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a warmth so bright and fierce

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“I don’t want the summer to end,” Harry groaned. “How am I supposed to do—essays, and exams, and, and—” 

“Curfew,” said Araeo. 

Harry scoffed. “Curfew’s for newts.” 

Araeo gave a bark of laughter.

“It is!” Harry said furiously, tossing a pillow at him. “Anyone who can’t figure out how to get around the castle after dark doesn’t deserve to! It’s not very hard; I was doing it when I was eight!” 

“I think my mother would say those were extenuating circumstances,” laughed Araeo. “Anyway, it’s your move, or are you conceding?”

“I’m not!” Harry shouted, furiously staring at his hand of cards. With a victorious smirk, he slapped down a green prophet on top of Araeo’s silver archer. Araeo pouted at him, and Harry stuck his tongue out. “I’m just saying,” Harry whined, “that there’s already so much to do. You know, you’ve been as busy as I have this summer—imagine doing school on top of that!” 

“I have been,” said Araeo dryly. “Would you like to swap? I’ll go to wizard school and you can learn the seven centaur arts as well as take lessons in clan leadership?” 

“You’re no help,” Harry said. “Give me my pillow.” 

Araeo handed him the pillow his uncle had made Harry to keep in Araeo’s room for sleepovers. Harry promptly threw it at him. Spluttering, Araeo dropped his cards, seized the pillow, and began hitting Harry over the head with it. Harry fumbled for Araeo’s stuffed owl and gave as good as he got. 

“Stop moaning!” Araeo said, putting one hand on Harry’s forehead to keep him at bay. He had an unfair height advantage. Harry swung wildly with the owl, growling in frustration. “At least you have friends at school! I don’t have any peers at my lessons, I just have adults who think they know better than me.”

“I have those too!” Harry protested. “And besides, I have to lie to my friends all the time.” 

Araeo released him. Harry flopped down on Araeo’s bed, clutching the owl to his chest and resting his chin on top of it. 

“Snakeheart?” Araeo asked, kneeling beside him. “You never said anything about that.” 

“’Cause I wasn’t thinking about it,” Harry muttered. 

“It doesn’t make them any less your friends,” Araeo said. “You have deep secrets, yes. But you share other parts of yourself.” 

“It feels like it makes them less, to me,” Harry said. “When I have to lie to them, it’s like I’m saying they don’t deserve the truth.” 

Araeo was silent for a moment. He slid his hand into Harry’s atop the stuffed owl, and their heartbeats aligned with a ba-dump. Harry sat there and listened to it while Araeo thought.

“Then don’t,” said Araeo.

“Don’t?” 

“Don’t lie. Don’t tell them everything, necessarily, but when you cannot disclose the truth, simply … say so. If they are your friends, they will respect your privacy.” 

Harry thought about that for a moment. “Alright,” he said finally. “Yeah. I’ll do that.” 

“Good. Snakeheart?” 

“Yeah?” Harry looked up, only to be hit in the face by his pillow so hard feathers burst out. 

Five minutes later, Araeo’s bed lay in pieces across the room, his floor was covered in tiny beads, the table was on its side, and only a miracle of elf magic had stopped the glass in the vanity from smashing. Harry hung upside down from the woven branches of the ceiling, shrieking and swinging the owl as Araeo attempted to tickle him so hard he puked. 

“Ahem.” 

Harry let out one more wheeze of teary laughter and then bottled it up at once, looking with wide eyes towards the door. Araeo put his hands behind his back, taking a quick step away from Harry. 

“Having fun?” Nayla asked dryly from the doorway. She had thick black hair braided regally atop her head, shining brown skin, and around her bare shoulders was draped a shawl covered in small glass discs that reflected the thin light streaming in between the cracks in the woven ceiling. 

“Yes, mother,” said Araeo sheepishly. “Your mantle—do we have guests?” 

Nayla nodded. “The steward has come. I assured him my heir would be quick to come welcome him, as befitting his station … but now, I can only be glad I did not invite him into my home.” 

Araeo tried to flatten the side of his braid, which Harry had yanked out. Harry swung softly from the ceiling, his face going red from the blood rush. 

The corner of Nayla’s mouth twitched upwards. “I shall tell him you will be there to greet him shortly, with Snakeheart.” 

“Thank you, mother!” squeaked Araeo.

As Nayla left, Harry started giggling uncontrollably. Araeo gave him a disgruntled shove and sent him swinging. 

Harry swings upside-down from a branch, holing a stuffed owl.

green sprout

Their allotted short while passed, and Harry and Araeo stepped from the bower with hair hastily re-braided and formal attire in place. In Harry’s case, this simply meant his Stargazer pendant prominently displayed. In Araeo’s, it meant he wore a mantle similar to Nayla’s, but with small glass beads instead of discs. 

They found Hagrid standing by the low blue fire, speaking with Nayla and Firenze. He looked to Harry and Araeo as they approached, and gave a short bow to Araeo, one hand on his chin, which Araeo mimicked. He gave Harry the exact same greeting, only he followed it up with a tight hug.

“Good to see you, Harry,” he said. “Why, you don’ look ready for school at all.” 

“I’m not,” Harry grinned. “But I will be by the time we leave, promise.” 

“Tha’s alright,” Hagrid said, casting a glance up to the noon sun. “We have time. Heir Stargazer, I trust you’re takin’ care of this fellow, eh?” 

Araeo nodded solemnly. “He does need a lot of taking care of, Steward Hagrid.” 

Harry scowled at him, but Hagrid laughed. 

“Come, let us have a drink together before we speak of more serious matters,” Nayla said. “Shall we sit?” 

“Oh, don’t bother on my behalf,” Hagrid said, but Nayla waved him off and guided them over to a low log a bit away from the fire. Harry and Hagrid sat on it, and the three centaurs went through the production of sitting. 

“Berry wine?” Firenze offered.

“Thank you, Advisor Stargazer,” said Hagrid. 

“I’ve told you, Steward Hagrid,” said Firenze, pouring bright purple wine into a glass flute, “you may call me Firenze.” 

Hagrid took the glass carefully. “An’ I’ve told you to call me Rubeus, Advisor Stargazer. An’ here we still are.” 

Nayla smiled, passing Araeo and Harry cups of wine. “One day we shall see who is bravest between you,” she said. “I trust you are well, Steward Hagrid?” 

“Oh, well enough, well enough,” said Hagrid. “Busy summer. Busy summer for us all, I know we’re all aware.” He tipped his glass of wine to Harry. “We’re all jus’ tryin’ to be prepared as we can be, when the call comes. Thanks to this one here. I keep sayin’ to meself, how is it he has so many people wrapped around his finger? Then I see him again, and I remember.” 

Harry wrinkled his nose at him, then stopped with a glance to Nayla. 

Hagrid sighed. “So, as good as can be, as good as can be. But I’ve got a bad feeling about the next year, let me tell you. I’m no Seer, now, but I’ve got a feeling all the same.” 

“It doesn’t always take a Seer to feel the winds of change,” said Nayla. “And change so rarely comes uncontested.” She drained her glass. “Very well. It seems serious matters have come no matter our wish for delay. Araeo, Snakeheart, Firenze, you may go. The Steward and I must speak.” 

They rose, and Firenze ushered them back into the bower. Harry cast one glance back, and saw Hagrid and Nayla bent in conversation, their faces grim.

green sprout

“I know I said it before,” Harry said, clutching Araeo’s hand, “but I really don’t want summer to end!” 

Araeo gazed up at the deepening sky. “Too late for that, my heart.” 

Harry bit his lip and tried not to cry. He knew he should let go of Araeo’s hand—they would just make each other feel worse and worse as their emotions bled together. But he had spent two wonderful weeks in the centaur village, and he could not bear leaving, he could not bear it. 

Araeo pried his fingers from Harry’s. Ka-bum fell their hearts, but an iota of clarity returned to Harry all the same. He sighed and leaned his forehead against Araeo’s chest. “I will see you soon,” he said, saying them hard as if he could force them to be true. 

“You will see me soon,” soothed Araeo, though he didn’t do a good job of it, as he was equally distraught. “You are needed there, Snakeheart. Trust me.” 

“I do,” Harry muttered. “Alright. Alright. Goodbye.” 

“Goodbye.” 

He forced himself not to look at Araeo again as he hurried to Hagrid’s side, dressed now in his school robes, band necklace tucked away. He put his head down and walked beside the steward in silence, for a long time, until he could taste their passage out of centaur territory.

“Harry?” 

Harry hiccuped and wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his robe. 

“Ah, c’mere.” Hagrid stopped and enveloped him in a hug. “You’re so young, Harry, to be dealin’ with these things. Politics and nations and treaties and trade … you know that, don’ you? You know you have to be a kid, too?” 

Harry nodded miserably against Hagrid’s coat. “Can’t I do that and not go to school?” he whispered. 

“I daresay you could,” mused Hagrid. “Who’d stop you? Is that what you’re gonna do?” 

“No,” Harry said softly.

Hagrid guided him to a walk again, keeping one huge arm around his shoulders. “And why not? What’s waitin’ for you that makes you wanna go back?” 

Harry bit his lip. “My friends.”

“Yeah? What about ‘em?” 

“Well … I want to hear if Daphne and Hermione visited each other this summer. And I want to play Ron in chess. And I want to go to quidditch tryouts with Draco.” 

“That sounds wonderful,” Hagrid said. “What else are you excited abou’?” 

Harry kicked at a stone. “Classes.” 

“You’re excited for classes?” 

Harry nodded. “I like them. Except History of Magic.” 

“What’re your favorites?” 

“Charms and astronomy.” 

“What else?” 

Harry thought about it. He was starting to get a little excited. “The food. The beds. The library. Oh—the shower!” 

“There you go, that’s the back-to-school spirit,” chuckled Hagrid. “Now hop to, Harry. You have a train to catch.”

Chapter Text

Hagrid left him, invisible, at the Shrieking Shack. He continued on to Hogsmeade Station alone, and Harry darted into the Shack to grab his trunk, left there some time ago. Draped with his invisibility cloak, he levitated it all the way to the station toilet, where he cloistered himself for an hour before the train arrived. 

When the Express pulled into the station, Harry came out of the toilet carefully, still invisible. His caution was warranted—Filius and Severus were carefully observing all students deboarding the train. 

And there—Harry’s heart leapt. Daphne, Draco, Hermione, and Ron, clustered together and looking curiously around. Harry plunged after them.

Unlike first years, upper years took horse-drawn carriages from Hogsmeade to the castle. Harry barely caught the door as his friends boarded one, and wrestled his trunk in as Ron frowned and tried to shove the door closed around its invisible blockage.

“Hey, what!” Ron exclaimed. “Something’s wrong with the door!” 

“It’s me!” Harry wheezed, as Ron squashed him into the doorframe.
 
Ron let go at once. “Harry!” 

They all scrambled aside, and Harry fell into the compartment. His cloak slipped from his trunk, and he flipped around Chikkerit’s pendant to stare up at them all, grinning. They shrieked as one and piled on him, shutting the door quickly as the carriage started to roll. 

“Harry!” cried Draco. “I looked all over the train for you! I even saved us the best compartment!” 

“Where did you even come from?” demanded Hermione. 

“I’m so mad at you for your dumb ‘no mail’ rule, I have so much to tell you,” said Daphne. 

“Mate, I’m just glad to see you,” Ron said fervently. He hauled Harry up onto a seat and slung an arm around his shoulders. 

Harry grinned at them all. “I’m so glad to see you all too!” 

“You weren’t on the train, were you, Harry?” Hermione asked. They all stared at him. 

Harry remembered his talk with Araeo and chose to be brave. “No. I wasn’t.” And he left it at that. 

He was right to trust them. “Fair enough,” said Daphne. “By the way, you haven’t even noticed the wildest thing ever!” 

“What? What is it?” He looked from one to the other, and then he saw it, and his jaw fell completely open. “Moon and stars! Draco, your hair!” 

Draco gave him a shaky grin. “Like it? My father doesn’t. He spelled it back twice before mother made him give up.”  

Harry didn’t suppose he would. For Draco had shaved his head. His previously chin-length blond hair had been cropped to fuzz. It didn’t exactly suit him—but then again, just for that reason, it suited him exactly. 

“I love it,” Harry told him seriously. 

“Harry, pet it!” Daphne urged. “It feels so fuzzy!” 

Draco obligingly leaned forward so Harry could rub his hand over Draco’s head. It was indeed fuzzy. Harry laughed. “Why’d you do it?” 

Draco shrugged awkwardly. “Just something Remus Lupin made me think about. Er. Professor Snape gave me his address, and we’ve been owling a bit. In deepest secret, of course, because if my father found out I was talking to a werewolf I honestly think he’d kill me for real.” 

“Harry, look!” said Daphne. “Look what I got when I visited Hermione over the summer!” She yanked up her robes alarmingly, to reveal blue denim. “Jeans! Draco has some too! Draco, show him!”

Draco obligingly displayed his own pair of black jeans. 

“They’re wild for them,” Ron said, rolling his eyes. “I don’t get it. I tried Draco’s on, and they’re not comfortable.” 

“They’re too small on you,” Draco said, sticking his nose in the air. “You should’ve had Granger get you a proper pair like the rest of us.” 

Ron scowled at him, flushing bright red. “Not all of us have a seventy-galleon allowance.” 

Draco looked awkwardly apologetic, and Hermione changed the subject. "Ron, who were Fred and George heckling on the platform?"

"Oh, my sister's getting sorted tonight."

“Ginny, right?” Daphne asked.

“Yep.” Ron rolled his eyes. “She was so excited at the station I thought she’d faint. Thank god she already had friends to sit with, I couldn’t have borne it. If she gets Gryffindor ….” 

Draco scoffed. “Ron, Gryffindor might as well be re-named “House Weasley.” Of course she’ll get Gryffindor, sure as I got Slytherin.” 

green sprout

Ginny did, indeed, get Gryffindor. Harry cheered and clapped and when she realized who at Slytherin was yelling for her, she went bright beet red and sat down hard next to the twins. 

When the sorting had finished and food appeared, Harry loaded his plate and saw Draco affixing a rainbow crescent moon badge to his robes. “That was fast,” Harry noted. “Did you make that one?” 

He shook his head. “Diggory, in Hufflepuff. Only cost a knut. And if Snape confiscates it, I swear I’m going to Dumbledore, it’s not fair.” 

“I’d watch your jeans,” Daphne snickered. “The moment he sees them he’ll flip.”

Draco shuffled his legs up under him. “You’re wearing them too!” 

“Not to class, like you said.” 

Draco frowned. When Daphne leaned away to speak to Tracy, he kicked Harry under the table. “I need to talk to you,” he said quietly. “Later.” 

Harry nodded to show he understood, and then jolted back from the table as his potatoes grew a gruesome face that stuck its tongue out to lick his gravy. 

“Gross!” he giggled. “Myrtle, stop!” 

She pushed her head fully through his plate. “Hello, everyone! Welcome back!” 

“Hello, Myrtle,” they chorused. 

“Ooh, Myrtle,” said Blaise, leaning in from down the table. “What is a question you can never say yes to?” 

Myrtle pursed her lips. “Give me a moment. Draco, I like your hair. Wish I could do mine.” 

“Can’t you?” Draco asked. “You can change yourself, can’t you? You just made your tongue go weird.” 

Myrtle demonstrated her uncanny abilities, cheeks hollowing and ghastly fluid flowing from her eyes.

“Not on my food!” Harry shouted, though it was just as insubstantial as she was. 

“Sorry, Sn—Harry. Anyway, I can only do that kind of stuff, I can’t change my hair. Pigtails forever.” 

“I like your pigtails,” Daphne said supportively. 

Myrtle beamed at her. “I’m off to say hello to the twins. I’ll get back to you, Blaise.” And she was gone, swooping through the flagstones to the Gryffindor table. 

They finished their meal, and the remnants of dinner faded away. Dumbledore stood and approached the podium, and the hall fell respectfully silent.

“Welcome!” he cried gaily. “Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! For those returning, that is, and for those joining us: welcome to Hogwarts! I shan’t keep you from your desserts long, but I must introduce you to a new staff member: our Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for the year, Mr. Gilderoy Lockheart!” 

At the head table, a man with wavy blonde hair, shimmering golden robes, and a smile to make the mer dentist Gihon dizzy, stood and swept into a showy bow. His chartreuse cape smacked Severus in the face, and the potions master’s expression could have curdled milk.

Dumbledore kept talking, but whispers had broken out over the crowd. 

“I can’t believe it,” said Vincent from down the table. “The Gilderoy Lockheart, at Hogwarts.” 

Everyone looked to him in surprise, not expecting this contribution. To their further astonishment, Greg was nodding enthusiastically. 

“My mum read me his books as bedtime stories,” Greg said. “He’s famous!”

“I heard he leaned ancient veela secrets,” said Pansy, “when he lived amongst them for three years.” 

“Is he an anthropologist, then?” Harry asked.

“What’s an anthropologist?” asked Blaise. 

“It’s, um, someone who learns about someone else by living with them. And comes up with, like … theories and stuff. About how things work.” 

“He might be,” said Vincent slowly. “Except mostly it’s stories in his books, not theories.” 

“We can ask him in class,” said Greg eagerly. “I can’t wait. I’m going to sit up front this year.” 

Daphne gave an exaggerated yawn. “Look at Snape. I think they’re mortal enemies.” 

They looked at Severus, who was gazing at Lockheart as if he would like to slow-roast him and serve him to a dragon. “Who isn’t Snape mortal enemies with?” Blaise pointed out. 

“My father says Lockheart is a fraud,” said Draco in a bored tone. 

“Oh well if your father says so,” snapped Pansy. “Just … look at him!” 

They looked at Lockheart. He was incredibly glittery. 

“Does that look like a fraud to you?” asked Pansy. 

Dinner appeared quite suddenly on the table—they had missed the rest of Dumbledore’s speech to speculation. While the others fell to, Draco cleared his throat pointedly and looked at Harry’s plate. 

Harry glanced it. A small circle of powdered sugar rested in the middle. Quickly, he smudged his thumb through it and cut himself a slice of treacle tart, before offering some to a worried-looking Draco. “So,” he said, to get the worried look from Draco’s face. “Quidditch tryouts!” 

green sprout

“Where are you going, Harry?” Draco demanded. “We have to go to the common room.” 

“I don’t think that applies to me,” said Harry moodily, waiting at the door to the great hall. Indeed, Dumbledore was sweeping towards him with a pointed look in his eye. “Go on. I’ll see you in a bit.” 

They left him reluctantly, and Harry needed no instruction to follow Dumbledore up to his office. For the first time, he realized he didn’t know the password—he had been in the forest for its change. No matter—his friend Mildred would know, should he ever need it. 

Dumbledore’s office looked much the same. Glittering, glimmering trinkets on the shelves, rows of portraits watching them silently. Fawkes, juvenile, gave a squawk of welcome and flapped to Harry’s shoulder, nuzzling at one of his necklaces below his robe. Could he feel his feather in Limmy’s wand? 

“Severus will be here soon,” said Dumbledore, setting a kettle to boil with a tap of his wand and fixing a pot of tea. “A game of rummy in the meantime, Mr. Potter?” 

“Alright,” said Harry, taking his cards as Dumbledore dealt them. Instead of the normal suits, they had horns, collars, tethers, and nooses. Harry quickly sifted through his hand, ignoring the tea.

“Did you have a productive summer, Mr. Potter?” asked Dumbledore in a few minutes, as he won the game. Harry scowled. Dumbledore was as bad to play against as Araeo.

“Yes,” he said. 

Dumbledore gathered up the cards and tapped them with a wand to shuffle, handing them to Harry to deal. “You had fun, too, I hope?” 

“Yeah.” 

Dumbledore took up his hand and peered at Harry over the top of it. He held the cards in his false hand, a magical construction of light, tapping the backs of them thoughtfully. “And a safe summer, I should hope as well?” 

Harry shrugged. “More or less.”
 
“Hmm. You were not on the train.” 

Harry lay down a run of horns, choosing not to answer.

Dumbledore lay down a run of nooses and a second of collars, smiling gently at him. “I feel it only appropriate to warn you, Mr. Potter, that the hounds of the ministry have not lost their interest in the hunt. I have merely clouded their noses for a while, but it will not last. Prepare yourself for more inquiries like that of Mr. Welch.” 

Harry wrinkled his nose, remembering the distasteful hour he’d spent trying desperately to occlude anything of import from a ministry lackey. “Alright,” he said finally. “Thanks for the warning.” 

“You are quite welcome, Mr. Potter. Ah, Severus. Just in time for the next hand.” As he said it, he played his last set and discarded, ending the game with a decisively victorious number of points.

Severus sighed deeply, pulling up another chair and taking a long pull from Harry’s untouched tea. “Very well,” he said heavily. “Albus, I swear that nitwit will not last the semester. You know he wants to start a dueling club? I have no confidence the man can even cast a disarming charm!” 

“Lockheart?” Harry asked. “Vince and Greg love him. Is he an anthropologist?” 

Severus snorted, shuffling the cards deftly between his long fingers. “To call that man an anthropologist would be quite a disservice to the field. I think not. He is a charlatan. Mind you pay no attention to what he says in class, Potter.” 

Dumbledore made a mildly disapproving noise. “Now, Severus. We were shorthanded, and after the reaction to Remus Lupin’s temporary filling in—” 

Severus made a disgusted noise, shoving the cards at Dumbledore to deal. Dumbledore did so, expression mild. “A discouraging start to news I wish to share with you both. Remus has written to me, asking if Mr. Potter would like to meet his godfather, Sirius Black.” 

“Absolutely not,” said Severus immediately. 

Harry glared at him. “Yes I do!” 

Severus sneered. “Mr. Potter. The man is a violent, dangerous, ill criminal, not to mention your godfather—” 

Harry threw his hand of cards down. “Don’t talk about him like that! Just because you’re prejudiced against werewolves—!”

“That’s quite enough, both of you,” Dumbledore said, steel in his tone. “I dislike nearly all of what I’m hearing. Severus, if Mr. Potter wishes to meet his godfather, then he shall, and if you find yourself unable to summon the maturity to escort him—”

Severus let out a hiss of air from between his teeth. “Fine.” 

“Good,” said Dumbledore. “I shall write Remus and arrange a weekend visit. That will be all for the night. Severus, if you would escort Mr. Potter down to his common room.” 

Severus stalked out, and Harry followed him, furious. They walked for five minutes before Severus turned round, arms crossed. Harry stared up at him in the exact same position, glaring as hard as he could. 

“Mr. Potter,” Severus said severely. “I am not prejudiced against werewolves. Lupin, however, is another matter.” 

“Why?” snapped Harry. “Anyway, you still gave Draco his address, didn’t you?” 

Severus appeared to struggle with words for a moment. “The reason goes back to our school days. I shall not share it with you in this moment, nor anytime soon. Suffice to say an incident with Lupin nearly resulted in my death. As for Mr. Malfoy, I am capable of seeing past my own nose and recognizing when a child needs a mentor.” 

“But not with me?” Harry demanded. “That’s not fair! Why am I different? ” 

Severus’ shoulders tightened, and he hunched in on himself a bit. “You … you are not different, Mr. Potter. You are my student, and my ward, and … I shall endeavor to see past my own nose for your sake as well. Now come.” 

Appeased, Harry followed Severus back to the common room, bidding him good night and going quietly upstairs. Everyone else was asleep, but in the second-year dorm they had left him a bed by the window. He did a silent running leap into the softest duvet and pillows imaginable, turning on his side and staring out into the blackness of the lake. 

Summer was definitely over. 

Chapter Text

Harry woke up late the next morning. It was almost unheard of—usually he was the first one up so that he could spend five hours in the shower and then go to the library. But the cloudlike softness of his bed had sent him into deep sleep, and he woke groggy, struggling into consciousness.

“Finally!” Draco hissed from right next to his ear. “Stay behind, will you?” 

Harry jumped and scrambled up, but Draco was already scurrying back to his own bed, slipping between the curtains. 

Bleary, Harry stumbled to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, then plunged into the shower. When he was was thoroughly steamed, if not any more awake, he dressed and went back into the bedroom. Everyone had left, except for Draco, who was peering out from his curtains. 

“Finally!” he exclaimed. 

“Draco, what?” Harry asked. “What’s going on?” 

Draco seized his hand and dragged him into the corner of the room, as if the empty beds would overhear them. “Listen,” he said, “my father’s done something. Something bad.” 

Harry was instantly alert. “What? To an elf?” 

Draco shook his head. “No, to—” 

Crack! 

Harry and Draco leapt a meter into the air. A house elf had appeared in the middle of the room, looking anxiously around and twisting his hands furiously together. He wore a dirty pillowcase, and his eyes were wide and scared. 

“Dobby!” Draco cried. “What are you doing here!” 

“I isn’t supposed to be here, Draco, sir,” fretted Dobby. “I isn’t supposed to be here, but I is having to, I is—” He broke off abruptly and darted for a bedpost, seizing it, eyes squinting closed, and hit his head hard against it. 

“Dobby!” Draco shouted. He sprinted over to the elf and seized him around the middle, hauling him backwards. “Stop! Stop!” 

“I is—going against—master’s orders—” the elf struggled to knock his head again, and Draco shoved himself between him and the bedpost. 

“I’m ordering you to stop!” he shouted. “Stop!” 

Dobby stood there and shuddered, grinding his fists into his temples. “You—isn’t my master—” he groaned. “It isn’t working—” 

“Then just tell us quick!” Draco said desperately. “Tell us and go back!” 

Harry stood frozen in the corner, pressed as far into it as he could get, as if he could meld into the stone. Utter horror ran through his blood, cold as ice. “Draco, what—” he croaked. “Why’s he—” He watched Draco seize Dobby’s fists and hold them to his sides. 

“Come help, Potter!” Draco demanded. “He’s disobeying my father to tell us something!” 

Frightened and chilled to his marrow, Harry stumbled over and held Dobby’s head still as he tried to thrash it from side to side. 

“Draco, sir,” Dobby panted. “He is giving it to the girl—the Weasley girl—he is doing it in Diagon Alley—” 

“Thank you,” Draco said hurriedly, “thank you, thank you, go back now if that’s all, go back—” 

“Be careful,” Dobby gasped, and disappeared with another crack.

Draco fell onto the floor, dazed and breathing hard, staring emptily into space. Harry stayed frozen in the middle of the floor, looking at the space Dobby had occupied. “Is that—” he stuttered. “Is that what—what happens when elves disobey? They hurt themselves?” 

Draco nodded. “It depends on the master, what kind of punishment. My father prefers … physical.” And then he turned green, rushed to the toilet, and threw up. 

Harry couldn’t even follow to comfort him. All he could see was Limmy hitting her head against a post. All he could see was Limmy grinding her fists into her head. He gave a great shuddering gasp and started to cry. 

Draco emerged from the bathroom, looking pale. “You can’t tell anyone he was here, Harry, or he’ll get in more trouble—” 

“I won’t,” Harry sniffed, wiping his face. “What was he saying about Ginny?” 

“My father,” Draco said grimly. “He’s got some kind of dark artifact, he was having meetings about it all summer and he had planned to get it into Hogwarts somehow—and Ginny has it, now. I don’t know what it is, but it’s bad, it has to be. You have to help me find it.” 

“Alright,” Harry said shakily. “I’ll—I’ll talk to her at breakfast.” 

Draco nodded. He put on his school robe over his black jeans, and attached his rainbow moon pin. He rubbed his hands over his shaved head. Harry watched this new, strange ritual and let it calm him a bit, then when they walked to breakfast he took Draco’s hand to comfort them both.

green sprout

They parted ways at the doors to the Great Hall, Draco going silently to the Slytherin table and Harry to Gryffindor, heading for a cluster of redheads. Ron and Hermione weren’t down yet, but other Weasleys were. 

“‘Lo, titch!” said the twin Harry decided was George. 

“Welcome back!” said the twin Harry decided to call Fred.

“Hello,” Harry said, giving them both hugs, shaking off the remnants of his distress. “Hello, Percy!” he called down the table, ignoring the twins as they sniggered and elbowed him.

“Hello, Potter,” said Percy, looking up from where he was speaking to Oliver. “Good summer?” 

“Yeah,” Harry said, spotting something on his robe. “You made prefect!” 

Percy puffed out his chest and pushed his glasses up his nose. “I did indeed! So mind you behave this year!” 

“Sure,” agreed Harry.

“Him?” Oliver said, slipping his arm around Percy’s waist. “Not a chance. Better advice, Potter: just don’t let Perce see.” 

“Alright,” laughed Harry, piling fried eggs and bacon and toast onto his plate with pleasure. There was simply no beating the elves’ cooking. He missed it desperately over the holidays, when things were mostly rabbit stew. 

“Look, Titch, the last Weasley is here at last,” said George. 

“The prophecy is complete,” agreed Fred. 

“That’s Ginny. Oy, Gin! Hey!”

“Say hello to Titchy T!” 

Down the table, Ginny looked up with wide eyes. She looked like a smaller, pointier version of Ron. When her eyes met Harry’s, she turned the shade of a tomato, squeaked, and looked hurriedly away. 

“Er,” said Harry. 

Fred sniggered. “You’ve come up in conversation a few times. She thinks you’re dreamy.” 

“Oh, um.” Harry didn’t know what to do with that information. If Ginny wouldn’t talk to him, how was he supposed to figure out what dark artifact Lucius Malfoy had given her? 

“C’mon, Gin,” called Fred, “he’s harmless! See?” She glanced back over to see Fred stretching Harry’s cheeks apart like a frog. Harry tried to grin at her, and she snorted with laughter. 

“Hi,” he said, only it came out, “Aye.” 

“Aye,” she mimicked. “I’m Ginny.” 

“I’y ‘Arry,” he siad. “‘Fre, ‘et oh.” 

“What?” Fred asked, wiggling his cheeks.

“Get off,” Harry laughed, smacking his hands away.  “Do you fly, Ginny?” 

Just like Ron, it was the perfect thing to say. “Yes!” she said, eyes glittering. “I love to!” 

“I’m trying out for Slytherin’s team this year!” he said excitedly. “You going to go for Gryffindor next year?” 

“Definitely,” she said. “I already have an in on the team. The captain’s dating my brother.” 

“Oy!” shouted Oliver. “No nepotism on my team!” 

“It’s how we got in,” said George with a shrug. 

“It’s all about who you know,” said Fred wisely. 

Percy buried his face in his hands.

Harry laughed with them and took the moment to breathe in deeply, tasting the magic around them. He couldn’t taste anything odd around Ginny, but she was a bit far away. He would have to get nearer to her later. 

“Harry!” called Ron, arriving with Hermione in tow. She was reading as she walked, and Ron was guiding her by the elbow. He nudged her onto the bench and she continued to read, groping about for a cup of tea. Snickering, George poured one and put it into her hand, watching as she drank mechanically, eyes speeding down the page. 

“Quidditch tryouts in two weeks, we were saying!” Harry said enthusiastically. 

“Oh, Merlin,” Ron groaned. “I’m so nervous already.” 

green sprout

True to their word, Greg and Vince shoved their way to the front of the DADA class. It was the first time Harry could remember them voluntarily doing so. Draco, scoffing slightly, settled himself and Harry somewhere in the middle, Daphne right behind them. 

“Alright?” Harry asked him quietly. Draco was subdued, head on his arms. He nodded without looking at Harry.

A ball of parchment hit Harry’s head, and he tilted his chair backwards to look at Daphne. “What do you think?” she asked. “Fraud or not?” 

“Sev—Snape says fraud,” said Harry. “Also, he’s not an anthropologist apparently.” 

At that moment Lockheart burst through the door dramatically, wearing a neon pink robe that swirled around him in a way that had to be magical. He posed in the doorway, one arm up in the air, the other on his hip. Fraud or not, he was magnetic. He waltzed towards the front of the classroom like he was on a red carpet. 

“Good afternoon, pupils,” he called, “and welcome to the first day of the rest of your lives!” 

Vincent, Greg, and a few other front-of-the-roomers applauded enthusiastically. Daphne snorted. 

Lockheart pulled the chair from his desk around the front and straddled it backwards, glittering out at them all. “I trust there is no need for introductions—I am Professor Gilderoy Lockheart, five time winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award, Daily Prophet best-selling author for five years running, and your new Defense Against the Dark Arts guru!” 

“So an introduction was actually necessary,” Daphne murmured. Harry smiled. 

“Now, I trust you all read your textbooks already—I’m sure you couldn’t put them down!” He winked at them. “So, we’ll start things off with a bang. A practical lesson!” 

Harry perked up a bit in interest. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. Lockheart leapt from his chair and carried a large covered object to his desk. “Beneath this sheet, I have a selection of the most fearsome specimens—Cornish pixies!” And he whipped the sheet off.

Harry recoiled in disgust. He remembered those things—little blue people with four wings and sharp teeth. They had attacked him in the forest once, and only his ashwinder friends at the time had been able to drive them away, by eating them. 

Half the class was silently unimpressed, half of them tittered a bit. 

“Oh, so you think they’re not serious enough, eh?” Lockheart said, grinning. “I’ll have you know Cornish pixies can really give you a run for your money! I came upon a swarm as I was venturing through the Sahara desert once, found them cleaning the bones of an elephant—they’d almost dissolved the flesh entirely! I fought them off, naturally, and saved the mother elephant’s baby which had hidden nearby … but you’ve read all about that, of course, and this class is about you, not me! So let’s see what you make of them!” 

And almost in slow motion, they watched him open the cage. 

Pixies swarmed everywhere. They attacked Lockheart first, shiny bullseye that he was, and then they dispersed through the class. The front-rowers were instantly regretful. Draco, Harry, and Daphne had scrambled under the desks as soon as the pixies had been released, and they had a prime view of Lockheart’s sparkling, heeled boots as he sprinted for the door, abandoning them to their fate. The entirety of the class followed him.

Harry looked at Draco and Daphne. Sighing, Draco drew his wand. “Cornish pixies don’t even live in the desert,” he said gloomily. “Do you two know the stunning spell?” 

They spent the rest of the class period stunning and returning thirty-six Cornish pixies to their cage. “This doesn’t seem like a proper habitat for them,” Daphne murmured, sucking on her thumb, which had a large bite on it. “We should take them to Hagrid. I don’t think Lockheart is responsible enough to keep them.” 

“I could use some tea after that,” Harry admitted, wiping sweat from his brow. He had a row of scratches along his cheek that stung like anything. 

“This is so unfair!” Draco shouted, shoving the last pixie in and slamming the lock. “We could have Remus Lupin back, but instead we get this absolute newt—I bet we learn nothing the entire year!” 

“Er … are you okay, Draco?” Daphne asked hesitantly. 

“I’m fine!” Draco shouted. “Let’s just go to Hagrid’s.” He seized the cage of pixies and marched from the room. 

“Did something happen?” Daphne whispered to Harry as they trailed behind him.

“Sort of,” Harry said. “I can’t tell you exactly, but it’s to do with his father.” 

“Oh.” Daphne bit her lip. “Is he … alright?” 

Harry eyed Draco’s back. His shoulders were hunched, shaved head ducked down. “I dunno.” 

green sprout

By the end of the week, Harry was realizing with despair that a good portion of his easy time in classes last term had been due to the fact that he’d actually attended them before, as an invisible observer. Not so this term. 

He didn’t so much care about grades, but he did care about being able to do the magic, which was the whole point of coming to school in the first place. It took him all of transfiguration to turn his bottle into a hairbrush, and in charms, his best subject, his freezing charm barely produced a light frost across his cup of water. 

It made him frustrated and irritable for the whole week, and Daphne got quite fed up with both his and Draco’s bad moods. 

And then there was Severus, who had apparently decided to teach this term. 

“I said salamander blood properties, not newt blood,” snapped Severus at the front of the room, thwacking his wand against the black board. “Do learn to discern articulation sometime soon, Finnegan. Anyone else? Greengrass?” 

Across the room, Daphne quailed. Beside her, Hermione bravely stuck her hand in the air. 

“Miss Greengrass?” Severus said lowly, ignoring Hermione altogether. 

“Um,” Daphne squeaked. “Re—regeneration?” 

“Are you asking me or telling me, Miss Greengrass?” 

Beside Harry, Ron hissed softly in anger. “Telling you, professor,” Daphne said.  

“You are correct,” said Severus, stalking away. “Why, then, do we use a regenerating ingredient in a strengthening solution? Patel?” 

Harry sighed and wished he dared put his head on his desk. He had preferred it when Severus had ignored the class completely. 

green sprout

“Sssello, sssmall one! Sssong time no sssee!” 

“Hi, Jade Eyes,” said Harry glumly, slumping down on the floor in front of his portrait. The little golden snake curled curiously around the frame. “Your accent is really improving.” 

“Ssse ghossst practicesss with me,” said Jade Eyes proudly, before switching back to the snake language. “You seem very tired.” 

Harry groaned and flopped onto his back. “I am! Classes are hard, and something’s wrong with my friend, and another of my friends has some sort of dark artifact, and I miss my friends from outside the castle so much!”

“It seems to me that you have quite a lot of friends,” said Jade Eyes. “How lucky you are.” 

Harry contemplated this, letting the words settle into his mind. “You’re right,” he said, a bit of his gloom lifting. It sort of felt like the realizations he had when talking to Healer Aster. “You know, I didn’t use to have any friends. My very first friend was a little snake sort of like you. But it didn’t have a name. Before it, I’d never, ever had one friend, ever.” Harry sat up and stared at Jade Eyes. “Can you believe that?” 

Jade Eyes twined slowly through painted wheat. “Not really,” he admitted. “You seem to be friends with everyone. I am sorry that you did not always have them. You are one of the most … friendful beings I have known.”   

Harry wanted to hug Jade Eyes very badly, but he was a painting. Instead he stood up and put his face very close. “I’m glad you’re my friend, Jade Eyes. And you know what? I’d rather be here and have all these problems and also have friends, then have no problems at all and no friends.” 

“That’s a very healthy perspective,” said Jade Eyes approvingly, blinking at him slowly. “By the way, did you say a dark artifact? Have I told you my theory about  the classification of dark magic?” 

Harry held up a finger. “I do want to hear it,” he said. “But please: if you see anything dark around the castle, will you get word to me? I’m looking for this evil thing before it can hurt somebody.” 

“The object your friend has?” 

Harry nodded. “She doesn’t know she has it.” 

“Very well,” said Jade Eyes. “I’ll keep my eyes open. Now, you likely already know there are quite a lot of politics that go into classifying an article as “dark,” “light,” or “grey,” correct?” 

“Er, sure.” 

“I won’t get into those, I find them dreadfully boring. Let’s talk instead about the bias inherent in a triple classification system. You remember what I’ve told you about binaries?” 

“Clumsy and trite.” Harry did not mention Jade Eyes’ own binary classification theories.

“Quite so,” said Jade Eyes approvingly. “Now, a triad system is not quite as reductive, but almost.”  

Chapter Text

“Ready, Mr. Potter?” 

“Where’s Hagrid?” Harry asked.

“Where are you going?” Draco demanded.

“Can I come?” asked Daphne. 

Severus sighed and folded his arms, examining their breakfast table. “Hagrid is unavailable this morning, Mr. Potter, so I will be taking you to Diagon Alley. No, Miss Greengrass, you may not come. Mr. Malfoy, mind your tone of voice.” He looked Draco over critically, from his ripped jeans, which he had torn himself in the dorm last night, to his six badges. “You could not be more out of dress code if you tried, Mr. Malfoy.” 

“It’s the weekend,” Draco said with a halfhearted sneer. Severus just stared at him until he grumbled something and put his head down on the table. Daphne and Harry looked at him with concern, and Severus cleared his throat to call Harry’s attention back.

“Mr. Potter? I assume my accompaniment will suffice.” 

“Alright,” said Harry. “Daphne really can’t come?” 

“What do you think?” Without waiting for an answer, he swept away from the table. Harry sighed, stacked his dishes up carefully, and dashed after him. 

He followed him to the headmaster’s office in silence, brooding slightly. He had wanted another fun Diagon Alley trip with Hagrid: a chance to talk over what needed to be talked over, and also to have ice cream. Severus had been in an exceptionally dismal mood since the beginning of term. 

“You made Lavender cry last class,” Harry said, catching him up.

Severus looked down at him. “Excuse me?” 

Harry crossed his arms and stuck it out. “You made Lavender cry!” 

“You don’t get to impugn my teaching methods, Mr. Potter.”

“Being cruel isn’t teaching!”

Severus rounded on him, and Harry actually took a step back, a cold flush of regret going through his chest. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Let’s just go.” 

They ascended the stairs in silence, and Severus searched for the floo powder while Harry pet Fawkes. 

“You are to wait for me in the Leaky Cauldron,” said Severus, “don’t take even a step beyond the fireplace.” 

Harry seized a handful of powder and stomped into the fire, kicking at the logs.

“Mr. Potter!” exclaimed Severus. “Come back here. I will not take you to Diagon if you insist on behaving this way.” 

“I didn’t want to go with you anyway!” Harry shouted. “You’re being horrid this term!” Trying not to cry, he threw his powder into the fire and shouted the name of his destination— except he didn’t say Diagon Alley, because he was choked up and mumbling. It came out garbled and warped, but the fire took him away from Severus’ livid face all the same.

He skidded out of the fireplace into a dim, dark, dusty place that was definitely not the Leakey Cauldron. Coughing up soot, he clambered to his feet and looked wildly around himself.

He was in a shop of some sort. Eerie, unnerving things lined the shelves—shriveled hands, human heads, vials of slimy and glowing things …. He found himself walking over to a hank of black hair on a shelf—thestral hair? No, it was much too sticky ….

“Excuse me!” came an old, croaky voice. “What are you doing in my fireplace!” 

Jumping a bit, Harry looked up at an old, croaky woman who was rounding the corner, walking with a cane made of vertebrae. “Sorry!” he squeaked. “I meant to go to Diagon Alley! Where am I?” 

The woman rolled her eyes. “You know the problem with your generation? You don’t speak properly. Ever heard of enunciation, boy? When I was your age, I was memorizing and reciting fifty poems a year. I bet you’ve never recited a poem in your life.” 

“I have too!” Harry said, throwing down the hank of hair. “I know the entire Ballad of Krogun, in English obviously, and I know the Prophet’s Call—all the parts, not just the shortened version for sanctuary! I bet you don’t know those!” 

The woman evaluated him. “The Ballad of Krogun, eh? Give me a bit of it, then.” 

“Well—what’ll you give me if I do?” asked Harry, cocking his head. 

The woman looked around and seized a vial of wriggling blue grubs. “How about this dose of bloodgrubs?” 

Harry had no idea what bloodgrubs were. “Alright.” He cleared his throat and stood up straight. 

“Krogun the Battle-Weary!
He stood the height of ten spiders
and the girth of six
and the barbs on his limbs were acuate
as blades forged in two-legger fires—” 

He gave the woman the first few stanzas, until he came to a natural pause and slouched back down again. The woman applauded wildly, looking delighted. She tossed Harry the vial of grubs. “Well done, young man! I’ll be, what a delight! So rarely does one get to hear the works of the great arachnids … it brings a tear to my eye.” 

“What’s your name?” Harry asked curiously, following her to the front of the shop. “How do you know about the Ballad of Krogun?” 

“I’m Burke,” said the woman, “of this shop, Borgin and Burke’s. And in my youth, I was a great aficionado of poetry from around the world. I wanted to broaden the canon, you see, of what we view as great poetic works. I wrote a bit of it myself, too.”

“Can I read any?” Harry stared around at the front of the shop as Burke rustled around behind the large wooden desk. The space was crammed with curios large and small, from entire cabinets to tall and creepy lamps to strange growling chests. “What’s this?” 

“Put that down, now,” said Burke. “It costs fifty galleons.” 

Delicately, Harry set down a swirling glass cube. Burke tossed him a small book, and he caught it against his chest. The Swift River: Collected Poems of Basilia Burke. 

“Keep it,” said Burke. “I’ve dozens that never sold.” 

“Thank you! Er, where am I, did you say?” 

“I didn’t.” Burke leant against the counter, tapping a gnarled finger against a tiny skull. “This is Knocturn Alley.” 

“Oh!” Hagrid had once told Harry about Knocturn Alley. “Good!” 

“Good?” Burke said.

“I was afraid I’d gone somewhere very far away,” said Harry. “Bye, Burke, thanks! I’ll read your poetry!” And he dashed from the shop, looking up and down Knocturn Alley eagerly.

It was quite different from what he remembered of Diagon Alley. Less crowded, for one. Harry liked that. Less colorful—he didn’t like that. People kept their heads down and moved swiftly through the street. Knocturn Alley met Diagon Alley somewhere, he just had to figure out which direction.

He chose left. Sticking his bottle of bloodgrubs in his pocket, he mimicked the mein of those around him—hurried, but unafraid. He didn’t do it very well, though, because there were a lot of things to gawp at around him: shops selling all sorts of eyeballs, and extremely fancy bottles of alcohol, and brooms that looked like they could go very fast indeed, and jars of fire, and humongous toads, and jeweled daggers, and other things Harry wanted very very badly, only he hadn’t gone to Gringotts yet. 

He had plastered himself against a window to stare at some vibrating, color-changing newts when he felt something grab his ankle.

Yelping, he jumped back. Someone who looked a lot like Filius Flitwick sat on the ground on a grey and blue blanket, with a few instruments set out before him. The half-goblin man, for that is what he must have been, wore a forest green robe and had eyes of the purest silver. “Fortune?” asked the man. 

“Fortune?” Harry asked, instantly curious. He sat down across from him on the blanket and leaned forward. “You mean my fortune? As in a prophecy or a sum?” 

The man blinked at him for a second, taken aback, before recovering. “The first, though I wouldn’t be opposed to the second.” 

Harry patted his pockets dejectedly. “I haven’t gone to the bank,” he said glumly. “All I have is a sickle, and this vial of bloodgrubs. Want that?” 

The man laughed and snatched it from his palm. “Absolutely. The sickle too, please.” Harry handed it over. 

“Are you a half-goblin?” Harry asked. “Do you speak Gobbledegook? Are there a lot of goblin seers? Or just half-goblin seers? Are you going to read my palm, or my tea leaves, or—” 

The man held up a hand. “Kid. Stop. You paid for a prophecy, not my life story. Now light this candle.” 

“Why?” Harry asked, touching the tip of the proffered candle and setting it alight. 

The man set the candle to float in a bowl of water in front of him. “Hush,” he said. “This is how I See. Put your hands around the bowl. I’m going to put mine around them. Be calm. Clear your mind.” 

A goblin sits cross-legged on a blanket. He has tall, pointed ears. In front of him is a bowl with a candle inside.

Clear your mind.

The man settled his hands around Harry’s, around the bowl. His gaze was fixed, vacant, on the wax. On a whim, Harry opened his mouth and breathed in. A citrusy scent of magic rose from the bowl.

“Stop breathing so loud,” the man murmured. “Snakeheart.” 

Harry’s heart stuttered. The man swayed slightly, his gaze caught in the bowl. He stared at the melting wax. When it touched the water, it floated, forming soft abstract shapes.

“Stop breathing so loud,” said the man, barely whispering the words. “Your heartbeats are distracting—I can’t see the blood—” 

Harry stopped breathing. His heart stopped beating.

“There,” sighed the man. He tilted towards and away from the bowl. “Blood on the stones. They will be broken. Blood on the hands. They will strike. Blood on the pages. It will succumb.”

“More blood?” Harry whispered. His hands, under the man’s, trembled. “Isn’t there anything else?” He stared at the wax in the bowl, willing it to change. He was so, so tired of blood. 

“Blood,” breathed the man, “blood … and stars.” 

And he tilted backwards so far that Harry had to seize his hands and pull him forward again. Coming out from his trance, he teetered wildly. Harry leaned forward and grabbed his upper arms to steady him. The candle tipped into the bowl and went out. 

“By the lead bones themselves,” groaned the man. “What in the name of Merlin’s hairy balls?” 

“Can’t you tell me anything more?” Harry asked desperately. “About the stars?” 

“The stars?” The man put a hand to his forehead. “What stars? Did I See? Kid, did I speak a prophecy?” 

“Yes?” Harry asked nervously. “Don’t you usually?” 

“Fuck no!” The man started to pack up his things as quick as he could. “Scram, kid!” 

“What!” Harry scrambled upwards, tripping off the blanket. “You’re a Seer, though!” 

“Don’t believe everything you see,” snapped the man, bundling all of his things in his blanket. “Now get lost!” 

Harry got lost. Scurrying down Knocturn alley, he very suddenly wanted Severus, his earlier anger at the man forgotten. He had to get back to Diagon Alley.

He scanned the street cautiously, looking for someone who looked like they could help. A young-looking wizard passed by, head ducked, and Harry grabbed his sleeve on a whim. “Excuse me!” 

The wizard looked at him, and as he did his eyes changed from blue to purple. 

“Tonks!” Harry said in utter astonishment. 

The wizard looked wildly up and down the street, at the same time pushing Harry into a side alley. “What the bloody hell?” he demanded. “Who are you, how do you know me, how did you recognize me, and how old are you, anyway? What are you doing in Knocturn Alley alone? Wait, Harry Potter?” 

Harry opened and closed his mouth. He had been so relieved to see someone familiar that he had lost all thought. 

“Are you lost?” Tonks asked. 

Harry nodded.

“Are you going to talk to me? Didn’t you do this last time?” 

Harry cleared his throat and deepened his voice as much as he could. “I need to get to Diagon Alley. Severus was with me. I got lost in the floo.” 

“Severus? Snape? Are you okay? Do you have a sore throat?” 

Harry nodded. 

“Alright. Let’s go, Potter. How the hell did you recognize me?” 

“Your eyes changed.”

“Blimey, really? Bugger. Alright. Come on, let’s go.” 

Tonks guided him easily out of Knocturn Alley and into the bustle of Diagon. They didn’t have to look far to find Severus—he was storming out of the broom shop, wand in hand, looking absolutely haggard.

“Hey, Professor!” called Tonks. “Missing someone?” 

Severus locked on to Tonks and then Harry and made for them with a vengeance. “Potter!” he exclaimed, reaching them. He placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder, and it was shaking. “Where did you go?!”

“Ms. Burke’s shop,” Harry said. 

“Ms. Burke?” Severus’ eyes were wild. 

“She gave me a book of poetry, and then a Seer yelled at me, and then I found Tonks.” 

“What’s wrong with your voice?” 

Harry shrugged. Severus looked to Tonks. “Ms. Tonks?” 

Tonks colored, looking at his boots. Harry jerked hard on Severus’ robes. “Professor! It’s Mr. Tonks!” 

Severus opened his mouth, looking from Harry to Tonks, taking in his appearance. Tonks looked supremely awkward. “My … my apologies, Mr. Tonks,” said Severus. “Thank you for finding Mr. Potter.” 

“Not a problem,” said Tonks awkwardly. “He surprised me, to be honest—recognized me right off. Now, I’ve got to be going—I’m late to a meeting in Knocturn.” 

Severus inclined his head, and Tonks hurried off. Severus’ hand was still light on Harry’s shoulder. 

“Sorry,” Harry muttered. “I didn’t mean to get lost.” 

“One never means to get lost,” Severus said. He sighed. “Just … stay with me from now on, Mr. Potter.” 

Chapter Text

Ordeal over, they headed to Gringotts straight away. Harry was slightly disappointed about Severus accompanying him, because he had already told Griphook he would be with Hagrid. 

Severus’ gaze changed from puzzled to baffled as Harry made a beeline for Griphook’s counter, and the goblin, upon seeing him, came around to the front.

“Good afternoon, Harry,” he said in Gobbledegook.

“Good afternoon!” Harry said excitedly. “How are you?” 

“I am well.” Griphook grinned crookedly at him. His canine teeth were inset with turquoise, and the tiny spectacles balanced on his nose had green lenses. “And you?” 

“I am—” Harry hesitated. “I was … upset? Now I am good.” 

“Upset?” Griphook asked in English. “Did something happen on your journey?”

Severus put his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “He strayed into Knockturn Alley,” he said mildly. “I am Severus Snape, Mr …?” 

“This is Griphook,” Harry said excitedly. “We have an appointment for tea.” 

Severus raised an eyebrow like a glacier carving through a valley. “Do we indeed?” 

“Hagrid couldn’t come,” Harry told Griphook regretfully. “Do you mind Severus coming instead?” 

“Severus?” demanded Severus. 

Harry winced. “I mean, er, Professor Snape?” 

Griphook gave a guttural laugh. He reached out and took Severus’ hand from Harry’s shoulder and shook it firmly. Severus looked grimly resigned. “I hope you like goblin tea, Professor Snape. Let us adjourn to my office.” 

Harry let Severus mind himself and scampered alongside Griphook, asking five questions a second. Above them, carts wheeled and whizzed along the ceiling, carrying goblins and wizards and cargo of all sorts. Griphook took them to a goblin-sized wooden door at the end of the hall which was carved in intricate geometric designs. Severus had to stoop, but Harry was yet goblin-sized. They entered a low hallway, and Griphook’s office was off to the right. 

“Oh, wow!” Harry exclaimed, the moment he entered the room. “Is that a goblin teapot?” 

“It is indeed.” 

Griphook walked over to the device which spanned the entire length of one wall. It was a magnificent construction of glass tubes and vials and things that spun and whirred and made soft nosies as dark purple tea bubbled through it. The entire contraption ended in a tall and bird-like pot with a long, delicate spout. 

“Sit, please,” said Griphook. “Apologies, Professor Snape, but I was expecting Rubeus.” 

Grimacing, Severus levered himself into the Hagrid-sized armchair Griphook had crammed in beside two goblin-sized ones. Besides the tea contraption, Griphook had a beautiful wooden desk, several potted plants trailing vines down the walls, a bookshelf, and two paintings: one of a goblin man, and one of an old goblin woman. 

Griphook noticed his gaze. “Those are my partner, Ragnok, and my aunt, Bodrig.”  

“Does Ragnok work here?” Harry asked. 

“He does,” said Griphook. “Though he aspires to be a wand-maker.” 

Severus made a little curious noise in the back of his throat. Griphook looked at him, with an eyebrow raise equal to Severus’ own prowess. “Yes, Professor Snape?” 

Severus gave a delicate shrug. “It is merely that your partner must possess extreme patience, Mr. Griphook.” 

“Well, we live long lives,” said Griphook. “But let’s not delay any longer: tea!” 

Harry cheered. He had read over and over a passage in a book about goblin tea ceremonies. They were intricate, could be very formal, and were often exceptionally showy. He had been dying to attend one, and Griphook promised they could have a small one on his next visit to the bank. 

Griphook cleared his throat and from several hooks on the machine took three teacups. “Would you like to help with the beginning, Harry?” 

Harry leapt from his chair. “Yes!” 

“Very good. Show me what you remember.”

Griphook, a grey-skinned goblin, faces the viewer in front of a network of pipes with purple tea in them

"He aspires to be a wandmaker."

“I was not aware you were friends with goblins, Mr. Potter,” said Severus as they exited the bank two hours later with full stomachs and moneybags. Severus had developed a permanently bemused look about midway through the tea ceremony, when Harry had spent ten minutes mastering the pronunciation of a Gobbledegook vowel, and not lost it yet. 

“Just Griphook, really!” said Harry, nibbling a tumeric tea cake Griphook had given him to take. “I met him last year. We’re penpals.” 

“And you’re learning Gobbledegook.” 

“Yeah. It’s hard, though, because I have no-one to practice with, except Fil—er, Flitwick sometimes.” 

“Professor Flitwick.” 

“Right. So I’m not really learning it, I’m just … studying it.” 

“I see. You have an interest in languages?” 

“Yes! I can speak—er, well. Um. I mean, Daphne’s taught me a bit of Arabic, is all.” 

Severus looked at him piercingly, but Harry pretended not to feel it. “There’s the bookshop, come on, Professor.” 

Inside, Harry gathered up his second-year books while Severus skulked around the potions section. But when it came to his DADA books, he pulled up short. “That can’t be right,” he muttered, staring from his list to the pile of Gilderoy Lockheart’s novels. 

“It is not,” snapped Severus. “Don’t buy them, Mr. Potter, they are a complete waste of money.” 

Shrugging, Harry paid for his books and they went to get his robes extended, and replenish his potions supplies, and Harry got Hedwig some owl treats and presents for his friends, and also did some early holiday shopping. 

And then he remembered something magnificent. 

“Brooms!” 

Severus protesting mildly behind him, Harry charged into the broom shop, spinning in a delighted circle. Brooms were everywhere: hanging from the walls, floating near the ceiling, stacked in the windows. There were all sorts of things he never knew existed: polish, trimmers, upkeep kits, add-on breaks and handlebars, seats, color changing modules, and more. The building was constructed like an inverted pyramid: the high ceiling was much wider than the floor, plenty of room for flying.

“Can I help you?” called the young woman at the til. Her name badge read: “Wren.” 

“Yes!” Harry skidded over to her, bags flapping around his wrists. “I want a broom!” 

“Oh yeah?” she eyed him skeptically. “What year are you?” 

“Second!” 

She smiled. “You’re a bit shrimpy for a second year. Trying out for your house team, then? What position?” 

“Any position,” Harry said fervently. 

Wren nodded. “I suppose that’s best for your age, just starting out, learning the ropes. If you specialize in the future, you might want to consider getting a broom more suited to chasing, or seeking, or what have you. But a good generalist broom, let me see … what’s your budget?” 

Harry thought of the vast fortune lurking in Gringotts. “None!” 

Severus cleared his throat from where he had been lurking by the door. “Mr. Potter, be reasonable.” 

Harry glared at him. “None.” 

Severus met Wren’s eyes. “Nothing above seventy-five galleons.” 

“Professor!” Harry said. 

“No, he’s right,” said Wren. “Save your galleons for buying a specialized broom when you’re older, eh?” 

“I guess.” 

“Right, let me show you some options.” 

Forgetting his irritation, Harry followed Wren as she mounted a broom and zipped up to the ceiling. She lassoed a few brooms and pulled them down. “Alright! This here is a Stratosphere Whisp. We call ‘em Stratos. Good, reliable brooms, not too pricey, but can be a bit clumsy to turn. Want to give it a try?” 

“Yes!” Harry left his bags with Severus and mounted the Strato, gliding into the air gleefully. He saw immediately what Wren meant about the turning. 

“Not the one? Try this. Your basic Cleansweep, a staple. Hogwarts has Cleansweeps.” 

Harry gamely tried it, but found it didn’t respond well to diving. 

“Alright, then, how about this Nimbus 2000? One model behind the 2001, but cheaper now that the ’01 has been released, and wicked fast.” 

The moment the broom flew into his hand, Harry was in love. The Nimbus was worlds away from the school brooms, so much that Harry didn’t even see how they were the same object. It turned like a dream, and when Harry fell into a dive so close to the ground that Wren shrieked a bit, the following ascent was as smooth as butter.

“This one,” said Harry breathlessly, skidding to the floor. “I’ll take this one.” 

“I’ll say,” said Wren, a bit dazed. “Merlin, kid. You can fly.” 

They headed to the Leakey Cauldron for an early dinner—shopping had taken quite a long time. But just outside the entrance to the magical wall, Harry saw something that made him pull up short.

It was a newspaper cart. 

Harry had never taken much note of newspapers, having many other things to be concerned about. He knew Blaise received one weekly, but wasn’t sure which. Now, headlines blared at him, accompanied by moving pictures: Myron Wagtail Spills All! Inside the Weird Sisters’ Process; Vultures vs Kites in European Qualifier; MoM to Cut Statute of Secrecy Spending; Do Muggles Think Like Us? Psychologist Suggests “No”; Fudge Fudges Facts Once Again. 

And there, tucked halfway behind Witch Weekly, was a headline proclaiming: Moon Frogs: What Celestial Secrets Can They Teach Us?

Moon frogs! Harry had never heard of a moon frog before, and that had to be remedied immediately. He pulled the magazine out. It was called The Quibbler: The Wizarding World’s Alternative Voice. Other articles included a survey about a creature called a nargle, an interview with a quarter-vampire, and an exhibition of photos developed in an experimental invisibility solution. 

“That’s rubbish, Potter,” said Severus. “Conspiracy theories and nonsense. Get a copy of the Daily Prophet if you want actual news.” 

“I want this,” Harry said stubbornly, and paid for the paper. “I want moon frogs.” 

Severus sighed and walked to the wall to wait for him. 

Over their fish and chips, Harry’s exhaustion hit him. It had been a very long day. He kept remembering the silver eyes of that Seer, and the fear when he’d realized that he’d actually Seen. Why would someone pretend to know the future if the truth of it scared them so much? 

“Mr. Potter?” asked Severus. “I have been meaning to ask. Would you like to keep seeing Healer Aster? The headmaster is willing to continue to pay for her services if you feel it would be productive.” 

“Oh.” Harry thought about it. He liked Lobelia Aster, and learned useful things from her, and after talking to her he always felt very settled in himself. “Yes, I would.” 

“Very well. Let us say every other Sunday afternoon, beginning next week. Satisfactory?” 

“Yes. Thank you, professor.” 

“Mr. Potter. You called me ‘Severus’ earlier.” Severus didn’t look angry, merely puzzled. “Why?” 

Harry shrugged awkwardly. “I’m just … used to calling people by their first names. Sorry.” 

Severus merely gave him an inscrutable look. 

Harry wandered in a slow perimeter around the lake, half of his mind missing Ava and his aunts, the other half absorbed in the possible sapience of nargles. They were fascinating creatures, bumblebee-like, or so the author, one Xenophilius Lovegood, speculated, based entirely upon his recordings of their sound. 

He’d never heard of nargles before. And the interview with a quarter-vampire was extremely interesting, even if the interviewer, Xenophilius Lovegood again, seemed overly focused on dietary preferences rather than life with vampire blood among wizards. 

Dusk was settling over Hogwarts, and he would have to go in for curfew soon. Even if curfew was for newts. But for now he would wander, and read, and breathe in and in and in. 

“Excuse me—is that The Quibbler you’re reading?” 

Harry looked up, blinking. A girl with wispy blond hair rocked back on her heels, hands behind her back, atop a boulder a few feet out into the lake. She’d left her shoes and socks on shore, but kept her patchwork bag with her. 

“It is,” Harry said. “Why?” 

“Well, my father is the editor.” She grinned at him. She wore a necklace of corks, and earrings shaped like radishes, and a flower crown of dandelions. “I’m Luna Lovegood.” 

“Is he really?” Harry asked eagerly. Quickly, he toed off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers, and waded out to join her, brandishing The Quibbler. “It’s brilliant! The invisibly developed pictures are wicked!” 

“I took one of those,” she said, pleased, and helped him onto her boulder. “Who are you?” 

“I’m Sn—oh, um. I’m Harry.” He scratched his head. It was happening more and more recently. First he’d slipped with Tonks, then with Severus again, and now here with Luna. It was as he’d told Araeo. He was tired of lying. In his very soul, he was sick of it. 

“Hello, Snuh-Harry,” said Luna. She took his hand and bowed over it, kissing the back. He was so taken with the gesture he returned it promptly.

“Just Harry,” he said, giggling.

“Hello, Just Harry.” She grinned, nose wrinkling with humor. “Did you read about the nargles?” 

“I just was! How do you know they look like bumblebees just by their sound? Mightn’t they look like pixies? Pixies buzz too. Or flies, they buzz!” 

“Well, you see,” Luna said, holding up a finger, “it’s about the sort of shapes they buzz in ...."

Harry sat on the rock in the lake with Luna Lovegood well past curfew, and parted with a promise to meet again as soon as possible. 

Chapter Text

“Check!” Harry crowed triumphantly. 

Ron snorted and took Harry’s knight with a rook. 

“Darn,” Harry muttered, but he wasn’t really upset. Outside Gryffindor tower, rain lashed the tall windows. Inside, the fire roared high. It was a cold and rainy Sunday, and Gryffindor was probably the coziest place to be. Draco had disagreed, contending that bed was the coziest place to be, and he hadn’t gotten out of it all day. Daphne had also disagreed, contending that pounding rain was actually the best weather ever, and she had gone to dash down to Hagrid’s hut and get absolutely soaked. 

But here with Ron, Hermione reading next to him upside down with her feet thrown over the back of the couch, Harry was perfectly content. 

“You’re getting distracted by his bishops,” advised Percy, meandering past to lean over Harry’s shoulder and make his heart stutter. “Watch out for his pawn there, too—he’ll take your other knight on his next move.” 

“Hey!” Ron spluttered. “You’re a prefect, you can’t help him cheat!” 

“Is it really cheating?” Harry asked mournfully, moving his knight. “When we both know how this ends?” 

“You shouldn’t have moved it there,” said Percy, as Ron took the knight anyway with a bishop. 

“Ugh.” Harry slumped down and fished a chocolate frog from his bag. “Want one, Percy? I got them in Diagon Alley yesterday.”  

“That’s not all he got,” Ron grumbled, as he unwrapped his own frog. “Did you hear, Percy? Harry got a broom.” 

Ron had been so jealous upon hearing about Harry’s Nimbus that Harry was immediately grateful he hadn’t spent a thousand galleons on a top-of-the-line broom like he’d wanted. He could practically feel envy emanating off his friend. 

“Oh?” Percy asked. “What position are you trying out for?” 

Harry shrugged. “Whatever one lets me fly.” 

“Now, don’t expect to fly your first game,” said Percy, holding up a finger. “Second years are often reserves.” 

“You’ve never seen him fly,” said Ron grumpily. “He’s a bloody prodigy.” 

“Language, Ron,” said Percy and Hermione at the same time. 

At that moment, Ginny came down from the girl’s dormitory. She blushed when she saw Harry, but walked gamely over. “‘Lo, Harry,” she said. “Luna told me you made friends with her.” 

Harry sat up straight. “Luna? She’s brilliant! Her father runs a magazine!” 

“The Quibbler?” scoffed Percy. “That’s all nonsense, Harry, you should get a proper paper.” 

Ginny crossed her arms, glaring. “It’s not nonsense, Percy, it’s just … different.” 

Percy rolled his eyes. “Ginny, be sensible. They write about—about made-up creatures and conspiracy theories and whatever Mr. Lovegood dreams up. That’s what mum and dad say.”

“I think it’s brilliant,” muttered Harry. 

Hermione put her book down and stared at him upside-down. “Can I read your copy?” 

“Sure.” He pulled it from his bag, having already read it twice over. “I really like the invisible photographs.” 

Hermione’s face was pinched with skepticism, but she replaced her book with the magazine nonetheless, kicking her feet aimlessly in the air. 

“Well, you can think what you like, as long as you don’t say anything mean about Luna,” said Ginny haughtily, and left their group to settle into a chair under the window. Opening a textbook, she pulled out a small black journal and began to take notes in it. 

Immediately, the air around Harry saturated with a scent so familiar, so horrifically familiar, that his heart started to beat in remembered panic, and the skin on his hands began to tingle. He stared at Ginny in terror, opening his mouth slightly to breathe in—his tongue recoiled, his heart recoiled, for the magic, the air, it tasted exactly like Quirrell. 

“Harry?” asked Ron. “Harry? Are you okay, mate?” 

“I—I—” Harry took a deep breath. He put his palms to his cheeks to check that they were not burning, a trick he had learned from Healer Aster. They were warm, but that was because his face was chilled with fright. “I don’t feel well,” he told Ron. 

Hermione put down The Quibbler. “Do you need to go to the infirmary?” 

“I can escort you, Harry,” said Percy. 

“No, no,” Harry said. “I think I just … need to lie down. Sorry, Ron. Play later?” 

Ron shrugged. “I would have beat you in three moves anyway. You sure you’re alright, mate? You look really pale.” 

“Nauseous,” said Harry honestly. “I’ll go lie down. Draco’s there. He can get Snape if anything happens.” 

They watched him with worried eyes as he packed his things quickly and darted from the common room.

In the hallway, he dipped behind a suit of armor and put his head on his knees and focused on breathing. He felt more than saw the suit of armor shift a bit, so that he was well-concealed behind its shield. 

Healer Aster had taught him a calming trick, too. He imagined he was rooted to the earth through his feet, that he had long, long roots stretching all the way to the ground—he imagined where they were, from the soles of his feet, down through Gryffindor tower, creeping along stones and through walls, down pipes and around windows, until they met the earth, where they sunk into the ground and stretched and anchored him. When he finally felt better and his palms no longer burned, he pulled his invisibility cloak from his bag and put it on.

He waited outside Gryffindor until a student went inside, and slipped quietly in behind her. Then he crept past his friends—Ron now playing Percy, Hermione scowling at The Quibbler—and stood silently in a corner, watching Ginny. 

Luckily, she got up to use the toilet before he could feel too creepy. When she was out of the room, he crept over to the table, flipped the diary closed, and shoved it under his cloak. The moment it shut, he could no longer taste that overwhelming, horrid magic.

He paused for a long moment, looking around to see if anyone had noticed him. And then he followed another student out of the portrait hole, shoved the book in his bag, and ran.

He didn’t know what he was running from. If anything, what he was running from was the very thing in his bag, which could only be the dark artifact Lucius Malfoy had given Ginny for some malevolent reason. After a while he grew winded from fear and just walked in circles, wondering what on earth to do with it. He had to hide it, of course, and the only place he could think to hide it was with the basilisk. 

But he would only see the basilisk over winter holiday. He couldn’t risk anyone finding it until then. So, he reasoned uncomfortably, he would have to keep it on himself.

But that was alright. He could taste its magic, anyway. If it started to seep out, he would know. And it had certainly started to seep when Ginny had been writing in it. 

He put his back to the wall of an empty corridor and took out the book, still under the cloak. It was an unassuming little diary, black leather, with a thong to keep it shut. Its magic felt sticky and familiar under his hands, and in disgust he shoved it deep in his bag. 

He was about to make for Slytherin when he heard a sort of crashing come from a room down the hall, followed by a muttered cursing. 

Harry crept down to the cracked doorway, and peered in. It was a cluttered room, covered all over with a thick layer of dust, and so were Severus and Minerva, who were examining with some dismay a toppled pile of boxes. Sighing, Severus bent and started heaving them upright. 

“Blast this place,” he muttered. “Something hidden in the castle, hm? Well, bloody good luck to anyone searching.” 

Minerva sighed, re-doing her bun and rolling up her sleeves. “I’m afraid I agree completely. Of all the hiding places in the world, this is quite the effective choice. If only there were any way to locate the damn things instead of searching manually …” 

“I suppose that’s rather the point,” said Severus dryly. He pulled the lid off a box and tossed it aside. “At least we’ll know it when we find it. For example, I can sense rather clearly that this,” he held up a small writing slate, “is not it. Nor are any of these, likely, it.” 

“It is our duty to leave no stone unturned,” said Minerva, opening another box, “but Hogwarts is, unfortunately, built of stones.” 

“Bah," said Severus. "Let’s just get through this room before six. I have to check on Draco Malfoy before dinner.” 

Intrigued, Harry leaned closer. 

“Mr. Malfoy? Why?” 

Severus sighed, setting another box to the side. “Something is going on with that child. And I don’t just mean the hair and jeans. He is laconic, disinterested … I am worried about his home life.” 

“Well, with a father like that, who wouldn’t be?” 

Suddenly feeling completely inappropriate and intrusive, Harry left them discussing his friend, worried all over again. Was something really wrong with Draco? If so, could he trust Severus to fix it? Was Lucius doing something to Draco? If he was, Harry would … well, he didn’t know what he would do. But something. He would do something.

He worried all the way back to the Slytherin common room, where he found Draco, Pansy, and Daphne huddled in blankets next to the fire playing exploding snap. Draco gave him such a genuine smile that it pushed the worry right out of his mind, and he settled in to pass the afternoon with them happily.

green sprout

That week heralded the very thing he, Ron, and Draco had been waiting on tenterhooks for since the end of last term: Quidditch tryouts. 

Harry had attended tryouts once before, invisibly shadowing Cho Chang, but this was different. Today, he was going to try out. He, Ron, and Draco practically galloped down to the pitch, talking loudly over each other in excitement. 

“I can’t believe both of you got brooms,” Ron moaned. 

“I can’t believe you got an older model, Harry,” Draco said pompously, gripping his Nimbus 2001 close. “Why on earth would you do that?” 

“I like it,” said Harry. “It’s a good generalist broom.” 

“I’ll have to fly on a school broom,” Ron moaned. “They’re horrid.” 

“I just want to fly,” said Harry, his heart already in the clouds. “Oh, there’s Percy!” 

Ron made a disgusted noise under his breath, but Harry ignored him. “Hi, Percy!” he shouted. Percy looked up from the book he was reading in the stands and waved, a little bemused.

“Harry, there’s Marcus over there,” said Draco eagerly. “We’d better go. Bye, Ron. Good luck.” 

“Good luck, Ron!” Harry said. “I know you’ll be brilliant.” 

“Yeah, you too,” Ron said to them both. “Good luck!” And he headed off towards Oliver Wood and the Gryffindor team. 

“I hope he can keep it together around his brothers,” said Draco. 

“He will,” Harry said, sort-of-confidently. “Hello, Marcus. Hi, Vincent! Hi, Greg! Hi, Tracy!”

Vincent, Greg, and Tracy were also trying out for the team, looking a bit peaky and clutching their brooms close.   

“Hello Harry, Draco,” said Marcus Flint. “No need for introductions, let’s get started! I want to see you all fly. We’ve got the pitch first, so get up there and I’ll run you through some drills before we do one-on-ones.” 

Harry mounted his broom eagerly, elated to be in the air. The Nimbus felt smooth and beautiful under him, like it was an extension of his body, like his wand was supposed to feel, though it never really had. This was magic. This was easy. This was what he had been born to do. 

Marcus, a chaser, led the team through a series of warm-ups and then drills. The other team members were Adrian Pucey, another chaser, Miles Bletchley, the keeper, and Terrence Higgs, seeker. There were several gaps on the team from last years’s graduating class that the second years would have to fill. Harry had the time of his life for the entire tryout, from the warm-up laps around the pitch, to dodging bludgers and working with the chasers, to giving the beater’s bats his best try, to defending the hoops from oncoming teammates. But undoubtedly, his favorite thing was trying to catch the snitch. 

It was like a brilliant little game separate from the main one being played—he raced Terrence around the pitch for fifteen minutes, their chase taking them around the other players, under the stands, high above the treetops, and finally down to the ground, and down, and down, and so close—and there—Harry snatched the snitch as Terrence pulled up in alarm, and his Nimbus swept him right back into the sky, the snitch clenched victoriously in his hand. He was laughing in delight, windswept and elated. 

Marcus blew his whistle and the team and recruits fell in. Harry was getting some side-eyes, but he didn’t think they were bad. The snitch fluttered in his grasp, longing to be let go—and he longed to let it, and chase it again.

“Alright,” said Marcus. “Good show, all of you. Recruits, go jog a lap. Team members, let’s consult.” 

The second years took a lap. “Harry!” Draco said immediately. “Why didn’t you say you could fly like that?” 

Harry shrugged, still exhilarated. “Was I supposed to?” 

“You were seriously brilliant,” said Tracy enviously. “I don’t think I did half as well.”

“You did better than me,” said Greg glumly. “Did you see me miss that bludger?” 

Harry’s heart was still up in the clouds.

Adrian called them back, looking satisfied. “All right, recruits. Here’s how it’s going to work out. Vincent and Tracy are the new beaters. Greg, you’re beater reserve, chaser reserve in a pinch. Terrence has been swapped to chaser. Harry, you’re seeker. Draco, you’re reserve for seeker and chaser.” 

Harry’s head rang. Seeker? He was seeker? Not even reserve seeker, but the real, actual seeker? He looked at Terrence uneasily, but Terrence grinned and patted him on the shoulder. “You’re something special, Potter. I’m gonna teach you everything I know.” 

“Practice is Tuesday and Thursday nights at five,” said Marcus. “If you’re late, you’re off the team. Now scram. And congratulations!” 

“Harry!” Draco burst out immediately. “Seeker! Seeker!” He looked enraged and delighted. “You’re a horrid friend—I wanted seeker!” But he was grinning. 

“Well,” said Harry, “maybe I can fake being sick one day and you can play.”

Draco sniffed haughtily, but his cheeks were flushed. “Fine.” 

“Harry! Draco!” Ron yelled, dashing up to them. “I made reserve chaser! I made the team!” 

Chapter Text

Dear Heartkin,

Congratulations on your new position. I knew, of course, but I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for you ;) That’s a winking face; my uncle taught it to me, do you see? I’m feeling very hemmed in at the moment—my mother is keeping everyone very close, and me especially. I know that it makes sense. These are uncertain times, and they are about to get even more chaotic. But it chafes me. Your absence chafes me. At least we can write.

But enough moaning, as my mother keeps saying. I read the most interesting history of butterfly migration—I never thought much about it before, but …. 

“That’s strange paper,” said Daphne. “Who’s it from?” 

Harry tore himself from butterfly migration patterns to look from her to Araeo’s sheaf of homemade papers. Harry loved Araeo’s letters, because just the smell and feel of them reminded him of home. Or, one part of home. 

“They’re from …” Harry hesitated. “They’re from my best friend.” 

Draco, who had his head down on the table, raised it in outrage. “Your best friend?! You mean I’m—we’re not your best friends?” 

Harry bit his lip and looked down at the letter. His eye caught on something Araeo had circled and marked with stars:

 。・:*:・゚★ Remember: tell them the truth! 

Rolling his eyes and smiling, Harry looked back to Draco. “He’s sort of … more than that, actually,” he admitted. “He’s, like, my heart’s partner? Do you have anything like that?” 

Daphne’s eyes bulged. Draco gaped at him. “You mean like … romantically?”

“Well, I mean like, um, spiritually,” Harry said.  

“Spiritually?” Daphne looked baffled. 

“Sort of, I guess.” 

“What’s his name?” demanded Draco. “I want to meet him.” 

“His name is, um, Star,” Harry said. “I’d love for you to meet him, one day.” 

“Well … fine.” Draco put his head back on the table. “Weird name, Star. Who’s your best friend, Daphne?”

Daphne shrugged. “I don’t really have a best friend. I have all of you.” 

Harry smiled brilliantly at her, and Draco looked slightly appeased. 

A hand holding a sheet of paper with the words "remember, tell them the truth!" decorated with stars

 
The week passed busily. Quidditch practice was Harry’s new favorite thing in the world. Terrence, true to his word, was teaching him everything he knew. Harry even convinced him to meet on Wednesday night for extra lessons. His Nimbus was rapidly superseding Araeo as his spiritual heart mate, so in tune were they by the end of the week. His obsession with quidditch drove any thought of the diary in his bag entirely out of his head. 

And something of Harry’s anger at Severus seemed to have gotten through, because Severus was back to largely ignoring them during lessons. If Harry had to have one or the other—a vicious, teaching Severus or a dismissive, bored Severus, he would take the latter any day.

Harry managed to shake the shock of not having already been to second-year classes, and recovered slightly in Charms and Transfiguration, though he was spending twice as much time studying in the evenings to keep up. He read Burke’s book of poetry, which was entirely maudlin odes to her former lady loves, and enjoyed it so much he passed it around to all of his friends. Hermione was particularly taken with one entitled To See My Rose Blush Once More, but Draco contended the best was You Blossom Beneath the Willow Tree, by far the most racy of the lot. 

And before he knew it, it was Saturday morning, and Severus was approaching his table again, this time looking like the reaper was hovering over him. His eyes were shadowed, the drape of his robe somehow more dour than usual, and his hair had been pulled back. The look was surprisingly elegant, but offset by the snarl lurking in the corner of his mouth. 

He opened his mouth to speak, but caught a glimpse of the poetry book half-concealed under Draco’s arm and stopped. “The touch of your petals to my lips—what in Merlin’s name are you reading?!” 

Draco snapped the book shut and stuck it in the pocket of his robe, at the same time casually reaching over to brush a small circle of powdered sugar off Harry’s plate. “Nothing.” 

“Mr. Malfoy—” He stopped, though, for some reason, and looked back to Harry. “Never mind. Mr. Potter. Are you ready?” 

“Yes,” said Harry eagerly. 

“Where are you going?” Draco asked. 

“Remus Lupin is bringing my godfather to meet me in Hogsmeade—Sirius Black.” 

Draco’s mouth dropped open. He sat up straight. “But Sirius Black is my cousin! Will Remus really be there?” He clung on to Harry’s arm. “Harry, Harry, please can I come with you? I’ll give you anything you want, please?” 

It would be nice to have a friend with him. He was little nervous about meeting his godfather. And Draco hadn’t been so animated since school started …. Harry looked to Severus, who, to his shock, nodded minutely. 

Draco yelped with joy and shot upright. “Let’s go!” 

“Are you really going to wear that, Mr. Malfoy?” Severus asked. 

Draco looked mutinously at him. “It’s the weekend.” 

“Very well. Come along, boys. I must tell the headmaster that you are accompanying us, Mr. Malfoy.” 

Draco was practically skipping alongside Harry as they walked to Hogsmeade, Severus stalking like ghoul in front of them. “I’m so excited to see Remus,” said Draco. “I’ve been writing him, did I tell you?” 

“Yes,” said Harry in amusement. 

“And he’s with Sirius Black? My father always said Sirius Black was a filthy blood traitor, because he was the first Black to get Gryffindor in like a thousand billion years, and then he got disowned, and then he murdered a bunch of muggles and got tossed in Azkaban. I can’t wait to meet him.” 

“He didn’t actually murder them, it was Peter Pettigrew,” Harry pointed out, as they passed the Shrieking Shack. “I’m excited too, I suppose. I’m a little … afraid, too.” 

“Afraid?” Draco looked at him in confusion. “Why?” 

“Well.” Harry bit his lip. “He was my parents’ best friend. What if … what if he thinks I’m not good enough?” 

“Not good enough?” Draco demanded. “Not good enough for what?” 

Harry shrugged miserably. “Not good enough to be his godson?” 

“That’s ridiculous!” Draco exclaimed, seizing Harry’s hand. “You just made seeker as a second year. Plus you’re, you know …” he gestured to all of Harry. “You’re you.” 

Harry smiled tremulously, pulling him closer so their shoulders brushed as they walked. “Thanks, Draco.” 

Harry got more and more nervous as they approached Hogsmeade, Draco more and more manic, and Severus bleaker and bleaker. By the time they arrived at The Three Broomsticks, it was like tailing a storm cloud. 

Holding Draco’s hand tight, Harry nudged Severus aside so he could enter first, and the potions master let him, but put a hand on his shoulder. Despite Severus’ black mood, the hand was a comfort.

He instantly spotted Remus Lupin as they crossed the threshold—how could he not? He wore a pastel pink robe over a ripped black t-shirt with an image of a howling wolf across it, a pink choker around his neck, and his hair, shaved on one side and floppy on the other, was pink as well. Draco gave a little squeak beside him and twisted his hand tighter. 

Remus spotted them and grinned blindingly, nudging the man beside him to look up.

Sirius Black looked … haggard. He had very short black hair, deep and sunken black eyes, and a stunning smile that was just a little off-center. His face was altogether too skeletal to be truly beautiful, but the echoes of it were there. He wore a dark blue robe and small gold earrings, and fingerless gloves and a knitted scarf, though it was a warm enough day. 

His deep, troubled eyes flicked from Harry, to Severus, to Draco, in a ripple of confusion and something else that made Harry uneasy. 

Remus stood and moved them both out of the booth, keeping a grip on Sirius’ arm much like the one Severus had on Harry’s shoulder. The three stopped in front of the two, and they all stared at each other for a moment. 

Draco broke the silence. “Hello,” he said eagerly, staring at Remus. “Harry let me come!” 

Remus grinned at him. “I can see that. Hello, Draco. It’s good to see you in person. I like your jeans and hair.” Draco preened, wrinkling his nose with pleasure. “Hello again, Harry. Hello, Severus.” 

“Hi,” said Harry. 

“Hello,” grit out Severus. 

“Harry, Draco, this is Sirius Black,” said Remus, tilting his head to Sirius. “Your godfather, Harry. And Draco, your cousin, I believe?”

“That’s right!” said Draco eagerly. He stuck out his hand to Sirius. “Hello!” 

Sirius stared at him for a long moment, and then very carefully shook his hand. “You’re Lucius’ kid? Does he know you own jeans?” 

“Absolutely not!”

Sirius grinned. “Nice.” He turned to Harry. “Hello, Harry. I know this must be … a bit strange. But it’s so good to see you. Last time I saw you, you were—” he hesitated. A cast of something distant and dark flashed across his eyes. “You were—last time I saw you—” 

“Let’s all sit down,” said Remus, guiding Sirius gently back into the booth. He went quietly, looking disturbed. Harry sat directly across from him, next to Draco, unease fluttering in his stomach.

Severus did not sit. “I will order us some food,” he said. “Dumbledore has allocated funds for the occasion.” 

“I’ll take a fire whiskey,” drawled Sirius. Severus did not deign to reply, merely turned and went to the counter. 

“Sirius,” said Remus mildly. Sirius just shrugged. 

They sat and stared at each other for a moment. Then Remus cleared his throat. “Boys, how is the term going? Keeping your grades up?” 

Harry nodded, Draco shrugged. “We have stupid Lockheart,” Draco muttered. “You were so much better.” 

“Was he?” Sirius asked eagerly. “I’d always thought Moony would make an excellent professor. Tell me, is he very stodgy in the classroom?” 

“No!” Draco said in staunch defense. “He’s brilliant!” 

Harry nodded. “He gave us a primer on creature rights, it was wicked.” 

“Thank you, boys,” said Remus. 

“What are you doing now, Remus?” Harry asked. “Do you have a new job?” 

Remus grimaced, just as Severus returned with chips and butterbeer for everyone. “Not quite, Harry. It is very hard for werewolves to hold jobs long-term. I have had work on and off, usually in positions not quite to my liking and well below my qualifications.” 

Sirius knocked his shoulder against Remus’. “But at least he has me now, eh? Who needs to work for prejudiced shitheads when you have a fortune to squander? I just hope my parents, from whatever layer of hell they’re rotting in, know that their filthy pure money is paying the bills for their blood traitor son and his werewolf boyfriend.” 

Severus sneered very loudly. Harry ignored it, smiling at Remus. "You're together? That’s wonderful. Were you together in school?” 

Sirius answered. “In school, yeah, during seventh year—but then the war started, you see, and—well, and then—” His gaze grew troubled, and Remus put a hand on his elbow.

“And we broke it off,” Remus finished. “Because we each suspected the other of working for the other side.” He glanced briefly at Severus. “We were both wrong, of course. So we’re trying again.” 

“How heartwarming,” drawled Severus. Harry wished he was sat beside him so he could elbow him. 

Sirius rose to the bait like he’d been waiting for it. “I thought so,” he said languidly. “How about you, Snivellus? Still pining after—” And he cut off, coughing, because Remus had elbowed him, rather hard, in the ribs.  

“Enough,” said Remus mildly. “May I remind us all that this is a visit for Harry to meet his godfather?” 

“Right!” Sirius said brightly, like a flipped switch. “Harry, what do you like to do? Do you play Quidditch?” 

Harry tried to get his feet under him. “Um. Yes.”

“He just made seeker!” Draco butted in, taking his hand under the table. Harry squeezed it gratefully, feeling unsettled. 

“Seeker? Not even reserve?” Sirius looked impressed. “That’s wicked, Harry. James played chaser, you know, absolutely brilliant. And Lily was quite a flier, though she never joined the team. I think because James was on the team, actually.” He laughed. “Loathed each other until seventh year, they did. Then they just … fell together.” His eyes went soft. 

Harry smiled at him. “When did you meet my parents?” 

“Oh, well, I was in Gryffindor and so were they, same year.” Sirius took a drink of butterbeer and tilted his head, remembering. “Your dad instantly declared us friends—he said I was a Gryffindor Black, of course we had to be friends. After that it was us, and then us and Moony, and then us and Moony and Peter.” He spat the last name. “Filthy traitor. I never saw it, never even suspected—and then that night—that night—” He stopped talking, but his eyes, staring at the table, flicked back and forth.

“Um,” said Draco uneasily. 

“It’s alright,” said Remus. He put a hand on Sirius’ arm, gentle, and Sirius slumped back a little.

“Sorry,” muttered Sirius. “Sorry, I don’t know why—” His eyes focused again, and he looked at Harry. “It’s the dementors, you see—the Azkaban guards, they suck the happy memories from you and leave only the worst ...” he trailed off, gaze distant again.

“I am astounded to see you as coherent as you are, Black,” said Severus, and to Harry’s ear it sounded genuine. 

“I have my ways,” laughed Sirius, but it was a dim, choked laugh. “Moony, what was I—” 

“James,” said Remus. “You were talking about James.” 

“Right. We called ourselves the Marauders, the four of us. It was brilliant.” 

Harry sat bolt upright. “You what?” 

Sirius blinked at him. “Sorry?” 

“The Marauders, did you say?” Harry asked, his heart beating fast. Remus’ gaze was sharp on him. Moony, Sirius had been calling him. Moony.

“Yeah, the Marauders,” said Sirius. “We had codenames. Moony.” He tilted his head towards Remus. “I was Padfoot. James was Prongs. Peter was—Wormtail. I’ll tell you why, some day. Grand story.” 

“Grand,” echoed Severus coldly. 

A silence fell that penetrated every atom of air. Harry braced himself for Severus to say something horrid. But to his surprise, it didn’t come. Instead, Severus picked up the empty chips basket. “I will get us a second round.” 

“Huh,” said Sirius, watching him walk stiffly away. 

“Hm,” hummed Remus, tucking his hand inside Sirius’ elbow. “Why don’t you tell the boys about your summers with James?” 

Sirius’ eyes lit up. For the rest of the hour he regaled them with tales of summer mischief and friendship that had them rolling with laughter. He and Severus appeared to have mutually and unspokenly agreed to ignore each other, and there were no more awful silences, and only a few unsettling lapses in Sirius’ concentration. By the end of their meeting Harry was delighted with his godfather, and his godfather was quite taken with him, and with Draco as well, who seemed to amuse him infinitely. 

“It is nearly time for us to return,” said Severus at last, during a lapse in conversation.

“Right, I just—” Sirius went digging around in his bag. “I have something for you, Harry. Just sweets from Diagon, I didn't know what you would like so I got a bit of everything. Draco, sorry, I didn’t know you would be here, or I’d have something for you, too. Maybe Harry can share.” 

“That’s alright,” said Draco. “You can send me a Christmas present.” 

Sirius grinned. “Here, Harry.” He passed Harry a simply gigantic sack from the Diagon Alley confectionery.

“Thanks!" he said. "Sweets are the best gift." He passed a chocolate frog to Draco, and offered another to Severus, which was rebuffed.

“Perfect,” said Sirius. “Anyway. It was so good to meet you, Harry. Would you … like to owl?” 

“Yes,” said Harry immediately. 

“Me, too,” said Draco imperiously. 

“Of course,” laughed Sirius. “I’ve got to owl my favorite cousin, which you now are.” 

Draco beamed. 

They parted ways outside of The Three Broomsticks, with long hugs all around for everyone except Severus. Harry returned to the castle feeling happy with the world, Draco humming beside him, Severus striding ahead, and something new behind.

Chapter Text

“Hello, girl.” Harry nuzzled Hedwig’s head and fed her an owl treat. “How have you been? Making friends?” Hedwig hooted and pushed her head into his chin. He closed his eyes and savored her friendship for a moment. Her weight on his knees made him remember another sensation from long, long ago. There had been an owl, and he had been warm and tired, and scared and elated, and on the way to a better life. 

Another owl launched itself towards him and landed tangled in his hair. Luckily, it was a tiny owl. “Here you go, Pip,” he said, passing up an owl treat and feeling Pip take it from his fingers. 

A little laugh came from the entrance to the owlery. “You is covered in birds, Snake.” 

Harry grinned at Limmy. “It’s the new castle fashion.” 

Limmy came and crouched in front of him, stroking Hedwig carefully. She looked healthy and vital, and Harry was glad to see it.

“How is you?” he asked her. 

“Good.” Her ears twitched thoughtfully. “Impatient, mostly.” 

“Me too,” he admitted. “Everything feels like wasting time.” 

She nodded. “I is still trying to convince the others that I must be with them when the time comes. They is coming around, I think, especially since I is still the only one who has … you knows.” She put a hand to the wooden charm on her necklace. “And I think they is starting to see that I isn’t just making things up, that I understands what I is doing.” 

“They is coming around,” Harry said seriously. “I knows it.” 

She hummed and lowered herself to sit beside him, taking a packet of letters from a pocket. She didn’t hand them to him yet, but turned them over and over in her hands. “Tippy is giving me a problem to solve, and ..." She hesitated, then sighed. "And I isn't knowing how to solve it."

Harry sat forward. “What?” 

"She is telling me to finds a way to communicates. If I is the only one who can really ... you knows ... then how is we all to talk once we is parting? Some of us is going very far indeed. Everyone must haves the same information, but how?” 

“Oh.” Of course, such a stupid, simple problem. How had no-one thought of it before? “I’ll ask Hermione,” he promised. “We’ll figure something out.” 

“Thanks, Snake,” Limmy said, worrying at the edges of the letters. “I is thinking for days and not finding an answer.” 

"Between the both of us, we'll think of something,” Harry reassured her. He held out his hand for the letters, and Limmy passed them over. 

The seaweed paper was brittle in the dry air, so Harry handled them carefully. There were personal missives from his aunts, his cousin Parime, and Ava. There were official letters from Ava and her mentor Samba, which required deep thought and long answers. Luckily, Limmy had brought supplies: plenty of seaweed paper, a flask of butterbeer, and snacks. They munched on bread and cheese while Harry read the letters and worked through his responses aloud, Limmy a good sounding board. He passed on to Samba and Ava information from Araeo’s letter and messages from Aragog, whom he had seen before the term began. 

When Harry had written several scrolls worth of responses, he set down his quill and stretched out his sore hands in relief. “Thanks for taking these, Limmy,” he said. 

“Of course,” she said. “I likes hearing what you does as emissary, anyway.” 

He untied his braid and ran his fingers through it, feeling the beginnings of a headache fade with the released tension. “And … how is it, Limmy? I knows you can’t understands its language, but ….” 

Limmy shuffled his letters together. “I thinks it is well. We can’t talks, you’s right, but we understands each other enough. It is giving me something for you.” From her pocket, she pulled the smallest scale he’d ever seen from the basilisk, only the size of his palm, a beautiful pastel green. He pressed it to his cheek and opened his mouth to taste the familiar magic, and felt his eyes water.

“Oh, Snake.” Limmy scooted closer to him and hugged him. He buried his face in her tea towel-covered shoulder.

“I misses it,” he whispered. “I wants to go home.” 

Limmy rubbed circles over his back. “Is something happening?” 

He shrugged. “I don’t knows. Something’s wrong with Draco. I haves a godfather, but he’s ill. I is seeing Dobby—” He broke off, shuddering. 

“Who is Dobby?” Limmy asked sharply.

Harry sniffed. “He is a Malfoy elf. He is coming to tell Draco something, but he isn’t being allowed to do it, and—and—” The memory of Dobby hitting his head into the bedpost welled up in his throat, and he pulled away from Limmy, gagging into his sleeve. 

Limmy’s face was grim, and she took his hand with cold fingers. She tugged him upright and walked him to the window of the overly, and together they looked across the grounds towards the forest, and the mountains beyond. “Tell me about your friends there,” she said quietly, pointing out across the vast verdant sea. “Who is we visiting when we is going together?” 

Hedwig fluttered down to perch on his shoulder, and Pip onto Limmy’s. He looked out over the forest, felt Limmy’s hand in his, and remembered that once he had had none of this, none of it at all, and felt warmer. “Well,” he said, clearing his throat and leaning into Limmy. “There’s Chikkeritt. A demiguise. She is giving me the pendant that turns me invisible, well, she’s giving me the hairs, and she has a baby …” 

Limmy holds a small owl on her arm

Limmy and Pip

green sprout

“Communication?” Hermione asked. “Of course! How could we not think of that? Well, that’s easy enough. There should be loads of spells.” 

“They can’t do spells, Hermione,” Harry reminded her. “Only … you know.” 

“Oh.” She frowned. “Oh, of course. And I suppose it needs to be something rather larger, anyway. I mean, there’s going to be so much … oh, if only we could use telephones!” 

Harry echoed her frown, brushing a little powdered sugar circle off his breakfast plate and scooping some eggs on. It was very early morning; he and Hermione were practically alone in the Great Hall. 

“Well, let’s think like this,” Hermione said, sounding determined. She rifled through her bag, slapping books and miscellaneous bits onto the table in a search for fresh parchment. Finding it, she put quill to paper. “What will need to be communicated?” 

Harry scrunched his nose up, thinking. “Well … information on what’s happening around the country. Where is safe and where isn’t. What the ministry does. Where danger is. Stuff like that. Maybe … notices from, er, people on what to do.” 

“So general news and information,” Hermione said, writing all of this down. “And maybe … instructions. And warnings.”

Harry nodded, spotting his copy of The Quibbler among Hermione’s things. He pulled it out and saw she had bookmarked pages. 

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, distracted immediately, pity in her voice. “I’m sorry, but … it’s sort of rubbish.” 

The Alternative Wizarding Voice, read the cover.

“It’s not rubbish,” he said slowly. “It’s just what we need.” Spinning in his chair, he peered over at the Ravenclaw table. A wispy blonde head had just settled down to eat. “Luna! Hey! Luna!” Luna looked up and waved at him. He gestured her over wildly. She finished putting together a bowl of porridge, gathered her things, and came to sit beside him.

“Hello, Harry,” she said dreamily. “Hello, Harry’s friend.” 

“Hermione,” said Hermione awkwardly. 

“Yes,” agreed Luna. 

“Hermione, Luna’s father runs The Quibbler!” cried Harry. 

“Oh, um.” Hermione looked vaguely guilty. “That’s … nice.” 

“A skeptic,” said Luna knowingly. 

“Luna,” said Harry, putting an urgent hand on her shoulder. “We need to make a newspaper! Can you show us how?” 

green sprout

Draco found them ensconced in the library during lunch, books stacked higher than their heads, whispering furiously. 

“There you all are,” he said grouchily, throwing himself down beside Hermione. “What on earth are you doing?” 

Harry seized the nearest book and showed it to him. 

“Pressing Print and The Printing Press. Okay?” 

“We’re making an underground newspaper,” said Luna dreamily. She was drawing an intricate diagram of a printing press on a spare bit of parchment. “For Harry’s secret cause.” 

Draco looked at Harry in alarm. Harry shrugged. “Luna knows how to make a newspaper.” 

“Do you?” Draco asked her. 

She blinked at him. “My father runs The Quibbler. Of course I do.” 

“The biggest issue,” Hermione muttered, throwing a book aside and seizing another, “is space. We can set up a printing press somehow, I’m sure, or we can use spells, or something … that’s not the real problem. We have to have space, somewhere to do all this, somewhere hidden.” 

“Father’s printing room is very large,” said Luna.

“Hang on,” Draco said. He sounded excited. “A newspaper? We’re making a newspaper?” 

“Yes,” said Hermione. “For when … you know. Communication will be difficult. We have to centralize it. But space!” 

“It seems obvious that if we need space, we only have to ask the elves,” said Draco. “Don’t they know everywhere in the castle? Surely they could point us to an abandoned room or something.” 

“Of course!” said Hermione. 

“I like elves,” said Luna dreamily. 

“Let’s go,” said Harry.

green sprout

“Tippy?” Harry called, peeking his head into the kitchen. “Is you there?” 

“What?” Tippy snapped. 

“Oh, er.” Harry tried to back out, but the weight of three friends leaning on his back eventually overpowered him, and they all fell through the door with a great thumping and tangling of limbs. When Harry pushed itself up and righted his glasses, Tippy, Norry, and Drippy were staring in askance at him.

“Harry,” said Norry, voice exceedingly level. “Why is there more students with you every time you visit?” 

“Luna knows how to make a newspaper,” Harry said quickly. “She’s going to teach us. It’ll be perfect.” 

“A newspaper,” Tippy said, tapping her chin. “We isn’t thinking of that. But we don’t haves time to run a newspaper, not now. Nor does you.”  

“I’ll do it,” said Draco, scrambling forward. Harry looked at him in surprise. “I can be in charge! I promise, it’ll be brilliant.” He looked to Hermione and Luna. “We’ll be the perfect team.” Luna smiled distantly at him, and Hermione looked hesitantly approving. 

“We just need space,” Hermione told the elves. “Somewhere secret, where we can have a big printing press. Do you know anywhere?” 

“Well,” said Drippy, rubbing his ear. “There is always the come-and-go-room.” 

green sprout

“Walk three times, she said, thinking about what you need.” The four of them stared at the blank bit of wall. “Maybe just one of us should do it, then? Lovegood, you know what we need.” Draco gestured for her to step forward.

“Sure,” she said, and began pacing in front of the wall. She muttered aloud. “Typesets, and ink, and the press, and paper, and drying racks, and …” her list lengthened and repeated as she paced in front of the wall, once, twice, thrice—and then a door blossomed into existence where their had been none.

Draco made an elated noise and went up on his tip-toes in excitement. They all crowded Luna as she opened the door to reveal a large room, gently lit by an unseen sun through fogged glass windows. In the center was a massive, beautiful, gleaming printing press. Huge wide tables took up half the room, and drying racks lined the walls. Luna gave a delighted clap and ran to a shelf, opening a box to reveal rows of typesets. There were boxes of wide newspaper made of all sorts of material, including seaweed. Harry laughed in excitement. 

“This is going to be brilliant,” Draco breathed, spinning around and around in the room. His eyes were gleaming. This would be good for him, Harry thought suddenly. 

“Look, manuals,” Hermione said excitedly, finding a row of books on a low shelf. “Oh, perfect—for newspapers exactly!” 

“I’ll write my father for advice,” said Luna, drifting over to the press. “He’ll know tricks that aren’t in any books.” 

“We need a name,” Draco said. “A brilliant name.” 

“The Liberator,” suggested Hermione.

“The Walnut,” was Luna’s suggestion.

“The Changing Times,” said Draco. 

Hermione pinned a piece of parchment to the door and wrote: NAMES, with all their suggestions under it. “We’ll let Limmy decide,” she said, and that was that. 

A piece of paper pinned to a wall, with the three suggested newspaper names scrawled onto it

“We need a name,” Draco said. “A brilliant name.” 

Chapter Text

Harry found himself utterly relieved that Draco had taken lead of the newspaper, because he was busier than ever. Quidditch practice, classes, and studying took up enough time, but there was also so much communication with Ava and Araeo that he was almost as busy with emissary duties now as he had been during the summer. So he was happy enough to let Draco, Luna, and Hermione give him excited reports on their progress, and stay quite out of it himself.

But even Draco had to take a break during the week leading up to their first quidditch match. 

The morning of the match, they waited for Greg, Vince, and Tracy to walk to the great hall together in something like a funeral procession. Draco, who had been marginally more animated all week, was looking ill.

“At least you and Greg probably won’t have to play,” Tracy told him, wringing her hands. “And Harry’s a prodigy. But me and Vincent? If we mess up, that’s it!” 

Harry might have protested being called a prodigy if his stomach didn’t feel like curdled cheese. They huddled at the end of the Slytherin table together and stared at breakfast. Harry wiped the little circle of powdered sugar from his plate mechanically.

“Game day!” whooped Terrence, sliding into the middle of them. “Eat up, kids! Time to make Papa Marcus proud, or else he’ll murder us all!” Down the table, Marcus gave him the finger. Terrence began scooping eggs and toast onto their plates. Harry picked up his fork and brought a bit of egg to his lips, but couldn’t make his mouth open.

“Eat up!” Terrence urged again. “Or else you’re not playing!” 

That got a reaction. Eggs were shoved into mouths. Harry chewed his toast and it tasted of cardboard. He looked dimly up into Terrence’s face, hoping his expression said what he could not.

“Cheer up, Potter,” said Terrence, clapping him on the shoulder. “Who the hell’s gonna outfly you? Certainly not Spinnett; she’s spent the last year as a chaser. Just do what you do in practice, but let us get up a good lead first. Remember?” 

Harry nodded woodenly. Before he knew it, Draco had tight hold of his elbow and they were walking stiffly from the great hall and down to the pitch.

They changed out and spent a few minutes going over their brooms in detail. Harry found minute bends in his Nimbus’ tail to straighten.

“Right!” Marcus leapt up on a bench and put his hands on his hips. “Listen up, snakes!” Harry jolted, before remembering what the Slytherin mascot was. “Gryffindor hasn’t beat us in the last two years, and they’re certainly not going to start now. We all know half our main players are second-years. That couldn’t be helped, with so many players graduating last year. But guess what? Those second years are damn good.”

He made deep eye contact with Draco, Greg, Vince, Tracy, and Harry. “They’re good enough that us upper years don’t need to worry about making up for them—we can trust them to hold their own. We have new blood, new talent. But Gryffindor, they’re the same team they were last year, just with Spinnet as seeker—already a disadvantage, because you can’t just make a seeker out of a chaser in a few weeks of practice. So what I’m saying is … this match has been handed to us on a silver platter! Let’s go and slaughter them!” He raised his fist in the air and roared. The rest of the team joined him, and together they stampeded onto the pitch. 

The roar of sound that greeted them, and the Gryffindors as they approached from the opposite direction, was deafening. Harry actually moved with it for a moment, it was so strong. Most of the student body was in attendance, waving green or red banners, yelling cheers and insults so loudly that it was impossible to hear any of them. 

Meeting in the middle, Marcus and Oliver shook hands like they were trying to squeeze each others’ fingers off. And then Madam Hooch blew the whistle, and suddenly Harry was in the air, his body having moved quite independently of him. He was circling the pitch, opposite Alicia Spinnett. They circled the air in counterpoint, observing the drama playing out below. 

And it was drama indeed. Both teams gave as good as they got from the first instant of the play. Fred and George were demons with their bats, pulling no punches, but Vincent and Tracy were holding their own well enough, protecting Marcus, Adrian, and Terrence as they passed the quaffle. 

The teams traded possession three or four times before Harry remembered he was supposed to be looking for the snitch—but not catching it. Alicia had already been doing so, but he supposed she hadn’t spotted it yet, or the game would be over. 

Slowly, he wove his way around the pitch. The pre-match nerves had worn off, and now he was overtaken by the sheer joy of being in the air. Of course, he remembered, as he always remembered when he left the ground, he was made for this.

Slytherin scored, and then Gryffindor, as he circled like a hawk over a mouse. Then Gryffindor scored again, and he spotted the snitch.

He glanced hastily at Alicia, who caught his glance and began peering around intently. The snitch was halfway to the Slytherin goalposts, and she was sure to spot it—without further thought Harry dove straight down, and Alicia followed him. He heard Lee Jordan shouting in surprise as he swooped low and pulled up, Alicia barely managing to recover from the dive after him. He sat back as he ascended again, the snitch gone.

“Merlin, Potter,” shouted Alicia, though she was grinning. “You’re a demon on that thing!” 

His feint had emboldened Slytherin but angered Gryffindor. The aggression of the game picked up noticeably, and the twins even started sending some bludgers his way, though Tracy and Vince always managed to head them of. Gryffindor scored twice more, and then Slytherin once more, and Harry could tell Miles in goal was getting frustrated—he missed another one, with a furious shake of his head. 

And then Tracy wasn’t fast enough to stop Fred’s bludger hurtling into Adrian’s side. He went down in a flash, managing to cling on to his broom, and Madam Hooch whistled for a halt. When all feet were on the ground, she inspected the damage and ordered him off the pitch, and then Marcus, grim-face, beckoned Draco on. 

Draco looked like he was walking to his funeral. Harry came over to give him an encouraging high five, but Draco just stared at it. 

“Harry,” Marcus said, coming over to him. “Listen. We’ve had bad luck. As soon as we’re up, catch the snitch, end it early.” 

“Right,” Harry said. 

Madam Hooch whistled again, and they flew. 

It was a nightmare. Tracy’s nerves had been frayed by her earlier failure, and she missed her mark twice more. Vince was there to cover for her once, but on the other Marcus took a hit to the arm that he shook off. Slytherin scored twice and Gryffindor three times, and Draco looked so sick with nerves he was barely keeping up. 

Something had to be done. But what could Harry do? Unless … he remembered how the team had responded when he faked out Alicia. He could do that again. 

He flew slowly through the air, intent as a hawk, and Alicia tailed him. She was tailing him closely after that last feint, and it wouldn’t do her any good this time—he shot forward suddenly, as fast as his broom could go, and she hurtled behind him. He rolled himself directly in front of one of George’s oncoming bludgers, pulling up at the last second, but Alicia wasn’t as fast. She took the bludger to the leg, dropping a few feet on her broom before recovering and giving Madam Hooch the all-clear. 

She didn’t even favor him with a disgusted look; she turned her back on him and started circling anew. The Gryffindor students were booing from the stands.

But it had done the trick. Miles gave a shout of laughter, Terrence beamed at Harry, and when Adrian passed Draco the quaffle, he performed the diamond maneuver they’d drilled in practice perfectly, throwing it to Terrence, who passed it to Marcus, who lobbed it back to Draco. And Draco, swooping tightly around Cormac McLaggen, caught it with barely a touch and scored. 

Harry cheered his lungs out, and the game turned. Slytherin scored four times, and Harry started looking for the snitch in earnest. Alicia had learned her lesson and wasn’t tailing him, but she was never far away. Gryffindor was giving as good as they got, and Slytherin’s margin was narrowing—he had to find it quickly, before morale could drop again.

There.

It was hovering right over Draco’s head. 

Harry flattened himself against his Nimbus, tucked his elbows and knees, and flew. Alicia followed him with an outraged cry. Draco was a few meters over the ground, oblivious to the two arrows shooting towards him. When he finally looked up, his face was a rictus of horror. He had no time to move, but, Harry through grimly, he wouldn’t need to. Harry tucked his feet over the top of his broom, ducked his head, and shot bare centimeters over Draco, colliding with the snitch and tumbling to the ground. 

He rolled over to see Alicia had pulled up to avoid colliding with Draco, and Madam Hooch was zipping towards him. Lee Jordan was speculating wildly over the state of the snitch.

The state of the snitch was: wet. Harry coughed it out into his palms—he had nearly swallowed it—and raised it in victory. His team took a moment to realize what had happened, and then he was mobbed. Marcus, he thought, was crying. Terrence definitely was crying, yelling about his protege. His year-mates piled onto him until they all fell over. 

There were congratulations from all of his friends, even, grudgingly, Ron and the twins, and then a party in Slytherin. By that point Harry, though still elated, was overwhelmed and sick of people, and after the third time he was wingardium leviosa’d above the crowd, he’d had enough. Draco had already slipped away at some point, and he felt no guilt in doing the same.

He went to the owlery, fizzing with joy, and cuddled Hedwig while he wrote Sirius a letter. 

green sprout

Letter sent, he could have gone back to the common room. It was late, and he was tired. But he was still awake from the euphoria of the match, and so he decided to try to solve a mystery that had been on his mind for a while. 

He went to the library, sneaking silently to the desks, and tucked himself into a nook. He conjured his elflight and removed the invisibility cloak from his bag. 

On the hem of the cloak, there were embroidered words that wrapped all the way around, in a language he had never seen. In fact, they were letters he had never seen. There seemed to be three separate rows of words: the first, highest row, simply had one word, repeated. The next two rows had what he thought were repeated phrases.

He decided to focus on just the first row—surely he could find out what one word meant. Laying the invisibility cloak out on the table, he rifled in his bag for a piece of parchment. But he didn’t have any—he had given Ron his last scroll during potions.

All he had was a small black book. 

He hesitated, hand hovering over the journal. Then he pulled it out, put it gently on the table, and opened it slowly.

It reeked. He closed his mouth to its magic, breathing hard through his nose. This thing, whatever it was, was utterly putrid to its core.

And also, the pages were blank. 

Ginny had been writing in it quite fervently. What had happened to her notes? He flipped through quickly, searching for any sign of ink, and found none. 

He took his quill and inkwell out and gingerly dipped his pen. He hesitated for a long moment over the page. 

But he wanted to know.

Glancing at the first border of words on his cloak, he wrote the repeated word carefully: áwere. He drew the quill back quickly, holding his breath.

Nothing happened for a long moment. And then áwere was gone, the ink soaking into the parchment, and new letters were forming: protect. 

Harry blinked, quill hovering over the book. Before he could make a move, new words formed. 

Do they teach Old English at Hogwarts now, Ginny? 

Harry’s eyes widened, heart quickening. Hurriedly, he lowered his quill again, intent on learning as much as possible. Who’s Ginny? 

There was a long pause. And then: No-one. My old owner. Who are you? 

I’m Snake.

Hello, Snake. Are you studying Old English? 

Is that what áwere is? 

It means ‘I protect.’  

Harry bit his lip. This was not something to be fooled with. But he also wanted very badly to know what his cloak said. The thought of a book that could translate anything, even if it was evil …

Can you do longer sentences? 

Try me.

Looking from journal to cloak, Harry scribbled down the second border, a short repeated phrase.

It says ‘No will over mine.’

There was just one more phrase, the longest. 

It says ‘I hide my wearer from all things, even death my maker.’ 

Harry caught his breath, staring at the cloak. Hidden from death? Just like the story of the three brothers. 

What interesting phrases you have, Snake. Where did you find them? 

A book, Harry wrote quickly. From the restricted section.

A student after my own heart. Tell me, what can hide one from death? I’d like to know

It’s talking about a ring, lied Harry, but the ring was lost.

Ah, well. Say, Snake, I’ve been lonely lately. Will you promise to talk to me more? I know lots of things, more than Old English. 

I can do that, wrote Harry. What’s your name? 

My name is Tom. Tom Riddle. 

Harry’s vision tilted, and his hand shook. He forced himself to write one more sentence. Nice to meet you, Tom. I have to go back to the dormitory now.

Sleep well, Snake.

Harry closed the diary, feeling bile rise to his throat. He put his head on the desk, fists clenching desperately in his invisibility cloak. 

Tom Riddle.

TomRiddleTomRiddleTomRiddle. 

Voldemort. 

An open journal rests on a purple cloak. On a page of the journal is written the words: "Sleep well, Snake."

Chapter Text

Harry got absolutely zero sleep that night and showed up to breakfast more zombie-like than Draco, which, lately, was saying something. He brushed his powdered-sugar circle from his plate feeling like the world was tilting under him. 

Tom Riddle Tom Riddle Tom Riddle Tom Riddle 

He had to go to the basilisk. He couldn’t go to the basilisk. He had to. He could not. He had to— 

“Harry!” said Daphne loudly. “For Merlin’s sake, your owl!” 

Harry jerked his gaze from his empty plate to Hedwig, who was picking at his hair. She had a forest scroll attached to her leg, and he took it and let her peck at some bacon while he tried to read it through bloodshot eyes.

Heartkin,

Don’t write one more word in that thing. I know you want to. I know you think you can learn from it. You may even be right. But it is not worth the risk.

Get rid of it. Get rid of it today. 

In this, trust my judgment. 

A

It was the shortest letter Araeo had ever written him, and its contents shocked him awake. Araeo was right. He hadn’t even realized he’d been contemplating writing further in the journal, to find out about the basilisk’s eggs, about the curse … but he would do as Araeo wished, because that phrase, ‘trust my judgment,’ was a code of sorts between them. He knew what Araeo had gone through to receive his judgment. When Araeo invoked it, Harry listened. 

green sprou

But it would have to wait, because during lunch he was hustled into Myrtle’s bathroom by two redheads. 

“Snake!” wailed the twin he decided was Fred. 

“I mean we knew you were a prodigy, but come on!” moaned the twin he decided was George. 

“And that was a rotten trick with Alicia,” said Fred, but he winked. 

“This is just like old times!” said Myrtle excitedly, erupting from the sink drain in a million tiny silver threads that knit quickly back together into a girl. 

“Except better,” said George, “because you actually leave your toilet now.” 

“Anyway, Snake, we have something for you!” 

Harry hopped up on the sink beside Myrtle. “You do?” 

Fred nodded. “As you know, we are amateur—” 

“—for now!” said George.

“—inventors.” 

Harry nodded. He did know this. He had seen a few things the twins had invented over the years, had even used them once or twice. 

“So all we ask is that you give us feedback,” said Fred, producing a lumpy bag. 

“Pretty please?” said George, eyelashes fluttering. 

Harry giggled. “What even is it?” 

The twins rifled through the bag, pulling things out to show him. “This one makes your tongue grow. This one makes a room dark. This one makes you puke. This one makes you feel like you’re being tickled. And this one makes glitter!” 

“Supposedly,” said George. “Please add ‘supposedly’ to all of the above.” 

“And take notes, if you could, on their use,” added Fred, shoving the bag at him. “Great, thanks!” 

Harry took the bag, laughing. “Alright, alright.” 

“Do you all want to play a game?” Myrtle asked. 

They did. By the end of the hour they had exhausted themselves playing a bastard game of catch and broom-less quidditch and tag. It was a miracle Myrtle’s toilet was in one piece. 

“We heard you met Sirius Black,” panted Fred, lying on the floor. 

“Was he very murder-y?” asked George. 

“Well … a little,” said Harry, remembering Sirius’ haunted eyes. “But he was nice too. We’re owling. Oh, guess what?” 

“What?”

“They made the map.” 

The twins sat up and stared at him, agog. “Who? What map? Not our map.” 

Harry nodded, grinning. “My dad was Prongs, Sirius was Padfoot, Remus Lupin’s Moony, and, er, Peter Pettigrew was Wormtail.” 

They stared at him for a long time, and then lay back down, communing silently. Harry idly tried to thumb wrestle with Myrtle while they thought it out, but she kept cheating and making her thumb incorporeal.

“Snake,” said Fred seriously, when he had lost several matches.

“Do you want it?” asked George. 

Harry looked over. They were holding the Marauder’s Map out to him, looking shockingly genuine.

“Oh—no,” Harry said. He smiled at them. “No, you keep it. Until … until you graduate. Then I’ll take it. But I don’t need it now.” He couldn’t imagine prying the map from the twins. They would be able to make so much less mischief. Harry didn’t even like mischief much; they were the proper users of the map, at least for now. 

“Thanks, Titch,” said George.

“We’re touched,” said Fred, grinning. 

“Snake, what’s this in your bag?” asked Myrtle. 

Harry looked around in alarm. Myrtle was holding the diary. 

Myrtle was holding the diary, and something was happening to her. 

“Sn—Snake?” she said waveringly. Her whole form was wavering. She lost her ghostly attributes: her hair stopped floating, her pupils shrank, her fingers shortened. She became a ghost-like girl, not a girl-like ghost. 

“Myrtle, give me that,” said Harry urgently. 

But Myrtle was no longer sitting on the floor. She was at the sink, diary in one hand, the other fluffing at her pigtails. She giggled, smiling at her reflection, and it was the most eerie thing Harry had ever seen her do.

“Myrtle?” called Fred nervously. 

“What’s going on?” whispered George. The three of them scrambled up, pressed close together.

Myrtle’s head twitched to the door, as if she’d heard something the three of them couldn’t. “Hello?” Her voice was so present. She responded to something only she heard. “Oh, sure—come in, Tom! I was just coming to meet you.” 

She faced the door, fidgeting with her collar, that diary still clutched in her hand. She tilted her head and smiled at the ghost of a ghost. “Oh—you look nice.” She pressed her lips together. “Yes, just let me—” she turned back to the mirror. 

And she turned to stone.

At least that’s what it seemed like. She went so rigid not even her pupils moved. That silly grin was etched on her lips. Her girlish hand was clenched around that diary. 

She’d died, and she hadn’t even screamed. 

“What in Merlin’s name,” hissed George. 

And Myrtle unfroze. She blinked once at her reflection and smiled, fluffing her pigtails. She giggled and smiled at her reflection, and then her head twitched toward the door. “Hello?” 

Harry came out of his horrified stupor. He dashed forward and pulled the diary from Myrtle’s grip, hurling it into a corner. Immediately, she jolted, her whole form fuzzing and twitching and going pure white then pure black. When she came to, she was sobbing on the floor, viscous black tears streaming from her eyes and puddling around her knees.

Harry fell to the ground in front of her and wrapped her in a hug, rocking her frantically back and forth. “I’m sorry, Myrtle, I’m sorry,” he sobbed. Her fingers were knives in his shoulder blades, her breath freezing across his neck. 

Then Fred and George were there too, tentatively sinking down beside them. “Hey, now,” said Fred.

“Hush, Myrtle,” said George. “It’s all right.” 

“You’re with us,” said Fred. 

“Nothing like that will ever happen again.” 

“We swear.” 

green sprou

I need a place to hide something. I need a place to hide something. I need a place to hide something. 

Mood positively putrid, Harry paced in front of that blank stretch of wall, twisting his braid between his hands. That thing was in his bag, and he felt it like a burning coal. 

When he looked up, a door had appeared. He sighed in relief; he’d been unsure if it would work. But it seemed the come-and-go room had more uses than newspaper headquarters. 

Opening the door, he had to stop in pure astonishment. Everywhere, everywhere, there was stuff. There were portraits and mirrors and desks and books and papers and clothes and cabinets and stuffed troll heads and tiaras and plants and cushions and stones and pieces of wands and vials of liquid and more, stretching on and on and on. 

Harry couldn’t think of a better place to hide something. Which, he supposed, was the point.

Wandering down the isles, he stopped occasionally to inspect things. He found a small crystal hexagon with a perfect bee encased inside. He cracked open a box to find a bundle of love letters so personal he had to put them down immediately, blushing scarlet. Inside a cabinet hung a single, hauntingly beautiful red dress. 

Nowhere seemed safe enough, but eventually he would have to come back for it. He finally settled on a chest of drawers stuffed with old lacy underwear. He shoved the diary in unceremoniously and marked his place by draping a huge pink duvet over a three-legged stool and putting it on top of the drawers. For good measure he put a sparkling jade lamp on top of that and stuck several large peacock feathers and a giant branch of blood-red berries through the lampshade. 

Walking back to the entrance, he paused every few yards to make sure he could still see the marker. Then he left the room and let the door fade into nothingness behind him, feeling a thousand pounds lighter.

Chapter Text

“It’s getting chillier out, isn’t it Harry?” 

“Yeah.”

“You’re frowning. You don’t like the cold?” 

Harry shrugged and tried to put into words how he felt about the cold. Since they had resumed meetings every other Sunday, Healer Aster, Lobelia, had been asking him to try to articulate his thoughts more. 

Lobelia took a deep breath of the October wind as it whipped leaves past them. Harry used the moment to find words.

“I don’t know,” he finally said. So much of what he said to Lobelia started with those words … but she said it didn’t matter, what mattered was that he tried at all. “I don’t know. I used to not like the cold, I think, because I was cold very often …” 

“How long ago was this?”

Harry shrugged. “With the Dursleys.” 

“I see. Then it would make sense to associate them with the cold, if you were unable to get warm when you lived with them.” 

Harry nodded. “But I have good memories of the cold now. I traveled to my home when it was cold. I celebrate winter holidays with my friends. So I shouldn’t mind it anymore, I don’t think.” 

Lobelia hummed and twirled a brilliant red leaf between her fingers. Today they were strolling around the castle, scarves tucked into their coats, breath frosting the air. “Not necessarily,” she said. “When things happen to us when we are very little, we feel their impacts for longer, and in deeper ways. Simply building new happy memories with the cold doesn’t erase the long, hard winters before. Do you understand what I mean?” 

“I do,” Harry said. “Do you like the cold?” 

“I love the cold,” said Lobelia. She spread her arms open and smiled into the breeze. “It makes me feel alive. What makes you feel alive?” 

“Flying,” Harry said immediately. Lobelia grinned—he had already taken up time during several meetings to talk about quidditch. “Exploring the for—er, exploring my home. And being with my best friends. ” 

“These are your classmates?” 

Harry kicked the dirt a bit as they wandered past Gryffindor tower. “No. My real—I mean my friends at home.” 

“Nova, Star, and Lemon?” These were the code names they had decided on for Harry’s friends, because he was unwilling to share their names with her.

“Yeah.” 

“What sets them apart from your friends at school?” 

Harry sighed. “Because I can be myself around them. I can be ... real.” 

“Ah.” 

They walked in silence for a few moments. Harry gazed up at the glorious white clouds, forming cake tiers in the sky. 

“I know you have important secrets, Harry,” said Lobelia eventually. “And I respect that you don’t feel you can tell them to me or your friends. But there is more to who you are than your secrets. You are not just secret things. For example, I feel that you are yourself around me. I feel that I see Harry Potter: a bright, wonderful, talented young boy who is infinitely curious, clever, and loyal to those he loves. I might not see your secrets, and I do not want to, not until you want to tell me, but I do see you. Why should it be any different for your friends, who see you every day?” 

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” Harry admitted. “All I think about is what I can’t tell them.” 

“I want you to work on something while we are apart,” said Lobelia. “Every time you think of yourself as two people—a false you at school and a real you at home—I want you to consider why you believe that. If you remember later, write it down.” 

“Alright,” said Harry. “I’ll try.” 

They passed behind the greenhouses, and Harry strained for a glimpse of Limmy inside, though he knew she was not working this afternoon.

“Do you feel like we can move on?” asked Lobelia. “After all, we still have the letter to discuss.” 

Harry dug into his pocket and pulled out the letter. Severus had only given it to him two days ago, but already he had folded and unfolded it so many times that there were deep creases going across. 

To Mr. H. Potter,
Hogwarts Castle Ward 

This is a courtesy notice informing you that a Ministry representative will be arriving at the Hogwarts castle on 19 October to ensure the satisfactory nature of the conditions of your wardship. Please expect the Ministry representative at 6 o’clock in the evening.

“So,” Lobelia said, blowing out a huge breath. “Let’s first talk about how this makes you feel.” 

green branch

Harry’s grades teetered in October, in Transfiguration and DADA. Usually he did fairly well in DADA, but Lockheart was simply unbearable. He, Draco, and Daphne took to sitting in the back of class and reading during the lessons. Well, Daphne and he read. Draco just put his head down. 

As precarious as Harry’s scores were at the moment, they were nothing compared to Draco’s, which had simply plummeted. He had been called to several teacher meetings, but it hardly made a difference, because he wasn’t studying at all. He spent his free time either in the Come and Go Room obsessively learning about newspaper making, or in bed. 

So it was just Daphne and Harry who made their way down to Hagrid’s hut one evening after dinner, and that was fine. Harry liked Daphne a lot. Almost as much as his real friends. 

Oops. He stopped, and Daphne pulled up beside him. He scrabbled a piece of parchment from his bag.

“What are you doing?” Daphne asked with interest.

“It’s something for Lobelia,” murmured Harry. “She said I’m to write down whenever I think of myself as two people.” 

“Two people?” Daphne asked, amused. “What, Harry and Barry?” 

He scuffed his foot. “No. Fake Harry and ... and real Harry. Because sometimes it feels like … like this isn’t my real life. Like it doesn’t matter, because I’m not real Harry when I’m here.” 

“Are you real Harry around Star?” Daphne asked, sounding subdued. Harry nodded. She frowned. “Is it something I’m doing? That you can’t be real Harry around me?” 

Harry shook his head, biting his lip. Don’t lie, don’t lie, he thought. Just be honest. “It’s me,” he told her. “There are lots of things I can’t tell you about my life. And it’s been making me feel like only the secret part of me is real.” 

Daphne hugged him. He tucked his face in her shoulder and squeezed her. “Listen,” she said fiercely. “I don’t care about your dumb secrets. Tell them to me or not. But you’re one of my best friends in the world, and you’re real, okay? And I’ll remind you as often as you need.”

“Okay,” he said, feeling warm to his toes in the cold fall air.

green branch

“Brave hearts, Mr. Potter, are not only for Gryffindors,” said Minerva. 

“Yes, professor.” Head down, he was shepherded between her and Severus towards the headmaster’s office. “I don’t want to do this again.” 

Severus put a hand on his shoulder. “We do not want you to have to, Mr. Potter. Just … do what you did last time, and you should be fine. Remember, you are not in this alone.” 

But it was not to be like last time. For come to see Harry was not a ministry lackey like Mr. Welch, but Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge himself. 

Minerva and Severus closed in front of him the moment they walked in the room and saw who was there—a nervous-looking man with a frown on his small lips, standing imperiously in the middle of the room. Two aurors flanked him. One was Kingsley Shacklebolt, and the other was a woman Harry didn’t recognize. Fawkes was in the corner, mature and lovely, blinking slowly in greeting at Harry. 

“Severus, Minerva, Mr. Potter,” said Dumbledore. “May I introduce you to Minister Fudge.” Dumbledore himself was behind his desk, tea in hand. “Please, let’s all sit.” 

“And why should two Hogwarts professors be party to our conversation, Headmaster Dumbledore?” asked Fudge in a nasally voice. 

“I am the boy’s guardian, and Minerva is deputy headmistress,” snapped Severus. “I believe we should be asking, in fact, what business two aurors have in a meeting regarding a student’s custody.” 

Fudge went pink. “It is the right of the minister to enlist aurors in matters of personal security.” 

“And do you feel your person insecure?” Severus drawled. 

Fudge went from pink to raspberry, and Kingsley coughed into his elbow.

“That’s quite enough,” said Dumbledore mildly. “Everyone, sit.”

Everyone sat. Severus and Minerva conspired to move Harry as far from Fudge as possible, so that they were on opposite ends of the desk. The aurors remained standing, though Dumbledore floated them cups of tea. Kingsley smiled at Harry. Dumbledore opened a tin of biscuits. Only Minerva took one.

“Well, Harry,” said Fudge, apparently deciding to address him directly and forget everyone else. “You’ve given us all quite the run around, haven’t you?” 

“Have I?” Harry asked mildly, wondering how much trouble he would be in for telling the Minister not to call him ‘Harry.’

“Oh, now.” Fudge gave a deep, fake chuckle, smoothing his hair back from his forehead. “I’m sure you think you’ve been doing the right thing, Harry, but you’ve actually been making quite a bit of trouble for us!” He grinned, like Harry was in on a joke. “And it’s time for it to stop now, what do you say?” 

Harry clutched his teacup and made himself blink exaggeratedly several times. “Trouble? I don’t understand, Minister.” 

Fudge smiled patronizingly. “All this hiding business,” he said. “Secret keeping. I know you think you’ve been helping us, is that right? But you can trust me. I’m the Minister for Magic, after all. So out with it, my boy.” 

 Harry hesitated. “Out with what?” 

Fudge’s smile slipped. Severus shifted slightly in his seat. “Well, where you’ve been, of course!” he said jovially. “I’m sure you know it’s a matter of great debate and importance!” 

“I didn’t know that,” Harry said. “Why?” 

“Why! Why, because you’re Harry Potter!” 

“So?” 

“So! So what we have here is a matter of national security, Harry.”

“We do? Why?” Harry felt Minerva’s gaze flicking to him approvingly. 

Fudge grimaced, and Harry knew he had cottoned on to his strategy. “No more questions, Harry, only answers. If you answer my questions, I’ll answer any you have, afterwards. Now, tell me. Where have you been?” 

Harry gripped his cup. Severus discretely cast a warming spell on it, and the heat flowed from his fingers to his heart. He could do this. He had practiced. He could do this.

He blinked widely at the Minister. “I’ve been with my family.”

“And where, Harry, is your family?” 

“They’re at home.” 

“And where is home?” 

“Oh! You want to know where home is?” 

Fudge’s face brightened a bit. “Yes, Harry, very much.” 

Harry bit his lip. “Er, well, I don’t know.” 

He hated lying, but even Lobelia agreed that this was a time for it. In the interests of his mental health and creating a stable environment, of course. He played the dumbest he had ever played as Fudge became redder and redder, and angry enough that Severus and Minerva had to remind him quite severely of his tone several times. 

After forty-five minutes, the minister had had enough. He sprang from his chair and stalked to the fireplace, seizing the floo powder. “Mr. Potter,” he snarled, as the aurors hurriedly set down their teacups. “You can play as obtuse as you like, but you can’t do it forever.” 

“Are you threatening a castle ward, minister?” growled Severus. 
 
Fudge’s lip curled. “Who in the world would do such a thing? Goodbye, Dumbledore.” And he swept regally into the fireplace and disappeared. 

“Goodbye, Albus,” said Shacklebolt, more courteously. “May the next time we meet be happier.” 

“I suspect it will be, Kingsley,” said Dumbledore. 

The moment they were gone, Harry put his teacup down. His hands were shaking so violently that Severus noticed and took them, rubbing them between his. “Good job, Mr. Potter,” he murmured. “Good job.” 

“Pay no mind to that man’s empty threats,” Minerva told him sternly. “There is nothing he can do to you beyond what he is already doing. And that is little enough.” 

Dumbledore pulled a tin from within his desk, eyes twinkling. “Lemon drop?” 

“Sure,” Harry said, and let the tart sweetness bring him back to himself. 

green branch

Halloween settled cold over the castle, encompassing Harry in a fog. Even Draco roused a bit to try to warm him, but there was nothing for it: Harry drifted. 

Severus excused him from the feast, perhaps expecting him to sleep. But there was only one place Harry wanted to be. 

“Myrtle?” 

“Hello, Snake.” 

Harry crept into the toilet. Myrtle was sitting under the sink, head on her knees. Her hair was meters and meters long, fanning out across the floor. Harry tried not to step on it, but it was impossible. He crawled up beside her and leaned against her side. She put a cold arm around him. 

“You haven’t been to dinner in a while,” he said. 

She shrugged. Wormy guilt trickled down his spine. 

“I’m really sorry,” he said. “It’s my fault that it happened. I knew that diary was horrible, and I kept it anyway.” 

“It’s not your fault,” she said, voice cold and distant. “It’s his. Tom Riddle. He is a ruiner.” 

A ruiner. The word made Harry tremble. But she was right. Everything that Tom Riddle touched, he ruined. He had killed Myrtle. He had cursed the basilisk and its eggs. He had exiled Hagrid and Aragog. He had wounded a unicorn.

He had killed Harry’s parents. On this day, eleven years ago. Tom Riddle had ruined his parents and tried to ruin him too.

Harry started gathering up some of Myrtle’s hair and braiding it. She sat there in silence while he picked his way through it all, until she had two extremely long braids. When he finished, she pulled them over her shoulders and giggled softly. 

“Don’t let him keep ruining,” Harry said fervently. “Don’t let him haunt you.” 

“You’re right,” she said. “I’m the one who haunts. No-one haunts me.” 

“Come down to the feast?” 

“Yeah. Yeah, let’s go.”

Harry sits under a sink, braiding Myrtle's hair. Myrtle has her face on her knees.

"He is a ruiner."

Chapter Text

Dear Griphook,

Happy winter! What holidays do you celebrate? I celebrate the holidays of whoever I’m with! My favorite is Iceglow. 

I don’t know the Gobbledegook word for Iceglow, do you? I hope I can come for tea again someday, and meet your partner and aunt. Maybe Hagrid can come too. But I think Severus secretly enjoyed himself. 

Here is a holiday gift for you: a coral bracelet that I made. I hope you like it. 

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November went by very quickly, and also as slowly as possible.

Harry pushed his grades back up through sheer force of will.

Slytherin won two more quidditch matches and lost a third. 

Draco, Luna, and Hermione became students only secondarily, and newspaper editors first and foremost. 

Harry and Limmy had twice-a-week meetings in the owlery as Harry played intermediary between four peoples. 

Every morning, there was a circle of powdered sugar on his plate.

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Dear Sirius and Remus,

I hope you both are well. I am sending your winter presents—what holidays do you celebrate?—a bit early. If you have anything for me, please don’t send it until school starts again. I hope you like them, they are bracelets made from thestral hair. I am pretty sure you will both be able to see them. 

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“Mr. Potter.” 

“Hi.” 

Severus looked at him in askance. “Hello. Join me in my office?” 

“Sure. Bye, Daphne.” Daphne waved to him and continued on to the common room as Harry followed Severus to his office. He hopped into his favorite armchair and made himself comfortable while Severus prepared some mint tea, passing him a mug. 

“You are looking well lately, Mr. Potter.” 

Harry grinned at him. “Thanks.” 

“I take it Healer Aster is of adequate support?” 

Harry nodded furiously. “She’s great. You should talk to her.” 

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Oh, should I?” 

“Yes! I think everyone should, actually. I always feel better after talking to her. Well, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I feel bad. But it’s a good bad.”

“A good bad.” Severus took a sip of his tea, lips quirked. 

“Yes,” said Harry stubbornly, tucking his feet up under him. “If I feel bad, it’s because I did something hard. Like how you feel about doing really difficult magic.” 

“Ah,” said Severus. “So when you say you feel ‘bad,’ you mean you feel drained?” 

Harry nodded. “Yeah. Really tired, and sort of all wrung out.” 

“I have spoken to Healer Aster, as a matter of fact.” 

“You have?” 

Severus blew steam across his teacup. “Indeed. I shared with her one of my worries: that you would once again disappear over winter holiday.” 

Harry tensed up, frowning. “Lobelia wouldn’t talk about me to you. She said so.” 

“She did not lie,” said Severus. “In fact, she told me very clearly that your sessions are entirely confidential, and encouraged me to put my worries to you directly. So here I am. Mr. Potter, I am worried that you will once again disappear over winter holiday.” 

Harry sat there and stared at him. He didn’t know how to respond. “Alright,” he finally said. 

Severus breathed out, the barest hint of a laugh. “Alright,” he said. “There. I have expressed my concern. Now, I suppose, there is nothing to do but wait.” 

“I suppose,” agreed Harry. He thought for a moment. “Um, Se—uh, professor?”

“Yes, Mr. Potter?” 

Harry tugged gently at his braid. “I’m safe, you know. When I go home? I’m not in danger. Is that why you’re worried?”

“I suppose that’s part of it,” Severus said. “And I am glad to hear that.”  

“What are the other parts?” 

Severus sighed, tapping his fingers slowly against his leg. “Well, I suppose I fear you will choose not to return to Hogwarts for the spring.”

Harry looked up at him in surprise. “You do?” 

Severus nodded. 

“Oh, I—I wouldn’t do that,” said Harry, a tad guilty, thinking of his constant desire that summer to not return to school. “I have friends here. I have things to learn.” 

“Good,” said Severus. “It eases my worry slightly to hear that, Mr. Potter.” 

“And even if I didn’t, didn’t come back, I wouldn’t just disappear,” Harry burst out. “Just so you know.” 

“I see. That is good to know.” 

Harry teetered on the edge of telling Severus something more substantial. What could he say? That even if he didn’t return to school, he would still be at the school? It was moot, anyway, because he would come back to school. 

“I hope you can meet my aunts one day,” he said abruptly, settling on something in the middle.

“Your aunts?” Severus’ eyes were wide. Harry had never told him any detail about his life outside school, no matter how small. “You have aunts?” 

“Yes,” Harry said. “Do you … can I tell you about them?” 

“Of course,” said Severus, mouth hanging slightly open. 

“I have three,” Harry said carefully. “Cass, Lyla, and Xena. Xena is an artist, Lyla manages, um, pollution, and Cass is a writer.” 

Severus was holding very still, as if he would scare Harry away if he moved too fast. “What does Cass write about?”

“Mostly history ….” 

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Heartkin,

Do not come to me over your holiday. I know, it breaks my heart too. But you will be needed at the castle. You have time to go underwater, but do not tarry there long past Iceglow. I will see you … after.

Oh, but did I tell you about the most amazing thing I saw the other day? Mother and I were on a walk when I heard a rustling near the brook ....

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The morning of winter holiday, Draco got out of bed looking positively haggard. He packed his trunk as if in a stupor. He put on trousers, not jeans, for the first time all semester. He carefully left all of his rainbow moon badges in his bedside drawer. 

Then he sat on his bed and put his head in his hands.

The other boys cast him worried looks as the filed out, and Harry deliberately loitered until he and Draco were alone. Then he went and sat beside Draco on the bed.

“Draco?” he asked softly.

Draco’s breathing was unsteady, but he wasn’t crying. He was simply staring at the ground, lips parted, cheeks pale.

“Draco,” Harry said. “I just want you to know. I’m so proud to call you my friend.” 

There was a flurry of movement, and then Draco was clinging to him. “I’m scared,” he whispered. “More scared than that night in the forest, and that’s the most scared I’ve ever been.” 

“I’m scared too,” Harry said quietly. He squeezed Draco as tightly as he could. “Be careful.” 

“You too.” Draco took a deep breath and straightened up, rubbing at his head. “Okay. Okay. Harry?”

“Yeah?” 

“I’m scared but I’m going to do it anyway.” 

“I know. I trust you.”

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There was one more thing to do, before he could no longer move freely about the castle. In a few minutes he had to be seen heading towards the train station, and perform the complex magic of throwing the professors off his trail.

But for now, he paced in front of an empty stretch of wall, back and forth, back and forth, three times. 

I need the room of hidden things. I need the room of hidden things. I need the room of hidden things.

There was that peculiar door, blossoming from stone. He got his bearings as he went in, relieved to see that the room had not moved—there, in the distance, he could see his feather-marker. 

Twisting and turning through the dark, endless room, he finally came to the chest of drawers and delicately removed the diary from under lacy red langere, his hands covered in an old pair of socks. He set the diary down into a spare cloak, which he wrapped tightly around it, and placed it carefully in his bag. 

He left the room of hidden things feeling as though he was carrying a bomb. He couldn’t taste the foul magic of the book while it was closed, but he imagined he could feel it creeping and crawling against his skin.

He dashed down to the entrance hall, where students were being ushered down to the waiting carriages. Severus, Minerva, and Filius were all watching the process like hawks. 

Severus saw him immediately as he dashed into a gaggle of Weasleys. “Potter!” he shouted. “Stop right there!”

“Here, Titch, what’s this?” asked one of the twins, laughing.

“Coming to the Burrow?” asked the other. 

“Hide me!” he hissed, and they didn’t question him, though Ron and Percy and Ginny were making confused noises. The twins swept him down the steps, ensconced between them as he pulled the invisibility cloak over himself. “Thanks,” he whispered, and darted back up the steps just as Severus stormed into the pack of siblings, finding no-one. 

He crept back to Myrtle’s toilet, where he had hidden his trunk. It was empty: he had warned Myrtle away, lest the diary hurt her further. He seized his trunk, opened the sink, and plunged into the dark as quickly as possible. Only when he was several minutes into the tunnels, levitating his trunk in front of him, did he pull the hood of the cloak from his head. 

“Thank you, Áwere,” he whispered, as he had taken to saying after using his cloak. After all, the embroidered words had said “I protect.” Surely that implied personhood. 

He ran through the tunnels as quickly as possible, finally arriving in the basilisk’s hall with a cry of delight. “Basilisk!” he called. “Basilisk! I’m home!” 

“Snakeheart!” The basilisk came from behind him, from the network of tunnels beyond the hall, and he spun and threw himself on its nose, hugging it close. “I am so glad to see you, so glad!” 

He grinned, teary-eyed, and placed kisses along the scales under its eyes. “I missed you too,” he said. “I have so much to tell you!”

Chapter Text

“Ready?” asked the basilisk. Its head lay in the middle of the hall, its body coiled up the walls, and the very tip of its tail draped over Harry’s shoulder. “Show me.” 

Harry took a deep breath, and placed on the ground, next to his glowing rock, a bundled robe which he would never wear again. He used his wand to flip the robe back, revealing the diary. 

The basilisk hissed and recoiled, pulling Harry back with its tail. “Disgusting,” it said, eyes narrowing. 

“You can smell it?” Harry asked. “I can’t until it’s open.” 

“You have but a human nose,” said the basilisk. 

“Hey! I smell better than every human I know!” 

“And you should take pride in it. But I know the world through scent. And that book is repugnant.” 

“I’ll have to open it,” said Harry regretfully. “Let me go.” Reluctantly, the basilisk relaxed its tail, and Harry edged forward and, using the tip of his wand again, flipped open the cover.

At once the basilisk let out a hiss like a scream, sweeping its tail in front of Harry. “I’ll kill him!” it roared, venom dripping from its fangs. “Riddle! I will eradicate him!” And it lunged.

“NO!” Harry shouted. He seized the basilisk’s tail and some sort of magic went from him into its body, something unconscious that didn’t do anything so much as it said something, something the basilisk listened to. It stopped inches from the diary, a drop of venom splashing down beside it and burning a hole through Harry’s robe, and corroding the flagstones below it with a hiss. 

“Why,” said the basilisk, speech slurred with anger, “why should I not, why, why—” 

“Because,” gasped Harry, clutching its tail as if he was the only thing holding it back, “it speaks. There’s a piece of him in there and it’s sapient, and if it’s sapient, then it can dispel its curse.” 

The basilisk collapsed around him, coils falling one after the other with resounding booms, enclosing the both of them within its body, “Of course,” breathed the basilisk, its golden eyes starting into Harry’s, thousands of miles deep. “Snakeheart, of course. My children, my children, at last.” 

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They spent two weeks tearing through the books in Salazar’s room. From the moment Harry woke to the moment he fell asleep, he urged the basilisk to stick its head through the demolished door to Sal’s chamber and listen as he read aloud, for hours at a time, anything that could be useful. 

But Sal had collected hundreds of books, and the basilisk did not read human writing, and so they were forced to go at the pace of Harry’s research. He read until his throat grew ragged, until the basilisk physically dragged him from the room and forced him to eat or drink or sleep. 

A great and terrible hope had consumed him, which he had not allowed himself to feel until that moment with the basilisk. There was hope. This book was the key. This terrible, awful book, which contained a piece of a ruiner, would be their salvation. 

The book itself was wrapped in his robe again, stowed on a makeshift shelf of rubble in the den. He and the basilisk had lifted pieces of stone over it to cover it, but the basilisk said it could still feel the thing’s putrid magic, and forced Harry to sleep curled up in its tail, as far from the book as possible.

“I’m not going to Ava’s,” Harry murmured, as he scanned through the table of contents of Deepest Secrets of the Darkest Arts. “There’s no time.” 

“What utter nonsense,” snorted the basilisk. “As if you have no duties beyond your pleasure.” 

Harry flushed. It wasn’t often the basilisk reprimanded him, but when it did it was direct and effective. “Right,” he muttered. 

“Snakeheart.” The basilisk nudged him affectionately with his nose. “While you are gone I will travel into the deeps and see what my friends, should I find them, make of this new opportunity. For that is what it is: an opportunity, not a problem. The book will be safer here than anywhere in the world. And you must not sit here reading any longer, or I fear for your soul. You are not a machine. You are a living being. A living child, which I so often forget, because your life sparks with such vibrancy I mistake it for one of my kindred. Go to your aunts and cousins. There is strife close behind and close ahead, but now is the time to let yourself fly free. Now put that book down.” 

Reluctantly inspired, Harry closed the book and leaned his head against the basilisk. His eyes did sting quite a bit.

“Have you wrapped your Iceglow gifts?” 

“No,” Harry admitted. 

“Go on. Pack your things. And perhaps think of an excuse for not answering all those letters that have built up in the river over the past two weeks.” 

“Oops.” 

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“SNAKE!” shrieked Ava.

“Shh! Ava, shh!” Harry giggled, crouching, naked except for his invisibility cloak, beside the half-frozen lake in the middle of the night. “Give me the diver’s breath, come on, I’m freezing!” 

Smiling with all her teeth, she tossed him the slimy plant and he gulped it down, trying to ignore the rubbery texture. It took a few minutes of shivering for it to take effect, wherein Ava entertained him by performing leaps and flips and he tried not to laugh too loudly. And then his stomach started to tickle madly as his gills grew, webs formed between his fingers, and his skin began to feel very, very dry. He slipped into the freezing water with a sigh of relief, sinking down to peer at Ava through new, double-lidded eyes. 

“SNAKE!” she shrieked in Mermish, catapulting forward and hugging him so hard they sank several meters in the water. “SNAKE! SNAKE! Tides, I’ve missed you!” She gave him a smacking kiss on the forehead. “My mothers have been talking about you nonstop. And Samba’s been all around me about why you haven’t been answering her letters!” 

“Er,” Harry said guiltily. “Sorry. I got … distracted. I’ll tell you on the swim home.” 

“Come on! Oh, and here, for tide’s sake.” She giggled and passed him one of his tail wraps, a deep amber garment that he tied around his waist. It floated out past his legs, giving the impression of a tail. 

“Wait, wait, I want to try something,” he said. His invisibility cloak was surprisingly light under the water, though it was heavy and warm on land. It swirled around him in its own eddy. When Ava was watching, he flipped the hood up.

Ava’s jaw dropped, which was a sight in itself—her mouth opened far more than a human’s jaw could. “Snake?” she whispered. “What in the name of the current …?” 

“Wicked,” Harry breathed, putting the hood down. “This is Áwere. I’ll tell you everything as we swim.” 

And tell her everything he did, except for the parts about the basilisk’s eggs, which he had sworn never to tell anyone. He told her about the diary, about the cloak and Sirius, about Draco, about a thousand other things, much of which he had already told her in his letters, but which she demanded to hear from his own lips. In return, she told him about her aunts and Parime, about Loch’s ongoing quest to erase her ancestral shame, about the progression of her apprenticeship under Samba, and a thousand other things she had mentioned in her letters but which Harry demanded to hear with his own ears. 

They arrived at Deep Light elated and exhausted—It was the middle of the night for them both, after all. Only Xara was awake to greet them, enfolding Harry in her pillowy arms, and he could have stayed there for hours. Her very smell was comforting—soft and earthy, like the seaweed thread she wove with.

Ava and he settled into their hammocks and stayed awake, talking and reminiscing and telling stories about mer aliens on Pluto until they both fell asleep, late into the morning.

Harry and Ava, soaking wet, press their cheeks together and smile

Bonus doodle of Harry and Ava, swimming buddies

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Parime and his parents, Harry's aunts’ closest relations, arrived the next afternoon, when Harry and Ava had finally dragged themselves from their hammocks to eat breakfast and work on a song they had been writing over the summer. Parime’s parents arriving also meant the arrival of Samba, as she was being courted by Parime’s parents and was spending the holiday with them.

And the arrival of Samba meant the arrival of work.

Harry was conscious of what the basilisk had said about letting himself be free, but it was hard to keep that close to his heart when Samba was holding up his pile of unopened letters with a flat look in her eyes. 

“Something really important came up,” Harry said stubbornly. “Business of the basilisk.” 

Samba’s shoulders loosened. “I suppose I can forgive it. But I am afraid to say, Ava, Sa-nek, that our holiday must be interrupted by business. We have all been summoned to Alimnion.” 

Harry’s eyes widened. Ava floated back in the water in surprise. “Snake has?” Ava asked in astonishment.

Samba nodded. “I was shocked as well. You both know Queen Celadon’s stance on humans inside the city.”

Harry more than knew it; he had experienced it. It mostly consisted of being in jail for sheer stupidity. 

“When do they go?” asked Loch, swimming into the sitting room from the kitchen.

“This afternoon,” said Samba.

Loch fixed them both with serious looks. “You had best get dressed, then.” 

And get dressed they did. Loch invaded their room and picked out their clothes: this visit to the city, they were to dress to the nines. She selected Harrys’ very best tail wrap, one threaded with glowing shells, and both he had Ava borrowed delicate nets of shell beads that draped over their chests like mantles, from Cassipa’s closet. Samba had come prepared with a thick waxy stick of makeup, with which she drew spiraling designs across Harry’s cheeks to match Ava’s scar. 

At the end of being dressed like dolls and, in Ava’s case, complaining furiously about it, Loch and Samba stood back to survey their work. “You’ll do,” said Samba approvingly.

Loch nodded. “Now, Sa-nek, remember: you have as much right to be in the city as any mer. If anyone shows you open disrespect, Ava, you are to defend our family’s honor.” 

“Right,” Ava said, tail twisting sharply. “I’d better take my best knife, then.” 

Four images of Harry's underwater fashion. The first is a bust showing two necklaces. The second shows a netted mantle. The third shows a webbed hand. The fourth, a full-body image, shows Harry wearing a long floaty tail-like garment.

Sketch page of Harry's Alimnion fashions

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Harry had mostly forgotten what Alimnion looked like: most of his memory of that visit was of almost being eaten by the giant squid, his imprisonment, and the extreme relief of being released. 

He had completely forgotten how glorious it was. 

The city rose up and up, buildings stretching higher than even the massive jaws of an ancient creature that served as the city’s wall. The palace commanded the most immediate attention, a construction of what had once been a volcanic cone, now porous and hollowed and a rich purple-pink, standing sentinel over a city of other, lesser volcanic buildings, as well as recent constructions of stone and hardened sand. 

Samba and Ava flanked Harry as they swam through the gates of Alimnion and made their way down the winding streets. It would have been claustrophobic had it not been underwater: the streets were narrow, and the buildings towered up, huge and tilting, defying such petty laws as gravity. It was also riotously colorful. What stone and pumice remained untinted by nature had been dyed, color infused into the very substrate, to create a city of blossoming flowers.

The streets were crowded, and Harry felt every single mer around them stare at him unabashedly. Whispers flurried in the wakes of their tails as they passed. Harry was uneasy but knew better than to show it. He held his head high and stared straight ahead, swimming as gracefully as he knew how. Samba made eye contact with every mer who swam an inch too close. Ava’s hand never left her knife.

They went unimpeded until they were very near the entrance of the palace. The weight of the stares had almost entirely lifted off Harry’s chest, when a merman swimming out of the palace glanced up, took one look at Harry, and sneered viciously.

“Back down, mer Ormnt,” said Samba immediately. “You know not at whom you look.”

Ormnt’s tail flicked aggressively. “I know I look at a filthy two-legger, mer Sambation. I knew your station was of some undesirable nature, but I did not think you would actually lower yourself to be acquainted with such drylife.” 

Harry’s heart beat so hard he thought Araeo could probably feel it. He wanted so badly to speak, but he remembered Loch’s firm instructions before they had left: let Ava handle it.

And handle it Ava did. She drew her knife with an easy flick of her wrist, swimming casually to within a few feet of Ormnt—much closer than was comfortable. “I am Avalon re Aflin Fler,” she said lowly. “And shame on my cousin is shame on my home. Recant, mer Ormnt, or I will take it out of your flesh.” 

Ormnt was a fully grown merman and Ava was thirteen, but things like that didn’t matter under the water. Ormnt’s gaze flicked from Ava’s knife to her spiral scar to the echoing designs on Harry’s face. 

“Ah,” he said slowly, a deep sneer pulling up his mouth. “So that must be Loch re Aflin Fler’s little … pet. Does that make you his master?” 

Avalon struck, but Ormnt had drawn his own knife as he spoke and blocked her swiftly. Harry’s body hitched with the urge to fly to them, but Samba cleared her throat once and he forced himself still. He didn’t have to wait long. 

Ava and Ormnt exchanged a terrible flurry of precise blows, and then Ormnt let out a choked noise, and Ava, one hand twisted in his hair and the other holding her knife, forced him down to the ground. Dust swirled and settled around them, and Ava’s face was wild and angry. The skin across Ormnt’s chest had parted like peeling paint. Merfolk did not bleed unless a wound was profound, but Ormnt’s face was twisted with pain nevertheless. 

With her grip on his hair, Ava shoved Ormnt’s face into the sand and wiped her knife off on his tail. Then she released him, and, expression impassive once again, swam back to Samba’s side. 

Samba nodded at her like she had answered a difficult question right. “Let us proceed, apprentice Avalon.” And, Ava on one side Harry and Samba on the other, they proceeded into the palace.  

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Queen Celadon sat in her throne hammock in the highest point of the palace. The room was covered wall to ceiling by gigantic and fantastic tapestries of Celadon’s family line. Somehow, they were still not as impressive as the queen herself.

Standing on either side of Celadon were two of the five mer princes, distinguished by their circlets of coral and bone, but Harry didn’t know which they were. They faded, in any case, beside the queen. Celadon was missing one arm at the shoulder, and her tail was a tapestry of wound scars, tinted with gold to make them shine. Her torso was aesthetically scarred in wave-patterns, waist to forehead and down along her one arm. She watched them approach with her hand on her cheek.  

Samba and Ava prostrated themselves when they reached a certain point of the room, and Harry followed suit, touching his forehead to the ground.

“Rise,” said Queen Celadon. “Approach me, Council Member Sambation, Apprentice Avalon, and Emissary Snakeheart.” 

They rose and swam closer. A merman swam in carrying an armful of nets which he quickly strung up into five seats, into which the princes and the guests settled. 

“Joyous Icegow, honored ones,” said Samba respectfully. 

“Joyous Iceglow,” said Celadon, the princes nodding. “Apprentice Avalon and Emissary Snakeheart, please know my sons, the Princes Vaitarna and Sarasvati.” Prince Vaitarna had a wound scar on one cheek, two jagged diagonal cuts tinted in purple, and had scarred the other cheek to match it, though it was cleaner, and tinted black. Prince Sarasvati had a row of bone piercings along his lower lip. They both nodded politely to Ava and Harry. 

“I heard of your recent contest, Avalon,” said Celadon. “You honor your family.” 

“Thank you, my queen,” murmured Ava, bowing slightly in her seat. 

The queen shifted slightly, perhaps relaxing minutely, perhaps not. “I have called you to me because, though I have been kept abreast of your enterprises, the time approaches when I must do more than keep abreast: I must become an active participant, and that means the mer kingdom must become an active participant. Do you know the last time the mer were active in human political games?” 

It was not rhetorical: she was looking to Ava for an answer. Ava sat up straight. “Yes, my queen. During the War of the Upper Reaches, Alimnion accepted refugees fleeing the carnage wrought by the human wizard Grindelwald.” 

“Between what years did Alimnion harbor them?” asked the queen.

“From Blade 264 to Blade 267, my queen.”

“Very good,” said the queen, looking not to Ava but to Samba, who nodded in acknowledgement. “Indeed it is so. Alimnion, under my foremother, could not even be persuaded to enter the recent conflict against the human wizard Voldemort. You know him, Emissary Snakeheart?” 

Harry blinked. “He killed my parents.” 

“He killed many parents. I am asking if you know him.” 

“Yes,” Harry said cautiously, “my queen. I killed part of him last summer. He was hunting unicorns in the Forest.” 

The queen let out a hiss, and even the princes looked disturbed. “We did not know this,” said Celadon slowly. “You honor your nation by killing him, Emissary. Truly, you are the least human wizard to ever enter the water.” 

“Legally, my queen, he is not considered one,” put in Samba, inclining her head respectfully. “In the eyes of mer law he is a basilisk, and, of course, a member of the re Aflin Fler household.” 

“Indeed,” said Celadon, rubbing a finger across the scars on her cheek. “All this to say, Emissary Snakeheart: the mer are slow to act in aid of humans, any humans. But.” A slow smile grew across her face, an unnerving thing, hard and sharp. “We are very quick to act against them.” 

The princes gave matching, shark-like smiles. The queen leaned her head to one side. “So let us talk, Snakeheart, about what is to come.” 

Chapter Text

“Ready to go?” Loch called. 

Ava, Parime, and Harry looked at each other from where they were playing with Ava’s space set on the floor. “Just about!” Ava hollered, and they leapt up and started getting dressed. Nothing so stately as their garb for Alimnion was needed: they only had to look presentable. They combed their hair, brushed their teeth, and met Loch in the entrance room. 

Cassipa and Xara swept in to see them off, kissing Loch and hugging everyone else. “See you tonight,” said Xara. 

“Our blessings go with you,” Cassipa told Loch.

With a staid nod, Loch led them away from Deep Light.

It was a long swim, and very scenic. They passed seaweed fields, the crops stretching a mile high, and lake coral beds, and a deep abyss, in which Harry could only see the twinkling lights that his mind invented in the blackness. Loch didn’t talk much, and they followed her example, and arrived solemnly at the Remembrance. 

It was a vast, low complex of pale pink coral, containing hundreds of natural openings. There was nothing to mark it as anything more than a beautiful natural feature, no outward sign of mer influence.

But inside, it was unmistakeable. 

They entered through one of the dozen entrances on the arm of the structure nearest them, finding themselves in a short corridor inside that gigantic pink coral. It was as porous as a sponge: everywhere there were apertures leading to more halls, or caves, or little natural shelves, and every one of those spaces was filled with mementos by which to remembered the dead. 

“Ava, would you like to tell Sa-nek about your forebears?” Loch asked quietly. 

“Sure,” said Ava. She gestured above them and down the coral tunnel. “Snake, this tendril of the Remembrance hosts the ancestors of my mother Loch. The outer chambers are the most recent ones. Just there is my grandmother, who died six years ago.” She tugged him into the chamber, Parime following curiously. 

It was a small enough chamber. There was a large tapestry taking up the central wall, depicting several zig-zag designs. “These were her scars,” explained Ava, touching the jags of the tapestry. “She was a warrior. Look, there are her shells.” Beneath the tapestry on the coral shelf lay the double-looped shell decorations of a solider. “Humans put the bones of their dead underground, right?” 

“I think so,” said Harry.

“So do we, sort of. We send them down into the abyss to feed the life growing down there. And in our ancestral Remembrances, we keep tokens of their life, things we can use to tell their stories.” She picked up a seaweed scroll and unrolled it gently. “See, this is a personal letter of thanks from the queen. She saved the Prince Vaitarna’s life.” 

“What’s this?” Harry touched a small jewel gently.

Ava picked it up and held it between her fingers. “It’s from her favorite necklace. Her father gave the necklace to her as a child, and she wore it until the chain was lost in a battle. But she kept the jewel, and whenever she told us about her life, whether it was as a child or an adult, she would hold it to help her remember. So that’s what we do here.” 

Harry looked around the small chamber. It wasn’t cluttered, but it was full, full of the tokens of a life well lived. “I wish—I wish my parents had one of these,” he finally said. 

Ava took his hand and towed him out of the chamber. “You can make them one if you want. It’s your right as part of our family. You’ll have one someday.” 

Maybe it shouldn’t have been, but the thought of that was actually a comfort. He would be remembered as part of Ava’s family. Stories would be told about him. He squeezed her hand, and she squeezed back. 

“Come along,” said Loch. “We’re going very far back.” 

And very far back indeed they went. In fact, they went back almost a thousand years. You wouldn’t know it, though, to look at the chambers they passed. Loch visited the room of her quintuple-great grandmother as often as her mother. Great care was kept to maintain every chamber, she explained, though when it came to ancestors this far back, the responsibility was shared between many families. 

Finally, after half an hour of purposeful swimming, they came to a small chamber, down where the coral was redder and the walls less porous. Loch put a soft hand on the edge of the wall before ducking inside. 

Harry twisted his braid between his hands as he looked around. The life of Ifingr re Afinim Ril looked back. 

There were no tapestries here. Instead the wall was painted and scored with carvings as the scars would have been scored across Ifingr’s skin. Stretching around the circumference of the room were lovely spirals, intricate and precise, almost vine-like in their composition. The grooves had been painted in shimmering silver. He could imagine the scars along the body and tail of a merman, flashing in the filtered light. 

There were fewer artifacts on this shelf—though whether this was because of Ifingr’s age, or because of his shame, Harry didn’t know. There was a small, ragged journal, a shimmering orange ribbon, and an astonishingly delicate glass cup. There was a familiar bundle of seaweed letters that Harry himself had unearthed in the Salazar’s chamber.

And of course, there was a comb. A beautiful pearl comb.

Loch picked it up gently and took it over to Harry. In silence, she undid his braid and started to gently comb his hair. “Ifingr re Afinim Ril is my many, many, many greats grand-uncle,” she began. “Afinim Ril is on the other side of the lake. He lived there with his sister and her wives, since he never married. He was a mathematician. His great ambition was to devise an equation that would describe the pattern of sunlight filtering through water.” 

And she told them, as she combed all of their hair and then hers, the story of Ifingr, culminating with the discovery of his illicit romance with a wizard, and the great shame he brought upon his family by gifting him a powerful heirloom.

A merwoman combs Harry's hair.

And of course, there was a comb. A beautiful pearl comb.

She set the comb gently down on the shelf once more. “And that would have been the story of my uncle Ifingr,” she said, “if not for Sa-nek re Aflin Fler, who returned to me not only Ifingr’s comb, but also the buried story of his love, and a reason to reconsider the very meaning of this so-called shame. For love is no shame. And one day, in our family’s history, it will be a shame no longer.” 

“Can I say something?” asked Harry.

“Of course.” 

Harry floated to the center of the room, and from his small seaweed bag he took a small box, and from that box he took a ring. He held it up to them all. 

“Ifingr’s love was Salazar Slytherin,” he said. “He was one of the four founders of Hogwarts. I am in Salazar’s house, and my family the basilisk also knew him. I found this ring in his chambers. He was going to propose to Ifingr, but I don’t know if he ever did it. So I want to leave it here for Ifingr just in case.” 

He put the ring gently beside the comb.

Loch nodded slowly, eyes half-closed. “Thank you, Sa-nek. You bring honor to our household, to Ifingr, and to Salazar. One day, may their love be as celebrated as it is now reviled.” 

“May it be so,” echoed Harry, Ava, and Parime, somber and still in the red light of the chamber.

green branch

The rest of the holiday, as the basilisk had wished, passed without matters of nations. Instead there was food and feasting, and gifts, and lots of sleep, and even more play. Harry, Ava, and Parime borrowed a drum set from a cousin and wrote and performed several songs, which Xara claimed to enjoy every much, but which everyone else found a variety of excuses not to hear more than once. 

Samba didn’t let business intrude any more into the festivities, and when their talk felt like it would veer into work, she told them instead about the merfolk of Aeolian, and the progress they had made in communication. 

Harry had a dental appointment. Parime started learning to weave with Xara. Ava told and re-told the story of putting down the merman in Alimnion, and each time it grew in drama. 

And then it was time to go home. Mindful of Araeo’s warning, he erred on the side of caution and left two days after Iceglow. He left his aunts and Parime at Deep Light, and pressed his forehead to Samba’s when she offered: a personal goodbye she did not often initiate. But she did so now, and took his hands in hers. “When you call, I will be there,” she said. “Good luck, Snakeheart. Alimnion is behind you.” 

“Thank you, mer Samba,” he said softly, and then he cracked a smile. “Or, is it cousin Samba now?” 

She pulled away and swatted him. “On with you. Swim safe, Avalon.” 

“Don’t worry,” Ava said, rolling her eyes. She towed Harry out of Deep Light and they made their way back up to the lake, until they were high enough for the moonlight to shine through, casting them in ghostly grey.

They hovered a few meters under the surface, waiting for the diver’s breath to wear off, playing a hand-clapping game and trying to pretend that business and worry had not in fact penetrated their holiday as they had hoped it wouldn’t. 

Ava gave up first, catching his hands when he tried to clap hers. “Snake,” she said seriously. “I’ll be there too, when you call. You aren’t alone. Please don’t feel like you are. I know you must, up there in that dry human castle without us, but you aren’t.” 

He smiled at her, pulling her in for a hug. “I have thought I'm alone a lot,” he said. “But not so much anymore. I have friends there. Real friends; you’ll meet them some day, I promise. I love you.” 

“I love you too, Snake,” she said, squeezing him tighter. “Be careful. Be safe.” 

He felt the gills on his stomach start to close, and disentangled from her, making his way upwards. She followed with easy flicks of her tail. “I will,” he said. “You, too!” 

She grinned, teeth bristling. “Oh, you don’t have to worry about me.” 

green branch

It was so tempting to fall back into obsessive reading once back in the den, but even had the basilisk let him, time was up. 

He swam through a forest of seaweed, chasing a lilac light. It led him downwards. There was an abyss so black he saw stars within it. 

The light dove, and he dove too.

He fell through a starfield, chasing the light. Around him, ghostly merfolk swam, silent and serene. The huge jaws of Alimnion reached up from the abyss and swallowed them whole.

The light was so close—he dove, he touched it—he was within it, encompassed in lilac, smelling something putrid and garlicky—his hands were burning, burning him—

“Snakeheart, wake up.” 

Harry jolted awake at the feel of the basilisk’s tongue on his nose. His hand was burning. The mark on his palm pulsed, sending waves of urgent magic washing over him.

“Limmy is here,” said the basilisk. “Go, now. Trust in your success.” 

Harry scrambled up, shoving his wand in his pocket, patting over himself to make sure he had everything he needed, that his necklaces were still in place—he grabbed his invisibility cloak from beside him and threw it on, all but the hood. “I love you,” he told the basilisk, his heart beating so fast he knew Araeo’s must be twinning. 

“I love you,” said the basilisk. “Now go, and come safely back.” 

Harry kissed it once and then dashed from the den. Limmy was there, her eyes blazing, her wand in her hand. 

“Snake,” she said, in a voice brimming with mettle and magic, “it is time. Is you ready?” She held out a hand.

Harry seized her it and felt their magic crackle together, high and excited. He swept Áwere around them both and pulled up the hood. “I is ready for years,” he breathed, and they flew. 

Chapter Text

Harry knew the route to the kitchens like he back of his hand. He and Limmy ran in sync, sparing no words, hurtling through the empty toilet and down the halls and finally to the kitchen. Limmy tickled the pear, seized the knob, and flung open the door.

All the elves of Hogwarts went silent. Harry lowered the hood and Limmy stepped out from under Áwere’s protection, but left her hand in his. 

There were over a hundred elves at Hogwarts, and they were all in the kitchen, faces painted with green vertical lines, staring, staring. All their elf lights were lit; to Harry it looked like a sky of multicolored fireflies. 

Tippy came forward, her eyes alight, shouting to the elves. “What is you waiting for? Make way! Limmy, Snake, go now and don’t stop for anything.” Harry’s hand burned in Limmy’s, the power of his promise all those years ago making the words a command. Not that he needed to be commanded. 

The elves parted, and as they passed they took up a cry, soft and then louder and louder: “For elfkind! For elfkind! FOR ELFKIND!” 

The chant grew to a tumult and then a whisper, and then it stopped entirely as the door of the larder closed behind Harry and Limmy. 

In the middle of the night, the cool room was pitch-black. Harry and Limmy set their elflights to float, lilac and pale blue illuminating strange shapes and casting eerie shadows. 

Limmy’s hand was shaking in his. It was not from fear. 

They picked their way to a large cluster of barrels and rolled them aside. Limmy reached down to the bare floor and knocked, and a trapdoor shuddered into view. Silently, they hauled it up, and an abyss gaped below them, into which an incredibly steep and winding staircase fell.

“Quickly,” Limmy said lowly. She climbed down first, and Harry followed her, the folds of his cloak somehow never in the way. The stairs twisted tightly, and the steps were uneven, and soon even their elflights started to look like insubstantial hallucinations. 

“Limmy?” Harry called, when he had begun to doubt her footfalls below him.

“I’s stil here, Snake,” she said. “Oh—I is hitting the ground.” 

Carefully, he took the last few jolting, awkward steps, and landed beside her. She took his hand immediately and they sent their elflights out.

They had descended into a room no bigger than Ifingr’s remembrance. Instinctually Harry opened his mouth wide and felt the magic of this place flow into him. It was powerful and heady and old … and, he thought, malevolent. 

Three paces forward lay the foundation stone which bound the elves to the service of Hogwarts. 

They knelt beside it, one of them on each side. The gigantic boulder was sunk most of the way into the ground, only the top of the massive rock pushing above the surface. A dark blue rune glowed atop it, and it basked Limmy’s face in severe shadows as she looked at him, her slate eyes far-flung. 

Harry put his hands on the boulder and felt the magic of it. He had never felt anything like it. Not in the deeps with the basilisk, not in Dumbledore’s office. Putting his cheek to it and breathing in, he suddenly realized it was familiar—he had tasted its magic on the elves forever.

“They is waiting,” Limmy said. 

Harry sat back and drew his wand. Across from him, Limmy drew hers. 

Harry and Limmy face each other, wands crossed over a stone with a glowing blue sigile carved into it.

 

At this very moment, Harry knew—hoped, prayed—two others were mirroring them. His knowledge was a matter of utter trust. 

Harry clenched his bone-white wand in his fist. Limmy held her spiraling wand like a warrior. 

They breathed together, slowly and surely, eyes locked: an elf unbound from elf magic and a castle ward bound up in it. 

Their magic built with every breath, with every pump of their hearts. Harry could taste it, electric, feel it building on his skin. 

Their elflights drifted together to hover over the foundation stone, pulsing brighter and brighter with each moment. The magic built, and built, and built, linked by their beating hearts, by their wands, by their eyes as they held the stare.

And then Limmy let out a guttural cry, Harry following a moment after, and they screamed together—

and their elflights exploded—

and they brought their wands down—

and the foundation stone split wide as their wands plunged through like water.

A massive crack echoed through the entire castle. An earthquake shook the floor. Harry and Limmy pitched forward over the stone and covered their heads as pebbles rained down, praying the small space would not collapse. 

The stones stopped rumbling. The blue light of the rune faded. They were in pitch blackness, and Limmy was breathing hard and ragged.

“Limmy?” Harry asked. “Limmy!” 

“I’s fine,” she panted. “I’s fine, oh, Snake, I’s better than fine—give me your hand!” 

He gave it. She gave it a half twist and there was another crack and they were in the kitchen in the midst of a storm of elves. Limmy staggered as they landed and a bright laugh left her lips. “Did you feel it!”

“Yes!” Harry laughed with her. Limmy had never been able to transport another person before. 

Limmy seized his shoulders, her eyes sparking with wild magic. “Snake, I feels the world!” 

“Elves!” roared Tippy, clambering up on a house table. “Elves, please! There is no time for rejoicing—everyone, remember your charges!” 

The elves settled down, though the entirety of them were alight with sparking magic. They moved with practiced surety into groups, centered around Tippy, Norry, and Drippy - and also a few, armed with kitchen knives, that disappeared from the kitchens altogether.

Limmy seized his hand, determined not to be parted from him, and he moved with purpose to Drippy. 

“Snake!” snapped Drippy. “Quickly!” 

“Right!” He looked around at the elves grouped around him. “Everyone, you must follows me! Join hands, pick up the children, and go as fast as you can!” 

He and Limmy led the way, bursting from the kitchen and back into the tunnels. A long line of families followed him, clutching children close, whispering and crying and breaking into runs before slowing again. Drippy forged ahead with him, his eyes glowing, magic condensing around his fingers.

“I is never knowing,” he panted as they ran, “I is never knowing such magic. I is dying before they is taking it from me again.” 
 
“No-one’s dying,” Harry panted, “no-one’s dying.” Limmy squeezed his hand as they ran, and he wished and wished that it could be true. 

After ten minutes’ hard running they made it to the entrance of the castle. “Wait here!” hissed Harry. “I’ll make sure it’s safe.” 

He left the castle carefully, spying around for any disturbance in the night. Seeing none, he gestured the elven families to follow him. Silence was of utmost import. Parents covered their sobbing children’s mouths and brought tunics up to their faces to muffle their breathing.

Harry, Limmy, and Drippy broke ranks and circled back and forth around the group, shepherding and watching as they sprinted to the lakeside. One elf was struggling with two children in her arms, and Harry took one up quickly and ran alongside her, throwing glances back over his shoulder every three steps. 

Finally, they made it to the lake. Harry took off his shoes and waded out into knee-high water, and from his neck he snapped a necklace he had worn for three years.

Samba’s pearl glittered in the moonlight, a tiny blue planet between his fingers. He kissed it for luck, and then hurled it into the water.

There were one, two, three heartbeats of silence. 

And then the mer were there. 

Fifty soldiers the queen had sent, fifty mer warriors breaking through the top meter of the lake, human territory, and exulting in their defiance of wizard law, even if no wizards knew it. They were terrific and terrible with their barbed spears and double-bands of shells and scarred faces. And in the front of them, swimming swiftly towards the shore, were Samba and Ava. 

Behind Harry, the elves were making scared and uneasy noises. Harry left Drippy to calm them and forged ahead to meet Ava with a hard hug and press his forehead to Samba’s. He drew them as close to Drippy as they could go, and passed over a bag Samba handed him.

“Here, eat,” Harry said urgently. “Everyone must eat one, to breathe underwater. The mer will make sure you won’t run out. Even the children; they’ll be alright. Drippy, this is mer Samba and this is Avalon. They speak English.” 

Samba bowed deeply to Drippy. “Greetings, friend,” she said. “Tell your people they have nothing to fear from the mer.” 

Drippy, ears trembling, bowed back. “Thank you, Samba. I must goes and makes sure they eats.” He waded out of the water and among the elves, urging wary parents to feed the divers’ breath to their children. 

“Hello, cousin,” said Ava breathlessly to Limmy. “I’m so happy to meet you at last.” 

Limmy’s ears twitched as she looked at Ava, sharklike under the moon. A broad grin grew across her face. “I is happy too. We is having to talk.” 

Ava nodded. “Later.” 

“Later,” agreed Limmy.

The first of the elves to take diver’s breath was making startled noises. Harry quickly ushered him and his family—an elf woman and two children—into the water. Ava guided them in, speaking soft reassurances, and shuttled them out to a mer warrior as they got their bearings in the water.

After that it was swift. Families were sent to the warriors, and slowly they sank under the meter of human water, until only Samba and Drippy were left. 

Drippy gave Harry a hard hug. “Snake,” he said, and seemed lost for words. “I is waiting for news,” is what he ended with, and hugged and kissed Limmy, and he and Samba disappeared under the water. 
 
There was no time to rejoice. In the castle, there was shouting, and lights were shining through the windows, and shadows were flashing. Limmy took his hand and once more transported them with a crack: this time to another exit on the other side of the castle, not from one of Harry’s tunnels, but from an elf entrance. Here clustered a grouping of elderly elves, headed by Norry, who clutched a knife and flinched at every new shout that came from inside.

“Snake,” he snapped when they appeared. “Finally. News?” 

“The families is underwater,” Harry said. He looked out over the old elves, some pale and trembling, some baring their teeth and holding makeshift weapons. “Follow me,” he called, “silently, everyone.” 

They could not move so fast with this group. Harry set Limmy to lead them around the greenhouses and fell back with Norry, wand ready, spying for any sign they had been spotted. But the commotion in the castle was serving as adequate distraction, and they reached the edge of the forest at the same time as Hagrid. 

“Harry,” greeted Hagrid, his hand tight on his umbrella. “And you mus’ be Norry.” 

“Steward,” said Norry curtly. “Where is the ones we is meeting?” 

“We are here,” said Bane, stepping out of the forest.

Half the assembled elves skittered back in fright, half of them gripped their weapons tighter. All pressed close together as Bane and, behind him, Firenze, came closer.

Bane have a shallow bow to the assembled elves. “I am Bane, and this is Firenze. Please, follow us. Once you pass the edge of the forest, you are no longer in wizard territory.” 

As Norry coaxed the elves into following the centaurs, Harry stepped up to have a quick word with Bane. To his surprise, Bane reached down and ran a hand over his head, gentle. “Greetings from my son,” he said. “Who is so angry he could not come that he nearly did not remember to give me this, to give to you.” He passed Harry two small glass beads. “He says that one is for your friend.” 

“Thank you,” Harry said, taking them. “Tell him I’ll see him when this is over.” 

Bane inclined his head, and then turned away, for the last of the elves, helped along by Norry, were entering the forest. 

Limmy, Harry, and Hagrid watched them go, silent and still. Hagrid put a steady hand on Harry’s shoulder. “You did it,” he said. 

“Not yet,” Harry said. He threaded Araeo’s bead onto his hair quickly, and gave the other to Limmy. She strung it on the necklace she wore, alongside a bright pink feather and a hagstone.

 “Good luck, Hagrid,” Limmy said. “Snake?” 

He gave her his hand, and she whisked them away one more time. 

Chapter Text

Harry and Limmy appeared in the entrance hall with a resounding crack, to utter chaos.

The localized earthquake from the breaking of the foundation stone might have ceased, but the snapping of a centuries-old pillar of magic in the castle was still having effects. The staircases were going haywire. The portraits were yelling in alarm. At the far end of the hall through the open doors of the great hall, they could see that all four house tables had splintered in half, sinking partway into the stone floor.

The professors were streaming in from various directions to look for guidance, wands in hand, shouting and talking over each other. 

“What the hell’s going on?” Harry heard Severus snap at Sinistra. 

“I have no bloody clue!” she snapped back.

Harry knew the moment Severus saw him, because he was watching Severus intently. The man simply stopped in his tracks, jaw dropping. “Potter?” 

At the sound of his name, the assembled professors turned towards him in sheer astonishment. But before they could act, the elves arrived. 

They appeared in the great hall, standing on the ruins of the tables, and descended with grace. 

Tippy was in the lead, and she no longer wore a tea towel—she had a black robe with a high collar, and in her hand she carried a kitchen knife, the blade of which was sparking with magic. The five elves who accompanied her wore a variety of other clothes, and they all carried knives, and their elflights were hovering over their shoulders.

Harry caught his breath at the sight. They were glorious. 

The professors might not have known what was going on, but they recognized a threat when they saw it, and leveled their wands at the elves. In response, Harry felt the elves breathe up a great wave of unleashed magic, ready to come crashing down.

It would have gotten ugly, had not Dumbledore arrived. 

His voice reached them before anything else: “BE CALM,” came the call, echoing across the chamber, followed by the wizard himself, striding down the hall and looking for all the world as if it was midday, not the early morning hours. 

His voice must have had some power in it, because no magic was cast. Everyone held their breaths for his arrival. And when he got there, his gaze went from the elves to the professors to, by the door, Harry and Limmy, a wild boy and an elf with a wand. 

“Headmaster Dumbledore,” said Tippy, in a clear, resonating voice. “We, the Liberated Elves of Hogwarts, have commandeered the kitchen and will defend it. I, Tippy Lockjaw, Liberated Elf, am asking you to hear our demands.” 

But by the lift of her chin and the magic singing along her blade, it was no request at all.

Tippy, wreathed in purple magic, holds a knife and stands in front of a broken house table.

“I will hear you,” said Dumbledore instantly. “Shall we adjourn to my office, Madam Lockjaw?” 

“Yes,” said Tippy sharply. “Snakeheart. Limmy. With me.” It was not a tone of voice, nor the time or place, to disobey. Harry and Limmy strode through a parting wave of professors, all of whom looked so profoundly shocked. Harry wished, briefly, that he could recall this moment perfectly later to laugh at. If they were in a state to be laughing by that time. 

They fell in behind Tippy, who called Orry to her side as well, and sent the other elves back to the kitchen. They disappeared instantly, with a blast of magic that sent the great hall doors swinging. 

Dumbledore evaluated them all, his eyes lingering on Harry, and then he turned to the professors. “Hear me,” he said, his voice still resonant with that earlier command. “No-one is to set foot within fifty meters of the kitchen until I have heard what Madam Lockjaw has to say.” 

There was a muffled noise of protest, but a flash of Dumbledore’s eyes quieted it. He waited until Tippy was at his side to begin marching towards the office. 

“Albus,” Minerva called, sounding strained, “The boy—?” 

Dumbledore looked to Tippy, who spared one glance for Harry. “Is with us,” she said. 

green branch

Dumbledore waved his wand upon entering his office, and the room transformed. His desk was swept away into a pocket somewhere, and in place of it stretched a round table, with chairs suitable for elves and humans. 

“Please sit,” he said calmly, and settled across from Tippy. Orry sat between them on one side, and Harry and Limmy between them on the other. Fawkes, a hatchling, woke, yawned, and fluttered to Limmy’s shoulder at once. 

“Madam Lockjaw,” said Dumbledore, evaluating her as seriously as Harry had ever seen him. “You have my ear.” 

“Headmaster Dumbledore,” began Tippy. “The Hogwarts elves have freed themselves. But we do not act in isolation. On this night, many have done the same.” Harry realized, with a jolt, that she was speaking wizarding English. “The elves of Britain are about to fight a war. We will no longer be enslaved. Yet we wish, where possible, to live within the magical community. We will fight for wages, education, representation, and the right of wands.” 

Dumbledore’s eye widened, but he let Tippy continue. “You have long been a friend of the Hogwarts elves, sharing in our celebrations, never cruel. We have no quarrel with you. If possible, those of us that choose to do so would stay at Hogwarts for the time being, under vastly different conditions. If those conditions are unmet, we will leave, and Hogwarts may go on without us.” 

She fell silent, evaluating him as he composed his response. Beside Harry, Limmy was as tense as a bowstring. 

“Madam Lockjaw,” he finally began. “I cannot for the life of me think of a reason I would stand against you.” 

All of them, Harry included, felt themselves take a full breath for the first time since however many hours ago this had started. Harry’s heart felt, suddenly, very light. He didn’t really know what he had expected—for Dumbledore to refuse them? To hinder them? But no, he would not, and Harry felt a rush of goodwill towards him.

“It seems I have been impermissibly negligent,” Dumbledore continued, “to have been so utterly ignorant to your plight. Let me be clear: you have my support. In what means I may best support, this remains to be seen.” He conjured several quills and rolls of parchment and ink onto the table, and arranged himself. “Tell me your formal demands.” 

Orry produced a small book, which Tippy periodically referenced as she delineated the demands of the Liberated Elves of Hogwarts: immediate fair wages for continued service, the prohibition of minor elves to work, private living quarters outfitted as well as any of the professors’, the elimination of an imposed dress code, establishment of working hours, the right to refuse any work on reasonable grounds, and the cessation of any work considered endangering to elven lives. 

Dumbledore wrote them all down without interrupting, looking, occasionally, like an infinite sadness was weighing him down. Harry had seen him look like that before: during those times in the gardens with Minerva and Severus, and when he had told him the truth about the Dursleys. 

And then Tippy moved on to their more ambitious demands: the free education of elves within Hogwarts, adult instruction in magical theory, and protection from ministry persecution for wand use on Hogwarts’ grounds. 

Dumbledore wrote these down as well, and then he made a little movement with his head indicating he wished to speak, but would not interrupt. Tippy subsided with a gracious nod. 

“Forgive me, Madam Lockjaw,” he said. “But … it has been my understanding that house elves—” 

“Elves,” said Orry. “Only elves.” 

“Elves,” Dumbledore corrected fluidly, “have their own inherent magics, and cannot, even if they were to be permitted and instructed, use wizard magic and wands.” 

Harry knew he had seen Limmy’s wand—he could hardly have missed it. But he supposed he couldn’t blame the headmaster for his curiosity. This was, after all, the sole reason Harry and Limmy had been allowed to come with Tippy into this room, a victory Limmy had won only after months of badgering. 

Tippy nodded at Limmy. And Limmy raised her wand, said “accio,” and summoned Dumbledore’s scroll and paper to her. She delicately picked up the quill and marked a star next to the last demand, before flicking her wand, wordlessly this time, and sending the implements back. 

Harry bit down on his smirk so hard he drew blood. The twitch of Tippy’s ears was the only sign Limmy would be hearing about this later. 

Dumbledore spent a long moment looking down at his paper, and then at Limmy’s wand. And then he looked directly at Harry for the first time since this meeting started. “I assume, Mr. Potter,” he said, “that if you are here, it means this miracle goes both ways.” 

Smiling, Harry held out his pointer finger and conjured his elflight on the very end, sending it floating over to Dumbledore, who looked at it with quiet wonder. 

“Well,” he said finally, when the elflight had winked out. His gaze, shining, settled once more on Tippy. “I stand corrected. But while I may have the final say in your previous demands, Madam Lockjaw, I have no such privileges for matters of education. The Board of Governors and the ministry administration stands between us, and they are hard-hearted and slow to change. Will you allow me to consult with my faculty on how we may best attend to the majority of your points, consider options for those yet without our reach, and come to you in the morning—” he looked out the window, where the sun was still well below the horizon, “—yes, the morning, with our responses?” 

Tippy stood, and everyone followed quickly. “I will. Thank you, Headmaster.” 

green branch

What followed was the longest night Harry could remember living through. There was no sleep in the kitchens, though sleeping pallets had been procured and placed against the walls. But the elves remaining, numbering twenty three after the family groups and elders had been evacuated, and after others had left to aid other households, were far too swept up in the movements of the night to sleep.

After receiving a severe scolding from Tippy for her cheek in the headmaster’s office, Limmy drew Harry with her to sit at the remains of the Slytherin house table, still infinitely pleased with herself despite Tippy’s words. 

“I is thinking it’s cool,” said Harry, casting a glance back and looking quickly away again from Tippy’s quelling glare. 

“Me too,” murmured Limmy, smiling. 

All around them, elves were reveling in the feel of a magic they never knew they could touch. It was obvious to Harry that they were being enfolded in some natural right greater than any he could ever hope to experience. Limmy was practically glowing. She moved her hands through the air like she could feel its currents against her skin, cocked her head like the wind was whispering stories to her. Little sparks of color danced continuously down her shoulders and arms. 

“What is it feeling like?” Harry asked, as they settled next to each other on a pallet, pressed close. 

“Like coming to a place I is never being before,” whispered Limmy, staring at her long fingers as they trembled with violet sparks, “but somehow I knows it is home.” 

He put his head on her shoulder and watched Tippy stride through the room, Orry close behind, in those severe robes with her knife tucked into a black belt. She moved through small groups of elves, soothing, reassuring, rallying. Golden sparks marked her footsteps. She was masterful.

“Do you thinks they is doing it?” Limmy whispered. “Do you thinks they is safe?” 

“Yes,” Harry said, willing it to be true through the speaking of it. “I know they is. They haves to be.” 

They dozed and jerked awake, dozed and woke. Inchy, the elf who had first taught Harry elf magic, brought them tea. She was going around to every elf in the room, teapot and cups trailing in the air behind her, continually weeping red sparks. “Don’t mistakes it,” she told them as she directed the teacups. “I is happier then I is ever being.” 

A circle of about a third of the elves formed to read passages from the Guidebook for Elvish Thrivance. Over the early morning hours the circle waxed and waned as elves went to and fro. Harry and Limmy, bleary-eyed, played rummy to keep themselves awake. 

By the time the sun rose, no news had been heard from those elves gone to other households, and everyone was trying not to let it worry them. No-one spoke of it, but the absence of news hovered over them like a shadow. 

“Tippy Lockjaw?” Harry murmured to Limmy as the sun rose, as they watched Tippy, tireless, scribbling notes in a book while talking with Orry. 

“Many of us is deciding to take last names,” said Limmy. “I is, too.” She gave him a tired sideways glance, wanting him to ask.

He obliged her. “What is you choosing?” 

“I is Limmy Snakeheart, of course,” she said. “If you wants.” 

He burst into tears. 

Chapter Text

As the great kitchen clock struck six in the morning, there came a knock at the kitchen door. 

Immediately, the elves put down their tea, or reading, or sewing, or writing, vanishing it all into the air. They were military and rigid, standing to face the entrance. Limmy and Harry tried to creep up with Tippy to answer the door, but she pointed them definitively away—their part, for now, was over. 

Dumbledore, Filius, and Minerva stood in front of the kitchen door, wands deliberately absent from hands, deep circles under all of their eyes. “Good morning, Madam Lockjaw,” Dumbledore said gravely. He looked past her at all the assembled elves. “Good morning, Liberated Elves of Hogwarts.” He bowed, and Filius and Minerva echoed him.

“Good morning, headmaster,” said Tippy. “Professors.” 

“I have come to address your demands,” said Dumbledore. “My faculty are here as advisors and witnesses.” 

Tippy nodded. “Sit, please.” She led them over to the fractured Hufflepuff table, Orry close behind. Once more Limmy and Harry tried to follow, but Tippy cut them a glance and a wave of magic poured towards them, making it impossible to follow. He saw Dumbledore glance at the two of them in amusement.

“It’s okay,” Harry whispered to Limmy. “The twins is giving me something. Come on.”

As the other elves went to cluster in groups and speak lowly, they cloistered themselves behind a sleeping cot, and Harry pulled out a long flesh-colored string. “They is calling it an extendable ear,” Harry said. “It’s just a prototype, though.” 

“How is it working?” 

Harry poked at the string, and one end split into a fork with a little bulb on each end, and the other end lengthened and began slithering along the floor. Harry and Limmy each held an end of it to their ears and listened. 

But the slithering end was not going right to Tippy’s group. It veered towards every sound it heard, going off-course for a cough, a whisper, a footstep. It only made it to the group after it had followed a hundred different minor distractions, and Harry and Limmy were dozing off despite themselves. 

“—a wing of the castle has been cleared,” squeaked Filius. Harry jumped and nudged Limmy, and they started paying attention.

“—faculty working now to create the enfolding pockets,” Minerva said. “There will be fifty pocket rooms, each suite-style with a bathroom and sitting room. There is an operational kitchen and small courtyard in the wing, as well as several vacant rooms. Of course, we will make any adjustments to the space requested.” 

“We want to be assured of our privacy from students and faculty alike,” said Orry. 

“A ward will be erected,” said Filius. “There will be an entrance portrait with a password you may change at will.”  

They looked across the room to see Tippy nodding. “Good. All of these measures are acceptable. If you draw up a contract by tomorrow, headmaster, I will make it available to the elves who wish to stay on.” 

“Madam Lockjaw,” said Dumbledore, “I want to make it clear: even those elves who do not wish to continue to work at Hogwarts are welcome to stay. I am holding Hogwarts open as a sanctuary for Liberated Elves. While I have no direct power to address wizarding education laws, nor wand rights, I will make this castle a place of safety for your people through whatever is to follow, while I put my power to work in other sectors.” 

“Thank you, Albus,” said Tippy. “Truly. Now—” she broke off. Harry and Limmy looked across the room to see her staring at the floor. Slowly, she bent down and picked up the end of their extendable ear. Giving it a hard yank, she pulled it from their ears and over the floor. It snapped up in her palm and melted instantly.

“Ah,” said Limmy. 

green branch

As punishment, Harry and Limmy were put to work going over the elves’ new wing of the castle from top to bottom, inspecting for both magical and menial fault. Harry knew it was simply busy work, but he put himself to the task all the same.

The enfolding pocket rooms were quite fascinating. Sinistra and Filius were creating them from single stones along the walls. Harry and Limmy watched intently as Filius painted a rune onto a stone and touched it with his wand. The stone seemed to ripple, and his face beaded with effort as he murmured a long string of incantations under his breath. Harry, with his hand on the wall, felt the magic of ripple along with the stone. When Filius finally ended the spell, he sagged in exhaustion, and the rune shimmered. 

“Go ahead,” he said obligingly to Limmy and Harry, hopping with excitement. “There is no password yet. They will all be set by their occupants. Just touch the rune.” 

They touched the rune, and appeared in a perfectly elf-sized sitting room with table and chairs, a fireplace, and a wall of bookshelves. Through one door was a bedroom, through the other a toilet. 

“Do you gets one of these?” Harry demanded of Limmy. “Can I stays with you instead of in the dorm?” 

“Of course,” she scoffed, as they emerged from the rune once more by touching a painted doorknob. “We is having the best sleepovers ever.” 

“All up to scratch?” asked Filius in amusement.
 
“Yes,” said Harry distractedly. “Can we try making the next one?” 

Filius let out an incredulous laugh. “My boy, if you can do so, I will simply give you ‘E’s for the rest of your time in Charms, as there will be no need for you to attend class.” 

Nevertheless, he talked Limmy and Harry through the process, and let them observe closely as he made the next six pocket rooms before having to take a break. 

Filius and most of the faculty seemed to have decided Harry’s presence among the elves was nothing exceptional. He felt the odd stare or so on his back, but for the most part he was obliged as one of “Madam Lockjaw’s people.” 

Except for Severus and Minerva, who he had been avoiding like the plague. 

He and Limmy, unthinkingly inseparable, caught a nap midway through the morning, and woke in time to go to the kitchens for lunch. Tippy was forging her way through elves and handing out employment contracts for those interested to read over. Most of the elves took one to at least inspect. 

Inchy and another elf had made a massive quantity of curry, and Limmy and Harry were scarfing it down as if they’d never tasted food before when a magical double of the elf Emmy, made of shimmering blue light, burst through the kitchen door to cry: “the Malfoy elves is come!” 

Crack! In the kitchen, their bowls of curry fell to the floor, but Harry and Limmy were already in the entrance hall, Tippy half a second ahead of them. They made it to the door at the same time as Dumbledore and Severus, who fell back to let the elves and Harry fling open the doors.

Six elves leaned on each other, poised to knock. Five of them were bloody and battered and sobbing quietly, and the last was bloody and battered and had a face of granite. One was missing half an ear. One was clutching a hand to her chest and shuddering, blank-eyed.

“Where are they?” Harry blurted, a cold rush of dread turning his bones to ice. 

Tippy shot him a quelling look. “What is your name?” she asked the hard-faced elf.

“I is Iffy,” he said. “We is from Malfoy Manor. We is being told to come here.” 

Tippy glanced at Dumbledore, who came forward. “Hogwarts is a harbor for Liberated Elves,” he said. “Please, come in.” 

The elves struggled inside, and Dumbledore and Severus went with the others to assist them. Tippy held her hand up to her lips and whispered: “Sunny, Delly, and Orry,” and a small golden cloud formed and dispersed over her palm. A moment later, those elves appeared in the entrance hall. 

“Healer Orry,” said Tippy. “Please see to these elves.” 

Orry came forward at once to take the elf clutching her hand, and Sunny and Delly quickly shooed the others away from the doors. 

“Iffy,” said Tippy. “Is you able to wait a moment and tell us what is happening?” 

Iffy nodded, exhaustion pulling at his face. “Can I sits?” he asked.

“Come into the great hall,” said Dumbledore. 

Tippy nodded. “Limmy, go get him some food.” 

Harry helped Iffy into the great hall while Tippy fell into step with Dumbledore, speaking urgently. “Is he okay?” Harry whispered to Iffy. “Draco?”

Iffy just shook his head. “I isn’t knowing.” 

Harry felt dizzy with fear, and sat down hard at the broken Gryffindor table. Limmy appeared again, bringing bowls of curry for everyone, but Iffy was the only one who ate, ravenously. 

“It is happening in the middle of the night,” he said slowly to Tippy. “We is all together, waiting for the sign. And they is coming down as planned, Dobby and ma—Dobby and Draco. But something is going wrong. Mis— Narcissa is not being home, and Ma—Ma—” Iffy took a deep breath, his face pale. “Lucius is feeling the wards around the foundation stone part—and we is having to hold him off while Dobby and Draco is working.” Tears trembled in his eyes. “Before last night, there is being twelve Malfoy elves.” 

“What happened to Draco?” demanded Harry, his hands shaking.

Iffy shook his head. “I isn’t knowing. Dobby is going with him, though. They is telling us to escapes without them.” He hung his head, the weight of the night pushing it down. 

“You needs rest,” Tippy said. “Limmy, Snake, please take Iffy to Healer Orry.” 

They stood reluctantly, guiding Iffy between them. They walked to the new elf wing instead of transporting, because Iffy was already shaky enough. He said nothing as they walked him to one of the unused rooms, which Orry had turned into a small clinic. Three former Malfoy elves remained there, and Orry was gently inspecting the severed ear of one. To Harry’s surprise, Madam Pomfrey was dabbing a potion onto a slash across the chest of another. 

Orry hurried over to take Iffy from them. “Thank you,” she said. She caught their glances at Madam Pomfrey. “Madam Pomfrey is volunteering her expertise for the time being.” Pomfrey looked up and smiled at them, and went back to tending the elf. “Can you two please tells Tippy, I needs a separate contract to continue working in the hospital wing as healer’s apprentice?” 

They told Tippy, who told them, “Tell Inchy to start cooking in the new wing’s kitchens.” 

They told Inchy, who told them, “Tell Murpy the new elves is needing clothes.” 

They told Murpy, who told them: “Tell Tippy that Emmy is needing to speaks with her.”

They told Tippy, who told them: “Go see Professors Sinistra and Dumbledore. They needs to know everything you do about the magic.” 

green branch

And so they sat in a faculty workroom, drinking cups of tea and facing down Dumbledore’s banked curiosity and Sinistra’s near-frantic inquisition. Both of them were quite enjoying the attention after playing messenger for half the day. 

“Alright, one more time,” said Sinistra, eyes gleaming behind her cat-eye glasses. “Limmy, if you would.” 

Limmy raised her wand and said: “Lumos.” A network of spells Sinistra had cast around her started glowing and humming, and Sinistra scribbled frantically on her thirteenth or fourteenth foot of parchment. “Fascinating,” she whispered, nose smudged with ink as she looked from her notes to Limmy sixty times in a second. “Absolutely fascinating. And now you, Harry. Limmy, please keep it lit for a moment more.” 

Harry conjured his elflight on his palm. Another network of spells started to hum, and Sinistra wrote so fast her hand was a blur, and she had to stop and massage it for a moment. 

“Incredible,” she said. “Absolutely incredible. Unprecedented.” 

Limmy and Harry grinned proudly at each other. 

Dumbledore spoke up, leaning forward, his eyes twinkling. “And how did you discover that you could do this?” 

“Well,” Harry said. “First, Inchy taught me how to mend a hole in my robes. She was surprised I could do elf magic. And Limmy heard I could do it, and asked me to teach her wizard magic, because if I could do elf magic, why couldn’t it go the other way?” 

“We isn’t using wands then,” Limmy added. “Snake is teaching me just to make fire in my hand, like he is doing, but the wizard way. And I is feeling how he is using magic that is coming from inside him, but I is using magic that comes from outside of me. So we is trying to do it the other’s way.” 

“We put …” Harry frowned, trying to remember. “We felt the magic, didn’t we? Like ….” 

Limmy reached out and put a hand on his heart. “Like this.” She closed her eyes, ears flicking up. Cupping his hands, Harry summoned a small flame, something he hadn’t done for years. Limmy swayed slightly as he did it, and then flicked her wand, conjuring a small blue flame at its tip. Their magics pushed and pulled against each other, entangled. 

She opened her eyes, smiling at him. He grinned back, letting his flame go out, and hers followed.

Harry and Limmy perform magic beside each other. Harry cups blue flames in his hands. Limmy conjures the same blue flame at the end of her wand.

Their magics pushed and pulled against each other, entangled. 

“Absolutely extraordinary,” Dumbledore agreed. “Obviously, we have been so cemented in our beliefs that elves and wizards are inherently foreign to each other that we have missed something of terrific significance. You said neither of you had wands … when did you discover this?” 

“Oh … five years ago?” Harry hazarded. And then he went stock still, ice around his heart. He stood explosively, staring at Dumbledore, feeling his face change into something terrible. “You tricked me.” 

“I tricked you …?” asked Dumbledore, genuinely baffled. “Oh, I see—oh.” He stared at Harry, eyes wide, absolutely astonished. “My boy … you …?” 

Harry seized Limmy’s hand, and in a moment she had snapped them to the edge of the forest. 

She watched him as he paced, clutching his hair, breathing heavy, tears threatening. He was so stupid. He was so stupid. What was he to do now? Where was he to go? He had given it all away for one moment of pride, and now Dumbledore knew where he had been, right under his nose the whole time, and he wouldn’t stop until he found Harry and Harry’s home and the basilisk and the basilisk’s eggs—

“Snake,” Limmy was saying, but he heard her through underwater distortions. He was dizzy, he was going to be sick. “Snake!” 

“Harry,” came Dumbledore’s voice, and Harry’s eyes flew open. Dumbledore was there, coming towards him. He backed toward the forest, and Dumbledore stopped. 

“Harry,” Dumbledore said calmly. “Please listen to me. After all this time, do I still not have your trust?” 

Harry couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think. All he could see was the basilisk falling to a spell. 

“Listen to me,” said Dumbledore. “Do you know what Aurora and I heard in that room?” 

Harry shook his head frantically.

“We heard you say,” said Dumbledore calmly, “that you met Limmy two years ago when you came to school.” 

Harry stared at him, his words filtering through. “You … you did?” 

“Is that not what you told us?” asked Dumbledore.

“No, it … it is,” said Harry blankly. Limmy came and took his hand, and he remembered he had a body, and had to breathe. He forced himself to start focus on his senses like Lobelia had taught him, rubbing his bracelet against his cheek as he stared at Dumbledore’s worried face.

Dumbledore came and knelt in front of him, clasping his hand between his own, one soft and wrinkled, the other a cool construction of magic. “I will never betray your trust again,” he said. 

Chapter Text

Harry breathed in the air of the forest, feeling intense relief at being encompassed in its magic again, even if it was for such a short time, and for such a dour purpose.

Hagrid strode beside him, Fang loping at his side. So subtly Harry almost didn’t see notice, a few blue glass beads were braided into a lock of hair behind his ear. 

Harry pointed at them. “Who gave you those?” 

“That’s no business o’ yours,” Hagrid said. 

“Are they from Firenze?” 

Hagrid cast him a look. “They might be from Advisor Stargazer, an’ they might not be.” 

“Araeo will tell me,” Harry said. 

“What Heir Stargazer tells you is his own business.” He looked behind them to check on the party they were leading. Four wary elves picked their way carefully after them.

“Everyone alright?” Harry called. 

One of them, Moby, nodded. “We is fine,” she said. “Just unused to wilderness.” 

“This isn’t wilderness,” said Harry, “this is neutral territory.”
 
“If you says so.” 

In only a few more minutes, they had arrived at their rendezvous point, and settled in to wait. Harry turned to the cluster of elves, who looked scared, and angry, and hard, and lost.

“Is you all alright?” he asked again. 

“No,” said Nevvy cooly. “I is killing my master last night, and now I haves to go hides in a terrifying forest. How is I to be alright?” 

“Oh.” Harry wrung his hands. “You’re right. Sorry.” 

“Now, now.” Hagrid sat on a log so as to be on level with the group. “Snake here is the reason you have somewhere to go in the firs’ place.” 

Nevvy’s ears flicked a little, but she didn’t say any more. 

Luckily, their chaperones arrived at that moment. With a hissed greeting, Vogir came scuttling down from a tree, followed by another, slightly smaller acromantula Harry didn’t know. “Salutations, Snakeheart,” she said, giving him an affectionate pat on the head. And, “Salutations, Steward,” she said, giving Hagrid a slightly more formal bow. 

“Good to see you, princess,” said Hagrid, bowing back. 

“This is Noreg,” Vogir said, gesturing with a back leg to the other acromantula. “A soldier.” 

They bowed to him as well, and then Harry gestured to the elves. “And this is Moby, Nevvy, Tinny, and—oh.” 

The elves had shrunk back, huddled and staring in terror at the acromantulae. Moby and Tinny had drawn weapons, a kitchen knife and a poker respectively, held in trembling hands.

“It’s alright,” Harry said. “Moby, everyone—these is your guides. You is going to stay with the acromantulae. They isn’t hurting you.” 

“They is—they is—” stuttered Tinny. 

“This is Princess Vogir,” Harry said, “and her soldier Noreg. They is taking you to the acromantula web where you is being safe. No wizards is ever daring to go there to find you.” 

Nevvy turned out to be the bravest. Taking a deep breath, she pushed her way past Moby and marched up to Vogir. Looking her in her eight red eyes, she bowed shortly. “Hello,” she said. “I is Nevvy. You swears we is safe with you?” 

Vogir bowed back. “On my honor as heir, you shall be as esteemed guests, little killer of wizards.” 

Nevvy’s ears twitched back, eyes widening in alarm. “I is killing in self-defense only.” 

“All the worthier,” hissed Vogir. “Will you escalade my frame?” 

Nevvy glanced at Hagrid, Harry, and then the elves, before nodding shortly and clambering up onto a kneeling Vogir. One by one, the others followed, two per spider. 

“Thank you, Vogir,” said Harry, stroking her pincers. “I’ll see you soon.” He gave a go at the acromantula goodbye, which made her chuckle in pleasure as always. 

“Goodbye, Snakeheart. We will keep them safe.”

He stood and watched them go, until Hagrid put a hand on his shoulder. "Shall we?" He gestured back the way they came with his walking stick. The stick was beautifully carved, and shone with a deep gleam. It had replaced his umbrella sometime since Harry and seen him.

“Is that from Firenze?” Harry asked, pointing to it. 

Hagrid cast him a deadpan gaze. “Why don’ you ask Heir Stargazer?” 

Harry stuck his tongue out at him.

green sprout

He left Hagrid outside centaur territory, though he longed to go see Araeo. But it was not the time—he would never be able to bear leaving him after a matter of hours, and he was needed in the castle. 

He swept Áwere around him as he left the forest, though there was no real need for it. The professors had seemingly accepted his presence as a free agent in the castle. Dumbledore had sworn his trust. He hadn’t yet spoken to Severus, but he would delay that for as long as possible. 

But it was nice to be invisible, sometimes. He paced around the lake, gleaning a moment to himself amid the chaos of the last five days.

Five bloody, terrible days. 

Several times a day, more elves arrived in search of sanctuary. It would have been nice to say that the Malfoy elves were a rare case, but the majority of elves in Britain were enslaved by old pure blood families, and old pure blood families fought change with the viciousness of dogs. 

In the best cases, most of the elves arrived alive. In the worst cases, none of them did. They had received news that the Goyles had slaughtered all their elves, as well as one Hogwarts elf gone to aid them, rather than let them reach the foundation stone. And in some cases, like the four in the forest, elves acted in defense of their freedom and life, and were now murderers in the eyes of the ministry. 

Not that the ministry was in any state to be pursuing them at the moment. Elves had been responsible for many of the ministry’s so called “menial” functions, from cleaning to maintenance to carrying missives and performing limited secretarial duties. It had been positively easy for Hogwarts and ministry elves to take the foundation stone, largely through obfuscation. So far the ministry had utterly refused to negotiate, and the government fell further into chaos by the day. 

The only ones who could break the binding magic were the enslaver, an already-free elf, or someone whose magic confounded the ancient binding. Liberation spread outward in ripples from Hogwarts, each day an endless breath drawn in suspense. Everything was unpredictable, even the elves’ magic. Unbound at last, it was increasingly apparent their power was incomparable to anything in living memory. 

The system worked out between Tippy and the leaders of the being nations, using Harry as an intermediary, was working as well as could be hoped. Family groups, untrusting the instability of wizarding politics, went to the mer to be placed with families indefinitely. Elven elders too old to become accustomed to an underwater life and unwilling to live in the tumult of the castle went to the centaurs, on Harry’s long-ago-earned favor, though they would have done it anyway. And elves who now found themselves on the run went deep into the forest where no wizard would dream of setting foot. 

The Ministry was intransigent, the pure blood families largely fanatic, but that did not mean Hogwarts and the various being nations now sheltered all of Britain’s elves: some of them had managed to retain bonds with their former enslavers. Most muggleborns and a large portion of half-bloods ceded quickly to demands, though some of them, according to Hagrid, clung to elf enslavement as a sign of legitimacy in the magical world, and acted as, if not more, violently than the pure bloods. 

Harry finished his lap of the lake, wishing he could see Ava, and pulled down Áwere’s hood. He needed to see the basilisk, but there was so much to do. He would have to snatch a moment, regardless, because he had to get his trunk before holiday ended tomorrow.

He wandered back into the castle, and caught the flash of Dumbledore’s robes as he disappeared down towards the kitchens, now the official meeting-place, as the elves had relocated to their new wing. Dumbledore had thrown himself to the elves’ cause with regard for little else, and could be found in conference with Tippy at all hours of the day and night. 

“Mr. Potter?” 

Drat. It was Severus, looking down at him from a stairway, more hesitant than he’d ever seen him. Harry peered up at him cautiously. “Yes, professor?” 

“Would you like tea?” 

Harry bit his lip. Perhaps … perhaps it would be better just to get this out of the way. “Alright.” 

But they did not go to Severus’ office. Instead, Harry trotted beside him as he led the way to the empty library, pushing open the beautiful mosaic doors that cast breathtaking light shadows in the setting sun. 

They went to Severus’ reading room. He left the door open, propped up by a tome, and from a small cabinet that Harry had never noticed took a teapot and two teacups, all of a set decorated with little moving snakes. 

“Oh!” Harry said, delighted. “Hello.” 

The snake on his cup peered at him. “Hello,” it hissed. “Do you like tea?” 

“Um, yes?” 

“Good,” it said contentedly. “My tea is the best tea.” 

“No,” hissed the snake on Severus’ cup. “My tea is the best tea! Don’t listen to it.” 

“No, don’t listen to it, it’s an idiot,” said Harry’s cup. 

Two teacups are stacked atop each other. They are decorated with curving green snakes. Their handles are also snakes.

“I’m sure both of your tea is good,” assured Harry. He looked up at Severus’ cough to see the man staring at him. “Yes, professor?” 

Severus just shook his head and started measuring out tea leaves. “Absolutely nothing, Mister Potter. Now, this is our secret, understand? You must never let Madam Pince know I drink tea in her library.” 

Harry grinned. “Aright.” While Severus prepared the tea, he sorted idly through the books on the table. Finding the Unfindeable. What’s Lost May Still be Found. The Fideleus Charm: A Comprehensive Guide.

“What are you looking for?” Harry asked. 

Severus delicately stacked the books to one side and poured tea. “None of your business.” 

Harry opened and closed his mouth. As a principle, he didn’t approve of something not being his business. Most things, in fact, were his business, whether anyone else knew it or not. 

Severus sipped his tea and simply looked at him for a long time. Harry gave as good as he got, trying not to blink, while the teacups bickered back and forth. “Free book room,” Severus finally said. 

Harry scowled. “It was a prank.” 

“No,” said Severus, “I don’t think so. Where did you put them all? The books you stole?” 

“I didn’t steal anything!” Harry said, offended. 

“The free books you borrowed,” Severus amended.

Harry shrugged. He would never admit that he used the margins of many of them to take notes. 

“Some of them are from the restricted section, and are extraordinarily dangerous,” said Severus. 

Harry looked down at his cup, remembering the echo of his own scream. “Yeah, I … I know. Do you want them back?” 

“Yes, please. Some of them contain information I may need.” 

“Yeah, alright.” 

“Good. That is all I wanted to know.” 

Harry looked up at him. “That’s all?” 

“That is all. Now tell me, Mr. Potter. How are you faring? These last few days have been extraordinarily difficult.” 

“Oh.” Surprised and feeling light, Harry smiled. “I’m doing alright. I’m worried about—about Draco, mostly.” 

“As am I, Mr. Potter,” said Severus, his eyes dark and tired. “As am I.”

green sprout

Harry wandered into the elf wing the next morning to find Limmy, but got distracted immediately.

“Now, this is the standard method by which to multiply three-digit numbers,” came Professor Vector’s voice, giving him eerie flashbacks to his hated remedial lessons. “But there is another way, which some may prefer—” 

Harry peeked through the open door. Around a low, circular table, sat Professor Vector and six or so elves, scribbling on parchment. Vector had conjured a chalkboard and was demonstrating three-digit multiplication. She caught his eye, and he flushed.

“Ah, Harry,” she said. “Perhaps you would like to demonstrate this method? I am sure you recall it.” 

“I’m late!” Harry squeaked, and backed quickly away as the elves tittered at him.

He ran into Tippy on his way to the common area, and she nodded at his mention of Vector. “While elves cannot be officially educated at Hogwarts, or anywhere else, many of the professors is offering to teach lessons. We is holding our own lessons, too, for elf matters.” 

“Brilliant!” said Harry. “School starts tomorrow.”

Tippy nodded. “Things is going to be very different. Snake—” She hesitated, and pulled him to the side. “Snake, I wants to thank you. You is a friend to elves everywhere, and a friend to me for life. Thank you.” 

He hugged her. “I is only glad I can do something.” 

green sprout

His moment with the basilisk came the next day, just before the back-to-school dinner. Limmy went with him: she could whisk him into the hall now with no need to sneak through the tunnels. 

“The tables is fixed,” she said, “and it’s officially the first day of work for elves who is employed here now. I is being ordered to get out of the kitchen, as usual.” 

“Will you comes to dinner with me?” Harry asked. 

She grinned at him. “You isn’t being able to stop me.” 

He skipped a bit as they walked through the tunnels. Finally, finally, finally. He was so happy. 

“Basilisk!” he called, as the entered the hall. “I’m back, with Limmy!” 

It came to greet them, happy at their safety. “I felt the magic of the school shake as never before,” it said. “And I knew you had succeeded.” 

“And the diary?” Harry asked. “Still safe?”

“Still safe. It tastes worse and worse every day, as I grow weary of being in its presence. But I will keep it safe, and this summer, we will have our victory.”

Chapter Text

Harry drug his trunk up to his dorm, changing quickly into fresh robes while Limmy waited in the common room. “I can’t wait for you to meet my friends,” he said to her. “Properly meet all of them, I mean. Not just Draco and Hermione.”

“I’s excited,” she said. “I isn’t eating at a school feast before.” 

Their mutual worry went unsaid. Perhaps it would have eased their minds to give it voice, but right then it felt like it would give it power instead. So they simply joined hands and hoped. 

For her first-ever feast, Limmy wore a new robe of robin’s egg blue, a new pair of boots, and her necklace of charms. As they walked she kept swishing the hem of her robe and clicking the heels of her shoes.

They were first to the great hall, besides the professors, because the carriages hadn’t arrived yet. Most of the professors waved or nodded at them as they made their way to the Slytherin table, and Hagrid came down to say hello. 

Limmy kicked her legs in excitement as they waited for the students to arrive. No other elves had chosen to eat in the hall, but then, no other elves had a best friend among the student population. 

“Hello, Limmy!” 

Limmy jumped. A grinning mouth appeared in front of her, and then the rest of Myrtle slowly materialized, sitting cross-legged the table. “Hello, Myrtle,” Limmy said, smiling. “How is you?” 

“Good,” she said, picking up a plate and tossing it between her hands. “I’ve been watching everything happen. It’s marvelous.” She giggled. “I can’t wait to see everyone’s faces when they get back.” 

Right on cue, they heard the rumble of students talking as they entered the entrance hall. Myrtle swooped off to greet them, and Harry and Limmy stared intently at the doors, looking desperately for a familiar face. 

To their utter relief, they saw not one familiar face, but two. 

Harry let out an exultant cry and leapt from the table, Limmy hot on his heels. He barreled through the agitated cluster of his friends and crashed into Draco’s arms, already crying. Draco staggered under the onslaught and let out a breathless laugh. “Harry!” he said. 

“Hello, Harry Potter!” piped Dobby. 

Harry released Draco and stared from him to Dobby, who’s hand Limmy had seized in amazement. “Where have you both been?” Harry demanded. “We were so worried—when Iffy came with the others, and said you’d stayed—” He broke off, mouth dropping open in horror. There was a huge purple stripe of a bruise across Draco’s face, from temple to chin. His lip was split, the edge of his eye was puffy. In fact, Draco looked altogether as though he’d been living outside for weeks. Dobby looked fairly haggard as well, though not obviously wounded. 

Draco grinned at him in spite of it all, his eyes sparkling. “Told you I would do it.” Reaching down, he took Dobby’s hand. “We did it, actually. Let’s sit? Come on, everyone.” 

For Ron, Hermione, and Daphne, plus the entirety of the Weasley family, had been around them the entire time, clustered in concern. The Gryffindors hugged him before heading off, and the rest squished in together, the Slytherin table having filled up since they had been delaying in the doorway.

Harry couldn’t take his eyes from that bruise. “Draco,” he said. He reached out. “Did Lucius do this?” 

Draco shrugged him off. “My mother was unexpectedly away for the holiday,” he said shortly. “I got off easy, compared to … compared to some of the elves. Dobby stayed with me and we hid until we could catch the train.” He and Dobby beamed at each other in an exhausted, inside-joke sort of way.

“You must comes to the elf wing after dinner and tells Tippy everything,” Limmy said to them both. 

“After dinner,” Dobby said. “We is starving.” 

“Harry, who’s this?” Daphne demanded, tried of being ignored. 

“Sorry, Daphne,” said Harry guiltily. “Limmy, this is Daphne. Daphne, Limmy. Limmy’s my best friend.” 

Daphne gaped at him. “Your—your heart partner, or whatever?” 

Limmy giggled. “Not that one. Snake has more best friends than fingers.” 

“You call him Snake!” Daphne said. “Harry, can I call you Snake?” 

“If you like,” grinned Harry.

“Er,” said Blaise loudly, “is anyone going to explain why there are house elves at the table?” 

Everyone in the vicinity fell silent, obviously also eager for an answer. Limmy stood up on her bench and looked around. “I isn’t a house elf, I’s an elf. And I’s here to eat with my friend. Get used to it.” 

“Here, hear!” said Daphne, enthusiastic if uninformed.

“Dumbledore will explain later,” Harry said. 

“You weren’t on the train,” said Daphne. “How’d you get here before us?” 

Harry shrugged. “I was here already. Can’t say more than that, sorry.” 

“That’s fair,” said Daphne easily. “So, Limmy—do you like to read?” 

Daphne and Limmy engaged in a robust conversation about a fiction series Harry had never heard of, and Harry observed the hall. Everyone was looking at the elves while trying not to look like they were looking at the elves. Some of the students, however, were glaring with absolute malevolence at them, obviously aware of what had occurred over break and of a certain opinion. Greg, sitting as far from them as he could get, was still as a stone. Some of the older years were muttering among themselves.

Draco and Dobby were silent, both exhausted, slumped against each other. Draco’s hair had grown out a centimeter or so and looked scraggly and unwashed. There were deep circles under both their eyes. As he watched them, they both started to drift off. 

They jolted awake, though, when Dumbledore called the hall to attention.

“Welcome back!” he said, smiling down at them. “Welcome back, students. I hope you all had very happy holidays. Before I let you get to your dinners, I must first make some announcements. There have been some fundamental changes made at Hogwarts, so please, listen well. The liberated elves of Hogwarts, formerly known as house elves, are now official staff, to be treated as such by all students. In accordance with their new positions, students will be expected to pick up some of the slack in terms of dormitory upkeep. Your heads of houses will explain these expectations to you tomorrow. 

“You will also see elves around Hogwarts who are not employed here. This is because Hogwarts will welcome liberated elves until such time as sanctuary is no longer needed, to be judged by myself and myself alone, as is the right of the headmaster. I expect and know that our guests will be treated with utter respect at all times. No students save those invited are permitted to go near the newly opened wing of the castle where the elves reside. The punishment for breaking these new rules will be high. All elves have been invited to partake in breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the great hall. I ask that you make them welcome as you would any other visitors.”

He looked around at them all gravely, his smile fading. “Some of you have been involved in serious conflict in the last few days. You will leave this conflict behind for as long as you are within the halls of Hogwarts. Anyone harming, harassing, or otherwise inconveniencing any elf in this castle will be met with the swiftest punishment, up to and including expulsion. I hope I make myself clear. Bon appétite.” 

And he sat back down. Harry and Limmy led the hall in vigorous, if confused, applause. Dinner was sent up, and they dug in. Daphne, Harry, and Limmy kept up a riotous discussion of their holidays—Daphne had gone on a trip to see her extended family in Iraq, and Harry and Limmy had assisted the instigation of a revolution—while Draco and Dobby stuffed their faces and then actually did fall asleep with their heads leaned together. 

When dinner was over, Harry and Limmy eagerly ushered Draco and Dobby to the elf wing. Daphne, Ron, and Hermione clamored to come with them, but were swiftly headed off by Minerva and Severus.

Dobby looked around in amazement at the new wing. In five days, the professors had worked astonishingly quickly, outfitting the fifty rooms, the kitchen, and the common area with comfortable elf-sized amenities. 

When they walked into the common area, there was a moment of silence, and then total uproar. The four Liberated Malfoy Elves remaining at Hogwarts shouted in joy and catapulted themselves onto both Draco and Dobby, tackling them both to the ground. To Harry’s surprise, Draco started crying, clutching Iffy and shuddering and shaking. So overwhelming was their collective relief and mourning that Harry and Limmy left them there to find Tippy. 

It wasn’t hard. She was watching, ears trembling, from a couch. They sat beside her and waited for the group to calm. It was Dobby who eventually got them all in order, hoisting the elves and then Draco up, walking them over to sit clustered around Tippy. Draco simply would not let go of Iffy’s hand, nor Dobby’s. His eyes were red and streaming and he looked astonishingly terrible with that ghastly bruise, but he didn’t seem to care. 

The group could only be persuaded to release each other when Orry brought around tea, and they clustered so closely together to drink it looked quite uncomfortable. Everyone demanded at once to know what had happened to Dobby and Draco after the elves had fled Malfoy Manor. 

Slowly, with crying and pausing and interrupting, they told their story. 

The same night, the same moment, that Limmy and Harry were approaching the Hogwarts foundation stone, Draco and Dobby were heading for the stone of Malfoy Manor. 

Under normal circumstances, the master of the house and only the master of the house to could release enslaved elves. In Hogwarts, a castle ward using elf magic and an elf using wizard magic had managed to fry it. At Malfoy Manor, it was supposed that a member of the family and an elf using wizard magic, for Limmy had been teaching Dobby, would be enough. 

But from the moment Draco had arrived home for the holiday, things at Malfoy Manor were not as predicted. His mother was unexpectedly spending her holiday in France, and Lucius was agitated, locked in his study at all hours of the night, communicating with unseen associates.

And so when the time came, and the Malfoy elves assembled in the cellar, and Draco passed through the ward to the foundation stone, Lucius felt it. 

At their urging, Dobby and Draco left the other eleven elves behind to forge onwards, making them swear to leave the moment they could. They broke the stone as half the elves outside died to buy them time. 

When the binding broke, Dobby’s magic was unleashed and Draco’s wand broken. The remaining elves escaped, but Lucius managed to strike Draco before Dobby transported them away. Lucius raised the wards the Manor, and so they hid for two days in the manor wood before managing to escape. They spent the rest of the holiday wandering the muggle countryside, terrified to go anywhere wizarding, before Dobby apparated them to King’s Cross Station, where they slipped onto the train right under Lucius’ nose. 

“And here we are,” finished Draco in utter exhaustion. He grinned, breath hitching. “And I don’t have—anything. Wand. Clothes. Books.” 

“You can borrow mine,” said Harry immediately. 

“And I don’t know what’ll happen to me this summer.” His smile was wobbling. 

Dobby squeezed his arm. “We is figuring that out when the time is coming. But you is going to be safe.” 

“Of course you is,” said Tippy sharply. “We is sheltering you if you is having nowhere else. You is a hero. You both is.” 

A cheer started up, and swept across the entirety of the common room, the elves of which had of course stopped all activity to listen intently.  

“Heroes,” murmured Draco, and grinned blearily. “I like it.” 

Chapter Text

In the morning, Draco was already gone when Harry woke up. Harry showered and dressed, feeling surreal to be back in a regular school routine after all that had happened over the last week. And it wasn’t like things would stop. He would still be making journeys into the woods and checking in on the elves in the mer kingdom and the centaur village … only now he also had to go to Charms. 

Pulling on his robes, he made his way down the stairs to the common room—he was meeting Limmy in the entrance hall for breakfast. But conversation from the common room caught his attention, and he pressed his back against the wall to listen.

“My mother might pull me out of school when she hears.” That was Tracy. “It was so scary when it happened—all of the sudden there was this shaking, and then my mum woke me up yelling, screaming that the house elves had gone mad and were going to murder us—I don’t even know what happened, they were all already gone already when I got downstairs, and my father was firecalling the aurors.” 

“My friend Jenny has a house elf,” said Theo. “And she said her house started shaking too, but when she went downstairs her house elf was sitting in the kitchen, and just said that she was a free elf now, and she’d only stay on to work if Jenny’s parents paid her.” 

“A paid elf!” exclaimed Tracy. “It’s ridiculous!” 

“Jenny’s parents agreed,” said Theo. 

“My father killed all the elves in the house before they could finish whatever they were trying to do,” said Greg. Absolute silence fell. “I dunno about all this—I know Harry likes them, you know, elves, but …” 

“But didn’t you hear?” Tracy demanded. “An elf killed Arturo Travers! Murdered him! And they can’t find it anywhere, the elf! I’m telling you, if my mum hadn’t run upstairs to me, we might’ve been killed too! They’re violent!” 

“My mum says Arturo Travers killed his first wife for speaking with another man at a dinner party,” said Blaise coldly. 

Silence fell. “Draco has that elf now,” said Greg. “He was holding hands with it. Isn’t that weird?” 

“And what do you think happened to his face?” Tracy asked. 

“I think we all know who happened to his face,” said Blaise. “And I don’t know if it’s weird, because my family’s never had any elves.” 

“It’s just freaky!” Tracy said. “I don’t want to be eating with house elves. And why do we have to make our beds now, and clean up the common room? It isn’t fair. My mum’s probably going to transfer me to Beauxbatons if Dumbledore doesn’t stop it.” 

“My father’s on the school board,” said Greg, “and he almost didn’t send me back for spring.” 

“Can’t he do something?” Tracy demanded.

“No. ‘Cause it’s not anything to do with our education, it’s just to do with the castle, and no-one controls that but Dumbledore.” 

“Well I’m actually going to talk to an elf,” said Blaise. “I bet there’s Harry's one at breakfast. You can come if you like.” 

Harry chose that moment to leave the staircase. “Morning,” he said. 

“Hi, Harry,” said Greg, looking a bit guilty. “Alright?” 

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m going to meet my friend for breakfast.” 

“The elf?” Tracy asked. 

He nodded. 

“Can I come?” Blaise asked. 

“Sure.” 

“Me, too,” said Greg, rising. “Bye, Tracy.” 

Limmy was waiting in the hall, reading a book. She snapped it closed when he came down the stairs, raising one eyebrow at the others. 

“Limmy, this is Blaise and Greg,” Harry said. “They wanted to meet you.” 

Limmy stuck out her hand; they shook it. “Good to meets you,” she said. 

“Likewise,” said Blaise. Greg gave an odd little shrug. 

In the hall, Draco and Dobby were ensconced at the end of the table, talking in hushed voices. Draco’s hands, gesturing emphatically with a piece of toast and a banana, were stained with black ink. He wore a spare robe and shirt of Harry’s, his own jeans that he’d left at school, and his badges. He’d shaved his hair again as well. Dobby had apparently gotten clothes from Inchy, as he wore a sharp blue robe, boots, and a marvelous rainbow scarf. 

“Morning, Harry!” Draco said, as they all sat. “Morning, Limmy! We’ve been up in the—er, in the room, you know, and I found out about something called a ‘crossword’ on holiday, they’re brilliant muggle word games, so we’re putting one in—tomorrow, it’s going out tomorrow for certain, I just have to talk to Luna and Hermione—” 

Harry listened to him ramble as he put eggs on his plate, and Limmy spoke to Blaise about elf magic. Eventually Luna and Hermione showed up, making noises about Draco getting started without them. All conversation abated, however, when Severus approached the table, looking weary.

“Good morning, students, Miss Snakeheart, Mr …” he looked cautiously at Dobby. 

“Dobby is fine for now,” Dobby said.

“Mr. Dobby,” finished Severus. “Mr. Malfoy, if you could please accompany me to the headmaster’s office. You have been excused from classes for the day.” 

Draco looked fearfully up at him. “Am I being expelled?” 

Severus frowned. “Of course not.” 

“Alright.” Draco stood reluctantly. “Dobby?” Dobby stood with him. Severus looked between them for a second, and then simply continued out of the great hall.

Harry and Hermione watched him go, worried. “What do you think’s happening?” Hermione asked. 

Harry frowned. “I don’t know.” 

green branch

Classes passed in a blur of disinterest. Oh, he paid attention more or less, except for History of Magic, and of course not in Lockheart’s sham of a class. But between classes, he visited the elf wing and ran errands for Tippy until she grew exasperated and told him to go learn to be a wizard. 

He did so reluctantly, because Limmy couldn’t attend classes still, but also it was good for them to spend some time apart, after being attached at the hip since that fateful night. 

He saw Draco again that very evening, for Marcus had decreed quidditch practice start immediately, as they had only a very narrow lead over Ravenclaw. Harry got there early and found Draco sitting beside Dobby in the stands, carefully trimming the tail of a school Cleansweep. He brows were furrowed, and he shook his head at something Dobby said quietly to him.

“Draco?” Harry asked, coming to sit beside them. “Are you okay?” 

Draco shrugged. 

“What did Severus want?” 

Draco seemed to shrink into himself. “Um. He wanted to know if my father had ever hit me before. And some other things like that. He’s trying to get in contact with my mother.” His bottom lip trembled. 

“He worries Lucius is pulling him from the school,” said Dobby. “Though I is already promising he can stays with the elves.” 

“Well of course you can stays with the elves!” Harry exclaimed. “And if you don’t want to do that, you can stay with the merfolk!” 

Draco blinked at him. “The merfolk? Like the one in our window?” 

“Yes,” Harry said indignantly. “And if you don’t want that, you can stay with the centaurs, or the acromantulae, or with me! And if Lucius Malfoy tries to come take you from this school, I swear by the stars that I’ll kill him!” He was blazing with fury. He really would do it, he thought, and not just for Draco—for Limmy’s mother, for Benny, for the elves he had killed while trying to get to Dobby and Draco. 

Draco was looking at him in shock. “Oh. Okay.” 

“You believes him but not me?” Dobby asked wryly.

“No!” Draco said. “No, just—” 

But Dobby smiled and shook his head. “Looks like practice is starting.” 

“Right.” Draco stood up. “If you can find a small enough broom in the shed, I’ll teach you to fly after.” 

Dobby smiled brightly. “I’s liking that.” 

green branch

The next morning, Draco pulled Harry from his bed at an ungodly—and this was something, for Harry—hour of the morning. “Draco,” Harry groaned. “It’s not even going to be here 'til breakfast. You said that, because you’re the one in charge of it.” 

“I don’t want to miss it!” said Draco. “Come on!” 

Cracking his eyes open and looking at Draco’s excited, bruised face, Harry couldn’t bring himself to refuse. 

And so they found themselves in the great hall well before breakfast would be served. Draco stared at the ceiling, drumming impatiently on the table. Harry took out a pack of cards and started playing solitaire. 

“We’re late!” That was Hermione, bursting into the great hall, dragging Ron behind her. “Sorry, Draco!” 

“It’s fine,” Draco said, absorbed in watching the ceiling. “Do you think they got off alright?” 

“Yes,” Hermione said. “Though I could always run and check …” 

“Not again,” Ron groaned, swiping Harry’s cards and shuffling them deftly. “You checked twice yesterday evening.” 

“Draco was there both times,” Hermione shot back, “so there.” 

Ron dealt a hand of rummy just as Luna wandered in side-by-side with Dobby. “Good morning,” she said, sitting beside Hermione as Dobby went to squish by Draco. “I do hope the owls we chose were nargle-free, else they’re bound to be late.” 

“They didn’t have nargles!” Draco snarled. “They won’t be late!”

Limmy and Daphne entered the hall, carrying two books from the same series and arguing in a friendly way about them. Slowly, the rest of the students and professors trickled in, breakfast appeared, and Draco was so impatient Dobby had to take his spoon away, because he was tapping it against his bowl so hard that Hermione was ready to murder him. 

“Look!” cried Luna. “It’s Pip!” 

“The post is here!” shouted Draco. 

The mail came in a flurry of feathers, as it did every morning. But this morning, a new paper came. School owls delivered copies of it to their group, to Hagrid, Dumbledore, all the Weasleys, and Oliver Wood. 

It was a slim paper, only four pages back and front, but it was gloriously arranged. There were magnificent fonts, and mostly-straight lettering, and the bright purple title was the only speck of color on the whole paper. 

“What is that?” called Blaise.

“It’s The Demiguise,” said Draco, eyes shining. 

Harry’s group distributed their papers to anyone who wanted to read it, and clustered around Draco’s copy to admire the newspaper crew’s incredible creation.

THE DEMIGUISE

THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE

EDITION 1 ✩ 3 JAN 1993

CONTENTS:

“HOUSE” ELVES NO MORE: ELF LIBERATION TODAY
by The Demiguise Collective
TIPPY LOCKJAW, LIBERATED ELF, CALLS FOR SOLIDARITY
by Wiggenwand 
SANCTUARY AT HOGWARTS: COME ONE, COME ALL
by Loupe 
WHO CAN WIELD A WAND, AND WHY?
by Superlative

It was absolutely brilliant. It might have been only four pages long, but it looked as well as an actual newspaper, and the short articles were truthful and well-written. They had all chosen pen names as well as a collective name for shared pieces, and Harry smiled broadly at Limmy’s. 

Up at the staff table, Severus was reading over Hagrid’s shoulder, and Minerva over Dumbledore’s. 

They skimmed through the articles gleefully, and then Draco flipped it to the back. A little box at the bottom read: 

SUBSCRIPTION PRICES
STUDENTS: PRODUCTION ASSISTANCE
PROFESSORS: SPELLCASTING ADVISING 
AND/OR INTERVIEWS
NON-HUMAN BEINGS: FREE
EVERYONE ELSE: 1 SICKLE
OWL THE DEMIGUISE COLLECTIVE AT HOGWARTS FOR INQUIRIES

“It’s perfect,” breathed Hermione. “I can’t believe it.” 

Draco, positively gleeful, reached out and hugged Luna spontaneously. “And it’s everywhere,” he said giddily. “Under the lake, across the forest.” 

“To our friends,” Harry said. Along with all the Hogwarts elves, he had ensured that Sirius was receiving one, as well as Remus, plus Griphook and Ms. Burke. “Good job, you all, it’s brilliant.”

“Hey!” called Cho Chang from the Ravenclaw table. “Someone pass one of those over here!” 

“And here!” yelled Susan Bones from Hufflepuff. 

“And here!” shouted Professor Sinistra from the head table. 

green branch

Harry was walking to the library with Daphne when he felt it. 

“Why’d you stop?” Daphne asked irritably. 

“Um ….” Slightly dizzy, Harry put a hand to his head, leaning against the wall. It didn’t make him feel any better—it was the stones themselves that felt so strange.  “Something’s wrong.” 

“Wrong? Are you ill? Should I get a professor?” 

“No, no, it’s not me …” Harry opened his mouth, breathing the magic of the castle in. “Can’t you feel it? Does the castle’s magic feel strange?”

“The castle’s magic? What are you talking about?” 

It was certainly the castle’s magic. It felt different, somehow, and not in a good way. He crouched down to steady himself, placing a hand on the floor. 

“Snake!” Tippy popped into existence in front of him. He straightened up immediately. “Quickly, on the grounds—elves is coming from the ministry; they is needing shelter!” 

Harry forgot about the magic instantly. “What kind of shelter?” he demanded. 

“They needs to hide,” said Tippy grimly. 

“Okay. Take me to them?” 

“I’m coming!” squealed Daphne, and seized his hand as Tippy transported them onto the grounds.

They appeared beside the quidditch pitch under the dusk sky. Two elves, clutching each other’s hands, stood pale and frightened under the pitch. One had a cut on her forehead. They eyed him warily. 

“Go with Snake, quickly,” Tippy ordered. “You isn’t having much time.” 

“Hi,” said Harry, trying to smile. “Come on, we’re headed into the forest. Tippy, will you send a message to Nayla and Vogir?” 

Tippy nodded. Bringing her cupped hands to her lips, she murmured: “two approach, inward at dawn.” When she opened her hands, an orange mist dispersed into the breeze.

Daphne watched all this in rapt attention. “Please let me come,” she hissed to Harry. “I won’t be a nuisance, I swear.” 

“Sorry,” Harry said regretfully. “Bane would literally kill me if I brought a human in without permission. I’ll ask for next time, though.” 

“If you wants, you can comes with me,” Tippy told her. “Do you knows cursive?” 

“In English and Arabic,” said Daphne proudly.

“A few elves wants to learn.” 

“I can teach them.” Daphne hugged Harry tightly. “Be careful.” 

“I will.” 

And with two frightened elves at his back, strange magic forgotten, he headed into the forest.

Chapter Text

THE DEMIGUISE

THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE

EDITION 2 ✩ 10 JAN 1993


CONTENTS:


HARBOR FOR FUGITIVES: SEEK SAFETY NOW
by The Demiguise Collective
WHAT ARE THEY AFRAID OF? ELVES DEMAND THE RIGHT TO LEARN!
by Humdinger
MINISTRY REFUSES TO NEGOTIATE WAGES, OPERATIONS CRASH
by Superlative
INTERVIEW WITH REMUS LUPIN: ELF RIGHTS ARE BEING RIGHTS
by Loupe


Dear Snake,

Tides, everything is turbulent right now! I love it, though, I’m having so much fun. That’s not to say I’m taking things lightly! Samba has me busier than ever, but it’s just making me certain I chose the right apprenticeship. 

Whatever the absurd wizard laws are about elves not going to school, it isn’t so in the mer kingdom! Luckily, there’s one small English submersion school outside Alimnion, so all the elves who want to are enrolling, children and adults. Most of them have taken swimmingly to swimming, and many have started to integrate themselves further into the community.

We’ve gotten The Demiguise just fine, and isn’t it brilliant! Parime says he’d like to write a guest piece, of you’d like, on mer prejudice against humans.

Harry put down the letter in satisfaction. “Ava says the the paper’s getting there,” he told Draco and Hermione.

“Oh, good,” said Hermione distractedly. She was scratching in a giant notebook that she had already filled halfway. Harry could only see a mess of columns and numbers. “Gosh, did you think we’d get this many subscriptions so soon? What are we going to do with the sickles?” 

“I thought we’d put them in savings for elves who need assistance,” said Draco. 

Myrtle, who had been reading the interview with Remus Lupin, looked up in surprise. “That’s really lovely, Draco.” 

Draco scratched his head. “Yes, well.” 

“And the older elves are doing well,” Harry murmured, scanning another letter while Hedwig pecked at his bacon. “A few of them have started holding storytelling nights. I’ll have to see Tippy after breakfast …” 

“Hypatia!” said Draco in surprise. A beautiful tawny owl had landed in front of him, an elegant scroll-holder attached to its leg. “It’s my mother’s owl,” he said cautiously. He took the letter and fed Hypatia a bit of egg. Everyone except Dobby made an effort not to read the letter over his shoulder. Dobby simply read it, and he gave a little gasp of surprise.

With trembling hands, Draco put the letter down. His face was flushed. “Professor Snape finally got in touch with her. She’s been in France; she wrote me over the holiday but she thinks my father took the letters. She’s … she’s divorcing father.” He pressed his lips together. Dobby rubbed his shoulder soothingly. 

“How do you feel?” Myrtle asked, floating through the center of the table.

“I don’t know,” said Draco. “I—oh, Merlin.” 

Another owl was flying with purpose for the group, landing next to Hypatia in a flurry of feathers. It clutched a bright red, smoking envelope in its beak. 

“Oh, no,” Draco said, scrambling backwards. “It’s a howler, it’s from him—” 

Before anyone could react, the envelope twisted into a horrid leering mouth, and from its lips spat an ugly spew of words: “BOY, WHEN I GET MY HANDS ON—” 

It didn’t get any farther than that. Myrtle swelled up, opened her mouth triple its normal size, darkness gaping behind eldritch teeth, long black tongue lolling, and ate the smoking howler in one bite. 

The entirety of the hall, having already been watching the howler, stared at her. Her mouth went back to relatively normal size, and she tossed her pigtails primly. “That didn’t taste very good.” 

“Hey, Myrtle!” yelled one of the twins from several tables across. “Could you do that this whole time?” 

“We’ve had at least fifteen you could’ve eaten!” complained the other twin.

“You’ve deserved yours!” Myrtle called back, to a ripple of laughter across the hall. 

green branch

“Did you hear Lockheart wants to start a dueling club?” Ron asked. 

Harry nimbly skipped the trick step on the staircase down to the entrance hall. “What, really? Have you ever seen him do one spell correctly?”

“No,” Ron snorted. “Anyway, apparently he asked the Ravenclaws if they’d be interested in it. And absolutely no-one said they would. Then he gave them a pop quiz.” 

Harry rolled his eyes. “He’s ridiculous.” Under him, the staircase shuddered, and he reflexively grabbed hold of the bannister.

“Er, mate?” Ron asked, looking at him weirdly. “What are you doing?” 

“You didn’t feel the staircase shake?” Harry asked. 

“Um, no.” 

Harry didn’t release the banister. Carefully, he looked out over the entrance hall. Nothing seemed amiss … except that something felt very deeply wrong. That nausea, it was back, creeping up his stomach, making his hands burn …. 

“Mate, do you need Pomfrey?” 

“No,” Harry said faintly. “No, I … you don’t feel anything wrong?” 

“Not really.” 

Why was this happening again? Why didn’t anyone else feel it? 

Below them, the entrance hall doors burst open. Hagrid stormed through, walking stick in hand, looking wild. The shining wood of his staff glowed, and his voice resonated through the hall: “DUMBLEDORE! AURORS!” 

Harry forgot about his queasiness and ran, leaping down the last few steps and dashing towards Hagrid, Ron behind them, just as Dumbledore swept around the corner, looking furious. He strode towards them, sparking slightly, and five aurors dressed in red robes pushed their way in behind Hagrid, who was forced to stand aside. One of them was Tonks. The others were unfamiliar. 

“I have received no forewarning of law enforcement presence on castle ground,” Dumbledore said, his voice icier than Harry, half-hidden with Ron behind Hagrid, had ever heard it. “A disturbingly blatant violation of school and ministry policy, and I suggest you explain yourself quite quickly, Dawlish, before I invoke my quite justified right to banish you from these grounds!” 

The man in front, Dawlish, folded his arms and sneered. “Those policies are null and void, Dumbledore, when you harbor violent criminals in the castle. We have permission from the minister himself to ensure they are released to us within the next hour.” 

Hagrid drew himself up, utterly furious, but Dumbledore put out a quelling hand. His gaze could have melted Dawlish into a puddle. “All the wishes of all the ministers in the world could not condone your actions,” he said. “And be assured, I will be pursuing them to their full legal consequence. Not to mention their futility. There are no criminals at Hogwarts.” 

Dawlish held out a hand to the auror beside him, who gave him a scroll. “The elves belonging to the late Arturo Travers, called Nevvy, Moby, Tinny, and Muffy, the elves belonging to the late Rudolfus Lestrange, called Urry and Renny, and the elf belonging to Regina Rowle, called Kessy. All are wanted on charges of manslaughter or grievous injury.” 

Dumbledore took a long, slow breath, and called: “Madam Lockjaw?” 

Tippy appeared beside him, dressed in formidable black robes, eying the aurors with distrust. “Is something wrong, headmaster?” 

“These individuals,” said Dumbledore, gesturing dismissively to the aurors, “are attempting to locate some elves. Do the elves Nevvy, Moby, Tinny, Muffy, Urry, Renny, or Kessy currently reside in the castle?” 

“They do not,” said Tippy promptly. 

“The hell they don’t!” exploded Dawlish. “We know they’re in the forest!” 

Hagrid let out a bark of laughter. They aurors, apart from Tonks, who was trying to fade into the background, jumped and stared at him. “Apologies,” he said. “Except, sir, on what grounds do you think we’ve anythin’ to do with the bleedin’ forest?” 

Dawlish opened and closed his mouth. “It’s part of Hogwarts!” 

Hagrid sneered. “It’s never been part o’ Hogwarts, which the minister would be aware of if ‘e ever ‘ad the slightest knowledge o’ other bein’s.” 

“Mr. Hagrid is quite correct,” said Dumbledore. “The territory of the forest has always belonged to the sovereign nations within it. I have as much authority there as you do here.” He crossed his arms. “Now I will kindly ask you to get out. School is in session. Your actions today could not have been more misguided and inappropriate if you tried. I shall be firecalling the board of governors at once to alert them. Inform the minister, if he asks, that any further incursion will see my full noncooperation in any and all matters of state going forward. That is all.” 

With a wave of his magical hand, the doors of the castle opened. Dawlish looked between him and Hagrid for a long moment, before finally turning on his heel and storming out. One by one they followed him, except Tonks. 

“Sorry about that, headmaster,” she said, scratching the back of her head. Today she had black hair and a round chin and purple eyes. “I almost didn’t come with them out of protest, but then I figured if things went sour, I’d be better to be here …” 

“That’s quite alright, Ms. Tonks, I am sure you had nothing to do with the matter,” said Dumbledore. “If you won’t be missed, feel free to stay for dinner.” 

Her hair turned white to match his. “Oh, I’d love to, sir. I’m sure I won’t be missed, I’ll just send Kingsley a quick patronus. Working day is over, anyway.” 

“Excellent,” said Dumbledore. “I will have a seat laid for you at the head table. Madam Lockjaw, if you wouldn’t mind, I think we should discuss …” And they set off for the kitchens, deep in conversation.

Tonks smiled at Hagrid and waved her wand, saying “expecto patronum!” A silvery jackrabbit leapt from the tip of her wand, bounding in an excited circle and then looking up at her expectantly. “To Kingsley Shacklebolt,” she told it, “Dumbledore headed them right off. I’m dining at Hogwarts. See you Monday. Kisses.” She smirked, and the jackrabbit was off, disappearing into the air on its third leap. 

“What was that!” Harry exclaimed, stepping out from behind Hagrid. 

Tonks jumped about a foot in the air. “Oh—Potter! I didn’t know you were there. And Ron, hiya.” 

“Hi,” Ron said, waving. 

“It sends messages?” Harry asked eagerly. “Is it always a rabbit? Can you teach me?”

Tonks was staring at him, the most peculiar expression on her face. “The animal’s different for everyone. It sends messages and wards off dementors. It’s a very advanced spell, you probably wouldn’t be able … Snake?” 

Harry paled. “Uh.” 

“Merlin’s left ball,” Tonks breathed. 

Hagrid coughed, Ron snorted in confused laughter. 

“Sorry, Hagrid,” said Tonks distractedly. “It is you, isn’t it?” 

Harry’s gaze flicked from Hagrid to Ron. “Um. Can we talk alone?” 

“Want to come for a cuppa?” Hagrid asked Ron. Ron very obviously wanted to hear whatever Harry and Tonks were going to talk about, but he obligingly followed Hagrid out of the castle, casting glances back at them.

“Mirror ghost my arse!” Tonks laughed, incredulous. “What the hell, Potter! What does this even mean! Have you been—this whole time—!” 

Harry started to giggle. Tonks was, first and foremost, one of his oldest friends. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said. “Swear it.” 

“I swear it!” said Tonks, astounded. “Circe’s tits, Snake! Were you—you weren’t living in the toilet, were you?” 

“No,” giggled Harry. “I just spent a lot of time in there.” 

“I can’t believe this!” Tonks said, half-angry. “I thought I knew this cool secret—a whole mirror ghost world, and they could come out of it and go back in, and see out everywhere there’s a mirror … I told Charlie about it!” 

“Well you did know a cool secret,” Harry reasoned. “Just a different one.” 

“I suppose.” She laughed in astonishment. “All right, Snake, let’s walk and talk and visit Myrtle. Tell me everything.” 

A blue jackrabbit, ears raised, dissolving into blue smoke at the legs.

See you Monday. Kisses.

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THE DEMIGUISE

THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE

EDITION 2 ✩ 17 JAN 1993


CONTENTS:


THE TRUTH ABOUT GOYLE MASSACRE
by Loupe
THE HIDDEN NATIONS OF HOGWARTS: OUR UNSEEN NEIGHBORS
by Humdinger
HOGWARTS AUROR INCURSION THWARTED
by Superlative
WANDS FOR ONE, WANDS FOR ALL
by Wiggenwand

Dear Griphook, 

How do you like the paper? Would you like to do an interview? I think it would be fantastic to have a piece from the goblin perspective. I might be able to visit the bank over spring holiday, since my friend wants to visit Diagon Alley now that she can. I might be in disguise, though, so I’ll let you know ….

Harry nibbled on the end of his sugar quill, which actually wrote, but only for as long as you could keep yourself from eating it. Draco had given it to him, after his mum had taken him out to Hogsmeade over the weekend. Narcissa Malfoy was back in the country, and Draco was happier than ever for it. 

Across the study table from Harry, Hermione and Limmy were studying the patronus charm. They had been working at it all week, to little effect, but he trusted they would achieve it eventually. They were almost scary together, Limmy and Hermione, but in the most fantastic way. 

Beside them, Dobby and Draco were playing cards. Draco seemed to have finally found a best friend, and his grades had been rising, and he hadn’t stayed in bed on the weekends since coming back to school. He had seven badges on his robe, and Severus hadn’t confiscated one in days. 

Daphne and Ron were pretending to study nearby, but were actually poking each other to try to get the other to flinch. Harry had lasted an entire half hour against Ron in chess yesterday, and Percy had only helped him three times, a huge improvement. Daphne had been refused entry into the centaur village, but Araeo had written saying that he was working on it, so not to worry. 

Harry smiled, all of the sudden deliriously happy. His friends were all here and happy and free, and this summer he and the basilisk would free its eggs, and everything would be utterly perfect.

He bent down to finish his letter and dropped his sugar quill, dashing ink everywhere, as a wave of sickening vertigo washed over him. He groaned, putting his head in his hands, as the magic of the castle shook around him.

“Harry?” Ron asked in alarm. “Are you alright?” 

“You can’t feel that?” Harry asked. 

“No,” said Limmy. “What is it?” 

“The magic …” Harry’s stomach lurched as the magic of the castle undulated in violent shivers. His gorge rose, and he put a hand over his mouth. “What in the stars …” 

And then he heard the basilisk scream.  

“SNAKEHEART!”

Chapter Text

Harry didn’t even know what he said to his friends. He simply ran, leaving everything but his wand in the library, flying down the corridor, down the stairs, into Myrtle’s bathroom—she called out to him but he ignored her, already in the tunnels.

His name, the basilisk had screamed his name, and then nothing—and the illness in his gut, oh stars, what had happened, what had he missed—

Closer, closer, he had to be there now, he was skidding into the lower tunnels, and there was the hall—“Basilisk!” he shouted.

There was only a roar, long and anguished. Harry sent his elflight spiraling out in front of him, larger than he had ever made it, and sprinted directly into the heart of a battle.
 
The basilisk’s tail crashed down just beside him, sending rock and rubble flying as it dodged a sickly yellow curse. The curses were coming at the speed of light, and the incantations sounded strange to his ear—some of them were striking the basilisk’s hide to no effect, but some made it hiss and roar.

But who was casting? In the dust and rubble Harry could not see, until the basilisk reared up to strike.

It was a boy. A boy made of crackling green magic, the same magic of the curse that had lain over the eggs for decades. He wore school robes, and had an angular face, and held in his hand a spectral bone-white wand. He was casting at the basilisk so rapidly Harry couldn’t follow his hands, and he was shouting the spells in the snake tongue. 

Harry clenched his own wand in his fist, breathing with his mouth open, tasting those curses, and did not need to hear the basilisk’s enraged scream of “RIDDLE!” to know that this thing had come from the dairy, for his magic tasted so disgusting that Harry was retching from it.

They battled in front of him with a fury he could not match. Spectral Riddle, curse-green and see-through, flung spells like a whirlpool, and the basilisk dodged as many as it was hit by, striking again and again with its fangs, but they seemed to go right through Riddle. 

Harry tucked himself against the wall and thought, thought, thought—they had no plan for this, but he must, he must think of something, and now—

He was walking through a crystal cave. 

To believe in one true future … will lead you to ruin.

Oh. Araeo had been right, of course. 

He knew what to do. 

“Basilisk!” he cried, throwing himself from the wall into the middle of the battle. “Aelisf!” It whipped its head towards him, those yellow eyes fathoms-deep.

Harry leveled his wand at the basilisk, and he roared: “ABOLEFACEO OMNIS!” 

The explosion was devastating. The basilisk let out a horrifying scream of pain and terror, illuminated by green light. Rubble rained down from ceiling, so much Harry feared the hall would collapse. The curse caught the river, and water erupted everywhere, the banks demolished. When the dust cleared, Harry stood, for he had fallen flat. His ears rang. 

The basilisk lay still. 

And Tom Riddle, spectral and unharmed, stared at him, head tilted. “That was quite a spell,” he said. “Just how powerful are you, Snake?”

Harry’s heart thrummed. The basilisk’s body was still and dull on the edge of his vision. He opened and closed his mouth, whole body tremoring. “I’m …” His stomach lurched, and in desperation, he put a hand to his heart. 

Under his palm, it beat double. 

Araeo was with him. Tucking that knowledge tight into his soul, he tried one more time. “I’m more powerful than you,” he said. “Voldemort.” 

Tom raised an eyebrow. “You know me?” 

“I killed you,” said Harry. “When I was only a baby.” 

Tom twirled his spectral wand, that bone-white wood so familiar. “Have you come to finish the job?” 

“No,” said Harry. “I … need you, actually. And I think you need me.” And he walked forward and past Tom, putting his back to him with a shiver of dread, walking into the den. 

That hated curse squatted there, glowing the same color as Tom’s incorporation. Harry put a hand to it, quashing his disgust easily after all these years. “Did this help you get out of the book?” 

Tom, having followed him in, smiled. “My old magic. Yes, it did. Quite a power source, after ripening for so long. You say I need you? I find that hard to believe. I need no-one.” 

“I lied to you before,” said Harry simply. “When I told you about that book. I hide my charge from all things, even death my maker. The words weren’t on a ring, they’re on a cloak. And I have it.” 

Tom’s face transformed into greedy eagerness. “Oh? And you’re offering to, what, give it to me?” 

“Trade it,” Harry said. He rapped his knuckles on the spell. “In exchange for the eggs.” 

Tom cocked his head. “Tell me more. I heard you speak to the basilisk. You’re a parselmouth, like me.” 

“A … parselmouth? Yes,” Harry said. “I’ve been trying to get through your curse, Tom, but it’s too strong. I want the eggs. I want to raise the basilisks to obey me. But only you can lift the spell. Do it, and I’ll give you the cloak.” 

“Hmm.” Tom tapped his wand on his chin. “How about we split the eggs.” 

“Fine,” said Harry shortly, heart rushing with fear and impatience. “That’s fine.” 

Tom’s eyes glittered. “Eager, Snake?” 

“Yes.” Harry made himself grin. “I’ve been looking for a way to get to them for a while.” 

Tom twirled his wand and approached the curse. “This is one of my masterworks,” he breathed, glowing brighter and brighter as he drew closer. “Impenetrable to anyone but myself, held in stasis by my will alone. It almost seems a shame to destroy it … but I think I want that cloak more.” 

And he raised his wand and began to incant. 

Harry stumbled back a step as the spell dome grew opaque. Tom’s eyes were wild; he looked positively gleeful as he chanted, in the snake tongue, an inconceivably long and complex chain of spells. He had not been wrong: the spell was masterful.

Harry backed up and backed up and backed up as Tom cast, trying hard to appear merely wary. His back hit a shelf of rubble and he fumbled blindly behind him, eyes fixed on Tom, who was enraptured by his own casting. 

The curse bubble went opaque and then transparent four more times as he spoke, and then minute hairline cracks broke over it from top to bottom, and then it … shattered. 

Harry gasped at the feel of the ancient magic exploding, and Tom laughed in glee. “WAKE!” he cried in the snake tongue. “WAKE! WAKE!” 

He looked at Harry with a wild, sharp smile. “See, Snake! See what I can do! Thank of what we’ll do together! Think of—what are you holding?” 

Harry held the diary up in shaking hands for him to see. 

Tom’s face twisted. “Give that to me.” 

“Alright,” Harry said. “Catch.” 

Tom raised a hand. Harry threw the diary, adding a frantic twist of magic. It sailed over Tom’s head and landed on the ground.

Right in front of two gleaming yellow eyes. 

“NO!” screamed Tom, the sound ragged and terrible. “NO!” 

The basilisk plunged its fang into the book, poison bubbling up over it, corroding the diary and the stone around for meters. Tom didn’t even have time to scream. He was simply there, a boy, and then he was a twisted shiver of distorted smoke, and then he was nothing.

The basilisk thrashed, and the diary flew off its fang into the wall. It flew at Harry, keening, and Harry threw his arms around its nose, sobbing and shaking. “Basilisk! Basilisk! Basilisk!” 

“Snakeheart,” rumbled the basilisk. “Oh, Snakeheart, brave, clever, brilliant one.” 

Harry gasped and gasped with relief, and felt the magic of the den shifting once more. It tasted like the first breath of spring after a frost. It tasted like Nayla when he had first met her, pregnant with Araeo. It tasted like newborn Fawkes.

“The eggs,” he breathed. “They’re hatching.” 

green branch

Three hours later, Harry’s knees and back and head were aching, but he refused to move. He had been crouched among the eggs since they had started hatching, cautiously feeling around their magic, listening for any changes. 

There were three eggs, each the size of a quaffle. Every so often the magic around them shifted, and Harry and the basilisk, which was coiled around the perimeter of the nest, would lunge forward, and then fall back again when nothing more happened.

Harry’s eyes drooped. And then he heard something: the most minute tap. He jolted upright and scrambled to the egg on his left, a soft oblong thing the color of moss. Barely visible to his eye, a spiderweb crack had appeared on the side. 

“A crack!” he said. “A crack!” 

“Give it room,” said the basilisk, though it clustered in as close as he was. “Give it room to come to us.”

Harry clutched his hands together and bit his lip to stop from touching the egg. They watched in rapt attention as the cracks grew, so slowly, but steadily. “Do you think it’s healthy?” he whispered. “After so long?” 

“I have no way to know,” said the basilisk. “But it matters not. I will cherish it.” 

“Well, of course.” 

It took another half hour for the egg to hatch. The cracks spread and spread, and then all of the sudden a little white tooth appeared, and then baby started nudging at the shell, protruding outwards—and then a wet, black head the size of Harry’s palm pushed through, eyes squeezed shut and tongue lolling all over the place.

A black snake head pokes out of a green egg.

The basilisk lunged forward immediately and gently nudged the rest of the shell off of it, and began licking the hatching clean. The little thing’s magic was floral and simple, and it made soft lisping hisses as it was bathed. 

Harry’s self control broke, and he began to sob. The basilisk wrapped its tail around him and nudged the hatchling onto his lap, resting its nose beside them. Harry cradled it, stroking its soft, wet scales as the basilisk’s tongue flicked over them both. 

Just as the first’s eyes began to open, the second hatched. This one was bright pink, wriggling out of the egg fast, its eyes already open as if it had spent quite enough time asleep, thank you very much. The basilisk had to catch it before it could run into its coils, and deposited it beside its sibling in Harry’s lap, who began to bawl harder than ever as the first hatching finished opening its little yellow eyes and stared up at him.

“Hello, child,” hissed the basilisk. “Hello, my beautiful, perfect children.” 

The hatchlings made little hissing nosies, no words yet, and fell asleep in Harry’s lap as the basilisk nuzzled them. 

Five minutes later, Harry wiped his eyes and looked at the last egg, which both of them had been deliberately not mentioning. “What about it?” he asked quietly.

“It happens.” The basilisk sighed, and Harry could hear its heartbreak. “Though who can tell what would have been, if not for Riddle ….” 

Harry made a pile of his robes and shifted the hatchlings onto them. He crawled over to the egg. There were no cracks anywhere on it. 

“No cracks, no egg tooth to make them,” keened the basilisk. “Or perhaps a tooth, in a dead mouth.” 

Harry ran his hands over the egg, once, twice, and then—he peered closer, calling his elflight, pressing his face right against the soft surface. “There are cracks,” he whispered. They were thin as cobwebs. “There are cracks!” he said. “It’s in there! I have to help it out!” 

“No magic!” the basilisk warned, as he reached for his wand. “Too much magic already!” It crowded close to him.

“No magic,” Harry said, and willed it from his fingertips. He traced along the egg and found one of the faint ridges. He dug his nail in, flaking the tiniest piece from the shell. He would only do what was absolutely necessary to help.

Piece by piece he dug small bits from the shell, tapping lightly for the fault lines and chipping them away. Tap-tap-tap, chip. Tap-tap-tap, chip. Tap-tap-tap.

Tap tap tap. 

Harry caught his breath and tapped once more. Again, something under his finger tapped back. “It’s in there!” he cried. “It feels me!” He kept up the rhythmic, sympathetic tapping until he felt something push at his fingertip, and then he pulled away and watched the third hatchling push into the world. 

It eyes were open but cloudy white, its skin deep emerald, mouth open, taking in as many scents as possible. Harry helped it break free from the rest of the shell. The basilisk cleaned it off and nudged it onto Harry’s robe with the others.

Harry curled around the hatchlings, and the basilisk rested its head upon Harry. The emerald hatchling licked at the tears still streaming down Harry’s face as he listened to their precious and unformed hissing. 

“It’s blind,” whispered Harry to the basilisk.

“I know,” said the basilisk. “Three perfect children.” 

Chapter Text

“Harry Potter!” roared Severus. “Where the hell have you been!” 

Harry blinked at Severus. “Sorry?” 

Severus looked—more than apoplectic. He looked scared. “Mr. Potter, we are living through an incredibly precarious moment in history! I don’t care how self-sufficient you think yourself, you simply cannot disappear overnight, especially without warning anyone! You flee from the library and fail to return for hours—the faculty have been searching the castle through the night! Dumbledore went under the damn lake, for god’s sake!” 

“He what?” Harry demanded. “Why!” 

“He had some notion in his head—but that doesn’t matter! Explain yourself, Potter!” 

Harry blinked up at him. “Sorry,” he said, finally and honestly. “I apologize, professor. I didn’t mean to worry you. It was an emergency.” 

“I don’t know what sort of emergency—!” He broke off in astonishment, for Harry had hugged him. “Mr. Potter—” arms akimbo, he flailed a bit. “Mr. Potter, are you alright?” 

“I’m great,” Harry sobbed. “I’m better than I’ve ever been. I need to miss this week’s classes.” 

“You what!” 

“I’ll ask Dumbledore,” Harry said, pulling away and patting him distantly on the elbow. “Have a nice morning.” 

“Mr. Potter, it is two pm!” 

green branch

There was further scolding, but it all fell short in the face of Harry’s apparent emotional instability and the sheer force of his joy. He felt like he was drifting, he was so happy and relieved and also melancholy, for some reason. He would have to talk about it with Lobelia. Good thing their next meeting was soon.

His request to skip classes was summarily dismissed, but at least there were no further manhunts when he found it impossible to stay away from the basilisk overnight. Draco covered for him every time.

There were no more bouts of nausea. In fact, there was quite the opposite. 

“All the portraits are talking about it,” said Jade Eyes. “We all feel like we’ve gotten a fresh coat of paint.” 

“I don’t know why I ever wanted to stay in my toilet,” said Myrtle. “I can’t remember what I was scared of.”

“Something I is always feeling about the castle is gone,” said Limmy thoughtfully. “I is never noticing it until it isn’t here anymore.” 

The staircases ran more smoothly, the suits of armor were more animated, the food tasted better. It was as if a curse had been lifted not only over the eggs, but over the entire castle. The basilisk figured that a curse of such potency squatting in the bowels of Hogwarts for so long was bound to have some effect on the building itself. 

“Ohhh, they is precious,” said Limmy. “Look at the pink one! Look!”

The hatchlings’ eyes might have been open, but their gaze as far too weak to do anything more than slow Limmy down for a second. In any case, they loved her. The oldest two squirmed around her long hands and flicked their tongues over her nose. The blind hatchling slept around Harry’s neck, head shoved under his shirt, resting above his heart.

The basilisk rumbled in contentment beside Harry. “I have decided they are to have names,” it said.

Harry gaped at it. “What! Why? Snakes don’t have names!” 

The basilisk nosed him. “One does. This is not a decision I made lightly. You are as much their family as I, and so they will have as close a relationship with you. So think long and hard about the matter, before you choose.” 

“I get to name them?” 

The basilisk met his gaze. “Yes.” 

“Snake?” Limmy asked. “Is you alright? You’s crying again.” 

green branch

“Professor Dumbledore?” 

Dumbledore turned around in mild surprise. “Hello, Mr. Potter. How are you feeling?”

Harry smiled. Dumbledore had been asking him that ever since he disappeared those weeks ago. 

It was almost summer now, and the rest of the year had been practically idyllic. Slytherin had won the quidditch cup. Draco had gotten full marks on his transfiguration exam. Hermione had plans to visit Daphne over the summer, and Ron had started a chess club. 

But one thing lurked at the back of Harry’s mind, working itself slowly out, and as uneasy as he felt parting with one more secret, after all the secrets lost so far, he knew he must. 

“Can I show you something?” he asked Dumbledore. 

“Of course, my boy. Lead on.” He and Dumbledore walked slowly from the great hall, talking idly. “I quite enjoyed my interview, by the way,” Dumbledore said. “Very accurately represented; outstanding journalism. Will The Demiguise continue over the summer?” 

“You’d have to ask the collective, officially,” Harry said, grinning. “But I guess I can just tell you that it will. The, er, collective found a place of alternate summer operation.” 

“How wonderful,” mused Dumbledore. “Do let the collective know I found the feature on centaur law truly elucidating. And I quite enjoy the crossword as well.” 

“I will.” 

They ascended a few flights of stairs, and started weaving through corridors. “I believe Severus told you a while ago that I went to Alimnion when you disappeared,” said Dumbledore. 

“He mentioned it.” 

“I was refused entry,” said Dumbledore ruefully. “And seriously reminded to stay out of mer business. I told the rather aggressive mer Sambation that I was unaware you were mer business.” 

“Huh,” said Harry, trying not to smile.

“Indeed,” said Dumbledore, unable to conceal his. 

Dumbledore demonstrated remarkable patience as Harry brought him to a completely blank stretch of wall. 

“Here’s the thing,” Harry said finally. “I know what’s going on.” 

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “Do you indeed.” 

From out of his bag, Harry pulled the remains of Tom Riddle’s diary. “Yeah, I do.” 

Dumbledore took one look at the diary and turned ashen, swiftly drawing his wand. “Harry, drop that immediately.” 

“It’s alright,” Harry said, holding it out to him. “It’s been killed.” 

“You don’t know what you hold,” said Dumbledore, his eyes wide and alarmed. “Put it down.” 

“It was a part of Tom Riddle,” said Harry plainly. “Just like the locket you destroyed, right?” 

Dumbledore simply gaped at him.

“You’re looking for all of them, you and Severus and Minerva,” said Harry. “I didn’t understand it until I found this one, and I realized it felt just like Quirrell did last year.”

“Where—where did you find it?” Dumbledore asked tremulously. 

“Lucius Malfoy gave it to Ginny Weasley,” said Harry. “I stole it from her. I’m giving it to you, because otherwise I think you’ll keep searching for it forever. Here.” 

Dumbledore reached out with shaking hands and took the book from him, running his fingers over the corroded, bubbled cover. “How did you destroy it? Few things can eradicate a horcrux.” 

Harry shrugged. “I found a way. But that’s not all I want to tell you.” 

“Is it not?” Dumbledore murmured, still staring at the diary.

“Because you’re looking for one hidden in Hogwarts, aren’t you?” 

Dumbledore slowly drew his gaze upwards again. “Why, yes. Tell me, Harry, is there any business you don’t know?” 

“No,” Harry said wryly. “But, anyway, you’re looking for one hidden here. And there’s one place you won’t ever know to look unless I show you. So, here.” 

And starting at one end of the hall, he paced back and forth, saying aloud: “I need the room of hidden things.” 

On his third pass, the door materialized, and Dumbledore shadowed him in astonishment as Harry pulled open the door to the room full of clutter. “My word,” breathed Dumbledore. “Will I ever truly know all that Hogwarts contains? Astounding. Tell me, Harry, can I call it up at any time?” 

“Just walk three times past, thinking that,” confirmed Harry. “Anyway, it wouldn’t feel right, not telling you about this room. What if it’s in here?” 

“Indeed,” said Dumbledore faintly. The diary now dangled from the fingertips of his magical hand, completely forgotten. “I must—I must—Merlin and Morgana. Harry, you have quite blindsided me. Thank you, my boy, thank you.” 

Harry grinned at him. “You’re welcome.” 

green branch

“You’re sure we can’t owl you?” demanded Ron. 

“Yeah,” Harry said regretfully. “I don’t think they’d find me, to be honest, Ron. Maybe you can spend the summer working out a way to send messages without an owl.” 

“That sounds really interesting,” said Hermione. “Ron, maybe me and Daphne can come to the burrow.” 

“Yeah, sure,” Ron said agreeably. “My mum’d love it.” 

“Brilliant,” said Daphne. She flung her arms around Harry. “Remember to get permission for me, Harry! I’m meeting your heart’s partner if it’s the last thing I do! Limmy, make sure he does!” 

“I’ll work on it,” Harry promised. “I think I’m wearing them down.” 

“I’s advocating for you,” said Limmy staunchly, giving Daphne a hug. “You can owls me, you knows.” 

“Really? Brilliant. Hey, maybe we can go to the launch party for the next book together!”

Draco clasped Harry’s arms. “I’ll bring you tons of sweets from France. And Luna and I’ll put coded messages for you in the crossword, so make sure you do them.” 

“Bring me some jeans,” suggested Harry, and Draco’s face lit up. 

Harry crouched down to hug Dobby. “See you soon,” he whispered, giggling. 

Dobby patted his arm. “It is being another busy summer, Snake, in France or not.” 

Limmy went back to the elf wing after saying her goodbyes, and Harry walked them down to the carriages, and then half-heartedly threw on his invisibility cloak. He sat under Áwere and watched the carriages roll away. Severus and Minerva stood there seeing them off. They glanced idly around, called his name a few times, rolled their eyes, and returned to the castle. 

He watched the carriages til they were out of sight, then slowly made his way through Hogwarts. 

“Hiya, Myrtle,” he said, pulling down Áwere’s hood as he entered her toilet. “Happy summer.” 

“Happy summer, Snake!” she said. “I’m just here to see you off—I’m going underwater today!” 

“It’ll be brilliant,” he told her. “You should make friends with the squid. Her name is Dances with Grace.” 

“Maybe I will,” she mused, as he opened the sink. “See you soon!” 

“See you soon!” he called. His trunk was waiting just inside the tunnel. He closed the sink, lit his elflight, and began the walk. 

The basilisk’s hall was still half-demolished. That was a summer task: clearing the rubble from in front of Sal’s chambers, and fixing the river, and repairing the walls. “Basilisk!” he called. “I’m back! Did I miss it?” 

“Welcome home,” said the basilisk, peeking out from the den. “And they have not started speaking yet. They should soon.” 

Harry hauled his trunk into the den, grinning at the sight. In the depression where the eggs had once lain was a nest of dozens of blankets he and Limmy had hauled from the come-and-go room in the dead of night, with Myrtle playing lookout. The basilisk was curled around it, watching the three hatchlings playing together in the middle. Harry dropped his trunk and tumbled down into the nest, the hatchlings hissing in excitement and immediately coming to squirm all over him. 

He kissed and pet them, and then lay flat on his back and stared up into the basilisk’s happy yellow eyes. “Welcome home,” said the basilisk again, softer. 

He smiled gently. “It’s good to be home.” 

“Have you thought of names yet?” 

“Not yet. They’ll be brilliant though. What do you think about Percy?” 

The basilisk gave a hissing laugh. “Absolutely not.” 

The hatchlings slowly drifted into sleep. The pink and black hatchlings curled up under the basilisk’s chin. The blind green one crept to its favorite spot over Harry’s heart. Its eyelids drooped closed as it muttered little half-syllables and strangled hisses. And then: 

“Warm,” it hissed, its tongue flicking over Harry’s chin. “Heart. Warm.”  

Harry met the basilisk’s eyes. “It’s true, Snakeheart” it murmured to him, nudging him with its nose. “Your heart is so warm."