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A New Kind of Normal

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31st July 1991

Everyone was glad to be home from Cokeworth. And the next morning on Harry’s birthday (not that any birthday greetings were offered) the deluge of letters fearfully anticipated had failed to eventuate. Harry thought that no-one was gladder about it than him. His aunt went out shopping that morning, while Dudley played on his computer. Uncle Vernon spent an enjoyable morning boasting again to the neighbours about Dudley’s acceptance to Smeltings and supervising Harry washing and polishing the car back to a sparkling shine.

After lunch, Aunt Petunia returned from her shopping expedition bearing gifts. As well as new groceries, she’d bought a small store bought iced sponge cake that they shared for Harry’s birthday. No-one sang “Happy Birthday” to him and there weren’t any candles, but it was Harry’s first ever birthday cake so he found it all quite exciting anyway. And there were great presents for him this year! He got plenty of supplies for school: the school uniforms for Stonewall that Aunt Petunia had mended, a brand new schoolbag with the Stonewall High crest on it, and a pile of schoolbooks and some empty binders and folders for keeping notes in (“It’s a disgraceful mess on your desk and bookshelf, tidy up those notes of yours or so help me you’ll be in for it”). He also got some extra presents that weren’t needed for school! Some new glasses (narrow rectangular lenses with a thin silver frame), small sized gardening gloves that fit him with real leather lined palms, and a library card (“Maybe now you’ll stop wasting so much time at that place”).

Harry got to have a quiet afternoon pruning in the garden (with new gloves!) and tidying his room up, and Dudley didn’t seem inclined to bother interfering with either task. He was too engrossed in catching up on the phone with his friends about the programmes on the television he’d missed, and eating half his bodyweight in junk food to make up for the deprivation of the past few days.

And late that afternoon Harry’s peaceful life was ruined for good.

Two visitors arrived while he was up in his room, and despite having the door slammed in their face by Uncle Vernon the first time they knocked they somehow made it inside. And when Harry was called downstairs by a sour-faced Aunt Petunia, the visitors were sitting on the sofa having tea.

Dudley had a twenty pound note pressed into his hand by an anxious Uncle Vernon. “Better go out and have some fun with your friends, Dudley. This might take a while. Going to be very boring.” Dudley was never one to refuse a bribe and left happily and obliviously, not a bit curious about the guests.

Harry thought they were very strange looking guests. The old man was wearing a purple velvet waistcoat with shiny brass buttons and lots of red and gold embroidery, snug matching trousers, a puffy white shirt like Harry thought a pirate might wear, and high-heeled, buckled boots. He had a long, silvery white beard, and the longest hair Harry had ever seen on a man. The woman was wearing a long bottle green dress made out of some kind of heavy-looking material, which buttoned up tight right up to the neck. Her black hair was done up in a tight bun, and she was peering disapprovingly around the house, through square shaped glasses. Harry joined them warily.

“Harry, my boy!” the man greeted cheerfully. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, you’re looking well. Very well indeed. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Professor Albus Dumbledore, and I’m the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And this,” he gestured with an odd wave of his hand at the woman, “is Professor Minerva McGonagall, my deputy. She teaches Transfiguration at Hogwarts.”

Harry looked to his uncle and aunt for guidance, but their stony disapproving faces didn’t give a lot of clues as to how he was supposed to act. “It’s nice to meet you,” he said politely. They nodded their heads in response. “Did you get my letter?”

“Ah, yes,” said Dumbledore, “but of course there must be some kind of misunderstanding. Perhaps you weren’t sure magic is real!” He chuckled. “I can assure you this isn’t a joke, magic really does exist and you really have been invited to come and study at our most prestigious school. You’re a wizard, Harry!”

“Perhaps a small demonstration is in order,” offered McGonagall. And promptly turned the teapot into a kitten.

Petunia shrieked, and Vernon yelled, “Not in my house! Stop that right this minute!” Professor McGonagall just sighed with exasperation and turned the kitten back into a teapot.

“Now, now Petunia,” said Dumbledore soothingly, “no harm done. See, the teapot is back to normal.” He poured himself another cup of tea as proof, and beamed at everyone.

Harry stared at the teapot. It was true – magic was real. He’d thought it was, it seemed to make a crazy kind of sense but he’d doubted a little, all the same. Still, it didn’t change his mind. “I do appreciate the demonstration,” he said, “and the offer of a place at your school, but actually I think on the whole I’d rather go to Stonewall High.”

McGonagall stared at him disbelievingly, and Dumbledore looked worried. But his aunt and uncle looked pleased. “You see,” said Aunt Petunia, “I told you he wasn’t going. So you can be on your way, then.”

“I don’t think you understand…” started McGonagall.

“We’re not idiots, we understand just fine, and he’s not going!” yelled Petunia.

“It’s not as simple as that,” she retorted, voice rising a little, “if he doesn’t train his magic he will continue having outbursts of accidental magic. He’ll draw attention to himself with odd things happening around him. To leave him untrained puts our world at risk, the Statute of Secrecy must be maintained!”

“And of course,” added Dumbledore, “Petunia you and your family have known about our world for far too long for Obliviation to be effective. The damage to your mind should the Obliviators try to put a block on Harry’s magic and then erase all knowledge of magic and the wizarding world from your mind would be immense. You could be left a drooling scatterbrain.”

“Don’t you threaten my wife!” shouted Vernon.

“Oh no, no, no! I wasn’t threatening,” insisted Dumbledore. “I was just explaining why that wouldn’t be an option. Harry must come to Hogwarts - you see it’s the only reasonable alternative.” Petunia’s face still looked pale and frightened, despite his attempts to explain. Vernon kept his arm around her shoulders protectively.

“Why don’t you take Harry for a little chat upstairs, Minerva, while I talk a bit more with his aunt and uncle about how disruptive accidental magic can be,” suggested Dumbledore.

“Aunt Petunia?” Harry asked hesitantly, looking for approval. She nodded jerkily, so he followed the woman upstairs to his room.

“Don’t you want to learn magic, Harry?” asked McGonagall, sitting down at his desk chair. Harry sat on his bed.

“Not really,” he replied. “I’d rather go to school and become a doctor, actually.”

“Well if you study at our school, you can be a better kind of doctor. A mediwizard or a Healer, who can cure diseases and injuries with a single potion, or a wave of a wand and a whispered spell. Don’t you think that would be a good career too?”

“So I could cure a broken bone in an instant?” he asked, curious.

“Exactly!”

“Wouldn’t the hospitals think that was a bit… odd?” he wondered. “If patients recovered too quickly?”

“Well, of course you couldn’t practise in a Muggle hospital,” she explained, “only at St. Mungo’s or another wizarding hospital. We can’t risk Muggles finding out about our world, of course, and healing someone like that would be a dead giveaway.”

“What’s a Muggle? Is that a normal person?”

“Yes, I suppose so. It refers to people without magic, born to parents who also don’t have magic. Your parents of course were a witch and a wizard - you’re a wizard too. And you need training, Harry,” she said seriously. “If you don’t get training for your magic, it will continue to escape your control in unpredictable outbursts of accidental magic. How well do you think you will manage in school if your table flies up in the air when you’re angry? Or if you set the school hall on fire because you’re jealous your girlfriend is talking to another boy?”

“I don’t have a girlfriend! I’m only eleven!” he said, appalled.

“It’s just an example. I’m not saying you have a girlfriend at the moment. And you know you won’t be eleven for ever,” she said. “What if you hurt someone by accident? What if you hurt your family? How do you think they’d feel about that, knowing you could’ve trained your magic and avoided the whole situation in the first place?"

Harry thought about what Uncle Vernon would do if he got mad enough at Dudley pushing him around to make him fly away from him through the air and smash into a wall, and maybe break his arm. It wasn’t a pretty thought. Uncle Vernon’s fury was a terror to behold.

“The thing is,” he said, in a quiet voice, “I don’t want to be killed by a crazy wizard. Your world - it sounds dangerous. I guess I wouldn’t mind learning enough magic so that freaky stuff doesn’t happen around me. But I don’t want to leave everything behind and go to your hidden world and never come back. Or get killed like my mum and dad.”

“Oh Harry,” she said, pityingly. “You-Know-Who is long gone, you saw to that yourself. He died when the killing curse rebounded off you, and he’s gone for good, no threat to you I promise. The world is at peace now. And you can come back to the Muggle world for holidays of course, and when your schooling is finished if you don’t want to stay in the wizarding world you don’t have to.” She gave him a trembling encouraging smile.

“Do I… do I really have a choice?” he asked.

“Not really, no,” she said. And that seemed to be that. Harry would be going to Hogwarts after all. Regardless of his feelings on the matter.

When they rejoined the Dursleys downstairs, his aunt and uncle agreed that it was necessary too. Vernon refused to shake Dumbledore’s offered hand as he tried to say goodbye, he just grunted and folded his arms. Dumbledore gave him a sweeping bow instead. Professor McGonagall said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Potter. At nine in the morning I’ll come by to pick you up and take you shopping for your school things.”

“I won’t be paying a cent,” warned Uncle Vernon.

“It will all be taken care of,” Dumbledore assured him.

After the two strange visitors had gone, Vernon settled down in front of the television with a bottle of scotch to watch some sport, and Aunt Petunia got Harry to help her tidy away the teacups and plates.

“You see how they are,” she said bitterly, “you go if they want you to go, you stay away if they want you to stay away. It’s not up to you to choose - they act like it is but it’s not. You have no idea, no idea how nasty they can be if you don’t do what they want.”

“People want to go who don’t get to?” he asked curiously.

“I did, once,” she said, very quietly. “I missed my sister so much. Lily was there almost the whole year round, and we’d never been apart for so long. We were close, once, before they took her away from me.”

“Are you a witch, Aunt Petunia?”

“Of course not!” she said, insulted. “But you know, there’s plenty of subjects that I could have studied there, all the same. They spit the word ‘Muggle’ like it means you’re silly, incompetent. But normal people could learn at least half of the things they study there, even without magic. History of Magic is just all theory, Care of Magical Creatures is no different from learning about any other animals, and Potions is all about mixing things together to follow a recipe. And Astronomy! Seven years of Astronomy, like it’s so important,” she sniffed dismissively. “I’m not saying I would’ve wanted to study Astronomy, but you don’t need magic to look through a telescope or learn the constellations now, do you?”

“Of course not, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said soothingly. “I’m sure you would’ve been very good at it if you’d wanted. If they’d let you.”

“I wanted to learn Herbology, and Potions. They sounded the most interesting. Rare plants and making tremendous things. But that knowledge is forbidden to my type. We’re not good enough to learn it, they say.”

“If I went, when I go, I could share my books with you if you wanted, Aunt Petunia,” offered Harry hesitantly.

“That’s a kind thought boy, but no. They don’t want you sharing that kind of information. They won’t even let you show anyone any spells who’s not a wizard or witch – or who doesn’t already know about their world. You’re banned from doing that, and if you break that law,” she lowered her voice forebodingly, “they come for you. They track you, you see. They’ll follow you, and erase the memories of magic from anyone who sees it. If you do it too often, they’ll throw you in the most torturous prison, guarded by terrifying creatures straight out of your worst nightmares.” She shuddered at the thought of it. “No, I’m happy with my life. I don’t want to know anything more about magic. Or that wretched school. Just, don’t forget. Don’t forget the rot beneath the surface of that horrible place. You study what you have to, do what you’re told, and if you have the willpower and the intelligence, you leave that world and walk away as soon as you can.”

“When?” he asked.

“I don’t know!” she snapped. “I don’t know anything about their world. You find out. Maybe when you finish school. It’s seven years.”

“They said I have to go. That I don’t have a choice.”

“None of us have a choice. People pretend you have a choice, but it’s all a lie,” she complained bitterly.

Chapter Text

1st August 1991

When Professor McGonagall came by promptly at nine the next morning (this time with a cloak added to her outfit), Harry was ready to go. He was dressed in a pair of his nicer school trousers (with only one torn and mended place at the knee), a baggy old orange t-shirt of Dudley’s with a bmx bike on the front, and some ratty old trainers. She sniffed at his outfit, but didn’t comment on his clothes except to tell him to go and get a hat. “No young man of standing should be seen in public bare-headed,” she explained, with a quick glance at his forehead. So he went and fetched a faded red cap of Dudley’s. It was almost pink, it had faded so much, but it would have to do as he didn’t have any other hats.

They travelled by Apparition, which Harry thought was the worst thing he’d ever experienced, to a dingy old pub called the Leaky Cauldron. The pub failed to impress Harry in any way. Then they walked into Diagon Alley, which most decidedly was impressive... though a little frightening. She hurried him past shops selling cauldrons, disgusting ingredients like dragon liver (dragons were real?), scrolls, robes, and for some demented reason, broomsticks. That last shop seemed very popular with a number of teenage boys crowding around the shopfront window admiring a “Nimbus Two Thousand”, whatever that was. The broomsticks, plus the large number of people bustling around wearing pointed black hats and robes, suggested that a lot of the stories about witches were real after all. Harry wondered if it was mandatory to have a black cat, and asked McGonagall. But she just seemed amused and said, “I have no need for a pet cat, Mr. Potter. Did you want to buy one? You’re allowed a cat, an owl or a toad as a familiar. But none of those are mandatory.”

“No thank you.”

At the end of the street they reached a snowy-white building that towered above the other shops. Standing guard with two on each side of its silver and burnished bronze doors wearing uniforms of scarlet and gold were some odd looking short little men, glaring at anyone who approached.

“Gringotts,” said McGonagall. “Our banking system is run by goblins, remember to be polite and business-like.”

“Halt!” challenged a guard as they approached. “What business do you have at Gringotts today?” The other three held their spears tightly, watching carefully.

“Mr. Potter is here to withdraw some of his gold,” said McGonagall.

“No account closures are permitted today,” warned the goblin.

“He’s not closing his account, just making a withdrawal,” she said, sounding a little puzzled.

“Withdrawals are limited today to no more than ten percent of the total value,” the goblin snarled. “If this is acceptable to you, then proceed inside. If you have a problem with that then come back next week.” He stepped back to his station and waved them inside.

“That was odd,” she said, “they’re usually not quite so… brusque.”

The bank was very busy that morning. Inside the vast marble hall were about a hundred goblins sitting on high stools behind a long counter, and the bank was crowded with people wanting service, some of them were yelling loud enough for Harry to overhear.

“I just want to know my money’s safe!”

“What do you mean I can’t empty my vault? It’s my vault!”

“Next week! You must be joking!”

“Do you know who I am?!”

Professor McGonagall spotted someone she knew, and went off to ask them what was going on, leaving Harry standing awkwardly near the doors next to another armed goblin.

“What’s going on?” he asked them.

“I’m not paid to answer the stupid questions of children,” the goblin sneered.

His future teacher returned fairly quickly. “Apparently there was a break-in yesterday evening. It seems nothing was stolen, but there’s a lot of panic about it. I’ll have to pick up a copy of the Prophet later and see what they’re saying about it,” she said. Harry wasn’t sure what the “Profit” was. Perhaps a bank newsletter?

Eventually they got to speak to a harassed looking teller who asked them their business.

“We’re here to take some gold from Mr. Potter’s vault,” said McGonagall, presenting a small gold key for inspection. “Less than ten percent, as per your guidelines for today,” she added reassuringly.

“I don’t have an account here, ma’am,” said Harry.

“It’s professor not ma’am, and of course you do. The Potters have kept their gold here for generations. You didn’t think I was going to personally pay for all your schooling expenses, did you?” she asked.

“I thought there might be some kind of school scholarship fund, or something,” he ventured apologetically.

“Enough chatter! I haven’t got all day you know. Who’s going down to the vault, or would you like some funds retrieved for you, for a small fee?” snapped the irritated teller.

“Mr. Potter will be going down on his own,” McGonagall replied, despite Harry’s anxious face. “Professor Dumbledore thought you might like to experience the fun of the cart ride on your own. Certainly the novelty has long since worn off for me.”

So Harry was sent off with a goblin, and he did indeed enjoy the rollercoaster cart ride! The sight of the mounds of gold and silver in his vault was quite impressive, and he bugged the goblin for exchange rate information (much less than he would’ve expected, given what he suspected gold was worth). When he asked for a statement giving his account balance and how school fees would be paid though, he ran into trouble.

“Account statements are issued yearly,” the goblin said. “There’s a two galleon fee for additional statements.”

Harry looked at the piles of gold, and figured he could afford that. “All right, I’ll take one.”

“You’ll need to talk to your account manager about that,” responded the goblin. “I just work the carts.”

“Well who’s my account manager?”

“How should I know! I told you, I just work the carts. Your account manager is listed on your statements.”

“But I don’t get any statements,” Harry explained.

“Your mail problems are not the responsibility of Gringotts - our owls always fly out yearly. If you are under wards that’s not our fault,” the goblin said defensively.

“Well who should I talk to about that? Maybe change how things are sent?”

“Your account manager. Or whoever did your warding.”

“But I don’t know who my account manager is…”

“I don’t have all day for this Mr. Potter! Arguing with customers is outside my pay grade – I’m only authorised to operate the carts. And have you seen what it is like on the surface? There’s customers queuing for carts! Now get your gold and let’s get going. If you want to badger Gringotts for a new account manager you can come back another day,” snapped the goblin.

Harry didn’t think it was very good customer service but the way the goblin’s hand kept brushing against the dagger at its waist strongly suggested it might be time to drop the topic, since he was on his own. Maybe things would go better if he talked to them about it when everyone was less high strung.

When he rejoined Professor McGonagall after another thrilling cart ride, she encouraged him to add a necklace or fob chain to his shopping list - to keep his key on. “Professor Dumbledore thought it best if he kept looking after your key, but you seem like a sensible young man and I think its best you learn to budget responsibly yourself. Just remember that you don’t have endless funds – just because there’s a massive pile of gold doesn’t mean you should waste it all on frivolities. You’ll need to pay for Hogwarts, of course, and any apprenticeship costs you may incur after graduating, and one day you’ll want to buy an estate of your own, no doubt. You must think of future generations, too.”

“You want me to budget for having children?” Harry asked incredulously.

“This is family money, Harry! Your inheritance. Don’t squander it. You should make the memory of your father proud.”

“Yes ma’am, I mean, Professor. I will,” he responded solemnly. She was right, his father would no doubt have wanted him to be sensible with his wealth. Well, he presumed so. It’s not like he really knew, but he thought it sounded nice. Though it did make him wonder.

“Aunt Petunia said my father was… unemployed,” he asked cautiously, “so where did all the money come from? My mother’s family wasn’t very rich.”

“Oh, your father came from old money, Harry. The Potters might not be an Ancient house, but it’s a very respectable old Noble family all the same.”

“But not like Dukes, or anything?”

“No, not like that – no Muggle titles. Well, I think we’d best start off by getting you outfitted with your school uniform, then the bookshop, and then we’ll wrap up the other assorted items on your list.”

They headed to Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions and Harry greeted Madam Malkin, who was a squat, smiling witch dressed all in mauve. Under his professor’s instructions, she popped him up on a stool to start fitting him out for his Hogwarts uniform. McGonagall was quickly distracted though, as she greeted an elderly witch who’d just entered the store, who was wearing a truly incredible hat with what looked like a stuffed vulture perched on top of it. A short, slightly plump round-faced boy with light brown hair was escorted by Madam Malkin to the stool next to Harry.

“Hello,” he said shyly.

“Hello,” responded Harry. “Hogwarts too?”

“Yes,” said the boy. “My name’s Neville Longbottom.”

His eyes flicked up to Harry’s exposed forehead. “And you must be Harry Potter, right?”

“How did you know that? Magic?” said an amazed Harry.

“No! I don’t… I’m not very good at magic,” Neville said. “They weren’t even sure I’d have enough magical power to go to Hogwarts. No, it’s your scar, of course.” He sounded a bit embarrassed.

“My scar? Really? But why would you know I have that?”

“Well, that’s what’s left from when you defeated You-Know-Who.”

“Who?”

“Uh…You-Know-Who…Voldemort,” Neville whispered. “When his curse bounced off you, you got a lightning bolt scar. Everyone knows that. Though, well, I suppose maybe not everyone. But my Gran talks about your parents all the time. Our parents fought You-Know-Who together, you know. Our mums were friends.”

“Really? Wow!” said Harry excitedly. “Is your mum shopping with you? I’ve never met anyone who knew my parents. Well, except Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, but they never talk about them.”

“It’s… no. No, my mum’s not here. She and dad, well, look I don’t want to talk about it right now, alright?” Neville pleaded. “It’s just me and Gran, really.”

“Oh, sorry,” apologised Harry. He wondered what the mystery was, but he totally understood about not wanting to talk about your family. He wasn’t keen on discussing details of his life with the Dursleys. He tried to think of something else to say to change the topic, but didn’t know enough about the wizarding world to talk about that. And he wasn’t very experienced with making friends either. After an awkward silence he eventually thought of something.

“I uh… I didn’t think I’d go to Hogwarts. But they say I have to, because I have too many magical accidents, or something.”

“I didn’t think I’d go either. But for the opposite reason,” Neville shared quietly.

“I don’t think I’ll do very well, I don’t know any magic.”

“Me either,” said Neville comfortingly. “Maybe we could study together?” he suggested hesitantly.

“Like, friends?”

“Well, if you wanted. I mean, I’m sure you’ll have lots of friends. We could just study anyway, we don’t have to be friends,” Neville said, shrinking into himself a bit until Madam Malkin prompted him to stand up straight lest the line of his robe be ruined.

“I’d like that,” Harry said awkwardly, smiling at the boy hopefully. He’d like a friend. A friend who had so little magic he was almost like a normal person. He wished they could swap their magic. Life would be simpler. He hadn’t known people could have different levels of magic. It was very interesting.

“That’s you done, dear,” said Madam Malkin, taking the robe off him. Neville gawked at the bright orange t-shirt Harry was wearing underneath.

“What are you wearing?” he asked, staring. “Is it a Muggle fashion?”

“Just an old t-shirt,” said Harry.

“Aren’t you worried people will stare?” asked Neville anxiously. “Wouldn’t you rather wear something a bit more normal? I wouldn’t want people staring at me.”

Harry froze. He never wanted people staring at him. He hadn’t considered that in this new world he was being forced into that to dress like a normal person would in fact be odd and unusual, a possible source of scorn and condemnation. He needed to learn the rules about what was normal for the wizarding world. “What should I wear instead?” he asked Neville.

“Maybe some casual day robes?” suggested Neville. “My gran would say you should have at least one set of formal robes too, just in case there’s a ball or something at school. And a hat.”

“But… I don’t want to wear a dress,” worried Harry. “Is there something else I could wear?”

“Well, my gran usually insists on robes, but men and boys can wear trousers as well - yours aren’t too bad. But you’d really need a waistcoat, and maybe a frock coat or cloak to go over the top. And a proper shirt with a cravat or tie. You know, something traditional. And definitely not orange. Well, not unless you’re a big Cannons supporter.”

After a consultation with Madam Malkin, with occasional input from Neville, Harry settled on buying some black trousers, two waistcoats (one bottle green, one blue), two white shirts with proper cuffs but no lace (“you’ll need cufflinks of course”), a cream cravat, a leather belt with a belt pouch, and a half-length black cape lined with black satin. He got a pointed black hat as part of his school uniform, which apparently would be fine for everyday wear too. He changed into his new clothes with the blue waistcoat, and they all agreed his shoes rather ruined the look. Apparently he’d need to go to another shop for new boots, which thankfully did not need to be high heeled if he didn’t want them to be. He also placed an order for dress robes to be delivered to Hogwarts later, as they’d need to be specially made to measure. Black, which was apparently a very “neutral” colour that anyone could wear, with some hopefully tasteful gold embroidery.

It was around then that Professor McGonagall and Neville’s grandmother wrapped up their conversation and bustled over to see what was taking so long. “So this is Mr. Potter!” said Neville’s grandmother. “Augusta Longbottom, Mr. Potter. It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. Welcome back, Mr. Potter. Oh! And happy birthday for yesterday. It was Neville’s birthday the day before that, of course.”

Harry felt a bit overwhelmed by how Neville’s family seemed to know all about him.

“Oh, a belated happy birthday, Neville.”

“Well, I-”

“You may join us for ice-cream,” proclaimed his grandmother.

Neville blushed and looked embarrassed. Harry felt embarrassed too.

“I err, I don’t eat ice-cream, sorry, I’m lactose intolerant,” he explained. “I don’t want to be rude, but I –”

“They’ll have something for you to eat at Florean’s, I’m sure. They’ve got a lot of flavours,” Augusta said, blithely dismissing his concerns.

Professor McGonagall chatted with Augusta about the amount of shopping Harry had left to do, but concluded in the end they had time for a quick stop for ice-cream. It turned out that Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour did have a couple of dairy-free options, in the form of teeny tiny tubs of sorbet that Mr. Fortescue enlarged to full size with a tap of his wand. Harry got a lime and passionfruit sorbet; it was quite delicious. Neville got a large mulberry and chocolate sundae, with some kind of whizzing firework on a stick stuck on top, just for fun. While the adults deplored the state of society and youth today and how much better standards at Hogwarts were back in their day, the boys quietly sat at a table nearby and shared their whispered anxieties about Hogwarts.

“My Gran wants me to be in Gryffindor, but I don’t know if I’m brave enough,” admitted Neville. “I bet I’m in Hufflepuff.”

“I don’t know what any of that means, I’m sorry,” said Harry. He explained about how his aunt and uncle were Muggles.

Neville told him all about the four Houses, and how they were each named after one of the Founders of Hogwarts. “Gryffindor is the House of the brave, Hufflepuff is for the hard working, Slytherin for the ambitious, and Ravenclaw for the smart. Gryffindor’s element is fire, Hufflepuff is earth, Slytherin is water, and Ravenclaw of course is air. I don’t know how the sorting is done, how they pick your House is kept secret. But I think it’s probably some kind of elemental affinity test. Which means I’ll probably end up in Hufflepuff. I do love working with plants. And I don’t think I’m very brave. Or smart,” he added gloomily. “I’d like to make my Gran and parents proud, and be in Gryffindor like them, but I don’t know if I’ve got what it’d take. I’m such a duffer I’ll probably be in Hufflepuff.”

“I think Hufflepuff sounds nice,” said Harry reassuringly. “I like gardening too. Flowers, mostly. And there’s nothing wrong with being hard working. I think I’d like to be in that House.”

Neville brightened happily. Neville asked if it was alright to call him Harry (what else would he call him?), and they promised to look for each other on the train. Neville chatted about how to get through the barrier, since obviously Harry wouldn’t know.

They split up after that after Neville shook his hand in farewell. Neville went off with his grandmother to buy potion supplies, and Harry and Professor McGonagall went to the bookshop. Harry wanted to browse in the second-hand bookshop next to the ice cream parlour, but his professor insisted they go to Flourish and Blotts for the latest textbooks. Harry got all the required books on the list, plus Shrubs & Trees for the Garden by A. Osborn, Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions, An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe, and the intriguingly titled Powers You Never Knew You Had and What to Do with them Now You've Wised Up. He would’ve added some more books to his basket, but McGonagall insisted he had enough books “even for a Ravenclaw”, and that they had other shopping to complete before all the good shops closed.

Buying a cauldron, various potion supplies and quills was quite straightforward and pleasant. Buying his wand, on the other hand, was extremely eerie. He didn’t want to own the brother wand to Voldemort’s, but apparently that was another thing he didn’t get a choice about. At least Professor McGonagall told the creepy old man off for saying Voldemort did “great things”. He didn’t think killing his parents was a great thing. Clearly while the war might be over his old supporters were still around, here and there.

McGonagall bustled him along to buy his telescope and scales, and at Harry’s request they stopped off at Gladrags Wizardwear where Harry bought some cufflinks, a fob chain for his Gringotts key, and some very plain black leather boots, definitely not enchanted, much to the disappointment of the sales clerk. He also bought some plain woollen socks, avoiding the incredibly lurid coloured socks on display, some of which seemed to be enchanted with flashing gold and silver stars. He added some new underwear to his pile of shopping when McGonagall wasn’t looking, which was rung up discreetly. The last stop of the day was to find a trunk to hold all his supplies, which were currently being carried in miniaturized form in an embroidered soft fabric pouch tied to his professor’s belt (apparently it was called a reticule, not a handbag). Looking around tiredly McGonagall spotted a little store nearby called The Junk Shop, and they ended up finding a worn but serviceable second-hand trunk for sale there. Harry’s money was running a little low (probably because of the cufflinks and extra clothes), and McGonagall ended up buying it for him as a late birthday present, which was greatly appreciated.

He didn’t appreciate her insistence they return to Little Whinging by side-along Apparition, though. And she didn’t appreciate him arguing about how much better (and less nauseating) a train ride home would be. In the end he saw she wouldn’t be persuaded and caved though, and was dropped home with a polite farewell and a nod of her head. And a roiling stomach. He definitely didn’t like teleporting.

Chapter Text

August 1991

Harry’s last month with the Dursleys before going to Hogwarts wasn’t the most comfortable time. His Aunt Petunia seemed sympathetic to his enforced school choice, but Uncle Vernon was angry about it, and shouted about it occasionally. Eventually Dudley overheard one of his rants, which somehow was all Harry’s fault or so his uncle said. Harry apologised, but still had to spend the next two days locked in his room except for meals and an occasional bathroom trip. Dudley seemed torn between teasing Harry about being a freak after all and thinking it would be “wicked” to turn people into toads.

Harry kept to his room a lot or went to the local library. He read through the first half of each of his textbooks for Stonewall, just in case, and all of the more interesting magical textbooks (some he only skimmed - like the book about transfiguration which seemed to have especially pointless spells). He mostly read his magical books at the library. Though the risk of someone non-magical catching him reading an odd book was a worrisome one, he figured he could easily explain it was a fantasy book for a roleplaying game. And the risk of a stranger catching him reading about magic was nothing compared to what he thought Uncle Vernon might do if he caught Harry reading a book about “Dark forces” (even if it was how to protect himself against them). So he smuggled out a book or two a day to take to the library in his Stonewall backpack. Along with a more mundane book for disguise on top, in case his aunt or uncle insisted on looking in his bag on the way out the door.

He wondered if his aunt and uncle would want him to do well at Hogwarts or not. He assumed they’d rather he didn’t excel, but then, it was also vitally important he get his magic under good enough control to not have accidents any more or draw the attention of officials who might mess with his or his family’s memories. He’d read through every word of Magical Theory but it wasn’t as helpful as he’d hoped. All he discovered was that “accidental magic” occurred more often during periods of high emotions or stress, was more common with “untrained” witches and wizards, and never happened at all for Squibs or those with low magical power.

There was almost no information at all about Hogwarts’ grading system in An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe, which was a shame. How would he know how to tailor his grades? All he learnt was that the major tests were OWLs at the end of fifth year (which you could leave school after but few people did) and NEWTs at the end of seventh - which was the end of schooling unless you undertook an Apprenticeship to gain a Mastery in a specific subject or did extra training for a career. Oh, and that Hogwarts didn’t teach the Dark Arts, Traditions/Etiquette, Music, Art, Technomancy, Languages, or Ritual Magic. There was a chart for each school showing what they offered and what they didn’t. Harry thought he could live without those subjects anyway. Except that he kind of liked Technomancy which sounded cool and modern; but it wasn’t taught in any of the European schools. Logically, it must be taught somewhere else in the world, to make it into the chart. That wouldn’t do him any good though. Hogwarts did teach Divination (which most of the others didn’t), was highly ranked for Charms and Transfiguration, and poorly ranked for Defensive Magic. It also apparently didn’t bar or preference admission on the basis of “blood status”, heritage or gender. It didn’t explain what that meant, but he assumed it meant it was less bigoted than the others somehow. Or it meant vampires could go to school there, which frankly was more open-minded than he thought he’d like. Brrrr!

The book Powers You Never Knew You Had and What to Do with them Now You've Wised Up was a little disappointing too. It wasn’t at all a guide for those new to the world of magic like he’d hoped. Instead, it was a guide to special powers and abilities for witches and wizards who were even more freakish than the usual. There were several chapters on unusual abilities people could naturally possess: Seers, Second Sight, Metamorphmagi, Animagi, Flight, Twin Bonds, Parselmouths, Legilimens, and Elemental Affinity. There were also a number of chapters on “half-breed heritages” including giant, goblin, troll, vampire, veela and werewolf. Harry desperately hoped his father wasn’t part troll or anything like that. He was a bit worried that he might be a Metamorphmagus and a Parselmouth, based on the descriptions. But since his book Fantastic Beasts included at least one snake that could talk (the Runespoor) other snakes might plausibly do so too. It might not be him; he hoped it wasn’t. And he wasn’t game to do the experiments recommended to self-test for Metamorphmagus ability. What if he changed his face and it got stuck that way? The book just recommended you get your parents or a friend to help if you got stuck (with some spells listed), or go to a Healer or mediwizard. He didn’t think the local hospital would help him if he showed up with a pig snout, and he didn’t know how to find the magical hospital. That thing with his hair was probably just accidental magic anyway. Best to just to ignore it all, he decided in the end.

He’d wondered if A History of Magic would have anything about Voldemort or his parents in it, but it didn’t seem to cover anything later than the Victorian era. Obviously they must cover more recent times in future years. School was usually patchy like that in his experience.

Harry wasn’t game to ask Uncle Vernon about getting a lift to Kings Cross Station until the last day of August. But Uncle Vernon seemed to be in a good enough mood and just grunted his agreement, thankfully.

“Funny way to get to a wizards’ school, the train. Magic carpets all got punctures, have they?”

“I don’t know. It seems like broomsticks are quite popular, which sounds crazy to me, but I guess you can’t carry luggage on a broomstick,” ventured Harry. “I’d much rather catch a train anyway. It sounds more normal. And safer.” Uncle Vernon nodded in agreement.

“Where is this school, anyway?”

“A remote location in Scotland, apparently. Near a village called Hogsmeade.”

“At least they keep it out of England. Wouldn’t want their sort around here.”

***

Harry woke at five o’clock the next morning and was too nervous to go back to sleep. He dressed in his normal grey school slacks (he preferred the word “normal” to “Muggle”) with his boots mostly hidden under the ends of the trouser legs, one of his new white wizarding style shirts with cufflinks, and an ordinary blue jumper pulled over the top. They reached King’s Cross Station at half past ten and Harry said a cordial goodbye to his family. Aunt Petunia and Dudley wished him goodbye and good luck, respectively. Uncle Vernon in a harsh whisper reminded him not to bring home any “magic rubbish or tricks” that might scare Aunt Petunia when he came home at the end of the year. Harry solemnly promised not to, and was rewarded with a brief pat on the head, and his heavy trunk lifted onto a trolley for him.

Getting through the hidden entrance to Platform 9 ¾ was a breeze thanks to Neville’s advice. The train was quite impressive, though he was a little surprised it was an old steam train rather than a modern one. He’d assumed it would look normal so no-one would notice it on the tracks as being unusual. A bright red steam train was sure to stand out a mile away. There were less people in traditional wizarding garb than he’d expected. He thought they’d probably faced the same problem he’d had of trying to pass inconspicuously through King’s Cross Station.

He looked around for Neville, but didn’t spot him right away. He checked to see if he was one of a large group of boys crowding around something in the middle of the platform. It turned out they were looking at a large spider in a box, owned by a boy with dreadlocks called Lee.

“Does it talk?” he asked, peering at it curiously.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said one of the boys, sneering.

“He’s just a Muggle-born firstie, go easy,” said another.

“It’s just a tarantula, not an Acromantula. Look at its eyes, see the difference? Blimey, I wouldn’t want to own one of those! This little fellow is much friendlier. Want to touch him?” offered Lee.

Harry declined with a shake of his head and went on his way, not noticing how his fringe moved briefly to reveal his scar for a moment. Or the quiet chatter that broke out about him as he left the group.

He pushed his trolley down past the first few carriages and eventually spotted Neville and his Gran. He waved excitedly at him. Neville grinned and waved back, and a toad jumped from one of his hands as he did so. He scrambled to catch it but missed. Luckily Harry leapt in to help and caught the toad and handed it back to Neville.

“Trevor keeps getting away from me,” moaned Neville. “Thanks, Harry.”

“He won’t give me warts, will he?”

“Nah…I mean no,” he said, glancing at his Gran who didn’t seem impressed with his grammar. “He’s not hexed. Just an ordinary toad. Maybe a little magical. He’s from Loch Ness, you know. Uncle Algie got him for me.”

Neville said an embarrassed goodbye to his Gran, and she prompted Harry to say farewell too, when he didn’t spontaneously do so.

“A young man should always farewell a lady when departing,” she chided. “And tip your hat.”

“Goodbye ma’am,” he said obediently, and copied Neville as he lifted his hat slightly off his forehead with one hand. Then they were permitted to depart, with a reminder to stand up straight and make their families proud.

They went to find an empty compartment in the middle section of the train, passing by a couple that were already taken.

“You could sit with your other friends, if you’d rather,” offered Harry with his best disinterested air.

“No, I’d like to sit with you. If you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind at all. I was just you know, being polite,” explained Harry. He wasn’t really used to the idea that someone might actually want to be friends with him. It was quite nice.

Once they were settled, Harry took off his jumper and put on his green waistcoat and black wizard’s hat, and tucked his trouser legs inside his boots.

“You know you don’t need to wear the hat inside. Except for formal occasions or rituals, special things like that. You should wear it for the Sorting, when we get to school,” volunteered Neville. So Harry took the hat off again and packed it back in his trunk.

They had an interesting chat about school subjects; Neville knew what they all were, but wasn’t sure which class the book about magical animals was for, as the subject Care of Magical Creatures was usually only for Third Year and onwards. The Wizarding school grading system had silly names, but was basically very like a five letter A-E grading system, so Harry felt quite relieved it would be relatively straightforward.

“I’m most worried about Potions,” confided Neville.

“Why is that? I thought it looked great apart from the weird ingredients. It’s just like cooking but with more complicated stirring. And I’m pretty good at cooking! And there’s no wands needed,” Harry said with satisfaction. “It shouldn’t need a lot of magic, right?”

“But that’s just it, you don’t need a lot of magic. So if I’m bad at Potions, well, Uncle Algie won’t be at all impressed,” Neville shivered, and continued in a conspiratorial whisper. “But the worst thing is the teacher, you see if you fail in his class he-”

But he was interrupted as without knocking or any kind of warning, the door to their compartment slid open quickly and unexpectedly to reveal a frizzy-haired young girl in jeans and a jumper.

“My parents are dentists. If you don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, I’d like to share your compartment,” she blurted out with an air that suggested they’d better not have a problem with it.

“Oh! Hello. Well, it’s all right by me. Neville?”

“I’m… not sure what that means. But I would venture it’s a Muggle thing?” Neville looked to Harry with a querying look, and Harry nodded in affirmation. “I… suppose I would have no objection if you want to join us,” Neville finished hesitantly.

“Oh good,” said the girl, who dragged her trunk from the hallway into their compartment. The boys helped her lift it up to the luggage racks. “I’m Hermione Granger, first year, Muggle-born. Not that it should matter, but apparently it does so there it is. I’m not going to be embarrassed by it.”

“I’m Neville Longbottom, first year, pure-blood. But I’m not, you know, I’m not a blood purist. I never would be.”

“Harry Potter, first year, I don’t know what the-”

“Are you really? I know all about you, of course – I got a few extra books for background reading, and you’re in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century.”

“Am I?” said Harry, feeling dazed. “Could I borrow them some time? I couldn’t find anything out about Voldemort in our history textbook.” Neville flinched but didn’t say anything.

“No, it didn’t cover anything after Queen Victoria’s reign ended, did it? Maybe next year they’ll do modern history. Or ancient history – that would be fascinating don’t you think? And I’d be happy to lend them to you if you can’t find copies in the school library. You know it says in Hogwarts, A History that it’s the finest magical library in the whole of Great Britain.”

Hermione smiled happily and asked them what House they thought they’d be in, then enthused without pausing about her preferred option of Gryffindor. Harry leant his head on the train window, a bit dazed by the idea that someone could learn “all about him” from a few books. He had to find out what was in them. Outside the train he could hear a little girl whining to her mother.

“Oh mum, Fred says he’s on the train, please can I go on the train and see him, Mum, oh please…”

He glanced covertly out the window and saw a family of redheads chatting.

“You don’t need to see him, Ginny, the poor boy isn’t something you goggle at in a zoo. It looks like he found the platform without help after all, that’s nice. He must’ve run into someone else to help him. Is it really him, Fred? How do you know?” asked the mother.

“Lee Jordan saw his scar, mum. Like a lightning bolt. Do you think he remembers what You-Know-Who looks like?”

“Don’t you dare ask him! As if he needs reminding of that on his first day! Now hurry, the train is leaving any second.” And then they were out of his sight as they headed to one of the last carriages.

“-Harry?” Neville nudged him.

“Sorry Neville, what was that?”

“Hermione was asking what House you think you’ll be in.”

“I thought maybe Hufflepuff.”

“Really?” Hermione seemed unimpressed by his preference, but it didn’t bother him. She did carry on a bit about how it would be better than Slytherin, which apparently was the House of choice for Dark wizards. Neville agreed that it did seem to produce some of the most evil witches and wizards. The train started moving as Hermione boasted about knowing all the textbooks by heart, which impressed them both a lot. She had in fact had a bit more time than Harry to read, having gotten a personal visit from Professor McGonagall in the first week of July with a hand-delivered letter.

“Why didn’t I get a visit right away then?” wondered Harry. “All the letters were a bit scary. There were over a hundred. My family’s quite normal, you know.”

“That’s odd you got so many letters! So you live with Muggle relatives then,” concluded Hermione, shifting to the part of the conversation that interested her most. “The books didn’t say for sure, only that you were kept safe.”

“Pure-bloods and half-bloods get letters sent by owl,” said Neville.

“Which am I? What’s the difference?” Harry asked.

“I know!” said Hermione, almost bouncing in her seat in her eagerness to explain. “Pure-bloods have no Muggle parents or grandparents, whereas half-bloods have at least one Muggle parent and/or two Muggle grandparents. Opinions differ as to whether someone with two magical parents and three magical grandparents should be called a pure-blood or not.”

“Mostly-” said Neville hesitantly.

“So you’d be a half-blood, Harry,” Hermione concluded eagerly. “Since your father was a pure-blood and your mother was Muggle-born.”

They had another visitor after that, as the door slid open again and a young red-headed freckled boy came in.

“Anyone sitting there?” he asked, pointing to the seat next to Harry. “Everywhere else is full.”

The boy introduced himself as Ron, and snuck looks at Harry occasionally when he thought Harry wasn’t looking. Eventually he mustered up the courage to ask the question burning in his mind.

“Are you really Harry Potter?” Ron blurted out.

Harry nodded.

“Oh, I thought it might be one of Fred and George’s jokes,” said Ron. “My brothers are always playing pranks. And have you really got – you know…”

He pointed at Harry’s forehead. Neville frowned at that, but didn’t say anything. Hermione looked curiously at him too – Harry felt very uncomfortable. He didn’t like being stared at. He showed them his scar anyway, but when Ron asked him if he remembered what happened, he snapped at him.

“You want to know if I remember my parents being killed?” Harry glared at Ron.

Ron muttered an apology. Hermione leapt in to change the subject.

“So are all your family wizards?” she asked Ron curiously.

“Er – yes, I think so,” said Ron. “I think Mum’s got a second cousin who’s an accountant, but we never talk about him.”

“Why? What’s wrong with being an accountant? Did he embezzle company funds or something?” she said, perplexed.

Neville tried to explain. “Ron means he’s a Squib.”

“You’re ashamed to have a family member with no magic? You don’t even talk about him? The books I read said that kind of prejudiced attitude died with the war!” said an outraged Hermione.

Harry thought that the Weasleys were clearly one of those bigoted families his aunt had warned him about. He wasn’t sure about Neville’s family yet - there was some mystery there - but Neville himself was clearly alright.

“I didn’t mean it like that. And we’re Light sided all the way,” insisted Ron. “My dad loves Muggles.”

Hermione settled down after a bit more reassurance, but Harry’s opinion was set. Ron’s dad thought of normal people as being amusing pets, just like his aunt said. As the conversation continued about Muggles Ron’s ignorance became obvious - Ron couldn’t even pronounce words like electricity, and didn’t know what a television set was. His family must be very isolated from the real world indeed. Harry thought that Neville seemed ignorant of many normal things too, but was generally more polite about it.

Around half-past twelve a clattering trolley came by selling sweets. Hermione bought two Pumpkin Pasties (having promised her parents never to eat sweets before dinner time), and Neville got some Cauldron Cakes and a Liquorice Wand. Harry asked if they had any chips, but they didn’t have any normal food. He eventually bought a Pumpkin Pastie, iced pumpkin juice (Neville promised it was good) and some oddly named jelly beans, which seemed safe enough and not likely to have much dairy in them. Ron didn’t buy anything, muttering about how his mum packed him sandwiches. Harry wished his family had packed him four sandwiches just for a lunch snack – it seemed very generous to him. Rations had been a little shorter this past month.

Ron warned Harry about how the jelly beans could be any flavour at all – like peppermint or spinach or liver. Harry quite liked them. He got banana, baked bean, egg, tea, hazelnut, toffee, and an odd yellow one he thought might be soap.

Neville and Ron chatted about their pets, Trevor and Scabbers. Trevor tried to make another leap for freedom but was thwarted by the closed door. Scabbers completely failed to turn yellow, despite Ron’s best efforts with a very odd sounding spell.

“Are you allowed to have a rat?” sniffed Hermione. “It wasn’t on the list.”

“Yeah, he’s a hand-me-down rat. I don’t even get a new pet. It used to be Percy’s, so he’s been at school for a few years now. They don’t really mind so long as you don’t try and bring something really big or dangerous. Or if it makes a mess of the common room.”

Ron was enthusiastically explaining to a disinterested Harry and a curious Hermione about the workings of Quidditch when they were interrupted by the last of the visitors to their surprisingly popular compartment. It was a pale thin blonde-haired boy, flanked by a couple of thickset and mean looking boys half a head taller than him. They looked like bodyguards.

“So there you are, I heard you were on the train. Harry Potter. It’s you, is it?”

“Yes,” said Harry, looking at the other boys. They reminded him of Dudley. But meaner.

“Oh, this is Crabbe, and this is Goyle,” said the pale boy with a gesture, noticing where Harry was looking. “And my name’s Malfoy. Draco Malfoy.”

Ron laughed at that, and promptly got his family sneeringly insulted for having “…red hair, freckles and more children than they can afford.”

He looked at Neville next, but didn’t say anything to him; he didn’t seem to merit Draco’s especial scorn. Draco gave a small nod of his head in greeting, which Neville nodded back to in response. Then they both pointedly ignored each other.

Draco turned to Hermione next. “And I don’t need to ask who your family is, you’ve already told everyone about your low origins,” he sneered at Hermione.

“You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.”

He held out his hand to shake, but Harry didn’t take it.

“I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks,” he said coolly. Clearly this was another bigot, and even ruder than Ron. He turned to look out the window, ignoring him and hoping the boy would leave. He’d learned sometimes no reaction was the best reaction. He watched the reflections in the window though, in case he got jumped from behind.

Draco Malfoy didn’t go red, but a pink tinge appeared in his pale cheeks.

“You refuse my assistance with introductions? You’re giving me the cut?!” Draco said, sounding horribly offended, and promptly turned his back with a sniff and swept out of their carriage trailed by his goons. Ron laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen or heard in his life. Neville looked anxious, and Hermione an odd cross between bewildered and intrigued.

“That sounded surprisingly formal,” she said. “What a rude boy, though. I do hope I’m not in a House with him. Or some of the others I ran into on the train.”

“Best stay away from Slytherin then,” said Ron, wiping away his tears of laughter and sitting up straight again. “Oh, his family are all a bad lot. I’ve heard all about it. They were some of the first to come back to our side after You-Know-Who disappeared. Said they’d been bewitched. My dad says Malfoy’s father didn’t need an excuse to go over to the Dark side.”

Harry looked at Hermione, whose mouth was twitching with the effort not to smile. “So you think Draco will be like his father before him.”

“Absolutely,” said Ron seriously. “He’ll be all into that ultra-traditional pure-blood rubbish, and Dark magic to boot. Watch out for him.”

It was getting late, and they all changed into their school robes shortly after that. Hermione had to wait outside in the corridor while the boys changed, then they waited outside when it was her turn.

Disembarking onto a tiny, dark platform they made their way to some little boats, guided by the most enormous man Harry had ever seen – perhaps he was a giant. Harry was a little disappointed that Ron stuck with them like glue and joined them in their boat. Well, it didn’t mean they had to become best mates. Any extra person who wasn’t interested in shunning or attacking him would be an advantage, surely. Two friends was more than he’d hoped for in his wildest dreams anyway.

Soon enough they’d reached the castle, met some ghosts, and were ready to be sorted. Harry whispered to Neville that he wanted to be friends no matter what Houses they went to, and Neville promised they would be. Ron and Hermione, who were eavesdropping, promised the same. It was a good start to the year.

Chapter Text

1st September 1991

The Sorting Hat was a very odd thing indeed. He’d braced himself for unicorns, dragons, ghosts, and talking animals. But he hadn’t expected talking clothing! After an explanatory song it was time for them all to try on the hat, much to Ron’s relief (he’d apparently been expecting to have to fight a troll).

Hermione got into her favoured choice of Gryffindor, as did Neville after a longer wait under the hat. Harry clapped for both of them, and gave Neville an encouraging smile and a wave when he glanced a little worriedly in his direction. They would be friends no matter what – he wasn’t going to give up the chance of a real friend even if they ended up in different Houses. Malfoy ended up in Slytherin – no doubt Ron would be pleased. There weren’t as many people left now.

He heard the call for “Moon” …, “Nott” …, “Parkinson, Pansy” …, then there were some others. It was Pansy Parkinson’s name that caught his attention and made him lose track of the Sorting. That was his grandmother’s family name! His grandmother Heather had a flower name too, and gave flower names to Lily and Petunia. Perhaps there was a relation here at Hogwarts? Could Pansy be a Muggle-born cousin of his? Pansy had been sorted into Slytherin, and seemed warmly welcomed at that table. Ron had seemed to imply that only “blood purists” were welcome in Slytherin. Maybe they weren’t all bad.

“Potter, Harry!”

Harry was jerked out of his reflections and stepped forward to try on the hat, doing his best to ignore the very embarrassing outbreak of whispers all over the hall. Couldn’t they just treat him like everyone else?

The last thing Harry saw before the hat dropped over his eyes was the hall full of people craning to get a good look at him. Next second he was looking at the black inside of the hat. He waited.

“Hmm,” said a small voice in his ear. “A little divided but not too difficult. A good mind. There’s talent and determination, oh my goodness yes – such a strong thirst to succeed in your goals and so much ambition. And indisputably cunning! You know how to get what you want, no doubt about that. I definitely know where to put you…”

Harry gripped the edges of the stool and frantically thought, “Hufflepuff, Hufflepuff, Hufflepuff.”

“What? Oh my goodness no, you’re not at all suited for there,” replied the hat.

“But I’m good at hard work! I’m very ordinary and I’m patient and unafraid of toil, just like in your song.”

“Ordinary? You could be great you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on your way to greatness. No doubt about that. You work hard it’s true - but it’s not for the simple joy of achieving something through the sweat of your brow and the work of your hands, nor for the delight of helping others. No, it’s all about what it will get you, or what it will cost you if you don’t do it. That’s a Slytherin mindset to the core. No, no, Hufflepuff wouldn’t suit you at all.”

“Not Slytherin! They’ll think I’m evil. It will be absolutely miserable here. And I don’t want to be a great wizard, just a normal one,” thought Harry desperately. “I don’t want to stand out.”

“Hmph,” said the hat, “well if you absolutely are decided against Slytherin, perhaps Ravenclaw will do. I can see you certainly throw yourself into your studies - there’s a smart mind there.”

“No!” thought Harry insistently. “I don’t want to be one of the smart nerds. Everyone will expect me to do well. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would be so angry!”

“Fine, fine!” replied the hat huffily. “What a year! The loyal, patient ones insist on Slytherin, the clever bookworm won’t accept anything but Gryffindor, and now you, powerful, cunning and ambitious to the core, nag me for Hufflepuff - where you are least suited! Oh, I’m only a hat, I’ve only been doing this for centuries, what would I know? I do strive to be an accommodating piece of millinery when I can, but there are limits young man. Enough I say! You’ll have to make do with the only option left, at least I can see a good dash of courage in you. Better be GRYFFINDOR!”

Harry heard the hat shout the last word to the whole hall. He walked shakily to the Gryffindor table, relieved that he’d escaped Slytherin and Ravenclaw. He hardly noticed he was getting the loudest cheer yet. At least he’d be with Neville and Hermione; that was something. He didn’t feel especially brave, but he supposed that’s what you got for making the hat settle for your third most suitable house. A redhead who looked a bit like Ron shook his hand and introduced himself as Percy, and another matching couple of gingers were jumping up and down cheering, “We got Potter!” Just how many of them were there?

Ron Weasley got into Gryffindor too, and rushed over eagerly to sit next to Harry, as “Zabini, Blaise” was made a Slytherin. Harry looked over at their table and hoped he wouldn’t regret his stubbornness to the hat. It might’ve been nice to be in the house with his possible cousin, but the reputation of the house didn’t seem to be the best. He was so tired of being thought to be a cheating, bullying troublemaker, and he wanted to capitalize on his fresh start here. He knew the power of a poor reputation when starting a new class, and definitely wanted to avoid it here in a world where they killed those wizards they thought were evil. He’d read A History of Magic. They got “creative” with punishing evil wizards and criminals.

“So,” he said casually to Ron, “Blaise got into Slytherin – what do you think of that?”

“Figures. Everyone knows his mum’s a murderer a dozen times over, even if they’ve never proved anything. I’m not surprised her son would end up in You-Know-Who’s house,” Ron said darkly.

Harry was satisfied. People would judge you, knowing nothing about you personally, based on hearsay and what house you were in. He’d made the right choice.

Dumbledore (who seemed a bit mad) started the feast, which Harry tucked into enthusiastically. This was his favourite magic trick ever. He also slipped a roasted jacket potato into his robe pocket for later, just in case.

He and Ron chatted to Sir Nicholas, tucked into a marvellous range of desserts (though there wasn’t any fruit), and met Seamus, who was a half-blood. They chatted about their families a bit, and Harry gave horrified sympathetic looks to Neville when he told stories about his Great Uncle Algie. Apparently he’d pushed Neville off a pier and how he almost drowned, and another time he dropped Neville out of a window, but he bounced down the garden and into the road. Ron and Seamus didn’t seem to see anything amiss with the tales. But Harry was appalled. Neville could’ve died. Did his Uncle Algie think he deserved to die if he wasn’t magic enough? Even Uncle Vernon wasn’t that bad.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered to Neville, when the other boys were distracted with eclairs. “My aunt and uncle are a bit like that too, except that they didn’t want me doing magic. But even they never went that far. Your great uncle sounds dreadful.”

“It’s okay,” said Neville. Harry saw it wasn’t, really – Neville’s brave smile to hide the disappointment in the others’ reactions was obvious if you cared to look. But he let it go. He similarly didn’t want to talk about the time his uncle threw him in his cupboard for a week after ending up somehow on the roof of the school kitchen. Neville was braver than he was. Clearly he belonged here in Gryffindor. Not that Harry saw much point in talking about these things, really. It didn’t gain you anything; no-one ever did anything about it. Hmm. Which was probably the kind of reasoning that made the hat want to put him in Slytherin, come to think about it.

Percy and Hermione were chatting about what lessons would be like, when he suddenly got a weird pain in his head while looking past a man in a turban at one of the professors with greasy black hair.

“Who’s that teacher with the long black hair and the big nose?” he asked Neville.

“That’s Professor Snape,” said Neville. “I’m not sure but I think the man in the turban is Professor Quirrell, Percy said he used to teach Muggle Studies but now he’ll be teaching Defence.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about him,” said Harry. “Professor Snape, that is.”

“I think your feeling would be dead right,” agreed Neville.

After a very disturbing death threat from Dumbledore, a truly appalling school song (the book on schools was right – Music clearly wasn’t a subject taught here), they were all shuffled off to bed in some delightfully cosy looking four-poster beds hung with red velvet curtains.

Perhaps Harry had eaten a bit too much, because he had a very strange dream. He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept talking to him, telling him he must transfer to Slytherin at once, because it was his destiny. Harry told the turban he didn’t want to be in Slytherin; it got heavier and heavier; he tried to pull it off but it tightened painfully. Then there was laughter, the hook-nosed teacher, Snape, whose laughter grew high and cold – there was a burst of green light and Harry woke, sweating and shaking.

He rolled over and fell asleep again, and when he woke the next day, he only remembered that in his dream he was arguing with someone about Slytherin. Possibly Snape.

Chapter Text

September 1991

Harry got stared at a lot from the moment he left his dormitory the next day, and whispers followed him everywhere. He found it a very odd experience; he was used to being ignored. He practically had it down to an art form.

Harry, Neville and Ron had a dreadful experience with Filch on their very first morning, when a door they were trying to get through turned out to be the entrance to the out-of-bounds corridor on the third floor. Filch was threatening to lock them in the dungeons, and Harry was contemplating making a run for it, when they were rescued by Professor Quirrell, who was passing.

Harry, feeling very stressed out by his brush with potential death or imprisonment, blurted out to the Professor what he thought of the whole situation before his brain kicked in.

“Dumbledore is mad for not having a single warning sign on the door! We could have died! Doesn’t he care?!”

Harry apologised straight afterwards, but luckily Quirrell didn’t seem to take offense anyway. He just agreed that, “I think it’s fair to say that Dumbledore has always had m-m-more things to concentrate on than the w-w-w-wellbeing of in-individual s-s-s-students. He’s a busy man. I w-w-will ensure a sign goes up post-haste.” He seemed friendly. They were all looking forward to his class, despite the man’s stammer.

The classes weren’t too bad so far. Astronomy was delightfully normal, if very late at night. Herbology he really enjoyed, and he paired up with Neville in that class. Ron refused to sit with Hermione though, and paired up with one of the other boys instead. History of Magic was surprisingly boring considering it was taught by a ghost. Hermione reassured him that the school ghosts couldn’t hurt anyone; she’d read all about them in Hogwarts, A History. Harry decided after listening to the teacher drone that it would be a good class to catch up on studying and homework. Perhaps with earplugs. Charms and Transfiguration weren’t of particular interest to him, so he didn’t put in much effort in those classes. Harry was relieved to find out he wasn’t miles behind everyone else. Getting “Acceptable” grades should be quite achievable.

The class he and his friends were really looking forward to was Defence Against the Dark Arts, but Quirrell’s speech impediment and stinky garlic-filled turban made the class rather unpleasant. Harry decided to work hard in the class anyway, even if it meant lots of independent study and practice. It was the most useful class of all – it was vital to be able to defend himself against any evil or bigoted wizards who might threaten him or his family. Or even senile twinkly-eyed ones who didn’t know how to take “no” for answer.

So, after some thought about what might please the Dursleys best as well as set him up for a safe future, he planned to get Exceeds Expectations or Outstanding for DADA, Exceeds Expectations for Herbology and Potions, and Acceptable for all the others.

On Friday at breakfast while the owls were flying about delivering the post, Professor McGonagall stopped by the Gryffindor table and invited him to come to tea after classes that afternoon, “to chat about how you’re settling in”. Harry gulped, but she reassured him that he wasn’t in any trouble. He agreed to come, of course. It wasn’t like he really had a choice.

He was so looking forward to Potions, but it turned out to be even more of a disappointment than DADA had been. Harry knew exactly what kind of teacher Snape was within minutes of walking into the classroom. He’d seen that look every year; here was clearly another teacher who listened to rumours and had decided Harry was a loathsome little troublemaker before he’d even met him. He’d never heard of the potion he was quizzed on, but he was sure it wasn’t in the first year Potions textbook.

When asked where to find a bezoar, which was only listed in the appendix “Handling Brewing Emergencies” as a remedy for poisoning, apparently the answer, “I imagine it would be located in the storeroom in case of potion emergencies” was unacceptable. A few people laughed, and Seamus winked at him when he caught Harry’s eye.

“I will not tolerate disrespectful cheek in this classroom, Potter! Five points from Gryffindor!” hissed Snape, who continued to ignore Hermione’s quivering raised hand.

“What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

Hermione seemed desperate to answer, but Snape still wasn’t calling on her. Harry didn’t understand why she’d try and answer a question Snape was clearly directing at him. He hesitated before answering. He knew the answer to this one – it was in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi. But would it be better to give the correct answer, or play dumb? He decided to go for the middle ground as a test to see how Snape responded.

“I’m not sure, Professor, but I believe they’re both poisonous, and monkshood has purple flowers,” he said, in his best polite attentive voice, looking earnestly at Professor Snape.

Snape glanced away from Harry, avoiding looking him in the eyes as he responded sneeringly. “For your information, Potter, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. And to correct your very limited description the flowers can be of many colours, including yellow, white, or pink.” Snape took another point off for “an insufficient answer” as everyone scurried to get out quills and parchment to write down all of Snape’s corrections. He also snapped at Hermione and took another point from Gryffindor for “not being correctly seated”. She sat down, disappointed.

Well, that settled it. Snape wanted him to do poorly, and would punish him more if he acted too smart. He’d have to drop his mark for Potions to “Dreadful”, which was a shame. Snape put them all into pairs, and Neville was paired with Seamus, while Harry was matched up with Ron. Harry was considering how best to sabotage their potion, and how to guess what a “Dreadful” potion should look like, when Neville managed to melt Seamus’ cauldron into a twisted blob. Neville collapsed in pain, covered in boils, and the spreading pool of potion started burning holes in people’s shoes. Harry, crouching on his stool, quickly removed the excess quantity of dried nettles from the pile he’d deliberately over measured. Getting a potion wrong was dangerous!

Some more points lost for Harry, who was blamed for it all (Snape reminded Harry a lot of Vernon in a bad mood), and Harry knew that Snape didn’t just dislike him – he hated him.

It was clearly going to take an awful lot of studying Potions in his spare time to be good enough to safely get a D. He didn’t want anything to explode or melt his hands off! He would have to visit the library as soon as humanly possible.

***

Tea with Professor McGonagall was fairly straightforward – her agenda was quickly surmised. She wanted to be reassured he wasn’t about to run away from Hogwarts. He of course gave her every impression that he was happy where he was. Even if he hadn’t been, he wouldn’t be so stupid as to warn her if he was planning to make a run for it. Really, where would he go? If he went home they’d just fetch him back, and the Dursleys would be furious about all the fuss. So he drank the tea (a rather nice Earl Grey, if his guess was correct), ate some rather delicious shortbread, and chatted about how much he liked DADA and Herbology, and how he’d made some friends.

She also had something to show him.

“We thought you might like to see the news about what caused such a disruption to your visit to Gringotts,” said McGonagall, pushing a Daily Prophet newspaper towards him. Harry read all about the break-in. It sounded rather odd – why would someone go to all the effort of breaking in yet not leave with a single item? Perhaps they chose the wrong vault. Or perhaps the vault owner was tipped off by someone the thief knew, who didn’t want to see the theft be successful.

“And I hope I don’t have to remind you to stay away from the third floor corridor on the right-hand side?” she said sternly.

“Of course not, Professor,” he replied, a bit puzzled. One could hardly forget a threat of painful death. “Has Professor Quirrell gotten some signs put up yet?” he asked curiously.

“Ah yes, you’ll find every entrance to the forbidden corridor is now clearly marked,” she said approvingly. “He said it was your suggestion – very thoughtful of you to think of the safety of your fellow students, and brave of you to raise the idea with a teacher. Well done, Mr. Potter! Take a point for Gryffindor.”

He nodded politely, and didn’t raise the question of why they were risking students’ lives in the first place. Adults never liked their more stupid opinions and decisions being questioned. You had to be very careful about that if you wanted to attempt it. He’d rather just leave her in a good mood with a favourable impression of him. She was his Head of House, after all.

He wondered if there was a connection between the theft and the banned corridor. It was a strange change of topic – like the theft prompted her to think about the corridor. Anyway, it wasn’t any of his business, and he certainly wasn’t going near the third floor corridor. That would be crazy.

***

Harry went straight to the library after his tea with McGonagall. Hermione was there already – she perked up happily when she saw him and started chatting about their Transfiguration homework.

“Sorry, I haven’t started that yet. I’m here to do some study for Potions,” he explained.

“You’re welcome to share my table, if you want,” she said a bit shyly. There certainly was plenty of room – no-one else was sitting at her table.

“Sure,” he said, “I’ll be back in a moment, I have to find some books.” She smiled happily.

He came back a little while later with his arms cradling a stack of books so high he could barely peek over the top of it. He settled down to study next to Hermione in companionable silence.

Advanced Potion-Making by Libatius Borage went a bit over his head, but the second chapter had a dry but useful explanation about “Right use of potion ingredients”. It had some very useful tips about how chopping, slicing and dicing an ingredient changed the potion’s strength and properties. Harry previously had no idea there was a difference between crushing and grinding, or how to clean your mortar and pestle to prevent contamination of ingredients (soap was contraindicated for various listed reasons, including a perplexingly odd reference about how too much cleaning could ruin the “affinity” of the tools). Grinding sand or salt in the mortar was Borage’s preferred cleaning method. He decided he’d come back to that book later after he’d gotten a better grounding in the subject. It didn’t actually explain the differences in how to chop versus slice, and there was a lot of terminology he didn’t understand.

Most of the Potions books he’d picked turned out to have only recipes for different potions, with no explanations of the theory behind them, nor warnings on what could go wrong with them. Both the Book of Potions by Zygmunt Budge and the truly ancient looking copy of A Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery after a quick browse went straight into a pile of books to reshelve.

The most promising book he found was definitely Potion Opuscule by Arsenius Jigger, which he’d picked out because it was by the author of their first year textbook. There were only a couple of recipes (“receipts”) and they were used as examples to illustrate points about potion making, not to teach you how to brew them, as such. It focused heavily on potions theory for beginners, with chapters on “Cauldron Types”, “Dicing and Slicing”, “Stirring Technique”, “Equipment Care”, and very promisingly for his current research interest, “Volatile Ingredients” and “Brewing Safely”. Harry returned his other books to the librarian, Madam Pince, and borrowed Potion Opuscule to read in his dorm. She looked like a rather impressive if severe looking woman, dressed all in black with a pointy witch’s hat adorned with some black feathers. She warned him that if he tried to reshelve books he’d no doubt get it all wrong, and should never do so with a book he’d checked out - books were always to be returned to the counter. And that he’d need a note from a teacher if he wanted to access anything in the Restricted Section. He thanked her for her help, and promised he’d take good care of the book and return it promptly, which earned him a thin-lipped pleased smile. Librarians always treated you better if they thought you’d look after their books. He didn’t want her to treat him like the school librarian back in Little Whinging had. She’d always hovered over him ever since Dudley had pinned the blame for some torn books on him.

He stopped back by Hermione’s table on the way out of the library.

“Well, I’m off - back to the dorm,” he announced. “So I’ll see you later, okay?”

“You’re leaving already?” she said, sounding a bit disappointed. “I didn’t see you make any notes at all. Aren’t you going to get your homework done?”

“That’s rather the point,” he said, “all my notebooks and parchment are back in my dorm.”

“You can borrow some of mine if you want,” she offered.

“That’s really nice of you,” he said, surprised, “but I have a system for notes and I’d rather write them down on my loose-leaf paper so I can put them into a binder.” Hermione seemed to understand that completely, and invited him to come and study with her on Saturday, so they arranged to walk up to the library together tomorrow after breakfast.

***

They had a good time studying together the next morning. Harry had politely invited Neville and Ron to come and study with them too, but Ron said it was crazy to study on their first weekend, and said that surely Harry would rather play chess, or go outside. He was disappointed that Harry declined, but still didn’t change his mind and join the study group. Neville on the other hand eagerly agreed, and spent a solid hour reading through just the Cure for Boils potion and also the next potion recipe in their textbook, apparently trying to learn them by heart.

Harry read through and made notes on the first couple of chapters of Potion Opuscule, learning firstly about how the different cauldron types affected the transmutation of potion ingredients in the potion. Apparently “base” metals and alloys like tin, lead and pewter cauldrons would enhance the “ignoble” or “grounded” properties of an ingredient during heating or stirring, while silver and gold cauldrons being “noble” metals would enhance the “noble” or “ethereal” properties of an ingredient. Harry consulted a dictionary, but found the terms rather poorly defined. He asked Neville, but he didn’t know and looked rather panicked at being questioned, so Harry let him get back to his own study.

Eventually with some cross referencing with One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them where he found occasional references to grounded and noble properties of plants and animals (like the “noble” dragon), he managed to formulate his own rough definition. Ignoble properties were those associated with bodies (including effects like healing or poisons, which affected the body), earth, or water. Noble or ethereal properties were those associated with thoughts and emotions, the soul, fire, or air. It seemed to fit the examples listed in his book. Peppermint’s efficacy at settling the spirit as part of the formulation for a Calming Draught was more enhanced in a silver or gold cauldron, whereas its physical effects on settling an upset stomach were brought out more by brewing Stomach Soother in a pewter cauldron. Alloys like pewter and brass for cauldrons and other equipment, or non-metals like stone, ceramic or wood for utensils, were the best choice for a beginning potions student who wasn’t sure what properties they needed to enhance. Steel and iron were recommended as “of course best avoided by all but the most advanced Potion Masters”, for some reason that wasn’t explained but that implicitly the reader should already know. Interestingly, some advanced potions apparently necessitated a change of cauldrons or ladles part way through a recipe for the best results.

The illustrated chapter on ingredient preparation and proper knife use was fascinating too. Harry soaked up the information about chopping versus dicing as if it were instructions on how to be a gourmet chef. He didn’t think it was so different, really. For everyday cooking (or potions brewing) it wasn’t important, but if you wanted your dish or potion to come out perfect, it mattered a lot.

When they took a break for lunch, he chatted with his friends about what he’d learned. Hermione asked to borrow the book when he was finished, which he said was fine by him if the librarian didn’t mind. Neville was interested, but said he knew the difference between slicing and shredding and so on - it was just that when he was in class he got too nervous and got all mixed up. He was going to concentrate for now on getting the recipes so well learned he wouldn’t forget anything.

“I don’t want to give Snape any reason to… judge me,” he whispered.

“We certainly don’t want to lose Gryffindor any more points,” agreed Hermione.

Harry didn’t think the threat of losing points was what put that look of hidden fear on Neville’s face, but decided to talk to him about it privately later.

Chapter Text

September 1991

A couple of weeks later after asking around with both students and teachers Harry felt like he had learnt the basics of the grading system for lessons. Apparently final grades hinged totally on end of year exams, which could be practical, theoretical, or both, depending on the subject. He was thus free to treat the entire year of homework essays and the practical tests in class as a test run to refine his achievement of the desired grades. How delightful! Hermione, who was an over-achiever if ever he’d met one, heard he was looking for advice and gave him plenty of tips on how to get an Outstanding, which she had gleaned from senior students who were prefects, including Percy Weasley, Ron’s brother. He made notes on all of it, though no doubt she would be shocked that he was going to carefully ignore almost all of it - DADA and Herbology being the only exceptions.

He needed DADA for self-protection if there were crazy wizards and dangerous animals around, and wanted every chance to practice his spells for that to the best of his ability. And he was pretty sure Aunt Petunia wouldn’t mind him getting a good grade in Herbology as it would be consistent with a love of gardening and the class needed no spell use whatsoever as far as he could tell. If she didn’t mind him getting an E in the subject, he’d take it up to an O next year. He also didn’t want to hurt Neville’s grade or his plants – they often paired up.

He asked Professor Sprout after class one day, just to be sure. Apparently they did learn some pruning and pest control charms and other handy practical gardening spells at NEWT level. Mostly, however, what made it a magical subject was that magical plants needed special conditions to grow; they wouldn’t grow in a Muggle area without extensive aid. Magical plants needed specially enhanced soil or fertilizer (often made from things like dragon or unicorn dung, or composted magical plants). They also needed to absorb ambient magic, which could either come from being grown in a particular location with a strong magical field, or by exposure to the auras of wizards, witches, or magical creatures that came near it. Even ordinary plants were altered by such conditions – oak trees grown in magical areas were better for wand-making, for example. But magical plants had to have those conditions to grow at all. She agreed that Muggles would theoretically be able to grow magical plants if they had the right supplies and were in a good location, however. Harry was satisfied - Aunt Petunia was right.

Flying lessons were rubbish. Malfoy proved he was a total prat, taking Neville’s Remembrall while looking at Harry almost the whole time he spewed insults about Neville – he was clearly doing it to try and irritate Harry for some reason. Harry seized the opportunity to try and get himself kicked out of Hogwarts for disobeying Madam Hooch, but it turned out it was just a big bluff. It was a dumb idea anyway – he should’ve known they’d make him stay and leaving early would bring the risk that his and his family’s minds might get erased. He got punished by being put on a Quidditch team, instead. What a crazy waste of time that would be. He’d never enjoyed organised sport and didn’t see that this was likely to be any different. At least flying on a broomstick wasn’t as hard as he’d expected. Ron was amazed and impressed by his news.

Harry didn’t appreciate Ron volunteering him to fight a Wizard’s Duel with Malfoy. He did like having three whole friends, but Ron was definitely his least favourite. Neville still wasn’t back from the hospital wing at dinner time, so he and Hermione stopped by to check on him (Ron said to say “get well” from him too).

“Thank you for coming by,” Neville said gratefully. “It was a bad break,” he explained, “and Madam Pomfrey says there’s a lot of bone splinters everywhere. She’s dosed me up with something special plus some pain potions, and cast some charms to make the splinters all go back where they should. I’m in here for a few more hours yet.”

Harry thought it sounded fascinating. “Only a few hours? That’s amazing, Neville! If you had to rely on normal medicine, you’d still have a broken arm for maybe two months. And there might be surgery needed if there were bits of bone everywhere.” Neville shuddered when Harry explained what surgery meant.

“Guess what?” said Hermione. “Malfoy challenged Harry to a wizard’s duel, and he accepted.” She told Neville all about it, chattering a mile a minute.

“Technically, I didn’t accept,” Harry grumbled. “Ron did it for me. I didn’t even know what a wizard’s duel was.”

“Are you feuding with the Malfoys now?” asked Neville.

“No? I don’t think so?” said Harry.

“That sounds very formal,” said Hermione.

“Well, if neither of you officially declared a feud, you’re not feuding. I don’t know if Draco could call feud for his family anyway, since he’s not Head of his family. But you could, Harry,” explained Neville. “Anyway, feuds normally start off with a lot of arguments and duels and backstabbing. Sometimes literally. Then you often end up with a proper feud when a Head declares one. You know, like the Weasleys and the Malfoys.”

“They’re feuding?” asked Hermione.

“He never said,” added Harry, “but it explains a lot.”

“Anyway, it’s too late to back out of the duel - even if you didn’t accept it you didn’t refuse it. Whoever backs out of a duel loses face.”

Hermione worried over losing points due to breaking curfew with a midnight duel. “Well, it certainly wasn’t thoughtful of Draco to pick midnight,” conceded Neville. “You could request an adjournment to a later date or time. He might say no anyway, even though that would be churlish. You really should’ve negotiated at the time of agreeing to a duel.”

“I didn’t agree, no-one ever listens to me,” whined Harry.

“We’re listening, Harry,” soothed Neville. “It’s just that it’s a bit too late to fix it now, honestly. Oh! And Harry, remember it’s terribly bad form to resort to fisticuffs. A blade is acceptable, but no brawling.”

“Fisticuffs,” giggled Hermione. Neville blushed.

Madam Pomfrey shooed them out shortly after that so her patient could rest.

Up in the dorm later, Harry worried to Ron that Draco might resort to knifing him if his spells didn’t work. Ron attempted to reassure Harry that the Malfoys preferred swords. Harry didn’t find that at all reassuring. He supposed at least a sword would be hard to hide under a robe.

All his worry about the duel turned out to be pointless in the end. Accompanied by Ron, Neville, and a curious but nagging Hermione, Harry went to meet Malfoy but only narrowly escaped running into the torture-loving Filch, instead. And Peeves, to boot! A crazy sprint through dark corridors later, and they found themselves exactly where Harry least wanted to be – the forbidden third floor corridor, and facing a monstrous three-headed dog. Harry hated dogs. Monstrous dogs that would probably try and kill him were his new worst thing ever. As they scrambled frantically out of the room and slammed the door shut, Harry noted in passing what he’d failed to spot on the way in as Hermione rushed ahead of him in the darkness – a sign on the door saying “Forbidden! Keep Out!” Ron was intrigued by the mystery of it all – a monstrous dog guarding a trapdoor. But the rest of them just wanted to go to bed and forget all about it.

Chapter Text

October 1991

It had taken Harry a few weeks since the start of school to seize a chance (and his elusive Gryffindor courage he was trying to foster) to talk to Pansy. When he tried to catch her after class she always seemed to be either busy chatting with a gaggle of female friends, or worse, with Draco. Once Snape had docked him ten points for “loitering with suspicious intent” when he tried to catch her in the hallway after Potions. And he never saw her in the library. When he asked Percy, he was told that Slytherins often studied in their dorms; like the Ravenclaws, they were rumoured to have a private House library. Harry thought Percy looked a little wistful at that - like he regretted a missed opportunity. He wondered if Percy had argued with the Sorting Hat too.

Eventually Harry managed to catch Pansy after Potions class – he followed her and her posse of friends down the corridor a little way before calling out to her.

“Parkinson, do you have a moment?”

She turned, and so did Millicent Bulstrode, Tracey Davis and Daphne Greengrass. Harry wished he could catch her on her own, but he’d just gotten too tired of waiting for an opportunity that might never come.

“What do you want, Potter?” asked Millicent, a little rudely.

“I just want to talk to Parkinson, if she doesn’t mind,” said Harry.

Pansy exchanged a look with her friends, as Harry walked cautiously towards their group.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with your feud with Malfoy, does it?” asked Pansy. “Because if it does, I have to warn you, I want nothing to do with it.”

“We’re not feuding,” said Harry, “it was just a duel. One he forfeited, I might add. He never showed up.”

“Ooooh!” squealed Daphne, delighted at the morsel of gossip. Tracey and Millicent giggled, and Pansy looked shocked.

“No, it’s family business, and I’d rather talk privately if you don’t mind,” he said.

Pansy looked intrigued, if a little wary. “Alright then, you’ve caught my attention,” she replied. She glanced at her friends assessingly. “Millicent will chaperone us, okay?”

A chaperone? Harry blinked. “We need a chaperone? Why?”

The girls giggled at him in chorus.

“Okay, okay, never mind. Sure, you can bring a chaperone.”

The three of them went into a nearby vacant classroom – a dusty old classroom that looked like it hadn’t been used in years.

“Good luck with the negotiations!” called Daphne as she and Tracey left, giggling. Girls. Harry thought he’d never understand them.

“Sooo,” Pansy said. She seemed to be waiting for something. Harry wasn’t sure where to start though.

“Uh, hi,” he said, lamely.

“I’m Pansy Parkinson,” she said, extending a hand to him, palm down. He shook it awkwardly. She made a face at him, wrinkling up her already pug-like nose. It wasn’t a good look on her.

“Harry Potter. But I’m sure you know that already,” he said, embarrassed. “So, I was wondering if we might be related.”

“Really?” she said, sounding surprised. “I’m not aware of any close connection with the Potters. We’re definitely not cousins.” She paused for a brief moment’s thought. “And not second cousins either. I don’t think there’s any Parkinsons, Carrows or Burkes marrying into the Potter line for at least going back to my grandparents’ generation. There might possibly be a connection via the Blacks, but certainly nothing closer than a third or fourth cousinship. No-one claims third cousinship, you know Potter.”

“What? Why not?”

“Well who would be left to marry if you did that?”

Millicent giggled. Pansy glared at her.

“That certainly wasn’t, I mean, it’s not what I’m talking… we’re eleven!” Harry finished with amazement.

“Well, we’re eleven now but we won’t be always. And I’m just speaking in generalities, it’s not an offer Potter.”

“Oh, good,” he said, relieved. He’d been getting scared for a minute there. “But I wasn’t thinking of my father’s family, anyway. I think we might be related through my mother’s family.”

Pansy froze.

“Uh oh, now you’ve done it,” said Millicent warningly.

“Are you implying that I’m a Mudblood?” screeched Pansy.

“What? Don’t you have Muggle relatives?” asked a bemused Harry. This conversation wasn’t going at all like he’d hoped.

“No!! I’m a pure-blood! The Parkinsons are one of the ‘Sacred Twenty-Eight’, you addlepated nitwit!”

“Sorry, sorry!” he apologised. He didn’t know what she was going on about, but he could tell she was very upset about being thought to have Muggle relatives.

“And who might I ask has been putting such ideas in your head? Was it Blaise? Because you should never believe anything that gossiping fool says!” She was glaring at him so fiercely he was almost surprised there weren’t sparks flashing from her eyes.

“No, no-one. It’s just, my mother and aunt have flower names, and so did my grandmother, and her mother before that. And my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Parkinson. So you see,” he babbled frantically, “I thought there might be a connection. Because you’ve got a flower name too, and you’re a Parkinson.”

“No Parkinson ever married a Muggle,” she sniffed dismissively.

“Maybe in your grandparents time?” he suggested, “Or before that? My grandmother was Heather Parkinson, and her mother was Daisy Parkinson. I don’t know Daisy’s maiden name. She lived in Scotland.”

Pansy hesitated. She looked at Millicent, but didn’t say anything.

“I won’t swear an oath on it, but I won’t gossip about it if it’s true, Pans. You’ll owe me one, of course,” said Millicent, who looked serious. “And not just a minor favour, mind you.”

“I don’t think it’s likely, Potter,” said Pansy grudgingly. “But I will make enquiries with my father. Supply me with a copy of your family tree, as best you know it, and I’ll see what I can find out. But I don’t acknowledge a relationship,” she added warningly. “Not yet, at any rate. It could be possible there was a witch who was disowned from the family,” she conceded. “Maybe she married a wizard the family disapproved of.” She was looking as much at Millicent as she was at Harry when she said it.

“Give your notes to Millicent when they’re done,” Pansy added.

“Why not just to you?”

“She’s our chaperone, remember Potter?” she said, like he was a bit slow.

“Sorry, I’m not very familiar with wizarding traditions,” said Harry. “I’ve been raised by my uncle and aunt you know, and they’re both Muggles.”

“How sad for you!” said Pansy with a tone of genuine pity. “If it’s true there’s a connection, rest assured I’ll try and help you amend your behaviour to that befitting someone associated with the Parkinson family. Assuming grandfather acknowledges you, of course.”

“Uh, yeah,” said Harry. He was getting a bit grumpy about all the attitude, but he really did want to find out about his mother’s family. He’d put up with worse.

“What about the Pure-Blood Directory?” suggested Millicent.

“Good idea! In the meantime, check that book out from the library. It might be under Anonymous, or under Cantankerus Nott. You can learn about the ‘Sacred Twenty Eight’. And there’s a few generations of the Parkinson family line listed, naturally. And a lot of other families as well, even your friend Ron Weasley’s family. I don’t know why the Potters aren’t in there – they were pure-blood before you, you know. Nott is known to have been biased though. Ollivander is in there and they really shouldn’t be. It’s really a fascinating look into the family politics of the 20’s and 30’s, as much as it is a genealogical record, you know,” enthused Pansy.

Harry promised to borrow it from the library if it was there, and they parted on good terms. Pansy curtseyed at him. Harry took a guess at the correct response and nodded his head, while Millicent giggled.

“Good enough, I suppose,” sighed Pansy. But she smiled as she said it, so he guess he hadn’t stuffed up too badly.

No-one ever did that kind of stuff in the halls. He wondered why.

***

Harry wrote up his family tree that night (he had a copy of his old school project in his trunk already, along with his precious photocopy of his parents’ wedding invitation), and the next morning at breakfast he pondered how to get it to Millicent. It was a Saturday, so he wouldn’t be able to “accidentally” bump into her after class. He looked across to the Slytherin table and caught her watching him. He nodded at her.

He pushed aside his half-eaten breakfast, except for a whole orange which he tucked into his bag for later. “Well, I’m off to the library,” he announced generally.

“I’m still eating,” said Hermione, “I’ll be along a bit later.”

“Not again,” moaned Ron. “It’s Saturday! Wouldn’t you rather get in some extra Quidditch practice?” he suggested hopefully. “I could help. I know a lot of Quidditch moves, you know.”

“No thanks, maybe another time,” Harry demurred politely.

“Next week it is, mate,” said Ron cheerfully. He seemed very stubborn in trying to forge a friendship between them, despite their differences.

“I’ll come with you,” said Neville, wrapping a sausage in a slice of toast to eat while he walked.

Harry led Neville in a winding path through the hall past where Millicent was sitting at the Slytherin table.

“I’ve got a book to return to the library anyway,” he mentioned just as they passed her. “So we may as well get some study time in while we’re there.”

“Those bookworms should’ve been in Ravenclaw,” sneered Draco to Goyle as they went by.

Harry flinched slightly but kept on walking, ignoring him as best he could.

About ten minutes into their studying at the library, Millicent stopped by their table.

“Are you done with that book?” she said, pointing at a random one from his pile. “Because I need it for an essay.”

“Oh yes, almost,” said Harry, smiling courteously at her. “Just let me put in a bookmark to mark my spot, okay?” He slipped the folded parchment from his bag into the middle of the book, and passed it to Millicent.

He was rather proud of their successful subterfuge. He felt like he was in a James Bond film. Even if he didn’t quite understand why all the shenanigans were necessary. Some wizarding thing, no doubt.

Wizards were strange. It had occurred to him that since they’d added Flying lessons as their final class on the schedule that the book about education he’d read was right – no music, art, computers, or lots of other normal subjects. No maths! He missed the maths, a bit. It would be handy to learn if there was an easy trick to calculating knuts, sickles and galleons. And he’d been rather looking forward to learning algebra. What little he’d picked up so far from his Stonewall textbooks looked interesting. And when were they going to learn biology? They had Healers in the wizarding world, so it must be covered at some point, surely.

Chapter Text

October, 1991

A week later, Ron moaned with envy as Harry got a Nimbus Two Thousand delivered by owl. Harry was perplexed that someone would spend all that money on him. Was Professor McGonagall really buying him a broomstick? He kept meaning to, but he forgot to ask her about it. When he did catch her, he instead asked another thing that had been nagging at him – lots of students went off to Hogsmeade on weekends. Why weren’t first years allowed to go? She explained that it was a privilege restricted to third years and up, and only with the permission of their parents or guardians. It was very disappointing. He felt rather trapped at Hogwarts. He asked Hermione what it was like there, since she seemed to pick up random bits of facts all the time. Upon finding out it was an exclusively wizarding village a lot of the appeal wore off for him. He’d hoped he might get to have a break from the relentless study of magic, and mix with normal people for a while. It seemed it was not to be. They really did isolate and trap students here in the wizarding ghetto. No wonder the students from pure-blood backgrounds had never heard of television, football or the Beatles.

An hour of Quidditch practice three evenings a week was grating on him. It was disrupting his study, and an increasing amount of socialising with Neville, Hermione and Ron. It was nice to have some friends. Ron came to all his Quidditch practices, but the others weren’t interested. They said they’d come to the matches for sure, though.

“Never mind,” said Ron, “you’ve got one real friend backing you!” Hermione marched away with her nose in the air. She and Ron seemed to clash whenever they were together. It was very tiring. Harry thought maybe it was because she was Muggle-born, but it could also be because she always did better than Ron in every class; waving her hand to answer every one of the teacher’s questions if given a chance. Ron’s pride seemed a delicate thing.

Hermione caught Harry reading the Pure-Blood Directory in the Gryffindor common room one afternoon, and was appalled.

“I can’t believe you’re reading that elitist rubbish!”

“I’m just trying to see if my family’s in here,” he explained. “And there’s lots of interesting facts in here too. Did you know that pure-blood families can have special abilities running in the family, but those that mix the family line with Muggles lose those traits and often experience a drop in magical power?”

“There’s no evidence for any of that! Wizards don’t even understand what a scientific study is, let alone how to properly conduct one. Look at Dumbledore, he’s a half-blood and he’s one of the most magically powerful wizards alive! He defeated Grindlewald!”

“Look, I didn’t say I wasn’t questioning it.”

“Well I think you should return that book right now. You’re better than this, Harry. I didn’t think you of all people would fall for that kind of propaganda.” She tried to pull the book from his hands, but he yanked it away.

“I’m not returning it - I haven’t finished reading it yet. And I’ll thank you not to grab!”

Hermione turned away and rushed off to her dorm, looking upset. Harry tried to follow to explain, and discovered that the girls’ dorms were off-limits, as the stairs turned into a slide.

He was going to make up with her the next morning, but just as she joined them at the table for breakfast, Pansy and Millicent wandered past his spot.

“It’s such a nice day, I think we’ve got time for a walk outside before class, don’t you Millicent?”

“Yes, the lake should be peaceful at this time of day,” replied Millicent, as they headed out the great doors.

“Morning, Hermione,” Harry greeted her as she sat down.

“I hope you’re going to the library to return that book this morning,” she said abruptly.

“Uh, no, I’m still reading it, but…”

“I don’t want to hear about it then,” she said, angling her back to face away from him. She dished herself out some eggs and toast, and pulled out a book to read, pointedly ignoring him. Harry gave Neville a helpless look and a shrug.

He had a stroll by the lake he had to make. Which reminded him…

“Hey Neville, if you wanted to greet a pure-blood witch extra politely, are there any traditional rules about that?”

Hermione sniffed angrily.

“Uh, well, you should tip your hat if you’re wearing one, say hello with her title and last name unless you have an established friendship, and if you’re being especially traditional you could kiss the back of her hand. There’s rules about bowing but it’s a bit complicated, and depends on family rank.”

“Thanks, Nev.”

“I wouldn’t worry about any of that rubbish if I was you,” volunteered Ron. “No-one except stuck up elitists keep those traditions anymore, and especially not at school. Dumbledore doesn’t stand for it. Just say hi and use their last name, that’s my advice.”

Thank you, Ron,” Hermione said, smiling at him.

Harry hesitated. He wanted to soothe things over with Hermione, but he didn’t want to be late meeting Pansy. He’d have to talk to her later.

“Catch you later,” he said, and headed outside to the lake.

Pansy and Millicent were waiting for him there.

“Finally!” griped Pansy.

“Hello Miss Parkinson, Miss Bulstrode. I apologise for my tardiness,” he said, trying to copy Neville’s usual manner of speaking.

“Mr. Potter,” said Millicent, bobbing a small curtsey.

“Oh! Well, that’s quite alright, Mr. Potter,” said Pansy, holding out her hand expectantly. This time he kissed the back of it, rather than shook it. She looked pleased.

“Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I wrote to my father and after some investigation we did uncover a family connection. Two, in fact.” Pansy got out a scroll of parchment and unrolled it, pointing out some people on a family tree diagram. It looked like it was based off his one, but with lots of extra branches added it. Pansy’s name was down the bottom, on the same level as his.

“Now, first let’s look at the Potter connection. You’ll see your paternal grandmother Dorea was a Black. Her father was Cygnus Black II, and her mother was Violetta Bulstrode.”

“We are related too,” said Millicent, chiming in. “But it’s nothing close. Violetta is from a different branch of the family. I don’t think we would be anything closer than fourth or fifth cousins at most. Nothing worth claiming.”

“Cygnus had a sister, Belvina Black, who married Herbert Burke. Their daughter Medea Burke was my grandmother, who married Trophonius Parkinson, my paternal grandfather. So that makes us third cousins via the connection to the Potters through your grandmother.”

Harry was glad he had a chart to look at, or else he’d feel a bit lost about now.

“And Trophonius is also Daisy Parkinson’s son!” he exclaimed happily, looking at the tree.

“Yes, there is a closer connection through the Parkinsons,” Pansy agreed. “Daisy Parkinson was my great-grandmother, who married Orcus Parkinson. They were second cousins, that’s why they have the same surname. They had a number of children, including my grandfather Trophonius, and your grandmother Heather Parkinson. She was a Squib, and left the family as a teenager, shortly after her mother Daisy journeyed to the afterlife.”

“Wow, thanks so much for researching this. So, we have the same great-grandmother – Daisy Parkinson. We’d be second cousins through the Parkinson line, then?”

“Yes, indubitably. And your grandmother Heather Parkinson was my great-aunt – the names are too unlikely a match to be a coincidence. My father and your mother would be cousins, so we’re second cousins,” she looked a bit hesitant as she continued, “it is close enough to be worth claiming if you want to. Grandfather says he won’t acknowledge you as part of the Parkinson family of course, but you have the Potter line to claim anyway since you are the only possible Heir. He and my parents offer no objections if you wish to claim a relationship though.”

“Sure!” said Harry, happily. “I’d love to have another cousin. One a bit nicer than Dudley.”

“Oooh Merlin, Pansy, you’re related to a Muggle!” tittered Millicent, peeking at the family tree chart.

“So are you!”

“Am not! I’m not claiming relationship!”

“Well I am only claiming Harry, not any Muggles!” retorted a huffy Pansy. “That’s alright, isn’t it Harry?”

“That’s alright,” said Harry. “I mean, we get on better than we used to, but not that great. I won’t be offended if you don’t claim him too. And I don’t think Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon would want to be related to wizards if they could possibly help it. They won’t bother you about it, that’s for sure.”

“Good, well that’s settled then. I can call you Harry, then?”

“Sure… Pansy.”

“I don’t suppose that Heather’s husband was a wizard or a Squib?”

“No, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t. He worked in a steel factory, and the family was from Wales. I don’t know much else about him that I didn’t put on the chart I gave you.”

“Oh. Well, Evans isn’t a wizarding family name, and his profession makes it even more unlikely he was a wizard. Grandfather looked into it a bit, but couldn’t find them in any records. Pity. Heather was a Squib, but a pure-blood Squib so some would reckon her a pure-blood despite her low magical power. But even if you’re counting her as a magical ancestor with only three magical grandparents you still don’t count as a pure-blood – all four need to be magical. You’re still a half-blood I’m afraid,” she finished, in an apologetic tone of voice.

“That doesn’t bother me anyway,” said Harry.

“Your mother isn’t a Muggle-born though,” said Millicent consolingly, despite Harry’s lack of distress.

“That’s right,” said Pansy happily. “As she had two magical grandparents, she’d count as a half-blood too. Some people might argue the definition since her mother was only a Squib - but she’s clearly not really a Muggle-born. Well, we’d better all hurry - class will be starting soon. Harry, you’re welcome to chat to me now even without Millicent along to chaperone. So long as Draco’s not around, of course. That was poorly done of you.”

“What?”

“How you gave him the cut! And his mother is a Black, so that was really cold.”

“I’m related to Draco Malfoy?”

“You’re probably related to half the people at this school to some degree or another, Muggle-borns not included of course.”

“Cygnus Black’s mother was a Flint so you’d be related to Marcus Flint, for example,” said Millicent.

“Who?”

“He’s an older student in Slytherin. He’s head of the Quidditch team, so you’ll meet him on the pitch in another week or two. Look, I’ve got to get to class - we need to get over to the greenhouses or we’ll be late. Shall we meet up Wednesday after classes, in the library? You can keep the family tree chart, by the way.”

“Alright then. Bye, Pansy! Bye Millicent!”

“Just Bulstrode for the time being, Potter.”

“Sorry. Bye, Bulstrode.”

“Bye Harry,” said Pansy with a nod of her head, and they hurried away. Harry scurried off to Transfiguration.

Chapter Text

October, 1991

A couple of days later Hermione was still shunning him because he still hadn’t returned the Pure-Blood Directory, and wasn’t apologising to her satisfaction. He’d been so busy with Quidditch practice and homework that he hadn’t had enough time yet to look up all the families on his excitingly expanded family tree. He tried explaining that he needed to see what other pure-blood families he was related to, but she refused to listen. Neville was interested though.

“I’ll owl my grandmother to see if there’s a connection between the Longbottom and Potter families. Or even the Parkinsons,” he said. “I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, though.”

“That’s alright,” said Harry. “We’re still friends either way, right Nev?”

“Absolutely.”

“Did you have to claim a relationship with the Parkinsons, though?” asked Ron.

“Hey, more family is a great thing. She’s not so bad. And it could be worse, apparently I’m related to the Malfoys too,” he teased.

“Ugh!” said Ron, scrunching up his face. “I’m sure you can do better than claiming those gits. I guess the Parkinson family isn’t too bad, compared to them. You know, I think the Weasleys and the Potters might have a connection of some degree, but Merlin, I think Ginny would go mental if I claimed kinship,” said Ron.

“Why? Too embarrassed to be related to Muggles?”

“No, and I’m sure dad at least would be happy to have some Muggles to chat to.”

“Good!” interjected Hermione.

“Actually,” continued Ron, “it’s because she’s got this dumb plan that one day you’re going to meet and it’ll be just like something sappy Fifi LaFolle would write. You’ll meet, you’ll fall in love at first sight, kill a dragon to win her heart, shower her with jewellery, and live happily ever after.”

“But I’ve never even met her!” said a wide-eyed Harry, appalled.

“I know, right? It’s dumb. But if we claimed kinship then you couldn’t marry her, so she’d be pretty devastated.” Harry shuddered.

“Who’s Fifi LaFolle?” asked Hermione curiously.

“She wrote the Enchanted Encounters series. She’s on a chocolate frog card, you know,” explained Ron. “But seriously Harry, Slytherins? Do you have to make friends with those slimy snakes?”

“It’s not like a quarter of the school is evil, Ron. Snakes aren’t either for that matter – they’re just animals. And Pansy’s my second cousin. I think family’s important, don’t you?”

Ron muttered under his breath something Harry couldn’t hear. “Well just don’t come crying to me when they stab you in the back. Slytherins can’t be trusted. I guess you’ll have to learn that the hard way,” he concluded, washing his hands of the whole business.

On Wednesday afternoon Harry went to the library to meet up with Pansy. He spotted Hermione studying there first, and she piled up some books on her table to make room for him.

“Sorry Hermione, but I’m not here to study today – I’m meeting up with Pansy.”

“Oh. Fine,” she said, scribbling down something in one of her notebooks and pointedly ignoring him again.

He sighed at the missed opportunity to mend fences – it couldn’t be helped. After a little exploring he went over to one of the sofa chairs near the windows when he spotted a cluster of girls with green hair ties - Pansy was sitting with Daphne and Millicent.

“Hi Pansy, hi Bulstrode. And uh, Miss Greengrass, right?”

“That’s right,” she smiled at him.

“So Harry,” started Pansy after everyone had said hello, “I was wondering why you gave the cut to Draco?”

“They’re such good friends,” explained Daphne. “It’s going to be awkward.”

“Well, I’m not really sure what you mean by giving the cut, but I did snap at him a bit on the train when he was rude to Hermione and Ron.”

He said you refused his polite offer of assistance in society. You refused to greet him or shake his hand, and then turned your back on him, telling him you had better company than him already,” explained Pansy.

“What? That’s not what happened! Well, maybe some of it,” conceded Harry. “I didn’t shake his hand, and I didn’t want him telling me who the ‘best people’ were. But he was being a total prat about it - he wasn’t at all polite! He sneered at Hermione being lowborn or something like that, and made fun of Ron for being poor and having too many children in his family.”

“That sounds like Draco,” said Millicent, snickering.

“It does not!” retorted Pansy. “He’s a perfect gentleman.”

“In Slytherin he’s a perfect gentleman. But you know the Malfoys are feuding with the Weasleys, don’t you?” said Daphne. “Surely you’ve heard him and Weasley sniping at each other. And he’s made no secret of his dislike for Mud... Muggle-borns.”

“I suppose he might not have been… less than proper in his behaviour towards Weasley,” conceded Pansy grudgingly. “You still shouldn’t have cut him like that in public unless you’ve allied with the Weasleys.”

“I don’t think there’s a formal alliance of any kind if that’s what you’re asking? Ron says he’s not sure if he wants to claim kinship, if there even is a connection.”

“That’s a separate issue. But if you don’t think you’re allied then you’re not. You should be more polite to Draco when you talk to him next. You don’t want to start a feud unnecessarily.”

“I’ll be polite if he will,” said Harry, which seemed to satisfy her for now.

Pansy had decided that with Halloween only a day away that Harry desperately needed to learn about wizarding traditions surrounding the holiday.

In a quiet voice, she spoke about the four seasonal festivals that marked the quarters of the year: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh.

“Each celebrates the flow of life, and the waxing and waning of magic. Samhain,” she said, pronouncing it a bit like ‘sow-in’ and spelling it out carefully for him afterwards, “marks the beginning of winter, the end of the harvest, and the time for slaughtering livestock. It’s a time of death, a time for divination, and a celebration of those who’ve gone to the next world,” Pansy explained.

“And those who won’t travel on, but hang around as ghosts,” said Daphne. “They have a party here at Hogwarts, I’ve heard. They mostly eat the essence of rotting food. Except for the Baron of course - he usually joins us in the dungeons where the pickings are better.”

“Some say it marks the end of the year and the start of a new one, but that really doesn’t matter because it’s all a cycle anyway.”

“Isn’t it usually all about dressing up as monsters and collecting candy? Does anyone do anything special here? Apart from the ghost party?”

“It’s all… modern here now. The traditions don’t get a lot of respect at Hogwarts anymore. You won’t find anyone driving cattle between bonfires, let alone making a blood offering,” said Pansy.

“That sounds like Dark magic!” exclaimed Harry worriedly.

“Just a cow, for Merlin’s sake!” said Pansy testily. “You like eating steak, don’t you? Where do you think meat comes from? If you’re slaughtering animals for the winter anyway, why not use the power of that for something good? It used to be a blessing for the herds – a powerful ritual so they wouldn’t catch any diseases for the whole year. Muggles used to beg and bribe us to sacrifice their cattle and bless their animals and families. It wasn’t a wicked thing. But oh no, the Christians took over more every year, and the Muggle families worried it was all too eeeevil. They just wanted All Hallow’s Eve. So no sacrifices, and then, no bonfires. Because people might sneakily sacrifice something. No offerings to our ancestors – they didn’t like all the talk of death, never mind it was all about remembering those who came before us.”

“Uh ohhh, you got her started,” smirked Millicent.

“So I have strong feelings about it,” sniffed Pansy. “You follow the Old traditions too.”

“Yes, but I don’t feel the need to go on about it. I just celebrate things properly in the dorm and stuff myself full of pumpkin pie at the feast. You should’ve just told him something nice - like telling your lover’s name with an apple peel.”

“Look,” said Pansy to Harry, “Samhain is a sacred day. Just… don’t make fun of it. It’s not for laughter and pranks. It’s for remembering the dead. If you do nothing else, light a candle for the departed, wish the ghosts well, or throw a bit of meat from the feast into your common room fire, if no-one’s watching. You can read The Decline of Pagan Magic by Bathilda Bagshot if you want to know more about how the Old Ways have been suppressed. You might not find it in the library, though. I think they moved it to the Restricted Section. Just goes to show.”

Daphne shared a final thought. “Hey Harry, everyone knows it’s the day the Dark Lord was defeated… the day your parents died. It wouldn’t be seen as at all odd if you wanted to be quiet and reflective. It would show your parents respect. Send them a greeting in the flames, give them an offering, and look in a mirror at midnight. Sometimes you get to see a glimmer, so they say.”

“A glimmer of what?”

“Beyond. You know, the Otherworld. Just shadows and shapes, mostly. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard stories from people who have.”

“I don’t think I have the gift of Second Sight,” said Harry.

“Have you tried?” asked Daphne curiously.

“….No.”

“Then you don’t know unless you try. Don’t you want a chance to see your parents?”

Harry did. Very much so. He knew what he’d be doing at midnight.

***

Pansy was right. There wasn’t much in the library about the festivals or the Old Ways, at least not in the general use section that he could discover on a quick browse of the dusty shelves. He found a few snippets of information – like how Samhain started at sunset on the 31st and finished at sunset on the 1st of November. And that in some villages long ago it used to be traditional for Muggles to give their local wizards and witches gifts of food in exchange for spell work or goodwill. Ever since the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was signed in 1692 guising of that kind by wizards and witches was completely forbidden – no-one was allowed to offer or sell spellcasting services, or let their Muggle neighbours know anything about magic at all.

On the morning of the 31st Professor Flitwick announced they would be working on making objects fly. Harry was partnered with Seamus, and Ron was paired with Hermione, which he got increasingly grumpy about over the course of the lesson. She got the spell very quickly, and that fact combined with her well-meaning but tactless attempts to correct Ron’s pronunciation got him in a jealous, snarling mood.

“It’s no wonder no one can stand her,” he said to Harry after class as they pushed their way into the crowded corridor, “she’s a nightmare, honestly.”

Hermione bumped into Harry as she hurried past in tears.

“I think she heard you.”

“So?” said Ron, but he looked a bit uncomfortable. “She must’ve noticed she’s got no friends.”

“But I’m her friend! Neville is too, a bit. I thought you were as well.”

“I’ve just been friendly to her because she’s your pal. And I thought you’d broken that friendship bond. You’ve been fighting for weeks now,” he said, exaggerating a little. “She’s just so annoying.”

“Can’t friends fight? Dudley argues with his friends all the time. I thought she’d get over it. I’ll try talking to her again. Maybe you should too.”

Ron shrugged non-committedly. But Harry didn’t get to talk to Hermione, because she wasn’t at their next class, or indeed all afternoon. Harry and Neville went to check on her after classes finished. They asked one of the Gryffindor girls to go up the stairs to the girls’ dorm and ask her to come down. But Fay reported to them that she wasn’t even up there.

“I haven’t seen her since this morning,” she said. “That waving hand is hard to miss.”

Neville suggested she would surely show up at the feast for dinner, so they put their pointy hats on and went down to the hall. The Great Hall was decorated with thousands of lifelike charmed bats that fluttered and swooped everywhere, and carved pumpkins with flickering candles were everywhere, even floating in mid-air. About half the students were wearing their hats, the rest were bare-headed. The feast appeared on golden plates suddenly, just like it had at the start of term feast. Harry got started on eating, keeping an eye out for Hermione, while Neville chatted to Lavender Brown on his other side.

“Lavender says that Parvati told her that Hermione was crying this afternoon in the girls’ toilets on the second floor,” he reported to Harry.

Ron, who was sitting opposite Harry, just shrugged.

Everyone stopped and stared when Quirrell rushed into the hall, his turban askew and terror on his face. “Troll – in the dungeons – thought you ought to know.”

He then sank to the floor in a dead faint. Over the consequent uproar, Dumbledore set off a fireworks spell to get attention and ordered everyone back to their dorms. Percy started herding the Gryffindors, but Harry turned anxiously to Neville.

“Hermione might be in trouble – she doesn’t know about the troll.”

“I suppose we’d better go find her?” suggested Neville hesitantly. “Are you coming, Ron?”

Ron hesitated, “Do you want me along, Harry?”

Harry shrugged. “Up to you. She was pretty mad at you.”

“I don’t think she’ll want to talk to me,” said Ron. “And the troll is in the dungeons anyway. You only need to bring her upstairs quickly, and two people is ample for that. I’d probably just make things worse. I’ll let Percy and the other prefect what’s-her-name know you’ve gone to fetch Hermione so you don’t get in trouble, okay?”

“Thanks, Ron.”

Neville and Harry darted through a crowd of Hufflepuffs and slipped down a deserted corridor. On the way they spotted Snape moving swiftly and silently down the corridors ahead of them.

“What’s he doing?” Harry whispered. “Why isn’t he down in the dungeons with the rest of the teachers?”

“Maybe there’s some stray Slytherins he’s gone to find?” suggested Neville quietly.

“He’s heading for the third floor,” Harry said. But there was no time for further pondering on Snape’s intentions. They soon heard the footsteps (and smelled the terrible odour) of the troll. They shrank into the shadows as it emerged into a patch of moonlight. Twelve feet tall, ugly as sin, and armed with a huge wooden club, it sniffed the air then lumbered into a nearby room.

“The key’s in the lock,” Harry muttered. “We could lock it in.”

“No! That’s the girls’ bathroom!” hissed Neville.

“Oh no!” said Harry, a little too loudly. “What do we do? Is she in there?”

“We’d better check,” said Neville nervously.

They crept forward as stealthily as they could, hearing crashing sounds from inside the room (but no Hermione), and peeked around the corner of the door. The troll had broken open a couple of toilet doors and was peering inside the cubicles. As they watched, one of the toilet door locks slowly unlocked, and Hermione peeked out and tried to run for the door. Her eyes widened as she spotted them peering around the corner, Harry beckoning frantically to her.

The troll spotted her too, and smashed its club on the floor right in front of her – broken shards of tiles few everywhere, a few hitting Hermione. She screamed loudly and scrambled backwards towards the sinks. She shrank against the wall opposite the door, looking as if she was about to faint. The troll was advancing on her, knocking the sinks off the walls as it went.

“Confuse it!” Harry said desperately to Neville, and rushing into the room he grabbed a tile and threw it as hard as he could against the wall where it shattered loudly.

The troll stopped a few feet from Hermione. It lumbered around, blinking stupidly, to see what had made the noise. It spotted Harry and started lumbering towards him instead, lifting its club as it went.

“Go for the club!” Harry yelled to Neville, frantically fumbling in his robes to get out his wand.

“What should I do?”

“Anything! Cast a spell at it!”

Neville cast practically the only spell he knew, even though he had never yet managed to make his feather float.

Wingardium Leviosa!”

The club completely failed to fly out of its grip. But it did explode. Hermione squealed and covered her head with her hands, curling into a ball on the ground. The troll roared with surprise and pain as jagged splinters of wood flew everywhere, particularly into its hands and face. A couple landed in its eyes, temporarily blinding it as it dropped the last chunk of wooden club onto the floor to rub at its face.

Harry finally got his wand free. “Incendio!” he shouted. The troll’s clothes, and then the troll itself, started burning as Harry kept his wand pointed steadily at it.

“Come on Hermione!” yelled Neville. “Run! Now!”

Hermione scrambled to her feet and scurried out the door to safety, dodging the wildly flailing troll with a horrified look on her face.

The troll was howling in pain, and as it thrashed its limbs and staggered around crazily trying to put out the fire it ran blindly headfirst into a wall, knocking itself out and collapsing to the floor. Harry stopped his spell and backed away warily.

It was Hermione who spoke first.

“Is it – dead?”

“I don’t think so,” said Harry, “I think it’s just been knocked out. It’s still breathing. For now.”

A second later Professor McGonagall had come bursting into the room, closely followed by Snape, with Quirrell bringing up the rear. Quirrell took one look at the troll, let out a faint whimper and sat down quickly on a toilet, clutching his heart.

Snape bent over the troll and ignored them, but McGonagall ranted coldly and furiously and seemed to blame the whole thing on them. “Typical,” thought Harry, who was used to this kind of behaviour from grown-ups. He quickly spoke up at the first break in her tirade. He thought he’d better work in an appeal to Gryffindor values, if he could.

“Please Professor, we were just concerned for our friend Hermione, who’d left the feast to go to the bathroom. We sent a message for the prefects so we wouldn’t be unaccounted for – we didn’t want anyone to worry. And once we saw the troll go into the bathroom, we knew we had to do something! We couldn’t just run away like cowards to fetch a teacher, leaving our friend to die,” he widened his eyes in his best sincere and earnest expression. Sometimes it helped, and luckily for him this was one of those times.

“It’s true, Professor,” said Hermione, backing his story instantly. “I left the hall – I didn’t even know there was a troll in Hogwarts. They were so brave!” Harry was so proud of her for lying convincingly to a teacher. There was no need for her to get in trouble for skiving off classes to have a cry, if no-one had noticed yet.

McGonagall’s expression softened tremendously, and she praised them for their bravery and excellent spellwork, and gave Harry and Neville twenty points each for Gryffindor.

Snape gave Harry a swift, piercing look but didn’t say anything.

McGonagall shooed them back to their dorm, and promised to tell Dumbledore all about this.

Ron apologised very nicely to Hermione after they were all back safe in the dorm, and their tale had been told to a fascinated audience of appreciative Gryffindors. Neville in particular almost glowed under the attention and praise. Harry joined in the retelling occasionally to give Neville more credit for their success, and talked off his Incendio as a “lucky fluke”.

But while Hermione was happy to accept Ron’s apology and make friends again, in a way it was too little too late. From that moment on, Hermione Granger became best friends with Harry and Neville. There are some things you can’t share without ending up close to each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them. Neville talked them through how to formally swear friendship, which was quite easy. They all linked hands and said, “I vow thee my friendship – thou mayst call upon me as thy ally”. So they were officially allied from that evening onwards. Harry’s hands felt a bit tingly when they did it, but the others said they didn’t notice anything.

Harry almost forgot his plan to try and commune with his parents’ spirits, in all the drama. He woke at around 2am, wondering what it was that he’d forgotten, and scrambled out of bed so fast his legs got tangled in the sheets and he almost fell over. He took a candle from the bedside candelabra, and rummaged in his trunk for one of his cached emergency snacks. He couldn’t find any meat (it didn’t keep well) so grabbed a bit of bread roll to be his offering. In the boys’ bathroom, feeling a bit silly, he burnt the bread roll in the candle flame and said a prayer (addressed to Merlin in case that helped) asking to hear from his parents. He stared into the mirror for half an hour, but didn’t see anything but his own reflection. Eventually he got tired of trying, and a bit teary. Either he didn’t have Second Sight, or he’d done it all wrong and wasted his chance for the year to see his parents. He went back to bed feeling very sorry for himself. He thought he’d like to swap Parseltongue for Second Sight, if he could. It seemed much more useful.

As he settled down to try and get back to sleep he tried to think of other, happier things to take his mind off his disappointment. His spell against the troll had worked great, even though it hadn’t taken it out immediately. And it was only from the first year book! Imagine what he could do with stronger spells – no Dark wizard or crazy bigot or evil creature was going to make him a victim. He’d try and catch Professor Quirrell some time later this week for a private chat and ask him for a pass to the Restricted Section, so he could read up on some stronger magical spells. The poor guy was so scared by that troll – he’d surely understand Harry’s worries.

Chapter Text

November, 1991

Quidditch was horrible, Harry concluded. He’d warmed to flying, which really was a lot of fun once you got used to trusting a broomstick. But the practices were eating up all his reading time. And the first match itself? Truly horrific. He almost died and no-one helped him – he had to save himself. Brooms weren’t as trustworthy as he’d thought. Neville said he and Hermione saw Snape hexing the broom, but when at Hermione’s suggestion they went to see Professor McGonagall, she acted like Snape was beyond reproach and of course would never harm a single hair on Harry’s head. Hermione got detention for setting fire to Snape’s robes – she was in tears about it. McGonagall was an idiot – Snape hated him, everyone knew. She, Snape, and Dumbledore were now all down on Harry’s mental list of people to avoid at all costs (and lie to if he couldn’t avoid them). Neville hadn’t wanted to go with them to complain about Snape to their Head of House (Ron joined them instead), and it reminded Harry that he’d been meaning to talk to Neville about why he’d disliked (even feared) Snape before he’d even met him.

Neville said he’d explain if the others weren’t around, so the next morning before breakfast they walked outside despite the icy grey weather, and looked at the frozen lake as Neville shared his fears.

“The first thing you have to understand, Harry, is how ashamed people are of having a Squib in the family,” he whispered quietly.

“What’s that go to do with Snape?” said Harry, puzzledly.

“Maybe I’m not telling it right,” said Neville, biting his lip. “Sorry. Just bear with me, please? So, Squibs are born to wizarding families, like the opposite of Muggle-borns. They don’t possess enough magical power to cast spells.”

“Okay.”

“But like Ron’s relative who is an accountant, or Filch-”

“Filch is a Squib?!”

“Yes, everyone knows that. You didn’t know?” Harry shook his head. “Anyway, so no-one wants to know a Squib. No-one associates with them. Lots of people shun them – some families formally cast them out. Blotted off the family tree. It’s amazing that the Parkinsons are willing to recognise the connection to you, frankly. It’s a shameful thing to have a Squib in the family. I guess you being famous balances things out for them. And you’re a wizard, of course. Half-blood with two magical parents and some magical grandparents is fairly respectable – almost pure-blood. Some would call you a first generation pure-blood.”

“Your uncle, I remember you said he tried to kill you to make you show your magic,” prompted Harry, concerned.

Neville flinched. “Great Uncle Algie. But he wasn’t trying to kill me, he just wanted my magic to come out. It usually does come out in stressful situations, you know.”

Harry looked sceptically at him, but Neville wasn’t meeting his eyes.

“Has Snape… done anything to you? To try and make you show your magic?”

“No, it’s not that,” said Neville. “Not exactly. I mean, he hates Squibs. Uncle Algie told me that. The thing is, Squibs that don’t have enough power to cast charms or hexes can still have enough magic to make a potion come together.”

“Oh yes!” said Harry, perking up. “I remember reading in Potion Opuscule about how it’s not just about stirring ingredients together, you need to channel your magic smoothly through the stirrer as if it’s a wand. It’s why some types of wooden spoons are more compatible than others and produce better results – you should get a spoon that matches your wand if you need a larger amount of magic channelled for your potion. Apparently Petunia was wrong about that subject; Muggles can’t make a potion work.”

Neville blinked. “I think I really must read that book. I didn’t know you were so good at the theory – you and Ron never seem to get good marks in class.”

“Well, Snape hates me, you know,” said Harry uncomfortably. “I returned that book a couple of weeks ago – it should be back on the shelves unless Hermione’s taken it out.”

“So… Muggles can’t make potions work even a little bit. And neither can Squibs. Squibs who try to make potions – they might get a result of some kind but it always goes wrong. Just like my potions,” Neville said, hanging his head. “And my spells.”

Harry didn’t know what to say – he didn’t have a lot of experience with comforting upset friends. He patted Neville’s back awkwardly. “I’m sure you’ll get it with a bit more practice.”

“But that’s just it. I might not get a chance. My Gran and Uncle Algie told me about Snape – he used to be a Death Eater.”

“One of Voldemort’s followers?” Harry gasped. “Why isn’t he in prison?”

“He got off,” said Neville, looking scared. “He turned in evidence against the others - said he was a spy. My Gran told me all about it. She said Dumbledore vouched for him, that he even worked with my parents before…” Neville hesitated. “I’ll tell you about my parents another time, Harry. So, Uncle Algie said it was true - Snape was a Death Eater. But that he’s not completely reformed. He still stands for You-Know-Who’s philosophies - the old traditions of a pure society, and that means casting out the weak. If he thinks you’re a Squib,” he said, eyes wide with fear, “Snape will poison you. So you see, I have to pass Potions, no matter what.”

“But he couldn’t possibly poison every person who fails Potions!” objected Harry. “People would notice. You know he fails me and Ron on most of our assignments.”

“Mayhap you’re right. But you see while your potions might not be great, they basically do what they’re supposed to. And maybe most of Crabbe’s fail, but some of them are alright. Mine never work. I haven’t gotten a single one right so far.”

“Do you think… he tried to kill me at Quidditch because he thinks I’m a Squib?”

“Merlin! I never thought of that. I don’t know… maybe. But you can cast spells – like Incendio. So you’re definitely not a Squib. Unless, he doesn’t believe you cast it because he didn’t see it with his own eyes. And maybe he thinks your potions only work because of Ron – I know you usually get him to do the stirring.”

Harry chewed on his nails nervously while he thought. It was true he always got Ron to stir. He liked to do the chopping and measuring, so he could sabotage the potion to a D standard. Or sometimes improve it to a D standard. Ron was rubbish at Potions.

“Well, I’m going to make sure he sees me brewing a good potion then, with me doing the stirring. Just in case,” he said decidedly. “And Neville, I think I’d better tutor you in Potions.”

Neville gave a small grateful smile – he looked appreciative but hesitant. “No offense Harry, that’s a really kind thought believe me, but if anyone was going to tutor me I’d rather it be Hermione.”

“No, you see, I don’t try to do well in Potions. Snape wants me to fail - you can see it. The one time I brewed a really perfect potion, as a test, he just accused Ron and me of cheating and gave us a T. So I don’t bother. I’m aiming for a Dreadful in Potions. But Neville, I promise I could brew E or Outstanding standard potions if I wanted to.”

“Really?” said a wide-eyed Neville.

“I swear, it’s true,” promised Harry. “I can help you – let me help my new ally, hey? Maybe Hermione and I can take turns working with you. But don’t tell her I’m good at Potions. You know her – she’ll nag me to always turn in perfect potions but if I do Snape will be worse than ever. You know how she is. She doesn’t know how bad people can be, and Snape’s a teacher. She was worried enough to want to talk to Professor McGonagall after what happened at Quidditch, but once she was told it was all just a misunderstanding she dropped her worries about Snape altogether. She trusts people will be fair.”

“Sure, I won’t tell her if you don’t want me to. I’ll just ask her for help with Potions.”

“I’ll help you on Monday evenings and… damn, Quidditch practice.” Harry thought for a moment. There really was a very simple solution. “I’ll have to quit Quidditch.”

“No, Harry! It’s not that important,” objected Neville, “I’ll be fine, and Hermione will surely come to my aid.”

“I want to help too. And I was thinking of quitting anyway, it’s no big deal,” reassured Harry. “You’re my friend.” Harry hurried them back into the hall, trying to give Neville no more chance to object, but Neville kept trying to talk him out of it as they walked to the Gryffindor table.

“But you’re great at Quidditch, the youngest seeker in a century! You can’t just quit!”

Ron, in shocked surprise, spat out his pumpkin juice all over his plate of toast and sausages. “You’re quitting Quidditch?!” he said loudly.

Soon Harry was beleaguered by the Weasley twins, Oliver Wood, and the rest of the team, who all tried to talk him out of it. But he stood firm, and resolute. Yes, he’d caught the Snitch, albeit by almost choking to death on it. But he didn’t want to play anymore. It was too dangerous, and he wanted more time to concentrate on his studies.

“Bravo, Potter,” said Percy approvingly, and was promptly rounded on furiously by all his brothers for his treachery. Percy escaped only by fleeing the table, mumbling that he had to get to class. Harry decided to follow his example; discretion was the better part of valour. He slipped away while Angelina was asking Oliver to talk to Professor McGonagall or Madam Hooch – there must be a rule that stopped Seekers from quitting mid-season.

At the end of classes that day Pansy and Daphne waylaid him as he was coming out of Transfiguration. Pansy nodded briefly at Neville (ignoring Hermione and Ron) as she greeted him and hooked her arm around his elbow, leading him away for a chat.

“Daphne was talking to Pucey, who heard it from Roger Davies, that you’re quitting the Quidditch team! Is it true?” she asked eagerly without pausing for breath.

“Well yes, I’m quitting,” he said. “It’s too dangerous. And I’d rather have more time for study. This school is life-threatening enough, what with forbidden corridors and stray trolls in bathrooms.”

“Oh Merlin yes! Can you believe Dumble-bore sent us straight to our dorms, in the dungeons? Right after Professor Quirrell had said that’s where the troll was! Unbelievable!” complained Pansy. “We would have been safer just staying put in the Great Hall.”

Harry had never thought about it like that before. It was a good point.

“That man hates Slytherins,” Pansy griped, crossing her arms.

“The Hufflepuffs were sent to the dungeons too,” reminded Daphne.

“Oh who cares about a bunch of Hufflepuffs!” snarked Pansy. Harry raised his eyebrows. “Well I wouldn’t want them dead,” she amended. “Just, you know, obviously I’m going to be more worried about my friends in Slytherin.”

Harry nodded. He could understand that.

“You simply must tell me all about what happened!” cooed Daphne. “We only heard snippets about it down in the Snake’s Den.”

He told Daphne and Pansy what had happened, minus the bit about Ron’s teasing Hermione until she hid for hours, and downplaying the strength and duration of his Incendio spell. Daphne in particular hung on his every word; she was a good listener.

Then she asked for more detail about how he’d quit the Quidditch team, and he shared that he thought Oliver and Angelina were going to complain to the teachers.

“Do you think they’ll make me stay on the team? Is there anything you think I could do if they tried?” he asked. “They kind of made me join in the first place – I didn’t get a choice.”

“Really? Hmm. Well, I’m no Quidditch expert. I’ll ask Millie if she has any ideas,” said Pansy.

“Ooh! I’ll ask Flint,” volunteered Daphne eagerly. “He’s captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team, so you know he’ll want to rid Gryffindor of their new star seeker. He’ll be sure to help. He might even owe us a favour for it,” she said smugly and happily.

Harry grinned. “Sounds great! And since we’re talking favours, maybe I can ask you something?” They perked up, interested.

“Do you know somewhere I could do some potions practice after classes, without anyone bothering me? Especially not Snape?”

They had a little chat about Hogwarts, and the vacant classrooms. There used to be a lot more students, but it was a bit unpopulated at the moment. “The war, you know,” said Pansy. The girls looked uncomfortable. They recommended learning locking and silencing spells if he could, and drew him a little map of a remote lab in the dungeons that they thought was rarely used.

“The ones near Professor Snape’s classroom and office are no good,” they said, marking them with x’s on their rough map. “Those are used by a few Slytherins on weekends – Snape checks in on people occasionally so I don’t think they’d suit you.”

A few days later the gossip had clearly spread. Marcus Flint (whose looming presence and unpleasant body odour reminded Harry strongly of a small troll stuffed in a school uniform) clapped Harry on the back when he passed him in the hall, causing him to stagger a little from the force of the friendly blow.

Flint loudly declared, “You are a credit to Slytherin, Potter! Thanks for quitting Quidditch. If McGonagall upbraids you for it, just remind her that school rules don’t require students to join any clubs. It’s somewhere in Hogwarts, A History, if you want to look it up. And if that falls through, get your family to write a Howler to them banning you from playing Quidditch. Your parents - well, guardians in your case - can ban you from playing and then the school can’t do anything about it.”

Harry gave Flint a polite nod of the head, “Thanks, Flint.”

“Any time, Potter. Slytherin for the cup!” he yelled happily as he left, with a little bow to Harry. Nearby Gryffindors glared evilly at Harry as he hurried away with Hermione and Neville flanking him. Ron stayed to mutter with some of the others. He still wasn’t happy with Harry. Harry was just ignoring him and waiting for his bad mood to blow over. He was happy with more time to study, less fame, and less risk to life and limb. And besides, he didn’t want Dudley to hear about him being a sports star at school.

***

At the next Defence Against the Dark Arts class, as the students filed out of the room Harry asked to speak privately with Professor Quirrell. Quirrell had a surprised look in his eye but quickly acceded. He closed the door after the last of the students left.

“Just the two of us then, P-P-Potter,” he said. “What shall I do with this rare opportunity?” he mused out aloud, twirling his wand idly in his hand.

“I wanted to ask you about stronger combat and defensive spells,” explained Harry. “I would quite like a pass to borrow some extra books from the Restricted Section, if you don’t mind.”

“Ah, so the Gryffindor hero wants to learn even more spells to defeat the wicked with,” said Quirrell. “So ready to destroy your enemies.” From the odd tone in his voice, it didn’t sound like he approved, so Harry quickly changed tack.

“Well, not so much. It’s more for defence. I won’t go looking for trouble, but if it finds me I want to be able to survive. If I can hide, I’ll hide. If I can talk my way out of trouble, I’d much rather do that. But if I fight, I want to win.”

“And what if it takes a l-less than savoury spell to win, Potter?”

Harry noticed Quirrell’s stutter wasn’t quite so bad when it was just the two of them. It probably only came out under stress. Some people just weren’t good at public speaking.

Harry shrugged. “I’m not sure everyone would agree that trying to burn a troll alive was the nicest way to win, but it worked, didn’t it?” Harry leant forward and gave Quirrell his most manipulatively earnest look. “You remember how scary it was, don’t you Professor? How the troll almost killed people – it almost killed you too. Wouldn’t you rather have students around you trained and able to help defeat such creatures?”

Professor Quirrell gave him an odd smile, with a glint in his eye. “I would indeed,” he agreed. “But that’s not a very Gryffindor approach, Potter.”

Harry hesitated. It was hard to think with another headache starting up. It would be good if he knew what house Professor Quirrell had been in. He thought about it – Quirrell had run from the troll, rather than stay to face it. He didn’t chat much to other teachers at dinner. Not very sociable, so probably not Hufflepuff. He wasn’t the most amazing teacher but as he could teach two subjects Ravenclaw was a possibility, as was Slytherin given his streak of self-preservation.

“Can I tell you a secret, Professor?”

“My lips are s-s-sealed.”

“The Sorting Hat didn’t want to put me in Gryffindor,” Harry confided.

“No? How fascinating,” said Quirrell. “And where did it want to put the Boy Who Lived?”

“Slytherin,” said Harry.

“And how did you end up in Gryffindor then?”

“I talked it around. I didn’t want to be in Slytherin. People would think I was some kind of evil troublemaker, just because of where I was sorted. I hated that in primary school and I didn’t want to go through it here too. You do know, Professor, what an unfair reputation Slytherin has at this school?”

“Y-y-yes. Quite unfair. I was sorted into Slytherin too, you know, very swiftly. It simply said I was destined for greatness.”

“It said the same thing to me!” said Harry, surprised. “Does it say that to all the Slytherins?”

“No,” said Quirrell. “Mayhap only the more powerful and ambitious ones. I think perhaps you and I are kindred spirits, Harry. I shall have to watch you carefully.”

“I’m nothing special, really,” said Harry, embarrassed. “I’d rather you just treated me like everyone else.”

“Yet here you are, casting spells perfectly without practice and wanting a pass to the Restricted Section. I think perhaps you will owe me a favour, P-P-Potter.”

Harry hesitated. He remembered Pansy and Millicent talk like promising a favour was a formal thing. He didn’t know if it was a Slytherin thing, or a traditional pure-blood thing. Either way perhaps this called for some extra formality.

“A small favour,” he ventured, “for I did help defeat the troll you know, and that deserves recompense too. No favour that requires me to get in trouble.”

Professor Quirrell nodded. “Acceptable.”

Harry did a little awkward bow in return. “Thank you kindly for your assistance, Professor.”

Quirrell smiled at him. “How delightful,” he said. “Is someone teaching you the Old Ways?”

“Miss Parkinson and her friends,” said Harry. “She’s my second cousin you know. In Slytherin. Neville, that is, Mr. Longbottom, he gives me some tips too. I don’t know much yet.”

“It is a grand thing, is it not Potter, to reclaim your heritage as a wizard after living among Muggles all your childhood,” said Quirrell approvingly, without a single stutter.

Harry wanted to be honest, but didn’t want to offend his professor. “I’m enjoying finding out I have more family, but it’s hard trying to fit in and be a normal wizard. There’s lots of things I don’t understand.”

“One thing I’ve n-n-never understood, Potter, is how you survived the Dark Lord’s killing curse. If you do discover the reason, in your r-r-research, do let me know.”

“It’s a mystery to me too, sir. All I remember is a bright green light, and someone laughing.”

“How intriguing. Well, I’ve enjoyed our little ch-ch-chat, P-P-Potter, but you really must be heading to your next class before someone wonders where you’ve got to.” He went to his desk and scribbled out a note. “Here’s your pass to the Restricted S-S-Section. I have listed some advanced books I th-think may be of interest to you for Defence.”

“Could you add The Decline of Pagan Magic too please, sir?”

“C-certainly,” Quirrell amended the note, “an ex-cellent choice. Don’t let anyone know you have a pass for books from the R-restricted Section. Some people may try and take a-advantage of you to access books they aren’t ready for. If I find you’ve shared your books I will r-r-revoke your pass. And I don’t want to have to do that to such a surprisingly promising s-s-student.”

Harry promised he wouldn’t, and hurried off to his next class. That chat had gone really well, he thought.

***

Snape had an opinion to share on Harry quitting Quidditch at Harry’s next Potions class. He caught Harry chatting with Pansy and her friends outside the classroom at the start of class, while Neville, Hermione and Ron were keeping a careful distance. Ron had his hand on his wand like he expected trouble at any moment. Draco similarly was keeping a watchful eye on the situation from a safe distance, with Crabbe and Goyle flanking him. The targets of their observation were just ignoring all the paranoia, gossiping about Marcus Flint’s advice.

Snape stalked up to them, robes billowing. “I have heard reports you quit Quidditch, Potter,” he sneered. “Realised it would take too much hard work, I expect? Perhaps you’re already getting your fill of incessant fawning praise from your clod-pated Gryffindor fans over your heroics at Halloween.”

“I’ve never wanted to be famous. I’m not enjoying the experience so far. I’d much rather just be a normal student, thank you,” said Harry as calmly as he could. “I prefer having my evenings free so I can work on my studies. Maybe I’ll even manage to bring my Potions grade up a bit.”

Snape’s eyes widened ever so slightly from shock. He looked deeply into Harry’s bright green eyes, framed with his thin silver glasses, like he was judging his sincerity. He stared silently for some time until Harry fidgeted uncomfortably, smoothing down his hair. It was an old nervous habit of his from when Uncle Vernon used to glare at him and yell how he was a disgrace, looking so scruffy all the time, and he’d give him the back of his hand if he didn’t tidy himself up right now. Thank goodness his hair behaved these days.

Snape blinked and looked away. He stalked off into the classroom, and called for students to stop dilly-dallying and get to their desks. He didn’t talk to Harry for the rest of the class. He wouldn’t even look him in the eye.

Chapter Text

November, 1991

Harry was meeting up with Pansy a couple of times a week to chat, usually either bundled up warmly to meet by the lake, or at the library. Hermione had eventually apologised for not understanding that he wanted to connect with family any way he could; she still didn’t approve of his interest in “backwards pure-blood traditions” but was willing to agree to disagree on the topic, and not give him grief about learning more about them. For at least he’d explained that he didn’t think Muggle-borns were any less worthy witches or wizards because of their background.

Pansy seemed to view their meet-ups less as socialising, and more as opportunities to teach him how to be a “proper” wizard. She was currently instructing him in how to bow - in a variety of styles to express meaning (like in appreciation, greeting, or acknowledgement of a favour). She also told him he needed to find out if he was the Head of the Potter family, or just an Heir. Wizards came of age at seventeen, and he might not count as the family Head before that age.

“See if you can access the Potter family vault or not.”

She also nagged him that he needed to find out if there were any house-elves at his family manor that he needed to ensure were still properly bonded, “…lest they wither and die.”

Harry doubted that he had a manor, but Pansy sniffed at his opinion dismissively.

“Of course the Potters had a manor. Every pure-blood of quality owns property. Even the Weasleys have a hovel and some land, for Merlin’s sake.”

Daphne leapt in quickly and loudly with chatter about what house-elves were, and how they drew on the ambient magic of their home and its family to survive and flourish. Hogwarts, due to the large number of students and its location, could support numerous house-elves.

“I thought Filch did all the cleaning?”

“You thought a single Squib cleaned the entire castle, did the laundry, mopped the floors, and made the beds? Not to mention the cooking? No, he must only be here out of someone’s foolish sense of pity or a family obligation. The house-elves do all the real work at night.”

***

Classes were going well. Perhaps a little too well. Professor Flitwick had been pushing him to do better in class ever since he’d heard about Harry’s Incendio against the troll. Harry was currently keeping his grade in Charms to an A, but it was a struggle. Flitwick was watching him more closely, and it was harder to pretend not to understand what the wand motions should look like when your teacher was right there correcting you. He’d never had such an attentive teacher before! He’d improved his performance in class and dropped the quality of his essays to compensate. Hermione offered to read over his essays but he refused politely.

His current private research project was spells that could alter or erase memories, or block magic, and how to defend against them. He hadn’t forgotten the threats against his family. He couldn’t find anything on blocking magic altogether, but he found a Memory Charm in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 2 by Miranda Goshawk. It was first developed by Mnemone Radford over 300 years ago, so was very commonly known. That second year students should be able to cast such a charm was terrifying. And the defence against it was difficult – the Shield Spell was regarded as suitably challenging for OWL students and was found in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5. Harry starting practicing it at once, but he barely got a glimmer of light on his first few tries. It was clearly going to take a lot of practice.

Things had been odd in Potions class ever since Harry had quit the Quidditch team. Or maybe it was because Harry had been careful to show he could be the one to stir the cauldron and make the ingredients transmute successfully into an adequate (though not outstanding) potion. Snape wasn’t taking so many points from him, and once he even stopped by Harry’s bench with what passed for a helpful suggestion.

“Are you truly too much of an imbecile to know the difference between shredding and slicing?”

Harry hesitated, and said, “Sorry, Professor Snape, I forgot.” He pushed the deliberately shredded roots aside and started carefully and efficiently slicing some new ones. Snape swept away wordlessly. He and Ron got a rare “Acceptable” for their potion that day.

Professor McGonagall had been unable to talk Harry out of quitting Quidditch, especially once he was assured by his shocked teacher that she saw his presence on the Gryffindor team as a privilege, not a punishment. However, she only relented in her attempts to persuade him to rejoin when he offered to have Aunt Petunia write a letter banning him from playing ever again, if she needed an assurance of his final decision in writing. She hastily backed down and extracted from him a hollow promise to think it over, and consider playing again next year once he was more settled into classes.

So there was no impediment to Neville alternating between studying Potions with both Harry and Hermione, twice each a week. Hermione offered to tutor Harry and Ron too, but they both turned her down, to her disappointment.

“I don’t understand, Harry. I know you like reading about Potions, and you study so hard! How can you not manage to get better grades?”

Harry rambled a bit about wanting to achieve things on his own. Ron just said Potions were boring and he got enough of that in class, thank you very much.

***

In the first week of December Harry got a letter. He was used to the flocks of owls swooping around at breakfast time, but none of them ever landed next to him. The only mail delivery he’d gotten so far was the dress robes he’d ordered from Madam Malkin’s (they’d shrunk them for delivery – very handy). But one morning one of the ordinary looking brown owls landed on the back of his chair and stuck out a leg holding a letter. It hooted at him.

“Looks like you’ve got a letter, mate!” said Ron. “Who’s it from?”

“I’ve no idea. Who would be writing to me?” he turned around to look at the owl. “Are you sure this letter is for me?” It pecked him crossly on the head. “Ow!”

“You hurt its feelings!” laughed Ron. “Post owls are very smart. It’s offended that you thought it doesn’t know how to deliver a letter. Better take the letter post-haste and give it a bit of bacon.”

It was an ordinary looking paper envelope, addressed to him at “Hogwarts”, care of a post office box in London. How curious. He turned it over to see the sender – it was from Petunia! He ripped it open, wondering what could be so urgent as to prompt her to write to him. His jaw dropped open as he read.

“What is it?” asked Hermione concernedly. “Is it bad news?”

“No,” said a very startled Harry. “It’s from my Aunt Petunia. She wants me to come home for Christmas.”

“Oh, is that all?” replied Hermione. She exchanged a look with Ron, who just shrugged. He didn’t get why that was startling news either. Maybe Harry was leaving something out.

Neville gave Harry a sympathetic glance though. “I hope they’re not… upset about anything? Did they hear about the troll?”

“I don’t think they did. I’m sure Aunt Petunia would’ve mentioned it if they had. Apparently Dudley, that’s my cousin, he’s coming home from boarding school for Christmas and he wanted me to come home for the holidays too. Fancy Dudley missing me!”

“That’s it?” asked Ron, still sure there was some kind of mystery to it all.

“That’s it. The rest is just some details about when they’ll pick me up from Kings Cross Station, and a reminder to leave all my ‘magic stuff’ at school.”

“I guess they’re worried you’ll do magic out of school? That’s not allowed you know. You can take your wand but you can’t use it,” explained Hermione unnecessarily. Harry already knew that, but he appreciated that she was trying to help.

“It’ll be fine,” he said to Neville, who nodded at him. “Do you know how the letter got from London to Hogwarts?”

“No, it doesn’t say in-” started Hermione.

“-Hogwarts, A History,” finished Ron. Hermione glared at him. He grinned at her around a mouthful of bacon.

“Well, a school owl delivered it,” said Neville, looking over the envelope while Hermione bickered with Ron about his appalling eating habits and rude behaviour, and her bookishness. “This is more conjecture than certain knowledge, but I believe that the Ministry collects the Muggle mail in London and relays it onwards to the Hogsmeade Post Office, though I’m not sure by what exact means. The school owls would collect it from there. You can borrow one, you know, if you want to send a response. They’re in the owlery at the top of the West Tower. Take the fourth-floor corridor. You might have to gift it a few knuts or up to a sickle to cover postage for a long distance owl from Hogsmeade within England. If your family resides outside of Scotland that is. School owls cover the immediate environs.”

“How do you know so much about it?”

“Well, my Gran expects a letter every week you know. I don’t have my own owl, just Trevor, so I am obliged to make use of the school owls. It’s three knuts a letter to reach our manor. Just put the money in a little pouch for the owl to carry.”

Professor McGonagall came round the dorms a week later to make a list of who would be staying for the holidays, and Ron signed up at once; Mr and Mrs Weasley were going to Romania to visit his brother Charlie.

“Shall I put you down too, Harry?” she asked, when he didn’t speak up.

“No Professor, I’m going to visit my family over Y…Christmas. I would appreciate some advice on how to catch the train back to Kings Cross Station, though. The Dursleys wrote that they’re expecting me there at the end of term.”

“Oh, I was told… well, never mind. He must’ve been mistaken. I hope you have a very merry Christmas, Mr. Potter. I’ll ensure you’re added to the list of students travelling by train from Hogsmeade on the Saturday – don’t worry we’ll make sure you don’t miss it.”

The Christmas decorations went up a week later. There was holly and mistletoe everywhere, and a full dozen Christmas trees decorated with icicles, candles, and magical golden baubles. Ron got into yet another fight with Malfoy, and lost them some more points. Draco just ignored Harry, so Harry ignored Draco in turn.

Pansy’s latest topic to teach Harry about was Yule, naturally. She told him the legend of the wizard Loki, who slew his enemy through guile with a dart made of mistletoe, a magically grown plant he’d nurtured that could overcome his enemy’s invulnerability. And how the earliest wizards native to England, the druids, only ever harvested the mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it in their white robes as it fell from the tree it grew upon, never touching the earth. She talked of Yule logs, boar hunts, and the winter solstice. She spoke with great enthusiasm about the Saturnalia, masked balls, and the birth of the sun - the Ancient Roman solstice festival Sol Invictus that the wizards kept for centuries, even as the Christians appropriated the solstice date for their god in the Muggle world.

The Great Circles of stones told the Druids and the Ancient wizards when the solstice was due, and everyone would celebrate with dancing and songs and magic - dancing and drumming their power into the Circles to aid the yearly renewal of magic. She spoke dreamily of the many fey races and forest-elves who used to join their celebrations in ages past – now they only found tiny fairies. Yet Hogwarts wouldn’t even let fairies come and dance on their trees in the hall. Some of the traditions were too hard to stamp out though, like the candles, and the holy greenery.

Harry found it all too much to take in. Millicent and Daphne usually got bored and wandered off to do something more interesting than listening to Pansy’s lectures (if they even showed up), but Tracey often hung around to listen. She usually didn’t volunteer much information or commentary herself – she just listened.

Harry knew he’d never remember it all, and he had so many questions he didn’t even know where to start. He wanted to write down some notes, but Pansy told him not to. The Old Ways weren’t very appreciated at Hogwarts, and being too much of a traditionalist could get you in trouble. “You might think it’s all wizarding culture here, Harry. But for centuries the focus at Hogwarts has been to pander to the sensibilities of Christians. Too many witch hunts, too many witch burnings. And in the past few hundred or so years there have been too many panicked parents pulling their children out of Hogwarts, convinced we’re all evil witches who will get their children sent straight to hell with all our pagan rubbish. And then if they do that you have new enemies out there in the Muggle world, and untrained witches or wizards breaking the Statute of Secrecy all over the place.”

“So what would you say is the most important aspect of Yule, for a beginner who wants to be a respectful, normal wizard who won’t offend anyone?” asked Harry, wanting to avoid all the controversy.

“It’s impossible to never offend anyone. You know what they say, ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’,” said Tracey pragmatically.

“I’d say the most important thing to do, if you can, would be to visit a Circle or a menhir and offer up some of your magic,” said Pansy after a bit of thought. “But they’re hard to access these days, and it would definitely offend the Light wizards. That is, the more modern ones who don’t believe in personal sacrifice.”

“The Circles are the great big circles of standing stones, right?” Pansy nodded. “Does your magic come back? Or is it like you’re weaker forever?” Harry asked worriedly.

“Oh, it comes back. It’s just like casting spells. That draws on your magic too. It doesn’t hurt you. It’s just good for Magic.”

“So what wouldn’t offend modern wizards, that’s still traditional?”

Pansy shook her head resignedly, her short brown hair bouncing around, and shrugged. “Decorating with mistletoe? Eating ham as part of your feast?”

Tracey suggested fairies.

“Yes! Fairies on your tree,” agreed Pansy. “It’s a lean, cold time for them at midwinter. Invite some inside to your tree… oh. You’ll be with Muggles. Never mind. Stick to mistletoe.”

Harry talked it over with Neville, later. Neville worried over the talk of “Light wizards” and sacrifice.

“It sounds a bit like she’s in favour of the Dark Arts, Harry, you have to be careful. Really careful. I am not inclined to enmity against Slytherins purely on the basis of house as Ron is. However, it must be said that it holds a lot of children whose parents were on the wrong side of the war. So please do take care.”

Harry promised he would be careful, and that he would talk to Neville or someone else trustworthy about anything that bothered him as being too Dark.

Neville agreed that there was nothing wrong with decorating a tree with fairies – his Gran did it every year. Neville and Harry went to the edge of the forest to dig up a tiny fir sapling to put in a pot in their dorm, and they asked Percy to buy them a box of fairies from Hogsmeade to decorate with. It seemed a bit cruel to Harry, but Neville promised that they were kept in some kind of enchanted sleep while in the box that was broken when you opened the lid. It was a strange, delightful festive sight to see tiny little winged people giggling in the corner of the dorm on the branches of their tiny tree. They invited Hermione up to see it too – apparently girls could visit the boys’ dorm, just not vice versa. Neville also reminded him privately to get presents for his friends. So a panicked Harry asked the long-suffering Percy to also pick him up a bunch of boxes of whatever chocolates wizards liked to eat, for which he paid in advance of course. They put their gifts under their tree for people to collect when they were heading home (or to wait for Christmas, in Ron’s case). Harry also got presents (more chocolates) for Pansy, Millicent, Daphne and Tracey. The girls were delighted, and gave him little gifts to pack to take home a couple of days later. Harry was thrilled. Friends were giving him presents!

***

Dumbledore sent him an odd note one morning by owl, inviting him to visit in his office for tea. There was a sweet mentioned at the end of the note - eventually after asking around he found out where to go, and that the word must be a password to get by the gargoyle.

Having tea with the Headmaster felt rather awkward. He accepted some tea and some lemon drops (they didn’t go together well), and assured Dumbledore that he was settling in nicely. Dumbledore then spent some time talking about all the delightful activities they’d be doing at Hogwarts at Christmas, and chuckled at how much freedom the young folks had. He had a few stories of past students’ hijinks and madcap adventures they got up to in a more deserted than usual castle. There was one about his father and his friends making an animated snowman chase people around the grounds that had Harry riveted. Eventually though as the conversation wore on Harry realised that Dumbledore was hoping that he might change his mind and stay at Hogwarts over the Christmas break.

“Well that does sound nice, sir, but it’s quite a settled thing. I’ll have to miss out on all of that because I’ll be at home with the Dursleys.”

Dumbledore’s twinkle dimmed a little, but he smiled at Harry. “Well, I’m glad to hear you are looking forward to going home. I hope Hogwarts will come to be a second home to you too, one day.”

Harry nodded politely.

“I was going to give this to you at Christmas, Harry, but as you’re going to go back to the Dursleys’ I think perhaps it would be best to give this to you early.” Dumbledore passed over a parcel wrapped in colourful red paper decorated with animated roaring gold griffins.

“Do you give all the students a Christmas gift, sir?” asked Harry, trying to keep the suspicion out of his voice.

“Ah, well this is a special case. I have here something that belonged to your father. He left it in my possession before he died. I thought it was time it was returned to you. I hope you use it well.”

Harry unwrapped the gift carefully to reveal a pile of gleaming folds of cloth.

“It’s a cloak - try it on, my boy!” smiled Dumbledore.

Harry stroked the silvery-grey shimmering fabric softly. His father wore this. He would treasure it always. He pulled it out to look at it, then folded it back up carefully and went to pack it away in his bag.

“I think I’d rather keep it safe, if that’s alright with you. I wouldn’t want to rip it by accident. I know how fragile old fabric can be – it tears easily.”

“I have a reason for my request, just put it on for a moment, then look down. Trust me.”

Harry complied obediently. He looked down at his legs, which weren’t there anymore. He shrieked in alarm. Dumbledore laughed.

“Don’t panic, Harry! It’s an invisibility cloak – it’s supposed to do that!”

Harry calmed down after some deep breathing and another lemon drop. And some mental ranting about crazy old wizards, that he didn’t share aloud. Dumbledore advised him to have some fun with the cloak, but to remember to avoid the forbidden corridor.

“The treasure hidden down there is not your concern, so best not to worry about it. It’s safely guarded with many layers of protection.”

So there was a treasure hidden and guarded beneath the trapdoor. That was interesting. A deadly treasure? Or deadly layers of protection? Harry hoped there was child-proofing of some sort on it all. The single locked door stopping you from being eaten by a cerberus didn’t inspire his confidence, though.

Harry tried the cloak on again and glanced in a mirror Dumbledore conjured, pulling the hood down so he could see his face. It really was a very cool cloak, now he thought about it. It would be very useful to do some exploring in.

Dumbledore smiled genially and wished him a Merry Christmas, and showed him out of the office.

Chapter Text

December, 1991

Harry showed his cloak to Neville and Hermione first. Neville shared that he had his dad’s wand, and it was very precious to him. Hermione was fascinated by how it worked, and resolved to look up invisibility cloaks in the library.

Ron was awed. “They’re really rare, and really valuable.”

When he showed it to a few of the Slytherins later (Millicent was busy elsewhere), Pansy was very impressed by the invisibility cloak too, and immediately asked if she could borrow it.

“It’s the only thing of my parents’ that I own,” he said, stroking the fabric possessively. “So I’m afraid I can’t lend it out. Not even to friends.”

“That’s a shame,” sighed Pansy enviously. “I could have a lot of fun with an invisibility cloak. But what do you mean it’s the only family possession that you own? You must have a multitude of things in your vault, surely.”

“No, just money.”

Pansy and Daphne stared at him. Tracey looked between them all, looking a little puzzled.

“But your family vault - it should have your parents’ things. You must have something. And if you don’t have access to your family treasures, well your personal vault should have a few non-valuables. Old dress robes, a wardrobe, your parents’ school books. Their wands, for Merlin’s sake. It’s not right that the only heirloom you have is a cloak that a greedy old man held back from your parents’ estate distribution.”

Daphne hissed softly at Pansy, “The walls have ears, Pans.” She glanced at a nearby painting, with a shepherdess in it wandering around tending a flock of fluffy sheep on a pastoral hillside. The Slytherins all spoke more quietly after that, and Harry copied them.

“It’s settled, you simply must visit Gringotts over the holiday. I’ll owl my father and see if he’ll help you – he’s really good with them. If you go on your own those nasty goblins will fleece you like you’re a naïve little lamb. They can’t be trusted.”

“Isn’t that unfair? I know Binns goes on about them a lot, but you can’t be prejudiced against a whole magical race just because there’s been battles in the past. And there’s two sides to every story you know.”

“Are you jesting with me? You can’t just assume other races think and act like wizards do. They are greedy and vicious – it’s just how they are and it has been since time immemorial. Ask your friend Hermione if she gets the ‘Muggle-born special rate’; you’ll soon see how trustworthy they are. They’re sneaky little creatures.”

Pansy taught him how to catch the Knight Bus to Diagon Alley, and arranged to meet him outside Gringotts a couple of days after Yule.

“And what will this assistance cost me?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“He’s learning,” said Tracey with a wry grin.

“This is just building good will so we can hopefully call for unspecified future assistance,” explained Pansy. “If my family helps you establish yourself in society and get your finances in order, that’s major assistance but not something easy to pay back right away. And anyway, you’re family too. I’m sure you’ll speak well of us when the situation allows now, won’t you?”

“Well sure, I do that already – there’s been a few complaints from various Gryffindors. But now Ron, for example, hardly ever complains about Slytherins anymore. Except Malfoy of course.”

“I wish you two would make up. Oh! And you can buy me some ice-cream,” said Pansy. “Or treat the family to lunch. That would be courteous.”

“He’s too young to have meal-hosting obligations,” disagreed Daphne.

“Is not! He’s an Heir or a Head of House, which means he can and should host social events.”

They bickered about it even after Harry said he’d treat her whole family to ice-cream sundaes as the best compromise he could think of.

Tracey seized the opportunity to speak quietly to him while the other two were distracted. “Hey Harry, I just wanted to ask – did Dumbledore say why he had your father’s cloak?”

“He said my father lent it to him before he died.”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” she said, sounding very serious. “You told us that. I meant, what reason did he give for why he had it, when it would have been so much more useful to your parents for hiding themselves, or you, from You-Know-Who? If it was my family running from him, they’d have to pry that cloak from my cold dead hands. I wouldn’t lend it to anyone.”

Harry thought about that for a moment, and nodded seriously at her. “Thank you.”

She nodded back. He’d gotten her message - there was something fishy going on there. He didn’t know what, but he’d remember – the Headmaster was not to be trusted.

***

In the last week before school broke for the holidays Harry tried on the cloak again late one evening, admiring himself in the bathroom mirror. It did seem like a handy thing to go exploring in – no one would know he was breaking curfew. Excitement flooded through him as he stood there in the dark and silence. He could go anywhere in this, anywhere, and Filch would never know. He thought about waking Neville, but something held him back – his father’s cloak – he felt that this time – the first time – he wanted to use it alone.

He slipped out of the dorm, and roamed around the castle in any direction that took his fancy. He explored a number of vacant rooms, finding them more interesting than he thought. There were a few boring classrooms with desks and blackboards, but also one that looked like a ballroom, another with music stands in a closet, and an odd windowless room with pock marked craters in the solid stone floor, and jagged lines gouged in the blackened stone walls. And one disused classroom had a huge, magnificent mirror propped against one wall looking very out of place. When he spotted the inscription on the top of its ornate gold frame, he stopped approaching, and copied it down in a notebook to puzzle out. It didn’t seem like Latin, though he thought it might be Welsh. After a little thought and attempts at code breaking he smacked himself on the head. It was backwards. “I show not your face but your heart’s desire.” That didn’t sound too bad.

He stepped forward and looked in the mirror. Instead of just himself, there was a whole crowd of people. He spun around, but no one was there. In the mirror though, he saw his parents standing to one side of him, and they looked just like they looked in the textbooks. His mother smiled proudly at him as she put her hand on his shoulder, and his father gave him a thumbs up and a cheeky grin. On the other side stood Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and Dudley. She was holding one of those special triple layer chocolate cakes they got for Dudley whenever he did well in school, except this one had “Harry” written on it in icing. She and Uncle Vernon was smiling at him lovingly, and Dudley grinned and waved, holding out a second controller for the Nintendo, like he wanted them to play together. Behind them stood a whole bunch of other people, most in ordinary clothes and a few in wizarding robes or old fashioned dresses. Pansy was there too, laughing happily and holding hands with an older couple who must be her parents. They were next to an older wizard and witch he thought might be his father’s parents.

Family. And friends. He’d thought he might see himself as a world renowned surgeon, but it was true – his heart’s desire was a family who loved him unreservedly. And he really wished he had his parents back. Harry gazed longingly into the mirror. That silly hat didn’t know his heart like the mirror did – this was a Hufflepuff ambition, surely.

He sat on the ground and watched the mirror for maybe an hour. The image shifted and changed as he watched, and reflected on what he wanted most. At one point Neville and Hermione wandered into the group scene arm in arm to greet a smiling Pansy, and waved at him happily. It startled him out of his trance as he realised they might like to see the mirror too, and he headed back to the dorm.

The next night he brought them along, and Ron too. Hermione wouldn’t say what she saw, but she seemed thrilled by it, if a little embarrassed. Neville whispered with a twisted smile that he saw his parents.

“Me too,” said Harry, bumping his shoulder against Neville’s in a rough attempt at comfort.

Ron saw himself as Head Boy and Quidditch captain, winning the House and Quidditch cup.

“Do you think this mirror shows the future?” he asked optimistically.

“No, it shows your heart’s desire. There’s no way my parents are coming back from the dead, Ron.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said, disappointed, gazing into the mirror once more.

Ron tried to talk him out of going again the next night, saying it was dangerous and he had a bad feeling about it, but Harry ignored him.

Harry went alone, and sat down in front of the mirror to sketch some of the people he saw in the mirror. Magic was an incredible thing. What if it knew somehow what all his relatives had looked like?

“So – back again, Harry?”

Harry startled at the unexpected voice of Dumbledore coming from behind him. They chatted about the delights of the Mirror of Erised. Harry of course already knew what it did. But he was a disturbed to hear that Dumbledore already knew what he and Ron had seen in the mirror. Dumbledore snuck around invisibly spying on people?! Dumbledore warned him that the mirror was dangerous, and could entrance people or drive them mad.

“Then what is it doing just sitting in an unlocked classroom, sir?”

“The Mirror will be moved to a new, safer home tomorrow Harry, and I ask you not to go looking for it again. And by the way I hope you’re staying away from the forbidden corridor in your explorations, hmmm?”

“Yes, sir,” assured Harry, thinking about the time they ran into the cerberus.

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled merrily. “Good, good.”

“Might I ask a question, about the corridor?”

Dumbledore nodded happily.

“Why would a treasure be safest here in a school?”

“I’m sorry but I can’t answer that, my boy. Now Harry, what’s in there and why it is there is strictly between myself and Nicolas Flamel, and is nothing you need to concern yourself with. Just concentrate on having fun doing whatever it is young children do these days, and working hard at your studies.”

“Yes, sir. Another question instead then?”

“By all means.”

“What do you see in the mirror?”

Socks. Hmph. Wizards were crazy, and Dumbledore was clearly one of the craziest. Seeing himself with new socks in the mirror, indeed. It was more likely he was lying. It wasn’t very fair, when he got to know what Harry saw. He wondered who Flamel was, as he went back to bed, but concluded it was none of his business, really. Best just to avoid the whole mess of Dumbledore’s schemes.

***

The day before he was due to leave on the Hogwarts Express for the Christmas holidays, Pansy dragged Draco Malfoy over to talk to him. He looked reluctant about it.

“Potter,” he said, stiffly.

“Malfoy,” responded Harry, giving a small nod of his head with a slight incline, as Pansy had taught him was appropriate for greeting those of equal rank, or for general civility.

“I hope you have a pleasant Yuletide celebration,” said Draco.

“You also,” responded Harry. “My best wishes to your family.”

Draco looked awkward as he stood there silently. Harry realised Draco might not know what to say in response, given his own parents were dead, and he lived with Muggles.

“I understand your manor is quite lovely,” he volunteered. “You’re going home for Yule?” He wasn’t actually sure if the Malfoys even had a manor, let alone what it was like. But Pansy had said all the “best” families had manors, so it was a fair guess. Malfoy was pretty snooty and seemed like the type.

“Yes, thank you. The grounds in particular are lovely - mother’s very proud of them. We’ll be celebrating Yule at home, naturally. We usually have roast peacock for supper,” Draco said, seizing on the topic with relief. Pansy smiled at them both.

“Oh! I’ve never had peacock,” said Harry. “Is it any good?”

“It’s a darker meat than chicken – it tastes quite similar to pheasant,” said Draco, “so it’s not bad at all. And what will you be dining on for your Yule feast?”

“I’ll probably be cooking a turkey,” said Harry. “With all the trimmings, naturally.”

You’ll be cooking it?”

“Well, we don’t have house-elves in a Muggle home, you know.”

“Oh, of course,” Draco said, looking rather uncomfortable.

They exchanged a couple of other polite inanities and avoided talking about Harry’s friends and family altogether. Neither of them apologised for anything that happened on the train (or in clashes with Ron that Harry had been dragged into). Pansy led Draco off, giving Harry a covert smile and tiny bob of a curtsey in thanks when Draco wasn’t looking. He was glad he’d made her happy – it hadn’t been too painful a conversation.

Chapter Text

December, 1991

The Dursleys collected Harry from Kings Cross Station right on time, glaring suspiciously at other families receiving any odd looking students, who came onto the platform almost out of nowhere. Harry waved goodbye to Hermione as she joined her parents.

“I imagine they’re that type of people,” said Uncle Vernon disparagingly.

“No, just Hermione. Her parents are both dentists – quite ordinary,” reassured Harry. “She’s a good friend.”

“Must’ve been a shock for them,” said Uncle Vernon.

“I don’t know. I guess so.”

Dudley seemed pleased to see him. “Hi Harry.”

“Dudley. How’ve you been? How’s Smeltings?”

“I’m fine. It’s alright, I guess. I don’t like some of the teachers.”

“Yeah, I have a couple of rubbish teachers too,” sympathised Harry. “One of them took points off my House in my second week for me ‘breathing too loudly’. Can you believe it?”

They swapped stories on the long drive home, mostly Harry listening to Dudley complain about unfair grading and too much homework. He had to be careful to leave out all references to magic in his own stories, which made it difficult to tell his own tales. They were both surprised to hear about the level of supervision their respective schools had (which Harry thought would be a safe Dursley-approved topic of conversation). Smeltings had house masters and mistresses, tutors, house meetings, supervised outings, and a wide range of organised extra-curricular activities. Whereas Hogwarts only had a Head of House who didn’t even take roll in the mornings or check people were in bed by curfew, no house meetings, no clubs except for Gobstones, and only one sport that a limited number of people could join in. Harry was of two minds about the prefects - most didn’t seem to do anything much except take points occasionally for misbehaviour, but Percy was always happy to chat about classes and offer assistance if you approached him for help. Dudley said some of Smeltings’ prefects helped with homework but weren’t very good at it. They were better at stuff like organising parties in the common room and playing games, and there was a movie night next term that he was looking forward to. Uncle Vernon was happy to hear how much better Smeltings sounded, and Harry was happy that Uncle Vernon was happy (but he was a bit jealous of Dudley). Dudley was jealous in turn of the sound of Hogwarts’ all-you-can-eat feasts – Smeltings had too much “rabbit food” for his tastes.

When they got home, Dudley helped Harry take his trunk upstairs (though Harry was the one who had to go up the stairs backwards, and take most of the weight). Once they reached the privacy of Harry’s room, he got straight down to business.

“Look Harry, I need you to do study notes for me again. The tutors in my House help a bit, but they don’t do things properly, like you or Mum did. They’re totally rubbish at helping me with my homework, and won’t write up study notes at all! So I guess maybe you can’t do homework like you used to, but you really have to do those notes for me again.”

“What? But I’m not even at your school – I don’t know what you’re studying. I couldn’t do it.”

“Sure you can - don’t lie to me. I doubt Maths is that different from one school to another. Just do, you know, general Maths notes. And English. And they’re making me learn French now. I hate French. Maybe some Geography and History too. The rest I can manage with on my own, if I have to,” he said, with the air of one conferring a great favour.

“But Dudley, Hogwarts doesn’t teach any of that, I swear. I can’t do it. I won’t.”

That started a furious but relatively quiet argument (neither of them wanted Dudley’s parents to come upstairs), including a punch to the gut and some threats of more bodily harm to Harry if he wouldn’t recant his claims. Harry eventually decided there was only one way to convince Dudley he was telling the truth.

“Okay, look. I’ll open up my trunk, and you can look through all my school books and stuff. But you have to swear not to tell your parents. You know they hate the m-word.”

Dudley looked puzzled.

“Magic.”

“Oh, right.”

Harry piled all his books and notes on his bed for Dudley to look through. Dudley picked over Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with fascination. “There’s some crazy animals in this one! Cool! Dragons are real?!”

“Yup, though I haven’t seen one yet. I saw a cerberus though. It’s a giant dog with three heads. It could bite both your arms off with one nip. I saw a troll too.”

“Wicked! Hey, the pictures are moving!”

Dudley flipped through the other Hogwarts textbooks and Harry’s folders of notes more quickly, and with less interest. He found a couple of Harry’s Stonewall textbooks eventually in the pile. Harry had packed them to read up on subjects he especially liked, in case Hogwarts really didn’t cover them (which turned out to be sadly true).

“I found the texts, but where’s the notes for Maths and Science and stuff?” Dudley concluded grouchily at the end of his rummaging. “There’s way too many notes about weird magic potions, but where’s your stupid colour coded notes for normal subjects? You love Maths, like the scrawny little swot of a nerd you are.” He looked around the room, and spotted some labelled folders and a few textbooks on the bookshelf. “Hey, did you put them away already? How did you do that?”

“You’ve been watching me the whole time since I arrived, Dudley. I didn’t. Those are my notes I started making for Stonewall back in August, in case I got to go somehow. I didn’t bother taking them to Hogwarts, just a couple of the textbooks. The notes and rest of the textbooks, like for Spanish, have been here the whole time. Hogwarts doesn’t teach normal subjects.”

Dudley told Harry not to move, and went and fetched his Smeltings textbooks to see if any matched Harry’s books. A couple of them did, but not all of them. Smeltings didn’t teach Spanish (they did French instead), and the Science, History and English textbooks were different. Their Maths and Geography texts were the same.

“Well, that’s two you can get started with,” said a smugly satisfied Dudley. “Now how are you going to get you set up to do the rest, and send me notes?”

“Who says I have to do any of them?” taunted Harry.

“My fist says you have to,” said Dudley, holding his clenched fist in front of Harry’s face.

“Maybe,” said Harry slyly, “but I’ll be gone in two weeks, and you won’t be able to touch me then, will you? I couldn’t get much done in two weeks even if I wanted to. No, you’re going to have to make a deal with me. A favour for a favour.”

Dudley didn’t like the sound of that. But after some more arguing, and a recess for retrieving some chocolate cake from downstairs (and a pear for Harry), they reached an agreement.

“So, you have to convince your mum that I don’t have to do laundry or ironing or dusting any more, whenever I’m here. None of that. Just cooking and gardening. A bit of vacuuming if I absolutely have to. Tell her whatever you want. Tell her you don’t want a girly cousin who does girl jobs, or that you’re worried I’ll hex your clothes,” said Harry. “Or better yet - say you want me to come out with you and muck about so there’s no time for it. I’ll get out of your hair and go to the library as soon as we’re out of sight.”

“And then you’ll send study notes for me for the terms until the start of the next holiday you’re home,” concluded Dudley. “By an owl. Which is so dumb.”

“Look, I’ll try and find out how wizards get mail to people through the normal postal system. I’ll ask Neville or maybe Pansy.”

“Pansy!” snickered Dudley.

“It’s a girl’s name! It’s like Petunia, you cretin!”

Some tussling later and demands to take it back, Dudley was out of breath and tired of putting Harry back in his place, and Harry was called downstairs to help Aunt Petunia cook dinner.

Dudley started putting his side of the deal into action the very next day, insisting to his parents’ initial bewilderment that he wanted Harry to come out with him and his friends instead of doing laundry all morning, and that his mum did his laundry better anyhow. Harry nodded at him in acknowledgement, which Dudley ignored with a puzzled look. That evening Harry got started on making a list of Dudley’s most important textbooks to obtain copies of. He also began studying his maths textbook next morning at the library after peeling off from Dudley as soon as they were around the corner from the house.

***

Harry’s presents he opened at dawn were the most interesting he received that Christmas. He unpacked from their hiding spots wrapped inside his robes in his trunk the gifts from friends at Hogwarts. Neville had bought him a book about medical potions, and Hermione gave him a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. He rather thought Hermione would’ve been more likely to give him the book, not the teeth-rotting sweets. Sometimes people surprised you.

From his cousin Pansy he got a vial of invisible ink and notes on the Revealing Charm (Aparecium) that let you read what you’d written once the ink dried and faded. Useful! Tracey got him a box of chocolate frogs – pity he was allergic. From Millicent there was a very soft green woollen scarf, and Daphne had bought him a new quill.

A couple of owls had arrived with more gifts, and were waiting on his windowsill when he woke. There was a large lumpy package from “the Weasley family”, which held a thick, hand-knitted sweater in emerald green and a large box of home-made fudge. From Hagrid (of all people!) wrapped in layers of thick brown paper there was a roughly-carved wooden flute. Harry blew it – it sounded a bit like an owl. How odd.

The last owl-delivered present was the smallest, a very flat parcel with a note inside and a dark wooden photo frame. The framed photo was a wizarding one, an animated photo of a young teenage girl with dark red hair and green eyes, wearing a plain black robe as she stood in front of the Black Lake at Hogwarts. There must have been a strong breeze blowing when the photo was taken. She would smile for a while, then wind blew her long hair about crazily - plastering it across her face and making her laugh as she pushed it back. She grinned happily at him out of the photo, and gave a little wave. Harry had a wonderful suspicion as to who the girl in the photo was, as he thought he recognised her from the wizarding history textbooks he’d read, and the unsigned note enclosed in the parcel confirmed it.

I have been led to understand that you do not possess any mementos of your mother.
I enclose a photo of her as a young student when she was about your age, which I bequeath to you.
Your mother had an enchanting laugh, excelled at Potions, Charms, and Ancient Runes,
and was fiercely loyal to those she felt worthy of her esteem. She deserves to be remembered.

Harry cried for a while, after reading that. He hugged the photo frame to his chest as he sobbed. He couldn’t do so for long though, as Vernon hammered on his door telling him that it was Christmas, and to stop lazing about and go and help Petunia in the kitchen.

Christmas day was a moderately delightful time with no visit from Aunt Marge that year. Harry got his usual parcel of second hand clothes (plus new underwear) from his aunt and uncle, some shoes that looked too big for him, and a gardening book about tending roses. Dudley had clearly quickly laid the charm on his mother, for there was a gift ostensibly from him - a stack of textbooks. There were textbooks for history, science and French, a French-English dictionary, and an anthology of classical poetry.

“Sweetums said he doesn’t want Harry to miss out just because he’s forced to go to a school that isn’t as good as his. Wasn’t that so thoughtful of him, Vernon?”

“He’s a good lad,” said Uncle Vernon, ruffling Dudley’s hair affectionately. Harry sighed, and thanked Dudley with a smile. At least he wouldn’t have to buy them himself. He might have to buy a long-distance owl though, if he was going to be sending stuff back and forth from Scotland to the South-East of England.

Though really… hah! Harry won twice over – free textbooks and study opportunities and less chores. He became even more happy with the situation the more he thought about it.

Chapter Text

December, 1991

A couple of days after Christmas he caught the Knight Bus to Diagon Alley (he thought it was horrible). His aunt and uncle thought he was out with Dudley, of course. He took a backpack with him and changed into his wizarding vest, cloak and hat on the bus. He rendezvoused with the Parkinsons at the Leaky Cauldron. Her parents were dressed in traditional wizarding robes and had the same short brown hair that Pansy did, and her mother had the same upturned nose. It looked nicer on Pansy, he thought. Pansy introduced him to her parents, Perseus and Megaera Parkinson, and her father did a short bow and extended his hand to shake, which Harry did. Her mother offered her hand and Harry politely kissed the back of it. Pansy beamed with approval, proud of her protégé.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter. Well young cousin, shall we venture in the direction of Gringotts?” asked her father. “I understand you have some matters of business to attend to. I would be happy to assist you in your negotiations.”

The wait for a spot at the counter wasn’t half so long as the last time Harry had been to Gringotts, and there seemed to be less guards bristling at anyone who looked in their direction. When they reached a teller, Mr. Parkinson asked to meet with the Potter account manager.

“And who is that?” asked the teller.

“We are unaware of his identity.”

“Then we can’t help you. If you don’t have any other business, then come back when you know,” grumbled the teller.

“Are the goblins of Gringotts so incompetent now that they cannot keep track of the accounts they manage then? How sad for your clan.”

The teller’s pointed ears twitched as he snarled and stomped away. Pansy smirked.

Harry looked worried. “I think you offended him.”

“I believe you will find that was my intent, Mr. Potter,” said Mr. Parkinson, calm and unconcerned.

Eventually the teller returned with another goblin wearing a tiny suit with a vest, who led Harry and Mr. Parkinson to a private room off the main hall. Mrs. Parkinson and Pansy peeled away from the group to wait on some comfortable sofas in the hall.

“My name is Griphook, I’m the Potter account manager. What business do you have at Gringotts today?” he said, climbing up to sit on a stool behind a desk. Mr. Parkinson gestured for Harry to sit next to him at the chairs in front of the desk.

“Hello, I’m Harry Potter…”

“Obviously.”

“Uh well, I would like a full statement of my accounts. I was told last time I visited that I should get yearly bank statements. But I haven’t received any.”

Griphook flipped through a heavy, leather-bound ledger. “Your account statements have been sent on schedule, every April. If you have not been receiving them that is not the responsibility of Gringotts.”

“Mail trouble, Mr. Potter?” asked Mr. Parkinson.

“I guess so. It might be some kind of ward, someone said?”

“Definitely something to look into. Well Griphook I think perhaps Mr. Potter should collect his statements personally from Gringotts, for the time being.”

“I suppose that could be arranged. Picked up promptly on the 6th of April.”

“I believe within the first week of the financial year would be more appropriate. That would allow for any illnesses or for arranging leave from school that might cause tardiness.”

“From the 6th to 10th of April then,” countered the goblin.

Mr. Parkinson looked at Harry, and nodded.

“That will be fine,” said Harry. “And I’d like a copy of my most recent statement now, please.”

“There will be a 1 galleon fee for the copy,” said Griphook.

Harry hesitated - he’d thought it was more, last time he asked. Mr. Parkinson nodded at him again.

“Alright.” Harry got a galleon out of his belt pouch and passed it over.

“Including a full listing for all his personal and family vaults, including any properties administered by Gringotts,” said Mr. Parkinson in a warning tone of voice.

“Naturally,” said Griphook, with a bit of a snarl to his voice in return.

Griphook flipped to a couple of pages in the ledger, and pressed a blank piece of parchment on top of them, resting a gem on top. The gem flashed with light briefly, and the blank parchment filled up with a copy of the writing in the ledger. He also went to a shelf and retrieved a couple more books, which he repeated the process with, using new gems each time.

Harry took the copies, and looked through them, with Mr. Parkinson peering curiously over his shoulder.

Vault 687 was listed as “Harold James Potter Trust Vault - Medium security”. The statement contained a starting and ending balance for the past calendar year, which was unchanged except for a 10 knut bank fee deduction. His galleons, sickles and knuts were totalled. It seemed like quite an impressive number to Harry.

“My name is Harold? I thought it was Harry.”

“The vault is listed under both your full name and also under your more casual sobriquet, Mr. Potter. You may announce yourself as you choose to gain access to it.”

I didn’t know my own real name, he thought with wonderment. On the whole, he rather preferred Harry, and decided to stick with the name he was used to.

It seemed he had a second vault, as well. The much longer statement for Vault 704 was for “Potter Family Vault - High security” and listed a total of galleons, sickles and knuts (not many of the latter though) that made his personal vault look quite unimpressive. There were no transactions on the account, yet the ending balance was higher than the starting balance.

“The total went up?” he whispered enquiringly to Mr. Parkinson, pointing at the ending balance.

“Standard investment contract on the Potter vault, yes?” Mr. Parkinson asked Griphook.

“Yes, with shared returns of 70% for the account holder, and 30% for Gringotts, as agreed upon by the late Mr. Charlus Potter.”

“Open for negotiation? Or too scared?” he goaded.

“Ha! I don’t fear your paltry words. No. The vault investment conditions and contents are all sealed and frozen until such time as Mr. Harry Potter comes of age, or his regent makes an application for special early release of the vault contents as needed for essential supplies for the Heir or to aid the war effort.”

“The war effort?” asked Harry curiously.

“It was a specification laid down by Mr. James Potter in case of the event of his early demise. Any current application for funds under that provision would be extremely likely to be unsuccessful.”

“And who is the listed regent for the family vault?” Mr. Parkinson enquired.

Griphook flipped through his ledger to the relevant page. Harry flipped through his own documents, but didn’t spot a regent listed. He got distracted instead by the second page of his family vault statement that started listing quantities of furniture, artwork, jewellery, arms and armour, and “sundries”. He had stuff! Lots of stuff!

“A Mr. Sirius Black.”

“Ah.”

“Who’s that?” said Harry, looking up. “I’ve never met him.”

“I do not believe you can be too harsh in judging him remiss in his duties. He has been imprisoned in Azkaban for many years now,” said Mr. Parkinson softly.

“Oh.” The name sounded a little familiar, and not just the surname. He must’ve read it in either the Pure-Blood Directory or one of his history books. He would look him up later.

Harry finished reading through his statements. He really wanted to go and see his family vault, it sounded like it was full of lots of cool old stuff. The last page listed his properties; there were only two.

“I see Potter Manor is listed as destroyed in a fire, and Potter Cottage in Godric’s Hollow is listed as destroyed too. If they’re both ruined, why are they still listed?” Harry asked.

“Because you retain ownership of the land, Mr. Potter. And some exciting piles of historical rubble of course,” snarked the goblin.

“You enter a battle of words with a child?” said Mr. Parkinson.

“It’s not a personal attack as you would realise if you were less ignorant,” rebutted Griphook, making Mr. Parkinson scowl. “You’ll find the Ministry has declared Potter Cottage a historical landmark, and thus refused permission for Gringotts goblins to enter the site and retrieve property for disbursement according to the terms of the late Mr. and Mrs. Potter’s wills. Nor have any repairs been authorised. I’m afraid you may find the cottage in a rather sorry state, Mr. Potter, but that lies outside the purview of Gringotts.”

“Can I visit my family vault? Or my properties?”

“You are entitled to visit the ruins of Potter Manor at any time you wish, Mr. Potter. The house-elves formerly resident there are deceased, so there is no urgency to the matter. Visiting Potter Cottage is something I understand many wizards do - though if you wish permission to pass the wards and enter inside no doubt you’ll have to arrange that with the Ministry in advance. You are not permitted to access to your family vault until you come of age.”

Harry looked disappointed.

“Yet surely he can view the contents? Perhaps retrieve a small trifle or two as mementos?” said Mr. Parkinson smoothly. “You are capable of managing such a visit, are you not?”

“I am capable of many things, Mr. Parkinson. Especially with an axe in my hand. However, the only things a minor of the family would be permitted to remove from the family vault would be the Heir ring if entitled to it, and any letters or gifts specifically addressed to him. He may not even touch any other items. A visit to the vault to view items only would be acceptable – are you capable of understanding that condition? The fees for breaching it and triggering vault security needlessly would be quite high.”

Harry perked up happily. “I’d like to go there straight away, then. I can have a look around and see if there’s a ring or a letter for me.”

Griphook took him, on his own, deep into the tunnels to Vault 704. The higher level security meant this vault needed Griphook to run his finger down the door to make it melt away so they could enter. It was rather impressive. Inside the vault it looked like a pirate’s treasure cave. There were rugs on the floor, chests full of coins, cloth covered paintings on the walls, a couple of swords on the walls, and a variety of items of antique furniture (though not nearly enough to fill a manor, he thought).

“You may not touch any items, Mr. Potter, and that includes the rugs so be careful where you walk lest you trigger the vault security wards. I will see if I can locate anything addressed to you,” Griphook warned.

Harry carefully shuffled into the middle of the vault, avoiding the rugs. He gazed around in awe at the treasures around him, thinking about what he’d like to take if he was allowed. One of the cool-looking rapiers with the intricate silver lattice basket hilt, for sure. The big ancient looking book on its own stand labelled Potter Familie Grimoire. The red and gold Persian style rug with the tasselled edges – he wondered if it could fly or if it was just a rug. He flipped through his paperwork to find the vault inventory. It was just a rug. He sighed with disappointment. It would still look nice in his room back home. But there were two other rugs listed as “Carpet – enchanted”, so there would surely be some flying carpets in here somewhere.

There was a pearl necklace dangling out of a jewellery box he thought Aunt Petunia would like. But… if he started giving the Dursleys treasures, he wasn’t sure they’d want him to stop doing so until his vault was empty. Except for the magic stuff – they wouldn’t want that. They probably wouldn’t mind having a giant pile of gold. It would probably be best if he kept it to himself for now, just like he had with his other vault. Since they thought he was going to Hogwarts on a scholarship there was no need to disabuse them of that notion.

Eventually Griphook emerged from rummaging around in a desk, and some jewellery boxes.

“I was unable to locate any letters or gifts addressed to you, Mr. Potter. However, I did locate the Heir ring, which you may have now. The Head of House ring I have placed in the middle of the desk,” he gestured at a small satin-covered ring box on the desk, “which you may retrieve when you come of age, or are otherwise authorised by your regent as ready to claim that status.”

“Are there more Potters in the family than me?” asked Harry. “Could someone else be my regent?”

“I’m a banker, Mr. Potter. Not a genealogist. And as to your second question, I very much doubt it. I believe wizards often arrange for such matters to be magically binding.” He handed Harry a faded purple satin-covered ring box.

Harry opened it and inspected the ring inside. It looked like a solid gold signet ring, with a shield shape and smaller inner engravings carved deeply into the top as a sunken design. It was divided horizontally into three rows. The top section of the shield had what looked like two five-petalled flowers on it, the middle row had a repeated pattern of three lines of some decorative little crosses or flourishes (it was hard to make out it - the engravings were so tiny), and at the bottom of the shield was a third flower. He put it on his right hand, and waited, but nothing happened. He guessed it wasn’t magical. Or at least not obviously so. He didn’t mind that at all, though. He had a family ring!

Griphook took him to his personal vault to retrieve a little more money, then back up to the office to rejoin Mr. Parkinson. The two of them farewelled Griphook.

“May your gold overflow and your enemies quail at your feet,” said Mr. Parkinson.

“And thanks for your help,” said Harry, making the other man sigh gently. Griphook bowed to them curtly, and they left for the main hall.

“Well you may as well take Cadogan's pony and see what you can claim from the Potter Cottage,” suggested Mr. Parkinson as they walked. “I would be willing to assist you in negotiating with the release of your goods by the Ministry, if you wish.”

“I have to ride a pony there? Can’t I take the Knight bus?”

“It’s an expression, Mr. Potter. It means to make the best of a bad situation.”

“Right. Well,” he paused thoughtfully, thinking about how Pansy’s mind usually worked. Her father was likely to be similarly Slytherin and want a favour in return, he thought, and he was already in his debt for today’s help. Sure he’d been helpful, but adults really couldn’t be relied on. “I think I might look into the matter on my own first, but I do appreciate the offer. I might get back to you later if I run into difficulties, if that’s alright.”

“I would be amenable to providing some small assistance if required later.”

“And thank you for all your help today, Mr. Parkinson. I really appreciate it. May I take you and your family out for some ice cream, or lunch?”

“You are most welcome. I am sure the ladies would appreciate a light lunch. They have been most patient waiting for our business to be concluded this morning.” They wandered back out into the main hall, and rejoined Pansy and her mother. Pansy cooed over his new ring and was impressed by the description of his family vault, while Megaera chatted quietly with her husband. She then asked if she and her husband could call him “Harry”, which he agreed to. They were so formal! Dumbledore was ancient, and always wore traditional robes, but he was more casual and always called him “Harry” or “m’boy”. He didn’t like being called “boy” though. It reminded him of Uncle Vernon in a temper.

They had lunch at an outdoor table at one of Diagon Alley’s many cafes, under a brightly coloured umbrella. Her parents introduced him proudly to a number of acquaintances who passed by, some of whom bowed politely to him, and others who shook his hand excitedly and thanked him for defeating You-Know-Who. They often walked away chattering happily to their friends about meeting him. It was most disconcerting.

“A bit obvious, isn’t it?” he whispered to Pansy as her father spoke grandly and loudly to yet another friend of his about “our cousin, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived”.

“Perhaps a little. He is speaking to a former Hufflepuff you know, so he can’t be too subtle. Do you mind?”

“No, it’s alright I suppose, so long as it doesn’t go on too long. I owe him for the help today.” She nodded approvingly.

When things were quieter and the Parkinsons had settled down to eat lunch, he asked Pansy’s parents if they knew anything about Heir rings. Pansy’s grandfather was apparently the current Head of the family, but Pansy’s father Perseus wasn’t the Heir, as he had an older brother.

“I do know that it’s common for family Heads to enchant their rings for durability, or for self-cleaning. They’re also often made into portkeys to the family manor. Yours is in the intaglio style, suited for impressing your crest into warm wax to seal missives or to affix a seal to the bottom of a contract.”

He checked Harry’s ring with a couple of muttered spells.

“It is not an active portkey, and the only spells I can find on it are an anti-theft charm that would prevent it from being summoned by anyone not its owner, and a very simple one to increase its hardness, for durability. But I am not a Master Enchanter by any means, so you may wish to seek further counsel.”

Harry needed to have the terms “portkey” and “summoned” explained to him, which Pansy’s mother did with a pitying look for his Muggle-raised ignorance.

He asked about Sirius, and was told that he had been imprisoned many years ago for “treachery and association with the Dark Lord”, and it would be wisest to avoid all contact.

After lunch, Pansy nagged him to buy her an expensive dessert in a wheedling tone that reminded him of Dudley. He bought some for everyone, except himself.

“Aren’t you having any?” his mother asked.

“No, I’m allergic to dairy,” he explained. “Too much makes me sick.”

“That’s stupid, milk can’t make you sick,” said Pansy, digging into her delicate tower of chocolate, custard and pastry.

“Pansy,” said her mother, sounding shocked, “don’t be rude.”

“Sorry Harry,” she said, not sounding very genuine. Harry sighed and let it go. She wasn’t the first person to not understand it, even though he’d phrased it as simply as he could. It didn’t sound like her parents really grasped it either – Mrs. Parkinson was explaining to her daughter that Harry must have “a delicate constitution”.

Pansy and her family accompanied him as he bought a new thick fur-lined cloak for winter as the standard school cloak was thinner than he liked, a casual robe with a little extra room to grow into it (Megaera insisted upon him buying a robe and he eventually gave in), and a few more books including his own copy of Jigger’s Potion Opuscule, a great new book he found that listed common Potions cross-reactions, and one on dining and party etiquette that Pansy’s mother recommended relatively tactfully.

His last stop of the day was Eeylops Owl Emporium, where he browsed with Pansy at his side who seemed eager to help him choose a new pet. She’d had fun helping him pick his robe and cloak earlier, but found the book shopping less exciting. Pet owls were clearly in the “fun” category for her. He really liked the look of the handsome long-eared owl, with tufts of feathers sticking up on top of its head like two pointy ears. But he wasn’t completely sure he needed an owl at all – he hoped he’d be able to get mail to Dudley without one. He chatted about it with Pansy, and she told him that the school owls would probably do for now, and he could borrow their family owl if he ever needed to send out formal invitations and didn’t want to look cheap by using a rented (or school) owl. The shopkeeper and many of his owls looked disappointed, but Harry was happy. He hadn’t really known where he would keep an owl, anyway.

Harry kissed Pansy and her mother’s hands in farewell, and exchanged bows with her father, then headed back to Little Whinging on the Knight bus. He packed away his shopping (including his shrunken cloak and robe) and documents in his backpack. It had certainly been a productive day, he thought happily, admiring the new ring on his hand. It was even better than the cloak.

He left for Hogwarts a week later. He felt like he was almost looking forward to it. He still didn’t love all the magic, and some of the teachers were honestly dreadful - but he did miss his friends. 

Chapter Text

January 1992

Harry came back on the Hogwarts Express with Hermione and Neville the day before term started. He chatted about how great it had been to be back home with electric lights to read by instead of candles (Hermione agreed wholeheartedly), and about his visit to Gringotts where he’d found out his family had a second vault. Neville had never seen his family vault – his Gran did all the banking. And he was interested to see Harry’s Heir ring, and gave him a short little bow (Pansy had taught Harry it was one you did to social superiors). Harry felt a bit embarrassed; he thought he might not wear the ring all the time if it was going to make people bow to him. Time to change the subject, he thought.

“And you wouldn’t believe how rude Mr. Parkinson was to the goblins! They were snippy at us, and then he accused them of being too incompetent to keep track of their accounts. Then boy, you should’ve seen how the teller moved then to find my account manager. It really got results.”

Hermione leapt into the conversation with her usual abruptness. “You see! That’s what’s wrong with wizarding society. I was perfectly civil to the goblins when I went with my parents to open an account in June, and they were oh so polite back to me. They said it was rare to meet such a special witch who would treat lowly goblins with such respect, and shake their hands.” She leaned in closer to the two and whispered, “They said not to tell anyone, but you two can keep a secret, right?”

The boys nodded, intrigued.

“They told me I would count as a special ‘Goblin Friend’, to the whole clan, and they gave me a special rate on my account. Vault hire and management for only four galleons a year! And just 5 knuts per withdrawal to pay the cart operator.” She beamed proudly.

“Is that good?” Neville asked.

“Oh yes!” she said. “It’s usually much more.”

Harry smirked. “I think they’re ripping you off, Hermione! Seriously. You’d be better off not being a ‘Goblin Friend’. Pansy says they’re greedy and untrustworthy and that-”

“-I think I know better than to listen to a pure-blood’s opinion on the matter of goblins,” Hermione huffed. “Wizarding history is full of battles between wizards and goblins; they can hardly be expected to be unbiased on the matter. Goblins have been persecuted by them for centuries.” She would hear no more on the matter, despite Harry’s attempts to persuade her otherwise. The goblins were delightfully friendly and misunderstood, and that was that. Harry with a sigh promised not to tell Pansy or anyone else her wonderful secret about being a “Goblin Friend”, which eased Hermione’s mind a great deal.

“So Hermione,” said Harry, “I was wondering how you were going keeping up to date with normal subjects while at Hogwarts? I was hoping maybe you’d like to study with me – I’m going to start working on them properly from now on.”

“Normal subjects? What do you mean?”

“You know, Maths, English, Science. Ordinary subjects. You mean you aren’t studying them at all?”

“No, why would I do that, even if I had the time?” she said, sounding confused. “Why would you bother with that when there’s magic, Harry?”

Harry was thrown into silent confusion. She was so smart – it didn’t make sense.

“Don’t you see, Harry, that Charms makes a mockery of Newton’s Laws of Motion, and Transfiguration undermines everything we know about the elements and nuclear fusion? Why it’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard of! And if I want to succeed in the wizarding world, why I simply have to get the best marks possible – that’s where all my effort has to go. I’ve been told it’s very hard for Muggle-borns to achieve good positions in the Ministry after graduation unless they have the most exemplary grades. Not that either of you will have to worry about that,” she finished, with a touch of bitterness.

“I’m not a pure-blood, Hermione.”

“As good as.”

“I dunno about that,” he said, uncomfortably, changing the subject back. “Don’t you want to keep your options open for studying too? In case you want to return to the ordinary world?”

“Why would I want to do that? There’s nothing for me there. This is my world now – magic makes sense of all the strange things that used to happen to me. I always knew there was something different about me; this is where I belong, where I fit in at last,” she smiled at them both, and they smiled back.

“It is good to have friends at last,” Harry said, and they both agreed. All of them had been quite lonely until recently. Harry thought having friends might be the best thing about Hogwarts. He still didn’t really understand Hermione’s attitude about ignoring ordinary subjects, but he could empathise with wanting to fit in and succeed in life. The wizarding world was bigoted, and she might need every edge she could get.

Back at Hogwarts Ron told Harry that he showed his mum his notes on Harry’s family tree - apparently they were 3rd cousins through a link between the Weasley and Black families.

“But my mum said we’re not going to claim the relationship - not many people claim third cousins, you know. And not to tell Ginny.” Harry said he wouldn’t tell, but mentally resolved to try and claim kinship if he ever met the obsessed girl and she didn’t take “no” for an answer. Millicent was the giggliest of his female friends – one of her was quite enough. At least she didn’t obsess over his ridiculous claim to fame.

Oliver Wood was working the Quidditch team hard this term – Harry heard Ron’s brothers complaining about it. He was glad he’d quit and thus wasn’t out there in the rain and slushy sleet that had replaced the winter snow. He was quite tired enough trying to juggle learning magic, tutoring Neville in Potions twice a week, and now having to read through Dudley’s textbooks and make notes for him.

Harry had figured out the postage system for sending letters packages to Dudley, and how much they’d cost, with a little help from Percy. He tipped him a couple of sickles for going to the Hogsmeade Post Office for him (“please I insist, you’ve been so helpful”) and gathering information and forms.

Draco and Ron were still feuding. Ron hopped into the common room one afternoon with his legs stuck together, swearing up a storm with many references to Merlin’s unmentionables. Draco had caught him with the Leg-Locker Curse. Everyone laughed, but Hermione sprang up and did the counter-curse.

“I ran into Malfoy, he said he’d been looking for someone to practise on, and it was all I was good for. I’ll get him back for this, I swear,” ranted Ron angrily. Harry just wanted to stay out of it. There was no point in going looking for trouble. Feuds were serious business for wizards. Besides, Pansy wouldn’t like it.

***

Up in the library later that week, the Slytherins cooed over the photo of his mother and the thoughtfulness by the sender of Harry’s gift. They were intrigued by the mystery sender, but were initially at a loss to guess who it might be.

“I have some clues for you, actually,” said the usually quiet Tracey. Daphne looked particularly surprised.

“See? Look at the phrasing. The writer says they ‘bequeath’ the photo to you. So I’d say they’re probably a pure-blood.”

“How in Merlin’s name can you conclude that from just one word?” demanded Daphne.

“I guess you wouldn’t notice. Harry, pure-bloods are more inclined to use old-fashioned words. And they speak more formally in general. In addition to which this note is written on parchment with a quill, with very tidy cursive penmanship and no blots or smears anywhere. The author has been using a quill for many years, I’d say,” explained Tracey.

Pansy looked quietly impressed, and maybe a bit jealous.

“And of course it is a photo of your mother from when she was young. So the sender must have gone to Hogwarts of course. That doesn’t mean they have to be a pure-blood, but they would have to be a wizard or witch, very likely at least a half-blood. And either an adult now, or a student with a parent who went to Hogwarts. No…,” here Tracey paused thoughtfully, “to bequeath an item means you’re passing it on from yourself to another, right? Obviously not in a will, in this case.”

“That’s right,” Pansy nodded.

“So if the photo was their personal possession, they’d have to be say, thirty years old or more at a minimum. It can’t be a student, though it might be their parent. So Harry, which teacher or Hogwarts parent do you think is close enough to you to hear about you wanting a memento of your mother, and be motivated to send it?”

They sat in silence for a while as Harry thought about it. A pure-blood or possibly a half-blood witch or wizard, thirty or more, who might have known his mother, and was mysterious enough to send a photo anonymously. He didn’t think it was Dumbledore – he’d already given him his father’s cloak – he did that in person as a Christmas gift. It wasn’t Ron’s mum or Neville’s Gran or Pansy’s parents, or they would have said something (and Ron’s mum had sent a Christmas sweater and fudge). The sender of the photo had “been led to understand” he didn’t have anything to remember his mother by. So perhaps they heard it from Dumbledore or one of Harry’s friends – but not necessarily by being told directly.

It had to be someone a little underhanded, not a confident Gryffindor like Professor McGonagall, or a friendly Hufflepuff like Professor Sprout. They would give a gift personally, or at least sign it. No, this was someone who would hesitate to approach him in person. Someone a bit more sly - not so sociable. And he was sure it was a teacher.

“I think I know who it was. Do you think it would be appropriate to thank them personally, or should I send a note?” said Harry confidently.

“Oh, definitely send a note,” said Pansy. Millicent and Tracey chorused their agreement. “They didn’t sign it, so they’d rather keep things quiet for now. Be discreet.”

“Who do you think it is?” asked Daphne.

“I’d rather not say,” said Harry with a smile. “I think they’d rather not be gossiped about, if they didn’t sign the note, don’t you? It would be ungracious of me to bandy their name about carelessly,” he said with a haughty tone of voice.

“That’s the way!” said Tracey encouragingly. “And remember to keep your back straight when you talk like that. Pure-bloods don’t slump in their chairs. At least – not in public.”

Harry looked around the table. It was true – all the other girls were sitting very straight. He straightened up.

Pansy’s newest topic of choice to lecture about was the upcoming celebration of Imbolc. Millicent and Daphne ignored her, choosing to work on their Transfiguration homework instead. But Tracey and Harry both listened attentively. Imbolc was the quarter year spring festival - halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was traditional to visit sacred wells, or make an offering to the ocean. Lamb was a traditional food to eat – it was the start of the lambing season. Ritual baths to “purify your magic” were common among those who practised the Old Ways. Houses should be given a good clean out too, with floors freshly mopped. It was a good time to bring changes into your life. This festival was associated with the element of water.

“What are the others associated with?” Harry asked.

“Samhain is air – it’s all about spirits and the soul, and the emptiness of winter. Beltane on the 1st of May is fire of course, marking the approach of summer. We celebrate with bonfires, and decorate with yellow Mayflowers that represent flames. It’s all about uh… well, the fire of emotions too,” she said a little awkwardly. Tracey giggled.

Pansy rushed onwards, her cheeks looking rather flushed. “And Lughnasadh is the last one. It’s the harvest festival on the 1st of August. It’s all about the blessings we receive and give to the abundant earth. We like to have athletic contests – celebrating the strength of our earthly bodies.”

As they were packing up to go, Daphne whispered to him confidingly. “Tracey’s a half-blood you know, but she’s been working diligently with us to improve her behaviour and carry herself like a pure-blood. Learn the Old traditions. She just wants to fit in and be like everyone else. So if she gives you a tip it’s probably a good one – she’s trying to help and doesn’t mean any offence.”

Harry certainly could sympathise with that. He hated standing out too. “I’m not offended – it’s really helpful - I’m trying to just be a normal wizard too. You can let her know that if you like, and that I said thanks.”

“I will, thanks!” said Daphne happily.

He sent a note with a school owl to the secretive gift-giving teacher that very afternoon. He was going up to the owlery anyway, to send a parcel of study notes to Dudley. He thanked the mysterious gift-giver for the precious photo of his mother with his best formal language. He added that he respected their wish for privacy, but if they’d like to meet with him quietly after class one day that he’d love to hear some more about his mother.

Chapter Text

February 1992

Harry didn’t get any response from his thank you note about his mother’s photo right away. He was disappointed, but he understood their preference for privacy and tried to respect that. He was extra studious and attentive in class in a quiet and subtle attempt to show his appreciation for the gift.

At Imbolc, he quietly and privately observed the holiday by tidying up his section of the dorm room, having a long shower with a special herbal soap Pansy gave him for purification, and having some roast lamb at dinner. The girls also talked him into visiting the Black Lake to offer it some of his magical power. When he snuck out on the first of February after dinner at the pre-arranged time to meet in a secluded grove near the lake, he found it wasn’t just the four of them. There were some other people there too – all first years. Draco Malfoy was there, naturally, and his hangers-on Crabbe and Goyle. Draco introduced them to everyone formally. They didn’t seem acquainted with many people there yet. Pansy introduced Harry to Theodore Nott.

There weren’t just Slytherins there, though. Daphne did the introductions for the others - Morag MacDougal and Stephen Cornfoot from Ravenclaw, and Ernest "call me Ernie" Macmillan and Lily Moon from Hufflepuff. Harry felt a little out of place as the only Gryffindor, especially when Lily, Morag and Stephen gaped at him when he arrived, and whispered to their housemates incredulously. Ernie seemed pleased to see him there, which seemed much more welcoming.

“I’m pure-blood for nine generations you know, Potter,” he said proudly. “Not that there’s anything wrong with being half-blood, or less. I think it’s magic that counts really, don’t you? I celebrate Imbolc with my family at home every year. First year doing it here of course. I heard once that the Potters had a small Circle on their manor grounds – is it true?”

“I uh, haven’t been able to visit there yet,” explained Harry. “The manor was destroyed years ago – I only found out about it recently anyway. I know my dad wasn’t a Christian, but I don’t know if he followed the Old Ways or not. I think maybe he did.”

They quickly got underway once introductions were finished, and knelt at the water’s edge where the lake was relatively still and held their hands out over the water – some dipped their fingertips into the lake. Pansy and Draco (who seemed the most knowledgeable, or perhaps just the bossiest) took turns telling them what to do, and encouraging them to send their magic out into the lake through their hands. They said some ritualistic words in an alternating mix of Latin and English so everyone knew what they were saying, about the birth of spring, the waters of change guiding them all in their paths, and the renewal of Magic. There was a glitter of light on the surface of the lake near them as they all concentrated, which was exhilarating. They all split up as they left afterwards, some heading back right away (like Harry), while others lingered to chat.

***

With constant tutoring from either Hermione or Harry, Neville was starting to improve at potions. Hermione liked to drill him in the recipe steps, and Harry preferred to go over theoretical concepts behind the general study of Potions that got left out of their class textbook. He’d taught him how to dice and slice neatly (Neville was sure he knew how – but it turned out he didn’t), and how to use a small sharp knife to peel roots without getting blood everywhere (Neville had no experience at all with cooking, which boggled Harry’s mind). Leaving aside the obvious pain involved, blood did weird things to potions and thus was best avoided. Currently they were revising stirring techniques and why it mattered.

“Remember, Neville,” explained Harry, “the wooden spoon or ladle or stirring stick acts like a low-powered magic wand, to carry a bit of your magical power into the potion. It helps transform it from inert separate ingredients to a magically active potion. That’s why you can’t just grab whatever tool is handiest – if a recipe calls for a wooden spoon, you must use a wooden spoon, not a metal ladle. The ladle is used when you want a metal implement that will deliberately channel less magic into the potion, or you need something base or neutral like tin or copper to complement the earth-focused properties of the potion, providing a grounding effect.”

“Alright, never improvise with using different spoons or ladles.”

“Not unless you’re experimenting. Though, if you feel one of the problems you’re having is not getting enough magic into the potion to activate it, then using a spoon of the same wood as your wand can help. After all, that wood was specially chosen to match you and channel the most power possible.”

“I… use my dad’s wand.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot that. Sorry. Is that common? That kids find a match with a relative’s wand?”

“I don’t know. It matched better than my mum’s wand did. Gran said I should make my father proud.”

Harry looked doubtful. “I can see that it’s important then, but… might you not do better with a different wand? I had to go through like a hundred wands in the shop before I found one that suited me. Seriously. Sometimes things in the store exploded, and he snatched the wand out of my hand, saying ‘No, not that one!’ And it didn’t match either of my parents’ wands, according to Ollivander. Not even a little – neither the core, nor the wood.”

“I’ll think about it, and talk to Gran,” Neville said thoughtfully. “In the meantime, I should try and push more power down the spoon if I can?”

“Yes, maybe make a conscious effort to picture the power flowing through you, nice and smoothly, and what you want the potion to turn into. And don’t forget to count the number of stirs, and the direction. It subtly changes the type of potion you get. It’s complicated, and all to do with a cross-over between Arithmancy and Potions. I’m still reading up on it, but for now, just remember, direction and counting is important.”

“What if I forget and muck it up?”

“Well, the potions books I’ve read so far mostly just say not to, which isn’t a lot of help. But I did read a tip in a household charms book about cooking that said if you get distracted in the middle of spelling a stew you should counteract your extra stirs by stirring in the opposite direction. So, if you think you stirred widdershins too many times, stir a few times deasil to try and balance it a little. The theory’s sound, but I might give it a bit of a try and see how it goes in practice.” Harry got his experiment underway. He enjoyed brewing with Neville. He didn’t get to do things properly in class, and certainly couldn’t experiment.

“I wish you and Hermione taught the class, sometimes,” complimented Neville. “Things are so much easier to understand, the way you go through things carefully.”

Harry was very embarrassed, and pleased. He hadn’t gotten many compliments in his life. “Thanks Nev. Friends, right?”

“Always.”

Harry hesitated thoughtfully. “I think maybe now might be a good time… if you wanted to talk about what happened to your parents. I didn’t want to ask when everyone was around. Because I don’t think it’s going to be good.”

While he watched Harry brew, Neville talked softly and briefly about how his parents were tortured by Bellatrix, Rodolphus and Rabastan LeStrange, and Bartemius Crouch Jr. They had been driven mad by the Unforgiveable “Cruciatus” torture curse, and had been in St. Mungo’s ever since. His Gran took him to visit them regularly, but they couldn’t speak and didn’t seem to know who his was, though his mum gave him sweet wrappers sometimes, like a gift.

“I’m so sorry, Nev,” Harry said sadly.

“I’m sorry about your parents too, Harry. At least there’s hope that one day someone might find a cure for my parents.”

“It’s okay,” said Harry uncomfortably. “I still have my aunt and uncle, anyway. And Dudley. And you’ve got your Gran. So things could be worse.” There was an uncomfortable silence.

“Let’s talk about something else, hey?” suggested Harry. Neville agreed quickly with obvious relief.

“So Nev, I need to write a letter to the Ministry and since I’ve been helping you with Potions, I thought maybe you could pay me back by helping me with my letter?”

“I’d be happy to. I’d do it anyway, you know. We’re friends.”

Harry explained about wanting to get access to Potter Cottage at Godric’s Hollow and go through his parents’ things – either to keep them or to see them go to whomever was listed in their wills. And he had no idea where to start with the Ministry – most of his knowledge about it came from history books that were out of date.

Neville promised he’d help and that if he couldn’t he would ask his Gran for advice. Harry thanked him politely with a little nod of his head, and wrapped up the tutoring session by chatting about how his experiment in countering extra stirs by adding more extra ones in the reverse direction had gone.

“Next week we’ll talk about elemental affinities of plants and animals and how it affects potions, so bring your copies of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And some paper for notes. You’ll finally be learning why you add porcupine quills after taking the cauldron off the fire for a Boil Cure Potion, even if the temperature of the potion is exactly the same. We’ll just be doing theory so we can meet in the library if you like? There’s some good private tables down the back of the stacks.”

“Sure, and thanks again Harry. I really appreciate this. And I’d be happy to look over your letter when it’s ready to go. I think you should start with contacting the Ministry of Magic’s Public Information Services Office, and asking them where to best address your query. If you get too stymied, Ron’s dad might be able to assist. He works in the Ministry so would be able to provide you with a formal introduction to some people in the Ministry, if you need that. Your name might open doors that would be barred to others though, so it might not be necessary.”

***

One afternoon, the giver of Harry’s photograph finally responded to Harry’s letter by covertly slipping him a note during class asking him to stay when the lesson was finished.

Harry packed away his books and told his friends he’d meet up with them later, and to tell Pansy he wouldn’t be able to meet her before lunch after all.

His Professor closed and locked the door as the last student left.

“A little privacy for our conversation I think, P-P-Potter,” said Professor Quirrell.

***

Elsewhere, in the Great Hall, Neville bravely stopped by the Slytherin table briefly to tell Pansy that Harry was busy with Professor Quirrell, and wouldn’t be able to meet her today. She frowned worriedly as he scurried away. Professor Snape had told them that if they ever had a private detention assigned with Quirrell, they should tell him. She didn’t personally have any idea why that was, but she was concerned for her cousin. Professor Snape always had layers of meanings and reasons behind everything he said.

***

Upstairs, Harry thanked Quirrell graciously for his photo.

“N-n-no trouble at all, Potter,” he said, “b-b-but I’m afraid I cannot tell you much more about your mother. Our ac-acquaintance was really quite a p-p-passing one. I can tell you that she w-was a most formidable f-f-fighter. She worked hard in Defence, and was skilled at offensive charms. She joined the war with your father, and f-f-fought the Dark Lord a few times personally. In-ineffectually perhaps, but she survived those initial encounters, which speaks well of her skill as a duelist. Few could stand against him and live. Few dared to even try. I’m af-f-fraid I can’t say anything more about her,” he apologised, with a dreadful stutter.

“That’s alright. I’ve managed to find out quite a bit more about her and my family since coming to Hogwarts. Nothing quite so personal as you’ve shared, though. I really appreciate that.”

“Discovered anything special? Some creature ancestry perhaps? Special powers in the family line?” Quirrell leaned in close, intent on his answer. There was an overpowering smell that Harry thought might be rotten garlic. He leaned away discreetly.

“Not creature heritage or unknown powers, no. Just about my ancestors. Did you know my mother wasn’t really a Muggle-born?”

“How remarkable, do go on,” said a surprised Quirrell.

“It turns out that my maternal grandmother was a Squib – Heather Parkinson.”

“So that’s how you’re related to Miss Parkinson. I had assumed it was through the Potters.”

“Well, we’re related that way too. Third cousins through my dad’s family, second cousins through my mum’s.”

“Ah,” said Quirrell, leaning back. Harry thought he looked oddly disappointed for some reason. “There does tend to be a bit of inbreeding in many pure-blood families. It can sadly lead to frailties within the family sometimes. It is not unknown for a dash of Muggle blood to strengthen and purify an individual’s magic, when too much inbreeding has otherwise weakened the family line.”

“Heather’s parents were second cousins to each other,” volunteered Harry. “Pansy thinks maybe that’s why they had a Squib daughter.”

“Well, enough of th-th-that,” said Quirrell with a dismissive wave. “Let us not dwell on the f-f-failings of families. How has your research in the Restricted Section been going, my young student?”

“Very well, thank you,” said Harry politely. “I’ve been reading up a lot on defensive charms including the Shield Charm, and rituals associated with the traditional quarterly holidays and Yule. If you don’t mind, I would like to continue accessing the Restricted Section as I’d like to read up on the Unforgiveables next.”

“It is pleasing to hear you are working on reclaiming your heritage and learning the Old Ways. I would en-c-courage you to spend more t-time with your Slytherin friends. And what an intriguing choice of a new t-t-topic for research. Thinking about your parent’s deaths again, perhaps?”

“And the Cruciatus,” added Harry. “Not that I want to cast it, of course!”

“Of course not. You’re too young,” smiled Quirrell.

Harry smiled back uncertainly.

“Just my little j-j-joke, Mr. Potter.” Harry laughed with him.

“Uh, so I want to research how they work, and why they work. Apparently they don’t leave any marks, so how are they causing pain, or killing people? Usually that takes an injury. What are they hurting? And why are they called ‘Unforgiveable’, when there’s so many other ways to hurt or kill someone – even with first year charms?”

“I’m not sure you will f-f-find much in the Restricted Section I am unfamiliar with, so p-perhaps I can explain a little about the curses for you. And if you do have any insights into your parents’ death and your own survival, I do insist you share them, Mr. P-P-Potter.” Harry promised he would.

Quirrell wrote him out a new library pass, and then sat down on a desk near to Harry, for a long lecture, his voice smoothing out of its stutter the longer he spoke. “M-m-many curses and hexes, and even b-beneficial charms, have been banned by the Ministry, and by the Wizards’ Council before them as ‘Dark’. M-many were banned out of ignorance, fear, or blatant prejudice against the Old Ways. Too much blood, too much sacrifice, too associated with a particular family that someone on the Council was feuding with, or simply too efficacious – too dangerous to those holding tight-fistedly to their power. Yet the Unforgiveables still merited their own special category. And d-do not blithely assume they have never been used by so-called ‘Light’ wizards. The Aurors in our last war were given special permission to employ those spells against… th-th-the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord, if they could. Or anyone they mistakenly thought in the fog of battle was a Death Eater. It wasn’t just ‘evil’ people using them.”

Harry was wide-eyed. The books he’d read had spoken of them as if they were the most terrible evil you could ever encounter. Did his mother use them, in the war?

“You might like to read Unforgivable Curses and their Legal Implications in the library, if you’re interested in that side of things,” Quirrell said, waving a hand dismissively. “If that meddling old man hasn’t removed it. I’ve added it to your pass, just in case it’s s-still there, along with some other m-more practical books including Confronting the Faceless. But as to the magic behind it, well that’s actually quite interesting. Those three s-s-spells are ‘Unforgiveable’ because they all directly affect the soul. The Imperius curse enslaves the soul, dependent on the caster’s level of magical power and the target’s will to break free of its soft smothering persuasive weight. Cruciatus, the torture curse, burns at the soul with astral fire causing unbearable pain, and the Killing Curse, why it slices directly at the soul’s connection with the body, severing it instantly. No ethereal magical shield or counter-curse can stay its course, and once hit by the curse, no Healer can save you.”

He was drawn out of his almost loving litany of the different curses, noticing Harry’s rather pale face. “Ah, well almost nothing. You are the only known s-s-survivor of the killing curse, of course Mr. P-P-Potter. But how?” he murmured.

“Do you think they suffered? My parents?”

Quirrell paused reflectively for a moment. “No, I don’t believe they did. For… the Dark Lord, the use of the K-K-Killing Curse would almost be regarded as merciful. It is very swift.”

“Now Harry, let us talk of the favour you owe me.”

Harry nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“You know of course that there is something guarded in the f-f-forbidden third floor corridor. I would like to know what you have learned of the layered defences all the t-t-teachers have put there. For I am not sure the other teachers have done their part in p-p-protecting it adequately, and I know how gossip travels at this school among the curious s-s-students.”

Harry looked a little sceptical. “Surely you would know more than I would, sir. I’m not sure there’s any reason you would need my help with such a matter.”

“Can you think of a reason I might legitimately require assistance, P-P-Potter?” said Quirrell, staring intently at him. Harry winced and rubbed at his head. Garlic always seemed to give him a headache – he got them far too often in Quirrell’s class. He thought about why Quirrell might need his help. Snape was certainly a suspicious character, with his past as a Death Eater and rumoured willingness to poison Squibs, as Neville reported. If he was after the treasure, whatever it was, Quirrell might not be able to trust Snape’s help in guarding the stone. But if Dumbledore and the others trusted Snape, they might share too much of the details of their own protections with Snape.

“Ahhhh…” sighed Quirrell. “You see Harry, there are some at this school who cannot be trusted. One helped build the very defences around the stone yet his soul is the blackest evil. He seeks to steal the stone for himself. He hides his nature,” Quirrell smiled warningly, “but scratch the surface and you’ll find nothing but treachery and wickedness. Do you know who I’m speaking of, Mr. Potter?”

And at that very moment, the classroom door swung open, despite being locked earlier. And into the room swept the very man Harry suspected of all that was wicked and cruel – Professor Snape.

“Quirrell,” he hissed, “I believe you are expected for lunch, in the Great Hall. You’ll find the Headmaster has been asking after you.”

“M-m-m-me?” asked Professor Quirrell with a stuttering quaver in his voice, hunching in a little. “I d-d-d-d-do hope there’s no t-t-rouble, Severus?”

“No, no trouble,” said Snape, glancing around the classroom briefly. “But I do wonder what the infamous Mr. Potter here did to merit a detention with you, Quirrell.”

“No d-d-detention. J-j-j-just a little ch-chat, Severus,” smiled Quirrell nervously.

“I think it’s time Mr. Potter joined his friends for lunch.”

“W-w-well I think that would be fine,” said Quirrell obligingly. “Why don’t you r-r-r-run along then, P-P-Potter. We can talk about your r-r-research l-l-later,” he said, with a nervous but meaningful glance towards Snape.

“Understood, Professor,” said Harry with a courteous nod. He left the room closing the door behind him, and stomped noisily off down the corridor. And then, he snuck back very, very quietly, to listen at the closed door for a moment. He overheard only a few snippets before a student came down the corridor and he had to leave or be noticed lurking.

“You don’t want me as your enemy, Quirrell,” warned Snape.

“I-I don’t know what you-”

“You know perfectly well what I mean,” threatened Snape icily.

Harry left. He wasn’t sure what led Snape to stop by right then, but now he knew one thing for sure. Snape was a dangerous enemy – and he was after third floor corridor’s treasure, some kind of stone. And he was threatening poor, timid Professor Quirrell.

Chapter Text

March 1992

Harry was worried about Quirrell and decided to call upon his more altruistic Gryffindor friends to help, so they had a big group conference about it between the four of them. First he briefed them on the situation – that Snape, as a known former Death Eater, was threatening Quirrell and was believed to be interested in stealing the treasure from the forbidden third floor corridor. Hermione was the only one who doubted his allegations, but was willing to help them research the matter anyway.

“I’m your friend – I think you’re dead wrong, but I’ll help you look into it just in case,” she said with a smile. “Friends can disagree about things, and still be friends, right?” she added questioningly.

“I think so. I mean, we can. I don’t know much about what other people do. You’re my first friends,” said Harry quietly.

“You’re mine, too,” she said shyly. “You know, I thought for a while that I wouldn’t have any friends here. A few people kicked me out of their compartments the minute they heard I was a Muggle-born. I think I was lucky to meet you. All of you.”

The boys of course were rather embarrassed by all the sentiment (if quietly appreciative of it) and got their discussion back on topic.

They all knew about the cerberus, and Harry added the new information that there was a treasure hidden down there somewhere, placed there by Dumbledore and a friend of his “called something like Flannel” (he didn’t remember the exact name from months ago). Neville was the proud informant who showed them a chocolate frog card about Dumbledore’s “work on alchemy with his partner Nicolas Flamel”. That led an excited Hermione to a heavy tome that revealed the likely treasure to be the Philosopher’s Stone.

His friends all started being extra encouraging to Quirrell in classes; Ron had started telling people off for making fun of his stutter, and given his teaching background Hermione chatted encouragingly with him after a class about the importance of Muggle Studies, given the typical wizarding ignorance of broader culture and technology (he seemed less appreciative than she’d hoped, though). Harry gave Quirrell a brief update that they were looking into the stone’s defences, and would report back when they had something good to share. Quirrell said he valued Harry’s support more than he could know.

They decided to split their attentions to different teachers to try and find out more about the stone’s defences. Neville picked Professor Sprout and dangerous plants that could survive long periods of time indoors. Harry said he’d talk to Professor McGonagall, and Hermione said she’d talk with Professor Flitwick. None of them wanted to try and weasel information out of Professor Snape, so Harry said he’d instead do some research on especially nasty potions, all-purpose antidotes, and how much bezoars cost. They all agreed it would be unlikely the other teachers (like Professor Sinistra for Astronomy) would be likely to be called upon to do warding or defences.

Ron, who was very keen to help (especially with the parts not involving library research), volunteered to research the cerberus. He had plans to talk to Professor Kettleburn and Hagrid (since he also loved dangerous creatures, according to rumour), and also to keep an eye on the third-floor corridor. He reported that every time he pressed his ear to the door he heard growling inside, which suggested that the cerberus was still in there – both day and night. Hermione didn’t think it was very kind to keep it confined like that all the time.

“Blimey, Hermione, would you rather it was roaming about the school?” Ron’s mind boggled. “They like guarding treasure. I read it in a book,” he said smugly. It was the ultimate weapon in an argument against Hermione.

As the weeks wore on Hermione had other things on her mind to worry about besides cerberus welfare. She had started drawing up revision time-tables and colour-coding all her notes.

“Hermione, the exams are ages away,” complained Ron.

“And I’m certain you’ll pass all of them so why are you so overwrought?” asked Neville.

But the more they talked, the more she was convinced that in fact she should’ve started studying ages ago. Harry just said nothing and lent her his highlighters. If she was studying hard, he was studying twice as hard. Just not panicking about it so loudly. For he had Dudley’s exams to prepare for as well – he was going to need every bit of the upcoming ten weeks until exam time for studying.

When the other boys weren’t around, he even asked Hermione if he could have a look at her study schedules, to see how she organised things. She was very happy to show him. It was very interesting to see another person’s schedule. Hermione had even included small blocks of scheduled time for “Relax with Friends”, “Recreational Reading”, and “Wash Hair”. He’d never considered scheduling in time for fun activities or personal needs – it was an interesting approach.

Harry also had a secret weapon in the war on exams the others didn’t – Slytherin friends. He decided to approach Millicent as the least likely to dob him in to the others or to a teacher if she didn’t like what he was asking.

He managed to catch her alone one afternoon, and put forward his proposal to her carefully. “So, Millicent, you know exams are getting closer, and I have a theory about Professor Binns I wanted to discuss with you - confidentially.”

“Alright. I’m listening.”

“Everyone says he teaches the same things, over and over again, right? So it seems to me that as a repetitious type of ghost he’s going to set the exact same exams, over and over again. Every year.”

“I think I get the gist of where you’re going with this,” smirked Millicent.

“I know, right? So, do you have any acquaintances in second or third year who might be able to confirm that theory, and maybe help out a couple of first years with some notes on last year’s exam? Strictly for revision purposes only, of course.”

“Oh, of course!” she giggled naughtily. “Just for revision. It would require some recompense of course. Nothing is free in Slytherin. Though frankly, someone in Ravenclaw might write better notes… but the risk would be increased,” she mused thoughtfully.

“Well let me tell you Gryffindor won’t be much help - there’s only a tiny handful of people who take their studying seriously,” he said dismissively.

“Including you of course,” she smiled.

“You know I study all the time!” he said, offended. “It’s just… History of Magic. It’s rubbish, the way Binns teaches. You know it and I know it. Even Ron knows it – he spends that class napping. I could use that History class time much more effectively revising for other subjects. I usually do.”

Harry gave her some money to cover “copying expenses and sundry supplies” for any helpful students she might be able to find, including a little allowance for her own time and effort. And her discretion on a delicate matter.

***

Hermione drew up a timetable for non-stop studying, including over the upcoming Easter holidays, and pestered Ron into joining her at least half the time, instead of having him nagging her all the time to let him copy her work. She was getting very sick of that. And armed with the knowledge that her other two friends didn’t try it, she was standing firm against his wheedling pleas at last. Harry refused her more polite invitation to join her study group (and Tracey’s similar invitation, for that matter), preferring to study on his own. He didn’t want his unique approach to gaining average grades observed, nor any comments or mocking about how he wrote up his cousin’s study notes for him.

Neville joined in sometimes with Hermione and Ron’s study group, but on the whole found her gung-ho approach to studying a bit too stressful, and similarly preferred to study solo, except for Potions. And even there he’d cut back to only studying once a week with Hermione, and twice a week with Harry. Harry did his best to reassure him that so long as he didn’t get a T, the grade didn’t matter. The only grades that meant anything were OWLs and NEWTs, and those would be administered by independent examiners. He only needed to prove to Snape that he wasn’t a Squib. Neville was still very worried about that.

Hermione and Ron spotted Hagrid in the library one lovely spring morning, and Ron seized the opportunity to gather information from his target.

“He’s been researching dragons! He was looking up some books, I made a list: Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland, and From Egg to Inferno, A Dragon Keeper’s Guide. And I asked him if he knew what the growling was I could hear from near the corridor, and he told me I should leave Fluffy alone. The cerberus’ name is Fluffy, can you believe it?!”

“Good work, Ron,” praised Harry, and Ron beamed at him. “A cerberus and a dragon. That’s two defences for sure. I reckon that’s more than enough animals, right?”

“Yeah, I think so. And you know they use dragons for guards deep in Gringotts – so it’s quite plausible there’s one in Hogwarts. Well, maybe a small one. Or silenced. Or shrunk or something,” he said, clearly trying to picture a large, noisy beast not being noticed somewhere like Hogwarts.

Harry hadn’t discussed Snape’s suspicious behaviour with the Slytherins. Snape’s bias towards his House was so strong that he doubted they’d take kindly to the suggestion he was under suspicion of being a would-be thief. For a change there were no lectures from Pansy about sacred days, as the next one was Beltane and that wasn’t until May. She said Easter wasn’t a big deal among pure-bloods. Millicent said that rabbit made a nice casserole this time of year. Tracey said there used to be a traditional wizarding festival around this time as it was the spring equinox.

“They used to have a celebration all to do with the power of the moon and fertility, with the usual kind of bonfires and feasting wizards and witches enjoy. And visiting the Circles – that was a very important part of it. But it fell out of fashion a few centuries ago, as have other celebrations tied to the solstices and equinoxes except for Yule, because visiting the Great Circles has become more and more restricted by both the magical and Muggle governments,” Tracey explained. “Millicent’s family isn’t the only one that likes to eat rabbit this time of year – some people say it’s traditional, but others said it was just fun to eat the sacred Easter bunny of the Christians.”

Harry explained how it wasn’t actually sacred, and its actual role in Muggle culture as an imaginary magical creature. The girls seemed interested in learning from him about Muggle culture, which surprised and pleased him.

Pansy’s chosen topic of conversation in her ongoing campaign to teach Harry how to be a proper wizard was table etiquette. There certainly were a lot of different types of forks and knives he’d been unaware of.

“And for Merlin’s sake if you do decide to emulate one of your friends whilst at supper, do choose Neville and not Ron! Even Hermione would be better than him,” Pansy said with a shudder. “We can see the contents of his mouth from clean across the hall.”

With the Easter break from classes approaching, Harry decided it was time to approach Professor McGonagall. He had two goals. Firstly, to see what he could find out about the stone’s defences. And secondly, he needed to get leave to visit Gringotts over the holidays to pick up his yearly vault statement.

Harry asked to visit with her to discuss the holidays, and consequently was invited to stop by one afternoon after class. He accepted some tea, and talked about how much he enjoyed Transfiguration.

“Really, Mr. Potter, I didn’t think you had a great deal of interest in my subject,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, but I do! I enjoy it a lot, but the theory can be difficult, and the wand motions just never seem to stick no matter how hard I try. I think it’s interesting, but challenging. You must be a very powerful witch indeed to be so good at such a difficult field, I think.”

“Well, it’s not for everyone,” she said with a small smile. “The talent required to become an Animagus is a particularly rare one, it must be said.”

After buttering her up Harry did his best to gently and inconspicuously lead the conversation in a useful direction. “I was wondering about the utility of Transfiguration spells for guarding a house, Professor. Were either of my parents good at Transfiguration? Are there any spells you think would’ve been good for them to use to defend it?”

Her face softened more and she looked sad. “Your father excelled at Transfiguration, Mr. Potter. He had quite the gift for it. Charms was your mother’s primary field, however, and I understand charms were what they mostly employed for defence.”

“What could Transfiguration have done to help them, do you think?”

“It’s not going to help dwelling on the past, Mr. Potter, but for what it’s worth a Master in Transfiguration can do things like create walls suddenly, or trap enemies in a floor turned to quicksand. Nearby objects can be animated to attack any intruders. I believe some of the furniture in the house where… that is, I think your father may have animated some furniture in his last battle to attack You-Know-Who. Apparently there were pieces of broken furniture everywhere.”

“I can’t imagine a sofa chair doing much damage,” said Harry doubtfully.

“Well a sofa is designed for sitting on, not animating for fighting. At some of the older manors you’d find statuary and gargoyles in the vestibulum or atrium,” she paused at Harry’s puzzled look, “that is, in the entrance hall and main reception area. Or there may be statues in the gardens, of course. At Hogwarts you’ll find a number of suits of armour stationed in the corridors which could be animated by defenders in the case of an attack. There are also a number of stone gargoyles here and there with semi-permanent transfigurations on them to animate them, too. It’s an excellent approach to defence.”

She leaned forward and patted Harry’s hand reassuringly. “You’re quite safe here, Mr. Potter.”

He widened his eyes deliberately and looked worried. “Couldn’t someone just un-enchant them to be dead stone again? Or pour a potion on them to turn them back to how they were?”

“It’s disenchant. And the answer is no, Mr. Potter. The general counter-spells Finite or even Finite Incantatem are too low powered to affect our gargoyles, and I don’t know of any potion that could affect them at all. Stone is very neutral and will often store magic rather than be damaged by it. You’d have more luck with an acid to dissolve them, and it would take bucket loads to do so. Hardly practical. Any Dark wizards trying to get at you here would have to blast the armour and gargoyles to bits, not to mention the teachers, and that would take some doing.”

“But what if the gargoyles attacked me all of a sudden? What could I do to protect myself?” he asked anxiously, with some genuine concern sneaking into his voice.

“Aside from call for help? You’re not alone here, Mr. Potter. And in any case, any object with a permanent animation on it will have extremely careful conditions set under which it may attack. I believe the ones here for example will never attack a child under any circumstances. Even if you put jolly red noses on them at Christmas time, as the Weasley twins experimented with this year. So you’re quite safe, I promise. By the way, if you’d had a gargoyle nearby when the troll attacked, it would have joined in the fight on your side.”

Harry thought he had some good leads on McGonagall’s likely approach to defences, and dropped the topic with assurances of his appreciation for her comfort and thought for the students’ safety.

“Can we talk about something more fun now?” he asked with a childishly pleading tone to his voice.

“Of course, Mr. Potter,” she said gently.

“I was wanting to visit Diagon Alley again over Easter. You know, do a little shopping, and buy some things for my friends.” He hung his head sadly. “I didn’t have a chance to buy Christmas presents for everyone, since I couldn’t go to Hogsmeade. Some friends got me things, and I had nothing for them.” It was a lie – he’d gotten everyone chocolates with help from Percy, but he thought McGonagall was unlikely to know that. She wasn’t a very attentive Head of House – he’d never seen her in the dorms so was unlikely to have noticed what presents they’d put under the little tree.

“Oh dear! Well, you really should have permission from your guardians…” she said worriedly.

“They didn’t say I couldn’t go, did they?”

“No, it's just there’s no explicit permission…” she hesitated. “And you certainly couldn’t stay out on your own.”

He looked pleadingly at her. “Perhaps just one day for some shopping?” She still didn’t look convinced, so he pulled out his best argument that he’d planned out before he met with her.

“You see,” he said in a confiding tone of voice, “it’s really not just about wanting to go shopping. I’m a bit scared of the idea of being out all on my own in Wizarding society still. It’s all so different. Sometimes, I still wish I was home and going to Stonewall. I thought though that maybe it would be better though if I faced my fears. I think if I could spend some time in Diagon Alley it would help me feel more at home here – in the wizarding world where I belong.”

“You brave boy!” she sniffed proudly.

Harry knew he had her hooked. They settled on the 8th of April, and she would personally drop him off at the Leaky Cauldron in the morning, and pick him up late in the afternoon. He was to borrow a school owl to carry around with him, which he could send a message with if he ran into any trouble. She would wait in the Leaky Cauldron for him all day, so it would be easy to reach her if he needed her. She said it was no bother – she’d rent a room and catch up on some marking in peace and quiet, fortified by tea and a rather fine shepherd’s pie Tom made that was a favourite dish of hers.

Chapter Text

8 April 1992

Harry’s trip to Diagon Alley was kept quiet – he didn’t even tell his friends. Professor McGonagall said if people knew, everyone would be nagging for special outings, and the school simply couldn’t cope with that. He promised he’d stay mum about it, and he did.

His visit to Gringotts went smoothly. After withdrawing some money from his trust vault he returned to the counter and asked the teller if he would mind letting Griphook know he was here, please.

“I am not a messenger owl, young wizard. If you do not have an appointment and do not know where to go that is not my concern,” scowled the teller. “Time is money, after all,” he hinted.

Mindful of Mr. Parkinson’s example at Yule, Harry decided perhaps a little less courtesy was called for. He straightened his back and assumed a haughty air.

“I think Griphook would be fascinated to hear how negligent in your duties you are. I am sure he is expecting me. You are aware of customer’s appointments, are you not?”

The goblin grinned a very toothy grin. Or perhaps it was a snarl. It was hard to tell. “You believe it is my job to keep track of your appointments?”

“It is your job to recognise them when they are announced. Now I insist on speaking to Griphook. If you know who he is?” he ended with a sceptical look as if he wasn’t sure the teller was smart enough to recognise the name.

“Hah! Not bad for a youngster. For a sickle I’ll send someone to fetch him to a room for you.”

“Well, I suppose that would be…” Harry hesitated. Mr. Parkinson hadn’t paid anything for the last meeting. “Unacceptable,” he finished, after a pause.

“Stingy little wizard,” grumbled the goblin. “Worth a try, though.” He smiled toothily again and rang a small bell, and someone came to lead Harry away to a private meeting room where eventually Griphook showed up with his yearly vault statement.

It was much like the last one, listing the contents and changes to Vaults 687 (the “Harold James Potter Trust Vault”) and 704 (“Potter Family Vault”) since April of 1991. The family vault had nothing unexpected - though seeing the total had risen again, with no deductions listed, was pleasant. His trust vault included notes on his withdrawals on the first of August and in December, a rather large payment of galleons to Hogwarts on the first of September, and the expected 10 knut bank fee. What he hadn’t expected was an additional withdrawal of 350 galleons in October.

“What’s this then?”

“I think you’ll find it’s a withdrawal. For 350 galleons,” Griphook grinned toothily.

“I can see that. Who made this withdrawal? Is it some kind of outrageous bank fee you neglected to mention?”

“No, Mr. Potter. If it was not a withdrawal your feeble brain has forgotten about, then it must have been made by one of the signatories on your account.”

“What? Who? You said my accounts were frozen!”

“Your family vault is frozen. Your trust account can be accessed by yourself and by the designated signatories, and terms may be renegotiated if you wish to enter into a… pleasant discussion of the matter.”

“You said nothing about other people being able to access my trust account last time I was here!”

“No-one asked.” Griphook smiled so wide you could see his pointed canine teeth. It seemed like there were more teeth than there should be in a mouth.

“Who is stealing my money,” asked Harry with gritted teeth.

“Legally accessing,” corrected Griphook. “Theft is a different and very serious matter. You’re not accusing Gringotts staff of theft are you Mr. Potter?”

“No, of course not,” said Harry hastily. “Sorry. Who took money out of my account then? If that is phrased sufficiently clearly for you?”

Griphook glanced at his vault statement, and then checked something in a ledger. “The signatory in question was a Mr. Dumbledore, and the reason for withdrawal of funds is listed as ‘Essential transportation costs for Harry Potter’. Acceptable under the conditions on the trust vault.”

So Professor Dumbledore was stealing his money. But why “transportation costs” in October? Then it struck him – his Nimbus 2000. He’d thought it was a gift from Professor McGonagall. Or that it might revert to the Quidditch team when he quit, but he’d been told he could keep it. Perhaps Dumbledore had taken money out to pay for his broomstick. Not nice, but not quite stealing.

“I require a list of uh, ‘signatories’ who are authorised to make withdrawals or changes to my account, and information on how to change that.”

“That’s quite a big request,” hinted Griphook.

Harry sighed. This was going to take forever. And he wasn’t actually feeling confident about his ability to negotiate changes to his account. He had other things he still wanted to get done today.

“Look, if I give you a couple of galleons, can you just change it so that no-one can access my account except me?”

“Certainly, Mr. Potter,” said the pleased goblin, taking some gold coins from an impatient Harry. “As you’re a youngling, for that price I’ll even advise that you nominate a second person who can access your account in case of emergencies.”

Harry thought it over briefly. It was good advice. But who to trust? “Neville Longbottom,” he concluded firmly.

“You’re not as dull as you look. I thought you were going to choose Mr. Parkinson.”

“And now no-one else can make withdrawals on my trust account except myself or Neville?”

“Once I’ve updated the ledger, that’s right,” said Griphook, sitting quietly at the desk.

“And can you do that now?”

Griphook grinned and wrote in the ledger. Harry Potter was learning fast, but with a tutor like the formidable word-duellist Mr. Parkinson, it was only to be expected. He’d rather have a naïve Muggle-born account to manage, but at least it was going to keep life interesting. He did so relish a challenge.

“Griphook, do you know how I can reach the Ministry of Magic relatively quickly?”

“We have a Floo connection to the Ministry’s Atrium on Level Eight you could access. For a fee.”

Harry sighed again, and reached for his purse. “Shall we negotiate that fee, then?”

“Gladly.”

***

Harry left the bank after a much longer time than he’d expected. He’d have to wrap up his business quickly if he didn’t want to arouse Professor McGonagall’s suspicions.

He didn’t have time to admire the Ministry very much. It was rather overwhelming, so he tried to keep his head down (insofar as a tall pointy hat allowed) and get straight to business. He first stopped by the Public Information Services Office, who’d told him they’d need his signature witnessed on a form requesting access to Potter Cottage. He suspected they doubted it was really him asking. That part turned out to be fairly straightforward, once the gawking and bleats of “so you’re really him” was over. Then he needed to take his paperwork up to Wizengamot Administration Services on Level Two. Where they took his form, but said they couldn’t authorise him to visit Potter Cottage today. The form would need to be processed, then sent to the Magical Maintenance Department who would in due course be in contact with him to arrange a time to visit inside the building, and possibly also to remove contents of the building, if decided appropriate by Wizengamot Administration Services officials.

“You must understand, Mr. Potter, that this building has been registered in trust as a historical landmark,” said a sympathetic but unhelpful bureaucrat.

“It’s my family home, and has my mum and dad’s things in it. They’d want me to have them. I’m sure it would be in their wills.”

“That's as may be, but I simply don’t personally have the authority to de-register a historic landmark just like that! There are procedures we have to follow.”

After asking for directions, Harry (and the unimpressed school owl on his shoulder) took the Floo back to Gringotts, and then headed out for a brief stint of shopping before meeting up with his teacher again. He didn’t have time left to linger, but wanted to show something for his hours of absence from her. So he grabbed an assortment of books from Flourish & Blotts, a size 2 silver cauldron from Potage's Cauldron Shop for his experiments (shrunk by the shopkeep for transport), and remembering that he’d claimed to be buying very late Christmas gifts for friends, quickly nipped into Amanuensis Quills and grabbed an assortment of quills dyed different colours, as well as stopping by a small stall out in the alley to buy a few jewellery trinkets for the ladies.

He also bought some sorbet in a cone to eat as he casually strolled back to rejoin Professor McGonagall. He hadn’t managed a quick trip out to Potter Cottage like he’d hoped, but he’d certainly learnt some useful things. He’d secured his vault account, learnt how to reach the Ministry of Magic, and moved his paperwork further up the chain to getting access to the cottage. Not a bad day, all things considered. 

Chapter Text

May 1992

After Easter break, as the weather grew warmer, Hermione reported in to their group about her progress in researching the protections on the stone. She’d managed to chat to Professor Flitwick over the holidays while asking him about revision for exams.

“Professor Flitwick has done something with enchanting a large number of small objects with flying charms as his defence,” she said.

“How did you figure that out?” asked Neville.

“Nothing could have been simpler. I simply told Professor Flitwick that Professor Dumbledore told me he’d helped with the defences on the third floor corridor room, and that he’d been very impressed with his excellent Charms work and told me to ask him all about it.”

“And that worked?” asked Harry.

“Like a charm,” she grinned. “He wouldn’t go into specifics, but talked about the differences between Levitation and Flight charms a lot, and individual versus mass enchantments.”

“Aren’t you worried he’ll talk to Professor Dumbledore about that?” asked Harry with a note of concern in his voice.

“Oh, I didn’t think of that. Well, I hope he doesn’t.”

Neville said, “I’ve almost finished my list of magical plants that can thrive indoors and might be dangerous, but I need a little more time to look up some rarer plants.”

It seemed like they had some very good leads on the stone’s defences, and Harry said he’d report in to Quirrell once Neville’s list was finished. Hermione said she still thought this was all a big mistake, and they should tell Professor McGonagall or Professor Dumbledore instead.

"Any of the teachers would do really, even Professor Snape," suggested Hermione. "You know, Professor McGonagall said he would absolutely never harm one of the students – that it definitely wasn't him who jinxed Harry's broom. And that while he can be a bit grumpy at times he's actually very brave and trustworthy-"

Neville actually snapped at her quite uncharacteristically angrily. “Once you’ve researched what that man did in the war, with his fellow Death Eaters, then I’ll listen to your opinion Hermione. Until then, I’d be most obliged if you would maintain silence on this matter.” Neville stalked off.

Hermione looked very upset, and a wide-eyed Ron said, “Whoa!! Neville!”

Harry told Hermione later that Neville had his reasons to dislike Snape, and he was sure Neville didn’t mean to offend her.

“If he wants me to research it, I’ll research it. But I think it was very rude of him.”

“It was rather ungallant of him to speak so to a lady, it must be said.”

Must you talk like Malfoy, Harry?”

“Sorry.”

Harry didn’t see much of Malfoy at all, though, unless he and Ron were fighting, or at the quarter year celebrations. It was Pansy’s lessons in etiquette and traditions just sinking in a bit. He just wanted to sound like everyone else, and between the Slytherin girls and Neville he tended to pick up a few words and phrases here and there. Ron threw in a few old-fashioned words occasionally, but didn’t speak as formally as the others. Hermione was the only one of his friends who used modern slang or pop culture references, and even she had a teacher’s pet’s tendency to use polite and correct language at all times.

On the first of May he joined the more traditionalist first years by the lake to celebrate Beltane. There was a lot of griping amongst the group about how they couldn’t have a proper bonfire. But they made do, and took turns jumping over a small campfire that had been lit with magic (all of them cast Incendio at the same time, so it wouldn’t matter so much if someone’s spell failed). Then they danced around it in a circle holding hands, which was a lot of fun. Goyle had smuggled a whole leg of roast beef out from the feast for them to share (Harry had no idea how he’d managed that without being spotted), and they each ate some, and cast a little of it into the fire quietly. A couple of wild fairies ventured out from the forest to flitter around their fire while everyone was chatting happily and Pansy was singing an old song (it sounded like it was a spell – apparently it was just in Latin). He’d seen the little creatures at Christmas too; they looked like tiny people with insect wings, and Harry still thought they were one of the most wonderful things he’d ever seen in the wizarding world! Everyone agreed it was a very propitious sign for their celebration.

***

Dudley was clearly starting to worry a bit about his own upcoming exams as May drew to a close and exams loomed ever closer. He sent plenty of notes and papers back and forth with Harry. They travelled via Muggle post to the postbox in London, and from there they were delivered to Hogsmeade (somehow) to be collected by the school owls. Dudley wanted to ensure Harry would know what he was facing for exams and what his topics were for end of year essays. Which Harry wouldn’t write for him, but for which he did provide outlines of suggested topics and sections to include. Harry was keeping up with Maths and Science in particular. Not because Dudley was especially interested, but because Harry was. He still hoped that after he’d finished at Hogwarts he might be able to go on to University. Ever since he’d started studying to help Dudley he’d been thinking about how good it would be to keep up his own education in ordinary subjects too. He had plans for the summer break to look into whether there were correspondence courses for teenagers to get their GCSEs and A levels without having to go to a normal school. There must be some kind of home schooling program he could jump in on, surely. And with the revelation over Yule that there was a family vault full of gold waiting for him when he was an adult, he didn’t need to worry about the cost draining his vault. He could even pay his own way to university without needing a scholarship! He didn’t want to be stuck in the magical ghetto, with no options for his future left except to stay among wizards because he had no qualifications to work anywhere except behind a fast food counter. He had bigger dreams than that. Of course, he wasn’t going to let Dudley know that he actually rather appreciated all the work he was sending. Let him keep thinking he owed Harry big time, so he’d keep the Dursleys off Harry’s back in regards to chores at home.

***                                      

At one of his lakeside meet-ups with the Slytherins, Daphne was eager to share a little piece of gossip she’d heard. “It’s about your favourite Slytherin, Pansy! Do you want to know what I heard from Crabbe about what he’s up to?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t need to be informed of anything Draco is doing, we’re very good friends,” sniffed Pansy.

Millicent made kissy faces behind her back at Tracey and Harry, and giggled.

“You’ll never guess, he’s been sneaking out after curfew to spy on Hagrid’s hut!”

“What?” said an astounded Pansy. “Why would he do that?”

“Well apparently,” whispered Daphne to them as they huddled in close to hear, “Hagrid has gotten a hold of a dragon egg, and it’s about to hatch! And you know how dear Draco is about dragons.”

“He’s dragon-crazy,” explained Tracey to Harry. “His name, you know.”

“Oh yes, the constellation. Latin for ‘dragon’, isn’t it?”

“You won’t tell the teachers, will you? Or Ron?” asked Millicent. “He’d get in ever so much trouble.” The other girls froze and looked worriedly at Harry.

“Perhaps ‘dear Draco’ should owe me a little favour then,” smirked Harry, trying to get them to lighten up.

Millicent and Tracey laughed, but the other two scowled at him.

“If you’re a big blabbermouth and get poor Draco in trouble, I will be most vexed with you!” said Pansy crossly.

“Perhaps I should’ve remembered we can’t trust you,” said Daphne with a sniff.

“Hey! I won’t dob. I’m just saying tit for tat, right? Maybe sometime he’ll need to keep a secret when I’m up to something I shouldn’t be, okay?”

“I suppose that’s fair,” mused Daphne consideringly.

Pansy kept scowling. “Why won’t you two just make friends? This is so difficult for me - you’re rather inconsiderate sometimes, Harry.”

The next time they met up in the library for a study session, Daphne quietly told Harry that she’d talked to Draco. She’d told Draco that Harry had approached her, to discuss how he’d seen Draco going down to Hagrid’s hut, and wanted to call in a claim. “He says he acknowledges your favour, and in return for your silence will keep a similar secret of yours when claimed at some point in the future, as proposed.”

Harry stared at her. “I was kind of joking, you know.”

“Were you? I thought you were serious. Well too late now, what’s done is done,” said Daphne with a shrug. “It’s not a bad thing to have acknowledged. Mayhap a favour like that ‘twill be useful sometime, and it’s not like he’s too cross. He complained, to be sure, but he respected your ‘Slytherin-like’ traditional attitude about it actually. And that you weren’t dobbing to Weasley of course. Weasley would run to a teacher like a nundu was after him.”

Pansy had invited Ernie to join them that day, for she wanted to talk all about fashion.

“So I thought you might appreciate us having a boy along for you to talk with – fashion for girls obviously varies a lot from male fashion! So I invited Macmillan to join us.”

“Hi Potter! Remember me from the uh…?” the Hufflepuff boy trailed off after an enthusiastic start.

“Yes, hi Ernie. Good to see you again.”

Ernie puffed up happily. “I heard you were looking into your family, Harry. I can call you Harry can’t I? There’s a link between the Macmillan and the Black families, but we’re not actually related. Different branches, you know. So we’re talking about fashion, Pansy said? Not sure I’ll be much help I’m afraid my dear chap – my parents buy most of my clothes.”

The two of them chatted about hat styles for a while, and what made men’s and women’s robes different, while the girls mostly chatted amongst themselves for a change. They were gossiping about fashionable hat decorations (apparently buckles were in this year), while working on their Charms homework.

Hermione wandered through the library – when she saw Harry with Pansy and her friends she usually immediately went and sat elsewhere, but today she broke that pattern and stopped by their table. “So are other students allowed in your private club today, then?” she said to Harry.

“Oh, Ernie Macmillan, may I introduce my good friend Hermione Granger?” Harry said with a formal wave of his hand to indicate her.

“My pleasure, ma’am,” said Ernie, copying Harry’s formality and reaching for Hermione’s hand to kiss.

She snatched her hand away before he could take it though. “No offence Ernie but I don’t do all that pure-blood stuff,” she said. “No-one does anymore really. Don’t you think it’s rather patriarchal and demeaning to women? You know I read in a book that…”

“Then perhaps it would be judicious of you to move along, if you do not appreciate the advantages that proper society and proper manners offer,” sniffed Pansy.

“Harry!” Hermione complained, turning to him.

“Well, she’s my cousin, Hermione. Maybe you could join us and just… not do the manners stuff you’re uncomfortable with? You don’t have to fight.”

“I think perhaps I know when I’m not really wanted,” complained Hermione, and walked off.

“She’s smarter than I thought,” drawled Pansy in an overly loud voice. Millicent, Daphne and Tracey all giggled along with her. Ernie and Harry just looked uncomfortable.

“Oh dear,” said Daphne, “look at Harry’s face. Harry, I guess now you know how Pansy feels about how you and Draco won’t try and make friends. Some people just don’t mix well together and there’s not much you can do about it!”

“Not without the right potion, anyway,” muttered Millicent, and snickered.

“It’s never like this in Hufflepuff,” sighed Ernie plaintively. “Sorry, Harry. Usually the girls think it’s charming.”

***

Neville finally had his list of dangerous plants ready for Quirrell. “Sorry it took so long Harry. The really tricky part was finding out the most efficacious defences to counter their abilities. These are the most likely plants that Professor Sprout might have used as a defence. They’re all dangerous to people, but not immediately lethal – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want to kill someone. And they will all cope with being kept indoors for a long period of time. Oh, and you can either find them locally or they are kept in one of the greenhouses.”

Harry read through the list. For so much research, it was shorter than he’d expected.

The Bundimun. Part creature, part fungus. It has a foul stench of decay, and can spit out acid. Good at hiding, but can be spotted if you look for rotting wood or dirt which it will need for food, as well as noticing its pungent smell. Vulnerable to Scouring Charms ( Scourgify) which will take care of a small infestation.

Cerebrumous Spattergroit spores. They could be kept in a jar that could break, and work like a virulent disease, causing purple pustules, severe confusion, and memory loss. You might forget what you’re even looking for. To improve this defence, any sealed containers with purple dust spores inside should be opaque. If encountered, an intruder could avoid the worst effects with a Bubble-Head Charm ( Ebublio ).

Bursting Mushrooms. They have a red and white spotted cap. If you approach them, they will swell and shrink rapidly before exploding violently. Easily avoided unless tightly clustered; a Shield Charm (Protego) may be employed if they explode. They can also be sliced from a distance with a Severing Charm (Diffindo) to negate their ability to explode.

Hiding jars of Spattergroit spores behind the mushrooms would create a good layered defence – levitate them in extremely slowly to avoid triggering the mushrooms’ defences.

Devil’s Snare. This plant has many tentacles that strangle anything that touches it. Struggling makes it hold tighter, and the Severing Charm (Diffindo) provokes a violent reaction so is unlikely to be employed by a knowledgeable intruder. One could play dead to encourage it to let go, or use fire spells (Incendio) or light spells (Lumos) to make it wither or recoil, as it prefers dark and damp conditions.

Fire Seed Bush. A reddish crystalline tree with no leaves. Grows in caves. One should avoid contact with seeds or branches, which is usually easy due to its distinctive appearance. The Freezing Spell (Glacius) is often employed to kill the plant or freeze its seeds.

“This is awesome, Neville!” enthused Harry. Neville beamed proudly. “I did think there might be more plants, though?”

“Well, it started out much longer, but as I said I had to rule a lot of them out because of reasons of climate or accessibility. There were a couple I even asked her about, when the situation allowed, but those she mentioned an unfamiliarity with I removed from the list. So that ruled a few more out.”

“I guess it’s time to talk to Professor Quirrell, then. He’s been anxious to hear about our progress. He reminded me just the other day that he needs help in figuring out the holes in the defences, so he can bolster the weak points. But Dumbledore is too secretive to share information that will let him do his job. Poor man, I think he’s terrified Snape is going to steal the stone every day. He’s looking so pale lately.”

“He might not be the best teacher, but he’s a smart man, I think,” said Neville thoughtfully.

Harry met up with Professor Quirrell the next day, in the DADA classroom at lunch time after classes were finished. He pulled an apple and a breadroll out of his bag to eat while they chatted.

“Hungry, Mr. P-P-Potter?”

Harry shrugged. “Old habit. You never know when you’ll get a chance for a snack.”

Quirrell peered at him with an almost suspicious look, and Harry felt the beginnings of another headache as he remembered going without food far too often, living with the Dursleys. The pressure eased as he closed his eyes and massaged his forehead.

“Stupid garlic smell,” Harry thought unhappily. He wished his favourite teacher wasn’t so paranoid about vampires.

“So, you h-have some results for me at last, you said?”

“Yes,” said Harry, bringing out his notes. “So, here’s what we know about the stone’s defences-“

“Ahhh,” interrupted Quirrell with a satisfied sigh. “So you’ve discovered that the t-t-treasure is the Philosopher’s Stone, then?”

“Yes, I remembered Professor Dumbledore mentioning it was a matter between him and Nicolas Flamel, and we figured it out from there, sir.”

“Br-br-ight children. It’s good to know things for c-c-certain, isn’t it?”

Harry told Quirrell about his own conclusions about McGonagall using animated stone statues or gargoyles as her defence, to avoid setting off their trigger conditions if possible, their vulnerability to acid and raw damage, and near-immunity to potions and many spells. He didn’t name names at any point, but reported that friends had helped conclude that there might soon be a young dragon guarding the stone somewhere, as well as the cerberus. He recommended adding a silencing charm to protect the cerberus from being put to sleep by music.

“Even baby dragons are very tough for one person to overcome - they’re immune to fire, or a single stunning spell, and their bite and fire breath are dangerous. We thought perhaps feeding it would be the most likely point of weakness Snape would exploit, perhaps with a potion-laced rabbit, for instance.”

“A very in-t-t-teresting thought, Mr. Potter,” nodded Quirrell thoughtfully.

He shared Hermione’s information about Professor Flitwick’s multiple flying objects. And concluded with reading out Neville’s list of dangerous plants and their vulnerabilities he should ward against.

“Very compre-hensive, Mr. P-Potter. But wh-what of Professor Dumbledore’s d-defences? Have you come across any c-c-clues as to what he may employ? Transfiguration is a strength of his also, but h-he is never so simple in his approach as McGonagall.”

Harry thought about it. “There’s a mirror, hidden somewhere in the school,” he said, remembering. “I came across it once - The Mirror of Erised. It shows you your heart’s desire. Dumbledore said he was going to move it to elsewhere in the school, and I shouldn’t go looking for it. Then he mentioned the third floor corridor – that’s probably not a coincidence. I also know he can spy on people really well, while invisible or not present. So he’s probably got some covert means of monitoring the stone, and making sure it’s safe.”

Professor Quirrell stared at him. “Y-you are a remarkable young wizard.”

Harry blushed, a little. “You’ll make sure it’s well guarded, won’t you, sir? I don’t want Snape to get it.”

“Never fear, Mr. Potter. I have the utmost interest in ensuring that the enemies of all I hold dear never get their greedy and malicious h-h-hands on the stone, Mr. Potter. I am, after all,” he said with a curious smile, “the Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher. I will not forget all you have done for me. You will be rewarded, in due course, for all you have done.”

Harry was proud to have helped.

“Sir, may I ask a question?”

“Respectful questions from those s-s-seeking to learn from their elders are… almost always welcomed.”

“Do you know why Professor Snape hates me so much? I think… I’m sure he hated me before I even spoke to him.”

“It’s interesting,” mused Quirrell, “he’s a c-c-complex man and has always been hard to read. But in th-this matter I believe I can cast a Lumos on the situation. Firstly, you are of course the famous Boy Who Lived, the d-defeater of the Dark Lord whom he used to follow faithfully. And secondly, I know he hated your f-father. They were enemies in school, you see. It is possible he declared a feud with the Potter family, when he was young.”

“So my family and his are enemies?”

“Who can say? We must see what sides you both fall down upon. I await the results with interest.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

“J-J-Just wait, Potter. Who is allied with wh-who, and who your enemies are will become clearer with time. There’s no n-n-need to be precipitate in your judgements. You should learn patience, as I have.”

***

The next couple of weeks were furiously busy as students crammed in preparation for their exams, which were gruellingly difficult for many. They all sweltered in the summer heat of the large classrooms where their written exams were done. Harry worried over the Anti-Cheating Quills, but was relieved to hear they simply stopped you copying or paraphrasing anything you read or heard during the exam, whether from another person or from hidden notes. Hermione stressed a lot over her results, as did Harry in his own way. He’d carefully ensured his snuff-box had whiskers after its transformation from a mouse, but wasn’t sure if he’d made the design on the lid too complex. Their last exam was History of Magic, which thanks to Harry’s arrangement with Millicent he was exceptionally well prepared for - he knew he’d get an Acceptable as planned.

The students all cheered at the conclusion of their last exam and flocked in crowds out into the sunny grounds to chat and relax. Hermione was going over the answers she’d given to a patiently listening Harry, while Neville and Ron were off in the lake’s shallows tickling the giant squid with Ron’s brothers.

Daphne and Pansy stopped by the tree the two were sitting under, with some gossip that Daphne was bursting to share. They subtly ignored Hermione and talked directly to Harry.

“Harry darling, you’ll never guess what happened! Hagrid’s hut has burned down!” announced Daphne, after a cursory polite greeting.

“Really? How did that happen? Cooking accident?”

“No, something made it burn down while he was out of his hut one night,” she said, with a significant look. Harry guessed she meant the baby dragon must’ve hatched, and might be responsible. “Perhaps his fire got out of control. He was out in the Forbidden Forest when it happened. He claims there’s a monster killing unicorns and drinking their blood, so he was hunting it! I shudder to think there’s such a creature out there, but there could be. In any case, he definitely wasn’t home when it happened. He’s been bawling about it like a big baby, and the Headmaster’s given him a room down in the dungeons near the Hufflepuffs until he has a new hut built.”

“That’s hardly sympathetic to a man who’s just lost his home,” criticised Hermione.

“Did we ask you for your opinion?” sneered Pansy.

“Thanks for stopping by,” said Harry desperately. “I’ll catch up with you later, alright?”

“Certainly, cousin,” said a smiling Pansy, throwing a pointed look at Hermione. “We’ll catch up in the library at our usual time. Come, Daphne.” She swept away, with Daphne trailing behind her, waving to Harry.

“I don’t know how you can stand them,” griped Hermione.

“They’re much nicer when we’re on our own,” explained Harry weakly. Friends were definitely harder to manage than he’d imagined. 

Chapter Text

July, 1992

Exams were always a very stressful time for Harry, and he was glad the last one was finished. The grades would be given out a couple of days after the end-of-year feast, just before they all went home for the summer. It would be an anxious wait.

Dumbledore wasn’t at the High Table at dinner that evening – the best guess from Percy was that he’d be talking with officials at the Ministry about the OWL and NEWT exams, as they’d just been completed too. Harry worried a little to himself that Snape might try for the stone that evening, with its staunchest defender away. He watched him suspiciously, but the man didn’t do anything except eat his dinner, and he never even looked in Harry’s direction. He looked over to make sure that at least Professor Quirrell was there – he sighed with relief to see him sitting in his usual place. Quirrell smiled at him and gave him a little brief nod of greeting before turning his attention back to his food and his conversation with Professor Flitwick.

Harry went to bed that night sure that Professor Quirrell would handle any trouble that Snape might cause. But it seemed that it wouldn’t be as easy as all that. In the middle of the night, he was awoken by a prod to his side and a quiet hissing call of, “Mr. Potter! Boy! Wake up!” Harry woke immediately, and scrambled out of bed in a daze.

“I’m up! I’ll start cooking breakfast right away! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Uncle Vernon!” said a panicked Harry, raising his hands to protect his head.

He blinked sleepily at his surroundings, surprised to see a blank-faced Professor Quirrell standing next to his bed at Hogwarts, instead of being at home with an angry Uncle Vernon.

Harry lowered his arms, feeling rather silly. “Sir? What? Sorry. I was asleep - dreaming. What’s going on? Did I wake people?” Harry glanced around worriedly, but nothing seemed amiss, and his friends still seemed to be sleeping.

“There is a small problem with the stone’s defences, Mr. Potter, which I require assistance with. Snape is after the stone right now, and I need your h-help securing it,” explained Quirrell in whispers.

“But what more could I do? Surely the other teachers would be able to help better than I.”

“I appear to be having a… s-s-slight problem with the Mirror’s defences, Mr. Potter, and as you’ve encountered it before, it occurred to me that you may be able to render some assistance in this matter.”

“But you’ve secured everything so well now surely. And I really think Professor Flitwick-” started Harry, reluctance obvious in his voice. He didn’t want to have to face a dangerous wizard in the middle of the night – reading ahead in DADA wasn’t going to be enough to protect him yet. But he didn’t get to finish his thought, for it appeared his professor was on his last thread of patience.

“I don’t have time for this, Potter! Snape is lurking about, and Dumbledore may return at any moment!” Quirrell hissed angrily. “Stupefy!” A red jet of light whizzed towards him, and the last things Harry saw before he fell unconscious were Neville’s eyes watching him worriedly from the bed across from his.

***

Harry awoke lying on the cold stone floor of a rather bare room, with Quirrell’s wand pointed at him. He looked around puzzledly - there was a large mirror standing in the room, and there appeared to be only one exit – a door covered in black flames.

“Professor?” Harry climbed to his feet shakily. “What was that for?”

“I didn’t have time for an argument in your dorm, Mr. Potter. T-t-time is of the essence tonight. With Dumbledore away, Snape is after the stone. And… so am I.”

“What?!”

“You see, Mr. P-P-Potter,” said Quirrell, starting to unwind his turban very slowly, “the stone offers amazing healing potential, even to those on the very brink of death. And unfortunately while on my Grand Tour I visited the Black Forest in A-A-Albania, and had a great deal of trouble with some hags. They c-c-cursed me to the brink of death. I’m dying.”

The last bit of the turban unwound, Professor Quirrell waved his wand and muttered a few words under his breath that Harry didn’t catch. The turban cloth tidied itself into a neat coil on the floor, and Quirrell turned to show Harry the back of his head – it was hideous. The skin on his bald head was green and pustulent, with oozing sores everywhere. The skull looked pitted in places, like it was on the verge of collapsing because the bone was so fragile. Harry thought he saw a little bit of pinkish brain in one of the worst spots. He thought he was going to throw up, it was so horrible. His head ached and his stomach roiled with nausea.

“N-n-not a pretty sight, is it Mr. Potter?” Quirrell waved his wand and with a muttered word the turban cloth flew up and wound itself back into place on his head.

Harry shook his head mutely.

“And I need that stone, Mr. Potter,” he said, turning to stare into the mirror. “I need it to live. As a whole m-m-man. Wizards can survive blows that would fell a mere M-Muggle, Mr. Potter. I s-s-survive, a mere shadow of the man I was. Ruined - but alive. And when I look in this mirror, I can see the stone, but I cannot retrieve it. The mirror is the k-key to finding the stone. Trust Dumbledore to come up with something like this. He is in London now, and I would v-v-very much like to have the stone and be far away by the time he gets back.”

“It’s not yours, though,” said Harry tentatively. “Couldn’t you just ask to borrow it? Perhaps if you explained…”

“You think Dumbledore a good man? L-l-let me tell you now, Mr. Potter, there is no good and evil, only power, and those too weak to seek it. He would never give it to me – he is too greedy, too grasping of his own power. He is no saint. He sees my d-d-death as being all part of the natural order of th-things. He has no pity. But do you, Harry?”

Harry thought about it, through the pounding headache that was starting up. He’d much rather see Professor Quirrell get the stone than Snape. And he did feel sorry for him. If it was him who was sick like that – dying – with that creepy Dumbledore refusing to help… why he’d steal the stone too. “Yes, Professor. I’ll help you, if I can. And if you absolutely ensure that no-one blames me for it going missing. I don’t want people pointing fingers at me, calling me a criminal.”

“Certainly!” said Quirrell, looking very pleased. “I shall ensure it. Now, come and stand in front of the mirror, and tell me what you see.”

Harry looked into the mirror. He expected to see his family and friends again, but instead saw his reflection, looking a bit nervous. Tidy black hair with a long fringe, rectangular silver glasses, and the lightning bolt scar peeking out from under his hair – the scar that he never minded so much until he found out it was a brand of his fame.

“I just see myself – wait!” he exclaimed surprised, as his reflection changed and didn’t perfectly match him anymore. His reflection smiled at him, and put its hand into its pocket and pulled out a blood-red stone. It winked and put the stone back in its pocket – and as it did so, Harry felt something heavy drop into his real pocket. Somehow – incredibly – he’d got the Philosopher’s Stone.

“Well?” said Quirrell impatiently. “What do you see?”

“The stone,” said Harry. “And I think I’ve got it!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Philosopher’s Stone. “Is this it?”

“Give it to me,” said Quirrell, and Harry passed it to him.

“Ahhh, at last. Well done, boy.”

“Harry.”

“What?”

“I’d rather you called me Harry - not boy. We’re friends now, right? A first name basis is appropriate for close family, friends or allies who come to your aid when called upon.”

“To think – the famous Boy Who Lived counts me as an ally,” smiled Quirrell.

Harry shifted uncomfortably. “Will it… heal you?”

“It should…” Quirrell mused, staring at the stone.

“Quite the large favour then, helping you get that,” hinted Harry.

“You dare!?” hissed Quirrell, then seemed to compose himself, getting his temper back under control. “I will acknowledge no life debt,” he said coolly, “for I could have managed without your aid if I had to - another child may have sufficed. And I will be already be covering for your actions this evening, as discussed.”

“Oh! No, no life debt,” said Harry. “Sorry. I just wanted to say, maybe I could borrow the stone one day. It’s not for me. I’m hoping to be a Healer, you see, and maybe there might be someone else who needs help. Like you. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. Pansy’s tried to teach me about trading favours properly – I guess I did it wrong.”

“…Agreed then,” said Quirrell stiffly. “One loan of the stone at a future date. For no more than a month. And next time you t-t-try claiming a favour, do so with more delicacy.” Harry apologetically agreed that he would. Quirrell spent a little time explaining in detail exactly why he didn’t feel a life debt would apply, and getting Harry to formally concede, sworn in Merlin's name, that no life debt was owed over this matter.

Quirrell eventually tucked the stone away in a pocket of his robe, and drew his wand. “Now that’s dealt with, prepare to d-defend yourself.”

“What?”

“I will be attacking you shortly, Mr. Potter. A mock duel so that your wand will register some appropriate spells should Prior Incantato be cast later to reveal your spellcasting history. You may be the brave hero who attempted to stop me absconding with the stone, alas, to be beaten and knocked unconscious.”

“You won’t hurt me too much?” he said nervously.

“Nothing too hard to heal, Harry. And sadly, my spellcasting isn’t what it once was, while I suffer under my current… indignities. Now, bow, then defend yourself, and attack me in turn!”

Harry bowed, to the correct angle for greeting a respected elder or social superior. And Quirrell bowed too (very politely as if to an equal, Harry noticed), sweeping his wand up formally in front of his chest as he did so.

“You won’t s-s-stop me, Potter!” said Quirrell dramatically, casting a cutting curse at Harry that slashed through his pyjama sleeve, cutting thinly into his arm. “The s-stone is mine!”

Harry looked wide eyed at him, and then quickly dived out of the way of another curse. “Incendio!” he cast in return, aiming a jet of fire just to the side of Quirrell.

“You th-think to defeat me with that paltry attempt?”

“You won’t get away with stealing the stone – I’m going to stop you!” Harry said, getting into his role.

And it was just they were engaging in another bout of exchanging spellfire that Neville opened the door covered in black flame and burst into the room, patting briefly at his nightshirt as if worried it might be on fire.

“Harry! Professor Quirrell?!”

Quirrell looked briefly startled, but recovered his poise quickly. “A f-f-friend of yours seeks to aid you in stopping me from l-leaving with the stone, Potter? Nonetheless I shall prevail! Confringo!” He shot a quick blasting curse just past Harry, which hit the wall behind him, making sharp shards of stone explode everywhere, some of them slicing painfully into Harry’s legs. Harry cried out in pain and collapsed to the floor. He knew he should keep fighting, and gritted his teeth against the pain as he picked up the wand he’d dropped in shock.

Flipendo!” he yelled from where he lay on the floor, aiming the Knockback Jinx straight at Quirrell’s chest and with a loud bang Quirrell was knocked backwards.

Quirrell snarled angrily, and glancing over he saw Neville fumbling in his nightshirt pocket and getting out his wand, so cast quickly. “Stupefy!

“Neville!” called Harry worriedly as Neville slumped to the ground.

“Oh, he’s quite alright, Mr. Potter. It’s the s-s-same spell I used on you earlier,” said Professor Quirrell with blithe unconcern. “It merely stuns one’s opponent without otherwise harming them. Sometimes I wonder if I chose correctly,” he mused, looking lost in thought as he gazed down at Neville’s still, unconscious body on the floor. He twirled his wand in his hand absent-mindedly.

“In any case, remember H-Harry - having a power doesn’t mean an obligation to use it, you know. Think about that. For now, I think I’d best hurry away, leaving you both unconscious, having bravely attempted to stop me as I rushed off with the s-s-stone.”

“I suppose that might be best. Good luck, Professor.”

“Learn well, Harry. When Dumbledore questions you, avoid looking him in the eyes if you can, lest he read your mind, the meddling old fool. Focus on our fight just now if you think he is. Don’t tell anyone the truth about what happened here, or it will be you reaps the consequences, not I. Remember, you’re an accomplice to grand larceny now. Farewell, my young Gryffindor knight. Incarcerous. Stupefy.

And without waiting to hear Harry’s response, thin ropes shot from Quirrell’s wand to bind him, then a red light hit him again and Harry knew no more.

Chapter Text

July, 1992

Harry woke up a couple of days later in the Hospital Wing, being tended to by Madam Pomfrey. Dumbledore must have known he was about to wake up, for he was sitting smiling on a chair next to Harry’s bed. Harry blinked at him, momentarily confused as he looked around.

“Good afternoon, Harry,” said Dumbledore. Madam Pomfrey helped Harry sit up, cast a quick spell and peered at the resulting coloured lights approvingly, then left them alone to chat.

Harry stared at Dumbledore with confusion as he was fussed over, then remembered what had been going on. He looked away from Dumbledore’s eyes and instead looked wildly around the room.

“Sir! The stone! It was Quirrell! He’s got the stone! Sir, quick-”

“Calm yourself, dear boy, you are a little behind the times as you’ve been unconscious a couple of days now,” said Dumbledore.

“Did Quirrell get away with it? Is Neville alright?” Harry looked down and crumpled the white linen bedsheets in his hands, looking worried. Did Dumbledore really have the rare talent of Legilimency?

“Harry, please relax, or Madam Pomfrey will have me thrown out.”

Harry looked around. There was a table piled high with sweets and flowers next to his bed, and some cards with gilt scalloped edging.

“Tokens from your friends and admirers,” said Dumbledore beaming. “What happened down in the dungeons with Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows.” The headmaster looked over his gifts. “You have some sweets from your friends Mr. Ronald Weasley and Miss Granger I see, and more from Mr. Longbottom. Ah, some flowers from Mr. Percival Weasley, and some more flowers from… Miss Pansy Parkinson and friends?” Dumbledore’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“She’s my cousin, sir. Well, separated by a few generations, of course. And a friend.”

“Slytherins are not always the most loyal of friends,” warned Dumbledore. “I have learnt in my life, with the deepest regret, that one must be very selective in choosing who to trust and befriend, Harry. I do not want to see you led onto a dark path by an ill-chosen friendship. Your friends Ron and Hermione, and Neville too - now I am sure such friendships as those are valuable to foster.”

Harry with wide and innocent eyes (he’d practised the look many times in the mirror) promised to always be careful, and that he really wasn’t that close with Pansy, as she could be quite annoyingly bigoted at times.

Did the meddling old wizard seriously want to control every aspect of his life, right down to who his friends were? Dumbledore smiled approvingly, and as Harry looked away from his eyes again to select some sweets to eat, explained to a curious Harry what had happened with the stone.

Neville had seen Harry being stunned by Professor Quirrell in their dorm, and fearing trouble, had gathered Ron and Hermione (with help fetching her from an older female student they found up late in the common room). Hermione had insisted on going to Professor McGonagall and explaining the situation to gain her advice and help. Ron on the other hand disagreed, and was adamant in his view that Harry might need immediate aid. He split from Hermione and took Neville with him to the third floor corridor.

“It took some time for your friend Miss Granger to convince Professor McGonagall to investigate. She knew, of course, that Professor Snape was no threat to the stone – he is no thief and a trusted member of staff. However, once she heard that Professor Quirrell had stunned you and abducted you from your dorm, she leapt into action. Miss Granger was left in her room while your professor sent a message to me and went to the third floor corridor. She found you and Neville stunned, and the stone and Professor Quirrell gone, sadly.”

“What happened with Ron and Neville? I saw Neville for a moment, he came through the door that was on fire, and Professor Quirrell knocked him out.”

“Why those two intrepid young men passed through a number of challenges that were set to stall or stop intruders. Mr. Longbottom got them past the Devil’s Snare, Mr. Weasley displayed some excellent flying skills and then played a rather fine game of chess though did suffer a small injury in the process, and Mr. Longbottom eventually deciphered a riddle with some potions. He was quite justifiably proud of that, and it let him pass through the flames safely to reach you.”

“And the stone?”

Dumbledore looked grave. “Alas, lost. Professor Quirrell has absconded with it.” He talked about Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel, and how death was just another grand adventure, and they would make peace with their fates. “I fear most what Professor Quirrell may do with the stone now it is in his possession. I believe it is possible that he may seek to take it to his master, Voldemort.”

“What?! But he’s dead, isn’t he? He’s dead. Professor McGonagall promised he was gone for good. And I thought Snape used to be his servant. Perhaps Professor Quirrell wanted it for another reason…?” he asked leadingly.

Professor Snape, Harry. He’s a most loyal and trustworthy fellow, and has watched over both you and the stone most carefully this year. And some people, myself among them, believe that the threat of Voldemort is not completely gone. His servants may seek to restore him, and there is some suggestion that his spirit lingers in this world yet.”

Harry looked away, scepticism obvious on his face. “Professor Snape hates me, and he hated my father. And I heard he was a Death Eater.”

“His past is done with, and not truly as black as you’ve heard. He is no follower of Voldemort – he has my full trust. It is true that your father and he did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr Malfoy, perhaps. And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive – your father saved his life.”

Harry nodded. Snape would surely hate owing someone he was feuding with a life debt. “How did that happen, sir?”

“He saved him from being savaged by a werewolf, my boy. I believe Professor Snape struggles with being in your father’s debt - I believe it’s why he has worked so hard to protect and watch over you this year.”

“Of course, sir,” said a politely sceptical Harry. That kind of friend he could do without.

“I thought perhaps… that Professor Quirrell was rather unwell. He looked like he was really sick? And like casting magic was harder for him than it should be?” Harry said leadingly, tired of Dumbledore dancing around the truth, and wanting to hear some outside confirmation of what Quirrell had accused him of. Without giving too much away.

“Hmmm… I think perhaps he was,” said Dumbledore gravely and thoughtfully. “I am sorry to say that there have been some deaths of unicorns in their forest. I believe that he might have been forced to pay a terrible price for his… association with Voldemort. Either he or his master needed that blood, most desperately. It keeps you alive, but at a terrible cost.”

“Unicorn blood is like a super medicine?” Harry asked, startled.

“Only for the most desperate of individuals who has nothing to lose. The price is a dreadful one. For from the moment you slay such a pure creature, or the moment the blood touches your lips, you will live a cursed life.”

Dumbledore asked him a couple of questions about what happened with Quirrell, and seemed satisfied with his answers. And Harry was satisfied with Dumbledore’s confirmation of Quirrrell’s story.

Harry shifted the conversation away after a while. “May I ask, how did I manage to get the stone out of the mirror? Professor Quirrell made me look in the mirror, and the next moment I had the stone in my pocket.”

A proud Dumbledore explained about how only one who wanted to find the stone, but not use it, could retrieve it from the mirror. And then helped himself to some of Harry’s sweets. Harry was quietly pleased that the man happened across an earwax flavoured jellybean. That would teach him to steal his sweets – the man was as rude as Dudley. And fancy Dumbledore blaming Voldemort for poor Professor Quirrell’s crippling terminal illness. What a horrible liar – the Dark Lord was dead, for Merlin’s sake! Everyone said so, and all the books agreed. Crazy old wizard. Harry was proud not to be like Dumbledore. Harry would save someone who needed help, no matter what.

***

Harry was kept in the Hospital Wing for another day “just in case” - even though he felt perfectly well he wasn’t allowed to leave. His friends Neville and Hermione stopped by first, with Ron tagging along as usual. Harry was pretty impressed with Ron’s retelling of how he’d brought Neville to try and save him and Quirrell from Snape.

“Not that it was Snape in the end! What a shock it turned out that Quirrell was working for You-Know-Who all along!” said Ron.

“So the headmaster says. I’m not sure there’s much evidence of that. The man’s dead, after all.”

“Quirrell’s dead?” asked Neville.

“No, the Dark Lord!”

“He might be hoping to bring You-Know-Who back from the dead with the stone, you know. Didn’t I tell you that Snape wasn’t going to steal anything? Professor McGonagall told me he’s actually very trustworthy. But Quirrell is definitely more Dark than we suspected – he stole the stone, and put you in the Hospital Wing!” objected Hermione. “I can’t believe he fooled us all! I was so worried about you!”

“Perhaps it was true that Snape hadn’t been after the stone at all – Professor Quirrell may well have been lying about that. Professor Quirrell gave me quite the duel,” conceded Harry, trying to let the topic drop. He didn’t understand why they trusted the Headmaster so blindly. He was actually telling the truth about how he thought how Snape maybe hadn’t been after the stone – adults lied, and obviously Professor Quirrell was no exception to that rule either. Still, he had good cause. What reason Dumbledore had to lie so ridiculously to him was beyond him, though.

“Professor McGonagall told me later that she wasn’t happy when she reached you Harry,” said Hermione. “I mean, obviously because you were unconscious and hurt, and Quirrell got away. But she complained once while she was visiting you, and I was here – she said that the defences were supposed to be better. Apparently her chessmen weren’t working at all how she expected.”

“I would venture that Professor Quirrell did something to them when he came through,” suggested Neville.

“I suppose so. I really wish we hadn’t helped him,” sighed Hermione. “But how were we to know?”

“Me too,” said Neville, looking quite despondent. “All that work! And it was just to help a thief, not the ones trying to stop the thief. I thought maybe it’d be something to tell Gran about - if we caught Snape. But now if I told her what I have done she’d be so ashamed. If only we’d caught Quirrell – we would have been heroes, Harry. I guess I’m just not that good at magic. He knocked me out right away. And who knows what he’s off doing with that stone now.”

“You weren’t to know. None of us knew,” consoled Harry. “And I got knocked out as well, remember? And there’s no reason to assume Quirrell is going to try and resurrect the Dark Lord. He probably just wanted it for reasons of his own,” Harry said, giving a little of the truth but wary of the portraits around the hospital wing who might be listening in. “Professor Dumbledore agreed that he was quite sick.”

“Thanks Harry,” said Neville, still not looking very cheerful despite Harry’s obvious attempt to bolster his spirits.

“Dumbledore told us Professor Quirrell was certainly working for Voldemort-”

Ron flinched. “Do you have to say his name?”

“-so I think there’s not much doubt there,” concluded Hermione. “And sorry, I forgot, Ron. I still think it’s an odd tradition wizards have, but I’m trying,” she added, with a glance at Harry. Harry gave her a nod of acknowledgement, and she smiled at him in return.

Harry encouraged Neville to tell him all about the challenges the teachers had set to guard the stone (Neville was sort of proud the Devil’s Snare had been on his list), and thanked them all for their help, misdirected though it turned out to be in the end. Ron was now sure they’d been wrong about Snape all along (though he still thought Snape was a git), and Hermione had never been completely convinced in the first place. Neville seemed lost in self-recriminations at the moment, but was comforted that he wasn’t the only one who was fooled – even the teachers had been. Harry wasn’t planning to tell them the truth about Quirrell unless he thought they wouldn’t blab, and right now he thought they all might. It wasn’t worth the risk. He supposed his tendency to choose personal safety over friendship was what made the Sorting Hat insist he was no Hufflepuff.

Ron urged Harry to show up for the end-of-year feast the next day, and sadly reflected that they’d lost the house cup. “The points are all in and Slytherin won, of course – without you playing Quidditch our team just got steamrollered which didn’t help,” Ron said, a little crankily. “Anyway, the food will be good so you have to get out of here in time.”

***

After a good night’s sleep, Madam Pomfrey cleared him to join his friends that evening. But first he had another visitor – Professor McGonagall stopped by with her apologies for not acting faster to help save him from Professor Quirrell. And she had a gift for him – a handsome leather-bound photo album, full of wizard photographs of his parents.

“The photos have been contributed by some of your parents’ old school friends. We hope you like it.”

“I love it,” said Harry, gazing at the pictures. “I only had one photo of my mum - this, this is amazing. Thank you, Professor.”

At the feast that night, Harry tried to ignore the stares and whispers as he walked in. People were even standing up to look at him! It was horrible.

The Great Hall was decorated in green and silver everywhere to celebrate Slytherin winning the house cup for the seventh year in a row. But Dumbledore had some last minute points to allocate. Ron got fifty points for his excellent game of chess, and roars of approval from the Gryffindors (especially his brothers). Neville was given fifty points for cool logic in the face of danger, and looked fit to burst with pride. Harry himself got sixty points, “for pure nerve and outstanding courage”. The table broke into excited cheers as they realised they were tied, and needed only one more point to beat Slytherin. Dumbledore held up his hand for silence.

“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much courage and wisdom to share your troubles with a teacher and admit you need help. I therefore award ten points to Miss Hermione Granger.”

The resultant cheering and celebration was deafening, and Hermione was swamped under a pile of people hugging her.

Harry clapped and cheered with the rest of the Gryffindors as the banners changed. But as he glanced over at the scowling Slytherins, he knew exactly what the headmaster was up to. And by Merlin, he was not going to let it work.

***

Harry managed to catch Pansy the next day, by sending a note with an older Slytherin who was heading back to the Slytherin dorms. The boy opened the note and read it as he walked. But that didn’t matter – it was just asking her to meet him at the lake.

She came to meet him as requested, with Daphne in tow. “So, the Gryffindor champion, man of the hour. You must be proud,” Pansy smiled tightly but her voice was cheerful. “You beat Slytherin.”

Harry knew that look - he’d worn a false smile a time or two himself. “Now Pansy, I hope you’re not holding that Merlin-wannabe’s actions against me. He doesn’t want us to be friends, you know. Warned me against you specifically, and the disloyalty of non-Gryffindors in general.”

Pansy’s smile faded and she looked thoughtful. “Everyone in Slytherin hates you right now, you know.”

“Don’t you think it was rather obvious? If he’d just wanted to reward me or the others for our actions, he could’ve done so days before. Leaving it ‘til the feast guaranteed there was no way for Slytherin, or any other house, to earn more points.”

“Sneaky,” admired Daphne. “But rather lacking in subtlety, now you mention it. Don’t worry Harry, we’ll spread the word.” Pansy nodded.

Exam results arrived a couple of days later and were much as expected, with Hermione at the top of almost all their classes (at least among the Gryffindors). Neville took the top spot for Herbology, and only just managed to scrape an A in Potions (which he was extremely happy with). Ron passed with mostly good marks, somewhat to Harry’s surprise.

When the Slytherins spotted him in the library sitting with Hermione and Neville they gave him an enquiring look. He shook his head warningly (he didn’t them to scare off Hermione), and the girls huddled together to chat. Then they split up – Pansy and Tracey headed off elsewhere, while Daphne and Millicent stopped by to say hello.

“Hello, Harry, Neville, Hermione. How did you go on your exams, Harry?” Millicent asked politely.

“Not bad. I got one Outstanding, and Exceeds Expectations for Herbology and Charms,” he said casually. Flitwick was an observant chap, and he’d decided in the end an E would draw less attention. “D for Potions of course.”

“You know Harry you did really great getting an O in Defence. But I know you’re smart and with the amount of effort you put in earlier during the year I’m certain if you’d just studied more for exams you would’ve done better in your other subjects,” chided Hermione. “I have no idea how Neville got better than you for Potions. And I know you could have gotten better than an Acceptable in History of Magic if you’d just put more effort into revising for that – it’s pure theory after all. You know I’d be happy to help you any time, you just have to ask.”

Millicent narrowed her eyes thoughtfully at Harry. “Really. I got an O for that.”

Harry flinched, and knew he was caught, but she just smiled at him with a raised eyebrow, and didn’t say anything else. He sighed, and nodded shortly at her. She nodded back. It looked like she’d either be interrogating him or calling in a favour… later.

“Pansy says to be sure to write over the holidays,” relayed Daphne. Harry got Daphne and Pansy’s addresses, and gave his for Daphne to share with whomever of his friends wanted it. Millicent said her father wouldn’t want them corresponding without his approval.

“That’s so oppressive. You’re a free woman! Well, a free girl,” said Hermione. “You can write to him if you want to, you know,” she said encouragingly.

“It wouldn’t be proper,” explained Millicent politely. “I’d rather not.”

“My parents won’t mind,” said Daphne, with a little giggle that Millicent joined in with. “But father will probably read over the letters, so don’t write anything you shouldn’t, Harry!”

 “Well I’ll write to you too if you like, Harry,” offered Hermione. “The regular way, since I don’t have an owl.”

“That would be great!” said Harry happily. It was going to be a good summer.

***

Soon their bags were packed, wardrobes emptied, and notes given out warning them not to use magic over summer. Harry had no intention of doing magic over the break, but threw away his note to remove the evidence of the warning. He was going to politely inform the Dursleys of his personal consideration for their feelings in not using magic in their home – not like his mother turning teacups into toads, or whatever it was she used to do.

Harry had been trying to get a private moment to chat with Neville before they left Hogwarts for the summer, but what with one thing or another only managed to snatch a brief chance to give him his best tips on managing his Great Uncle Algie.

“When I was still having uh… trouble with the Dursleys, I put in an extra effort to find out what they expected of me, and what their hobbies and favourite foods were – that kind of thing. Name drop anyone your Uncle might be intimidated by too – like, ‘Dumbledore gave me fifty points at the end of the year for my courage and logic.’ Oh! And I think if you want to get your Uncle Algie to back off, as well as showing your Hogwarts results you should find out what chores he’d most like you to do a better job on.”

Neville looked at him oddly. “He doesn’t live with us, and the only chores I do are making my bed, and looking after my plants in the greenhouse.”

Harry was surprised. “That’s all?” Neville nodded. Harry changed mental gears quickly. Neville was horribly pampered like Dudley – it was a bit of a shock. You could be pampered and mistreated? “I suppose you have an allowance, then?”

“Yes.”

“Then the next best thing to try I think would be to get your uncle a gift – something he likes. In thanks for your toad that you love so much, and for all his valuable advice and help over the years that’s helped make you into the strong wizard you are today.”

Neville looked a bit disgusted. “His valuable help?”

“You don’t have to mean it. Just look like you mean it.”

The others arrived at the Hogsmeade train station then, and he had to wrap up quickly with a muttered, “Good luck.” The Gryffindor friends chattered all the way on the train to Kings Cross Station, and when they arrived Harry cringed to hear Ron’s sister squealing and pointing him out to her mother excitedly. Harry ignored her, and thanked Mrs Weasley in person for the jumper she’d made him for Christmas.

Then he found the Dursleys on the other side of the barrier, who were looking very wary (almost terrified) of all the strangely dressed people who were wandering around.

“Thanks for picking me up,” he said sincerely. It was brave of them to mingle with people they feared so much, with good reason. “Next time if you like I can meet you in a car park or something. I know there’s lots of uh, them, around at the moment. Let’s head home.”

It was going to be a good summer, just being normal again for a while.