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Dear Harry,

Will all the letters you write to me this summer resemble the first one? Will they all be short, skimp on details, and lack poetry?

I’ll admit that in a way it was a bit endearing - the crassness of your letter is very much like you and your complete lack of etiquette. Even so, reading your letter filled up very little of my time. Considering this summer is shaping up to be one of unbearable boredom and monotony, I hope you’ll put just a bit more effort into entertaining me.

If you won’t, I’ll just have to entertain myself by writing you novella-length letters. I suppose I could work on my Charms essay, but I just found myself staring at what I’d written for well over an hour before I realized that I hadn’t added anything to it and I wasn’t comprehending anything I’d written so far. I’m not even certain that what I’d written was in English. The parchment may as well have been blank for all the meaning I could construe.

To be fair, I do have a reason for my distraction: my mother has barely spoken to me since she picked me up from King’s Cross. I cannot pretend that I don’t know why, and I can’t help but take it personally; she speaks amicably and often with Mrs. Zabini as well as Blaise, but she offers me nothing but silence. Don’t worry - I know we’ll get past this eventually. I’ve seen her give my father the silent treatment more times than I can count. I'm certain she'll be nagging me about something or other in no time.

Blaise’s mother, on the other hand, seems to be pretending that nothing is wrong at all. Blaise hasn’t said anything, but he appears to be quite unsettled by this. At meals he always waits for someone else to eat first and he’s made it abundantly obvious that he does not want to be alone with his mother. Every other comment he makes to me when we're together is about how his mother is going to kill him and make it look like an accident; he mentions it so often that I’m beginning to wonder if he expects me to avenge him should anything happen. Even now, while I write to you, he seems quite distracted. He’s been working on an essay for Arithmancy for over two hours now, but the crumbled pieces of parchment he’s thrown away number in the dozens, and that’s even after he already set a healthy pile of them on fire.

Since Blaise is so distracted by the thought that his mother may or may not murder him any day now, he’s a poor source of entertainment. Again, I am left to entertain myself.

I suppose the Zabini home is nice enough, but it is quite small compared to Malfoy Manor. There are no outdoor gardens to meander in, nor horses to ride. There is only one room for dining, and the library is barely the size of my bedroom back home. Blaise and I spend much of our time in the library -

Harry’s lips quirked as he neatly folded the letter and tucked it into the side pocket of his bag. He’d already read the letter half a dozen times, and he’d nearly memorized Draco’s lament about the lack of amenities at Blaise’s house. He wondered what the immensely spoiled Draco would think of the Dursleys’ home; while Vernon and Petunia seemed quite proud of their slice of suburbia, it sounded as if it was absolutely minuscule compared to Blaise’s home, much less Draco's.

At least Blaise had a library. At least Draco had access to that library.

Harry had known that he was going to be even more miserable than he generally was with the Dursleys that summer, but he hadn’t expected to grow frustrated within mere hours of entering his small bedroom. He had all the usual irritation at being cut off from the wizarding world with some of the worst Muggles any wizard could imagine, but he knew that wasn’t the entire reason why.

He supposed it was the first summer where he truly wanted to continue learning and studying, and yet he wasn’t able to do so. The only books he had any interest in studying were ones he was already fairly familiar with, and he craved digging into something new. He also felt he had good reason to continue learning; he was apparently destined to destroy Voldemort, after all.

Fortunately for Harry, his irritation was short lived. He was going to be leaving the Dursleys’ a mere four days after arriving.

Harry pulled out a piece of parchment and a pen, smirking as he did so. He partially did it because he didn’t think he’d have time to wait for the ink to dry if he wrote with an ink and quill, but also because he knew that writing with a Muggle pen would irk Draco.

Dear Draco,

By the time you read this, I should be at Andromeda’s house.

Yes, I know the length of this letter will irritate you. And yes, I’m doing that on purpose. Old habits die hard.

I miss you.

- Harry

Despite his relatively newfound and still growing fondness of Draco Malfoy, Harry had come to realize that he still greatly enjoyed annoying him. In fact, Harry wanted to find even more new and inventive ways of vexing the pointy, sarcastic, and kissable boy.

Harry felt a little flush at that thought. It astounded him. He, Harry, was romantically involved with Draco Fucking Malfoy. He and Draco were essentially dating - if it could even be called that.

Whatever it was, the fluttering that developed in his gut whenever he and Draco had kissed or touched or even just glanced at one another in the last few days of the school year had been brilliantly alien. Harry loved that feeling. Even just thinking about it started that little flutter up again, although it wasn’t as intense as it had been when he was actually in Draco’s presence. Harry found he missed that intensity.

Harry’s eyes traced the last line of his letter, and he felt the words to his core.

He missed him.

He supposed that was why he was suddenly so invested in thinking of different ways he could annoy Draco from afar. Perhaps the ache to repopulate the butterflies in his stomach was why his thoughts seemed to continuously return to Draco. Harry knew he could be a little obsessive at times, but he never expected to grow obsessed with Draco Malfoy.

To be fair, Harry knew he could have merely been thinking of ways to mildly annoy Draco in order to relieve some of the guilt he felt when reading Draco’s letter.

Draco’s mother wasn’t speaking to him, and Harry knew that it was because of him.

He also knew that it wasn’t due to Harry’s new status in Draco’s life; as far as he knew, Draco’s mother wasn’t aware that her son had spent his last few days of his fifth year snogging Harry Potter.

It was because Draco’s choice to ally with Harry had cost Narcissa Malfoy her husband and her home, as well as her sister.

And Draco wouldn’t have had to make that choice yet if Harry hadn’t made the rash, stupid, and, as Harry had come to think of it, incredibly Gryffindor decision to go to the Ministry of Magic. Perhaps if Draco had been able to make the decision under more rational circumstances, the outcome could have been much better.

Harry couldn’t find it in himself to regret the fact that Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange had been arrested in the Department of Mysteries. In fact, he found himself more than a little satisfied in knowing they were no longer causing pain and misery to anyone that crossed them.

He did, however, regret that Draco’s father had been arrested, which had caused strife between Draco and his mother.

It was an odd mesh of feelings and Harry didn’t quite know how to process them together.

Harry realized he’d been staring sightlessly at his letter, and he remembered that he was short on time; Andromeda would be there any minute. He folded the parchment and turned to Hedwig.

“Can you take this to Draco for me?” he asked.

Hedwig gave his hand an affectionate nip, then trilled at him. As Harry was securing the letter to her leg, he let out a little laugh as another spark of inspiration came to him. “Would you get tired if you flew to the Zabinis’ and back every day?” Perhaps Harry could continue his annoyance of Draco by simply sending him comically short, inane letters every single day.

Hedwig tilted her head and Harry swore that the coo that came from her beak sounded confused. Harry immediately knew why; it was because the Dursleys would always get upset if Hedwig was flying in and out of their house constantly.

“I almost forgot!” Harry exclaimed. “We’re leaving. I’ll be with Andromeda and Ted Tonks by the time you’re done, so go there after you see Draco. Okay?”

Hedwig hooted an affirmation, and then she flew off into the night sky.

After he’d lost sight of Hedwig’s silhouette, Harry turned around and immediately grimaced when he focused his attention on his trunk. Even though he hadn’t gained a single belonging since coming to the Dursleys,’ it seemed as if his things had expanded. For some bizarre reason Blaise had helped him pack his trunk when they were leaving Hogwarts, and Harry had no idea as to how Blaise had managed to fit all of the clothes, books, and trinkets inside the trunk that they were now spilling out of.

Harry hastily began trying to cram everything back inside, but he couldn’t get the trunk to shut.

He was just sitting down on the lid in a futile attempt to get it to close when he heard a knock at the door. He leapt to his feet and the lid flopped open with such force that it may as well have been spring-loaded, but Harry paid it no mind.

The Dursleys did not knock on Harry’s door.

A brief flash of panic ran through Harry. What if the letter from Andromeda hadn’t been from Andromeda, after all? Harry knew her handwriting better than her voice, and it certainly seemed like hers.

“Harry?”

Harry blinked, the panic draining in an instant. He wrenched the door open and was met with the vision of Andromeda Tonks standing in the hallway, with her daughter, Nymphadora, who preferred to go by ‘Tonks,’ at her side. Andromeda’s inherent elegance somehow made the Dursleys’ seem small and common, and Tonks’s purple and blue hair made the hall seem boring and plain.

It was a surreal sight for sore eyes.

“Hiya, Harry,” Tonks said, giving him an odd little salute.

A closed-mouthed yet warm smile appeared on Andromeda’s face. “It’s good to see you again,” she said.

“Yeah. You, too,” Harry said quickly, distracted. “How did you get up here? Aren’t the Dursleys -”

“You didn’t hear them leave?” Andromeda asked. “I believe I heard them say that they had the sudden desire to go to the bookstore.”

“The… bookstore?” Harry asked incredulously. It was nighttime, but that wasn’t the main reason for his disbelief. “When… when did they start reading?”

Tonks abruptly let out an exasperated sigh. “Mum, I am thrilled that you’re being more open and honest with me, but do I have to remind you that I am still an Auror?” she asked, crossing her arms and shooting Andromeda a glare that was positively dripping annoyance.

Her mother merely stared back at her cooly. Tonks finally broke the tension with another heaving sigh that seemed to make her deflate. “Just don’t tell me you used an Imperius.”

“Very well,” Andromeda said. “I won’t tell you I used Imperius.”

Mo-ther!” Tonks said with a gasp. The staring match continued until Tonks finally snapped her gum. “Behave.” Then she grinned, and her hair suddenly grew in size and length, the spiky blue and violet giving way to a rich, shining brown, before it all settled into a cascade of thick curls draping down around her face.

It was identical to Andromeda’s hair, and Harry was struck for the first time by how much Tonks looked like her mother.

Andromeda rolled her eyes as Tonks’s hair shrank back to its former state. “I have far more subtle tricks than an Imperius, Nymphadora.” She then turned her attention back towards Harry, who couldn’t help but smile at their exchange.

“Are you ready to go, Harry?” she asked.

Harry winced, the smile falling from his face. “Uh… almost?”

One of Andromeda’s eyebrows arched upwards. “Why does that sound like a question?” She peered behind him and frowned. “I take it that this trunk is yours?” she asked, her tone suddenly disdainful.

“I… well, yeah,” Harry mumbled.

“And why does it presently resemble a volcano?” she asked, taking a few steps towards the trunk and tilting her head as if inspecting the devastation.

Tonks let out a giggle. “Ooh, Harry,” she snorted, “there’s something you should know if you’re going to be living with my mother.”

“Oh?” Harry asked hesitantly.

“She’s going to make you be tidy,” Tonks said, grinning. “And if you are half as bad as me -”

“If this is the result of an attempt to pack, I fear he may be even worse than you, Nymphadora,” Andromeda said, cutting her off.

Tonks burst out laughing at that.

“I’m sorry!” Harry exclaimed, blushing. “The trunk seemed way bigger when I was eleven. I guess I’ve… gotten a lot more stuff since then.” He knew that was especially true in the last year - he’d acquired several new books, as well as an entire new wardrobe courtesy of his housemates.

Andromeda’s gaze swiveled towards him, her eyes narrowed and calculating. “Is this everything, then?” she asked, her words sounding oddly sharp.

Harry nodded.

Something unrecognizable flashed across Andromeda’s face, and then she turned back to the trunk, drawing her wand. She flicked it upwards and all of his things seemed to sail upwards into a chaotic cloud, and Harry could see everything from his books to his jumpers floating all around them. His blush grew darker as a pair of his drawers floated past his face.

Andromeda’s eyes swept the room and with a graceful turn of her wrist, his things seemed to start gravitating into categories - his clothes folded themselves along the way and gathered together, his quills and ink tucked themselves into a roll of blank parchment, and his books were stacked together by size.

She then leaned forward and inspected the books for a moment. With another flick of her wand a few were pulled from the stack and formed a second pile, and Harry immediately recognized that it was his modest collection of dark arts books. She tapped the spine of Nearly Undetectable Curses and Hexes with her wand. “I particularly enjoyed this one when I was your age.”

Harry let out a laugh. “It was -” He froze. He’d nearly said that it had been a favorite of Sirius’s, as well, but he remembered Tonks was still standing at his door. He glanced over his shoulder, feeling a tad alarmed.

Tonks merely snapped her gum . “Don’t worry,” she said, shrugging. “My lips are sealed.” Then her face screwed up in consideration. “About your book collection, anyway. I am gonna have to tell Dumbledore that we came and got you.”

Harry could help the scowl that suddenly appeared on his face. “Right,” he said gruffly. After the way he and Dumbledore had left things in his office, Harry still felt a string of betrayal at the headmaster’s name. “I suppose that’s your job.” It came out a bit nastier than he’d intended.

“But Dumbledore’s conveniently away right now,” Tonks continued, cheerfully ignoring Harry’s sour demeanor. “I have no idea where he is, so he’s not there for me to tell.” Harry could have sworn her hair lightened a shade or two as she grinned widely at him. “You probably have at least a day or two before he finds out.”

“Could you just… make it as long as possible?” Harry asked sourly.

“I know that Dumbledore isn’t fond of the dark arts, and he couldn’t have been pleased by what you did at the Ministry,” Andromeda said, “but you seem unusually… resentful of him.”

Harry merely let out a grunt, crossing his arms, shooting Tonks another glance. She must have told her mother what had unfolded in the Department of Mysteries, he realized.

“It is not wise to make an enemy of Albus Dumbledore, Harry.”

Harry gave a heaving sigh at Andromeda’s words. “He’s not an enemy,” he said. “He just… kept some things from me that he shouldn’t have. I don’t really feel like talking with him yet.”

Andromeda let out a hum. “Well, we can delay as long as possible, but not forever.” She waved her wand once more and his things sank neatly into his trunk. Even though everything seemed to be organized and it did appear the lid would close, it still looked overfull.

Harry sighed, glad of an opportunity to change the subject from Dumbledore. “I suppose I should probably… get rid of some stuff,” he said. “Or else get a bigger trunk.”

“That is quite unnecessary,” Andromeda said, closing the trunk with one more elegant turn of her wand. “It’s nothing some basic expansion charms won’t fix.” She levitated the trunk in front of her and raised an eyebrow at Harry. “Unless you wish to go shopping for a new trunk, that is?” she asked.

Harry shook his head, feeling mildly relieved.

“Very well,” Andromeda said with a nod. “Nymphadora, if you would please lead the way?”

***

Almost as soon as they arrived at a humble, clean, and clearly wizarding home, Tonks bid them a good night, leaving for her own flat.

Andromeda immediately ushered a bewildered Harry up the stairs, directing him to the bathroom. As soon as he entered a heady scent hit his senses, and his nostrils instinctively flared, as if trying to capture as much of the intoxicating aroma as he could. It smelled alien and wonderful.

“I gave up many luxuries that I had in my youth when I married Ted,” Andromeda said, “but one that I refused to let go of was a nice, hot bath.”

Harry peered into the steaming tub and spied flecks of what looked like herbs and flowers floating in the hot water. Despite the plants - or perhaps because of - it certainly looked inviting. He hadn’t had any desire to take a bath until he’d entered the bathroom, and he didn’t think he could refuse Andromeda’s offer even if he’d wanted to.

Even so, he was more than a little confused. “Uh…”

Andromeda reached into a cabinet and pulled out a jar full of even more herbs, and she placed it on the edge of the bathtub before turning back to Harry. “We do have much to discuss, Harry,” she said. “But it is nearing midnight, and it is vital that you are in the bath before the clock turns.”

“What?” Harry asked, tearing his gaze from her and back to the herb filled water. “Is this…” He was struck with a bolt of clarity. “What kind of magic is this?”

Andromeda smirked at him. “A little dark concoction combined with some clever potions.” She pulled a towel out of the same cabinet, draping it over a rack off the wall. “This bath will remove any tracking magic that has been placed upon your person.”

A chill went down Harry’s spine at her words. “Who do you think is tracking me?” he asked, alarmed.

The look Andromeda gave him spoke volumes; she clearly thought it was an absurd question for him to ask. “The Ministry, of course,” she said. “We are going to rid you of that irritating little spell that detects underage magic.”

Harry’s eyes widened.

“I am a firm believer that children should be able to defend themselves unmolested, especially in a time of war,” Andromeda continued. “And although there was a stay in the war when she was a child, I did the same thing for Nymphadora when she was much younger than you are now.” She set her jaw. “I would not have strangers monitoring my daughter’s movements or behavior.”

“I…” Harry paused, swallowing. “Thank you.”

“You are welcome,” Andromeda responded. She then gestured to the jar of herbs resting on the side of the bath. “You are to pour that entire jar into the bath at the stroke of midnight.” She pointed over her shoulder at a clock that was on the wall.

Harry nodded. “Do I need to… say anything? Or have my wand with me?” he asked.

“You can say whatever you wish, but it will not help or hinder the effect,” Andromeda said, amusement dancing in her eyes. “I’ve already enchanted the herbs for you.” She paused. “And I would not recommend taking your wand in the bath. The trace is on you, not your wand. It detects magic that is used in your proximity.”

“Then… then why were you able to use magic to pack my things?” Harry asked, confused.

“Because we filed a writ with the Ministry that we would be coming to call at your house,” Andromeda said. “It is a basic form, and it’s mostly automated. It is rarely monitored.” Her expression soured. “It is a bad policy that is very badly enforced, which is all the more reason to be rid of it. It is also a weak spell that is easily fooled, and it is not much more difficult to be rid of it.” She pointed at the bath. “Now get in.”

She turned to leave but paused by the door. “After you pour the herbs in the bath, take the time to relax, Harry,” she said softly. “You have a difficult summer ahead of you, and you should savor these moments of stillness while you can.” She offered him a warm smile. “I will see you in the morning.”

***

He’d taken Andromeda’s advice to heart. Harry had nearly fallen asleep in the bath, only just managing to drag himself out of the water and into the cozy bedroom across the hall. The sheets were crisp and cool against his overly warm skin, and their fresh scent soon lulled him into the best rest he’d had in months.

He allowed himself to wake slowly the following morning, awareness lazily drifting back into his mind. He stretched and absently wondered if the tranquility he was feeling was a side-effect of the whatever magic had been in the enchanted bath or if it was merely the bath itself. He quickly decided he didn’t particularly care and he dawdled as he dressed despite an underlying excitement at being able to spend time with Andromeda. He’d grown quite fond of her through their exchange of letters throughout the last year.

When Harry descended the stairs and entered the dining room, a man sitting at the table peered over the top of The Daily Prophet at him, and he lowered it to reveal a bright smile. “Harry, I take it?” the man said. “I’m Ted, Dromeda’s husband.”

“Hullo,” Harry said in greeting as he took in the man’s appearance. He had dark brown, almost black hair that was peppered with silver, and oddly electric honey-brown eyes that were accented with crow’s feet. Those, combined with the light wrinkles on his cheeks, told Harry that he likely spent a lot of his time smiling.

“Have a seat,” Ted said, gesturing to the chair across from him. “Dromeda will be out with breakfast soon.”

As if on cue, a steaming cup was set down in front of Harry. “Tea for you, because you are most likely a normal wizard,” Andromeda said as she placed a mug in front of Ted, “unlike my husband, who prefers to drink powdered, artificial beans.”

Harry let out a laugh. “What?”

“Instant coffee,” Ted said appreciatively. He lifted the mug and saluted Andromeda with it. “Gives me everything I need to start my day.”

“I respect many things Muggles have created, but your ‘instant coffee’ is an abomination,” Andromeda responded. Ted merely laughed at her retreating back.

As Harry scooped some sugar into his tea, Ted raised the Prophet again, and the front page immediately caught Harry’s eye.

Two photos laid in contrast to one another. On the left was Cornelius Fudge, looking lumpy, rumpled, and overly distressed. The right photo portrayed a man that Harry had never seen; Harry’s first thought was that he was stern, grim, and tough. Piercing eyes shone from underneath unusually bushy eyebrows, and although it was just the usual wizarding photo, Harry felt as if the man was staring straight at him.

“‘Ministry Changes Hands Tomorrow,’” Harry murmured, scarcely aware that he read the headline out loud. “Who is he?” he asked. “Who is the new Minister, I mean?”

“Rufus Scrimgeour,” Ted said, closing the paper and shoving it across the table towards Harry. “He was Head Boy when Andromeda and I were just firsties.” He slurped at his coffee before shaking his head. “He was always a bit of a prick.”

Harry quickly skimmed the article, learning that Scrimgeour had been the Head of the Auror Office, and was now due to take over the post of Minister for Magic from Fudge.

“That is why Andromeda wanted to come get you before she originally planned to,” Ted said.

“What? Why?”

“Because as soon as Fudge is no longer in power,” Andromeda said as she placed a plate of eggs in front of Harry, “the order of secrecy he placed on his Aurors will become void.”

Harry blinked at her before he realized what she was referring to. When they were in the Department of Mysteries, Harry had confessed to using the dark arts. In a surprise move, Fudge had ordered everyone that had heard Harry’s confession to stay silent. Although his memory was a bit hazy due to everything that had happened that night, Harry knew that at least a dozen Aurors and other Ministry officials had been present.

And because Harry was Harry Potter, someone was almost certainly going to tell the Prophet what he’d said.

“But the only thing any of them saw me do was -”

Andromeda held up a hand, shushing him. “Breakfast first, Harry.”

Harry nearly protested, but it only took one look from Andromeda before he realized that arguing with her would be about as useful as arguing with Professor McGonagall.

It only occurred to him while he was eating that Andromeda may have quieted him because her husband might not have known about his use of the dark arts, much less her own. Andromeda had told Harry that while her family knew she was a dark witch, she had led them to believe that she no longer used the dark arts.

After they were finished with breakfast, Harry and Ted helped Andromeda clean the table and the adjacent kitchen, though Harry noted with some amusement that every surface that he and Ted wiped down would be cleaned again by Andromeda. Ted noticed Harry watching her do this every time without fail, and he smiled and shook his head at Harry in a silent plea for him to not mention it.

As the last plates and mugs were whisked away into the cupboards, Ted gave Andromeda a fond kiss on the cheek. “I’ll leave you two be,” he said. “I’ve got a long shift today, so I won’t be back until late tonight.” He looked between Harry and Andromeda. “Don’t sacrifice any goats to the moon while I’m gone.”

Harry stared at him in bewilderment while Andromeda let out a laugh. Ted waved to Harry, and then he was gone.

“‘Sacrifice goats?’” Harry asked. “What does he think we’re doing, exactly?”

“He used to make the same terrible jokes when I first told him I was a dark witch,” Andromeda said, shaking her head. “Unfortunately, he’s decided to bring those jokes back when I told him and my daughter that I wanted to start practicing openly again.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot upwards, and he then remembered some of the comments that Tonks had made the previous night. “They… seem to be taking it well.”

Andromeda nodded. “I’ll admit that the conversation went better than I expected it to,” she said. “Nymphadora is a bit more conflicted than Ted, but that’s to be expected. Aurors are most well known for apprehending dark wizards, whereas Ted has dedicated his life to helping all witches and wizards, regardless of what magic they practice.”

That oddly reminded Harry of the reason why he declared for the dark on Beltane; it had been symbolic of the fact that he wanted to protect all wizards, light and dark alike. “What does Ted do?”

“He is a Mediwizard,” Andromeda said. “He would eventually like to be a Healer, but he says he doesn’t have the patience to study for the extra exams.” She shook her head. “I think it’s because Mediwizards will be called to wherever they’re needed. Healers have those in need come to them. Truthfully, I believe he would be bored if he were forced to stay in one spot.” A fond smile graced her features before she put the kettle on and pulled two teacups out of the cupboard they’d just gone into.

“We may have only days, Harry. The news of your use of the dark arts will soon break,” she said. Her tone of voice had instantly shifted from light and amused to stern and grim. “It would be wise of you to decide how you want to respond before it does.” She gestured for him to take a seat on one of the stools by the kitchen island.

Harry blinked at the abrupt change of subject. “I… yeah,” he said with a sigh, plopping down on the stool. “Dumbledore said it would be allowed since we’re technically at war again, but…”

“But you are an unusually public figure, and everyone is going to have an opinion on what it means,” Andromeda said, sitting down across from him.

“What do you think I should do?”

Andromeda immediately shook her head. “I will not be making any of your decisions for you, Harry,” she said. “I am known for wanting to make my own decisions. And do you think I would have chosen that my daughter be an Auror had I made decisions for her?” She clasped her hands in front of her, fixing Harry with a rigid look. “What you do is entirely up to you.”

“But I have no idea what to do!” Harry protested feebly. And it was true - although he’d known for a few weeks that the news could break at any moment, now that it was imminent he found himself at a loss. He let out a huff, slouching down and resting his chin on his arms. “I’m used to just…” He trailed off.

“... dealing with things after they’ve already happened?” Andromeda finished for him. “Being reactive instead of proactive is quite Gryffindor of you.”

Harry felt simultaneously annoyed and uneasy. He’d grown to hate the fact that every witch and wizard he knew put so much stock into their Hogwarts house. “Why do we all have to be put into stupid little boxes?” he grumbled. “A house shouldn’t define us.”

Andromeda let out a laugh. “That is quite correct,” she said. “Our house values aren’t meant to characterize who we are as people. We are merely meant to exemplify those values through our actions. The values are a guideline for how we approach our lives.”

As usual, Andromeda’s explanations spoke deeply to Harry and his annoyance quickly drained out of him, but he was still left feeling unsettled. After all, what had he told himself, and later Daphne, at the end of the school year?

It was time to let the Gryffindor go.

It was his Gryffindor approach to life that had led him to taking his friends to the Ministry. It had led to the upheaval of his roommates’ lives, resulting in the arrest of their fathers. It had led to his own godfather being arrested.

It had led to the very problem he was facing now.

“Slytherins are adaptable to change, and we are even more adaptable when we can anticipate that change,” Andromeda continued. “And I believe it is safe to say that things are about to change greatly for you.”

Harry nodded, sitting up.

“Again, I will not make your decisions for you,” Andromeda said. “But what we can do is go through your options.”

“I’m not even sure what those options are,” Harry said quietly.

Andromeda stood to take the kettle off. “The first option would be to do nothing,” she said. “The news makes it to the wizarding world, but you never respond to it. Your silence would result in rumors following you wherever you go, likely for the rest of your life.”

“That’s nothing new,” Harry said, scowling. “There was a rumor flying around school last year that I was trying to be the next Dark Lord.”

“And silence would result in that rumor spreading beyond Hogwarts,” Andromeda said, confirming his suspicions. “Is that what you want?”

Harry shook his head.

“The next option would require lying,” Andromeda continued as she poured the hot water into the teapot. “Deny that you said anything. Claim that the Ministry officials that heard your words are merely slandering you.”

Harry heaved out a sigh. “And that’s nothing new, either. That’s what they spent all of last year doing.”

“That option may have some merit, then,” Andromeda said. “Most of the wizarding world now realizes that the Ministry was trying to discredit you when you said that You-Know-Who had returned. You could lead them to believe that it was simply more of the same.”

Harry shrugged. It could work, but it didn’t sound very appealing.

“The third option would be to tell the truth of what you did at the Ministry, but lie about what you intend to do going forward.” She placed the teapot on the island and turned back to retrieve the cups and saucers. “You claim that you had just been dabbling in the dark arts, and that you feel absolutely terrible about it and you’ll never do it again.” She sounded amused at that, and Harry supposed that it was because it was similar to what she’d told her husband years ago.

“I don’t think that would go over very well, either. I’d just wind up with the same rumors as if I did nothing,” Harry responded. “To be honest, none of these sound very good.” He let out another sigh.

“The other option is to do what we briefly spoke about last year.” Andromeda placed a teacup in front of Harry, again taking the seat across from him. “It is the highest risk, but could also lead to the highest reward.”

Harry didn’t even have to ask what she was referring to. “Going public,” he said. “I admit everything, including the fact that I am a dark wizard.”

Andromeda nodded.

“It’s been mentioned to me more times than I can count,” Harry said. “It’s just… what if it backfires? That would probably lead to even more rumors about me trying to replace Voldemort.”

Andromeda leaned forward. “Harry, I am going to ask you a question that I’ve asked you before,” she said. “I just want to know if your answer has changed.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Okay.”

“What do you want more than anything else?”

“I want to defeat... Voldemort,” Harry said, but even as the words came out of his mouth they felt wrong, and he knew Andromeda could tell.

“Is that the truth?” Andromeda asked, her tone sharp.

“I…” Harry paused. “I’m supposed to.”

“You’re supposed to defeat him, or you’re supposed to want to defeat him?”

Harry shrugged. “Both, I guess,” he said. “There’s a stupid prophecy and everything. If I don’t kill him, he kills me.”

Andromeda’s eyes widened. “I’ve never put much stock into Divination,” she said, her voice sounding tight, “and I don’t think a prophecy should get to make your decisions for you, either.”

“But he does need to go down,” Harry said. “I know that. He’s caused so much… death and destruction and pain. He needs to be stopped.”

“I don’t disagree,” Andromeda said.

“And what he’s doing isn’t exactly doing any favors for… people like us,” Harry continued. “Dark witches and wizards, I mean.”

“Yet the dark community flocks to him,” Andromeda said, “because they believe his victory would allow them to stop hiding who they are.”

Harry frowned. “I don’t want to hide, but I definitely don’t want him to win,” he said quietly. “He can’t be allowed to win.” He shook his head. “And I know that my going public could show dark witches and wizards that… they could have a choice besides Voldemort.”

“And that would weaken his support, which would weaken him,” Andromeda said. “We’ve spoken of this before, Harry.”

“I know,” he said. “But… announcing to the world that I’m a dark wizard could also just wind up with me in Azkaban.”

“That’s not an unfounded fear,” Andromeda said. “Many dark witches and wizards have been arrested just for practicing their magic.”

“Which is…” Harry trailed off. He paused, blinking, and his thoughts churned chaotically.

While Voldemort did have followers that truly believed in the superiority of wizarding blood, many dark witches and wizards went to Voldemort because they felt he would protect them. They feared the persecution and oppression of the wizarding world more than they feared Voldemort.

Voldemort was able to gain the power that he had because of how the wizarding world viewed the dark.

He was a symptom of the persecution, not the cause of it.

“I want dark witches and wizards to be free,” Harry suddenly blurted out, and his words felt far more true than what he’d said earlier. He met Andromeda’s eyes and set his jaw. “That’s what I want more than anything else.”

Andromeda’s lips quirked. She looked like she was trying not to smile. “Then I believe you already know which option to choose, Harry,” she said.

There, in Andromeda’s almost unnervingly clean kitchen, the decision was made. Harry was going to tell the world that he was a dark wizard.

Andromeda had certainly been right when she’d said that Harry was in for a difficult summer.

Chapter Text


Harry had communicated with Andromeda Tonks through letters for nearly a year. He’d also managed to have a short, pleasant conversation with her the previous winter. However, he’d never gotten to spend extensive time with her in person.

She was everything Harry had expected. She was also absolutely nothing like he expected.

If he had to summarize Andromeda using only one word, it would be intense.

She was possibly the most calculating and focused person Harry had ever met. She wanted to run through every scenario of how he could reveal himself as dark, and then she wanted to determine what the consequences of each of those scenarios would be. If Harry’s focus seemed to drift in the slightest she would instantly snap his attention back to the topic at hand. He felt as if he was being mentally walked in circles.

When Andromeda pointed out that Harry almost certainly wouldn’t have time to do anything before the inevitable, he grew frustrated.

“If I can’t do anything now, do I really have to figure all of this out right this second?” he snapped.

The only response was a raised eyebrow, but it was still enough to make Harry feel guilty. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly.

Andromeda looked at him for a long, somewhat tense moment before her lips quirked upwards. “An apology is unnecessary, Harry,” she said. “And you are quite right that we won’t be able to plot the entire course in one go.” She paused, narrowing her eyes. “But you do have to decide which direction you want to be facing when the storm comes.”

Harry sighed. “I know, it’s just…”

“We can change the subject if you wish, but there is one thing you should know before we do.”

“What’s that?”

“The Minister-designate - Rufus Scrimgeour,” Andromeda said. “I know him.”

“Mr. Tonks said -”

“Ted.”

Harry nodded. “Ted said you were in school together,” he said, deciding that it probably wasn’t appropriate to mention that Ted had also called Scrimgeour a ‘right prick.’

“I admit I don’t know him well, but I do know more of Scrimgeour than Ted,” she said. “He was in Slytherin.”

Harry didn’t feel all that surprised at that bit of news. Slytherins tended to wind up in positions of power, after all.

“He was… well, the best I can describe him is that he was a mild pariah,” she continued. “He wasn’t very well liked in Slytherin. He had few friends in our house.”

“Why is that?”

Andromeda let out a sigh before raising her teacup to her lips. She took a sip and met Harry’s eyes with a grim expression. “From what I was told by some upper years, he despises the dark arts,” she said somberly.

“That’s… not good,” Harry said, his eyes widening.

“There is a distinct possibility that he will make going public much more difficult for you,” she said. “He is a bit… curious, though.”

“How’s that?”

“The upper years also confirmed that he has a dark affinity and that he did practice the dark arts when he was younger. Evidently, something... changed at some point when he was in school.”

Harry sat quietly for a moment as he processed the information. He knew next to nothing about Scrimgeour, but he already sounded like no one Harry had ever met. He knew that there were people like Daphne, who chose not to declare for the dark, but he didn’t know of anyone with a dark affinity that actually despised the dark arts.

But that’s not true, a nasty little voice whispered in Harry’s mind. Your own mother was ashamed of her affinity for the dark.

His mother, though, had been in Gryffindor at the height of a war against one of the worst dark wizards in history. It made sense for her to fall victim to the widespread sentiment that the dark arts were evil.

Scrimgeour, on the other hand, had been in Slytherin. He would have been surrounded by dark witches and wizards.

“What could have driven him away from the dark?” Harry wondered out loud. It was difficult for Harry to conceive; his own affinity drew him to the dark with an almost irresistible pull, and he couldn’t imagine denying that part of himself.

“Who can say? It could be any number of things,” Andromeda said. “There was still quite a bit of anti-dark sentiment when we were school, though it wasn’t anywhere near the level that the wizarding world has reached today.” She sipped her tea again. “He may have also witnessed something that repelled him; it is no secret that many dark wizards dive into some truly evil types of magic.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, nodding. “I’ve read about some spells and rituals that I’d never do.”

Andromeda opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by a tapping at the window on the far end of the kitchen. Harry grinned when he saw Hedwig perched outside.

“It feels odd to see Hedwig arrive here without a letter from you,” Andromeda quipped as she rose from her seat to open the window. Hedwig immediately hopped inside and swooped over to the kitchen island, landing in front of Harry. To his surprise, he spied a piece of parchment attached to her leg. He wondered if Draco had already drafted another long-winded letter to him in response to his own short, unpoetic letter that he’d sent Draco.

He unrolled the parchment and immediately let out a laugh when he saw there was only one word.

Prat.

Andromeda raised an eyebrow at him as she took her seat again, but she soon turned her gaze to Hedwig. “Oh, you are lovely, aren’t you?” she purred, raising a hand to run her fingers along Hedwig’s head. Hedwig seemed to puff up at her words, and she leaned into Andromeda’s hand.

“Hagrid got her for me for my 11th birthday,” Harry said, amused at how pleased Hedwig appeared at Andromeda’s attention. “Best present I’d ever gotten.”

Andromeda’s hand stilled for a moment before she resumed her stroking. “Based on what little I know of him, I never imagined Rubeus Hagrid to have good taste in creatures,” she said, “but she is a fine owl. We get along splendidly.”

“I’m glad,” Harry said, grinning. “If we’re staying with you, it would be awkward if you didn’t get along.”

Andromeda smiled at that before taking another sip of her tea. “What other questions should we address?” she asked. “You want to put talk of revealing yourself on hold - which is fine - but is there anything else you’d like to know now?”

Harry perked up. “Sirius,” he said. “You said you’d gotten a solicitor for him.”

“I did,” Andromeda said, sounding a bit regretful. “But there’s something you should know about that, Harry. This solicitor is only doing this as a favor to me, so if a paying case comes to him -”

“I can pay,” Harry said. He knew Andromeda and Ted weren’t well off, and he’d planned on offering his funds in the first place. “Would that make it a paying case?”

Andromeda let out a tinkling laugh. “It would,” she said. “And I’m sure Marshall would appreciate it.” She paused. “That said, it would be best to wait until after lunch to discuss Sirius. Nymphadora will be here this afternoon. She is gathering what information she can from the Ministry, as well as meeting with Marshall.”

She explained that Marshall Fawley was a freelance solicitor who normally specialized in defending witches or wizards who had broken the Statute of Secrecy, so defending a wrongfully accused murderer was not in his usual wheelhouse. However, Andromeda assured Harry that he was incredibly capable at his job and he was well-respected by many members of the Wizengamot.

He was also Ted’s greatest friend since their school years, and he’d served as Ted’s best man at Andromeda and Ted’s wedding.

The most intriguing and promising bit of information was the fact that when Andromeda had first told Ted that she was a dark witch all those years ago, Marshall was the one who had convinced Ted to stick with her.

“He’s not dark, right?” Harry asked.

Andromeda shook her head. “Far from it. He comes from a family that still observes the old traditions, though,” she said. “I think that went a long way in helping Ted understand how…” She trailed off and gave Harry a faint smile. “He helped Ted work through it.”

“Is… is he light, then?” Harry asked curiously. “A light wizard?”

“I don’t believe so,” Andromeda said. “I think he would have mentioned it back then.” She let out a sigh. “I also have yet to see what his reaction will be to knowing I am practicing… ‘again.’” She raised her fingers in a quotation symbol, smirking. “But our friendship has blossomed since Ted and I were married. I have a feeling he won’t take long to come around.”

“You’re going to tell him?”

“Of course,” Andromeda replied. “We’re friends.”

Harry paused at her words, and his gaze fell to his teacup. “I… I told Hermione,” he said. “She… seems okay with it, at least for now. She said she wants to do her own research, though.”

“If you two are as close as you’ve implied, I think she’ll work through it, as well,” Andromeda said.

“I guess,” Harry said. “I just wish… I’d been able to spend more time with her at the end of the school year, or…”

“Made yourself available to answer any questions she might have?” Andromeda asked lightly.

Harry nearly snorted at that, nodding. “She will have questions,” he said. “She’s Hermione.”

“She is Muggleborn, correct?”

Harry nodded.

“Ted still keeps in touch with his family,” she said. “Which means we do have a... telephone.” She said the word as if it was still foreign to her. “You could use that to speak with her if she truly does have questions.”

“Really?” Harry asked, perking up at the thought of actually being able to talk to Hermione, and not just exchange letters. “That would be great!” Then he almost immediately smacked his forehead. “I… I don’t think I have her number.”

Andromeda fixed Harry with a look that was already starting to become familiar - as if she knew that Harry knew better, and that he should feel silly for saying stupid things out loud. “Then write to her and ask her for it.”

***

Andromeda’s collection of dark arts books was modest, to put it politely. Harry knew that she had hidden her use of the dark arts from her husband and daughter for decades, which meant that she’d only kept a few books tucked away where her family wouldn’t find them. Harry had more books on the dark arts in his trunk than Andromeda had in her house.

Even though the few that she kept seemed incredibly useful, Harry still found that he missed the library at Grimmauld Place.

He skimmed through a thicker volume called Dark Defense and came across one spell that looked like one he would want to add to his repertoire. It was a dark charm that seemed similar to the Muggle-repellant charms that he’d heard had been placed on wizarding institutions like Hogwarts and the Quidditch World Cup, but it was more targeted. When a person encountered a charmed object or dwelling, it would make them suddenly want to do something very specific.

Like wanting to go to the bookstore, Harry thought, amused. He suspected Andromeda may have used that exact charm in order to get rid of the Dursleys’ when she’d come to fetch him.

He was practicing the wand movement for the charm when he heard a loud crash downstairs, immediately followed by a moan. Tonks had evidently arrived, hopefully with news about Sirius.

Harry resisted sprinting down the stairs, thinking that Andromeda likely wouldn’t appreciate him racing through her house. Even so, he made haste and immediately found Andromeda and Tonks in the dining room. Tonks was picking up a fallen chair and setting it upright as her mother sighed at her.

“I’ll put on some tea,” Andromeda said, disappearing into the kitchen.

“Hiya, Harry,” Tonks said, grinning as she sat down in the chair that she’d just fixed. “Enjoying your time with Mum?”

“I am, actually,” Harry said, taking a seat across from her.

“Well, I’m glad somebody is,” Tonks said before lowering her voice. “Sometimes I think she gets lonely when Dad works the long shift.”

“How often does he do that?” Harry asked.

“Used to be just twice a month,” Tonks said, “but this is the fifth in the last two weeks.” She frowned. “There’s been some Death Eater attacks. A lot of people need more help from Mediwizards than usual lately.”

Harry’s eyes widened in alarm. “Would he… be in danger?” he asked.

Tonks shook her head. “He gets there after the action is over.” Then she grinned. “I’m the one who’s supposed to get there while it’s still happening.”

“Much to my dismay,” Andromeda said as she reentered the dining room, placing cups and saucers on the table. “The only career you could have chosen that would be even more dangerous is a dragon breeder.”

“That’s what Charlie Weasley does,” Harry said. “He studies them, anyway.”

Tonks laughed. “He was obsessed with dragons even back when we were in school. Everybody always knew that’s what he was going to wind up doing.”

“Much to Molly Weasley’s dismay, I’m certain,” Andromeda said before turning back to the kitchen. “And for the record, Nymphadora, I put quite a bit of value in my time alone.” She threw a smile over her shoulder. “But Harry makes for pleasant company.”

Tonks rolled her eyes upwards. “Now that I know my Mum really did do a bit of dark arts to give herself the hearing of a bat, my life has made so much more sense,” she muttered.

Harry laughed.

“If I have to be honest, a lot about my Mum makes more sense now,” Tonks continued, and she fixed Harry with a contemplative look. “Even though I still… I still have things to work through, I feel like I know her better. And I’m pretty sure I have you to thank for that.”

“I… I didn’t do anything,” Harry said, feeling a bit dumbfounded at her words.

Tonks let out a laugh. “I think she’s been secretly disappointed for years that I didn’t have a… dark affinity,” she said. “But she somehow got you, instead. She’s obviously pretty fond of you.”

“I’m a big fan of hers, too,” Harry said, grinning. “She’s helped me understand a lot of things that probably would have taken me ages to work through.”

“Yeah, she’s very good at that,” Tonks said. “Even though I know she hates it, she’s the one who helped me figure out that I wanted to be an Auror.”

“I really need to thank Sirius for putting me on her radar,” Harry said.

“It didn’t really occur to me when I was a kid, but… she’s a great mum, Harry.”

Harry found himself blushing at the words and a wave of fondness swelled up in his chest.

The door to the kitchen burst open and Andromeda immediately swooped in on Tonks, wrapping her arms around her daughter from behind before placing a kiss on the top of her head. Tonks raised a hand to hold her mother’s arm, looking content.

They stayed that way for a long moment before Andromeda looked up at Harry. “What is ‘radar?’” she asked curiously.

Tonks burst out laughing. “Muggle thing, Mum,” she said. “I… have no idea how to explain it.”

Harry blinked. “Uh… I learned about it in primary,” he said. “Something to do with radio waves, I think? I… don’t think I could explain it, either.”

They made idle talk until Andromeda finally poured tea for each of them before taking the seat next to Tonks.

“Do you know how Sirius is?” Harry asked.

“I haven’t gotten to talk to him, but he’s in better shape than I expected he would be,” Tonks replied. “He’ll stay in the Ministry holding cell until he gets a trial.”

“When will he get a trial?”

Tonks sighed. “The Minister getting replaced has put everything on hold for a bit, unfortunately,” she said. “It’ll probably be at least a few weeks, maybe a month.” She slid the sugar pot next to her tea. “Fawley thinks that’s a good thing, though. He said it’ll give him more time to prepare a good defense.”

“Let’s hear what Marshall had to say, Nymphadora,” Andromeda said.

“Fawley is all up to speed on everything,” Tonks said as she spooned an extraordinary amount of sugar into her tea. “He thinks Sirius has a shot of getting his name cleared, even without having Peter Pettigrew in custody.”

“Really?” Harry asked, his face lighting up.

“Well…kind of.” Tonks sighed. “He says it’s a shot, and it’s a long shot because it’s going to depend entirely on witnesses and not evidence.” She idly stirred her tea and stared at Harry with a slight frown. “Harry, you should know… since it’ll probably make the Prophet soon, I had to tell him about what you did at the Ministry. Using the dark arts, I mean.”

“How did he take it?” Andromeda asked.

“He… didn’t offer his opinion,” Tonks said. “Or his judgement, if that makes you feel any better.”

Harry shrugged. It did make him feel a little better, if he had to admit it.

“But Fawley is worried that it might affect your credibility as a witness, Harry,” she continued.

Harry deflated. “I guess that’s…” he trailed off, sighing and dropping his eyes down to the table.

“It is to be expected,” Andromeda said, her voice calm and quiet.

“He was wondering if you knew of any other witnesses that might be able to testify,” Tonks continued.

“Ron and Hermione,” Harry said immediately, looking back up. “And Lupin, probably. They were all there the night we found out Pettigrew was alive.” Snape had been, as well, but he likely wouldn’t be able to testify without blowing his cover as a spy. Besides, it wasn’t like Snape would be inclined to do any favors for Sirius.

Tonks sighed again and leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms. “I hate to say it, but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough.”

“Unfortunately, I agree,” Andromeda said. “Dark arts use or no, three teenagers and a werewolf likely won’t sway the Wizengamot in our favor.” A long, tense silence followed her words before she spoke up again. “Harry, I hate to say this, but… it’s occurring to me that you may want to wait until after Sirius has a trial before you go public about being a dark wizard.”

“Wait - what?!” Tonks exclaimed, looking between her mother and Harry. “You’re just gonna… put it all out there?”

Harry nodded. “I don’t want…” He paused, mulling over what to say. “Dark witches and wizards are being driven to Voldemort because of the persecution of the dark,” he said. “They feel like he’ll protect them. He won’t, but they go to him because they feel like it’s their only option.”

Tonks’s eyes were almost comically wide. “You’re… in for quite a fight,” she said after a moment of shocked silence. “The incoming Minister hates the dark arts.”

“We are aware,” Andromeda said. “I also believe that Scrimgeour will guide the Ministry to persecute the dark even more. It’s very likely that he’ll make the problem worse.”

An expression that looked like pure regret appeared on Tonks’s face. “I’m sorry, Mum,” she said quietly.

Andromeda didn’t respond, but she reached across the table to grasp his daughter’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

Harry watched the exchange with mixed emotions. He felt like the world was about to crash around him, but Tonks had seemingly accepted her mother for what she was with ease.

He knew the rest of the wizarding world wouldn’t take it as easily as Tonks had, but it still made him feel as if there might be a bit of hope, after all.

***

The following day was, for the most part, uneventful. Harry woke to the news that Rufus Scrimgeour would be the new Minister for Magic by the afternoon. He spent most of his time combing through Andromeda’s books, quickly deciding that his earlier assessment had been a bit unfair; quality should be favored over quantity. She didn’t have many books, but the few books that she did have were terrific. He quickly taught himself a handful of the charms and spells contained within them.

He couldn’t help but feel a bit proud when Andromeda mentioned that his grasp of the dark arts was truly remarkable. Based off of the expression on her face, he’d somehow managed to stun the woman that had seemed unshakeable.

Hedwig arrived with Hermione’s number in the late afternoon, and Harry called her in the early evening.

Hermione’s father answered the phone, and he seemed just a little amused at the fact that a boy was calling his only daughter. His voice was teasing as he called for her to pick up the line.

Harry heard a soft click, and the next thing he heard was a loud sigh from Hermione. “Dad,” she said, her tone annoyed and impatient.

“Right, right,” her father said. “Have fun. I’ll give you some privacy.” Laughter streamed over the line before there was another click, signaling that he had hung up.

“Sorry,” Hermione said, sighing again. “He’s been a nightmare ever since I told him you would be calling.”

“Is he implying -”

“Yes,” Hermione said, cutting Harry off.

“Does he know I’m… er… seeing someone?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” she said. “He just keeps going on about ‘fleeting’ school romances…” She sighed. “Can we not talk about my dad being embarrassing right now?”

Harry laughed. “Yeah,” he said.

“You’re with Mrs. Tonks now?”

“Call her Andromeda. I think I’ll be seeing a lot of Tonks, too. It’ll get confusing,” Harry said. “But yes, I’m staying with Andromeda and her husband, Ted.”

“And you’re safe?”

“Yes,” he said. “Although Andromeda is pretty sure that as soon as Scrimgeour takes over, the news of what I did at the Ministry is going to wind up on the front page.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Hermione said. “She’s probably right.”

“She’s… helping me figure out how I should deal with it,” Harry said. “And I’ve decided that I... I’m not going to lie about it.”

“You had enough of lying about it last year, I take it?” Hermione’s voice was sharp.

Harry winced.

He heard Hermione let out a sigh. “I’m sorry, Harry,” she said. “I… I guess I’m still a little angry that you kept so much from me. But I suppose I can understand now why you did it.”

“What?” Harry asked. “You understand now? What -”

“That’s part of the reason why I was so excited to talk with you,” Hermione said, cutting Harry off. “Did you ask Blaise Zabini to send me books on the dark arts?”

Harry choked back a laugh. “Blaise did what?”

“So you didn’t ask him?”

“No!”

“How odd,” Hermione said quietly. “Well, he sent me a… surprisingly nice letter, along with a few books.”

“What did he send?” Harry asked eagerly. “Which books, I mean?”

“There’s only three,” Hermione said. “And I’ve already read one of them. That one was called An Introduction to the Dark Arts: The Power, Prejudice -

Power, Prejudice, and Politics!” Harry finished for her, grinning. “That was one of the first books I read last summer. Sirius recommended it.”

“It was fascinating,” Hermione said. “I couldn’t put it down!”

“Really?” Harry drew out the word, completely aware that his voice was oozing curiosity.

“It’s especially interesting that the Wizengamot was formed with the intention of having an even split of dark and light wizards in order to have an equal perspective.”

“But then Ministers over the years started trying to appoint allies, and that purpose got lost,” Harry continued enthusiastically, thrilled that he was finally able to openly discuss the dark arts with one of his best friends. “And the light traditions started to fall into obscurity -”

“When did that happen?” Hermione asked. “It seems like these books only refer to the ‘light’ in the past tense.”

“Yeah, most books do - even the older ones,” Harry said. “I’ve never come across an actual date or a reason why.” He shook his head, forgetting for a moment that Hermione couldn’t see him. “Another weird thing is that a lot of people in the dark community seem to refer to anything that isn’t dark as ‘light.’” He let out a laugh. “It took me a little while to figure out that it’s mostly out of habit.”

“I had just started one of the other books when you called,” Hermione said. “Wizarding Traditions and Institutions of the Dark Arts Culture. Is it really customary to not offer drinks or food to another dark witch or wizard when they come to your home until you’ve come to trust one another?”

“I’ve read that one, too,” Harry said, amused. “Theo told me that they’re more loose at parties or large gatherings, but in small meetings, they just don’t. He said it’s because there’s less… pretense in the dark community.”

“How so?” Hermione asked. “It makes it sound like it’s just customary to be… rude.”

“That’s not why,” Harry said. “It’s actually considered to be polite.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“It kind of does, though,” he said. “It’s completely natural to not trust strangers. Drinks can be poisoned. If nobody offers you a drink, you have one less thing to worry about.”

“You mentioned… Nott said it because there was less pretense in the dark community?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah,” Harry confirmed.

“So if you’re not offered a drink, you don’t have to… pretend that you’re not suspicious?”

Harry found himself feeling pleased that Hermione had understood so quickly. “Right.”

There was a moment of silence on the line before Hermione finally responded. “That’s… interesting.”

“Good interesting or bad interesting?”

“Just... interesting,” Hermione said. “It feels like a strange custom to be suspicious of everyone by default, but it also sounds oddly… practical.”

“It is practical.”

“I suppose.”

Harry felt a tiny shiver go up his spine.

“This part of the intro was especially interesting,” Hermione continued. “‘Dark wizards trust the dark completely, which is a stark contrast to the trust they have in other dark wizards. Dark wizards know and accept, more than anyone, that humans are inherently flawed. Most of the pain in this world is caused by human flaws. Dark wizards do not deny these flaws. We accept them and integrate them as part of ourselves. We embrace them. Our rapport with the dark comes from this mutual understanding.

Harry suddenly realized how much he’d missed listening to Hermione recite something she was reading.

“What do you think that means?” she asked.

“It’s… I mean... ” Harry felt a bit startled at her question. “I think it’s important to not deny that a part of yourself exists, even if that part is… or isn’t good, rather.” He paused, wondering if he should voice his full thought out loud or not. “Even if that part of you can cause pain to others,” he finally added quietly.

“I can understand accepting those parts, but embracing them? Does that mean encouraging them?”

“It doesn’t have to,” Harry said, shaking his head despite the fact that Hermione couldn’t see him. “It’s…” He paused, thinking of how he could explain. “Do you remember what I told you about my rite of intent?”

“Not… specifically.”

In his mind’s eye, he was hit with a strong recollection of the night of the Solstice and the emotions he’d felt during his rite came swelling up. “I could feel the dark’s love for me,” he said quietly. “It’s unconditional. It loves every part of me - the good and the bad.” He swallowed. “It wants me to love myself the same way. And since I accepted those darker parts of myself, I’ve just been… happier.” His voice grew in strength as he spoke. “Even with the world going to shit with Voldemort and with Umbridge, I’m happier than I think I’ve ever been in my life, Hermione.”

Hermione was silent for a moment before she responded. “That’s wonderful, Harry. I’m happy for you.” She let out a laugh. “And just for the record… I’ve noticed.”

“What?”

“I’ve noticed that you’re happier,” Hermione said. “I think it hit me when you randomly started dancing with me in the hallway. It’s like you’re… more comfortable in your skin.”

“Yeah,” Harry said agreeably. “That’s it exactly.”

“And the thing about dark wizards trusting the dark completely - do you?”

“Yes,” Harry said without hesitation.

“Why?”

“Because I know it will be there to help me when I need it.”

Hermione didn’t say anything for a moment. “Zabini sent one more book called Evenfall.”

“I haven’t heard of that one.”

“It’s not like the other two at all!” Hermione exclaimed. “I flipped through it, and it has actual spells in it, Harry!”

“Oh?”

“Why is Zabini sending me books that actually teach the dark arts?” Hermione said. “In fact, why is he sending me books on the dark arts at all?”

It took Harry a moment to realize why Blaise had sent her books, and then he felt properly abashed. “He probably did because he realized that I hadn’t.”

“What?”

“Blaise helped me pack my trunk, and he knows exactly what books I have,” Harry said. He and his roommates had kept all of their books hidden together, and they were all familiar with each others’ collections. “He probably noticed that I was a moron and hadn’t bothered to loan you anything… even when you said you wanted to research the dark arts yourself.” He shook his head. “I’m really sorry. You even asked if I could lend you some books, and I just… completely forgot.”

“Yes. The letter he sent with the package said as much,” Hermione said. “He mentioned that you were... well, to quote, ‘too busy snogging Draco’ to remember.”

Harry was quite glad that Hermione wasn’t able to see the deep blush that spread across his face.

“But that still doesn’t explain why he would send me books,” she continued.

“He’s… pretty much just as much of an academic as you, Hermione,” Harry said. “He loves learning, and he knows that you do, too.”

A loud huff seemed to blast out of the phone’s speaker. “Well, I don’t know why he bothered to send anything that teaches the practical aspect of it,” Hermione said. “I’m underage, and I’m not at school. I couldn’t try any of the spells even if I wanted to.”

“Oh!” Harry exclaimed. “Andromeda gave me a bath.”

Dead silence fell on the line for a few moments before Hermione’s voice seemed to go up an octave when she asked, “she did what?!”

“Oh...” Harry said, smacking his forehead. “That came out a bit weird, didn’t it? I mean she made a bath for me. It got rid of the Ministry trace.”

“What?” Hermione sounded stunned. “You can do that?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I didn’t see her cast any spells on the bath, unless she did it before she came and got me from the Dursleys. I wonder if she could make you one and send you the supplies...”

“I’m not interested in breaking any Ministry laws, Harry,” Hermione said in a scolding tone.

“Well, it’s a stupid law. Andromeda believes we should be able to protect ourselves, and I agree,” Harry said, scowling. “She did the same thing for Tonks when she was a kid.”

“I… see,” Hermione said. Harry could tell from the tone in her voice that she was frowning, as well.

“I mean… you have to admit that it is a little creepy that the Ministry can basically track us,” Harry said.

“You…” Hermione paused. “I agree,” she said. “I suppose I’ve never thought of it that way.”

Their conversation lapsed for a moment while Hermione seemed to consider their words.

“So… do you want to try any of those spells?” Harry asked, unable to contain his curiosity. He’d accepted that he might have only had suspicions of Hermione’s affinity because he wanted her to have a dark affinity like he did. Even so, he couldn’t help but want to encourage her to at least try to find out.

He was suddenly struck with the sudden memory of the Slytherins being immensely curious and excited about his own affinity in the days leading up to his affinity rite. He supposed he was beginning to understand their excitement.

“I don’t know yet, Harry,” Hermione said. “There’s a lot to consider.” She let out a heaving breath that wasn’t quite a sigh. “You have to know that… because of all the rumors about you last year, there was a lot of talk about the dark arts in Gryffindor tower.”

Harry could only imagine. “Are you worried about whatever they had to say about the dark arts?” he asked. “Or are you worried about what they might say about you if they knew you were looking into the dark arts?”

There was a long beat of silence. “If I’m completely honest, a little of both,” she finally replied.

“Oh,” Harry said. He couldn’t help but feel a hint of disappointment.

“Although I am already beginning to realize how little they all actually know,” Hermione said quietly. “However,” she continued, her voice abruptly rising, “if you’re serious about not lying to the wizarding world about using the dark arts, they’ll probably have plenty to say about me, regardless.”

“What?” Harry asked. “Why you? Won’t they be talking about me?”

“Well, of course they will,” she said. “But I’ll be the one in the common room that’s defending you.”

Harry was struck speechless, but it didn’t matter. Hermione kept going.

“I know you, Harry,” she said. “Your intentions are always for the sake of others. You’re a better person than most of the people in Gryffindor.”

Harry swallowed, and his breath caught at her words.

“I will stand with you, Harry.”

***

When Harry descended the stairs the next morning, Ted sat in his usual chair at the table, but his expression was grim. Andromeda sat next to him, her hand grasping Ted’s arm in a white knuckled grip. Ted lowered the Prophet, quickly spinning it around and shoving it across the table.

“Today’s the day, kid.” Ted’s voice was barely above a whisper. Harry’s eyes immediately went to the front page.

Harry’s own face, drenched in sepia, stared back at him.

Chapter Text



Chaos at the Ministry!

Is Harry Potter the Dark Lord’s Annihilation, Ammunition, or Competition?

As the wizarding world is still reeling from the revelation that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has returned, new and disturbing information has surfaced surrounding the events that took place at the Ministry of Magic in late June.

Multiple eyewitness accounts have confirmed that Harry Potter confessed to using extensive dark arts during the confrontation between a small group of Hogwarts students and several Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries.

The confession has been corroborated by several wizards that were present at the scene soon after You-Know-Who was spotted in the Ministry. Potter was seen lifting a dark curse from Rasmus Nott, one of several Death Eaters that were arrested that night. Potter explained that he was the one that had originally placed the curse upon Nott, and he then implied that he had used dark arts repeatedly throughout the battle.

While younger wizards dabbling in the dark arts is certainly not unheard of, Nott’s state seems to indicate far more than mere experimentation on Potter’s part. Reports state that Nott had been ‘screaming bloody murder’ before Potter removed the curse, at which point he lapsed into ‘soul-wrenching sobs’ before finally falling silent hours later.

St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries has been unable to determine what curse was used against Nott, but they did release a statement that he has been catatonic since that night. Nott was admitted to the Janus Thickey ward at St Mungos when Mediwizards were unable to improve his mental state. Healers are confident that there are a select number of spells that can result in the injury laid upon Nott, and that it is only a matter of time before they cure him and release him to the Aurors posted at his door.

Several Healers at St Mungos were questioned concerning Nott’s state, but all declined to provide a comment outside of the official statement. However, considering their shocked reactions to the Daily Prophet’s questions, the Healers were seemingly unaware that Potter was the cause of Nott’s catatonia.

It has also been reported that Draco Malfoy, another Hogwarts student who accompanied Potter to the Ministry, had just been accused of using blood magic before Potter removed the curse and then made his confession. Draco Malfoy is the only son of Lucius Malfoy, another of the Death Eaters that were taken into Ministry custody.

Some of the witnesses to Potter’s confession are concerned that Potter, as well as the younger Malfoy, may have only been allowed to remain free due to a technicality. Per a previous Wizengamot ruling, the use of some dark arts spells are permitted in times of war as a form of self-defense. The reappearance of You-Know-Who was considered to be a sign that our world is again at war, thus resulting in Potter’s use of the dark arts to be permitted.

Considering the current state of Rasmus Nott and the fact that Potter did not remove the curse until well after the battle was over, many witnesses are wondering if Potter should have been arrested for his actions despite the technicality.

“He only made his confession when Draco Malfoy was about to be taken into custody,” one witness reported. “It makes you wonder what their ties are, and what Potter’s ties are to a known Death Eater. Wouldn’t be surprised if Potter was actually working with You-Know-Who to get to that prophecy!”

We must reiterate that the existence of a prophecy has not been confirmed. As previously reported, the events in the Department of Mysteries are rumored to have been centered on the legendary Hall of Prophecy, and on one specific prophecy concerning Harry Potter and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Most Ministry staff have always denied the existence of the hall, but their denial does little to stop the swirl of theories as to what such a prophecy may contain. Many were going so far as to call Potter ‘The Chosen One,’ believing that this prophecy may have named him as the one who will finally defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The recent information on Potter’s involvement in the dark arts have stirred up a new wave of alarming speculation.

Is Potter destined to defeat You-Know-Who once again? Is Potter meant to stand at You-Know-Who’s side? Or perhaps Potter is meant to replace He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Could the wizarding world see the rise of a third dark lord in less than a century?

This is not the first time Potter has been suspected of being a dark wizard. (For more information on Potter’s Parseltongue abilities, turn to page four.)

Harry did not turn to page four.

Instead, his eyes drifted back up the page to the picture of him. It was an old photo, taken just after the first task in his fourth year. He couldn’t believe how much younger he looked. He appeared dirty and furious, and although Harry knew that the anger had been directed at Rita Skeeter, he knew that the vast majority of the wizarding world would see him as dangerous and unstable, just as they usually did.

It was the worst photo the Prophet could have picked. Although he supposed that in their eyes, it was the best possible photo to use.

The Prophet really wanted to sell their story. Unlike with Skeeter’s stories of rubbish, though, this one was very, very true. Aside from the speculation about him possibly working with Voldemort or actually being the next dark lord, everything had actually happened.

Except he hadn’t known that Nott had been unconscious since that night.

He’d been expecting a story that only covered his confession. For some reason, what he’d done to Rasmus Nott had almost become an afterthought.

“Should I…” He paused, taking in a shaking breath. “I should write Theo,” he said quietly.

“Who is Theo, Harry?” Andromeda asked.

“Theodore Nott,” Harry said. “He’s my roommate… and my friend.” In fact, Theo had been the first Slytherin to call Harry a ‘friend.’ “And I put his father in St Mungo’s.”

Before Andromeda could respond, there was a clatter at the window. Harry finally tore his eyes away from the front page to see at least four owls sitting outside, all clambering to be first in line.

Ted unhooked his wife’s firm grip from his arm to open the window, and feathers seemed to erupt in the dining room. It took the combined efforts of Andromeda, Ted, and Harry to help several owls find spots to land and retrieve their letters. When they’d finally ushered the last owl back outside, Ted kissed Andromeda on the cheek.

“I have to go to work, unfortunately. Long shift again,” he said before turning to Harry. “Sorry I can’t stay around to help, but you’re in good hands.”

Harry might have imagined it, but he could have sworn he saw relief bloom over Ted’s face as he turned to leave. He wasn’t sure if Ted was relieved to not have to deal with the small pile of letters for Harry - some of them clearly Howlers - or if he was relieved to get out of Harry’s presence. He supposed that after learning Harry had put someone in St Mungo’s, he wouldn’t blame Ted if it was the latter.

Andromeda made quick work of the Howlers. The red envelopes lifted into the air and dissolved into ashes before they could explode. “You’ll… have to teach me that one,” Harry said.

“Since this is likely only a taste of what you’ll be experiencing this year, you will almost certainly need it,” Andromeda replied. With his guidance, she helped him sort out letters from strange witches and wizards who were unhappy with him, putting them in a separate pile from the letters from his friends.

“We can go over these later, if you’d like,” Andromeda said, tucking the offending letters away on a side table on the far side of the room. “I’m certain that most of them will not be worth your time.”

The letters from his friends were all very much the same. Draco, Pansy, and, surprisingly, Millicent had all asked if he was okay and if needed anything. Draco’s letter was the most strongly worded, begging Harry to not react like a Gryffindor. Pansy’s letter didn’t mention Theo, much to Harry’s disappointment; he knew Theo was staying with Pansy over the summer. Millicent asked how he was planning to respond.

The most shocking letter, though, came from Neville.

Harry,

I saw the Prophet this morning and my grandmother nearly had a heart attack. I hadn’t told her what you did at the Ministry and now she’s asking me why. I didn’t know exactly what happened after you ran after Malfoy. Why on earth did you confess to a bunch of aurors?

I just wanted to let you know that if you wind up getting in trouble for this, I’ll vouch for you if you need me to. It was really scary to see you using the dark arts, but the only reason you used any of those spells is because you were defending everybody that came with you. The Prophet saying that you were working with You-Know-Who or that you’re trying to replace him is complete rubbish.

I don’t know why you started messing with the dark arts and I really wish you wouldn’t, but I know you’re a good person. Don’t listen to the Prophet.

Just wanted to let you know that I’m still in your corner.

Neville

“That one is making you smile,” Andromeda said.

The smile quickly turned into a grin. He wordlessly slid the letter across the table and waited for her to read it.

“His surname is… Longbottom, correct?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Good. You should write him back… today.” She folded the letter and passed it back to him. “The Longbottom name still carries significant weight. He would be an excellent ally to have.”

“I prefer to think of him as my friend,” Harry said, a hint of a frown on his lips.

Andromeda smirked. “That’s even better.”

Harry somehow managed to resist the urge to roll his eyes.

“Tell me about the curse you used on Rasmus Nott.”

A bit startled at her abrupt change of subject, Harry blinked. “Um… Reditus Dolorit.

Andromeda’s chin tilted up and she leaned back in her chair, arms crossed. “I’m not familiar,” she said.

“Um… it’s called ‘Return of Suffering,’” Harry said. “It’s… you cast it on someone, and it takes all the pain they’ve ever caused to come back to them. They’re supposed to feel all the pain and hurt they’ve ever made others feel.”

“Where did you learn it?”

“Uh…I...” Harry frowned, his brow scrunching up in concentration. “I honestly don’t think I can remember. A book in the Grimmauld library; I’m not sure which one.” And that was the truth; he honestly couldn’t remember. He’d gone through so many books in such a short amount of time that many of them blurred together in his mind.

“I see,” Andromeda said, her eyes narrowing. “I know very well what kinds of books Black libraries could hold. Take care to not learn from the wrong ones.” Before Harry even had a chance to react to that statement, she sighed and leaned forward. “That spell at least seems… appropriate for Death Eaters, and it seems likely it wouldn’t cause nearly as much harm to the average wizard.”

“That’s… kind of what I figured when I learned it,” Harry said.

Andromeda seemed to study him for a few long moments before getting to her feet. “I’ll make you some breakfast,” she said.

As she bustled into the kitchen, a knot began to form in Harry’s gut. He’d mostly felt awful about what he’d done to Nott because of Theo. He had to admit that he’d given little thought about what it meant for Rasmus, himself. Harry felt a bit torn between thinking that the result of the spell dictated that Rasmus Nott had deserved it and thinking he’d done something truly wrong.

If Andromeda, a dark witch, had questions and concerns about the spell he used on Nott, that certainly didn’t bode well for how the rest of the wizarding world would react.

***

Harry spent most of the morning returning the letters to his friends. He reassured Draco that he was fine. He asked Pansy how Theo was doing. He told Millicent that he wasn’t going to react immediately, but that he wasn’t planning on lying about what he’d done.

The letter to Neville was infinitely more complicated. Attempt after attempt was crumbled, torn up, or otherwise scrapped.

Andromeda thought of Neville as a potential ally. Harry could understand where she was coming from; if Harry really was going to try to change the wizarding world’s opinion on dark wizards, Neville’s assessment of Harry’s use of the dark arts essentially as scary but justified was far preferable to just being written off as ‘evil.’

While Harry was still planning on telling the world the truth, he’d already accepted that he’d likely have to wait until after Sirius had his trial. He knew that if he didn’t the world would simply see it as one dark wizard defending another. While that was technically the truth, it wasn’t the whole truth. Harry knew that it could take quite some time before the wizarding world would change their minds.

Neville still only knew that Harry had used the dark arts, not that he was now a full-blown dark wizard. Harry didn’t think he could tell Neville everything like he’d told Hermione, and definitely not in a letter. Since Neville was the only other Gryffindor that had stuck with Harry all through their fifth year, Harry felt like he owed Neville the truth. It would be better to have that conversation face to face.

In the end, Harry finally settled on just thanking Neville for having his back and that he’d tell Neville why he’d done what he did next time they spoke.

After he’d sent Hedwig off with the lot, he and Andromeda turned to the angrier letters. They were very much exactly what they’d both expected; all of them berated Harry for using such terrible magic, some scolded Harry for failing to be a role model for their young children, and most expressed the opinion that Harry should be in Azkaban.

Despite expecting the world’s reaction, their words still made Harry doubt his plans to go public. If the world would write him off for merely using the dark arts, their response to outing himself as a dark wizard would almost certainly be far worse.

Andromeda seemed to notice his distress, and she immediately scooped up the letters and ordered him to relax as much as possible for the day. “We already know that you shouldn’t make a move until after the trial,” she said. “There’s little point in pursuing a plan now.”

“Is it right for me to wait?” Harry asked quietly. “Just because I want Sirius to be free, does that make it -”

“Even if there was no impending trial, it would still be wise to allow the dust to settle,” Andromeda said. “It is your decision, of course, but I think responding immediately may just result in the flames spreading faster.” She offered him a smile. “Let them smolder a bit.”

Harry found himself a bit relieved at the thought of not having to do anything immediately, and she ushered him out of the dining room and into the sitting room. He curled up with her books again, though he didn’t choose one of her dark arts books; instead he pulled out a small volume that covered Occlumency.

He was surprised to discover that despite Snape’s abysmal teaching methods, his words hadn’t been all that far off from what Occlumency actually was. Occlumency required clearing the mind, somehow thinking of either nothing at all or of inane, unimportant things.

Most dishearteningly, it required a great deal of emotional control. Harry had always had terrible control over his feelings, and since declaring dark he knew that he’d gotten even worse. He was beginning to suspect that Occlumency was something that would likely always be beyond his reach.

Even so, he continued to read, although he did it almost passively. He’d poured through all of Andromeda’s other books in just over two days, and he found himself missing the more extensive collection in the library at Grimmauld Place. He was sure it wasn’t nearly as big as whatever Draco had grown up with, but it still held more books than Harry thought he could ever read.

He managed to get just over halfway through the Occlumency book when Andromeda swept into the sitting room with a piece of parchment. She held it out to him.

“This just arrived for you.”

It wasn’t signed, but Harry immediately recognized Hermione’s confident handwriting.

CALL ME!

Before Harry could ask Andromeda to use their phone, they heard a loud clatter at the door, followed by rapid footsteps coming down the hallway. Tonks poked her head in the door, looking a bit frazzled.

“You’re early, Nymphadora,” Andromeda said.

“Yeah, well, I figured I should give you as much of a heads up as possible,” Tonks said. “Dumbledore is back. He’s calling an Order meeting tonight.” She crossed her arms and leaned up against the doorframe, fixing Harry with a knowing look. “I’m gonna have to tell him that you’re here, Harry.”

Harry scowled. “Right,” he said irritably. He slammed the book shut, dropping it into his lap and glaring sightlessly at the cover. He knew he couldn’t avoid Dumbledore forever. He also knew that he shouldn’t avoid Dumbledore; they still had a common enemy, and that had to take priority over his anger towards the headmaster.

“I… could try to skip the meeting,” Tonks offered, sounding hesitant and reluctant. “That might give you an extra day, if you’d like.”

Harry immediately looked up at her in amazement, his eyes widening.

Tonks had no idea why he was angry with Dumbledore, and she was still offering to help delay him having to meet with Dumbledore. His eyes drifted between Tonks and Andromeda, unsure of what to say.

“It’s up to you, Harry,” Andromeda said quietly.

His gaze settled back on Tonks, who appeared unhappy and very tightly wound. Tonks was one of the more perpetually cheerful people Harry had met, and it didn’t feel right to see her so troubled. He knew that he was the one making Tonks feel so conflicted between her loyalties to the Order and her loyalties to her mother, and he frowned at the thought.

“No,” Harry said, shaking his head. “It’s okay. You can tell him.” He sighed. “I’ll have to talk to him at some point, and I should probably just… get it out of the way.”

***

Hermione’s father sounded even more smug than he had the night before. He called for Hermione in a sing-song voice, who again shooed her father off the line with a heavy sigh.

“Are you all right, Harry?” Hermione asked immediately after her father hung up.

“I’m fine,” Harry replied. “Got some nasty letters, but that’s about it. Andromeda toasted the Howlers before we could even hear them.”

“Howlers? Oh, Harry…”

“It’s fine. It was... manageable.”

There was a beat of silence. “Can I…” Hermione paused, then tried again. “What exactly did you do to Nott?”

Harry suppressed a sigh. He should have known that Hermione would ask. It was the third time that day he’d had to explain what the curse was and how it was intended to work, and he tiredly repeated the same explanation to Hermione that he’d given to both Andromeda and Tonks.

“So… in theory,” Hermione said slowly, “if the curse was placed on someone who was completely innocent, it would have no effect?”

“Right,” Harry said, feeling a bit relieved that Hermione could see it from that angle so quickly. “I definitely wasn’t expecting Nott to... be that affected by it, but I guess… I guess that means he’s caused a lot of pain.”

Hermione didn’t respond for a long few seconds, and Harry began to feel a bit anxious.

“What are you thinking?” he asked, unable to contain his uneasy curiosity.

“I…” Hermione sighed. “I suppose it makes me wonder what Nott’s done to have responded like he did,” she said. “And I can’t help but wonder about the specifics of how the spell works. Did he feel all of the pain he’s ever caused all at once? Or is it… linear?”

Harry blinked. “I’m not sure,” he said, feeling quite uncertain if he even understood the question Hermione was asking. “I’ll have to look it up when… if I get back to Grimmauld.” He frowned as he said those words. “With Sirius in custody, I’m not even sure if the Order is still meeting there.” He felt like kicking himself for not thinking of that possibility sooner. He’d have to ask Tonks next time he saw her.

“I think they are,” Hermione replied. “Ron said that they’re staying there again this summer.”

“Really?” Harry’s face lit up for a brief moment before he scowled. “Of course, there’s a good chance the Order might not even want me there.” As he said it, he realized just how realistic that was; aside from Snape, the Order was full of witches and wizards who despised the dark arts. “And that’s…” He let out a frustrated huff. “Staying with Andromeda has been fantastic, but I have to get back there.”

“Why?”

“The library, of course!” Harry snapped, a bit annoyed that Hermione hadn’t realized that. “If I’m supposed to beat Voldemort, I should be trying to figure out how!

“I’m sure Dumbledore would allow you to stay there,” Hermione said.

“Well, I’m not sure about that at all.” Harry nearly snarled the words. “I told you about all of the utter shite he said to me, right? He definitely wasn’t happy with me when I told him I was a dark wizard.” His upper lip curled in irritation. “He kept things from me all of last year. Wouldn’t surprise me if he decided to keep everything from me now. Can’t have a dark wizard in on any Order secrets, after all.”

The line was silent for a moment before Hermione responded. “I can respect that your temper is... more volatile now, but I really wish you wouldn’t bite my head off,” she said. “I’m on your side, remember?”

Harry found himself blushing and his anger began to dissipate. “I’m sorry,” he said, reaching under his glasses to rub at his eyes. “It’s just… I know I’m going to be seeing Dumbledore pretty soon, and it’s got me a bit…”

“On edge?” Hermione finished for him, her tone dry. “I can tell.”

“Sorry,” Harry said again sheepishly.

“Well, if you are going to see Dumbledore soon, you’ll be able to ask him about going to Grimmauld,” Hermione said reasonably. “And in all honesty, he’d probably want you where he knows you’ll be safe. I’m sure Andromeda can be trusted, but does her house have all that much protection? You can’t argue that Grimmauld Place would likely be safer.”

She was right; Harry couldn’t argue with that.

“If you manage to get to Grimmauld, let me know,” Hermione said. “There’s no phone there, and I’d like to speak to you more about the dark arts. Maybe I could meet you there.”

Harry immediately lightened up at her words. For the first time in his life, the thought of spending his summer cooped up in an old, windowless library to study with Hermione sounded absolutely delightful.

***

Early the following evening, Dumbledore arrived at the Tonks’ residence.

After shooting Harry a questioning look, wondering if he wanted her to stay, Andromeda left the two of them alone. Neither Dumbledore or Harry took a seat, instead standing at opposite ends of the dining table. Harry crossed his arms, while Dumbledore clasped his hands behind his back. Harry glared down at the table, quite unwilling to meet Dumbledore’s eyes.

“How are you, Harry?” Dumbledore finally asked.

“Just fine,” Harry said, his tone biting. He glanced up for a moment. It could have been Harry’s imagination, but Dumbledore seemed to deflate a bit.

The Daily Prophet article about you was… less than flattering yesterday,” Dumbledore said. “Are you all right?”

Harry gave a half-shrug. “It’s not like it’s all that surprising,” he said with a hint of a sneer. “Dark arts - evil and disgusting, right?”

“That’s not what I’m asking, Harry,” Dumbledore said, his voice growing softer. “Are you all right?”

A spike of anger shot through Harry. He’d been asked that exact same question so many times over the past year. He was asked after he’d been sorted into Slytherin, and again when Hermione suspected him of ‘messing with the dark arts.’ Ron had asked when rumors began swirling about Harry having defected to Voldemort’s cause.

The only time anyone ever posed that question was when they suspected Harry of doing something that they thought was wrong.

“Why don’t you ask whatever it is that you really want to ask?” Harry said, his voice low.

Something flashed in Dumbledore’s eyes, but Harry couldn’t read what it was. “I’m not entirely sure what you mean by that, Harry,” he said. “I won’t deny that I have other questions for you; I have several, in fact. But first, and most importantly... I just want to know how you are.”

Harry said nothing; he merely set his mouth in a hard line and looked down at the table again.

“Among other things, the Prophet implied that you may be working with Voldemort, or else attempting to replace him,” Dumbledore said. “You and I both know that neither of those things are true, and they must be upsetting to hear.”

“They are,” Harry said. “But I think I’m just used to it now.” He let out an oddly hollow laugh. “Last year I was a liar. The year before that I was an attention-seeking, broken orphan.” He shook his head. “It’s not even the first time I’ve had people call me ‘the next dark lord.’ Although I suppose in second year - or last year - it didn’t make it all the way to the Prophet.”

Dumbledore bowed his head in a slight nod. “It is immensely frustrating that our world can be so fickle,” he said. “It often seems that it’s full of people who are determined to do nothing but misunderstand who you truly are.”

Harry’s eyes widened.

“I’m sorry you had to find this out so young,” Dumbledore said. “But I have learned that this is why it’s important to hold our friends even closer.”

Harry was beginning to feel more startled than angry, and he supposed Dumbledore’s words made sense; the headmaster had also been subjected to all sorts of strange and flat-out untrue press just in the time that Harry had known him. It was something they had in common.

“I know that I’ve made you very angry, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “And I will not deny that I deserve it. I could attempt to justify or rationalize my actions, but I don’t think either of us would appreciate that very much.”

Harry agreed, but he didn’t say so.

“I will try to repair what was broken, if I can,” Dumbledore continued. “But more importantly, I want to try to build something so that we can move forward.” He paused then, letting out a strange, almost uncharacteristic sigh. “So we can move forward together.”

A part of Harry wanted to immediately rebuff Dumbledore’s offer, but he also knew that he shouldn’t. He couldn’t. Dumbledore had the keys to two things Harry needed - information on Voldemort, as well as Grimmauld Place. Whether he liked it or not, he needed Dumbledore. Besides, his anger seemed to be deflating to a low simmer. He’d manage.

Dumbledore at least seemed to be trying. Harry could attempt to do the same.

He finally let out a deep sigh, arms dropping to his sides. “I won’t lie. I’m still…” He clenched his teeth and his fists, and his ears felt like they were burning. “You knew about that stupid prophecy since even before I was born, and you didn’t bother to tell me until I found out it existed,” he sneered. “Would you have told me at all if I hadn’t discovered it first?”

Dumbledore’s expression appeared to fall with every word Harry spoke. “I hope that I would have, but I don’t think we’ll ever truly know. It rarely helps to speak in hypotheticals,” he said quietly. “What I do know is that I regret what I did do. I am so very sorry, Harry.”

Harry shook his head and turned away from Dumbledore, almost as if by instinct. He stared out the window, the night making him unable to see anything but his own furious reflection.

Emotional control, he thought. I may not have enough for Occlumency, but I have to find enough to handle this.

“It’s… going to be hard to move on,” Harry finally replied, his voice still hard, but calm. “But… I’ll give it a shot.” He sighed. “You’ve got that much from me, at least.”

“I’m very glad to hear that, Harry,” Dumbledore said, a smile seeming to bloom underneath his long beard. After a moment, he added, “Thank you.”

Harry merely shrugged.

“I did not come here tonight merely to check on you,” Dumbledore said. “I was alarmed to hear that you’d left the Dursleys, but I must admit that you found an excellent hiding place.”

Harry turned back to face the headmaster again. “Then why are you here?” he asked gruffly.

“I was hoping you would accompany me on a trip to visit… an old friend,” Dumbledore said.

Harry raised an eyebrow, a habit that he was certain he’d picked up from Draco. “If you really want this to work,” he said, “you’re gonna have to be a little more upfront than that.”

“Of course, of course. I owe you that for certain,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “As we are, once again, short of one professor this year, I am attempting to convince an old colleague of mine to come out of retirement.” He inclined his head just slightly to peer at Harry over the rim of his glasses. “I think your presence would help me convince him.”

“How?” Harry asked.

“Horace is… how shall I put this?” Dumbledore shook his head. “I will be frank with you, Harry. Your presence will help simply because of who you are. Horace quite enjoys the company of the famous, the successful, and the powerful. He prides himself on the connections he’d made throughout his life, and I daresay he may want to make a connection with you.”

Harry’s head tilted to the side as he considered Dumbledore’s words. “Slytherin?” he asked simply.

Dumbledore chuckled. “You are correct,” he said. “Slytherins always seem to recognize one another, almost more than any other house.” He paused, his expression becoming a bit somber. “That is also why I believe he will still want to… collect a connection with you, even with the article that was published yesterday. I doubt it will matter to him.”

Harry couldn’t deny that he was now incredibly curious about this man named Horace. He was a Slytherin that Dumbledore actually wanted back at the school, and it sounded as if he might not care about Harry’s use of the dark arts. The man might have even been a dark wizard himself.

But it sounded as if Dumbledore needed Harry for this task, just as much as Harry needed Dumbledore.

“I’ll do it,” Harry said, a slight smirk appearing on his lips, “if you can do a favor for me in return.”

Dumbledore looked wary at Harry’s words. “And what is that, Harry?”

“I want to go to Grimmauld Place.”

Chapter Text


The Muggle house Dumbledore had brought him to was completely devastated. Chairs were overturned and broken, feathers had exploded from cushions, and a chandelier had fallen to the ground and shattered. Harry gripped his wand tight and let Dumbledore lead the way.

They entered the living room and Harry’s breath caught when he spied red splattered across gaudy wallpaper. Dumbledore glanced at him.

“Something terrible has happened here, indeed,” Dumbledore said quietly.

Harry wasn’t as ready to conclude that whatever terrible thing had happened was actually done and over with. After learning his lesson at the Ministry, he promptly decided to do what he had failed to do then: he asked the dark for assistance.

Are we safe? he asked.

His senses seemed to expand around him, and he immediately realized that although they were safe, they still weren’t alone. There was a dark wizard in their midst, hidden somewhere in that very room.

Harry allowed this strange perception to guide him to an overstuffed armchair in the corner of the room. He approached it with caution, wand raised and at the ready.

“Very well spotted, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “I must admit that I am quite impressed.” Then, to Harry’s surprise, Dumbledore poked the armchair with his wand.

The chair yelped and then transformed into a squat, balding man, who glared up at Dumbledore with a watery eye. “You didn’t have to stick the wand in quite so hard, Albus.”

As their conversation unfolded, Harry soon came to a startling conclusion: Dumbledore did not know that Slughorn was a dark wizard. If he was, Dumbledore was on much better terms with him than he was with either Snape or Harry. He was very amicable and easy with Slughorn; they had clearly known one another for quite a long time.

Harry filed his suspicion away and he didn’t speak a word of Slughorn’s magical inclinations to Dumbledore. Even when Dumbledore left the two of them alone to use the bathroom, Harry kept his lips sealed; he knew Dumbledore would likely be listening to everything they said.

Slughorn, like so many others had before him, lamented how much Harry resembled his parents, who had been former students of his. “Your mother was brilliant, to put it mildly. Vivacious and charming,” Slughorn said. “I always used to tell her that she should have been placed in my house.”

“Which house was that?” Harry asked, although he already knew.

“I was Head of Slytherin,” Slughorn replied. “Now don’t go holding that against me! I -”

“Why would I hold that against you?” Harry said mildly in more of a statement than a question. “I’m in Slytherin.”

Slughorn looked startled and intrigued by that. “Are you really, now?” he asked. “I figured you’d be in Gryffindor, like your parents. That’s usually how it goes in families, you know.”

“I used to be,” Harry said. “Now I’m in Slytherin. It’s… a bit of a long story.”

“You… changed houses?” Slughorn said, his watery eyes wide. “That sounds like a story I would very much like to hear.”

Harry hadn’t exactly gone into their introduction with any expectations of the man, but he quickly decided he didn’t like Horace Slughorn. Dumbledore’s earlier assessment of him had been accurate but not quite complete; he seemed cowardly and somewhat slimy. He couldn’t help but brag about all the famous names he had connections to - all names that Harry was completely unfamiliar with. He seemed to be refusing to return to Hogwarts simply because he did not want to be involved in the war in any way whatsoever.

Funny enough, that was something Harry could empathize with. Even so, there was still enough Gryffindor remaining inside of Harry that it left him feeling that the man was utterly spineless.

Dumbledore returned, and just as he was about to spirit Harry away something unexpected happened: Slughorn shifted from a flat-out denial of returning to teaching to an apprehensive agreement.

As they left, Harry found himself incredibly disappointed that his favorite subject was once again going to be taught by someone that he took an immediate dislike to. Even if he was now more interested in the Dark Arts than he was in Defense Against the Dark Arts, it was still his favorite class.

Even so, he couldn’t help but be a bit intrigued at the thought of having another dark wizard among the professors at Hogwarts.

***

Harry didn’t enjoy apparating the second time any more than he did the first time, but the unpleasant feeling was almost instantly overwhelmed by the pleasing sensation of dark magic seeming to reach up to him in greeting. He let it wrap around him and he was unable to hold back the sigh of contentment that escaped his lips.

He was back at Grimmauld Place.

The feeling of the dark swirling around him was more intense than it had been over the winter. He was unsure if it was because the magic in the house had missed him or if it was due to him now being a fully declared dark wizard, but he promptly decided he didn’t care. Grimmauld felt like home.

He looked around the entire empty dining room elatedly, and he didn’t realize he was grinning toothily until Dumbledore’s voice brought him back to his senses.

“I know that you desired to return to Grimmauld, but you seem… unusually delighted to be here,” Dumbledore said.

Harry’s smile immediately fell from his face as he turned to face Dumbledore. He contemplated the headmaster’s words for a moment before shrugging. “Well, I like it here.”

“It is quite an unusual, unique dwelling,” Dumbledore said. “It’s much newer than many wizarding homes, but the amount of history packed into it over a short period of time…” Dumbledore trailed off, and his eyebrows drew together as he seemed to study Harry.

Harry grew irritated at the scrutiny, but he tamped it down as best he could. He knew he couldn’t allow himself to grow angry over every single one of Dumbledore’s quirks.

“I am loath to admit that it took me so long to put this piece into the puzzle,” Dumbledore said quietly. “This was the home of an infamously dark family. It is here where you began your study of the dark arts, isn’t it?”

Alarms sang in the back of Harry’s mind. Would Dumbledore discover the library? Would he confiscate the library? Would he remove Harry from Grimmauld Place?

“Harry, I promise you that I will make every attempt to understand this… new aspect of yourself,” Dumbledore continued. “But as much I despise having to ask this of you, you will have to help me understand.” He paused. “I truly do not believe that it should be your responsibility to educate me, but other proponents of the dark arts have tried and failed. I think you may have a much better chance of succeeding.”

Harry sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Yes. This is where it started.”

“May I inquire as to… exactly how it started?”

Eyes widening, Harry tensed. He couldn’t risk losing access to the library, and besides, he’d made a promise to Sirius to not tell anyone about it. He’d have to wait until Sirius was hopefully released, at the very least. “It’s… a long story,” he said carefully. “Is it okay if I… tell you later? I will tell you, but just… not now.”

Dumbledore nodded, and Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief. Unfortunately, his hackles immediately rose as Dumbledore continued. “I do have… questions,” he said, “about the spell you used on Rasmus Nott.”

Harry knew it. If Andromeda, a dark witch, had questions about it, it was no surprise that Dumbledore would, as well.

“What was it, exactly?”

Harry let out a huff and tried desperately not to let his frustration show. “‘Return of Suffering.’ It’s a curse that makes a person feel every bit of pain they’ve ever caused to others,” he said. “I figured it would be effective on Death Eaters. I just didn’t realize there would be… lasting effects.”

“And what would happen if someone now used that curse on you?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

“Now that you have, in effect, given Rasmus Nott all of the pain that he inflicted upon others,” Dumbledore said, “would you then feel all of that same pain if someone were to cast that spell on you?”

“I…” Harry blinked. Dumbledore’s questions were much different from the questions he’d gotten from Andromeda, Tonks, and Hermione. “I actually don’t know,” he finally answered honestly.

There was a beat of silence before Dumbledore responded. “That worries me greatly, Harry.”

Harry was unable to bite back his retort. “Oh, I’m sure it does.”

“I understand and respect that the dark arts are now very important to you,” Dumbledore said. “But they are still incredibly dangerous, and -”

“And the magic we learn at school isn’t dangerous?” Harry snapped.

“That’s exactly why it is so concerning, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “We have professors at Hogwarts, all of whom are experts in their fields. It is quite alarming that you are exploring the dark arts so deeply without any adult guidance.”

“And who’s supposed to guide me?” Harry bit out. “You?” He shook his head. “I already have a mentor.” He regretted the words the moment they left his lips as Dumbledore’s expression sharpened.

“Who is this mentor, Harry?”

Harry immediately dropped his eyes to the floor. Dumbledore, he knew, was one of the few wizards capable of Legilimency, and he remembered from his reading on Occlumency that eye contact was the easiest defense against it.

He would not betray Sirius to Dumbledore.

“It’s… not your business,” Harry said, turning away from the headmaster so as to not accidentally look him in the eye. “And it’s not because it has to do with me. It’s because I’m not going to out a dark witch or wizard without their permission.” With his back fully turned on Dumbledore he lifted his gaze, and then he froze.

There, in the doorway, stood Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, along with Ron and Ginny, their expressions somber and bleak. Mr. Weasley had his arms wrapped around his wife and daughter while Ron stood a bit off to the side, looking awfully pale and uncomfortable.

Harry knew they hadn’t been there when they first arrived; the room had been empty. He had no idea how much they’d heard.

He supposed it didn’t really matter. Ron had already seen what he’d done at the Ministry. And regardless of whether or not Dumbledore or Ron had told the others, the article in the Prophet guaranteed that every single one of them now knew about Harry’s use of the dark arts.

Suddenly feeling a bit cornered, he bit out a question. “Where are my things?”

“Um…” Ginny’s voice was uncharacteristically small. “In your room - the one you stayed in last year.”

Harry gave her a curt nod in thanks. “Goodnight, Headmaster,” he said over his shoulder with an air of finality. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

He approached the doorway and with a soft, “excuse me,” the Weasleys parted, giving him the space to leave the room.

As he turned the corner and headed up the stairs he heard furious whispers start up in his wake, but he wasn’t interested in hearing what they had to say.

***

As much as Harry appreciated being back at Grimmauld Place, staying at the house alongside the Weasleys was awkward, to say the least. Although he missed the twins, he was grateful that since Fred and George weren’t staying there as they had the year before, he and Ron no longer had to share a room.

But everything seemed overly quiet without the presence of the twins and Sirius, and every occupant seemed to go out of their way to avoid him.

The only person who would address him directly at meals was Ginny, and even then, her requests to ‘pass the potatoes’ were clipped and tense.

It depressed him a bit; he sincerely loved the Weasley family, and he ached at the thought of losing them. On the other hand, he supposed the wide berth they were giving him allowed him ample opportunity to spend almost all of his time in his beloved library. He’d started making stacks of books around the room: books he wanted to read before the summer was over, books he thought he might take to Hogwarts, and books he figured he probably shouldn’t look into per Andromeda’s warning that he should take care not to learn from the ‘wrong’ text.

The final stack only contained two books so far - one that seemed to contain nothing but spells of inhumane torture, and another that made him feel physically ill whenever he picked it up. He figured it was probably cursed, so he didn’t even open it to see what it was about.

On the third evening at Grimmauld, he’d cracked open a text on blood magic with a promise to himself that it would be the final book he would read that night. He nearly made his way through two chapters before he realized that it was solely dedicated to menstrual blood magic and he slammed the cover shut with a disappointed sigh.

He leaned back and stared up at the shelves from his usual position on the floor. He rolled his shoulders back and his spine sounded like popping corn. He supposed he should start actually using the desk in the corner rather than hunching over for hours on end every day.

He mentally calculated how many days he had left before the beginning of his sixth year, and he found himself immensely grateful for Andromeda’s assistance in expanding the space in his trunk; there was no way he’d be able to read everything he wanted to before returning to Hogwarts.

He stretched one more time before getting to his feet and sauntering over to the stack of books to read during the summer. He plucked the top one from the stack and made his way down to his bedroom with a wry smirk. A book on nightmare hexes seemed like the perfect material to read before going to sleep.

There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere.”

Harry paused with his hand on the doorknob to his bedroom and the hairs on the back of his neck rose. Ron hadn’t said two words to him in the few days Harry had been at Grimmauld.

“You’re a… little hard to find,” Ron continued, his voice losing confidence and getting quieter as he spoke.

“Didn’t really think anyone wanted to find me,” Harry replied, finally turning to face Ron. His heart raced as adrenaline spiked, unsure what he should expect from Ron. The last time they’d really spoken had been at the Ministry, and it wasn’t like many of their conversations over the past year had gone pleasantly.

“Uh… Mum wants to talk to you,” Ron said.

“About what?” Harry asked, repressing the urge to sigh. He already had a decent idea about why Mrs. Weasley wanted to speak with him.

“I…” Ron visibly swallowed.

Harry did sigh then. Ron seemed to be afraid of him. No matter how bitter he was over Ron’s behavior from last year, Harry never wanted to frighten him. “Never mind. It’s fine,” he said. “I’m coming.”

He’d almost convinced Hermione that the dark arts weren’t what their reputation said they were. Andromeda had convinced her husband and her daughter. If Harry was truly set on convincing the rest of the wizarding world, the Weasleys were likely the best place to start.

***

It became clear within moments after entering the sitting room that Harry’s assumptions had been correct; Mrs. Weasley seemed to be staging a strange and incredibly awkward intervention. Mr. Weasley sat beside her with a grim expression. Ginny was conspicuously absent, and Ron looked like he’d rather be anywhere else.

“We’re all very worried about you, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said.

Despite Harry’s trepidation rising at the phrase he’d come to hate, he responded in a calmer voice than he thought he was capable of. “You don’t have to be.”

“But we are,” Mrs. Weasley insisted. “We care very much for you. I’ve come to see you as one of my own. You know that, right?”

Harry nodded.

“When the article about what you did at the Ministry came out, we assumed that it was just more slander from the Prophet,” Mr. Weasley said. “But then Ron confirmed it was true.”

Harry’s gaze slid over to Ron, who was hunched over on himself and seemed to be staring at an unseen spot on the floor. A flurry of emotion rushed through Harry. He first wanted to get angry with Ron, but quickly realized he couldn’t; it wasn’t as if he should expect Ron to lie to his own parents on Harry's behalf, especially since they weren’t friends anymore. But when Harry had fully processed Mr. Weasley’s statement, something became clear to him: just as Neville hadn’t mentioned anything to his grandmother, Ron hadn’t mentioned what Harry had done to his parents until after the article came out.

Harry hadn’t been expecting that.

“The dark arts are very dangerous, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley continued, drawing Harry’s attention away from Ron. “They aren’t a game, or -”

“I know they’re not a game. I’m not… playing with them,” Harry said. “Mrs. Weasley, I -”

“Using them… resorting to them repeatedly - it will change a man,” Mr. Weasley said. “I know your Defense education while you’ve been at Hogwarts has been... extremely spotty, and I just want to make sure that you are fully aware of what they can do to someone.”

“It’s not -”

“I blame myself,” Mrs. Weasley said. “Last year, when you mentioned Yule... and so soon after being sorted in Slytherin… I should have realized that was a sign that you were looking into things that you shouldn’t be looking into. I should have known that you were being exposed to the dark traditions.” She shook her head. “But I suppose I let myself believe that you would never actually get involved in the dark arts.”

“Mrs. Weasley, I’m -”

“Some traditions are meant to be forgotten, Harry,” she said. "Or at least left in the past where they belong."

“Those traditions already mean a lot to me, though,” Harry blurted out, growing tired of being interrupted. “The dark traditions, the rituals - it makes me feel like I’m home. I’ve never had that before.”

“Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said, reaching across the end table and grasping one of Harry’s hands in both of hers. “If you are truly interested in the old wizarding traditions, I could share the light rituals with you.” Harry’s gut twisted unpleasantly as tears welled up in her eyes. “I stopped practicing years ago because they brought up so many memories of my brothers.

“But I realize now that no matter the horrifying things that happened to them, those are still good memories and I shouldn’t avoid them.” She gave him a teary smile. “And to tell you the truth, I have missed the light rituals. In fact, my favorite cyclical day was always Litha, and that’s coming up soon.”

Harry blinked and he found himself unable to contain his curiosity. “Are you a light witch?” he asked, even though he had a strong suspicion of what the answer would be.

Mrs. Weasley let out a laugh that sounded somewhat forced. “No one who follows the light traditions would go so far as to call themselves a ‘light witch.’”

“Why is that, though?” Harry asked, fascinated. “Everything I’ve heard about the light… it all seems to refer to most of the light rituals in the past tense. So it’s… it’s true that no one declares for the light anymore?”

“There’s no such thing as ‘declaring for the light,’ Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said. “There never has been.”

Harry felt completely bewildered. He knew several wizarding families still followed the light traditions, but none of them seemed to be aware of any light declaration rites. Every dark arts book he’d read and every dark wizard he’d spoken to seemed to insist that most of the light traditions had fallen to obscurity.

Why did it seem like the dark was more aware of the light’s past than the light itself? Which story was wrong?

“I promise that you will love the light traditions even more than the dark traditions, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley continued, giving him a warm smile. “The light rituals on Litha are especially good for the well-being of you and your loved ones.” She squeezed his hand affectionately

“I…” Harry swallowed. “Thank you, but…” Every muscle in his body seemed to be growing more tightly wound by the minute. He knew he was about to upset Mrs. Weasley, and he knew how terrifying she could be when she was angry. “I don’t think I can practice any of the light rituals.”

“Harry, I’ve heard that extensive dark arts use can make you feel like there’s no way back,” Mr. Weasley said. “I can assure you, there is.”

“It’s not…” Harry paused, sighing. “There is no going back, though. I’ve declared for the dark,” he said. “I am a dark wizard.”

The color drained from Mrs. Weasley’s face and she dropped Harry’s hand, pulling back from him. Mr. Weasley wrapped a hand around her arm and he stared at Harry with a grim set to his mouth.

“How… how could you call yourself that?” Mrs. Weasley said in a harsh whisper. “You’re not a dark wizard, Harry. You’re a very good boy -”

“I’m both,” Harry said. “Or I guess I am, anyway. The dark arts aren’t what everyone says they are -”

“You can’t know… you’re still very young, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said. “I don’t know what your housemates have told you, but -”

“Everyone keeps blaming them for this, but it’s not their fault I’m like this,” Harry said. “I have a dark affinity, which means the dark is where I’m supposed to be.”

Mrs. Weasley’s face was quickly turning from pale to flushed. “You can’t mean that.”

“I do mean that,” Harry said. “And it doesn’t… it doesn’t mean that I’m… joining Voldemort or trying to compete with him or any of that rubbish the Prophet said. You know that, right? I hope you know me that well, at least.”

“We do know that, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said, sounding much more calm than his wife, but he still appeared somewhat ill. “It’s just -”

“Did you know that a lot of the dark witches and wizards that go to Voldemort only do it because they’re scared? They think he’s the only one that will fight for their right to… exist! The words seemed to spill from Harry’s lips unbidden. “They go to him because the rest of the wizarding world hates us just for being dark! It’s unfounded, and -”

Mrs. Weasley immediately got to her feet and she seemed to tower over Harry. “Dark wizards murdered my brothers,” she said, her voice quickly rising. “How dare you say that our… hatred - our fear - is unfounded?”

Harry’s eyes widened in alarm. “I didn’t mean -”

“Five of them cornered Fabian and Gideon. It was two against five!” Mrs. Weasley was shouting by that point. “And they laughed - they laughed - while they… while they…”

Harry felt a chill run down his spine. “I am so sorry for what happened to your brothers, Mrs. Weasley, but -”

“But what?” Mrs. Weasley cried, tears running down her face. “You’re messing with the same kind of dark magic as the Death Eaters that killed my brothers, and then you have the gall to say -”

“Mum, stop!” Ron sprang to his feet, and Harry’s head swiveled to him instantly. With how silent Ron had been, he’d nearly forgotten that he was even in the room.

“You can’t… you can’t seriously be comparing Harry to them!” Ron said. Harry felt as if the world was turning on its head.

Was Ron actually defending him?

Mrs. Weasley’s flush was darkening to scarlet. “Ronald, you will leave this room immediately!” Mrs. Weasley shouted. “If you aren’t going to help us convince Harry -”

“No!” Ron shouted right back. “Harry used the dark arts at the Ministry to protect everyone that was with him - me included!” He looked at Harry. “That weird… shield thing you did,” he said, flapping his hands wildly upwards in a bad imitation of the Muros spell. “That was dark arts, wasn’t it?”

Harry, dumbfounded, could only nod.

“See?” Ron said to his parents. “I would be dead right now if he hadn’t done the…” He made the same flapping gesture with his hands again. Harry absently thought that it would have been funny had the conversation not been so serious. “He saved me from Death Eaters! He saved all of us! Why are you -”

“Ron, I think your mother is right,” Mr. Weasley said, getting to his feet, as well. “You should leave.”

“No, you should leave!” Ron shouted. “I’m not… you’re not…” He shook his head. “I get that what happened to your brothers was… terrible, but you don’t get to accuse Harry of being anything like a Death Eater!”

Mrs. Weasley sputtered, “Ronald Weasley, if you -”

“Molly, please,” Mr. Weasley said. He fixed his son with a stern look before seeming to deflate. “I… I don’t think this is going to be… productive. We can try talking tomorrow, when we’re all a bit more calm.” He gently started guiding her towards the door.

Harry was fairly sure he’d never felt so dumbstruck in all his life. He stared at Ron with wide eyes and a jaw that was dropped just slightly. Behind Ron, Mr. Weasley led a purpling, crying Mrs. Weasley out of the room.

When Harry finally felt like he could process a thought again, he shut his mouth and swallowed hard. “I… thank you,” he said quietly.

“Yeah,” Ron said, his shoulders drooping. “Harry, I…” Then it was Ron’s turn to stare at Harry for a long few moments before he suddenly straightened up and thrust out his chin. “I know that I… kind of… gave up on you last year.”

Harry was still too shocked to respond with words, so he merely nodded.

“I mean… you… you were acting really strange all year,” Ron continued. “I thought you’d changed.”

Harry swallowed. “I… think I did change, at least in some ways,” he said quietly. “But -”

“But I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened at the Ministry, and…” Ron paused before sitting down in the chair across from Harry. “I actually think it took us going to the Ministry to get it through my skull. You’re still… you.”

“I…” Harry still felt like the world was tilting. He was fairly sure he’d already given up on Ron, just as Ron had given up on him. Being confronted with the possibility that Ron could still come around wasn't something he'd been expecting to deal with. He squinted at Ron, cocking his head to the side. “Did… Hermione talk to you or something?”

Ron gave him an indignant glare, but there wasn’t any heat behind it. “What, you think I can’t figure things out on my own?”

“I didn’t say that,” Harry said, even if he’d meant it.

“Harry, look… I…” He paused, letting out a sigh. “I’m sorry. I know that you don’t have any reason to forgive me, but I just… I need you to know that I’m sorry. I was a prat.”

“I…” Harry paused, then nodded. “Thank you.”

“And that’s another thing,” Ron continued. “I… I can’t believe these words are about to come out of my mouth, but…” He grimaced. “Malfoy was right. I mean… what he said, back at the Ministry.”

“Huh?” Harry asked, confused. “What did Draco say?”

“That I should be thanking you… for saving my life," Ron said. "So… thank you."

Harry shook his head. “No, Ron, I -”

“The dark arts still seriously creep me out,” Ron said, wrinkling his nose. “It seems like… like it’s all blood and spit and weird… people fluids.” He shivered and Harry suppressed the urge to laugh at his words. “Gross.”

Harry finally did let out a laugh. “I mean, that’s not all there is, but… there is a lot of that, yeah.”

“I.. I definitely wish you wouldn’t use them, but they seem like they… matter a lot to you,” Ron continued. “I don’t get it and I probably won’t, but… you used them to protect everyone that came with you to the Ministry.”

Harry shook his head. “Nobody would have even needed protecting if I hadn’t been an idiot in the first place,” he said quietly. “You guys wouldn’t have been there at all if it hadn’t been for me.”

“Yeah, well… it’s not like it was the first time we went with you into some crazy fight or something that could kill us all,” Ron said.

Harry’s laugh had a bitter tone to it. “Since it’s happened more than once, I think that’s probably a sign that you shouldn’t follow me into life-threatening situations,” he said.

“It’s not the first time I’ve had your back, and if I’m honest, it probably won’t be the last,” Ron said. “Even if you do seriously weird me out for an entire year.”

Harry blinked, leaning back in the chair. “Do you… think you’d have my back if I went public?”

“What do you mean?”

“If I told the wizarding world that I’m a dark wizard.”

“Why would you do that?”

Harry sighed. “I… I want to show everyone that we’re not all bad and we’re not evil,” he said. “And I want dark witches and wizards to know that they have a choice that isn’t Voldemort. They can choose to do the right thing.”

“You’re…” Ron paused, and his mouth made it appear like he was chewing on the inside of his cheek. “You were really serious about what you said earlier, weren’t you? The thing about… dark wizards going to You-Know-Who because of…” He waved his hand towards the door. “Because of stuff like my Mum was saying?”

“And worse,” Harry said, nodding.

“I… I guess I probably would,” Ron said. “Have your back, I mean. But Harry…”

When he didn’t continue, Harry prompted him. “Yeah?”

“I know that what she was saying was wrong, but… dark wizards did kill her brothers,” Ron said quietly. “It’s really… it’s really messed with her for a long time. She’s been dealing with that for my whole life, really.”

“I get that,” Harry said. “And I know that there are a lot of people out there that dark wizards have hurt or killed. I just… I hope I can make her understand that Voldemort’s Death Eaters shouldn’t be the… example of all dark wizards.”

“It’ll be harder for her,” Ron said. “But she really does care about you a lot, and I think she’ll probably come around.” He paused. “Ginny might take a bit, too, considering what happened to her with that diary in her first year. But Dad goes whichever way Mum goes, so…” He offered Harry a tentative smile. “I think they’ll get there, Harry.”

Harry nodded. He wasn’t as optimistic, but Ron likely knew his own family better than he did.

They lapsed into silence for a few moments before Harry let out an odd grunt. “So… I hate asking this, but,” he said, “are we… like… friends again or something?”

Ron’s eyes widened. “Uh… I mean....” he said. “If you wanna still be friends with me, that is. I’m…”

“I… do,” Harry said, finding himself quite unable to express just how much he’d missed Ron. “But… I have to admit that I’m fully expecting you to drop me again the next time I do something you don’t like.”

Ron deflated. “I… I guess I get why you’d think that,” he said. “But as long as you don’t just start… I dunno, murdering people or making Inferi or something… I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out that you’re still Harry. You're still a good person."

“Even if I… do something that you find… questionable that isn’t murdering people?” Harry asked. “I don’t know where you draw the line.”

“I don’t think I know where I draw the line, either,” Ron admitted quietly. “But I’ve figured out that… uh… your line is pretty much still where it was before, even if it’s kind of a wonky line now... if that makes sense. And as long as it doesn’t move too much…”

Harry swallowed. His ‘line’ had been shifting over the past year, even if he hadn’t noticed as it was happening. He’d lied to everyone, he’d manipulated friends, and he wasn’t entirely sure where his own line was anymore.

“I mean… if you cheat at Quidditch, we’re gonna have a problem,” Ron continued. “But I won’t have a problem if you… oh, I dunno… start dating Parkinson or something.”

Harry couldn’t help but start laughing. “Well, funny you should mention that…”

Ron’s eyes widened to comical proportions and his mouth fell open. “Wait, you seriously are dating Parkinson?” he asked, his voice going up an octave. “I mean… I guess I suspected it for a while, but I was joking, and -”

Harry shook his head. “I’m not dating Pansy,” he said. “I’m dating… someone else.”

“What? Who is it?” Ron asked. “Greengrass? She’s… really pretty, I gotta admit…”

“Not Daphne, either.”

“Davis, then? She’s cute.”

“No.”

“Then who?” Ron asked, bewildered. “Bulstrode? I mean, date who you want, but -”

“Still wrong,” Harry said. He considered keeping it a secret, but quickly realized that if he didn’t tell Ron, he would be getting nagged for days until Harry broke. Harry wasn’t particularly interested in gaining Ron’s friendship only to immediately lose it again, so it was better to know how he’d react now. He sat up and braced himself. “I'm dating Draco Malfoy.”

Ron first let out a bark of a laugh, but it quickly died off when it became apparent that Harry wasn't joking. He blinked several times, his jaw slowly dropping. “Bloody hell, Harry!” he finally blurted out.

Harry rolled his eyes and his heart seemed to twist. “I figured,” he said bitterly, getting to his feet.

“Wait, where are you -” Ron cut himself off, leaping out of his chair and grabbing Harry’s arm before he could leave. “I don’t mean that… I’m just… bloody hell.” He shook his head. “I just wasn’t expecting that… like, at all.”

Harry smirked, a trickle of relief spreading through him. “It… took me by surprise, too.”

“How long?”

“Right after the Ministry,” Harry said.

“I…” Ron’s face scrunched up in contemplation. “I guess you were kinda going completely haywire over him, now that I think about it.” He shook his head. “Does… does Hermione know?”

“She’s actually the one who helped me figure out why I was… going haywire over him.”

Ron nodded. “Good,” he said. “I mean… Malfoy’s been a right git to her for years, so…”

“I know.”

“And he is a right git, you know,” Ron said.

Harry shrugged. “You’re… not wrong,” he said, knowing he couldn’t deny that Draco was indeed a prat. “But there’s… a lot more to him than being a git.”

“I guess,” Ron said, then, surprisingly, he nodded. “I mean… I guess he also saved us at the Ministry. I still can’t believe he actually… took out his own Dad.”

Harry’s eyes dropped to the floor, the guilt of the position that he’d put Draco in flooding back into him. “Yeah.”

“I just… wow.”

“Are you… are you okay with it?” Harry asked, glancing back up at him. Now that they were both standing closer than they had in months, he absently noticed how much taller Ron had grown.

“I’m… yeah,” Ron said, nodding. “It’s… weird, but I’m good with it.”

Harry nodded back. “Good.”

Ron stared at him for a moment before his lips quirked upwards, he snorted, and then he erupted into full-blown laughter.

Harry’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “What’s so funny?”

“It’s… it’s just…” Ron’s entire body was shaking with laughter, and he grinned at Harry. “I just realized that this means some of the things people had to say about you last year are actually true. They’re just not… bad things.”

“What?”

“Going to Slytherin really did turn you into a bent, dark wizard.”

Even as Ron ducked away from Harry’s flying fist, Harry couldn’t help but feel completely elated. Even if the rest of the wizarding world hated his guts, he had his very first friend back at his side.

Chapter Text


“Son, can you hear me?”

Son, can you hear me?

Son, can you hear me?

Son, can you hear me?

Son, can you -

The words seemed to echo endlessly in his head. He was entirely unable to tell if the speaker was actually repeating the phrase over and over again, if he was trapped in some sort of ghastly looping curse, or if it was completely his imagination. The only thing he knew for certain was that he was not this person’s son. Even though at that moment he wasn’t even certain of his own name, he was resolute in the fact that whoever was speaking was not his father.

“I think this one is coming around.”

I think this one is coming around.

I think this one is -

His father was in Azkaban. Or was he? He wasn’t sure. But his father was definitely locked up somewhere; he knew that better than anyone, for some reason. His father would have no reason to be there, wherever there was. He actually had no idea where he was.

“No luck with the other two yet?”

No luck with -

Awareness slowly drifted back into him, and he promptly decided that he hated everything about being aware. Going back to sleep seemed far more appealing than whatever was involved in the waking world. Something was throbbing painfully in sync with his heartbeat, as well as with those words that were still ceaselessly echoing in his mind.

The throbbing intensified and narrowed in on a single point on his left temple. He let out a moan and instantly regretted it, as the vibration of his own voice made the throbbing grow to pounding pain. He thought for a moment that his heart might have somehow been relocated from his chest to his skull.

“Ah, you’re definitely awake now, aren’t you?”

There was a cooling sensation on his pained temple, and he wanted to sigh in relief but didn’t dare to just in case it increased the nauseating pain again. He realized that the words were no longer echoing, but the voice still sounded far away, as if it was coming through a tube made of metal.

“I need you to open your eyes, son.”

“... not,” he said in response, though he couldn’t finish what he wanted to say. Not your son.

“Come on now,” the man said, because now he was certain the person speaking to him was a man. “Stay with me.” As he spoke the voice became clearer and closer, no longer sounding as if the man were whispering to him through a pipe. There was another blast of cool on his aching head, and this time he did allow himself to let out a sigh of relief. “You’ll be right as rain in a little while, but you must open your eyes.”

Draco opened his eyes.

A blob in the shape of a head appeared in front of him, though it was so blurry that it was faceless. Draco assumed it was the man who had been talking to him, but he couldn’t make out a single feature.

“That’s very good, son,” the blob seemed to say.

“‘m not your son,” Draco said, his words so slurred that it was miraculous that the man could even understand him.

“Well, it’s a very good sign that you know that,” the man said, and then another wave of cool relief washed over his temple. As things came more into focus, he could see the man was pointing a wand at him, seeming to alternate between Draco’s head and then somewhere lower - his collarbone, perhaps? His chest?

Draco would normally be alarmed to wake up at wandpoint, but he quickly figured out that this man was the one responsible for those blessed blasts of coolth that were giving him respite from the pounding in his skull.

“That’s very good, kid. You’re doing fine. I’m a Medizard, and I’m taking care of you until the Conveyant unit arrives,” the man said as he lifted his wand to Draco’s temple once more. “Can you tell me your name?”

“Draco Malfoy.”

The man’s wand paused in mid-air. That wasn’t unusual; people always tended to freeze when they heard his name. But this man seemed to get over it much more quickly than most did, and he cast another relieving spell on Draco’s temple. Draco finally recognized the feeling, though he’d never had to experience it on his head before; this man had evidently been casting Episkey after Episkey on his aching skull. He followed up each spell with a swipe of a cool, soothing cloth.

“You took a fairly hard blow to the head, but you’re the first one to wake,” the man said. “You’re obviously a tough kid. Do you know what happened?”

Draco blinked a few times as he took an agonizingly long while to process the words. What had happened? Why was he presently prone on his back with a Mediwizard hovering over him? “No,” he said.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Despite his thoughts still being a tad fuzzy, Draco didn’t have to consider the question for long. “We were having dinner. Mrs. Zabini stood up and drew her wand. And then…” Nothing. He couldn’t remember anything after that. He shook his head once, immediately ceasing the movement when it made his head pound miserably.

“How many were in the house with you?”

Fear suddenly started pouring into him at the questions the man was asking. “Four,” he said. “It was me, my mother, Blaise, and -”

“Hang on a second, kid,” the man said, placing a hand on Draco’s shoulder and looking off into the distance. “Berryworth!” he shouted, and Draco winced at the sudden volume of his voice. “Keep looking! He says there’s one more!”

Terror clawed its way into his chest. Someone was missing? “Where’s my mother?” Draco tried to snarl in the harshest, most demanding tone he could muster, but it came out sounding desperate and frightened. He attempted to sit up, but the man gently pushed him back to the ground with a shushing sound. It was unnecessary urging on the man's part; the moment Draco had lifted his head he was struck with a wave of vertigo and his stomach seemed to roil, and he dropped his head back onto something soft.

“Easy, kid. Don’t fret,” the man said. “We’ve found another young man that’s about your age, as well as a woman who I would say looks very much like you. Her name is Narcissa, right?”

“Yes,” Draco whispered.

“She’s still unconscious, but we think she’ll come through just fine,” the man said. “Your friend, as well; I'm guessing that must be Blaise. You’ll all be fine. You’ll ache for a little while, but we’ve found no evidence of curses or hexes on the three of you. A Healer will have to take a look at you, but our unit’s assessments are usually accurate.” There was a hint of boastfulness in his tone. “You’re lucky this happened when our unit was on duty; you all are getting the best of the best.”

If he, Blaise, and his mother were okay, then where was Mrs. Zabini? Had she done as Blaise had suspected she would do? Had she tried to kill her own son? After all, the last thing Draco could remember was Mrs. Zabini drawing her wand…

But if that was the case, how was Blaise still alive?

Draco quickly pushed aside his initial suspicion. He knew enough of Mrs. Zabini’s reputation to know that if she really was going to murder her son, she not only would have succeeded; she also wouldn’t have done the deed in front of her summer guests. So what had actually happened?

Before he could ask, though, the man raised his wand and cast yet another soothing, wordless Episkey on Draco’s head. “You said your name is Draco Malfoy,” he said. “I think we may have a mutual friend. He left a few days ago, but he was staying with my wife and I for a short time.”

Draco blinked at the man, and then squinted at him, forcing his eyes to focus. The man’s features came into view: dark hair with flecks of silver, extremely light brown eyes that were nearly hypnotizing, and soft wrinkles that oddly seemed more joyful than aging. He was utterly unfamiliar to Draco.

“At least I’m pretty sure you two are friends,” the man continued. “You know Harry, right?”

Harry.

Draco allowed himself to nod an affirmation, and then the man swiped a cool cloth down Draco’s temple again. This time Draco could see it clearly as he drew it away. It was streaked with red. He was obviously bleeding.

Draco’s eyes widened as he slowly put the pieces together. Harry had gone to stay with Draco's pariah of an aunt, Andromeda, and this man had said that she was his wife. That meant that this was the man that was the reason his mother’s family had disowned his aunt. This man was the reason he had never even met his aunt.

She had been disowned because she chose to marry this Mudblood.

Muggleborn, Draco thought automatically. Muggleborn, Muggleborn, Muggleborn. Harry doesn’t like it when you call them Mudbloods. Remember to call them ‘Muggleborns.’

It was, by now, a familiar thought. He’d had to repeat it to himself several times a day for months. It was no longer a forced thought, as it had been in the beginning; it had become a habit.

This Muggleborn, he knew, was named Ted Tonks.

Draco didn’t particularly want his mother to wake only to see him being cared for by this Muggleborn. While she normally wouldn’t have a reaction quite as severe as his father would, this was the Muggleborn that had led to her sister abandoning their family.

Coupled with the fact that Draco’s mother already wasn’t speaking to him, Draco didn’t want to know how his mother would react to seeing her son with any Muggleborn, much less this Muggleborn.

As Draco’s thoughts began to gain more coherency, Draco tried to sit up once more. He was met with the same rushing dizziness and nausea, as well as the Muggleborn again gently pushing him back to the ground.

“Easy, kid,” the Muggleborn said. “We’ll be taking you to St. Mungo’s soon, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time.”

“Where is my mother?” Draco asked. He mustered much more command in his voice than he had the first time he’d asked. “What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s just over there,” the Muggleborn said, pointing to his right, “not farther than ten meters away from you. A very good Mediwizard is taking care of her. She’s under the best care she can be until the Conveyants arrive. Her wrist is broken and she’s still knocked out, but she’ll be just fine. I promise.” The Muggleborn gave him a crooked smile. “We thought you were in worse shape than her, to be honest. I’m still surprised you woke up first.”

“Ted!” The Muggleborn sat up as a witch ran up to them. She scarcely glanced at Draco as she leaned over to whisper in the Muggleborn’s ear. The smile fell from his face and when the witch drew away he looked back to Draco with a grim expression.

“You said it was you, your mother, Blaise, and… ‘Mrs. Zabini?’” he asked. “Is that right?”

“Yes,” Draco replied, his voice barely above a whisper.

The Muggleborn directed his eyes back to the witch and he shook his head. “No. Woman. I believe someone said she was the owner of the house. Keep looking,” he said to her. The witch nodded once, and then she disappeared out of Draco’s view.

“What’s going on?” Draco asked.

“You just worry about staying awake,” the Muggleborn said. “Don’t concern yourself with it, Draco.” Draco bristled. He disliked being addressed with such familiarity by this Muggleborn, and he liked being kept in the dark even less.

“Tell me,” Draco sneered. “Now.”

The Muggleborn considered him for a moment before raising his wand to Draco’s temple again. As a blast of cool again ran through Draco’s head, the Muggleborn said, “They found a body.”

No, Draco thought, swallowing nervously. Please… not Blaise’s mother?

“It is a male,” the Muggleborn continued, immediately assuaging Draco’s fear. “And we are assuming it is one of your attackers… but it’s really up to the Aurors to decide that, not us Mediwizards.”

Draco didn’t have a chance to ask another question as a flurry of familiar swearing and expletives suddenly exploded from somewhere behind them. There wasn’t much coherency at first, but the voice quickly seemed to recover quickly. “What in Merlin’s wrinkled fucking knob are you doing to me? Let me up!”

The Muggleborn let out a tight laugh. “I told you that your friend would be fine, too, right? Well… he seems to be in… relatively good shape, all things considered.”

“I said get the bloody hell off of me!”

“Blaise?” Draco tried to call out, but he winced when his own increased volume sent another shudder of pain rushing through his skull. “Where is he?” he asked the Muggleborn.

Another round of shouting - not from Blaise - erupted before the Muggleborn could answer. “We need one of you Mediwizards - now!” Draco again tried to sit up to see where the shouting was coming from, but the Muggleborn held him firm this time. Frustration ran through Draco as the Muggleborn seemed to effortlessly hold him down with one hand as he observed whatever the shouting was concerning.

As he looked up at him, Draco realized absently that the Muggleborn had a rather striking jawline.

“Get off! This is my… let me through!” Draco heard Blaise shouting. A pause, and then - “Mother!”

“It looks like they found Mrs. Zabini,” the Muggleborn said after a moment. “She’s alive.”

“Is she all right?” Draco asked with a half-veiled attempt to mask his concern.

The Muggleborn fixed him with a smile that was clearly supposed to be warm and comforting. “Worry about yourself right now, Draco,” he said. “Just concentrate on talking as clearly as you can.”

Draco blinked at his words. Had he not been speaking clearly this whole time?

“The other one is being extremely uncooperative,” a voice said, and a man wearing Auror robes came into Draco’s line of sight.

As if on cue, Draco could hear Blaise’s voice again. “I swear I will hex your balls off if you don’t get out of my way! Mother! Mother!

The Auror sighed. “I’m sorry, Ted. I know how much you don’t like us drilling your patients, but we’re going to have to question this one here.” He gestured down at Draco. “I’m afraid we have no choice at this point.”

“He’s already said he doesn’t remember what happened,” the Muggleborn said crossly. “Go back and work on the other one. He’s at least on his feet already.”

“Ted, I must insist -”

“It’s more of the same shite we’ve been seeing for the last few weeks,” the Muggleborn said, his tone suddenly full of fire. “Why are you bothering with your worthless questions? Or is your bloody protocol still more important than reality?”

Draco refocused his attention on the Muggleborn as he felt an unusual rush of… was that respect?

This Muggleborn - this man - Ted - was certainly one to stand his ground, and it seemed he did so with a silver tongue.

However, Draco knew the Auror had the potential to be a valuable resource, and it was necessary to use that resource. “I need to know what happened,” Draco said to the Auror, concentrating on enunciating his words as clearly as he was capable of. “Tell me. Please.” He paused, narrowing his eyes as he contemplated the Auror. “Perhaps whatever you can tell me will help me remember.”

The Auror considered him for a moment, frowning.

“Whose body was found?” Draco asked.

“Draco, you don’t need to worry about that.” The man - Ted - placed his hand on Draco’s shoulder again. It was oddly comforting.

“If you know who I am, you know exactly why I do need to worry about that,” Draco replied, again concentrating on speaking slowly, making sure his tongue rolled perfectly around every syllable.

Ted’s brilliant honey-brown eyes narrowed at Draco. Then, amazingly, he redirected that hypnotizing stare up at the Auror. “Well, Adise?” he asked sharply. “Want to try and jog Draco’s memory?”

The Auror glanced back and forth between the two of them before letting out an exhausted sigh. “All we know as of now is that the body they found was wearing a Death Eater robe... and has the Dark Mark on his left arm,” he said to Draco. “I have no idea what you all did, but you four have come out of this better than any Death Eater attack we’ve had to deal with so far.”

Draco’s breath caught in his throat at the words.

Death Eaters.

He wasn’t entirely sure why he was shocked. Perhaps Mrs. Zabini’s reputation for creative curses and brilliant, undetectable dark arts had lulled him into a sense of complacency. Her hexes were unparalleled, and her warding should have been unbreakable.

But really - after what he’d done, he should have been expecting something like this.

Draco raised his arm and with more strength than he realized he had, he forced Ted’s hand off of his shoulder. He then braced his elbows underneath him and, with a considerable amount of effort, he pushed himself upwards. It was certainly more of a struggle than he was used to, but with a combination of exertion and resolution, he managed to sit himself mostly upright. His vision swam in front of him, but he was patient and the picture in his view slowly settled.

Directly in front of him was a slightly familiar alder tree that was old and gnarled, yet still marginally familiar and completely untouched. That tree was the first thing that Draco had noticed when they had come to stay with the Zabinis.' Behind the tree, there should have been a house. He expected to see the house he had been living in for two weeks, but he did not see a house.

Instead, Draco’s eyes found nothing but a mountain of rubble.

The Zabini home had been thoroughly and completely destroyed. No wonder Blaise was furious.

Before Draco could even assess where Blaise was, his vision doubled, then blurred beyond comprehension.

With a nauseating lurch and a faraway echo of Ted’s shout, Draco fell back into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text


After an awkward and somewhat hilarious meeting between Mr. Weasley and her parents, Hermione arrived at Grimmauld Place early in the morning to a cacophony of screaming and shouting.

When she and Mr. Weasley walked into the entrance, they were met with Walburga Black’s painting spewing her usual obnoxious and loud bigotry while Mrs. Weasley and Ginny were desperately trying to shut the curtains over her.

Filth! Disgusting Mudbloods and blood traitors desecrating our noble house!”

Walburga was making Hermione’s ears hurt, which is why it was all the more impressive that they could somehow still hear echoes of angry bellowing coming from elsewhere in the house.

“What in Merlin’s name is going on?” Mr. Weasley asked, covering his ears.

“Harry is rather upset,” Mrs. Weasley said distractedly. “From what I could gather, some of his Slytherin friends were... hurt.”

“And he woke up Walburga,” Ginny added as she tugged on one of the curtains in vain.

Hermione’s eyes widened. She could clearly remember how Harry had reacted to Malfoy being in danger when they were at the Ministry; there was no telling how furious he would be if Malfoy had been hurt again.

She quickly followed the sound of Harry’s voice through the halls. As she drew closer to the dining room Harry’s voice became clearer, and Mrs. Weasley had certainly been correct. To say that Harry sounded angry would be putting it mildly; he sounded completely enraged.

“So is that it? You’re fine with me, but not them?!” Harry shouted.

A familiar voice responded, though Hermione couldn’t make out the words. Dumbledore.

She made her way into the dining room and found a scene that almost seemed surreal. Harry and Dumbledore stood across from one another, with Tonks directly in front of Harry. He was clearly trying to push forward, but Tonks had one arm braced across Harry’s chest, his shirt clutched in her fist. In her other hand she was holding a wand away from Harry. Hermione was startled when she recognized it as Harry’s wand.

The expression on Harry’s face was scarily familiar. It was twisted in fury just as it had been at the Ministry when Bellatrix Lestrange had threatened Malfoy. That expression on Harry’s normally gentle features was just as terrifying now as it was then.

If Hermione had to be completely honest with herself, Harry looked like he wanted to murder Dumbledore.

Tonks taking Harry’s wand and physically holding him back suddenly made much more sense.

“You’re leaving them out there to die!” Harry roared over Tonks’s shoulder. “You’re knowingly leaving them to get attacked again!”

Tonks seemed to be using a significant amount of her strength to hold him back. Her feet slid back on the floor and she leaned forward to brace herself against his force. “Harry, please -”

Shut up.” Harry’s infuriated eyes turned on Tonks, and Hermione found her hand drifting up to cover her mouth in horror. How there be so much unadulterated rage in his voice? And how could Harry have so much malice when speaking to Tonks, of all people?

You won’t even let me visit him,” Harry continued, each word sounding like a dagger.

“I told you, Harry - St. Mungo’s isn’t allowing any visitors for patients that aren’t long-term,” Tonks said desperately. “It’s part of their new security due to all the attacks. I can’t get you in there, no matter how much I want to.”

“Piss off.”

“Harry,” Dumbledore said, his voice so soft in comparison to Harry’s that it was startling, “I am not unsympathetic to how upsetting this is -”

“‘Upsetting?!’” Harry nearly screamed. “They were attacked by Death Eaters! Everyone else who has been attacked this summer has died, and you -”

“Harry, what would you have me do?” Dumbledore said, his voice rising, though Hermione thought it was more to be heard over Harry’s bellowing rather than growing angry. “I cannot bring them here as you are asking -”

“Why not?” Harry snarled. “Because they’re dark?

“Harry -”

“Only useful dark wizards can be in headquarters, is that it?!” Harry continued. “In other words, you’re only pretending to be okay with what I am just because of that stupid prophecy - because you need me!”

Hermione smothered a gasp. Did that mean Harry knew what that prophecy was, after all?

“That isn’t the reason, Harry,” Dumbledore said tiredly. “It is because it would be… unwise to allow people with such close ties to Voldemort into the one safe place for the only true resistance against him.”

Death Eaters just tried to kill them!” Harry said, his voice finally dropping to something resembling a normal conversational tone, though his anger was still almost palpable. “Voldemort’s followers tried to kill them because Draco and Blaise came with me to the Ministry!”

“Be that as it -”

“Let me finish.

The chill in Harry’s voice was enough to send a shiver down Hermione’s spine. She thought she might have preferred him shouting.

“You told me that it was your fault that I felt I had to go to the Ministry at all,” Harry said, “because you hadn’t been honest with me.”

Dumbledore sighed, and Hermione blinked. Now that she was truly looking at him, she realized that Dumbledore looked - and sounded - utterly exhausted.

“If you had just… told me the truth from the beginning, they wouldn’t be in St. Mungo’s right now,” Harry hissed. “Death Eaters attacked them because Draco and Blaise chose to do what they thought was the right thing, and you… you’re punishing them for it.”

Hermione thought that Harry’s assessment wasn’t quite correct; from her perspective, she was fairly sure that they’d only gone with Harry to ensure that he wasn’t killed. While she certainly didn’t fault them for wanting to protect their friend, she wouldn’t go so far as to paint those two as the upstanding moral students in the way that Harry seemed to be portraying them.

She didn’t dare say so out loud, though. It seemed no one in the room had noticed her yet, and that certainly wasn’t the way she wanted to announce her presence.

“Harry, Misters Malfoy and Zabini may have fought at your side in the Ministry,” Dumbledore said, “but their mothers did not. I would not expect them to -”

“If you leave my friends - and their mothers - out there to die,” Harry bit out, “I will not be working with you at all.” His tone was frigid. “You can work out your stupid prophecy all on your own.”

Dumbledore was silent for a few long, tense moments before he responded. “Is everything a bargain to you now, Harry? First bringing you here, and now bringing your friends here...” he said. “It seems you are truly embracing your Slytherin side as of late.”

The smile that spread over Harry’s lips was almost cruel. “Glad you think so.” Then he scowled. “But I think the fact that you think that I’m bargaining for my friends’ lives says more about you than me.”

Dumbledore peered at Harry over the rim of his glasses. “I can promise you that I will look for a way to keep your friends safe,” he said.

“You will bring them here,” Harry insisted nastily. “Figure it out.”

He immediately redirected his burning gaze on Tonks, who was still holding him fast. “Give me back my wand, Tonks,” he said. “I won’t attack him. I promise.”

Tonks didn’t move at first, instead appearing to search Harry’s face. After a moment, she turned her head to the side, her eyes still glued to Harry’s. “Headmaster, I’m going to give Harry back his wand,” she said over her shoulder. “You should leave.”

Dumbledore inclined his head in a solemn nod. “I will,” he said. “It is clear that Harry and I will not come to an understanding today.”

Releasing Harry and spinning on her heel to face Dumbledore, Tonks said, “And just for the record, I think Harry’s right.”

Hermione and Harry both stared at Tonks with startled, wide eyes.

“They’ll be safe at St. Mungo’s, but they can’t stay there all summer,” she continued. “Either set up another Fidelius... or bring them here.” She shook her head. “It’s not right to just leave them out there.”

Dumbledore appeared just as stunned as Harry and Hermione, but he seemed to recover much faster. “I will consider every option,” he said.

And then he left without so much as a ‘goodbye.’ He didn’t even acknowledge Hermione as he passed her. Hermione didn’t think she’d ever seen the headmaster act so… disturbed? Distracted?

Tonks let out a sigh before rounding back on Harry. “What were you even thinking - pulling your wand on Dumbledore?” she snapped, shoving said wand into Harry’s chest. “Are you insane?

Harry fumbled clumsily to grasp his wand, and the chagrined look on his face was a stark difference to the rage that had been there only moments earlier. “It’s not like I would have actually been able to do anything to him,” he said sheepishly.

“But pulling a stunt like that isn’t exactly going to endear you to him,” Tonks said, scowling. “My mother already warned you - don’t make an enemy out of Dumbledore. Wotcher, Hermione.”

Harry’s head swiveled around the room, his eyes widening when he spotted Hermione in the doorway. “Hermione!” he exclaimed. “When did you get here?”

“Just now,” Hermione said. “I only heard some of what you had to say. What happened?

“Death Eaters attacked Mrs. Zabini’s home, which is where Draco and his mother were staying,” Harry said. “The Zabini house was completely destroyed.”

Before Hermione could let out a gasp, Tonks continued where Harry had left off. “But we’re pretty sure that her house being blown up was due to whatever Mrs. Zabini did to fend them off. She took out two Death Eaters in the process.” She gave Harry a pointed look. “And your friends and their mums are okay, Harry. They’ll be fine. Mrs. Zabini is the only one that’s in semi-bad shape, and that’s mainly because whatever dark arts she used took a lot out of her.”

“When did this happen?” Hermione asked.

“Just last night,” Tonks replied. “The only reason we found out as soon as we did is because my dad was one of the Mediwizards that was called to the scene.”

“Are you sure they’ll be safe at St. Mungo’s?” Harry asked Tonks.

Tonks nodded. “They’ve upped their security in a big way this summer,” she said. “Right now it’s probably only third to Hogwarts and Gringotts.”

“How long do you think they’ll be there?” Harry asked. “How much time do I have to convince Dumbledore that they need to go somewhere safe?” He shook his head, pocketing his wand. “I mean… it’s not like Voldemort is just gonna give up, right?”

“I don’t know how you’re gonna convince him, Harry,” Tonks said, sighing. “I mean - at the most we could get a ‘maybe’ with the Zabinis since they don’t have any known ties to You-Know-Who, but… Mrs. Malfoy is married to a confirmed Death Eater.”

“And Draco is the son of a Death Eater,” Harry said. “But I would think that the Death Eaters attacking them is a pretty good sign that they’re not... allies anymore.”

“Yeah,” Tonks said. “Look, Harry - I’ll try to convince him, but I really don’t know how far I’ll get.”

“What if… what if I found a way to guarantee that they wouldn’t hurt or betray the Order?” Harry asked. “A magical oath or something?”

“Maybe,” Tonks said, but she appeared doubtful. “I have to go; I’m already late for work.” She narrowed her eyes at Harry. “If Dumbledore shows back up, do not attempt to murder him, okay? That’s not gonna do you any favors.”

Harry scowled. “I’ll try.”

Tonks reached out and poked Harry in the chest hard enough to make Harry wince. “You will do more than try,” she said pointedly. “I know you have issues with him - for understandable reasons - but I still like him. And whether you like it or not, we need him if we’re gonna get through this.”

Harry nodded, his shoulders drooping. “Thanks… for letting me know what happened.”

“You’re welcome,” Tonks said crossly. “Don’t make me regret it.”

With a pat on Hermione’s shoulder, she was gone, leaving Harry and Hermione staring at each other.

“I didn’t know you were coming,” Harry said quietly.

“I only convinced my parents yesterday evening, and I sent an owl last night,” Hermione replied. “Mr. Weasley came and picked me up this morning.”

“I’m surprised you wanted to leave your parents’ place so soon.”

Hermione crossed her arms. “Well, since we couldn’t talk on the phone anymore…” There was no way she was going the rest of the summer without continuing their discussions, and she was certain that asking questions about the dark arts in letters wouldn’t have been a good idea for either of them.

Harry seemed to study her for a long moment before he crossed the dining room, grasped her wrist, and immediately began pulling her through the hallways of Grimmauld Place.

“What are you doing?” Hermione asked.

“I wanna check something,” Harry said cryptically. They reached the stairs, and Harry continued tugging her up behind him.

“You can let me go,” Hermione said, trying to wrench her wrist out of Harry’s grasp. “You’re going to make me trip. I can follow you.”

Harry dropped her arm and he continued up the stairs, Hermione at his heels.

“Where’s Ron?” she asked the back of Harry’s head.

“Still asleep,” Harry said without turning around.

“He slept through all that?” Hermione asked in disbelief before thinking better of it, shaking her head. “Well.. I suppose he could sleep through a parade of erumpents...” She trailed off, wondering if she shouldn’t have mentioned Ron; after all, Harry wasn’t on the best of terms with him.

But to her surprise, Harry snorted out an amused laugh. “Yeah.”

The continued scaling the stairs, and Hermione soon realized exactly where Harry was leading her.

Sure enough, they reached the top floor, and Harry slid behind Hermione, gently pushing her towards a familiar door that she’d spent some significant time trying to open the previous summer. She peered over her shoulder at Harry in confusion.

“Try opening it,” Harry said.

Hermione let out a sigh and turned her gaze back to the door. “I don’t see why -” She stopped, staring at the door in curiosity. There was something strange about the door, and it didn’t take any further urging from Harry for her to reach out and try the knob.

With a turn of her wrist, the door clicked open.

Hermione let out a gasp as she caught a glimpse of piles and piles of books. It had to be the library Harry had told her about.

“I knew it.”

She again looked back over her shoulder at Harry’s quiet comment.

Harry beamed back at her, his lips curled into a wicked grin.

Chapter Text


After keeping so many secrets throughout his fifth year, Harry had thought he was done feeling guilty. He was no longer playing henchman to a terrible person and he was through hiding his interest in the dark arts. He should have moved past lying and he should have been done feeling rotten over his actions.

Apparently, he wasn’t.

At the front of his mind were Draco and Blaise, along with their mothers, who were all in St. Mungo’s. Despite what he’d said to Dumbledore in anger, Harry knew it was entirely his fault. If Draco and Blaise hadn’t accompanied him to the Ministry, they would never have been attacked by Death Eaters.

They weren’t the only casualty of the trip to the Ministry: Sirius was still locked up. Harry had gone there with the intention of saving Sirius, and instead, he’d put him back in shackles.

Harry was completely helpless to do anything about either of those things. He couldn’t do anything about Draco and Blaise’s safety unless Dumbledore agreed, and he had to wait until he heard from Andromeda or Tonks about what was going on with Sirius’s trial.

He threw himself into the few distractions he had in front of him. Unfortunately, some of those distractions only brought him more guilt, but at least with most of the other situations, he didn’t feel like his hands were tied.

He located the spell he’d used on Rasmus Nott, copied down the relevant page word for word, and sent it off to St. Mungo’s. When he’d come across the book the previous summer, he’d only skimmed it for potentially useful spells. After re-reading the specifics of the curse, he was beginning to doubt they could actually do anything to help him; it seemed that the debilitating after-effects of the curse could be blamed on Nott’s own actions. If he hadn’t been so vicious throughout his life, the curse wouldn’t have had such a great effect on him.

Still, Harry had to try to fix it, if only for Theo.

After he’d sent the information to St. Mungo’s, he decided to read the book thoroughly to see if he could find any further answers. It was a book dedicated to ‘soul magicks,’ something that he’d mostly only seen referenced in passing. It was an older book, chock full of outdated language, which made it slightly more difficult to read.

At least, the archaic language was the excuse he tried to give himself as an explanation for having problems in fully comprehending the book, but he knew the cause lay elsewhere.

There was a giant distraction in the library, and her name was Hermione.

While Harry was thrilled with Hermione’s company in Grimmauld’s library, he supposed he’d forgotten the way Hermione could get when it came to books and knowledge. She almost continuously peppered him with questions, most of which he did not have the answers to. He always answered what he could, and sometimes he would help her look for an answer if he at least had an idea of what kind of book to look for.

Satisfying Hermione’s curiosity was, unfortunately, cutting into his own time he wanted to spend studying.

Thankfully, Hermione’s initial flood of questions had abated a bit, but the more time they spent together in the library, he found himself adding yet another thing to the growing list of reasons why he felt guilty.

He had initially been positively gleeful when Hermione had opened the door to the library, but he still hadn’t told her what that actually meant. The only thing he’d mentioned was that the library must have grown to trust her - that Hermione’s mind being more open to the dark arts meant that the library no longer felt like it had to hide itself from her.

He still hadn’t mentioned that her ability to enter the library also meant that she almost certainly had an affinity for the dark.

Harry tried to rationalize his not telling her by reminding himself that Sirius hadn’t told him, either. Sirius had found Harry in the library surrounded by books on the dark arts, and he had mentioned nothing about the possibility of Harry having a dark affinity. That revelation had been left to his roommates, and they’d only told him after he’d confirmed that he had actually used the dark arts. Despite informing her of the isolation ward in the library, Hermione hadn’t asked to try any spells yet, and Harry hadn’t offered to show her.

But after hiding his use of the dark arts from her for an entire school year, Harry still knew he shouldn’t be keeping something so monumental from her.

He knew he had to tell her. He just had to figure out how. He laid on his stomach on the floor of the library, staring sightlessly at the old dark arts book in front of him, and he ran through possible ways to bring up her likely dark affinity in conversation.

“You said you had a book on blood magic, right?”

Harry glanced up to spy Hermione with a book on her lap and three others spread out in front of her. “It’s in my trunk,” he said hesitantly. He was unusually attached to that specific book; it was, after all, the final piece of the puzzle that was his mother’s dark affinity. It was the book that outlined the Primum Cor - the blood sacrifice that his mother had used to save his life and defeat Voldemort.

“Does it have anything that covers the characteristics of different blood spells?” Hermione asked.

“How do you mean?”

Hermione gestured at her spread of books. “It seems like blood magic is actually a rather large family of different kinds of spells, and I’m seeing a pattern with characteristics of these spells. Do you know if there is a book that lays out all of those characteristics?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “I’m not following.”

“Well… for example, the blood spell that Malfoy used in the Ministry - I remember you two and Zabini talking about it,” she said. “You referred to the spell as familial and sacrificial. A familial blood spell is one that is targeting those of the same blood used in the spell, whether it’s for hostile or protective purposes. A sacrificial spell is one where the injuries must remain for the spell to continue being active.”

Harry nodded, sitting up. “You’re kind of right, but not all sacrificial blood spells are like that. Some sacrificial spells are meant to be healed naturally in order for the rite to take effect. I know there’s one that’s a fertility rite, which dark witches have used in order to help them have a child when they’re having problems… er… getting pregnant.”

“That’s interesting,” Hermione said. ”So it seems as if there could be… sub-categories to sacrificial spells, just like it seems there are sub-categories to blood warding.” She pointed at one of the books in front of her. “This book covers warding, whether it's fixed or mutable.” She pointed at another book. “And this one mentions blood oaths, which can be binding or bonding.”

Before Harry could respond, they were interrupted by a knock at the door.

Harry froze. The only two people currently staying in Grimmauld Place who could get into the library should have been himself and Hermione. And if it was someone like Mrs. Weasley, who had made her feelings on the dark arts quite clear…

“Harry? Hermione?” Ron’s muffled voice sounded through the door. “Are you guys in there?”

Harry leaped to his feet and wrenched the door open. “How… how did you know where we were?” he asked.

Ron rolled his eyes. “Saw you coming down the stairs a few times last year, and there’s nothing else up here,” he said. “It’s not that hard to figure out.” He shrugged. “But I can’t figure out how you got in; I still can’t get the door to budge.”

A rush of relief swept through Harry.

Ron peered past Harry into the library and frowned. “It looks… creepy in there,” he said, wrinkling his nose.

Harry glanced over his shoulder in confusion. “I don’t think it’s creepy,” he said. It just looked like a library.

“Well, it is,” Ron replied. “Anyway, figured Hermione might like to know… O.W.L. results are here.”

“They are?” Hermione said with a gasp, springing to her feet. “Oh, my goodness!” She bolted past Harry and Ron and practically flew down the hallway before disappearing down the stairs.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her run that fast,” Harry quipped.

Ron laughed. Harry grinned at him, if for no other reason than it felt good to laugh with Ron again.

Again looking past Harry’s shoulder, Ron frowned at the piles of books he saw stacked up around the small library. “That’s all… dark arts stuff, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Uh… yeah,” Harry said hesitantly.

“Makes my skin crawl just looking at it for some reason,” Ron said, turning to lean up against the door, almost as if to prevent himself from looking into the library. “How do you stand holing yourself up in here all the time?”

Harry studied Ron for a moment. Harry had almost been irresistibly drawn to the library. The library was steeped in dark magic, more than anywhere else in Grimmauld Place. Merely being in the library brought Harry a sense of comfort. “I like it here,” Harry said.

“You aren’t… getting Hermione into the dark arts, are you?” Ron asked quietly, and Harry’s hackles immediately rose. “I mean… it’s her business, but…”

“You’re right - it is her business,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes.

Ron shook his head. “I didn’t mean…” He swallowed. “Sorry.”

Harry sighed. “It’s fine,” Harry said. He knew Ron wouldn’t get over his dark arts aversion overnight, despite apparently being sort of okay with Harry being a dark wizard. “And for whatever it’s worth - Hermione is asking to know more.” He gave Ron a wry grin. “I think she’s taken offense to my knowing more about something than she does.”

Ron just stared at him.

“What?” Harry asked, once again bracing himself..

“‘Taken offense to?’” Ron said flatly before shaking his head. “Mate, you talk weird sometimes these days.”

“Yeah, Hermione said as much,” Harry said, smiling. As he stepped out of the library and shut the door, he wondered how long it would take before he wasn’t constantly on guard around Ron.

“Let’s go see how we did,” Ron said, turning down the hallway. “I didn’t open mine yet.”

“Wait,” Harry said, reaching out to grab Ron’s arm.

Ron paused, looking back at Harry in confusion.

“Can you do me a favor?” Harry asked, swallowing nervously. “Can you… not mention this room to anyone… like your parents?” He paused. “Especially your mum.”

Ron shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “She’d probably try to burn it down.” At Harry’s look of horror, he lightly pushed Harry on the shoulder. “I won’t tell them, Harry.”

***

Harry James Potter has achieved:

Astronomy A
Care of Magical Creatures E
Charms E
Defense Against the Dark Arts O
Divination P
Herbology E
History of Magic D
Potions O
Transfiguration E

Harry had already read through the parchment several times. Most of it was as expected; he’d known he would fail Divination, and he’d collapsed part way through the History of Magic exam. He’d also been confident that he had earned an ‘Outstanding’ in Defense Against the Dark Arts.

But he was still fairly sure he had to be imagining what he was reading. Maybe it was a mistake? Did the O.W.L. examiners make mistakes?

“I got seven! ” he heard Ron saying, but Harry still couldn’t tear his eyes away from his own grades. “Harry, how about you?”

“Uh… seven, as well,” Harry said.

“Well done, both of you!” Mrs. Weasley said, though her joviality certainly sounded forced. She’d been trying to be polite around Harry, but every one of her words and actions towards Harry seemed cold. Harry ignored it.

Ron peered over Harry’s shoulder. “Knew you’d top Dark Arts,” Ron said.

Excuse me?!

Defense Against the Dark Arts, Mum,” Ron said. “Sorry,” he murmured at Harry.

“S’fine,” Harry mumbled, still staring at the parchment.

“Well, we both did all right, so - you got an ‘O’ in Potions?!” Ron suddenly exclaimed. Harry winced; Ron had shouted right into his ear. "Are you serious - Potions?!"

“Trust me, I’m just as shocked as you,” Harry said dryly. “I was pretty sure I’d done well, but…” He finally looked up, shooting a maniacal grin at Ron. “Oh, Snape is gonna have conniptions at this,” he said, laughing.

Harry knew he probably couldn't have achieved an 'Outstanding' in Potions without the tutoring he’d received throughout fifth year. He would have to thoroughly thank Draco.

“Hermione?” Ginny asked. “How’d you do?” Harry realized that Hermione hadn’t said anything yet.

“I... not bad,” Hermione said.

“Oh, come off it,” Ron said, wandering around to look over Hermione’s shoulder. “Yep, then O.W.L.s - nine ‘Outstandings’ and one ‘Exceeds’ in Defense.” He snorted. “Don’t tell me you’re disappointed.”

Hermione shook her head, and Harry grinned.

“Oh, Harry, I forgot - you got another letter,” Ginny said, pointing to another folded piece of parchment on the table.

“Huh?” Harry picked up the parchment and turned it over. His eyes widened when he spotted the handwriting. It was familiar, but he’d never seen it in a letter.

It was from Blaise. If Blaise was writing to him and Draco wasn’t…

With his heart suddenly caught in his throat, Harry immediately flipped the parchment open.

Harry,

I know what you’re thinking, and don’t worry: Draco is fine. We’re all okay. Most of us can leave St. Mungo's within the next day, although my mother will have to stay for at least another week or so.

Speaking of, I’m actually writing to you at the request of my mother. I know for a fact that you won’t know what some of this means, but my mother wants me to do it anyway.

I, Blaise Zabini, am invoking Ius Praesidium with Harry Potter in return for my unrequested and wilful aid at the Battle of the Ministry. As compensation, I request immediate and complete protection for myself, Jeyne Zabini, Draco Malfoy, and Narcissa Malfoy.

With respect to prior conflicts between present and former allies, all four of us are willing to commit to an Oath of Corsri.

As tithe to a continued alliance, Narcissa Malfoy is offering all information she has on the Dark Lord. This information may also be shared with or delivered directly to any and all allies of Harry Potter, so long as the information is not used to endanger any person under the Ius Praesidium.

Harry knew his eyes had to be as wide as saucers by that point.

In other words, I - on my mother’s behalf, I remind you - have invoked a rite that’s older than Merlin and more obscure than Draco’s tact. In return for fighting at your side when you didn’t request it of me, it is an ancient tradition for you to offer protection to anyone who has become a target due to my actions.

Basically - it’s your fault we’re all in this mess, and you are now expected to get us out of it.

May I remind you just one more time that my mother is forcing me to write this? Thanks.

We are all willing to take a Corsri Oath. This is so common that you may have even heard of it. It’s a binding oath, and I’m absolutely certain you’ll be able to find it somewhere. You’re a smart boy.

And yes, you really did read that right: Mrs. Malfoy is willing to offer whatever information she has on the Dark Lord. She admits that she wasn’t a Death Eater so what she knows is limited, but it’s the only payment we have that anyone in your camp would be interested in.

Use whatever means are necessary, Harry. We have nowhere else to go.

Hopefully, we’ll see you soon.

Blaise

“Harry, your face just went through about twelve different emotions in the last ten seconds,” Ginny said.

“Are you all right, Harry?” Hermione asked.

Harry quickly stuffed the letter in his pocket. “I’m good,” he said with a glance around the room. He didn’t want to mention anything having to do with ancient dark traditions or oaths with Mrs. Weasley anywhere within hearing distance. “Excuse me,” he added quietly before leaving the room.

When he hit the stairs, he took them two at a time. He stopped in his room and nearly upended his trunk looking for a very specific, precious book - Blood Magic: Rites, Rituals, Sacraments, and Sacrifices. He pulled it out and immediately threw it down on his bed.

As Hermione had just informed him less than twenty minutes earlier, a binding oath was a type of blood oath.

With a grin on his lips, he flipped the book open. Hermione had been studying the dark arts for all of two days, and she was already helping him grasp things better than he had before.

He found the Corsri Oath with little trouble; it was the very first entry in the chapter on sacraments. It was one of the simplest blood spells Harry had ever come across.

The hard part would be getting Dumbledore on board.

***

That night, Harry found himself in the library long after Hermione had gone to bed, books spread out on the desk in front of him. Amazingly, he’d found the exact two books he’d been looking for.

The first was another book on blood magic that also contained the Corsri Oath, meaning that he wouldn’t have to show his other book to Dumbledore and risk him taking it away.

In another book, he’d also located a full explanation of the ‘old’ and ‘obscure’ Ius Praesidium that Blaise had invoked on Harry. From what he could tell, there was nothing magical tied to it at all. It seemed like it was merely an old tradition in the dark community, much like the tradition of not offering food or drink to strangers.

When Harry’s life had been at risk, Blaise had come to Harry’s aid without Harry having to ask for it. According to the Ius Praesidium, that meant Blaise could ask for Harry to protect him from any consequences directly related to Blaise aiding him.

And perhaps most importantly, nothing terrible would happen to Harry if he couldn’t hold up his end of the deal.

Even so, Harry still wanted to respect it. He’d already been racking his brain for ways to bring them to safety, preferably by having them come to Grimmauld Place. However, he now found that he also felt the need to prove to Jeyne Zabini that he was a true dark wizard - one that respected and upheld the ancient traditions of the dark.

He quietly closed the book and leaned back in his chair with a sigh, pulling out the now crumpled letter from Blaise to study it once more.

Despite his insistence that Blaise had only written it because his mother forced him to, Blaise had still obviously put a lot of thought into crafting the letter. He’d taken care to not mention the dark arts by name, only referring to the Ius Praesidium as a ‘tradition’ instead of a dark tradition, and even calling the Corsri a ‘binding’ oath rather than a blood oath.

Harry’s lips quirked. You’re a smart boy. While Blaise was familiar with Harry’s collection of books and likely knew that his blood magic book would contain the Corsi, it seemed he hadn’t been sure that Harry would connect ‘binding’ to ‘blood.’ He supposed that was Blaise’s way of telling him to read between the lines without directly mentioning that Harry had a book on blood magic.

The offer from Mrs. Malfoy was another area where Harry could read between the lines: Narcissa Malfoy was willing to give information to Dumbledore in exchange for their safety. He imagined they likely knew some of the plight Harry was in - he had to work with Dumbledore in order to offer them protection.

A promise of information on Voldemort could potentially sway Dumbledore his way. It was certainly more than Harry had in his pocket before.

He was beginning to deeply regret having pulled his wand on Dumbledore. His foul temper had gotten the best of him again, and although Dumbledore had been an easy target it likely wouldn’t do him any favors when it came to convincing the headmaster that his friends could be trusted.

No matter how much he didn't want to, Harry would have to apologize.

His eyes traced a line towards the end of the letter. Use whatever means are necessary.

With a sigh, he stuffed the letter back in his pocket and pulled the book on soul magicks towards him. Despite the late hour, he wasn’t the least bit tired. Perhaps without Hermione’s constant questions, he’d be able to focus enough to slog through the old English.

***

“Harry?”

Something gently poked him in the shoulder once and then poked harder when Harry didn’t immediately respond.

“Huh?” Harry’s eyes opened to slits, then widened. He spied Hermione in front of him, but she was... sideways?

“You were up here all night?” she asked.

Harry blinked a few times before raising his head off of the desk. His glasses were crooked, and there was a terrible, foul taste in his mouth. “Gross,” he mumbled.

At least he hadn’t drooled on the books.

“Uh… good morning,” Harry said, his voice scratchy with sleep. He straightened out his glasses and ran a hand through his hair. “It is morning, right?”

“It is,” Hermione said, sounding amused, but then a stern look appeared on her face.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked.

“You have visitors downstairs,” she said. “Andromeda… and Dumbledore - they’re both waiting to see you.”

“What?” Harry exclaimed, springing to his feet.

“Andromeda had only been here for a few minutes when Dumbledore arrived,” Hermione said. “She mentioned wanting to speak with you, me, and Ron about possibly providing testimony at Sirius’s trial.”

“Good. Great,” Harry said. “And Dumbledore?”

Hermione pursed her lips before responding. “He just said he hoped that you would be more… amenable to a rational conversation now.”

Harry groaned, reaching under his glasses to rub at his eyes. “That doesn’t sound promising.”

“To be fair,” Hermione said, “you were fairly irrational the last time you spoke to him.”

“Ugh,” Harry said, then glanced down at his clothes. Even though he’d only slept in a chair and not a bed, his clothes were still rumpled and wrinkled. “You think I have time to change?”

“Possibly, but they’d already been waiting quite a while before anyone went looking for you,” Hermione said. “And then it was only after knocking on your door for ten minutes that we realized you weren’t in there.”

Fuck.” Harry scooped up the book on blood magic - The Art of Blood - the one he wasn’t attached to - and immediately headed for the door.

“At least brush your teeth,” Hermione called after him as he wrenched the door open.

Harry swore again.

***

“I prefer using a good Purus instead of Lavate,” he heard Andromeda say as Harry approached the dining room, the thick book tucked under his arm. “It keeps the colors from fading or running.”

“Oh, really?” Mrs. Weasley said as he stepped through the door. “I’ve really only used that on linens, and - oh... Harry.” Her tone had been warm and inviting when speaking with Andromeda and it instantly disappeared when she spied Harry.

Andromeda’s gaze was nearly as disdainful as Mrs. Weasley’s, but it was obviously for a different reason. “Speaking of clothes washing,” she said, “why does it appear that you washed your clothes while you were still wearing them, Harry?”

Harry grimaced. “I… er… fell asleep reading last night,” he said sheepishly.

Andromeda let out a put-upon sigh before drawing her wand and flicking it in Harry’s direction. His rumpled clothes immediately fell straight down his body, looking as if they’d just been pressed. “It’s not perfect, but it’ll have to do,” she said as she whisked her wand away.

“Um… thank you,” Harry said quietly. He looked around the dining room, spying Mr. Weasley planted next to Mrs. Weasley, and then spotted Dumbledore on the other side of the room.

He took a breath, steeling himself. “Hello, sir,” he said quietly.

Dumbledore inclined his head in greeting. “Good morning, Harry.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Harry said, and he was satisfied to see the faint look of surprise appear on Dumbledore’s face. “I wanted to…. the other day, sir - I was completely out of line. I was very worried about my friends, and I took it out on you.” He paused. “I want to offer my apologies.”

Dumbledore offered a smile that Harry supposed was meant to be comforting. “I believe I should apologize, as well,” he said. “I know how much you care for your friends, and I believe my reaction to the situation was far too… callous.”

Yes. Yes, it was. Harry held back what he wanted to say and instead funneled it into giving Dumbledore a practiced smile.

“After considering it, I think I may be able to offer them a safehouse,” Dumbledore continued.

“With Fidelius?” Harry asked.

Dumbledore at least had a hint of regret on his face as he replied, “I cannot guarantee an immediate Fidelius.”

“Then with all due respect, sir… they need to come here,” Harry said, concentrating on keeping his voice calm and steady.

Dumbledore’s lips twitched as if he was trying not to frown. “Harry, this is Order headquarters.”

“But outside of Hogwarts, this is probably the safest place they could be. They have extra targets on their backs right now. Death Eaters probably want them dead more than anyone else but you... or me,” Harry said. “And I was researching magical oaths and -”

“No,” Dumbledore said, shaking his head. “Magical oaths are not to be taken lightly. If it is anything like the Unbreakable Vow, I will not allow anyone to commit to a vow that could cost them their life.”

“I… have no idea what an unbreakable vow is,” Harry said. “But they already said all four of them are willing to take a Corsri Oath.”

There was a beat of silence before Dumbledore responded. “Just as you don’t know what an Unbreakable Vow is, I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with a… ‘Corsri’ Oath.”

Harry crossed the room, pulling out The Art of Blood and thumbing it open to the page he had marked. He flipped the book around and held it out to Dumbledore. “The Oath of Corsri is a binding blood oath that can be made between fully declared dark witches or wizards.”

“No!” Mrs. Weasley said sharply. “No dark arts!”

“Molly, please,” Mr. Weasley said, his voice quiet. “You promised you would try.”

Dumbledore stared down at the book Harry was offering for a few moments before he slowly reached out to accept it.

It was then that Dumbledore’s right hand came into full view. It was withered and shriveled and blackened, appearing far more dead than alive.

Harry’s eyes widened. “Sir!” he exclaimed. “What happened to your - are you okay?”

Dumbledore shook his head. “A tale for another day, Harry,” he replied as he raised the book to inspect it. For a moment Harry was tempted to pursue it, but he realized he didn’t want to distract Dumbledore from the topic at hand.

Harry gave him a minute to read through the oath, and he kept a close eye on Dumbledore’s expression as his eyes traveled down the page. When he spotted what resembled concern developing on Dumbledore’s face, Harry spoke up before Dumbledore could object.

“It’s a basic oath between a maker and a keeper,” he said. “I could serve as keeper, so -”

“Harry, no,” Dumbledore said, shaking his head. “I cannot allow this.” He closed the book, appeared to hesitate for a moment, and then offered it back to Harry.

Harry let out a strangled sound of protest as he took the book back. “But this is the perfect oath to use in this situation,” he said. He turned and placed the book on the corner of the table before once again flipping it open to his bookmark. He pointed at a line on the page with conviction. “See here? It essentially disarms a maker who would break the oath, and I would know -”

“No,” Dumbledore repeated. “While I will accept that the dark arts are the first place you want to turn, Harry, you are still underage. I cannot in good conscience allow you to perform an unstudied act of magic.”

“But I’ve studied it plenty! I know what it does!” Harry protested. Behind him, he heard one of the chairs scrape across the floor, followed by footsteps. “And you keep implying that you’re going to keep an open mind -”

“Harry, I do not wish to see you hurt,” Dumbledore said insistently. “I know that you may not see it that way, but -”

Andromeda’s voice suddenly cut him off. “If you are concerned about Harry taking up the role of the oath keeper merely because he is underage, might I offer to take his place?” Out of the corner of Harry’s eye, he could see Andromeda peering over his shoulder at the book, her eyes flitting back and forth as she looked over the relevant page.

Harry was suddenly aware of every eye in the room locking onto Andromeda instead of him. He first felt a flood of gratitude, quickly followed by a wave of apprehension.

“But Harry said it had to be between dark…” Mrs. Weasley trailed off as her confusion immediately melted into what appeared to be horrified understanding. “Oh. I see.” All of the warmth that she had previously held towards Andromeda seemed to have completely dissipated.

“Are you...” Mr. Weasley said, his jaw dropped. “...are you saying that you’re a dark witch?”

Andromeda merely raised her head to meet his eyes, but somehow her presence in the dining room seemed to grow, almost as if she had abruptly grown taller. “I am,” she said.

“I must admit - I have thought you were for quite some time, especially… recently,” Dumbledore said quietly, “though I felt it would be impolite to assume.”

Andromeda’s piercing gaze drifted from Mr. Weasley over to Dumbledore. “In my case, it is not necessarily impolite as I take no offense to it,” she said. “It is merely a fact.”

Dumbledore appeared to consider her words and then shook his head. “I confess that I am still deeply uncomfortable with using unknown dark arts in order to guarantee the loyalty of -”

“It is not unknown,” Andromeda said, cutting Dumbledore off. “The Corsri is a commonly used oath within the dark community.” She narrowed her eyes. “And I will point out that now you are being impolite. Is it your belief that all dark witches and wizards are reckless and ignorant to consequences? Or are you implying that I am not trustworthy?”

Dumbledore shook his head. “My apologies, Andromeda,” he said.

“Well, I think it says quite a lot about ‘trustworthiness’ when an oath to guarantee someone’s loyalty is common among dark witches and wizards,” Mrs. Weasley said snidely. “Must be quite a bit of backstabbing among -”

“Molly, please,” Mr. Weasley said, reaching out to grasp her hand. Thankfully, Mrs. Weasley quieted, though she continued to glare at Andromeda with fire in her eyes.

Andromeda glanced at the Weasleys with a disinterested air before redirecting her focus on Dumbledore. “Some may consider this oath kinder than the Unbreakable Vow, though it depends on what one values,” she said. “It is tied to magic, not life. It is bound within the magic of both the oath maker and the oath keeper. If the maker breaks their promise, their magic will begin to drain from them, never to be recovered.” Her lips quirked upwards in something resembling a smile. “And unlike the Unbreakable Vow, the keeper would know the moment the promise is broken. This means we would have warning if they chose to betray us.”

“How does that work?” Mr. Weasley asked, and Harry felt a hint of relief at the fact that his voice sounded more curious than horrified. “How does the… keeper know if they’ve been betrayed?”

“The dark would let the keeper know,” Andromeda replied.

“Ah, yes,” Dumbledore said. “I have heard that dark witches and wizards can commune with the... dark, in a way.”

“That is one way of putting it,” Andromeda said with an amused note, and Harry couldn’t help but smile. Dumbledore’s description of speaking with the dark may have been accurate, but his words barely scratched the surface of what it meant or what it felt like.

“Are you saying that dark magic will reach out to you?” Dumbledore asked. “Unlike when the rest of us… call on magic, it seems that you are implying that dark magic could come to you unbidden?”

“Only when we need it to,” Andromeda said. “The dark cares for and protects its children, but neither does it coddle them.” Harry felt her hand wrap around his back and land on his shoulder.

The movement did not go unnoticed, and Dumbledore studied the pair of them for a moment. “Am I correct in assuming that you are the mentor that Harry spoke of?” he asked.

Andromeda let out a laugh. “I suppose you could say I am a mentor of Harry’s, but in terms of the mentor he likely referred to…” she said, smiling, “I am not.”

Dumbledore appeared startled at that.

“There are far more of us than you realize, Albus,” she said quietly. She held his gaze for a long moment, then, releasing Harry, she reached down and slammed the book shut with a bang, making almost everyone in the room jerk in surprise at the sudden crack piercing the tense silence.

“In any case, it is my opinion that an oath is unnecessary,” Andromeda continued. “You-Know-Who’s forces just tried to end their lives, which should make it obvious that they are no longer in his good graces.”

“I disagree with your first point,” Dumbledore said, “but I must say I do agree with your second.”

“Both of them have the potential to be valuable allies... if not your allies, then Harry’s.”

Harry looked up at her, astonished, but said nothing.

“I think we both can agree that Harry could use more allies in this world,” Andromeda continued.

“And you think Narcissa Malfoy could be an ally?” Mrs. Weasley practically spat the words.

“Mrs. Malfoy offered whatever information she has on Voldemort,” Harry said.

Dumbledore’s eyes widened. “Oh?” he said.

Harry nodded, then swallowed nervously. “She may have implied that it’s not a lot, seeing as she was never a Death Eater herself, but…” It would likely backfire if Harry exaggerated how much information Mrs. Malfoy could actually hand over to the Order.

“Well, that cinches it. I have to agree with Molly,” Mr. Weasley said quietly. “I don’t see how she could be much help, Harry.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded. “And even if she isn’t a Death Eater, she is just as rotten as her Death Eater husband -”

“With all due respect, Molly… mind your tongue,” Andromeda said in the harshest tone Harry had ever heard come out of her. “Although our relationship is not what it once was, Narcissa is still my sister. I’m sure many of you have forgotten that fact, but I never will.”

In truth, Harry had momentarily forgotten, and based on the expression on Mrs. Weasley’s face, she had forgotten, as well.

“So I am admitting that there is some selfishness in what I am asking of you,” Andromeda said, redirecting her attention to Dumbledore. “Will you or will you not offer them your protection?”

Dumbledore did not respond.

“My sister’s life is in danger, Albus,” Andromeda continued quietly, a note of desperation in her voice. “If you will not bring them here, then I must beg you to assist with a Fidelius on some other building - perhaps my own home, though getting Narcissa to agree to that...” She paused, taking a breath with a shake of her head. “You said you couldn’t guarantee them a Fidelius. But... as Fidelius is one of the ancient spells of the light, I am not capable of casting the charm.”

“The Fidelius takes quite some time,” Dumbledore said. “It would take a great deal of preparation to set up a safehouse with one properly in place.”

“But they’re in danger now,” Harry said insistently.

Dumbledore again said nothing, and Andromeda appeared to grow frustrated. “You cannot claim to be approaching those like Harry and I with an open mind and then not act on that promise. ‘Saying’ and ‘doing’ are not interchangeable,” she said. “I don’t think you realize just how much your present approach to those like us is exactly what drives so many dark witches and wizards to desperation.”

“While I do respect that Narcissa is your sister…” Dumbledore said. “I promised I would try to approach the dark arts with an open mind, not that I would begin trusting a dark witch with known recent ties to Voldemort. And as Mrs. Zabini’s allegiances are unknown -”

“She’s neutral,” Harry said, cutting him off. “You could say that she’s been a Voldemort sympathizer, but she’s never officially aligned with either side.”

A faint look of surprise appeared on Dumbledore’s face. “Are you certain of that, Harry?” he asked.

Harry nodded. “The Slytherins in my year wanted me to have the same information that they all had. They let me know where all of their families are in terms of… political allegiances.” He was blatantly breaking the covenant by revealing that sort of information, but as Blaise had already given him blanket permission to do or say whatever was necessary to get them to safety, he was fairly sure that his housemates would forgive him.

“If nothing else,” Harry continued, “if you really distrust them that much, at least you’d be able to keep a better eye on them here, right?” He somehow resisted the urge to sneer, instead carefully keeping his expression as neutral as he was capable of.

Dumbledore looked back and forth between Harry and Andromeda before letting out a sigh. “I know you believe an oath is unnecessary, Andromeda, but how much confidence do you have in this… Corsri?”

Andromeda smiled. “I am quite -”

“I will not!” Mrs. Weasley erupted, her face growing red. “My family will not live under the same roof as them!

Harry winced. She seemed to barely tolerate living under the same roof as Harry. He supposed he couldn’t expect her to live with so many dark witches and wizards, no matter how much it hurt him to admit.

“Molly -”

No, Arthur!” Mrs. Weasley shoved herself out of her seat. Her face was growing red, but amazingly, she was visibly attempting to calm herself.

“We should return to the Burrow,” she said, her voice tight. “I’ll be able to better prepare for the wedding there, anyway.”

Wedding? Harry felt an odd pang in his gut. He was so out of the loop with the Weasleys that he didn’t even know who was getting married.

“Molly, I’d like to discuss this with you privately,” Dumbledore said. “For now…” With a reluctant sigh, he faced Harry and Andromeda again.

“You may make this oath, Andromeda,” Dumbledore said, “but only among adults. I would not have children tying their… magic to any kind of oath.”

Harry couldn’t believe his ears. “You’re serious?” he said. “You’ll let them come here?”

Dumbledore nodded, though he didn’t look pleased about it. Harry had to suppress a shout of victory, but he couldn’t hold back the pleased grin that instantly appeared on his lips.

“Now then, Andromeda,” Dumbledore said, “walk me through this oath from beginning to end.”

Without bothering to hide her satisfied smirk, Andromeda began explaining the Oath of Corsri. As Harry had already read through it a dozen times over, he began to tune them out and stared down at The Art of Blood.

Blaise and Draco were coming to Grimmauld Place. He could scarcely believe it.

Andromeda’s voice seemed to fade to a drone, and a few somewhat unwelcome thoughts began to form in the back of Harry’s mind.

How desperate was Dumbledore for Harry’s cooperation that he would actually agree to bring people with known ties to Death Eaters into Order headquarters? Did that mean Harry truly was the only option for defeating Voldemort? And if that was true, exactly what was Harry going to be expected to do?

But underneath that unpleasant train of thought, Harry was becoming cognizant of something that was far more startling. He found himself a bit uncomfortable with the realization, as it was something that he knew wouldn’t have even occurred to him a year ago.

He, with Andromeda’s help, had managed to get Dumbledore to agree to something that seemed impossible.

He couldn’t help but wonder what else he could convince Dumbledore to do.

He, Harry Potter, had power over Albus Dumbledore.

And despite a part of him wanting to deny that the thought had even crossed his mind at all, Harry already knew that it wouldn’t be the last time he would use it.