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together through the night

Chapter Text

Something round dropped onto Harry’s face, startling him out of sleep. Groggily, he pushed it off of his head and fumbled for his glasses.

“They really need to fix that.” 

“I keep telling Draco,” Harry grumbled, pushing himself upright and blinking at Araeo, who was heating up porridge over their campfire. “He swears he doesn’t know why it’s happening, but I think it’s on purpose. Were you up before Limmy?” 

Araeo shook his head. “She left a note.” He held it out. Back by breakfast.

“Late,” Harry said teasingly. He sat cross-legged beside the fire and unrolled The Demiguise, which could be counted on to hit you in the face at seven a.m. precisely these days. 

THE DEMIGUISE

THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE

EDITION 30 ✩ 1 Aug 1993

CONTENTS:
 MINISTRY TURNS BLIND EYE TO ATTACKS ON LIBERATED ELVES 
by Superlative
SECOND PURE-BLOOD RIOT PLANNED FOR SOLSTICE
by Loupe 
DUMBLEDORE WON’T BACK DOWN: HOGWARTS DOORS STILL OPEN
by The Demiguise Collective 
INTERVIEW WITH ORRY FEVERFEW, FIELD MEDIC
by Humdinger

SUBSCRIPTION PRICES & CONTACT
NON-WIZARD BEINGS: FREE
EVERYONE ELSE: 1 SICKLE
OWL THE DEMIGUISE COLLECTIVE AT OUR FRENCH HEADQUARTERS FOR INQUIRIES, ADDRESS BELOW

Harry read the paper slowly as Araeo ladled porridge into their travel mugs. None of it was especially uplifting, which just made their purpose here all the more important. 

“Did you do the crossword?” Araeo asked. He knelt, handing Harry his porridge, and Harry leaned against his side to eat. 

Harry flipped to the back of the paper, where there was a short crossword. Grinning, he filled in four specific answers with Araeo’s help. 

1 across: The symbol of Slytherin House, which many erroneously believe to contain a disproportionately high number of blood purists. In fact, we are seeing that the bigots in the ministry reflect an even distribution across all houses. 

4 across: Elves in this country seized their freedom alongside a muggle uprising in the 1780s. 

3 down: A synonym for ‘great,’ this is what Minister Fudge most recently called Thorfinn Rowle’s call to find a way to re-bind liberated elf magic, a task so far proving impossible. 

6 down: Albus Dumbledore’s request to parents uneasy about Hogwarts’ dual position as a harbor for liberated elves: “Just _____. See for yourself.” The Collective encourages anyone curious about the Hogwarts’ operation to do the same.

“Snake, France, Wonderful, Visit,” Harry read. “Snake, France is wonderful. Come visit.” 

Araeo laughed. “He must have fun writing those.” 

“Good morning!” 

They looked up just in time to see Limmy drop down from the highest tree on the border of the clearing, a thirty-foot fall from which she alighted as gracefully as a cat. Harry grinned just to look at her these days—her cheeks were flushed, grey eyes sparkling, and there was always an uncontrollable smile lurking somewhere in the corners of her mouth. And this close to the deep wood, she was practically effervescent, dandelion clocks of magic puffing off of her feet as she landed, dancing off the hem of her cloak as it swayed. 

“Good morning,” Araeo said warmly, offering her a bowl of porridge. 

She ate it ravenously, dropping down beside the two of them and waving her copy of the paper. “This is smacking me in the face just as I is about to catch a frog!”

“Snakeheart thinks it’s on purpose.” 

“I is having words with Draco,” Limmy grumbled, wiping her bowl clean with a flash of her eyes and levitating it over by their things. She gave a showy snap, green sparks flaring off her fingers, and into her hand fell a small object. “Look what I is finding this morning!” 

They leaned forward eagerly. She presented them with a smooth, round piece of crystal that glittered in the morning light. “It’s a charm stone!” she said proudly. “I is finding it in an old abandoned nest.” 

“You’s sure it’s abandoned?” Harry asked, running a finger over the smooth stone.

She nodded. “I’s watching for a while—other animals is coming in and and out of it.” 

“I’ve heard of these!” Araeo said. He reached out and, when Limmy nodded, plucked the stone from her palm, holding it up to look at in the light. “If you soak them in different sorts of water, they can heal.” 

“That’s what my grandmother is telling me,” Limmy agreed. She took it back and rolled it between her fingers. “Is you two ready for the moot?” 

Harry groaned and flopped on his back. “Is we ready for the moot? I’ve been ready for a week!” 

Araeo laughed at him. “Snakeheart, patience.” 

“Patience!” Harry sat up and pointed at him, outraged. “We’ve been here for two weeks!” 

“You’s just impatient to get back to the babies,” said Limmy.
 
Harry scowled at her. It was true, of course. He had spent every waking moment he could get, when he wasn’t busy with emissary duties, with the children, and he absolutely hated being way from them. 

Araeo took his hand, and there was a brief shifting moment as their heartbeats aligned. “You’ll see them soon, Snakeheart,” said Araeo, smiling down at him. “And the basilisk will probably be equally glad to have you back as you are to be back.” 

Reluctantly, Harry surfaced from his pool of homesickness. “Alright, yes,” he sighed. “Patience. Moot.” 

“Patience is moot,” grinned Araeo. 

“This moot is moot,” said Limmy, standing and stretching, “if it isn’t actually the sovereign that we is meeting today.” 

They had been on the other side of the deep wood for two weeks. Harry and Araeo had been here twice before, both times only passing through on the way to and from the crystal cave in the mountains. In both instances, whoever it was that lived in this area of the forest had avoided them entirely. 

Now, though, they had arrived with the express intent to stay put until one of the mysterious people would speak to them. And arriving with Limmy, it seemed, flowering with strange magic like an extension of the deep wood itself, was what it took for the fairies who lived here to finally come out to meet them. 

Tidying up their campsite, they made themselves presentable to the court. There was only so much they could do, being in the middle of a month’s camping journey, but Limmy added some sparkles to her robes, Araeo put on the ceremonial mantle he traveled with, and Harry tried to comb his hair. 

After a few minutes of grumbling and muttering, Araeo sighed and took the comb from him, and in the blink of an eye had his hair braided tight across the sides of his head, tail stretching down to his shoulder blades. 

“Thanks,” Harry said ruefully. 

Araeo ran his hand down the braid and released him. “Presentable,” he judged. “Shall we?” 

“We shall,” mimicked Limmy, and led them through the forest. Harry took Araeo’s hand as they walked, watching the pale pink sparks come off the heels of Limmy’s boots where they hit the ground. So he missed the babies, and so the world was fraught and the ministry terrible—but this was all he had ever wanted, and his happiness threatened to overflow and drown them all. 

Araeo squeezed his hand. “Deep breaths, Snakeheart.” Harry rolled his eyes and elbowed him. 

Topaz and their delegation met them near the marker stone. Such was the nature of the fairy fort that until it had been revealed to them, the stone had just looked like a boulder on the ground. But with the blessing of a fairy, they saw it for what it was: a massive archway, reaching up to the tops of the trees, beyond which the fort emerged.

“Good morning, delegate Topaz,” said Harry, leading their small group in the intricate salute they’d learned. 

“A fine morning for a moot,” said Topaz, returning the gesture along with the three other fairies behind them. “Once again you are welcome in the fort, Emissary Snakeheart, Heir Stargazer, Envoy Snakeheart.”

The fairies were all of two feet tall at the most, but their limbs were elongated, their skin a dark brown, their torsos flat and angular. Their hair floated around their faces in locs of gold and red and black. They wore hard carapace-like armor that shaped to their forms. And of course there were the wings: glinting and insectile, fragile-looking in the light. Topaz, who had been shepherding them to meetings with fairy folk higher and higher up the chain of command, had bright red hair and eyes that glinted like motes of fire inside their head. 

“With whom will we be meeting today?” asked Araeo. “The fifth-intermediary arbitrator? Or perhaps the seventh mediator to the fifth-intermediary arbitrator?” 

Topaz gave a sharp laugh, flashing tiny fangs that were slick with venom. “Heir Stargazer, your wit continues to amuse. No—today you moot with Amaranth themself.” 

A wave of relief crashed over Harry. Finally. He could see the relief easing Limmy’s shoulders as well. No matter how much fun she was having in the forest, none of them had enjoyed being strung along. 

“Enter, fairy guests,” said Topaz. “Remember—speak not unless spoken to, eat not unless fed, and step not where you should not tread.” 

Harry felt the weight of the command settle over them, as it had every day for the past two weeks. They nodded their heads in acquiescence, and followed Topaz and their people though the gate. 

They didn’t exactly leave the forest to get to the fairy fort … it was more like the forest left them. They side-stepped in a way, walking under the arch, and reality shifted. The light grew strange and unchanging; the trees stretched out, the ground under their feet softened. As they walked down the promenade, fairies looked out at them through trees hollowed out like columned wasp nests, keen fiery eyes on these visitors, the first visitors in a very, very long time. 

Harry opened his mouth to breathe in the smell of the fort. It was not quite like the magic of the Deep Wood, but not quite like any other magic he’d ever tasted. It tasted like swirls of smoke on his palate. Topaz and their fairies shifted in size ahead of them, or perhaps it was his perception—the fairies stretched and shrank, flicked back and forth from one spot to another depending on which eye he looked through. 

They longer they walked, the harder it was to keep his feet on the path. But to stray from the path would mean eternity as a stretchy tree or a lightning beetle or something, and so Harry focused all of his will on making sure his feet landed where he intended them. Araeo had to exert the same force of will to keep to the path, but Limmy stepped lightly, the magic of her seemingly unaffected, or less affected, by the fort. 

Topaz called them to a stop at the base of an enormous oak tree. There was a small archway in the bottom f it o that their fairies preceeded them through, Topaz waiting at the side. They flicked their eyes from Harry to the doorway, a challenge. 

Harry stared at the doorway. It was two feet tall. But after two weeks in the fort, he had an idea of how things worked. Carefully keeping his mouth closed and his feet to the ground, he knelt and pushed his head through the archway. As he squeezed through, it expanded around him, and he crawled into a tree trunk that was suddenly as vast as the mer palace, dwarfing him completely. 

Limmy and Araeo clambered in next, Araeo looking a little unnerved at the shift. Topaz passed by with an approving nod and began leading them up an inconceivably long spiral staircase. 

Limmy and Harry glared at Araeo, who was frowning. Centaurs did not like stairs.

Topaz glanced back with an eyebrow raised, but did not speak. Harry sighed in frustration and looked to Limmy. Limmy pulled on her ear for a moment, and then, with a challenging look to Topaz, put out her hand and touched the staircase. It changed in composition from a spiral of stairs to a gently sloping hillside, stretching up into the tree. 

When Topaz did not object, they began to climb Limmy’s never-ending hillside, up and up and up through the trunk of the massive tree.

It amazed Harry, the way Limmy understood how fairy magic worked. He knew, because she had told him, that it was all illusion—there was no hill any more than there were actually endless spiral stairs. What was truly around them she couldn’t articulate, but it was something Harry and Araeo could not perceive. 

At the end of the endless hill, they followed Topaz into a sloping tunnel, with holes in the ceiling letting in dappled light. Harry supposed they were inside a tree branch. 

After perhaps three hours of silent walking, or just as likely thirty minutes, they reached another archway, this one decorated in intricate carvings that hurt Harry’s head to look at. 

Topaz finally broke their silence. “Welcome to the moot,” they said, and pushed open the door. 

They stepped through the archway into a springtime grove. The ground was covered in a layer of moss as thick as a mattress, flowers that were as large as Araeo bloomed along the borders of the space, obscuring anything beyond. Much of the center of the room was taken up by a crystal-blue pool of water, utterly still. 

On a cushion made of yellow flower petals, just behind the pool, lounged the fairy sovereign. 

They were taller than the other fairies—perhaps three feet instead of two, making them about as tall as Limmy. Their hair was bright orange, locs spilling over their shoulders like a lion’s mane. Their umber skin was almost transparent, glowing from some source within them, as were their eight wings that haloed their body. They had coal-black eyes, a long arced nose, and high cheekbones. Their mouth was open to display fangs slick with orange venom. 

The three of them halted just inside the room, holding their breaths. 

A fairy lounges on a yellow flower. They smile widely, displaying pointed teeth. Their hair falls over their shoulders in orange locs. They have eight pairs of dragonfly wings.

On a cushion made of yellow flower petals, just behind the pool, lounged the fairy sovereign. 

Slowly, Amaranth raised one clawed hand and beckoned them closer. Harry preceded them, Limmy and Areo behind, and he led them in kneeling opposite the pool from Amaranth. 

“Rise,” said Amaranth, their voice an insect-buzz. “Emissary, heir, and envoy. Strange visitors from strange lands with strange requests.” 

Harry stood again, evaluating Amaranth as they evaluated him. He spoke not a word. As the silence stretched on, Amaranth cocked their head curiously. Harry merely found a still pool within himself, much like the one on the ground before him, and held. 

“Strange visitors, but canny ones,” Amaranth said finally. “Speak, one with the heart of a snake, and speak, heir to the stars, and speak too, my unbound cousin.” 

Harry gave a single shivery sigh out. “Sovereign,” he said carefully. “What have the thirteen fairies we’ve seen so far already told you?”

Amaranth licked the gathering venom from the corners of their mouth with a wicked grin. “All of it, little hatchling. I thought you would eventually give up.” 

Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Araeo stepped forward with a dip of his head. “Sovereign, if you know what we have spoken of to your advisors, then you know exactly why we have come on behalf of the liberated elves.” 

“Yes,” said Amaranth. “And I behold one before me. Speak, cuz.” 

“Is I your cousin?” Limmy asked curiously, head tilted. Here in this glade, she shed sparks of magic constantly. 

“Cousin enough through magic,” said Amaranth, “I would hear your request with my ears, through your lips, little one.” 

Limmy spread her hands, fingers twitching like she could feel currents running through the air of this place. “Cousin,” she said, “the liberated elves is fighting to free themselves for almost a year, and we is in desperate need of a home. We is spread across the nations of the forest and lake, but we is needing a place to be together, permanently, and to be safe from the wizards who would kills us, and binds us, and enslaves us again.” 

“You need land,” said Amaranth. 

“We needs land,” Limmy agreed. “Safe land. This land, if you is allowing it, cousin.”

“Why this land?” Amaranth demanded. 

“Wizards is not entering the forest,” Limmy said. “They is afraid of it.”

“For good reason,” Amaranth interjected.

“Yes. But there is something else—elves is not knowing where we is first coming from. Wizards is doing their best to destroy elvish history. But how we is feeling in the Deep Wood … we knows we is coming from something like it. It is feeling like home to us.” 

To Harry’s shock, Amaranth started to cry, huge tears welling from their eyes and splashing onto the petals of their cushion, burning sizzling holes through it. They reached their hand out to Limmy, and Limmy, with an uneasy glance at Harry, walked around the lake and took it. 

Amaranth pressed Limmy’s hand to their collarbone. “Cousin Envoy,” Amaranth said, void-black eyes never leaving Limmy’s face, “let us talk.” 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“I is so relieved to be going home,” Limmy said fervently, stuffing their camping things into bags. 

Harry giggled. “You don’t wants to stay with your new cousin?” 

Limmy stared at him. “They is scaring me, Snake. You isn’t thinking they is creepy?” 
 
“Well …” Harry shrugged. “I mean, they agreed!” 

Limmy nodded uneasily. “Agreed to meet with Tippy and Orry. But I isn’t knowing what Tippy and Orry is going to think of them.” 

Harry tried to picture it—no-nonsense Tippy in her high-collared robes faced with the fairy sovereign. He burst out laughing. “I wish I could be there!” 

Araeo finished rolling up the blankets and tied them onto his back. “It’s August fifth; we lost four days in the fort.” 

Harry sighed. “Right. So … that’s two weeks back to the castle if we can get through the Deep Wood in just one. And school starts in three weeks.” He groaned in despair. At the beginning of the summer he’d had so much time! Where had it all gone? 

Limmy winked at him. “You’s forgetting, Snake. I is getting us through the Deep Wood as quickly as you wants.” 

“Then we should get going,” said Araeo, “if Snakeheart is to have any time with the babies at all.” 

Harry stuck his tongue out. Packs on, fire out, and hands joined, they left the fairies, for the moment, behind.

Harry sits on the ground, pant and shirt sleeves roll up. He tilts his face up, laughing.

Bonus doodle of Harry in his element.

Chapter Text

Vogir met them on the edge of the Deep Wood to escort them to the far edge of acromantula territory—and so she, Araeo, and Harry could speak about issues concerning the various nations of the forest and waters. 

They crossed over the river on the edge of the Deep Wood, in Harry’s case with a sigh of relief—he was still nervous crossing that river, sometimes, after having almost died there. Limmy looked back at the Deep Wood with a bit of longing. They had indeed made it through in exactly seven days, thanks to Limmy’s propensity to not get swept up in the wild magic there. Araeo was sulking a bit, having only had a few hours to visit with Chikkeritt and her baby. 

“Salutations, friends,” said Vogir, creeping from the underbrush. Harry perked up to see her, giving his best attempt at a greeting in the acromantula tongue. 

“Your intelligibility is slightly elevated,” she said approvingly, skittering closer to put one of her claws gently on his head. It got tangled in his hair, and Araeo had to pick it out, laughing gently. 

“Hello, princess,” he said. “And hello, Mr. Stormblood.”

“Iffy!” shrieked Limmy, and disappeared and reappeared at Vogir’s side, embracing en elf with two deep scars across his face in an ‘X’. “Iffy, what is you doing here!” 

“Hello, Limmy!” Iffy’s ears twitched in excitement. “I’s going around with Princess Vogir nowadays. If we is to be making a home in this forest, we is needing to know it. We can’t fears our home.” 

“Iffy Stormblood is a prudent and levelheaded leader,” said Vogir, crouched above them all. “He betokens his compeers at my father’s council.” 

“Hello, Iffy,” Harry said, coming to shake Iffy’s hand.

“Harry Potter,” said Iffy warmly, clasping Harry’s hand between his. “Any word from Draco? You know we isn’t able to get owls here.” 

“He’s well,” Harry said. “In France with Narcissa for the summer. When school starts, I is helping arrange a meeting.” 

“I is appreciating that,” Iffy said fervently. “I wants to see for myself that he is well.” 

“Let us ambulate,” said Vogir. “For there is much to discuss.” 

blue branch tipped with small hearts

“It’s just so frustrating!” Harry complained, throwing up his hands. For years, they’d been walking in a line but talking in circles. “Why can’t the wizards just give us a piece of land!” 

It was mostly rhetorical. A helpless frustration had taken hold of him, and he tugged helplessly at his braid in anger. 

Araeo snatched his hand and their heartbeats tilted into each other, and Harry let Araeo’s calmness flow through him. “That won’t solve anything,” Araeo said. 

“It’s just so silly,” Harry said. “What if something happens to me? I can’t be the only—the only link!” 

“Nothing is going to happen to you!” Araeo said sharply, looking shocked. 

“Snakeheart is correct,” Vogir put in. “Of course, that prospect is inadmissible. But eventually, we will necessitate an alternate route to the mer. The course our commonalities are charting, Heir Araeo, will only expedite our objectives to a degree, even if it is a monumental feat to have concurred to such an expanse of neutral terrene. We yet cannot incur upon the acreage of the castle to reach the lake.” 

“It’s just stupid,” Harry said, kicking at a rock. “If Dumbledore—” 

Vogir clicked her pincers. “In any case, I do not wish to depend on the charity of wizards to enable our peoples’ conjunction. They are as capricious as swallows, and renege upon accords as soon as they are settled.” 

Harry subsided into sulking. 

“Let’s part looking upwards,” Araeo suggested, as they arrived at the southern end of acromantula territory. “Princess Vogir, the efforts between our two nations will still be historic.” 

“You are correct,” agreed Vogir. “Until next time, Heir Araeo, Snakeheart.” She pitched her voice upwards. “Stormblood, we have reached the extremity.” 

Iffy and Limmy wandered back over to them—they had been weaving across their path as they walked, talking privately and getting to know the landscape. Iffy gave Limmy a great hug, and then clasped Harry and Araeo’s hands again. He climbed onto Vogir’s back and she scuttled away. 

“What a frustrating talk,” Araeo murmured.

“Speak for yourself,” Limmy said, snorting. “Iffy said the acromantulae is teaching the elves to fight!”

blue branch tipped with small hearts

Harry both wished and didn’t wish that Limmy could transport two people at once. Apparition, he’d learned it was called. When he and Limmy had gone on their own to the Deep Wood before, it had only taken three days to get there, Limmy hopping them a great distance and then resting. But she could not apparate Araeo as well, and so for this journey they’d gone the long way. 

He wished she could apparate them both because he’d be back with the babies by now. He didn’t wish she could, because it would cut short his time with Araeo. 

It was building again, that nameless dread that always built up between their palms as they approached centaur territory. The sensible thing to do was let go of each other before it could start to fester. Unfortunately, that was the very last thing either of them wanted to do. 

Harry’s lip trembled. Araeo clutched his hand tighter, tail swishing in agitation. It just wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t Araeo just come with him? So he had to stay with his people, so things at the castle were fraught and dangerous, so he had duties and Harry had duties and how would a centaur get into the tunnels anyway … none of that mattered over the misery of parting.

“I’m letting go,” mumbled Araeo, proving himself more mature this time. Their hands fell away and, as it always would, the subsuming desperation vanished. Harry laughed a little in amusement at themselves. He saw Limmy, beside him, rolling her eyes hugely. 

“Give my love to Bane,” Harry said, grinning. 

“Oh, I’ll be sure to,” Araeo said. With one last embrace, he split from them and headed east towards the village. 

Araeo, a centaur with dark brown skin and fur and white hair, is depicted from the knees up. His skin is spotted with white patches. He wears a red cloak and carries a spear on his back, from which charms dangle, and a bag strapped to his side..

Araeo

“And then there were two,” Harry murmured. 

Limmy’s eyes sparkled and she held out her hand. “Shall we, Emissary Snakeheart?” 

Grinning, he seized it. “We shall, Envoy Snakeheart. To the castle!” 

There was a whip and whirl of magic and they were out of the forest and inside the new elf wing of Hogwarts. Inchy, sitting near the window and scribbling on a scroll, shrieked and threw her quill at them, spilling ink everywhere.

“Blasted youths,” she muttered, pointing at them. “Give me my quill!” 

“Sorry, Inchy,” Harry said. He floated the quill over to her in a little trick of elf magic. 

She snatched it from the air and pointed it at him. “You isn’t cute, Snake.” With a twitch of her nose, the spilled ink slurped back up into the inkwell. 

“Where is Tippy?” asked Limmy in excitement. “We haves fantastic news!” 

“Where else?” Inchy muttered, putting nose to parchment. “With Dumbledore, plotting and planning. Now leave, I is doing my arithmancy homework.” 

Harry and Limmy departed from the common room, wandering into the elf wing. It had transformed since he and Limmy had witnessed its frantic initial putting-together. Every stitch of it was dripping with the elves’ new exploding magic, which had hardly curtailed in the months it had been freed. It was as if a vast generational upwelling was pouring out of the collective liberated elves. The halls were collages of environments—at the beginning of one hall, the castle grew stone tree branches that dropped pebble fruits, in the middle of the hall it shifted into a stone tunnel swirling with watercolors, and by the end they walked through tall, tall grass sprouting from the floor. 

“I’s going to wait for Tippy in the library,” Limmy said, as they neared the end of the elf wing, where a portrait of a griffon guarded the entrance. “Hello, Swiftwing.” 

“Hello, Miss Snakeheart,” said the griffon, with a huge yawn. “The library, you say? Might you take a message to the portrait of the unicorn near the librarian’s desk?” 

“Of course,” said Limmy. “What is you wanting to say to him?” 

“Oh,” said Swiftwing, pawing nervously at his tail. “If only you would tell him that his mane remains more resplendent than the night sky, that his eyes haunt my every waking moment like glimpses of another realm, and that though he continues to spurn me, my heart will remain true until I am unmade.” 

“That’s lovely,” said Harry approvingly. He had a fondness for love poetry, catalyzed by his friend Basilia.

“I stayed up all night thinking of it,” said Swiftwing proudly. He yawned again. “That’s why I’m so tired.” 

“I’s telling him,” Limmy promised. “And remember—Snake isn’t being here.” 

Swiftwing winked at them. “Elf business is elf business, Miss Snakeheart. They couldn’t pry your secrets from me if they went at my wings with paint stripper.” 

They exited the portrait and Harry flipped around his pendant of Chikkeritt’s hair. Limmy and he fumbled through a half-invisible handshake. “Later!” he whispered. 

“Later, Snake!” She went to the library, and he to the tunnels. 

The new-familiar smell of his family overwhelmed him as soon as he neared the basilisk’s hall. He turned his pendant back around and started to run, shouting ahead of him: “I’m home!” 

“SNAKEHEART!” came a chorus of voices, hisses soft and sweet and young, followed by a gentle laugh of someone much older. They met him just as he made it to the entrance of the den, and he was swarmed. They coiled up his legs and wrapped around his chest in excitement, and he sat down on the ground, laughing and trying to hug and kiss all of them at once. Their tongues flicked across his ears and nose and made him giggle.

“Babies!” he cried. “I missed you!” 

“We’re not babies!” 

“I missed you too!” 

“I missed you most!” 

“No it didn’t!” 

“Yes I did!” 

“We’re not babies!” 

“What did you bring us!” 

“You kissed Ouro twice but me once!” 

“No it didn’t!” 

“Yes it did!” 

Harry took their heads one by one and kissed them thrice for good measure, before looking up in amusement at the basilisk, who nudged the side of his head in greeting. If he looked closely, he could see the faintest signs of stress in its eyes. 

“I am glad you are home too,” it said, in something very much like relief. 

“I smell bugs!” screamed Laila, butting its face against his pack. “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!” 

“Snakeheart, don’t let it eat all of them!” wailed Ouro, curling around and around his head. “It ate all of them last time!” 

“No I didn’t!” 

“Yes you did!” 

“I,” Harry said, sitting up. “Am very glad you two don’t have hands.” 

“What about me?” hissed Ifingr, poking its head out of Harry’s shirt, wide white eyes staring up in his direction. 

“I am also glad you don’t have hands,” Harry admitted. “But you probably don’t want them anyway.”

“No,” agreed Ifingr. “They’re wormy.” 

“They kind of are,” Harry agreed, tickling Ifingr until it squirmed away. 

“I don’t know what I would do if they had hands,” the basilisk reflected. “And I don’t know what I’m going to do when you go back to school.” 

“Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!” 

“Me either,” Harry said with complete honestly, covered in snakes. 

Harry sits cross-legged, covered in snakes. The green basilisk loops around behind him, looking over his shoulder. In his lap and twined over his arms are three small snakes, one black, one green, and one pink.

“We’re not babies!” 

blue branch tipped with small hearts

The good thing was, the children still spent most of their time sleeping, and would for several years. Whereas centaurs had short childhoods and prolonged adult lives, the stages of a basilisk’s life stretched far beyond any comparable measurement. This amount of sleep enabled them, however, to spend their waking hours in the grips of massive bursts of energy that crashed into abrupt exhaustion. 

Having ridden the wave of this one together, Harry leaned against the basilisk’s head, watching the babies sleep in the middle of the room, tangled around Harry’s glow rock, digesting after gorging themselves on bugs from Vogir. 

“Stars,” Harry said, in something like wonder and something like horror. 

“Indeed,” rumbled the basilisk, eyes slipping closed. 

“I could take them out of the den,” Harry suggested. He had suggested it before. “One at a time. In secret. Really carefully.” 

“I worry,” said the basilisk. It had said it before. “They are still so vulnerable. We are still so vulnerable. Where others see a nation, we are only five, three of us too young even to kill.”
 
Harry shared its worry. He looked over at them: green Ifingr, named after Salazar’s mer love; rosy Ouro, who his friend Jade Eyes had helped name, and black Laila, which his friend Daphne had told him meant ‘night’ in Arabic. He loved them more than anything in this world by several orders of magnitude. 

“Just think about it,” Harry said. “I’d be careful.” 

“I know you would,” say the basilisk in amusement. “Maybe. Not now. Let it be just us for a little longer.” 

And how was Harry to argue with that? He drew his acro-silk blanket over himself, curled into the basilisk’s cheek, and closed his eyes. 

Chapter Text

“And then, do you know what Snape said?” 

Harry caught the ball Myrtle passed him and lobbing it into the far corner of the toilet. “No, what?” 

“He said,” Myrtle said, snatching the ball just before it hit the ceiling, “and I quote,” she made her voice low and drawling, “I don’t give a damn if it’s for the greater good, Albus, you can get eaten by a dragon next summer, when school’s not about to begin!” She broke off in a fit of giggles, hair shivering and vibrating through the air. 

“And he wouldn’t let him leave?” Harry asked, laughing. 

“No!” She cackled and flung the ball three feet above his head; it ricocheted off a stall door and slammed into his side. “Oops—sorry, Snake!” 

“Wish I could have seen it,” Harry said, dribbling the ball off the stone floor. 

“Ooh, guess what else! I know who the new defense teacher is!” 

“Really, who?” 

“He’s called Mad-Eye Moody, and he’s as odd as his name sounds.” 

“Mad-Eye?” Harry asked. They volleyed the ball back and forth as he thought. “I’ve heard that name. Tonks mentioned him once, maybe?” 

“He’s a retired auror,” Myrtle said. “And he’s got a wooden leg and a weird magic eye and he only ever drinks from this flask. He’s creepy, and that’s coming from me!” To emphasize this point, she stretched her jaw down to the floor and swallowed the ball on Harry’s next throw, materializing it back into his hands. 

“What can his eye do?” 

“Hm? See through walls or something.” 

Harry clutched the ball, alarmed. “Through walls? What about through invisibility?” 

“Ooh, Snake, you’d better be careful,” Myrtle said, frowning. “Maybe you should stay home until school starts.” 

Harry pouted. “But—but I don’t want to.” 

“It’s only a week,” Myrtle cajoled. “Get some library books and settle in.” 

“Well … alright.” Harry sighed, wind taken out of his sails. But Myrtle was right. Better safe than sorry. “Well, come with me to the library, then? You can scout ahead.” 

“Yes!” Myrtle did a few flips in the air. “Super spies!” 

For extra safety from Mad-Eye Moody’s magical eye, Harry flipped Chikkerit’s pendant around and put on Áwere, his invisibility cloak. “Can you see me?” he whispered.

“No, naturally,” Myrtle said. “So keep up, and if I see Mad-Eye, I’ll start screaming like a banshee.” 

Harry shuddered. He had heard this before, and Myrtle was not exaggerating. “Alright, go!” 

Harry behind Myrtle, doubly invisible, they dodged and dashed their way through Hogwarts. It stopped being real and started being a game about two seconds in. They flattened themselves against walls—and into walls, in Myrtle’s case, crawled up staircases, leapt behind suites of armor, and made it to the library giggling and out of breath, for those who still had breath. 

“Free book room,” Harry panted. 

“You mean Snape’s reading room?” Myrtle whispered wryly, nonetheless leading the way into the library, creaking open the heavy stained-glass doors. 

“Free book room,” Harry insisted. 

Unlike previous years, Harry did not have to use an extra push of magic to enter Snape’s reading room—the door was unlocked. He pulled Áwere’s hood down so Myrtle could see him as they crept inside. The room was a cozy space, with a seascape painting, armchair, and table stacked with books.

“Didn’t Snape literally kill you when he found out you’d been stealing from him?” Myrtle asked, peering over his shoulder as he stood by the table. 

“Well, yes,” Harry admitted. “But this summer ….” 

He gestured to the table. It was covered with bookmarked texts and scrolls of paper, but to the side there was a smaller stack of books: Beginner Potions Theory; 1000 Further Magical Herbs and Fungi; and, on the very bottom, a brand-new copy of Why Do I Feel This Way? A Young Wizard’s Guide to Growing Up.

Myrtle shrieked and seized the last before Harry could hide it. “Merlin and Morgana,” she cackled, spinning up to the ceiling where Harry couldn’t reach. “Chapter Three: Setting Boundaries is Never Crossing the Line!; Chapter Six: When You’re Falling Behind or Racing Ahead of Your Friends!; Chapter Eight: Discrete Spells!; chAPTER TEN: WHO CAN I TALK TO ABOUT MY BODY?, oh Merlin, Chapter Twelve—” 

Harry finally succeeded in wrenching the book from her grasp with elf magic, yanking so hard it knocked into his chest and sent him sprawling. “Not funny,” he moaned, face so hot he could burst into flames. “I can’t believe he left that.” 

Myrtle was laughing so hard her whole form was pure black with mirth, tears of glee leaking from her eyes and pooling, viscous, onto the floor.

“Alright,” Harry snapped, stuffing the books in his pack. He viciously tried to ignore her, and saw that there was also a bar of Honeydukes chocolate. “You’re not getting any of this,” he snapped, waving it at her.

“Oh, Snake, it’s adorable,” she crooned, not looking bothered about being denied food she couldn’t eat. “Don’t be embarrassed.” 

“Don’t be embarrassed, she says, while trying to embarrass me,” he muttered, face hot as coals. 

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry,” Myrtle said. Her tears disappeared, her form faded back to grey. She settled cross-legged atop Severus’ books, frowning. “It’s just … Snake, you’re going to be older than me.”

He stared at her, uncomprehending.

Her bottom lip trembled. “No one ever gave me that talk, I died too young—you’ve always been younger than me and now you won’t be!” She frizzed in and out of visibility.

“Myrtle!” Harry exclaimed, flinging his arms around her. She buried her freezing face in his shoulder, and he felt his heart breaking in two. “I’m sorry, Myrtle!” 

“There’s nothing you can do,” she said miserably. 

“I want you to grow up with me,” he said, cold to his soul. “I want—I want—I don’t want you to be dead, Myrtle!” Somehow, he had never really realized what it meant.

“But I am,” said Myrtle in a tiny voice. “And if I wasn’t, we’d never have met.” 

Harry sniffed hard, losing the fight against crying. “You’re my first friend.” 

“You’re my first friend. Don’t leave me behind.” 

“I won’t leave you behind,” Harry promised. “I won’t ever leave you behind. And if you want, I will read you this whole book out loud!” 

She sputtered with laughter. “No, offense, Snake, but I think I’d rather die a second time.” 

blue branch tipped with hearts

“There he is,” whispered Myrtle. They were flat to the ground on a seventh-story balcony, peering all the way down into the entrance hall. “I know I said I was going to scream, but I don’t really feel like it anymore.” 

“Don’t scream,” Harry advised. “He’s really far away, anyway.” 

Mad-Eye Moody limped towards Dumbledore’s office, grizzled and war-torn. Tonks had told him she’d once impersonated him for an hour, before he’d showed up and nearly blasted her head off thinking she was a dark wizard. He was stoppering a small flask, clipping it onto his belt. 

“I can’t see his eye from here,” whispered Harry.

“Trust me, it’s creepy,” said Myrtle. “I’ve seen it look into the back of his own skull.” 

That settled it. There was no reason for Harry to blow his cover because he wanted to galavant around the castle for the week before school started. Besides, the basilisk needed all hands on desk—and between the five of them, they only had two hands. 

“Tell Limmy what I’m doing if you see her,” Harry whispered.

“I will,” Myrtle said. “After I tell her about your new book.” 

“Don’t you dare.” Crawling away from the balcony, Harry and Myrtle made their way to a seventh-floor bathroom with an entrance to the pipes. “Will you help me get out of the castle next week?” Harry asked. 

“Sure,” Myrtle agreed. “My toilet, five o’clock.” 

blue branch tipped with hearts

One week later, at five o’clock, Harry met Myrtle in her toilet. Doubly-invisible, she shepherded his way through the castle and onto the grounds, avoiding Mad-Eye Moody and departing once he’d reached gates, open for the horse-drawn carriages. 

“Thanks, Myrtle,” he whispered.

“See you soon, Snake.” 

The Hogwarts Express would not arrive for a little while, so he had plenty of time to ensconce himself in the station bathroom. He took his time walking there, took off his cloak and enjoyed the fall breeze and let his excitement build up—he hadn’t seen his school friends in ages. As always, there was so much still to do that school half felt like an imposition …. 

He remembered a conversation with the basilisk a few days before. Technically, the only reason he’d been at Hogwarts in the first place was to learn enough to free the eggs. And the children had been freed. 

The basilisk had been neutrally accepting of whatever choice he made, to stay in school or not. And the temptation of spending all his time with the babies, of devoting himself fully to his duties as emissary …. 

But he had more than that now. He had other duties, and other friends, and other parts of his life. So here he was, for a third year of school, for better or worse. 

Sighing, he stared at the blue September sky, wishing he was flying. That was another factor, of course. He couldn’t play quidditch if he didn’t attend Hogwarts.

A bird soared across the sky. An owl. A snowy owl. A snowy owl coming right for him, invisible as he was with Chikkeritt’s pendant.

Yelping in surprise, he flung his arm out for Hedwig to land on. “You’re not supposed to see me,” he hissed, glancing around them, “and you’re definitely not supposed to find me before school starts!” He had a no-summer-letters rule for a reason—while some professors might suspect where he lived, Hedwig finding him in the castle during the summer was simply too obvious.

But Hedwig bore a note on Araeo’s distinctive forest paper, and the irritation in Harry’s gut turned to alarm. Araeo knew the consequence of someone spotting Hedwig. He ripped the paper open at once. 

Heartkin,

I know this is risky, but you must heed my judgment. Just this time, trust him first.

A

Trepidation ran through Harry’s stomach. Trust who? Why this once? He kissed Hedwig’s forehead and flung her into the air, tucking the note into his robe pocket. His thoughts troubled him all the way to the station. 

blue branch tipped with hearts

 The train rattled into the station with a familiar rumble and groan. Harry imagined riding the Hogwarts Express must be very fun. He’d never been on a train before that he could remember. Certainly the students seemed excited, spilling onto the station in a commotion of yelling and shouting. 

Harry stole out of the station and spotted his pack of friends immediately, claiming a carriage for themselves. 

“Hey, hold the door!” he shouted, as Hermione began to close it. Though she couldn’t see him, she grinned widely and flung the door back open. He leapt through, catapulting across Draco and Daphne’s laps, laughing as the carriage started to trundle forward. 

“We can’t see you!” Hermione giggled. 

Harry flipped his necklace and grinned around at them all. “‘Lo!” 

“Mate!” Ron said, launching himself atop all of them, making Draco protest. “I’ve missed you!” 

“You too!” Harry said. They sorted out hugs and then Harry squeezed in beside Daphne. “Tell me all about your summers!”

“Ooh, I got a cat!” said Hermione. “His name is Crookshanks, isn’t he lovely?” 

Harry stared at the creature she heaved onto her lap, which resembled nothing so much as a small orange bear. He blinked slowly at Harry with his one eye. “He is lovely!”

“I visited Hermione and we went the zoo!” Daphne said. “It was wicked—we saw an elephant! Oh, but Ron went to Egypt.” Her voice was dripping with jealousy.

“We saw my brother Bill,” Ron told Harry. “He’s a cursebreaker, works with archaeologists excavating ancient sites.” 

“Wow,” Harry breathed. He remembered Bill vaguely as the coolest person he’d ever seen. “What was it like?” 

“Well …” Ron hesitated. “Dead boring, mostly. His work, I mean. Don’t see what’s so fun about digging around in tiny squares in the dirt all day. But he did take us on tours of some famous temples, and those were pretty wicked. Ginny loved it.” 

“Digging in dirt,” Draco scoffed. “Mother and I summered in France.” 

“Oh, did you summer in France,” Ron said mockingly, sticking his tongue out. “So instead of mummies you had snails, yeah?”

“You just said you didn’t have mummies,” Draco pointed out. 

“Yeah, but at least we didn’t have snails.” 

Harry let them bicker, leaning happily into Daphne as she re-braided his hair. They were all looking well—Hermione had a new hairstyle, braids tight against the sides of her head, framing the cloud of her hair; Daphne had new glasses, green cat-eyes with yellow spots; Ron had shot up a full three inches; and Draco’s formerly-shaved hair was floppier, bangs dyed pastel pink.  

Yeah, he supposed. This was probably the right choice. 

Chapter Text

He felt eyes on him the moment he walked in the entrance hall, but he valiantly ignored them, splitting from Ron and Hermione and trooping over to the Slytherin table.

“Guess what?” Daphne said excitedly. “My sister’s being sorted this year!” 

“Oh! Astoria?” 

She nodded furiously. “I’m so excited. There was a bit there when I was worried—er, well, I was worried my parents would pull us from Hogwarts.” 

Harry stared at her. “What, really?” 

She nodded sadly as they sat. “Well, look around, Harry. Where are Greg and Tracy?” 

Harry looked up and down the table, aghast. “They—they can’t come back? Because of the elves?” 

Daphne nodded. “Their parents wouldn’t let them. My father was worried about conflict reaching Hogwarts and putting the students in danger. He and mum had talked to the head of the Magus Institute about transfers and everything. Astoria and I talked him down in the end, but he’s worried out of his mind.” 

“And that’s not all,” Blaise pointed out, leaning in to their conversation. “Look who else’s gone—Edgecomb and Entwhistle from Ravenclaw, and Macmillan from Hufflepuff. That’s just our year.” 

“And I heard the first-year numbers are low,” added Pansy from opposite Blaise. “And … well, if I’m honest, I had a massive row with my parents, too. They didn’t want me to come back. They wanted to send me to—to Beauxbatons.” There was a collective shudder. 

“Well, I’m glad you came, Pans,” said Daphne. “It wouldn’t be the same in the dorm without you.” Pansy beamed at her. 

“Did you see his eye?” asked Myrtle, her eyes and just her eyes protruding from Draco’s plate. He shrieked and fell backwards off the bench. Myrtle dissolved into laughter and he scrambled up, frowning.

“Whose eye?” Daphne asked, giving Myrtle a high-five.

“Mad-Eye, of course,” said Myrtle, eyes flicking up to the head table. 

“Oh,” Daphne said in surprise. “Um.” 

“That really is something,” said Millicent. 

Sensing the entire Slytherin house’s gaze on him, perhaps, Mad-Eye Moody turned his mad eye on them, a mechanical, magical thing that whizzed around in its socket, the pupil an uncanny blue. They jumped as one and turned back into their huddle. 

“I don’t like that,” whispered Millicent from down the table. “My dad almost withdrew me, too, and half the reason was because he’s here.” 

“Why’s that?” Harry whispered back.

She frowned at him. “Well, because he put a bunch of my relatives in Azkaban.” 

“Oh.” Awkwardly, Harry shifted his attention back to Daphne, Draco, and Myrtle, just in time for the elves to pop in. “Hi Limmy!” 

“Dobby!” Draco yelped, seizing Dobby in a crushing hug. “I missed you!” 

“I’s missing you too!” Dobby said. “I’s sorry I’s having to leave France early.” 

“I understand,” Draco said, furiously budging Blaise over to make room. “Tell me everything you’ve been doing.” 

“I is telling you some,” Dobby hummed, “while we’s at the dinner table.” 

“Right, obviously.” 

Limmy rolled her eyes. “And I isn’t even getting a hello.” 

“Hello, Limmy,” said Draco. 

“Hello, Draco.” She reached out to shake his hand, grinning.

“Hello, students!” said Dumbledore, standing with his arms wide open at the podium, displaying his hand which was a construction of magical light. “And welcome to another year at Hogwarts! Tonight we welcome those who are joining us, and miss those who chose not to return. We wish them the very best of luck on their chosen paths. The doors of Hogwarts will always be open to those who wish to be here, and that doubly means that the doors of Hogwarts will always be open to those who wish to leave. 

“So let us tarry no longer on who is not among us, and focus on who is! These brave first years, ready to be sorted and get down to the important business of dinner, thank you very much! I’ll not obfuscate any longer. Let the sorting begin!” 

Applause, and sorting. Harry didn’t pay much attention to it, besides hollering up a storm with Daphne when her sister Astoria was sorted into Ravenclaw. The food was sent up and they ate until they couldn’t any more, and then they had dessert. Draco bombarded them all with stories about wizarding France. Harry wished he could tell them about his summer adventures … but for now, he would keep his silence. 

There may come a time, Lobelia Aster had promised him, when his lives would converge. And until then, he would have to be patient. For now, it was enough that Limmy knew the whole of him. She leaned against his side, lazy and relaxed with an after-dinner cup of mint tea, in a dark purple robe and a scarf that Hermione had knitted her.

She shared his name now, and he supposed that made her as close to a sister as he would ever have. Filled with sudden warmth, he squeezed her hand under the table. She didn’t even look at him, just squeezed back. 

When dessert had vanished from the tables, Dumbledore stood again. “Bellies full?” he asked. “Very good. Just a few announcements before bed. We have two new staff members today. The first is, of course, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Alastor Moody!” 

Mad-Eye Moody raised his flask to the crowd, taking a sip. There was scattered applause and nervous laughter. 

“And secondly,” Dumbledore said, a grin spreading over his face, “some of you may have noticed that Professor Kettleburn has retired at last!” 

“Finally,” Harry said. No more fixing Kettleburn’s blunders in the forest; the thestrals would be relieved.

“And, likewise, we have decided to make a change to Care of Magical Creatures, for the time being. Please welcome your new professor of Inter-Species Relations, Rubeus Hagrid!” 

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Harry and his friends threw themselves to their feet, screaming and hollering as Hagrid stood up, blushing fiercely and waving. He locked eyes with Harry and smiled broadly. 

“Professor Hagrid,” Dumbledore said loudly, settling them down with a wave of his hand, “has also served for many decades as the steward of the Hogwarts grounds, and the emissary of Hogwarts castle to our non-human neighbors. You all should be very excited to learn from his expertise.” 

“Yes, yes, yes,” Draco chanted, “oh, what if he brings guest speakers? Do you know who he could bring?” 

“Let me guess,” Daphne said dryly. “Is it Remus—” 

“—Lupin,” finished Draco. “Glad you agree; it’s obviously the proper choice.” 

Something hit Harry in the back of the head. He spun around, to see the twins staring at him from the Gryffindor table. They flicked their eyes frantically to his lap, where a little paper crane had fallen. He unpicked it a bit regretfully, to see a little scrawled message: get over here ASAP after dinner. He flashed them a subtle thumbs-up and turned back to his friends, sticking the message next to Araeo’s missive in his pocket.

“What’s that?” Limmy murmured.

“No idea,” Harry said, something cold and wormy building up in his stomach.

blue sprout with hearts on the tips of branches

The moment they were dismissed Harry scrambled over to the Gryffindor table. Fred and George were pale and drawn, lips pressed into thin lines, hands clenched. Identical pictures of terror. To see Fred and George truly scared was an awful thing.

“What,” Harry breathed. 

The twin that might have been Fred waved a bit of parchment at him. “He’s an imposter,” he said through unmoving lips. 

“Who?” 

“Mad-Eye. No, don’t look over at him!” 

“Okay. Who is he really?”

“Map says ‘Barty Crouch.’ That’s who Percy wants to work for at the ministry. No clue why he’s here.” 

The strain of not looking at Mad-Eye was making Harry shake. 

“We check the map every first day now,” said possibly-George. “Have ever since Pettigrew, just in case. What do we do?” 

Harry put his head in his hands. An imposter in the school, and once again it came down to the map. His father’s map. He didn’t want to lose it, but …. 

He fumbled Araeo’s note from his pocket, scanning it desperately. Heed my judgment. Just this time, trust him first. When Araeo used their code, Harry listened. But who was he to trust? Looking around at the flow of students, almost out of the great hall, he saw Dumbledore talking to Hagrid in the corner. 

“Fred and George,” he said seriously. “We can’t try to do this ourselves again. Things are dangerous right now.” 

“We understand,” said Fred, hands knotted tight in his lap. “Can we hurry?” 

“Follow me.” 

Shaking, Harry pushed himself to his feet. He stumbled a bit, shocked at how scared he actually was. Had he been this scared with Pettigrew? But with Pettigrew, the country hadn’t been in the middle of an inter-species conflict. 

“Hey, there, Snake,” said George, taking his hand. “We’ve got you.” 

“Right,” said Harry. “Whatever you do, don’t look at him.” 

“Got it.” 

They forged their way across the crowded room to Dumbledore, and Harry’s heart was beating so hard and fast it was as if he held Araeo’s hand. 

“Harry, my boy,” said Dumbledore with a broad smile. “I see you’ve come to me first this year. I trust your summer was well.” 

“Professor,” Harry said, squeezing George’s hand so tight the other boy winced. “We all need to go to your office right now.” 

“My boy, is everything—?” 

“Right now, professor,” Fred said. 

Dumbledore blinked. And then he said, “Of course you may use my fireplace, I do hope your aunt is recovering—come along, boys. And you too, Mr. Potter, for our usual meeting. Professor Hagrid, until breakfast.” 

“I’ll be around the lake,” Hagrid said vaguely, nodding at them all.

Dumbledore swept from the hall and they followed him, half-trotting. “Tell me,” said Dumbledore, in a carrying voice, “when did she fall ill?” 

“L-last week,” said Fred nervously. 

“Dragon pox.” Dumbledore shook his head. “One hates to see it, these days. Too many fall to its clutches, but luckily far less than before. Why, I remember my good friend Elphias Doge—” 

He chattered about dragon pox as they walked to his office, ascended the stairs, and stood, huddled and nervous, around his desk. Then he dropped the act.

“Boys, what is happening?”

“Fred?” Harry whispered. 

“Right.” Fred put the map on the desk. “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.” Before Dumbledore’s eyes, the map unfolded, populated quickly by the little roving dots of students and professors.

Dumbledore’s eye grew so large behind his spectacles it was comical. He bent his crooked nose to the parchment and stared. “What marvel is this?” he breathed. 

“It’s the Marauder’s Map,” George babbled. “And it never lies; it’s how we found Pettigrew second year, and now—” 

“Mad-Eye Moody shows up as Barty Crouch,” Harry said.

Dumbledore’s head snapped up, eyes wide with shock. “Crouch?” 

“Find him,” Fred snapped, and they bent over the map. Luckily, he was still in the great hall, speaking to Severus. 

“What do we do?” whispered Fred. “It’s not on purpose, is it, Professor?” 

“It is most certainly not on purpose,” said Dumbledore grimly. His face transformed into something hard and cold that Harry had only seen a few times before. With a snap of his wand, a ghostly phoenix patronus appeared. “Kingsley Shacklebolt,” Dumbledore said. “Alastor imposter at Hogwarts. Bring trusted team immediately.” 

The patronus vanished, and Dumbledore whirled around to another phoenix—Fawkes, fully adult, perched in the corner. “Fawkes—be my eyes. Find him and watch him, don’t let him leave.” With a screech of agreement, Fawkes vanished in flash of flame, and Dumbledore’s eyes flashed fiery red. 

“Tippy Lockjaw,” he called, and in a second Tippy was beside them, in purple pajamas and nightcap. “Madam Lockjaw, the castle is breached. Lock down the elf wing at once and prepare all defenses. I will send Severus or Minerva in person when the threat is ended, code word 'jawbreaker.'” 

Tippy didn’t bother answering, just spun away again in whirl of sparks.  

“Boys,” Dumbledore said, “you have done the right thing. You must stay here in this office, do you understand? If you feel threatened, floo to the Weasley’s home and await my word there. Tell me you understand and agree.” 

“We understand,” George said. 

“We agree,” Fred said. 

Dumbledore stared at Harry. “I—I—” Heed my judgment. “I understand and agree.” 

“I am locking the door. No one but the headmaster may open it. I will come for you when it is safe.” And he strode from the office, the door flaring with a burst of orange flame behind him.

“Oh, Merlin, Snake,” Fred said, clutching his hand. “Thank you, we didn’t know what to do.” 

Harry was shaking. What was he doing, stuck in Dumbledore’s office while a danger called Barty Crouch threatened—threatened something. His friends? The elves? Sure, what could he do, but surely something more useful than hiding in an office! 

Trust him. 

Trust him. Trust Dumbledore, and above that, trust Araeo. And he would never not trust Araeo. 

“Here, Snake, calm down,” said George. He had made a cup of tea, and he put it in Harry’s hands. The twins guided him over to the wall to sit, and squashed him between them. “Hey, Snake. Hey. You see Lobelia, right? What would she say to do?” 

“M-my square breaths,” Harry said, forcing his brain to work.

“Right, we know those,” said Fred. “Percy does them. Ready? In-two-three-four—” 

“—hold-two-three-four—” 

After a few rounds he could match them, and his heart started too slow, finally. “H-how come,” he stuttered, “I can do things like what I did this summer, but not this?” 

“Well, what did you do this summer?” 

“Can’t tell you. Something scary and dangerous.” 

“Well, I dunno, Snake. Good question for Lobelia.” 

“Right.” Harry tilted his head back against the wall. “Percy wants to work for him, you said?” 

George snorted. “Trust you to latch onto that.” 

Harry glared at him through the side of his eye. 

“Yeah, yes, he does,” Fred said. “Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation.” 

“Doesn’t sound so bad,” Harry muttered. 

“Well—I guess not, if you like paper pushing. Which we don’t.” 

Harry laughed. “Yeah, I know. Will this ruin his chances?”

“Percy’s? Well, I would guess so, right, if his future boss turned out to be an evil person sneaking into Hogwarts for some evil reason.” 

Harry frowned. “Will he be mad, do you think?” 

“Will—Percy be mad? At you?” 

“Mhm.” 

“Snake, that’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever said.” 

“Honestly, do you actually know that Percy—” 

“—wrote an essay on cauldron bottoms over the summer—” 

“—for fun?” 

“What do you see in that?” 

“Anyway, he won’t be mad.” 

“Probably.” 

Harry sighed and stood up, looking around the office at the various glittering things. The portraits on the walls were awake, though some pretended to be sleeping. They were past headmasters and headmistresses, he thought Dumbledore had told him once. They pretended not to watch him as he wandered over to the desk.

For where they had lain it, atop scrolls and quills and random bits, Dumbledore had left the map. 

Casually as anything, Harry touched his wand to the parchment. “Mischief managed.” He took it from the desk and passed it back to George. 

George looked at him with one raised eyebrow. “Seriously, Snake?” 

“Mind the portraits,” Harry murmured. “So long as he doesn’t ask for it, yeah?” 

“Yeah,” Fred said. “Snake, bless you.” 

Harry shrugged. The map was, sort of, his legacy. And that meant if Dumbledore wasn’t going to stop him, then he was going to take it. 

blue sprout with hearts on the tips of branches

Sure enough, when Dumbledore came in, he didn’t even glance at the space where the map used to be. Instead, he smiled tiredly at them all. His robes were askew, his hair disheveled, but at least his eyes were twinkling. 

“All I one piece, I see. Mr. Weasley, Mr. Weasley, please return to your common room—Professor McGonagall is there to explain to the whole house what has just occurred. Mr. Potter … stay a moment?” 

“Alright,” said Harry, pulling out a chair.

“Oh, and boys?” Dumbledore called. Fred and George froze and turned to look at him. “You did everything absolutely correctly tonight. Fifty points each to Gryffindor. Thanks to you, a great danger was averted.” 

They looked dumbfounded. Harry couldn’t remember the last time the twins had earned points. 

“Thanks, Professor!” squeaked Fred. 

“Anytime!” chirped George. And they ran down the steps.

“Ah, youth,” said Dumbledore, a faint smile across his face. His eyes lingered on his desk for a moment, empty of the map, then flicked to Harry and back, and finally he went over to his teapot and made three cups without a word. 

“Three?” Harry asked. 

“I assume Severus will be joining us eventually,” Dumbledore said. He swept some of the junk on his desk to the side and set down a rectangular case, which he opened to reveal a sort of game board with triangular stripes. “Are you familiar with backgammon, Harry?” 

“No,” Harry said, but he liked the look of the white tiles Dumbledore set in front of him. They almost looked like candy.

Briefly Dumbledore explained the rules, and they played together in silence. Dumbledore won handily, of course, and reset the board for another game. They played three games in silence. Harry lost all of them, but his third game was much better than the first two. 

“I like this more than chess,” he said eventually, slotting his tiles back into the holder.

“Your friend Mr. Weasley plays chess, does he not?” 

“Yeah, and I’ve never beat him, even when Percy helps.”

Dumbledore took out a sleeve of biscuits and offered them to Harry. Lemon ginger. He took two. Then Dumbledore took of his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Would you like to know what happened tonight, Harry?” 

“Yes, please.” 

At that moment Severus walked in, looking haggard and drained. 

“Severus, my boy,” said Dumbledore. “Sit. We were just about to play a hand of rummy.” 

Severus slumped next to Harry and took up his now-cold teacup. Shyly, Harry reached over and touched the edge of it, heating it with a little pulse of elf magic. Severus gave him an oddly touched look.

“I presume you have told Mr. Potter what occurred tonight?” Severus asked.

“No, actually,” Dumbledore said, eyes squinting in amusement. “We got rather caught up in backgammon. Mr. Potter, what transpired during our brief catastrophe was this: the aurors arrived within minutes of my call. The professors and I detained Barty Crouch Jr. in the great hall for as long as we could, allowing the students to get to their common rooms, before he realized he was, as the muggles say, rumbled. 

“He dueled myself and Professor Flitwick quite furiously, the other professors dispatched to the common rooms, the elf wing, and to the castle gates to let in the aurors. By the time Kingsley and his people arrived, we had subdued Crouch. He is currently being held at the ministry for questioning. His disguise wore off as they were escorting him from the premises.” 

“Did you say Barty Crouch Junior?” Harry asked. 

“Yes. Son of Crouch Senior. We have no clue, currently, as to the whereabouts of Mr. Crouch Sr., or the real Alastor Moody.” 

“I hope he’s okay,” Harry said. 

“As do I. And now, I believe we can skip our usual start-of-term talk in lieu of recent events. You have permission to miss your classes tomorrow if you feel the need, as do Mr. and Mr. Weasley.” 

“Oh.” Harry glanced the clock on the wall. It was half eleven. “Er, maybe. I guess I’ll see how I feel. Divination’s tomorrow, right?” 

Dumbledore’s eyes glittered. “Indeed. Very well. Severus will escort you to the common room. And Mr. Potter? Fifty points to Slytherin. I understand that doing what you did was very hard for you, and I applaud you for it.” 

“Thank you, professor.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Potter.” 

Severus guided him carefully out of the tower and down towards Slytherin. “I suppose I’ll owl Lobelia Aster tomorrow morning, then.” 

“Yeah,” Harry said, exhausted to his soul. He shoved his glasses up and pushed his palms against his eyes, overwhelmed all at once. It was all too much. He’d made the wrong decision after all, coming back. He could be with the babies right now, oblivious to any of this. And, of course, unable to have stopped it. 

Why couldn’t anything just be simple? 

Draco and Dobby had waited up for him, sitting in the lake-view window seat, illuminated by Dobby’s pink elflight.

“Harry,” Draco whispered in relief, squeezing his hand briefly. “Are you alright?” 

“Pretty alright,” Harry said. “Wanna have a sleepover?” 

“Oh, yes. Dobby?” 

Dobby smiled. “I’s going to talk with Tippy. Have fun.” 

“Night,” they whispered. 

Snickering to themselves, they hauled Harry’s blankets and pillows into Draco’s bed to create a massive fort. Harry let his elflight hover inside the fabric cavern, and Draco pulled out a bag of gold-foil-wrapped Belgian chocolates. “Mother and I got these when we visited Paris,” Draco said, “they were hideously expensive, since they’re infused with pixie dust, but mother said they were worth the cost.” 

Harry bit into one, eyes widening when his mouth started fizzing. When he stuck his tongue out, gold sparks crackled off it. 

Draco giggled, eating a chocolate and blowing the sparks out in a ring. “Brilliant, right?” 

“Right,” said Harry, and they ate themselves sick on chocolate, spent several hours telling summer stories in a giggling caffeinated haze, and finally fell asleep as the sun was rising.   

Yes. Yes, coming back had been the right thing to do, as always. And really, his family was just beneath his feet. 

Chapter Text

“Merlin’s knickers,” said Blaise, yanking open the hangings. “Did you two murder and devour the easter bunny? Is this your sick cannibal den?” 

“Ugh,” Harry groaned, clutching his stomach. “I don’t feel well.” 

Draco was fainting and pale, feet in Harry’s face and hand dramatically across his forehead. “Blaise …” he whispered. “Ginger tea. Be a dear.” 

“What, when you didn’t invite me to your sleepover? No way.” 

“Harry got back late,” Draco whined. 

“Get your own ginger tea! And get up, breakfast is in five minutes.” 

“Stars,” Harry said, flopping off the bed onto the floor, face-first. “You know, Dumbledore said I had today off if I wanted.” 

Draco sat up at once, outraged. He pointed at Harry in fury. “Oh, no! This is your fault; if I have to go to class so do you!” 

“My fault! They were your chocolates!” 

“Yes, my very expensive Belgian chocolates from France that you ate!” 

“Oh, whatever,” Harry said, heading to the toilet with his toothbrush. He was never eating chocolate again.

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“I don’t know about this,” Hermione said crisply, settling down on a cushion. “Telling the future … doesn’t it seem a bit … silly?” 

Ron stared at her. “When did you get here? And of course not! Do muggles not believe in divination?” 

“No,” said Hermione, looking around the divination with mild distaste. “It’s a bit much in here, isn’t it?” 

Harry ignored them, clutching his copy of Unfogging the Future. After four years of sneaking into Trelawney’s classes, he was finally here as a legitimate student. He could barely contain his anticipation. 

Beside their table, Draco and Daphne sighed. “Harry, did we really have to sit right at the front?” Draco asked. He had his head down on the table, arm flung across his eyes. “I feel sick.” 

“Ask for mint tea for your reading, then,” Harry advised, wiggling in excitement. 

Ron looked at him suspiciously. “How do you know we’re doing tea leaves?” 

“Just a feeling,” Harry said mysteriously.

“Well maybe this is the perfect class for you,” Hermione said. “I’m just saying, none of this is very scientific. Potions, that’s scientific. Action and result. Cause and effect. This is just—it’s all chance.” 

“Chance it is,” said Professor Trelawney, swooping into the room in a whirl of lacy white robes, like a cloud descending, wild hair swept up in an uncontrollable bun. “But to a Seer, the forces of chance are as malleable as clay in our hands.” 

Hermione subsided with a small huff, and Harry leaned forward eagerly as Trelawney settled herself on a cushion, facing the Slytherins and Gryffindors—they had been combined this year due to decreased class numbers. 

“Now,” said Trelawney, pushing her huge glasses up her nose, peering at them with owl eyes. “Who can tell me the common term for ‘tessomancy’?” 

Harry flung his hand into the air.

Trelawney blinked at him in surprise. “Oh, yes, Mr—Mr. Peverell.” 

“Potter,” Harry said, “it’s reading tea leaves!”

“Quite right,” she said, smiling. Snatching up a delicate tea cup pattered with ivy leaves, she brandished it towards the class. “Tessomancy is a very accessible way to being the study of divination—it takes nothing more than a practiced mindfulness. Who here is familiar with mindfulness?”

Harry’s hand went up; so did Ron and Draco’s, who had also had sessions with Lobelia Aster first year. Surprisingly, so did Millicent’s. Hermione made a noise of discontent at not knowing something. 

“Very good,” Trelawey said. “Miss—your name?” 

“Bulstrode,” said Millicent. “Mindfulness is when you focus on how you exist in the world.” 

“What a lovely way of putting it,” said Trelawney. “Mindfulness—to center yourself, to be in touch with the flow of life around you, to bring your mind to a focus. This is what we shall practice for the first few minutes of class, before moving on to actual tea-leaf reading.” 

Daphne stuck her hadn’t in the air. 

“A question?” Trelawney asked. “Miss—Miss Mahdi, is it?” 

“Er.” Daphne tilted her head. “No, professor, actually that was my mother. It’s Greengrass.” 

“Quite right, quite right. Well, Miss Greengrass?” 

“Um,” Daphne looked thrown for a moment. “Oh, right. Do you read the leaves when they’re still in the tea, or do you drink the tea first?”

“We shall drink the tea and read the dregs,” Trelawney said. “But first, let us practice a simple mediation technique.” 

As she began explaining how to focus on a single candle flame, Daphne’s agitated whispered floated over: “but my mother didn’t go here.” 

That set even Hermione back a bit. 

Trelawney darkened the room to lead them through the meditation, and then distributed tea. Harry also requested mint tea, having not quite recovered from the chocolate. They drank in silence, trying to focus only on the experience of drinking the tea itself. Harry closed his eyes and let the mint flow across his tongue, the heat fill his chest like a hug from the inside, the noises of his classmates around him just like potions fumes, passing idly by. He hardly noticed when he finished his cup, turning it upside down to drain in a dreamlike haze.

Beside him, Ron shifted uneasily on his cushion. Hermione’s cup clacked down with a bit of affront. 

Harry watched Trelawney through slitted eyes. She was serene on her cushion, still in every way but for her eyes, which flicked back and forth, seeing things that he could not. Her hands were folded in her lap. 

He remembered her on that cushion. He remembered her foggy crystal-ball eyes boring straight into his.

“All done, Prewett?” she asked, coming over to their table.

Ron’s head jerked up. “Who, me?” 

She nodded. 

“Oh, it’s Weasley, Professor.” 

“Quite. All done? And you, Miss—?”

“Granger.” 

“Granger. Why don’t the three of you rotate cups, and I will supervise your readings?” 

“Um, alright.” Hermione picked up Ron’s cup gingerly, peering from it to her book cautiously. “Ron, it seems as though you have … a goat? Oh, no, that means misfortune. It mustn’t be a goat, then, it might actually be, um, a hand—that’s friendship.” She smiled at him. 

He smiled uneasily back. “You’re sure it isn’t a goat?”

“Positive,” Hermione said, handing Harry her cup. Trelawney pursed her lips but didn’t say anything.

Harry peered into Hermione’s teacup. He had never actually tried to read anyone’s future before—usually other people read his. It felt odd to be on this end of things. Was this how Araeo felt, except instead of looking at soggy tea leaves, he looked to the sky? 

“Hmm,” Harry said, tilting her cup this way and that. Everything was sort of lumpy … but there, that was a shape, right? A few shapes. “Okay, you have a hammer for hard work and scales for justice. I think that makes a lot of sense, right, professor?” 

“Hm? Well, are you particularly determined to work hard for justice, Miss Grazier?” 

“Granger,” Hermione said. “And yes, of course.” 

“There you are then. Your turn now, Mr. Beasley.” 

“Weasley,” Ron whispered, taking Harry’s cup. Screwing up his eyes, he peered into it. “Okay …” he said quietly. “You have … a noose? Oh, no, that’s …” he checked his book, “danger ahead. And here’s, er, a sword. Argument with a close friend. Hope it's not me. Blimey, sorry about this, Harry. And this is, I think—oh, it’s not in the book, professor, but I’m sure it’s a bone.” 

Harry froze. “What?” 

“Yeah, a bone,” Ron said.

“Let me see, Mr. Wiggins.” Trelawney took the cup from him and wobbled, eyes clouding with lilac for a moment. “Bone,” she said quietly, “of the father.”

Harry’s blood turned to ice. 

Trelawney set down the cup with a clack, staring at him. “Very good, you three, keep up your mindfulness practice.” And she moved to Draco and Daphne’s table.

“What was that?” Ron hissed. “Did you see her eyes?” 

Hermione rolled her eyes. “She’s just trying to scare us into believing in this stuff. I mean, I totally made up yours, Ron.” 

“What!” Ron squawked. “Then you really did see a goat? 

“It wouldn’t matter if I did,” Hermione argued, “because what matters is that you believed whatever I said. It’s all subjective.” 

Harry watched Trelawney make her unsteady way about the room, wishing more than anything that he could speak to Araeo.

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The fall air was crisp and good, and Harry was so happy to have a class outside he could have cried. Slytherin and Gryffindor huddled near Hagrid’s hut, so close to the forest that Harry could have taken ten steps and been inside.  

Of course, most of the class was standing as far from the forest as they could get, muttering in agitation. Only Harry’s group was waiting for Hagrid at his door. 

“Ooh, I can’t wait for this class,” said Hermione from beside Draco, making him jump.

“I hopes the steward isn’t treating me specially because I isn’t a student officially,” said Limmy, making Daphne flinch. 

“Where in Merlin’s name did you two come from?” Ron demanded.

“We is here the whole time,” said Limmy. “Why is the students so far away?” 

“They’re all scared of the creepy creatures,” Harry said, scowling back at his classmates.

Seamus Finnigan caught his glance and frowned. “Potter, there are honest to Merlin giant spiders in there. Who wouldn’t be freaked out by that? You five are just—” 

“Just what?” called Daphne. “Just thinking beings? You’re a newt.” 

“Am not!” 

“All right, prove it!” said Daphne. “Dare you to go into the forest.” 

Seamus gaped at her. “No way.” 

“Not even one foot?” egged Daphne. “Newt.” 

“I’m not a newt,” said Seamus. He straightened up and marched towards forest, hands balled into fists.

“Er,” said Harry. “Maybe, actually, Seamus—don’t—”

Seamus threw a glare over his shoulder and stepped into the forest. “See?” he called, hovering in the trees, waving his arms about. “Not a newt! Not afraid of any—any giant—” he stuttered off. “What are those faces for?” 

“Salutations, small pupil,” clicked the spider towering above him. “Profuse greetings from the timberland.” 

Seamus turned so pale he could have been a ghost, freezing in place. The student body as one turned to ice, except for Ron, who sat down hard on the ground, swaying a bit.

“Er,” Harry said, looking at Limmy. Where on earth was Hagrid? Glancing awkwardly at his classmates, he trotted forward and pulled Seamus by the hand from the woods, pushing him back in the direction of the students. “Salutations, Mosag. Are you here as a guest for the class?” 

“An historic occurence,” rumbled Mosag, leaning down to speak with him. “I have been instructed not to indicate that I know you, Snakeheart.” 

Harry turned to his classmates. Hermione was trying to revive a shaking Ron. Seamus was hyperventilating, Dean Thomas rubbing soothing circles on his back. Draco pounded furiously on Hagrid’s door. 

“Right,” Harry said. “You can start by calling me Harry.” 

“Harry,” said Mosag. “Even though you are not, for a mammal. What a peculiar epithet.” 

“All right, all right,” called Hagrid, striding from his house and ignoring the frantic spew of Draco’s hysteria. “Everyone calm down. If you’d’ve stayed out o’ the forest, this wouldn’t ‘ave happened, would it? Tha’s lesson number one for today. This forest is sovereign land, an’ who can tell me what that means? Seamus, go to the hospital wing or stand up. Ron—blimey, is ‘e alive?” 

Ron whimpered. 

“Ron, go sit in me hut and come out when you’re alrigh’. Harry—oh, you’re fine. Hermione, yeah, what is it?” 

Hermione put her hand down. “Sovereignty is when a nation has the power to govern itself, professor.” 

Hagrid blushed at the title. “Tha’s right, Hermione, thanks for gettin’ us on track. Now—shouldn’t you all be takin’ notes? I seem to recall tha’s how classes work. Everyone, stop staring at our guest. You’ll have a chance to make his acquaintance in a moment. Now, there are three sovereign nations neighboring Hogwarts. Who can name ‘em?” 

Harry sat cross-legged beside Mosag, just inside the forest, and pulled out a quill and scroll, scribbling furiously. “So this is a two-legger school,” said Mosag curiously. “Where is the acting?” 

“Sometimes I think it’s all acting,” Harry said. 

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“I didn’t!” Ron roared, loud enough to be heard from the entrance hall. “I did not faint, George!” 

“I’m Fred!” 

“You’re not, and I didn’t!” 

Grinning, Harry entered the great hall and followed Ron’s denials to the Gryffindor table, where Fred and George were leering at him and making spiders of their hands, creeping over his lunch plate. 

“You’re both incredibly immature,” said Percy, from down the table. “Mosag is a visiting diplomat, mate to the acromantula king, and you should show some respect. Don’t you know his coming to classes yesterday was historic?” 

“Percy,” breathed Harry, squeezing onto the bench and staring at him. “How do you know all that?” Fred and George made wretching noises in his direction, and Harry valiantly ignored them. 

Percy drew himself up proudly. “I’m doing an independent study with Tippy Lockjaw this year. I’m her personal aide.” 

“I didn’t know that!” Harry exclaimed. “That’s brilliant! Er, what does an aide do?” 

“He’s a secretary,” the twin that might have been George drawled.

“I’m an aide,” insisted Percy. “I facilitate Madam Lockjaw’s duties.” 

“Do you make tea?” asked the twin that may have been Fred.

“If she wants,” snapped Percy.

“Secretary,” whispered George. 

“I think secretaries are brilliant,” said Harry. “Keeping secrets is an important job.” 

“Well—thank you,” said Percy, “but that’s not what a secretary does. Well, I suppose it could be.” 

Harry beamed at him. 

“Lay it on thicker, Snake,” murmured Fred. 

“Anyway, Percy, you’re not mad at Harry, right? About Barty Crouch?” 

“George!” Harry shrank down, slumping against Ron. “Don’t!” 

But it was too late. Percy looked at him in confusion. “Why would it be his fault, what happened? Yes, it’s a missed opportunity, and I’m sad the man’s dead of course, but for Merlin’s sake, there was a death eater in the castle.” 

“What, Crouch is dead?” Harry asked. “Who killed him?“

“Crouch Jr.,” said Percy. “Who was supposed to be in Azkaban prison this whole time, but apparently Crouch was forcing his former elf to care for him in captivity … and then, well, you know. Terrible business. They found the real Mad-Eye Moody stashed in a trunk, of all things. Alive, but horribly ill.” 

A trunk. Harry shuddered in horror. He could think of nothing worse than being trapped in a small dark space for ages. “What happened to the elf?” 

Percy’s mouth twisted. “One of the casualties of that night, I believe, as well as the Hogwarts elf who went to aid her. It was in that furor that Crouch Jr. broke free.” 

Harry’s stomach churned. 

Ron put a bracing hand on his back. “Guess who’s teaching defense while they search for a new professor, though?” he asked. “Dumbledore! Wicked, right?” 

Harry grinned at him. “Yeah!” 

“Anyway, I think it’s for the best, what happened,” continued Percy, wiping his mouth. “Not everything that transpired, obviously, but that it all came out at the feast. I was aiming to get into the ministry, but seeing how they’ve been responding to current events lately … I want to work somewhere I can actually make an impact. I’m already doing that with Madam Lockjaw.” 

“Ugh, still talking about your paper pushing?” asked Ginny, shoving Ron bodily aside and dropping onto the bench beside Harry. “Forget that. Potter, listen to me.” She took him by the shoulders. Harry perked up—whatever she had got up to over the summer, the blushing girl who had avoided him at the beginning of last year was gone. “I’m going to make seeker this year. I need you to teach me everything you know.” 

“You won’t make seeker as a second year,” said Ron wisely. “I only made reserve chaser last year, after all.” 

“That’s you,” said Ginny, responding to his elbow with a harder elbow. “And I can do it on the Gryffindor team. Alicia’s no seeker. Unless someone outflies me in tryouts, that position’s mine.” 

“You don’t even fly that much,” George protested. 

She glared daggers at him. “Shows what you know. Well, Potter?” 

He grinned. “You’ve got it, Weasley.”  

Chapter Text

“Weekend,” Harry groaned, slumping at the Slytherin table. “Thank the stars.”

“Speak for yourself,” Draco snapped, whose entire face was one big ink smudge, bits of paper in his hair. He devoured the food around him indiscriminately, frantically scanning the sky-ceiling for the post. “I’ve no idea how I’m going to run the paper with all these new classes—so much homework—” 

“Good thing you isn’t doing it alone,” said Dobby, popping into existence beside him. Draco gave him a distracted shoulder-nudge in greeting, stuffing bacon into his mouth. Dobby looked harried as well. “But we is still missing one whole article from—” 

“—Luna, yes,” growled Draco. “I’m going to murder her.” 

“That’s a bit extreme,” said Hermione, appearing beside him at the table. 

Draco and Dobby jumped. “Where is you coming from?” Dobby asked, ears flicking.

“We is just walking in,” said Limmy, leaning around the other side of Hermione for some toast. “Oh, look! The post!” 

“Thank Merlin,” Draco said. 

Owls swooped low over the tables like feathery shooting stars. Harry caught Hedwig in happy surprise, pressing his face against her neck and inhaling the smell of the forest. She cooed happily and twisted her head so he could scratch her. 

“Letter from Star?” Daphne asked. She was singularity obsessed with the idea of Harry’s heartkin, despite having only the barest information. 

“Yes,” Harry said happily, unrolling it with one hand while scratching Hedwig with the other.

Heartkin,

Thank you for listening. A great crisis was averted, larger then anyone knows. Well, I say averted—I mean delayed. And I say larger than anyone knows—I mean anyone other than me knows. But I don’t mean for this letter to make you worry, of course—and it seems I’ve done that anyway. Drat. This is a hard letter for me to write, for some reason. Do ever get the feeling you are running down a steep hill that never ends, but you keep running faster and faster until you’re out of control, one misstep from tumbling head over hooves?

Sorry. I know you do, of course. It’s just that lately I feel the forces of chance and fate and the future all pressing down on me, and I think back to those months we spent wandering … that was a good time. I would like to wander now, when everything in life seems to be forcing me onto one path.

Sorry again. I’m going to stop writing now because none of it is worth anything. Miss you. 

Harry frowned severely, seizing his bag and yanking out quill and parchment. Furiously, he put head head down and scribbled, breaking his quill halfway through and fishing out another.

A,

Please don’t say your writing isn’t worth anything. I don’t care if you just want to ramble about some odd rock for six pages—which you have done—I still want to read it. I actually know exactly how you feel, which I know you know, so I don’t know why you wouldn’t think I don’t know. See, that sentence didn’t make any sense at all, and I’m still going to send it to you. So there. Please send me another letter today with whatever you wanted to write but didn’t. If you don’t, I won’t bring you back anything from Diagon Alley. (That’s a lie, of course I will, but I’ll be upset.) 

Snake♡

Furiously, Harry rolled the scroll up and handed it to Hedwig. “Please peck him,” he told here severely. “Not too hard. And be nice after. But definitely peck him first.” 

She gave an affirmative hoot and took to the air, wheeling up out of the hall. 

“Wow,” Daphne said, eye wide. “What was that?” 

Harry tapped his spoon agitatedly against the table. “I don’t know.” 

Draco had a pile of letters in front of him, and he was reading one on extremely nice parchment, his eyes getting wider and wider. He clutched the letter to his chest, staring around at them all with his lips pressed together. 

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, what?” Hermione asked. 

“Well!” Draco squeaked, squirming in his seat. “I know a secret! And I don’t know if I should tell you!” 

 His look of gleeful smugness was so strong that Limmy groaned and pulled a book out of her bag. 

Dobby held out a hand and Draco passed him the letter. Reading it, a smile grew over his face. He passed it back. “Don’t tell them,” he advised. “This is too good.” 

Draco smirked around at them all. “No, I don’t think I will.” 

“You’re insufferable,” Hermione said. 

Smug smile affixed, Draco turned back to his other letters. “Ooh, finally, it’s Sirius’ interview.” Panic returning, he leapt from the table. “Granger, I’ll be in the Room, don’t be late. Come on, Dobby!” 

“Malfoy, when am I ever late,” Hermione grumbled, nose in a book. “Harry, will you please stop that tapping?” 

But Harry was still tapping his spoon when Hagrid came over, dressed for an outing in a dark blue coat, a finely-carved staff in hand. “Ready, Harry? You alright?” 

“Fine,” Harry said, stuffing all his things back into his bag. “Let’s go!” 

“Can I come, Professor Hagrid?” Daphne asked, staring up at him with her biggest smile.

He blushed at the title and gave her a rueful smile. “Flattery won’t get you anywhere, Miss Greengrass. I’m afraid this is a top secret shoppin’ trip.” 

“I’ll bring you all back chocolate,” Harry promised, waving goodbye.

“Off we go,” said Hagrid.

“Thank the stars it’s you this year,” said Harry as they made their way out of the great hall. “It was Severus last year and he was such a newt.”

“Now Harry, ‘e’s still your professor,” said Hagrid. “Mind your manners.” 

Harry rolled his eyes. “I liked your class.”

Hagrid beamed at him. “Did you really? How’d I do? Students faintin’ isn’ exactly how I’d planned my first lesson to go, but …” 

“Seamus shouldn’t have gone in the forest, it’s not your fault,” Harry said. “It was great—no one will make that mistake again! I think Mosag was entertained.” 

“I imagine so,” agreed Hagrid. He leaned close to the gargoyles to whisper the password—Harry already knew it, of course, it was ‘pepper imp’—and the statues slipped their claws under the stone door and lifted it for them to pass through.

Dumbledore’s door was open, and the headmaster himself was sitting at his desk. “Ah, off on a shopping trip?” he asked, eyes twinkling.

“That we are, headmaster.” 

“Hagrid, could I trouble you to inquire as to the status of a particular school fund while you’re at the bank? I have the information here.” 

“‘O course, ‘o course, headmaster.” Hagrid took the envelope Dumbledore passed him. 

“Oh, and Mr. Potter—I have been unsubtly reminded that castle wards are entitled to a small stipend. Hagrid will withdraw it for you today, as well as the amount for the two years missed. I do apologize—you see, there hasn’t been a castle ward in a very long time.” 

“I don’t need a stipend,” said Harry. “I’ve plenty of gold.” 

“Nevertheless, we must do things by the books. And your inheritance is not unlimited, Harry.” Dumbledore frowned. “I suppose you need lessons in financial literacy at some point, don’t you?” 

“More remedial lessons?” Harry demanded. “That’s not fair!” 

“So few things in this world are,” sighed Dumbledore. “Do bring me back some Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans, won’t you?” 

blue branch tipped with hearts

“Alrigh’, Harry,” said Hagrid, as he opened the brick wall to Diagon Alley. “Head down today, got it?” 

“What, why?” 

“Just …” Hagrid sighed. “I know you don’ get into Diagon much, or the greater wizardin’ world, but things are tense right now, alright? So head down, and walk quick.” 

“Alright.” 

But Harry didn’t keep his head down as Hagrid set a swift pace towards Gringotts. He stared around, shocked at the change. In his past visits, Diagon had been a lively, cheerful place—and there were still people around, but there was something tense to the air, and glares seemed to slide over him and Hagrid. He spotted a wall graffitied with the phrase down with elven usurpers, and the pet shop had posters plastered in the windows reading: “Take Back Our Heritage” and “Hunt the Beasts Among Us.” 

Someone was staring at him from the side of the street. Nervous, he skipped forward, holding onto the edge of Hagrid’s coat. The steward was grim and focused, looking right ahead, but someone went out of their way to bump into them both, muttering, “half-breed freak” as they moved away. 

Harry turned in outrage, vision flashing black and red as ugly things crawled their way up his chest. He drew his wand—

Hagrid clamped his arm to his side. “Put that away,” he commanded, voice low. “What do you think you’re gonna do? Attack a man in the street? I said head down, emissary. Come on.” 

Raging and confused, the walk to Gringotts seemed to take years. When they finally made it to the bank, Hagrid slammed the massive doors behind them and shook himself like a dog shaking off water. Harry stared up at him, speechless. 

“It’s jus’ how it is right now,” Hagrid told him, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Alright? It’s been worse before, and it’ll be better again. But wizards … they don’ like change, yeah? And they don’ like it when other folks make ‘em change.” 

“It’s not right,” Harry whispered. He had to whisper, or else he would scream. “They can’t treat you like that.” 

Hagrid knelt in front of him, face drawn and sad. “They shouldn’t,” he said gently. “But they can and will.” 

“I hate wizards,” Harry whispered. 

“Even Daphne and Draco and Ron and Hermione?” 

Reluctantly, Harry shook his head. Hagrid put a hand to the back of his head and pulled him into a hug. Harry buried his face in Hagrid’s coat, letting the soft darkness comfort him for a moment, as if he were back with the basilisk. Then Hagrid released him.

“Alrigh’,” he said softly. “I’ve got to see about the school funds before our tea, yeah? I’ll jus’ be at a teller, why don’ you wait on a bench?” He nodded to a few wooden benches to the side of the door. 

“Alright, Hagrid,” Harry said quietly. He went and sat on a bench, watching Hagrid walk over to a goblin teller. 

It was one thing to read the articles in The Demiguise. It was another to see it in person. 

But he wouldn’t focus on that. He had one trip to Diagon Alley a year, and he was going to enjoy it. Buy presents for his friends—find something special for Araeo to cheer him up. Beans for Dumbledore, fancy chocolate for Draco—not as fancy as his French Belgian chocolates—something waterproof for Ava …. 

He tilted his head up and watched Gringotts work. The bank really was a magnificent place. The atrium was a massive marble dome, and whizzing high overhead were carts running on thin rails, flipping upside down and doing loop-the-loops, magic keeping goods and drivers inside. Beyond them, the ceiling was decorated to appear like the night sky, hewn from lapis lazuli and inset with brilliant gems. It mirrored the floor, which was a radiant sun design, made of sapphire carved so finely it was almost transparent. 

Someone sat down beside him. “Awe-inspiring, is it not? That goblins can create such beauty. You wouldn’t suspect it to look at them.” 

A shiver went down Harry’s spine. He glanced to his left. A man with long silver-blonde hair sat there, gripping a snake-headed cane with both hands. He stared at the ceiling, rapt.

“Don’t you think?” the man asked. “That it is beautiful.” 

“Yes,” Harry said slowly. “But I don’t think the other thing.” 

“Oh?” the man looked at him lazily, and Harry saw his eyes were a familiar grey. 

Ice spread across his chest. He was sitting beside a murderer. Once, twice, nine-times-over a murderer. Draco’s nightmare, Limmy’s specter.

“And what would that be?” asked Lucius Malfoy.

“That goblins are ugly,” Harry whispered. He had to whisper, or else he would scream. His wand burned hot in his pocket. Use me. Use me. Use me. You know just the right spell. Say it with me: abolefaceo— 

“I’m afraid on that point we will simply never agree,” said Lucius, glancing across the room at the tellers. “You are the reason I lost my child, Harry Potter.” 

Harry stared at his snake-headed cane. The snake slowly blinked at him. “What?” 

“You took my child from me.” He said it casually, nonchalantly. He could have been talking about the weather, or a good book. “I sent my son to school, and what came back to me was an abomination who tried to rob me of my legacy. And I know it is your fault.” 

Harry’s control broke. “Your legacy?” he snarled. “What, you mean murdering people and getting away with it?”

Lucius’ smile was steel. He put a hand on Harry’s shoulder, and all of the sudden Harry was very cold indeed. “I mean,” he breathed, “the blood of my ancestors. My heritage, which this world seems determined to strip from me. And you’re going to help me get it back, Potter. Don’t you want to make up for taking my child away? No, don’t call out.” His grip tightened. He lay his cane across his folded leg, the end just touching Harry’s stomach. “We’re leaving.” 

Harry stared around the bank desperately. No one was seeing this. No one was looking at him. Lucius’ hand was a claw, drawing blood. He could taste the magic of his cane, a sizzling, burning menace ready to leap into his gut. 

“Stand,” said Lucius casually. “And walk with me.” 

They stood. Harry’s vision swam. No one was seeing this. There was only a goblin woman, passing by. He made his mouth move. “Help,” he whispered in Gobbledegook, one word that he would always remember because it had two vowels it that had taken him three months to learn to pronounce. 

“What?” Lucius asked. 

The goblin woman’s head snapped around. She met his eyes, and then looked up at Lucius Malfoy. There was a tense, wretched pause. And then: “Good afternoon, Mr. Malfoy,” she said loudly, voice echoing across the hall. “How can I assist you today?” 

Lucius hissed softly, hand so tight on Harry’s shoulder that he flinched. The woman caught it, and her head tilted slightly as she took him in again. “Merlin’s hat!” she exclaimed, turning heads. “Are you Harry Potter? Can I have an autograph for my kid?” 

Lucius growled and shoved Harry away from him; he stumbled into the woman, who seized his elbow immediately and drew him away. 

“No assistance needed,” Lucius spat at the woman, before stalking away. 

“Okay, lad, sit down,” said the woman. Harry could barely hear her through the ocean roaring in his head. “Okay—sit, right, the floor is fine, head between your knees. Your shoulder, is it—move your hand, let me take a look—ooh, dear, he really did a job, didn’t he. Who are you here with? Lad? Potter? Are you here alone?” 

He shook his head, breath rasping through his throat. “S-steward,” he choked. 

“Steward? Who?”

“Hagrid,” Harry managed. “Big. Blue coat.” 

“I don’t see him around. I’m staying right here with you until we find him, though, don’t worry.” 

“Griphook,” Harry whispered. 

“Griphook? He’s not out here either. Oh, thank the stars—Havelock, bless, do you know who the steward is? Hagrid?” 

“Of course,” said another voice. “I believe Bloodyew just took him to sign something. What’s going on? Who’s this?” 

“A young man recently accosted by Lucius Malfoy. He’s asking for Griphook. Do you have anywhere he can go—get out of sight? Or can you fetch this Hagrid?” 

“Both,” said Havelock. “I’ll fetch the steward now. Have Tenigrin let you into the lounge.” 

“Alright. Lad, up we go. Keep breathing, alright? Follow me.” 

Harry kneels on the floor, his head in his hands. Kneeling in front of him is a goblin woman in an orange dress. They are in front of a row of doors, with constellations drawn on the walls.

"Who are you here with?"

He was guided and settled onto something soft. He had no clue what it was. He was buzzing with fear and panic and rage and his shoulder hurt and he wanted to go home, he wanted his family— 

“Harry!” A huge hand settled on the back of his neck. “Alrigh’—what the bleedin’ hell happened—I think you’re havin’ a panic attack, so just focus on breathing, yeah? Here.” His hand was raised and put against something soft and fuzzy. “Breath with me, Harry. In. Good. Out. Good. In. Out. In. Out.” 

Perception returned in fragments. First his hand resting over Hagrid’s heart, blue coat soft under his fingers. Then Hagrid’s hand on his neck, thumb rubbing circles. Then his throat, ragged from half-sobbed breaths. Then his shoulder, burning like a thestral had bitten him.

“Everything’s blurry,” he choked.

“I’ve your glasses here. Can Ms. Sheerslope take a look at your shoulder?” 

Harry nodded. His robe was tugged down over his shoulder, and the cool air made him hiss in pain. 

“That’s assault,” said the goblin woman who had helped him. “If it wasn’t his and my words against Malfoy, I’d say document it and press charges.” 

“We’ll try anyway,” Hagrid said. “You have a camera?” 

Harry was made to lean forward so Hagrid could take a picture of the wound, and then Sheerslope rubbed a poultice into his shoulder that made it go numb and tingly. “Thank you,” he said, words returning to him. He blinked at her, and Hagrid settled his glasses back onto his face. “You—work here?”

She smiled gently at him. “No, but Lucius Malfoy wouldn’t know a goblin that didn’t work at Gringotts if she stood in front of him making a scene. I’m a horticulturalist, but I dabble in curing. I made that poultice.” 

“Oh. So you were just visiting your vault?” 

“No, lad, my wife is Havelock, one of the directors. I was just bringing her lunch. Speaking of, take a biscuit.” 

Harry took a biscuit. Chocolate and cardamom. “Thank you, Sheerslope. I didn’t know what to do.” 

“I’d say you did exactly the right thing. Let me tell you, hearing Gobbledegook come out of a little human’s mouth was some surprise—you’ve got quite a grasp over those vowels, don’t you!” 

“I practice with Griphook,” mumbled Harry. Hagrid settled beside him on the couch and Harry slumped into his side and looked up at him. “He wanted me to go with him. Lucius. Said I stole Draco or something, and I was going to—to repay him?” 

Hagrid wrapped an arm around him. “We’re goin’ right back to Hogwarts. Severus can come an’ get your things.” 

“No!” Harry sat up. “No, I want to get presents for my friends! Please Hagrid!” 

“Well—” Hagrid hesitated. “Alrigh’. But no dilly-dallyin’. And we’ll have to cancel tea with Griphook, I’m afraid.” 

“Hagrid!”

“Nothing’s going to hurt him here,” Sheerslope said. “That I can guarantee, even if I don’t work here. Sip of goblin tea is a bracing thing.” 

“Well …” 

“Please, professor?” Harry asked, eyes wide.

“Oh, you little,” Hagrid groaned. “Fine, Merlin, fine. But only one cup.”

Sheerslope smiled in amusement. “I’d better go. Take care, Potter.” 

“Wait!” Harry scrabbled in his pockets. “You’re married to the director?” 

“One of them, yes.” 

He thrust out a little scroll. “I was going to give this to Griphook, but—please, would you give this to your wife? It’s a letter from Tippy Lockjaw. She wants to talk.” 

“Tippy Lockjaw,” said Sheerslope, eyebrows raised. She took the letter. “Now that’s a hated name, these days.” She grinned, baring pointed teeth inset with rubies. “I’ll see what I can do, Potter.” 

blue branch tipped with hearts

“These are an inch short,” tutted Madam Malkin, picking at the edge of his robe. “Lad, you need to come in more often.” 

“Can’t,” mumbled Harry, around a fizzy pop he’d gotten from the bank. “Besides, I don’t mind.” 

“One day, you’ll have to mind,” she said. “School black, dear?” 

He nodded. “And one like that?” He pointed to a robe on the mannequin, with shimmery sea-blue fabric trimmed in sparkling gold.

She raised an eyebrow. “For the small price of one hundred galleons, sure.” 

He slumped in disappointment, and was prodded back into proper posture to be measured. As Madam Malkin fitted his new robes, he looked around. One day, he was going to buy the most beautiful robes in this shop. Green and red and purple and gold and sparkling and shiny—he would look like a bird of paradise. It was going to be brilliant. 

Hagrid perused a rack nearby, pretending that any of them would conceivably fit him, and also pretending he wasn’t watching Harry like a hawk. He and Harry had both settled down after tea with Griphook, and then ice cream. 

Harry spotted something off in the far corner of the shop: “Elven Fashions,” said the sign, with a half-size rack. 

“You sell elf clothes?” he asked, yanking his fizzy pop from his mouth.

“We do,” said Madam Malkin carefully. 

“That’s brilliant!” 

“Oh—well, it was my daughter’s idea. Seemed the proper thing to do, now that elves are needing clothes and whatnot.” 

The moment she’d stuck her last pin, he was over at the rack of elf clothes. There wasn’t much, just a few different styles of robes, shirts, and trousers. But there was also ….

“Oh, brilliant!” Harry cackled, picking up a slouching beret decorated in glimmering silver stars, with ear holes cut in. “It’s perfect!” 

“For Limmy?” Hagrid asked. 

“She’ll love it. Well, she’ll hate it first—and then she’ll love it.”  

Hagrid shook his head. “Kids.” 

They paid and left the shop, Harry dragging Hagrid by the coat. “We have to go to the sweet store. And I need something really good for Araeo—probably a book. Or no, something more fun. And edible. And you need something for Firenze.” 

“What?” Hagrid squawked, following Harry into Flourish and Blott’s. “I what, now?” 

Harry tilted his head back grinning. “You need something for Advisor Stargazer, Hagrid. Obviously.” 

“Obviously,” echoed Hagrid. “And why, pray tell, would I need that?” 

“Well, have you gotten him something since he gave you the staff?” 

Hagrid was silent.

“Exactly,” Harry said viciously. “You know, I could ask Araeo what he likes—” 

Hagrid’s hand landed on his shoulder. “You’ll do no such thing under any circumstances.” 

“Yeah, obviously. So what are you going to get him?” 

Hagrid sighed. Later, as he was purchasing Araeo a small light-up sphere that you could roll across your hands and do tricks with, Harry saw him slipping a wrapped package into his pocket. 

Chapter Text

"Merlin's Pants, Draco,” said Daphne. “Would you just stop being so smug? Tell us or don’t!” 

“I won’t,” said Draco smugly. “It’s a surprise.” 

“Obviously it’s a surprise! Stop lording it over us that you know!” 

“I’ll think about it,” said Draco with a dramatic sigh. He was in high spirits, with the newspaper under control and a secret to keep, cheeks pink and round with health. So different from last year’s Draco, wan and grey and tired all the time. 

Harry hadn’t told him about Lucius. He didn’t plan to. 

“Ooh, here it comes!” said Hermione. 

“Merlin, Hermione, I didn’t see you get here,” said Daphne. “You either, Limmy. Nice hat!” 

“Isn’t it horrid?” asked Limmy, beret perched at a jaunty angle. “I loves it.” She flashed him a smile.

The paper arrived. Various denizens of Hogwarts received The Daily Prophet, Witch Weekly, and The Quibbler. But by this point, one of the most common papers by far was: 

THE DEMIGUISE

THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE

EDITION 35 ✩ 5 Sept 1993

CONTENTS:
DEATH EATER HOGWARTS INVASION THWARTED
by The Demiguise Collective
MINISTRY UNDERSECRETARY HEADS WEREWOLF DISCRIMINATION LAWS
by Loupe
CAN’T AFFORD WOLFSBANE? LOOK NO FURTHER!
by Wiggenwand
HISTORIC VISIT TO HOGWARTS GROUNDS
by Oddsox

“Ooh, is that what Professor Lupin is doing?” asked Daphne, nose in the paper. “The wolfsbane thing?” 

“Yes,” said Draco proudly. “Limmy wrote the article; I did the interview by post with my cousin. Sirius Black, you know.” 

“Wait, Sirius Black is your cousin?” said Ron, squashing in beside Hermione. “We would never have known, why haven’t you ever said anything?” 

Draco scowled at him. 

“Is wolfsbane very expensive?” Harry asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Hermione. “Horridly so.” 

Hedwig flurried down from the sky, pecked him once on the shoulder, and then nuzzled his face.

“Ow! I guess that’s just desserts,” Harry said, taking the letter, “since I told you to do the same to him.” Worriedly, he unrolled the scroll.

S,

So sorry to worry you. Obviously, you deserve to know every one of my thoughts and feelings. I forgot that’s one of my life’s other predestined constants. I’ll be sure to write you every time one crosses my mind. 

A

Harry stared at the letter. 

“What’s that face for?” Daphne asked. She snatched it from him. It took her all of a second to read it. “Ooh, Potter, you messed up.” 

“What did I even do!” Harry exploded. “Deserve to know every one of my thoughts? When did I ever say that! I’d never say that!” 

“What’s that about destiny?” Ron asked, reading over her shoulder. 

Harry’s face crumpled. “Obviously something that doesn’t matter!” He snatched the letter back, stuffed it into his bag, and stormed out of the hall. What was even happening anymore? If he didn’t have a stupid appointment, then he would stomp straight into the forest and beat down Araeo’s door, except it seemed that was exactly what Araeo didn’t want him to do, so maybe it was a good thing he had an appointment after all.

“Uh oh,” said Lobelia Aster, waiting for him outside the hospital wing. “Stormclouds today, Harry?” 

“More like a typhoon,” muttered Harry, slouching as hard as he could as they began to walk down the hall. “Everything’s going wrong.” 

“Everything? School’s only been in session for a week.” 

He scuffed his feet across the stones. “Yeah, well, that’s how bad everything’s going, I suppose.” 

“Professor Snape informed me of the incident at the welcoming feast, and naturally I know what occurred in Diagon yesterday, since we must speak to Dumbledore about it after our session. Is there anything more?” 

Fuming, Harry thrust Araeo’s note at her, not looking at her as she read it.

“Hm. And this is from …?” 

“Star,” Harry grumbled, their nickname for Araeo. 

“Oh. I see. Would you perhaps like, Harry, to fetch some hot chocolate to take on our walk today?” 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“So it’s not something that I’ve done?” 

Lobelia sipped her hot chocolate, short lilac hair dancing in the autumn breeze. They sat cross-legged under a tree. “Not necessarily. I would take into consideration the fact that Star has many, many responsibilities heaped upon him, from what you’ve told me. Perhaps something has happened at home, and he is taking his anger out on you.” 

“Oh.” Harry sighed into his mug, steam billowing up and clouding his glasses. “But—that’s not fair of him to do.” 

“And do you always act in ways that are unquestionably fair? Do you never take your anger out on others, even those that matter the most to you?” 

Harry pulled his knees up, frowning at her. “But ….” 

“Hm?” 

“But what if he means it?” Harry whispered. “What if he doesn’t want me anymore?” 

She tilted her head, lips pursed. “And do you think that a likely outcome? Has he indicated to you that there are troubles between you?” 

Harry thought back to the fairy moot. “No,” he said. “To me, everything seemed fine.” 

“Then I don’t think it is productive to jump to the worst-case scenario,” Lobelia advised. “I can tell you this much, Harry: people don’t tend to one day just “not want” someone anymore. Nothing comes from nowhere. Maybe Star spoke rashly, maybe not—but I encourage you to listen to what he is trying to communicate and keep an open mind.”

“It’s just—” Harry hesitated. “People did use to not want me.” 

Lobelia nodded slowly. “Yes, I can see how that would make this situation very scary for you.” 

“What should I do? Write another letter? Go see him? Leave him alone?” 

“Hm. In this case, I would truly advise that you do whatever you feel is right for you and Star right now.” 

Harry sighed, draining his hot chocolate. “Okay. Thanks, Lobelia.” 

She smiled at him. “Of course. Now, do you feel we are ready to talk about what happened yesterday? We will discuss it between ourselves as much as you want before going to the headmaster’s office.” 

“I just …” Harry frowned. “I was so scared. I couldn’t do anything—I couldn’t even scream. And when he left, it was like my mind was completely—locked up.” 

“I see. The headmaster tells me it was a panic attack.” 

“I don’t know what that is.” 

“A panic attack is when your body has an intense reaction to a situation, usually in times of stress or fear. It can feel like you are out of control of yourself.” 

“That’s what it was like.” 

“Have you had any of these moments before?”

Harry hesitated. “Well … maybe, I think. But nothing ever like this, like I couldn’t even breathe. That’s why it upset me so much—I do all kinds of really dangerous things, all the time. All the time! And I always keep my head. It’s why I’m good at—at the things I do. Like, this summer—!” He broke off, contemplating how much to tell. “My friends and I went to meet someone really dangerous, and it all went fine.” 

“Well, you were with your friends,” Lobelia pointed out. “May I ask the nature of the location?” 

“Er—yeah, the, um, the desert.” It was their code word for the forest in general. 

Lobelia nodded. “In other words, your home.” 

“But—it was in a new part of the desert. An unfamiliar place.” 

“And in Gringotts, you were surrounded only by Diagon Alley, a place to which you have little mooring. A place outside your control. Am I getting at something here?” 

Harry nodded slowly. “Yeah, maybe. I didn’t—there were all these people around, but they didn’t see what was happening. They didn’t notice.” 

She hummed slightly as she spoke. “That sounds truly terrifying. To be in an unfamiliar place, where you lack so much control.”

“What do you mean?” 

“I mean that while you are certainly well-traveled, Diagon Alley is completely disconnected from anywhere you are familiar with. Tell me, could you find your way home from Diagon alone?” 

Biting his lip, Harry shook his head. “Not without the floo.” 

She smiled. “I imagine the situation was so intense and terrifying because you were almost in a different country. A place you could easily become lost in.” 

“Yeah,” Harry said softly, remembering being lost in Knockturn Alley the year before. “That makes sense, I guess.” 

“And there is one more thing,” said Lobelia. She waited until Harry was looking at her. “You said a moment ago that you couldn’t do anything, couldn’t even scream. But Harry, you did do something, and it was enough to get you out of the situation: you called out for help.” 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

A,

So, I think you are feeling trapped right now. I wish I could do something to make you feel less trapped. I was going to come see you, but I think that’s a bad idea. Just so you know, I never want to make you feel worse. I’m sorry my letter did.

And, you’re my best friend, never mind the destiny stuff—even if we weren’t heartkin, I know we would still be best friends. Because we care about each other and go on brilliant adventures together. 

Anyway, tell me if there’s anything I can do. 

All my love,
Snakeheart

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“Okay, show me again!” 

“Right, so, it’s like—this!” 

Harry dove through the air, a tightly-twisting descent that made him dizzy but in a good way. 

“Alright, I’ve got it this time!” 

He pulled up to watch Ginny spiral towards the ground, teeth bared in a manic, gleeful expression. She pulled up but not in time, and hit the ground rolling off her broom. There was a second of silence, and then she draped an arm over her eyes, laughing. 

Harry dismounted and walked over to her. “That was closer!” 

“You’re a demon on that thing,” she said, peeking up at him. “Where’d you learn to fly?”

“Some friends,” Harry said vaguely, remembering the twisting leap that he and Serpentus the thestral had perfected that summer. Too bad that in quidditch, you had to stay on the broom the whole time. 

She sat up, sweaty hair clinging to her face, sputtering it out of her mouth. “Dinner time, Potter. Let’s split.” 

“Yeah, alright, Weasley,” he said, grinning. He nudged her shoulder; she nudged him back, and they spent the walk back to the castle sending each other stuttering across the ground, giggling. 

“It’s really nice to fly with someone,” Ginny said, as they trotted through the entrance hall. 

“You don’t fly with your brothers?”

She rolled her eyes. “Nah; they treat me like their baby sister who doesn’t know what a broom is.” 

“Well, I have a feeling they’re going to be eating their words next week when you make seeker,” he said, grinning. She held out a hand for a high five. 

They split for their house table once they arrived in the great hall, and Harry trooped over to Slytherin, absolutely ravenous. After his session with Lobelia, she had accompanied him to meet Severus, Dumbledore, and a junior auror in the headmaster’s office, where Harry had had to dictate exactly what had happened at the bank. It had been exhausting, and afterwards all he’d wanted to do was sleep. But he’d promised to practice with Ginny, and it had actually been the exact right thing to do. Flying was the one thing that he could always count on to take away every worry in the world. 

“Merlin, Potter, you’re a mess,” said Draco, leaning away from him. “Why didn’t you shower before dinner?” 

“Just got in,” Harry said, stuffing a roll into his mouth. He looked at Draco. He was glowing with excitement. 

“Will you just tell us,” groaned Daphne. “I’m at my wit’s end, alright, stop lording it over us and just—” 

“Ahem,” coughed Dumbledore, standing from his seat. “If I may have your attention. Though it was been quite enjoyable to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts this last week, I’m afraid my knitting habit is truly suffering for it, not to mention myriad administrative tasks! As such, I am pleased to introduce your new Defense teacher, five-time dueling champion and arcane researcher: Narcissa Black!” 

From the door to the side of the hall glided a woman as equally beautiful as she was severe. She had long blonde hair pinned up elaborately, porcelain pale skin, and high-collared forest green robes. She nodded regally to the student body as she took her seat beside Severus. 

Draco threw himself out of his chair, applauding with gusto, and in surprised excitement the rest of Slytherin, and slowly the rest of the hall, joined him. 

Draco turned to beam at them all, smile wider than Harry had ever seen it. “My mother’s our new professor! Isn’t she brilliant?!” 

Chapter Text

“Alright, class, settle down,” said Narcissa Black to a class already so silent it they could have been made of stone. “As I am aware you’ve already purchased supplies for your previous course, I have elected to provide you with materials myself. Miss Greengrass, would you mind passing out these books?”

Daphne leapt up, tripped over her robe, flushed, and hurried forward to take them. Harry examined Light and Dark: A Dichotomy with some interest. Beside him, Draco vibrated with excitement. 

As Daphne took her seat, Narcissa stood poised in front of the room, running a slim, ringed finger down a page in her book. “Thank you, Miss Greengrass. Five points to Slytherin. Now, class. We are going to begin our study of defense against the dark arts with a discussion of just what the dark arts are. Please turn to page five.” 

They turned to page five, curiously. Were they just going to read all class?
 
Narcissa tilted her head to an exact angle, emerald earrings flashing. “Here Madam Eponymous begins with an interesting statement. Mister Longbottom, read us the first three sentences?” 

Neville squeaked and straightened up. “Yes, p-professor. Erm, ‘Neither dark nor light can exist without the other; for opposites are defined by their counters. Being that all dichotomies are, at their root, false constructions designed to pacify the facile worries of society, any true discussion of the Dark and Light arts must begin with a de-construction. No classification is without agenda.'” 

“Well read, Mister Longbottom. Five points to Gryffindor. Now, I know Madam Eponymous can be quite wordy. In brief translation: the distinction we make between light and dark magics had to come from somewhere. It is not an inherent characteristic of the universe. Can anyone think of some ideas of why the witches and wizards of long ago might have created the categories of light and dark?” 

Hermione put up her hand. Harry did a double-take: he hadn’t even seen her come in. Narcissa nodded elegantly towards her. “Miss Granger?” 

“Yes, professor!” Hermione said, eyes wide. “It could have been that there were certain types of magic that were very harmful, and wizards needed to name them all something so that they could control them.” 

“A very astute idea,” said Narcissa approvingly. “Five points to Gryffindor. Who else can think of a reason?” 

Harry put up his hand. 

“Mr. Potter?” 

“Um,” Harry furiously tried to recall Jade Eyes’ oration on dark and light magics. “Well, binaries are inherently inequivalent, so maybe they did it as an excuse to politicize the use of different sorts of magic, elevating one over the other and allowing the dominant hegemony to establish discriminatory laws against an oppressed group?”

Narcissa blinked at him. “A well-reasoned argument, if inaccurate, Mr. Potter. Five points to Slytherin. Does anyone else have an idea?”

Harry smiled proudly. Who knew that Jade Eyes’ lectures would actually earn him points one day? 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“Draco,” whispered Daphne, as they slunk down the hall. “Your mum is beautiful.” 

“I know,” said Draco proudly, tossing his pink bangs. “Where do you think I get it?” 

“And she gave out like a hundred points,” said Ron, chest puffed out—he had earned ten for Gryffindor.

“She did,” Harry said, grinning, “exactly thirty-five each to Slytherin and Gryffindor.” 

“What!” Ron’s face fell. “So neither of us pulled ahead?” 

“Afraid not.” Harry patted him on the back. “Who do you think’s going to visit Hagrid’s class today? And where did Hermione go?” 

“I’m right here,” said Hermione, from his other side. “Obviously.” 

They all flinched seismically. “I don’t understand why you keep doing that, Hermione,” snapped Draco. “It’s not good for my nerves!” 

“Oh, so sorry about your nerves,” she said sweetly. 

“Limmy!” Harry exclaimed, spying the bob of a starry beret on Hermione’s other side. “Coming to class again?” 

She nodded, grinning. “I’s happy I’s able to go, even if it’s just the steward’s class.” 

It was a cloudy, dreary day as they made their way down to Hagrid’s hut, the tail of their combined class stretching reluctantly back towards the castle like a snake. Hagrid was waiting for them, hands on his staff, rocking on his heels. “‘Ello, class, gather round now,” he said, grinning. “Special treat for you today, very special treat indeed. We’ve a visit from a member of the new ministry Board o’ Interspecies Affairs—she’s meetin’ us in the great hall, so let’s head right back around!” 

Intrigued, Harry turned to follow Hagrid—but something caught his eye from the  tree line. Something black and white, shifting uneasily behind an oak on four legs ….

Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Hagrid,” he whispered, “I need to go.” 

Hagrid stared at him. “And may I ask why?” 

Harry flicked his eyes towards the trees. Hagrid followed his gaze, squinting, and then his eyes bulged out of his head. “Emissary Snakeheart,” he said severely, “this is a diplomatic incident, do the two o’ you realize—” 

“Gotta go!” Harry squeaked, and tore towards the trees. He lingered just beyond them, waving off his friends’ curious looks, and waited until even Hagrid had turned to lead the class away before stepping into the trees.

“Araeo?” 

“Hello, Snakeheart,” Araeo said quietly. He slouched behind a tree, wearing a brown cloak with the hood pulled up over his head. He was staring at the ground, twisting his hands together in front of him.

“Hi,” Harry said, moving cautiously towards him. He gripped the strap of his bag nervously. “Are you alright?” 

Araeo glanced up, foggy blue eyes wide and bloodshot. “Did you mean it?” 

“What?”

Araeo held out his crumpled note. “That we’d still be friends, even if we weren’t heartkin?” 

“Of course I meant it!” Harry exclaimed. “I would never lie to you.” 

Araeo’s bottom lip trembled. “I-I’m sorry, Snakeheart.” And he started to cry, bringing hands up to wipe tears angrily from his face. 

Harry was at his side in a second, standing on tiptoes to embrace him, relief flooding his body. Araeo pressed his face into his hair, sniffing, and tried to take his hand—but Harry pulled away just as quickly, putting his hands behind his back.

Araeo blinked at him, looking confused and miserable. “Snakeheart?” 

“I just—think we should talk just on our own for a minute,” Harry said. “Right? Isn’t that what you’re worried about?” 

“Mhm,” Araeo said, still crying. “I know it was stupid of me to come here.” 

Harry shrugged. “So what?”

“Yeah,” Araeo said, choking on a laugh. “So what?” He sighed, a tired, angry, sad sound, and Harry wanted nothing more than to take his hand and let their heartbeats align, but he resisted. “Snakeheart?” 

“Yeah?” 

“What if I wanted to run away?” 

Harry blinked. “Okay. Where?” 

Araeo cast him a glance. “That’s all you have to say? Where?” 

“Well, I guess I’d also want to ask … do you want me to come? Or are you—are you running away from me, too?” 

Araeo shook his head. “You could come.” 

“Okay,” Harry said, relieved all over again. “Then, where? You could come live with the basilisk. You’d have to be careful during the inoculation process, though. I don’t know, er, how good it would be for you underwater … I suppose we could go beyond the mountains, too. And we’d have to tell Limmy, because without her I wouldn’t be able to come back and visit the babies, but Limmy wouldn’t tell. Oh, I’ve got it—we could go live in the deeps. Not the forest deeps, underground. It gets pretty hot but maybe we could build a den that stays cool with magic … and I could come up to the surface every so often to get supplies, and that way I could still see the basilisks.” 

“What about your duties?” Araeo asked, his tears starting to slow.

“Oh, well …” Harry bit his lip. “Well, that’s where Limmy comes in! She can just take me to the acromantulae or the lake whenever I need.” 

“It’s not really running away, is it, if you still come back to do your job,” said Araeo.

“Well … you’d have run away. I’d be, like, covering for you. I’d come home every day and we’d have a good laugh because no one suspected anything.” 

“And if my father asked you where I was?” 

Harry crossed his arms. “Bane doesn’t scare me.” 

Araeo snorted, wiped the last tears from his cheeks. “Sure.” 

“Did he do something?” Harry asked. 

“My father? In a way. But I found out that my mother—I found out that my mother took my father as a mate and moved here to be Band leader … all because she Saw that it would lead to my birth.” 

“Oh.” 

Araeo snorted and kicked a tree with his back leg, making dead fall leaves shiver downward. “Oh? Yes, oh. So much for familial love! The only reason I’m here is because my mother saw an end and pursued the means! That’s all I am to her—an end! A—a prize! A goal! I’m not her son, I’m her—her masterpiece!” 

Harry didn’t know what to say to that. Araeo picked a branch from the ground and was stripping the bark from it. “Did Bane know?”

“Yes,” Araeo snarled. “Their whole lives were nothing but a grand plan to bring me into the world, their Seer prodigy to change the course of destiny, and that’s such bullshit!” 

Harry had never heard Araeo curse before. “It is?” 

“Yes! Because there’s no changing the course of destiny if my entire life is already foretold! It’s not a new course, it’s the same star-forsaken future, and nothing in my life has been or will ever actually be in my control!” 

“Including me,” Harry finished hollowly.

Araeo turned foggy, furious eyes on him. “Including you. We were heartkin before I was even born.” 

“I remember,” Harry said. “Nayla was pregnant, and our hearts matched up, and Bane tried to chase me off. Your mum got so mad at him and tried to get me to stay, but I ran away.” 

“So you see, Snakeheart,” Araeo said, looking helplessly up to the trees. “Even the most important person in my life was put there for a greater reason.” 

Harry crossed his arms, trying not to let the hurt show on his face. “Oh yeah? And what’s the greater reason, then?” 

Araeo looked at him. “What?” 

“The greater reason of us being heartkin. What is it?” 

“Well, it’s—” Araeo hesitated. “Obviously, it’s—to—” 

“You don’t know,” Harry pointed out. “So, I don’t see why us being heartkin has to actually have a purpose like all those things your mum did to have you. I think us being heartkin is—is the purpose. Know why?” 

“… Why.”

“Because your mum didn’t know about it. When I first met her and our hearts beat together, it scared her. No one knew what was happening. Being heartkin isn’t part of her plan; it’s just for us. That’s it. And we can do whatever we want with it. I’m sorry you feel like your mum betrayed you—but I don’t think we’re part of that.” 

“Maybe you’re right,” whispered Araeo. 

“I know I’m right!” Harry said, balling his hands into fists. “You and I, it must be just … just how we are. Separate from what anyone else has to say about it.” 

Araeo slumped, shoulders hunched forward. “I’m sorry for those things I wrote, Snakeheart. I know they hurt you. I was upset.” 

“I’m sorry about your parents,” said Harry quietly. “It’s not fair of them to expect all these great things of you even before you were born.” 

Tentatively, Araeo held out a hand. Harry took it and let Araeo pull him into a hug. Their hearts went thu-bump as they shifted and fell together. Araeo sniffed, and they knelt down slowly in the leaves, shuffling around and sending up flurries of red and orange and yellow foliage. Araeo clutched both of Harry’s hands against his cloak. 

“Nayla really told you that?” Harry asked quietly. “That you’re just—just a result?” 

Araeo bit his lip. “Well—not exactly. I, er, I overheard them. Her and my father.” 

“Did you talk to them?”

Looking down, Araeo shook his head. 

Harry leaned forward to stare Araeo in the eyes. “Are you serious?” 

“Oh,” Araeo snapped. “Like you’ve never overheard something to upsetting to talk about!” 

“Not that makes me cause a diplomatic incident by crossing national borders!” 

Araeo gave him the most scathing look imaginable. “Tell me you’re joking. That’s all you do, Snakeheart!” 

Harry scowled, twitching his hands as if he would yank them away and grinning when Araeo tightened his grip. He rolled his eyes. “Alright, fine. So do you want to come hide out in the castle? You could borrow my pendant.” 

Araeo giggled. “Can you imagine my father’s face?” 

“Perfectly,” Harry said dryly. 

Their hearts beat in perfect rhythm. It was the thump of a dance under the moon, the current of waves in the water, the breath of stars in the sky. Harry noticed, in a slow-shifting moment, that Araeo’s hands were very warm, and his eyes were such a soft, drifting blue. 

He had always compared Araeo to a starry night. But why had he never before noticed that his eyes were clouds across the noon sky?

“Alrigh’, I’ve let you have as long as I could,” said Hagrid, stomping into the trees. “Heir Stargazer, you have to know I’ve got to take you back.” 

“I know, Steward Hagrid,” said Araeo. He rose, pulling Harry up with him. “Thank you for letting us talk.” 

“I’ll see you soon,” promised Harry. “Hey, Araeo—make sure on your way back you tell Hagrid what your uncle thought of his gift.” 

Araeo turned to beam at Hagrid. “Oh, Steward Hagrid, he adores it.” 

Hagrid leveled a finger at Harry. “One o’ these days, Harry.”  

An impulse tugged at him, and before Araeo could let his hand go, he brushed an almost-not-there kiss to his knuckles. Araeo blinked rapidly, then smiled, touching his hands to chin and heart and bowing. “Goodbye, Snakeheart.”

“Um, bye, Araeo. Talk to your parents.” 

“Yes, yes. Now, Steward Hagrid, my uncle is dying to know how you remembered his favorite color was spring green—” 

Hagrid’s disgruntled muttering followed Harry back out of the woods and up to the castle, as the bleak clouds above parted to reveal blue sky.

Chapter Text

"He’s watching,” said Trelawney. “The Snake.”

“I know I am,” Harry said. “I’m right here.”

“I’m not talking to you,” said Trelawney. “Let me think, for god’s sake, I can’t hear the list.”

“What list?"

“Bone of the father, unknowingly given.”

“Snakeheart.”

“Be quite, I can’t hear the Seer.”

“—willingly sacrificed—” 

“Snakeheart!"

“Be quiet!”

“—forcibly taken—”

“SNAKEHEART!”

“No, no, no, I can’t hear—”

“SNAKEHEART WAKE UP!”

Harry shot upright in his bed, gasping. He looked furious around at who had woken him—he was going to kill Draco—

“Snakeheart,” whispered a pleased little voice from his lap. “Look, I found you.”

Harry slammed his glasses on his face and looked down, something cold spreading across his stomach. Ifingr curled mischievously in his lap, tongue flicking out in pleasure.

“Ifingr,” he said in horror. “Baby, what are you doing here?”

“I found you!” Ifingr said gleefully, wriggling in happiness.

Harry looked around to make sure his bed curtains were closed. This was bad. This was so very, very bad.

“Why?” Harry whispered. “Is something wrong?”

“Yes, Laila and Ouro tease me and don’t share the glow stone and take up all the time with our parent!”

Harry sighed, stroking Ifingr’s head gently. The little snake pushed its head up into him, hissing in satisfaction.

“How’d you find me?” Harry asked.

“I smelled you easy.”

“Well, good job.” Harry looked up to the top of his canopy in dread. “Can you smell your way back?”

Ifingr curled tighter. “Yes but I won’t.”

“You won’t?” Harry glared at it, which of course made no difference. “And why not?”

“Because I’m staying with you now.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Harry grimly.

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“Er, Harry?”

“Hm?”

“Are you…cold?”

“Freezing. Why.”

“Oh, just wondering about the, er…” Draco waved at his ensemble of cloak, two scarves, and slouchy hat.

“Caught a chill,” said Harry, a phrase he’d once heard Madam Pomfrey use. “I’ll be fine. Let’s go.”

“Eager for breakfast?” Blaise asked.

Harry jumped as he felt a little wet lick on the back of his neck. “Mhm!”

“Harry?”

“Let’s go!” He strode ahead of them, banging out of the portrait and hissing,“stay still!”

“No!” Ifingr whined. “Don’t take me back!”

“You’re going back!”

“Did you say something, Harry?”

“No! Just—breakfast!” He focused on walking normally as Ifingr slithered all over his neck and shoulders, keeping up a constant whining hiss about the unfairness of the universe. Draco and Blaise were giving him the most bizarre looks, but he ignored them steadfastly. Once they made it to the great hall, he looked desperately around—but Limmy was not there.

He hurried over to the Gryffindor table and tapped on Hermione’s book. She lowered it slowly. “Yes? Oh, hello Harry.”

“Hellowhere’sLimmy?”

“Limmy? How should I know?”

“You’re always with her these days!”

“No need to yell! We just work on spells together, is all. Anyway, I haven’t seen her this morning.”

“Rightthanks.” He snatched an apple and a piece of bacon from the table and scurried back out of the hall.

“Harry?” called Draco after him.

“Toilet!” he yelled back, fleeing.

“Good morning, Mr. Potter, do you have a moment?” Dumbledore strode towards him in pale pink robes, hands folded in front of him.

“Um—is it urgent, professor?”

“A bit, do you have somewhere to be going?”

“Er…” Ifingr wiggled about his shoulder blades, demanding food. “Well…um…”   

“I have unfortunate news regarding the incident in Diagon Alley two weeks ago,” Dumbledore said gravely. “Join me in my office?”

“Er, alright.”

He lagged a few steps behind Dumbledore as they walked and tore the bacon into bite-sized pieces, holding in gingerly behind his neck until he felt Ifingr snap it up. “Yum!” the baby hissed. “More, Snakeheart!”

“That’s all I have,” he whispered.

“With was that, Mr. Potter?"

“Oh, er, just wondering how it all went.”

“Unfortunately, not well,” Dumbledore said sadly, opening his office door. “Tea?”

“No thank you.” Fawkes, in his juvenile form, stared at him piercingly.

“Are you cold? I can cast a warming spell on you, if you like.”

“No thank you!” Harry pulled his hood tighter about his head as Ifingr started wiggling down onto his chest. “Diagon?”

“Right, right.” Dumbledore settled behind his desk, rubbing his nose. “I regret to inform you, Harry, that the aurors will not be pursuing our report. The testimony of a goblin was thrown out immediately, and unfortunately the word of any one student was always unlikely to hold up against that of Lucius Malfoy, who swears he never laid a hand on you.”

“But…” The unfairness of it made him temporarily forget about Ifingr. “But he’s lying!”

“I know that, Harry,” said Dumbledore gently. “But he is a man of great influence, especially now that he is working to stir the ire of blood purists in our society. To put it simply, no one wants to get on his bad side.”

“That’s just…” Harry trailed off. Fawkes let out a call of sympathy.

“Bird!” screamed Ifingr into Harry’s ear, coiling about his neck. “I heard a bird! Bird! Bird!”

“What on earth is that noise?” Dumbledore asked, looking around with a frown.

“My stomach!” Harry said, leaping up. “Sorry professor, I had too many of Draco’s French Belgian chocolates and I have to go right now!”

“By all means!” Dumbledore exclaimed, opening his door with a wave of his wand. “We shall speak more later, my boy!”

“Shush, Ifingr!” Harry moaned as he fled down the stairs. “Please be quiet, please!”

“I want my parent!” wailed the snake. “Snakeheart! I want my parent!”

“Okay, baby,” Harry murmured, skidding down the hallway. Desperately, he turned into the first empty classroom he found, slamming the door and crouching against it. He fumbled Ifingr from around his neck and cradled it in his arms. “Hey, hey. I’ll get you back to the basilisk, yeah? Calm down.” He kissed its head softly, stroking its back.

Slowly, Ifingr quieted, staring up at him through unseeing white eyes. Harry felt a surge of fondness, remembering the first time he’d seen Ifingr—a miracle of a child, and, though he would never tell Laila and Ouro, his favorite. “Okay,” Harry sighed, as Ifingr rubbed its head against his cheek. “We’re going to find Limmy now.”

“Limmy!” Ifingr shrieked. “Limmy! Limmy!”

“But you have to be quiet,” Harry said, placing a gentle finger over Ifingr’s mouth. “Okay? Quiet.”

“Quiet,” whispered Ifingr.

“Alright.” He gently placed Ifingr back around his neck, and the little snake looped under his shirt to rest its head over Harry’s heart. He straightened up and opened the door.

On the other side of the door was Narcissa Black. They faced each other in simple astonishment for a moment.

“Mr. Potter,” said Narcissa. “Are you a parselmouth?”

“Um. Yes?"

She blinked at him. “You are?”

“Well, yes? Is that a big deal?”

She brought an exquisitely manicured hand to her heart, emerald rings glinting. “Mr. Potter, it is exceedingly rare. Salazar Slytherin himself was a parselmouth!”

“Yeah, I know,” said Harry, edging around her. “Sorry, I’ve got to go, er, toilet emergency.”

She drew back in alarm. “Very well—but come by my office sometime, Mr. Potter, I have a bracelet I would love to ask a few questions.”

“Er, yeah, sure.”

He broke for the elf wing the moment he was out of her sight, practically sprinting. He ignored all calls from professors and students alike, and arrived at Swiftwing’s portrait gasping for breath, severely overheated in his scarves and cloak.

“Ah, Snake,” said Swiftwing, peering down at him through small spectacles. “Welcome to the elf wing.”

“GoodmorningSwiftwingisLimmythere?”

“Miss Snakeheart? Well, I—” Swiftwing narrowed his eye. “Now, you know I am not allowed to give out the information of any inhabitants of my wing. Nice try, whoever you are in disguise."

“Well—“ Harry opened and closed his mouth. How was he to argue with that?The last thing he wanted to do was compromise the wing’s security. “If she’s there, can you pass a message to her?”

“If she is there, I may or may not be able to pass on a message to her,” said Swiftwing noncommittally, swishing his tail.

“I’ll take a message to Fleethoof for you!” Harry said desperately.

Swiftwing’s eyes widened behind his spectacles. “Will you really?”

“I’ll even write it down, it can be however long you want it to be, and I promise to read him the whole thing,” Harry swore. “Just please tell Limmy it’s an emergency.”

“Two scrolls of parchment, promise me right now,” said Swiftwing, wings shifting in excitement.

“Two scrolls,” swore Harry, wriggling as Ifingr’s tail tickled his neck.

“Very well. I may or may not have just passed on your message to Miss Snakeheart, who may or may not be here.” Swiftwing sat back on his haunches, looking very self satisfied. “Now, about that message.”

But before Harry could even draw his quill, Limmy burst through the portrait, looking around in alarm, still in her pajamas. “Snake!” she exclaimed, seeing him. “What is wrong! What’s happening!”

“Limmythankthestars,” Harry breathed. “Come on, please. Swiftwing—I’ll come back!”

“You most certainly will!”

He hauled Limmy into the nearest nook of the castle, a little window overlooking the lake. Limmy had a hand on her necklace, looking around nervously, ears twitching. “Snake, what is it!”

“Limmy!” Ifingr burst out of Harry’s shirt, catapulting into her arms. She fumbled it in surprise, sputtering as Ifingr licked all over her face. “Limmy! Limmy! Limmy!”

“It’s saying your name over and over again,” Harry sighed, dragging his hand down his face.

“Hello baby,” Limmy cooed, dropping kisses all over it. “I is certain you’s not supposed to be here, little precious one!”

“It’s not,” Harry said. “Please, can you take us to the den? I’s certain the basilisk is about to tear down the castle.”

Limmy grinned at him and held out her hand. In the blink of an eye, she’d whirled them through the castle, and they landed unsteadily in the hall.

“IFINGR!” roared the basilisk, erupting out of the den at top speed.

Ifingr squealed and dove into Harry’s shirt, and the basilisk halted before it knocked him completely over.

“Ifingr,” said the basilisk, voice subsonic. “Where in the name of the stones below us and the stars above have you been.”

Ifingr was utterly silent. Harry sighed. “It wanted to come stay with me.”

The basilisk looked at him in utter exhaustion. “I see. Oh, hello Limmy.” It glanced over at Limmy, and she froze for a few sticky seconds, before shuddering and shaking off her hands.

“That is always feeling bad,” she complained.

“It’ll get better,” Harry assured her. “At least you’re getting inoculated by being around the babies. I had to go on a hunt for a potion. And the basilisk says hello.”

“Hello,” Limmy said. “I’s going to say hello to the others.” She headed into the den, leaving the basilisk and Harry with Ifingr.

“Sorry,” came Ifingr’s little hiss from over Harry’s heart. “Sorry, sorry.”

The basilisk sighed out. “Come here.”

Ifingr slung down along Harry’s arm and nudged the basilisk’s face. The basilisk scented it, rubbed its head along it, and sent it back into the den. Then it curled around Harry, sighing. “I was so scared, Snakeheart. And I could do nothing at all. Can you imagine my terror? To know my child was gone and be unable to even go look for it? It is helpless out there!”

“I know,” Harry said, shuddering. “I’m just glad it found me. What if it had just been lost in the castle? Anyone could have seen it!”

The basilisk was quiet for a long moment. Then it spoke slowly, contemplative. “Snakeheart, I think you were right this summer. Should this ever happen again, my children cannot be helpless in the world of wizards. If you take only the utmost precautions—and are always vigilant—then perhaps it would be prudent to get them accustomed to the world beyond the den. In highest secrecy. And only for short times. And never into danger. So that at least, should this happen again, they can find their way home.”

“I’ll be so careful,” Harry promised.

“I know you will,” said the basilisk. “It’s them I don’t trust.”

“Snakeheart!” came a wail from the den. “Limmy is giving Ifingr more kisses than me! Come tell it to share!”

Harry stands with his arm outstretched, a green snake coiled around it.

Bonus illustration: Harry and Ifingr

Chapter Text

“And on the subject of your forelock,” Harry said, unrolling the scroll partially. “It pains me to admit I have been remiss in praising this most whimsical yet handsome of elements of your mane in times past, and so I must make amends by devoting several lines of my preciously rationed two scrolls to it. When it hangs down across your golden eye, and the painted wind blows it aside to reveal a glimpse that is like the stars come down to illustrated form—I admit to having lost a breath I can only dream of breathing.”

Harry paused and looked up at Fleethoof, raising an eyebrow. “You have to admit he has a way with words.”

The unicorn sighed and tossed his mane, paws crossed daintily in front of him as he lay under his painted apple tree. “I never tried to deny that, Mr. Snake. I should hope you and Swiftwing know by now that it is not a matter of his words which make me hesitate, but the myriad complications of a union such as he proposes!”

Harry braced his chin on his hand. “Like what?”

Fleethoof sighed out. “Griffons and unicorns, Mr. Snake, are separate species entirely.  Not to mention my and Swiftwing’s social class—how would it look on my reputation as a library denizen if I were to take up with a—with a door guardian?

“I think that’s silly,” Harry said, kicking his heels behind his head. He lay on the ground behind Madam Pince’s desk, below Fleethoof’s portrait. The only reason he was not in deep trouble with Madam Pince right now was that she was dealing with a twin-made disaster near the restricted section. “And I don’t think it’s so bad being separate species, either.”

“It’s not silly,” Fleethoof insisted. “And you don’t think so because you’re a child. You’ll grow up and realize these things are more serious than you think.”

“Oh yeah?” Harry pushed himself into a cross-legged position. “Well, I think you think it’s wrong because you’re so old, and for a library denizen you’re pretty stupid!”

Fleethoof huffed in exasperation. “Maybe I was painted several hundred years ago, but you cannot tell me, Mr.  Snake, that society is interbreeding all willy-nilly these days.”

Harry wrinkled his nose. “Don’t be gross about it.”

Fleethoof blew his whimsical and handsome forelock out of his eye. “Gross? Juvenile indeed. It is what it is, Mr. Snake.”

“Anyway, it’s not new, because what about Salazar Slytherin? He was in love with a merman. And that was ages ago.”

“Salazar Slytherin would never have loved a merman,” Fleethoof said. “He was a notorious blood purist.”

“What? No, he wasn’t.”

“Mr. Snake, I swear to you he was. Where do you think Slytherin house gets its reputation? He advocated for Hogwarts not to take muggle-born students.”

This was deeply disturbing news, and frankly Harry didn’t believe it. “You’re wrong.”

“Ask anyone,” snapped Fleethoof. “And they will tell you I am right.”

Harry opened and closed his mouth. “But—but I’m right, too. He loved a merman. I have proof, the mer have proof. It’s just a fact.”

Fleethoof swished his tail in agitation. “That’s very odd, Mr. Snake, and I don't believe you. And it certainly doesn’t change my mind.”

“Well …” Harry hesitated. Fleethoof’s bizarre opinion, and his equally troubling opinions about romance, had tied his stomach in knots. “Do you not want to hear the rest of the letter, then?”

Fleethoof avoided his gaze. “Oh, well—I suppose since you already have it here ….”

Grinning but still unsettled, Harry continued on to a paragraph about Fleethoof’s tail.

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“Please ask it if it has a preferred accent piece.”

“Um … do you have a preferred accent piece?”

“Oh, yes,” hissed the little coil of Narcissa Black’s golden snake bracelet. “The emerald set, tell it the emerald set. And never the rubies—tell it the rubies give me an allergic reaction.”

“It prefers the emerald set and hates the rubies,” Harry told Narcissa.

“Oh the poor dear! I wore the rubies last week! Do tell it I apologize.”

“She’s sorry for wearing the rubies.”

“So long as it never does it again! Oh, and please tell it not to ever place me beside its falcon brooch. I swear that thing is planning to eat me any day.”

“Please never put it by your falcon brooch,” Harry said obediently.

“Oh, Mr. Potter, you have done me such a service today,” Narcissa said, smiling at him with perfectly painted burgundy lips.

“No problem,” Harry said awkwardly, sipping at his incredibly tiny cup of sparkling pomegranate juice. It was delicious, but he was terrified of breaking it, it was so delicate. “Er, it’s good to meet you, by the way. Draco’s one of my best friends.”

Narcissa put down her bracelet with a last fond stroke and gazed at him. “You inspired such a change in my son, Mr. Potter. I do believe you were his first true friend. I will always be grateful to you for that.”

Harry rolled his cup nervously between his hands. “I—er—I saw Draco’s father in Diagon. I don’t know if Dumbledore told you.”

Narcissa pressed her lips together. “He did. But I thank you for telling me, regardless. Lucius Malfoy is a dangerous man, and I am glad he did not harm you more. You must be very careful of him. He is a powerful, well-connected, and unpredictable.”

“He hurt Draco last year.”

Narcissa nodded gravely. “And one day I shall take it out of his flesh tenfold.”

“Good,” Harry said, something relieved settling in his stomach at that. So long as someone else was out for Lucius Malfoy.

Narcissa smiled at him. “You are an odd one, Mr. Potter.”

“So they tell me. I like your lectures.”

“Why, thank you. I have always found it imperative to discuss the words we use, before we use the words.” She straightened a piece of paper on her desk that was already perfectly straight. “Dark magic, light magic. If you were to ask the average wizard off the street, Mr. Potter, they would tell you that parseltongue is the darkest of magics.”

Harry looked up in surprise. “What? Really?”

She nodded. “Salazar Slytherin was a parselmouth. So was the Dark Lord.”

“But it’s just a language,” Harry said. “Anyone could learn it.”

“Could they?”

“Yes! Here, say this.” Harry focused on making himself speak parsletongue. “Hello.”

“Hello,” Narcissa said, in a strangled tone and terrible accent. But her bracelet looked up all the same with interest. “Well, look at that. Mr. Potter, you and I could ride the waves of parseltongue research together very profitably in the future, if you would ever be interested.”

“Er, I’ll keep that in mind,” said Harry. “In the meantime, do you have any more questions for it?”

“Yes—what’s its name?”

Harry took a bracing sip of sparkling pomegranate juice and readied himself to explain to her the complex relationship snakes had to names.

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“Mr. Potter, a moment.”

Groaning, Harry put his bag back on the ground and slumped in his seat. Ron and Hermione gave him sympathetic looks as they abandoned him to Severus’ clutches.

Severus approached his desk, holding a vial of blue potion “An excellent attempt at the wiggenweld potion, Mr. Potter.”

“Thanks, professor.”

“Cup of tea during your break?”

Harry sighed. “Yes, professor.”

He followed Severus to his office nearby, where he was fixed a cup of jasmine tea. Severus examined him over the rim of his teacup, one eyebrow raised. Harry furiously told himself he would not speak first, and triumphed.

“Mr. Potter, there is no need for stress right now. I merely want to ask how you are feeling about Lucius Malfoy.”

“Was Salazar Slytherin a blood purist?”

Severus blinked. “Was he—why, yes.”

Harry leaned forward. “A blood purist like Lucius Malfoy? Like, that bad?”

Severus hesitated. “Well—I hesitated to compare anyone to Lucius Malfoy … but Slytherin did protest the allowance of muggle-born students into Hogwarts, deny their admittance to his house during the time he was alive, and advocate some rather draconian laws for the regulation of intermarriage.”

Harry sat back, aghast. “I don’t understand!”

“What is there not to understand?”

“Sev—er, professor—” Harry waved his hands about. “Sal loved a merman!”

“Sal?”

“Er--Salazar. He loved a merman. They were in love. He learned mermish for him. How could he be—be so awful at the same time?”

“Who on earth told you that?” Severus asked. “I must know who is filling your head with such nonsense, Potter.”

Harry slammed his teacup down. “Well, take it up with Salazar Slytherin, then, cause he’s the one who told me! Or, why don’t you just take it up with the re Aflin Flers and their blood shame! I don’t understand how someone can be a blood purist and be in love with someone who isn’t human at the same time!” 

Severus took several deep breaths. “Putting—putting all that aside, Mr. Potter—and focusing on the root of your question—that kind of hypocrisy is quite possible. In fact, it is common. Take me as your example.”

Harry stared at him. “You?”

Severus nodded. “Mr. Potter, remember that your mother was my best friend. And I turned on her in an act of hypocrisy just as you are suggesting. How is it logical? Rational? It is not. Haven’t you ever said one thing and done another?”

Harry was furious. Of course what Severus was saying made sense ... but Sal and Ifingr had always been a fairy tale, a tragic and flawless love to aspire to. He couldn’t stand this. “You don’t still think that, though.”

“No, I do not.”

“So maybe—maybe Sal changed.” He looked hopefully at Severus.

Severus sighed. “Maybe he did, Mr. Potter. Is this in any way connected to the events in Diagon Alley three weeks previous?”

“I guess I just can’t believe wizards are so horrible. I thought Lucius Malfoy was sort of a special case.”

“I am afraid not.”

Harry brooded for a moment. Severus passed him a biscuit. “You may say anything to me in confidence, Mr. Potter,” he said.

Harry glanced up. “Well—do you swear?”

Severus’ eyebrows drew together. “If you tell me something potential endangering to yourself or—”

“Yeah, yeah, but like private stuff?”

“So long as it is safe, I promise.”

Harry nibbled on his biscuit. Harry’s definition of ‘safe’ did not generally match others’. But he supposed in this case it was alright. “Fine,” he said. “Er, I’m sort of, er, it’s just that—”

Severus watched him patiently.

“Okay, you know Hagrid?”

“Yes, Mr. Potter, I know Hagrid.”

“Well—he’s half-giant. So … his parents are separate species.”

“Indeed.”

“And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that!” Harry exclaimed.

“No, nor do I,” Severus said.

Harry frowned, biting his lip.

“Mr. Potter,” Severus said abruptly. “Did you read anything interesting this summer?”

“I’ve got to go,” Harry said, bursting from his chair and seizing his bag. “Thanks for the tea, professor!”

“Oh, how remiss of me—how could I have forgotten? I purchased chocolate wands in Diagon Alley a few weeks ago. They had a new flavor—mint caramel filled.”

Harry froze.

“I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I have quite a few left over ….”

Harry sat back down and snatched a wand from the box, sticking it in his mouth. It was intoxicating. Severus placed the box in the middle of his desk, temptingly open.

“Fine,” he mumbled around the wand. “Maybe I read something embarrassing this summer. Maybe. And also maybe I have a—a—a friend who is, um—different, and I don’t want people to think about me and my friend like people think about unicorns and griffons!”

“Unicorns and griffons.”

“And wizards and merfolk, and giants and humans,” Harry whispered. “My friend has enough to deal with.” Furiously, he grabbed a second wand and stuck that in his mouth too.

“I cling to the hope that one day we need not speak in code,” Severus said dryly. “You have a ‘friend’ who is not human. You are worried about wizards’ eventual treatment of your relationship. I have never known you to be afraid of such things before—you and Miss Snakeheart are proof enough of that.”

“I’m not afraid,” Harry said. “First of all. I’m worried for my friend, not for me. Second of all, it’s different than me and Limmy.”

“How different? Do we need to be having a separate talk entirely?”

Harry shook his head, face burning. “Not that different.”

Severus drew his hand down his face. “Let me again translate. You have a deep relationship with an individual of another species. Who is not Miss Snakeheart. You are concerned about the social stigma this may bring down on your … friend.”

“Yes,” Harry said in relief, shoving a third wand into his mouth.

“I see.” Severus steepled his fingers. “I will not lie, Mr. Potter, the social consequences of interspecies relationships have historically been severe.” He raised a hand to Harry’s furious protest. “Relationships, I said, of all kinds. But yes, the consequences are most apparent in romantic partnerships. Take, for example, that Hagrid conceals his parentage. Take the laws against werewolf marriage. Take, even, the fact that I know of only one public interspecies relationship, and that is your godfather and Remus Lupin, for a debatable definition of ‘interspecies.’”

Harry frowned around his three chocolate wands, slowly turning his teeth to mint caramel. “Right.”

“That is not to say, however, that things do not change. Indeed, twenty years ago I would have known of zero interspecies relationships at all—friendships included. And it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that we are living through exceptional times. The elves and their allies are currently bringing down a reckoning. Who knows what they are creating space for? What you are creating space for? Mr. Potter, I was not brave enough to challenge those in power for the sake of love. You have never done anything else. It would be a disservice to you and those who love you to let anything stand in the way of what you feel. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Severus,” Harry said, softly. He wiped his eyes with a sleeve of his robe. “Thank you.”

Severus leaned forward across his desk. “Mr. Potter, you are only thirteen. Far too young to start holding back your heart.”

Harry took a deep breath. “Would—would my mum be ashamed of me?”

Severus' gaze softened. “Lily never did anything but follow her heart. She would be so proud of you.”

Chapter Text

“Not that I think you would care about anything so trivial, Mr. Potter, but here is your signed Hogsmeade permission slip for today.” 

“Oh!” Harry took the slip in surprise. “We had these?” 

“My point stands.” Severus swept away back towards the head table.

“I’m so excited,” Daphne squealed, shaking Harry’s shoulders until his head bobbled. “Hogsmeade, finally! I can’t wait to rub it in Astoria’s face that she can’t go.” 

“I’m excited too,” said Hermione.

“Bloody hell,” Daphne cursed, toppling into Harry’s lap. “Where did you two come from?” 

Hermione, and Limmy beside her, gave Daphne twin confused glances. “We is being here?” Limmy said. “Anyway, is you ready? Draco?” 

Draco smiled at them. “I’m actually going to wait for mum and Dobby.” 

“Still meeting us at the Three Broomsticks?” Harry asked.

“Obviously.” 

“Let’s go!” Daphne wailed. 

“We have to wait for Ron!” Hermione protested.

“I’m here! I thought I’d lost my permission slip but it turns out Fred and George had hidden it. Found it inside a sock.” 

“Gross.”

“A clean sock!” 

Limmy slipped her arm through his as they made their way out of the great hall and got in line to hand their permission slips to Minerva. She beamed up at him. “I’s so excited.” 

“You’s going to Hogsmeade before, though.” 

“Not with you! And I isn’t meeting your new family yet, either. You’s telling them about me, right?” 

“Of course.” Harry handed his slip to Minerva, and they burst out the door into the cool air. It was the end of October, and there was a brisk breeze casting leaves about. Harry took a deep breath in and let it out slowly, his friends’ chatter washing over him. Limmy tugged him playfully off-course, and he bumped her back. 

The students streamed towards Hogsmeade, a fair few elves intermingled with them—younger elves, mostly, who had struck up friendships with the students, for of course the elves could go to Hogsmeade any time they pleased. 

“I’m going to buy so many sweets,” Daphne exclaimed, as they got to the town. “Honeydukes first!” 

“Limmy, is you having money?” Harry asked. “If not I can gets you things.” 

She beamed at him. “Thanks, Snake, but I’s having money of my own. Tippy is paying me as a consultant for the things I’s doing over the summer! And she’s paying me to goes back with her in November, to meets with Amaranth.” 

“Oh, wicked.”

“Guys, come on,” Daphne said, and seized them both by the wrists and pulled them into Honeydukes.

It was a wonderland. Harry began drooling practically as soon as they set foot in the shop. Shelves and shelves of sweets lined the floor—towering jars of licorice, bundles of lollipops hanging from the walls, taffy that stretched in streamers across the ceiling, chocolate frogs leaping from shelf to shelf chasing peppermint flies—a chocolate and caramel snitch blitzed past his head and he grabbed it on instinct, laughing in delight at its foil-wrapped body and delicate spun-sugar wings. 

“It’s beautiful,” whispered Ron. “I’m gonna get so sick tonight.” 

“Me too!” Harry and Limmy exclaimed the same time, and set about filling baskets with more sugar than could be found in the Hogwarts kitchens. 

The two of them met back up at the register, heaving towering piles of sweets up onto the counter. Harry hopped from foot to foot as the bedraggled clerk tallied up his total, so eager to unwrap a chocolate frog he practically couldn’t stand it. 

“Now that is a dragon’s horde,” said a voice from behind him. “I’ll have to tell Charlie Weasley he’s looking in the wrong places.” 

“Remus!” Harry exclaimed, turning around and launching himself into the man’s arms. Remus Lupin caught him with a laugh, spinning him around and setting him down. He beamed down at Harry, looking extremely well—eyes shining, pink floppy hair extremely pink and extremely floppy. 

“Hey there, Harry,” said Sirius, popping out from behind Remus. Like the last time Harry had seen him, he was covered in knit garments—two scarves, a slouchy hat, and fingerless gloves. “I truly admire your constitution. Wish I could still eat all that and not regret it in the morning.” 

“Oh, I’ll regret it,” Harry said happily, hugging Sirius as hard as Remus. “You should have seen me after Draco’s French Belgian chocolates.” 

“Hello,” said Limmy quietly, hands clasped together. 

“This is Limmy!” Harry exclaimed, dragging her forward. “My best friend! Limmy, this is Remus and Sirius.” 

 “I feel as if I know you already,” Remus said, bending down to shake her hand. “The way Harry writes in his letters.”

“What a fabulous hat,” said Sirius, doing the same. “I can tell a kindred fashion spirit when I see one.” His own hat had a sparkly pink bobble on the end

“Snake’s getting me this hat,” Limmy said, grinning. 

“Snake? Harry, you didn’t tell me you have an animal nickname like the rest of the marauders!” 

“Oh, er—” Harry shrugged. Limmy, absolutely red, mouthed a horrified ‘sorry’ at him. He waved it off, giving her a thumbs up. “Yeah, it’s just what some people call me.” 

“It’s wicked,” Sirius said. “And both of you put away your purses, this is on me.” And he swept up to the counter and paid for their twin mountains of candy.

“Thank you!” Limmy squeaked. “But I haves money!” 

“No doubt,” Sirius said, “But I haves a fortune to squander. Think of it as giving the finger to a blood purist piece of dirt.” 

Limmy grinned. “I’s managing that.” 

“And where’s young Mister Malfoy?” Remus asked, placing his hands on Harry’s shoulders. 

Harry grinned and leaned back against him. “He was waiting for Dobby and Narcissa. We probably have a bit.” 

“Well, shall we accompany you on your shopping?”

“Everything’s on me!” Sirius said, picking up their bags of sweets with a feigned wince. “So go wild!” 

Remus rolled his eyes. “Go wild, but be … judicious.” 

“We’s being judicious,” Limmy promised, eyes wide. “Judicious about spending blood purist money as quickly as possible.” 

Sirius laughed, head thrown back. “Oh, I like you.” 

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“I’m so glad we could finally meet Limmy,” said Remus, smiling gently at him. “I can see you two are very close.” 

“She’s sort of like my sister,” Harry said. 

“How wonderful.” Remus took a sip of his butterbeer. Sirius, leaning into his side, grinned at Harry. They were in the Three Broomsticks waiting for Draco and Narcissa to arrive—Limmy had gone to join Hermione at the bookstore, after dumping her mountain of shopping bags on Harry. 

“I’m really happy you have someone like that, Snake,” Sirius said, who hadn’t called him ‘Harry’ since Limmy had slipped up. “Friendship was the thing that got me through … well, life, but in this instance school. Your dad was like my brother, and Remus—well.” Remus put an arm around him, and he grinned. 

Harry slurped the whipped cream from his hot chocolate. “I have lots of best friends. There’s Draco and Daphne and Ron and Hermione, obviously Limmy, plus Nova and, er, Star. Nova and Star live far away though. Well, they both live sort of close—but really very far, see?” 

“Not really,” said Sirius in amusement. 

“Well—Star lives close by but it’s dangerous for him to come see me. And I can only see him during holidays.” Harry frowned. “It’s really hard.” 

“Hey, now, is Star alright? What’s dangerous about it?”

Harry shrugged. “I can’t tell you. He’s fine, though.” 

“Fair enough.” 

“And the other week—the other week something really upset him and it was so hard talking by owl about it, and he actually came to the school , which was so stupid and dangerous, but if he hadn’t I would maybe gone to him which is also stupid and dangerous sometimes …” Harry sighed, shoulders slumping back. “Did you have friends like that?”

“Well …” Sirius thought for a moment. “My parents were terrible and didn’t like me having blood traitor friends. So even though Remus and James had floo connections, we could really only write by owl. However, James and I …” he trailed off, and looked to Remus. “Moony? You thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Very rarely,” said Remus.

“I’ll get back to you, Snakeling,” Sirius said. “Tell us more about school. Or your friends. Or whatever. I’m not picky.” 

“Well—I did have a question for you.”

“Shoot.” 

“I read in The Demiguise about how you’re giving out wolfsbane potion?”

Remus nodded. “Yes, Sirius and I are starting up an organization to assist werewolves experiencing poverty. For so many, a controllable transformation is the key to many locked doors.” 

“Hermione told me it’s really expensive.”

“Prohibitively and intentionally so.” 

Harry drew a sack from his bag and pushed it over the table. “Here—Dumbledore gave me a stipend for being a castle ward, but I don’t need it. I’d rather help with the wolfsbane.” 

Remus’ face did something complicated. “Oh, Harry. That’s so kind, love.” 

Sirius patted his hand, but then pushed the sack back into it. “You’re a good kid, Snake. But I’m richer than god. You keep that for the future, yeah?” 

Harry bit his lip. “But money runs out.” 

“Yours will before mine does,” Sirius said.

“Besides,” said Remus. “Wolfsbane doesn’t cost as much for us, since Severus is selling it to us at one third the market price.” 

Harry blinked several times as he processed this. “He what?” 

“Severus,” Remus said calmly. “This summer, he reached out to me and offered his services for this initiative.” 

“Like a bloody miracle,” Sirius said, shaking his head. “The bastard still won’t see us in person, but …” 

“But he is being incredibly generous. So keep your money, Harry.” 

“Alright,” Harry said hesitantly, slipping it back into his bag. “Can I ask you a question, Remus?”

“Certainly.” 

“Do werewolves count as a different species?” 

Remus blinked. “Oh, well—it depends on who you ask.” 

“I’m asking you.” 

“Well … it’s a bit of a complex issue. First of all, there is —” 

“REMUS!” 

The cry preceded the hurricane of Draco catapulting himself into the pub. Remus barely managed to slide out of the booth in time to catch him. “Draco!” he exclaimed, smiling broadly. “What a wonderful hairstyle.”

Draco, blushing, beamed up at him. “Thanks!” 

Narcissa followed more sedately, eyeing her cousin. 

“Cissy,” said Sirius, gripping her hand. “Good to see you again. On different terms.” Something vacant drifted over his eyes.

“Siri,” said Narcissa. She wore her golden snake bracelet paired with an emerald-set bracelet and rings. “Different terms indeed.” 

“Mother gets her flair for the dramatic from her Black side,” Draco whispered loudly to Harry, still clutching one of Remus’ hands. 

“Just like you,” Harry said. 

“Hey!” 

“It’s very good to meet you in person, Madam Black,” said Remus, smoothly taking her hand from Sirius’ vice grip. “You have raised a truly extraordinary child.” 

In the face of his pink hair and half-moon choker and skinny jeans and leather jacket, Narcissa displayed yet another trait Draco had inherited: she blushed. “I am quite aware,” she said, clearing her throat. “And I am so glad someone besides myself can see it.” 

“Mother!” 

“Yes, Draco?” 

Draco spluttered for a moment. “Nothing.” 

“Indeed.” 

A doodle of Remus Lupin on a blue post-it note. He is in profile, on yellow eye looking at the viewer. He is smiling, showing pointed teeth. His hair is pink and he wears a pink half-moon choker.

Remus Lupin post-it doodle

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“And then I made this incredible pass—well Tracy helped with it, except she’s not at school this year,” Draco chattered, “and we scored just before Harry caught the snitch, seconds before, it was so wicked—” 

“I’ll bet,” said Sirius, grinning at Narcissa over Draco’s head. “Sounds like the Slytherin team is a force to be reckoned with, with you two on it.” 

“Well …” Draco sighed. “Not this year. Without Greg, Vince isn’t half the beater he was. And Millicent’s taken Tracy’s place, but …” He glanced at Harry.

Harry groaned. “She’s really afraid of the bludgers. But no one else tried out.”  

“I see,” Sirius said, stroking his chin. “It can be very hard to pull a team together after losing so many players. Graduated, did they?” 

Draco shook his head. “No, their parents didn’t want them at Hogwarts anymore.” 

Remus frowned. “I had heard parents were considering such a thing, but surely … it is a legacy school, for pure blood families.” 

“A legacy school that has betrayed their cultural roots,” Narcissa said. She ran a perfectly green oval of a nail over her bottom lip. “That is how they see things, at least. Immature children.” 

Sirius snorted.

Narcissa fixed him with a piercing look. “Yes, cousin?” 

“Oh,” he said, leaning forward with glint in his eye. “It’s just that prior to half a year ago—” 

Whatever disastrous direction his mocking tone was about to take was cut off by a sound like a gunshot going off outside. A spell-blast, Harry realized, his mind working half-time all the sudden. The massive noise was followed by a balloon of utter silence ... and then screaming.

Harry threw himself out of the bench, but the adults were faster. Narcissa in the lead, they charged from the pub, Narcissa snarling “Stay here!” at Draco. 

Draco pulled up short, grabbing for Harry’s hand when he blew past. 

“Come on or let go!” Harry snarled, yanking his arm away. With a groan of fright, Draco followed quick on his heels. 

But there was no danger outside, not anymore. Narcissa Black had a knee on the shoulders of a face-down figure, wand pressed tight to their jugular. Remus was surveying the area, wand out, and Sirius—Sirius was attending to a small form lying on the ground.

“DOBBY!” Draco screamed. He didn’t apparate but he might as well have, so quickly was he at the elf’s side. 

Harry was a second behind him, terror sparking in his stomach.

“Dobby!” Draco wailed, seizing his hand. “What happened!” 

“He’s fine, he’s fine,” Sirius said, “Draco, back up!” 

Harry pulled him back, and they clutched each other as they watched Sirius cast. Dobby’s shoulder was completely blue, his arm below it shaking and shivering, eyes shut tight in pain. Swiftly, Sirius wove a spiderweb of magic that broke from his wand and settled over his shoulder. The blue began to dissipate, but his arm still shook. 

“Castle,” Sirius said grimly. “Now.” 

“Severus and Minerva are on their way,” Remus said, crouching beside them. “Dobby, may I pick you up? I cannot apparate you in this condition.” 

Dobby gave a clenched moan of agreement, and Remus swept him into his arms. Draco, sobbing silently, clutched his arm and ran alongside him.

Narcissa glided over, holding a delicate golden box in one hand. “Harry, follow them. Everyone is to return to the castle immediately.” She raised her wand and sent a wailing light into the air, flashing through the house colors. Putting her wand to her throat, her voice floated over all of Hogsmeade. “Hogwarts residents, there had been an incident. All students are required to return to the castle immediately. All other Hogwarts residents are strongly advised to do the same. Professors are arriving to escort you. Do not panic—finish up your purchases and begin to make your way back.” 

“Come on, Snake,” Sirius said, beckoning him. “That includes you.” 

“My friends!” Harry said anxiously, looking around as students began to flood out of the shops. “Where’s Limmy, I don’t see her! Limmy! Limmy!” 

“I’s here!” There—Limmy and Hermione were forging through the crowd towards him. “Snake, what’s going on! What’s happening!” 

Harry clutched her tightly. “Dobby was attacked!” 

“Dobby?” She paled. “Is he okay?” 

“Cast the counter-spell myself; he’ll be alright,” Sirius said, ushering them along. “Come along, right now. I swear to you he’s fine; lucky thing I knew the counter. He’ll just have a cold for a few days.” 

“What was it supposed to do?” Harry asked, breathing coming quick. “And who was that?” 

“It was a frostbite curse,” Sirius said. “Left untreated, it makes limbs fall off as it spreads. And that was Thorfinn Rowle, or my name’s not Sirius Black.” 

“Thorfinn Rowle, but he’s been trying to find a way to re-bind the elves’ magic!” Hermione said, voice very high-pitched. Limmy’s squeezed Harry’s hand.  

“Yes, and he’s a death eater to boot. Lucky thing Cissy was there.” 

Halfway to Hogsmeade they met the professors out in force. Minerva started a headcount, Severus and Hagrid strode back towards Hogsmeade village, and Filius and Pomona began dealing with the students’ frantic questions and hysteria. 

Remus met them at the castle gates, free of Dobby and Draco and looking exhausted. “He’s in the elf wing clinic,” he said wearily, leaning against Sirius. “Draco’s with him. Harry—you kept a cool head today. Thank you.” 

Harry nodded tremulously and flung his arms around Remus.

“Oh, there now. Next time we meet, let’s hope it’s duel-free, hm?”

“Here,” Sirius said, handing Harry his astonishing number of shopping bags. “Don’t forget these, Snake. And stick with your friends today. Be careful leaving the castle grounds. I know tomorrow’s Halloween—just be safe, yeah?” 

“Okay,” Harry promised. “I’m glad you both were here today. I’m going to catch Limmy and Hermione up.” 

“Bye, Snake,” Sirius called. “Give ‘em hell!”

“Who?” Harry shouted back.

Sirius shrugged. “Whoever happens to cross you, I suppose.”

Harry gave him a thumbs up, and then ran to take Limmy’s hand.

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But Halloween, the anniversary of his parents’ deaths, even the attack in Hogsmeade, were to be overshadowed the very next morning.

THE DEMIGUISE

THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE

EDITION 43 31 Oct 1993

Breaking News Special Edition: Six Elves Murdered in Safe House Raid

On 23 Oct, at the same time that an attack led by suspected Thorfinn Rowle was carried out on an elf in Hogsmeade Village, a liberated elf safe house near Diagon Alley was raided by a group of three red-masked individuals. Six elves were murdered. 

DMLE agents declared the case ‘unsolvable’ after refusing to investigate the scene. Auror John Dawlish declared in a statement that “the whole thing reeked of elf trickery” and he would not leverage the DMLE’s forces for an “inconsequential vacuum of Ministry resources.” 

The murdered elves were Effy Cleareye, Demmy Aspen, Ingrid Aspen, Pippin Grinbear, and Penny. All were formerly enslaved by the Lestrange and Yaxley households. See page 4 for memorials.

The DMLE refuses to investigate, but the Collective believes it probable that the attack was carried out by the elves’ former enslavers or ‘Blood Riot’ sympathizers, the moniker popularized in literature seen around Diagon and Nocturn Alley over the last several weeks.

The collective urges elves currently in London safe houses to relocate immediately …

Hogwarts doors remain open …

Be on the lookout for the individuals in the photos below … 

Thorfinn Rowle facing time in prison … 

Tippy Lockjaw continues her quest to establish an autonomous elven community … 

Chapter Text

“Um … there.” 

“Ha! You sure that’s the move you wanna make, Potter?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Harry, do you really think that’s your wisest option?” 

“Oh, um. No?” 

“Oh, so you’ll take his advice but not mine.” Ron leaned back and crossed his arms.

“Well—he actually wants to help!” Harry defended. “You just want to make me second guess myself.”

Ron gave a dramatic sigh and took his rook. 

“It really would have been better to move your bishop,” Percy said, leaning over the back of Harry’s chair. 

“Right, my bishop. I knew that.” 

Ron rolled his eyes. 

“Say, Harry, I was curious about something.” 

Harry abandoned the game to devote his entire attention to Percy. “Yes?” 

“Well—you know Madam Lockjaw quite well. She’s always talking about you. Sometimes she calls you Snake, actually.” 

“Mhm.” 

“Well—how did you meet her?” 

“I’ve been wondering that too,” Ron said loudly. “I know everyone just sort of didn’t talk about it last year, but you were with the elves before school started back after winter holiday.” 

Harry considered them, biting his lip. “Well, I can’t tell you, and I don’t want to lie.” 

“Fair enough, I suppose,” said Percy with an incredulous chuckle. “Anyway, Madam Lockjaw actually told me to ask another question—about goblins.” 

“Goblins?” Harry said in excitement. “Did she meet Havelock, then?” 

“She’s going to,” said Percy. “But she doesn’t know much about goblin customs, and you do. Can you come give her a briefer?” 

“Absolutely!” 

“Potter!” 

Their heads swiveled around as one. Ginny posed dramatically in the staircase, pointing the end of her broom at him.

“Yeah, Weasely?” he called.

“Get ready to go down tomorrow.” 

“Only if you’re ready to break my fall!” 

Laughing, she knocked Ron on the back of the head with her broom, stuck her finger in Percy’s ear, and gave Harry a high-five, in the three seconds it took her to dash to the portrait hole. “Later!” she called. 

“Merlin, she’s a menace,” Ron complained. “I can’t believe she made seeker as a second year. This is your fault, Harry.” 

Grinning, Harry shook his head. “Nah, she was just that good before we started practicing together.”

“Oh, hey, look!” Ron pointed out the window they were sitting beside. Harry and Percy obligingly preside their faces to the glass. 

“He’s out of the clinic!” Harry said in relief. 

Just visible from the tower were Narcissa, Draco, and Dobby, unfolding a picnic blanket by the lake. Harry watched with a smile as Narcissa conjured a basket and Draco and Dobby sat beside each other, talking with animated gestures. 

They sat back, letting them have their privacy. “Now, Harry,” Percy said, leaning close over his shoulder and making his face feel like a furnace. “Think carefully about your next move—which piece is Ron likely to take next?”

“Er, the bishop?” he guessed.

Percy sighed deeply. “No, Harry. Are you actually concentrating?” 

“Oh, yes.” 

“Alright. Which piece?” 

“Um … the queen?”

Percy sighed, Ron cackled, and Harry let them fill him up with happiness. 

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And she really had been that good when she’d made the team, Harry thought, spiraling so tightly through the air with Ginny that he could hear her ragged breath, but she hadn’t been this good. Practicing with her had only made her a stronger opponent. 

Up and up and up they spiraled, the world a blur around them, and then the snitch zagged left and they both tried to dodge around the other and went tumbling, tangled through the air, before careening in barrel rolls away from each other, the snitch gone once more.

Ginny snarled at him, hair in a wild frizz around her face, and Harry scowled back. But inside his chest, where he was only a being born to fly, he had never been happier. 

Slytherin scored, and then Gryffindor scored twice—they were the better team this year, with Slytherin’s lost members and Alicia back as a chaser—and then Slytherin had possession but lost it almost immediately because Millicent was still afraid of the bludger—

If he could just catch the snitch before Gryffindor scored again …. 

He circled the pitch in tight loops, Ginny never far behind, a hard-breathing red-headed shadow. 

Slytherin lost possession—Ron was streaking down the pitch—

The snitch was three meters away. Harry pushed everything he had into his Nimbus , eyes peeled open by the wind—Ginny slammed against his side, climbing inch by inch—he reached—

He closed his hand around the snitch to the echo of Lee Jordan in the box: “Gryffindor scores! Potter gets the snitch! Gryffindor wins!” 

“No,” Harry groaned, too tired to keep himself aloft. He and Ginny, equally worn out, spiraled down to the ground together like dandelion seeds, bumping onto the grass and rolling off their brooms. 

“I think Ron scored that last goal,” she panted. “He’ll be insufferable.” 

“Good game,” Harry gasped, wondering when his limbs would stop shaking. “Maybe one of these days you’ll beat me.”

She limply flopped a fist onto his shoulder. “Next, time, Potter. Watch your back.” 

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“May I have your attention, please.” Dumbledore stood in front of them, holding a croissant delicately in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.

The assembled breakfasting students looked up in surprise. Dumbledore usually addressed them at dinner.

“I regret to inform you,” Dumbledore said, “that my announcements this morning are of a two-pronged nature. Firstly, Hogsmeade weekends have been cancelled until the spring.”

There were muffled groans. 

“I know, I know. It is a tragedy indeed.” His eyes twinkled. “However, our greatest concern is for the safety of our student body and other castle inhabitants. Considering the rumors of a ‘Blood Riot’ rally in Hogsmeade next weekend, it is only advisable. 

“Secondly, I kindly ask you to refrain from leaving the castle for the rest of the day. There are demonstrators outside the Hogwarts gates, and while we are closely monitoring the situation, we wish to leave nothing up to chance. So please, for today only, I encourage you to eschew the siren song of fresh air. Thank you.” 

The hall fell to whispers. “Demonstrators?” Daphne whispered. “What does that mean?” 

“People angry with Dumbledore, holding signs and shouting things,” said Blaise from down the table. He was reading a letter worriedly. “I’ve a letter from my mum—she says it’s a few ex-death eater parents leading it, members of Blood Riot.”

They all shuddered. The new name for the blood purist group made everyone uneasy.

“I’m going to talk to Tippy,” Harry said, standing up. “See you all in class.” 

He headed to the Gryffindor table, where Percy was scarfing down breakfast while Oliver Wood looked on in fond amusement. “Good morning, Harry,” said Percy crisply, buttering a slice of toast with incredibly efficient movements.

“Where’s Tippy?” 

Percy narrowed his eyes. “Madam Lockjaw’s whereabouts are privileged information, even to—” 

“I’m er—” he cast a glance at Wood. “I’m asking for Snake.” 

“Oh.” Percy frowned. “Well, then she’s in the ground-floor courtyard. And if I get in trouble for telling you …” 

“You won’t.” Harry slipped out of the hall and made his way to his favorite place in the castle, an open-air courtyard with a spell that protected it from the elements. You could look down into it from the bordering towers, and it was so lush as to be small forest. 

Tippy was sitting with her feet in the fountain, face utterly free of signs of stress for once. 

“Hello, Snake,” she said, without opening her eyes. “Orry is recommending I takes a moment to rests in the mornings.” 

“That’s smart,” he admitted. 

“Join me.” 

He slipped off his shoes and set them by the side of the fountain, perching on the edge and dipping his feet in. It felt remarkably good, the water not too cold and not too warm. The centerpiece of the fountain was a dragon spouting water.

Tippy sighed. “Things is never easy, is they, Snake?” 

“I guess not. Don’t get mad at Percy for telling me where you were, alright?” 

She peeked at him through one eye. “That boy worries far too much.” 

“I knows,” Harry giggled. “But it means he cares, right?” 

“Right.” She closed her eye again. “I’s thinking about hiring him after he is graduating.” 

“He’s being over the moon about that.” 

They sat in friendly silence for a while. Was it horrid of him, to miss the days when they had played cards together in the kitchen? Not the elves’ enslavement, never that, but when they had been just an elf who was not leading a revolution and a boy who didn’t know how to a cook a rabbit.

Tippy reached out and ruffled his hair, messing up his braid. “Oh, Snake. How far we is coming.” 

He looked at her, and she grinned at him. That was right. This was far, far better.

“What do you needs, Snake?” 

“Well …” he kicked his feet in the water. “I’s wondering about Amaranth. Things is getting really dangerous … I’s worried about the elves having no place to go.” 

She nodded slowly. “So is I, Snake. And you knows that in November, Limmy and I is going to meet with our cousins again. I isn’t taking no for an answer. We needs land, and we needs it now.”

“What if it isn’t working out?” 

Tippy shrugged. “Then we is dividing all elves between the three neighboring nations while we tries to thinks of something different. Maybe we is moving all who is wishing to overseas. There is elf communities in some countries that is reaching out to me—already some elves is going abroad, if they sees the opportunity.” 

Harry’s heart clenched. “Abroad?” he whispered. 

She nodded slowly. “If this is the best path to keeps us safe, then yes.” She looked over at him and took his hand. “Oh, Snake—I don’t wants to do this. I hopes the fairy sovereign is giving us land. But you understands that I can’t lets more elves die, right?” 

Harry nodded tremulously, trying not to picture a future in which Limmy left him alone at Hogwarts. A little part of him suggested that Limmy might choose to stay, but that was an empty wish. Limmy’s heart was with elfkind. Another part suggested that he might convince her to stay—but he would never ask such a thing of her. 

“By January, we is knowing,” Tippy said. “So put it out of your mind til then, understands?” 

“Okay,” he whispered. 

“Right, relaxation over,” Tippy said, swinging her feet out of the fountain. “Is you ready to lose at rummy?” 

He scowled. “As long as you is ready to lose twice .” 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“Hello, class!” 

“Hello, Myrtle,” chorused the combined Slytherin-Gryffindor Interspecies Relations class, seated around a nearly-invisible Myrtle on the lawn. 

November had put up one last unseasonably warm day, like an early holiday gift, so they reclined in the grass outside Hagrid’s house to hear their guest speaker.

“Um, Professor Myrtle?” Daphne asked. 

Myrtle beamed at her. “Yes?” 

“You’re a little faint, I can mostly see the leaves on the other side of you.” 

“Oops, sorry.” She screwed up her face and became significantly more opaque. “Better?” 

“Yeah, thanks.” 

“Right, class, Professor Myrtle’s agreed to be a sort of ambassador for the day,” Hagrid said. “Yeh all should ‘ave done the reading, but we all know by now readin’ isn’t enough to really know anythin’ about a type of people. So mind your manners, and go through the questions you prepared.” 

“Um … I have a question.” Neville timidly raised his hand. Smiling, Myrtle nodded to him. “Um—is it actually true that ghosts are people with unfinished business?” 

“Hmm.” Myrtle put finger to her lips. “That’s a good question, Neville. I think that’s true of some ghosts—it used to be true of me! I was murdered, but the wrong person was blamed for it and no one ever knew the truth. Including me. So I was bound to stay until my death was avenged properly.” 

“Professor Myrtle?” Greg stuck his hand in the air.

“Yes, Greg? Er, I mean, Mister Goyle.” She giggled, and so did Greg.

“You said used to be. Was your death avenged?” 

“Good catch!” Myrtle tipped an unsubtle wink to Harry. “My death was avenged. That’s why I said it’s true of some ghosts—because my unfinished business got finished, but I’m still here.” 

“Are you choosing to be here?” Hermione asked, making Harry flinch back in surprise—he hadn’t noticed her join them. “Or do you not have a choice?” 

“I choose,” Myrtle said. “It’s like a constant choice that I’m always making, underneath everything else.” 

“Why?” Millicent asked. “Are you afraid of the other side?” 

“Afraid?” Myrtle tipped her head thoughtfully. “Not so much. I’ve had a lot of time to get used to the thought. The reason I stay, I think, is because there are still things I love here. And I don’t want to leave them before I have to.” 

“Tha’s lovely, Myrtle,” Hagrid said gently. “Anyone ‘ave any questions about how it’s like to live as a ghost?” 

“Actually,” Myrtle said, grinning, “I exist, not live, Professor Hagrid.”

“Right you are, Myrtle, right you are.” 

“I have one,” said Lavender Brown. “Can you still taste things?” 

As Myrtle enumerated her myriad ghostly faculties, Harry wiped a tear from his cheek, smiling to himself.

“She’s a really good teacher,” Hermione whispered into his ear.

“It’s what she wanted to be,” he murmured back. “When she was alive.” 

“Oh. That’s really sad. Adult ghosts like Professor Binns can have jobs, but Myrtle would be too young.” 

“Yeah …” Harry said, a match of an idea striking to life in his mind.

Chapter Text

“Wish us luck, Snake!” Limmy squealed. She was dressed in a traveling cloak with many pockets, a warm cap with ear holes cut in, and a long purple scarf. She had a camping pack on her back, and new elf-sized hiking boots that Sirius had sent her.

Sirius, it seemed, was intent on squandering his bottomless fortune as rapidly as possible. He sent Harry and Limmy and Draco random things, alternately useful and useless, at least once a week.

“Good luck!” Harry exclaimed, seizing her in a hug. “Good luck! “

“Where’s it going?” hissed Laila from inside his collar. 

“Into the forest,” he murmured. “To speak to the fairies.” 

“Goodbye, baby,” Limmy cooed, pretending to adjust Harry’s scarf while actually scratching just behind Laila’s head. “Snake, tell it I’s bringing it back something tasty.” 

“She’s going to bring you back something nice to eat,” Harry said. 

“Bugs!” 

“Maybe not bugs. Maybe something new.” 

“Oooh.” 

“Be careful,” Harry said, gripping Limmy’s hand. “Don’t let Tippy do anything too dangerous.” 

Limmy grinned. “I thinks Orry’s threats is stronger than mine.” She tipped her head to the side. Up the castle steps a bit, Tippy and Orry were speaking quietly, heads bent close together. “Look at their hands,” Limmy hissed right in his ear. “Is you seeing them?!”  

She hissed too loudly, because Tippy turned around with a scowl and pointed them down the stairs. 

Skulking, they went, but Harry had seen what he had seen. “They’s holding hands,” he whispered in excitement. “Oh my gosh, Limmy, they’s holding hands! Is they—” 

“I thinks so!” 

They peeked back up the steps to see Tippy and Orry scowling down at them. Tippy pointed further away, mouthing “GO.” 

Limmy cackled. “They’s so romantic,” she said, rolling her eyes. 

“I’s really hoping this works,” Harry said seriously. “I knows you can do it.” 

“Ask it if I can come,” hissed Laila. 

“Absolutely not.” 

“What’s it saying?” 

“It wants to come.” 

“Aw,” Limmy said. “You isn’t ready for that kind of journey.” 

“Tell it I am,” Laila said. “I am I am I am!” 

“Okay,” agreed Harry, and did no such thing. “Limmy, can you gives something to Araeo if you’s seeing him?” 

“Of course.” 

“Here.” He passed her a little wrapped package. “And if you’s in trouble, tell people you’s under my protection.”  

She rolled her eyes. “Right.” 

“And—” he lowered his voice. “If you’s really in trouble … as a last resort … you can say you is under the basilisk’s protection. I’s asking it already.” 

She blinked at him. “But—what if Tippy is hearing?” 

He bit his lip. “If it’s happening, it’s happening. We is preferring you is alive with our secret out than dead with our secret kept. You is—you is part of our family, Limmy.” 

Limmy’s eyes shone. “Snake, you knows you is like my brother, right?” 

Harry threw his arms around her. “Be really, really, really careful!” 

She laughed, but it was a little choked. “I promises. Hey!” She disentangled herself and then pried Laila from around her neck. “This is not proper excursion behavior! You has to stay hidden, or you is skipping your next turn! Snake, translate!” 

Harry giggled, shoving Laila back into his scarf. “Remember, Limmy—speak not unless you’s really mad—

“—eat not unless it’s chocolate—” 

“—and step not into any holes.” 

They giggled together, and then Tippy came down, kissed Harry on the forehead, and took Limmy’s hand. With one last wink from Limmy, they vanished. 

Laila sighed gravely. “You would have let Ifingr go.” 

“I most certainly would not,” Harry said firmly.

A drawing of Limmy's head, looking out at the viewer. She is smiling slightly, and wears a green robe.

“Wish us luck, Snake!"

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The post winged its way down from the heavens. Harry looked eagerly for Hedwig, perhaps carrying a missive from Limmy, but was disappointed. But before the disappointment could take hold, an unknown tawny owl swooped down and thrust its leg officiously towards him.

He recognized Sirius’ handwriting immediately. Sirius didn’t own an owl, so he used the post ones. 

Dear Snake,

Moony and I are writing this together—we hope the semester is treating you well. We know you are often busy with untold mysteries during the winter holiday, but just in case you aren’t this year: we would love it if you could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us at our home. We live at Grimmauld place, London. Dumbledore, Severus, and Minerva are all able to find it, if you want to come. 

No pressure, kid. We know you’ve got a busy life and other family to see. But Tonks, Narcissa, and Draco will be there, if that sweetens the pot for you ;) 

Best of luck in your classes and your next quidditch match.

Love,

Padfoot and Moony

Harry stared at it, absolutely dumbfounded. He had never celebrated Christmas before. He had never spent the holidays anywhere unfamiliar, either. Of course he would be going to Iceglow, but that took place a bit before Christmas, he was pretty sure. 

“What’s that, Harry?” Draco asked. 

“Oh … a surprise.” He smirked. “You can call this payback.” 

Draco groaned and rolled his eyes. 

“Say, Draco, isn’t that owl yours?” asked Daphne, pointing upwards. 

Draco glanced up. His face paled. The owl landed in front of him and he did nothing more than stare at it, completely still.

“Draco?” 

With trembling hands, Draco took the letter. The owl flew away immediately, no time for a response. 

They watched Draco in worried silence as he picked open the letter, reading it quickly. His face turned sallow. 

“Draco!” Daphne snatched the letter from his unresisting hands, eyes widening. “It’s from his father!” 

Harry shot up from his seat. “Narcissa!” he shouted. Heads turned across the great hall, and Narcissa Black responded to the panic in his voice at once, hurrying from the head table, followed closely by Severus. 

“What is it?” she snapped. 

“F-father sent me a letter,” Draco mumbled. 

Daphne offered the letter to Narcissa, who stared at it with burning eyes before passing it to Severus. “To the headmaster with this,” she snapped. “That owl should never have been allowed onto the grounds.” 

“At once,” Severus murmured. 

“Let’s go, Draco,” Narcissa said, ushering her son up. “Cup of tea.” He clutched her sleeve as they swept out of the great hall. 

“What did it say?” Harry asked Daphne. 

Her lips were pressed tightly together. “It only said, ‘you will regret it all.’”

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“Mr. Potter,” said Severus in surprise. “At my door of your own volition.”

“Can I come in?” Harry fidgeted with the letter in his hands. 

“Certainly. Tea?” 

“Sure.” 

Tea was made, chocolate wands were surrendered. Wordlessly, Harry passed Severus the letter from Sirius and Remus. 

He took it with a slight frown, glancing over it quickly. “Yes?”

Harry hesitated. “Well—I want to go.” 

Severus drummed his fingers on the table. “I see.” 

Boy and professor faced each other, the air heavy with unacknowledged secrets. 

“If you were to stay with me for winter holiday—” Severus began. 

Harry crossed his arms. “I have plans.”

Severus sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Very well, Mr. Potter. Where would you like to meet me that I may escort you to and from your beloved godfather’s house?” 

Harry beamed. “Don’t tell Dumbledore.” 

“Fine. Should I be worried, with the amount of promises you make those around you keep?”

“No,” said Harry easily. “Meet me in Hogsmeade?” 

“Very well. Nine a.m. sharp , and not one second late.” 

“Yeah, alright.” Harry dried his tea and stood up. “Oh, Sever—er, professor—I think it’s really good, what you’re doing with the wolfsbane.” 

Snape colored slightly. “I don’t give one whit what you think about it, Potter. You’re due in transfiguration.” 

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“Okay,” Harry whispered. “Are you ready for your first test?” 

“Yes!” squealed Ouro. “Yes, yes!”

“What are the rules?” 

“No talking! No moving! And no petrifying people!” 

“Good,” Harry said. He ensured Ouro was sequestered down in his scarf, and paced in front of the stretch of blank wall. I need a printing press. I need a printing press. I need a printing press.

A nondescript door appeared, and Harry opened it into a scene of … well, of total chaos.

“Lovegood!” Draco howled. “This is so obviously burgandy, not crimson!” 

“I know it is,” said Luna, on the ground beneath the printing press. “I feel that this weekend’s edition has more of a burgundy aura. The papers agree with me.” 

“Burgundy is not as urgent!” 

“And the news isn’t a catastrophe, for once. Hello, Harry!” 

“Harry!” Draco hauled him over and shoved a paper in his face. Harry blinked at the header for The Demiguise. “Tell her it’s a travesty!” 

“Burgundy,” hissed Ouro in the smallest of whispers. Harry flicked the bottom of the scarf.

“I like it,” he said. “Sorry, Draco.” 

“Granger would agree with me,” Draco growled. 

“Hermione’s not here!” Luna sang. “It’s just me and the burgundy.” 

“And why isn’t Granger here!” Draco raged. “She’s everywhere these days but never where I need her!” 

Grinning, Harry took a seat on a nearby stool. “How’s the paper looking?” 

“Oh, brilliant as always.” Draco tossed him a copy of the cover. 

THE DEMIGUISE

THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE

EDITION 46 ✩ 21 Nov 1993

CONTENTS:
GOBLINS THROW WEIGHT BEHIND ELVES
by Loupe
PICKETERS SWARM HOGWARTS GATES, DEMAND ELF EXPULSION
by Loupe
‘BLOOD RIOT’ HOGSMEADE RALLY ATTENDED BY MINISTRY OFFICIALS
by The Demiguise Collective
UNBOTTLING THE WOLFSBANE RIPOFF
by Special Guest Writer Prince

“No way!” Harry yelped, nearly falling from his seat. “Tippy got the board on board?” 

“Read the paper,” Draco snarked. “But yes, according to my correspondence with Director Havelock. Details are thin, as Tippy Lockjaw is currently in the forest, but this could mean the ministry starts easing up a bit.” 

“I hope so,” Harry said fervently, eying with trepidation the other headlines. There was a picture of the demonstrators outside the gates last week, waving signs reading “SCHOOL IS FOR CHILDREN, NOT MONSTERS” and “PROTECT OUR FUTURE AND OUR PAST.” He was glad Dumbledore had kept them inside that day. The looks on peoples’ faces …. “Who’s ‘Prince’?” 

“To tell you that would be the darkest betrayal of my journalistic integrity,” snapped Draco, carefully setting type. “Are you going to make yourself useful?”

“What can I do?” 

“You can figure out why this horrid charm isn’t working! It’s flipping all the capital ‘E’s the wrong direction!” 

Harry examined the little charmed mechanism closely, opening his mouth to taste it. It certainly did smell odd. As he prodded it, he eyed Draco, working feverishly at the press, pink hair flopping into his eyes. “Are you alright?” he asked quietly.

Draco frowned, fingers stilling for a brief moment. Then he picked up again. “Fine,” he said shortly. “Father can’t get me here. The letter was just to scare me, that’s what mother said. And besides, even if he did somehow get in the castle, mother would flay him before he could touch me. Her words.”

But one of his hands reached up to brush the silvery scar on the edge of his left eye nonetheless. 

“I meant what I said last year,” Harry told him. “I’ll kill him. I wanted to attack him in Diagon Alley—” 

Draco looked up sharply. “What?” 

Oops. Feeling the charm unkink itself, Harry stepped gingerly back. “Oh, um … did I forget to tell you?”

“That’s unlike you, Harry,” Luna said dreamily, poking her head out from under the press. “You’re not very forgetful.”

“Yes, thanks, Luna,” Harry snapped. 

Draco was staring coldly at him. 

“Look, Draco, alright—Lucius cornered me at Gringott’s and tired to make me go with him and hurt my shoulder and it scared me so bad I couldn’t think straight and I just didn’t want you to be scared again like last year!” 

Draco’s face fell. “Well. I suppose I understand it when you say it like that. It probably would have—would have scared me. I’m not very brave when it comes to my father.” He looked down at the little letters he was holding. 

“That’s not true,” Harry said severely. “No one’s braver than you when it comes to your father, actually. Anyone would be scared of him. But you’ve stood up to him more than anyone else in the world, and I think that’s the bravest thing ever.” 

“Oh. Well. Thanks.” Draco slotted a few letters in, blushing slightly. “Oh, look, the ‘E’s are fine now.” 

“Oh, it was the ‘E’s you were worried about?” asked Luna. “I knew how to fix that . I thought you wanted them backwards.” 

“I’m going to kill her,” hissed Draco. 

“Kill,” whispered Ouro eerily. “I’m not supposed to kill wizards.” 

“Correct,” Harry murmured, surreptitiously patting its head. “Good job, baby.” 

“I’m not a baby.” 

“Yes you are. Now hush.”

Chapter Text

“Teach them to read? English?” 

“Yes.”

“But … I don’t know how to do that!”

The basilisk gave him an incredibly dry look. “Forgive me then, Snakeheart, for asking something of you you don’t know how to do.” 

Harry grinned, leaning back against it. “Yeah, alright. But I’m not teaching them to write.” 

And so he found himself chalking the walls with the alphabet, coaxing the babies through horrid human sounds that did not flow happily from snake throats, and spending a good portion of the start of his winter holiday in amused despair.

“I could take them to Jade Eyes,” he mused, as he ransacked Salazar’s room. “He’s gotten a lot better; might have some suggestions.” 

“One at a time, of course.”

“Of course.” He hauled a crate out of the closet, saw it contained only empty potions vials, and shoved it, clinking, aside. 

“What are you looking for?” 

He picked up a random book, shaking it to see if anything fell out. “I don’t know,” he said. “Anything. Basilisk, how well did you know him? Sal?” 

The basilisk gave a rippling shrug. “Not nearly as well as I know you. He was my companion, not my family.” 

“Did you know he was a blood purist? He thought all those awful things that wizards think—about creatures and muggles and magic and all of it.” 

The basilisk lowered its head thoughtfully. “I don’t think I knew that. And if I did, I didn’t care. What were wizard matters to me? Even Salazar was just an ant.” 

“Am I an ant?”

“A very endearing one,” said the basilisk, eyes shining. 

“According to, apparently, everyone in the wizarding world , Sal would never have loved a merman.” Harry yanked out another drawer, one he had combed through before. “I need to hear it from his own mouth—er, hand. What if it’s all fake? Ifingr? Their love?” The sadness of that threatened to consume him.

“For what purpose would it have been fake?” asked the basilisk. “Just to delude one merman? No one else knew about it, correct?” 

“Yeah. Which is why none of this makes any sense anymore.” Harry abandoned the drawer in frustration. “It’s no use. I know everything that’s in here, and none of it is a letter explaining how he could love Ifingr and believe in blood purity.”

“Blood purity,” hissed the basilisk contemptuously. “If I could, I would tell them that their precious blood all tastes the same upon my tongue.” 

Harry smiled. “That would be brilliant, actually. I’d like to see Lucius Malfoy bother me then.” 

The basilisk stilled. “Lucius Malfoy? The murderer?”

“Oh—I suppose I forgot, after everything. It’s been months. He threatened me at the bank.” 

“Remind me what a bank is?” 

“A place where money is held. He tried to get me to leave with him. The wife of one of the bank directors saved me.” 

The basilisk forced itself into Sal’s chamber, splintering the bed and sending a rumble of dust down onto them. “You? He attacked you? Why? Doesn’t he know who you are?” 

“How could he know who I am?” Harry asked, leaning against it as it coiled around him. “To everyone outside the lake and forest, I’m just … Harry.” 

It coiled tighter around him, and he let himself be enfolded in softly-glowing scales, buried under the worry of the first person he’d ever known loved him. It wasn’t so bad.

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“Let me come! Let me come! Let me come!” 

“If I do the alphabet will you let me come? Listen! Aeeeee, veeee, seeee, um … ffff —” 

“Why do they get to come? I want to see Araeo!” 

Harry tapped his finger on his chin as the babies swarmed up and down his legs and shoulders, wailing all the while. “I suppose one of you could come … after all, you’ve never seen the snow before.” 

They froze. “What’s snow?” Laila asked. 

“Oh, you don’t remember? It’s when very cold frozen water falls down from the sky and covers the ground in freezing, puffy snowflakes. I love to roll in it and eat it and throw it at people ….” 

“NO!” they shrieked, fleeing off of him. “Too cold! Don’t put us in the snow, Snakeheart!” 

“Well, maybe next time, then,” he said, grinning at the basilisk. 

It nosed him gently. “Good luck,” it said. “Snakeheart. Do not let anything happen to you.” 

“No problem,” he said. “If I meet any danger, I’ll just tell it ‘sorry, the basilisk said no incidents today’.”

It nudged him again, making him stumble and laugh. He hitched up his pack, stuffed with winter gifts. “I’ll be back before I go to the lake,” he said. “Remember to practice the alphabet. You too, basilisk.” 

“I have mastered it already,” said the basilisk, avoiding his gaze.

“Then you’ll be the perfect teacher. Bye! Bye, babies!” 

“We’re not babies!” 

Laughing, he clambered through the pipes, hiking his way to Myrtle’s toilet. Grinning, he knocked three then four times on the sink. Waited a heartbeat. A ghostly voice filtered through: “Always in you, sometimes on. If I surround you, I can kill. What am I?” 

He thought for a moment. “Water!” 

“Come on through, Snake!” 

He did a summersault into the bathroom, Myrtle plastered to the door pretending to look for observers. They both giggled as he brushed himself off. “We should have been playing secret spies for years ,” Myrtle said.

“I know.” He flipped his pendant around and swept Áwere over himself. “It’s not as fun when I’m double invisible, though. See you in a few weeks, Myrtle! Hey, while I’m gone, I thought—you should spend some time with Professor Binns.” 

“Professor Binns?” Her eyes drooped, mouth dripping black liquid. “That old bore?” 

“Yes,” Harry said firmly. “Know what I think? He’s stuck in a loop in that classroom. Doesn’t it seem like it? Like what you described in class?” 

She hung upside-down, thinking. “Well … sort of, yeah. Like how I was in my toilet until I freaked out at you. Huh, Snake.” 

“Exactly. Happy holidays!”

He skittered out into the castle, sliding swiftly down the bannisters of the staircases, headed for the entrance hall. Before he could get there, though, he heard what he could never resist—Minerva and Severus, arguing with Dumbledore inside the Great Hall.

“I don’t bloody care!” Severus roared. 

Harry detoured and scrambled over to them, poking his head through the cracked doors. Severus stood, arms akimbo, opposite Dumbledore who looked staid and tired. Minerva had her back to them both, massaging her temples.

“Severus,” said Dumbledore cooly. “This is about more than your risk assessment.” 

Severus’ face went the color of a persimmon. “My risk assessment?! Mine?! Who killed the bloody diadem? Who found where the cup is in the first place? And now you want to abandon—

“I am abandoning nothing,” Dumbledore said. “Are you so blinded by our victories that you cannot see Lucius Malfoy is planning something sinister? Building support, attempting to take Harry—we need to act quickly.” 

“No, we need to act preventatively,” Severus said. “You are always focused on the worst outcome, Albus, but we have constantly been confronted by the best outcome. We must focus on keeping students and elves safe, not on this dire resurrection.” 

“It cannot but help to consider both,” Dumbledore said coolly.

“Enough,” said Minerva finally, turning around. “Enough of you both. Men . This is no longer productive, it is posturing. Albus, wait until the summer. If Tippy Lockjaw returns in January to find you dead of your own hubris, what then? Severus, by focusing on the worst outcome we have secured several preemptive victories. Right now we must all focus on what we know is coming—the ministry’s next move.” 

Albus’ shoulders finally slumped. “As you say, Minerva.” 

Harry slipped away before he could hear Severus’ reply, wondering what Minerva had meant by that last part. 

Outside it had snowed indeed, and though Harry didn’t prefer snow over summer, it had a charm to it he couldn’t deny. Giggling, he kicked his way down to Hagrid’s hut, being sure to leave a massive trail instead of individual Harry-sized footprints. He knocked the door eagerly, tipping his head back to catch snowflakes. 

Hagrid opened the door and pretended to look about while Harry slipped inside. A delicious smell wafted from the hearth.

“Hot chocolate, Snake?” Hagrid asked, closing the door with a grin and yanking his curtains shut.

“Absolutely,” Harry said. “It smells spicy!” 

“It’s got chili and cinnamon in it,” Hagrid said. “’S how they do it in Mexico. Learned it from a friend. Try it.” 

Harry’s eyes widened as he took a sip, cinnamon and heat flooding over his tongue. He breathed out, feeling his throat tingle. “I love it.” Mexico … that seemed so far away. But then again, so did Diagon Alley. And they spoke Spanish in Mexico, and he spoke no Spanish at all. Maybe one day he would learn Spanish and go to Mexico and—do something. Drink all the hot chocolate he could find. Make friends. He smiled at the idea.

“Good, isn’ it?” Hagrid settled with a sigh into his armchair. “Off to Araeo’s? He alright? Looked like you two were dealin’ with somethin’ when he snuck off.” 

“Mhm,” Harry said, yanking his attention away from his travel plans. “He overheard something upsetting. Hagrid, would you mind, um …” He fidgeted on his chair. “If you don’t mind talking about it, would you tell me about your parents?” 

Hagrid blinked at him in surprise. “Well, sure,” he said. “I’ll tell you. ’S not like I’m ashamed of them. I used to be, mind, before I got my head straight. Not the happiest of stories, either. Me da’ was a wizard, me mum was a giant. They stuck it out for three years before she went back to her people. I used to blame her, had a right chip on my shoulder … but I’ve got a bit of perspective now, and if I were her, only giant in a world of wizards who didn’ think me capable of feeling or thinking or bein’—bein’ a person instead of a monster … well, I don’ blame her anymore. It would’ve been kinder of my da to move us up near giant country. Never asked him why he didn’t before he died.” He shrugged. 

Harry nodded, sipping his hot chocolate. “What was her name?” 

Hagrid smiled. “Fridwulfa. I always thought … if I had a daughter, I’d name her after me mum. Call her “Frida” or “Wolfie” for short. ‘Course, that’s a pipe dream.” 

“It is?” 

“Very hard for half-breeds like me to have children, Harry. Firstly there’s the prejudice—who’d want me?” He said it with a humorous shrug. “Secondly there’s the kid to think of—a quarter-giant daughter’d be no more well treated in this world than I was. And now …well, I’m just too old, now.” 

“Lots of people would want you,” Harry said sullenly. “And the rest ... isn’t fair.” 

“Ah, well.” Hagrid sighed and rolled his head, shaking out his hands like he was shaking out the sadness. “I’ve been happy enough, Harry. Few years of education, a good livelihood. And I’ve still got plenty of life left to live in these new times. That’s enough for me.” 

“I don’t think it should be enough,” Harry said bluntly. “Come with me to the village.” 

“Oh, no, now don’t you start—” 

“Come on!” Harry jumped up. “Please, come on, just escort me—I need an escort, Hagrid, because I’m not supposed to have any incidents today, right, that was an order—just today and maybe spend the night—” 

“Harry Potter!” Hagrid said with a laugh. “Will you stop tryin’ to fix the world for once!” 

“Come on!” Harry said, hauling on his hand until he got up. “Coat! Treats for Fang! Take the chocolate and chili and you can share some with Fir—er, with everyone—” 

“Alrigh’, alrigh’,” Hagrid said, still laughing. “Merlin, you’re persistent. Hang on, let me pack a bag. As your official escort to a place you could find sleepwalkin’.” 

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“Snakeheart!” 

Harry looked up in surprise—they were still a kilometer outside the village. Araeo was cantering towards him, light blue cape fluttering out behind him, smiling broadly. Harry ran the last few steps and leapt, and Araeo caught him in the air, laughing. 

“Hi,” Harry said, beaming up at him once Araeo set him down. “You have new hair!” 

Araeo touched the looping cascade of braids his hair had been woven into, sparkling with little green beads. “Like it?” 

“It’s beautiful.” 

“And Steward Hagrid!” Araeo said in delight, trotting over to Hagrid. He bowed, and Hagrid copied him. “What are you doing here?” 

Hagrid held up a hand. “Heir Stargazer, I am merely escortin’ Emissary Snakeheart, on his request that there be no incidents on his trip.” 

“He has spicy hot chocolate,” Harry whispered. “I think he should spend the night.” 

“Well of course he should spend the night!” Araeo exclaimed. “Steward Hagrid, tonight the elves share stories, and then there’s a music performance; you have to attend!” 

“Well—alrigh’, if it won’ be a bother.”

“It’ll be the opposite of a bother,” Araeo said, eyes sparkling. “Let’s go!” 

They began the rest of the walk to the centaur village, and Harry took Araeo’s hand. Ba-dum fell their hearts, and Harry felt an unrealized weight lift off his shoulders. Araeo sighed out, slow and happy. “So,” he said casually. “Steward Hagrid. Do you have a holiday present for my uncle?” 

Hagrid grumbled wordlessly for the rest of the walk.

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“’S kind of hypnotic,” Harry murmured, listening to the drumbeat like building thunder roll across the clearing, the gradual introduction of strings zipping across his skin.

He and Araeo rested nearer to the fire than the other centaurs settled down to watch, for Harry ran colder than them all. The elven elders had already retired. There had been a joyous reunion with Norry, followed by an evening of raucous storytelling and elven wine—for elves and adult centaurs—and now the night had turned to trance-like music.

“It is, isn’t it?” Araeo asked. Their heartbeats were separate—Araeo’s hands were busy combing out Harry’s hair. “Stars, your hair is thick, Snakeheart.”

“Mhm.” 

Araeo chuckled. “Are you falling asleep?” 

“No.” But the drum and strings were carrying his mind aloft, aloft. “Did you talk to your parents?” 

Araeo sighed, half frustration and half amusement. “Yes.” 

“And things are alright?” 

“… I feel foolish, Snakeheart.” 

“Hm?” 

“My mother told me … I asked her, like you said, admitted I heard her … and she told me that she didn’t have me because she foresaw a—a great future. That was a given, she said. She said she had me because …” Araeo paused, fingers and comb working out a tangle. “Because she foresaw a love greater than any in her life. She said that she started loving me when she had that vision, and it redefined her purpose in life. To bring me into the world just—just to love.” 

He leaned his forehead against the back of Harry’s head, sniffing a bit. “I feel like a fool. To have assumed the worst of her.” 

Harry reached back for his hand, holding it around the comb. Ka-bum. “It’s alright.” 

Araeo let the comb fall from their grip and moved their hands up to rest on Harry’s chest. “Snakeheart,” he said seriously. “My heart. I’m sorry I hurt you. I was upset and confused, and I was wrong to think that what we are is anything more than—than a gift from the universe. A purpose in itself.” 

Harry put his other hand over Araeo’s. “I forgive you.” 

The drums and strings floated over them, hypnotic and dizzying and somehow more than the sum of their parts. Their hearts beat double, the rhythm of the universe. They spun through a starfield. 

“Flesh of the servant,” said Araeo in Harry’s ear.

“Blood of the enemy,” Harry echoed as they floated. 

They were only heartbeats, twirling together. The words were meaningless and yet all-meaningful. The galactic tides of the future turned them gently, softly, rhythmically. 

“Children? Son? Snakeheart?” 

There was a touch on Harry’s shoulder that did not originate from the stars. A foreign force pried their heartbeats apart. 

Harry swayed forward as their fingers untangled, thumping onto Bane’s chest. Bane’s hand came up to cradle his head. “Araeo? Son? Can you hear me?” 

“Ugh, yes,” said Araeo, right behind Harry. “I’m really tired.” 

“Can you tell me what just happened?” Bane’s voice was tight with restrained worry—Harry could feel his pulse pounding under his skin.

“I don’t usually See like that,” Araeo said, sounding woozy. His hands rested on Harry’s shoulders, grounding. “That was very disorienting.” 

Harry felt sense returning to him. “I’ve dreamt that,” he murmured. “Or something like it.” He yawned. “I’m really tired.” 

“Bed,” said Bane. “Son, can you stand?” 

“I think so. Snakeheart can but he shouldn’t.” 

“Hey,” Harry protested, but it was too late. Bane swept him up in his arms, cradling him against his chest. If he wasn’t so tired he would have laughed, at the thought of Bane carrying him like this six years ago.

He faded in and out of consciousness as they made their way to Araeo’s room, mostly silent. He woke for the last time as Bane settled him down next to Araeo and covered him with the human-sized blanket he kept in Araeo’s closet. 

“Sleep,” said Bane. “No—perhaps it is best to let your hearts beat apart tonight, son.” 

“Alright, father,” said Araeo sleepily. “Night.” 

“Goodnight.” 

Harry was already asleep.

Chapter Text

“I, er, I hope this is okay,”Araeo said anxiously. “I studied with Seamstress Myreme over the summer and wanted to make you something you’d like, and I remembered my Searching …” 

It wasn’t often that Araeo second-guessed himself. Harry watched in amusement. “I love it.” 

“You haven’t opened it yet. It occurred to me that maybe it was something okay for humans when they’re younger but not when they’re older—” 

“Araeo, I love it. Now let me open it!” 

Biting his lip, Araeo handed him a package wrapped in blue cloth. Eagerly but carefully, Harry opened it and caught his breath. 

“Just tell me if you don’t like it and I can turn it into something different,” Araeo babbled.

Silently, Harry unfolded the garment. It was a dress—no, a gown, made of many layers of sheer green fabric so thin they could have been stitched from fairy wings. The sleeves fell open at the elbow, edges sewn with tiny glass discs. Sewn across the body and skirt of the gown were more discs, sparsely along the neckline and growing more numerous as they flowed towards the hem. 

Harry stared at it as Araeo fretted in the background. He pressed it to his chest, gazing down at the glittering skirt. Where the sun brushed it, it threw a thousand flakes of light onto everything around him.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever had,” he said, when Araeo had paused for breath. 

“Oh,” Araeo said in relief. “Good. That’s good.” 

Harry couldn’t take his eyes from it. “You made this?” 

“With Seamstress Myreme’s help.” 

“I wanna try it on.” 

“Okay!” 

With Araeo panicking about the integrity of his seams the whole way, they maneuvered him into the gown. Araeo stepped back, adjusting the collar, the hem, fixing where a glass disc had slipped. “It’s lovely,” he finally said, smiling. 

“I feel magical,” Harry said, drifting about the room. When he moved, the discs chimed together. 

Araeo snorted. “Snakeheart, you are magical.” 

“But like … more magical. I have something for you too—nothing like this, though.” 

“That’s alright. I didn’t expect you to match me, or anything. I made it because I thought you—er, it would be beautiful.” 

Harry beamed at him and tossed him a package. “Here you go!”

“Cards?” He turned the decks of cards over in his hands. “Um, they’re great, I mean—” 

Harry laughed. “Read the label.”

“Magical Max’s Queens and Jacks Long-Range Double-Stack Travel Pack.” He snorted. “Best friend on a long-distance holiday? Partner needed a getaway? Left a gaping hole in your game play? Never fear! To whomsoever holds these decks, the very same hand shall appear! Snakeheart, does all this verbiage mean we can play cards together when we’re apart?! ” 

“Yes!” Harry hopped up and down, dress chiming. “I take one pack and you take the other, and we can play the same game!” 

“This is wicked,” Araeo said, delighted. “Here, go on the other side of the room. Catch.” 

Harry sat at Araeo’s vanity and Araeo went to his table. He took the cards out of the box and set them in front of him. There was a beat—and then they shuffled themselves and then shuffled again. He looked over to see Araeo doing a flourishing bridge. 

“Show-off.”

Araeo winked, then dealt a hand of threes. In front of Harry, the cards sorted themselves identically. 

“Oh, this is so brilliant,” he said.

“This actually is as good as the gown,” Araeo said, laying down a four. “Your move, Snakeheart.” 

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“Psst,” Araeo whispered. “Don’t look now but do look by the telescope at once.” 

The telescope,” Harry snorted. The clearing was covered in telescopes tonight. But he obligingly caught the frisbee Araeo threw and glanced behind him, just as Hagrid bent down to peer into a telescope that Firenze was delicately adjusting. They were speaking too softly for Harry to hear.

He turned back around before Hagrid could spy him and flung the frisbee back to Araeo, who leapt to catch it. “Brilliant.” 

“Right?” 

“How did I raise such a meddling child?” sighed Nayla, approaching them with a glass construction of some sort balanced in her arms. “Will you leave your uncle and the steward alone?” 

Harry bowed to her. “But Hagrid’s really lonely,” he whispered. 

Nayla cast a hesitant place back at the pair. “Well …” 

“Mother,” said Araeo, clopping seriously over. “I have Seen it in the stars.” He kept a straight face for about three seconds, then his cheek twitched. 

Nayla sighed. “My son, you abuse your power most terribly.” 

“Nayla,” Harry asked, widening his eyes. “Can my friend come visit yet?” 

Nayla peered at him through narrowed eyes. “I have been thinking on it. If we were to allow such a thing … Snakeheart, a simple school friend of yours can not be the first wizard officially allowed into centaur territory. Can you understand this? Such a thing would be an historic moment.” 

“So you’re saying it has to be on the down low,” Harry said eagerly. “We can do that. I have an invisibility cloak.” 

“She would need parental permission. Her parents must also agree to keep this, as you say, ‘on the down low’.” 

“She can get that!” Harry said. “Easy! Probably.” 

Nayla shifted back and forth, unsure. “I would like to correspond with her parents first.” 

“I’ll make it happen,” Harry swore. 

Nayla nodded. “Very well.” 

“What’s that for?” Harry asked, pointing at the glass thing.

She hefted it slightly. “This is a device meant to channel the psychic powers of the moon into my dreams.”

Harry stared at it. “What, really?” 

“No,” she said, grinning. “It is a flame-thrower. When put in the center of the fire it throws off beautiful light during the evening. Come watch.” 

Rolling their eyes at each other, Harry and Araeo followed her over to the central bonfire. Without seeming to feel the heat, Nayla reached into the flames and anchored the flame-thrower in the middle of the fire. Immediately, the protrusions amid the flickering flames began casting little flickers of green and blue light onto the surrounding centaurs. Harry held up his hands in delight, watching the color dance over his skin. 

“I made this,” Nayla told him. “Before I was the leader of our Band, I was a glassmaker.”

“Glassmaker Nayla,” Harry said. Orange fire flickered across her dark face. “How are things with Aragog? I haven’t been able to visit, of course.” 

She sighed. “As you know, we continually abut the same problem. Our heirs,” she placed an approving hand on Araeo’s shoulder, “have made great progress towards a closer relationship. But the greatest desire of us both is to reach the mer without foreign intercession. We have not yet found a solution.” 

“I’ve been thinking about it,” Harry said. “I’m going to talk to mer Samba next week about it, promise. We’ll figure something out.” 

She nodded, though she didn’t look very hopeful. “We will not place ourselves in a position of vulnerability to the wizards. If we cannot reach the mer on our own terms, then we will not do so at all, and continue to exist apart.” 

“I understand,” said Harry. He looked up to the sky, the clearest winter night yet, and also the coldest. Somewhere up there was the answer. Somewhere in the stars. 

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“Are you coming back with me, Hagrid?” 

“Ah, no, I don’ think so, Harry. Unless you need an escort again, I’m goin’ to visit Aragog.” 

Harry grinned. “Okay! Are you going alone?” 

Hagrid scowled at him. “None o’ your business.” 

“Yes it is!”

Hagrid folded his arms. “Oh? And how so?” 

“Everyone’s business is my business.” 

“Yeah, that’s what you think, alright.”

“Snakeheart, the cards!”

“Right!” Harry caught them, and gave Araeo a massive hug. The deliberately avoided holding hands. “I’ll see you soon!” 

Araeo beamed at him. “My regards to Avalon!”

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Full-body watercolor of Ava, a merperson. Her black hair, spreads upwards and out from her head. Her skin and tail are blue-green, with pink tips. She wears a net across her shoulders and a knife in a sheath against her tail.

Ava

“ICEGLOW!” Ava screamed in his face the moment he swam into the entrance chamber of Deep Light.

“ICEGLOW!” he hollered back, launching himself through the water at her. “Ava, I missed you!” 

She squeezed him so hard it was just this shy of painful. “Snake, Snake, Parime found out about this game from our cousin, and you have got to play with us, it’s just like our old space games except better!” She snatched his wand and put it in the bowl for weapons and began to tug him urgently toward the kitchen.

“What’s it called? 

“Seas&Squids!” she said gleefully. “It’s sort of like, Parime writes a story, and then we’re characters in the story!”

“That sounds wicked,” Harry said.  “Hey, where is everyone?” Normally at Iceglow, Ava’s home was stuffed to the gills with family.

“We’re doing festivities at Parime's this year, because of Gran Sibby,” Ava explained. “She didn’t ask us to but my mothers felt it would make it easier for her.” 

“Is she having a hard time?” Harry asked.

“Oh, I don’t think so—but this way she can choose to leave the party when she likes, you see. And the families at Parime’s are spending Iceglow with family nearby.” 

“I should go see her—” 

“Sa-nek! Joyous Iceglow!” 

Harry swam without stopping right into Xara’s open arms, a peace settling over him unlike any other. “Joyous Iceglow, Aunt Xara,” he said, inhaling her familiar smell of seaweed yarn. 

She bumped the top of his head with her chin and released him, grinning with sharp teeth. “My wives are out running last-minute errands,” she said. “You must tell me all about your schoolyear.” 

“Not right now,” Ava said bossily, “I have to tell him things.”

“Actually,” Harry said, “I’m going to see Gran Sibby first.” 

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Deep Light always seemed to have halls and rooms he hadn’t seen before, and Xara guided him to one of these, leaving him at a net-covered door. 

He cleared his throat and knocked gently on the wall beside the door. “Gran Sibby? It’s Snake.” 

The net was pulled back, revealing an old elf, face deeply creased, eyes a dark forest green. She wore a dress fashioned out of material typically used for tail-wraps, and, of course, had faint gills fluttering along her neck and thin membrane stretching between long, arthritic fingers.

“Snake,” she said, smiling in delight. “It is so good to sees you.” She opened her arms and Harry bent down and gave her a careful hug. “Come in.” 

“You haves a nice room,” Harry said, looking around. She had a low stone table with an elf-size hammock chair, a gorgeous rug tapestry on the floor depicting a coral reef, several shelves built into the walls filled with objects, and a wide window that opened into the back yard of Deep Light, where the garden swayed in the current.

“Thank you,” said Sibby, settling herself into her hammock. “Ahh. Above water, my bones is always aching and creaking. None of that here.” She smiled, watching him inspect her shelves curiously. “Do you likes my trinkets?”

He picked up a vibrant blue shell and put it to his ear—in it, a distant merperson sang. “They’s lovely.” 

“I collects them, and some is also gifts,” said Sibby. “Is you seeing my granddaughter recently, Snake?” 

Harry turned to face her, bouncing slowly through the water. “Yes! Well, sort of. In November, she and Tippy Lockjaw is going to the other side of the forest to asks the fairies for land. They is supposed to be back in January.” 

Sibby nodded slowly. 

“But don’t worry!” Harry said. “They is safe! Probably—I means, Limmy and I and Araeo is going in the summer, and we is being safe. The fairies likes the elves.” 

“I isn’t worried,” Sibby grinned. “If anything, I’s worried for the fairies, with my granddaughter to deals with. Will you tells me about your adventures with her? She is writing me letters, of course, but it’s not the same.” 

“Of course!” Harry quickly hung up another hammock chair and settled into it, pulling his legs up and swaying gently. “Well—this year she is getting permission to comes to a class with us, but I thinks she is probably sneaking into others ….” 

He sat with Limmy’s grandmother for the better part of two hours, hopping from story to story like a skipping stone. She rarely interrupted him, content to listen to him ramble. 

He hadn’t really known her at Hogwarts. But when the elves had decided to send their elders to the centaur village, Limmy had demanded Gran Sibby go instead to Harry’s family in the lake, for she did not trust her safety anywhere else. 

Gran Sibby’s head started to nod just as Harry was wrapping up a description of their exasperated ferrying of messages between Swiftwing and Fleethoof, and Harry carefully unhooked the chair. “I’s leaving you to sleep,” he said softly. “Sees you at dinner, Gran Sibby?” 

She nodded, smiling at him. “Yes, Snake, thank you. You’s a good child.” 

He kissed her cheek and departed. 

Ava was in her room, lounging dramatically downwards from her bed. “Finally!” 

He frowned at her. “I was talking to Gran.” 

She rolled her eyes. “Well, obviously, you’ve got to do that! But I also haven’t seen you for months!” 

“Ava, listen,” Harry said seriously, his tone making her sit up at once, hair whipping and swirling about her head. “I need to visit Ifingr’s Remembrance.” 

Chapter Text

“You’re being weird and quiet. Just tell me what we’re looking for!”

Harry let out a great breath as Ava tugged him to a halt, about six hundred years back into the Remembrance which held the ancestral legacies of all Alimnion mer families. They paused outside the chamber of someone’s many-great somethings, a great tapestry of golden leaves just visible from without. 

“Seriously, Sa-nek,” Ava said, pressing her forehead briefly to his. “What’s wrong?” 

Harry twisted his webbed hands together. “I found out something awful and I don’t want to tell you until I’ve checked the Remembrance.” 

She pulled gently on his hair. “Cousin, that’s shell-headed. Just tell me.”

“You can’t tell Aunt Loch,” he whispered. 

Her face grew serious. “It’s that bad?” 

He nodded.

“Alright.” Gently, she took his thumb and bit it, sharp tooth sending a dot of blood floating into the air. It didn’t even hurt, just shocked him briefly. “There,” said Ava. “By your blood and my bone, your words won’t flow from me.” 

Blood and bone, whispered a little current through the Remembrance. 

“Alright,” Harry said. He resumed swimming, at a less frantic pace. “So, you know wizards feel about other beings the way mer feel about humans, yeah?” 

“I’ve heard,” Ava said dryly. “That’s why we’ve got all these little elf kids down here, see.” 

He snorted. “Yeah, alright. Well … I found out that Sal, he, er, he thought so too.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“He was—” Harry stopped and faced her, folding his arms tightly over his chest. “He was a blood purist. He believed all that stuff about muggles and beings and pure blood and stuff.” 

She looked at him, solid green eyes narrow and sad. “Really?” 

He nodded. “Yeah. Apparently, he was, well, infamous for it.” Miserably, he pulled at his braid. “And I just don’t understand how someone like that could love a merman.”

“But he did love him,” Ava pointed out. “We have a whole Remembrance full of evidence.” 

“I know he did,” Harry said. “I just don’t understand how.” 

“Well, let’s find out,” she said, seizing his hands and swimming him forward much faster than he ever could. “Right now!” 

They reached Ifingr’s Remembrance soon enough, a thousand years of mer heritage passing them by with a flick of Ava’s tail. This was one of the older Remembrances, no tapestries on the walls, just carved and painted patterns depicting Ifingr’s vine-like scars. Below them on a small table was only a small collection of artifacts. 

“Right,” Ava said seriously, swimming up to the table. “Ring, comb, cup … here, Snake, we must take a moment. We’re still in a Remembrance.” 

She picked up the comb and they settled on the ground. Harry undid his braid and let Ava comb it gently. “This comb belonged to Ifingr re Afinim Ril,” Ava said, a bit uncertainly—usually one of her mothers did this. “He never married, but he gave this comb as a gift to a wizard suitor called Salazar. It was an ancient family heirloom. For his love, he was buried under wrongful family shame.” 

She finished combing his hair and braided it swiftly back up, then pressed the comb into Harry’s hand. He began working it through her hair, an almost meditative exercise.

“I found this comb in Salazar Slytherin’s chamber,” Harry said. “I returned it to Avalon re Aflin Fler, Ifingr’s many greats grand-niece. Its return ended a feud between Loch re Aflin Fler and Cassipa re Aflin Fler. It also let us all start rediscovering the story of Ifingr and Salazar.” He paused. “But there is still more to find out.” 

“Right,” Ava said, placing the comb back on the table. “What do we have?” 

They had Salazar’s engagement ring, never gifted, the comb, a shimmering orange ribbon, a delicate glass cup, a bundle of seaweed love letters, and a ragged journal.

“What’s the cup?” Harry asked.

“That’s what Ifingr eventually created with his calculations,” Ava explained. She touched the rim of the cup delicately. “He wanted to understand the patterns of sunlight through water. The cup has something to do with that.” 

“No sunlight down here,” Harry murmured. “The ribbon?” 

She picked it up gently. “Just a ribbon, I think. Maybe it was his favorite? It’s shameful that we’ve forgotten.” 

Harry had read all the letters already, found in Salazar’s chamber. That just left … 

“This was Ifingr’s journal,” Ava said, picking it up and thumbing at the worn seaweed edges. “Or one of them.” She opened the cover and pointed to where Ifingr had scratched 9. 

Harry sighed. “Might as well look through?” 

They sat with their backs to the wall and cracked open the journal between them. 

“What’s wrong with the writing?” Harry asked, frowning.

“It’s a thousand years old,” Ava said. “Did humans always speak the same?” 

“No,” Harry muttered. “But I can’t read it.” 

“I’ll skim it and read out anything interesting. Let’s see … Pahruli once more nagging me about taking a spouse. How quickly she changes, like the tide, from happily grateful I live with her to help raise her spawn, to demeaning of my solitary nature. If I could make her see that my work is enough, I would. In the meantime, I spend all the time I can at the university. ” 

“That’s kind of sad,” Harry mumbled.

“Mhm. Let’s see … no, this is just all maths notes. So’s this. So’s this. Tides, did he ever write anything else? Oh!” 

“Oh?” Harry stared over her shoulder as if he could make sense of the script with enough effort. 

It was back again today, blocking my precious sunlight—doesn’t the parched two-legger understand how little sunlight Alimnion receives? Why must it be at my pool, where I measure the light?” 

“Ava!” Harry seized her shoulder and shook her frantically. “That parched two-legger is Sal!” 

“Sa-nek, that’s a really offensive thing to say,” Ava hissed. 

“Oh.”

“It does this atrocious thing with it speech—I’ve heard of the ugliness of the two-legger tongue, but it’s quite another thing to have it grate across my skin. I have no clue what it’s trying to communicate or why it wants my pool, but it cannot have it. The sunlight here is too divine.” 

“Wow, he was kind of awful,” Harry murmured.

“You’re telling me.” Ava flipped through a few more pages. “Math, math, complaining about his sister, math—” 

“There!” Harry jabbed his finger down at a word he recognized from the previous page. “Isn’t that ‘two-legger’?” 

“Good catch. That dried-up, ooh, that’s really bad, two-legger was there again. Before me, actually, and when I showed up it started screaming and yelling in that disgusting voice—but I wasn’t going to let something like that chase me off, because there was only Pahruli and spawn to return to, so I turned my back and ignored it. To my surprise, it did the same to me. We did our work—whatever work a creature such as it is even capable of—in silence.” 

“The romance of the millenium,” Harry said dryly. 

“Look, the next one’s only two pages later. Never have I heard a more mangled attempt at the glorious language of my people than what came out of the two-legger’s mouth today. It was unrecognizably corrupted by its horrid flat teeth, of course, but an analysis determined it likely that the creature was trying to greet me in my own tongue. How repellant. I do hope it will stop.” 

“Look!” Harry shrieked, jabbing at the very next page. “It says Salazar!” 

Ava flinched away from him, clapping a hand to her ear. “Tides, Snake, loud enough?”

“Sorry,” he whispered, hanging over her shoulder. “Read.” 

“It seems that two-leggers do have names, and not just scent-markers as I’ve been told most mammals employ. His name, Salazar, is actually pronounceable by my tongue. In three days he has learned enough Mermish to coherently introduce himself to me, and only, apparently, from two-legger texts. I did not, of course, deign to respond. In fact, I ignored him for the rest of the afternoon as we worked. Hopefully he won’t make the mistake again.” 

“Next page,” Harry whispered. 

“Salazar tells me he speaks the snake tongue. This is a great gift, and sets him apart from most two-leggers, which is a blessing in itself. He tells me languages come naturally to him. He asked me about my calculations. Of course, I did not respond. I shall not speak with him—it is the highest taboo to speak with a two-legger. What would Pahruli say?” 

 

“I still have not spoken to him, but he almost tempted words from me today—he told me what he knew of the great city of Alimnion, and the slander he spoke of my people … it was as if he had heard only the basest rumors of the great capital, and he spoke them as if they were fact. I was so enraged I left. I shall not return tomorrow, and I shall never speak to him.” 

 

“He brought two-legger food today. Strawberries, he called them. They were delightful. They were so delightful, you cannot understand—it was the fault of the fruit that I slipped, it was his fault that I made the mistake—it was due to forces outside my control that I forgot myself and thanked him.” 

 

“After two weeks of abstaining from going to our—no, my pool—I expected the two-legger to be gone. But today when I surfaced in the forest to take my readings, readings I had missed for two weeks, he was there.” 

 

“Wait,” Harry said. His heartbeat pounded in his head. “Wait. Wait. Read it again, Ava. The last sentence.” 

“But today when I surfaced in the forest—” 

“Surfaced in the forest?” Harry breathed. “Ifingr … was taking his readings in the forest?” 

Ava had gone stock-still under him, and now she started to shake with excitement. “Sa-nek,” she said. “Sa-nek, oh tides—” 

“Keep reading!” Harry exclaimed. “Keep reading, Ava!” 

 She read on, voice shaking with excitement. 

“He did not speak to me. He seemed … upset. I did not know two-leggers could feel emotion like that. I was not regretful, of course, I was angry—angry that he was still there. Why won’t he leave me alone? Why won’t he leave me to my sunlight?” 

 

“We have sat in silence for one week. Today he broke it. He showed me a plant he had brought with him. Said it would let him breath under the water. He wanted to see the city.

How hard I laughed. See the city? Two-leggers are not allowed in the city. He would be imprisoned for a hundred years, and I would be thrown out altogether, if not killed. I explained this to him. He was confused—angry—disgusted. I don’t think he knew how reviled his kind are to mine. He left. I stayed.” 

 

“Today he brought his plant again. He said, if he could not go to the city, he would go somewhere else. With or without me. I said … tides help me. What was I thinking? I said I would take him to the remote caves, where no merfolk venture.

He looked strange under the water: less human, more mer. The plant gave him gills and webbing, dark vision, but no tail. What strange looking things humans are. 

I took him to the caves. We spent hours there. I showed him the stones worn to natural spirals by the water, whose geometry I have studied—he was entranced. I did not know humans could value things like that.” 

 

“Today he met me in the tunnel. He was almost mischievous, having beaten me—but it scared me to my very marrow. The tunnel is not so far from my home, Profound Quiet. What if he had been seen? What if I had been seen? I screamed and yelled, and so did he, and he pushed me away and had to wait in the forest pool until his plant wore off … I waited with him, of course, but I was so mad.” 

 

“I do not know how to write this. I do not know how to say it. I do not know how to think it. I do not know how to not do any of those things, either. Today … in the forest pool … but I cannot write it. What if someone sees this journal? What if Pahruli or her spawn find it? I must hide it. I cannot bear to bring myself to destroy these last months of chronicle … but today in the forest pool … that is all I will write. Today in the forest pool. Today under the sunlight. Today, today, today.” 

 

“And today, today, today.”

 

“And today, today, today.” 

 

“And today, today, today.” 

 

“I gave him my mother Erida's comb. It was so foolish of me, but I cannot regret it—I do not regret it—he says he has something for me.” 

“Oh.” Ava turned the page, and stopped. There was only one more entry. Every page after that had been ripped from the binding.

“Read,” Harry whispered, dread filling his stomach. The words on the page were jaggedly scrawled.

“Pahruli saw me going into the tunnel. She followed me. She saw us. She attacked him, she dragged me home, she locked me in my room—they have collapsed the entrance to our tunnel. I will do what I must and deny it all to the council. Say I was bewitched. Say he compelled me. It doesn’t matter. I will never see him again.

I still cannot bring myself to destroy this journal. I will hide it. I will never read it again. Maybe in a better time, someone else will.” 

Harry put his head into Ava’s hair and cried horrid sticky underwater-tears. Ava’s floated up to join them. 

Chapter Text

“You’re sure about missing the party?” Cassipa asked them. “This is highly irregular.”

“We have to do this, mother,” said Ava. “As soon as possible.”

Harry gave a mer nod, an upward flick of his chin. “Sorry, Aunt Cassipa. We’ll try to be back as soon as possible. Please don’t mention anything to mer Samba until we return.” 

“Alright,” Cassipa said doubtfully. “Do you have enough food?” 

Ava showed her a massive package of sushi.

“Do you have enough diver’s breath?” 

Harry showed her a heavy bag. 

“Do you have weapons?” 

They showed her knives and wand. 

“Very well. May the current flow with you.” 

“Thank you, mother.”

“Thank you, Aunt Cassipa.” 

“Be safe.” 

They swam. 

Afinim Ril was on the far side of the lake. Maybe that didn’t mean so much above ground, but the bottom of the lake was far, far larger than the top. It was a day’s swim without rest, and Harry couldn’t swim like a mer, which meant it would take two days, and they had to skirt around Alimnion, which meant it would take two and a half days, minimum.

At least they had each other, though they were both irritable and sad.

“It’s pretty awful,” Harry said, as they hung their hammock the first night in a stand of thick coral pillars. “That the mer hate wizards as much as wizards hate the mer.”

“It’s terrible,” Ava said. “It makes me sick. It makes me hate being a mer.” 

“It makes me hate being a human.”

“Well, you aren’t really. A human.” 

“Well, no, but I look like one anyway, and people think I am.” 

Ava sighed and swished her tail, making the hammock swing. They had brought just one double-wide hammock, and lay together in it staring up at the dark expanse of the water. “I suppose you got your answer, though.”

“Yeah.” Harry tried not to start crying again. It really was a horrible thing to do underwater. “Everything Salazar ever thought about the mer came true, in the end. Not that it … excuses what he did.” 

“No,” Ava said. “But it does make it sadder.” 

“Yeah,” Harry sighed, rolling over and burying his face in Ava’s shoulder. “It really does make it sadder.” 

Quietly, Ava started to hum a melody. The notes wavered through the water, almost visible in the inky black of the open lake at night. They could have been in space. 

“Hey Ava?” he whispered.

She stopped humming. “Hm?” 

“We’re doing what they couldn’t. Ifingr and Salazar. And we’re kids.”

“Know what I think?” she answered. “They were both cowards.” 

“Maybe there’s more to it than that.”

“And maybe we’ll never know. But what I do know is that my family did what it took to keep you in our life, and not a secret in a forest pool.”

“Maybe that’s it. I have your whole family behind me.” 

“And if you didn’t,” Ava snapped, “I would have still done what it took. Do you believe me?”

Harry laughed. “Of course I believe you!” He knew down to his marrow that Ava would fight the queen herself for him if it came down to it.

“And,” Ava continued, “I know you do what it takes as well, up there with the humans. So what I can’t understand is why they gave up so easy.” 

“I guess a little bit of love isn’t enough to make someone change their ways,” Harry said sadly.

“What’s love without conviction?” Ava asked.

Harry thought of Fleethoof, eternally passive. “I don’t know.” 

“I’ll tell you,” Ava said confidently. “It’s cowardice. And no disrespect to my many-greats uncle, but I hope he knows my mother Loch is doing this for us and the world, not for them.” 

“I’m not convinced,” Harry said. “It’s harder to act alone than you think. You’ve never been alone, Ava. You’ve always had your family.”

“Well—so have you! You have us, the basilisks, Araeo, Limmy—” 

Harry shook his head. “For a long time, I didn’t have anyone at all.”

“No-one?” 

“No-one. So I guess I understand being too afraid to act, even for love, if you have to act alone.” 

“I don’t,” said Ava huffily, wrapping her arms around Harry. They were silent for a while, and then she began humming again. 

He fell asleep to the gentle rock of their star through the galaxy. 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

In another night and half a day, they arrived at Afinim Ril: Profound Quiet, the former home of Ifingr. 

It was uninhabited, now. As Alimnion had grown into the massive sprawl it now encompassed, many mer had moved out of ancestral homes and into the city. The house was still the property of some descendants, the current re Afinim Rils, but it looked like it hadn’t been touched for years. It was a beautiful old place, a massive construction built into a towering purple-striated rock face. 

“Okay,” Ava said, looking around. “He wrote they’d buried the entrance, but it’s been a thousand years … I have no idea what it would look like now. Just look for … anything unusual. You go left, I’ll go right.”

They split along the rock face. Harry slowly swam his way left, swimming up and down slowly, looking for a sign of a tunnel that had been collapsed. His elflight spun out in front of him, lighting the way lilac. 

It was eerie out here in this part of the lake. It wasn’t silent—the lake was never silent. He could always hear the soft chitters and scrapes of small lake creatures, and the ever-present song of the current. But out here so far from people there was an incredible stillness. He supposed that’s where Afinim Ril had gotten its name. 

The purple striations of the wall grew more erratic the further he got from the house, from smooth regularity to jagged divots and points, the signs of an ages-past geologic event. What would a crumbled tunnel even look like, a thousand years on? Would it even be there anymore? This could all have been for nothing. 

His elflight passed over a mound of boulders.

Or, he supposed, it could look exactly like a caved-in tunnel. “Ava!” he called, knowing his voice would ripple down to her eventually. “It’s here!” 

He inspected the boulders carefully, wary of potential collapse. They were incredibly smooth, worn down by the current of a thousand years. There weren’t actually that many of them—only the largest impediments remained, probably far smaller than they had originally been. 

Ava found him quickly, the light of her fins bringing some additional illumination to the scene. “Brilliant,” she said. “We have to be really careful—this could collapse. Do you know any wizard magic that would help?” 

“Um …” he considered. “Maybe. I’ve never really done any underwater, but I can try.” 

Both of them swam backwards, and he took out his wand. It never suffered for being underwater, thankfully. Pointing it at a relatively small boulder, he said, “Wingardium leviosa!” 

The boulder trembled and then slowly began to drift from the pile. He released it with a gasp of effort a few meters away.

“Brilliant,” said Ava again. “Keep doing that.” 

Once, he’d had to clear a bunch of rubble from the den after nearly causing a cave-in. This was sort of like that, except doing it in the water made things more … slippery. It was harder to hang onto the boulders, and harder to put them down where he wanted. He moved the absolute minimum it took to make the entrance safe and stowed his wand, panting.

“Good job, Emissary Snakeheart,” Ava said, patting him on the shoulder. “Exceptional use of wizard magics, if I do say so myself.” 

He rolled his eyes. “Why, thank you, Apprentice Ambassador Avalon.” 

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Ready to see where this creepy ancient tunnel leads?” 

“Ready!” Harry said. Excitement started to trickle in at last. Maybe this creepy ancient tunnel led to a dead end, or a grindylow nest, or some other terrible and useless thing. Or maybe it led to the answer three nations had been seeking for years. 

The entrance gaped wide and dark and unknown in front of them. The water suddenly filtering out of it tasted stale and flat. Harry took Ava’s hand, and they swam.

Elflight and fin-tips lit the way, but there was nothing much to see. Stone walls and crabs, the occasional grindylow zipping out of sight, recognizing it was outmatched. It only took twenty minutes for the water to start lightening, foggy sunlight streaming down.

“I suppose it couldn’t have been a very long passage, for Ifingr to have gone to see him daily,” Ava murmured, as it grew lighter almost too fast for their eyes to adjust.

And then it was exceedingly bright, and they rushed towards the surface—almost there—and bam he and Ava smacked straight into the thick layer of ice covering the surface.

“Ow,” Harry moaned, clutching his forehead. 

“Tides,” Ava hissed. “We’re idiots. It’s winter.” 

“Do you have a rock?”

Neither of them had a rock. So they swam all the way back down the tunnel to get some, and all the way back up, and began smacking the underside of ice furiously with their stones.

Smack.

Smack.

Smack. Smack. Smack—smack—smack— crack!

“Got it!” Ava shrieked. “Come here, Snake!” 

They took turns beating at the growing splinter in the ice, until it grew larger and larger, spiderwebbing out, and then— CRACK!

The ice splintered apart, spraying upwards and downwards, and they shielded their heads to avoid their eyes getting cut …

Slowly, the ice stilled.

Slowly, clutching hands together, Harry and Ava poked their heads above the surface.

A black, leathery muzzle shoved itself into Harry’s face. 

Harry shouted and lunged backwards, falling into Ava who shoved him off, yelling, and then Harry realized just whose black leathery muzzle as in his face and he threw his arms around Serpentus, shouting in astonished joy.

“What are they, Snake?” Ava asked in alarm, twisting to look around the pool.

“They’re thestrals!” Harry cried, as his friends came to inspect his strange webbed hands. “We’re in the middle of the thestral clearing!” 

Harry and Ava poke their heads out of a blue pool of water surrounded by boulers. A thestral leans over the pool by Harry, and Harry extends a hand to it.

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“WE DID IT WE DID IT MER SAMBA WE DID IT WE DID IT!” 

Together they hammered on the wall of Samba’s home. 

“MER SAMBA! WE DID IT WE DID IT WE DID IT WE DID IT—” 

Samba blasted through the netting with a knife out and a snarl on her face. “You backwards-swimming minnows had better explain why you’re outside my home at this hour of the night—the morning —before I fillet you—” 

“MER SAMBA!” Harry cried, seizing her shoulders and shaking her back and forth. “MER SAMBA WE FOUND IT!”  

She breathed deeply. “What, Emissary Snakeheart, did you find?” 

“We found a tunnel! A tunnel to the forest!” Ava shrieked.

“An underwater tunnel to a pool in the forest!” Harry yelled. 

Samba’s eyes went wide, wide, wide. She put away her knife. “A tunnel—to the forest—where—how—where—” Her gills flapped rapidly. “Right—with me—we’re going to Alimnion. Wait, no, because Sa-nek—oh, tides.” She put a hand to her head. “I am so hungover.” 

Ava shrieked in laughter. “Calm down, mer Samba, the tunnel’s lasted for a thousand years, it’ll last a few hours more!” 

She seized Harry’s hands and they danced past Samba into her home, spinning in circles. “SECRET TUNNEL! SECRET TUNNEL! SECRET TUNNEL TO SAVE THE DAY!” 

“Explain to me why I accepted your aunts’ and uncle’s courtship,” groaned Samba, “if it meant being around my terror of an apprentice so much more.” 

“SECRET TUNNEL!” Ava shrieked, catapulting off Harry’s back into a triple-flip.

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“Snake,” said Drippy warmly, opening his arms for Harry to sweep him up in. “It is so good to sees you.” 

Harry spun him through the water, clutching him close and letting him go. “I’s missing you, Drippy!” he said. “How’s your family?” 

“They’s well.” Drippy grinned and gestured for him to sit—they were in the sitting room of Drippy’s hosts, the re Kilfren Fens, who were still out visiting family for Iceglow. “Immy is in the Alimnion English submersion school, and she loves it. She has plenty of friends—elves and mer. And I is taking Mermish lessons when I isn’t working.” 

“And your job?” Harry asked eagerly. “Is it going well?” 

Drippy nodded. “I’s busier than I’s expecting. I supposes I … I supposes I is expecting it to be a joke. Or … not a real position. But I works hard, and the rest of the council values my input. Everyone is eager to sees what comes of Tippy’s quest.” 

“The queen wouldn’t do that,” Harry said. “Gives you a fake job. That’s not honorable.” 

Drippy nodded. “I is learning much about mer honor, too. If Tippy is succeeding—well, I’s going to miss it here. Our hosts is kind and generous, always helping with confusing things about mer life … all the elves underwater is happy, for the moment.” 

“Good,” Harry said in relief. “Good. And you’s getting the paper.” 

Drippy smiled at him, eyes squinting. “Yes, we’s getting the paper. A brilliant paper, and you can tells Draco I’s saying so.” 

“I will.” Harry smiled. “Hey, is you knowing about Tippy and Orry?” 

Drippy’s eyes bulged out of his head. “ Tippy and Orry?” 

Harry cackled. “Oh, yes. Limmy and I is seeing them holding hands.”  

Drippy snorted. “It’s about time. I know you’s seeing her soon—gives her my best, Snake. Tell her I’s missing her. We writes, but it isn’t the same—we is living our whole lives in Hogwarts together, working in the kitchens.” 

“I’s telling her,” Harry promised. “And hopefully, you isn’t being apart for much longer.” 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

Two days before Christmas, he was pretty sure, Harry bowed out of their game of Seas&Squids, did one last victory dance with Ava, kissed his aunts, kissed Gran Sibby, and made for the surface. 

“Basilisk!” he shouted the moment he got to the hall and was smashed to the ground by three squealing babies demanding sushi. “I figured it out! I figured it all out!” 

The basilisk greeted him, rubbing its cheek along his head. “I never suspected you would do anything less. What, exactly, did you figure out?” 

A post-it doodle of Ava wielding a sword. The image shows just her head and torso, the sword reaching off the page. She is grinning widely.

Bonus post-it doodle: @sugarlime made me think, what if Ava had a sword? Anarchy, is what.

Chapter Text

Gently, Harry tossed a pebble down the street. When Severus turned to look at it, he quickly unflipped his pendant. “Hello, Severus!”

Severus jumped, turned, and glared at him. “Mr. Potter. Is it so beyond you to approach me as a normal person?” 

“Yes,” Harry said firmly. “How are we getting to Sirius’ house?” 

Severus sighed. “I will be apparating you to Grimmauld Place.” 

“Where is it?”

“London.” 

Harry took a deep breath. ”Okay.” 

“Is there a problem?”

“No, no. It’s fine. I’ve just never been to London—besides Diagon Alley. Is Grimmauld Place in Diagon Alley?” 

“No, but I assure you it is a very safe place. It is protected by a fideleus charm, meaning only those who know about it can even find it.” 

“But … I don’t know about it.” 

“You will soon. Shall we?” He held out a hand.

Harry took it. With a turn on his heel and a crack, they had left Hogsmeade behind, and stood in a carefully maintained courtyard in front of a row of extremely fancy townhouses. 

“Oh,” Harry said in surprise. “This isn’t what I was expecting.” 

“What were you expecting?” Severus asked.

Harry wasn’t sure. Perhaps a combination of Hogwarts and the odd identical houses he sort of remembered from the neighborhood he used to live in before the basilisk. 

“Here.” Severus handed him a scrap of paper. “Your godfather wrote this. Memorize it, burn it, and then concentrate very hard on what it said.

Number 12, Grimmauld Place, London

“Right.” Harry committed it to memory, burned the little scrap to ash with a bit of elf magic, and stared hard at the townhouses. The more he concentrated, the more he began to feel like something wasn’t right about them—something was missing. There: there wasn’t a number 12, only a number 11 and 13. But just as he caught the realization, it wasn’t true anymore. Number 12 ballooned outwards from between the houses, its front a shocking forest green in comparison to the drab grey and black around it, with a deep gold door, and a balcony that hung from several stories up, and windows with deep red curtains—a riot of color exploding into being.

“Oh, brilliant,” Harry said, tugging Severus eagerly up towards the steps. The knocker was a snake biting its own tail. “Hello,” he said in parseltongue. “Mind if I knock with you?” 

The snake spat its tail out and peered at him. “A snakeheart!”

“That’s me,” Harry grinned. 

“Well, knock away, little snakeheart, knock away.” With a faintly bemused air, it bit its tail again. Harry carefully took it up and knocked rapidly on the door.

“Merlin and Morgana,” Severus whispered. Abruptly, Harry remembered Narcissa saying that speaking the snake tongue was rare and considered dark and all sorts of other things—

“Do be more cautious about that, Mr. Potter,” Severus said. “Around those who do not already know.” 

“What, you knew?” Harry demanded. “How?” 

Severus merely shrugged, a glint in his eye, before the door was thrown open. Sirius was draped in about ten different knit scarves in red, green, and gold, and wore a long striped stocking cap to match.

“Snake!” Sirius hollered. “Happy Christmas Eve!” 

Harry dropped Severus’ hand and hugged Sirius hard. “Hi, Sirius!” 

“Thanks, Snape,” Sirius said over his head, voice sound a bit odd. “For, er, dropping him off. Ah, if you like you can—”

“I must be going,” said Severus stiffly. “Mr. Potter, I will see you in two days’ time. Morning or evening?” 

“Morning!” Harry said. “Thanks, Severus.” 

Severus nodded once and apparated from the doorstep.

“You call him Severus? ” Sirius wheezed. 

“Oh, well, just by accident.” Harry grinned at him. “So this is your home?” 

“Ah, yes—come inside, behold my glorious legacy.” He rolled his eyes. “But first: before crossing the threshold, tell the house you will not reveal its inhabitants to anyone else.” 

Harry tilted his head. “I won’t reveal your inhabitants to anyone, house.” 

Sirius grinned at him. “Right then, come on in. Just a precaution.” 

Harry followed him through the doorway, looking around curiously.

Sirius’ gaze was a little dark as he looked around the gloomy entrance hall. “Welcome, Snake, to Grimmauld place, eighth wonder of the world, site of many long years of boyhood imprisonment.” He ushered Harry in and swept an arm down the entrance hall. From here all Harry could see were two massive staircases and a bit of burned wall where something had been blasted off.

“Imprisonment?” Harry asked. “Then why are you here now?” 

“An unplottable house, Snake, is exceedingly useful in these trying times.” He winked. “Shall we go find Remus? Or would you like to put your things down first?” 

“Remus!” said Harry. “And I have gifts for you! Payback; you’re sending me too many things.” 

“No such thing. Gifts go under the tree,” Sirius said. “Come on, I’ll show you.” Further down the hall, past the staircases, there was a grand doorway leading into a massive sitting room. A green and pink fire blazed in the hearth, and about ten sofas, loveseats, and armchairs were scattered around the room, but all of this paled in comparison to the tree.

Harry had seen and been impressed by Hogwarts’ trees. But this—frankly, he didn’t understand how it could fit in the sitting room. It simply towered, and was so laden with baubles and lights and tinsel and real icicles and glowing things that it was a miracle it didn’t collapse under its own weight. Underneath were dozens and dozens of presents.

“You can put yours there,” Sirius said, smiling. 

“Who are all these presents for?” Harry asked in astonishment, hoping the answer was not him.

“Well,” Sirius said, grinning, “there’s folks here who are in dire need of a happy holiday. So we’re making it special for them.” 

“Who?” 

“Sirius, is you seeing—oh, hello!” 

Harry turned around. An old elf in a dressing gown stood in the doorway, carrying a cup of tea. He had a long, healed scar across his forehead, and his ears poked forward inquisitively.

“Ah, August, just in time,” said Sirius. “This is my godson, Harry!” 

“Harry,” said August warmly, coming to shake his hand. “We is hearing a lot about you. And not just from Sirius and Remus. We is all owing you a great deal of thanks for what you is doing on the night of unbinding, and beyond.” 

“You don’t owes me anything,” Harry said rotely, shaking his hand. “Is this—this is a safe house, isn’t it?” 

Sirius grinned at him. “Got it in one, Snake.”

“How many elves is here?” Harry asked August. “Any from Hogwarts?” 

August shook his head. “None from Hogwarts. We is nine altogether, from various family houses. We’s coming here after the raid.”

“I’s sorry for your loss,” Harry said. “I’s reading about it in the paper.” 

August patted his arm and drew away. “Thank you, lad. Sirius, I’s looking for Ivy. Is you seeing her?”

“No, but I would suspect the terrace garden,” Sirius said. “I saw her with a spade.” 

August rolled his eyes and left the room, muttering, “In this weather ….” 

Harry beamed at Sirius. “Brilliant.” 

Sirius rubbed a hand on the back of his head. “Oh, it’s nothing, Snake. We all have to do what we can, when we can, yeah?”

“Yeah,” said Harry, and laid his presents beneath the tree. “Where’s Remus!” 

“Let’s check the kitchen,” said Sirius, tipping him wink. 

They traipsed down the hall to the kitchen, Sirius expounding on the ugliness of the wallpaper the whole way. The kitchen was down a level, and the moment they reached the floor, Harry could smell something brilliant.

Opening the heavy door to the kitchen, Harry had to smile. It reminded him of the beauty of the Hogwarts kitchens, except much, much smaller. There was a large wooden table nearby, where an ancient elf was slowly chopping vegetables. A magical radio was blaring out a song, as Remus Lupin danced along to it in a bright pink apron.

Wise men say only fools rush in

But I can’t help falling in love with you— 

Sirius laughed softly and sidled up to him, and Remus planted a happy kiss on his lips. Then Sirius took his hand and spun him towards the door, and when he caught sight of Harry he smiled broadly. 

“Harry!” 

“Hi, Remus!” He hugged him tightly. Remus smelled like chocolate and cinnamon. 

Remus pulled away. “I’m just working on Christmas Eve dinner with Kreacher.”

“Creature?” Harry asked in disbelief.

Remus patted his head. “Now, Harry, mind your manners—that’s Kreacher over there. Go introduce yourself.” 

Oh. The elf was called Kreacher. That was … awful, really. Even so, he walked over. Kreacher was probably the oldest elf he’d ever seen, muttering softly to himself as he sliced carrots at an incredibly slow rate. “Er, hello, Kreacher. I’m Snake, or, er, Harry.” 

Kreacher looked up at him with rheumy eyes. “Godson of Sirius Black.”

“Er, yes.” 

Kreacher said nothing else, turning back to his carrot slices.

“Er.” 

“Cocoa, Harry?” 

Harry sped back to Remus in relief. “Is he alright?” he asked Remus quietly. 

“No,” said Remus, equally softly. “No, he’s not. We just let him be. Now, here.” He pressed a mug of cocoa into Harry’s hands and Harry sipped it. Remus handed Sirius one as well, and they stood in a little circle, happily inhaling chocolatey steam. Remus was dressed down for a day of cooking, floppy pink hair clipped back, crescent-moon choker dusted with flour.

“What are you making?” Harry asked. “Can I help?”

“A full Christmas spread,” Remus said. “Ever had one of those?” 

Harry shook his head. “I’ve never celebrated Christmas before.” 

“Never?” Sirius asked. 

“No—I celebrate other holidays.” 

“Oh. Well, don’t worry—we don’t celebrate it in any particularly religious way.” 

“Er, right.” Harry had only the vaguest notions of what Christmas was about in a religious sense.

 “What holidays do you celebrate?” Remus asked curiously. “Is there anything we can do to incorporate them tomorrow?” 

“Oh, no, Iceglow and the solstice have passed,” Harry said, waving a hand. “This is nice just as it is.” 

“Iceglow?” asked Sirius. 

“You can’t tell anyone about that,” Harry said sternly. “Or else.” 

“Alright, alright,” Remus said, laughing. “In any case, we’re having a turkey and squash and pudding and cake and roasted veg and eggnog and cranberries and mince pie—” 

“You’re not cooking all that yourself,” Harry said in astonishment.

“Remus Lupin has Kreacher,” came Kreacher’s croaky frog voice from the table. They looked over to see him staring at them with bulging grey eyes.

“Indeed I do,” said Remus warmly. “The best sous chef I could ask for. But also, the elves have been stopping by to help in a rotation, and Sirius has been in here with me all morning. I quite enjoy cooking, Harry, I find it therapeutic.” 

“Okay.” Harry sipped his cocoa and smiled. 

“Love, why don’t you tour Harry around?” Remus asked.

“Right-o,” Sirius said. “Come along, Snake, bring your cocoa. Er, bye, Kreacher.” 

Kreacher looked up slowly. “Goodbye, Sirius Black.” 

Harry took hold of Sirius’ sleeve as they walked back up the stairs, gripping his mug. “What’s wrong with him?” 

“Kreacher?” Sirius sighed. “Well, for starters, he’s ancient. No idea how old he actually is. And for another, the Blacks made a habit of decapitating disobedient elves and sticking their heads on the walls. Kreacher’s one of the survivors. I suppose you can see how that would make him a bit ….” 

“Oh,” Harry said, throat closing tight with the horror of it. “He’s still working here, though?” 

Sirius nodded. “He won’t consider leaving and he won’t accept pay—it’s all we can do to get him to wear decent clothes. Other than that, we just … let him do as he likes. It’s not worth trying to get him to change, it’ll only make things worse. He’s harmless, and old, and he’s never known anything but this house. Sometimes he’ll chop veg with Remus and sometimes I’ll find him fluffing pillows somewhere, but mostly he sort of wanders and sleeps.” 

“That’s really sad,” Harry whispered. “I hope he gets better.” 

“I hope so too.” Up the stairs they went, and Harry saw the ground floor, with the sitting room, a massive library, and a backyard garden that was blooming despite the snow on the ground. He and Sirius sat on a wrought-iron bench with warming spells woven in and watched the snow fall as Harry finished his cocoa. 

Upstairs were a series of bedrooms, including one for Harry.

“Recently renovated,” Sirius said proudly, opening the door. It was a brilliant room, with a bed and dresser and table in a window nook, everything in warm browns and burgundies. On the carpet was a thick green rug, and hanging on the walls was a picture of—hang on. Harry got closer, and saw with astonishment that it was a picture of his parents, with Sirius and Remus. It was so strange, because really, they didn’t look much older than him now. They giggled and waved at him in a little eternal loop.

“This is your room,” Sirius said, a tad nervously. “Not just for today—it’s here for whenever you want it, forever. Understand?”

Harry turned to him, feeling a little wobbly. “No.” 

“I’m trying to say, er …” Sirius knelt down in front of him, fingers tangled in his scarves. “Well, Snake, you’re my family. And Remus’ family, by extension. And so you always have a home with us if you want or need it. Consider this house your home as well as ours.” 

“Oh.” Harry threw his arms around Sirius’ shoulders. “Thank you, Sirius.” 

“You’re welcome, Snake. This place, it was—it was never much of a home for me …” He trailed off, and his arms when tense around Harry’s shoulders. Harry pulled back to see his eyes distant, stuck on something in the past.

“Sirius,” Harry said, jostling his shoulder a bit. “Are you okay?” 

Sirius blinked. “I’m—I’m sorry Harry. Snake. What were we talking about?” 

“I think you got lost,” Harry said, biting his lip.

Sirius sighed and levered himself up. “I do that, sometimes. It’s getting better, I think. Come on, want to visit the terrace garden?” 

Harry took his hand. 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“Harry?” 

There was a knock on the library door, and Remus poked his head in. He no longer wore his apron; instead, he wore a black peacoat and a rainbow scarf. 

Harry looked up from a really interesting book on cursed artifacts. “Yes?” 

Remus smiled at him. “Food’s all charmed to last for tomorrow, and there’s a muggle Christmas Eve market in a park nearby. Would you like to go?” 

“Yes!” Harry leapt up. “Oh, but I only have wizard money.” 

“Our treat,” Remus said. “You know how Sirius is. Do you have a winter coat?” 

“Yes! One second!” Harry carefully marked his page and dashed upstairs, passing several elves on the way who laughed as he scrambled to his room. He threw on his winter coat, his favorite purple hat, a bright blue scarf from Hermione, and a pair of mittens decorated with snitches from Draco, last year’s winter gift. It was a hideously clashing assortment of clothes from his favorite people in the world. Draco would be horrified.

He took the staircase railing down to the ground floor, Sirius and Remus watching in amusement as he skidded to a halt. 

They stepped out of the doorway into a beautiful night. Harry couldn’t see many of the stars he was used to, because London was so bright, but the night sky still unrolled like a velvet tapestry. It was snowing gently, and muted happy sound came from the townhouses on either side of Number 12, lights and music filtering through the windows onto the street.

“Let’s go,” said Sirius, taking Remus and Harry’s hands and leading them on. “Remember, Snake, no magic around muggles.”

“Okay,” Harry agreed, leaning into Sirius’ side.

The Christmas Eve market was only a short walk away, in a little park lined with tall trees strung with electric lights. Stalls were set up selling any number of brilliant things—and brilliant-smelling things. At the first whiff of them, Sirius purchased them all bags of candied nuts, and then a few minutes later some peppermint cocoa. 

“Hagrid does cocoa with chilis in it,” Harry said, as they strolled down the stalls, admiring little marvels. “He says it’s from Mexico.” 

“I’ve had that,” Remus said. “It’s delicious.” 

“Ooh, look at those,” said Sirius, pointing at a stall full of blown-glass sculptures. “Aren’t they lovely?” 

One in particular caught Harry’s eye—a glass sphere that hung down from the stall ceiling, one of many, but this one was the precisely night sky painted across Araeo’s face on the eve of his Searching.

Harry drifted magnetically to it, stretching up to touch it gently. He realized it was part of a mobile—around it were smaller spheres, some tiny, pained as stars and moons. 

“Like it?” asked the vendor, a girl in a bright green stocking-cap. “That’s one of mum’s favorites. She’s the artist.” 

“How much is it?” Harry asked breathlessly. 

“Oh, a bit much for you, probably. A hundred.” 

A hundred. How much was that in galleons? He had no clue. What kind of money did muggles use? Surely he had known that once ….

“We’ll take it,” said Sirius, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “And that one, as well.” He pointed to a sphere that seemed to have the full moon trapped within it. 

“Oh, love,” murmured Remus.

“Perfect for the solarium,” said Sirius airily. “Harry, just consider this missed birthday present number eleven.” 

Harry giggled. “I’m pretty sure you’ve made up for all my missed birthdays already. Plus, I want it for Ara—um, I want it for Star.” 

“Star, eh? I suppose he likes space then, a name like that.”

The vendor handed them their packaged sculptures, and they bid her a happy Christmas and moved on.

“Well, I suppose he likes space. He knows all about the stars. But—” Harry smiled down at his wrapped package. “He looks like the night sky. Just like this sphere.” 

“Oh.” Sirius cast him an evaluating look. 

“That’s very kind, Harry,” said Remus. “I’m sure he’ll love it.” 

“Well,” Harry huffed, “he made me this amazing holiday gift and I got him a pack of cards, so …” 

“A pack of cards?” Sirius laughed in surprise.

Cool cards! So we can play games together when we’re apart! But he sewed me a whole gown. I want to get him something just as beautiful.” 

“A gown?” Sirius asked. 

“He did a course of study under a seamstress. I should have brought it with me to show you, but I left it.” 

“Next time,” Sirius said. “Oh, pretzels. Who wants one?”

They both wanted one. They wandered through the market and Harry picked out little things for the rest of his friends—a miniature nutcracker for Ron, a palm-sized leather journal for Hermione, bracelets of glass beads for Daphne and Ava, a ring with a curled dragon on it for Draco, a pair of knee-high yellow socks for Limmy. Sirius bought trinkets for all the elves at Grimmauld and bought everything with a moon on it he could find for Remus, until Remus, laughing in exasperation, ordered him to stop.

At eleven pm Harry yawned one time too many, and it was declared bedtime. They trooped back to Grimmauld under the moonlit snow and he was sent to bed, but not before Sirius slipped him a necklace with a silver snake on the end, out of Remus’ sight.

“Happy early Christmas,” he whispered, kissed him on the forehead, and followed Remus to the kitchen. 

“Hello,” he said tentatively to the little snake necklace.

It wriggled minutely and flicked a sliver tongue out. “Hello. That’s funny, I wasn’t alive a second ago.” 

“Oh. Would you like to be? Or not?” 

“No, no, I suppose it’s fine,” said the snake. “Just put me over your heart where it’s warm, and I’ll be fine.” 

“Okay.” Carefully, Harry slipped the pendant over his head to rest above his heart. He heard the little snake start to snore, and smiled. Then he went to bed.

Chapter Text

“Snake!” 

Harry shrieked and jumped ten feet off his bed as Sirius catapulted onto it. 

“Snake wake up! It’s Christmas morning!” 

Harry fumbled his glasses onto his face, grinning. In addition to his candy cane-striped stocking cap, Sirius was bedecked in a robe that glittered and sparkled with golden sequins. Harry was instantly jealous.

“Have some cocoa,” Sirius said, passing him a mug that had miraculously not spilled all over his bed. “And come on! Everyone’s waiting! What kind of kid isn’t up first thing in the morning on Christmas?” 

“Is that what I was supposed to do?” Harry asked, pulling on a dressing gown Sirius had lent him and braiding his hair back quickly. “Get up early?” 

“Well, I was up early,” Sirius said. “But Moony wasn’t very happy about it, so maybe you were right to sleep in.” 

Harry was ushered down to the sitting room where Remus and the elves were gathered, everyone festively dressed. There was a piano in the corner, and one of the elves was playing it. Eggnog and cocoa and tea and coffee were already being liberally consumed. 

“Happy Christmas, Harry!” said August, coming to greet them both with a smile. 

“Happy Christmas, August, Happy Christmas, everyone!” 

Remus came and gave him a hug; he wore a garishly decorated sweater and a pair of reindeer horns on a headband. “Breakfast, Harry?” 

“Alright.” He followed Remus to the kitchen, sipping his cocoa. He could definitely get used to cocoa in bed. 

Kreacher was in the kitchen, slowly wiping a cloth back and forth over the table. “Happy Christmas, Kreacher,” Harry said. 

Kreacher looked up at him, eyes wide and disoriented. “Happy Christmas, Harry Potter.” 

“Would you like some cocoa?” Harry asked. 

Kreacher looked down at the table and continued to wipe it.

“Come, Harry,” Remus said. “Let him be.” He quickly served Harry a plate of bacon and eggs and toast, and they sat at the end of the table together to eat—not the end Kreacher was repeatedly wiping.

“I love Christmas,” Remus said, smiling. “My parents used to take me to church on Christmas mornings when I was young. I don't go anymore, but I still have fond memories of it. I liked the singing."

“I’ve never been to a church,” Harry mumbled around his bacon, “but I’ve been to sanctuary on holidays.”

Remus clasped his hands under his chin and leaned forward, eyes twinkling. “Harry, I admit I find myself incredibly curious as to your life outside Hogwarts. Neither I nor Sirius have a clue where you live or what you get up to.” 

“Well,” Harry said, “I can’t tell you, is the thing. Because the more people know, the more danger my family’s in. And the more people know, the more they can try to stop me.” 

“You can see how that’s a bit worrying,” said Remus.

Harry shrugged. “It shouldn’t be.” 

“But your family—they are kind? Not cruel? They don’t hurt you?” 

“Hurt me?” Harry asked in astonishment. “Of course not! They love me!” 

Remus looked relieved. “Well, good. Would you tell us if something was wrong? If you needed to live somewhere else?” 

“Well, I suppose,” Harry said. “But I have a lot of homes, actually. If something happened, I would go to one of them.”

“Well … add this one to the list, then, alright?” 

Harry smiled at him. “Yeah, alright. When’s Draco and Tonks getting here?” 

“Oh, sometime this morning,” said Remus. “Done with breakfast? Want to play chess?” 

Harry groaned. “Chess? Do you have backgammon?” 

“I believe so, if Sirius can deign to dig up the board.” 

Harry washed his plate quickly, and then, before Remus could say anything, filled a small mug with cocoa and set it gently next to Kreacher, still wiping the same spot of table. “That’s for you,” he said. “Just so you knows.” 

Kreacher said nothing, and Harry and Remus went to rejoin the festivities.

blue branch tipped wth hearts

There was a knock on the door just as Harry won his first game of backgammon against Remus—out of seven. 

“Draco!” Harry exclaimed, exploding from his chair.

“Harry, wait!” snapped Sirius. “There’s a procedure. This is a safe house. Come with me, but quietly.” 

Harry skulked behind Sirius as he ventured to the front door, peering out of the peephole. “Here,” said Sirius. “Get on my back and peek through.” 

Harry raised an eyebrow. Sirius was not a tall man. 

“Come on,” Sirius egged.

Harry sighed and clambered onto his shoulders, allowing Sirius to hoist him into the air. He put his eye to the peephole as Sirius tipped alarmingly from side to side. It was not Draco on the stoop, but someone just as good: Tonks, ensconced between a man and woman Harry didn’t know. 

“The peephole is spelled,” Sirius said quietly. “What color are they?” 

“Um … the adults look orange-ish. But Tonks doesn’t have a color.”

“If they were using any sort of disguise potion or spell, they would appear blue. Tonks has always been the exception—she breaks the spell. That’s how we can tell it’s actually her.” He let Harry down. “Alright, it’s them!” 

Harry flung open the door. “Tonks!” 

“Snake!” she exclaimed, giving him a huge hug, lifting him into the air. “Long time no see, little ghost!” 

“Your hair’s brilliant today,” he said. She had striped it gold and white for the occasion. 

“Hello, Andy, hello, Ted,” said Sirius warmly, pressing their hands. “This is my godson, Harry. Harry, this is my cousin Andromeda and her husband Ted.” 

“Nice to meet you,” Harry said. Tonks set him down so he could shake their hands. Andromeda strongly resembled Sirius in hair and eyes, but lacked his hollowness of gaze. Ted was a short man with salt and pepper hair, glasses, and a friendly smile. 

“Let’s go in, before Remus fears the worst and evacuates everyone,” said Sirius. “As you step over the threshold, please state aloud your intent to not reveal the inhabitants of this house to anyone else.”

“What happens if I don’t?” asked Ted curiously.

“Well, if you don’t say it, or you don’t mean it, you will simply be unable to cross the threshold.” 

“Oh, well,” Ted said. “Nothing interesting like instant death.” 

“Afraid not.” 

One by one they promised to hold the secret and crossed into the hall, leaving coats and hats on an ugly coat stand that Tonks nearly brained herself on.

“This way to the festivities!” Sirius declared, leading them back to the sitting room.

“I’ve missed you, Snake,” said Tonks, briefly flashing his own face at him. “Bathroom breaks are so dull now.”

Harry giggled. “I can imagine. Want some cocoa?” 

“I’ll take eggnog, if it’s all the same to you.” Harry went and got her a glass, and they squashed together on a loveseat and watched Sirius and Remus chat with Andromeda and Ted. 

“Brace yourself, Snake, because today could easily be a disaster,” said Tonks grimly. Between one moment and the next, she changed, and Harry was sitting next to a young man. “Oops,” he said, blinking down at himself. “Huh. I was a girl when I woke up this morning.” 

“That’s alright,” Harry said. “What does it matter?” 

“But I’m wearing a dress,” he protested.

“What’s wrong with that? I got a dress as a gift this year.” 

Tonks cocked his head at him. “You did?” 

“Yeah, my best friend made it for me.” 

“Well … alright, then.” He stretched his legs out. “Yeah, it’s going to be tense, so ready yourself. My mum hasn’t been in the same room with more than one of her blood relatives in ... well, close to twenty years now. I don’t think she, Narcissa, and Sirius have been in a room together for far longer.” 

Harry frowned. “Why?” 

“Well, when mum married a muggle—my dad’s a muggle, see—the Blacks disowned her.” 

“That’s horrid.” 

Tonks shrugged. “Honestly, we were better off without them. But now that Narcissa divorced Lucius … well, they’re trying again.” 

“Hmm. Well … do you know how to play backgammon?” 

“Er, sort of.” 

“Oh, good, maybe I can win a game.” 

They moved to a little table near the tree and set up the board. Across the room, Ted was in deep conversation with August, Sirius and Andromeda were laughing uproariously at a photo album, and Remus was playing a slow, light song on the piano. 

“How’s the aurors?” Harry asked, skipping a piece forward. 

“I quit,” said Tonks bluntly.

Harry looked up at him in surprise. “But—it’s your dream!” 

Tonks shook his head. “Not anymore. Not—not the aurors now. I thought it was possible to change things from the inside. Instead I just earned demerit after demerit for asking too many questions. When they refused to respond to the safe house raid, I begged to be able to go and take statements, to investigate—they shut me down again, and I quit on the spot. Even Kingsley’s having a hard time, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. Their attitude towards elves plus the shit about my gender ….” He shook his head.

Harry frowned deeply. “That’s horrible! You would’ve been the best auror ever, it’s their loss!” 

“Thanks, Snake.” 

“So, what are you doing instead?”

Tonks hesitated. “Er … sort of nothing. I haven’t been able to find a job outside the ministry yet. I’m living with mum and dad which is alright … they’re getting better at understanding things.” He gestured vaguely to his body. “I’d prefer to be employed, obviously, but I’m not going to compromise on my morals, or how I’m treated. I’m lucky enough to be able to take that stand.” 

Harry skipped two pieces into his court. Tonks grumbled. “I bet I could get you a job,” Harry said. “Want to work in Gringotts? Or under the lake? Ooh, I know—Borgin and Burke’s?” 

Tonks laughed at him. “Snake, why on earth do you have job connections for me? Nah, I’ll find something that suits me. But thanks. You’re a good friend.” 

Further knocking came from down the hall, and Harry almost overturned the board. “Draco!” 

Sirius levered himself up. “Here we go.”

“Sirius,” chided Remus from the piano. “Grace and patience.” 

“Grace and patience,” grumbled Sirius as he and Harry left the room, Harry practically skipping. “Like he’s ever had any grace and patience in his life. I’ll check the colors this time. You may have been right about getting on my back earlier. Don’t tell Remus.” 

Harry rolled his eyes as Sirius peeked out, and then opened the door.

“Harry!” cried Draco, flinging himself forward. He was rebuffed by an invisible barrier, bumping back into Narcissa. “Hey!” 

“There’s a password,” Harry said, grinning. “You have to say you promise not to reveal the inhabitants of the house.” 

“I, Draco Black, swear on my honor as a Black not to reveal the inhabitants of this house!” Draco declared, stepping forward. 

“You changed your name!” 

Draco grinned blindingly. “Last week! What do you think!” 

“Brilliant. Hello, Professor Narcissa—er, Professor Black.” 

“Hello, Harry,” said Narcissa, smiling with perfect burgundy lips. She wore a resplendent white fur coat, hands tucked into an equally luxurious muff. “You may call me Narcissa today.” 

“Okay! Draco, come on, Tonks is here already.” 

“Oh—cousin Nymphadora?” 

Don’t call him that,” Harry said darkly, pulling him along. Draco was dressed up too, in a green robe with pale rose accents that matched his hair, which had been carefully styled to one side. “You alright? Having a good holiday?” 

“Yes, we’ve been in France again,” said Draco grandly. “All your gifts are French, this Christmas.” 

“Oh, thank goodness. I was worried.”

Draco swatted him on the shoulder, breaking from him the minute they entered the room and beelining for Remus. “Remus!” 

Remus turned from the piano and swept him into a hug, their pink hair smushing together. “Draco, you’re looking very well,” he said, putting his hands on Draco’s shoulders. “Cup of tea and a chat later?” 

Draco nodded vigorously. “Here, this is for you.” He slammed a present into Remus’ chest, who took it with an amused huff. 

“Why, thank you. Do you mind terribly if I wait to open it with the others?” 

Draco shook his head. “No, that’s fine! Um, I like your sweater.” 

“Draco!” Harry hollered. “Come here!”

Draco headed over to them, zeroing in on Tonks and his dress. “Hello,” he said. “I like your dress.” 

Tonks grinned at him. “Yeah? Thanks. I like your hair. Very similar to certain other hair in the room.” 

Draco put a hand to it, blushing. “Yes, well …” 

Tonks put a hand up. “Hang on. Two’s company, three’s a party.” And his hair shifted from white- and red-striped to pink and asymmetrical. 

“Oh, brilliant,” Draco said, eyes wide. 

“Hello, Andromeda.”

“Hello, Narcissa.” 

Heavy silence filled the air. Harry, Draco, and Tonks craned their heads to watch the Black sisters evaluate each other. They couldn’t have looked more different—Narcissa porcelain-pale and posture-perfect in an emerald robe, Andromeda in a scruffy bun and muggle jeans and Christmas sweater. But in facial expression their sisterhood shone through: identically hesitant, identically guarded.

And then Narcissa reached out a tentative hand. “It’s good to see you, Andy.” 

Andromeda clasped her hand between both of hers. “You too, Cissy. Now come meet my husband. You’re several decades late, and it’s unbelievably uncouth to be late to things.” 

With a graceful smile, Narcissa followed where she led.

Draco and Tonks let out twin sighs of relief. “Thank Merlin,” said Draco. 

“You’re telling me. Now, boys, how about a game of threes? I have a new pack of definitely not rigged playing cards.” 

blue branch tipped wth hearts

“Snake? I have one last present for you, if you can manage to sit up.” 

Groaning, Harry levered himself upwards. He was so full from Christmas dinner he could barely move from the couch in front of the fireplace. The sitting room was littered with opened presents and discarded wrapping which Sirius had forbidden to be cleaned up until tomorrow, to preserve the sense of festivity. 

“I think I fell asleep,” Harry yawned. 

“I think so too.” Sirius grinned at him, cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling. “Here, sit with me for a moment and listen.” 

Curious, Harry leaned into his side, listening to the house at night. Everyone had left, and the elves had gone to have a celebration of their own. The only sounds were the gentle creak of the old house around them, the crackle of the fire, and their breaths.

“This was always my favorite time to be in this house,” Sirius said softly. “Christmas night, when I was the only one still awake. I’d come and sit in front of the fire and pretend it was just me and that I was warm and safe. Sometimes my brother would sit with me.” 

“Your brother?” 

Sirius nodded. “Regulus. He was a death eater, but he died betraying Voldemort. He was a brave kid.” 

“Sorry.” 

“Me too.” 

They sat and breathed and listened to the empty house. Harry could almost pretend he was Sirius, creeping down here to snatch a moment of solitude. 

“Here.” Sirius placed a bundle wrapped in a cloth on his lap. “One last present for you. And for Star.” 

“For Star?” Harry said curiously. “What do you mean?” 

“Open them.” 

Gently, Harry unfolded the cloth to reveal two silver mirrors. “They’re pretty,” he said, flipping them over to see the backs. They were decorated with complimentary designs: a unicorn on one, a lion on the other. 

“These are very rare,” Sirius said softly. “Family artifacts—some of the only ones that aren’t irreparably dark. James and I used them, before I ran away.” He traced the outline of the unicorn’s horn. “They are two-way mirrors.” 

Harry’s heart stuttered. “Two-way mirrors?” 

Gently, Sirius took one of the mirrors. “Harry Potter,” he said softly. 

The mirror in Harry’s hands shuddered and shone with a faint golden light. He turned it over to see Sirius’ face looking at him from within, creased into a soft, sad smile.

“Whoever has one mirror need only speak the name of the owner of the other,” said Sirius’ reflection. “And if the other has it on them, they will know and answer.” 

To his utter astonishment, there were tears landing on the mirror in his lap. Not Sirius’. Sirius’ face vanished from the mirror at once, and he pulled Harry close. “Oh, Snake, what’s wrong?” 

Harry tried to get ahold of himself, but the basilisk hissed in the back of his mind, reminding him that crying was alright. He let himself rock in the waves of emotion flooding through him. “I just—I just—you don’t know how much this means to me. To us.” 

Sirius stroked his hair. “I think I have a bit of an idea.” 

Harry pulled away from him, and Sirius wiped the tears from his cheeks with his glittery sleeve. “Seriously, though, Sirius—this has to be the last Christmas present. I’m not going to be able to carry everything home.” 

Sirius winced. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, Snake. I haven’t even given you Limmy’s presents to take back yet.”

blue branch tipped wth hearts

The day after Christmas, Harry was smacked promptly in the face at seven am by the paper. Snorting with laughter, he fumbled for his glasses and peered at the headlines. 

The crimson header blared out like a siren. His heart sank straight down to his toes.

THE DEMIGUISE

THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE

EDITION 64 ✩ 26 Dec 1993

CONTENTS:
MINISTRY DECLARES “LIBERATED ELVES” ANTI-GOVERNMENT TERRORIST GROUP
by The Demiguise Collective
FUDGE SLASHES HOGWARTS FUNDING
by Humdinger
THORFINN ROWLE RELEASED
by Loupe
INTERNATIONAL UPROAR OVER MINISTRY ACTIONS
by Superlative

Chapter Text

“Stargazer Araeo,” Harry whispered. Ifingr curled eagerly by his shoulder, the rest of the basilisks near, but their eyes carefully averted.

The unicorn mirror shivered and shone, and like a pond clearing after a stone was dropped into it, Araeo’s night-sky face appeared in the mirror, foggy eyes wide and joyful.

Harry's hands grip two sides of an ornate mirror. In the mirror is Araeo's smiling face.

“Snakeheart,” he said, warm and relieved and soft. “It’s good to see your face.” 

“Hi, Araeo,” Harry said, grinning so wide he thought his face would break in half. 

“What about us?” Laila demanded. “Tell it hi from us!” 

“What is it?” Ifingr wailed. “Snakeheart! Snakeheart what is it!” 

“It’s Araeo,” Ouro hissed, “you can hear it can’t you?” 

“I wanna visit!” screamed Laila. “Araeo I wanna visit! Tell Snakeheart to take me next time!”

“No, tell it to take me!” 

“What about me!” 

Araeo was laughing so hard tears were streaming down his face. “Can I assume,” he gasped, “that they’re saying how much they miss me?”

“Sort of,” Harry grinned. “You can think of it like that. They want to visit, at least.” 

“Make the mirror show you Mosag!” shrieked Ouro in his ear. “Tell it I want bugs!” 

“Bugs!”

“Bugs!” 

The basilisk gave an exhausted sigh. Harry dutifully translated. On the other end of the mirror, Araeo cackled so hard he was hyperventilating. 

“Right, right,” Araeo said, wiping his eyes. “Snakeheart. We have a lot to discuss. Oh—and I have a surprise for you. Ready?” 

“Oh, sure!” 

Araeo grinned, and then tilted the mirror to the side. Beaming at him with sparkling eyes and twitching ears, Limmy was shedding ambient green sparks in excitement. 

“Limmy!” said Harry in delight, echoed by Laila, Ouro, and Ifingr. “You’re back!” 

“Almost,” said Limmy, grinning. “Snake, we has the best news. Guess who is now officially neighbors with the fairies?” 

Harry shouted in joy, leaping up and dancing around the room, Ifingr hanging on for dear life. “Limmy! Yes! Yes! ” 

On the other end, Limmy and Araeo whooped together. “Long live the liberated elves!” Araeo cried, shoving his face back in the mirror.

Limmy grinned, joyful and vicious … and a bit fae. “And long live our new home!”