckles, tell him we sent you over.” 

“He’ll stick beside you,” said George. “And if anyone tries to mess with you, Titchy T, you just let them know you’ve got a friend in us.” 

George winked, and then Fred winked, they both yanked one corner of his hat down over his glasses, and then they sauntered away.

“Las’ call!” shouted Hagrid. “Firs’ years!” 

Harry hurried over to the group of shivering first years. It really was chilly for an early autumn night. He reached them just as Hagrid began leading them towards the lake, a short bit away. 

Harry looked wildly around for red hair, found it instantly, and hustled up to the boy’s side. His trunk only had one working wheel, and so he had to drag and heave it behind. 

The boy raised an eyebrow at him. He was whip-thin and tall already, freckles splashed over his face. In his hands he clutched a fat rat. 

“Er, Ronnie?” Harry asked desperately.

The boy’s face went tomato red. “It’s Ron.” 

“I’m sorry!” Harry babbled. “Your brothers, they said to find you!” 

“Which ones?” Ron asked.

“Fred and George?” 

Ron rolled his eyes. “Oh, met them, did you? Bad luck. Anyway, it’s Ron.” He grinned at Harry. “Who’re you?” 

“Harry,” said Harry. “Can I walk with you?” 

“Yeah, sure. Do you like quidditch?” 

“Like quidditch!” Harry exclaimed, and they were off. 

At the lake, a dozen little boats were bobbing. Harry and Ron boarded a boat with a round and frightened looking boy with a toad, and a girl with wild brown hair, nose in a book. Their quidditch talk died off, and even the girl raised her head to watch as they sailed under the deepening sky, stars twinking above. Hogwarts loomed in front of them, and Harry had never seen it quite like this before. It seemed like it grew straight from the landscape, strange and magnificent. He sighed a bit at the sight. 

“Look,” Harry said, nudging Ron. He pointed to the sky. “You can see Cetus, the sea monster.” 

“Where?” Ron asked, eyebrows pinching.

“Do you like astronomy?” asked the girl. The boy with the toad looked interested. 

Harry grinned at her. “Sure. My best friend does, and he tells me a lot. Cetus is what wizards see, but centaurs see a snare trap.” 

The girl shut her book with a snap. “That’s so fascinating; I never even thought about magical creatures seeing different things in the stars. Do you know much about it?” 

“Centaurs aren’t creatures, they’re people,” Harry said. “I only know what my friend tells me. Like there’s Mira, along the tripwire.” 

“Where?” demanded Ron.

“That bright one there.” Harry leaned into his side, tracing his finger along the sky. “Can you see the straight line, and the loop at the end?” 

“Yeah, I think so!” Ron said. 

“What do you mean, centaurs aren’t creatures?” the girl asked. “I read that’s what they are.” She bit her lip suddenly. “But I’m muggle-born, so maybe there’s something I missed.” 

“My gran calls centaurs creatures,” said the toad boy. 

“It’s not nice to call them that,” Harry said, getting upset. “Because they’re people and they have actual lives.” 

“I heard there’s a centaur herd in the forest here,” Ron said, chipping in.

“They’re a band, not a herd,” Harry snapped. He thought if Bane heard anyone say “centaur herd,” he’d probably trample them. “They’re not—not cows.” 

“Right, sorry,” Ron said, leaning a little away from him. “Merlin.” 

Harry stared down at his knees, stomach in knots. This was not going well so far. 

“I think that makes sense,” the girl said. She stuck out her hand. “I’m Hermione Granger.” 

“Harry,” he said, taking her hand. 

“I’m Neville,” said the round boy. “I can’t shake your hand or else Trevor will get away. Do you all have pets?” 

Hermione and Harry shook their heads, but Ron dug his rat out from a pocket. “This is Scabbers,” he said, holding it up. “He’s missing a finger, which makes him either really lame or really cool depending on which of my brothers you ask. He technically belongs to my brother Percy, but he’s never actually brought him to school, so he’s mine now.” 

“I think we’re almost there,” whispered Hermione, as their boat passed into a tunnel. 

Harry put his head in his arms. He really was going to be sick. 

“Scared of the test?” Ron asked wisely.

Harry’s head shot up. “What test?” he demanded. The others were looking at Ron in alarm as well.

“Fred and George said they had to fight a troll,” Ron said slowly. “I reckon they were having me on. But I’m pretty sure there’s a test.” 

“Oh no,” Harry moaned, as Hermione began rattling off a list of the magic she’d been reading about and felt prepared to perform. At least Neville looked as ill as he did. 

Ron patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, mate. Maybe we can work in pairs.” 

Harry looked at him. “You want to pair up?” 

“Sure, why not?” He grinned slightly. Harry beamed back. 

They de-boarded at a little dock, and followed the crowd across the lawn and up the castle steps, gathering in the entrance hall. They were instructed to pile their trunks to one end, which Harry did with extreme regret. He fidgeted with his bracelet as he huddled by Ron, Hermione, and Neville, who had formed a little group in self-preservation. 

“I can’t do this,” Neville rambled. “I’m practically a squib, my uncle says, I can’t fight a troll, I just can’t.”

“We can pair up,” Hermione offered. “Like Harry and Ron, if you like.” 

Neville looked at her almost worshipfully.

Soon enough, Minerva—Professor McGonagall, Harry reminded himself sternly—entered the hall, a list of names tucked under her arm. Scanning them, her eyes caught on him, and he gulped as she pointed.

“No hats unless dress code appropriate,” she said rotely.

Feeling bereft, he pulled his hat off and shoved it in his robe pocket. He frantically tried to flatten his hair, but the twins had messed it up. He didn’t even have his comb.

Hermione, to his surprise, pulled one discreetly from her pocket. “Here.” 

“Thanks,” he whispered, running it through his hair quickly. It reached past his shoulders now, and lucky for them the twins hadn’t tangled it too badly. 

“You have nice hair,” she said. Harry grinned at her. 

Minerva cleared her throat. “Good evening, everyone. I am Minerva McGonagall. Let me be the first to welcome you to Hogwarts. I see both familiar and new faces before me, and I am equally pleased to see every one of you. Some of you may be sorted into my own house, where I will come to know you better, while some of you will go into other houses. Regardless, know that I am always here to support you in any way you require. My office door is always open. 

“Now, In a moment I will lead you into the great hall for the sorting ceremony. I will call your name, you will come up to be sorted, and then you will go to your new house table where dinner will be served after the ceremony. From there, your house prefects will lead you to your common rooms. Tomorrow morning, you will have a meeting with your head of house to orient you to Hogwarts, and receive your class schedules.” 

She took a deep breath and gave them all a small grin. “Again, I welcome you to Hogwarts. Let us get started, shall we? Shuffle into a line, now.” 

They shuffled into a line, Harry between Ron and Hermione. His stomach was positively leaping. “Still partners?” he murmured to Ron.

“Yep,” Ron said, sounding a little green himself. 

The doors of the great hall opened, and slowly, anxiously, they filed inside. 

Chapter Text

Harry had never really entered the great hall, and so he gaped along with everyone else as they went in: the four huge tables lined with students, the professors gathered above, the vast ceiling that looked open to the night sky—except he heard Hermione whispering to Neville that it was only enchanted to look it—and the overwhelming murmur of people. 

Harry started to shake a bit. In living memory, he had never been among this many people at once. He tried to breathe slowly and steadily, but the noise of the crowd was dizzying.

And then he heard it. “Hey Ron! “Titchy T!” “Ronnikins!” “Titch!” 

Ron and Harry looked over. Two tables over, the twins were waving wildly, sticking their tongues out. Ron went red and rolled his eyes, but Harry grinned. And—the twins were pointing to something—someone? And then she floated a bit higher, and Harry saw with a great rush of relief that Myrtle was there. He grinned so hard he thought his face would break apart.

“Quiet down, quiet down,” Minerva said. “Before the sorting, the headmaster has a few words to say.” 

Everyone hushed as Dumbledore stepped up to the podium, Minerva stepping back. It was a somber hush, for Dumbledore was making no effort to conceal the fact that one of his hands was a construction of magical light.

“Welcome,” he said proudly. “Welcome one and all to Hogwarts. New students and old, old friends and new. To veterans: be sure to welcome your new peers with all the warmth you wished to be welcome with. To newcomers: be sure you are welcomed as you deserve.” His eyes twinkled out at them all. “No matter where you are sorted, know that our paltry system cannot encapsulate all that it means to be human. We each have a bit of all the houses, in all of us. So be proud, and be open, and, above all: be welcome!” 

There was a round of applause, and he stepped back again. 

Minerva stepped up again. “And now, someone else has a few words to say—the master of sorting itself.” And from below the podium she pulled a battered and patched old hat.

Harry, and the entire line, watched in bafflement. And then, to shared astonishment, it opened its brim and began to sing. 

“Oh, you may not think I’m pretty,
But don’t judge on what you see!” 

And on it went. Harry was grinning in utter delight by the second verse, laughing and clapping along by the third, everyone in line joining him. At the end of it a good deal of his fear had burned away. He exchanged grins with Ron. There would be no partner troll fight. They just had to put on a hat.

When it finished, Minerva conjured a stool in front of the room and snapped open her scroll, scanning down it quickly. And then she paused.

 Harry watched her nervously—it seemed she hadn’t read the scroll before now. The way her eyes had frozen meant Myrtle’s trick had gone off exactly as planned. 

Naturally, he had not been able to send an owl confirming his attendance to Hogwarts—that would mean the professors finding out he was living in the castle itself. And so, this evening, Myrtle had scrawled his name at the bottom of the list. 

Myrtle gave him a discreet thumbs up.

Minerva cleared her throat and jerked her head towards Dumbledore. He started to rise, but she recovered herself, gestured for him to sit, and turned back to the students. 

“Let—let us begin,” she said shakily. “Abbot, Hannah.” 

A brown-haired girl broke from the line and walked up to Minerva, hands twisting nervously. She sat on the stool and Minerva dropped the hat over her head. There was a moment of silence, in which the hat twitched and swayed, and then it opened its brim again and shouted “Hufflepuff!” 

The Hufflepuff table erupted into applause, and Hannah, relief clear on her face, dashed over to it, sliding in beside a pair of upper years she apparently knew. 

“Bones, Susan!” 

And on it went. When Hermione’s name was called, she cast an appalled look at them, and Harry gave her a thumbs up. “Good luck!” he hissed. The hat took a long while to decide with her, and finally shouted, “Gryffindor!” Myrtle and the Weasleys shouted frantically. Behind him, Ron groaned a bit.

Harry was just starting to enjoy himself—this was quite a spectacle—when Minerva paused, and his stomach swooped and dizziness swept in. He knew what that pause meant. 

Minerva looked into the crowd of first years and spoke softly. “P-Potter, Harry.” 

The room went deathly silent. 

Ron was staring at him. The twins, pretending not to know him, made no sound. Dumbledore had half-risen from his chair again, and Snape was standing fully. On the end of the table, seated next to Filch, Hagrid had torn his napkin in two.

Alright. Harry told himself to breath. Alright. They all thought you were dead. You know that. Fred and George said. This is normal, for finding out a kid’s not dead. 

He made himself walk forward, feeling dreadfully exposed. Minerva stared at him in utter astonishment until the moment he sat on the stool. Then, when he met her eyes questioningly, she blinked and stiffly, mechanically, placed the hat on his head. 

Well, you’re an strange one, said the hat.

You talk! Harry thought back, elated. And top of the list, I’m told. Can I decide where I’m sorted? I know what I want already.

Hmm. There is much in you, child. Courage, so much courage, that has already shaped you. And a thirst for knowledge, yes. And ambition—my, that ambition. You have a goal, and there is nothing more dear to you.

Yes, Harry said, thinking of the basilisks’ eggs. More than anything.

You ambition burns bright. And yet, said the hat, under that ambition is a dazzling loyalty. Hufflepuff, without a doubt.

I want to go to Slytherin. 

Why? 

Harry bit his lip. Please, I want to be close to my family. Just in case. And ... and I really am here just for one reason. It's the most important thing in the world.

The hat was silent for a long moment. One part of Harry was aware that his sorting was taking a bit longer than the others’. 

Very well, said the hat finally. Let it be: “Slytherin!” 

Thank you.

Harry waited for Minerva to tug the hat from his head. It did not come. He lifted the brim with one hand and found her staring at him, and the hall staring at him, and the professors staring at him. A hot and humiliating feeling started to build up in his chest. He groped at his neck for Chikkerit’s pendant, but it was somewhere with his bag.

Then Fred and George, bless them, started clapping and hollering, and slowly the rest of the hall joined in, as if they weren’t sure they were supposed to. Ron let out a few “whoops” from the line. 

Harry slid off the stool, put the hat on it, and hurried to the Slytherin table. These students were still utterly silent. They stared at him as he sat, and he avoided their eyes desperately. He so badly wanted to pull his purple hat from his pocket and hide. 

There were still several first years to be sorted, but half of the hall was looking at him, including the Slytherin first years. He only remembered a handful of their names—one in particular.

Draco Malfoy. 

He avoided Malfoy’s gaze studiously, watching the sorting and feeling his heart thump. Ron went to Gryffindor with his brothers, sitting beside Neville. Harry bit his lip, wondering if he’d made the right choice. All three of his new friends had gone to Gryffindor. 

Finally, the end of the sorting came, and Dumbledore stood once again. He stood at the podium and looked out at them all seriously. And then he said: “Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak,” and sat down. 

There were used giggles and murmurs, and then Harry felt a ripple of elf magic, and the food appeared on the table. 

With a great rush of excitement, he realized for the first time that attending the school meant he could eat the meals, and his mouth started watering almost uncontrollably. His stomach was still tight with nerves, but the smell of the spices alone was enough to loosen it up. He filled his plate and shoved a bite of chicken into his mouth, closing his eyes in appreciation. 

“Never eaten before?” asked one of the first year girls. 

“Not like this,” Harry said when he had swallowed. “I’m Harry, by the way. What’s your name?” 

“Daphne Greengrass,” said the girl, who wore blue rhinestone glasses.

The other first years, and indeed some of the upper years, were watching them speak like they were watching a sports match. The back of Harry’s neck prickled. 

Another first year girl, who had short black hair, leaned forward. “I’m Pansy Parkinson. Why aren’t you dead?”

Everyone gaped at her. Harry opened and closed his mouth, unsure how to respond.

And then Malfoy slid down the bench next to him, a pointy boy who reminded Harry of a ferret. “You can’t just ask someone why they aren’t dead, Pansy,” he said in a drawl, fixing his pale eyes on Harry’s. I'm Draco Malfoy.” He stuck out his hand. 

“Er, yeah, I know,” said Harry. Gingerly, he shook the hand of a murderer’s son. Draco beamed at him.

“And of course this food is fine,” Draco continued, talking to Harry in particular but the table at large, “but you should see what the elves at home can do.” 

Harry stiffened. Luckily, Draco changed the subject. “Anyway, I was so relieved when the hat said Slytherin, weren’t you? My whole family’s been in Slytherin, my father would probably disown me if I got another house.” 

Pansy rolled her eyes. Draco didn’t see it. 

“I guess,” said Harry, scooting a half inch away from Draco. “I asked for it, anyway.” 

He was boggled at.

“You asked?” demanded Draco. 

“Er.” Obviously that was wrong. “No. I just asked … whether it thought I had what it took. To be a Slytherin.” 

A boy next to their group, an older student with a pinched face, leaned towards them and raised an eyebrow. “And do you, Potter?” 

Harry met his gaze. It was absolutely nothing like staring down a basilisk. “Yep.” 

“Hey, Potter, what’s with your clothes?” called an older girl. “You’re way out of dress code. I’m surprised McGonagall didn’t write you up.” 

Harry looked down at his robe. It was his best black one, with only moderate patching as opposed to severe patching. And he was wearing his best boots, though they had been taped together rather heavily over the toes. “Um,” he said, feeling his face heat. “These are all I have.” 

“Oh,” said the girl, “er, sorry.”

With that, Harry turned definitively back to his dinner, but his stomach had shrunk again. With a cold rush, he realized the elves would be cleaning his dishes tonight. 

With another cold rush, something positively chilled passed through his head. 

He glanced to his left. Myrtle grinned at him, her teeth a little vampiric. 

The first years all yelped in shock, and the older years just looked uneasy. “Evening, Myrtle,” said the girl who’d asked Harry about his clothes. 

“Good evening,” said Myrtle. “Thought I’d pop by and see the new firsties.” 

“Er, right,” said the girl. 

“Hello,” said Harry, stifling a smile. “I’m Harry.” 

“I’m Myrtle,” she said, eyes glowing with humor. “Pleasure. What brings you to Hogwarts this evening?” 

“Well, I got a letter from a tiny owl a bit ago,” said Harry, “and here I am.” He giggled before he could help himself. 

“Harry,” hissed Draco in his ear. “That’s a ghost.” 

“Um, I know,” Harry said, scooting away from him and half into Myrtle.

“Er, right.” 

“Myrtle,” Harry said. “Do you know any word games?” 

Myrtle’s eyes glowed. “Yes, actually. I know one called Green Glass Door. Would you like to play?” 

“I know that one,” Harry said. He turned to Daphne. “Do you know it?” 

She shook her head.

“I want to play,” Draco said imperiously.

Harry gestured to Myrtle.

“Right,” she said. “You can only take certain things through the Green Glass Door. You all try something, and we’ll tell you if you can take it or not, until you’ve figured out why.” 

“I can take a horse,” said Draco immediately.

“Nope,” said Myrtle.

“What, why not?” 

“That’s the rules,” Harry said. “Daphne, have a guess?” 

“Um … I can take a rabbit?” 

“Yes!” Harry said. “You can take a rabbit.”

Draco looked furious. 

And on they played. By the end of dinner all of the first years had gotten in on the game, but only one—Blaise Zabini—had solved it, and was enjoying lording his success over Draco by listing correct answers in rapid succession. Harry’s participation had dwindled to “yes” or “no,” and he was a bit relieved about it. He played “bird water stone” with Myrtle idly on the side, and tried to tidy up their dishes before the elves took them back. 

When dinner had been replaced with desert, Myrtle’s eyes widened and she flicked them to Harry’s plate quickly. There as a little powdered-sugar heart on his plate. Harry covered it quickly with a bit of treacle tart, but felt warmth well up in his chest. 

He wasn’t alone here. Myrtle was beside him and the elves and basilisk were below. And some of his new housemates didn’t seem so bad, either. 

Harry and Myrtle talk at at a table

"What brings you to Hogwarts this evening?” 

Chapter Text

Trying not to fall asleep into his pudding, Harry endured whatever it was the headmaster had to say—honestly he was so tired that even if he had been trying it wouldn’t have made any sense—and followed the rest of his new house zombie-like to the dungeons. He tried very hard not to look like he knew exactly where he was going. 

Severus—no, Professor Snape—was waiting in the common room. His eyes seemed to search Harry out. “Gather round,” Severus said. “First years to the front, please, I must start memorizing names to faces.” 

Harry obediently shuffled up, between Pansy and Daphne. 

“I’ll keep this brief. I am sure you are all very tired. I am Severus Snape, your head of house. There will be a house meeting here tomorrow morning at eight a.m. before breakfast; make sure you are on time. Boys’ dorms are to the left, girls’ to the right.” He paused. Was it Harry’s imagination that his eyes were again on him? “Welcome to Slytherin,” he finally said. “Do try to hold it together until the morning. If you absolutely cannot, my office is down the hall on the right. Off to bed with you, now.” 

The students started to file off towards the stairs, and Harry shuffled his way along with Blaise towards the boys’ dorm. 

A hand settled on his shoulder. He looked up into Severus’ weary eyes. “A word, Mr. Potter.” 

Alright. It’s not like he hadn’t been expecting this. He’d just thought maybe it could wait until the morning. The other first years abandoned him without hesitation. 

“Have I done something wrong, sir?” asked Harry.

Severus stared at him. He looked nigh to falling apart. “I don’t know, Mr. Potter. I don’t know.” 

Harry followed Severus back out of the dungeons and all the way back to the entrance hall. They ended up in front of the headmaster’s office. As soon as Harry realized where they were going, he felt a little alertness flow back into him.

He was the keeper of several secrets, and Dumbledore likely wanted all of them. He had to keep his wits about him, now. 

Severus leaned close to the gargoyles to whisper the password. Harry already knew it—this week’s was blood pop—but he pretended to look away.

He hadn’t been in the headmaster’s office since that one terrifyingly close call, but it looked much the same. Silver mobiles and instruments, Fawkes the phoenix perched near Dumbledore’s desk. All of the portraits were awake now, and they were all staring at him.

So were Dumbledore and Minerva, who was sitting in a chair in front of the desk. They both rose when Severus and Harry entered, and Minerva gave a short gasp and pressed a handkerchief to her eye. 

They stared at Harry as if he was the most precious thing in the world. Was this expected for a dead boy come to life? 

No matter. He had a plan. And it was play dumb at all costs. 

“Er,” he said. “Hello. Have I done something wrong?” 

Minerva let out a hard breath. Dumbledore blinked at him a few times and then gestured to the two empty chairs. “Certainly not,” he said. “We only have—a few questions for you. Tea, Mr. Potter? Severus?” 

“No,” said Severus.

“No, thank you,” said Harry. He sat in the middle chair, flanked by Severus and Minerva who were still just staring at him. He fidgeted a bit. “Um,” he said. “What’s going on? Are you sending me away? Is it my robes?” 

Dumbledore raised a hand. “Mr. Potter, please. You have done nothing wrong. It is only that for the last three or so years, we believed you to be … well, dead.” 

“Oh.” 

Dumbledore peered at him over his glasses. “My boy, it is a great relief to us all that you are not. The wizarding world mourned when you disappeared. Where—where have you been? Do you know?”

Did he know? “I’ve been living with my family,” Harry said. 

“You have not,” Minerva said. “Your only blood relation is Petunia Dursley.” 

“You know … about the Dursleys?” Harry asked. He reflexively tried to shoo away the thought of their name, to tuck it back to sleep, but this wasn’t the time. 

“Of course,” Dumbledore said. “Who do you think delivered you to their care?” 

Harry stared at him. “… Not … you?” Please, don’t let it have been Dumbledore. Not Dumbledore.

“I took you to them myself when your parents died,” Dumbledore said. “There was a sort of magic on your aunt’s house that should have protected you.” 

“Protected me?” Harry asked. Dumbledore had left him in that house. Dumbledore. Wonderful, funny, magical Dumbledore, who slipped students lemon drops and played tag with Peeves. There was something in his chest that was at once hot and cold. “It never protected me,” Harry said blankly, his mind like static. “Your magic failed.” 

Dumbledore frowned at him. “It protected you from being found by those who killed your parents, Harry.” 

“Don’t—call me Harry,” Harry said, purely out of anger. His hands were shaking. His parents had been killed? They hadn’t died in a car crash? 

“Mr. Potter,” Severus said sternly. “You will address the headmaster with respect.” 

Harry wanted to go home. He wanted the basilisk. He wanted his glowing rock in his den. He didn’t want Dumbledore to have done this to him. He shook his head furiously, like he could fling away that ugly betrayal that was flooding his nerves. 

“Mr. Potter?” Minerva asked in concern.

And then there was a fluttering and something heavy and pointed landed in his lap. Harry opened his arms around Fawkes and let the phoenix’s weight on his legs calm him. He didn’t look back at Dumbledore. “I was never protected there,” he said again. “I want to go to bed, please.” 

“Mr. Potter,” said Severus again, but stopped before he could finish. Dumbledore spoke. 

“Mr. Potter, we must know where you have been,” said Dumbledore. “Who have you been with? Were they cruel to you? Did they … my boy, please, you must tell us if you remember—did anyone ever take your blood?” 

“My blood?” Harry stared at him. “What? No!” 

“You might not remember it,” Dumbledore said. “Can you give us the names of the people who took you? What they looked like? Any … distinguishing features? Tattoos?” 

“Stop it! No-one took me!” Harry shouted. “I left!” 

“You … left?” Minerva asked. “Why would you do such a thing?” 

Harry knew, he just knew he was about to cry. He screwed up his face and felt Fawkes brush the top of his head under Harry’s chin. Memories were waking up, and he couldn’t soothe them back to sleep fast enough. Name and faces and words and wounds were crawling their way outside. 

But then Fawkes let out a lovely little trill, and Harry’s mind settled. The tide of memories receded. All that was left were a few remembered sensations: the world shaking as his cousin ran down the steps. The little spider he’d known in the cupboard. The earth of the garden under his hands. 

This had all spun out of control. There was more here than he knew. Harry bit out his words, worried that if he didn’t, more would escape than he intended to say. “I left because they were cruel, horrible people,” he said. “Your magic couldn’t protect me from them. I have a real family now, and I live with them. And,” he took a deep breath. “I won’t say where.” 

“You absolutely will, Mr. Potter!” said Minerva, her voice shaking. “And at once!” 

Harry sat back in his chair, ran his fingers along Fawkes’ back, and began counting his feathers in his mind, stroking over each one from bottom to top, refusing to look up or say anything more. After a few minutes, and to his surprise, it was Severus who stood. 

“That is enough for tonight,” he said. “Come along, Mr. Potter.” 

Minerva and Dumbledore didn’t argue. Fawkes fluttered back to his perch, and Harry followed Severus out of the headmaster’s office and back again to the dungeons. Severus was silent the whole walk, until they reached the portrait entrance. 

“You will have to talk to the headmaster at a later date,” said Severus. “I will not tolerate such disrespect a second time.”

“Alright,” said Harry dully. 

“Mr. Potter …” Severus hesitated. “Did you truly leave your aunt’s home of your own free will?” 

“Yes,” Harry said. “I’m just sorry I didn’t do it sooner.”
 
Severus was silent for moment. “Good night, Mr. Potter.”

“Good night, professor.” Harry left him standing in the corridor.

maroon sprout

Some of his new housemates had waited up for him, which, to Harry’s exhausted and anxious mind, seemed so kind he could have cried.

“Harry!” called Draco. “I’ve saved you the other window bed.” 

Draco had indeed, quite inexplicably, saved him one of the two beds nearest the huge thick-paned window that looked out into the lake. The second window bed was Draco’s. 

“We weren’t exactly fighting for it,” said Blaise dryly, who was next to Harry. “It’s freaky, looking right out into the water.” 

“What if we see a merperson?” asked Vincent, slightly tremulous. “That’s freaky.” 

Harry didn’t say anything. He could see, actually, how the merfolk might be considered scary by humans, especially the warriors. He pressed his hand against the cool glass, wishing Ava was on the other side to press hers back.

Harry’s trunk and bag had been transported to the foot of his bed. He opened the trunk and saw a little slip of paper had been left atop his folded clothes. It said only: Aelisf.

Harry grinned and tucked the note safely away. He changed into his pajamas quickly, and then wrapped his acro-silk blanket around his shoulders, flipping a bit of it up over his head like a hood.

“That’s not acro-silk,” said Draco, his voice almost condescending. 

Harry looked at him, as did the other awake students. “Er, yeah it is,” said Harry. He pulled it closer around him, wishing it felt more like one of Xara's hugs.

Draco’s mouth hung open. “How in Merlin’s name do you have that?” 

“It was a gift,” Harry said awkwardly. “Why?” 

“Why? It’s only worth about as much as my entire manor!” 

Harry drew back. “Oh … okay.” 

“Okay!” 

“Yeah, Draco, okay,” groaned Theo, pulling the curtain back from his bed. “Go to sleep already!” 

Draco stared at his blanket some more, and then got into his bed, pulling the drapes closed.

Only Vincent and Harry remained out of bed, Vincent looking warily at the window.

“Don’t worry,” Harry whispered. “Merfolk wouldn’t attack the castle unless we gave them a good reason to.” 

“Oh,” Vincent said softly, looking a bit paler. “And have we?” 

“Not yet,” Harry said. “Night.” 

“… Night.” 

Harry pressed a hand down onto his bed, then ran his hand over the comforter. In his life, he had slept on a cramped mattress under a staircase, inside tree trunks, within nests of many kinds, including his own in the den, on flat ground under the stars, in hammocks, and up in tree branches. 

He had never slept in a bed before. 

Grinning, he leapt onto it, stifling his giggle when he actually bounced. He rolled face-first onto his pillows, softer by miles than the ones in Sal’s room, then shut his own drapes, lying as quiet and still as he could, and it was like he was in a great cocoon. He squirmed his way under the covers and lay there feeling like he was inside a cloud that was also hugging him. This was bliss. 

He missed the basilisk. He missed Limmy. He missed Ava and Araeo. He was in a place that had always been familiar, but now it was strange, and it was abrasive and unsettling. 

As he lay there in more physical comfort than he could ever remember experiencing, exhaustion pounded at his skull, overriding everything else. 

The second he closed his eyes, he was asleep. 

 

image of Harry's trunk, open, revealing the cluttered contents

He opened the trunk and saw a little slip of paper had been left atop his folded clothes. 

Chapter Text

Harry woke, and wasn’t sure what time it was—only that the others were not awake yet. Quietly, he made his bed and slipped into the adjoining bathroom in a lingering fog of sleepy comfort.

He stood in the bathroom and came to the slow realization: students at Hogwarts could use the Hogwarts showers. The showers with hot water.

He nearly brained himself on the tile in his rush to yank off his pajamas and cram himself into a stall, twisting the knob as hot as it would go. That was a mistake. He endured a few seconds of scalding water before he got it to something on the hotter side of warm, and then he slipped into a sort of trance, letting himself become one with the steam.

How had he ever thought this was a bad idea? This was obviously the best idea in the world. There were even bath products in the stalls, soap and shampoo and something that wasn’t shampoo but was obviously meant to go in hair, and so he put it in his hair. When he shut the water off, an actual clean, fluffy towel appeared, and he spoke a little thank you of gratitude to fate aloud.

By the time he’d dressed in his second-best robes, his housemates were still not awake, and so he tucked his things away and left the dorm, intent on going to the library. Now that he was a student, perhaps he could ask the librarian for help finding things. 

In the common room, a few of the older students were awake, chatting sleepily in green armchairs. 

“Hey, Potter!” called Marcus Flint. “Where are you going?” 

“Library,” he said. 

“Not so fast,” called Eliza, who he knew was head girl. “It’s half seven, our house meeting is at eight.” 

“That’s plenty of time,” Harry said. He frowned. “Well, maybe not.” 

“Come over here,” Eliza said, scooting over on the couch. “I’ll introduce you round.” 

Harry already knew all of their names, but he couldn’t very well say that. He dutifully shook hands with Marcus Flint, Peregrine Derrik, and Lucian Bole. 

“So,” Eliza said, settling in. “We were all surprised when you were sorted into Slytherin.” 

Lucian snorted. “We were surprised to see you, period. You’re supposed to be dead, Potter.” 

Harry didn’t know how to respond to that, so he shrugged. 

“Yeah, bet you’ve gotten that a lot,” said Lucian. “You going to tell us where you were?” 

“With my family,” Harry said. 

“What, the muggles?” put in Marcus. “That’s what I heard, you were with muggles.” 

Muggles. Harry knew this word. It meant non-magical people. Slowly, he nodded. 

“Are they horrid?” Marcus asked. “I’ve never met one, but I’ve heard they’re terrible.” 

Harry considered how to answer this. Yes, the Dursleys had been horrid. But he didn’t really like Marcus’ tone. Thankfully, Eliza cut in tactfully.

“Don’t be ugly, Marcus,” she said. “That’s Potter’s family. Anyway, Potter, don’t let anyone here scare you off, alright? The other houses like to say things about Slytherin, and they’ll all probably be thinking we’re going to—I don’t know—corrupt you or sell you out or something, but that’s all codswallop. We’re just another house.” 

“Right,” Harry said, attempting to make any sort of sense of this information.

At that moment, Vincent and Greg came down the stairs, looking around blearily. Vincent had a book tucked under his arm. 

“I’m going to go—” Harry pointed vaguely at his yearmates, and Eliza waved him off. Harry joined Vincent and Greg at the fireplace, where green flames blazed.

“What are you reading?” Harry asked Vincent. 

Vincent showed him the book: The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1. “I’m trying to get ahead,” he said quietly. “I’ve never done much magic at home.” 

Harry took the book and flipped through the contents. “This looks different than mine,” he said nervously. 

“Where’d you get yours?” 

“The sickle book bin at Dogeared in Hogsmeade. I think this one is newer.” 

“I reckon you’ll be fine,” said Vincent. “You can look in mine if you need.” 

“Thanks!” Harry looked at Greg, who had been staring at him silently. “Er, you alright?” 

Greg just shrugged and turned his gaze away.

At that moment, Draco swept—and Harry did mean swept—down the stairs, pausing dramatically for a moment before zeroing in on Harry. “Harry!” he called. “There you are! How early did you get up, anyway?” 

“I don’t really know,” Harry said, suppressing a twitch as Draco sat beside him on the couch and threw a friendly arm over his shoulder. He had no idea why Draco was acting as if they were old friends. 

“Merlin, I slept horribly,” Draco said. “Honestly, my bed might as well have been made of bricks. I miss my bed at the manor dreadfully.” 

Greg rolled his eyes, and Harry suppressed a smile. The rest of the house came filing down the stairs slowly, and then Severus entered through the portrait hole. At the sight of him, all students sat up straight and quieted. Severus looked them all over, his gaze briefly catching on Harry, before speaking. 

“Good morning,” he said. “I am pleased to see everyone present. Welcome to your first day of classes. I will be going over what to expect for the first years, and then giving some notes on OWL and NEWT preparations for the older years, and then, naturally, going over school rules and restrictions. My office, should you require my assistance, is just down the hall. Older years, be sure to point it out to first years before breakfast.” 

And he went on to elucidate just what he’d said. Harry paid the most attention to the rule and restrictions, each one of which he felt like jumping up and arguing with Severus over. A whole corridor forbidden—one that he had been down a thousand times before? And no entry into the forest? He would have understood no entry into centaur territory, but the whole forest? Naturally, he would be entering the forest anyway—he had duties to attend to, even if they had been curtailed during the school year—but it was still dismaying. 

When Severus was finally done, Eliza led the first years up to the great hall for breakfast. 

Several familiar faces greeted him from the Gryffindor table, and Harry veered towards them, calling to his yearmates that he’d join them in a second.

“Titchy T, a Slytherin,” the twin he decided to call Fred said, shaking his head. “For shame.” 

Harry frowned at him. “What, really?”

“Nah,” said the twin he decided was George. “You’re a Snake, after all.” 

“What are you all talking about?” Ron said grumpily. 

“Jokes from the train ride over,” said Fred easily. 

“Hi, Ron,” Harry said. “Hi, Hermione.” 

Hermione waved at him from down the table, then went back to her book. Neville didn’t appear to be present yet. 

“Harry, this is Lee,” George said, introducing him to a boy on his left with dreadlocks and a quill stuck behind his ear. “He’s trying out for quidditch commentator this year.” 

“Wicked!” said Harry. 

“Listen, Titch, can we talk to you later?” Fred said. 

“We want your advice,” said George.

For the first time, Harry noticed that the twins looked a bit worried; drawn and pale, as if they hadn’t slept well. “Yeah,” he said. “Just … come find me.” 

“Right-o,” said George. 

“Ron,” Harry said, “Sev—er, Professor Snape told us we share potions with Gryffindors. Want to be partners?” 

Ron perked up. “Really? What, um, what about your Slytherin friends?” 

Harry shrugged. “I’ll see them all the time.” 

“Alright, er, cool! See you, then.”

“See you.” 

Harry waved to Hermione and headed back to the Slytherin table, which was loaded with so much food it was almost absurd. He loaded his plate and tucked in, savoring flavors he’d previously only had once in a blue moon. 

“Why were you talking to Gryffindors?” asked Tracey, who was sitting beside Pansy. 

“They’re my friends,” Harry said, around a mouthful of eggs. “Met them on the boat ride.”

As they ate, Severus passed out their school schedules. Harry eyed his, noting that it was pretty identical to the first-year schedule he had followed Fred and George around to. Stars, he was excited to be able to take notes, to participate. He gulped down his juice and started to stack his dishes in a hurry, eager to get to his first class. 

“What are you doing?” Draco asked. 

Harry paused. “What do you mean?” 

Draco gestured to his stack of plates. “With the dishes.” 

“I’m making it easier for the elves to wash up,” Harry said stiffly, carefully folding his napkin.

“Why?” Draco sounded absolutely baffled. Harry glanced around, noting that a few of his yearmates were listening in. 

“Because it’s bad enough that they’re washing them at all,” Harry said coldly, “so I’m doing what I can to make it a bit easier.” 

Draco’s eyebrows were pinched together. “It’s not bad,” he said. “That’s what they’re for.” 

Cold, rocky fury made Harry sit up straight. “No,” he said slowly, “it’s not. They’re not for anything.” 

“Yes they are,” Draco said angrily. “They’re for washing and cleaning and—and serving!” 

“Shut up,” Harry said, voice shaking. “You just shut up. People aren’t for anything.” 

“They’re not people!”

Harry, in living memory, had never hit another person that hadn’t hit him first. But he was on his feet and he couldn’t remember having gotten there, and his fists were clenched and he couldn’t remember clenching them—and Draco Malfoy needed to have his nose broken right now—“You don’t know what you’re talking about, you horrid little—!” 

“Mr. Potter! Sit down at once!” 

Harry turned to face Minerva, who was looking furious.“Professor,” he said furiously, “he was saying—”

“I do not care what he was saying,” Minerva said. “I care about the school rules. There is no fighting at Hogwarts, Mr. Potter. As this is the first day, I will let you off with a warning, and not detention. Sit back down immediately.” 

Harry glared at her, then seized his bag and stormed from the hall. His first class was Charms, and so he stomped down the corridors as fast as he could, trying to get all of his anger out, rubbing his thestral-and-unicorn-hair bracelet soothingly across his cheek.

“Mr. Potter?” 

Oops. He had gone straight past the classroom and almost run into Filius, coming the opposite direction with a towering stack of books. 

“Fil—Professor Flitwick,” Harry said. “Can I take some of those?” 

“I would be very grateful.”

Harry took half of the books and held the door for Filius, following him in silently. He had always liked Filius. And it wasn’t just because he was half something-not-human (Harry wasn’t sure what). The man just had a comforting presence to him, evidenced by how he allowed Harry to sit quietly in the front row as he puttered around the classroom, writing instructions on the chalkboard and setting feathers along the desks. 

“How are you finding Hogwarts, Mr. Potter?” Flitwick finally asked, as he drew the wand movement for wingardium leviosa across the board.

“Um.” Harry twisted his bracelet around his fingers. “I like the food. And the beds. And showers. I made some friends. But ….” 

Filius didn’t ask, just projected an air of patience while he rifled in his case for notes.

“Draco Malfoy was being horrible at breakfast, and I’m the one who got in trouble!” 

Filius peered at him. “Is that so?” 

“Yes!” Harry let out a huffy sigh and crossed his arms. “It’s not right!” 

“That seems terribly unfair. What was the reasoning of the professor who ‘got you in trouble’?” 

“Min—Professor McGonagall just said “no fighting” and wouldn’t even listen to me!” 

“I see. Perhaps next time, you could settle your disagreement quietly and respectfully, then, instead of fighting, and both you and Professor McGonagall would be satisfied.” 

“You didn’t hear what he was saying about elves,” Harry said, leaning forward. “It would have made you sick.” 

Filius paused. “I expect it would have,” he said eventually. “And yet, as violence is frowned upon in the halls of Hogwarts, I would have endeavored to use my words.” 

Feeling vaguely guilty, Harry put his head on his arms for the rest of the wait. He didn’t even raise it when he heard the class coming in.

“Er, may I sit here?”

Harry glanced up. “Hi, Hermione! What were you reading at breakfast?” He moved his bag from the bench.

She gave him a hesitant smile and sat, pulling out a massive book from her bag to show him. “It’s called Hogwarts: A History,” she said. “I’m reading about the construction of the school right now.” 

“Brilliant,” Harry said. “Can I read it after you?” 

A blush barely showed on her dark cheeks. “Of course!” 

Filius called the class to attention, and Hermione slammed her book shut.

Harry could already cast wingardium leviosa. But he reasoned that he could always cast it better. Hadn’t he kept dropping Hagrid, that one time in the forest? He took notes detailed enough that Hermione checked hers with his on occasion about wand movement, posture, mindset, and intonation. 

“Do you want to borrow a quill?” she asked him at one point, looking at his bit of chalk. 

“No, I’m alright.” 

Flitwick was properly impressed by his ability to perform the charm, and gave him several incredibly helpful pieces of advice in regards to his casting posture. Hermione looked a little frustrated until she got it. 

Behind them, Ron was pronouncing the spell dreadfully wrong. Hermione turned around and corrected him—“It’s Levi-oh-sa, not Levi-oh-sa.” Ron rolled his eyes at her, which Harry thought was rather rude. 

After Charms was Transfigurations with the Ravenclaws, lunch, and then Herbology with the Hufflepuffs. Harry was relieved to see McGonagall no longer appeared angry with him—she was actually quite pleased when he turned his button into a thimble twenty minutes into the lesson—and Professor Sprout said he had a deft hand for repotting. He knew at some point, he wasn’t going to be able to slide by on his secret observations, especially as he had stopped going to classes at all last year. But for now, he was grateful for it: there was too much that was new, too much information, too many voices, and he needed all the spare brainpower he could get.

small maroon sprout

That evening, Harry thought he had never been so exhausted. He had intended on going to the library, but his beautiful bed was calling to him, and he decided the library could wait until the next day. Just as he was pulling out his pajamas, Draco came over to him. 

“Here, Harry,” Draco said, holding out a bit of treacle tart tucked in a napkin. “I brought extra, want to share?” 

Harry stared at him. Was this Draco’s way of apologizing? He hadn’t brought any for the other Slytherins, and Greg was looking quite put out about it. 

“No, thanks,” Harry said. “I’m going to bed.” 

Draco’s face was briefly very angry, and then it smoothed away. “Alright,” he said lightly. He didn’t offer the treacle to anyone else. 

maroon sprout

The next morning, Harry woke before the others again, made his bed, and went to breakfast alone. Only a few students were in the great hall, including Percy. Nervous energy fizzed up in his chest, and, feeling vaguely out-of-his-body, Harry found himself walking over to the Gryffindor table.

Percy looked up from his parchment after Harry had cast a shadow on it for longer than a second. “Er, hello,” he said, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Potter, is it?” 

“Um,” said Harry intelligibly. “Yeah. Percy. I mean, Percy? Right? Ha.” He felt his face going tomato red. 

“Er, yes,” said Percy. “Did you need something?” 

Why had he walked over here? Why had he done this? “I just,” Harry said. He took a deep breath. “Your brothers mentioned you, so I wanted to say hello.” 

“Ah.” Percy smiled at him. “Well, hello, then. Made friends with Ron, have you?” 

“And the twins,” Harry said.

Percy frowned. “Now, don’t let them lure you into any of their pranks, Potter. Something like that doesn’t look good on your school reports.” 

Harry gave him a shaky thumbs up. “I don’t like pranks much anyway.” 

“Good,” Percy said approvingly. When he smiled, his nose scrunched up. 

“I’m going to eat,” Harry babbled. “Er, bye.” And he scurried away to the Slytherin table.

By the time he had finished breakfast, Daphne had joined him, and he waited for her to walk to class. She told him a bit about her family, and showed him a letter an owl dropped off during breakfast—the writing looked like swirling ink in water, and she told him it was Arabic. He demanded she teach him a few polite phrases, and she seemed a bit impressed by his pronunciation.

“Most people mangle it,” she said as they left the great hall. 

“I really like languages,” Harry said. “How do you say ‘I’m sorry’?”

“You’d say ana asif.” 

“In Mermish, it’s lifi flinshiul kiriul. It means ‘know my sorrow’.”

“You know Mermish?” 

He nodded, then remembered that was a bit strange. “Er, I mean. I found a book once. With some phrases. So I … know those.” 

She smiled at him. “You know, Potter, it was weird that you came to Slytherin, but you’re pretty cool. Want to be friends?” 

“Definitely,” Harry said, smiling. 

She grinned. Then, seeing that they were alone in the corridor, she lowered her voice. “Look. Do you want to know what’s up with Draco?” 

“Yes, please,” said Harry. He hadn’t eaten with Draco since their fight, but Draco had remained steadfastly amiable. 

“He’s just sucking up because it’s you,” Daphne said. “His father’s probably told him to.”

“Because it’s me? Why?” 

Daphne rolled her eyes. “Don’t be stupid. Oh, is that the classroom?” 

Harry sighed. It was indeed Severus’ classroom door. Harry was apprehensive about potions. He’d only attended about half of Fred and George’s classes because Severus made him so angry, always picking on students and being unnecessarily surly and mean.

“Harry, partners?” called Draco, even though he was already standing beside Vincent.

Harry shook his head, mindful of Daphne’s warning and grateful he’d asked Ron yesterday. “I’m already with Ron.” 

Draco pursed his lips, but Harry found Ron and slipped in beside him, unpacking his potions supplies, largely pilfered from Sal’s room. Ron was eyeing Draco across the room. “You friends with Malfoy?” he asked. 

“No,” Harry said. “But he wants to be.” 

Ron’s lips pursed rather like Draco’s had. 

At first Harry and Ron were the only interhouse pair, but when Blaise arrived he sat beside a surprised Hermione. Severus swept into the classroom a moment later in full form, looming and greasy. Harry sighed. 

He needn’t have worried. Severus looked haggard and exhausted. He assigned them to read the cure for boils chapter in their potions book and write a foot on the properties of its ingredients, to be turned in by the next class, and promptly ignored them. It wasn’t good teaching, per se, but it was a far cry better than most of the classes Harry had observed. 

Harry ended up sharing Ron’s book, because his had come from the sickle bin as well and when he looked between the editions, there were pretty obvious differences. It was upsetting to think all his textbooks might be out of date, but at least he had friends willing to share. 

“I’m confused,” whispered Dean Thomas loudly to Seamus Finnigan at one point. “Why does it matter how thinly you slice the onions?” 

Seamus shrugged. 

Harry knew the answer to this. Once, he’d seen Severus rant for five minutes when Lee Jordan had cut his onions a quarter inch too thick. “It’s because of the liquid they release,” he called. “If you cut them too thick, they won’t release enough.” 

At the front of the room, Severus raised his head from his notes, where he had been scribbling for a good half hour. He met Harry’s eyes, glaring. 

Harry looked steadily back, daring him to say something. If Severus wasn’t going to teach, what did it matter if they helped each other? 

In the end, Severus blinked first and went back to his notes. Beside Harry, Ron made a vaguely impressed noise. The whole class was casting him evaluating looks, including Draco. 

Harry smiled.

Chapter Text

“Titchy T,” hissed the twin he decided to call Fred.

“In here,” whispered the twin he decided to call George. 

Harry had almost forgotten about the twin’s promise to find him. He’d assumed they would use the map to find him when he was alone, and he’d been right. They poked their heads out of an empty classroom, gesturing urgently. 

Harry slipped inside and settled in a circle on the floor with them. “What’s going on?” he asked. 

Fred and George laid the map out with an elaborate flourish in the middle of the circle. “Something’s wrong,” Fred said seriously. This in itself was alarming. Not much could make the twins truly serious about anything, up to and including being threatened with death by Myrtle. 

“We were perusing the map before bed, as you will,” said George. “Seeing all the new students, spying on the teachers, et cetera.” 

“When we noticed something in Ronnie’s dormitory.” 

They faces were haggard. “Look,” George whispered. “He’s still there now.” 

Harry bent to where George’s finger was resting on the boy’s dorm. Indeed, the tower was completely vacated except for one little dot. Peter Pettigrew. 

“Is it a new student?” Harry asked. 

The twins shook their heads. “That’s just it,” said George. “We’ve been asking around. There’s no ‘Peter’ in Hogwarts at all, or there shouldn’t be.” 

“We went in and looked,” said Fred. “Nothing.” 

“Invisible?” Harry asked. 

“We don’t know,” said George. “But, Harry …” He lowered his voice, looking incredibly pale. “Sometimes he’s with Ron when he’s not in the dorm. Like today at breakfast. His dot was right next to Ron, but there was no-one there we could see!” 

“Did you ask Ron?” Harry asked.

Fred nodded. “We hinted around. Asked about his friends, new dorm-mates … he seems clueless. It’s really freaking us out.”

“We’d go to McGonagall, except …” George bit his lip. 

“The map,” Harry said. “You’d have to say how you know.” 

“Right. And we will!” said Fred. 

“And take all the detentions that come with it,” added George.

“If we don’t have another choice,” finished Fred. “Only ….” 

“We really, really don’t want to do that.” 

Harry thought for a moment. “I think I have an idea. The next time he’s with Ron at a meal, let me know and I’ll come see if I notice anything. If I don’t, you have to go to McGonagall. What if he’s dangerous?” 

“We know,” said George sadly. “Our time with the Marauders may be coming to an end.” 

maroon sprout

“Limmy!” Harry hissed.

Limmy jumped so fast she nearly tripped over her potting soil. “Snake!” she whispered. She rushed over and punched him on the arm, then hugged him. “You isn’t supposed to be here!” 

“I know,” Harry said. “I miss you!” 

“Is you getting my note?” 

Harry grinned. “Yeah, it’s really helping, thanks.” 

Limmy smiled at him, and then frowned, ears tilting. “Why is you here, when you isn’t supposed to be?” 

“I needs a favor,” Harry admitted. “Can I borrows your hag stone?” 

maroon sprout

At lunch, Severus came and loomed over him.

“Yes, Professor?” Harry asked.

Severus held up a sheet of parchment. “Would you like to explain this, Mr. Potter?” 

Harry squinted at it. “It’s my boils essay from yesterday.”

“That is not what I meant, Mr. Potter.” 

“Um.” Harry stared at him, trying to judge his meaning. He didn’t look angry, per se, just a bit … defeated. 

“Your penmanship, Mr. Potter. I can hardly read this. Can you not use a quill?” 

Harry shook his head, embarrassed. 

Severus sighed. “I have spoken with Professor Flitwick. You will attend remedial penmanship lessons with him twice a week until you are up to speed. Tuesdays and Thursdays after lunch, during your free period, in his office.” 

“What?” Harry demanded. “Professor! Why can’t I just use chalk?” 

“Because, Mr. Potter, this is the real world, and we use quills.” Having delivered his sentence, Severus turned and swept back to the table, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

“That’s not fair,” Harry said, kicking the table leg and glaring at his soup. 

Draco, who Harry had been unable to avoid today for lunch, leaned over across Vincent. “I can help you, Harry! I’ve been in calligraphy classes since I was five, my penmanship is flawless.” 

“I’m good, thanks,” grit out Harry. He glanced at Daphne. “Vishifilif.”

She snorted. Harry had taught her that particular word yesterday. 

Draco went bright red. “What did you say?” 

Harry shrugged, feeling a bit bad. “Just asked … how her soup is.” 

“Whatever.” Draco huffed and turned away.

A few minutes later, the twins entered the room. Harry craned his head towards them, and Fred very deliberately shook his. He nodded and turned back to his soup. No mysterious intruder at lunch, it seemed. 

Just as he was finishing his soup, stacking his and Daphne’s bowls together with a glare at Draco, Minerva cleared her throat from behind him.

“Yes, Professor?” he asked warily.

She held up a familiar sheet of parchment. A maths exercise they had done in class, showing how many times you could copy a copy before it stopped working as well. “Mr. Potter, when was the last maths class you took?” 

Harry frowned, genuinely thrown. “Er … I don’t remember?” 

She sighed. “I am afraid I’m going to have to place you in remedial arithmancy lessons with Professor Vector until you are up to an adequate level, Mr. Potter. I have spoken with the headmaster and Professor Flitwick, who reports you seem to be advanced in Charms—every other Charms class will be spent in arithmancy instead.” 

“Professor!” Harry said. “But—Sev—Snape—he just gave me quill lessons!” 

Minerva’s mouth quirked. “Professor Snape, Mr. Potter. And I am sorry. You seem a quick study; as long as you apply yourself, it need not be for too very long.” She walked away.

Harry put his head on his arms with a groan. 

“Harry,” Draco said hesitantly. “You know, I’ve had a private arithmancy tutor since I was six. I could help, if you want.” 

Maybe it was Draco’s sheer—bravery? Obtuseness?—to offer again after the last, but something in Harry relaxed towards him. “Actually, Draco, that might be good,” he admitted. “Will you go over the transfiguration exercise with me tonight?” 

Draco looked as if he’d just opened the most amazing Icegow gift in the world. 

hand holding up a poorly-scribbled essay

"This is the real world, and we use quills."

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Harry had just sat down beside Daphne for dinner when the twins walked in looking grave, and maybe-George nodded to him. Harry got up again.

“Sorry,” he said, remembering the Arabic word, which made her smile. “I forgot I said I’d eat with Ron and the twins.” 

“Oh—can I come?” 

Harry smiled. “Yeah!” 

They made their way to the Gryffindor table, and Ron scooted over when he saw Harry, but stopped when he saw Daphne, so Harry shoved him down another space. Daphne squeezed in between him and Lavender Brown. 

“‘Lo,” Harry said. “You know Daphne.” 

“Charmed,” maybe-Fred said, giving an elaborate bow.

“Mademoiselle,” said George, blowing her an air kiss.

Daphne giggled. “Hi. Hi, Lavender. Where’s Padma?” 

Lavender passed Daphne a bread roll. “She’s a bit homesick. I’m going to bring her dinner.” 

“Poor thing.” 

Harry glanced down the Gryffindor table. Everyone was clustered in groups of two or three—he waved to Neville, and then Hermione, whose own wave was a bit half-hearted. She sat alone at the end of the table, nose in a book, hair pulled around her face.

“Is she okay?” Harry asked Ron. 

Ron glanced at Hermione. “Who, her? I don’t know, honestly. She’s making a right nuisance of herself in all our classes, no-one likes her much.” 

Harry frowned. “Why not?” 

Ron shoved a bite of chicken into his mouth, shrugging. “Know-it-all,” he mumbled. 

Harry was almost distracted by this, but Fred and George were making furious eye contact. Reluctantly, Harry focused. 

“Look what I found,” he said, pulling a necklace out of his robe. On it was a smooth, pink-orange stone, with a perfect hole in the middle. “It’s called a serpent’s egg. When you look through it, it’s supposed to show you the future.” 

This was a lie. 

“Cool,” Ron said. “Can I try?”

“Let me look first,” Harry said. “I haven’t used it yet.”

This was also a lie.

Harry placed the hag stone to his eye, peering around at the table. To his disappointment, everything looked about the same. Up at the staff table, Dumbledore’s magical hand had vanished. He scanned the air around Ron, then Ron himself: nothing.

“I don’t think it works,” said Harry. This was also a lie. 

Ron looked disappointed, but quickly perked up when he remembered: “Flying lessons start in a few weeks! Are you excited?” 

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I can’t wait. Honestly, I’m about ready just to break into the broom shed, steal a broom, and go flying.” 

“Now, now, Harry,” chided Fred. “Can’t go breaking school rules—you are a student, after all.” 

“Yeah, Potter, it’s a slippery slope to delinquency,” George said, grinning weakly. Both of the twins’ eyes were flicking around uneasily. 

So Pettigrew was here, whatever and whoever it was. But no-one could see him. 

They chatted about Quidditch for a few minutes, until Ron yawned. “Oh, I almost forgot,” he said. “Have to feed Scabbers.” 

He pulled the bedraggled rat from his robe pocket, casting a guarded glance up to the the teacher’s table before feeding Scabbers a bit of cheese.

A tingle of magic fuzzed in the air. Almost unconsciously, Harry opened his mouth in a wide yawn, breathing in the magic of the castle. He hadn’t imagined it—that rat tasted funny.

“Tired, Harry?” George laughed. 

“Mhm,” said Harry. “I think I’ll try to see my future one more time.” 

He raised the hag stone to his eye, looking exaggeratedly around the hall before peering at Fred, George, and finally Ron. 

Clutched in Ron’s hands, nibbling cheese from his fingers, Scabbers the rat had human hands, one short a pinky.

Harry passed over it quickly, standing to inspect the far ends of the table. He yawned again, dropping the stone. “Still nothing,” he said sadly. It was a lie.

“Divination’s a load of rubbish anyway,” Ron said. 

freckled hand holding a rat. the rat has human hands.

Scabbers the rat had human hands.

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Harry placed the hag stone in a crack under Myrtle’s sink. “Limmy’s going to come get this soon,” he said. “Keep it safe?” 

“Sure,” Myrtle said, hanging flat in midair—and he did mean flat. She had compressed herself into two creepy dimensions. “How’s school?” 

“It’s a lot,” Harry said. “It’s just a lot. Listen, can you do me a favor?” 

She grinned. “What kind of favor?” 

“Sort of an illegal one.” 

“Oh, why not?” 

Chapter Text

“Mr. Potter.” 

Harry was beginning to get very tired of hearing Severus say his name like that. He looked up from his porridge, this time to the surprising duo of Severus and Hagrid. 

“‘Morning,” he said. 

“Yer up early for a Saturday!” Hagrid said jovially. “We haven’t met, I don' think—Rubeus Hagrid!”

“I’m used to getting up early,” Harry said. “And the others get mad if I shower at night, because I take too long. I’m Harry.” 

“Hagrid will be taking you to Diagon Alley today,” said Severus.

“What’s that?” 

“Wizardin’ London!” Hagrid said. “We’re goin’ shopping!” 

“Shopping for what?” Harry asked. 

Severus sighed. “Mr. Potter. Your shoes are taped together. Your robes are more patch than fabric. Your books are a decade out of date—don’t think I haven’t noticed you using Mr. Weasley’s.” 

“I don’t have any money,” Harry said hotly. “So how am I supposed to get all that?”  

“You do have money—” said Severus.

“I do? Where is it?” 

“If you would allow me to finish.” Harry shut up. “Your parents left you a healthy fortune in their will. You have access to a certain amount of it until you reach your majority at age seventeen, upon which time you will receive the entirety. It is held in Gringotts bank. Mr. Hagrid will escort you to the bank and then to the shops. I have given him money for your lunch. You will be back by this evening.”

Harry’s mind was stuck spinning. “A fortune? How much is that?” 

Severus pinched his nose. “I do not know the exact status of the Potter vaults,” he said. “That is a question for the goblins.” 

“Goblins!” Harry’s heart leapt. “There are goblins?” 

“They run the bank,” Severus said. “Any more questions?” 

“How are we getting there? How far away is it? How big is Diagon Alley? How big is Wizarding London? Can Daphne come?”

Severus looked unhealthily drawn. “There is a temporary floo connection in the Headmaster’s office. It is quite far by foot or train, but only a moment via floo. Diagon Alley is an alley. Wizarding London is a city. No-one may accompany you.” 

“Ready?” Hagrid asked. 

Harry leapt from his chair. “Yes!” Glad he had taken his bag this morning, he stuffed some fruit into it, pulled out his purple knit hat and put it on, and waved goodbye to Severus. 

Hagrid led him to the headmaster’s office, answering a myriad questions as they went, quite happy to do so. He gave Harry the basics about Gringotts, Diagon Alley, an interesting place called Nocturn Alley, and what on earth “floo” was.

Dumbledore wasn’t in his office when they arrived, which Harry was relieved about. He knew he would have to speak to the headmaster again—Severus had warned as much. But he was deeply dreading it. Any thought of the headmaster still smacked of betrayal.

Fawkes gave a small, lovely call of welcome, and Harry went over to pet him. He was a juvenile today, gangling, feathers half grown in. He let Harry scratch above his eye ridges, fluttering his wings in appreciation.

“Fawkes has takin’ a liking to you,” Hagrid said approvingly. “You must have a deft hand with animals, eh?” 

“Yeah,” Harry said, pressing a kiss to Fawkes’ head and going over to the fireplace. “You do as well, right?” 

“That I do, that I do,” said Hagrid, pleased. “Come down to me hut sometime, I’ll show you some of me favorites.” 

“Alright. Is that the floo powder?” 

“Indeed it is.” Hagrid tilted a little brass jar towards him. Inside was shimmering green dust. “Take a good scoop, like I said, toss it in, step forwards, and be sure to enunciate!” 

Harry eyed the fireplace. He had traveled by fire once before, but it had been Fawkes taking him. 

A little undercurrent of fear rippled through him. London? He was going to London? He hadn’t been in a city in … well, he couldn’t remember being in a city, besides that fateful visit to Alimnion. He hardly ever went beyond the forest.

“I’ll be right behind you,” promised Hagrid. 

That was alright. He was with the steward. 

Harry seized a handful of powder and threw it in the fire. “Diagon Alley!” 

A whirling, dizzying moment later, he stumbled out of a fireplace and into some sort of restaurant. He scurried from the fire just in time for Hagrid to whip in after him, putting a hand to his stomach. 

“Urgh, never did like floo,” said Hagrid. “Let’s hustle now, before we’re noticed.” 

“Where are we?” 

“The Leaky Cauldron. Wizarding pub.” 

Harry craned his neck as Hagrid ushered him towards the back door. It was dimly lit, patrons talking quietly, or reading, or eating. Magic was everywhere, from a wizard’s spoon stirring his tea to the napkins unfolding themselves. Hagrid said a brief hello to the barman, but kept himself between him and Harry.  

Out back was a brick wall which Hagrid tapped with his wand, and the wall folded back to reveal Diagon Alley.

It was brilliant. It was magic. It was completely overwhelming. Strange witches and wizards bustled to and fro, up and down the street, in and out of shops, brushing past them into the pub, stopping and chatting in the road, hollering at each other from meters away. Tall, skinny buildings boxing in the alley, and not a single familiar face. 

Harry didn’t notice he’d grabbed onto Hagrid’s huge sleeve until the man put a hand on his shoulder. “Alright, Harry?” 

Harry nodded. He was very glad he’d worn his purple hat. He felt the absence of Chikkeritt’s pendant keenly.

“Gringotts is just this way, come on.” Harry let Hagrid tow him through the crowd while he gawped around at their surroundings. They passed shops with windows full of owls, books, and brooms. Harry nearly ran into several people to stop and look at those, and Hagrid had to coax him along. And apparently school uniforms were not, in fact, high wizarding fashion, because the clothes people were wearing were simply magnificent. Harry stared enviously at a young man’s robe, which was bright orange with shining silver buttons.

“Here we are,” said Hagrid, and Harry took in the bank: a vast marble structure with a menacing poem and beautifully carved double doors. “Now, Harry, goblin etiquette is different than wizard manners. Best to let me handle things.” 

“I’ve read a book on it!” Harry said. “I’ll be fine!” And he dragged Hagrid into the bank. 

He had to stop and stare once he was inside. The ceiling was higher up than the great hall, made entirely of shining opalescent abalone. Goblins rode carts along dizzyingly high tracks, interweaving roller-coasters high above their heads. On the floor, they stood in the center of a radiating sun design, made of sapphire so finely carved it seemed like a mirage. 

“What do you think?” asked Hagrid, hands in his pockets, leaning back to take in the sight with Harry.

“Brilliant,” Harry breathed. 

Hagrid guided him up to a teller. A goblin wearing tiny spectacles atop his nose greeted them. He had stone-gray skin and high, pointed ears. His nameplate said ‘Griphook.’ “Welcome to Gringotts. How may I assist you?” 

Before Hagrid could speak, Harry stood on his tiptoes and said in his best Gobbledegook reader’s accent: “Salutations and respect, gentleman!” 

Griphook stared at him. He tapped the fingers of one hand slowly across his desk. And then he burst out laughing. It was a deep, full-body laugh, and after a moment he had to remove his spectacles and wipe actual tears from his eyes. His neighbors looked over in alarm. 

Harry grinned, giggling along with him after a moment. He didn’t seem upset, after all, just amused. 

“Hah,” gasped Griphook finally, replacing his spectacles. In English, he said: “Salutations and respect to you as well, young man. Where on earth did you find that phrase?”

“A book! Um … Fawney's Guide to Conversational Gobbledegook.”  

“Fawney!” choked out Griphook. “That old phony! I thought he’d been discredited long ago.”

“Was he?” Harry asked, disappointed. He had learned three Gobbledegook phrases from that book. If they were all wrong, that took him back to zero. “What’s the right thing, then?” 

“Like wizards, we simply say ‘hello.’ Like so.” He pronounced the word carefully for Harry, who dutifully repeated it. “Ah, not bad, young man. You managed the glottal stop quite well. Now, what can I do for you both?” 

Hagrid, who had been watching this exchange with an expression of delight, pulled a large key from his pocket. “This ‘ere is Mr. Harry Potter, here to access his vault.” 

Griphook took the key, eyes wide. “Truly? We had heard, of course …” he peered at Harry. “Do you have the scar, then?” 

“Er.” Harry put a hand to his forehead. Different etiquette, Hagrid had said, different etiquette. With a glance at Hagrid, who nodded, he pushed his hat up to show the sprawling threads of lightning, barely raised from his skin.

Griphook nodded slowly. “It is an honor, Mr. Potter. Do allow me to show you to your vault.” 

“Do we get to ride in the carts?” Harry demanded. 

Griphook grinned at him. “We do indeed.” 

On the long, winding way to Harry’s vault, Harry extracted from Griphook the Gobbledegook phrases for ‘goodbye,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘I’m sorry,’ which he scribbled phonetically on a bit of scrap paper from the bottom of his bag. 

“You can buy a notebook at the bookshop,” Hagrid suggested, which had never occurred to Harry. 

And it seemed a notebook was the least of what he could buy. For he had a veritable dragon’s hoard of gold, and it was all he could do not to fling himself into it and roll around. Hagrid handed him a sack and helped him carefully count out how much he would need, and then he took a few galleons extra so he could buy things for his friends. 

“All this is really mine?” he asked Griphook, as the goblin shut the door. 

Griphook nodded. “Luckily for you, Gringotts’ policy in cases of assumed death is to retain funds for seventy years or until certifiable proof of death.” 

They arrived back on the main floor, and Harry recalled the words for ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye,’ and Griphook shook his hand, and he followed Hagrid back into the Alley.

maroon sprout

A few hours later, they called a halt to the shopping spree and had ice cream for lunch, after Hagrid made Harry promise not to tell Severus. He got three scoops of different wild flavors and consumed them all so quickly that he had to put his head down on the table for a few minutes while Hagrid found him a cup of ginger tea.

Their purchases lay strewn about their feet in bags. School books, a cauldron, potions ingredients, a new trunk, a star chart, and also notebooks, a pack of cheap quills for practice, ink, a gobstones set, a magic ink eraser, and chocolate gifts for all of his friends. Harry had never owned so many things in his life. He wasn’t sure how to feel about it all. 

“Just robes and shoes left,” Hagrid said. “And Madam Malkin has some other odds and ends you can pick up if you need, ‘o course. I’ve a bit of an errand to run while you get fitted, that alright?”

Harry nodded slowly, clutching his stomach while he sipped at his tea. “Can I have another scoop?” 

Hagrid chuckled. “Merlin, no.” 

In the ice cream parlor, Harry, sick to his stomach, puts his head on a table beside Hagrid

“Can I have another scoop?” 

 

And so Harry was left under the care of Madam Malkin, who refused to let him get bright orange robes for school, and whose needle needle kept pricking him when he couldn’t stand still.

When she was almost finished, there was a knocking at the window. Harry looked up, and found Hagrid grinning at him, holding up a cage containing a snowy white owl. 

When he was finished with his fitting, he purchased his new robes, shoes, and some other clothes, he came bursting out of the shop to coo at the owl. “She’s gorgeous, Hagrid!” 

“She’s yours,” Hagrid said gruffly. “Call it a belated birthday present. For eleven years missed.”

Harry gaped at him. “Really?” 

“Really. I was good friends with your parents, you know. Well, I suppose you wouldn’ know.” 

Harry clutched the owl’s cage to his chest, an indescribable emotion welling up behind his eyes. “My—my parents? You knew them?” 

“I did indeed.” 

“What—“ Harry took a trembling breath. “My parents, what—what were their names?” 

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“Seriously?” Harry demanded. “No, he didn’t, I don’t believe it.” 

“Serious as anything!” Hagrid swore, holding up a huge hand. With the other, he took a sip from his mug of tea. “He was fearless, James was. Never afraid o' nothing, including the Whomping Willow.” 

Harry giggled in delight at the picture Hagrid had painted, nibbling at one of their last chips. Hagrid had swept them back to the Leaky Cauldron, but not to go home—to sit at a booth and regale Harry with tales of his parents. 

“And Lily—oh, she was mad at him for that one. Didn’t like each other much, at first, James and Lily. Only came around to each other around … oh, near the end of their schooling. But once they did come around, they came around fast.” He gestured at Harry. “I mean, here you are, livin’ proof.” 

“Do I look like them?” Harry asked. “Like my parents?” He had been saying the words “my parents” as much as possible. The felt strange and delightful in his mouth. 

“God, yer the spit of ‘em both,” Hagrid said. “When I firs’ saw you, I thought one of ‘em had come back to life, but I couldn’t for the life of me decide which. Your eyes—that’s Lily. Your hair—James’ coloring, but Lily’s likeness. James wore glasses. Lily had your chin. I’ve got photos somewhere, Harry. I’ll find them for you.” 

Harry felt along his face carefully, imagining he could feel his mother’s chin instead of his own. “Did anyone else know them?” he asked. 

“Oh, blimey yeah. Most o' the professors taught ‘em both. But Severus—he and Lily were fast friends until they had a fallin’ out. Grew up together, I believe.” 

Harry gaped at him. “Sev—Snape knew my mum?” 

“And hated your da, yeah.” Hagrid flushed. “Oh, er, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. That’s his personal business, that is.”

Harry shrugged. No-one’s business was personal to him. 

“Anyway, Harry, we’d better be gettin’ back.” 

Harry agreed. He was quite enamored of Diagon Alley, but he didn’t want to be away from the castle for much longer. He felt disoriented here, like he didn’t actually know where he was. 

The floo back to Hogwarts took half a moment. Hagrid helped him lug all of his new purchases to the dungeons—he had released the owl in Diagon, with the instructions to head for the Hogwarts owlery. He had already thought of and discarded a dozen names. 

“Come visit me sometime, Harry, and I’ll have found those photos,” Hagrid said, setting his bags down outside the Slytherin common room entrance. “I’ll tell you all you want to know about your parents.” 

Harry pulled his purple hat down over his ears and hugged Hagrid as hard as he could, though his arms didn’t nearly reach around. Hagrid, sniffing noisily, wrapped him in one of the best hugs he’d ever received. 

Chapter Text

On Sunday morning, for the first time, the bed won. He’d gone to bed late last night after wandering the halls for a while, trying to reconcile the fact that he was a boy who had once had parents, visiting the owlery—his new owl hadn’t made it yet—and half-heartedly trying to figure out why a whole corridor was off-limits. He did not obey the ban, as such. He merely made sure he was invisible going down it. He’d found nothing, but he hadn’t really investigated—merely wandered to prove that he could. 

And he had woken early that morning—but his bed had been so comfortable, his pillow like a cloud—and he had let it lull him back to sleep. 

So he woke with about half of the other boys, though Vincent and Theo kept snoring.

“Finally,” grumbled Blaise when he came out of the bathroom. “Trying to drown yourself, Potter?” 

Harry grinned. “I just never want to leave the hot water once I’m under it. ’S brilliant, isn’t it?” 

“Hot water? I suppose.” Blaise looked at him a bit weirdly. 

Harry ignored it. Everyone had been looking at him a bit weirdly since he’d gotten here. It was discomfiting, but what could he do? 

“New robes, Harry?” Draco asked, buttoning up his boots. “They’re nice.” 

Harry grinned. “Hagrid took me to Diagon Alley yesterday, it was brilliant. I got you all some chocolate.”

“Really?” Greg asked, sitting up. 

“Yep. Here!” Harry pulled a bag of chocolate wands from his new trunk, passing them out. He placed Vincent’s and Theo’s on their bedside tables.

“Thanks Potter,” said Blaise, in a surprised tone of voice. “That’s grand of you.” 

“Why couldn’t Snape take you shopping?” asked Draco. “He stuck you with Hagrid.” 

Harry frowned at him, closing his trunk. “I like Hagrid. We had a good time.” 

Draco sneered a bit. “You like that—that—” 

“That what?” Harry asked coldly, abruptly remembering what Aragog had said about how the wizards treated Hagrid. “That what?” 

Draco just sneered and bit the top off of his chocolate wand. Harry deeply regretted giving it to him. Fuming, he turned and carefully began tucking in his sheet. He knew how to do it properly—Noddy had taught him once, after he’d refused to go away.

“Why are you making your bed?” Draco asked cooly. 

Harry clenched his hands in his sheets, then took a deep breath and smoothed them out. He pulled up the comforter, twitching the edge so it fell flat.

“Because,” he grit out, “it’s the respectful thing to do.” 

“But the elves do it,” Draco said. 

Harry turned on him. “Are you serious?” he asked, searching his face. “Are you honestly being serious right now? Are you really that clueless, Malfoy?” 

Draco’s mouth opened in outrage. 

“Draco, shut it,” Blaise said. “Potter likes elves.” 

“You don’t like elves,” Draco burst out. “Elves are just there! They make beds! It doesn’t make sense to make beds if the elves are going to do it!” 

“You’re so rotten, Malfoy!” Harry yelled. “You don’t know anything!” 

“Potter, calm down,” said Blaise. “Draco’s just being a prick.” 

Draco sneered. “I don’t know anything? You’re the one who doesn’t know anything. The only people who care about elves are freaks, anyway.” 

Harry saw black and then red and then pale blond as his body moved quite independently, and he found his trembling hands fisted in Malfoy’s collar. 

“Potter!” yelled Blaise. “I’ll get Snape!”

“You don’t have any right to say that,” Harry snarled in Malfoy’s face, which was deathly white. “You don’t know anything about me or anything about elves. But I don’t know what I expected from someone whose father murders them for fun.” 

“W-what!” Malfoy squeaked. “Let go of me! What are you talking about!” 

“Your father murders elves!” Harry yelled. “And you don’t even think it’s right to care about them! You’re horrible!”

Draco shoved him back, and Harry released him, storming away and seizing his bag. He looked back at Draco. “You’re not my friend, Malfoy. Stop acting like you are.” 

And he left. 

maroon sprout

Hermione found him crying in the library. 

“Harry?”

His head jerked up, and she flinched back. 

“Oh—sorry, I’ll leave you alone—” 

“No, it’s fine.” Harry wiped his face on the sleeve of his new robe. “Did you want this table?” 

“No, I—I just wanted to see if you were okay.” 

“I’m okay,” Harry spat. “But wizards aren’t. I don’t know why I ever wanted to come here.” 

Hermione bit her lip, and pulled up a chair next to him. “I’ve been thinking the same thing, actually. Here.” 

He took her handkerchief, blotting his eyes. “Thanks. Here, I got you a chocolate wand in Diagon Alley yesterday.” 

Her eyes widened. “Thanks! I did notice you have a new robe.” 

“I have money, apparently. From my parents. I didn’t know that.” 

She nodded slowly. “I suppose that makes sense. Your father’s family was rich.” 

“You know about my parents?” Harry asked in astonishment. 

She shrugged. “I’ve read a bit about them. They’re war heroes, after all.” 

“War heroes?” 

“Er, yes. Sorry, is it odd I know about them when you never did?”

“No, I guess not.” Harry looked around the library. “Don’t you think it’s strange that the library is empty on a Sunday?” 

“Yes!” Hermione said, grinning a bit. “I don’t understand it. I’ve been trying to have a spare moment here all week.” 

“Me too. Are you still reading Hogwarts, A History?” 

Nodding, Hermione pulled it from her bag. It truly was a tome. She opened it to her bookmark, showing a beautiful illustration of a severe-looking man with a short black beard. He held a star-chart in one hand and a bundle of magical plants in the other. He had long black hair tied up in a knot on his head.

“I’m reading about the Hogwarts founders,” Hermione said. “See, that’s Salazar Slytherin.” 

“Salazar … Slytherin?” Harry seized the book and pulled it closer, bending his nose to it. “Slytherin was a person? His name was Salazar?” 

By the stars and moon, as Araeo said. Harry found himself smiling hugely, unable to believe that the room he’d been ransacking, the books he’d been writing on the edges of, the pillows he’d been sleeping on, apparently belonged to a Hogwarts founder. 

“Er, yes,” said Hermione, looking a bit thrown.

Harry looked to her eagerly. “Does it say anything about his merman lover?” 

Her mouth fell open. “What? No! What do you mean!” 

“Ifingr!” Harry said in excitement. “They were in forbidden love.” 

“There’s nothing about that in here,” Hermione said, frowning at the book as if it had failed her. “Where did you hear that?” 

“Er, I read a book once,” Harry said. “And, um, a friend of mine, her family … knew Ifingr? A long time ago. The story had been passed down in their family.” 

“That’s incredible,” Hermione said excitedly. “Wow. Imagine … merpeople being real.” She brushed a bit of hair out of her face, embarrassed. “That must seem silly, I suppose, me thinking merpeople are—are magical. I mean, really magical. I always thought they were just from storybooks, you know.” 

“Me too!” Harry said. “Until I met one!” His heart thumped once, hard, in regret and fear. “Oh, er, I mean ….” 

“You’ve met a merperson?” Hermione asked. 

“Well, yes,” he said guiltily. “Please don’t tell anyone, Hermione.” 

She cocked her head. “Why not?” 

“Because, um,” he hesitated. “Alright, can you keep a secret? I mean a serious secret.” 

“Cross my heart,” she said, doing so.

“Right,” he said. “So, no-one knows where I’ve been living for the past few years, and I can’t tell them, because it’s a secret. And I’m trying not to let them have any clues, either, and if you tell anyone about me meeting a merperson, it might help them find where I’ve been.” 

“Oh,” Hermione said. She bit her lip. “Is it … dangerous, where you live? Are you being threatened?”

“No!” Harry said. “It’s just that the wizards wouldn’t understand. You said it earlier, didn’t you? There’s something wrong with wizards. They don’t think right, about—about other beings.” 

Hermione nodded furiously. “They don’t think right about muggleborns, either. I didn’t realize.” 

“Muggleborns?” 

“Like me.” She looked at the desk, rubbing over a scratch. “My parents are muggles—they don’t have magic. But I do. And people here think it’s weird, to be a witch from a muggle family.” 

“That’s horrid,” Harry said, frowning. “I didn’t know that. I got in a fight this morning with Malfoy about house elves.” 

“What are house elves?” 

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Two hours later, Harry was scratching notes in his new notebook, painstakingly with a quill. He had only broken three so far. A book Griphook had recommended, Gobbledegook for the Legitimate Learner, was proving infinitely more useful than Fawney’s Guide. 

He’d gotten the book from Madam Pince, the librarian, whom he had tentatively labeled an opponent for life. She had asked three times why he wanted a book on Gobbledegook, seemed unable to believe his answer—that he wanted to learn the language—and warned him twice not to enter the restricted section. She’d watched him like a hawk as he carried the book to her desk, as if he would suddenly decide to start tearing out the pages and burning them.  

Beside him, Hermione had three books open on house elves and had been muttering to herself furiously ever since Harry had finished explaining and she had taken to the stacks. 

He tore a page from his notebook and began composing a letter, flipping back and forth through his book in reference.

Dear Griphook.

Thanks book name. I learn well now. I write you? Hope you read. 

Harry

He sat back and looked at it in satisfaction. Was it coherent? Not as such. Would Griphook understand? He was sure, after a few tries, that he would.

On the front, he wrote: Griphook, Gringotts Bank.

“That’s Gobbledegook, isn’t it?” Hermione asked, coming out of her stupor. “Goblin speech?” 

“Yep. I made a friend at the bank. I’m writing him a letter.” 

“Do—do all creatures have languages? Sorry, I mean beings.” 

Harry shrugged. “Most of them, I reckon. I dunno about centaurs, I suppose. It just makes sense.” He sighed and sat up, stretching his back. How he loved having a proper desk to work at. Sal’s—that is, Salazar Slytherin’s—was too big for him, and he had to sit on a stack of pillows to reach it. “I’m going to the owlery to send this. If my owl’s there yet.” 

“Bye,” Hermione said, waving. “Thanks for the chocolate.” 

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His owl was indeed in the owlery. She had befriended Pip, it seemed, and she recognized him when he entered. She let him approach her, and he held out an owl treat he’d bought in Diagon Alley. She snapped it up quickly, and tentatively allowed him to scratch her neck.

“Do you like the name Hedwig?” he asked. “I read it in a book.” 

She hooted softly. “Okay, good,” he said. “Would you like to deliver a letter? If you’re too tired after flying here, I can ask someone else.” 

She glared at him and stuck out her leg. He grinned. A few minutes later he was watching her wing away. 

He played catch with Pip for a few minutes, before Limmy arrived. 

The owlery was one place they had decided was safe to meet. The other was Myrtle’s bathroom. The kitchen could be used only in greatest need and secrecy. He hugged her tightly for a long moment, feeling the ripples of his fight with Draco burbling up. He wouldn’t let them, though. Limmy didn’t need to hear about that. She already knew it, anyway.

“I brought you a chocolate wand from Diagon Alley!” Harry said when they had settled against the wall on a vaguely clean patch of straw. “Here.” 

“Thanks,” she said, unwrapping the foil and nibbling on it. “I is hearing about Diagon Alley, but I’s never going.” 

“It’s amazing,” Harry said, briefly describing it. She was especially interested in the goblins, who were the nonhuman beings with the most wizarding privileges allotted to them. 

“And,” Harry said. “Hagrid is telling me about—about my parents.” 

“You is having parents?” Limmy asked in surprise. 

He nodded. “I is never even knowing their names—they is dying when I is a baby. But Hagrid is knowing them when they is alive.” 

“Oh, Snake.” She hugged him tightly. “I’s happy for you.” 

“Thanks.” He sighed. “Okay. Business.” 

Limmy snapped her fingers, and a little bundle of seaweed notes fell in her hand. “From your fishing hook.” 

“Thanks.” He unwrapped them carefully. Two missives from Ava, one from Xara, and one from Samba. Xara wished him well and invited him to Iceglow. Ava sent one personal letter and one formal letter regarding their shared duties. Samba had a list of questions and tasks to fill his free time … which he definitely had, now.

He scribbled responses on the backs of the notes, asked Ava to send him some more seaweed paper, for he’d run out, and gave them back to Limmy.

“Thanks for doing this,” he said again. “Really. I don’t knows what I would do otherwise.” 

She shrugged. “I goes there anyways, to practice.”

He grinned, touching the outline of the wand pendant under his shirt. “I is noticing the wand is gone a lot, lately. Good progress?” 

She nodded. “Yes! I is finally getting wingardium leviosa, I thinks, and now I is practicing a spell I is finding in Sal’s books. It is called expelliarmus. It disarms your opponent—makes their wand, or other weapon, fly from them.” 

“Will you teach me?” Harry asked eagerly. “Over winter holiday?” 

“Of course.” 

Abruptly, he remembered what he’d had to tell her. “Ohmygosh, Limmy, you’s never believing what I is finding out about Sal today!”

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He ate with Ron that evening. He couldn’t even look at Draco at the Slytherin table, and Daphne had eaten early and gone to the lake to walk.

He’d asked Ron about what it was like to grow up with so many siblings, and found out there was an entire other Weasley he didn’t know about: Ginny, who would be coming to Hogwarts next year. Ron’s home sounded simply fantastic: a big garden, and gnomes, even a ghoul. Crowded and happy.  

“And one time I was playing chess with Percy,” Ron said, “and just as I was about to beat him, the stupid ghoul swooped the board—” 

“You play chess?” Harry asked eagerly. He had an incomplete set of chessmen he liked to play adventures with. Once he had tired to teach himself chess from a book, but it seemed horribly complicated. “Will you teach me?” 

“Yeah!” Ron said. “After dinner?” 

“Yeah, sure,” Harry said. “I’ve never seen the Gryffindor common room before.” 

“Oh, er,” Ron’s brows drew together. “Are you allowed to? As a Slytherin?” 

Harry shrugged. That seemed to be enough for Ron. And when he greeted the Gryffindor portrait by name, she was so flattered that she let him in before she could think twice about it. 

“So … three and two?” Harry asked, just to make sure.

“Or two and three,” said Ron. 

Harry moved his knight and captured one of Ron’s pawns. Ron promptly moved his queen to take Harry’s knight. Harry frowned at him. “I’ve never played before, you realize.” 

Ron laughed. “Hey, when did I say I’d go easy on you!” 

Harry grinned and looked over the board again, utterly relaxed. The Gryffindor common room was cozy—a crackling orange fire, cushy chairs, bookshelves stuffed with old books. He could almost fall asleep. 

“Ron! Did you let Potter in?” 

Ron groaned and turned to face Percy, who had just come down the stairs, arms crossed. “No, the Fat Lady did,” Ron said, rolling his eyes. 

Percy frowned at them both, walking over. “I don’t know if that’s allowed,” he said. 

“Hi, Percy,” said Harry. “It’s alright. Priscilla said I could come in.” 

“Who?” 

“The portrait,” Harry said. “Her name’s Priscilla. Anyway we’re just playing chess. Well, I’m losing chess. Would you—er—do you have any—um—advice?”

Frown lessening, Percy leaned over his shoulder. Harry felt his face going bright red, and Ron was looking at him in askance. 

“You should move your bishop,” Percy said, pointing. “Because Ron’s going to take it on his next move.” He patted Harry on the shoulder. Harry’s heart jumped a bit. “Don’t feel bad about losing,” he advised. “Ron’s a whiz at chess, always has been. I stopped winning against him years ago.” 

Harry grinned at him. “Thanks, Percy.” 

Percy laughed, a bit awkwardly. “No trouble at all. I’ve got to dash, studying with Oliver.”

Ron snorted. “Is that what they call it now?” 

Percy glared at him. “Shut it, Ron. Nice to see you, Potter.” 

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He went to bed as late as he possibly could, to be sure that Malfoy would be asleep. His plan worked, even if he had to wander the halls half-asleep for a while.

But he couldn’t account for Draco’s plan, apparently, which was to wake before Harry the next morning and apparently wait creepily until he got up.

“Stars, Malfoy!” Harry hissed, dropping his clothes when he saw Draco sitting straight up, staring at him with pale eyes. 

“Potter,” Draco said stubbornly, eyes locked on the wall behind him. “I didn’t know about the elves.” 

“What?” 

“I owled my mum to ask if what you said was true. That my father killed an elf. I didn’t know.” He frowned. “You might think I’m okay with that, but I’m not.” 

“Benny,” Harry said. 

“What?” 

“Not just ‘an elf.’ His name was Benny.”

“How do you know that?” 

Harry just shrugged. “Are you apologizing?” 

Slowly, Draco nodded. “I want to be friends.” 

“Because your father wants you to,” Harry accused. 

Draco bit his lip. “No, I really want to be friends. I don’t really … have a friend. Blaise is angry with me about this morning. Vincent and Greg don’t ever talk much. Theo thinks I’m a git.” 

“You can be friends with the girls,” Harry pointed out.

Draco shrugged awkwardly. “I don’t know how to make friends.”

“I don’t know if I want to be friends,” Harry said plainly. “You’ve been really horrid about elves.” 

“I don’t really understand why it upsets you, but I’ll—I’ll try to stop.” Draco sniffed a bit, and Harry realized he was on the verge of tears. He wondered how often Draco had actually apologized to anyone. “Okay?” 

“Okay. I’ll think about it.” 

When he returned from his shower, to his astonishment, he found Draco frowning in frustration as he tried to tuck the corner of his sheet in properly. Feeling something light and warm bloom in his chest, Harry went over to show him how. 

Chapter Text

“Hey, Harry,” said Blaise, after they had both finished the in-class reading. “What on earth is your wand made of?”

Harry looked at his wand. He had noticed, of course, that the other students’ wands didn’t look like his. Their core and periphery elements seemed to be entirely encased in the wood. So far he had been successful in sort of holding his wand inside his sleeve to cover it up, but recently Flitwick had taken to calling him out on unsafe weilding habits. 

“Oh, um. You know.” Creepy tree wood, basilisk scale, and thestral hair. “Common things. What’s yours?” 

“Elm,” said Blaise, “with Veela hair.” 

“And?” 

Blaise frowned at him. “What do you mean, ‘and’?” 

“Er, what’s the periphery?” 

“I don’t know what that is,” said Blaise flatly. 

“The third element which acts as a bridge between core and wood?” Harry asked, quoting So You Want to be a Wandsmith from memory. 

“Mine doesn’t have that,” Blaise said. “And neither does anybody else’s. Does yours?” 

“No,” Harry said hastily. “I just thought, um, that most people’s did.” 

Blaise shook his head slowly. 

“Finished, b-boys?” asked Professor Quirrel, approaching their desk in a garlic waft, staring intently at Harry. 

“Yes, Professor,” said Blaise. 

Harry squirmed in his chair. Every time Quirrel came near him, he stared dreadfully. Harry didn’t really understand what the professor wanted from him. He was always staring, but he rarely called on Harry in class. 

“Go ahead and continue on to the second section, then,” said Quirrel, and went back to the front of the room.

Blaise rolled his eyes as he left. “What a weirdo.” 

Harry had to agree. 

Slowly, as the fall set in, a routine started to take form. Classes, remedial classes, chess, library research, and secret meetings with Limmy. Harry’s penmanship was rapidly improving, though he still despised quills, and he was catching up on lost years of arithmetic. True to his word, Draco was tutoring him, and he wasn’t half bad at it, either. 

One evening he and Ron went down to Hagrid’s hut, where they were served cookies that required a thorough dunking in tea to be soft enough to eat. Hagrid told them stories about his school days, and then laid out a few photos he’d found of Harry’s parents.

Harry touched the edge of one reverently—it was a wedding photo. James and Lily looked very young. They stood and laughed together under a shower of glittering sparks. 

“My parents knew them,” mumbled Ron around rock cake. “If you want, I can owl my mum and see if they have any photos too.” 

Harry nodded slowly. “Thanks, Ron.” 

Ron bumped his shoulder. “I didn’t realize you didn’t even know what they looked like. I’d have done it right off.” 

Harry shrugged. “It’s okay. I didn’t know, either. I mean, I never thought about it.” 

Hagrid smiled gently at him. “The whole world mourned them when they died, Harry. And celebrated you, too.” 

Harry nodded slowly. It seemed odd, though. To celebrate a baby whose parents had died. What was he celebrated for? Surviving? It troubled him. 

It troubled him as they left Hagrid, it troubled him as he and Ron walked around the lake, and it troubled him through dinner. It troubled him enough that for the first time, he decided to take Severus’ offer to all Slytherins up: he went to his office for help. It was almost too late to be out of the common room, but he had never really cared about that. 

Tentatively, he knocked on the door and pushed it open. “Sev—Professor Snape? Oh, I’m sorry.” Snape was not alone in his office, but was taking tea with Minerva. 

Seeing them beside each other made Harry consider how young Severus looked in comparison. He remembered what Hagrid had said, that Severus had been childhood friends with Lily. Severus was as old as his parents would have been.

“Come in, Potter, it’s all right,” said Minerva. 

He shuffled inside, holding the door open with one hand. “It’s a long question. I can come back.” 

“Nonsense,” said Minerva. “That is what Severus is here for. Shall I leave?” 

Slowly, Harry shook his head. “It’s about my parents. You both knew them, Hagrid said.” 

“Did he indeed,” Severus drawled. He sighed, setting down his mug of tea. “Come sit, Mr. Potter. Tea? It is herbal.” 

“Er. Yes, please.” 

Severus poured him a cup of tea and offered him the sugar bowl. When he had fixed it, he took a grateful sip, pulling his legs up onto his chair. 

“Your question?” Severus asked. 

“It’s just …” Harry frowned into his cup. “I think I’m missing something.” 

“Missing something? In your classes?” 

“No. Something about … me. People keep saying strange things. Calling my parents war heroes. Saying people … celebrated me, when they died? Everyone knows my parents and thinks they know me too, but I don’t understand how they can.” Harry shook his head, frustrated. “Nothing makes sense.” 

There was a moment of silence. He looked up to see them both frowning deeply at him, faces showing a good deal of distress. 

“Mr. Potter,” Minerva said slowly. “Tell me, do you know how your parents died?” 

“Well, I used to think it was a car crash,” said Harry. “But then, Dumbledore said … they were killed?” 

“Dear Merlin and Morgana,” said Minerva faintly. Severus set down his tea.

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Harry left Severus’ office far, far past curfew, head spinning. He’d promised to go straight to bed, but instead he wandered. He found his steps taking him to that forbidden third corridor almost unconsciously, as he tried to understand what he’d been told.

There had been an evil wizard. Voldemort. There had been a war. His parents had fought, and Voldemort had killed them. And for some reason, Voldemort had tried to kill him. 

But he could not. Instead, Voldemort died that night, and Harry lived, and the mark of it was his sprawling, lightning-like scar. And the whole world knew. Harry was famous. 

He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know where to go. Everyone’s astonishment at his reappearance made a lot more sense now. Dumbledore had thought he had been killed by still-loyal followers of Voldemort. 

This was all wrong. 

He paced and paced the forbidden third-floor corridor, rubbing his thestral and unicorn hair bracelet against his cheek. This was just all wrong. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want dead parents and to have killed an evil wizard and to be famous. He wanted the basilisk and his friends, and he wanted to be Snakeheart and only Snakeheart.  He wanted Limmy, he wanted Ava, he wanted Araeo. 

He couldn’t have any of them, because he had decided to come to Hogwarts, where he was famous for a terrible reason and he had parents, except he didn’t because they were dead, and also everyone knew everything about them and he knew nothing. Hadn’t even known their names. 

“Hello?” came a tremulous voice.

Harry froze. A diaphanous form slowly floated down the hall. A ghost? 

The figure got closer, resolving into thick glasses and wild black hair and a purple gown and pale face. Trelawney. 

“Child, what are you doing?” she asked. “It’s far past curfew.” 

“Sorry, Professor, I lost track of time,” Harry said, hoping she wouldn’t realize this was also an off-limits area. 

“Come,” Trelawney said, placing a hand on his shoulder. The last time she’d touched him, she had been in the midst of a vision, her hand a claw, possessed. Tonight her hand was a hand, guiding. “You seem disturbed, child. What is your name?” 

“Harry.” 

“Harry, of course.” She nodded distantly. “Snakeheart.” 

He halted, her hand jolting off his shoulder. “Um, what did you just say?” 

She peered at him. “What? I said Potter, didn’t I? Harry Potter.”

“Oh, um, yes, sorry. You did.” 

“Come along,” she said, and walked him all the way back to Slytherin. “I won’t tell if you don’t, Snake.” 

“Snake?” he demanded, heart thudding. 

“Snake? Yes, they’re everywhere down here in Slytherin.” 

Harry stared into her eyes, trying to figure out if she was being serious. He could see nothing beyond vacant politeness. “Goodnight, Professor.” 

“Goodnight. Mind the stars.” 

“The stars?” 

“The stairs, dear.” 

“Right.” 

Harry went to bed. 

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“Potter, come play exploding snap with us.” 

Harry settled beside Pansy on the cushiest sofa, across from Draco, who looked shyly pleased at his presence. “You can call me Harry, if you like,” he said. 

“Alright,” she said, grinning. “Do you know how to play?”

“Nope.” 

They showed him, and within ten minutes the deck had exploded in his face twice. “Are you two cheating?” he asked suspiciously. 

Draco snickered. Pansy flapped a hand.

“You are!” Harry said in exaggerated outrage. “I’m out for a round, you two play.” He sat back against the sofa, arms crossed.

Pansy giggled. “That’s alright. Gosh, your hair’s long, isn’t it, Harry?” 

Harry ran a hand through his hair, slightly damp from his morning shower. “I suppose.” 

“Can I braid it?” she asked eagerly. 

Draco rolled his eyes and began building a house of cards.

“Er, sure,” said Harry. “I can only do a sort of … basic braid. My um, my friend usually does it.” He scooted around so Pansy could reach his hair, and felt her hands card gently through it, untangling minuscule knots.

“Your hair is beautiful,” Pansy said. “Take notes, Draco.”

Draco made an outraged noise. “What! My hair is divine!” 

“Hm,” Pansy said noncomitally. Harry leaned into her touch. Her nails scratching at his scalp felt blissful. “You have some dead ends, though. When was the list time you trimmed it?” 

“Um … I got some sap in it last year and had to cut that bit out?” 

Draco snorted. Pansy patted the side of his head. “I’ll trim it for you sometime. It’s healthier that way, you know.” 

They fell silent, but for Draco’s exclamations when his house of cards exploded. Harry was almost lulled to sleep by Pansy’s deft movements, pulling his hair bit by bit out of his face. He’d kept his forehead covered since he’d come to school, wanting a bit of privacy, but before that he’d often worn his hair off his head. He liked the feeling. 

“There,” Pansy said finally. She urged him up and towards a mirror hanging above the fireplace. “What do you think?” 

She had woven several intricate braids through his hair so that it pulled away from his face and into an elaborate tail. “You’re an artist,” he said honestly, grinning at her.

She tossed her own bobbed hair. “I know.”

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After potions on Wednesday, Severus murmured for him to stay after class. He waved for Ron to go ahead and finished bottling their antidote base, labeling it carefully. They hadn’t been doing much brewing at all this year—half of their classes had been simple bookwork. Reportedly it was much the same for other classes—Severus was still as nasty as ever, but only when he could be bothered to interact with the students at all. 

“Yes professor?” Harry asked. 

“After your remedial lesson with Professor Vector, I will collect you from the common room so that we may meet with the headmaster.” 

Harry swallowed. He had been expecting this second meeting, but he hadn’t been looking forward to it. “You’ll be there?” 

Severus stared at him. “Yes, Potter. You have nothing to—to fear, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m not afraid. I’m just … sad. I don’t know how to talk to him when I know what he did.” 

“You say that as if you knew him before,” Severus said, raising an eyebrow.

Harry shrugged. “No, I just … heard of him.” 

“Alright, Potter. Go on now. Oh, and Professor McGonagall wished for me to tell you she will bring the photos to the meeting tonight for you. She has made copies for you to keep.” 

“Thanks,” Harry said softly, and left. 

He spent the rest of the day in the foulest of moods. Even the twins, who looked as if they would approach him in the great hall, swerved at the last minute when they caught his gaze. 

“What’s wrong with you,” Draco asked, as they went over his transfigurations homework. “You look like your owl’s died.” 

“Yeah,” said Pansy, sitting nearby on an armchair, reading. “Stormcloud Potter.” 

“I have a meeting with Dumbledore this evening,” said Harry, dutifully re-doing an incorrect sum.

“Eugh,” said Pansy. “That’s enough to give you that face, then.” 

“Why’s he so keen on you?” asked Draco. 

Harry shrugged. “It’s to do with my aunt and uncle.”

“The muggles?” Pansy scrunched up her nose.

“Yeah.” 

“Filthy things,” Draco muttered.

Harry turned to him in surprise. “What?” 

Draco looked at him. “Muggles. They’re dirty. Everyone knows so.” 

“Do they?” Harry frowned. Was this what Hermione had meant, the other day in the library? “What are you talking about?” 

Draco huffed and crossed his arms. “It’s true.”

“But—well, Hermione’s parents are muggle. And Hermione’s not dirty. She’s the best witch in our year!”

“No, she’s not,” said Draco. “Purebloods are superior magically.” 

Harry looked at Pansy in askance, who looked uncomfortable. “That’s ridiculous! Hermione turned her match into a needle on the first go last week, and yours wouldn’t stop bursting into flame!” 

“My father says it’s true,” said Draco.

“Oh, if your father says so,” spat Harry, snapping his third quill in half. “My guardian says all wizards are inherently magically inferior, and right now that sounds about right! Pansy, you can’t believe this, can you?” 

Pansy shrugged, her mouth pulled down. “It’s just the truth.” 

“My mum!” Harry shouted, recalling all he had learned from Severus and Minerva. “She was muggle-born—and she was top of her class, Snape said! And I’m supposed to have defeated that wizard, Voldemort, so explain that!”

They both flinched hard when he said the wizard’s name for some reason, and they glared at him angrily. Draco crossed his arms. 

“Yeah, you did!” Pansy yelled, snapping her book shut. “So why did you think it was a good idea to be sorted here in the first place?” 

Harry stood up, outraged and baffled. “Stars, Pansy, what are you talking about?!” 

“Mr. Potter! Mr. Malfoy! Miss Parkinson!” 

Severus, livid, in the portrait hole. 

Pansy and Draco went pale; Harry sat down quickly.

“Please reiterate to me the Hogwarts policy on verbal aggression,” Severus said, voice icy.

“Unbecoming and ineffectual,” squeaked Pansy. 

“Unbecoming, ineffectual, and not tolerated,” said Severus. “Especially not in the common room, where your peers are studying. Detention tomorrow night, potions classroom, six o’clock. Mr. Potter, come with me.” 

Harry stuffed his things into his bag without looking at the others and stormed out after him. 

Snape glanced at him in askance as they walked down the corridor. “Would you like to inform me what that was about?” 

“Don’t ask me!” Harry said. “They were saying something about muggles being, being dirty or something! I don’t know why they would say that!” 

Snape’s face was drawn. “Unfortunately, Mr. Potter, the notion is deeply rooted in wizarding culture.”

Harry frowned at him. “It is?” 

“It is. As you grow older you will become more aware of the prejudices in our society. Many purebloods, those with no muggle ancestry, believe their own magic to be, well, purer that those with muggle ancestry, and consider themselves above muggles in general. It was with this rhetoric that the Dark Lord rose to power. Most of his followers were pureblood, and many of them from Slytherin.” 

Harry was silent for the rest of their walk, digesting this. 

“But,” he said as they reached the gargoyles, “it’s wrong. You said my mum’s parents were muggles, and she was powerful, you said so! And aren’t I supposed to be, too? And Hermione!” 

Severus nodded slowly, his gaze distant. "Prejudice is never founded on the truth, Mr. Potter. Only the lies we tell ourselves about it. Now, the headmaster is waiting.” 

Troubled and upset, Harry tailed Severus up into Dumbledore’s office for the second time. Dumbledore offered him a cup of tea; he declined, not meeting his eyes. McGonagall placed a hand on his shoulder, briefly. 

“My boy, I hear your studies are going well,” said Dumbledore, sipping his own tea. “Professor Flitwick is impressed by your charm work.” 

Harry shrugged. “I’m not doing as well in transfiguration.” 

“Your performance is perfectly adequate,” said McGonagall, “now that your arithmetic has begun to improve. You needn’t be a prodigy, Mr. Potter.” 

Harry looked to Fawkes, who was nearly an adult again, but still had a leggy gangly-ness to him. He cooed at Harry, shuffling his wings. Harry smiled back. 

“Fawkes,” Dumbledore said. “You met him a fortnight ago, I believe. My companion for many years.” 

“He’s beautiful,” Harry said. 

“I am fortunate to have the privilege of his company,” Dumbledore agreed. “Are you liking Hogwarts?” 

Harry shrugged. “Some of it. But some people are stupid.” 

Severus made a disapproving sound, but Dumbledore smiled. “I find that is the case wherever one goes, Mr. Potter.”  He sighed. “And now, if you don’t mind, I am afraid we must return to the topic we broached at our last meeting.” 

Harry drew in a deep breath through his nose and tried to calm his heart. His approach had changed since learning about his parents and his past. He was someone to these people, and so he could no longer just play dumb. 

He met Dumbledore’s eyes for the first time and said what he had been practicing, the words coming out around a blockage of betrayal in his throat. “I ran away from my aunt’s house,” he said clearly. “The magic you say was there did not protect me.” 

He rubbed his thestral and unicorn hair bracelet through his fingers, feeling the old magic of his friends, here with him, lending him courage. His memories would not hurt him. 

“I lived in a cupboard. I did their housework. They hurt me. So I left. I found a good place, with a family. I won’t tell you any more.” 

“Mr. Potter,” said McGonagall, her voice shaking. “You will.” 

Harry shook his head, fingers moving faster and faster over his bracelet. Dumbledore hadn’t dropped his gaze, and so neither did he look away. The headmaster’s expression was … broken, a little, maybe. 

“You put me there,” Harry said. “With them. So why would I trust you with where I am now?” 

There was silence. Severus’ hand had come at some point to rest on his shoulder, and Harry as glad of it. He didn’t know who Severus was to him, really, if he was on Harry’s side or Dumbledore’s, if there even were sides, but he was still glad of the anchor. 

Slowly, Dumbledore shook his head. “My boy, I cannot think of a single reason why you should.” He took off his glasses for a moment, rubbed a thumb under one eye, and put them back on. “I have failed you utterly.” 

Something in Harry relaxed a bit. He realized he had half-expected for Dumbledore to call him a liar. 

“I hope in time there can be trust between us,” Dumbledore said softly. “And I know I must earn it from you. And yet, you are a minor without a guardian. You are enrolled in Hogwarts: you must, by wizarding law, have a recognized guardian and home.” 

Harry frowned.

“You will not send him back to them,” said Severus, hand firm on his shoulder. McGonagall nodded in agreement.

“No,” Dumbledore said. “I think not. Perhaps the best solution is for you to become a ward of the castle, and one of the teachers your guardian. I would do it.” 

Harry shook his head, thoughts churning. “Professor Snape.” 

“What?” asked Severus.

“You’re my head of house,” Harry said. “Only, Professor Dumbledore, you can’t blame him when I disappear.” 

They all stared at him. “Mr. Potter,” said McGonagall. “The pointing of assigning you a guardian is to give you a place to stay. A home.” 

Harry twisted his bracelet around his fingers until they turned white. ”I have a home,” he said. “A good one. A better one than you chose for me.” He closed his eyes and breathed in deep. “And if you think any ‘guardian’ can stop me going home when school’s out, you’re wrong. I didn’t have to come to Hogwarts in the first place, you know. I could have stayed gone. If I had, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, and the “boy who lived” would have stayed dead forever.” 

“Mr. Potter, you are severely out of line,” said Severus.

“I know,” said Harry. “I’ll take the detentions. Just so long as you all understand.” 

Dumbledore appraised him. Something in his eye twinkled. “Should you go missing, it will be our duty to search until we find you.” 

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Haven’t you been doing that already, for the past three years?” 

There was silence. Harry could have sworn Dumbledore’s mouth twitched. 

“I suppose we understand each other, then,” said Dumbledore. “I will go about making the arrangements. Rather quickly and quietly, I should think. You may head back to your common room, Mr. Potter.”

“Albus,” said McGonagall, her tone vaguely scandalized. 

Dumbledore twinkled at her. “Minerva, it is clear that we must make the most of unusual circumstances. The worst has not come to pass. In fact, I would say very nearly the best has come to pass. And at the moment I choose to be grateful for it, rather than fight fate.” 

Harry bit back a huge sigh of relief and stood, Severus alongside him.

“Here, Mr. Potter,” Minerva said wearily, passing him an envelope. “I have given you the originals and kept the copies.” 

“Thank you, professor,” said Harry softly, following Severus back out of the headmaster’s office. For a while they walked in silence.

“So when’s my detention?” Harry asked. 

“Tomorrow at six, like I told the others,” muttered Severus, ignoring it when Harry beamed at him.

Chapter Text

“You will scrub these cauldrons, using no magic, until they shine,” said Severus. Draco glared at him mutinously. Pansy stared at her shoes. Harry just wanted to leave. “I will be marking essays in my office, but rest assured I will know should anything untoward happen. Understand?” 

“Yes, sir,” they said. 

“Have fun.” Severus swept out of the potions classroom. 

They stared at the cauldrons, avoiding each others’ gazes. Harry was the first to break, stomping forward and grabbing a brush and bucket of soapy water. He sat on the ground, pulled over a cauldron, and began scrubbing furiously, not looking at the others. 

Pansy and then Draco followed suit, though he could tell they glanced over at him occasionally to see what he was doing. Spoiled, he thought meanly, and scrubbed at the grime.

They played the grudging silence game for half an hour until Pansy proved to be the most mature one. “Honestly!” she said. “Draco, he does have a point, you know. If muggleborns are so weak, how can Granger do what she does? She’s an awful know-it-all, but still!” 

“Blood traitor,” Draco hissed. Pansy threw soapy water on him, and he rose in outrage.

“Professor Snape!” whispered Harry, and both of them sat back down. 

“It’s just sense,” said Pansy. “I’m just saying, on this one small point, he’s right. The professors say Granger’s the most talented witch they’ve ever seen.” 

“That’s one anomaly,” said Draco snootily. 

“What about me defeating Voldemort, then?” demanded Harry, snorting when Draco jerked at the name and got soap up his nose. 

“Two anomalies.”

“Well, I’m not going to keep being your friend if you think that,” said Harry coldly. “I have plenty more who don’t think foul things about my mother.” 

Draco looked up, mouth open, and Harry glared at him and resumed scrubbing. 

The silence lasted for ten more minutes. Harry got through three cauldrons. 

“Fine,” Draco said finally. 

Harry glared at him. “Fine, what?”

“Just fine!” 

“Are you trying to apologize?” Harry asked. “Because that’s not how you do it.” 

“I’m sorry,” Draco said in a voice that could freeze lava.

“Was that the first time you’ve ever said that?” Pansy asked in mock wonder. Harry laughed, and Draco threw her a betrayed look. 

“I’m not saying it again,” he said.

“Alright,” said Harry. “Do you both still want to be friends?” 

Pansy nodded. “I’m sorry too, Harry. I didn’t think about your mum when I said that.” 

“It’s alright,” Harry said. “I just don’t understand why you’d even think that way. I’ve never heard anyone say that before. It reminded me of how wizards talk about other beings. I hate it.”

Pansy nodded slowly. “Like elves?” 

“Elves and centaurs and merfolk. Wizards don’t think they’re real people, or something.”

“You’re saying wizards like you aren’t one,” said Draco. 

“I wish I wasn’t, a lot of the time,” said Harry honestly. “Wizards are pretty awful.” 

That shut them both up for a while. 

“My mother says it’s just natural,” said Pansy after a moment. “She says that centaurs and other creatures, they don’t think like we do. She says they’re more like animals.” 

“They’re not,” Harry snapped. “You’d know that if you, I don’t know, talked to one.” 

“Talked? To what, a—a centaur?” Pansy sounded a bit scared. “Isn’t that dangerous?” 

Harry shook his head. “Centaurs aren’t dangerous.” Oh? asked a voice in his head that sounded like Bane. “Well, alright, they are,” he admitted. “But so are wizards.” 

“Not like centaurs!” Draco burst out. “Centaurs are violent from the moment they’re born!”

For a moment Harry wasn’t in the potions classroom. He was placing his hand on Nayla’s side, and feeling a triple heartbeat. “You’re wrong,” he said softly. “You’re just wrong. I don’t know how you can say these things about people you’ve never met. It really—it really hurts. And friends don’t hurt each other.” He turned back to his cauldron and scrubbed, feeling tears pooling in his eyes. 

“Harry!” Draco burst out. He looked like he didn’t know what to say next. “I—I’ve never met a centaur.” 

“I know,” Harry muttered.

“I’d—I’d meet one,” Draco said tremulously. “If you wanted.”

Harry looked at him. “You want to be friends that bad?” 

Draco nodded. 

“Maybe one day you will, then,” said Harry. “If you stop being so horrible.” 

“I’ll stop,” promised Draco. “I’ll try to stop.” 

Harry swallowed. “I accept your apology, then,” he said, and glanced at Pansy. “And yours. Friends?” 

“Friends,” echoed Pansy, Draco coming in a bit late in a whisper. 

The three of them scored together to finish the cauldrons. When Severus returned an hour later, the floor was covered in clean cauldrons and the three of them were laughing as they scrubbed. 

“Dismissed,” Snape said. “Don’t let it happen again.”

“We’ll try, professor,” said Pansy, and led them, huddled and giggling, from the room.

maroon sprout

“I heard you and Draco got into a massive row,” said Daphne, as they walked down the school grounds. 

“Yeah,” Harry said. “He was saying horrible things about muggles and muggleborns and other beings … but he apologized and said he’d stop.” 

“Its that why he’s been so quiet this week?” Daphne stooped briefly to pick up a few vibrant red leaves from the ground, twirling them between her fingers.

“I suppose.” 

“I saw him at dinner yesterday—he stacked all his plates up, and Greg’s too.” 

“He didn’t!” 

She grinned. “He did. I couldn’t believe it. I do as well, you know. I didn’t used to even think about it—my family doesn’t own any house elves so it never occurred—but you’re right, obviously. It’s horrible how we treat them.” 

He nodded. “It is.” 

They were quiet for a moment. They were going to Hagrid’s hut—Harry wanted to introduce Daphne—taking the long way around the lake to enjoy a truly gorgeous autumn day.

“You know, my parents were worried about me getting Slytherin,” Daphne said finally. She was twisting the leaves between her fingers so fast they blurred. 

“They were?” Harry asked. “Why?” 

She shrugged. “Because it’s the house Voldemort and his followers were in. Blood purists. They don’t just hate muggles and muggleborns, they hate people like my family, too. Immigrants.” 

Harry frowned deeply. “That’s awful. Have you been okay? Do people bother you?” 

“No.” She shook her head. “No, they don’t, actually. I was really relieved. You should have seen my mother’s owl, talking about how it wasn’t too late to enroll me in the Magus Institute where my aunt teaches in Iran, or homeschool me like my cousins, just say the word. But it’s been really good so far.” She nudged him with her elbow. “Especially being friends with you.” 

He grinned and linked his elbow through hers. “Good. I’d miss you if you went to the Magus Institute.” 

She poked one of the leaves into his braid, and put the other one behind her ear. “There,” she said. “We’re autumn twins.” 

“Brilliant.” 

maroon sprout

Harry woke in the middle of the night to Draco’s scream. 

He nearly fell out of bed, seizing his wand from his nightstand. “What, Draco!” Around them most of the other boys had jolted awake as well, minus Greg. It was so early still that the lights hadn’t lit yet, and the only light in the room was Draco’s wand, and even that was flickering rapidly.

“Bloody hell, what?” groaned Blaise. 

“The—the—the window!” Draco stuttered, voice high-pitched and frantic. “I saw—something!” 

Harry lit his elflight without thinking, sending it floating high in the middle of the room, the faint lilac glow illuminating Draco’s drawn and shaking face, the other boys peering fearfully through their bed curtains. Slowly, Harry slipped out of bed and towards the watery window.

“Careful, Harry!” Draco shrieked. 

Cautiously, Harry put one hand against the glass. 

Out of the black water, a hand pressed against his, and a grinning face of shark-teeth plastered itself against the glass on the other side. Harry gasped in surprise, and then started to giggle uncontrollably. 

Ava, eerie and eldritch in the black of the lake, pressed her face against the glass and made horrific faces. 

Ava, grinning, pressing her face and hands against the window

Ava, eerie and eldritch in the black of the lake, pressed her face against the glass and made horrific faces. 

“Harry, what is it!” Draco yelled, at a decibel only dogs could hear. Blaise and Vincent drew cautiously close to the window. When she saw the other boys, Ava looked sheepishly at Harry, mouth pulling to once side in consternation. 

Discreetly, Harry put a finger to his lips. 

“It’s just a mergirl,” Harry said to the room at large. “Come meet her.” 

“I thought you said they wouldn’t attack unless we have them a good reason,” Vincent whispered. 

“She’s not attacking, she’s just coming to say hi,” said Harry. “Theo, do you have parchment?” 

Silently, Theo passed him a sheet of parchment. Harry scribbled on it, showing it to them all: Hello! Put up one finger for yes, two fingers for no. Then he plastered it to the glass. Ava peered at it for a moment, and then grinned widely, putting up one finger. 

“It can understand us!” Vincent squeaked. 

“Are you sure it’s not going to attack?” Draco whispered, drawing up to Harry’s shoulder, but staying resolutely behind him. 

“Yeah, come on. Put your hand to the glass.” No-one moved. Impatiently, Harry said, “Vincent? Come on, don’t be scared.” 

Slowly, Vincent crept closer, and placed his hand on the window as though it would bite him. Ava pressed her palm to his on the other side, giving him a smile with as few teeth as she could manage, which was still quite a bit. Then she took her hand from his, rummaged around in her pocket, and came up with seaweed paper and writing implement. She scribbled for a moment, then pressed it against the glass. 

Hello humans! I am Avalon! :D 

“What’s that at the end?” Theo asked.

“It’s a smiling face,” said Harry. “Sideways, see?” 

“Introduce us,” Vincent said, suddenly eager. “Please?” 

“Sure.” He scribbled all their names on the parchment, pointing to each one in turn, as Ava mouthed their names. 

“Ask why she’s here,” said Blaise. 

I was bored! wrote Ava. I wanted to meet some humans!

Draco giggled unexpectedly. “Can I ask a question?” he said hesitantly. 

“Sure!” Harry said. 

“How old is she?” 

Harry scribbled it for Ava.

I am twelve! Ava wrote. But my hatchday is soon! How old are you? 

They shared their ages. Vincent wanted to know if Ava had parents, and then Theo wanted to know how come her parents let her go off at night to visit wizards. The answer being: they did not know she had left the house. Draco, for some reason, wanted to know if she had a last name, which led to Ava explaining the custom of last names coming from homes.

They ended up talking with Ava for so long that the steady brightening of the lamps in the dormitory went unnoticed, and when it was finally the morning, they were all exhausted and yawning. Ava bid them goodbye, tentatively promising to visit again, and swam away with a wink to Harry.

“Wow,” said Vincent, who had asked the most questions out of anyone and seemed fascinated by Ava. “We talked to a real merperson!” 

Theo also seemed dazzled. “She was really cool. I’d like to go underwater one day.” Blaise nodded in agreement. 

Harry looked to Draco, who had lost his initial fright but still seemed a bit nervous. He’d been silent for the last half hour or so, just watching Ava. Harry decided to let him think.

From the bed nearest the door, Greg sat up with a yawn, looking surprised to find them all awake and clustered around the window. “Did I miss something?”

maroon sprout

“Snake!” Limmy’s ears were flat back.

“Hello, Limmy! I is missing you! Er, is something wrong?” 

Limmy tossed something ugly and orange straight at his face. 

“It’s … a weird pillowcase?” 

“It’s a hat!” Limmy said. “Elves is finding hats all over Gryffindor common room! Hidden behind pillows, under beds, on top of doors … does you know why this is happening?” 

“Um.” Harry examined the hat, which really didn’t deserve the name. There was only one person he had talked to about elves recently without shouting. “Er. Maybe.” 

Limmy looked at him in askance. “This is the last thing we needs right now, Snake. You knows what’s afoot! We needs to keep a low profile, and ugly hats all over the common room isn’t helping!” 

“I’m sorry,” Harry said weakly. “I isn’t knowing she would do this. I is talking to her.” 

“Make sure you do,” Limmy huffed. “Bonny is nearly fainting this morning, and Norry is very angry.” 

Harry sighed. “Nothing is easy, is it, Limmy?” 

She shook her head. “I wishes so very often, though.” Huffing, she sank to the floor, fishing out a packet of notes. “For you. Snake?” 

“Yeah?” 

“One day … will you takes me to visit the merfolk? When all this is being over?” She glanced up at him. “It is never being really over, of course. But once I is able to.” 

Harry sat beside her and leaned his head on her shoulder. “Of course, Limmy. We is going to go everywhere together. The lake, the forest, beyond the forest, even. I is introducing you to all my friends.” 

She gave him a shaky smile. “Good.” 

“Is you alright? Your wand is gone all the time now.” 

She nodded, looking over at Pip, who was cuddled against Hedwig. The two had become fast friends. “I is just tired. I practices all the time, and things is … hard. Other elves is saying I is too young to be taking part in … in things. But I knows things better than them—things about magic.” 

“Is you going to tell them?” Harry asked, running a thumb through his notes from Ava. “Soon?” 

“Soon, I thinks,” Limmy said. “I wants them to know what I can do, so that they understands that they needs me—that I is just as necessary to the cause as the older elves is.” 

Harry tugged her ear gently. “They is seeing you. I know it. Besides, someday they is needing me—and I is not doing anything without you.” 

Limmy smiled at him, tired but bright.

Chapter Text

“Hermione,” Harry said.

Hermione looked up from her transfiguration homework. “Oh, hello, Harry.” She looked a bit drawn. 

“Hi,” he said cautiously, sitting opposite her. “Are you alright?” 

“Oh, you know.” Hermione shrugged. “Tired.” 

“Can I talk to you about something?” 

“Sure.” Hermione marked her page and pushed her book away, glancing around for a sign of Madam Pince. 

Harry put an ugly orange hat on the table. “Are you making these?” 

“Oh, yes!” Hermione brightened. “After you told me about the elves, I knew I just had to do something—it’s completely barbaric, wizards owning slaves! And I read that they are freed if their masters give them clothes, so I’m leaving hats and scarves around for them!”

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Er. You have to stop.” 

Her face fell. “What do you mean?” 

“You’re upsetting the elves,” Harry said. “They don’t like finding the hats everywhere.” 

Hermione frowned. “I’m helping. They shouldn’t get upset if I’m trying to help. Why would they be upset, anyway?” 

Harry twisted his fingers in his lap. “It’s … it’s not alright to help them without talking to them. If you want to help them, you have to ask how. Otherwise you’re making things worse.” 

Hermione frowned at him. “I’m not making things worse—I’m freeing them!” 

Harry shook his head. “You’re not the elves’ master, Hermione. You can’t free them. The hats are just more mess for them to clean, and it’s making them angry. You can’t just do everything on your own; you don’t even know them.” 

“I’ve read four books on them,” Hermione said hotly. 

“Yeah, and there are about a hundred living in the castle that you’ve never spoken to,” Harry snapped.

Hermione crossed her arms. “You don’t understand what I’m trying to do, Harry.” 

“You don’t understand what you’re doing. Stop leaving the hats! If you don’t, you’ll just keep making them angrier.” 

Hermione stood up and shoved her books into her bag, and then grabbed the hat as well. “You’re just like everyone else here. I thought we were friends.” 

He gaped at her. “What? We are friends! This doesn’t have anything to do with that!”

But she had swung her bag over her shoulder and marched away.  

Harry put his head down on the table. Couldn’t anything go right anymore? 

maroon sprout

“Quidditch!” Ron trumpeted, the moment Harry sat down at the Gryffindor table that morning. “Flying lessons! Finally!” 

Harry agreed wholeheartedly. “I don’t understand why they made us wait so long.” 

“It’s so you can get acclimated to everything as first years,” said Percy, leaning away from Oliver to contribute. “Too much at once would be overwhelming.” 

“Not quidditch,” Ron pointed out. Harry nodded. 

“They’re right, Perce,” said Oliver, looping his arm around Percy’s waist. “Quidditch just makes sense.” 

Percy rolled his eyes and went back to his porridge. 

Harry and Ron nearly ran to the quidditch pitch for their first flying lesson, which meant they were able to snatch the best brooms from Madam Hooch, who was just coming out of the broom shed. 

“Eager, are you, boys?” she asked grinning. “Planning on trying out next year?” 

“Yes!” Ron said. “For keeper!” 

“And you, Potter?” 

“I’ll be good with anything,” Harry said happily. “I just want to fly.” 

“Your dad was an excellent chaser, I heard.” 

“Really?” Harry asked excitedly. “Did my mum play?” 

“Don’t think so,” said Hooch, dropping the last broom to the ground. “Now, put those brooms down until class starts. Don’t let me see any feet off the ground, or else.” 

They dropped the brooms reluctantly. Draco joined them soon, standing on Harry’s other side. He gave Ron a supremely awkward wave. Ron gave him an odd chin-jerk back. Harry didn’t say anything—this was progress from the two previous stages of Ron and Draco’s communication: outright aggression, followed by ignoring the others’ existence.

The rest of the classes slowly joined them. Hermione situated herself as far from Harry as she could, and also as far as the Gryffindor girls as she could, which ended up being beside Blaise at the end of the row. Harry tried to catch her eye, but she was steadfastly ignoring him.

Harry frowned, staring at the ground. 

“Fight with Granger?” Ron asked. “Finally seeing the light?” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry snapped.

Ron shrugged. “She’s a nightmare, honestly.” 

“No she’s not!” Harry said. 

“Whatever.” 

And with that, the flying lesson began. It was just like the lesson Harry had observed with Cho Chang’s class so long ago. His broom snapped to his hand in an instant. Draco’s came almost as fast, and Ron’s quick after theirs. Across from Harry in line, Millicent’s rose with surprising alacrity as well.  

And then Neville fell off his broom and hurt his wrist, and Madam Hooch ushered him inside with a warning to the rest of class not to touch their brooms until she returned.

“Look, he dropped something,” Draco said, picking up a glass ball that swirled with red clouds. “It’s a remembrall, I think. Too bad he couldn’t remember it.”

“I’ll take it to him next class,” said Lavender Brown, holding out a hand.

For a moment, Draco’s fingers tightened around the device. Then he glanced at Harry, looked away hurriedly, and tossed the ball to Lavender. 

maroon sprout

“Halloween!” shouted Myrtle, sticking her head through his plate of eggs. He almost fell off the bench in fright. Vincent actually fell of the bench.

“Halloween!” he agreed, when he’d righted himself. “Happy Halloween, Myrtle.” 

“Happy Halloween,” chorused the Slytherins nearest them, who were used to Myrtle popping in by now. 

Myrtle leaned on her elbows, right in his bacon. “I like Halloween. I can be scary, and no-one will tell Dumbledore on me. See?” Her eyes started to droop and drip, pupils elongating and spilling like tears down her cheeks. Her jaw dropped open far wider than a human jaw should, her mouth full of shadows.

Myrtle leans her head to the side, black tears falling from her face

"I can be scary, and no-one will tell Dumbledore on me."

“That’s brilliant, Myrtle,” said Daphne. “Show Draco, go on.” 

Myrtle turned her face to Draco, who gave a shudder of horror and scrambled to sit on the opposite side of Greg. 

“Are you alright, Harry?” asked Pansy, seated across from him, poking at her oatmeal and looking concerned.

“Er, yeah? Why, is something wrong?” 

She shrugged. “No, it’s just … you know. Halloween.” 

Harry looked at Myrtle, who shrugged. “What’s wrong with Halloween?” 

“Oh, er. You don’t know? It’s when. Well,” Pansy lowered her voice to a whisper. “It’s when you defeated the Dark Lord.” 

“It’s when … oh.” If he had defeated Voldemort on Halloween, then this was also the anniversary of his parents’ deaths.

He felt the knowledge settle like stone into his stomach, and it set the tone for the rest of his day. His friends were good about it, though. Daphne stuck by his side and kept passing him grapes she’d taken from breakfast. Draco shifted his transfiguration notes over a few inches so Harry could copy from them when his attention drifted. In potions, Ron took over most of the brewing, and Harry only really contributed to stop them having any terrible accidents. 

It was nice, he realized, to be surrounded by friends. Friends who would watch his back while he tried to figure out if the anniversary of his parents’ deaths should mean anything to him.

He’d never even known their names, after all. 

“Mr. Potter?” Severus asked. 

“Hm?” Harry looked up. He was the only one left in the potions classroom, holding his and Ron’s stoppered vial tightly. He didn’t know how long he’d been staring at it. “Sorry, Sev—um, Professor Snape.” 

Severus stared at him. “Are you quite alright?” 

Harry shrugged. “My parents died today.” 

“Oh.” Severus released a breath. “I hadn’t realized you knew.” 

“Pansy told me.” 

Gingerly, Severus pulled a stool around to Harry’s table and sat, a little too tall and gangly to fit comfortably. He took the vial from Harry’s hand and looked at it critically. “Full marks, I expect,” he said finally. “You take after your mother. She had a deft hand at potions.” 

Harry looked at him in surprise. His gaze was distant, off over Harry’s shoulder. “She always complained to me—before we stopped speaking, of course—that she felt as if it should translate to cooking, though it never did, for her. Burned everything she tried to make over the summers.” 

Harry giggled. Severus seemed to come back to himself, meeting Harry’s eyes. An odd grin pulled at his mouth, like it hadn’t been in that shape for quite a while and was out of practice.

“One summer she tried to make a layered cake for her mother’s birthday,” Severus said. “I was in charge of mixing the icing. I’d never had a problem cooking—I’ve always found the two disciplines did overlap. I offered to do the batter, but she refused, as it was her mother’s birthday. Anyway, it turned out lumpy and charred, and she was so disappointed I suggested we just cover it in icing and serve it anyway. The look on her mother’s face when she took a bite … but she ate a whole slice, so as to not hurt our feelings.”

Harry could almost imagine the scene. “That’s brilliant,” he said. “What was her name? My grandmother?” 

“Azalea Evans,” Severus said. “A wonderful woman. Always let me sleep on Lily’s floor when … when there was trouble at home. Up until fifth year, I practically lived at her house in the summers.” 

Harry traced the wood grain on the table. He knew what he wanted to ask. He didn’t know if Severus would answer. He asked anyway. “What happened?” Harry asked quietly. “Why did you fight?” 

Severus took a shallow breath. “I … well. You remember our talk about belief in blood purity?” 

Harry nodded slowly, resisting the urge to rest his head on the table. Today had tired him out. Living with knowledge of his parents was exhausting. 

“I came to believe such things, Mr. Potter,” Severus said crisply, as if he was trying to get the words out without emotion. He failed, though. “I was horrible to your mother. She was quite correct to end our friendship. We never reconciled before she was murdered.”

Harry took this in. He didn’t know how to feel. Angry? “Do you still?” Harry asked. “Believe that?” 

Severus shook his head. “Not for a long time, Mr. Potter. After all, I myself am a half-blood. A person with only one magical parent.” 

“Then why …?” 

Severus shrugged. “Why? Many reasons. My muggle father was a terrible man, and I hated him. The pureblood Slytherins were cruel to me, and I wanted their respect. I sought power, and those who espoused such beliefs offered a meager amount of it. I saw cruel charity as acceptance. Take your pick.” He spun Harry’s potions vial between his fingers, the glittering facets catching the dim light. 

“Oh.” Harry did put his head down then, exhausted. When would things stop getting more and more complicated? Was this what it meant to grow older? To become aware of ever-more-infinite tangles, some of them good and some of them bad, but most of them terribly sad? 

Severus sighed and stood. “Dinner, Mr. Potter. Though if you wish to be excused and go to sleep, I will allow it.” 

Harry shook his head. “No, I want to see my friends.” 

“May I walk you to the great hall?” 

Harry nodded.

They walked to the hall in silence, and Harry, to his surprise, felt comforted by Severus’ presence as well. Severus wasn’t one of his friends, but maybe, like the others, he was someone who had Harry’s back. Above all the things he’d learned, the image of an icing-covered catastrophe of a cake stuck in Harry’s mind, and it was a happy one. 

Harry waved at Daphne and pointed that he was going to sit with the Weasleys, and she grabbed her bag and joined him. Out of the other Slytherin first years, she was the one who had the most Gryffindor friends. 

Ron hugged him when they settled in, and Harry clutched him back gratefully. 

“I wasn’t sure if I should leave you or not, you were kind of zoning out,” Ron said.

“Thanks,” Harry said, smiling at him. “It was alright. Professor Snape and I talked a bit about my mum.” 

“He knew her?” Ron asked, surprised. 

“Yeah.” 

“Oh.” Ron shoved a bite of chicken into his mouth. Fred and George called his attention to the Halloween decorations: hundreds of floating candles and pumpkins, leaves and gourds decorating the tables. Altogether it reminded Harry of being in the forest, which made him a bit more melancholy.

Hermione, he noticed, was absent entirely.

“Hermione?” Lavender said, when Daphne asked. “Dunno. Heard her crying in the toilet after potions, though.” She rolled her eyes.

“Why?” Harry asked, frowning. “Is she hurt?” 

Lavender shrugged. 

Harry opened his mouth to demand more information, but then Percy sat down next to Oliver a bit down the table and he forgot completely. “Happy Halloween, Percy!” he called. 

Percy gave him an odd little smile. “Happy Halloween, Potter. Doing alright?” 

“Yes! Er, brilliant!” 

Ron gave him a bewildered look, the twins snorted, and Harry blushed scarlet and turned to ask Neville about his remembrall.

And then midway through dessert, Professor Quirrell burst through the door, turban halfway undone, heaving and gasping with panic. The whole hall went deadly silent, the only sound the inconsistent wobble of his frantic steps. 

“Troll,” he gasped, chest heaving, “in the dungeons. Thought you ought to know.” And he fainted dead away in the middle of the floor. 

There was a brief uproar before Dumbledore marshaled the students, prefects quickly whipping the houses into shape to proceed to their common rooms, except the Slytherins, who would remain in the great hall.

Daphne made her way back to their house table, but Harry gripped Ron’s arm suddenly. 

“What?” Ron asked, pale with fear. 

“Hermione,” Harry hissed. “She’s in the toilet in the dungeons!” 

Ron groaned, long and dramatic, but when Harry shoved his way through the students and ran for the dungeons, he followed. 

It was lucky Harry knew the corridors as well as he did. In minutes they had skidded to a halt in front of the girl’s bathroom, which was so much wreckage—the door had been obliterated, and a high, terrified scream was coming from inside. 

Barreling inside, they pulled up short at the sight: a massive troll, grey and lumpy-skinned, bringing a club the size of a tree trunk down onto a bathroom stall. They saw Hermione dart out just in time, tucking herself under a sink as the toilet exploded and water jetted everywhere. 

“Hermione!” Ron yelled, charging inside the bathroom. He had his wand drawn, arm shaking. 

Harry had never seen a troll before, but he wondered why this one was so angry. “HELLO!” he shouted. “WHY ARE YOU HERE? WHAT’S WRONG?” 

“HARRY, DON’T TALK TO IT!” Ron screamed, standing in front of Hermione, wand pointed fiercely at the troll.

Harry ignored him. “CAN YOU UNDERSTAND ME?” he shouted. “WHAT ABOUT MERMISH? SNAKE? GOBLIN? HELLO? SALAM?” In rapid succession he tried Mermish, the snake language, Gobbledegook, one of the words he had retained in the acromantuale language, and the Arabic greeting Daphne had taught him.

The troll roared and raised its club. Ron shouted: “WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!” The club jerked out of the troll’s hands and floated there in the air. Ron gasped with the effort of holding it aloft.

The moment the club left the troll’s hand, something in its face changed. It blinked twice and tilted its head at Harry. It scratched at its wrists like it was trying to brush something off. 

“Ron? Throw the club by the toilets?” Harry asked.

Gasping, Ron jerked his arm, and the club flew away. He sank down beside Hermione, breathing hard. “Harry, don’t!” 

Harry had stepped forward, carefully, toward the troll. “It’s fine, Ron,” he said idly. Facing the troll, he crouched down and held his arms out. When the troll copied him, squatting and holding out its forearms, he grinned. Going over to the troll, he opened his mouth and breathed in. 

Along with the faint magical odor of the forest, there was indeed some sort of magic along the troll’s arms, collected in its palms and wrists. Harry took hold of one gently. Its hand was as big as his entire head. The troll whined a bit when he prodded at the magic. 

“What is it?” Hermione asked, sniffing.

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “There’s some kind of magic hurting it. It wants it off.”

“I know a spell,” she whispered. “I read about it.” She shuffled upright and started forward, and Ron went with her, protectively half a step in front. 

Hermione, shaking slightly, drew her wand and pointed it at the troll’s wrists. “Finite incantatem.” 

Like water, Harry felt the magic dissolve. The troll relaxed all at once, sitting hard on the ground. It seemed absolutely exhausted, perhaps as traumatized by the events as the students. 

At that moment, Minerva, Severus, and Quirrell burst in through the ruined entrance, coming up short at the sight of their three students sitting by a troll. Severus had some sort of gash on his leg, Harry noted with alarm.

“Granger, Weasley, Potter, get back,” Minerva said, whipping her wand out. 

“It’s okay, Professor,” Harry said. “There was something wrong with it—it’s okay now. It had some sort of harmful magic on it.” 

“It’s true, Professor,” Hermione said. “I used a spell to get rid of it. It stopped attacking us once Ron levitated its club away—I think there might be magic on it, too, that was hurting it.” 

Skirting around the troll, Severus limped over to the club lying by the ruins of a toilet, casting three spells rather quickly. A short nod confirmed Hermione’s idea. 

Quirrell was unable to do anything more than stare in horror at the troll. 

“Professor, it’s from the forest, I think,” Harry said. “It doesn’t look like it’s the troll’s fault for being here. Could you just take it home?” 

Minerva opened and closed her mouth. The troll gazed calmly at her, blinking slowly. Then it opened its mouth and said, slowly, “Home.” 

Minerva nodded minutely. “Home indeed. Potter, Weasley, Granger, to your common rooms with you. Well, Potter, you’re to the great hall. Now. I never want to see you attempting to—to deal with a situation of this sort again.” She was looking increasingly apoplectic.

“It was my fault, professor,” Hermione spoke up suddenly. She glanced at Harry and then back to McGonagall. “I’d read about trolls, I thought I—I thought I knew better, that I could handle things. I was wrong. Harry and Ron saved me.” 

She looked at Harry again, and he read the apology for what it was and smiled with relief. 

Minerva breathed slowly through her nose. “Twenty points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger.” 

Hermione frowned, but Ron linked his arm with hers. “That’s not true, professor!” he said. “It was my idea. I knew Hermione was here and I thought I could handle it.” 

Minerva’s eyes narrowed, but Hermione looked at Ron in delight. “I see. Twenty more points from Gryffindor.” 

Harry opened his mouth in outrage. “Professor, that’s not true either! I wanted to see if I could talk to the troll, and ... Ron and Hermione felt like they had to come with me to make sure I was safe!” 

“In that case,” said Severus silkily, coming up behind them. “Twenty points from Slytherin. Would any of you like to dig your graves deeper?” 

Mutely, they shook their heads. Minerva looked to the troll and back to them, and then she sighed. “And twenty points to Gryffindor and ten to Slytherin for … for reaching a peaceful outcome where I am sure no-one thought it possible.” 

“Now go,” Severus said ominously, and they went, waving to the troll, which waved lazily back.

There are some things you can’t share without becoming friends, and rescuing a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.

Chapter Text

“Harry, is your plan going to take much longer?” asked the twin he’d decided was Fred. 

“We’re getting really worried,” said the twin he’d decided was George.

Whenever the twins were truly scared, Harry noticed, they stopped splitting sentences. It was unnerving.

“Don’t worry, the plan’s ready,” Harry said. “Myrtle got what we need on Halloween. Neither of you have mentioned anything to Ron yet, right?” 

They shook their heads. “We don’t want to freak him out.” 

“Or, you know, let him know we’re onto him.” 

“I’ll keep what we need on me. Next time he brings him to dinner, we’ll do it. We just have to wait. Don’t tell him to bring him. It has to happen naturally.” 

“Right,” said Fred.

“Knew you’d be the perfect person for this,” said George. 

“You’re wilier than anyone knows,” said Fred. 

Harry grinned at them. 

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At breakfast, Harry received a surprise: Hedwig, swooping down to nibble at his bacon, a letter tied to her leg. He hadn’t sent her out to anyone recently, so who on earth would be sending him a letter with his own owl? Maybe the twins playing a prank?
 
He untied the letter, quickly realizing it was made of a familiar thick, brownish paper. Gleefully, he pressed it to his nose, imagining he could smell the forest on it.

“Er, what are you doing?” Draco asked. 

Harry ignored him, unrolling the note quickly. 

Heartkin,

Your owl found me last night! She just came fluttering down from the sky while I was stargazing. What a beautiful creature. What is her name? Now that you have an owl, we can finally talk. No need to rely on passing notes through my father and uncle! I’m so glad! 

How is Hogwarts? Have you made friends? I know you have. I had no way to warn you about the troll, so I hope you handled it well, though I know, of course, that you did. But tell me everything, still!

My education has been particularly rigorous lately. I think mother has seen something she does not wish to share with me, which seems foolish, but I can do nothing about it. I am studying wizard law in earnest at the moment. It is convoluted and bigoted and brings me no joy to read about.

Last night, I saw a shooting star. Do humans ask shooting stars to deliver messages to far-away friends? That is what centaurs do. Anyway, I told the star to say hello to you. Let me know if you received it. It’s alright if not, perhaps the star was going in a different direction. Uncle told me ….

And on the letter went, as Araeo wrote, apparently, every stray thought that had passed his mind. Harry read the whole thing thrice. It was so good to hear from Araeo he could have wept. The letter smelled like the forest, and at the end Araeo had sewn onto the parchment a small green glass bead. Harry snapped the thread and pulled a strand of hair from his braid, sliding the bead on carefully. 

“Here,” said Pansy, deftly weaving the strand back into the braid. “That’s nice. Who’s it from?” 

“My best friend,” Harry said happily, pressing the letter to his chest. Best friend was a paltry word for what Araeo was to him: Limmy and Ava were his best friends; Araeo was his heartkin. But what did wizards know of heartkin? In that moment, bead in his hair and Araeo’s words in his heart, Harry was less a wizard than he had been in months. It was a great relief to feel again as a being of the forest.

A great wave of homesickness overtook him, and to stave it off he pulled out an entire scroll of parchment and set to writing his response. He worked on it all day, and finished it that evening, taking his response to Hedwig in the owlery at the end of the day.

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The week passed tensely. Every night Harry caught the twins’ eyes, and every night they shook their heads. He and Araeo were corresponding every two days now, in a whirlwind of catch-up. Araeo wanted to know many things that Harry didn’t have answers to, and so he asked students and professors and spent time in the library to find things out.

Filius finally released him from penmanship lessons, which meant he could attend charms full-time. He only broke about two quills a week now. He asked Professor Vector when he might be free of remedial maths, and she gave a noncommittal hum in response. So, no likely freedom there. 

Hermione had stopped putting hats out and had instead devoted herself to reading everything the library held on elf history, to Limmy’s relief. Hermione, Ron, and Harry began studying in the Gryffindor common room a few evenings a week, and Ron was finding her a passable partner for chess, though he still won three out of four games. She had stopped looking so sad all the time.

And then, a week later at dinner, Fred caught his eye and nodded quickly. 

Excitement and nerves swooped through Harry’s stomach. He diverted course to the Gryffindor table, sliding in beside Ron, who sat next to Hermione and just down the corner from the twins. Ron’s robe pocket bulged tellingly. 

“Have you done the reading for defense?” Harry asked.

Ron groaned. “The whole chapter? Not yet. I’m about half-way through. I swear, that class is so boring ….” 

“It’s not boring, Ron,” Hermione said sternly. “It’s valuable to read about theory.” 

“But we never practice anything!” Ron exclaimed. 

Harry let them bicker agreeably, and added a square of cheese to his full plate. He felt the twins’ eyes on him as he took a small vial from his pocket, concealed in his hand, and let three drops fall onto the cheese. They shimmered for a moment and then absorbed into the surface, leaving no trace. Casually, he slipped the vial back into his pocket. 

“Ron!” Hermione hissed. “You didn’t bring your rat to dinner, did you? That’s unhygienic.” 

Ron waved a hand, pulling Scabbers out of his pocket. “Nah, Scabbers gets baths every week. He’s fine. He just likes a treat now and then, don’t you, Scabbers?” 

“Can I give him some cheese?” Harry asked eagerly. “It’s really cute how he holds it with his hands.” 

“Sure.” Ron turned Scabbers towards him. 

Harry plucked his little cheese cube and offered it to the rat. Scabbers took it in his paws—Harry tried not to remember them as human hands—and began to nibble it gently. Harry pet his head a bit and tried to laugh as he watched the rat devour the cheese.

“He is a bit cute,” Hermione said. 

Scabbers’ eyes started to droop.

“He’s tired,” Ron said. “I’ll let him sleep in my pocket. See, Hermione, he only touched that bit of cheese.” 

“I suppose.” 

Ron slipped Scabbers into his pocket, and Harry glanced at Fred and George, who were white-lipped and tense. George gave him a brief nod.

“What are you two worried about?” Ron asked them. 

George gave a badly-faked laugh. “Just wondering if the Cannons will win tomorrow.” 

“They will,” Ron said confidently.

Dinner passed both slowly and quickly. It was killing Harry to sit there and act natural, and it was obviously taking a toll on the twins too. But at last Ron yawned and stood up. The twins stood as well, to head back to the dorm with him. Harry elected to walk them as far as the passage to Slytherin. 

He waved them off halfway through the entrance hall, but did not go to Slytherin. He sat in the hall and waited, heart beating as fast as a drum, worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong.

But there came Fred and George, hurrying and drawn, George holding his book bag close to his chest. 

“Got him,” Fred whispered. “Let’s go, Snake, hurry.” 

Wands out just in case the potion wore off, they trotted to Minerva’s office, banging furiously on the door until she flung it open, wand out. 

“What’s going on?” she snapped.

“Professor,” Fred gasped. “Can we come in? It’s an emergency.” 

She let them in without another word, flicking her wand to send a silvery streak through the air and out the door. “I have summoned the headmaster. What is happening?” 

George clutched the bag to his chest. “Ron’s rat. Scabbers. I have it here. It’s a man.” 

Minerva stared at him. “What?” 

“It’s a man!” Fred said shrilly. “We saw him! We came into the dorm one day and saw him change into a rat, into Scabbers, but it’s a man!” 

Minerva raised her wand. “Put the bag on my desk,” she said, voice iron. 

George shoved it to the desk and retreated to Fred’s side. 

“Mr. Potter?” Minerva asked stiffly. “Explain your presence.” 

“I stole a sleeping potion and fed it to Scabbers,” Harry said hurriedly. 

“Merlin and Morgana,” Minerva said softly. With her free hand, she twitched open the bag. 

Inside, Scabbers stirred. Fred whimpered slightly. The rat opened one eye, then the other, blinking lazily at them. And then he seemed to wake up fully, and his ears went back, tail tightening around himself. 

Minerva leveled her wand at the rat. George squeaked. And the rat sprang from the desk, flying toward the door. 

Minerva snapped off several spells that just missed the creature, and Harry dove for it but only managed to skin his elbows on the stone, and then the door burst open and Dumbledore seemed to know already what was necessary, for he cast wordlessly and a shimmering blue barrier was erected just before the rat could escape. It bounced off the shield, flew through the air, and Minerva whipped off another spell that hit it head on. A yellow thing, cracking and sparking, that surrounded the creature. 

The rat began to change. It landed on all fours on the floor, but those limbs were no longer furred—they were human, and clawed, and trembling, and there was a man on the floor, whimpering and writhing and pawing at his face. 

“BEHIND ME,” Dumbledore boomed, and the twins and Harry skittered away. 

“Peter Pettigrew!” Minerva shouted, mouth agape. “What in Merlin’s name!” 

Dumbledore cast again, and Pettigrew lay bound and gagged on the floor, and he cast again, and a shimmering golden cage grew over him, and he cast again, and a translucent white net appeared over that. 

“Summon the aurors,” he said coldly. “At once.” 

Dumbledore casts a spell, suspending Peter in a bubble of yellow light. Peter is half-transformed between rat and man.

“Summon the aurors,” he said coldly. “At once.” 

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“Let me get this straight,” said Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt, rubbing a hand over his bald head. “You saw a man turning into your brother’s rat in the dormitory.” 

Fred and George, one on either side of Harry, nodded.

Kingsley, leaning against Dumbledore’s desk, sighed. “And you chose not to go straight to your professors about this … why?” 

“We didn’t want to upset Ron,” said Fred. 

“And we didn’t want to risk the rat getting wind of it and running away,” said George.

“You had no confidence your professors could handle it?” asked Kingsley. 

“No!” George said. “We just ….” 

“Didn’t think,” finished Fred.

“Well, you certainly thought,” drawled Kingsley. “Thought enough to steal a sleeping potion and dose the rat.” 

“That was Harry’s idea,” said George. “Er, sorry, Harry.” 

Harry shrugged. 

“Do you have anything to contribute, Mr. Potter?” asked Kingsley.

Harry shook his head. 

“You haven’t said a word since we got here.” 

Harry shrugged. 

The reason for his silence swore softly as she knocked a glittering instrument off of Dumbledore’s cabinet, catching it just in time. “Sorry, headmaster,” Tonks muttered.

“Quite alright,” said Dumbledore, observing Harry and the twins calmly. 

Kingsley sighed. “I cannot say I condone your choice of methods, boys. However, I must also thank you. The man you helped to apprehend—well, you may have uncovered something very well-hidden, with far-reaching ramifications. And you did, in the end, go to a teacher. Thank you for answering my questions.” 

“You’re welcome,” Fred said.

“Can we see Ron now?” 

Dumbledore nodded. “Professor McGonagall is fetching Ronald and Percival. Your parents will be here in fifteen minutes.” 

“What?” Fred squawked. 

“Are we in trouble?” asked George.

Percy’s full name was Percival? Harry thought. What a wonderful name. 

Dumbledore shook his head. “Not this time, I should think. Doubtless Professor Snape likely thinks a detention is deserved for the thievery, but I believe we can chalk this up to ‘extenuating circumstances’. You acted as you felt best. No, your parents are coming so that we might explain the situation to them. They have, after all, unwittingly been harboring an animagus.” 

Fred let out a relieved breath. 

“We’re staying to talk to them as well,” Tonks said, grinning at George. Her hair went bright orange. “Family reunion, eh?” 

Fred and George laughed. Harry hadn’t known they’d been friends with Tonks. Perhaps it was because of Charlie. 

Footsteps came clicking up the stairs, and Severus opened the door to the headmaster’s office. On his perch, Fawkes turned his head and peered out of one black eye at him. 

“Ah, Severus. Minerva?”

“On her way.” 

“Very well. Mr. Potter, you may go with Severus.” 

“Um.” Harry bit his lip. He hadn’t meant to speak, but Tonks had no visible reaction. He settled for looking confused. 

“Come, Mr. Potter,” Severus said, extending a hand. “It is as we discussed last time we were here.” 

Harry rose, patted the twins on the shoulders, and followed Severus out. When he was out of earshot, he spoke at last. “What do you mean?” 

Severus quirked an eyebrow. “You are a castle ward now. As your official guardian, your care in these circumstances falls to me.” 

“Oh. I, um, don’t need you to do that.” 

“And did you need to steal a potion from my workroom, Potter?” 

“Uh. Technically, it wasn’t me.” 

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Then who, pray tell, was it?” 

Harry bit his lip.

“I see. Very well. No detention this time, Potter, as the headmaster said. But understand that if not for his word, you would be scrubbing cauldrons until graduation.” 

Harry didn’t say anything, instead following Severus to his office, where a cup of tea was placed into his hands. Harry inhaled the scent of it on instinct, still used to tea as a rare treat. 

Severus, his own cup of tea in his hands, looked sternly at him. “Now, tell me, Mr. Potter. Do you feel traumatized by the events of today?” 

“Not really,” Harry said. “I’m worried, though. How long has Pettigrew been Scabbers? Why? It’s horrible to think about.” He shuddered. 

“Indeed it is. I find myself quite disturbed by the prospect, for a number of reasons.” 

Harry waited, but Severus didn’t share those reasons. Instead, they drank their tea in silence. Before Harry left, Severus seemed to remember something.

“Ah, Mr. Potter, I have been meaning to bring this up. Winter holiday. You may either stay at the castle, or stay with me. Do you have a preference?” 

Harry squinted at him. “… I’ll stay with you,” he said slowly, meaning nothing of the sort.

“Very well,” said Severus. 

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“Hello? Snake? You’re … are you there, by any chance?” 

“Yes I am!” Harry cried. “Hello, Tonks!” 

“Snake!” Tonks rushed over to the mirror, her hair going completely silver and then bright purple. She was grinning like mad. “You’re back in the mirror! I only have a second, I snuck off from Kingsley. That’s my auror mentor; he’s wicked.”

“Are you having fun?” Harry asked, pressing his back against the wall. He shouldn’t be in these passages—what if someone saw him?—but he couldn’t pass up talking to Tonks. 

“Sometimes,” admitted Tonks, freckles populating along her forehead. “I’m learning a lot. It’s hard, though. Hard work. And hard to work in the ministry. Not a lot of people, uh, get me. Kingsley does, though! Have you been alright?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Sort of the same. It’s been hard. I feel lonely a lot. Do you?” 

Tonks nodded slowly. “Yeah, I do. But I think it’s getting better.” 

“I’m glad,” Harry said. “I hope it does for me, too,” 

Chapter Text

Dear A,

Ron is very upset with me. I don’t know why—did he want to keep on thinking his rat was a rat, instead of a weird man? Hermione says he’ll see sense soon; he’s just upset because he doesn’t have a lot of things to himself …. 

I definitely have friends now. Daphne, Hermione, Draco, and Ron. And the twins, of course. Pansy too. But I’m so lonely sometimes …. They only know one part of me. I have to lie all the time. I’m glad I can talk to you now, at least. 

It’s almost winter holiday. Please tell me you See us together. I really miss you. 

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“Hermione?” 

“Oh, hi Harry.” Hermione grinned at him. She was looking much better lately. Her smile reached her eyes. “I’ve just been reading about different wand cores. Did you know your core says something different about you depending on what kind you have?” 

“No,” Harry said, sitting on the couch beside her. In the library, an early November dusk was falling, making the vast space seem small and cozy. “What does yours say?” 

“Mine is dragon heartstring. It suggests quick learning and magical power,” she said proudly. “What’s the core of your wand?” 

“Um. Dragon heartstring as well.” 

“Oh! We match.” She smiled. “Other countries use different cores, but the most common ones in Britain are dragon heartstring, unicorn tail hair, and phoenix feather.” 

Harry was struck by a jolt of curiosity. “Does your book say anything about wands made of thestral hair? I heard of someone having one like that once.” 

“Thestral hair? Um, let me see.” She flipped through a few pages. “Oh! That’s … er, creepy.” She tilted the page towards him, where a thestral was inked. 

Harry frowned. “No it’s not.” 

“Er. It kind of is, sorry. It says the only people who can see them are people who have seen death! That’s creepy!”  

Harry bit his lip. That explained a lot about the thestrals, actually. “So, do people use their hair for wands?” 

She scanned the page. “Not really. Oh, except for in this old fairy tale: ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’.” 

Harry grinned. “I’ve read that. Two of the brothers try to trick Death, but the third greets him as an old friend.” 

“Well, it says the wand that Death gave one brother had a thestral hair for its core.” 

“Wicked,” Harry breathed, the weight of his own wand in his pocket suddenly noticeable.

Hermione closed the book. “Anyway, did you want to tell me something, Harry?” 

“Yes! Would you like to meet my friend Limmy?” 

She went pink. “Oh! Is Limmy a—a house elf?” He nodded. “Does she, er, want to meet me?” 

“Yeah. I asked her.” 

“Then yes!” Hermione leapt up and started shoving books into her bag. “Let’s go!” 

They made their way to the kitchens, comparing results from their recent transfiguration essay. Hermione had gotten two points off and was fuming about it. Harry had gotten five points off but didn’t really care. 

“So, don’t spread this around,” Harry said, halting them at the entrance to the kitchen. “It’s not well-known, and the elves would be bothered if too many students knew about it.” 

“Alright,” Hermione promised easily. She clasped her hands behind her back and watched with glittering eyes as Harry tickled the pear in the painting and pulled open the door.

She let out a small gasp at the sight of the kitchen, which was as grand as a cathedral. She was so enraptured that it took her a moment to see Tippy, Norry, and Drippy, who were mixing sauces and seasoning meat. 

“Sna—” Tippy started, but Norry elbowed her and she changed it to a cough. “Er, Harry, hello. Who is this?” 

“This is my friend Hermione, the one I’s saying I is bringing. Is Limmy here?” 

“Running late in the greenhouses,” said Drippy. With an elbow, he pointed them towards the end of the Hufflepuff house table. “Sit.” 

Harry pulled Hermione by the strap of her bag to the table. “Can I makes some tea?” 

“No,” said Tippy. She snapped her fingers and a kettle floated from the fire, pouring itself into a teapot, which floated over to Harry and Hermione with three cups. “We is working. Is you going to say anything?” The last was directed to Hermione, who squeaked and grabbed her teacup from midair.

“H-hello!” she said shrilly. “Thank you for having me!” 

“You is welcome,” said Tippy, and turned back to stirring cheese into a cream sauce. 

Harry let Hermione be and poured himself a cup of tea. Limmy was only a few minutes late: she came hurrying into the kitchen a few moments later, tossed a wave to the kitchen elves, snatched a strawberry from under Norry’s swatting hand, and threw herself onto the bench beside Harry. 

Harry nudged over her teacup. She took it and sipped, all without taking her eyes off of Hermione. Hermione’s eyes went wider and wider as Limmy stared.

“So,” Limmy finally said. “You is the one who is leaving all those hats.” 

Hermione was as red as a tomato. “I’m really sorry!” she said. “It was wrong of me to do that! I didn’t, um, really understand the situation!” 

“The situation,” Limmy said flatly. 

“Yes!” Hermione put her cup down with a clack. "The fight for justice must be led by those most persecuted, or else we will only reorganize the same unjust circumstances!"

Limmy stared at her.

“I’ve, um! I’ve been reading!” Hermione eyes were still wide, but in excitement. “All about fights for freedom! Did you know, in Argentina, centaurs attend wizarding schools? And in Columbia, there is an autonomous elven community!”

Slowly, Limmy started to smile. Harry sat back with a sigh of relief. 

maroon sprout

Dear ♡kin,

I’m following your lead and not using your name in case someone sees. I know you go by ‘Harry’ at the school. (I prefer the other.) You’re in luck: my mother wishes to invite you to celebrate the eclipse with us. I believe that Iceglow occurs after the eclipse, and so you will be free to attend. (Though, of course, I already know you will be here.) I am very excited to see you. Please bring me something interesting from the school as a gift! 

Also, Heartkin, beware. Answers will be demanded. But take heart: you will not give in. 

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Harry skulked his way up to Dumbledore’s office, following Severus sullenly. He didn’t often skulk these days, but he was feeling like it today. He’d thought, after the last meeting between him, Severus, and Minerva, he would stop being called to evening visits with the headmaster. 

Not so. 

Severus whispered the password (Harry already knew it was ‘butter fudge’) and up they went. Only, it wasn’t Minerva waiting for them in the office. It was some man in a purple robe, sitting severely upright in front of Dumbledore’s desk, holding a cup of tea. In contrast, Dumbledore was a study in kindly relaxation. It was Dumbledore’s calmness that made Harry tense up like an elastic band.

“Dumbledore has managed to hold of the dogs as long as he could,” Severus had told Harry, as they walked from the corridor. “But now the ministry will wait no longer. Your reappearance is a matter of national concern, Mr. Potter.” 

Harry sat down in the empty chair, and, for the first time, accepted a cup of tea from Dumbledore. He did not drink it: he held it and drew tranquility from its warmth. 

“Shall I conjure you a chair, Severus?” Dumbledore asked.

“No, thank you,” Severus said. He positioned himself behind Harry’s chair, one hand on the back. “I shall stand.” 

Unexpectedly, his presence was comforting. Harry wondered when he had begun to find Severus reassuring. Dumbledore flicked his eyes between them curiously before nodding in acquiescence. 

“Gentlemen, this is Mister Welch, representative from the Department of Magical Education. He has a few questions to ask Mister Potter.” 

“Indeed I do,” said Mister Welch. He snapped out his words like he was shucking peas. “I would, of course, have preferred to do so in front of the Wizengamot, as you know, and I would, of course, have preferred to do so on the second of September, as you know—” 

“What, then, is the point of telling us things we already know?” asked Severus silkily. Harry quashed a smile.

Welch leveled a glare at Severus. Previously, he had been looking somewhere over Dumbledore’s head. 

“I am merely making known the impatience of the ministry in this very important matter. As you know, I have also requested a private audience with Mister Harry Potter—”

“Mister Harry Potter is right here,” said Severus. “And there will be no private audiences with underage students, ever, and certainly not with wards of the castle.” 

Welch’s lip curled. “Furthermore, as I am sure you know, the ministry wishes to express its disappointment in the, frankly, underhanded way in which the headmaster of Hogwarts went about granting castle wardship to Mister Harry Potter, when such a procedure is archaic at best—”

Harry couldn’t help himself. “Pardon me, Mister Welch. Is there a reason Mister Harry Potter needs to be here?” 

Welch hissed in the manner of an affronted cat. Severus’ hand tightened a bit on the chair, and Dumbledore’s lips pressed thinly together, eyes twinkling.

“Insolence from the first ward of Hogwarts castle in seventy years—” 
   
“Not seventy,” Dumbledore said. “That student’s petition was denied, which I will regret for the rest of my life. It has been one hundred and six years, Mister Welch, and to my mind Mister Harry Potter’s question was legitimate. Please proceed with your questions, as it is late, and students need a full night’s sleep.” 

Welch had turned an interesting shade of teal that Harry hadn’t known humans could achieve. He blustered for a few moments, and Harry spent them watching Fawkes, who sat fluffed up like a muffin on his perch in his fully mature form. Harry tried to talk to him through blinking, but was getting nowhere.

“—and the ministry would like to know from Mister Harry Potter: where have you been?”

Harry jerked his attention back to Welch and focused on the warmth of his teacup. “With my family.” 

Welch let out a series of huffs. He had a mole on one cheek that moved up and down as he grasped for words. 

What followed was a good fifty minutes of Welch’s affronted questioning, to which he responded by playing dumb and speaking as little of substance as possible. His brain started to melt a bit at the half-hour mark, and Severus’ hand migrated to his shoulder, gripping reassuringly. He was pretty sure Severus was also casting warming charms on his teacup, because the heat never faded. 

Harry put into excellent practice a skill he had learned from the acromantulae: obfuscation. He hemmed and hawed and misunderstood a dozen questions about where he had been, how he had reappeared, what magics he knew, who had harbored him, whether Peter Pettigrew had anything to do with it, whether Severus had anything to do with it, whether his parents were also alive somewhere, and on and on and on. By the end of it Harry’s brow was beaded with cold sweat, but Welch’s face looked pale and waxy with frustration.

“Enough,” Severus finally said. “Enough, Mister Welch. It is nearly my ward’s curfew. His answers up to this point must be satisfactory to you.” 

“Satisfactory!” Welch gasped. “The little bu—boy has hardly said two words of value!” 

Dumbledore frowned. “Mind your manner, Mister Welch, or I shall have to file a complaint regarding your behavior with the ministry.” 

Welch did his best impression of a fish on land. 

Severus’ hand came around and took Harry’s still-full teacup, setting it gently on Dumbledore’s desk. “Thank you for your patience, Mister Potter. Come along.” 

Harry waved exhaustedly at Dumbledore, tipped a last wink to Fawkes, and ignored Welch entirely. It was becoming something of a habit, he thought, being escorted to the dungeons from the headmaster’s office by Severus. 

“Good show, Mister Potter,” said Severus, as they passed by a portrait of a sleeping maiden in a field. “Where on earth did you learn to do that?” 

Harry grinned tiredly. “Just from some friends.” 

maroon sprout

Dear A, 

Thanks for the warning. I did fine, but you knew that. Apparently Dumbledore has been keeping the ministry from talking to me earlier—I guess that makes me feel a bit kindlier towards him. Just a bit. 

Have finally been released from remedial maths classes. Thank Merlin. Thought I was going to die if I had to do one more multiplication table. 

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Perhaps Draco was trying to be subtle, but really, it was almost biologically impossible for him. Harry, reading on his bed with the curtains open, watched in amusement as Draco stuck his head through a gap in his curtains, looking furtively around at the other beds—all drawn. 

When Draco finally ascertained their privacy and looked at Harry, he squeaked to find him already watching. 

Harry grinned. “Yeah, Draco?”

Draco blushed furiously and scrambled over to Harry’s bed, drawing the curtains down around them. Darkness fell, and Harry wondered what Draco was getting out of this. They sat there in silence for a moment.

“Draco?” Harry asked tentatively.

“Go on!” Draco hissed. His bony hand found Harry’s ankle. “Do it!” 

“Um!” Harry squeaked, abruptly wrongfooted. “Do what!” 

“Your weird light, of course!” Draco whispered. “You did it when that mermaid came by. I didn’t even say anything to the others, so you owe me. I want to see.” 

Harry gulped. Oh, no. 

“Harry!” Draco shook his ankle a bit. “I won’t tell, I promise! Show me? Please?” 

“You have to swear,” Harry said lowly. “Seriously, Draco, this isn’t a joke.” 

“I swear,” Draco said, “on the Malfoy name. There. That’s the most serious oath a Malfoy can make, you know.” 

Harry doubted this. But nevertheless, he took a deep breath and snapped his fingers. His elflight bloomed into existence between their faces. It made Draco’s face less harsh than normal, softened him up a bit. He looked, abruptly, like an odd boy Harry’s age, and not Lucius Malfoy’s son. Harry felt himself liking Draco a bit more, all at once. 

Draco raised one hand to gently brush a finger against the light. It bobbled the light in the air a bit, and Draco took his hand away fearfully. “What is it?” 

Harry considered where he stood with Draco. Draco, who made his bed every morning, even if he couldn’t get the corners right, and had been stacking up his dishes and imperiously making the other first years do the same. Draco, whose father had killed Limmy’s mother. Draco, who read silently beside Harry and Hermione in the library on Sundays, and always brought a snack to share. 

“It’s an elflight,” Harry said softly. “Elf magic.” 

Draco’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates. “You’re doing elf magic? Are you—you’re not an elf, though.” 

“No.” Harry cupped his hands around the light, blinking into it. “The elves say an elflight is an expression of the caster’s soul.” He grinned at Draco. “Do you think I have a lilac soul?” 

“Well—yes,” Draco said frankly, looking quite overwhelmed. “So—so—what does this mean?” 

Harry bit his lip. “I don’t think I can tell you what it means, right now. I have to talk to someone about it. Why don’t you think about what it could mean over winter holiday?” 

“Yeah, alright,” said Draco, looking at that light still. “If I come up with the right answer, will you teach me to do it?” 

“Maybe,” Harry said. “And Draco—you can’t tell your father.” 

Draco shook his head. “Don’t worry, Harry, I won’t.” 

maroon sprout

Dear Heartkin,

I think you made the right choice. I will see you soon. Don’t forget the wizard snacks. 

Chapter Text

The night before winter holiday, Harry shoved all of his things into Myrtle’s toilet and retrieved from the very bottom of his trunk a necklace he had long since removed.

The day of winter holiday, he informed Severus that he was walking his friends to the train. Severus, seeing through this, insisted on accompanying him. Once at the train station, Harry snuck into the toilet, put on Chikkeritt’s pendant, and ensconced himself in a group of students saying their goodbyes outside the train. 

Warily, he watched Severus realize he’d been in the toilet for a while, check the toilet, and then begin frantically casting. Harry didn’t know what he was casting, but the moment Severus boarded the train in a fury, Harry broke off from the students and sprinted so fast he almost flew to the shrieking shack. In exchange for his assistance with Pettigrew, Fred and George had told him about the passage to the castle. 

Once back inside, he exercised extreme caution in creeping his way to Myrtle’s toilet. It seemed Severus had wasted no time in alerting the professors to having been given the slip, because the entire faculty was out in force, looking worried, amused, disturbed, furious, and exasperated. Harry slipped around an anxious-looking Flitwick speaking rapidly to a spectral mist, and past Minerva, who was brewing the angriest pot of tea Harry had ever seen. 

Myrtle let him in with a giggle and a finger to her lips. He seized his trunk, opened the sink, and, saluting her, stepped into the tunnel. 

And then his body overtook him and he ran, flat-out, not even needing to think about where he was going because his heart knew the path, and before he even reached Salazar’s hall he was crying out: “Basilisk! Basilisk!” 

The basilisk met him in the hall, eyes wide with excitement and nose to the ground so that Harry catapulted right into it, wrapping his arms around its face and giggling as its tongue flickered over him. He shoved his face into its scales and rubbed his hands under its eyes. “Basilisk!” he said joyfully. “I’ve missed you so much!” 

“I have missed you more than I thought possible,” said the basilisk, bringing the tip of its tail to curl around him as he pet the smaller scales under its eyes. “Oh, Snakeheart! For the first few days I believed I would simply erupt through the floors just to be sure you were alright.” 

Harry laughed. “I’m so glad you didn’t. But I still would have been happy to see you. I have so much to tell you!” 

“I wish to hear all of it, at once,” said the basilisk, ushering him toward the den. “Come in, come home. I have caught you a rabbit. And Limmy was here yesterday; she brought you some carrots to roast with it.”

Harry laughed again, helplessly. He was so full of happiness all of the sudden. He wanted nothing more than to curl against the basilisk and tell it absolutely everything. The good, the bad, the sad. His parents, Dumbledore, his friends, Peter Pettigrew, Severus, the ministry, everything. 

But first, he set his bags down and walked over to the eggs. He put a hand against the spell and imagined he was reaching through it, able to put a hand on them and feel the life that was surely within. “I’m getting closer,” he told them, hoping they could hear it. “Closer and closer. I know one day I’ll find the answer.” 

The basilisk rested the very tip of its nose against his back. “They know,” it said. “I am sure of it.” 

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Harry spent a long week with the basilisk, and it was like finally breathing clear air again after a long time in the fog. They talked and talked and talked. Had they talked this much before? There had never been this much to talk about. 

Limmy visited nearly every day and showed him the spellwork she had been practicing: by now she was deeply into a level of magical theory that Harry only understood at a surface level. She had been diving into Sal’s books with a vengeance.

She also reported on the disturbance of the faculty at Harry’s disappearance, since Harry didn’t dare go out into the castle to ascertain it himself. 

“They is so mad!” she cackled. “Aurors is coming yesterday to search. Professor Snape looks twice as greasy as ever, he is muttering to himself all the time. Professor McGonagall always has a cup of tea in her hand, always. But Headmaster Dumbledore—” she broke off laughing. “He looks like nothing at all is going on.”  

She also divulged that she had been meeting with Hermione almost weekly since Harry had introduced them.

“She learns fast,” Limmy said, impressed and a bit envious. “I is thinking … maybe we should tells her about the magic.” 

“I wants to tell Draco about it too,” Harry said carefully.

Limmy’s ears went flat back. “Draco?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. Um, Limmy—I is hating him at first, I swears, but … well, he’s not his father. He makes his bed and cleans up his dishes and … he is seeing me use an elflight.”

“He is WHAT?” Limmy looked absolutely furious. “Snake, I can’t believes you. Showing elf magics to the sons of murderers!”

And with that began Harry and Limmy’s first real fight. Limmy didn’t return to the den before Harry left for Iceglow, and Harry couldn’t go to the kitchens to look for her. Instead, he left a note with the basilisk. 

Limmy,

I hope you isn’t thinking I would ever tell anyone about the magic without your permission. Because I is never doing that. But Draco is my friend, and he isn’t his father, I promises. I knows him well. 

But you is my best friend. So I’s trying to fix things. I isn’t telling him anything, I swears. He is just seeing the elflight. In January, I is telling him it is just a trick I is learning from a book. So don’t worry.

Happy New Year.

Love,
Snake

maroon sprout

Iceglow came in a flurry of celebration. It was a great relief to jump into the lake and leave his aboveground worries behind—it was beginning to be hard to stay in the den for so long. Ava couldn’t meet him at the shore, so he made his way to Deep Light alone, trying not to brood. 

“Snake!” Ava shrieked, flinging herself upon him. “Joyous Iceglow! Tides, I’ve missed you so much! Parime is here already! Here, put your wand away! Come on, say hi to my mothers! Tell me all about school! Did I scare your roommates? Should I do it again? Fllf, I got in so much trouble with Samba. She’s going to come for Iceglow, by the way! I think she’s courting my aunts and uncle. Absolutely fresh, right? I don’t want her to be one of my aunts; I see her enough as it is. Fllf, I’m joking. Sort of. Mother! It’s Sa-nek!” 

“And you’re talking his ears off,” said Xara in amusement, enveloping Harry in his favorite hug in the world. He sank into her and closed his eyes in happiness. He felt one of her webbed hands tugging at the shell of his ear. “Odd things they may be, he does presumably need them. It isn’t like you haven’t been writing.”

“Writing’s not the same!” Ava said. “Come on, Snake, we’re cooking—everyone’s arriving tomorrow, so it’s good we have an extra set of hands!” 

In the kitchen, Cassipa, Loch, and Parime’s mother Lethe had turned the counter space into something of an assembly line of sushi production. Parime and Ava were mixing sauces, and Harry was immediately pointed to sorting through a massive bucket of clams and tossing the bad ones into the current to be carried out of the house and to the garden compost. 

The next day Ava’s house was flooded with Iceglow guests: extended family which seemed to get more extended every year. Samba did indeed come, and she co-opted Harry and Ava for a two-hour meeting before Ava’s aunt Eliva came and coaxed her away, and Eliva’s husband Gihon forced Harry to submit to a dental check-up.

Gifts were exchanged. Harry received a new tail-wrap from his aunts, a hair-clip Ava had bought at a fair in Alimnion, and a book of traditional mer songs from Parime. His gifts for everyone were different wizarding foods he had bought in Diagon Alley that he thought would hold up underwater, to the delight of everyone.

He stayed in Deep Light for a week—he was splitting his month of holiday between the basilisk, Ava, Araeo, and the acromantulae—and on the fifth day Cassipa asked to speak to him privately.

“Sa-nek,” she said, once he had settled into a hammock in her room, and she across from him. She cleared her throat twice. It wasn’t like her to mince words, and something uneasy crawled up his spine. “It has come to my attention that, living with a basilisk, there are certain—certain facts of life with which you may not be familiar.” 

“Um.” 

“As your eldest aunt, the duty to ensure your adequate education falls to me,” she said. “And while I know that our biologies are intrinsically dissimilar, I assume they are more similar to each other than the basilisk is to you.” 

To his dawning horror, she swam to her desk and removed a series of seaweed scrolls. She unfolded the first to reveal a labeled diagram of a merwoman. She cleared her throat again. “Ava, of course, has been educated in this subject gradually since she was a hatchling. As I assume you have not had such an education, we shall start from the basics. Please pay attention.”

She unrolled another scroll, this one a labeled diagram of a merman. “Now. Which of these examples would you say your biology is a closer analog to? I do have diagrams for the middle sexes, but they involve anatomy I am fairly sure humans have no equivalent to.”

Harry did a series of slow breathing exercises, looked at Cassipa and discerned that he would not avoid this, and then, finally, evaluated the two diagrams. After a moment’s critical thought, interrupted by crackling embarrassment, he hesitantly pointed to the merwoman. “That one, I suppose? I mean, I’m a boy—but I definitely don’t have whatever the merman has?”

“No? Humans don’t have lobes?” Cassipa said in surprise. “I had always assumed … hm. Very well.” She unrolled several more scrolls. “In that case, we shall start with the basics: the egg-laying cycle.” 

maroon sprout

Harry left the room feeling quite divorced from his body. Mechanically, he went to the kitchen and fetched some leftover sushi, dipping it in the spiciest sauce he could find. Ava found him there, staring blankly at the wall tapestry while his mouth did its best to catch on fire underwater.

“Oh, tides,” Ava whispered. “Did she really do it?” 

Harry looked at her and tried not to think of how intimately he now knew Ava’s reproductive anatomy. 

“Tides!” Ava shrieked. “I can’t believe it! You’re a mammal, for currents’ sake!” 

Harry shrugged slowly. “It didn’t seem to matter. At least now I know what to do when my helper fins start growing in.” 

Ava gave a tortured scream and fled the room. 

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Araeo met him on the edge of centaur territory, and it was as much like coming home as it had been to see the basilisk. Harry gave a running leap and Araeo caught him up in his arms and spun them in circles, and joy overwhelmed him. 

Araeo set him back down and they joined hands, grinning as their heartbeats aligned, and they walked. 

It was a mostly silent journey—they corresponded every few days, after all, and they both knew the important and menial updates of their lives. Harry spoke about Iceglow, and Araeo told him about a dream he’d had—a non-prophetic dream, for once, about swimming through a pond full of jelly, being chased by a giant bird. 

“I had that dream too,” said Harry. “I woke up and thought I’d forgotten to take my diver’s breath before bed.” 

Araeo chuckled. Their hearts beat. It was calm and perfect.

They entered the village proper, and Araeo pulled him to the side to avoid being trampled by a stampede. The stampeded was led by Bane, who pulled up from his trot when he saw them. The six centaurs following pulled up too, stepping agitatedly in place. “Son,” Bane said, “Snakeheart.” 

Harry bowed, eying him and the centaurs behind him. They had quivers slung across their backs and spears strapped to their sides, and to a one were stamping and frowning in agitation. Harry had seen the Northern Stargazer warriors ready for battle on only one occasion, and he did not like to remember it. He stepped into Araeo’s side, and Araeo squeezed his hand. 

“Bane, what’s going on?” Harry asked. “Are we in danger?” 

Bane took a deep breath and inclined his head. “We all are, Snakeheart. There is … something in the forest, hunting unicorns.” 

Harry felt like he’d been smacked in the face. “What? Since when? Why didn’t Araeo tell me?” 

“Since students returned to the school,” Bane said grimly. “We do not believe it has yet taken a life. We found one injured unicorn and drove the attacker off. We have been surveying the forest ever since, collaborating with the acromantulae in our search.” 

Harry felt absolutely ill. “Can I help?” 

Bane put a hand on his shoulder, looking at him seriously. “No. You are no warrior. Now go with Araeo and enjoy the eclipse.” 

“Be safe, father,” Araeo said softly.

Bane cupped his cheek and kissed him on the forehead. “I will, my son.” And then he wheeled around, let out a great cry echoed by the warriors behind him, and they charged from the village. 

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“Why didn’t you tell me?” 

Araeo looked up at him guiltily. Between his fingers, he untwisted the wax wrapping around a toffee, but didn’t eat it. The central campfire glimmered blue, and around them the rest of the village spoke in soft tones about the just-passed eclipse. 

“I …” 

“What did you think would happen?” 

Araeo shrugged, eyes on the toffee paper twisting through his fingers. “Nothing, Snakeheart, I—I just didn’t want to give you one more thing to worry about.” 

Harry trawled his fingers through the massive pile of wizarding candy between them, his gift too Araeo. “I don’t want you to decide that for me,” he said finally. “I already feel enough like I’ve … left the forest, by going to school.” 

Araeo frowned. “But you haven’t left! You’re right here!” 

“But I’ll have to go back there,” Harry said, jerking his chin towards the castle. “’Til I do what I said I would.” 

Araeo sighed. “I’m sorry, Snakeheart.” 

“It’s alright.” Harry unwrapped a chocolate frog and shoved it in his mouth. Araeo liked best the candy that made his mouth fizz. Harry preferred the chocolate. He was currently eating himself into a stomach ache quite happily.

“Snakeheart?” Araeo asked, still fiddling with the toffee.

Harry gulped down the frog. “Hmm?” 

Araeo hesitated. Alarm kindled in Harry’s stomach. Araeo didn’t hesitate around him. 

“Sorry,” Araeo said, acknowledging it. “Just … I have seen something. And I worry for you. I worry for everyone.” 

Harry reached out and took Araeo’s wrist. “Tell me?” 

Araeo sighed. “Blood, Snakeheart. I see blood in the stars.” 

“My blood?” 

Araeo shrugged. “Your blood is everyone’s blood. Or rather, everyone’s blood is your blood. So, in a sense, yes.” 

“Not in a sense,” Harry said crossly. “No sense. It doesn’t make any.” 

Araeo took Harry’s hand from his wrist and tangled their fingers together, both equally sticky from far too much candy. Ka-bum, went their hearts. “Things are about to get … difficult. Dangerous. For everyone, but especially you.” 

Harry stared into the blue fire, listened to the murmur of the village—the village missing nearly a third of its people, with the warriors out. “Tell me something to guide me. Give me judgment.” 

Araeo closed his eyes. “When the blood runs … don’t think. Your heart knows what to do.” 

Chapter Text

It was fairly painful to leave Araeo, but duty called. He only had a week left in which to make up for three months’ lack of any communication with the acromantulae.

Vogir met him on the northern edge of centaur territory, where Araeo greeted her formally, and said goodbye to Harry. 

“Araeo is lofty in my estimation,” said Vogir as Harry clambered up onto her back. “It will be rewarding to treat with him as compeers one day, when he leads the centaurs and I the acromantulae. I expect we will constitute great reforms between our nations.” 

“Really?” Harry asked. “Like what?” 

“We have articulated … shared priorities,” said Vogir, darting nimbly across the forest floor, occasionally dipping up to the lower canopy. “We would both like to institute trade and to bolster interspecies empathy. Presently, we only maintain the accustomed accord to heed each others’ boundaries. But I would count Araeo as a friend, and I would like my people to conceive of the centaurs as potential allies.” 

“That’s really wonderful!” Harry said. “I wish that sort of thing could be done with the mer.” 

“Indeed. In that case, however, it is a fundamental matter of geography. They are far from us, and underwater. Equally problematic is the expanse of the wizarding nation which envelops the mer and cleaves us from them. It is only your status which permits you to cross the borders so liberally.” 

“So you’d need an agreement with the ministry, probably,” said Harry thoughtfully, ducking under several branches and clinging as Vogir scuttled briefly upside down. “Not likely. I met a ministry representative a bit ago and he was horrid.” 

Vogir gave a bitter spider laugh of amusement. “To forge an accord, the wizarding ministry must first deign to even acknowledge us. You know that the steward currently traverses this disparity—out of his altruism only. If not for him, we would have no association at all with the greater wizarding demesne.” 

“It’s ridiculous,” Harry said. He tried an acromantula word Vogir had taught him that meant ‘absurd’.

Vogir chittered with laughter. “Laudable bid, Snakeheart! Laudable indeed. Your dearth of pincers is a considerable hindrance, though.” 

“One day I’ll figure out how to do it without them,” promised Harry. “Did you have a good solstice celebration?” 

Vogir expounded upon her most recent poetry reading for the rest of their journey. She dropped him off a half-hour’s walk from the center of the web, as she had to veer east to see to a dispute about hunting rights. 

“I’ll see you this eventide,” she promised. “And you can show me those mer songs.”

“Bye,” Harry attempted in the spider language, and Vogir laughed as she scurried away. 

It was lovely to walk through the deeper forest alone. He had missed it—he’d never been out of the forest for so long a time, and he hadn’t realized how much it had been wearing on him. Ice coated the grass and leaves like lace and he crunched delicately through it as the walked. He met no other acromantulae, but that was expected: spiders didn’t like the cold very much, and most of them had no reason to interact with a foreign emissary at all. 

Finally, he arrived in the clearing underneath the center of the acromantulae web. Squinting above him, he saw Aragog’s great bulk crouching in the center. 

“Hello, Aragog King!” he called, first, badly, in the acromantula language and then in English. “Greetings from the mer, and Happy Solstice!” 

There was utter silence from above. And then a voice, definitely not Aragog’s voice, shouted in amazement: “Bloody hell! Harry bleedin’ Potter?!” 

Harry said a word he only ever said in the direst of circumstances. He felt like a bucket of cold water had just been dumped on him. This was bad. This was so bad. This was so very bad and the worst part is that it was all his own stupid fault and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

Aragog flipped himself to the underside of the web and stared at Harry in equal, mute alarm. 

It was too late, too late.

“Harry!” Hagrid shouted. He leapt down from the web—actually leapt down, how was that possible—and strode forward to clap a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “The entire bleedin’ castle is turning itself inside out over you! And here you are in—in the bleedin’ forest? What—Merlin, what on earth—?” 

Aragog descended gracefully from the web and approached them. “Hagrid,” he rumbled. “Please acquiesce to make the acquaintance of the emissary between the mer and the acromantulae. Snakeheart.” 

Hagrid gaped at him. “What in the ever loving fuck.” He was instantly bright red. “Beggin’ your pardon, don’t be telling Dumbledore about—oh, what am I even saying?” He put a hand to his head. 

“Why don’t we all ascend,” Aragog said. “And discuss things pacifically.” 

“Right,” said Hagrid. “Sure, right. Pacifically.” 

They sat in the center of the web and Harry brought out his acro-silk blanket to wrap around himself—it was cold, after all.

Apparently Hagrid had drawn his own conclusions about Aragog’s statement. “So you’ve been with the merfolk,” he said, astonished. “The bleedin’ merfolk, this whole time.” He gave a low laugh. “No wonder no-one could find you. They’d look up their own bums before considerin’ other beings. Deepest respect meant to Dumbledore, o’ course.”

Harry giggled. Hagrid sat back, hands on his knees, and just stared at him. “Yer awful young,” he said at last. “To be an emissary between nations.” 

Harry shrugged. “My mer cousin is my age and she’s already apprenticed as a diplomat.” 

“They do things different in the mer kingdom,” Hagrid said. “Tha’s right.” 

“Centaurs as well,” Harry pointed out. “My friend is already training to lead his band.” 

“So you know Araeo, do you?” Hagrid asked. He rubbed a hand over his beard. “Blimey, Harry, just … blimey.” 

“You won’t tell?” Harry burst out. “Please, Hagrid.” 

Hagrid looked from Harry to Aragog. “Some position you’ve put me in,” he said slowly. “Between Dumbledore and yourselves.” He sighed. “Blimey, no, Harry, I won’t tell. Of course I won’t. What am I to say? The boy yer lookin’ fer is an emissary o’ the Forbidden Forest, and a member of the merfolk to boot? What would they even do about it?” 

Harry shrugged. “I don’t really want to know. Something stupid, probably.” 

“Yeh’ve got that right.” Hagrid shook his head. “I can’t believe it. Aragog’s told me about you, o’ course.” He inclined his head to Aragog. “I thought it was just some … some random mer, though. Not Harry bleedin’ Potter.” 

“You … you can call me Snake, if you want,” Harry said. 

Hagrid grinned at that. “Snake. Alright, then.” 

“Good,” Aragog rumbled. “I would have hated for something … adverse … to have come of this predicament.” 

“Yeah, yer precious emissary’s safe enough,” Hagrid rumbled. “Mind if I stay a while more, then, Aragog? I want to talk to Snake some. If he wants to talk as well, that is.” He looked sideways at Harry.

Harry was experiencing a peculiar joy from the successful aligning of his two selves. “Yes!” he said, grinning. “I want to talk!” And he couldn’t help himself—he sprang up and hugged Hagrid tightly, who let out a little murmur of surprise but hugged him back.

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“Alright wi’ this?” Hagrid asked, unrolling a sleeping roll on the other side of the little fire in the cocoon. 

“Why not?” Harry asked. He dug a beetle out of the embers and cracked it open, inhaling the scent greedily. The elves were good, of course they were. But he had missed this.

Hagrid watched him in bemusement as he sucked the meat out of a pincer. “I dunno. Yer an odd duck, eh, Harry? It’s a good thing. How long were you with the mer?” 

Harry shrugged. “Three years before Hogwarts? About. Since I left the Dursleys, anyway.” 

“And the mer … they—they’re good to yeh? They don’t like humans, I always heard.” 

Harry nodded and showed him his Iceglow gifts. “Not my aunts. They’re contesting a whole family shame for me.” 

“I’ll be.” Hagrid stroked his huge fingers over the pages of his songbook from Parime. “Good for you, Harry. Good for you, you hear me?” Harry nodded, surprised, for Hagrid had tears in his eyes. 

“Hagrid?” 

Hagrid shook his head furiously. “I’ll never forgive meself for leavin’ you with those muggles. But I’m glad you left, glad you found somethin’ better. That’s how you have to do things, in this world. Take ‘em into your own hands.” 

Harry pulled another bug out of the fire and offered it to Hagrid, who cracked it in half easily.

“I’m the one who got you home after you saved the unicorn,” he said abruptly. 

Hagrid looked up. “That night wi’ the werewolf? I always wondered.” 

Harry nodded. “The werewolf got you, but the unicorn healed you, and then I took you home.” He hesitated, then thrust out his bracelet. “The unicorn left a hair. I took it. Do you want it?” 

Hagrid examined the bracelet slowly, then shook his head. “I see yeh’ve met the thestrals as well. No, Snake, you keep the hair. I’ve got one. They’re powerfully protective.” 

“They are?” 

Hagrid nodded and tapped his temple. “They protect against mind magics. If you saw the unicorn, you know what it does to yer mind.” 

“Yeah.” Harry pulled his blanket closer around himself, yawning. “’S weird. Hard to look at it, or think about it.” 

“Exactly. The mind rolls off the unicorn. You keep that hair, now, and it’ll keep you safe. And thank you. For gettin’ me home.”

“You’re welcome.” 

Hagrid thumbed through the songbook. “Can you read this?” 

Harry nodded. “Most of it.” 

“Sing one? Only if yeh like.” 

Harry pulled the songbook over and opened it to one he and Araeo had sung together, as best they could above land, with Araeo butchering the Mermish. 

“Blood of the water, the current flows through us all, ever-refreshing, untempered by unnatural form, only self-strengthened …” Mer singing didn’t rhyme, but it was rhythmic and syllibant. Hagrid listened, eyes drooping, until Harry finished the song.

“Lovely,” Hagrid said softly. 

“I can’t sing like a mer,” Harry said regretfully. “Especially not above ground. And trying to sing the lyrics in English is horrid.” 

“Tha’s alright,” Hagrid said. “You know, Harry, your parents would be so proud of you.” 

Harry blinked at him, abruptly on the verge of tears. “They—they would?” 

“Oh, yes. Don’t ever doubt that, understand?” 

“I understand.” Harry lay down across the fire from Hagrid and closed his eyes, warm from his toes to his ears, and deep in his soul.

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Hagrid left after two days, expressing some concern over Harry getting back to the castle on his own, and then a rueful acknowledgement of Harry’s capability. 

He wasn’t going back to the castle, though. Just as the centaur warriors were out, and just as the acromantulae scouts were ranging far, so too was Hagrid canvassing the forest, looking for any sign of the thing that was hunting unicorns.

Much as Harry understood why he had to leave, he wished Hagrid could stay. It had been extraordinarily good to have him there. He sat in on Harry, Aragog, and Vogir’s talks, and had invaluable input and suggestions for Harry to consider. But it was also good to have him gone, because they could not speak of the basilisk while he was there. 

“I should have cautioned you,” Vogir moaned one day. “I didn’t even consider, Snakeheart. I profoundly apologize, for I placed you in great jeopardy.” 

“You’re forgiven,” Harry said easily. “It turned out alright. Better than before, even.” 

It felt liberating to have someone know his secret. Well, a portion of his secret. So Hagrid thought he had been with the mer this whole time—it wasn’t not true. It was just … slightly untrue. A closer true than anyone else knew, anyway. He spent the rest of his days with the acromantulae planning for the next semester’s absence. There really was a great need to find some way for the mer and acromantulae to communicate beyond just him, but for the lives of them they couldn’t work out a way that wasn’t absurdly complicated.

“Maybe Samba will have an idea,” Harry said doubtfully. “They’ve had to communicate with Aeolian, after all.” 

“In Aeolian, they have fingers,” Vogir snapped. “Chk. Apologies, Snake. But I loathe that we are beholden to anyone for communication, even you!” 

“If only you could just go to the lake,” Harry said, also thoroughly fed up with talking in circles. 

Vogir clicked her pincers in exasperation. “If only trees could sprout wings. If only wizards were not … wizards.” 

“If only,” Harry agreed.

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Winter holiday sped to a close, and Harry sped back to the castle on the Vogir Express, as he had privately termed it. She deposited him at the edge of the forest under cover of night, and he crept his way to the pipes. 

“I’m back,” he called to the basilisk. “What did I miss?” 

“Nothing except me,” said the basilisk, greeting him with a flickering tongue. “Hello.” 

“Hello. I don’t want to think about having to leave you again so soon.” 

“Then don’t think about it. Limmy left you a note.” 

Limmy. He had completely forgotten their argument, and the wound opened up a bit at the thought of it. He didn’t know how to deal with fighting with Limmy. They didn’t fight. They bickered, they argued. Limmy was combative by nature, but a real fight? It sat, bloated, at the bottom of his stomach.

She had left the note on Sal’s desk. 

Snake, 

I is sorry. I knows you is never telling anyone about our magic without permission. I is overreacting. And I knows better than to judge someone by their circumstances. If you trusts Draco Malfoy, then I trusts him too—because I trusts you. 

I hates fighting with you. You is my best friend too. And it is important that other wizards knows the truth about magic—so start with Draco. And I is starting with Tippy. It is time to tell the truth, because the truth is bigger than us. 

Happy New Year.

Love,
Limmy

Chapter Text

Hogsmeade Station, atop a toilet. Harry was getting a strong sense of deja vu. At least he didn’t have to bring his trunk with him this time. He was able to quite easily blend into the crowd de-boarding the train and slip behind his Ron and Hermione into a horse-drawn carriage. They met him with hugs and bickered gently about their holidays as the host of carriages trundled through the snow.

He was apprehended at the door of the castle, snatched from Ron and Hermione’s sides, and whisked up to Dumbledore’s office, where he and the headmaster played a silent staring game while Severus and Minerva ranted over his head. He was dismissed after ten minutes, the last five spent playing with Fawkes.

He had an hour of catch-up with a curious Daphne and Draco in the common room before Severus poked his head in and gestured him with an ominous, crooked finger.

“Yes, Se—Professor Snape?” One of these days he was going to say ‘Severus’ and be in so much trouble.

“Sit.” 

Harry sat. Severus sat. Harry played with his bracelet. Severus glared. Severus broke first, as he always would. “You told me you were spending the holidays with me.” 

“I thought you knew what I meant.”

“And what did you mean?” 

Harry shrugged noncommittally.

“You thought I knew that you were lying to my face.” 

Harry frowned. He didn’t think Severus would come out and say it. “You didn’t get in trouble.” 

“Was that a question?” 

It was not a question. Harry knew Severus did not get in trouble because Limmy or Myrtle would have told him. 

Severus leaned forward. “Where were you, Mr. Potter?” 

“With my family,” Harry said mulishly. “Just like I told Mr. Welch.” 

Severus sighed, reached into a drawer, and slammed two things down on his desk. “Here. One is from me, one from the headmaster.” 

Harry’s eyes widened. “Presents!” He tore open Severus’ to reveal The Supplementary Guide to Potions Bases, Years 1-2. “Oh, wicked. Thanks, Sev—Professor.” Severus’ eyes narrowed. “I got you something too,” Harry said hurriedly, glad he actually had gotten Severus something. “Here.” 

He passed Severus a bracelet he’d braided with a single piece of red coral in the center. “I made it.” 

Severus looked a bit nonplussed. “Well … thank you, Mr. Potter.” 

“Are you going to wear it?” 

“I am not really a … jewelry person.” Severus took one look at his face and grimaced. “Though I suppose one bracelet is … not so bad.” He rolled the bracelet onto his hand. “There.” 

“Red is a good color on you,” Harry said supportively. “I’ll open Dumbledore’s later, with my ones from my friends. Can I go?” 

Severus sighed. “Professor Dumbledore. And yes, Potter. Go on.” 

Severus was going to figure it out, Harry thought as he went back to the common room. One day or another, Harry was going to let something slip. Maybe he wouldn’t figure out everything, but he would figure out something. 

He would just have to make sure that when that day came, Severus was on his side. 

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All of his friends, in fact, received coral bracelets from him. He would have liked to bring them lake-glass necklaces, or books of mer poetry, or Xara’s adorable miniature weavings, or the little glass animals that Glassmaker Stargazer crafted with infinite delicacy, but to do so would have given him away utterly. In any case, the bracelets were a hit. From his friends, he received a mixture of sweets and other small favors. 

But it was the gift from Dumbledore that put everyone else’s to shame. 

Mr. Potter,

This cloak belonged to your father. Before his death, he entrusted it to me. I am now passing it to you, in hopes of starting to rebuild the trust I so dreadfully damaged. Use it wisely, and try not to let me regret this choice.

Albus Dumbledore

It was an iridescent purple cloak that looked as if someone had torn a stripe from a rainbow. Phrases in a language Harry didn’t know were delicately stitched along the hem in golden thread, and the hood flared out into folds that drooped down over his shoulders. He was sure it was the loveliest piece of clothing in the entire school.

But, it appeared, lovely was not all it was. For when he surveyed himself in the mirror and flipped up the hood, he disappeared from sight. 

“Just like in the story,” he whispered to himself, lowering the hood. How curious, that he should now have a cloak with which to hide from death, and wand with the same core as Death’s gift. 

“What’s that, Harry?” asked Draco, barging into the bathroom as he was wont to do. 

“A new cloak,” Harry said, twirling it around. “Isn’t it beautiful?” 

“Yes,” said Draco, a touch enviously. “Put the hood up, go on.” 

Smirking, Harry put the hood up, and giggled when Draco yelped. “Harry! That’s an invisibility cloak!” 

“I figured,” Harry hissed. “Keep it down, or the secret’s out.” 

Draco’s eyes glittered at the prospect of a shared secret. “Right, right. Here, can two fit under there? Open up.” 

Harry obligingly spread the cloak open. Draco’s head couldn’t fit under the hood, but the body of the cloak was big enough to cover him. “Wicked,” Draco breathed. “What do those words say on the hem?” 

“I don’t know,” Harry said, “but I’m going to figure it out.” 

“I don’t doubt it.” Draco left the cloak and hopped up on the sink, facing Harry and kicking his legs. “Alright, ready for my hypothesis?” 

“Sure,” Harry said, doing a few twirls in the cloak. The fabric was heavy, and it fanned out from him on the edges. 

“Take the hood off first.” 

Obligingly, Harry removed the hood, but continued to twirl. Oh, he couldn’t wait to show this to Limmy. Sure, he already had a way to be invisible, but this could cover more than him. Limmy would fit easily. He supposed it could cover him and two other students, maybe three if they were crouched behind a bush or something and just needed their heads covered. He would be like a mother bat, he though, spreading his arms to make the cloak open wide. 

“Harry! Stop giggling and listen!” 

“Right.” Harry folded his arms like a vampire in the movies Dudley used to watch, right under his chin. “What have you got?” 

“When I was on winter holiday,” Draco said grandly. “I spoke with an elf.” 

Harry’s eyebrows went up. “You did?” 

“Yes. It was hard, because I had to extract a promise from him first that he would not tell my father about it. And since my father is the master of the elves, I can’t really order them to go behind his back … but we came to an agreement that the elf would only tell if directly asked about it.” Draco smiled in a superior way. 

“And did this elf have a name?” Harry asked dryly.

“Dobby,” Draco said. “His name is Dobby. I knew he usually worked alone in the laundry room, so one day I snuck down to see him. He was quite surprised.” 

“I’m sure he was,” Harry said, imagining the scene. He stopped fussing with his cloak and scrambled onto the sink across from Draco, turning so their knees knocked together. “Did you have a good talk?” 

“Well … yes, actually. I asked him about elf magic. He wouldn’t say much, I think he perhaps thought I was going to betray him in some way, but he did show me an elflight. And he told me that only elves can make an elflight.” Draco pointed at Harry. “However, I know that to be false, because you made one.” 

“Did you tell him that?” Harry asked in alarm.

“No, because I promised,” said Draco primly.

“Oh. Thank you.” 

“You’re quite welcome.” Draco rubbed his hands together now, a bit nervously. “So here is my hypothesis, which is a word I learned from my mother, and it means what I think is going on. I think that you have been living with the Hogwarts elves, and they taught you elf magic.” 

Harry gaped at him, absolutely dumbfounded. He didn’t even have a response, his mind was simply a static fog of surprise.

“Here are my supporting points,” Draco said. He raised a hand to start ticking off fingers. “One. You already knew how to fold the sheet corners on the beds. Two. Even on our first day, you started stacking up your dishes. Three. You can do elf magic. Four. Sometimes when you’re talking to me, you start talking like elves do. I don’t think you notice you’re doing it.” 

“I do?” Harry asked, astonished.

“Yes. You’ll say something like, ‘I hope there’s treacle tart for dessert, I loves treacle tart.’ I think the others might think it’s a joke you’re doing, but I think it’s because you lived with elves!” 

“Um.” 

“You can admit it,” Draco said. “I’m right.” He gave Harry a smug smile. 

Harry stifled a laugh and was glad he only had to partially lie. “Actually, Draco, you’re wrong. I just have some elf friends; I haven’t been living with them. Sorry, but it’s the truth.” 

Draco deflated. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, sorry. Do you, er, have a second hypothesis? About the actual magic part?” 

“Oh, that? Yes. I also think that elf and wizard magics aren’t as separate as we’ve always thought they are. If you can learn elf magic, then can an elf learn wizard magic?” 

There you go, Draco, Harry thought, smiling broadly. 

“So,” Harry began. “Remember that you promised to keep mum, alright?” 

Harry in a purple cloak, facing a glowing elflight

"If you can learn elf magic, then can an elf learn wizard magic?” 

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Dear A,

I think you would like my friend Daphne a lot. She loves astronomy and has been teaching me little phrases in Arabic. I hope you can meet her someday. I can just imagine her at the eclipse, stargazing with us. 

Ron isn’t mad at me any more—I think he forgot about it over holiday, or maybe the twins talked to him. He has a new owl now, tinier than Pip. He’s called it Pigwidgeon. I think it’s a lovely name.

Has your father found the unicorn hunter yet? I can't stop thinking about it. Please tell me he has.

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“Alright, flyers, big surprise for you today!” crowed Madam Hooch. “I’m partnering you up to work on your dives with members of the quidditch teams!” 

Harry looked to Ron in excitement, who grinned hugely. “Who do you think it is?” he hissed. 

“We’ve got a mishmash of students who didn’t have class this hour,” said Madam Hooch. “Come here, gather round, everyone. Alright, here we go. Oliver, why don’t you take Longbottom—mind his wrist, now—and Flint, you’ll be with Bulstrode, er, Bell with Granger, Johnson with Malfoy, Chang with Potter—” 

Harry didn’t hear any of the rest, because the moment he met Cho Chang’s very black eyes, his hearing cut out completely and all the blood in his body rushed to his face. He hadn’t seen Cho, really, since becoming a student—he didn't have any Ravenclaw friends.

Cho made her way her to him and they walked a little ways onto the pitch. Harry’s throat had closed up entirely. 

“I’m Cho,” she said, grinning at him with a blinding smile. “Second year, Ravenclaw team.” 

“I know,” Harry squeaked, immediately flushing so hard he thought his head would burst. “Sorry! Er. I mean, I’ve seen you fly! You’re brilliant!” 

She laughed. “Thanks, Potter. Now, let’s see you dive.” 

Hands shaking a bit, Harry mounted his broom and showed her the dive they had been practicing: a simple, fluid swoop from ten feet up. If he got a little closer to the ground than Madam Hooch had told them to, so what? If he ended in a showy roll, so what? 

Cho laughed. “Alright, you don’t need my help, then. How about I teach you something more interesting?” She glanced behind her, checking that Madam Hooch was busy overseeing George’s dubious instruction. “Do you know how to do a bludger bounce?” 

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Dear Griphook, 

Happy New year. I hope you are well. I am well. I am working school hard. Hope visit bank again see you. Speak you I want. 

I’m going to switch to English now. It’s hard to learn a language just from one book! Maybe one day I can come spend some time with goblins—where do you live? Is there a school where I can study? How do goblins feel about wizards? Not good, I’m sure. Maybe they’d feel okay about me, though—I’m only sort of a wizard, but you can’t tell anyone that. 

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“Hello, Fang!” Daphne laughed, collapsing under the giant dog’s weight. “Good boy! Very good boy!” He slobbered all over her face, but she just laughed and laughed.

“E’s missed you,” Hagrid said, laughing. “Come on in, come on in. Good to see you both. Classes goin’ alright?”

Daphne sat on the floor to play tug of war with Fang, and Harry clambered up on a chair to gnaw on a rock cake. “Yeah,” he said. “Mostly.” 

“I’m alright in everything but transfiguration,” Daphne said regretfully. “I just don’t understand how I’m supposed to change a cup into a candlestick! If it was a teapot into a teacup, I could understand, or a cup into a glass ….” 

“I did poorly on the last DADA essay,” Harry sighed. “I think it’s because Quirrel’s class is so dead boring.” 

“Professor Quirrell,” Hagrid said, eyes glittering. “And you can’t blame the poor man, 'e had somethin’ of a terrible summer.” 

“Oh yeah?” Daphne asked. “What happened?” 

“Why, he went to Romania and came back a different person, almost,” Hagrid said. “He didn’t used to be that … awkward, really. Acts like he's scared of his own shadow now!” 

“And he didn’t used to?” asked Harry, frowning.

Hagrid shook his head. “Not one bit. Strange, that.” He shrugged. 

“Strange,” echoed Harry, and took a bite of his rock cake.

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Dear A,

Any word yet on the unicorn hunter? I know you would write me at once if there was, but I can't help asking. It's only my mind all the time. I'm part of the forest, I should be helping. But instead I'm here. But I suppose Bane would say to see my choices through, right? Or is that what you would say? :P

Anyway, I told Draco the secret, and he’s been quiet about it ever since. Yesterday, Limmy told our friend Tippy about it, and apparently Tippy hasn’t been quiet about it. But I got a little dusted sugar heart on my breakfast plate today, so apparently she isn’t too mad. I suspect that come summer, there will be a reckoning.

I want to tell you, too, next time we see each other. It doesn’t feel right keeping a big secret from you. And it’s starting to come out anyway, bit by bit. And it feels bad, actually—it’s been just our secret for so long, and now we can’t control where it goes. But I know that it's good, really, no matter how it feels right now. Because it shouldn’t be just our secret. It’s been kept a secret from everyone, forever, and it’s time it’s told.

Chapter Text

“I’m just saying, I don’t understand why it’s forbidden,” said Ron. 

Harry shrugged. “Me either. I’ve been down there and, well, I haven’t seen anything.”

“Harry!” Hermione looked appalled. “You haven’t!” 

Harry shrugged again. 

“You’re not supposed to do that, Harry,” said Neville nervously, who was walking back from the library with them. “We’re not even supposed to be out right now. Can’t we just get back to the common room?” 

Ron rolled his eyes. “Honestly, Neville. Where’s your Gryffindor bravery? We’re only ten minutes past curfew.”

Hermione, clutching the strap of her bag between white-knuckled fingers, looked like she agreed with Neville. “If a professor catches us … we can’t lose any more points for Gryffindor, Ron!” 

Neville nodded sagely. “Yeah, everyone hated you both for that for a bit.” 

Harry let their bickering pass over him soothingly. He liked having so many friends, he did, but he was more used to spending time with people one-on-one. Sometimes it was easier to just be silent and listen. 

That was how he heard the meow when no-one else did. 

“Mrs. Norris!” he hissed, shutting the others up at once. “I just heard her!” 

Hermione clapped her hands to her mouth, looking ready to cry. Neville looked desperately around for an escape.

“The cloak!” Hermione hissed. 

Harry had told them all about the cloak, of course. But … “It will only cover three.” 

“We aren’t leaving anyone behind,” Ron snapped, “We’re Gryffindors, mostly! Come on!” And he took the lead, seizing Hermione and Neville’s hands and running, Harry dashing after them. They pattered as quickly as they could down the corridor, but Mrs. Norris was meowing in earnest now, and they could hear Filch’s breathy wheeze around the corner. 

Ron led them at at tear down a corridor, then another, and then they hit a dead end. He tugged frantically on a door handle. 

“We can’t get caught!” Neville moaned. 

“Move aside!” Hermione snapped, wand out. “Alohomora!” 

They piled inside the door, slamming their backs against it, trying to stifle harsh breaths. Outside, they heard Mrs. Norris spitting angrily, and Filch’s shuffling walk trace past the door and then back again, slowly away down the corridor. 

“Thank Merlin,” Ron said, sagging against the door. “That was too close. Where do you suppose we are?” 

Harry could have told him. But he was too preoccupied with the giant, three-headed dog staring at them from the middle of the room.

“Hello!” he called. He held his hand out and crept slowly forward. “What’s your name, boy?” 

“Harry!” Hermione shrieked, and yanked him away from the dog just as it lunged, three heads dripping saliva from three sets of fangs, snapping its jaws closed over air. 

“Oh!” was all Harry could say, as they charged out of the door again, and this time ran without stopping back to Gryffindor. They piled inside the portrait hole, panting—Neville was crying—and astonished. 

“What!” Hermione yelled, grabbing a cushion from the couch and squeezing it to her chest. “What was that!” 

“Who keeps a dog that massive in a castle!” Ron demanded of the wall. 

Neville sat on the sofa and put his head between his knees.

Harry frowned. “It wasn’t very nice.” 

They all stared at him in outrage and exasperation. “And you!” Hermione said. “What were you going to do, pet it?” 

“Well, yes,” Harry said. 

“Ugh!” Hermione snarled. “Boys! Besides, didn’t any of you notice what it was standing on?” 

Ron shook his head. “What?” 

“A trapdoor. It’s guarding something.” With that, Hermione went to bed. 

“Hang on,” Ron said, pointing at Harry. “This isn’t even your common room!” 

maroon sprout

Dear A,

There’s something really weird going on. I told you about the third floor corridor being closed; I’ve been down it before and haven’t seen any reason for it to be closed.

But yesterday, Hermione and Ron and Neville and I were hiding from Filch, and there’s a huge three-headed dog in there guarding something! It’s not friendly, by the way. 

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Dear Heartkin,

Ask the steward. 

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“Blimey, there’s a lot o' you today,” Hagrid said, scratching his head as he stared at them all. “I dunno if I have enough seats, to be honest.” 

“Your seats are massive,” Daphne piped up. “We can share. We brought chocolate!”

She elbowed Draco, who shyly held out a box of fancy chocolates he’d gotten from his parents. He was looking a little pale, but was braving Hagrid’s hut in spite of himself. When he’d overheard Harry telling Daphne about the dog, he’d immediately wanted in and refused to be left out. 

Hagrid stared at him. “Draco Malfoy, right?” 

“Yes, hello!” Draco said nervously. He pushed the chocolates forward a bit. “There’s milk and dark!” 

Hagrid closed his eyes for a moment. “Alrigh’, come on in, come in.” 

“Blimey it’s hot in here,” Ron said, shucking off his coat and scarf and holding out a hand for Hermione’s. “Aren’t you boiling, Hagrid?” 

“Oh, no, no,” said Hagrid, waving a hand. The fire in the fireplace was higher than Harry had ever seen it. Hagrid nudged a few new logs in and pushed them around carefully with his bare hands. “Tea, then?” 

“Yes, please,” said Hermione, clambering up onto a chair. Daphne squeezed in beside her, Draco took another chair and looked so nervous Harry felt obliged to sit next to him, and so Ron perched on the arm of Hagrid’s armchair. They sweltered for a few moments and hurriedly took off as many layers as was decent while Hagrid puttered around with tea. 

“Here we go,” Hagrid said, finally banging down an assortment of mugs and teacups in front of everyone. “And here’s some rock cakes.”

“Dip those in the tea,” Harry advised Draco. 

“How are you, Hagrid?” Hermione asked, pouring milk into her tea.

“Oh, I’m jus’ fine,” Hagrid said. “Same ‘ol, same ‘ol. Making my rounds in the forest, keeping up the grounds.” 

“Aren’t you scared of going in there?” asked Ron a bit tremulously. “The forest? I’ve heard there’s huge spiders there.” He shuddered. 

“Oh, sure,” Hagrid said airily. “The acromantula kingdom’s near the middle o’ the forest. One of my official duties is to keep up communication between the king and the castle, right enough.” 

Ron was so pale Harry thought he might faint. “Are they—are they mean?” 

“Mean?” Hagrid paused. “Well, it depends on how you think about it! King Aragog, ‘e’s one o’ me best friends in the world! But mean? Perhaps you’d think so, not knowing acromantulae. But you’d think so out of ignorance, you see?”

“I suppose,” Ron said reluctantly. “I think I’d pass out if I saw one, though.” 

Hagrid laughed. “Well, no fear o’ tha’. They live a good long journey away.” He tipped an unsubtle wink at Harry, who nonchalantly took a sip of his tea. “Anyway, wha’ brings you all to my hut this evening?” 

“Well,” Hermione said, sitting up straight. “We had a question for you!” 

“Ask away.” 

“What do you know, um, about three-headed dogs?” 

Hagrid’s face grew abruptly severe, and he set down his teacup. “‘Ere,” he said sternly.”Who told you about Fluffy?” 

“Fluffy?” Ron burst out. “Who names a monster like that Fluffy?” 

“I have to agree,” Draco said thinly. “It almost killed Harry.” 

“No it didn’t!” Harry said loudly, over Hagrid’s groan. “It didn’t, Hagrid!” 

“Merlin,” Hagrid said, covering his face with a palm. “Now, that corridor is forbidden for a reason! The door is locked for a reason!” 

“Because it’s guarding …?” Hermione hedged. 

“Right, because it’s guarding the—” Hagrid broke off and waved a finger at her. “Now, don’t you try that. That’s between Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel, that is, and I—” he went pale and then bright red. “I shouldn’t have said that. I should not have said that.” 

“We won’t tell,” Ron said reassuringly. “Who’s Nicholas Flamel?” 

“Oh, no,” Hagrid warned. “No, no more outta me.” He glanced uneasily towards the fire. “Besides, it’s time you all were gettin’ back. Off with you, now.” 

“What!” Ron squawked. “It’s not nearly curfew!” 

“I’ve got things to be doin’,” said Hagrid, with another glance at the fire. “Off you get, now, come on. Harry, really, don’t go over there—Harry!” 

But Harry was enraptured by the egg in the flames, hidden and visible in turns by the flickering light, so hot it was white. “Hagrid,” he breathed. “Is that a dragon egg?” 

The hut erupted with words, everyone talking over themselves. Hagrid tried several times to restore order, before banging his hand down on the table hard. “Enough!” He breathed deeply. “Now, I will not confirm what kind of egg is in my fire. It’s time you all were leaving.” 

“It’s definitely a dragon egg,” Harry whispered. “Can we watch it hatch?” 

“That’s really dangerous, Hagrid,” Ron said. “My brother Charlie works with dragons and it’s illegal to hatch them at home.” 

“Oh,” Hagrid said, waving a hand. “It’ll be alright.” 

“Where did you even get one?” Draco asked shrilly. He alone had put on his coat at once and was waiting by the door. 

“Won it off a chap at the pub,” said Hagrid. “Now, off you go, and keep mum, alright?” 

“We’ll keep mum,” said Daphne seriously, “only if you let us watch it hatch!” 

Hagrid stared at her. “Slytherins,” he muttered. 

a green egg inside a fire

"I will not confirm what kind of egg is in my fire."

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“Nicholas Flamel, Nicholas Flamel,” muttered Hermione. “Where are you, Nicholas Flamel?” 

Draco groaned. “Granger, I’m trying to read.” 

She poked her head up from her stack of books and glared at him. “Oh, so you don’t want to know who he is?” 

“I do,” said Draco testily, “but also, we’ve a Charms exam on Monday, or did you forget?” 

Hermione bit her lip. “I never thought I’d have too much to read at once. Charms, and Flamel, and the book from Limmy ….” 

Harry, between the two, kicked his legs up on the table. “What kind of dragon do you think it is?” 

“A very dangerous one,” said Hermione, frowning, “especially for a man who lives in a wooden house.” 

“I ro—” Harry snapped his mouth shut abruptly. He had been about to say “I rode a dragon once, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.” He frowned, slumping further into his chair. He was getting so tired of censoring himself. 

“Who’s Limmy?” asked Draco. 

“Oh, er.” Hermione’s gaze flicked from Draco to Harry and back again. “An elf.” 

Draco perked up. “I know an elf! His name is Dobby.” 

“That’s nice,” Hermione said.

“I wonder if Charlie would take the dragon,” Harry said, sitting up abruptly. “Where’s Ron?” 

“Dunno,” Draco said. “Can you please be quiet?” 

“Sure,” Harry said idly, getting up. “See you two later.” 

“Bye,” Draco said. Hermione’s head was already back in her book. 

Once in the corridor, Harry meandered down the hall, glancing left and right to ensure the corridor was empty before dashing down to a portrait of a wheat field. 

“Jade Eyes?” he hissed. 

The wheat rustled, and after a moment a golden snake flicked out his tongue in greeting. “Snakeheart! Salutations! Did you ever catch that rat?” 

“Oh, er, yes,” Harry said. “I forgot to tell you how it worked out.” 

“Was it delicious?” 

“It was a wizard,” Harry said sadly, “so no.” 

Jade Eyes curled in revulsion. “Nasty.” 

“Yep. Do you know who Nicholas Flamel is?” 

“Nicholas Flamel, Nicholas Flamel,” hissed Jade Eyes, curling around his portrait. “It sounds familiar, but no, I cannot place the name. Was he, perhaps, an anthropologist? A linguist? Surely not an ethnologist.” 

Harry shrugged. 

“I shall give it some thought,” said Jade Eyes. “Perhaps he was a theorist of magic. Have I told you of my most recent observations on transfiguration?” 

“Not yet.” 

“I do think I’ve penetrated the foundation of the several branches of transfiguration. Allow me to elaborate. First of all, I have observed that there are like-transformations, and unlike-transformations ….” 

Harry looks up at a portrait of a yellow snake

"Surely not an ethnologist.” 

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Harry wandered. For once, he was not breaking curfew. He had a free period before flying today, and he wanted to be alone. 

It wasn’t that he didn’t like his new friends. It was just that he’d been reunited so briefly with his old ones that his heart still ached with their parting. 

He let his mind wander while his feet took him where they would. His mind was equally occupied with myriad different concerns. He hadn’t been able to turn his napkin into a handkerchief yesterday. There was a unicorn hunter in the forest. He had to turn in a book to the library that he hadn’t finished. Severus was angry with him for lying. The unicorns were threatened. Hagrid hadn’t yet sent for them to see the hatching—what if he decided not to tell them? Araeo had seen his blood in the stars. He was impotent in the castle, unable to help the unicorns. He didn’t want to bleed. He didn’t want to be here, really. All he wanted was the eggs free, and Limmy free, and then he wanted to curl up next to the basilisk and sleep, in his nest, not in a dumb wizard bed, even if that bed felt like a cloud, because it wasn’t his. 

And he had to help the unicorns. The unicorns, the unicorns, the unicorns.

“Mr. Peverell?” 

Harry looked up. His wandering feet had taken him to the bottom of Trelawney’s ladder. How long had he been standing there? “It’s Potter,” he said. 

“I’m sure it is.” Trelawney pushed her huge glasses up her nose. “Are you alright? Were you looking for me?” 

“My feet just took me here,” Harry told her honestly. “May I come up?” 

She looked a little surprised. “Very well.” 

He clambered up to find the classroom prepared for a lesson, teacups set out on desks and a kettle heating. “Are you doing tea leaves?” he asked. 

“Indeed.” She settled behind her low table on her cushion, and Harry sat on the opposite side of her. “Would you like your tea leaves read, Mr. Prewett?” 

“Potter,” he said. “And yes, please.” 

She looked at him, eyes narrowed. “Are you a follower of the divinatory arts?” 

“Maybe,” he said. “What does it mean to be a ‘follower’ of them?” 

“Hm.” She poured tea into a teacup decorated with ivy leaves and passed it to him. He took an appreciative sip: jasmine. “Practitioner, is what I mean. Do you practice the arts?” 

“Not always on purpose,” he said, the tea and her vivid purple gaze calming something agitated in his mind. There was still a little part of him that was Trelawney’s pretend nephew, even if she would never know it. “Sometimes it feels like they practice me.” 

“Do they indeed?” Her eyes were wide with interest. “In what form?”

He blew out over his teacup, sending steam billowing in miniature hillscapes. “Dreams, mostly.”

“Ah. Dreams can be the most fickle and yet the most obvious of portents. It only depends on how open you are to understanding them.” 

“I’m open,” said Harry, slightly defensively.

Trelawney raised a many-ringed hand. “I was not accusing you. Even I struggle with being open to the ever-rushing future. It takes a certain mind.” 

Harry sipped his tea, feeling the taste-smell of it bloom through his mouth. “I think I know what you mean. It’s like my friend. He sees—so much. All the time. But you’d never know it without him saying it.” 

“He seems very well-balanced,” said Trelawney. “Are you done, dear?” 

Harry drained the last of his tea and turned it upside down on his saucer. “Did you know my parents?” he asked. “Lots of the other professors did.” 

“Maybe. Who were they?” 

“James Potter and Lily Evans.” 

Trelawney’s gaze went far away, one long finger stroking her cheek. “Potter and Evans … no, I don’t recall them. Apologies, dear.” 

“That’s alright. I think my cup is ready.” 

“I think so too.”

Delicately, Trelawney plucked up his ivy cup and turned it to and fro in her fingers.

“Ah,” she said, a little note of concentration. “There is ... a star. Luck and honor. What a nice reading. But, oh - here is a snake. Treachery."

"Not for me," Harry murmured, feeling his heart warm.

"No? If you're sure. What else have we ... oh, my."

“What is it?” 

“I am afraid … I am afraid it is the grim, my dear.” 

“The grim? What does that mean?” 

Trelawney looked up, and her pale eyes met his, and they were vacant. “Death,” she whispered, and her voice had a doubled quality. “Death follows in his footsteps seven times over. The stars were born, the bone was broken, and the blood will be spilled.”

An old memory rose up before his eyes: the basilisk, falling to a curse. Old, suppressed fear choked him. 

He had to know.

Harry leaned towards her. “Whose death?” he asked. “Whose death do you see?” 

Her hands shook around his teacup. “Death dogs his footsteps ….” 

“Who?” Harry shouted. “Who dies?!” 

The teacup fell from her hands. Harry snatched it before it could hit the table and break, but her trance was lost. She shook her head in confusion, peering out at the room from behind her glasses. 

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, shame overtaking him. “I got upset and ruined it.” 

“That’s quite alright,” Trelawney said, voice puzzled. She patted his hand. “What’s the time? Two already? My class is about to start, Pellinor. You’d best get to class as well.” 

“Okay. Thank you, professor.” 

“Any time, dear.” 

Harry descended the staircase, thoroughly disappointed in himself. 

Chapter Text

Word came at lunch via Pip. The little owl fluttered down onto his head, and Harry groped up to retrieve the note. Draco and Daphne plastered themselves to his sides in excitement to read it over his shoulder.

“Yes!” Daphne hissed. “After dinner—wicked!” 

“It’s not wicked,” Draco whispered fretfully. “It’s illegal and we’re going to get detention for years.” 

“You don’t have to come,” Daphne told him.

Draco scoffed. “Oh, as if I’d miss it.” 

Harry, for his part, just grinned and headed over to the Gryffindor table to pass on the word.

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It was lucky they had a few hours after dinner until curfew, because there was no way the cloak would cover Harry, Draco, Hermione, Ron, and Daphne. Still, they tried to act covert as they made their way down to Hagrid’s hut, looping around to the lake first and then skirting by the whomping willow. Dusk was falling by the time they pounded on Hagrid’s door.

“Quiet, will you?” Hagrid growled, pulling the door open so fast they all fell through and onto each other. “Jus’ let the whole castle know what’s goin’ on, why don’t you?” 

“Is it hatching, Hagrid?” Harry asked eagerly, crawling out from under Daphne and tripping over to the fire. 

“Started this mornin’,” said Hagrid, coming over to kneel beside him. Even kneeling, he was taller than any of them were standing. The others came and crowded around. “Supposed to take about half a day.” 

“I think I see it wiggling!” said Daphne.

“Yeah, it’s been movin’ about for the last three hours or so. I’ve had to stay by the fire all day to make sure it’s hot enough.” 

“Wow,” said Hermione softly. “What kind of dragon is it?” 

“Norwegian ridgeback, if I’ve done my identifyin’ correctly,” said Hagrid proudly. “You can tell by the black spots 'round the apex of the egg. And the size.” 

“Yeah, and the size,” groaned Ron. “Hagrid, Norwegian ridgebacks are massive. It’s lucky Charlie can come so soon, or else there’d be no hiding it.” 

Hagrid frowned. “I’ll have little enough time with ‘im as it is. I wish I could just release ‘im into the forest.” 

With a sudden flush of cold fear, Harry pictured a giant dragon trampling through the forest. “Hagrid!” he said sharply. “You’re not serious?” 

“No,” Hagrid said, waving a hand. “Course not. I only wish I could—know ‘im a little longer, is all.”  

Suddenly Draco gave a little shout of fright. “It’s hatching! It’s hatching! I can see a claw!” 

“Stand back now,” Hagrid said, slipping on a pair of oven mitts. They all formed a semicircle around Hagrid and the egg in the fireplace. The flames were white-hot, and the flickered and flared around the egg, half-concealing it from view. But they could see what Draco had noticed if they squinted: the very tip of something silvery poking from the side, wiggling slightly back and forth.

“‘E ‘as to do it ‘imself,” said Hagrid, speaking almost to himself. “Has to take ‘is first steps on his own. Quiet, now.” 

A hush fell across the room. Draco clutched Harry’s elbow, and Hermione and Daphne squeezed each other’s hands tightly. Ron, for his part, hovered just behind Hagrid, peering critically into the fire. 

From that claw-point came a crack in the egg, splintering down the hard side into a spiderweb. And then came a paw, and the blunt tip of a tiny snout, and then the dragonlet practically fell out of its egg into the flames, its body damp and grey, wriggling around in the coals with a small mewling.

“Oh, dear,” Hagrid said to himself. “Oh, dear, little one. Come ‘ere.” And he scooped the dragon into his mitts and cradled him to his chest, gently wiping the egg-fluid away from its eyes.

A little astonished noise came from Draco, right into Harry’s ear. “It’s so—” he said, groping for words.

“Ugly,” giggled Daphne.

Draco cast her an affronted look. “—adorable!”

“Isn’t he just,” cooed Hagrid. In his arms the baby was quickly falling asleep, having exhausted itself breaking out of its shell. “Little Norbert.” 

“You can’t name it Norbert!” squawked Draco. “It needs a—a noble name! Sylvanus! Or, or Cleopatra!” 

“No, something like ‘Flamestoker,’ is better,” said Ron. “Pyrelighter, maybe.” 

“You could do something Norwegian,” put in Hermione. “Like, er, Oslo.” 

“What about something sweet like Rosebud?” said Daphne. “Maybe it’ll get the idea and grow up prettier.” 

“Call it Percy,” Harry suggested. Ron shot him a disgusted look.

“Norbert,” said Hagrid with finality.

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Over the next week any of them could be found at Hagrid’s cabin at any spare moment, heaping adoration onto baby Norbert. By the time the little dragon had discovered his fire, though, everyone grew very relieved that Charlie would be taking it soon. Ron had a close call that might have been a bad bite if not for Hagrid’s quick reflexes, and Draco, as much as he had fallen in love at first sight with Norbert, wouldn’t stop agonizing over a hole the dragon had nipped in his scarf, even after Harry had pinched it shut for him.

Such was the glee over the new baby that it drove all thoughts of unicorn hunters out of Harry's mind during the day, only for them to slip tentacles around his dreams and have him tossing and turning.

At last, Norbert’s final day at Hogwarts came, and the plan for the night was this: to break several school rules into a thousand little pieces. Harry had no trouble with this, but Hermione did and so excused herself from the excursion, which left Draco and Daphne furiously fighting over who would go. The cloak could only fit three, after all, and Ron had to go because it was his brother, and Harry had to go because it was his cloak.

In the end, Draco won out because Daphne remembered she hadn’t even started the herbology essay due the next day. 

And so it was Ron, Harry, and Draco Malfoy who squeezed under Harry’s cloak to traipse down to Hagrid’s hut at eleven thirty.

“Stop hitting me, Ronald!” Draco hissed.

“I’m not even touching you!” Ron snapped. “And don’t call me that!” 

“You are,” Draco snarled, “I felt it.” 

“I’m on the other side of Harry!” 

Harry sighed deeply as they quibbled directly into his ears. “Ron, your side of the cloak is slipping.” 

“Oops.” Ron jerked it back into place carefully. “Tell him I didn’t hit him, Harry.” 

“He didn’t hit you,” Harry said rotely.

“Did you hit me, then?” 

“No!” 

“We’re here,” Ron said.

“Thank the stars,” said Harry, knocking on Hagrid’s door. The moment Hagrid cracked it open, he pushed inside, whipping his cloak off of the other two. “Can’t you two get along?” 

They stared at him, puzzled. “We are getting along,” said Draco.

“Yeah,” agreed Ron. “I can stand to be within three feet of him, can’t I? That’s getting along.” 

“Are you all sure you can do this?” Hagrid asked doubtfully. 

“Yes,” Harry said definitively. “Hello, Norbert! Hello, baby!” Norbert, wriggling in the fire, perked up at the sound of his voice and came scurrying over. He couldn’t fly yet, but he made do by digging his claws into Harry’s robe and clambering up. Harry laughed and rubbed his stomach, kissing his nose gently. “Are you ready to go to your new home?” 

“Good evening, Norbert,” said Draco. He scratched at the little dragon’s head. “I shall miss you greatly, even if you did ruin my cashmere scarf.” 

“Harry fixed your scarf,” Ron snorted. “You have his crate, Hagrid?” 

“I do,” Hagrid sniffed, blotting his eyes with a massive handkerchief. “On the table. Oh, my little Norbert, I’ll miss you! Don’t forget me!”

“He won’t forget you,” Harry said. “Won’t you, Norbert? You won’t forget us, will you? No, you won’t!” 

“Don’t baby talk to him, Harry,” Draco said. “He’ll think that’s how one actually talks. Norbert, remember: don’t let anyone patronize you at your new home. You’re better than any of them.” 

“Did you see something?” Ron asked suddenly. 

All heads jerked up. “No,” Draco said. “What?” 

Ron went to the window. “I could have sworn … never mind. I’m just paranoid. We should get going.”

Hagrid burst into tears and snatched Norbert from Harry’s hands. The little dragon buried his face in Hagrid’s beard, chittering. “Goodbye, Norbert,” he choked out. “I’ll never forget you. In your crate, now.” 

Norbert went obligingly into his crate, which had been outfitted with warm coals from the fire. 

Norbert

“Right,” Harry said. “I’ll take the crate, and Draco and Ron, you have to hold the cloak closed, alright? No arguing anymore.” 

They nodded, looking appropriately serious now that it was actually time to smuggle a dragon through the school. Hagrid saw them off, shutting the door quietly behind them. As they trekked across the grounds, Norbert made little chittering noises and scratched around.

“Shh, Norbert,” whispered Draco. “Shh. Don’t get us caught.” 

In through the entrance hall. Charlie would meet them at the top of the astronomy tower. Not for the first time, Harry felt a pang of regret that he could not disclose his history to his friends: it meant he could not take them through the tunnels, which would definitely have been safer, and most likely faster. 

They had a few close calls: once with Filch, once with Peeves, and once with the Bloody Baron. Each time, the cloak saved them. They made it to the astronomy tower jittery with paranoia, and huddled together under the cloak nervously. Norbert had gone to sleep at some point, thankfully.

Then, two flyers alighted onto the tower. One of them, Harry knew: Charlie Weasley, second coolest Weasley brother, with a cool new scar across his nose. The other was unfamiliar. 

They threw off the cloak and Ron ran to hug Charlie. “Hello, Ronnie,” whispered Charlie. “You know, I expect trouble from the twins, but not you.” 

“It’s not my fault,” said Ron, grinning. “It’s Harry’s. Charlie, this is Harry, and this is Draco.” 

Harry and Draco waved. 

“And this is Norbert,” said Draco proudly, taking the case from Harry and passing it to Charlie. “Do not be fooled by the name; he is the most noble of creatures.” 

Charlie laughed softly. “I’m sure he is. Don’t worry, he’ll have a much better life at the reserve. Cassandra and I will fly him back safe and sound.” He nodded at his companion. “I’d love to stay and chat, boys, but we’ve got to fly. This is super illegal.” 

They all chorused ‘thank you’s and ‘goodbye’s and waved as Charlie and Cassandra flew away in tandem, holding Norbert’s crate between them.

Draco sniffed and wiped an eye.

“Are you actually crying?” Ron asked. 

Draco didn’t meet his eyes, shrugging. “I liked him.” 

“Maybe you can be like Charlie and work with dragons one day,” Harry suggested. Enormous weight lifted from his chest, he preceded the others down the stairs. 

“Do you think so?” Draco asked. “My father always said working with animals was for commoners. Er.” 

Ron rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah? Did Charlie look common to you?” 

Draco had to agree, emphatically, that he did not. “I suppose I could, then,” he said, warming to the idea. “Dragons. Can you imagine?” 

“Not really,” Ron said, knocking him with his elbow. “You’re too skinny.” 

Draco yelped. “Skinny! I am not! I could work with dragons—I could!” 

“You already have,” Harry pointed out. 

The stairs from the tower ended, and Harry opened the door. He stopped as abruptly as if he had run into a tree, and Draco and Ron smacked into his back with protests. 

They had not put the cloak back on.

Minerva was doing a fairly accurate impression of a dragon herself. The look in her eyes actually sent a thrill of fear through Harry. Draco let out a desperate whimper. 

Behind Minerva was Neville Longbottom, staring at the ground, arms crossed tightly. 

“Neville!” Ron said in outrage. 

“Not another word, Mr. Weasley,” said Minerva. Her lips were white. “Not anther word out of any of you.” 

Chapter Text

Detention in the forest. Harry could have laughed. How was it that the forest was forbidden on all other occasions, but not for punishment?

Even if this was hardly a punishment. Harry would gladly have gone with Hagrid to track down the unicorn hunter, because like any proper denizen of the forest, desperate vengeance burned in his heart, and he hadn’t been able to sleep at night for thinking of it since he’d learned about the brutality.

The same could not be said for Draco and Ron.

“The forest!” Draco hissed as they trailed behind Filch down to Hagrid’s hut, as dusk fell. “They can’t do this to us! It’s illegal! It’s forbidden! Just wait til my father hears about this!” 

Normally the mention of Lucius Malfoy would be enough to kindle rage in Ron, but he was looking a little peaked as well. “I don’t know about this,” he said nervously. “Are you sure Dumbledore said this was allowed? Why couldn’t we have just scrubbed cauldrons?”

“At least it’s with Hagrid,” said Harry, hands in his pockets. The thought of coming upon the unicorn hunter both terrified and excited him. Terror for the obvious danger, but excited because if there was any chance, any chance at all …. 

Hagrid was waiting out front of his hut, Fang at his side. Filch deposited them with a good amount of grumbling and groaning, and Hagrid rolled his eyes as he skulked away. 

“Now,” Hagrid said. “First of all, shame on all of you for breakin’ so many school rules.” 

Draco made a sound of outrageous personal offense before he caught Hagrid’s wink and quieted down in embarrassment. 

“Right,” Hagrid said. “Let’s get to work. Don’t think of this as a detention, boys, think of it as doin’ some good. There’s summat that’s been attacking unicorns in the forest, and I don’t need to tell you that there’s nothin’ worse a body could do.” 

“Isn’t there?” Draco asked tremulously.

Hagrid nodded, face grave. “Nothin’ in this world,” he said. “Unicorns, they’re sacred. Even thinkin’ of hurtin’ one …well, I’ll put it this way. Even in the wizardin’ courts, if you harmed a hair on a unicorn’s head, it’s Azkaban for life. Other beings aren’t as charitable.” 

“Charitable?” Ron squeaked.

Hagrid nodded. “If the centaurs find someone harming a unicorn, they will kill on sight. And no-one in this country would blame ‘em.” 

Ron went pale. “But that’s centaurs. Aren’t they—” he cast a glance at Harry nervously. “Um, different?” 

Hagrid shook his head. “Not in this matter, Ron. Now. We’ll be lookin’ for any sign of unicorn tracks: scat, blood, or hair. Their blood is silvery lookin’. Harry, please show them your hair.” 

They looked at him in surprise, and Harry held up his bracelet. “It’s silvery too,” he said. 

“Look for strands caught on trees or bushes,” Hagrid said. “The other sign of a unicorn is mental.” 

“Mental?” Draco squeaked.

Hagrid nodded. “Your thoughts start to go funny. It’s hard to look right at a unicorn, or think about one when you’re near it. So if you start noticin’ your mind goin’ in circles, or strugglin’ to think, that’s how you know you’re close. We’ll be splittin’ up to cover more ground.” 

Ron and Draco both squawked in fear.

“Now, now, listen. Ron, you’re with me. Draco, you’re with Harry, and you’ll take Fang as well.” Hagrid’s gaze rested on Harry. “Alright?” 

Harry nodded. “We’ll be fine.” 

“Harry!” Draco protested. 

“Don’t worry, Draco,” Harry said. “Trust me.” 

Biting his lip, Draco grabbed onto Fang’s collar. “I’m keeping Fang.” 

Hagrid smiled. “That’s fine. Do you know how to send up sparks with your wands?” Draco and Harry nodded. “Good. If you find anythin’: hair, scat, blood, or if your mind starts to hurt, send up sparks right away and I’ll come to you. You won’t find a unicorn tonight, I can guarantee that. Just signs is all we’re lookin’ for. Ready?” 

“No,” squeaked Draco. Ron looked about the same, clutching the side of Hagrid’s coat.

“Yes,” said Harry grimly. 

“Good,” Hagrid said, holding Harry’s gaze. “Let’s go, then.” 

maroon sprout

“Oh, Merlin,” Draco moaned, his voice a quavery whisper. “Fang, no, say close. Oh, Morgana. I can’t believe they sent us into the forest alone. We’ll be eaten.” 

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well be fine, Draco.” 

“I don’t know how you’re so sure,” Draco said tremulously. “Fang, stay! Stay!” 

“Let him go,” Harry advised. “He’s part of the search, too. Here.” He held out his hand. Draco took it immediately, his hand clammy. Released, Fang bounded ahead of them and back in widening circles. 

“Oh, Merlin,” Draco whimpered, cutting off the bloodflow to Harry’s fingers. 

“Shh,” Harry said. “Quiet now. Look for hair.” 

With another murmur of fear, Draco fell silent. Around them, the sounds of the forest night bloomed busy and familiar. Insects buzzing, night animals hunting. It was early spring, and still chilly. The moon was nearly full, providing enough light to see by. 

Harry looks into the distance while Draco hides behind Fang

"I can’t believe they sent us into the forest alone. We’ll be eaten.” 

Harry opened his mouth and drew in a great breath. As terrible a purpose as they were there for, it was comforting to him to walk through the forest. And while he normally would be hesitant to venture in at night, they were barely beyond the Hogwarts boundary: there was nothing dangerous so close to the edge.

Except for whatever was hunting unicorns.

Ahead of them, Fang trod through the underbrush, sniffing furiously. Harry drew measured breaths in and out, trying to detect any change in the magic. 

“Harry,” Draco whispered. 

“Shh,” Harry said, letting the air rest on his tongue. There was an odd taste—almost garlicky.

“Harry.” 

“Shh!” Garlic? Why garlic? Was someone cooking? Who would be cooking in the forest at night? 

“Harry!” 

Harry turned to give Draco a piece of his mind, but at that moment Fang came crashing through the bushes towards them, eyes white and mouth foaming, tail between his legs. He barreled into their legs and sent them stumbling.

“Look!” Draco said, pointing. “Hair! And my mind—I feel odd—we should send up sparks!”

Three glimmering strands of unicorn hair stretched across a bush, which looked as though it had been trampled. Fang whimpered and tried to push them back the way they came. 

The garlicky taste resolved itself into something menacing, and Harry’s vision narrowed into a red haze. 

“Harry, no! Come back!” 

Hand ripping from Draco’s, Harry ran.
 
The closer he got, the harder it was. It felt like running through molasses. The feel of the cool air on his skin turned hot and prickly. His heart was going triple-time in terror, his body tried to pull him away and push him forward all at once. The presence of the unicorn made reality slippery and painful. 

“Harry!” he heard Draco shout behind him, but he paid it no mind. He barreled forward, that garlic taste getting stronger and stronger, and then he could taste something else. 

Blood. 

He came upon it all at once. Fifty paces ahead, a unicorn heaved on the ground, its scream a silent, eldritch thing that made no noise aloud and yet echoed through Harry’s bones. It was horrible. It was beautiful. It was everything and nothing and made his mind try to shake itself apart. 

And crouched atop the thrashing beast was a dark, humanoid figure, reeking of garlic, drinking its blood.

“Harry,” came Draco’s distant, terrified hiss.

“Draco, run,” Harry said softly. He did not say it softly enough.

The thing atop the unicorn jerked its head up, and Harry beheld a ghastly human face with, with sallow cheeks and a flat nose and—oh. Those—

blood 

red 

eyes.

Those eyes, he had seen those eyes a thousand times, but they had never looked like this, and they had never been on this face, and they had never been above a thin lipless mouth that was dripping silver, impossible blood. 

Harry flew. 

Something pushed him faster than was possible, because the thing was whip-quick and yet Harry was there in the blink of an eye, wand forgotten, magic forgotten, nothing but his hands in desperate claws and a scream, a scream of rage spewing from his mouth like vomit— 

The thing scrabbled under him, trying to push him off, but it was thin and weak, so weak—weak enough that it could not dislodge his hands from its throat and now his hands—

they were on fire, his hands, they were alight without flame but they were burning—he screamed again, rage and fear and pain—his hands were being flayed on the thing’s throat, but the thing was screaming too, high and tormented so he kept going, he didn’t let go, he held on, he didn’t let go, he didn’t let go— 

“Harry, Harry!” 

Draco was wailing. Fang was barking. Something was pulling Harry back, no, not yet, not yet, it wasn’t dead yet—

“It’s dead, child!” 

As it always had and forever would, that voice snapped something in him to rapt attention. He stopped screaming—his throat was ragged—and let strong, dark hands pry his fingers from the fists he had formed them into. He was clutching only ashes, had cut his own palms with his nails. 

“It is dead. You killed it. You killed it. Child. Snakeheart. Look at me.” 

Harry looked up into Bane’s dark eyes. Bane was drawn and—scared? Had Harry ever seen him scared before? No, that was silly. Bane was always scared.

Chest heaving, he looked from Bane to the monster.. It was now just empty robes and a pile of black ash. 

Beside them, the unicorn was breathing. Alive. Alive. 

“Wh-what’s that?” sobbed Draco.

“This is Bane,” Harry mumbled through numb lips, dizziness swooping through him. 

“Not him,” snapped Draco. “This.” He stepped into Harry’s line of vision, clutching at Fang’s collar. With his wand, he dragged something out of the ash. A long strip of purple fabric. A turban. 

“I knew there was something funny about him,” Draco said, and promptly dashed to a tree and threw up behind it. Fang went and leaned against his legs. 

“Bane?” Harry asked. He didn’t even know what he was asking. Bane knelt beside him and placed a strong hand on his forehead. The other tucked a lock of Harry’s hair behind his ear.

“Shh, child. How do you feel?” 

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “I killed—I killed—Professor Quirrell? How?” He held up his hands suddenly, terrified. “My hands! Bane, don’t touch me—!” 

Bane caught one of his hands in a firm grip. “Peace, child. I am unsure what happened, but do not fear yourself. See? I will not burn.” 

Harry stared at their hands desperately. “R-right. Is everyone out tonight? The warriors?” 

Bane nodded. “Searching, as we have been every night. They will be here soon, to care for the unicorn. Thanks to you, it will live.”

“What was it?” Harry asked desperately. “Quirrell—the thing?” 

Bane glanced disdainfully at the pile of ash. “I do not know. Something that could not survive on its own, and so needed the blood of a unicorn to sustain a half-life. A parasite. A fragment.” 

Harry shuddered. 

Bane beckoned Draco over. “What is your name?” 

“Draco,” said Draco tremulously, white-knuckled around Fang’s collar. 

“Draco, please assist Sn—Harry—onto my back.” 

Harry’s heart stopped. “No way.” 

“Yes way,” Bane sighed. “And never again may you have the privilege, understand? Only this once.” 

Harry giggled. He pushed himself to his knees, swaying a bit. “Araeo will never believe this.” 

“I assure you he will,” grumbled Bane. 

Slowly, Draco helped Harry onto Bane’s back. Harry, lightheaded and shaky, fell forward against Bane’s torso at once. Bane reached back and pull his hands around, rubbing circles into his palms. The contact was grounding. The rest of Harry felt like it was going to float away. 

“Let us go find the steward.” 

Harry riding on Bane's back through the forest

“Let us go find the steward.” 

Harry barely remembered the journey. It seemed like it took hours, and he was falling in and out of sleep for the whole of it, though it couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes’ journey, even with Bane walking slowly so Draco could keep up. He heard Draco and Bane talking, but couldn’t make out their words.

Hagrid and Ron met them near the edge of the forest, frantic with worry. Ron, pale with fright, came to help Harry down, and he stood propped between him and Draco. He watched, floating, while Bane and Hagrid had a number of quiet, serious words. 

Bane came over to Harry one last time before he left. His eyes flicked between Ron and Draco. “A moment?” 

Harry didn’t think he could stand on his own. “’S fine, go ahead,” he said blearily. Ron and Draco’s eyes were huge and curious.

Bane cleared his throat and spoke carefully. “You have the gratitude of the forest,” he said. “And here.” He held up a small package for Harry to see, which he tucked into Harry’s robe pocket. Then he put hands to heart and chin and bowed. Harry heard Hagrid suck in a surprised breath. 

Harry bowed back and managed to smile at Bane before fainting. 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t often that Harry didn’t know where he was when he woke up. But now, lying in a small bed in a row of similar small beds, looking up at a soothing cream-colored ceiling, he had no idea where he was.  

“Ah, Mr. Potter, you’re awake.” Madam Pomfrey loomed over him, wand in hand, and he realized he must be in the hospital wing. This was where Orry worked. 

He felt a fizz of magic as Pomfrey cast something. “What’re you doing?” he mumbled.

“Just checking your vitals, dear, you gave everyone quite a scare. Came in with a high fever, unconscious. But it went down almost immediately. How do you feel?” 

“Um.” Harry felt like he was floating. “Floaty. What day’s it?” 

“Just the next morning, love. Here. Drink some water.” 

Harry held the cup in trembling hands. “Tastes weird.”

“There’s electrolytes in it. Drink it all, now, and you can go back to sleep.” 

He drank, and then slept. 

When he next woke, he no longer felt like he was floating, and Dumbledore was sitting on a chair next to his bed, eating Bertie Botts Every-Flavor Beans.

Harry blinked at him, and Dumbledore smiled. “Good evening, my boy. Here are your glasses. Interesting contraption; quite unlike any I’ve seen before. You are quite caught up on rest by now, I hope. ” 

Harry yawned and sat up, pushing his glasses on. “Doesn’t feel like it. Is everything alright?”

“Quite alright,” said Dumbledore distantly. “Quite alright.” He ate another bean in silence. 

Incrementally, Harry got his bearings. Heaped on his bedside table was a mountain of sweets. His gaze drifted from the chocolates to Dumbledore’s box of beans. “Are those … mine?” 

Dumbledore cast a guilty look at him. “I’m afraid so, my boy. You see, I am very disquieted, and a good bean always calms my nerves. Especially the earwax ones. I hope you don’t mind. Do you know what disquieted means?” 

“Yes,” Harry said. He supposed he could spare Dumbledore a few beans. “Um. Thanks for my father’s cloak, professor.” 

Dumbledore surveyed him over the tops of his spectacles. “I believe I included an instruction in that note. To not make me regret it, wasn’t it?” 

“Oh, er. Do you?” 

Dumbledore twinkled at him. “Not yet, Mr. Potter. Now. How do your hands feel?” 

Harry brought them up to his face. They were unmarked, where he had expected char. He pressed them to his cheeks, felt their coolness, and nibbled at his bracelet a bit with worry before he realized what he was doing. “I—” he broke off. The events of the night before, having been distant and foggy, were pushing at speed into his conscious. “I killed Quirrell, didn’t I, professor?” 

Dumbledore nodded gravely.

“How?” Harry stared at his hands again. “I didn’t even use my wand—all I did was touch him! Was it wandless magic? I’ve never done anything like that before!” 

“Calm, my boy.” Dumbledore reached out and took his hand, folding it between his own—one soft, one magic—as if to deny their lethality. “I will tell you what happened, for I am in the privileged position of understanding it.” 

Harry bunched his sheet up in his other hand, looking desperately at Dumbledore. He felt on the verge of tears. A man had crumbled under his fingers—a man who had taught him, a man who had marked his essays—and Harry had made him into ash. 

“Mr. Potter—Harry. The night Voldemort murdered your parents—I know Severus and Minerva told you of it—he was seeking you. He killed your father at the door, but your mother shielded you to her last moments with her body and magic. And when she died for you—for that is what she did, my boy, she died to protect you—this caused a powerful magic to inhabit your spirit. Her sacrifice is what caused Voldemort’s killing curse to rebound off of you, giving you that scar, and gravely wounding himself.” 

Harry ran his fingers over his scar nervously. “But what does that have to do with burning Quirrell?” 

“Because it was not only Professor Quirrell that you killed,” said Dumbledore, holding his gaze. “But a piece of Voldemort’s soul inhabiting his body. Your mother’s protection still rests in you, and so Voldemort cannot bear your touch. You harbor his antithesis: pure sacrificial love.” 

Harry put a hand to his chest, pressing his Stargazer Band necklace into his heart. His mother’s magic, here with him. He imagined that his hand was hers, resting over him, protecting. 

Dumbledore ate another bean, making a face at the flavor. 

“Wait!” Harry pointed at him. “Professor—you knew? About Quirrell and Voldemort?” 

Dumbledore frowned. “I must admit, I did not know. I suspected. I was unsure who among my staff harbored a piece of Voldemort.” 

“And you didn’t do anything?” Harry demanded. “He was hunting unicorns!” 

Dumbledore looked seriously at him. “Do not think I undervalue the life of a unicorn, Harry. I have been trying to draw him out all year. I laid a trap for him, in fact.”

“Fluffy?” Harry guessed.

Dumbledore gave him the closest look to exasperation he’d seen on the headmaster yet. “Yes, Fluffy, and more besides. What did I say about that cloak, Harry?” 

“I didn’t use the cloak for that,” Harry muttered. “Sorry for ruining your trap, I guess.” 

“Nonsense,” Dumbledore said. “One method is as good as any. Though I am sorry, Harry, deeply sorry, that you killed last night. No child should have to bear that burden.” 

“I’m not sorry,” Harry said frankly. “I’d have killed a dozen of him, if it meant saving the unicorn.” 

“I cannot say I disagree,” Dumbledore said gently. “But I find myself curious as to where you developed such a moral standard.” 

Harry shrugged. 

“One day,” Dumbledore said lightly, “we shall have a very long and interesting talk, my boy. Now, I will let you rest. Professor Snape will be here again soon—he has been in and out.” 

"That’s nice,” Harry said drowsily. “Pass me a chocolate frog? You can have the rest of the beans if you want. To make you feel quieted.” 

Dumbledore gave a soft huff of amusement, passed him a chocolate frog, and departed with a pat to his shoulder. 

Stuffing the frog into his mouth, Harry noted a pile of cards, and pulled them over to read. All of his friends had left one, and some other students as well, like Cho and Eliza and Oliver. The long and short of them were to never scare them like that again, who do you think you are, they’d never known anyone so stupid/foolhardy/brave/heroic in their lives, glad you’re alright, we love you, here’s some chocolate. Harry smoothed his hands over the cards, tried to ignore how his fingers still felt like they could burst into flames, and remembered his other gift.

His robes were draped over the back of the chair next to him. He reached over and fumbled out a small wrapped package with a note attached.

Dear Heartkin,

So here we are. The blood has started to flow, and it will not staunch for a long time. But you are safe, and I am safe, and we are given a respite for the moment. How I long to go with my father tonight, but he will not hear of it, and nor will my uncles or mother. I am outmatched. The thought of you in mortal danger terrorizes me.

I cannot come to you tonight, but here is a piece of me that can. Trust that the evil is purged for now, rest and recover, and look to the summer, which seems much too far away, when we will see each other.

Love, your heartkin,
A

Harry felt tears rolling down his cheeks, lips trembling. He didn’t want to wait until summer to see Araeo. He hadn’t even thought, flying into danger, what would happen to Araeo if he died. What would happen? If he died, or if Araeo died? He had never thought of it before, but now Harry had killed someone and it had been so easy— The thought of it took something in his stomach and tied it into a knot so tight it stopped his breath and his heart and his thoughts, tripped them into a tangled knot of terror.

“—Potter. Potter. Potter. Harry!” 

There was a hand on his shoulder, another over his heart. 

“Breathe,” said the voice. “Count with me. Counts of four, Mr. Potter. In, two, three, four.” 

Harry took great gasping breaths, couldn’t match the count until the fourth repetition. When he finally managed it he put a hand over the one on his chest, clutching it desperately. 

“There you are,” said Severus. “There you are, Mr. Potter. All right? Drink some water.” 

Harry drank it and only spilled a bit, his hands shaking. He looked at Severus desperately. He wanted the basilisk, but all he had was the potions master. The potions master who raised a tentative hand to smooth his hair back. Harry felt tears well up in his eyes again. 

“I am very sorry you had to go through what you did last night,” said Severus. “No child should have to face what you did.” 

“Didn’t I face him already?” Harry choked out. “When I was a baby.” 

Severus nodded. “And once was bad enough. Would you like to talk about what happened?”
 
Harry shook his head. 

“Very well. Would you like to finish opening your gift?” 

Oh, yes. He picked up Araeo’s present from his lap, picking open the paper. Then he stopped, glancing warily at Severus. 

Severus sighed in exasperation. “Mr. Potter, really. Is there anything about yourself that you don’t consider privileged information?” 

Harry shrugged, and decided, just this once, to trust Severus with a secret. He opened the package to reveal a little glass ear cuff. It was a small enough piece, engraved and painted with a crescent moon. It was Araeo’s favorite piece of jewelry, made by his grandmother and gifted to him on his birth.

Harry gave a watery smile and found himself on the verge of tears again. 

“That is quite lovely,” said Severus. “Would you like help putting it on?” 

Harry nodded. With delicate fingers Severus rolled the cuff onto the edge of his right ear, adjusting it minutely.

Harry sniffed. “Do you want a chocolate frog?”

“Very well.” Severus nibbled on a frogleg. “You, Mr. Malfoy, and Mr. Weasley will all be attending counseling sessions until Professor McGonagall and I deem it sufficient. Yours will be through the end of the year, at the very least.” 

“What does that mean?” Harry demanded. “Extra lessons?” 

Severus shook his head. “No, Mr. Potter. Counseling is a method by which we may come to terms with traumatic events. Mostly, it involves talking about such events to a professional equipped to give you tools to deal with the repercussions. Such tools may involve adjusting ways of thinking, or techniques for meditation and calmness.” 

That didn’t sound so bad. “Will it be with Draco and Ron?” 

“No. Separately. Your first session will occur tomorrow morning. You have been excused from classes for tomorrow, and tomorrow only ... though further exception can be made if you require it.” 

“Alright. Are Ron and Draco … okay?” 

“They are fine,” said Severus. “They have not stopped hounding me about you for twelve hours now, along with approximately half of the school.” 

Harry grinned. “When can I see them?” 

Severus cast a glance to the infirmary doors. “I imagine I cannot hold them off for longer than five more minutes. They followed me here.”

Chapter Text

Healer Aster met him in the hospital wing the next afternoon. She was a young woman with lilac hair, which made Harry like her immediately. She wasn’t dressed like a doctor at all, either—she wore short chrysanthemum robes and sparkly white ankle boots with buckles. 

“I like your shoes,” Harry said immediately. 

“Thank you,” said Healer Aster. “Mr. Potter, yes? May I call you Harry? You can call me Lobelia. Now, I know we’re meeting in the hospital wing, but we can go wherever you’re comfortable. We can sit or walk or stand on our heads. What would you like to do?” 

“Can we walk around the lake?” Harry asked. 

“Most certainly. Shall we grab some peas to toss to the giant squid while we’re there?” 

And there could be no better start than that.

maroon sprout

Harry would be meeting with Lobelia twice a week until the end of school, and he couldn’t say he minded. It was hard to talk about some things, and they hadn’t even talked about that night with Quirrell yet. Instead she had just wanted to learn about Harry. And he didn’t mean pry for secrets, either—she wanted to know what he liked in school, and his favorite books, and how he felt about his parents. 

By the time they had looped around the lake she had taught him a little breathing trick to calm down when he felt overwhelmed, and told him she would see him in three days. Harry headed to dinner feeling drained, but not really in a bad way.

Opening the doors to the great hall, it was as if he had risen from the dead, again. The students went deathly silent, and then erupted into cheers and screams. Paling, Harry hurried over to the Slytherin table and ensconced himself between Draco and Daphne. 

“Harry,” Daphne said in relief, clutching him. “Good to have you back.” 

“People won’t stop nagging me about what happened,” Draco said, though he seemed extremely pleased about it. “They want to know all about the centaur I met.” 

Harry giggled and ladled himself a bowl of soup, dunking a piece of crusty bread into it. There was a bit of a commotion as Ron and Hermione bodily moved Vince and Greg aside across from them and squashed stubbornly in. “Hello,” Hermione said breathlessly. “Alright if we eat here today?” 

“Obviously,” said Daphne, pushing over the salad bowl. 

“How are you feeling, Harry?” asked Ron. “My mum sent you something, here!” 

“Your mum?” Harry asked in astonishment, taking the package and opening it to reveal a pair of orange fingerless gloves. “Oh, brilliant! They match my hat!”

“Purple and orange do not match,” Draco said, offended. 

“I guess she’s heard enough about you from me and the twins,” Ron said. “I firecalled her with Dumbledore to tell her and dad everything, and she sent those for you.” 

“Tell her thanks for me!” Harry put on the gloves and resumed eating, incredibly pleased. 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there, Harry!” Hermione said.

“I’m not!” Harry said. “It was really awful, Hermione.” 

“Still,” Hermione sulked. “I should have been there to help.” 

“We’re all alright,” Ron reasoned. “Er, mostly. I think Fang is scarred for life.” 

“I should visit Hagrid after dinner,” Harry said. “Want to come?” 

Everyone agreed, and they lapsed into silence to eat.

Harry’s grand entrance, however, was to be shown up. Midway through the meal, the doors opened again, to admit not a student, but a man. As the student body noticed, the hall grew quieter and quieter, until all that could be heard were the man’s heavy footfalls as he approached the staff table.

“What in Merlin’s name,” whispered Ron. 

The man was thin and lanky and dressed unlike any wizard or muggle Harry had ever seen before, though he knew enough to recognize that most of his clothes were muggle. He wore clunky black boots with rainbow laces. He wore ripped black skinny jeans with a studded black belt. His black denim jacket was covered in patches and badges. His hair was dyed pastel pink, and his face covered in scars. 

Dumbledore, smiling hugely, stood up to welcome him, ushering the man to the empty seat at the end of the table … right beside Severus, whose lips were pressed so tightly together Harry thought his face might crack open.

“May I have your attention please,” said Dumbledore unnecessarily, for the man had already commanded the entire hall’s focus. “May I introduce your temporary Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Remus Lupin, who will be joining us through the end of the year. Please welcome him.” And he led them all in applause.

Slowly, talk started back up. Harry watched as Remus Lupin—whose name he had heard before, hadn’t he?—said something to Severus that made Severus literally snarl. 

“Wow,” said Daphne dazedly. 

“Wow,” agreed Hermione. 

Draco didn’t say anything. His mouth was slightly agape as he stared at Lupin. 

“Er, Draco?” Harry asked. “You alright?” 

Draco shut his mouth with a squeak. “Yes, what? Of course. Stop laughing—Harry!” 

maroon sprout

Remus Lupin was the talk of the school. 

By morning, word had spread that Remus Lupin and Severus loathed each other. 

By midmorning, it was the talk of the halls that Remus Lupin was queer and a werewolf.

By afternoon, upper years were raving that Remus Lupin was the best DADA teacher in a decade. 

By the time the first year Slytherins had class with Remus Lupin, he might as well have been a figure of myth. It was a fight to sit either as close to the front or as close to the back as possible. Greg shoved Tracy over for the seat nearest the door, almost in tears at the thought of being taught by a werewolf. Draco used his and Harry’s reputations as Forbidden Forest Survivors to bully their way to a seat up front. Two blackboards now framed the front of the room, where before there had been one.

Remus Lupin entered class right on time, holding a mug of tea. The class, deathly silent, watched as he sauntered up to his desk—and he did saunter. His heavy boots were shiny. He wore a choker with a crescent moon on it. His t-shirt was emblazoned a stylized, upraised fist and the words “POWER TO THE CREATURES.” His pink hair was swept devilishly to one side. 

He perched on the edge of his desk and stared out at them all, sipping his cup of tea slowly. The only sound was Greg hyperventilating in the background.

“Well,” said Lupin finally, setting his mug down on top of a book. “Your old professor left very little by the way of notes, but some older years reported to me you were simply working through the textbook, is that correct? With very few practical elements?” 

“Professor!” Daphne was waving her hand in the air. “Are you really a werewolf?” 

Lupin’s mouth quirked up. “Was that the answer to the question I posed, Miss …?” 

“Greengrass!” squeaked Daphne, blushing scarlet. 

“Miss Greengrass,” finished Lupin. “But very well, I see the rumor mill works just as fast as it did when I was a student. I am a werewolf, Miss Greengrass. I will take two minutes for any other questions, and then we will begin the lesson.” 

A dozen hands went up, and then etiquette was forgotten as questions were simply shouted.

“Have you killed anyone?” 

“Were you born a werewolf?”

“What are the trousers you’re wearing?” 

“Why do you hate Snape?” 

“What does ‘queer’ mean?” 

“How is your hair that color?” 

“Is it legal for you to teach here?” 

“Where did you get your shirt?” 

Lupin waited until their questions had run dry, surveying them all as he sipped his tea calmly. “You all have asked some pertinent questions about the nature of what it means to be a werewolf. I will set aside those questions to address as part of my first lesson. Your questions also pertain to the meaning of ‘queer.’ To those curious about this, please see me after class and I will be happy to make you some tea and answer all the questions you have. To those curious about my appearance, I would direct you towards a teatime chat as well. Now, are there any other questions I can put off answering?” 

Draco stuck his hand in the air.

Lupin raised an eyebrow. “Mr …?” 

“Malfoy.” Draco leaned forward, stars in his eyes. “Did you get those boots in Diagon Alley?” 

Lupin smiled. “Teatime, Mr. Malfoy. Now, let us begin. Luckily for those curious about lycanthropy, I had already prepared a sketch of my first lesson. Unlike your former professor, I do not teach … by the book. I much prefer a seminar style—this means you are encouraged to interact! Ask questions! Answer questions! Interrupt me! But not too much. Let us begin.” 

Lupin waved his wand, and the backboards wiped themselves clean. He took a piece of chalk and wrote in large letters on one board: “CREATURE,” and on the other, “BEING.” 

Grinning at them all—his canine teeth were very sharp—he took a bracing drink of tea and flung his arms wide. “Now come on, everyone. Tell me: what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘creature’? Shout them out, don’t be shy.” 

Remus sits on the edge of his desk holding a cup of tea. He has pink hair and an undercut, and wear a purple t-shirt with a raised fist. His arms and face are covered in scars.

The only sound was Greg hyperventilating in the background.

maroon sprout

By mid afternoon, word had spread that DADA ought to be renamed, for the rest of the year, at least, “A Briefer on Being Rights.” 

By mid evening, an upper year student was selling homemade badges with rainbows and moons on them for two knuts each. Severus was confiscating every one he could find, which wasn’t very effective.

By dinner, two students had been docked points for dying their hair pink. One of them was Draco. 

“It’s not fair!” Draco raged at the dinner table, hair back to blond. “It’s just like Professor Lupin said—my nonconformity is being punished!”

Daphne didn’t bother stifling a snort. “I don’t think he meant pink hair, Draco. I think he meant being labeled as a subhuman.” 

In no-one was their ardent hero worship of Remus Lupin more surprising than Draco. Severus had already confiscated three of his badges, but he kept producing more from somewhere. Harry had a badge too, but Severus hadn’t confiscated it, probably because Harry was only one day out from nearly dying. 

“Jeans,” Draco said dreamily. “Did you know about jeans, Harry?” 

Harry shrugged.

“Jeans are normal in the muggle world,” said Hermione. “I miss them, really. They’re very comfortable.” 

“Granger, you must bring me some,” Draco begged. “I’ll pay you. How much are they? Ten galleons? Twenty?” 

Hermione’s eyes went wide. “More like ten sickles.” 

“If I give you a few galleons, can you get me several pairs?” 

Hermione giggled. “I suppose.” 

“Ooh, me too, Granger!” called Blaise. “Will you?” 

“And me!” Daphne demanded. “I’ll give you the money before break!” 

“Right,” Hermione muttered, pulling a scroll from her bag and scratching up some columns. “I need everyone who wants jeans to write their name, their measurements, and how many pairs they want on this parchment before we leave for summer holiday.” There was a mad scramble for the parchment, which left Hermione smiling ruefully at Harry.

“I’m going to have tea with him tomorrow,” she confided in Harry. “I want to talk to him about the elves. He probably has some good books to read, don’t you think?” 

Harry did think. He also thought he wanted to talk to Remus Lupin quite badly as well. 

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“That’s a nice earring, Mr. Potter.” 

“Thanks,” Harry said. “My best friend gave it to me.” 

“You don’t see much glass jewelry among wizards. Now, the local centaur band, their glasswork is known far and wide.” 

Harry hummed and sipped his mint tea. Across from him, Remus Lupin sipped his. The scars across his nose and cheeks should have made him look fierce, perhaps, but instead they somehow softened him. On the fingers of his left hand, wrapped around his mug, were tattooed letters spelling out ‘HOWL’. Harry, along with the rest of the student body, was a little bit in love.

Lupin sighed and put down his mug. “Mr. Potter, I feel I must disclose something to you, or I will not have been honest. I was good friends with your parents. Best friends, in fact.” 

Harry’s heart leapt. He clutched his mug to his chest. “You were!” 

“I was.” Lupin smiled at him. “I was friends with your father first. James pulled me into his friend group in first year. There were four of us. James, myself, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew.” 

Harry’s heart, previously in his throat, fell to his stomach. “Peter Pettigrew? The rat?” 

Lupin nodded slowly. “Yes, Mr. Potter. The rat. The rat which you caught. Has anyone informed you of the ongoing case?” 

Harry shook his head. “I haven’t heard anything about it since they took him. Is he … in prison?” 

Lupin sighed and rubbed a thumb along his chin pensively. “He will likely end up there. His case is proceeding slowly, as there are many complications. You see, it was previously thought that Sirius Black betrayed your parents to Voldemort and killed Peter Pettigrew. He was sentenced to life in Azkaban without a trial.” 

“Sirius—the other friend, you mean?” 

“Indeed. So you see, with Pettigrew’s capture … it is obvious that Sirius Black’s imprisonment was wrongful, and now that entire mess has to be straightened out, and unfortunately Sirius is no longer quite in his right mind after eleven years in Azkaban.” 

Lupin was presenting these facts to him as if reading them from a newspaper, but Harry felt a visceral horror rising up to choke him. 

“Sirius Black is also your godfather,” Lupin said. “But you needn’t worry—he’s in no state to gain custody of you. Dumbledore will have no trouble keeping you as a castle ward. It’s not an easy thing to undo, in any case, practically impossible.” 

Harry stared at Lupin’s blackboard, chalked up from the history lesson on educational laws they’d had an hour before. “I’m done,” Harry said abruptly.

“Done?” 

“I’m done!” Harry said. He slammed his mug down and slopped tea everywhere. “I’m done! It’s too much—I want to go home! There’s always something worse, I hate this place! I hate it!” 

Lupin watched him rage, his face impassive. “It can feel like that sometimes, can’t it?” 

“It feels like that all the time!” Harry shouted. “I can’t take it anymore! Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, my parents, Voldemort, Quirrell—I want to go home! I should never have come here!” 

“Do you really mean that?” asked Lupin.

Harry dashed hot tears from his cheeks and stood up, looking desperately around for—he didn’t even know. Something! 

“Here.” Lupin waved his wand and conjured a teacup. “Throw it.” 

Harry took the teacup and hurled it at the blackboard. It shattered explosively. 

“Here.” 

Another teacup. And another. And another. He threw them until he couldn’t anymore, until he was crouching on the ground, catching his breath. 

“Better?” asked Lupin mildly, coming around his desk and crouching beside him. Harry nodded. “Good. Sometimes all we need is to get it out. I’m not going to ask you where home is, Harry, although Professor Snape is terribly angry at me for refusing. I just want you to know that I am here to talk.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, leaning against him. Lupin wrapped an arm around him and they sat there amid broken teacup shards and talked. He told Harry the story of his birth.

Chapter Text

“Right,” Harry said.

“Right,” echoed Limmy.

“Why are we in a toilet?” Draco snapped.

“Hey,” said Myrtle from the sink. She was mostly liquid, but for her fingers poking out over the edge. “My toilet is lovely.”

Draco glanced around, a sneer in the corner of his mouth. 

“We is here,” Limmy said seriously, “because we is wanting to know … if you wants to knows a secret.” 

Draco leaned forward eagerly. “A secret? Of course.” 

Harry and Limmy traded a glance. “You haves to promise,” Harry said. “No, you have to swear not to tell.” 

“Swear?” Draco asked. “On what?” 

“On whatever’s most important to you,” said Harry.

“We wants to tells you something about elves, and magic,” Limmy said. “Because … we is wanting you to be part of something big.” 

“I’ll do it!” Draco said immediately. “I want to be a part of it!” 

“This is serious, Draco,” Harry said. “It’s not just what we talked about before, when I told you about different sorts of magics. We want you to be a part of this because—because of your family.” 

Draco frowned. “My family? What about my family?” 

Harry bit his lip. “Can’t say until you promise. But if you say yes … you would have a big part to play.” 

“An important part,” Limmy said quietly. She met Draco’s eyes, and his face slowly lost its levity. “A dangerous part.” 

Draco fidgeted with his half-moon badge, flicking his eyes between Limmy and Harry. “Who else knows?” 

“Just Hermione,” said Harry.

Flick, flick, flick, went his nail against the badge, chipping a little wedge in the paper. “If Granger knows, I want to know,” he said at last. “How dangerous?” 

Limmy shrugged. “How dangerous is your father?” 

Draco paled. For him, this was saying something. 

Harry cut his eyes to the door. “We don’t haves to tell you. You haven’t sworn anything yet.” 

Flick, flick, flick. Draco looked from Harry to Limmy to the puddle of Myrtle. He slipped his half-moon badge off and stared at it, fingers clenched around the edges so tightly they were white. After a long moment, he looked up. “Well, it’s—it’s just like Remus Lupin said,” he whispered. “Together, we’re stronger than fear.” He took a deep breath. “I swear on … I swear on my magic. I won’t tell.” 

Limmy reached out and took Harry’s hand. For a moment they sat there in silence, the taste of Draco’s promise shivering through the air. 

Then Harry smiled. “Then this summer, Draco, here’s what you need to find out."

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It had been a while since he’d been in the free book room. He hadn’t forgotten about it, exactly, he’d just had the run of the library in the light of day for once and it hadn’t seemed necessary. But he just wanted to take a look, before summer break, when he would have to be very careful about going around the castle again.  

The doorknob fought him like always, but he slipped inside. The table was in disarray, and he frowned and sorted books into piles as he looked at the covers. Spirit Suckers: Magical Parasites of the World. A Treatise on The Nature of the Soul, Part XII. Phenomenological Spelling: Magic of the Consciousness. 

He had just picked up To Cleave a Life in Twain to flip through when he heard an absolutely outraged noise from the door. His head shot up: Madam Pince, librarian and opponent, was clutching the doorknob like she would fall over.

“What,” she grit out, “in the name of Merlin’s mother are you doing, Potter!?” 

“Er.” He closed the book hesitantly. “Um. Looking through the—the free books?” 

“Free books!” Pince screeched. “Free books! The nerve—! Come with me, now!” 

Suddenly fearful, Harry jogged after her as she strode down the hallway, boots clicking in fury, face angrier than he’d ever seen it—and he’d seen it angry. She took him all the way down to Severus’ office. 

She knocked on the door rapidly until it was flung open by Severus, looking urgent until he saw who it was. “Madam Pince,” he said slowly, flicking his eyes to Harry in confusion. “How may I assist you?” 

She sneered down at Harry. “I found one of your students rifling through your private reading room, Professor Snape. He claims he thought it was a ‘free book room.’” She gave a bark of laughter.

Harry heart dropped into his stomach. Severus’s private reading room? This whole time? Had he been stealing from—?

“Did … he … indeed,” said Severus slowly. 

Oh, stars. 

“Inside, Mr. Potter.” 

Tea. Sitting. Severus across the desk. It was familiar, but the blinding panic was new. Severus had simply been staring at him for three solid minutes. Harry’s mind was a dizzying mantra of he knows, he knows, he knows, he knows. Finally, Severus spoke. “Free … book room.” 

“Sorry!” Harry squeaked. “The—the twins told me that! It was a prank!” 

“Did they indeed,” drawled Severus. “And if I ask them …?” 

“They’ll say the same!” Harry said desperately. 

“Will they indeed.” 

Harry wished he would stop saying that. Everything was crumbling around him, and for what? Free books? He was so stupid!

And then Severus did something utterly unexpected.

“You may go, Mr. Potter.” 

“I … I what?” 

“You may go,” repeated Severus. “Don’t let me catch you in my reading room again.” 

“Y-yes,” Harry said, dizzy with relief, standing up quickly. 

“And Mr. Potter.”

“What!” Harry’s heart couldn’t take this. He was strung out.

Severus held out his hand, palm up. “Badge, please. It is against dress code.” 

Harry slapped his full moon badge into Severus’ hand and sprinted from the room without a second glance. 

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“I’ll miss you all so much!” Daphne wailed. “How am I going to survive a whole summer! You will write, won’t you!” 

“Naturally,” Draco said, Ron nodding. 

“You could maybe come visit me, Daphne,” Hermione said shyly.

“What, really? Wicked! You can show me all the muggle things—what are they? Curs?” 

“Cars,” Hermione said, smiling.

“Er, I won’t be able to write,” said Harry. “Sorry, everyone. But I’ll see you in the fall!” 

They protested in a great clamor. “You have an owl!” Draco pointed out crossly. 

Harry shrugged. He didn’t bother to think of a lie. It was draining him to lie all the time. 

“Fine,” huffed Draco, eating a slice of pie. “Merlin, I can’t believe Hufflepuff won the stupid cup.” 

Harry looked around at the yellow and black banners decorating the great hall. They were all shoved in at the Gryffindor table today, for the end of year feast. “Well,” he said reasonably. “They did have the most points.” 

“Yeah, because you lot lost all of yours,” yelled the twin Harry decided was George from down the table.

“By getting up to dangerous nonsense,” put in the twin Harry decided was Fred. “Not that we disapprove!”

“Merlin, no!” 

Percy, from further down the table, frowned at them. “You two are being incredibly bad influences.” 

“Oh,” said Hermione abruptly, in a loud whisper. “Did I say—I figured out Nicholas Flamel!” 

“Did you?” Draco asked eagerly. They all leaned in.

“It was in Hogwarts, A History this whole time!” Hermione said, smiling. “He created the philosopher’s stone, a stone which can grant eternal life to its bearer. That’s must be what’s under the trapdoor, right?” 

“Whoa,” Ron said. “Eternal life? You reckon it’s still there?” 

Harry shook his head. “Dumbledore told me it was a trap for Quirrell—or rather, Voldemort. Probably Flamel has it again by now, since I—since I, you know.” 

“Right,” said Daphne. They all went silent for a moment.

“Sorry, Harry,” Hermione said. “I didn’t mean to bring it up.” 

“No.” Harry put on a smile. “You’re fine, Hermione—Lobelia says it’s better for me to talk about it, anyways. I’m going to miss you all.” 

They fell over themselves saying they’d miss him too. 

“You know who I’m going to miss?” asked Daphne.

Draco gave a tragic sigh. “Professor Lupin.” He still had three badges on the front of his robes. “I can’t believe he’s not staying on next year. It’s immoral, that’s what it is! It’s discrimination!”

There was a brief commotion down the table. Myrtle had stuck her head through the pudding, and was through the table until she reached Harry. “I’ve come to tell you to have a good summer,” she said. “See you in the fall!” She giggled.

Harry grinned. “Thanks, Myrtle.” 

“Ta, I’m off to say goodbye to the twins.” 

Ron shook his head as she sailed away. “Don’t know what she sees in them.” 

Harry yawned and leaned against Daphne. “To be honest, I’m glad it’s summer. I can’t keep this up much longer.”

Daphne patted his head. “I know how you feel. I’m so excited to see my family—I have so much to tell all of them.” 

Harry grinned. “Stars, me too.” 

Chapter Text

Harry fell into his nest, acro-silk blanket wrapped around himself, determined to not move again for the entire summer.

“Is that so?” asked the basilisk, resting its nose against his side. “In that case, you are cancelling your stay with Araeo? And skipping the visit with your aunts and cousin? And abandoning your emissary duties?” 

“Ugh,” Harry groaned. “Can’t I have five minutes? I still have so much to tell you—and I want to fix up Sal’s room—and I want to put more lights down here, I think—” 

“It sounds like you’re the one giving yourself more to do,” said the basilisk. “But yes, you may have five minutes. Take five days, Snakeheart. You are still healing.” 

“I’m not hurt,” Harry protested.

“Your soul is healing,” said the basilisk. 

“Right.” A dark mood overtaking him, Harry rolled onto his stomach and examined the palms of his hands. Lobelia had worked with him a lot after he’d told her they felt hot sometimes, and they had mostly stopped. But that feeling would never really be gone from him—flesh to ash under his grip.

“Voldemort,” Harry said slowly. The basilisk hissed. “I can’t help but think … he was supposed to be dead. I was supposed to have killed him. Or, defeated him. But now I’ve defeated him again, and killed Quirrell—but did I kill him? Will he come back again? Will I—will I have to kill him again?” 

“I shall kill him first,” hissed the basilisk with soothing menace. “I will turn him to stone, flay his skin from his bones, peel his magic from his soul.” 

Harry grinned. “You always know what to say.” He sat up again, crawling over to his trunk to pop it open. “I forgot, I didn’t know if you like chocolate—want to try some? I have—” He stopped talking.

“Snakeheart? Are you alright?” 

Heart beating rapidly, Harry raised his left hand into the light. 

A mark which normally looked like a small black mole on the flesh of his palm was stained a deep forest green. Magic emanated from it in pulses, waves of heady power that thickened on his skin.

Snake, said a voice in his head. It is time.

A green dot is on the palm of a hand. It radiates green light