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A Path Like Frost

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“That’s excellent, Hermione!”

Tonks’s hair changed to bright blue, and Harry smiled and clapped, as he watched Hermione’s misty cloud coalesce into an otter. Hermione blushed and turned to look at Ron, whose ears were bright red with frustration.

Hermione frowned. Harry decided to throw himself into the breach before they could start arguing. “Come on, Ron, let’s see yours.”

“It doesn’t have a form yet,” Ron muttered.

Draco snorted behind him. Harry gave his twin the kind of warning glance that Draco would know from previous experience would lead to Harry not talking to him for a week. Draco settled back, folding his arms.

“But I know I saw four legs last time,” Harry said firmly. And that was true; he wasn’t saying it just to make Ron feel better. “So it has to be an animal with four of them. Come on! Won’t you at least try?”

Ron cast him a glance. Harry smiled back at him, and Ron finally nodded.

“Can’t hurt to try, can it?” he asked, and ignored the way that Draco rolled his eyes. Harry nudged Draco in the side with one elbow. Draco gave him an injured look; that particular gesture was one that his twin never seemed to anticipate or avoid.

Ron backed up towards the far wall of the old classroom where they worked with Tonks on the Patronus Charms, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. Harry could see his lips moving, and wondered if he was reciting the instructions for the Patronus Charm to himself, or maybe reliving the happy memory he wanted to use.

Expecto Patronum!” Ron yelled, as hard as he could, running forwards and whipping around in a half-circle as he aimed his wand.

Harry leaned forwards eagerly, and this time he definitely made out four legs, a small muzzle, and what he thought was a slim tail before the Patronus dissolved into silvery mist. He glanced at Ron with a grin, and saw that his friend thankfully had his eyes open and had seen it.

“Wicked!” Ron exclaimed. “What do you think it was?”

“Looked like a terrier to me,” Tonks said promptly, and grew small, floppy dog ears from the sides of her head, which made Ron laugh.

“It did to me, too,” Harry said when Ron turned to him. He hadn’t been that specific before Tonks said it—he’d just thought it was a dog—but now that he thought about it, he agreed with her.

“It looked like something. Ow!” Draco said, as he got another elbow in the ribs.

“You’ll have a corporeal Patronus in no time, Ron.” Hermione smiled at him, which made Ron turn redder than any of the rest had.

Harry shook his head at that, and at the way Draco was nudging him back about it. He turned to Tonks, feeling his stomach drop a little. “So—I mean, all of us almost have corporeal Patronuses. Does that mean you’re going to leave Hogwarts?”

Tonks smiled, and her hair turned bright green. “No, actually. Aunt Narcissa said that she wanted me to stay here and have a look around at some of the curses that are supposed to be embedded in the castle, like the one on the Defense post. She’d like it if I could either break them or call attention to them for other people to break them—which I’ll probably have to, because I don’t have the training to do it myself yet. I’ll come once a week, the way I have been, and we’ll go to lunch in the kitchens, or in Hogsmeade when we can do that.”

“Brilliant,” Harry said happily. He appreciated having a cousin and an aunt and uncle who were actually nice people, although he hadn’t met Aunt Andromeda yet.

“Can we—I mean, I think I might want to be a Cursebreaker.” Hermione had her hands clasped in front of her the way she had when Tonks first taught them about the Patronus Charm. “Can I have lunch with you sometimes, too?”

“Of course.” Tonks extended her smile to include Hermione and Ron with a little wave of her hand. “I’d hate to give up spending time with you just when I’m getting to know you. And you’re going to be magical powerhouses in a few years, if you can all cast the Patronus at thirteen.”

“Fourteen, for Hermione,” Ron said, sounding as though he didn’t know if he was correcting Tonks’s mistake or resentful of the fact.

Harry just ignored the way that Draco tried to poke him about that, too. No, his best friend wasn’t perfect, but none of them were. And if Draco really had retreated enough into a “Malfoy mindset” to think he was, then Harry was all too happy to bring him back to earth.

“Fourteen, then.” Tonks winked at Hermione, and her hair turned bright pink. “Who knows? Maybe I can get someone to come here who could actually break the curse on the Defense position, and then I can be a professor here for real.”

“You’re too young, Cousin Tonks,” Draco said bossily.

“I got an Outstanding on my Defense NEWT,” Tonks said, “and that’s all you need.”

Draco gave her a puzzled frown. Harry hid his smile. Tonks had obviously learned that the best way to handle Draco was to state facts and act as if all reasonable people agreed, and Draco would basically go along because he wanted to be seen as one of the reasonable people.

“Is it really?” Hermione asked, and then she and Tonks were off in a discussion of teaching standards that bored Harry so much he started packing up his things. Ron gladly imitated him, and Draco trailed after them as they left the classroom, calling, “Bye, Tonks!” over their shoulders.

Unusually, Fred and George were waiting for them outside the classroom. Harry could practically feel Draco getting all stiff and protective behind him. He held out his hand towards his twin while giving Fred and George a wary smile. “Hi, you lot. What did you want?”

“Saw something we thought you should know about,” said the twin Harry thought was George.

“Yeah, unusual,” said Fred, with a nod. “And it’s not like the person in question—”

“Does things like this on a regular basis. Professor—”

“Snape is packing up his classroom, and dropping loud hints that he wants to see you—”

“Right away. I mean, he wants to see ‘Henry Malfoy,’ but that’s what it amounts to.” George shrugged. “Said it loud enough that—”

“He must have reckoned we were hiding there,” Fred said, and exchanged a grim look with George. Harry thought they were probably more worried about how Snape had known they were there than why he wanted to see Harry.

“Reduced to playing messenger owl, are you?” Draco asked with a nasty sneer.

“Not reduced.” Fred put one hand in the middle of his chest.

“One of our favorite roles, that is,” George said, with a nod. “Especially—”

“When we get to open the messages and confiscate things that might be with them.” Fred leaned forwards a little. “Like boxes of sweets.”

Draco stared at them, his jaw dropping a little open. “Did you take that box of sweets that my mum sent us?” he demanded, folding his arms and vibrating as if he was about to leap on both the twins.

“We’ll never tell,” said George, while Fred, standing slightly behind him, nodded emphatically, his eyes locked on Draco.

Draco shrieked and drew his wand. Harry hesitated, but Fred winked at him, and he abruptly realized what this was. The Weasley twins were distracting Draco so that he wouldn’t insist on going with Harry to talk to Snape.

Harry mouthed, “Don’t hurt him,” and hurried off. Ron, who seemed torn between cheering on his brothers and cheering on Draco, stayed behind, and Harry saw Fred shift a little so that it would be harder to look down the corridor after Harry.

Harry took a deep breath. Snape had been one of the people who’d acted weirdest after Harry had discovered that he was Draco’s brother. Harry had no idea what he wanted to talk about now, though, that he couldn’t have talked about in the last year and a half.

No way to know without going there and asking.

*

“Ah, Mr. Malfoy. Come in.”

Snape’s voice was carefully neutral. Harry stepped into the classroom without closing the door behind him, Mr. Tonks’s lessons ringing loudly in his head. He might need to retreat at any moment.

Snape turned to face him. Harry let his eyes dart from side to side in the moment before he started speaking. The classroom looked surprisingly bare, and it took Harry a moment to realize that all the vials Snape usually had ready for student potions, plus some shelves of books on the far side of the room, were gone.

“You are owed the truth,” Snape said, staring at him. “But it took me some time to decide how to tell you.”

Harry licked his lips and shifted from foot to foot. Mr. Malfoy would probably be tutting at him right now for so openly showing his discomfort, but Harry honestly couldn’t help it. He wasn’t used to this kind of Snape. “I mean. Um. Thanks, sir. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

“I am leaving. This will be my last chance to do so.”

Harry felt his mouth fall open. “You mean, leaving leaving? Not coming back?”

“Your eloquence astounds me, Mr. Malfoy,” Snape said dryly, and Harry felt his ears turn an even brighter red than Ron’s. It was the one thing he most disliked about looking like his family, this pale skin. “But yes. I have already submitted my resignation to the Headmaster. There is no reason for me to stay any longer.”

“And that’s what you wanted to talk to me about?” Harry asked, trying to choose the smartest of the questions that were swarming around his head.

Snape nodded and gestured to the table in front of his desk. Harry sat down and tried to look as adult and serious as a conversation with Snape seemed to warrant.

“I know the Headmaster has told you about the prophecy,” Snape said, his gaze disconcertingly direct. “And it is true that no one exactly knows what will happen with it now, when you are not the child born at the end of the seventh month, nor born to parents who have thrice defied him. However, I am in agreement with Professor Dumbledore that the Dark Lord still believes in the prophecy, and his belief, rather than its literal truth, is the important thing.”

Harry just nodded. He was worried about the prophecy himself, and didn’t think that Voldemort would just hear that he was really related to the Malfoys and say, “Oops, I made a mistake.” But he didn’t know what to do about it, or how it related to Snape’s leaving.

“I made an Unbreakable Vow to protect you,” Snape said bluntly. “Or, rather, to protect the son of Lily Potter.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, because he’d already known this. He felt his skin tense all over and prickle. He’d tried to talk to Snape earlier in the year about the Vow and what it meant, but Snape had always ignored him or found an excuse not to talk to him. It was more than startling to suddenly realize he was about to get what he’d wanted, when he’d already given up on seeking it.

“I was the one who delivered the prophecy to the Dark Lord,” Snape said. “Therefore, when I realized that it had caused him to target Lily Potter, who had been my childhood friend, I was filled with remorse, and went to Professor Dumbledore. I switched sides. I promised to spy for him, and I made that Vow when you survived.”

Harry felt as if the world around him was reeling. He had wanted information, but he hadn’t thought he would get this much, and not like this. Or this information, to tell the truth.

“You—you were the one responsible for the Potters dying?” he whispered. “That was—that was terrible of you, sir.”

Snape stood taut, as if he was forcing himself not to flinch, but he merely shrugged. “I did not realize who it would target,” he said, and went on before Harry could say that it was terrible anyway, even if it turned not to be Harry. “So, I stayed on as Potions master at Hogwarts, in a position that I am sure you have noticed I hated and nearly no one else wanted me in, either, because I wished to atone. I thought that guarding you and spying on the Dark Lord when he returned would be enough to do that.”

“But then you discovered that the boy you vowed to protect never existed at all,” Harry murmured.

“Yes. If I made the Vow in your name, or in the name of ‘the only survivor of that Halloween night’ or something similar, it would still hold. But I made it in the name of ‘Lily Potter’s son.’” Snape shook his head, a weird expression creeping over his face. It took Harry longer than it should have to recognize it as a smile. “And so, I have recently determined that the Vow no longer binds me.”

Harry gave him a nervous smile. He would have liked to go somewhere and think about all this, instead of sitting there. “All right. So you’re leaving, sir? Resigning, you said?”

“Yes.” Snape bent over and shut a small leather case Harry hadn’t noticed sitting on the floor beside him with a snap. “I thought at first that I might offer you copies of some photographs I still have of Lily, but I fear that would be—inappropriate.”

Harry nodded. Part of him would still have liked to have them, but, well, he had the photo album of the Potters Hagrid had given him, even if he had hidden it carefully in the bottom of his trunk and never took it out when his parents or Draco were around. And he wasn’t sure what he would feel staring at the face of a woman who had loved him and kidnapped him and died for him and caused his parents misery for twelve years.

“I hope you have a good holiday, sir,” Harry said, because it was the only thing he could think of to say, and then added, “Do you know who Professor Dumbledore is getting in as the next Potions professor?”

“I have no idea.” Snape looked so happy when he was saying it that Harry ducked his head to hide his grin.

“All right. I—thanks for telling me the truth.” Harry had thought of saying something like, “Thanks for guarding me,” but Snape hadn’t had any choice in that, and he was really happy to be free and not doing it anymore, so Harry thought he wouldn’t. And he couldn’t really thank Snape for the other information he had talked about.

Even if it’s better to know it than not know it.

“A word of advice,” Snape said, and pinned Harry in place with his gaze. Harry held his breath, wondering if it would be about the prophecy or Voldemort. But Snape said, “Make your slices smaller when cutting up ingredients such as horned slugs. If you do not, you will never be as good at Potions as your twin.”

“Er,” Harry said, stunned. “Thank you. Sir.”

Snape nodded and gestured out the door with one billowing sleeve, and Harry went out, shaking his head. He sighed when he found Draco in the corridor. Draco had given up following him everywhere all the time every day, but he still took his “protective big brother” act too seriously for Harry’s liking.

“You could have waited for me,” Draco grumbled, falling into step beside him.

“Yeah, but Snape wanted to talk to me, and I don’t think he would have if you were there.”

Draco gave a long sigh that seemed to use up half the air in his body, but shook his head in a way that felt more like accepting what Harry had said than disagreeing with it. “What did he want to tell you?”

“That he’s leaving. Resigning. And he thought I deserved to know about that Vow he made, which doesn’t bind him anymore because he vowed to protect Lily Potter’s son, who doesn’t exist.” Harry was going to keep the bit about Snape being the one to carry the prophecy to Voldemort to himself until he figured out how he felt about it.

Well, and because he came from a vengeance-happy family. It was entirely possible that Mother or Father or Draco would want to hunt down Snape, even though he hadn’t had anything to do with the kidnapping, because he was part of the reason Voldemort had targeted Harry.

“What!” Draco exclaimed, coming to a dead stop.

Harry turned to him and nodded. “I know. It’s kind of weird he talked about it when he was avoiding talking about it to me all year—”

“Not that!” Draco folded his arms and huffed dramatically. “He can’t just leave! He’s the Potions Professor! He’s Slytherin’s Head of House! Who are they going to have in to replace him?”

Harry blinked, then chuckled. He hadn’t even thought about the fact that Snape’s leaving would mean the Slytherins needed a new Head of House, but then, it wasn’t his House. “I don’t know. Maybe the person who taught Potions before Snape? And maybe one of the other professors was a Slytherin and could take over those Head duties?”

“This is not fair!” Draco declared, and turned around as if he was going to march right after Snape and make him explain himself. But when Harry looked around, Snape had already disappeared. If he’d really hated being here, Harry supposed he couldn’t blame him.

“It is not fair!” Draco repeated, turning around and fuming at Harry. “I suppose you don’t care, because you never liked him! But I care!”

“Well, try to find him and talk to him about it,” Harry suggested, and Draco gave him a determined nod before turning and running off. Harry shook his head and went back to Gryffindor Tower, where he was sure that Ron and Hermione would be waiting for him.

Later, he found out that Draco had sent off an owl to their parents with a long rant in it. Harry was just as glad that he hadn’t had to listen to more of it, but he did wish he could have been there to see their parents’ faces when they got it.

*

“You’re sure that you’re going to be all right?”

Harry was biting his lip, and he couldn’t seem to stop. Mrs. Malfoy reached out and gently healed his lip, and Harry nodded and focused on Mr. Malfoy, who was lying back on a white gurney in St. Mungo’s. Harry couldn’t really look at his father’s outstretched arm with the Dark Mark, so he focused on his face.

“Yes, I will be,” Mr. Malfoy said gently. “I won’t hide the truth from you, boys. This is going to be a long and painful procedure. But Healers have advanced in their knowledge a great deal in the last few years, and, well, limb regrowth is available to those who can afford it.”

Harry thought he should probably be worried about the poor people who couldn’t afford it, but just at the moment, the thought flickered and died on the edges of his mind. He kept looking at Mr. Malfoy as the Healers came out and checked him over, weaving their wands in diagnostic magic that made no sense to Harry.

“We’re ready to take you back into the ritual surgery ward, Mr. Malfoy,” one of the Healers, a tall woman with red braided hair, said at last.

“Why does he have to go to a ritual surgery ward?”

Draco’s voice was very small and very tight. Harry reached over and held his brother’s hand. Draco grabbed on and squeezed and squeezed.

“Because we don’t know exactly what will happen when we begin to amputate his left arm, young Mr. Malfoy,” the red-haired Healer said gently. “As far as we know, this is the first procedure of its kind to remove the Dark Mark. There might be reasons why it’s never happened before. The Mark might react violently. Others who have tried it might have died. We’ll be in a secure space where the violence of the Mark’s magic, if any, will be contained, and we can heal your father of any wounds he receives immediately.” She checked a large golden watch hanging from her robe and nodded. “We should move him now, or we’ll lose the favorable conjunction of the stars tonight.”

Harry held onto Draco’s hand, and felt Mother’s arm come around his shoulders, as the gurney levitated into the air and the Healers walked around it, back behind a white wall that shimmered with inlaid silver lines. Harry released a shaky breath. He had no idea what was going to happen, and that scared him.

And part of him felt selfish. Mr. Malfoy would never even have considered doing this if not for Harry and their fears that Voldemort would target him. No matter what anyone said about him being under the Imperius in his Death Eater days—the Healers certainly believed it, or they would have refused to treat him—Harry knew he hadn’t been.

But he remembered the way Mrs. Malfoy had reacted when Sirius had nearly kidnapped him again. Mr. Malfoy would do anything to defend him, too.

“Come, boys,” Mrs. Malfoy whispered, and escorted them from the room to the waiting area where they would have to stay for a few hours.

Harry leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Draco was pacing in circles until Mother snapped at him and made him sit down. Harry tried to listen for any sounds of the surgery, although he knew he wouldn’t be able to hear it behind the wards.

Somewhere in there, after what felt like hours of waiting and sick hoping, he fell asleep.

*

Pain like he’d never felt woke him, screaming.

“Henry! Henry!”

Harry could hear his mother and his brother, frantic, but he couldn’t stop screaming. And he couldn’t stop clawing at his forehead, where the pain was flowing from.

There was blood on his fingers by the time that Mrs. Malfoy bound Harry’s hands to the arms of the chair. He sobbed and writhed, and heard Draco shouting, “Fix him! Fix him!”

Then, abruptly, the pain stopped.

Harry sagged back in his chair, breathing hoarsely, and felt Mrs. Malfoy crouch down next to him. She cast some spells which looked like the diagnostics the Healers had used on Mr. Malfoy, and then she conjured a glass of ice water for his throat, tipping it slowly for him. Harry swallowed and swallowed. He couldn’t move his arms, which were still bound to the chair.

“Sorry about that, dear one,” Mrs. Malfoy whispered, and cast the spell that released his arms. Then she gathered him close and rocked him. Harry put his chin on her shoulder and tried to think past his trembling and the blinding pain.

“What happened?” Draco demanded, dancing around them. “What happened?”

“Draco, hush,” Mrs. Malfoy snapped, in a tone Harry had never heard from her before. It worked, though, since Draco hushed. Mrs. Malfoy leaned back and carefully brushed Harry’s hair out of his eyes. She hissed.

“What?” Harry whispered, although he thought he knew. The pain had come from his scar, after all.

“There’s blood on your scar,” Mrs. Malfoy said quietly. “And I don’t think all of it is just from where you clawed at it.” She reached up and wiped it away. Harry flinched despite himself, but her gentle touch didn’t cause any more pain. He swallowed as he thought about the agony he’d endured.

“Mrs. Malfoy? Are you all right? We thought we heard screaming.”

Draco promptly moved in front of Harry, and Mrs. Malfoy flowed to her feet, shielding him with her body. “My son had a terrible nightmare,” she said gravely. “But what about Lucius? Is he—” She took a ragged breath, and Harry suddenly wondered how worried she had been. He hadn’t really thought about it.

Harry couldn’t see around his twin to get a glimpse of the Healer’s face, but he heard the smile in her voice. “The Mark is gone, Mrs. Malfoy. The amputation was successful. We’ll have Mr. Malfoy rest for a month before we start the limb regrowth. But I promise you, I don’t see any reason that he shouldn’t regain full function in his left arm.”

Mrs. Malfoy shuddered a little, and Harry thought she might cry if there weren’t so many people there. “Thank you,” she whispered.

The Healer talked with her a little more, while Harry leaned against Draco. Draco touched his shoulder and whispered, “What was that, Henry?”

Harry shook his head. “I have no idea.”

But part of him was wondering exactly when Father’s arm had been amputated, if someone had kept the records of that.

And if it would coincide with the time he’d started screaming.

How alive was the Mark? How alive is my scar? How are they connected?

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you’re all right, Father?”

There were times that Harry still found it hard to call Mr. Malfoy Father. But right now, with him even paler than usual and resting on his bed with pillows piled everywhere around him and half his left arm missing, it was easy.

“Yes, I’m fine.” Father closed his eyes for a second, his left arm twitching as if he wanted to reach out and pick up his wand, and had only now remembered why he couldn’t. “Why are you here, Henry? As much as I appreciate your presence, this is something a house-elf could do.”

Harry hesitated, but decided only the truth would probably let him remain. “I got left alone all the time when I was sick and hurt and upset at the Dursleys’. I don’t want to leave you alone.”

That got Father’s eyes opening very wide for a moment, but then he closed them again and nodded wearily. “Water, please.”

Harry carefully poured from the carafe sitting beside the bed, which had water in it laced with potions that were supposed to promote healing. Apparently Father was fine as far as physical pain was concerned, but his body was still recovering from the weight of the ritual.

“Thank you.” Father took the cup in his right hand and sipped carefully from it. His eyes were fixed on Harry, though. “Does that mean you would be willing to talk about your experiences with the Muggles?”

“I do talk about them,” Harry said, and waited until Father’s face began to change before he added, “With Healer Letham.”

Father grunted at him. “I still think it would benefit you to talk to someone else. One of us.”

“Why? You wanted me to have Mind-Healing, and I’m having Mind-Healing.”

Harry knew his voice was growing stubborn, but honestly, what did they want from him? He had done exactly as they wanted. He didn’t know why they wanted something more from him all of a sudden.

Father sighed. “I know, but we are your family. And while it’s your right to ask Healer Letham to keep your confidences, it does mean that it’s hard to be sure your healing is progressing as it should.”

“I’m more settled. Happier. You know that.”

“Yes, of course. I noticed.” Father’s eyes were soft as he looked at Harry, and he was smiling the way he had the day he told Harry would have his arm amputated to remove the Dark Mark. “I’m glad of it. But I wish you felt that you could trust us enough to tell the truth to us. That’s all.”

“Maybe someday,” Harry said. All sorts of things were true that he never would have thought could be two years ago, like him feeling happier in his family and thinking of Draco as his brother and Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy as his parents. That meant that he couldn’t rule out this changing someday, too.

“What would have to change?” Father leaned forwards, his left arm twitching as if he wanted to clench the hand that was currently missing.

“You would have to promise that you wouldn’t murder them.”

Silence. Father looked baffled. Harry looked steadily back at him.

“I do not understand this odd hesitation of yours.”

“It isn’t just a hesitation with you,” Harry said, because he thought it might make a difference if Father understood that. “I freed Pettigrew because Black would have murdered him. There wasn’t any other alternative I could see. Lupin was just standing there, and Black—”

“Yes, well, you know my opinion of that,” Father interrupted. That was true, Harry reflected. They’d had a long talk after his parents had learned that Harry had been alone with Black and Lupin, no matter how short the time period had been. “Killing Black would also have solved the problem.”

“Murder is wrong.

“Perhaps someday you’ll change that idea.”

Harry just kept quiet. No matter what some of the people around him thought, both Gryffindors and Slytherins, he didn’t think it was that weird to see murder as immoral.

“I shall endeavor to earn more of your trust,” Father said, with a faint smile on his face, and gave him back the glass of water. “I understand that you have another meeting with Healer Letham tomorrow?”

With some relief, Harry let the subject be changed.

*

“And I don’t understand why that line is so hard for them not to urge me to cross. Why they want to turn me into a murderer.”

Healer Letham listened in silence, as she had to most of Harry’s long explanation. They were meeting in the same room in the Manor that they’d used last summer, and house-elves had brought them tea and biscuits. Harry leaned back now and finished his, sneaking little glances at Healer Letham from time to time. Her face was blank, her dangling leg swaying back and forth, and she seemed to be thinking.

“I don’t think they think of it as turning you into a murderer,” Healer Letham finally murmured. “They think of it as avenging you, when they’re talking about killing the Muggles who raised you. Or teaching how to defend yourself, when they think of you killing someone.”

“But you agree it’s wrong, right?”

“I agree that murder is,” Healer Letham said, and sipped from her teacup. “What I do know is that many people draw the line about what murder is elsewhere and find ways to justify it to themselves.”

“Okay, like what?”

“Self-defense, in times of war. There are many Aurors who killed Death Eaters, and I don’t think they spend all that many nights awake thinking about it. For that matter, some among your professors would have killed Death Eaters, in defense of themselves or their students. They don’t spend all their time condemning themselves, either.”

Harry felt a little daunted. “Well, but self-defense is different.”

“Not for some people. If you define murder as the killing of an intelligent being, then self-defense’s motivation does not make it different. It would still be the same act.”

Harry squinted at Healer Letham. “Are you deliberately trying to confuse me?” He wouldn’t accuse her of being on his parents’ side. Enough experiences had showed him that she did consider herself as working for Harry, no matter who paid her.

“No,” Healer Letham said, her voice gentle. “Trying to let you understand your parents’ thinking, although of course you are free not to adopt their thought processes or definitions for yourself.”

Harry let out a short breath. “Okay. So what other exceptions could there be to murder, beyond self-defense?”

“Vengeance,” said Healer Letham. “There are still old laws on the books that allow someone to challenge a second person to a duel when that second person has caused harm to their family. And that duel can be lethal.”

“I don’t think Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy are looking to duel the Dursleys.”

“No, I don’t think so, either. But that is undoubtedly part of the reason behind their puzzlement that you would consider the murder of your former caretakers as murder.”

“You agree it’s murder, too!”

“I agree that it would be, yes. We cannot expect the Muggles who raised you to abide by the laws that the magical world has established for such duels.”

Harry eyed her suspiciously. Healer Letham raised her eyebrows at him, smiling a little. Harry flushed. He was still looking at her as if she was trying to trick him, and she probably knew it.

“And that’s it? They just think of it as a duel, so them it’s not murder?”

“I think there is one other factor related to that, and that is blood purism. They are horrified because you were their son and went through that. They would have a lesser form of outrage if it were any other pureblood child who had suffered, and perhaps only a shrug if a Muggleborn child died of their Muggle family’s abuse.”

Harry was better at controlling his flinches around the word “abuse,” but he wasn’t perfect. Healer Letham didn’t comment on it, just went on sipping her tea.

“But that’s—horrible.”

“It is, Harry, but I think it is also an exaggeration of a mindset many people have, not completely different. When they hear of something horrible happening to someone else, even a child, many humans will shiver a little but not be outraged. Or they will feel a fleeting moment of anger and sadness, nothing else. They may even feel thankful that it is not happening to them or theirs.”

Harry nodded silently, thinking about the way that Uncle Vernon had even joked, sometimes, about things they saw on the news. Who cared about it happening to other people, as long as they were safely on the other side of the world, or freaks? Vernon had even bragged sometimes about the “muscles” Dudley had developed by beating up Harry.

“Harry?”

Harry started and looked up at Healer Letham. “Just remembering things,” he said. “What do you think will happen if I tell Mother and Father that I have no intention of ever letting them punish the Dursleys?”

“Say it long enough and loudly enough, and I think they will accept that you aren’t changing your mind.” Healer Letham sat up. “Now, on to other subjects. You never did tell me what happened to Lupin at the end of the year.”

“Oh.” Harry flushed again. “It’s stupid.”

“Perhaps you could let me be the judge of that?”

“I—well, it was like Lupin gave up after I released Pettigrew. He only spoke to me once more, a few weeks after the thing with Pettigrew, and he said that I was nothing like the boy he had thought I was.”

“What preconceptions could he have of you? Even if you had been James Potter’s son in blood and truth, you weren’t raised by him.”

“I know!” Harry flung up his arms. “I told him that. I mean, not in the same words. I’m not as eloquent as you are. But it seemed to break him. He avoided me after that, and he told Headmaster Dumbledore that he wouldn’t be returning at the end of the year. I think maybe he only took the job as Defense professor to reconnect with me or something.”

“Perhaps he did.”

“But that’s stupid. He knew I was a Malfoy by the time he got the job! The whole world did! And I didn’t know him, anyway.”

Healer Letham’s smile seemed to remove lines from her face. “As I believe we have established, Harry, many people do not do things for entirely rational reasons.”

*

“Thanks for asking if we could come, Harry.”

Harry smiled at Hermione as she bounced along beside him, bright-eyed, on the way to their Defense lesson with Ted Tonks in the ballroom. “Well, your parents were the ones who said yes, and you were the ones who asked your parents. I didn’t do so much, really.”

“Ruddy Malfoys would haven’t let us come if you hadn’t asked,” Ron pointed out, and looked around the ballroom with interest as they stepped inside.

Harry supposed that was true, especially given the way that Draco still sniffed when he caught sight of Harry’s best friends. Ted, however, smiled fiercely at them and nodded around the large ballroom. It was a pretty blue room with green glass panels on the walls, large and entirely empty.

“We’ve got a good training ground here,” Ted said. “Plenty of room to run and dodge. And even make weapons out of the walls.” He spun around and abruptly pointed to Hermione, who was looking as if she wanted parchment and a quill to write things down. “How could you make weapons out of the walls?”

“I suppose—you could Levitate the panels and hide behind one?”

“Interesting thought.” Ted snapped around to face Ron. “What about you?”

“You could fling the panels at people?”

“If you managed to Levitate them, yes, you could. Keep the weight of the panels in mind, though. What about you, Draco?”

I would bring the chandelier down on someone’s heads.”

Hermione and Ron looked up a little nervously at the white gold chandelier over their heads, which supported maybe a hundred pounds of candles. Harry couldn’t blame them. He’d looked at it like that himself, the first time he had to spend more than a few minutes in here.

“Yes, but I asked you to consider the walls as weapons.”

“The chandelier makes a better one,” Draco said, and folded his arms. If he’d had a peacock’s tail, Harry thought with amusement, it would have been flared out behind him with indignation.

One afternoon he’d made the mistake of telling Draco Harry thought he would probably be a peacock Animagus, and Draco hadn’t spoken to him for a day, which was astonishingly long for Draco to keep his mouth shut.

“And you, Harry?”

“I’d shatter the glass into pieces and make it fly at people.”

Hermione gave Harry a startled look, as if she hadn’t thought he would be so violent, but Ted grinned and nodded. “That’s what I was thinking myself, although the others were interesting suggestions. More defense-oriented than offense-oriented, though, you two,” he told Hermione and Ron, and then looked at Draco. “And I do want you to keep in mind that the chandelier would be even harder to manipulate than the panels on the walls, thanks to its weight.”

“I wouldn’t try to float it! I would just cut through its chain and drop it.”

“And could you count on your enemies to stay where they were? It’s still an interesting idea, Draco, but it needs work.” Ted drew his wand and turned to Harry, who promptly drew his own in response. “And now I’ll show you a sequence Harry and I have been working on—”

Henry—”

Ted ignored Draco. Just like Healer Letham, he called Harry by the name Harry still preferred. “Get ready, Harry.”

“Wait!” Hermione’s voice rose into a panicked little squeak. “I thought we were just—going to be taking notes and discussing the theoretical parts of Defense class! We can’t perform magic during the summer!”

You can’t,” Draco said, looking down his nose in a way that Harry knew would more or less mean an instant fight, so he immediately flung himself in between them (verbally, anyway).

“Most of the time, we can’t either, Hermione,” he said, glancing at Draco and frowning when his brother started to open his mouth again. Draco shut it and rolled his eyes. “But Mr. Tonks used to be a Shadowfollower, one of the Ministry’s secret soldiers. They still grant him some privileges.”

“Yes, like training young warriors during the summer.” Ted still had his wand out, and Harry hadn’t exactly put his away, either, although he’d lowered it. Ted stung him with a hex for that forgetfulness. “Come on, now, Harry. Let’s show them what you’ve been practicing.”

Harry breathed slowly out, and nodded. He did kind of what to show Ron and Hermione what he’d been doing. Draco knew, but he’d only watched Harry and Ted practice the individual spells, not the whole thing.

“Ready,” Harry said, and then dodged abruptly to the side as Ted flung a Blasting Curse at him.

Ron and Hermione gasped, but their voices dimmed in Harry’s mind as he spun and dodged the other spells Ted was flinging at him—not serious battle curses, but all ones that would do heavy damage if they landed. Meanwhile, Harry Transfigured the stone beneath Ted’s feet to mud, set up shields that the curses destroyed sometimes but also sometimes rebounded off, and wove Ted’s robe around his feet to trip him up.

Ted came up laughing. Harry watched intently as his wand began to move. He had already warned Harry that he would end their sequence of spells with something Harry had never seen before, and he expected Harry to counter it with a spell that was taught in either first or second year.

Voco fulgur!”

A lightning bolt, a real, honest-to-Merlin lightning bolt, flared into the air between them. Harry caught his breath sharply and almost somersaulted backwards as Ted aimed it at him. But it wasn’t actually moving yet. It was trailing around after Ted’s wand, but not moving towards Harry.

Harry ran through the first- and second-year spells he knew in his mind with the speed that only happened to him when he was actually fighting, staring at the lightning all the while. No shields, no jinxes, no hexes would block that.

Harry’s eyes focused on Ted for a second.

So stop the one who’s casting it!

Harry snapped his wand out and yelled, “Diffindo!”

The Severing Charm flew straight and true at Ted’s hand. Ted yelped a little as a bloody cut appeared there, and dropped his wand, although Harry thought that was either for their audience’s benefit or sheer surprise. The lightning bolt went out as his wand rolled on the floor and Ted’s will stopped empowering it.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Hermione gasped, when the duel was ended and Harry leaned against the wall and panted for a minute.

“I can cast the Severing Charm,” Harry said a little indignantly. It didn’t help that his voice was wavering. He thought it was more from how fast his mind had had to move than the fact that he’d had to use so much magic at once.

“No—I mean—I mean cast it against someone else.” Hermione looked as if she was trying very hard to find the right words, so she wouldn’t offend him.

Harry laughed, and that made Ron grin at him. “That was brilliant, mate! Do you think I can learn that?”

“Of course,” said Ted, and smiled at them all as he bent down to retrieve his wand and healed the small cut on the back of his hand. “It will take practice, of course. Harry and I have been practicing that sequence of spells for a few weeks now.”

“But what good does a sequence of spells do?” Draco broke in, impatient. “He’ll learn them all in a certain order, but how does it help him with real combat? No one’s going to use that exact same sequence.”

Draco sounded a little stiff. Harry tried to catch his eye, worried that he was thinking Ted would try to hurt Harry, but Draco wouldn’t look at him.

“Of course not,” Ted said. “But it will teach Harry—”

“Henry—”

“To be fast and light on his feet. Those spells I cast are heavy ones, and many people would panic simply to see them flying at them. Your brother can’t afford to do that. And we’re going to vary it, of course. Soon I’ll be mixing up the spells in different orders and adding new ones,” he added to Harry, who nodded eagerly. Defense was something he was good at and probably had to be good at, if Voldemort believed in the prophecy.

“You’re training him to face You-Know-Who?” Ron suddenly sounded like he wanted to learn less than he had.

“That is what we must assume,” said Ted. Then he turned towards Ron and smiled. “But of course, I’ll train you less hard than him. Do you want to come up here and give it a try?”

*

“Mr. Tonks is wonderful!” Hermione was practically hopping beside Harry all the way down the corridor back to the little sitting room where Dobby had tea set up for them. “I wish he could come and be our regular Defense professor!”

“Then the curse would get him,” Ron pointed out. He was cradling his left arm against his side, where Ted had hit it hard with a jinx, but he was grinning. “Still, it would be pretty brilliant. But I hear Professor Dumbledore’s getting a retired Auror to teach us this year, so it could still be great.”

“Who?” Hermione asked, and Harry leaned over to hear the answer, but Draco cleared his throat pointedly.

“Henry, can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” Harry said, a little concerned. Draco had been sullen for the last half of their Defense lesson. He waved his friends on and walked over to his brother, who was leaning against the wall with his eyes shut.

Harry wondered if Draco had been injured by a spell and he hadn’t noticed. But then Draco’s eyes opened, and they were just angry.

“Why do you have to show off like that?” Draco demanded. “Why do you like him so much? When he won’t even call you by your proper name!”

“I still want some people to call me Harry,” Harry said, because he didn’t understand the first part of Draco’s complaint at all. He hadn’t shown off! He’d just dodged a lot, and he and Ted had practiced those spells constantly anyway. “Ron and Hermione do it, and you don’t get all upset at them.”

“They’re going to have to change that if they want to stay your friends.”

“What? No, they don’t. I want—”

“You were showing off,” Draco snapped. “I know that you weren’t really intimidated by those spells. You talk about it like it’s hard for you, but it’s not!”

“I’m only not afraid of those spells because Ted and I practice them a lot—”

“Why is it so easy for you? Why are you so good in Defense all the time? Why are you so good at flying? I know you weren’t on a broom before you came to Hogwarts because of the Muggles! So where did you get it?”

Harry blinked at him for a long moment. Then he said, “Draco, are you jealous?”

Draco stiffened as though someone had hit him with a Petrificus Totalus. “I am not,” he hissed. “You take that back.”

“I mean, it’s okay if you are,” Harry said, even though he was thinking of Dudley and how horrible it was to have a family member—or someone you thought was a family member—chase you around and beat you up. “I understand, it has to be hard to be an only child with a brother you thought was gone forever and suddenly he comes back—”

“I am not jealous! Why would I be jealous of you growing up with filth in the Muggle world and wearing clothes for years that made you look worse than Weasley?”

“Oi!” Ron said, coming back around the corner. “Harry, what’s going on?”

Henry!” Draco yelled, apparently losing his temper and his sanity at the same time. “His name is Henry! Why can’t you get it right, Weasel?”

“That’s enough!” Harry yelled back, appalled. He still thought this was about Draco being jealous that he was good in Defense, although he’d never known that Draco wanted to be good in Defense. “I told Ron I wanted to be called Harry, so he’s just doing what I want! And don’t call him names!” If Draco called Hermione a Mudblood next, then Harry was going to draw his wand and curse him, and he didn’t care how angry their parents got about it or what notices he might get about underage magic.

“Your name is Henry!” Draco whirled around to face him again. “You should want them to say it! Or do you just wish that you were back with your kidnappers again and everyone called you Harry and thought you were a Potter?”

Harry stared at him. “No,” he said, his voice softer than he meant it to be, because of the throbbing pain in his chest. It would have hurt less if Draco had hit him. “Of course not.”

“Then tell everyone to call you Henry.

“No!”

“You’re pathetic,” Draco sneered at him. “A pureblood who clings to something kidnappers and traitors and Muggles call him.” He turned and stormed away up the corridor.

Harry took a step after him, and then stopped. He was no longer even certain why Draco was so angry, whether he was jealous or really hated that people called Harry by his old (real) name, or whether it was something else. But he knew he wouldn’t do any good by going and asking his brother right now.

“Mate? Are you okay?”

Harry took a deep breath and turned back to Ron. “I am. Come on, let’s go and have tea.”

He was glad that it was Ron here and not Hermione, because Ron just nodded and walked along with him, looking a little stunned himself, and not trying to make Harry “talk” about it or anything.

Harry’s head was buzzing, and he barely remembered the conversation that happened between him and Ron and Hermione. He mostly listened to Hermione chatter on about Ted and what a brilliant teacher he was, again. Neither he nor Ron, by silent agreement, mentioned the argument that had happened with Draco. Hermione would turn herself inside out to make it “right,” and she couldn’t, not really.

But the ache remained in Harry’s chest. Yeah, Draco had been angry. But Draco was the kind of person who got more honest, not less, when he was angry, and maybe this was his way of saying what he really meant.

What he really thought.

And the fear was there, sneaking through Harry’s mind like an enemy he couldn’t cast curses to combat.

Do Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy think that, too?

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, Henry. The Healers have looked, but there’s absolutely no material they can find explaining what the connection would be between the Mark and your scar.”

Harry nodded slowly. He had reckoned that would be the case when Mother hadn’t said anything about it for days after she’d asked the Healers to look, but it was still disappointing to hear. “Okay.”

Mother hesitated. They were in the small library that she seemed to go to when she wanted to have time alone, a blindingly clean room where the shelves and the carpet and the chairs and even the spines of the books on the shelves were all white or silver. But Harry had been invited into it lately. He sat on the chair nearest the fireplace hoping he wouldn’t smudge it.

“About your fight with Draco.”

Harry grimaced a little. Draco had avoided him for the rest of that evening and then mumbled an apology at the breakfast table with Mother glaring at him the entire time. “It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not.” Mother sighed. “I think that your father and I may have played a part in this, unwittingly. For so many years, the only things we had to tell Draco about his brother were what had happened before you were stolen, and what we thought you might be like. I think Draco internalized the idea of a brother who would be exactly like him in every way, except comfortably a little inferior, since Draco would know about being a Malfoy and Aldebaran wouldn’t.”

Harry hoped he hid his wince at the sound of his old name. He still hated it, but it meant something to his family. “So I was right? He was jealous?”

“Not entirely right, Henry. Draco does find your insistence on allowing people to use your old name repugnant.”

“I’m not going to stop.”

“No, and I told Draco that. If anything, I think that his attempting to press you to use your, shall we say, family name would only make it seem more foreign to you, and make you likely to refuse harder.”

Harry nodded. Sometimes he wished he wasn’t so contrarian, the way that Hermione and the Dursleys and all sorts of people had told him he was, but he was, and it seemed he would be that way no matter what his name was or what he looked like.

“But I think Draco is starting to picture you as a contrast to the idealized picture of his twin brother he carried in his head for years. He thought that of course you would be a Slytherin, proud of your name—both your names—and like him in the way he thinks and behaves. And while you are certainly a talented Quidditch player, and so is Draco, I think that he finds your skills in Defense disturbing.”

“Do you?”

Mother looked at him, and her eyes seemed to flash for a second. Harry shivered. She looked wild and fierce like that, and more than a little mad.

Could we have Dobby take the Black madness away from her, too? Would she agree to it?

“I think you are proceeding exactly as you should,” Mother said softly. “Draco can receive extra Defense practice from Ted, however. Will that bother you?”

“No. Why would it?”

“I have wondered, to a certain extent, why you have not been jealous yourself. Of Draco’s Potions skills, or the way that he had more years with us than you did.”

Harry took a long, complicated breath. He wanted to say that he didn’t care about Potions at all, but that would probably make her upset with him. And the other question was probably more important, anyway.

“I think he’s just good at Potions, and I’m good at other things,” he said, what he hoped was diplomatically. “And …it isn’t his fault that I was the one who got kidnapped and he was the one who wasn’t. I’m not going to blame him for being happy. Someone should get to be.”

Mother leaned a little towards him, the madness fading entirely from her eyes. “Are you unhappy, Henry?’

Harry fidgeted on the chair, suddenly longing for the times when Aunt Petunia would simply ignore him and tell him to go to his cupboard.

“Henry?”

“I’m upset because I fought with Draco, and I still don’t really understand why,” Harry admitted. “And I’m upset that Black is somewhere out there and we don’t know what he’s going to do. And I don’t know what happened with the Mark and my scar, and I’m upset Father got his arm cut off because of me, and—”

Mother reached out and pulled him into a hug. Harry startled, and then relaxed a little. This was something he really liked, but he was still bad at showing he liked it sometimes.

“I promise,” Mother whispered, “we will help you get through this. Draco already regrets saying what he said, and I hope I have explained a little of the context to you. We’ll continue to set wards against my cousin, and research the connection between the Mark and your scar. And your father had already made one move to set himself against the Dark Lord. This is the continuation of that, not something you uniquely caused.”

“What did he do about You-Know-Who?” Harry hated using the name “Dark Lord,” but everyone reacted so badly about him saying Voldemort, he would use the compromise. He didn’t want Mother to jump and disrupt the warm hug she had him in.

Mother hesitated, and then drew back. “I think I should let your father explain that, when he feels better,” she said.

“Okay,” Harry said, and leaned towards her. He was glad that she understood what he was asking for without words, and hugged him again, lowering her head so that her hair spilled over his.

Harry really liked this. It felt like he was floating in a sea of warmth that nothing could ever pull him out of.

It wasn’t true, of course. But it was nice.

*

“No. Of course not.”

Harry scowled a little. He had suspected this would be the result of showing Father the letter, but he didn’t like the way that Father said it, the kind of tone Uncle Vernon had always used to say, “Because I say so.”

“Okay. But could we meet him in Diagon Alley or something like that? It sounds like he has important news about Black.”

Father and Mother exchanged dark looks. Father was finally well enough, a fortnight after the ritual, to come down and have meals with them. Draco, who was talking to Harry again although they avoided the topic of Defense, looked back and forth between their parents.

“Why could he not put it in a letter?” Mother asked at last, turning to face Harry again. “That would have been the easiest thing to do, especially if he was short on time. Why does Dumbledore insist on meeting our son in our house?”

Harry just shook his head. He didn’t know. But he thought he might have an idea. He’d asked Dumbledore to work on a trial for Black, after all. And maybe Dumbledore thought if he said that in a letter, then there was no way Mother and Father would let him meet Harry.

But it seemed they wouldn’t let him meet Harry anyway. Draco was talking about how Dumbledore had been part of the plot with Lupin to try and make Harry keep secrets from his family, and Mother and Father were both scowling.

“We will write back to him and tell him to meet us in Diagon Alley,” Father said at last, his eyes harsh. “You may come, Henry. But we will both be with you, and we will remove you from the situation the moment Dumbledore makes a hostile move.”

Harry blinked, not having expected them to agree at all. But he nodded hastily. He definitely wasn’t going to get a better deal than this.

And if there was going to be a trial for Black, he wanted to know about it. Black might think he could get custody of Harry because he was his godfather—well, the godfather of the baby everyone had thought was Harry Potter—but Harry didn’t want to live with him. He did think that Black deserved to be declared innocent of the murders of Peter Pettigrew and the Muggles, though.

“I want to come, too! I want to come!”

“We want you to stay at the Manor, Draco. Let us have the assurance that one of our sons is safe from kidnapping.”

Draco blinked and shut up. Harry leaned down the table to look at Mother and Father. “You think Dumbledore might kidnap me again?” And you’re letting me meet with him anyway? But he didn’t want to say that aloud, just in case they hadn’t thought about it clearly and ended up leaving him home instead.

“Not seriously,” Father said, at the same moment Mother said, “Yes.” They stared at each other for a moment, and then Father turned to Harry with a small smile. “Not seriously,” he repeated. “But there is the chance that this meeting could be a front for Black or Lupin to do so. We will allow you to attend because it seems important to you, but we will spirit you away at the first sign of danger. Do you understand?”

Harry nodded, hopeful. Maybe this could be worked out all right. Maybe Mother and Father could even see that Harry was more capable of keeping himself safe than they thought.

*

For some reason, it didn’t occur to Harry at all that Mother and Father might have ulterior motives until they walked into the small café off Diagon Alley where they were meeting Dumbledore and he saw Dumbledore turn pale. Harry glanced over his shoulder, trying to see what Dumbledore was seeing, and realized that the Headmaster’s eyes were locked on the missing part of Father’s left arm.

Oh. They wanted to rub it in that Father will never turn me over to Voldemort, and Dumbledore thought he would.

For some reason, Harry found himself having to conceal a smile as he sat down at one of the small dark blue tables across from Dumbledore. Mother sat beside him, one hand resting lightly on his shoulder. Father waved his wand and made a Privacy Charm spring up around them, then sat down on Harry’s other side.

He laid his amputated arm upright on the table and smirked as he stared directly into Dumbledore’s eyes.

“Who will now hand over his son to the Dark Lord?” he asked softly.

Dumbledore took a quick breath and looked Father in the eye. “You haven’t had your arm restored yet. The Mark might return.”

Father laughed. It wasn’t a particularly nice sound, and Harry shifted closer to Mother. She let him lean gently against her. “I have never seen you arguing from pure desperation before, Albus. Allow me to savor the moment.”

Dumbledore shook his head. He looked profoundly disturbed, pale, with wrinkles on his face that made Harry think of him as old for the first time. He turned to Harry and seemed to try to look straight past both his parents. “Harry, my boy—”

“Please call me Henry.” Harry didn’t want everyone calling him that, but it was still useful.

Dumbledore paused for a moment, then just went on without acknowledging that he’d heard Harry. “You will be pleased to know that Sirius Black is having a trial arranged for him. Once we can receive some reassurance that he won’t simply be greeted by Dementors when he arrives at the Ministry, then he will be tried in front of the Wizengamot on the charges of betraying the Potters and killing Peter Pettigrew and the Muggles, as should have been done.”

I am pleased to hear it,” Mother said. “And a formal trial for the kidnapping?”

“You would subject a man who unfairly spent twelve years in Azkaban to that?” Dumbledore was still looking at Harry.

“Do you not want him to stand a trial that you know he would be found guilty at?” Mother asked in her sweetest of sweet voices, the one she usually used on Diagon Alley shopkeepers.

“I was speaking to your son.”

“Yes, you do have an unfortunate habit of treating him like an adult. Speak to us instead,” Father said, and once again rolled his left arm over. Dumbledore’s eyes darted to the cut-off portion, then away.

The Headmaster took a deep breath and looked at the restaurant’s shimmering silver ceiling as if praying for patience. Then he turned so he was speaking to Mother. “That crime is fourteen years old.”

Mother arched her eyebrows and said not a word. She was pretty good at showing contempt that way, Harry had found. And scolding people, too. Sometimes all she had to do was look at him and Draco and they would stop fighting.

“You cannot want Sirius further punished for that. Your own cousin?”

“Who took my own son? Who made us suffer for twelve years, fearing Henry was dead or being mistreated? Who was responsible for him being left with abusive Muggles, since he could not even fulfill the duties of a godfather my son’s false parents assigned him? Of course I want him punished. I agree that he should not be Kissed on sight. But he should stand trial, Headmaster. For all his crimes.”

Mother’s voice was perfectly level and cold. Harry shivered at that, and wondered what would happen if Sirius walked into the restaurant right now, if Mother would draw her wand. He thought she probably would.

Oh. And she was sitting so her wand arm was free. Somehow, he hadn’t noticed that before.

Dumbledore closed his eyes. Harry had no idea what he was thinking, but he doubted it was pleasant. Dumbledore shook his head, still not looking at them.

“If you knew what I know about the power of forgiveness,” he whispered. “Of love.”

“And if you knew what we do about the power of vengeance,” Father murmured. He pulled his left arm back under the table and reached for a flask on his belt, which Harry knew contained one of the potions that the Healers had told him to drink so that he would be at his strongest when the time came to grow the new arm. “This meeting was simply to deliver the news that Black was receiving a trial, then? You could have done that by letter, Dumbledore.”

Harry nodded despite himself. Dumbledore’s eyes opened and saw him.

“Is there really no trace left of the generous, giving boy I once knew?” Dumbledore whispered.

Harry had no idea what to say to that, and it didn’t matter if he did. Mother stood up, sweeping a fold of her robe around Harry so that he felt as if he was looking out at the world through a blanket. “It is not for you to say such things to our son, Headmaster,” she said. “Perhaps we will see you in the Wizengamot on the day Sirius Black is tried for kidnapping.”

Harry stood up and went with her. He kind of wanted to look back at Dumbledore, but it seemed that his parents had been right. Dumbledore had asked to meet with Harry, over news that he could easily have written down, because he wanted to ask him silly questions and try to trick him back into being Harry Potter.

Or into being…what?

Harry didn’t have any idea that didn’t have to do with the prophecy. And that didn’t please him.

*

“Do I have to?”

“We would like you to remain in this warded room for a few hours, Mr. Malfoy,” the Healer in front of him said. She was the same red-haired woman who had attended Father when he was getting his arm regrown. Harry knew now that her name was Healer Percival. “I know that you had a strong reaction next time, and while we don’t anticipate the return of your father’s arm bringing back the Dark Mark, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

In the end, Harry nodded stiffly and stepped behind the warded wall into the middle of the waiting ritual circle. It was a small one, but made of what looked like pure silver, at least to Harry’s untutored eyes. The minute he walked into it, there was a small snapping sound and brilliant white flames rose from the circle.

“You did not tell me that would happen!” snapped Mother, on the other side of the fire and looking unhappy about it.

“I did not anticipate that it would.” Healer Percival was staring at Harry with wide grey eyes. They narrowed a second later. “Tell me, Mr. Malfoy, have you ever had prophetic dreams? The sensation of hearing or seeing something far away from you? Feeling emotions that are not your own?”

“Where are these questions leading?” Mother demanded.

“In a direction that I did not think to investigate, and that might explain the connection between the Dark Mark and the scar on your son’s forehead,” Healer Percival said. That at least made Mother look a little calmer, Harry noticed. He wished it did the same for him. Healer Percival smiled gently at Harry. “Did you ever have any of those?”

“I’ve had a few dreams about—well, I don’t really know,” Harry said hesitantly. “I see green light and hear laughter, and then it goes dark. And once I dreamed a huge snake was coming towards someone, about to bite him. But I don’t remember them well enough to know if they’re prophetic.”

Healer Percival sucked in a deep breath, glanced at Mother, and then turned back to Harry. “I would like to speak with you after the surgery to restore your father’s arm, Mr. Malfoy.”

Harry nodded. If they could find out something that would let him solve the puzzle of what was going on with the scar, then he would answer any questions she had.

Healer Percival checked her golden watch, started, and hurried out of the room. Harry hoped he hadn’t made her late for the ritual that would heal Father. That was still, and always, the most important thing.

Mother came up to the edge of the white flames and stared at him through them. Harry swallowed. “Why are they here?” he asked.

“The circle keeps out Dark Arts influences,” Mother whispered. “They hoped that it might protect you even if there is a connection between the Mark and your scar and the Mark reappears. But the flames would not be there—” She hesitated.

“Please tell me.” Harry’s voice was smaller than he liked, but he was sick of adults keeping things from him, the way that Dumbledore had with the prophecy.

Mother nodded, hard. “The flames only appear when the circle needs to keep a Dark Arts influence caged.”

Harry sat down with a thump. Mother reached out to touch him, but of course her fingers had to stop short of the fire.

“Can you just stay with me and keep me company?” Harry whispered. He knew she probably would have anyway, since she wasn’t allowed back in the ritual room where Father was being worked on, but he had to ask.

“Of course, Henry.”

Mother’s eyes were wet with tears. Harry wrapped his arms around his knees and tried not to think.

*

“What is going on? Why wouldn’t they let me in the ritual room, Mother?”

Harry half-smiled when he heard Draco’s complaining voice. He’d had to sit in the waiting area where they’d stayed last time when they were waiting for news about Father. Harry hoped someone had told Draco a little of what was going on, but the way his eyes widened when he walked into the room and saw the white flames said it wasn’t enough.

“Henry? What in the world—”

He was cut off by Healer Percival, who walked into the room holding a small, ornate hand mirror. She smiled at them all and held it out. “You’ll be pleased to know that Mr. Malfoy’s arm has been regrown, and no Mark reappeared. And you didn’t suffer from any debilitating pain, either, Mr. Malfoy?” She glanced at Harry.

Harry, who felt as if he’d spent the last hour in a state of numbness, shook his head and sat up. He looked into the mirror and saw a small, dim image of Father smiling at him. He didn’t appear shocked at the white flames, so Harry smiled back at him and waved.

“Father?” Draco surged forwards to snatch the mirror from Healer Percival, his face glowing with excitement. “You’re all right!”

The glass was tilted away from Harry now, but he could still see Father raising two unblemished arms high in the air with a laugh. “Yes. As good as new, Draco.”

“I love you,” Mother said softly, her fingers brushing across the mirror in a way that made Harry look away with his face burning. Draco wrinkled his nose, he saw from the corner of his eye, but didn’t move away.

I hope someday I’ll get used to things like that.

“I love you too, Narcissa.” Father reached out as if he was going to extend his hand through the mirror, but pulled it back at the last second. Healer Percival took it from Draco’s hands and turned to face Harry. Her face was solemn.

“Mr. Malfoy,” she said, and Harry thought she might have been talking to him and Father and Draco all at the same time, “based on the reaction of the circle, Henry’s reaction to the Mark being removed last time, and what he told me about his dreams, I am afraid I do have a theory as to why his scar pained him so much. You are not going to like it. I want you to consider, however, that Henry Malfoy is alive and in command of his own mind and magic. It could be much worse.”

The creeping numbness came back, washing over Harry’s chest and arms. He was glad he was already sitting down. Mother sat back down, as close to the edge of the circle, and the mirror, as she could get. Father had no expression on his face, and Draco crept up on Healer Percival’s other side, vibrating with nervous energy.

“I believe that Mr. Malfoy has a piece of someone’s soul behind his scar,” Healer Percival said softly. “A very Dark Art called a Horcrux splits someone’s soul, tethers the resulting shard to an object, and ensures that the person whose soul was split cannot truly die for as long as the Horcrux exists.” She took another breath, which Harry could barely hear beyond the wild rushing in his ears. “And considering your past, Mr. Malfoy, I can only speculate on one candidate for the piece of that soul.”

Harry could, too. He lowered his head until his face was pressed into his knees again, while his heart sped up until it sounded like a shriek in his ears. A long, never-ending scream, like the one he sometimes heard in his nightmares with the green light, and which he wouldn’t say in front of his parents came from his adoptive mother standing before the Killing Curse and dying for him.

“You are talking about the Dark Lord.” Harry knew someone was speaking, but his hearing was so dim he could barely comprehend it, let alone know who it was.

“Yes, I am. I am so sorry, Mr. Malfoy, Mrs. Malfoy.”

“Henry! Henry!”

The words seemed to mingle with the ones that got shouted in his head from a memory or a nightmare.

“No! Not Harry! Please, not Harry!”

“Lower the flames on the circle! He’s going into shock!”

“Mrs. Malfoy, that might not be wise. If the flames think he has some sort of influence inside his scar that must be neutralized—”

“He was here the first time without this happening, and the surgery is over now. Lower them, or I will.

Harry heard something that sounded like a wand being broken, and then warm arms wrapped around him and held him close to his mother. He turned to her and flung his arms around her. He wasn’t crying, he thought, as she touched his face and made a soft sound of dismay to find no tears there. He was too overwhelmed to cry.

He had a piece of Voldemort’s soul in his head. Was that why Dumbledore thought the prophecy would still be in play? Did Dumbledore know about it?

“What can be done about this—Horcrux?” Father demanded.

“I don’t know for sure, Mr. Malfoy. I’ve never heard of a case where a human carried a shard of another human’s soul within themselves and survived. It’s amazing that your son is still alive.”

Harry shuddered, and Mother cast some kind of spell that made him warmer and at the same time seemed to muffle the voices. Harry half-shifted, wanting to protest, because he did need to hear what was going on and stay informed of what they decided.

Maybe Mother knew that, because she said softly, “I promise we will tell you later what was discussed, Henry. For now, rest.”

And that sounded good, given how utterly exhausted he was. Harry surrendered, and let himself drift.

And tried not to remember what he carried with him.

Chapter Text

“I hate to let you leave.”

Harry nodded and hugged Mother back for a long moment. He knew it bothered her that the Healers hadn’t made any real progress on finding out how to remove the Horcrux from him. There was simply no precedent. Healer Percival had said that the Horcrux should have been too weak to torment him and assimilated by his soul if he was still alive, but he shouldn’t have lived as long as he had if it was that powerful. They obviously didn’t know much yet.

Draco and Mother and Father had all said they would figure it out. That was the only reason Harry hadn’t broken down in panic or shock daily the way he had after he first heard the news.

Well, and he was going to Hogwarts now, and he didn’t want to break down like that in front of Ron or Hermione. He trusted them, of course he did, but…

He just didn’t know who they might feel they had to tell if he told them the truth about the Horcrux. Their parents? Dumbledore? A professor?

It was better to hold it to himself for now and only tell them if he had to.

Mother hugged him once more, and straightened up with a small sigh and a pale face. Father immediately placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder and stared into his eyes. His left arm worked as well as it ever had, and Harry couldn’t see any differences between it and the right arm in strength or color.

He hadn’t missed that Father was wearing short sleeves to place him and Draco on the Hogwarts Express, of course. But he perfectly understood why Father would want to show off the Dark Mark being gone.

“You’ll write to us every week?” Father asked softly.

Harry nodded. There was something going on at the school this year that apparently was going to make it impossible for his parents to come to Hogsmeade the way they’d been doing. Even regular Hogsmeade visits were curtailed, and Quidditch was being canceled, too. At least Harry was still going to be able to meet with Healer Letham, who had smiled and told Harry not to worry about the method she would use to get around the restrictions.

Father closed his eyes and nodded. “And you’ll allow Draco to take care of you?”

“Not follow me around.

“I can do that, too,” Draco said, stepping up beside Harry. He’d already put their trunks on the train and said hello to some of his Slytherin friends.

Harry scowled at him. Draco gave him an angelic smile back, and turned to hug Mother.

“I’ll do what I can,” Harry finally answered Father, whose worried expression got a little more relaxed. “I just—it’s hard for me to get used to other people peering over my shoulder and asking me questions all the time.”

“I understand that,” Father said. He tightened his hands on Harry’s shoulders, and then bent over and hugged him.

Harry hugged him back. He was never going to doubt that Father loved him again, not after what he had done this summer.

The Express whistled, and Draco grabbed Harry’s hand. Harry waved to their parents and hopped onto the train with his brother.

Ron and Hermione did ask him a few times during the train ride what was wrong, but Harry told them that he was worried about Voldemort and the fact that they’d never heard what the outcome was from Sirius’s trial, which was true enough. And Hermione filled the silence with chatter about the books she’d read and the holiday she’d taken to France, while Ron complained about his parents and brothers and Ginny. It was as normal as things could be right now.

Harry caught the eye of his own reflection in the window glass, and grimaced a little. He didn’t like the way his cheeks were pinched and drawn and he looked even paler than a Malfoy “should” look.

He tried to smile and relax. The Horcrux hadn’t killed him so far. The Healers were working to find a way to remove it from him. Things would get there. Worrying too much about it right now probably wouldn’t change things.

“Did you hear about that attack at the Quidditch World Cup?” Hermione asked abruptly. “I’m glad none of us were there!”

Ron grumbled about how he’d wanted to be there, and only Mr. Weasley having a work emergency had kept him from attending. Harry shuddered a little. He had heard about the attack, about a bunch of Dark wizards attacking Muggles, and the Dark Mark being shot into the air. At least he hadn’t dreamed about it or got any pain in his scar from it.

“Did they catch any of them?” Harry asked, just to say something.

Hermione shook her head. “Well, they claimed they caught a house-elf who was using someone’s wand to cast the Dark Mark, but the house-elf’s owner sacked her, and that was the end of that. I think they know perfectly well who it was, and they’re just ignoring it so they don’t have to do something about it…”

Harry let Hermione ramble on about it, while he caught sight of his reflection in the glass again. He did his best to smile and sit up.

He really had to get over his fear that the Horcrux was just going to eat him from the inside out someday. There was a reason that he’d lived so far. And if he was going to get eaten by the Horcrux tomorrow, he couldn’t prevent it.

*

“Are you planning to build regular flying exercise into your routine?” Healer Letham asked, seemingly out of the blue, during their first visit they’d had that term.

Harry blinked at her. As always, Healer Letham had a cup of tea with her. Dobby was thrilled to be able to Apparate to Hogwarts and make it for them, so Harry had one, too, but he didn’t feel like drinking it.

“What do you mean?”

“I know that flying lifts your mood, and there won’t be any Quidditch for you to play this year.” Healer Letham pinched her lips. “I think they are making a mistake with the Tournament. But it shouldn’t affect you, I hope.”

Harry nodded. The Headmaster and the Ministry had had to announce they were holding the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts since the rumors had already spread all over the place anyway. “I hope not. And I didn’t think about flying regularly. Do you think it would help?”

“It would.” Healer Letham leaned towards him “Particularly as you will not tell me the cause of your current misery.”

Harry grimaced. His parents had asked him not to tell anyone, and although he thought Healer Letham could be an exception to that, he also dreaded to see how her expression would change when she heard about the Horcrux.

“Harry?”

“My parents asked me not to,” Harry murmured. “They think—well, it’s a private thing, and they want to keep it close until we can get it taken care of.”

“Ah. You believe it is a temporary condition that will end at some point, then?”

Harry nodded, still looking down. He had to believe that. And in a way, it was true. Either they would find some way to get the Horcrux out of him, or it would kill him.

“Are you only keeping silent because your parents asked you to? Would you like to tell me?”

Harry would have, honestly. It would be someone other than the Healers—who were caught up in the theoretical possibilities of it—or his family—who were all caught up in worry—to talk to about it.

But he still imagined the way that Healer Letham’s face would change when she heard about the shard of Voldemort’s soul, and winced.

“I want to talk to you about it someday. But I can’t right now.”

Healer Letham studied him for long enough that Harry thought she might ask him to speak anyway, or end the session. But then she nodded, and relaxed back into the chair she was sitting on. “Tell me about the new Potions professor. And the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. How are you getting along with them?”

“Professor Slughorn is okay,” Harry said, although he grimaced a little. The man had seemed eager to talk to him at first, but when he realized that Harry didn’t like hearing himself called “the Boy-Who-Lived,” he’d backed off. Draco, on the other hand, was soaking in the praise and attention, as the uncomplicated Malfoy son who had always been a Malfoy. “I’m learning more from him than I did from Snape.”

“And Professor Moody?”

“I don’t know, actually. Draco and I are still taking lessons from Ted. Sometimes Professor Moody tries to stop me in the corridors and speak to me, but he’s always dropping these hints and saying he has to invite me back to his office to tell me more. I haven’t gone.”

“I think that a wise decision,” Healer Letham said mildly. “It might be that Professor Moody would offer you the same kind of training Ted is, but if so, I’m afraid that he’s close enough to the Headmaster, he would be doing it Dumbledore’s instigation. And you don’t want to start down that road.”

“No. My friends seem to like him well enough,” Harry added.

“Good. And what of your brother?”

The conversation passed pleasantly enough, and Harry was surprised to find at the end that it almost had worked as if he’d told Healer Letham about the Horcrux. He’d managed to forget about it and remember there were other things in the world, at least.

And that was all he really needed.

*

“The Champion for Durmstrang is…Viktor Krum!”

Harry applauded politely, smiling at the way Ron was whooping and hollering into his ear. Harry knew who Krum was, of course, even though he hadn’t attended the World Cup. Pictures of Krum’s spectacular Snitch catch had been on the front page of the Daily Prophet for almost a week.

And the boy who stood up and walked through the cheering and clapping to a small antechamber on the far side of the Great Hall looked as if he would do well in a contest like the Tournament. He was strong and solid and had a slight scowl on his face. He looked studious, Harry thought.

And even if some people did say that the only magic studied at Durmstrang was the Dark Arts, well, maybe that was what you needed to survive in a situation like the Tournament.

“The Champion for Beauxbatons is…Fleur Delacour!”

The Veela girl who had been attracting some people’s attention since she arrived yesterday glided from the Ravenclaw table to the antechamber. She was getting lots of cheers, too, Harry noted, although Ron only sighed wistfully after her. Hermione sniffed.

Some people should pay more attention to things other than looks,” she said, and picked up her book again. But even she put it down again when the Goblet flared and spat out another name.

“The Champion for Hogwarts is…Cedric Diggory!”

Harry applauded a little harder than he had for Krum. He did actually know Diggory, and the bloke was pretty fair, both as a Seeker and as a prefect (he hadn’t done more than take a couple of points when he caught Harry coming back from visiting Draco after curfew one time last year). Hufflepuff, of course, was going mad. Diggory stood up, smiled around the Great Hall, and walked towards the same small room the other Champions had entered.

“I am pleased that all of the schools have found their Champions, and would like to thank you for your attention.” Dumbledore folded his hands and smiled out at the room much like Diggory had done. “If Headmaster Karkaroff and Madame Maxime will join me in the antechamber where the Champions have gone, we will explain—”

The Goblet abruptly ignited again. Dumbledore blinked and fell silent. Harry stared at it, and wondered if it was his imagination that his scar gave a little twinge.

Another name was spat out of the flames. Dumbledore caught the piece of paper and stared at it for a long moment before he unfolded it.

And although he knew what Father would say, Harry was sure that Dumbledore’s face had gone utterly slack with shock and surprise, and not that he was planning something, when he read the name and looked up.

“Harry Potter.”

Harry folded his arms and glared at Dumbledore. Draco stood up at the Slytherin table. Hermione and Ron, still sitting beside him, both gasped.

“Harry Potter,” Dumbledore repeated, and already he seemed to be over his surprise. He waved the slip of parchment. “You are a Champion, as chosen by the Goblet of Fire. Please join the other Champions in the room I have already indicated.”

“Harry Potter isn’t my name,” Harry said, loud enough to silence some of the murmurs that were starting up in the Great Hall. “It’s Henry Malfoy.”

“You were chosen as a Champion by the Goblet of Fire, Harry.”

“Don’t call my brother that!” Harry turned to the Slytherin table at Draco’s indignant yell and saw that his twin was pointing his wand at Dumbledore “He’s told you he doesn’t want to be called that!”

“Nevertheless,” Dumbledore said, regaining confidence by the moment, “his name has been chosen.”

“His old name. That means it isn’t really him!”

“I didn’t put my name in!” Harry yelled, standing up in turn.

“You are a Champion nevertheless,” Dumbledore said, and leveled a look at Harry over the rims of his glasses. “If there is some irregularity here, we can sort it out later. For now, join the other Champions.”

Harry shook his head and sat back down. Hermione gasped again and started tugging on his arm. “Harry, you’re going to get in so much trouble!” she hissed at him.

“I don’t care,” Harry said, loudly enough that he knew the people leaning in from other tables and trying to eavesdrop would be able to do so easily. “I didn’t put my name in. And I’m not really Harry Potter, so obviously this is some prank.”

A loud thump sounded from the far end of the professors’ table, and Harry turned. Professor Moody was standing there, bracing his wooden leg on the floor, while his magical eye zoomed around his face.

“There’s some treachery here, right enough,” he said loudly. “For now, lad, do as Headmaster Dumbledore says.”

“You’re not even one of my professors!” Harry called back. “No.”

“Dumbly-door, what is going on?”

That was Madame Maxime, standing in the doorway of the small room. Delacour peered out around her, and Harry thought he could see a glimpse of Diggory’s face, too.

“There seems to be a slight problem with the choosing process,” Dumbledore said, and smiled at her, then down the Gryffindor table at Harry. “The Goblet spat out a fourth name. Harry Potter, as it happens.”

“How is it fair for Hogwarts to have two Champions?” one of the Durmstrang students still sitting at the Slytherin table muttered.

“I’m not the Hogwarts Champion! Diggory is!”

“Shut up about my brother,” Draco snapped, and turned to aim his wand at the Durmstrang student.

“I wish you would just do what Professor Dumbledore says,” Hermione whispered.

Ron said nothing, and when Harry looked at him, he was very red in the face, and turned away. Harry got a horrible sinking sensation in his stomach. He had thought his two best friends would believe he hadn’t put his name in the Goblet, even if Hermione also thought he should do what Dumbledore wanted, but if they didn’t…

It was going to be like first year after they’d lost all those points for being caught out after curfew all over again. He’d be shunned and people would laugh at him.

Harry clenched his hands in his lap. He had his family now, he reminded himself. He had Healer Letham now. From the way Draco was yelling at some Durmstrang students, his face turning a bright pink, he wasn’t about to decide that Harry had pulled some kind of grand prank.

Harry sat back in his chair, ignoring the way Professor Moody kept staring at him, and settled in to wait for the results.

*

“There is nothing that can be done. Harry’s name has been drawn out of the Goblet of Fire. It constitutes a binding magical contract.”

“And you have nothing that would identify who entered the name?” Father stared at Dumbledore over his desk, while Mother sat quietly beside him. Harry thought they were letting Father take the lead because of the bare left forearm he could rest on Dumbledore’s desk. Dumbledore had trouble keeping his eyes off it. “Do you mean to tell me that the only security you had on the Goblet was that Age Line around it?”

“We didn’t think we would need more.” Dumbledore raised his hands in a helpless little gesture. “We all assumed that students would want to enter their own names, not those of someone else.”

“And if it was not a student who did it?”

“Well, professors aren’t supposed to want to enter someone else’s name, either,” Dumbledore said.

Through his shock—Harry wondered if he would ever get angry about anything again, or if his reaction was just going to be numbness all the time—Harry still gave Dumbledore a disbelieving look. “You didn’t think that Voldemort would use a professor if he wanted?” he asked. “He was using Quirrell first year!”

Dumbledore sighed. “It honestly doesn’t matter who did it, although of course we will try to find out. Harry has to compete. He is bound.”

“What is the binding based on?”

Mother’s voice was so quiet that Harry thought Dumbledore was going to ignore her at first. But he turned towards her, maybe because it would spare him from having to look at Father’s blank arm any longer. “Pardon me, Mrs. Malfoy?”

“What comprises the binding contract between the Goblet and the Champion chosen? It cannot be the intent of the person submitting the name, as we have established that it accepted Henry’s name despite his lack of interest in entering.” Mother was leaning forwards, fiercely intent, and Dumbledore hesitated.

“It is based on the school,” he admitted finally. “Someone must have submitted—Mr. Malfoy’s name as a Champion for a fourth school, and the Goblet chose him because it had no other candidates.”

“And is that all?” Mother stared hard at Dumbledore. “Or is there more?”

Dumbledore folded his hands on the desktop. “Well, it is also based on the name of the Champion. If someone had submitted the name of a dead person, the Goblet would not have chosen them.”

“And,” Father said, smiling a little, as if he had already known the answer but wanted to see if Dumbledore would actually say it, “the name that came out of the Goblet was Harry Potter. A name our son no longer bears.”

Harry looked up, hopeful for the first time since he had started fearing that Ron and the other Gryffindors would shun him. Dumbledore, though, was shaking his head.

“The binding would not have taken at all in that case. If Mr. Malfoy thought of himself as a completely separate person from Harry Potter, then the Goblet would have kept the name and not emitted it, the same way it would have for the name of a dead person. Harry Potter still exists.” Dumbledore stared at Harry. “In Mr. Malfoy’s head.”

“But I don’t think of myself as Harry Potter,” Harry said quickly. He didn’t want Dumbledore to blame him. Ten to one that would get out and people would start deciding that he did want to be in the Tournament even if he hadn’t entered his own name. “I promise. I don’t think of the name Potter as mine.”

Dumbledore hesitated again. Father narrowed his eyes, but Mother was the one who spoke. “The binding is weak, isn’t it, Headmaster?”

“Well, yes. Unexpectedly so.” Dumbledore coughed. “But enough so that your son is bound to compete.”

“Why is it weak?” Harry asked. Dumbledore sighed.

“Because you think of yourself as Harry Malfoy,” he said. “If your name had been Harry Potter, then the binding would be strong and you would have to compete simply to survive. If your name were Henry Malfoy, even in your head, then the binding wouldn’t exist.”

Harry sat up. He refused to feel guilty that he still thought of himself as Harry. It wasn’t like he could have anticipated this, or known how the Goblet worked. And if it was really Voldemort trying to kill him, then he would have found some other way to enter Harry, maybe just by having someone write “Malfoy” on a piece of parchment.

Could that have bound Draco, too?

Harry had the horrible feeling that it might have. At least he was facing this alone.

“So what do I have to do if the binding is weak?” Harry asked. “Do I have to compete at all?”

“Yes,” said Dumbledore with a sidelong glance. “And it would be best to do so wholeheartedly. We stand more chance of locating the person who put your name in the Goblet in that case, by seeing how they react to your efforts.”

“Our son did not enter his name in this travesty,” Father said. “And if the binding is weak, then all he needs to do is appear at the Tasks and make a little show of trying. There is nothing saying that he has to win or make a serious effort.”

“The likelihood of catching the person who used his name—”

“Why couldn’t they just react to how poorly I’m doing?” Harry interrupted, ignoring the fleeting thought in the back of his head that Hermione would be horrified about his interrupting the Headmaster. “Sir, why do you want me to compete?”

Dumbledore took his glasses off and polished them. Harry suspected he was only doing that to avoid having to look at Harry.

“I believe it is our best chance of finding Voldemort,” Dumbledore admitted softly, “and his latest pawn. At the moment, I have no idea where the wraith is.”

“You would let a situation dangerous to our son to unfold merely because you desire to know the Dark Lord’s next move?” Mother shook her head slowly, and said nothing more. Harry was kind of surprised. The look in her eyes was once again the one she’d had right before she cursed Black.

But maybe she knew that cursing Dumbledore in his office wasn’t a great idea.

“At least I know where you stand now,” said Father. “And that is as an enemy of the Malfoy family.” He shook his head in turn and spun away, touching both Harry and Mother lightly on the way. “Come. We should go out.”

“Wait! Harry! If you would—”

“Call me Malfoy, Headmaster,” Harry said, and this time he didn’t feel any urge to look over his shoulder.

*

The next few weeks weren’t brilliant.

As Harry had thought would happen, most of Gryffindor was shunning him once they figured out that he wasn’t going to back down and recant the “lie” of not putting his name in the Goblet. Hufflepuff was angry at him for “taking away Cedric’s glory.” The Ravenclaws sometimes fell into that camp and sometimes into the camp of pitying glances.

Slytherin was actually the most supportive, a huge surprise, but with how many people Draco was cursing on a regular basis, perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Harry shook his head at Draco when they met up briefly in the corridors where Draco was going to Professor McGonagall for another detention.

“I wish you wouldn’t. You’re going to get hurt.”

“They’re lying about you,” Draco said hotly. “I’m not going to stop.”

“But the more time you spend in detention, the less time you have to protect me,” Harry said, and gave Draco a wide-eyed look that he’d been practicing in the mirror. “Please stop. For my sake?”

Draco blinked and looked completely caught off-guard for a long moment. Then he nodded. Harry smiled thankfully at him and went his way.

At least it worked, and Draco stopped getting as many detentions for the next little while.

Ron, meanwhile, was angry about Harry “not telling him” about putting his name in the Goblet. Harry had no idea why he believed that so stubbornly, but he didn’t work on changing his mind. Ron would either come back or he wouldn’t, and although it hurt that his first ever friend didn’t believe him, well, Harry had seen Ron get upset and then come back to his side after the Malfoy thing. It would probably happen this way, too.

Hermione believed him, and was willing to spend a lot of time with both him and Draco, but she didn’t like the way that Harry had argued with Dumbledore and refused to do what he said. She was also starting to nag Harry about attending class with Professor Moody, too, even though Ted’s lessons were going well and Hermione had seen for herself what a great teacher he was.

“Professor Moody is a great professor,” Hermione said one evening in the library, continuing her latest mantra. “He showed us the three Unforgivables.”

Harry snapped his head up to stare at her. “He did what?”

“I mean, he cast them on a spider,” Hermione said hurriedly, as if she was worried that Harry might think she was accusing Moody of illegal activities. “But it was brilliant, really, to see how well they worked.”

“Why did he even know how to cast them?”

“Aurors have to, to counter them, I suppose. And they were allowed to use those spells in the war with You-Know-Who.”

“They were?” Harry echoed softly.

Hermione nodded. “Wartime powers. Wartime emergency, I think. Mr. Crouch was in charge then, and he gave them permission.”

“Wow.” Harry was glad that he’d managed to avoid being cornered by any of the Headmasters or the Ministry officials working on the Tournament. He shuddered and returned to his Charms essay.

“Won’t you at least visit our class once, Harry? Just to see what it’s like?”

“No. That would be breaking the terms of the agreement by which Ted’s allowed to tutor Draco and me. The Headmaster was very firm about that last year. I couldn’t just drop in and out of Lupin’s class. I had to stay out of it altogether once I decided I didn’t want to attend it anymore.”

“About Professor Dumbledore, Harry…”

Harry sighed and glanced at her. Hermione was leaning forwards over the table, and her eyes were wide and appealing.

“What?” Harry asked.

“You know that he was only trying to do his best, don’t you? I think he was caught off-guard by the situation as much as you were.”

“He’s made it clear that he thinks Father is going to turn me over to Voldemort,” Harry said bluntly. “Or at least he thought that before Father got the Dark Mark cut off. I have to admi that I’m not sure what Dumbledore thinks now.”

“I just meant the Tournament situation. He wasn’t trying to order you to go into the other room because he hates you. He really thought you were a Champion, and he was trying to cope with it.”

Harry shook his head. “If he really knew me at all, he would know that I hadn’t put my name in it.” Ron should know that, too, he thought but didn’t say.

Maybe Hermione had also made the connection, because she shifted uncomfortably. “I mean,” she said, and then dropped it.

Harry was just as glad for her to do so. He wasn’t going to go around telling other people that Dumbledore was stupid or mean or whatever. He didn’t even tell people that about Professor Moody, and he hadn’t about Lupin, except when they directly asked him why he wasn’t taking Defense with the other students anymore. But he didn’t owe it to anyone to defend those people, either.

“What are you going to do in the First Task?” Hermione asked then. “Aren’t you worried that you don’t know what it is yet?”

Harry shook his head. “I told you about that weak binding to the Goblet of Fire. I’m just going to show up, shoot one spell, and sit in the stands.”

“You aren’t worried about the magical contract, then?”

“No. Even Dumbledore admitted the binding was weak, so I don’t need to do anything more.”

Professor Dumbledore, Harry.”

Harry gave her a single exasperated look, and Hermione blushed and really did drop it, this time.

*

Harry was glad as hell that he’d decided not to participate when he saw that the First Task was bloody dragons. The Champions who had actually entered their names in the Goblet were mental.

“Now, then, our Mr. Potter—do excuse me, Mr. Malfoy!”

Ludo Bagman, the excitable announcer, called out his name, but Harry walked out of the tent as slowly as he could possibly get away with. The Hungarian Horntail that he’d taken in miniature from the bag earlier loomed over him in reality now, crouched over her eggs with her mouth open in what looked like a permanent snarl.

Harry shot a small Stunner towards her. It splashed against her scales without affecting her at all.

“It’s going to take more than that to defeat this dragon, Mr. Malfoy!”

Harry turned away and walked towards the stands, where Mother, Father, and Draco were sitting. He could hear some people gasp and murmur as if they thought this was a daring strategy or something.

“And what is Mr. Malfoy going to do? Summon his broom and outfly the dragon?”

That wasn’t a bad idea, Harry thought. He was a little surprised that Krum hadn’t done it, since he was such an adept Quidditch player. But Harry climbed into the stands and sat down next to Draco, between him and Mother. Draco grinned at him and punched him in the shoulder. Mother touched his arm lightly.

“I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a strategy like this before!” Bagman was trying to sound cheerful, but his voice was getting a little shrill. “We’ll no doubt see Mr. Malfoy come out swinging to get the golden egg any second now!”

Harry sat still and stared at Bagman. Other people stared at Harry, and he could hear the discontented murmurs rising and falling like waves. Harry rolled his eyes. They didn’t want him in the Tournament in the first place, and now they were disappointed that he wasn’t participating?

The announcements went on for another ten minutes before Madame Maxime stood up and shouted, “It is obvious that the boy is not participating! Bring in the Dragon-Keepers and end this farce, now!”

Bagman tried to protest, but apparently the Dragon-Keepers agreed with her. A group of nine of them ran forwards, dodging the fire the Horntail blew with practiced ease, and subdued her with repeated Stunners.

The murmuring got louder. Harry ignored it, and didn’t turn around when he got a pitiful three points combined from the judges, either.

Why should he? He hadn’t wanted to be here in the first bloody place.

He briefly caught Ron’s eye as he walked with his family back to the school. Ron stared at him, but when he saw Harry looking back, his entire face turned red, and he stomped away.

Harry sighed. It was going to take a while longer for his best friend to come back to him, he supposed.

The important thing was that he was alive, and he had shown people who were smart and paid attention exactly how little he cared about the Tournament.

Chapter Text

Draco had insisted on speaking to him alone in the library after Charms. Harry followed him in, unsure what was going on. Was something wrong with their parents? But then he thought Draco would have told him right away, and whoever wasn’t sick or injured, Mother or Father, would have sent an owl.

Draco led Harry to a table tucked away between two shelves of dry Arithmancy texts that barely anyone used and faced him with a solemn expression. “Did McGonagall tell you what’s happening over the holidays?” he asked.

Harry frowned. “No. What?”

Draco leaned towards him. “There’s going to be a Yule Ball,” he whispered. “The Champions have to open it with a date and a dance.”

What?” Harry yelped.

“Oh, Merlin, the look on your face…” Draco yelped, too, but with laughter, bending over to put his hands on his knees. “Oh, Merlin, I hope that Father agrees to watch that memory in a Pensieve with me!”

Harry scowled, understanding for the first time why Draco had wanted to talk to him alone. “You prat.”

Draco lifted his hands, all innocent. “I just wanted to deliver the message in case McGonagall hadn’t talked to you yet. I see she hasn’t. Probably wants to put that off as long as possible.”

Harry blew out air. “Do I have to participate in the Yule Ball more than I participated in the First Task?”

“Yes,” Draco said immediately. “How are you going to open it with just a little dance? Or a try at a date?”

Harry tried to retort, but then paused as a genius idea struck him. He smiled.

“What?” Draco demanded, now sounding as though he was jealous of the interior of Harry’s skull for knowing his thoughts.

“I don’t know if I should tell you,” Harry drawled, doing his best to sound like Father had when he talked to Dumbledore. “You’re a prat.”

“Come onnnnn, Henry, pleeeeease.”

Harry shook his head and gave in. He hoped that Draco never worked out how much of a weapon his whinging could be, or there would be no way to get him to stop. “Okay. I’m going to ask Tonks to impersonate me.”

Draco opened his mouth. Nothing came out.

Enjoying the silence, Harry turned around and went off to find their cousin, who he knew was visiting today to study the walls of an old Defense classroom in case the curse was lurking there. Draco ran after him.

*

“Go to the Yule Ball and pretend to be you?” Tonks smiled, her eyes sparkling—literally, since she appeared to have changed them into a kind of shiny reflective material. “Oh, that sounds great fun, Harry! But what about a partner? I’m afraid that I couldn’t Transfigure someone else or create an illusion with any degree of accuracy.”

“I know a third-year Slytherin who’s dying to go to the Ball,” Draco said immediately. “Adele Morningstar. But she can’t unless someone asks her. We can bribe her a little to keep quiet about you not being Henry, and you can invite her.”

“She wouldn’t have to keep quiet the entire evening.”

Harry eyed Tonks. “What are you planning?”

“Planning? Why do you think I’m planning something?” Tonks might not have changed her mouth to be wider than usual, but the manic grin spreading across her face made it look like it.

“Because it’s you.”

“Harry, you flatter me.” Tonks jumped down from the old, half-broken desk where she was swinging her legs, and stumbled. Her hair flared black for a second as she caught herself. Then she straightened up and snorted. “I promise, it’s a prank that’ll surprise and maybe frighten a few people at the Yule Ball, but it won’t do anything permanent to them.”

Draco folded his arms. “Can you dance?”

“Not a jot,” Tonks said cheerfully.

“Then I wonder—” Draco glanced at Harry. “I don’t want my brother embarrassed in front of everyone, even if they just think that he’s a clumsy dancer and it’s not really him.”

Harry rolled his eyes. He felt he should have realized that Draco would have an objection like that. “I don’t care about that.” He would have liked to swear to show how much he didn’t care, but both Tonks and Draco would take too much satisfaction in chiding him about his language. “And if Tonks is planning a prank, then probably everyone will know that she’s not really Henry Malfoy, anyway.”

“Right,” Tonks said. “I’ll give it, what, two dances? The opening dance all the Champions have to do and the next one, so that Adele can feel she’s getting her money’s worth. Then I’ll change.”

“Back to yourself?” Draco asked, which Harry thought was a little stupid. He should know Tonks better than to think she would think that was a worthy prank.

“No. No, I’ve got something much better in mind.” Tonks’s eyes sparkled some more.

But no matter how they asked her—Draco with some strategies that he obviously thought were cunning—Tonks wouldn’t reveal more than that to them. She laughed and told them, “Go play, little cousins, and let me handle this,” and so finally Harry and Draco left, walking part of the way to Gryffindor Tower side-by-side.

When Draco turned to go towards the Slytherin common room, where he would find and bribe Morningstar, Harry took a deep breath and said, “Thanks. I never would have thought of the bribery part.”

Draco smiled at him. “You need to get used to thinking like a Malfoy. We take care of a lot of our problems with money.”

Harry snorted, because he assumed that was both true and most of the time a lot less innocent than this. “Well, anyway, if Morningstar needs more than the Galleons I have on me, let me know and I’ll owl Mother for some.”

I was going to pay her, Henry.”

“No, I’m going to pay her.”

“I’m going to pay her.” Draco’s voice sounded deadly serious enough that Harry stopped arguing to listen. “It was my idea, and she’ll trust a fellow Slytherin more than the former Boy-Who-Lived to tell her the truth. Besides,” Draco added, and visibly smiled to lighten the mood, “this way, I don’t have to get you a gift this year.”

Harry laughed. He suspected there was a lot more going on than that in Draco’s head, but he also knew from the stubborn set of Draco’s jaw that his brother wasn’t about to tell him about it. “Okay. Be sure to tell Mother and Father that.”

“I will.” Draco gave him a small punch to his arm and turned towards the Slytherin common room. Harry made his way up a few more flights of stairs, slowing down only when he saw someone standing at the top of one flight like they were waiting for him.

It was Ron. Harry debated just walking straight past him without speaking, which is what Draco surely would have done, but Harry wasn’t Draco. He sighed and walked up the stairs until he was in front of Ron. Ron avoided his eyes.

“What?” Harry asked.

“You—you really didn’t put your name in the Goblet?” Ron asked, jerking his head up. “You didn’t do it and then just pretend that you didn’t want to participate in the Tournament because it’s some sort of weird Malfoy plot?”

What?” Harry stared at him.

“It’s just—Dad always said that when a Malfoy acts weird and off, it’s because they’re plotting something,” Ron blurted. “And you said you didn’t put your name in the Goblet, but you didn’t get that upset about it, and then you went ahead and participated in the First Task instead of trying to buy your way out of it or something. But then you didn’t do much in the First Task, and you didn’t care about getting low points! But now you’re not upset about the Yule Ball! What are you doing, Harry?”

Harry stared at him. For some reason, he had assumed that Hermione would explain to Ron about the weak binding the Goblet had created and the actions that Harry had to take as a result of it.

But either she hadn’t, or she had and Ron had forgotten.

Harry shook his head. “I’m not plotting anything.” Well, okay, he sort of was with asking Tonks to go to the Yule Ball as him, but that was more like a prank than a plot. “I had to participate because the Goblet did bind me, and I used to think of myself as Harry Potter. It had a lot to do with names and things like that. But I don’t have to do a good job. There’s no rule that says that.”

“But if you weren’t cheating, why didn’t you stand up and say that?”

“I did? The first night that the Goblet bound me?”

“But after that, you didn’t protest! You didn’t even try to make those Hufflepuffs stop saying that you stole Diggory’s glory!”

Harry sighed and ran his hand through his hair. That wasn’t as satisfying a gesture as it used to be, because Malfoy hair just didn’t stand up and ruffle like Potter hair. “Let me get this straight. You thought that I was planning something, and you couldn’t figure out what, and you’re—what? More upset to be left out of it than you are about whether or not I actually cheated to put my name in the Goblet?”

Ron turned bright red. Harry stared at him again. He remembered that first night in Gryffindor after the Goblet’s choosing, when Ron had given him the bright, brittle smile and asked how he’d put his name into the Goblet and why he hadn’t told Ron how to get past the Age Line. Ron had acted more upset about the fact that Harry hadn’t “shared the secret” than he had about the idea that Harry might have managed to sneak past the Age Line.

Harry remembered the first time he’d met Ron on the train. Ron was afraid of being in his brothers’ shadow, not being special.

He was afraid of being left out.

Harry sighed explosively. “I’m not planning anything, Ron,” he said slowly. Except having Tonks go to the Yule Ball as me. But frankly, he didn’t think Ron had earned the sharing of that secret. “I didn’t react as badly as I could have in public on Halloween because I knew my parents were going to come to the school and do everything they could to make sure I didn’t have to participate in the Tournament. And no matter how loud I was, other people wouldn’t have believed me anyway.”

“And what you did in the First Task?”

“I had to show up and do something. No rules said it had to be good.”

“And the Yule Ball?”

Harry shrugged. “It’s not like it’s as life-threatening as the First Task. And it’s also something they only added recently.” If it hadn’t been, he knew, Hermione would have found it during the research she did on the Triwizard Tournament in the weeks leading up to the First Task. “I don’t have to make a good impression there, either.”

Ron shut his eyes. “I just think—you’re going to move on and leave me behind,” he whispered.

“We’re in the same year, Ron! How could I do that?”

“Not that way. I just mean that I think—I keep thinking that you’re going to start being a Malfoy, and you’ll start laughing at me the way Draco does and despising me for being a Weasley. And then when you acted so calm about the Tournament and your family showed up right away, I was sure that you had planned something with them and just didn’t want to tell me.”

Well, another reason I could be sort of calm about the Tournament was that it just doesn’t matter much next to knowing I have a Horcrux in my head.

But if Ron hadn’t earned being told about Tonks and the Yule Ball, he definitely hadn’t earned being told about that. Harry shook his head. “It’s nothing like that. I just was more confident because I know I have a family at my back.”

“Even if they’re that family?”

Harry firmed his jaw. “Yes. I know they’re not the nicest people, Ron. Do I ever know that,” he added, thinking about Father’s Death Eater days. “And I wouldn’t support them if Draco tried to tease you or hex you, or if Father got in a fight with your father again. But I know I can count on them to support me, and that’s really nice, especially when I knew so many people in school would turn against me.” He stared at Ron again. “I didn’t think you would.”

Ron’s neck and face and ears turned into one huge, hot blush again. “’M sorry,” he mumbled. “I just, I’m jealous of the way you are with Draco, you know?”

“Why, though? You’ve got plenty of brothers.”

“But none of them support me like that.” Ron shook his head. “Maybe it would be different if I had a twin like Fred and George, but I don’t. And then I thought my best friend was giving up on me, too, and…”

Harry sighed. “Look, Ron, I could have talked to you if I’d known you felt like that. As it was, I thought you were jealous of me for getting the glory of the Goblet of Fire and I was angry because you should know I wouldn’t want that.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I did know, I reckon. But when I thought it was some kind of Malfoy thing…”

“No.” Harry studied him for a second. “And I’m glad that you said sorry. But I don’t feel like spending much time around you right at the moment, okay? We’ll try sitting together in class again and seeing how it goes.”

Ron gave him a huge, relieved smile, which Harry supposed meant Ron hadn’t expected even that much of a chance. “Right. Oh! I wanted to ask you something. Are you going to take Hermione to the Yule Ball?”

“Why would I?”

Harry must have said that blankly enough for Ron to see how far it was from his thoughts. He turned red again, just when he was starting to look normal, and coughed. “Um, no reason,” he said, and sped away towards Gryffindor Tower.

Harry rolled his eyes and followed. He actually didn’t know if Hermione was planning to go at all, or who she was going to take if she did. He didn’t see how it was any of his business.

He didn’t want to date her, and that was that.

*

“Young lady, I am very disappointed in you.”

It was the first time Harry had met his Aunt Andromeda, and he sort of wished it was under different circumstances. Of course, she had wanted to maintain her distance until she saw how the Malfoys treated her husband and daughter, and she hadn’t really trusted Father’s intentions until he removed the Dark Mark. And she was very busy with her work as a Healer. Harry understood all that.

But he didn’t like the way she was shaking her head at Tonks, her face heavy and stern with the disappointment she’d talked about. It reminded him too much of Aunt Petunia, although less shrill.

Luckily, Tonks didn’t look as if she cared. She turned her hair bright red and spiky and her noise into a pig’s snout, which she wrinkled up for a sniff at her mother. “It was fun, and it didn’t hurt anyone.”

“I got a Floo call from Professor Dumbledore at eleven at night!”

“Not my fault he doesn’t have a sense of humor, Mum.”

Draco snickered. Harry caught his eye and smiled, too. He had to. They’d watched Tonks’s memory of the first two dances of the Yule Ball in Father’s Pensieve, and what she’d done when she was tired of masquerading as Harry was fun. Harry almost wished he could have been there to see it, instead of coming home right away after exams were done.

Aunt Andromeda opened her mouth to scold again, but Mother sailed into the Malfoy Manor sitting room then, her long white lace sleeves—identical to the robes Aunt Andromeda wore—swinging around her arms. She held gleaming golden cups of something that smelled rich and smoky.

“Now, now, Andi,” Mother said, and handed one of the cups to her sister. Aunt Andromeda took with a frown. “It was a harmless prank, and it didn’t last long enough to truly frighten anyone. You saw the memory. Professor McGonagall understood what was happening right away and yelled at Nymphadora to stop it. There can only have been a few seconds of genuine terror, at most.”

“She turned into You-Know-Who!” Aunt Andromeda snapped.

Harry couldn’t help it. He started laughing again. Draco leaned against Harry, he was laughing so hard, and Tonks laughed right along with them, hard enough that she lost control of her nose and it became a human one again.

“I am still disappointed in you, Nymphadora!” Aunt Andromeda sipped from her cup, though, and her eyes went a little misty. She sighed. “You remembered the recipe, Cissa.”

“Grandmama made it every Christmas,” Mother replied softly. “Of course I did.”

Harry wondered what it was, and what was behind the private look that Mother and Aunt Andromeda were exchanging, but then Ted came into the room, bouncing on the balls of his feet and rubbing his hands together. Behind him floated a whole stream of presents, wrapped in everything from neat silver paper to floating things that looked like fluffy crystal balls to Harry.

“Ted!” Aunt Andromeda seemed to enjoy having someone to yell at, and switched effortlessly to her husband. Behind her back, Tonks wiped her forehead with one hand and mimed sighing with relief, which made Harry and Draco snicker again. “We said that we weren’t going to open those until Christmas Day!”

“Which is tomorrow, Andi,” Ted said, and waved his wand so that the procession floated into place under the tree. “And I thought that the children should be able to open one tonight. It was a tradition in my family.” He glanced at Harry and Draco.

Harry nodded eagerly. He still wasn’t used to the thought that someone besides his friends wanted to give him gifts. Draco was doing the same thing. Tonks stuck her hand into the air and waved it around.

“Me!” she said loudly. “I’m a child!”

“You certainly acted like one in that memory, Nymphadora,” Aunt Andromeda muttered, apparently not able to let it go yet.

“Can I get an amulet that will force people to say my real name?” Tonks said, and turned her hair a lime green that was almost too bright to look at.

“Tell me if you find one,” Harry whispered to her, during the bustle of Ted finding presents for Tonks, Harry, and Draco in the new heap under the tree. “I’d like to make some people say Harry, though, and some people say Henry, so I don’t know how well it would work.”

Tonks gave him an unexpectedly solemn look. “I know. There are times that I want to go by Dora. But Mum won’t compromise.”

Harry blinked, surprised by his fellow-feeling with his cousin, and also that Mother and Father had been flexible enough to realize that Harry would have been unhappy going by Aldebaran. “Well, that’s stupid,” he muttered, a second before he got an armful of one of the fluffy crystal balls. This close, he could see it was opaque enough to conceal its real contents, although he caught a glimpse of gold.

Draco was holding a similar present, while Tonks held a nicely-wrapped gift up to her ear and shook it with a wide smile. Harry recognized it as one that he’d seen Ted wrapping up a few weeks ago at Hogwarts, before he caught sight of Harry and chased him out of the room.

“It is stupid,” Tonks agreed, stopping the shaking to tear into her gift. “But presents are brilliant.”

Harry discovered that he could open the fluffy crystal ball by digging his fingers into the sides and pulling them apart. And if he had to learn that by watching Draco, well, so what. He was still newer to the wizarding world than his twin.

He blinked when a small lion tumbled out of the crystal ball. He doubted it was made of pure gold, but it looked like it. Draco had a serpent that also looked like it was made of pure emerald.

The really different thing about the lion, though, was that its claws were all clenched together and it held a bell between them. Draco’s snake clutched a similar bell in its mouth. Harry tilted the lion upside-down, and noticed that the bell stayed absolutely steady and didn’t move. It certainly didn’t ring.

Behind Ted, Mother gasped. “Ted, you didn’t.”

“Wicked!” Tonks yelled, before Harry could ask what the lion and serpent were and why Mother seemed dismayed by them. Harry glanced her direction and saw that she was waving around what looked a silver shield on a cord. The cord shimmered, odd and misty, like fog condensed into a shape.

Tonks promptly hooked the cord around her neck. Her shirt was casual and Muggle—Father had grimaced when he saw it, Harry remembered—and it was easy to see what happened. The cord broke into mist, and the shield—

Sank into her skin. It winked for a moment, and then faded until it was almost the color of Tonks’s skin. It was really hard to see, and someone who saw it might have thought it was an old scar.

“Tonks,” breathed Father, from a corner, where he’d been busy scribbling in a ledger. His eyes were locked on Tonks, now, but Harry thought he was really talking to Ted. “Is that what I think it is?”

Ted gave everyone in the room a smug smile. “Yes, they’re all what you think they are. And yes, I had to call in a few favors from old colleagues to get them. But they’re priceless, I promise you.”

“It’s, it’s not that we don’t appreciate them,” Mother said carefully. “But I think it might be a little drastic, given the boys’ present ages.”

Ted turned and looked sternly at her. “Narcissa, I do hope that you’re not underestimating the level of danger the boys are in. Harry is at risk for who he was believed to be as much as because people on your husband’s, ah, former side might decide to attack him. Draco is at risk because of Lucius’s former allegiances and because as Harry’s twin brother, someone might think they could kidnap him to force Harry to do as they want. If anything, they needed these years ago—”

“Will someone tell us what these are, please?” Draco asked loudly. Harry was grateful for him speaking up. Draco had a louder voice, in a lot of senses of the word.

Tonks jumped in before her father could. “They’re protections charms that are meant to do this,” she said, and gestured at the one embedded in her chest. “Except mine’s a shield that will guard my thoughts against Legilimency, and yours are ones that will ring the bell when you’re in extreme danger. Then someone who has the charm that corresponds to that one can hear it and track the sound to find you.”

“That’s brilliant,” Draco breathed.

“I’m not against giving the children these charms,” Father said quietly. “But why only one kind? Should they not have the Legilimency shield as well?”

Ted grimaced. “There’s a limitation on what even Shadowfollower magic can accomplish. These charms work well—but only when worn one at a time. They depend on the magic of the wearer to fuel them. More than one charm being attached to the same person’s skin splits the magic between them and causes them to function weakly or unpredictably. The shield wouldn’t protect the wearer’s mind from Legilimency all the time, and the bells would sound on the other charms very faintly. It’s better if they have ones that play to their particular needs. I know my Dora can defend herself well enough, but she could have her mind read by Dumbledore what with spending all the time that she has in the school. Your sons, meanwhile, can’t defend themselves during the summer yet and are in more danger of being kidnapped.”

“And we know not to meet Dumbledore’s eyes,” Draco added.

“If she’s even welcome in the school after what she pulled at the Yule Ball,” Aunt Andromeda muttered.

Tonks laughed. “Dumbledore claimed it was the most fun he’d had all night. Sure, he Flooed you later to yell about it, but he applauded me in public, and then he toasted me. It would be strange to retract that and say I wasn’t welcome in Hogwarts.”

Harry felt a surge of relief. As funny as Tonks’s prank had been—what with her transforming in the middle of the Yule Ball into a tall, pale, red-eyed man—he wouldn’t have thought it was worth it if it meant she got banned from Hogwarts. He wondered if Dumbledore thought she would be a good influence on Harry or something.

“Where should we put these so people don’t recognize what they are?” he asked, holding the lion up.

“Some place that you usually have covered by clothing would probably be best,” Ted suggested. “High on your arms, or your shoulders or backs or legs. They won’t hinder your movement in any way, but it’s better not to prompt questions about what they do.”

Harry nodded. It was another secret to keep from Ron and Hermione, but honestly, he didn’t mind. He could still be friends with them without having to share every thought that passed through his head.

Draco was already pressing his snake carefully to his left shoulder, which he’d pulled his sleeve back from. Harry watched as it sank into his shoulder and turned the color of his skin. Like Tonks’s, it was hard to spot, and even the lines that made it a serpent seemed to break up, so it was just a curlicue kind of scar.

“Can you help me put it on my back, Tonks?” Harry asked, holding out his lion to his cousin.

“Don’t you want it on your shoulder, like me?” Draco asked, in the kind of voice that could turn into a pout any second.

“No,” Harry said, shuddering a little as Tonks pressed the lion between his shoulder blades. There was a sharp, cool tingle, but then nothing more. He moved a few steps when Tonks let his robe fall back, but there was no sound of the bell ringing, either. “This way, if someone finds out one of us has it, then they won’t find it in the same place on the other one of us right away. It might buy us a little time.”

Tonks changed her hair to black, and Draco’s eyes were wide as he looked at Harry. “I didn’t even think of that,” he breathed.

“No reason you should have to.” Harry gave himself a final shake, and the last of the cool tingles disappeared. He thought that the charm was probably fully embedded in his skin now. He gave Ted a nod. “Thanks, Uncle Ted.”

Ted smiled at him. “I do expect you to be ready to practice your offensive spells again the day after Christmas, you realize.”

Harry nodded. He realized. But for now, they could gather around the fire and sip hot chocolate and talk to each other like any family.

*

“Hermione, would you please shut up about Professor Moody?”

Harry only realized what he’d said a minute after he said it. Ron, who was at the same study table in the library with them, looked up, startled. Hermione had jumped to her feet on the other side of the table, and for a minute, Harry thought she would run away, crying. He braced himself for it, flinching.

But then, although her mouth crumpled a little as if she was going to cry, Hermione took a deep breath and sat down again, twisting her hands in her lap. “I didn’t mean to—I didn’t mean to make you upset,” she said quietly, lowering her head. “I was just—I know everyone else is getting help with the Tournament from their professors and Headmasters, even though it isn’t supposed to happen. I even heard rumors that Professor Sprout was helping Cedric.”

Harry stared at her, utterly baffled. He exchanged a glance with Ron, but Ron shook his head and actually held his Transfiguration text up in front of his face to hide from the rest of the conversation.

“What does that have to do with Professor Moody?” Harry demanded.

“It’s against the rules for people to get help,” Hermione mumbled rapidly. “But if they’re all getting help, you should get it, too. Professor Moody said he could help! He said that was why he was trying to get you to come to his office, but you were refusing.” She blew a curl of hair out of her eyes. “And I thought if I could talk him up enough, you’d go visit him.”

“Why didn’t you just admit you were concerned about me not getting help?”

“It’s wrong!” Hermione exclaimed, her face darkening with a blush again. “I don’t mind breaking the rules to help you, but then I’d have to admit that I knew about all the others getting help, too, and I didn’t report them because…” She ran down. “I didn’t think anyone would care.”

Harry cleared his throat, glad that he had controlled his first impulse to laugh. Hermione would be very upset, and rightfully so, if he had laughed at her for her concerns about this. “Thanks, Hermione. I know you were trying to help. But I’m really not going to do well on the Second Task, either.”

“But you don’t even know what it is! You didn’t get the golden egg from the dragon!”

“So what? I know the date of the Second Task. I’ll just follow all the other Champions once I see them going somewhere.”

“You think that’s going to work?”

Harry shrugged. “I only knew the date of the First Task, too. But I did all right there. And given how calm Krum and Delacour at least looked when they took those miniature dragons out of the bag, I reckon they knew about it before I did, too.” He wasn’t as sure about Diggory, because he had been too busy mentally rolling his eyes and thinking how mental everyone was, the Champions and the Tournament organizers, and he hadn’t looked at Diggory then. “It was nice of you to try to help me. But please don’t urge me to visit Professor Moody again. I think he’s kind of creepy.”

“Just because of the leg and the eye?”

Hermione had that look on her face that said Harry was going to regret it if he didn’t speak carefully. He shook his head. “Mostly just because he seems so interested in getting me into his office. He wanted me to cooperate with the Goblet of Fire and go into the waiting room with the other Champions, too, that night.”

“That’s right. I forgot that.” Hermione propped her chin up on her hand. “I wonder why that is?”

Harry shrugged, wondering if Hermione would start trying to figure out the Mystery of Professor Moody now. He was honestly okay with that if it meant that she didn’t talk anymore about what a great professor Moody was and how Harry should listen to him.

And if she didn’t talk about that, she probably wouldn’t talk about how Harry should listen to Dumbledore, either. So that was okay.

Chapter Text

Harry scowled at Ron’s empty bed on the morning of the Second Task. He hoped that Ron hadn’t had another fit of jealousy and decided to hide away because Harry was going to go and give a pitiful performance at the Task.

He would probably find him at breakfast, though. Or scooping up a meal in the kitchens, which Fred and George had shown them how to find last year.

But when he got down into the common room, he discovered Hermione wasn’t there, either. His skin prickling. Harry headed down the stairs towards the Great Hall. If he couldn’t find Draco, either, he was going to send a Patronus to their parents.

Luckily, Draco was standing near the top of the stairs that led up from the dungeons, looking around as if he thought Harry would be downstairs already. He jumped when he saw him, and ran right over.

“Henry!” he said in a low voice. “I heard some of the older Slytherins talking. Some of them have parents who work for the Ministry. Apparently the Second Task involves them taking someone you’re friends with.”

Harry stared at Draco. “And doing what with them?” he finally asked, when Draco’s face didn’t change and Harry had to get rid of his suspicion that Draco was joking.

“Putting them somewhere. Then you have to get them back.” Draco bit his lip. “Where are Weasley and Granger?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen them this morning.” Harry ran his hand through his hair and stopped when it just fell back limply. “But would they take both of them, do you think? Why? To try and force me to participate?”

“I don’t know, either. But you remember that Granger went to the Yule Ball with Krum? Maybe they took her for him to retrieve.”

Harry felt a little guilty. That had obviously been important to Hermione, but he had been so busy with his end-of-term work, getting ready to go home for the hols, and planning his prank with Tonks that he’d only felt grateful Hermione wasn’t around to give him more lectures about Moody during the time she’d probably spent with Krum. And she hadn’t talked much about it when Harry and Draco came back from Malfoy Manor, either. Harry had gathered that she and Ron had had some kind of huge fight over it, and he hadn’t really wanted to hear about that, either.

“Do you know where the other Champions are?”

“Yeah, I think they’re out at the lakeshore.”

Harry hissed suddenly. “You don’t think they put the people they took under the lake?”

Draco’s eyes widened. “I don’t—that would be stupid. There’s merfolk and the Giant Squid and all kinds of other creatures under there!”

“That’s probably why they thought it would make a good Task,” Harry said grimly. He glanced sidelong at Draco. “Although, if they picked Ron—I don’t know why they didn’t pick you instead.”

Draco’s cheeks turned pink with soft pleasure. “Mother and Father would never have given permission. Presumably Weasley’s parents did.”

Harry nodded, although he wondered if the Ministry people like Crouch had told Mrs. Weasley exactly what they planned on doing with Ron. He couldn’t see her agreeing to anything that would put Ron in danger.

Harry paused. He also couldn’t see Hermione agreeing to put herself in danger just for a stupid Tournament Task, no matter how she felt about rules and fairness.

“I think it’s kind of a trap.”

“Well, obviously. If you’re supposed to dive under the lake and retrieve your special person—”

“I didn’t mean that. I mean that probably the people under the lake are going to be fine, and the challenge is to see how fast the Champions can get to them and bring them back to the surface.”

Draco looked skeptical. “Are you willing to bet Granger and Weasley’s safety on that?”

“Well, I don’t think they’d let me rescue Hermione, either, if she’s supposed to be there for Krum to save. As for Ron…” Harry hesitated. “Do Malfoys always get their way with money?”

“I don’t know who to bribe, here.”

“I just wondered if they also got their way with loud and obvious displays of temper, sometimes. You know.” But Draco looked blank, as if he wasn’t getting the reference, so Harry rolled his eyes and provided it. “My father will hear about this!”

Draco blushed furiously again, but this time his eyes were glittering with temper. “It works.”

“Good. It’ll work this time, too, then,” Harry decided, and marched outside with Draco trailing behind him.

*

Mother and Father were among the people crowded along the lakeshore, and Harry saw Mother straighten when he caught her eye, as if she thought he might have intended to dive into the lake after all. Harry managed to shake his head, and Mother stepped subtly back.

“Minister Fudge!”

Cornelius Fudge started and turned around to stare at Harry. His eyes widened, and then he made a clucking sound. “Mr. Malfoy! You aren’t in any sort of swimming gear. You should enter the lake as soon as possible. The others dived in five minutes ago!”

“I’m not concerned about winning.” Harry halted in front of the man, folded his arms, and tilted his nose back. “I want to know if you told all the parents about the possible danger their children could be in when they were placed under the lake.”

He supposed he was taking kind of a gamble. There was no guarantee that all the people under the lake were children. Maybe one of the other Champions had a parent or an aunt here or something. But he would have wagered on them taking people who could be found at Hogwarts.

From the way the Minister’s eyes bulged a little, Harry would have won.

“I—ah?” Fudge worked a finger under his collar and pulled it away from his neck, coughing. “Of course we did. As many as were feasible.”

“Ah.” Harry gave him a thin smile. “I know that my friend Hermione Granger is under the lake.” He raised his voice, noticing that more people were listening to him now. Then again, it was pretty boring to watch the surface of the water when you couldn’t tell what was going on underneath it. “She’s Muggleborn. Did you inform her parents?”

Fudge actually took a step away from him.

Maybe I can get good at behaving like a spoiled kid, Harry thought, and experienced a sudden surge of gratitude that Snape wasn’t at Hogwarts anymore.

“No—no time—of course, we asked Miss Granger, and she said she would be okay with it—”

“And what about the person Fleur Delacour is rescuing?” Harry picked her at random, but he was sure she was his best choice, since Krum was going after Hermione and Cedric’s person probably lived in Britain. “Did you have time to owl their parents in France to ask?”

Maybe that was going to backfire, he thought. Maybe it was another one of the Beauxbatons students who was of age and they had given permission for themselves. Harry hadn’t paid enough attention to Delacour to have any idea.

But from the way that Fudge’s face went pale, it wasn’t. Harry sneered a little.

“You put an innocent French child under the lake without asking permission of their parents?” he asked, and raised his voice a little more. “I thought the Tournament was supposed to improve international relations, not endanger them.”

Draco sounded as if he was having a choking fit behind him. Harry just hoped his brother didn’t really laugh and give the game away.

“They’re not in danger!” Fudge blurted abruptly. “It’s, ah, just a race, you see, to judge which Champion can display enough skill at magic to rescue their chosen person and get back most quickly! A race. That’s all.”

Harry folded his arms and tried to imitate Mother’s glare. “You’re sure?” And he was going to kill Draco if he didn’t stop laughing.

Fudge nodded and tried to lower his voice, although he quickly raised it again when Harry glared at him. “I promise you, Mr. Malfoy. It’s just to make things exciting for the audience. None of the children are in danger, of course not.”

Father had come up behind the Minister, although Harry was pretty sure Fudge was so focused on Harry himself that he hadn’t noticed. He was proven right when Father spoke and Fudge jumped almost four inches in the air. “Have you thought of the reasons why this was a poor choice, Minister?”

“Lucius!” Fudge spun around and tried to use a shining smile on him. “Of course, we know that Mr. Malfoy has been rather resistant to participating in the Tournament, but—”

“Our son has already been through enough trauma and loss,” Mother said, stopping beside Father and linking her arm with his while she stared down at Fudge. “To make him fear the loss of one of his few dear friends is inexcusable.

Harry wondered why Fudge was sweating so much. Was he more scared of Mother than Father? That was kind of stupid, unless Fudge had actually seen the Black madness in action.

But Draco murmured into his ear, “Mother and Father have to agree on all spending decisions,” and Harry nodded. Fudge was probably upset at the idea that Mother wouldn’t agree to spend bribery money on the Minister anymore if he damaged her son.

“It was—it was just to add drama! We didn’t mean to make Mr. Malfoy fear anything, of course!” Fudge looked around as if hoping the audience had stopped watching him and gone back to the lake, but he was the focus of many interested eyes. “I promise, the children are going to be absolutely fine!”

Harry frowned. “They’d better be.”

“And that includes my own darling child,” Mother added, stepping around Fudge to draw Harry into a tight embrace.

“For shame, Cornelius,” Father said, only lowering his voice a little. Harry was sure that everyone in the audience could still hear. “I thought better of you. Putting a Muggleborn child under the water without bothering to contact her parents? That goes against everything progressive we stand for.”

Harry thought it was a good thing Mother was hugging him, so no one else would see him goggling. What the hell.

“We, ah,” Fudge said, and stared at Father in a kind of horrified fascination. “We do, Lucius?”

“Of course.” Father stood tall and proud, and just happened to draw his sleeve away from his left arm to bare it. “I have come to realize that some people had good reason to doubt my claim of being under the Imperius Curse during the war with You-Know-Who. After all, I hardly did anything to make up for the atrocities I committed under that curse, did I? I did not distance myself from known Death Eaters. My own dear sister-in-law was one.”

Harry shivered. He had heard just enough about Bellatrix Lestrange to know he never wanted to meet her in person.

“Of course,” Fudge mumbled. “So you’re, ah, doing something to distance yourself now?”

Father nodded. “I mistakenly expected the people around me to pick up on my change of heart without actions to prove it. I realize, now, that this seemed like equivocation. And I will be moving to demonstrate my true beliefs in the coming months.”

Harry peeked around Mother. Draco was goggling, too. Harry bit his lip savagely so he wouldn’t laugh.

“How is that, Lucius?” Fudge yanked on his collar again.

“We can discuss it further when we have more time,” Father said, and stepped back to stand beside Mother again, subtly escorting Draco along so they were together as a family. “For the moment, I appreciate that we are to watch the Second Task, and that we have taken more than enough of the audience’s time.”

Harry didn’t mind being escorted to the stands this time, either, but whispered to Mother on the way, “Do you think I have to participate more than that? Jump in the lake or something?”

“The Task was to seek your friend,” Mother said. “You looked for him, ascertained where he was, and made an effort at rescuing him. It is not your fault that the Ministry was so determined to have the Task take place that they did not remove him from the waters.”

It seemed the Goblet of Fire agreed, because Harry could still cast Warming Charms as they waited for the Champions to come back to the surface.

Delacour was first, empty-handed and crying. Mother translated the French for him in a whisper, and Harry winced at the thought that her little sister was under the water. He really might not have been able to stop himself from participating if they’d taken Draco.

And it sounded like Delacour’s sister was really young, maybe ten or so. Harry shuddered. Why was this stupid Tournament so important that they had to do that?

Krum floated up a minute before the hour was up, carrying Hermione. She started to cough and choke the minute her head was above the water. Diggory showed up a few minutes later, with a girl in his arms whom Harry vaguely remembered as Cho Chang, Ravenclaw’s Seeker. Probably Diggory’s girlfriend.

Fudge stepped to the edge of the water and nervously cleared his throat as he looked in Harry’s direction. However, before he could say anything, Ron’s head surfaced. Harry saw a glimpse of a scaley arm shoving him from below. Beside him was a little silver-haired girl Delacour immediately embraced. Harry looked at her carefully, and saw that she appeared whole and healthy, although she was crying, along with her sister.

Ron started coughing as he came out of the water, too, and Madam Pomfrey promptly descended on him with blankets, Warming Charms, and hot chocolate, clucking her tongue and glaring at Fudge as she muttered something about “children and lakes and challenges.

While the judges talked among themselves about scores and gave Harry dark looks, Harry got down from the stands and went over to Ron. Ron raised his head, blinked at him, and looked away.

“You decided not to come get me, then?” he asked, a little sullenly.

“I’m not participating in the Tasks,” Harry answered, sitting down on the grass next to Ron. “And I didn’t even know what it was until this morning, remember, or that I was supposed to dive under a lake to find someone.” He waited. Ron still looked in the opposite direction. Harry sighed. “Did they tell your parents what they were doing?”

Ron turned and gaped at him. “Of course they did.”

“But they didn’t tell Hermione’s, or Delacour’s,” Harry said, looking at the way that the French girl had wrapped herself around her sister and was glaring at everyone who tried to approach. “I wonder if they told Chang’s? It would be interesting to know if they did and if she’s a pureblood or a half-blood. I’m not sure.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

Harry blinked at Ron, and then reminded himself that Ron wasn’t used to thinking the way that Harry was learning to think. “They didn’t tell Hermione’s because they’re Muggles, and most wizards don’t think Muggles are worth anything,” he said bluntly. “And they didn’t tell Delacour’s, and she’s French and part-Veela besides. Wouldn’t surprise me if people like Fudge think foreigners or people with creature blood are worthless.”

Harry did lower his voice a little, since Fudge wasn’t far away, but he was talking with Dumbledore and probably wouldn’t have heard anyway.

“You think they only told mine because Mum and Dad are pureblood?”

Harry nodded. “I don’t know about Chang, like I said. But if she’s a half-blood and they only talked to her pureblood parent or no one at all, that would make a little too much sense, wouldn’t you agree?”

Ron bit his lip, and then abruptly seemed to remember that he was supposed to be angry at Harry. He glared at him. “Why didn’t you come into the lake and get me, though? I’m your best mate!”

“I thought that if Hermione had agreed—and they didn’t ask her parents—it couldn’t be anything that was deadly.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but Dumbledore said last night that the clue in the golden egg had to do with it being something you sorely miss. You don’t really miss me, then?”

It occurred to Harry that he could do something to keep this from becoming another simmering argument that would go on until the point when Ron felt like apologizing. He lifted his chin a little, narrowed his eyes, and said, “Not when you act like a prat, no.”

Ron spluttered incoherently. Harry thought he might have got up and stomped away, but he was still shivering a little from the lake.

“I’m not acting like a prat! You’re acting like a prat!”

“By not diving into a cold lake in the middle of February and rescuing you when it turns out that the challenge was just to find you? You weren’t going to be drowned or taken away forever by the merfolk after all?”

“I would have come for you if I were a Champion!”

“Really? Seems to me that it would depend on how you were feeling that day.”

Ron’s face flushed so deeply that Harry was a little surprised steam didn’t rise from it. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, but actually lowered his voice, maybe because the Minister for Magic was a few meters away and Ron didn’t want him to see Ron and Harry arguing. “My mate Harry wouldn’t do this! Are you just all stuck-up Malfoy now, Aldebaran?”

Harry noticed Draco and Mother watching him with more than the usual tension in their faces. Draco looked a little hopeful, though. Perhaps he thought Harry was finally going to drop Ron as a friend.

But Harry didn’t want to do that. He just wanted Ron to be a better friend.

“That’s not my name,” he said steadily, his eyes fixed on Ron’s face. “But neither is Harry Potter. And that means I have to think more about who I am, and who I want to be. And if you can suspect that I’m going to turn into a generic Malfoy after four years of knowing me, and get upset about me not diving into the lake even though you know I didn’t put my name in the Goblet, then maybe I need to be someone who isn’t friends with Ron Weasley.”

Ron, for the first time, looked a little lost, and utterly stupefied. He opened his mouth, then shut it again.

“It’s up to you,” Harry finished, after a few minutes when he waited to see if Ron would speak again. “But I’m sick and tired of putting up with your mood swings, I can tell you.” He got up and walked back to his family, feeling a little shaky but good overall. This probably wouldn’t make Ron never get angry again, but maybe it would put an end to his periods of getting angry and disbelieving Harry over stupid things.

One way or the other.

“You should have put him in his place,” Draco hissed when Harry stood at his side again. “I would have.”

“What gave you the impression that I’m you?” Harry asked, and got to see a second person look stupefied.

He got zero points from the judges for the Task, which Bagman and Fudge seemed to think he should be upset about. Harry’s main struggle was standing there trying to look bored instead of breaking out in a silly smile.

*

“Potter! Damn it, boy, let me talk to you!”

Harry felt his shoulders come up around his ears when he heard Professor Moody’s voice and heard the clunking of his wooden leg, but he just kept walking. The name “Potter” had nothing to do with him anymore, after all.

Well, except in conversations with Healer Letham. And it wasn’t like Moody was invited to those.

But years of living in the Dursley household had given Harry the useful skill of knowing when a man larger than he was was reaching for him, and he ducked and spun around, aiming his wand at Moody. Moody blinked at him with his real eye, while the magical one zoomed to the front of his face to point directly at Harry.

Don’t touch me,” Harry said, struggling to keep the words from slipping into Parseltongue.

Moody visibly wavered between reactions for a moment, and then decided to go for amusement. He threw his head back and roared. Harry didn’t rise from his defensive crouch, thinking distantly that Ted would be proud of him.

In fact, he was supposed to be on his way to Defense tutoring right now. At least if this took too long, Ted would come looking for him, and if Moody tried something worse than touching him, the bell on the charm embedded in Harry’s skin would ring. Ted had the corresponding charm, so he would know to come right away.

“I like you, boy,” Moody said, and winked his magical eye at Harry, which made him jump a little. It fizzed and seemed about to disappear from existence for a second, like the cord on Tonks’s shield charm before she embedded it. “And I think you can benefit from the tutoring I can offer you.”

“I already have a Defense tutor I like, thank you.”

“Oh, no, not Defense. Curses. Countercurses.” Moody’s tongue flickered over his lips for a second, and then he leaned nearer and whispered, “Dark Arts.”

Harry stared at him, wondering for a second if his parents had put Moody up to this. But then he dismissed the notion. No. They might have liked it better if Harry had agreed to learn Dark Arts, but they wouldn’t have relied on someone who was known to have such a strong connection to Dumbledore.

“I don’t want to learn anything from you.”

Moody blinked hard, staring at Harry with both eyes as if he had never thought that could be the reason. Then he shook his head and waved a hand in front of him. “Wouldn’t try to hurt you, lad.”

“I don’t care. I’m not going with you.” Harry took a step back, both worried and happy that the bell on his charm hadn’t begun to ring yet. Moody must not be a threat. And that was a good thing, because Harry didn’t think he could have dueled an experienced Auror.

Moody rolled his eyes. “Fine. Then you’ll let my hints for the Third Task pass you by?”

“I’m not trying to do well in the Tournament,” Harry said, exasperated. Had there been some kind of potion in people’s drinks on Halloween that made them think he wanted to? “I’ll just show up for it and do something small the way I did for the others. Is that clear?” he added, raising his voice in case there were more people than Moody around and they needed to hear it. “Or should I say it louder for the morons in the back?”

Moody blinked at him for long moments. Then he shook his head, muttered something that sounded like, “Not going to work,” and turned and stumped away.

Harry stood rigidly for a few more moments. Then he turned and went to his Defense lesson, his wand still in his hand.

No one tried to attack him, though. And the charm in his back never rang.

*

“I need to talk to you, Father.”

Father glanced up from where he was sitting on a couch in his study surrounded by tomes and ledgers, and nodded. “Come in, Henry.”

Harry walked in and sat down on the couch in front of his father, arms folded. He’d been trying to talk to him since the Second Task about why Father had decided to suddenly care about Muggleborns, but Father had been evasive in his letters. Harry had been the one to determine that they were going to talk now that he was home for the Easter holidays.

“Why did you suddenly act as if you cared about Muggleborns in front of Fudge?” Harry asked. “And are you still doing it?” Harry thought he probably was, because suddenly Fudge was making announcements in the paper about things like an initiative to try to reach out to Muggleborns before their eleventh birthdays and teach them and their families about magic. Harry didn’t think Fudge would have ever thought of something like that himself.

But then, he wouldn’t have thought Father would, either.

Father ran his fingers through his hair for a second, and then focused on Harry. “I am doing it because I want to complete the redrawing of my image,” he said. “I was a Death Eater, at least as far as most of Britain was concerned, even if they didn’t think I was a willing one. Now I am not. And,” he hesitated. “I thought you would like it.”

Harry blinked several times. Then he said, “So you don’t really believe in it?”

Father eyed him in silence.

“What do you believe?” Harry continued, angrier and more bewildered by the second. Before this, he would have said that Lucius Malfoy believed, deeply and sincerely, in pureblood superiority. It had been the reason he was so obsessed with punishing the Dursleys—although he hadn’t mentioned that in several months, Harry realized. But now he was going against it, and…

Even if he wanted me to like him more, I wouldn’t have thought he’d make a public announcement like this. Maybe donate money to Muggleborns in need or something, and make sure his name got out. But not political moves.

Harry flopped back on the couch. “What is going on?” he whispered.

“I realize this must be confusing,” Father began quietly. “And I am afraid that you will not like me as much when I tell you the truth. But more and more, I am beginning to see that nothing else will do. Will you listen to me, Henry? And not ask questions until the end?”

Harry nodded, staring at Father. He pushed some of the tomes out of the way so that he could turn and face Harry more fully, his hand glancing along his bare left forearm for a second.

“All my life,” Father said, grey eyes focused on Harry’s, “I have been interested in power. I grew up with my father inviting people from the Ministry over, and of course the Dark Lord, and I saw how he interacted with them. I saw that the only people who seemed to have true ease, true comfort, true ability to do as they wanted, were the powerful ones. And I vowed that I would become like that.

“I knew I was…different from other people. Colder, in some way. I didn’t have the same depth of feeling as they did. I wasn’t interested in the same things. I didn’t understand how they coped as well in social situations as they did, but on the other hand, I also didn’t understand how they could let themselves be distracted from their goals by emotions. I named my goal and worked towards it.

“I understood that to present a good image to the Ministry and the public, I should marry and have children. I was prepared to do that. I assumed I would feel some minimal affection for them, as I did for my parents and some of my allies.” Father breathed out. “And then—then I found Narcissa.”

His face softened so much that Harry blinked. It was like he wasn’t looking at the same man. As if multiple people were moving in and out of Father’s skin.

Harry cast a small charm Ted had taught him that would detect illusions, although it wouldn’t get rid of them. But no, it was just Father sitting there—Father who raised an eyebrow when Harry finished moving his wand. Harry flushed and put it away.

“She was a revelation,” Father whispered. “I still don’t know what made her so determined to break through my barriers. Did she see the man she thought I was capable of becoming? I’ve never asked her. I am afraid of the answer.

“But she broke through them, and I found myself in love for the first time. I would have done anything to protect her, to hoard that fire that burned in me. Most of her family were followers of the Dark Lord, and so was my father, who had been urging me to take the Mark. Joining the Dark Lord seemed like the best way to keep Narcissa safe. And he seemed a path to power. Everything I wanted.

“So I took the Mark.”

Harry just stared at him, his thoughts in utter confusion. “You—you didn’t believe that Muggleborns were inferior to purebloods, then?” he blurted. “But you tortured and killed people!”

“Yes, I did.” Father sighed when Harry kept staring at him. “Henry, please understand. I told you I was incapable of the same depth of feeling as other people, at least most of the time. I regret it now, both because it created such a division between us and did not provide the safety for my family I thought it would.”

“You did it because you thought it was the best way to keep Mother safe,” Harry said dully. His own beliefs were so rooted that he felt—as if it would take something drastic to change them. Like finding out his parents had kidnapped him from his birth family, for example.

“Yes. And when you and Draco were born, you broke through my barriers, too.” Father gave him a smile that seemed to shine with sunlight. “I had been worried that wouldn’t happen, I admit. I had been concerned that I would resent having to share Narcissa with our children. But it did not. I have never felt so relieved about anything in my life.

“Well. Except one thing.”

Harry lowered his eyes, knowing well what that one other thing had been. “And you thought following—him was the best way to keep us safe?”

“Yes. He seemed to be winning. And when you were stolen, part of me froze. Forever, as I thought. I became obsessed with Narcissa’s safety, with Draco’s. I dedicated myself even more to becoming a high-ranked Death Eater, for the sake of power, and for their sake. I could not tolerate a world ever again where they were vulnerable.”

“What happened when I defeated him?”

“Then I chose the Imperius defense. I put in the long hours of acting necessary, of feigning remorse.” Father shrugged. “It was the work of nothing, when I thought it would keep my family safe. At the same time, I was sure that I could join the Dark Lord, if he returned, without any regrets. Then that would be the path to safety and power.”

Oddly, Harry did feel that he understood. Not the emotional side of it; he couldn’t imagine being that detached from the world. But the rest of it? Harry would have done anything for some people, too.

He licked his lips. “So the Muggleborn thing? Even though it seems likely he’s going to come back, because of the Horcrux?”

“I have made my choice,” Father said, and held up his bare left arm again. “That path is closed to me. It’s not a matter of belief; it’s a matter of action. That means that I need to make my way forwards and create a world that is safe for my sons and my wife based on not following the Dark Lord. And if I can manipulate the Minister and please my son at the same time? Then that is what I shall do.”

“You don’t believe that Muggleborns are the equals of purebloods, then.”

“No.”

“But you don’t hate them and want to kill them, either.”

Father shook his head. “As I told you, it is a matter of action, not belief. What I believe matters less than what I do.”

“And would you give up your current campaign to support Muggleborns if you thought there was a more advantageous way to keep us safe?”

Father frowned a little. “It is hard to imagine what that could be. The Dark Lord’s path was the only other one, and as I said, that is closed to me now. And you would be angry at me. I do not like it when you’re angry at me.”

Harry nodded slowly. He felt a little shocked, but also as though—

Well, it wasn’t a good thing that his father was so detached from everything but his family that he could switch political beliefs easily. Obviously.

But Harry couldn’t help but think it was better than having a father who was attached to the belief that purebloods were the only ones who mattered. Instead, it seemed that Father thought his family were the only ones who mattered.

Harry stood up. Father’s gaze narrowed at once, as if he wanted to say something, but in the end, he kept his mouth shut.

“Thank you for explaining it to me,” Harry mumbled. “And—and I’m glad that I matter to you enough that you’re going to change the way you act in public.”

Father smiled at him, an expression that seemed to go a lot deeper into his eyes than most of the ones he’d worn during the conversation, now that Harry was looking for that. “You matter so much to me, Henry. Believe me, in the end the Dark Lord will suffer for what he tried to do to you. I will destroy him.”

Harry blinked. “But he did that when you didn’t know I was your son.”

“Why does that matter?” Father sounded honestly baffled.

Harry leaned carefully around the ledgers and tomes and hugged him. Father’s arms returned the hug with crushing strength. He obviously didn’t want to let Harry go, but did when Harry decided that was enough and went to step away.

“Thanks,” Harry said.

“I love you, Henry.”

“I love you, too, I think,” Harry said, and then ran away so he wouldn’t have to look at his father’s face.

*

“So what are you going to do? Just wander down to the first turning in the maze and then come right back?”

Harry smiled and made sure that his wand was in its holster and he had the Blood-Replenishing potion Mother had owled him the day before in his robe pocket. “Yeah. I thought that was the best plan.”

Ron shook his head a little. It had taken him a long time, but finally he’d come to Harry and admitted that he was lonely and tired of being angry, and he would do his best never to think that Harry was just a generic Malfoy again. “I still don’t know who’s going to win the Tournament. Probably Krum, though. He’s the most ahead in points.”

Harry nodded absently in acknowledgment while he looked up at the stands to find his family and Hermione. Hermione sat with a pointed distance between her and Draco, but that was all right. Harry was just as glad that some pieces of his life fit together, even if it was pretty rough right now.

Mother smiled at him and waved. Father didn’t smile. He hadn’t liked Harry’s plan of going through even one turning of the hedge maze, but once they learned what the Third Task was, Harry hadn’t seen what else he could do.

Draco had his arms crossed and was doing his best to imitate Father’s expression. Harry didn’t think he’d succeeded, though. Draco was much warmer and more emotional than Father was, even though he would have hated to hear that.

“Champions, get ready!” Bagman yelped.

Harry clapped Ron on the shoulder and turned around to jog to the line where he would wait, while Ron went to join Harry’s family in the stands. Because he had so few points, he would enter the maze after everyone else. Harry didn’t care about that, though, or about the boos and jeers that sometimes got thrown his way.

Krum entered the maze first, then Diggory, then Delacour. Harry stood where he was and yawned. He saw Professor Moody staring at him from not far outside the maze. Apparently he was one of the people who was supposed to make sure that no one cheated to help the Champions.

Harry avoided his gaze. Moody was far weirder than even Dumbledore. At least Dumbledore had explained that he thought Harry was important because of the prophecy.

“Henry—Malfoy!”

Harry ignored the sudden increase in noise and trotted into the maze. The path in front of him continued straight for quite a distance, and Harry had to walk for longer than he’d thought before he reached the first corner. He glanced down the path to the right, just to see where it led, and started when he saw a hole cut in the hedge. Had one of the other Champions gone that way? Or had someone else managed to get into the maze and cheat to help them after all?

Harry shook his head. Well, maybe they had, but it wasn’t his business. He ignored the temptation to investigate that unexpected side tunnel, and turned around. He thought he’d done enough to satisfy the Goblet of Fire.

Red sparks dazzled him. Harry blinked and looked up. They were coming from further inside the maze. He vaguely remembered Bagman saying something about how the Champions should send up red sparks if they were in distress.

Well, still not his business, even though Harry found himself worrying about the others. They had still chosen to put their names in the Goblet, and they were still legal adults. They had survived dragons. They could probably survive this.

He stepped forwards, and someone moved in front of him. Harry had his wand drawn before he even recognized the odd gait as belonging to Professor Moody.

“Get the fuck out of my way,” Harry said in a flat voice he barely recognized. It felt as if another person was waking up in him, maybe the person that Ted drilled over and over again in fighting for his life.

Moody didn’t bother saying anything. He simply threw something at Harry. Harry tried to dodge, but it was aimed at his leg, and he wasn’t fast enough.

The pebble—was it a pebble?—touched him, and the world turned brilliant with the colors and swirling motion of what Harry knew was a Portkey seconds later.

*

Harry was rolling the minute the Portkey dropped him on hard, grassy ground among what looked like rounded stones a second later.

When you are in an unfamiliar area, assume your life is in danger every second, Ted’s voice murmured in the back of his head.

Harry ducked behind one of the rounded stones as a Stunner shot past him, scraping the earth where he’d been a few seconds before. He grabbed the sides of the stone and vaguely noted that it looked like a monument for someone dead, complete with an angel on top, before another Stunner angled towards him.

Harry rolled again, and put the stone between him and the Stunner. Bits and splinters went flying off the top.

Get on your feet as soon as you can. Like we practiced.

Harry scrambled up and gripped his wand. He and Ted had run through their defensive routines again and again, because Ted was convinced that Harry’s main problem would be not reacting fast enough when deadly spells were coming at him. But lately, they’d also started practicing so that Harry was the one casting the deadly spells.

Go!

As Harry shot out from behind the stone, he heard the faint, shrill sound of a bell ringing. He might have smiled if he wasn’t so focused on taking the man in front of him out.

He might have stumbled when he recognized Peter Pettigrew, except that Ted’s training was guiding his hands, and Harry couldn’t hesitate. He aimed his wand straight at Pettigrew and let loose with a Blasting Curse at his wand.

Pettigrew dodged with a cry, and Harry missed the wand. But he saw blood and bones flying, and knew that he’d blown a few fingers off his hand.

Pettigrew stood in place, staring down at his own blood. Harry took the time to catch his breath and aim. He had to strike Pettigrew on the hand this time, had to disarm him as soon as possible. He might have tried Expelliarmus, but Ted said that it didn’t work often enough to be worth it.

Diffindo!”

But Pettigrew moved the minute Harry spoke, rolling to the ground and darting off behind a stone of his own. Harry swung around, trying to find him, and a grey spell nearly took his leg off. He hurtled into hiding, pressing his shoulders against the stone and trying to listen for Ted’s voice against. The bell on his back was going mad.

It’s good if you can envision a chain of spells and use them. But you have to be prepared to break from the chain at any point. And remember: the point to a fight is to end it as soon as possible.

Confringo!”

The stone Harry was hiding behind blew up. He rolled instantly out of the way and scrambled to his feet. Pettigrew was clutching his bloodied hand to his side, but he had an expression of grim determination on his face that told Harry he wouldn’t give up, no matter how much of a coward he might be.

Someone else seemed to be there. At least, Harry heard a voice saying something. But he focused on Pettigrew, who was the real threat.

Frangere ossa!”

The Bone-Breaking Curse flew straight and true. Harry heard one of Pettigrew’s kneecaps smash, and he went down, screaming. Harry charged madly towards him, having the idea that he could get Pettigrew’s wand away from him if he got close enough.

But Pettigrew was still armed, down or not. “Avada Kedavra!” he croaked.

“No, you fool!” said that other, darker voice.

Harry had already ducked under the Killing Curse, though, and he came up sure that his wand was aimed in the right direction this time. “Diffindo!” he incanted again, and he didn’t much care if he cut Pettigrew’s wand or his hand.

The Severing Charm flew; Harry thought he could see the faint disturbance in the air around it as it moved, like a whipping blade. Pettigrew was moving, scrambling back from it, and lifted his hand to shield his face.

The Severing Charm went in underneath that, and slashed his throat open.

Harry stared as blood poured out of the wound, jetting, gushing, with enough force that he knew he must have sliced something vital. He had the absurd impulse to say that he hadn’t meant it, not like that, but he could do nothing but stand there, as shocked as he had been when he first learned of the Horcrux in St. Mungo’s.

Pettigrew toppled over, his wand coming free at last from his damaged hand. Harry was left frozen. He should move, he knew that. He should run to the edge of the graveyard and see if he could get away, or if he was near enough Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade for someone to find him.

But he couldn’t move. Wormtail was dead.

Harry was a murderer.

Harry Potter.

Harry glanced up, every move he made feeling as if he was encased in syrup. He could still hear the bell calling shrilly from his back, but that didn’t seem important. He stared at the huge snake crawling towards him, and the baby-like figure seated on its back. It had burning red eyes that he abruptly realized were familiar. From the dreams he couldn’t really remember, but had been having more frequently as time wore on.

“Harry Potter,” the being, Voldemort, sighed. “You have cost me my servant. But you will still serve, in place of him, until I no longer have need of you.”

Abruptly, the little figure turned its head, and one stubby arm waved in the air. Then it laughed like a frog being boiled to death. “Or perhaps not. Even now, another servant of mine comes.”

The air seemed to shiver and crack apart, and then Father was there.

He looked insane. His eyes were bright and narrow, and his face was the color of bone, so that Harry almost thought for a minute he was wearing a white mask. He clutched his wand in his right hand, and a lion charm with a madly ringing bell in the other. Even as Harry watched, the bell fell silent, and so did the one in the middle of his back.

“Lucius,” Voldemort greeted, nodding to him from his seat on the back of the snake. “You are prompt. Bind the boy and tie him to a headstone. Then fetch—”

Ignis inferiae.”

The fire shivered like the air had with Father’s Apparition, and came roaring out of his wand. Harry found himself diving to the ground and rolling away without even thinking about it, the heat or the danger breaking through his numb shock at last.

He saw—he didn’t think he was imagining it—curving claws and fangs forming in the fire and stabbing forwards. The snake uttered a thin, high noise, a shriek of Parseltongue that made Harry claw at his ears. He also heard a higher sound than that, one so shrill that it rapidly passed out of hearing range.

Something black and mucky touched him, and Harry sobbed. He was being buried in a bog, he was losing the last of his hope and life, he was—

Strong arms seized him and held him close, and Harry heard the roaring fire dim to a small noise. Father smashed Harry into his chest and asked many questions in a low, rumbling voice. Harry had a hard time distinguishing them. But he managed to make out that one of them was, “Are you all right, Henry?”

No. I’m a murderer. I think Voldemort touched me. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m a murderer.

He nodded.

“The snake is dead,” Father whispered into his ear. “The wraith is gone. I am sorry that I could not capture it, but I have not studied on such spells. I was looking instead for things that would kill a Horcrux, and I took the chance that the fire that would do that would also take care of the snake and at least the body the spirit had possessed.” He stroked Harry’s back. “What happened?”

“Moody—threw a Portkey at me,” Harry managed to say, although he didn’t know how. “And I killed—I killed—I killed—”

“Hush. I know. We’ll deal with it.”

At least Father wasn’t saying that he was proud of Harry or something like that, which Harry had been half-afraid he would say. He clung tightly to Father as the man stood and Apparated.

*

Harry’s whole body ached. He knew he was in a bright, warm room, and he knew that Mother was nearby, and he’d heard Draco’s voice. But he didn’t want to let go of Father, and when someone tried to take Harry away so that they could lay him flat on some kind of bed, he screamed.

“Leave him where he is,” Father said in that insane voice.

Harry held on, and Father held him back. Moments drifted past, came and went. Sometimes Harry was aware that Mother was hugging them, too, from the outside, and sometimes Draco stood there and was awkward, or hugged them and was awkward.

But he was mostly aware of Father holding him.

And that he was a murderer just like Father. He hadn’t meant to be, but what had Father said?

It’s not a matter of belief; it’s a matter of action.

When it came down to it, Harry had a lot of beliefs about murder, but he had acted to defend his life.

As he clung to his father, and his mother, and his brother when they were there, he wondered how he was supposed to feel, other than cold, with jagged pieces of ice whirling through him.

He wondered if Moody had been captured. He wondered where the spirit of Voldemort had gone.

But mostly, he breathed, and knew he was alive.

And that Father was there.

The End.