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The world had gone to hell. There was no denying it. Both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds had been affected; the hard line between them had been soundly shattered within the last few years. Not that anyone really cared about the existence of magic any more, not when it was so rapidly draining from the world.

The loss of magic had started, as do many things like it, with good intentions. The past century, it was reasoned, had been overshadowed by two of the worst Dark Lords in history. What better way, then, to make sure it never happened again than to stop it before it started? After all it was a well-known fact that those with an affinity for Dark Magic were born with it, so why not tackle the problem at the source? The Department of Mysteries were set on the problem, and two years after the final death of the Dark Lord Voldemort, they released their solution into the world.

It worked for all of two months before the magical disease began to mutate beyond their wildest nightmares.

Those with an affinity for Dark magic fell ill first, mainly the adults who had been producing magic for years. The children began losing their magic next and then-- And then, it jumped to those attuned to Gray magic, something the sickness' creators had never imagined it might do. Prominent members of the neutral faction began losing their magic, leaving the Wizengamot even further drained of its seated members.

The disease then jumped to both those with an affinity for Light magic and the world of the Muggles. Thousands died in Great Britain alone, given the high rate of Squibs that had intermarried with Muggle lines over the years. It was labeled as a pandemic three months after it was released. Scientists and experts were baffled by both the virulent plague and the fact that it acted like no known disease, either historical or current. It attacked the magical cores of the afflicted first, followed by more mundane systems. In the end, the afflicted wasted away due to extreme dehydration and malnutrition, no matter what methods were employed to combat those symptoms. Once someone who was infected stopped voluntarily eating, they had maybe two weeks to live at most.

With so many dying, the world's governments were hard-pressed to devote resources to extraneous projects or keeping infrastructures intact. It wasn't long before fights, battles, and then finally a series of desperate wars broke out amongst the nations, each seeking to lay the blame on someone.

London and the surrounding areas soon returned to the state they'd been in during the Blitz. Those that survived turned into scavengers, living in the broken and burned out remains of once-bustling buildings. Three such survivors had taken up residence in what had once been an Underground Station near King's Cross. It was protected from the elements and other people, which made it perfect for them.

Late one night, one of the three came back to the Den, as they'd taken to calling the hideaway, a half-filled rucksack slung over a shoulder holding the meager results of his scavenging run. The rudimentary wards at the entrance brushed over him before letting him through, going quiescent once more after he'd passed.

Draco? Harry? I'm back!” he called out as he stepped off the rubble-strewn stairs.

Over here, Neville,” Harry called back. He was sitting beside the blanket-covered form of Draco, who was glaring halfheartedly at him from his position on the thin mattress on the floor.

Still being a stubborn ass?” Neville asked in fond amusement as he set his bag down and then began to take his shoes off.

Yes,” Harry said. At the same time, Draco tried to protest with a “No!” that was interrupted by a bought of coughing. Harry just sighed and then handed him an open bottle of water to sip on after the coughing was done.

We're doing it tonight,” Harry said. “We don't have much longer, and it's the perfect time to do it given how thin the Veil is at the moment.”

I hardly have any magic left,” Draco rasped. “Even with the bond--”

We have enough magic for this,” Neville interrupted. “If it works, then we'll be able to change so much, and hopefully for the better. If not...” He shrugged. “Well, it'll hardly matter, given how the world is. Either way, we'll be together, and that's what matters the most.”

Sentimental lion,” Draco muttered, though there was hardly any heat behind it.

Stubborn snake,” Neville retorted, reaching out to take hold of Draco's free hand. They stayed like that for a long while before Harry started to get things ready for the ritual. Half an hour later, he finished setting everything up. The potion they needed to take had been carefully brewed during the last full moon using precious ingredients that had been found in an abandoned apothecary in Diagon Alley. It was kept waiting in three opaque bottles that sat nearby.

Harry kept an eye on his cracked watch, and when it was five minutes to midnight, he gave Neville and Draco their bottles before taking his own. He downed the surprisingly sweet-tasting brew before laying down on Draco's left. Neville mirrored his actions, setting his empty bottle aside before laying down on Draco's right. The three wizards began chanting in practiced unison one minute before midnight, the spell finishing with a thunderous crescendo right as the clock struck twelve.

The explosion that Halloween night leveled three city blocks and left a crater fifty meters deep at the center, with not a trace of what had caused it left behind.

Chapter Text

Harry woke with a start, darkness surrounding him. He jolted upright and nearly hit his head on the ceiling above him. Blinking, he looked around, taking in the familiar dim surroundings. His cupboard. He hadn't seen the inside of it for over a decade. A grin threatened to split his face wipe open. Harry had never thought he'd be happy to be back inside his cupboard, and yet here he was.

Harry closed his eyes, taking in several slow breaths to calm himself. Right. First things first. He focused on his inner self, using his training in Occlumency (Draco had properly trained him in the years after Hogwarts, using a far better and easier to learn method than Snape had ever tried) to help center himself. His mind was a mess. With a frown, Harry set about organizing and shielding his mind once more. He let out a huff of annoyance when he found the various limiting nets and blocks laid over his mind and magic, all bearing the sticky-sweet magical signature of Albus Dumbledore.

Dumbledore. That was going to be a problem they'd have to deal with, preferably sooner rather than later. Harry shook his head before using his magic to carefully burn away the spiderweb-cling of the blocks and limiting nets. They'd only stopped affecting him when Dumbledore had died in the prior timeline, allowing him to finally gain his true level of power. The soul piece left behind by Voldemort would have to be dealt with as well, but that could wait until he got to Gringotts. The goblins would be able to remove it-- for a fee, of course –and hopefully the Horcrux in Bellatrix's vault could be taken care of at the same time. That one would be more tricky, but it was possible the goblins would agree to a trade: removing the soul piece from Harry in exchange for getting a portion of gold and the removal of a Black Arts object from the vaults. Goblins hated the Black Arts and their products. Necromancy in all its forms was considered highly taboo by the gold-loving beings, so Harry highly doubted they'd refuse his request.

Once his mindscape was back in order and stoutly protected to Harry's satisfaction, he searched out the bond between himself, Draco, and Neville. It was still there, thank Merlin, and surprisingly strong, something Harry was very grateful for. He sent a mental ping along the dual-branched bond before opening his eyes.

Tempore dies,” he murmured, glad for the few bits of wandless magic he was able to do. He was definitely going to focus more on that aspect of magic this time around. He blinked when he saw the dark blue time and date that floated in the air in front of him and then quickly stuffed his arm against his mouth to stifle the half-sob, half-laugh that threatened to escape.

06:30 AM; 23 June, 1991

Dudley's eleventh birthday. Over two months before he had to go to Hogwarts. Well, fuck. That was a turn of events Harry hadn't expected in his wildest dreams. If anything, he'd expected to be dumped back in his younger body while he was at Hogwarts, maybe some time in his second or third year. This... This was a gift that he sure as hell wasn't going to waste.

Harry?

Harry startled, one arm jerking to nearly hit the cupboard door, and then settled once more, his surprise giving way to relief. Draco, he replied, glad to hear the cool mental tones of his mate that always reminded him of water over stones. Are you alright? Have you heard from Neville yet?

I'm fine, Draco said, amusement coloring his voice. Stop your worrying. No, I haven't heard from Neville. He laughed. I think he's still sleeping. Merlin, this is weird. You do realize we're going to have to go through puberty again.

I don't care, Harry said honestly. Really, I don't. We made it. We're alive. If the worst thing we have to go through again is puberty, I'll take it. Draco, we can meet up today, if Cissa and Gran will... He trailed off. Oh. That's going to be hard to stop doing, at least for now.

It'll be fine, Draco assured him. Anyways, you said we can meet up today?

Yes. It's Dudley's eleventh birthday today. We'll be going to the zoo here in Surrey-- the one at Chessington World of Adventure. It's purely Muggle, as far as I know, so you'll have to dress appropriately. If we can get Cissa and Gran on board, then they'll definitely be able to intimidate the Dursleys. Both Petunia and Vernon respect money , Harry explained. If we play on that by using their titles...

I highly doubt the Dursleys will realize those titles are only valid in the Wizarding World, Draco mused. Well, Mother's, in any case. The Longbottoms tend to straddle both worlds in business, as do the Potters .

And it'll be that way once again. I'm going to name Cissa my proxy on the Wizengamot. I would name Sirius, but he'll need extensive mind healing once we get him out of Azkaban. You still have Dobby, right?

Of course, Draco replied. Why?

We can use him to get Pettigrew. After all, he was able to get through the supposed wards here, and the actual ones at Hogwarts without any trouble. I think he'll be able to get through the ones at the Burrow. Have him stun Pettigrew and then replace him with a glamoured rat that'll be sure to die within the next few months, preferably before September, Harry said.

Ah. And then Weasley will have to bring a new pet, Sirius will be free, and Pettigrew will be in Azkaban, Draco said.

Preferably Kissed, actually, Harry said darkly. I'm not letting that fucker have the chance to escape and help Voldemort again. We'll need to get Amelia Bones in on this as well, have her meet us at Gringotts.

Temper, temper, Draco teased. Still, that's a brilliant and rather elegant solution to the problem. Very Slytherin of you. Speaking of that, will you be Sorted there this time?

No, I don't think so, Harry said. Even though I'm the true Heir by conquest, I won't be going there. Nor will I be going back to Gryffindor, either. Neville's going to have that covered, and if we manage to talk Hermione out of going to Gryffindor, she'll likely end up in Ravenclaw. That leaves only Hufflepuff, which I think will work perfectly for me. It'll leave Dumbledore wrong-footed, since he expects me to end up in the same House as my parents. It'll also give Snape pause as well, since he won't see a perfect clone of James Potter. Finally, we can form a study group of all four Houses, hopefully setting an example for our fellow year-mates and those following us.

You've really thought about this, haven't you? Draco asked, sounding impressed. Again, very Slytherin of you. He paused, and then spoke again, this time a slightly suspicious note in his voice. You're not going to try to get into Hufflepuff because of Diggory, are you?

Not entirely, though it's part of it, Harry admitted. It'll also let me keep an eye on things in that House.

You'll have to deal with Zacharias Smith and Justin Finch-Fletchley, assuming they Sort the same, Draco pointed out.

I dealt with Ron and Seamus for seven years, Harry retorted. I think I'll be fine. Speaking of Smith and Justin... I'm not going to be apologetic about my abilities with Parselmagic and Parseltongue. He grinned. I'll do an article with the Quibbler about it. The Prophet can go to Hell.

We could always buy it, Draco said idly. Or rather, our proxies could.

I'm sure Sirius would buy it for me as a birthday present, Harry countered, laughing again. I'd prefer that over a Nimbus , to be honest.

You don't want to fly? Draco asked, surprised.

It's not that, Harry said. It's more like I don't want to play Quidditch this time around. Don't get me wrong, I loved playing it, but I was pretty much forced into it by McGonagall because of something stupid I did. Besides, I'm pretty sure I got more hurt by playing Quidditch than just about anything else. Besides, we can always fly during the holidays. That'll be more than enough for me.

If you say so. Draco sounded rather unsure about the whole thing, but let it drop when Neville's sleepy voice came over the bond, echoing with the warm scent of freshly-turned earth and warm sunlight.

Draco? Harry? Are you two alright?

More than fine, love, Harry assured him. Draco and I have been talking about our plans for the near future.

Yeah? Neville yawned. Good. What's the plan for today?

The zoo, Harry said. If you can convince Gran to dress Muggle and get to Surrey, we might be able to get things moving two months early.

I'll do my best, Neville said, but I can't promise anything. Where would we be meeting?

Harry thought about it for a moment. The Market Square. It's in the center of the park, so it'll be highly visible and well-populated. The Dursleys won't be able to make a huge fuss, especially not if Gran and Cissa wear semi-formal clothes and keep calm.

Good plan, Neville agreed. When should we be there?

Around noon, Harry said. They'll head to the reptile house after lunch-- one of Dudley's friends will be there with us, so watch out for that –and I'll be able to slip away. They didn't really pay much attention to me after lunch, so it'll be fine. Or at least, I hope so.

It'll be okay, Neville assured him. I'll talk to Gran and let you know what's going on.

And I'll talk to Mother, Draco added, just as Aunt Petunia rapped sharply on Harry's door.

“Up! Get up! Now!”

Harry winced at his aunt's not-so-dulcet tones. “Coming, Aunt Petunia,” he said, pushing his annoyance aside as much as he could. I'll talk to you two later. I love you both.

And we you, Draco told him. Try not to get too annoyed with your relatives.

I'll do my best, Harry said as he rescued his socks from under the bed, shaking the spiders gently off before putting them on his feet. He looked around, trying to figure out if he wanted to take anything with him, and then shook his head. No. Everything in the cupboard could stay there. He put his shoes on and then pushed the door open, heading into the hall beyond.

~/~

The zoo was just as Harry remembered it. He'd kept his mouth shut about the dream of the flying motorbike during the car ride there, not wanting to antagonize Vernon. It wouldn't do to give the man any ammunition to use against him, after all. Harry let events play out as they had the first time, content to keep watch for an opening to slip away. Draco and Neville had both managed to convince their respective guardians to come to the park, though it had been a tough sell for Augusta, according to Neville.

Once the Dursleys and Piers were distracted in the cool darkness of the reptile house, Harry quietly left them behind and headed straight for the Market Square, searching his bondmates out both visually and by following the pull of the bond between them. It was a handy little trick the three of them had often used, especially after the plague had been released. He found them sitting under the shade of an umbrella at a table, Narcissa and Augusta looking slightly uncomfortable in the midst of so many non-magical people. They were wearing appropriate clothing, thankfully, but Harry's practiced eye noticed that the clothes had the slightly stiff look of Transfigured cloth.

Neville and Draco quickly got up from the table and went to greet Harry, keeping in mind where they were and how old they appeared as they did so. There were hugs all around before Harry was led back to the table, Draco on his left and Neville on his right. Harry gave Narcissa and Augusta a pleasant smile as he sat down, more than glad to see the two women alive and well again.

“Lady Malfoy, Dowager Lady Longbottom,” he said, inclining his head formally, just as an Heir to a Most Ancient and Noble House should. “We have a lot to talk about and not much time to do it, unfortunately. As I'm sure Draco and Neville have told you, I'm Harry Potter.”

“Yes, so Neville has said,” Augusta said. “What Neville hasn't said is why we're here of all places. Don't your guardians have access to our world?”

Harry shook his head. “No, they don't,” he said. “Even if they did, they wouldn't want to go. The Dursleys-- my mother's sister, her husband, and their son –hate anything to do with magic. They're not that fond of me, either, which is why I think you can convince them to let me go with you.”

“How did you and our boys meet?” Narcissa asked. Harry winced.

“It's a long story,” he said. “Let's just say that we've had to turn back time to accomplish this meeting. We'll be able to explain more when we get to a more private place-- Gringotts, perhaps? We'll need to speak to Amelia Bones as well.”

“Turn back time?” Augusta repeated, arching an eyebrow at the turn of phrase. “You're right; we do need a more private place. Now, how can we best convince your family to let you come with us?”

“Money,” Harry said plainly. “That and your titles. They won't know that they're not of Muggle origin. Mentioning the school and my parents will help convince Aunt Petunia. She's probably expecting my letter to come any day now.”

“A month early, but yes, I can see why,” Narcissa mused. “We'll do what we can, but we can't promise anything.”

“Understood,” Harry said. “Thank you.”

It took another hour for the Dursleys and Piers to come looking for Harry; by then, he was happily sharing a large plate of fries with Neville and Draco, both of whom were rather pleased to be eating such unhealthy food once more. Harry suspected that all three of them would be like that for some time, given how poor their diets had been recently.

“Boy!” Vernon bellowed, face starting to go a florid red. “What are you doing? Are you bothering these people?”

Hardly. However, you are,” Narcissa drawled, putting on the full Pureblood aristocrat act. Harry had to hide his grin at the expression on Vernon's face. Vernon seemed unable to decide whether or not he was offended or if he wanted to appeal to Narcissa's better nature. He settled on a sickly sort of smile as he tried to regain his footing.

“My apologies,” he said through gritted teeth. “We'll just collect Harry and leave you to enjoy your day.”

Actually,” Augusta said, deliberately folding her napkin before placing it on the table before her, “we would like to talk to you about something.” She focused her gaze on Petunia. “My son and daughter-in-law went to the same boarding school as Harry's parents. The same one he and the other two boys here will be going to in September.”

Petunia's face took on a rather pinched look, as if she'd just eaten a lemon. “I see. And what do you want to do about it?”

“We're offering to take care of Harry, introduce him to the world he should have grown up in,” Narcissa said. “You won't have to worry about him for the rest of the summer. We'll see him safely off to school.”

Vernon's eyes narrowed at that. “And just who are you, anyways?”

Narcissa smiled tersely. “I am Lady Narcissa Malfoy. This is the Dowager Lady Augusta Longbottom.” She gestured gracefully at Augusta. “It's a pleasure.” Her icy tone said it was anything but. Vernon's smile became rather fixed when faced with the information that he was in the presence of two noblewomen.

“I see.” His gaze shifted to Harry momentarily in a calculating manner before returning to Narcissa. “Could you keep him for longer than that?”

Narcissa arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“Vernon,” Petunia hissed. “What are you doing?”

“Hush, Pet,” Vernon murmured, waving her off. “You said you'd be able to introduce him to the world he should've grown up in, right?”

“Correct.”

“Then he should stay there, right? What if we signed him over to you somehow? After all, he was left on our doorstep like a milk bottle without any papers,” Vernon said. “Obviously your...” He glanced at Piers before continuing on. “...people didn't really care about that sort of thing.”

“I could host him,” Augusta mused. “I have more than enough room. However, you do realize that someone will likely be coming to look for him at your home, correct? The same people who left him with you?”

“He hasn't brought us any good,” Petunia said. “What do you want?”

“For you not to say anything about who he's with,” Narcissa said. “We can... assist with that, if you like.”

Petunia went pale. “No,” she said sharply. “We won't tell them anything.”

“You may not have a choice,” Augusta said. Petunia frowned and sighed after a long moment of thought.

“Fine. How would we do this?” she asked warily.

“Hold still and let me look at you,” Narcissa said simply. She got up and looked each of them in the eyes in turn, using her Legilimency to help prune away the memories of the meeting, as well as the urge to find out where Harry had gone off to. She stepped away from Piers with a faint moue of distaste before nodding at Augusta and the three boys. The Dursleys and Piers watched them go with faintly blank looks before wandering off and returning to their former activities.

The five magicals left the park quickly, heading to an out of sight area so they could Apparate away. They went to Longbottom Manor so they could contact Amelia Bones and get some proper Wizarding wear for Harry. Harry gladly changed into robes and boots that were resized for him from some of Neville's wardrobe. He felt much better in robes than he ever had in any of Dudley's over-sized castoffs.

While Augusta was Floo-calling Amelia, Harry, Draco, and Neville were holed up in Neville's room with parchment and quills, intent on making lists of everything that needed to immediately be taken care of. Sirius' retrieval from Azkaban was the top priority, followed by the collection and disposal of the Horcruxes. The only ones that they didn't have direct access to were the cup, the diary, and the diadem. The locket could be retrieved as soon as Sirius was told about it, the ring could be taken care of at any time (but preferably before fourth year), the soul shard in Harry's scar could be taken care of at Gringotts, and since Nagini hadn't been made a Horcrux yet, they wouldn't need to worry about her.

That just left the shade of Voldemort, which they knew was going to be at Hogwarts in September. Harry found it curious that Voldemort had never gone for the diadem during his time there, but perhaps the Sorcerer's Stone was more of an immediate draw. He supposed they'd never really know, and he certainly had no plans on asking Voldemort. To be fair, he didn't really have any plans on going after the Stone this time 'round either. Assuming it was real (and Harry wasn't too sure about that), Voldemort couldn't get past Dumbledore's mirror enchantment. That didn't mean, however, that Harry wasn't going to make sure the way past Fluffy was going to be as easy as it had been in his timeline.

He'd learned quite a few wards and spells over the years that would suit his purpose well. The library of the House of Black had been very, very forthcoming in that regard. He was sure that Draco and Neville would be willing to lend a hand too. After all, he doubted they wanted anyone to get past Fluffy. It had been a poorly kept secret among the students that year that the third-floor corridor had to have been some sort of crazy test, which meant a lot of the older students in particular did their best to get through it. Fred and George Weasley had made it to the troll's room by the time Voldemort had decided to go after the Stone properly.

Harry looked up from his list when he heard the familiar high-pitched tones of Dobby. The house elf was talking to Draco, ears flapping as he nodded vigorously in response to Draco's orders. Harry watched the two interact, a small smile on his face. Dobby popped off with one last enthusiastic nod, making Harry laugh.

“You get along far better with him than your father ever did-- or does,” he said to Draco, who shrugged.

“Dobby was one of my playmates when I was younger.”

“And he's being useful right now, which makes him happy,” Neville added. “He's not that bad for a house elf. Some get twisted and mad when they don't have anything to do.”

“Kreacher,” Harry said with a wry twist of his mouth. “We'll have to talk to Sirius about him when we get the locket.”

“We've got plenty of time,” Draco said. He stretched his arms over his head with a soft groan. “Dobby's going to conjure up an unbreakable cage for Pettigrew when he catches him. We should be able to take him to Gringotts with us.”

“Good. Having Amelia there will definitely help matters.” Harry got up and then held out his hands to Draco and Neville. “What would you two say if we got the Potter triad betrothal rings at the same time as our heir rings?”

“I'd say that'll help matters immensely,” Neville said as he took Harry's hand. “Draco, you don't have any betrothal contracts right now, do you?”

“Just a verbal one that my father has with the Parkinson patriarch, but the trichromatic bond automatically makes it void, not that I'd want to marry Pansy anyways,” Draco replied. He squeezed Harry's hand before drawing him and Neville into a three-way hug. It was slightly awkward and crowded, but none of them cared. Simply being able to be together was a joy after everything they'd been through.

“I want to get some books on Wizarding culture and Pureblood customs for Hermione before September,” Harry said once the hug was over. “You know she's going to have a lot of questions, especially as to why three males are betrothed to one another. It's something that just doesn't happen in the Muggle world. Betrothals used to, but definitely not between three people, especially not of the same sex. It might help curb her more... annoying ...tendencies.”

“You finally admit Granger was annoying?” Draco asked with a smirk. Harry sighed.

“I never said she wasn't at times, but she was also one of my best friends,” he said. “She was one of the first people to give me a hug that I can remember. She was as close to a sister as I'd ever gotten. I don't want to miss that this time.”

“And Ron?” Neville asked. Harry rubbed at the back of his neck as he mulled it over.

“I'm not sure. He was a good friend when it suited him, but he was also jealous, quick to anger, and petty, especially at the worst of times.”

“Fourth year sucked until after the first task,” Neville agreed. “Maybe you should just wait and see.”

“Maybe. I doubt he'll really want to associate with me thanks to the whole Parseltongue thing,” Harry admitted. “It's a sign of a Dark wizard, remember?”

Draco groaned. “We really need to work on changing that definition,” he said. “Parseltongue and Parselmagic are Gray by their very definition. Parselmagic is more used for defense and healing than anything else.”

“Something to tell the Quibbler, then.” Neville shrugged. “C'mon, let's go see how things are going with Gran and Cissa.”

The three boys headed out of the room and then downstairs. They found the two women in the front parlor, drinking tea and eating small pastries. Narcissa looked up when she heard their footsteps on the hardwood floor.

“Boys,” she said, giving them a nod. “Everything alright?”

“Yes, Mother,” Draco said. “Were you able to contact Madam Bones?”

“Yes, we were,” Augusta said. “She'll be meeting us at Gringotts. It took quite a lot to convince her. This had better be good.”

“It is,” Harry assured her. “When will we be meeting her?”

“In ten minutes,” Augusta told him. “We'll get you a cloak to wear. I have no doubt that Dumbledore would not be pleased to find that you're not at home with your relatives.

Harry scoffed at that. “The Dursleys' home was never mine,” he said. “A home is supposed to be a safe place you can go to at any time. Number Four Privet Drive isn't that for me at all, and never has been. There's never been any love there for me.”

He chose his words carefully, knowing that the conditions of the blood wards (assuming they actually existed) would likely be negated by them. To be fair, Harry doubted that any of Voldemort's people would actually go for the Dursleys given that they were so firmly entrenched in the Muggle world. He certainly had no intention of mentioning where he'd grown up to anyone.

Narcissa and Augusta exchanged meaning-laden looks before Augusta spoke once more. “Well, you are welcome to stay here for as long as you need to,” she said. “As I told your aunt and uncle, we have more than enough room here. I'm sure Neville will enjoy having you here during the breaks as well.”

“I suspect Draco will be over here often,” Narcissa said. “I doubt Lucius would welcome you into the manor, Harry.”

Harry shook his head. “It's fine. I'll work things out.” He turned to Neville. “You might want to think about Switzerland.”

“I know,” Neville said quietly. “We will. It's one of the first things that'll happen once everything's settled at Gringotts.”

Harry reached out and gently squeezed Neville's hand. “It'll be okay,” he murmured. “Just you wait and see.”

“I hope you're right,” Neville said. He ran a hand over his face before sighing. “I'll go grab you a cloak. Good thing we're similar sizes right now.”

“For now,” Harry agreed easily. In the future, both Neville and Draco had ended up taller than him, but Harry hardly cared. He didn't mind being shorter than them, even if they did tease him about it occasionally. Neville went to fetch a cloak for Harry, making sure to grab one for himself and Draco as well so Harry wouldn't stand out too much. He returned not long after, handing the cloaks out to Draco and Harry. A few moments later and they were ready to go, hoods drawn up to hide their faces, as had become an ingrained habit given their so recent circumstances.

Augusta took Neville's hand, while Narcissa took hold of Harry and Draco's. “Hold tight,” Narcissa advised Harry. He didn't bother to tell her that he was well aware of what it meant to be Side-along Apparated; she'd find out soon enough just how experienced he truly was with the squeezing and grasping method of travel. Augusta checked the clock before nodding.

With a loud pop, the group Disapparated, leaving Longbottom Manor behind.

Chapter Text

They reappeared in the common Apparition point just off of Diagon Alley. Narcissa and Augusta led the way to Gringotts, with the three boys sticking close to their guardians. The Alley was relatively empty, given that the Hogwarts letters had yet to go out. Not that anyone really minded; Harry in particular was rather grateful that they wouldn't have to deal with large crowds at the moment.

They made it to Gringotts without anyone stopping them, though a few people waved hello to Narcissa or Augusta as they passed. Once inside the bank, Narcissa went over to one of the free tellers, talking in quick, hushed tones with the rather unimpressed looking goblin. Eventually, the goblin hopped off his stool, rounded the counter, and then led them into a private conference room off the main lobby. Harry shivered when he felt the heavy privacy wards go up. They had a weighty sense of age and security about them. Neville placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently.

“So,” the goblin, who went by the name of Tirak, said as he settled into a goblin-sized chair at the head of the table that hovered just at the right height for him to be fully visible, “how can I help the Houses of Malfoy and Longbottom? Come to set up a betrothal agreement?”

“Not exactly,” Narcissa said as she and the others took their seats. “We're waiting for one more: Madam Amelia Bones of the DMLE.”

“I'm well aware of who she is,” Tirak said. He pressed a rune on the arm of his chair and spoke into it, the rough syllables of the goblin tongue sounding like gravel being dropped and crunched together. There was a muffled reply from a goblin on the other end of the communications rune before it cut sharply off. Tirak drummed his long, pointed fingers against the top of the highly polished top of the table as time passed. He could be out at his station actually making money instead of wasting his time in this room.

After about ten minutes, the door opening and wards thinning long enough to allow Amelia Bones inside. The wards, didn't, however, let an enterprising reporter in the form of a beetle enter the room, flashing a bright blue before going opaque. The door slammed shut behind Amelia as Rita Skeeter landed in her human form in a disheveled heap on the floor several feet back into the lobby. Harry could just see some guards hurrying towards her as the door shut.

“Well,” Amelia said dryly, “an interesting start to the afternoon. I'll have my people look into Ms. Skeeter once we're done here.”

“Probably a good idea,” Tirak said. He waved for her to take a seat. “Now that you're here, Madam Bones, I assume we can get started?”

“Of course, though I'm not exactly sure why I'm here, to be honest,” Amelia admitted as she sat down.

“We can explain that,” Draco said as he slipped his hood off. Neville and Harry did the same, blinking a little in the warm golden light coming from the gas lamps around the room. Tirak barely showed any surprise at seeing their faces, though Amelia did a double-take when she saw Harry. Harry just gave her a little wave.

“Yes, I'm Harry Potter, and no, I'm not giving out autographs,” he joked. Draco rolled his eyes.

“Do try to be mature about this,” he drawled. He shook his head. “My apologies, Madam Bones; my bondmate likes to be an a--” Draco glanced at his mother before quickly correcting himself. “--very juvenile.”

“He's te- Wait, bondmate?” Amelia asked, eyebrows rising sharply. Draco nodded.

“Yes. Harry, Neville, and I have a trichromatic bond,” he said. “I have an affinity for Dark magic; Harry, Gray; and Neville, Light. My talents lie in curses and jinxes, Harry's in healing and defense, and Neville's in Herbology and Charms.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “Before you ask how we have a trichromatic bond so early, let me do something for all of you.”

He drew his wand out of an inner pocket of his robe and then held it up in front of him. “I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, do solemnly swear upon my magic that what I have already told you and what is about to be revealed is wholly and entirely true. So say I, so mote it be!” His wand flashed three times before he set it on the table in front of him.

“Draco!” Narcissa said, eyes wide. “An oath like that-- You could be a Squib before you even start at Hogwarts!”

“Not to mention he just performed underage magic in front of the head of the DMLE,” Amelia pointed out. Draco just shrugged.

“It was necessary, believe me. I wouldn't have done it otherwise,” he said. “I wouldn't risk my magic or that of my bondmates so casually.”

“Very well,” Tirak said. “What is it that you have to tell us?”

Draco glanced at Harry, who nodded. “The story starts, for you, about ten years and four months into the future. For us, it was yesterday,” Harry began. “Due to what was surely a certain death situation, we had to perform the tempus itineris ritual, thereby sending our older souls back in time to around six-thirty this morning. If we hadn't, we would've all been dead within a few months after that.”

There was dead silence from the adults. Narcissa glanced at Draco, who merely held up his wand and lit the tip in a silent Lumos . Narcissa went paler than usual, both at the sign of truth and the fact that her, to her, untrained son had just done silent casting. Harry cleared his throat gently to regain the attention that had been lost.

“Let me start from the beginning,” he said. “Or at least, what we know of it. As you know, Voldemort attacked the House of Potter on Halloween in 1981. After my mother and father's deaths, I was placed with my Muggle aunt and her family.” Harry frowned. “I shouldn't have been. I was placed with them late on the evening of November the first by Albus Dumbledore. Minerva McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid were witnesses to this happening. Dumbledore left me on the front doorstep of my aunt's house with a letter.”

“That's it?” Amelia asked. “Nothing more? Why didn't he knock on the door and have your aunt bring you in herself?”

“I don't know,” Harry said simply. “I looked up the weather report for that night. It was very cold for the beginning of November. He must've used an overpowered warming charm to keep me from dying of exposure.” He waved off the concerned looks the three women gave him. “Anyways, ten years later, I was still living with them. They treated me little better than house elves are treated by some families. I did all the cooking, cleaning, and other chores around the house when I wasn't at school. They often withheld meals for perceived wrongs or locked me in the cupboard under the stairs, which served as my bedroom until my Hogwarts letter came.”

He went on to tell them a somewhat abridged version of what had happened over the next seven years, though he saved the news about the Horcruxes for the last. “Voldemort lusted after immortality,” he said after a solid half-hour of talking. He cleared his throat before continuing his story. “In order to slate that lust, he created objects to sustain and hold pieces of his soul. Horcruxes. They're a form of Black Magic related to necromancy, much like Inferi.”

“How many did he create?” Tirak asked sharply. Harry focused on him.

“In the timeline where we came from, seven, with an eighth piece acting as his primary soul piece,” he said. He held up his hands, lowering his fingers as he named them off. “His first, as far as we know, was a diary given to Lucius Malfoy for safekeeping. It was created when Voldemort-- then known as Thomas Marvolo Riddle, or Tom to his teachers and classmates –unleashed a basilisk on the student population after opening the Chamber of Secrets. He killed a girl, Myrtle Malone, with the basilisk. That was the murder he used to create the diary. After that, he used artifacts of three of the four Founders-- Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem, Salazar Slytherin's locket, and Helga Hufflepuff's cup –to house his Horcruxes. He also used the ancestral ring of his mother's family, the Gaunts, as a Horcrux.”

“And the other two?” Augusta asked, a slight tremble to her voice.

“One hasn't been made yet,” Neville said, taking over the narrative. “After he regained a corporeal existence sometime in the summer between our third and fourth years, he made his familiar, Nagini, into one.”

“He killed a Muggle to do it,” Harry said softly. “Frank Bryce. He was the groundskeeper for the estate Voldemort's Muggle father grew up on.”

“You-Know-Who is a Half-blood?” Amelia frowned. “All the accounts say he was Pureblood.”

“That's what he wanted people to think. It helped with the blood supremacy propaganda he used to recruit heirs of wealthy Houses,” Draco said. He shook his head. “Idiots.”

“And the last?” Tirak inquired. “What did he use?”

“As far as we know, it wasn't intentional,” Harry began. He straightened up and looked directly at Tirak. “Tirak, I have a proposition for you. In exchange for services rendered and a percentage of gold, we can start on ridding the world of these foul things. A two-for-one deal, if you will. Assuming, of course, your cursebreakers are up to the challenge.”

Tirak's eyes glittered with interest. “And what challenge would that be?”

“A transfer of a Horcrux from a living being to either an inanimate object or a non-sentient being, like, say, a pig,” Harry said. Tirak blinked.

“Are you saying that--”

“My scar,” Harry confirmed. “An accident on Voldemort's part. He probably meant to use something of Gryffindor's to complete the set. As it was, he failed, due in large part to my mother's sacrifice.” He sighed. “I can't imagine what it was like for my dad when he felt my parents die.”

“I'm sorry? James Potter was your dad, wasn't he?” Amelia said, looking confused. Harry shook his head.

“No. James Potter was my biological father,” he explained. “Lily Potter was my mother.” He grinned. “Sirius Black, on the other hand, was my dad; he adopted me an hour after I was born, both by blood and by magic. They had a trichromatic bond. I take after my mother in my magical affinity. My father, while a bully at school, tended towards the Light. My dad, though he wasn't too fond of it, upheld the Black Family tradition of having an affinity for Dark magic. He didn't, however, do what he was thrown into Azkaban without a trial for.”

“What? Of course he had a trial.”

Harry shook his head again. “No, he didn't, Madam Bones. He was innocent. He wasn't the Secret Keeper, though my parents wanted him to be. No, it was Peter Pettigrew.” He spat out the name with intense dislike, a snarl distorting his mouth momentarily. “That rat--”

Harry broke off and turned to Draco. “Call Dobby, please. He should've finished his tasks by now.”

Draco did so, with Dobby popping into the room with a covered cage in hand. “Master Draco!” he squeaked. “Dobby has done it! He has got the--” He broke off with a squeak when he saw Narcissa watching him. “Mistress Cissa. Dobby was just...”

“Don't worry about it, Dobby,” Narcissa said. “What do you have in that cage?”

“Oh!” Dobby handed the cage over to Draco, who set it on the table. He took the cover off, revealing the slumbering form of Scabbers within. Dobby popped off once he was quietly dismissed by Draco.

“That,” Harry said with a glare at the gray lump of fur and tail, “is Peter Pettigrew. He, along with my father and dad, became Animagi during their time at Hogwarts in order to aid a friend with a recurring problem.”

“You mean Remus Lupin?” Amelia broke in. Harry smiled wryly.

“Yes. Breaking I don't know how many rules, they would sneak out of the castle every full moon, transform, and then go retrieve Lupin from the Shrieking Shack where he was supposed to stay. Thankfully, there was only one near-miss, but that was Sirus' fault. My father stopped it before anything happened.” Harry shook his head. “They were idiots.”

“You could say the same thing about all the trouble you got up to,” Neville pointed out.

“Hey, most of that trouble found me ,” Harry said. “That, or I was led into it by others.”

Neville reached out and took hold of Harry's hand. “I know, love, I know. Finish the story. They need to hear the rest.”

Harry took in a deep breath and then let it out slowly. “Right. Thanks, Nev.”

“Any time.”

“Anyways, Pettigrew was the one who betrayed my parents to Voldemort. Sirius was half-mad with grief and the breaking of the bond when he caught up with the rat. My parents... They were planning on officially making Sirius Consort Potter once the war was over. They never got to even use the Potter triad betrothal rings. We, on the other hand,” Harry gestured at Draco and Neville and then himself, “would.” He looked at Narcissa and Augusta. “If that's alright with you.”

“We can hardly deny you that,” Augusta said. “It would keep you all safe, especially from unscrupulous people looking for fame or money.”

“Agreed.” Harry focused on Narcissa. “I'm Sirius' heir and next in line to the Black name. I would prefer Draco receive that honor, if Sirius agrees. I'd also like to have you come back into the Black Family. Your husband...”

Narcissa held up a hand. “Lucius is hardly the man I first married,” she said. “I've stayed with him only out of necessity. If Sirius is willing to call primacy and dissolve the marriage, I will gladly retake the Black name. The Malfoy family can die out with Lucius.” She smiled coldly. “After I carefully drain his coffers, of course. I have a certain spending limit per month. I'll withdraw that minus one Knut. If the Dark Lord does somehow manage to return, a second war won't be funded with that money.”

“Good plan,” Tirak said. “I can set up a private vault linked to the Black vaults in your name and authorize the transfer.”

“As long as Lucius doesn't know about it, do as you like. And take a... three percent cut of that monthly withdrawal,” Narcissa said. “For services rendered, of course.”

“Of course.” Tirak grinned, showing a mouthful of sharp, white teeth. “Now, about this other Horcrux? Given to Bellatrix Lestrange, you said?”

Harry nodded. “It's in her vault. Clever, really, to put it in one of the safest places in Wizarding Britain. There's a Gemino curse on the gold to deter thieves, and a dragon at the door. I'm going to see if I can't convince Sirius to disown her from the Black Family magic.”

“On what grounds?” Augusta asked.

“Attacking allies of the Lord of her House, allying herself with an insane homicidal maniac, and...” Harry tipped his head back. “Hm. I don't know, did she have a marriage contract with Rodolphous?”

“Yes, of course,” Narcissa said.

“Do you know the terms of it?”

Narcissa frowned. “The standard terms, I suppose, much like mine and Lucius' had. A dowry to be paid to the husband's family, and an heir within two years of m-- Oh. Yes, that would work, wouldn't it?”

“Hopefully,” Harry said. “It would likely affect Rodolphous and Rabastan as well, since they're tied to her through marriage. Hopefully it'll drain enough magic that they die in Azkaban.” He glanced over at Neville. “Neville?”

Neville nodded and got to his feet. “Gran, I need to talk to you about something private. Come to the corner with me?” He held out his hand to Augusta, who took it with curiosity. Draco flicked his wand, setting up a privacy barrier around them that would block any sound from escaping. They watched Neville guide his grandmother to a set of chairs in the corner, keeping hold of her hands as they sat down.

Neville began talking, at first looking down at the floor but then up at Augusta's face. As he spoke, Augusta's expression changed from mild curiosity to a quickly dawning horror, tears starting to run down her face. Neville hastened to comfort her, squeezing her hands as he continued to talk. Augusta drew a handkerchief out of one of her sleeves, dabbing at her eyes as she nodded to whatever it was that Neville was saying. Once they were done talking, Draco dispelled the privacy barrier with ease, tucking his wand back into his robes.

“Right,” Neville said, his voice slightly rough with unshed tears, “that's done.” He focused on Amelia. “Will you be able to start the process of getting Sirius out of Azkaban? If not total freedom right away, then securing his transfer to a private mind healing clinic in Switzerland? We did research on it during the last timeline. The war left a lot of scars, and not all of them physical. It's top-notch, and has some of the best Mind Healers in the world. Far better than any at St. Mungo's.”

“Give me the information and I'll see what I can do,” Amelia said. She reached over and took the cage from Draco, tapping it with her wand.. The cage glowed a vibrant white for a moment before returning to normal. “There. He won't be able to transform. Not that he would want to, I suspect, but it never hurts to be sure.”

“Thank you,” Harry said. “It means a lot to me, to us.”

“I'm sure it does. Is there anything else you need me here for, Heir Potter?” Amelia asked. Harry shook his head.

“No, ma'am,” he said. “Thank you for coming today. We'll keep an eye out for Susan on the train. She's... In our timeline, she grew to be an amazing witch and a credit to your Family.”

Amelia smiled at that. “Good to know.” She got to her feet and left the room, cage in hand. Once the door closed again, Harry turned to Tirak.

“So,” he said, “about the Horcruxes?”

“We'll get to work on them immediately,” Tirak said. “If you can list the locations of those able to be retrieved immediately, that would help speed along matters.”

“Of course,” Harry replied. “I'd also like to get my Heir rings from the vaults, as well as the Potter triad betrothal rings.” He paused. “Oh. And there's one- well, two –more rings we'll need.”

“Oh? Which ones?”

“Harry,” Neville began, but Harry just shot him a look.

“It needs to be done sooner than later,” he countered. “You know that.”

Neville sighed and then slumped back in his chair. “Alright, go on.”

“Thank you. Anyways, we'll need the Heir rings for Slytherin and Gryffindor,” Harry said. “I am the rightful Heir of Slytherin by conquest. Voldemort was the Heir before, but he broke faith with the House of Slytherin. Slytherin has always been a Gray House; it's only been recently that it's become considered Dark or Black.”

“And the Gryffindor ring?”

“That's Neville's,” Harry said with a grin. “His is bloodline-based.”

“You wouldn't happen to know the other two Heirs, would you?” Tirak leaned forward. “That would open quite a few vaults that have been laying dormant for a thousand years. Moving that gold around would see a boon for the Wizarding economy, especially if it was invested correctly.”

“I do, but I'm not going to force them to claim the rings and titles,” Harry said. “The Heir of Ravenclaw is Luna Lovegood. She starts Hogwarts next year. She has Rowena's Gift of the Sight. Hufflepuff's Heir is Hannah Abbott. She starts Hogwarts this year with us.”

“Intriguing,” Tirak mused, leaning back in his chair. “Your sexes match up with the Founders'.”

“A fluke of chance, considering that the Gryffindor bloodline came through Neville's mother's side,” Harry said, waving it off. “She would've been eligible had she known. We only found out about it because the Sorting Hat told us after the final battle at Hogwarts.”

“We'll have to do a Line Test,” Tirak said, “but since young Heir Malfoy here still has his magic, you must be telling the truth.”

“Oh, that reminds me...” Draco took his wand out and then flicked it towards himself. The wand flashed three times again, making him relax. “There. The geas is complete. No need to worry about that any more.”

“Good,” Narcissa said. “Tirak, take the fee for the Line Tests out of my personal vault, as well as a one percent commission for yourself. Since both Bellatrix and Sirius are in prison at the moment, it falls to me as the only of-age member of the Black line to authorize you to go into Bellatrix's vault and retrieve what you need to.” She smiled grimly. “I'll see about the diary when I have time. I'm not having it in the house any longer than necessary.”

“Understood,” Tirak said. “We'll gladly do as you request.”

They ran into an unexpected snag-- more of a blessing in disguise, actually –when Harry put on the Heir ring for Slytherin. Neville's ring had gone on smoothly, with no side effects save for a faint flash of red light around the ring as it resized itself to fit his finger. Harry got a similar flash of green when he put his ring on, but that was the only similarity.

He felt an immense pain in his forehead as the Slytherin Family magics swept over him, making him double over in pain. He clutched at his forehead, warning Draco and Neville away when they tried to help. A black tar-like substance oozed out of his now-broken skin, dripping to the floor and collecting in a quickly congealing mass. Narcissa, ever the quick thinker, conjured up a glass jar with a lid and scooped up the mass once it was done seeping from Harry's scar. She put the lid on as quickly as she could, screwing it shut tight.

Augusta helped clean Harry's forehead up, healing it the best she could. “Your scar,” she breathed. “It's lighter than it was before.”

Harry grunted softly in response, the Slytherin magics settling easily now that the Horcrux had been forced from his body. “Well,” he muttered as he straightened up, “that's one way to do it.” He shook his head, feeling lighter than he had before. “Now all that's left are the betrothal rings.”

He took the velvet cases from the table, sliding Neville's ring on his left ring finger before taking care of Draco's. The two of them put Harry's on his finger together, the three rings flashing in concert to show that the deal was sealed. The Heir rings (all worn on the right ring finger and able to be cycled through with just a thought) could be hidden if chosen, but the betrothal rings could not. They couldn't be removed by force, only by choice. They and the Heir rings would help in detecting and protecting against various potions and tonics in foods and on surfaces, as well as minor curses, jinxes, and hexes. Harry pocketed one last small box before nodding at Tirak.

“Thank you for all your services, Tirak,” he said. “May our endeavors together bring much wealth to the both of us.”

“So mote it be,” Tirak replied with a decisive nod. “I think the future is going to be very interesting with you three around.”

The three boys just looked at one another and laughed.

Chapter Text

The Animagus known as Sirius Black lay curled up in a dark corner of the cell that had been his home for the past nine years, his canine form protecting him from the harshest of the Dementors' effects. Azkaban was dark, dirty, and dank. After all, the Dementors had no need of light, so why should the prisoners? What little light that did filter in came through the barred window set in the outside wall of Sirius' cell. Food was delivered twice daily, and only counted as such because it had just enough nutrients, vitamins, and health potions in it to allow the prisoners to survive the harsh conditions.

Sirius let out a low sigh, his dried and cracked nose wrinkling in distaste at the putrid smell around him. Baths weren't much of a thing in Azkaban either, much to his disgust. Every month or so, the prisoners were spelled clean if the guards felt like it, but that was it. Sirius was about to go back to sleep when his ears caught the sounds of footsteps. The ever-present bone-deep chill of the Dementors was starting to fade as well, which meant only one thing: someone was coming. Sirius quickly shifted back to human form, scrambling to his feet when he heard the guards draw near.

“Black! Step forward and put your hands on your head!” one of the guards called out, the silvery light of his ermine Patronus illuminating the hallway. Sirius did as ordered, curious to see what was going on.

“Hey, Jack,” Sirius said, flashing him a yellowed grin. “What's going on? It's not my birthday, is it?”

“Quiet, you,” Jack retorted. “You've got a visitor.” He nodded at the other guard, who unlocked the door to Sirius' cell. “You're goin' to Visiting Room A. You know the rules. No touching, no passing secret messages, and so on.”

Sirius nodded, his curiosity getting the better of him, so much so that he let the guard bind his hands in cuffs behind his back without a hint of struggle. A visitor? Who would be coming to see him? He hadn't had a visitor in ages, and certainly not one that used a visiting room. Usually it was just the Minister when he did his yearly inspection of the prison, and even then that didn't really count.

Sirius shuffled along obediently between the guards, some of the chronic weight dropping away from his shoulders when they reached the part of the prison that was sheltered from the Dementors' presence. The visiting rooms were there, as were the guards' quarters. To say that he was surprised to see Amelia Bones sitting at the table in the visiting room would be a mistake. No, Sirius was astonished. He hadn't seen her since before Lily and James...

No. He couldn't think of that, not right now. Sirius sauntered forward the best he could with his arms bound behind his back, settling into the chair with an affected nonchalance. “Amelia,” he rasped. “What brings you to my little corner of hell on Earth?”

Amelia smiled tersely. “Due to some... unforeseen circumstances, it's been discovered that you've been dealt a great injustice.” She opened a folder that was on the table in front of her and began to read. “ 'We, the undersigned members of the Wizengamot, do hereby proclaim Sirius Orion Black to have been wrongly imprisoned due to lack of proper trial and evidence. He is innocent of all charges and is freed from the prison of Azkaban. However, due to his long-term exposure to the Black creatures known as Dementors, he is mandated by this august body to enter rehabilitation at the Healing facility that has been chosen for him by the current caretaker and proxy for the House of Black before he is able to take his proper place in our society as the Lord Black.

“'The true culprit behind the betrayal of Lord James Potter and his wife, the Lady Lily Potter, as well as thirteen Muggles, the Death Eater Peter Pettigrew, has been caught, questioned under both Veritaserum and Legilimency, and subjected to the Dementor's Kiss. Sirius Black is to be issued monetary restitution for his time spent in Azkaban and our deepest apologies.'”

Amelia turned the page around. “It's signed by everyone, including Dumbledore.”

Sirius stared at her blankly, unable to comprehend the magnitude of what he'd just heard. Amelia frowned at him. “Sirius? You do understand what I just said, right?” She gestured at the guards to release him from his bindings. “You're free to go. You'll get your wand back once we reach the mainland.”

“Y-yeah,” Sirius managed, scrubbing his hands over his face once they were free. “That's...” He slumped back in his chair, dazed. “I've dreamed of this day for so long. How did you find him?”

“He was hiding in his Animagus form with a Wizarding family so he could keep an ear out for any news of his master's return,” Amelia explained. “When they noticed he'd far outlived what a regular garden rat should've, they brought him in to be tested.” An easy enough lie, and one the public believed. Of course, just who he'd been staying with had never been revealed; as far as the Weasleys knew, Scabbers was still with them, though doing rather poorly recently.

“Huh.” Sirius shook his head. “I can't say I'm sad that he's been Kissed.” He took in a deep breath and then looked up at Amelia. “What about Harry?”

Amelia just smiled. “Don't worry about him. He's doing well. You'll see him soon enough,” she said. She got to her feet. “Coming?”

Sirius shot to his feet. “Definitely. Think I can get a shower and proper clothes at some point?”

“Of course, but that'll have to wait until we get to the mainland,” Amelia said. “You definitely need both.”

“Trust me, I know.” Sirius followed her out of the visiting room and then out of the prison proper, heading down to the rickety dock where the lone boat that traveled between the mainland and the prison. The boatman waved them aboard, keeping a wary eye on Sirius. Sirius didn't blame him; after all, it wasn't every day that a prisoner was released from Azkaban, even if said prisoner was innocent. Sirius ignored him, focusing his attention on the unseen coast ahead.

As they reached the coast, an errant late evening breeze washed over them, bringing with it the faint scent of flowers. Sirius closed his eyes, a sharp pang running through him at the scent. The boatman tied up at an equally weather-beaten dock as the one at Azkaban, lashing the tow rope securely to the post. Amelia got out of the boat, Sirius trailing after her. She led him over to a sturdy little cabin nearby, leaving the boatman to see to his craft.

Sirius let out a soft sigh as they entered the pleasantly warm cabin, far too used to the constant chill of Azkaban. This was glorious. Amelia went over to a cupboard and retrieved a long, thin box from it. Sirius watched her avidly, fingers twitching eagerly. Amelia smiled at him before stopping in front of him and holding it out.

“Your wand.”

Sirius took the box with trembling hands, taking the lid off and extracting the wand that lay within. He took in a deep breath when he rebonded with his wand, fingers tightening around the still-polished wood. He hadn't even realized he'd closed his eyes until he heard the gentle sound of Amelia clearing her throat.

“Sirius?”

Sirius opened his eyes, giving Amelia a lopsided smile. “Sorry.”

Amelia waved off his apology. “Don't worry about it.” She waved at a nearby door. “There's a shower in that bathroom. Don't worry about running out of hot water; it's enchanted to never fail on that front.”

Sirius let out a rough, bark-like laugh. “I might be in there for a while in that case.”

“That's fine. There's clean clothes in there for you as well. They'll automatically size themselves to you,” Amelia told him. “I'll be out here if you need anything.”

“Thank you, Amelia,” Sirius said sincerely. “This means... Merlin, so much to me.”

Amelia smiled at him. “You're more than welcome. Go.”

Sirius didn't wait much longer after that. He headed into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. He luxuriated in being able to stand under the shower spray for as long as he could, letting the caked in dirt wash away down the drain. He emerged from the bathroom feeling far better than he had in years. He'd used his wand to cut his hair, trimming it until it just brushed his shoulders. A conjured ribbon held it back from his face; he'd also freed himself of the scraggly bush of facial hair that he'd grown over the years. The simple robes that had been left for him felt as luxurious as if they were made of the most rare fabrics.

“Amelia, I--” Sirius cocked his head when he heard the sound of laughter coming from the small living room. Curious, he went to see who was there, figuring that Amelia wouldn't have let anyone in here that she didn't trust. Sirius was surprised to see Amelia talking with Narcissa Malfoy and Augusta Longbottom. Three young boys sat on the couch across from the women, talking eagerly with one another. The one in the middle made Sirius come to an abrupt halt.

Merlin. The boy looked so much like James, but his eyes... They were a vibrant emerald green Sirius had only seen in one other place: Lily's face. The boy glanced over at him briefly before doing a double take. A bright grin blossomed on the boy's face as he got up from his seat.

“Sirius!” He ran over to Sirius and threw his arms around him in a tight embrace. Sirius' breath caught in his chest as he knelt down to return the hug. The moment his hand came to rest against the bare skin of Harry's neck, the familial bond flared back into life between them, its presence having lain dormant since that fateful almost ten years ago. Sirius gasped and then pressed his face against Harry's hair, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes

“Harry,” he breathed. He'd never thought he'd be able to hold his son again. Harry held tightly onto Sirius, unashamed of the tears leaking down his cheeks and soaking into the fabric of Sirius' robes. They eventually parted ways, Harry wiping the tears from his cheeks.

“It's good to see you again,” Sirius said, rising to his full height. Harry nodded, his smile still as warm as it had been when he'd first spotted Sirius. He returned to his seat between Draco and Neville, feeling as if all was right in the world once more. He had his mates on either side of him, the two women he'd come to look upon as mother-figures nearby, and his dad newly returned to him. Of course, now they had to explain everything to Sirius, but that was a small worry compared to all the good things going on at the moment.

Hell, he'd even gained some much needed weight after being on a regimen of good, proper food and potions designed to aid in restoring his health back to where it should be. His glasses had stayed, however, as the magical optometrist had explained that he couldn't do anything to fix Harry's eyesight until he was a little older, as often young wizards and witches outgrew the need for glasses after their third year or so of using magic constantly. Harry wasn't too sure about that, given that it hadn't happened in the previous timeline, but maybe since he would be healthier, it would.

“Narcissa,” Sirius said as he sat down in a free chair. “Augusta. Amelia didn't tell me we were having guests.”

“It was a surprise,” Amelia said. “They're allies, don't worry. There's a lot you need to know before we leave for England, Sirius. A lot more than you're probably expecting.”

“You got me out of Azkaban,” Sirius pointed out. “I think I can handle whatever it is you've got to throw at me.”

“Don't be so sure of that,” Narcissa said. She directed Sirius' attention to the three boys. Harry sighed and then launched into the story he'd told at Gringotts, with Draco and Neville chiming in from time to time. Sirius listened to their story, eyes widening with every twist and turn that unfolded. After the story was done, he leaned back in his chair, scrubbing a hand over his face.

“This is a lot to take in,” he said. “To be honest, it's hard to believe. However, I know that even Lucius would never attempt to teach a group of ten year olds about the tempus itineris ritual. Even the existence of that ritual is kept a closely guarded secret by the Department of Mysteries.”

“We had a few contacts in the DoM,” Neville explained. “What was left of it, anyways. At the end there, I think there were maybe three or four at the most. The Ministry of Magic was all but dissolved. After all, it wasn't exactly necessary to have it, what with there not being a cohesive Wizarding community any more.” His gaze went distant. “The plague took far too many lives. If we can stop that from ever happening, having to relive the next ten years is a very small price to pay.”

“Agreed.” Draco took hold of Neville's hand, loosely interlocking their fingers. “Of course, if Voldemort never rises again, I doubt the magic plague would ever be developed. We're off to a good start. Two of the Horcruxes have been destroyed, and the goblins have agreed to let us use their Fiendfyre furnace to destroy the rest. As for Voldemort himself, with Pettigrew out of the picture, the ritual he used is unlikely to be completed.”

Harry groaned and then swore softly in Parseltongue, surprising all but one adult. Sirius looked entirely unconcerned that Harry had just hissed vehemently; instead, he seemed more interested in the cup of hot tea and plate of food that a house elf had just delivered to him.

“Harry?” Augusta said cautiously. “Are you aware you just hissed?”

“What?” Harry blinked. “Oh, right. I can speak Parseltongue and use Parselmagic,” he said. “I could've sworn we mentioned that to you.”

“I'm afraid not,” Narcissa said dryly. “You're going to turn a lot of heads if you do that in public.”

“Ah, let 'im,” Sirius said with a mouth half-full of food. “Wild magic pops up from time to time in the Black Family. Ol' Uncle Alphard was an Avimouth. He could speak to all sorts of flying things. Mostly birds, but sometimes bats as well. If anyone asks, we'll just tell them it's a side effect of the blood adoption. Probably is, come to think of it.”

“I always thought I got it from Voldemort,” Harry said. He frowned thoughtfully. “Then again, I didn't know about the blood adoption until after I graduated from Hogwarts. I wonder if there's a way to tell.”

Sirius shrugged. “I don't know. Maybe. If you want to continue with the Parselmagic, we should see about getting you a snake for a familiar. An owl, too, for mail.”

“I...” Harry sighed. “I'd love to get Hedwig again, but a snowy owl's so unique, and definitely not native to Britain. Having such a recognizable owl was definitely a problem last time.”

“Then get Hedwig for home,” Neville said, “and something else to take to school along with the snake, like a barn owl. Bonded familiars don't count towards the pet rule; it's why Lee Jordan could have his tarantula and his owl.”

That thing was his familiar?” Draco asked, aghast. “Seriously?”

Neville nodded. “He said her name was Sheila. Her choice, not his. He bonded with her when he was on holiday to Australia's magical district. If they allowed him to take that, then there shouldn't be any problem with a snake, assuming one bonds with Harry.”

Draco shook his head. “A tarantula for a familiar,” he muttered. “Madness.”

“Speaking of madness...” Neville focused on Sirius. “Sirius, once you take up the mantle of Lord Black, would you be willing to disown Bellatrix from the House of Black? If you do that, she and the other Lestranges would lose that boost to their own magic, and since they've been in Azkaban so long, I doubt they'd survive more than a few months without it.”

“I'll do it as soon as I can,” Sirius promised. “Bellatrix has always been a wild card, and taking her out before Voldemort returns-- assuming he does –would be for the best. She was always highly devoted to him.”

“So was Barty Crouch, Jr.,” Harry said, “which is why I swore in Parseltongue. He's still alive.”

“What? No, he isn't,” Sirius countered. “He died in '82. The Dementors buried him in the graveyard at Azkaban.”

Harry shook his head. “They buried a Crouch, but it wasn't Barty. His mother was dying. His father managed to get a private visit arranged so she could see her son before she passed away. While they were there, they took polyjuice and switched places. Barty's mother died in his place. Crouch Sr. took his son back home. He's been controlling him under the Imperius Curse since then.” He turned to Amelia. “Crouch keeps his son at their family home. There's a house elf there, Winky, who takes care of him. I'd suggest quietly taking Crouch into custody and then doing a subtle raid on his home. Make sure Crouch Junior gets the Kiss; he was instrumental in helping Voldemort return again as well.”

“And what would you suggest we do with Crouch Senior?” Amelia asked as she jotted everything down on a notepad with a pen. She caught Harry's amused look and shrugged. “Muggles have useful ideas sometimes.”

“I'd suggest having him retire quietly,” Neville said. “Don't make a big fuss out of it. That, or move him to a department where you can keep a close eye on him. Junior, however, needs to go. Coming from me, I know it sounds like I just want vengeance on the man who helped to torture my parents, but he aided in Voldemort's return. He purposefully entered Harry into the Triwizard Tournament in order to further Voldemort's plans. Someone like that doesn't need to be kept around.”

“Agreed.” Amelia put her pen and pad in an inner pocket of her robes. “We'll deal with the Crouches soon.” She checked her watch. “Right now, however, you lot should be getting back home. I'm sure you'll want to get to Diagon early tomorrow so you can get your supplies without being mobbed.”

Harry smiled wryly. “That'd be nice,” he agreed. “It'd be a welcome change from how my eleventh birthday went the last time around.”

Sirius blinked. “Your birthday's tomorrow? I didn't even realize what day it was.”

“It's okay. I doubt the Dementors had much use for calendars in Azkaban,” Harry said. “We'll celebrate it together once we get back from Diagon.”

“Then that means...” Sirius turned to Neville. “Happy birthday, Neville.”

“Thanks.” Neville shot him a smile. “I'm glad to see you're safe and sound. Well, as sound as being in Azkaban for nine years, anyways.”

Sirius smiled wryly. “I'll be working on that.”

“We've already got a suite lined up for you at a private clinic in Switzerland,” Harry told him. “You'll be heading there on the first of August. They have limited methods of communication. The Floo network is highly restricted, and there's a mail ward around the whole valley the clinic is in. It's also been made Unplottable.” He gestured at Neville. “We sent Neville's parents there earlier this month. They seem to be doing a lot better than they had been at St. Mungo's.”

“Yes, well, Dumbledore can't interfere with them any more, now can he?” Draco drawled. “That was a huge help in the first place.”

Sirius arched an eyebrow at that. “Dumbledore was interfering with them?” Augusta nodded, her mouth pursed in a tight moue of distaste.

“Yes, he was,” she said. “He was the one who suggested they go to St. Mungo's in the first place, rather than a specialized clinic. The Healers there are talented, but not talented enough. Frank and Alice have languished in that Ward for far too long. It's more than past the time they were treated as the Lord and Lady they are. If Dumbledore doesn't like that, then so be it.”

“Good for you,” Narcissa said approvingly.

“Agreed. Now, as for tomorrow, Neville and I are going to need wands,” Harry said. “However, I'm not so sure I want to go to Ollivander's. I've always thought it suspiciously convenient that I ended up with the brother wand to Voldemort's. I don't know if that'll happen again this time around, especially with the Horcrux out of the way, but I'd rather not risk it. I've tried all the legacy wands in the Potter Family Vault, including...” He paused, biting his lip. “Including my parents'. None of them were a good match. There were a few that I could probably use, but not very well.”

“Neville can use his father's wand,” Augusta began, but Neville shook his head.

“No, Gran, I can't,” he said firmly. “It won't work for me, not as well as my own wand would. It hindered me for five years the first time around; I'm not going through that again. Besides, I've already tried it. Not even a spark. I'm going to need a new wand of my own.”

“There's a custom wandmaker in Historic Alley,” Narcissa said. “Moorehaven's. It's where Draco received his wand. I suspect you'd find the best match there. More importantly, Moorehaven doesn't tell Albus Dumbledore what every person who comes through the shop matches with. He also uses a wider variety of wand cores and woods.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Harry said. “We'll go there. I don't think I've ever been down Historic Alley.”

“It's mostly traveled by those with Gray or Dark affinities,” Narcissa explained. Her upper lip curled in an elegant sneer. “I highly doubt the Weasleys or Hagrid would've even thought to explain such things to you the first time around.”

Harry shook his head. “Nope. I honestly though there was only Light and Dark, and that Dark meant evil,” he said. “Then again, the curriculum at Hogwarts is very biased. If we didn't have very good reasons to go back there, we wouldn't. However, it's the best place for us to start changing the British Wizarding World, while you adults--” and here Harry wrinkled his nose in annoyance at not being included in that group “--work on the Wizengamot and the laws that're holding us back. For example, the whole unregistered Animagus thing. It seems a little harsh to throw someone to the Dementors for that. I'd just fine them and then force the registry. Which reminds me...”

He tossed a small wallet at Sirius, who caught and then opened it. Inside was a magically laminated ID card with Sirius' name, picture, and general description of his Animagus form printed neatly on it. “There. We figured the nine years in Azkaban made up for that. You're registered privately with the ICW, which still counts as being registered in Britain. Your form is that of a black canine with gray eyes as your identifying feature. Congratulations, you're legitimate. Now no one can hold that over your head if they wanted to.”

Sirius shook his head, a lopsided smile pulling at his lips. “You continue to amaze me, Harry,” he said. “Thank you.”

“Thank Amelia,” Harry replied. “She was the one who registered you with the ICW. Speaking of registering...” He looked over at Amelia. “What ever happened to Rita after that day at the bank?”

Amelia smiled in self-satisfaction. “Miss Skeeter, in addition to having to pay a hefty fine for being an unregistered Animagus, has had to take a magically binding oath that keeps her from writing her usual mix of misinformation and outright lies for one whole year. She can only report on the facts. If she tries to skew events in any way beyond the true, she'll find herself unable to write anything but gibberish.”

“Useful. That'll give us time to work,” Draco said. He got up from the couch, hiding a yawn behind a hand. “We'd best go. Mother and I will join you for lunch tomorrow, say around one? There's a fantastic restaurant in Historic Alley that I've wanted to take you to for years.” He gave Neville and Harry each a hug before going over to Narcissa and taking her hand. “Sleep well, all of you.”

“You too, Draco,” Neville said, with Harry chiming in shortly afterwards. Narcissa gave the others a short nod before Disapparating the two of them with a soft pop of displaced air. Neville, Harry, and Augusta took the Floo home a few minutes later, but not without Harry getting one last hug from Sirius. Once they were gone, Sirius turned to Amelia.

“So,” he began, “what now?”

“Now, I take you to a safehouse where you can sleep and recuperate before you leave for Switzerland on the first,” Amelia told him. She held out an elbow for him to take. “There's a Floo, but this place doesn't have access, and for very good reason.”

Sirius nodded, taking her arm and tucking himself in close. A few wildly disorienting seconds later and they'd landed in the middle of a rather sparsely decorated one bedroom flat. Sirius hardly minded; in comparison to his cell in Azkaban, this was like a five-star hotel.

“If you're hungry, just call for the house elf,” Amelia told him. “Her name is Callie. She knows to listen to you, but only up to a certain point. She's not going to help you get into trouble.”

“Callie. Got it,” Sirius said. “To be honest, I'm too drained to get into much trouble right now. I feel like sleeping for a week.”

Amelia laughed. “I know how you feel,” she said. She gave Sirius one more look over, nodded, and then Disapparated after saying goodbye. Sirius sighed before calling out for the house elf. Callie was a petite elf with a neatly pressed uniform of a tiny black skirt and a white blouse, the coat of arms for the House of Bones embroidered over the left breast.

“Master Black, sir! How can Callie help you?” she squeaked, ears flapping slightly.

“Could you get me some food?” Sirius asked. “Nothing too heavy right now.”

“Callie can be doing that.” She snapped her fingers, making a small plate of sandwiches appear on a nearby table, as well as a large glass of water. “Anything else, sir?”

“Not right now,” Sirius said. Callie nodded and then popped away, presumably going back to the Ossuary, which was the main Bones Family manor. Sirius sat down at the table, lifting the top of a sandwich to see what it was. Roast beef, apparently, with two slices of lettuce and tomato on wheat bread. Not too bad.

Sirius ate two whole sandwiches and drank most of the water before he felt almost overly full. He set a preservation charm on the rest of the sandwiches with a flick of his wand before heading into the bedroom. A set of clean pajama pants and a plain t-shirt lay waiting on the bed for him, making Sirius think that Callie had set them out for him at some point. He didn't mind one bit. If this was what life was going to be like outside of Azkaban, he was all for it. Sirius changed into the pajamas and then slid into bed, a groan leaving him at the way the mattress supported all of his body. It was heavenly.

He fell asleep not long after, his sleep untroubled for the first time in nine years.

Chapter Text

The next day, Augusta took Harry and Neville to Diagon Alley to get their basic supplies once Harry had recieved his Hogwarts letter. While there, Harry picked up several books for Hermione in Flourish and Blotts, knowing she'd have a lot of questions when they finally met up on the Hogwarts Express. He got three volumes to start out with: A Muggleborn's Guide to Wizarding Society; Light, Gray, Dark, and Black: The Four Shades of Magic; and Trichromatic Bonds: What They Mean To You and Wizarding Kind. The three books had helped Harry understand more about the Wizarding World and what had been going on between himself, Draco, and Neville during Seventh Year and beyond.

He also picked up a few supplementary books for Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, Charms, and Transfiguration, figuring that having extra information for the four core classes of the Hogwarts curriculum (he didn't really count History of Magic as a core class, given how useless it currently was with Binns teaching it) would be a good base upon which to build their study group. It certainly would've helped him immensely the first time around.

Once they'd retrieved their books and supplies, they sent their shopping back with Nara, one of three house elves that served the Longbottom family, before heading to Historic Alley to get the boys' wands. Moorehaven's Wands was as different from Ollivander's as could be. Where Ollivander's was dark and cramped, Moorehaven's was airy and well-lit. There were no boxes lining the walls, just pictures of various magical animals and plants that moved in unseen winds or within the confines of the different frames. A long counter sat at the back of the small shop, with a row of padded stools set in front of the counter.

Behind the counter was a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He looked slightly intimidating, as he was broad shouldered and had a hard to read expression on his face. All that changed, however, when he heard the bell chime over the front door. A pleasant smile transformed his expression, lending him a warm look as the corners of his eyes crinkled in genuine pleasure.

“Welcome to Moorehaven's Wands,” he said, his voice low and rich. “Come on in. Here for your first wand fittings, boys?”

“Yes, sir,” Neville said. “You were recommended to us by a good friend over Ollivander's.”

“Yes, well, Garrick is a very talented wandsmith, but his wands are rather limited in scope, particularly in their cores. I'm Alexander Moorehaven, by the way.”

“Neville Longbottom and Harry Potter,” Neville said, gesturing between Harry and himself. “It's a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

“Just as it's a pleasure to meet you,” Alexander replied, only briefly glancing at Harry before returning to the task at hand, something Harry was thankful for. “Now, who wants to go first?”

“Neville can,” Harry said. “It's okay.”

Neville just shrugged and then looked to Alexander, who waved him over to the long counter. “Hop on up,” he said as he went behind the counter. He bent down and fetched a small wooden chest that he set in front of Neville, who had scrambled up onto a stool. Once the chest was open, Neville could see that there were at least fifty small multicolored orbs within. They all glowed with a soft inner light that reminded Neville of distant stars.

“These are some of the wand cores that I currently have in stock,” Alexander said. “Now, you can't just pick one and stick it in a wand blank. You need to close your eyes and reach out with your magic. The right core will show itself once your magic touches it. Do you understand?”

“Got it.” Neville closed his eyes, letting his magic flow out towards the wand cores. He only opened his eyes when he heard the soft gasp coming from his grandmother. Neville blinked when he saw a deep green orb floating in the air over the chest. Alexander reached out with a gloved hand and plucked it out of the air.

“Hm. A cutting from a hundred-year old Whomping Willow,” Alexander said. “My grandfather collected this when he was a young man. Interesting. A plant that hides its true power until it's threatened. A truly powerful core.” He set the core aside on a velvet cloth before closing the wand core chest. A few moments later and he'd set up twenty wooden blocks in front of Neville, each a foot and a half long and varying in color from almost bone white to a deep blue-black. “Do the same for these woods, please.”

Neville complied, closing his eyes once more. When he opened them, he saw a light reddish-brown block floating a few inches over the counter. “What kind of wood is that?”

“Chestnut. More specifically, American chestnut,” Alexander said. “It came from a particularly hardy tree in New England, if I remember correctly. I can use a stain to make it a darker color if you like, though the wood will darken with age and use.”

Neville hummed thoughtfully and then shook his head. “Leave it as is. I like the look of it.”

“Alright. Chestnut is a rather sturdy wood, and attracted to witches and wizards who are skilled tamers of magical beasts, those who possess great gifts in Herbology, and those who are natural fliers,” Alexander told him as he set the wood next to the core orb. Harry grinned.

“He's brilliant at Herbology,” he said. “It's a perfect fit for him.”

“Good. Now, there's one last thing for you to choose before I can shape the wand,” Alexander said as he collected the other wood blanks. Neville was confused; after all, Ollivander only used two components in his wands, and they'd already been chosen.

“There is?”

“Yes. Now, not all wandsmiths use these when crafting their wands, but I find that a focus gem at the base of the wand helps in balancing power and the weight of the wand itself,” Alexander said. He smiled a little. “That, and it looks good.”

Neville laughed. “Alright. I'm guessing it's the same process as before?”

Alexander nodded as he set a second small chest in front of Neville. He opened it, revealing round-cut gems and semiprecious stones within. A few seconds later, a green-yellow stone was floating over the chest. “A peridot,” Alexander announced as he took hold of the gem. “Perfect for those in tune with nature. Another good fit.”

He set the peridot next to the other wand components before turning back to Neville. “Let me get Mr. Potter set up with his wand components, and then I'll shape both your wands,” he said. “It won't take that long to put everything together. You'll be on your way within the hour.”

Harry got up on the stool next to Neville as Alexander spoke, feet dangling over the floor. He was curious to see what sort of wand he'd get, especially as Neville's was so vastly different than the one he'd gotten in the prior timeline. Alexander put the chest of wand cores in front of Harry, opening it once more. Harry closed his eyes and then reached out with his magic, focusing intently on the wand cores in front of him and nothing else. It wouldn't do to let his magic flow overly freely, after all.

It took several long seconds before he felt his magic come in contact with a core that felt perfect. Harry opened his eyes to see a golden orb floating in front of him. He could've sworn he heard the soft hissing of a snake and the rush of wings as he focused on the orb.

“Ah,” Alexander said as he took hold of the orb, “a feather of a coatl, a feathered serpent native to South America. They have rainbow colored wings and are associated with the sky, the wind, and, curiously enough, the boundary between life and death by the local native population.”

“A winged snake?” Harry laughed. “It fits me, I suppose. Shall we see what wood works best for me?”

“Eager, are we?” Alexander asked with an amused smile as he put the core on a separate piece of velvet. He laid the wood blocks in front of Harry, adding a new piece of chestnut in to replace the one Neville had chosen. A few moments later, he found that he was best suited for a piece of cedar wood.

“Cedar. Very nice. It's known for choosing someone with great strength of character and a fierce protective streak towards those they care for,” Alexander said. “A powerful wood for a powerful wizard, if you don't mind me saying. Now for your gem.”

In the end, Harry ended up with a lapis lazuli, which Alexander said was often well suited for warriors and those with an affinity for Gray Magic. Once everything was collected, Alexander went to work, his back turned to Neville and Harry so they couldn't see what he was doing.

Excited? Harry asked Neville over their bond.

Yes, Neville replied, shooting him a quick smile. I guess I was expecting him to be like Ollivander, all mysterious and vague. He's actually quite nice. I can see why people prefer him over Ollivander. I wonder why he doesn't get more business.

Probably because pre-made wands are easier to control than custom-built ones, Harry mused. Probably easier for the Ministry to track, too. I'm sure the Trace will be applied to these wands at the end of the school year, but given that we'll be living in a Wizarding household, any magic we cast with them will be hard to detect. We'll have to make sure to get wand holsters as well.

Agreed. The basic anti-Summoning and auto-return features should hold us for now. We don't need anything fancy. Ten to one Draco's already got one for his wand, Neville mused.

Probably, Harry agreed. I wonder what his wand is. He hasn't said yet. Of course, that's assuming he has a different one than from before. I guess we'll find out at lunch.

Yeah. I'm starving. I can't wait to see what the food's like at that restaurant, Neville said, earning a soft laugh from Harry.

I'd forgotten how hungry being eleven was, he said. Then again, twenty wasn't exactly the most full age, either.

It will be this time around, Neville said firmly. Just wait and see.

Harry hummed, taking hold of Neville's hand as they waited. Fifteen minutes later, Alexander turned around, the wands held carefully in his gloved hands. He set them before the two boys and then stepped back, watching to see how they would react. Neville's was a light reddish-brown color, the clear varnish that Alexander had worked into it giving it a subtle shine. The wand was thirteen inches long, with the peridot at the base securely held on by a network of thin strands of wood that resembled branches. An ivy-like pattern spiraled around the wand's hilt up to the main body of the wand, providing both decoration and a good grip.

Harry's wand was a darker hue of red, the varnish highlighting the rich color. The wand was twelve and three-quarter inches, something that intrigued Harry. Did that mean that he was going to grow taller this time around, or was that just a variance between wandsmiths? The lapis at the base was held tight by a small protuberance of wood that resembled the scaled coils of a snake. That textured design continued on up the hilt and on up to the main body of the wand itself, much like Neville's.

Harry took in a deep breath and then picked it up, Neville doing the same next to him. A rush of wind blew through the shop, ruffling clothes and hair as it swirled around and then died, taking with it the red and green sparkles that had come from Neville and Harry's wands respectively. Alexander looked very pleased with everything, smiling broadly as he put away all the supplies.

“Congratulations, gentlemen,” he said once he was finished. “May your wands serve you well.”

“Thank you,” Harry said. The cedar and coatl wand felt far more comfortable in his hand than his holly and phoenix had ever had, which he supposed was a result of the unique nature of the wand's crafting. It was exquisitely suited to him, and with a glance over at Neville, Harry could tell that he felt the same about his own wand.

“You're more than welcome,” Alexander said. “Is there anything else you'll need today?”

“Wand holsters,” Neville said. “Preferably subtle ones, but they don't need to be anything fancy. Just the standard anti-Summoning and auto-return features.”

“I have several options available,” Alexander told them, retrieving the wand holsters from their display on the wall. After a few minutes of consideration and quiet discussion, Harry and Neville chose holsters that would store their wands and other objects in a pocket dimension until they were needed. The holsters themselves looked like thin, flat leather bracelets that could be easily hidden beneath sleeves. Harry picked one in a deep brown, while Neville chose a forest green one. After a moment's thought, Harry also picked up a dark blue holster, intending on gifting it to Hermione later on, along with the books he'd purchased earlier.

Once everything was paid for and the wand holsters securely attached to their wrists, Neville and Harry left the shop, Augusta following after them. She was rather pleased with how everything had gone, especially with the fact that Neville had gotten a powerful wand that was very well suited to him. She took them to the restaurant Narcissa and Draco were waiting for them at, ushering them inside with a small smile. The restaurant was simply called the Solarium, and once inside, it was obvious why.

The Solarium had verdant plants in both hanging and standing pots dotted around the airy building, with broad glass windows letting the summer sun stream in. The windows had charms on them to help cut the glare and heat from the sun, however, in deference to the restaurant's patrons. There were two levels to the restaurant; the ground floor was a more casual, open dining experience, while the second floor was more suited to private dining, with booths and tables equipped with privacy charms that could hide the conversations and identities of the diners.

Narcissa and Draco were waiting for them at a corner table when they arrived, both dressed in casual yet elegant robes. After a short round of greetings, Augusta, Harry, and Neville took their seats, settling in.

“So, how'd it go?” Draco asked, unable to hold back his curiosity any longer than was necessary.

“A lot better than I thought it would,” Harry admitted. He flexed his wrist, calling forth his wand from its holster. He set his wand down on the table to show Draco. “It's cedar and coatl feather.”

“Lapis for the focus gem. Fitting,” Draco said, carefully picking up the wand to examine it more closely. “I like the design on it.”

“As do I,” Harry said, taking the wand back once Draco held it out to him. Neville showed off his new wand as well, blushing a little when Draco teased him gently about having a wand so perfectly attuned to his prodigious Herbology skills.

“So, what's your wand, then?” Neville asked in an attempt to change the focus of attention. “Are you using a custom one or one of Ollivander's?”

“A custom one,” Draco said. “This time, anyways. My other wand was a legacy wand from the Family Vault. I got this one the day after we came back. I used the legacy wand for the Oath and then returned it to the Vault the next day.”

He flicked his wand out of its holster and held it out to show Harry and Neville. “It's twelve and three-quarter inches; hawthorn and griffin feather with a hematite focus. It's good for jinxes and hexes, as well as healing.”

“Same wood, but everything else is different,” Harry murmured. He peered closely at the designs on the wand. The hematite was held onto the wand by what looked like an eagle's talons, and the pattern on the handle resembled feathers. He handed the wand back to Draco before settling back in his chair to look at the menu. Everything sounded good, but he wasn't entirely sure what he wanted to eat.

“Any recommendations?” he asked after he'd glanced over the menu.

“The roast beef is good here,” Narcissa told him. “As are any of the salads and soups. To be honest, you'll find something good regardless of what you choose.”

Lunch went by well, and soon enough the five of them were returning to Longbottom Manor, where Sirius was waiting to help celebrate Harry and Neville's birthdays, as they'd decided to hold a joint party. It was a quiet celebration, with both boys getting useful presents rather than fanciful ones. Narcissa gifted them each with an owl of their own-- Draco had already gotten an eagle owl by the name of Aster –with Neville receiving a tawny owl and Harry a barn owl. Neville named his owl Willow, as it was female, though Harry took some time to figure out a name for his male owl. Eventually, though, he dubbed him Duncan. Harry still wanted to get Hedwig, of course, but he figured she'd likely still be there for a while.

He wasn't able to find a familiar by the time September first rolled around, but he wasn't in any rush. He had far too many other things to worry about than finding a familiar. Neville and Draco were up earlier than Harry was that morning, with Narcissa and Draco Flooing over to to Longbottom Manor so they could all go to Platform Nine and Three Quarters together. Lucius was already at the Ministry, having cited an early morning meeting as the reason he couldn't see Draco off.

Neither Draco or Narcissa cared. Sirius had made good on his word when he claimed the ring of Lord Black, casting Bellatrix out of the Black Family. He also had everything prepared to dissolve Lucius and Narcissa's marriage, but Narcissa had asked him to wait until Draco was off at Hogwarts to do anything about it in fear of Lucius trying to take Draco away from her.

Sirius' time at the clinic was doing him wonders. After a month of intensive care, he was looking more like the man he'd been when he'd first gone into Azkaban than the shadow he'd been upon getting out. The Healers at the clinic had helped him learn how to ease the pain from the broken trichromatic bond, dulling the phantom sensations that occasionally flared up. The strength of the familial bond he shared with Harry helped, as did letting his Family Magic shore him up. The title of Lord Black was a heavy one, but rich in magical and political power.

Sirius was already starting to make plans to drag the House of Black up to the more neutral Gray coalition within the Wizengamot, not caring that it would shake things up immensely within the Wizengamot. Narcissa was currently the proxy for both House Potter and Black, but that would change once Sirius returned to Great Britain. He'd named Draco his heir, as Harry had requested, with the announcement of the change due to take place once Narcissa and Draco were securely within the confines of the House of Black. Sirius wasn't about to let Lucius get a whiff of the power associated with his Family.

He was fine with waiting. After all, he had had more than enough practice with doing such a thing in Azkaban. On September First, Sirius sent a small package to the boys via a house elf, one of the few ways he was currently able to communicate with the outside world. He also had a long-distance communications box linked with one at Gringotts that allowed him to send missives back and forth securely with Wirefang, the account manager for the Black Family. The accounts had lain dormant since Walburga Black's death, and Sirius was intent on getting the finances in order before he returned to Great Britain in another month.

The package held a few letters, some local sweets, and most importantly, a communication mirror much like the ones Sirius and James had had during their time at Hogwarts. Sirius had its mate, wanting to be able to have an instantaneous line of communication with Harry while he was away. Harry was intent on not forgetting about or destroying the mirror, unlike in the previous timeline. He had the mirror tucked away in his wand holster, glad that the dimensional store was big enough to hold both his wand and the mirror at the same time. It was far safer to keep the mirror there than in his pocket, and the holster would vibrate gently when the mirror was activated by Sirius.

Sirius had also filed the appropriate paperwork with the Ministry in regards to his blood adoption of Harry, legally and magically changing Harry's name to Harry Potter-Black and gaining full guardianship over him in both the Muggle and Wizarding worlds. Harry certainly didn't mind; he was all for people knowing Sirius was his dad. The announcement was set to go out in the society pages of the Prophet on September second, though the roll call at the Sorting on the first would out the news to those in attendance.

Once they were at Platform 9 ¾, it was time to say goodbye to Augusta and Narcissa. Hugs were given all around, with even the usually stoic Augusta breaking down and doling out embraces. After the last goodbyes were said, Harry, Neville, and Draco boarded the train with trunks in tow, Neville taking the lead. He paused when he saw Hermione sitting on her own in an empty compartment halfway down the train, glancing back at the others before gently knocking on the door frame.

“Excuse me? May we join you in this compartment?” he asked once Hermione looked up from the book she was reading. Hermione paused before marking her place with a finger and nodding in reply.

“Go ahead. There's more than enough room,” she said. Neville smiled at her and then pulled his trunk into the compartment, Harry and Draco following after him. They had mild levitation charms on their trunks that acted almost like wheels did on Muggle luggage, allowing for greater ease of movement. Once their trunks were stowed on the luggage racks, the three boys began to introduce themselves to Hermione after closing the door and sitting down.

“Hi. I'm Neville Longbottom, Heir of House Longbottom,” Neville began.

“I'm Draco Malfoy, Heir of House Black,” Draco added.

“And I'm Harry Potter-Black, Heir of House Potter,” Harry finished. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms...”

“Granger. Hermione Granger,” Hermione said. “Are you really Harry Potter? I've read all about you in--”

Harry held up a hand. “Don't believe everything you've read, especially since I've never given any kind of story or permission for people to write about me. The only publication I've spoken out in was The Quibbler , one of the independent papers here in England. Everything else is pure speculation and fiction. However, it's a pleasure to meet you, Hermione.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said. “What does it mean that you're all Heirs? I didn't know that wizards had nobility.”

Draco smiled wryly. “Most mundane-born don't,” he said. “At least, not until they enter our world.”

“Mundane-born?”

“Also known as Muggleborns,” Neville explained when he saw Hermione's slightly confused look. “It's a more... genteel ...term for those not born into the Wizarding World. They're reliably interchangeable, but it's mostly Gray-aligned Houses that use the term. Most Light-aligned Houses use Muggleborn, while quite a few Dark-aligned Houses use a rather impolite term that I'd rather not repeat.”

“Oh.” Hermione looked a little less confused, but not entirely so. “And the alignments?”

Harry just smiled. “There are four: Light, Gray, Dark, and Black. The first three are the most common, though a lot of people associate Dark with evil. It's not. Magic is inherently bias-free, though there are certain areas that are more attuned to certain alignments.”

“And Black Magic?”

“The worst kind of magic there is,” Neville said grimly. “Anything that goes against the natural order of things: necromancy, some blood rituals, and murder. There are three curses known at the Unforgivables. Of the three, two are technically considered Dark Magic because they can be used for alternate and sometimes beneficial things. The third, the Killing Curse, is Black Magic through and through. The only beneficial use of the Killing Curse would be to give someone a painless death, but that's it.”

Hermione frowned thoughtfully at that, her brow furrowing. “How do you know what alignment you are?”

“It usually runs in families,” Harry said, “but they'll teach us more about it at Hogwarts, especially in Charms and Transfiguration. Most mundane-born are either Light or Gray aligned; my mother was the latter, and so am I.”

Hermione made a thoughtful noise before shaking her head. “Well, it'll be interesting to see what alignment I am,” she said finally.

“You said your last name was Granger?” Draco asked. Hermione nodded.

“Yes. Why?”

“Any relation to Hector Dagworth-Granger?”

Hermione blinked. “My great-grandfather had a brother by that name, but they were estranged. Eventually, my great-grandfather dropped the Dagworth entirely, said he didn't want to be associated with that side of the family. At least, that's what my grandfather told me.”

“Interesting.” Harry had never heard Hermione talk about that in the previous timeline, even when Slughorn had asked her about it. Maybe she'd never done any further research into the matter back then.

“How so?” Hermione asked.

“Well,” Neville said, “it's possible that your great-grandfather was a Squib. Someone born into a magical family who didn't have magic himself. It happens from time to time. A lot of Pureblood families disown Squibs born into the family, and then those Squibs go out into the Muggle world and settle down there. If you went to Gringotts over, say, Yule break, they'd be able to do a Line Test for you and let you know for sure. It doesn't cost that much to do it, either, and the goblins like it when dormant vaults go active again.”

As they talked, the train began to move, slowly pulling out of the station. As Harry glanced out the window, he had to bite back a laugh. The Weasleys were hurrying towards the train from the archway entrance with Molly chivying her children along, trunks floating along behind them. Harry bit his lip and then looked away, not wanting to burst out laughing. Merlin, he'd almost forgotten about that. He wondered if Dumbledore had asked Molly to wait for him on the Muggle side of the archway to get him allied with a so-called 'proper' Light-aligned family.

The Weasleys managed to get onto the train just in time, with the trunks lagging a little behind them. Harry quietly got his wand out and subtly flicked it at the door, putting on a basic privacy ward so they wouldn't be bothered. Draco caught the motion and arched an eyebrow at him in question.

Just making sure we're not bothered by unwanted guests. Only our allies and the trolley lady will be able to disturb us, Harry told him. Speaking of allies, what are you going to do about Crabbe and Goyle?

Draco sighed softly. I honestly don't know.

You certainly don't need minions, but more friends wouldn't hurt, Harry pointed out. That, and they're young enough that they could be dissuaded from becoming Death Eaters in the future.

True, Draco agreed. They were useful allies before. Both are Dark affinities.

We can work with that. Harry let his wand return to its holster with an idle flick of his wrist, not even thinking about the action until Hermione said something about it.

“How'd you do that?”

Harry blinked and then focused on her. “Do what?”

“You just made your wand disappear. That's very advanced magic.”

Harry pushed back his sleeve to show off the holster. “It's a wand holster,” he explained. “It makes sure my wand doesn't get lost. It's got anti-Summoning and auto-return charms on it.”

“But where does the wand go?” Hermione asked as Neville got up to rummage around in Harry's trunk. He retrieved the three books Harry had bought as well as the extra wand holster.

“Into a pocket dimension,” Harry said. “Wizards can quite easily break the laws of physics.” He grinned. “Science doesn't matter to them, unfortunately.”

Hermione frowned. “You know about science?”

“Of course. I was Muggle-raised. My maternal aunt raised me,” Harry said. He shrugged. “I've only been back in the Wizarding World since this June. I've had to catch up a lot.”

“I've known about it for almost a year and still can't quite understand everything,” Hermione said. “I've read as much as I can, but not all the answers are there.” She gave a small pout of frustration. “It's very annoying.”

“Trust me, I know,” Harry said with a laugh. “I was very lucky to meet these two so soon. They're the reason why I came back two months early.”

“What do you mean?”

Harry exchanged looks with Neville and Draco before leaning forward slightly. “Well, remember when we talked about magical affinities?”

“Of course.” Hermione had an expression on her face that Harry was highly familiar with: that of intrigued concentration. “What about it?”

“Well, in some cases, a witch or wizard's magic finds another's magic highly compatible with itself. That can lead to what's known as a dichromatic bond. Usually it's a Light-Gray or Gray-Dark pairing. However, there's another type of bond that happens as well: a trichromatic bond. It can happen at any age, but usually the bonds start to form around ten or eleven when magic begins to get trained.” Harry gestured between himself, Neville, and Draco. “Our magic brought us to meet in June when I was out at a Muggle zoo with my relatives. Draco and Neville were there with their mother and grandmother respectively. We were all pretty surprised, to be honest.”

“Finding out that you have two bondmates tends to do that to you,” Draco said dryly. “Even for Purebloods like myself and Neville. Having the ability to form a trichromatic bond tends to run in families.”

“My mother, father, and dad were in one,” Harry explained. “That's why my last name is technically Potter-Black. James and Lily Potter were my biological parents, but my secondary father, Sirius Black, adopted me in blood and magic, making me his son as well.”

Hermione took all of this in with a thoughtful expression. “What does that mean for you three, then?”

“We'll get married one day,” Neville said simply. He held up his left hand to show Hermione his betrothal ring. “We wear these rings to show we're betrothed. They're the Potter triad betrothal rings, since the House of Potter has primacy over Malfoy and Longbottom due to its Most Ancient and Noble status. Malfoy is just a Noble House, while Longbottom is Ancient and Noble.”

“The Wizarding world doesn't care about the fact that you're all boys?” Hermione asked, surprised.

“Not in the slightest,” Harry said. “The Wizarding world might be greatly outdated in a lot of areas, but they don't really care about that kind of thing, especially not where trichromatic and dichromatic bonds are concerned. Even though we're all male, we can still technically have children together. It can be done by ritual, adoption, or surrogacy. In any case, regardless of how we have kids, that's in the far future. We're not old enough for that, obviously. That'll come after we graduate Hogwarts.”

“I'm pretty sure our parents would kill us if we had kids before then,” Draco drawled. Neville shuddered.

“Definitely.”

“Is there any way to learn about all of this?” Hermione wanted to know. “It sounds so fascinating.”

“I've got some books you can borrow if you like,” Harry offered. “I-- Oh. Thank you, Neville.” He took the books and holster from Neville and handed them to Hermione. “These helped me a lot when I first started learning about the Wizarding World and what everything meant. The wand holster was an extra one I bought when I got my wand. You can have it if you like. They're easy to use and it can hold more than just your wand, so long as it's something small.”

“Really?” Hermione took the books and holster with the utmost care of a lifelong bibliophile. “Thank you! I'll get these back to you as soon as I can.”

“Take your time,” Harry advised. “There's no rush whatsoever.” He settled back in his seat. “So, what House do you think you'll be in at Hogwarts?”

Hermione thought about it as she put the holster on her right wrist. “I don't know. Ravenclaw, maybe, though I wouldn't mind being in Gryffindor. Headmaster Dumbledore was in it.”

“Don't worry about what House other people were in,” Neville said. “What matters most is where you will fit best. You're not Albus Dumbledore, after all; you're Hermione Granger. You do seem like you'd fit well in Ravenclaw. You've definitely got the thirst for knowledge and the drive to pursue it.”

“Thank you. What about you? What Houses do you think you'll be in?”

“Gryffindor,” Neville said immediately.

“Slytherin,” Draco added.

“Either Hufflepuff or Slytherin, but preferably Hufflepuff,” Harry finished.

“Wow. Why are you so certain?” Hermione asked. “Is that something you find out like you did the trichromatic bond?”

“Well, like magical affinities, some families all go into the same House,” Draco explained. “For example, almost all of the Black family have been in Slytherin. Harry's dad, Sirius, was in Gryffindor, though.”

Harry nodded. “I have to wonder if some families sort of prime their kids to be in a specific House.” He smiled wryly. “I'd advise you to watch the reactions tonight when I don't go to Gryffindor, especially amongst the teachers. It should be interesting to see. My mother and father were in Gryffindor as well, and everyone's probably expecting me to go there too. I'm planning on bucking the trend.”

“How do we get chosen for a House?” Hermione asked. “An aptitude test?”

“Of a sort,” Neville said. He shrugged. “It's a tradition not to tell us how, but it's not painful.”

“Oh, good.” Hermione looked down at the wand holster on her wrist. “How do I put my wand in this?”

Harry got up to help her with it, showing her how to bind the holster to her magic so that only she or a Healer could take it off her. With that finished, it was easy enough to store the wand where it belonged. As the journey continued, talk turned to families and what they hoped to learn while at Hogwarts. Hermione and Draco got into an intense discussion about the differences and similarities between Transfiguration and Charms, with Neville and Harry chiming in occasionally. The conversation only paused when the trolley lady came around, with Harry buying a few Chocolate Frogs, saving all but one for later.

He smiled lopsidedly when he saw that he'd gotten Dumbledore's card again, quickly stuffing it deep into his pocket. The card would go into an album along with the others, but he wasn't going to worry about it too much. He had no need for the information on the back, especially since he already knew what it contained.

The rest of the trip passed well, with few interruptions. A prefect stopped by to check on the compartment, but didn't linger too long, too intent on getting her patrol done to worry about anything else. The boys let Hermione change quickly into her robes as they drew nearer to Hogwarts, standing on guard outside the compartment before switching places. They left their luggage on the train when they reached Hogsmeade station, the three boys gathering around Hermione so she wouldn't get lost.

Neville nudged Harry gently before inclining his head towards the carriages as they walked past. “Can you see them?” he murmured. Harry glanced over and then sighed.

“Yes. You?”

Neville nodded. “So can Draco.”

Harry smiled sadly. They'd all seen more than enough death over the years in the prior timeline, and it seemed that had carried over to this one. He turned his eyes away from the thestrals, focusing instead on the familiar large form of Hagrid.

“Fir' years! Firs' years over 'ere!” Hagrid called out over the heads of the crowd. They headed over to him, joining the other first years. Once all the first years were gathered, Hagrid led them down the long and winding path towards the lake. Neville helped Hermione into a boat once they reached the shore, he and the others getting in behind her. As soon as all the boats were filled, Hagrid set off, tapping his umbrella against the side of his boat to make it and the rest of the small fleet move forward.

Harry kept his eyes on the far side of the lake, eager to see Hogwarts once again. He and Neville had no idea what would happen when they stepped into Hogwarts as confirmed Heirs of the Founders, but they would soon find out. As they drew closer to Hogwarts, Harry was startled to realize that he could feel the edges of the wards that extended out over the lake. He glanced over at Neville, who seemed as surprised as he felt.

.: Heirs. You have come home. Welcome and well met. :.

Harry startled, his grip tightening on the side of the boat. The warm voice was undeniably female and was rich with magic.

.: I... Lady Hogwarts? :. Harry replied, not exactly sure how to react. This had never happened before.

.: Yes, beloved Heir. I have been waiting for you to come home for a long, long time. And to have two confirmed Heirs here at once... It's more than I'd ever hoped for. The winds of change are blowing, and they smell so sweet. You and your beloveds will be tied into the wards, though their control will mainly still lie with the Headmaster for the time being. I will need you to fix some things around the castle, however, that he has left to go astray. I am not as well or strong as I could be. :.

Harry felt the wards wrap around him, Draco, and Neville, sheathing their bond and strengthening it at the same time. A shiver ran through the three boys as the boat came to a halt, but they passed it off as either the cold or excitement when Hermione asked if they were alright. Hagrid led them up the stairs and across the lawn, eventually coming to a halt in front of the main doors of the castle. He knocked three times, the sound loud and echoing in the quiet night, and then waited.

Harry's heart jumped when he saw Professor McGonagall open the door, a soft intake of breath from Neville coming from beside him. The Head of Gryffindor House had been one of the first of the Gray-aligned magic users to succumb to the plague, and in a very public way, too. She'd collapsed in the middle of Diagon Alley one early summer's day while showing a small group of Muggleborns around. Harry and Neville had been there to do some shopping for birthday gifts for Draco, and had rushed over when they heard the commotion. It had hurt beyond belief to see their once vibrant and strong Gryffindor Head look so pale and weak as the Healers took her away.

She had died two days later.

“The Firs' Years, Professor,” Hagrid said as Harry dragged his mind away from the memories of the bleak and stormy funeral he'd attended.

“Thank you, Hagrid. I'll take them from here.” McGonagall turned on her heel and led the way into the entrance hall, taking them to a small side chamber for them to wait. Harry listened to the short speech she gave them, a half-smile quirking his lips as she talked. She'd meant a lot to him in the past timeline, and he hoped that their relationship would be similar in this one, even if he wasn't going to be in her House.

She left them alone to wait as she went to go get things ready for them. Harry made sure he looked presentable and then checked the others. He'd just finished straightening out Neville's cloak when he heard a voice coming from behind him.

“Hey, you're Harry Potter! My mum was looking for you at the train station!”

Harry winced and then turned to look at Ron. “I'm sorry, do I know you?” he asked, forcing himself to keep his voice calm. The last time he'd seen Ron, the other had been trying to break Harry, Draco, and Neville up, saying that the bond between them was fake and that Harry should be marrying Ginny. It had ended with harsh words and even harsher blows, especially when Harry had told him that he wasn't attracted to Ginny in the slightest and was quite happy with his bondmates.

“I'm Ron Weasley,” Ron said, nudging Susan Bones aside so he could get closer to Harry.

“Why would your mother be looking for me at the train station? We've never met before,” Harry replied, stepping back as much as he could without running into people.

“That's pretty creepy,” Hermione commented. “You're being rather rude, pushing people aside.”

“I wasn't talking to you ,” Ron snapped. “I was talking to Harry.”

Harry shook his head. “I'm not interested in talking to people who are rude to my friends,” he said firmly. “Please don't bother us again.”

“But--”

They were mercifully interrupted by the stream of ghosts coming through the wall, something Harry was thankful for. He'd almost forgotten how abrupt and rude Ron had been when he was this age. It hadn't gotten much better the older he'd been, either. Harry was sure now that he wanted very little to do with him. He wasn't too sure about the other Weasleys.

Fred and George were alright; he was sure they'd be on his side once he explained just who his father and dad were. Percy was okay; Harry had never really interacted with him much during the previous timeline given the age difference between them and Percy's focus on his prefect and Head Boy duties. The two eldest Weasley boys had been good allies, and Harry made an idle mental note to send a letter to Charlie to build up a rapport with him as a preemptive strike against the future situation regarding Norbert. Bill was devoted to his curse breaking work, and anyways, his oaths to Gringotts were rather stringent. Arthur was more interested in his work with Muggle artifacts to be bothered about investing overly much in Harry's personal life. Ron, Ginny, and Molly, on the other hand...

Ginny, he supposed, could be partially excused, as she'd grown up with the fanciful tales of the Boy-Who-Lived that had been spun by money-hungry publishers all her life. He hoped that once she learned he was betrothed, her romantic interests in him would wane and eventually die off. Molly was the most dangerous of the lot, to be honest. Ron, while petty and jealous at times, wasn't much of a danger, especially so young. Molly, on the other hand, had a knowledge of potions and spells Harry was very wary of. She was also as stubborn as her youngest son and tended to bulldoze over people whether they liked it or not.

His musings were interrupted by McGonagall's return. Harry and the others followed her in two long lines, Draco by Harry's side and Neville by Hermione's. It felt good to be back in the Great Hall again, the familiar enchanted ceiling and floating candles high above them. The lines came to a stop at the front of the hall as McGonagall fetched the small stool and the Sorting Hat. This was it. Time to see if the plan worked.

Harry quietly shifted closer to Draco, subtly taking hold of his mate's hand as they watched the Sorting start. Everything went as it had the first time around; that was, until Hermione's Sorting. She sat there for several minutes before the Hat called out, “RAVENCLAW!” Harry breathed out a sigh of relief. So far, so good.

Neville and Draco's Sortings were the same, which was to be expected. What wasn't the same was the length of time that it took the Hat to speak with them. Harry couldn't get anything from them over the bond during those times; he suspected the Hat had something to do with it. He kept his impatience under check the best he could, waiting for the Patil twins to be Sorted before it could be his turn. Harry noticed that McGonagall hesitated before calling out his name, stumbling over his newly hyphenated last name.

“Potter-Black, Harry!”

A storm of whispers broke out immediately all around the hall:

“Did she say Potter?”

The Harry Potter?”

“She said 'Potter-Black', though.”

“Didn't the Quibbler say he was a Parselmouth?”

Harry ignored them all, heading up to the stool and sitting down on it. It took him clearing his throat gently to remind McGonagall to put the Hat on his head.

'Ah, Mr. Potter-Black,' the Hat murmured in his mind. 'The third of our little group of time travelers. You lot have been very busy since you've returned. Not many have the power to even attempt the tempus itineris ritual. It's part of the reason why it's kept so hush-hush, not to mention the mortal cost.'

'I know,' Harry replied softly. 'It was a big risk, but it was worth it. I take it you saw some of our plans and what we've been through when you spoke with Neville and Draco?'

'Yes, I did. All three of you have impressive Occlumency skills. If you would kindly lower your shields, I'll be able to Sort you where you need to be.'

Harry did so, the Hat humming to itself as it sorted through his memories. 'Hmm. Very nice. I can see why you would not want to go into Gryffindor again. Ravenclaw is no fit for you, even though you are quite intelligent. You're the confirmed Heir of Slytherin, so you'd do well there. However, I can see you would prefer Hufflepuff, and why. House unity has been sorely lacking for far too long. Your plans would work in that regard; at least, for those willing to change. Not all prejudices can be solved with an integrated study group and an expansive group of friends.'

'I know,' Harry said. 'It was always one of the weaker parts of our plan.'

'It could be one of the strongest. Only time will tell. Ah. I see the Lady has already contacted you. Good. I would suggest going down to the Chamber as soon as you can. Selina was Salazar's familiar, and I dare say she will likely become yours.'

'I can't have a basilisk as a familiar! If nothing else, she's at least fifty feet long!'

'Oh, come now, you don't think she can't change that? Hogwarts' pipes aren't all that big. Honestly.' The Sorting Hat tutted. 'Just go and say hello. Oh, and make sure to ask her to guard her eyes. Right, now, I think we've taken long enough time to figure out where you should go. Better be....'

“HUFFLEPUFF!”

Harry blinked in the light as the Hat was pulled off his head. He hopped off the stool and headed toward the cheering Hufflepuff table, breathing a soft sigh of relief as he quickly restored his Occlumency shields to where they should be. Susan Bones waved him over, scooting to one side so he could sit down between her and Hannah Abbott. Harry took his seat, giving Susan a grateful smile. The rest of the Sorting went as expected, with Ron being Sorted into Gryffindor. Harry didn't envy Neville having to deal with him for seven years once more, but then again, Harry would have to deal with Justin Finch-Fletchley, so he supposed it balanced out.

Harry glanced up at the staff table, noting that Dumbledore looked less than pleased to see him sitting at the Hufflepuff table. Snape had a curiously neutral expression on his face, which surprised Harry. Still, it was a good sign, or so Harry hoped. He supposed only time would tell. The feast passed by in a blur of good conversation and even better food. Harry ate until he was full and then stopped, not wanting to overstuff himself. It was a habit he'd been trying to instill in himself, especially after his poor eating habits both in the previous timeline and during the plague time. Back then, he ate until he was full, and often beyond that, as outside of Hogwarts, he'd had no idea when he might get his next meal.

With a full stomach and a sleepy yawn, Harry followed one of the Hufflepuff prefects, the other first years trailing after him since he seemed to know what he was doing. Harry kept an idle watch on Neville and Draco as the Hall began to empty, using the bond to accomplish it. He was barely able to keep the yawns at bay as he was led through the halls and down to the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room, the lone common room he'd never been in before.

After learning how to access the hidden entrance, Harry and the other first years were sent off to their bedrooms. The Hufflepuffs had rooms of two, and Harry made sure to ask Ernie Macmillian if he wanted to share a room before anyone else could. He'd always gotten along well with Ernie, and he certainly didn't want to be stuck with Justin.

“So,” Ernie began as they began to poke around their room, “you're really a Parselmouth?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “It's a Black Family trait. Are you okay with that?”

Ernie shrugged. “I don't mind. My aunt swears she's a Canimouth, and her dogs seem to be unnaturally well-behaved. Do you have a snake?”

“Not yet, though I'm probably going to get one as a familiar at some point, so fair warning,” Harry said as he sat down on his bed.

“As long as it doesn't hurt me, I'll be good.” Ernie turned down his blankets before getting his pajamas from his trunk at the end of his bed. “I've got an owl myself.”

“So do I, a barn owl called Duncan. What's yours?”

“A tawny owl. Her name is Lydia.” Ernie grinned. “I think we're going to get along well.”

Harry smiled back as he got his pajamas on. “Me too, Ernie. Me too.”

The two boys went to bed after that, settling in to get a good night's rest in preparation for the start of their scholastic adventures the next day.

Chapter Text

The end of the first week of a new school year was always celebrated by students and teachers alike. It gave the former time to recover from and adjust to the sudden influx of new information, while allowing the latter to organize and retailor their lesson plans if needed. It also gave the new students their first real chance to explore their new home for the next nine months. Harry, Draco, and Neville already knew their way around the castle, naturally, but Hogwarts still had many secrets to be revealed.

The three boys already had plans for that weekend, with some of the more important involving the Chamber of Secrets and Room of Requirement, to name a few. Harry barely paid attention during his last class- Double Potions with Ravenclaw –absentmindedly going through the familiar motions of setting up his workspace until Snape said something.

"Mr. Potter. Just what are you doing?"

Harry looked up from his cauldron, blinking in surprise. "Sir?" He'd barely even started the simple boil cure potion they were to make that day, so he wasn't sure what he'd done to gain Snape's ire so quickly. Hermione, who was partnering with him, looked uncertain as well when Harry glanced over at her.

"You just placed three spells on your cauldron," Snape snapped, coming to a halt in front of Harry's workstation. "Just what were they?"

Harry frowned faintly as he thought over the question. "Mutare Aere, Scutum Ollam, and Tempus Titulum. None of them will affect the potion."

"I'm well aware," Snape said curtly. "Where did you learn those spells?"

"A Beginner's Guide to Brewing Potions by Rufus Willowbrook," Harry replied. He fetched the book from his bookbag and held it out to show Snape. "I picked it up so I could understand more about Potions."

Snape took the book from Harry, examining it momentarily before setting it down on the workstation near Hermione. "Mr. Potter, explain exactly what those spells do for the benefit of the rest of the class."

"Well, Mutare Aere vents the dangerous components of potion fumes away from the cauldron without affecting things like odor and color, exchanging it with air from another place that you specify. I chose air from over the Black Lake so it wouldn't affect any other student. Scutum Ollam is a variant of a Protego spell that keeps any foreign objects from being able to be put in the cauldron. Only those whose magical signatures keyed into the spell- Hermione and I, for example –can add things to the potion. Finally, Tempus Titulum is a variant of the Tempus spell. It keeps a visual track of time, just like how a Muggle digital timer does. It helps when you have to be precise about timing for adding ingredients for very finicky potions," Harry explained.

"Exactly. Now, can anyone tell me why Mister Potter and Miss Granger are the only ones who have applied these spells?" Snape asked. "And why Mister Potter is the only one with a copy of a required book?"

Hannah frowned and then raised her hand. "Professor," she began, "it wasn't on our book list."

Snape narrowed his eyes. "Of course it was. It has been on the required book list for first year Potions ever since I became Potions Master here, though not that many students seem to have realized that."

"But it wasn't, sir!" Terry Boot grabbed one of his books from his bag and then pulled out a folded piece of parchment from between its pages. "Here, look. I kept my supply list because it made a good bookmark."

There were nods from several other Ravenclaws who appeared to have thought and done the same thing. Snape took the parchment and unfolded it before looking over what was printed there. His expression darkened as he read.

"I see. Mister Boot, may I borrow this? It will be returned to you once I'm finished with it."

Terry shrugged. "Go ahead. I have other bookmarks."

Snape pocketed the list before going back to the front of the room. "Continue with your work. Five points to both Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw for bringing this to my attention."

Harry quietly breathed a sigh of relief when Snape went back to his previous behavior of wandering the room and correcting things that were being done wrong. Harry and Hermione finished their potion on time, bottling it in crystal phials that had been enchanted to be unbreakable, labeling them, and then turning them into Snape at the front of the room. With that done, they cleaned up, Harry sterilizing his tools and cauldron with a spell before putting them away.

"So, Hermione, when's your birthday again?" Harry asked as they left the Potions classroom.

"Hm? Oh, September nineteenth. You don't have to get me anything, it's alright," Hermione said. "Honestly, Harry, I don't mind."

"Still, I want to get you something. That's what friends do," Harry said. Hermione gave him a surprised smile.

"We're friends?"

"I should hope so," Harry said. "If you want to be, that is. I know Draco and Neville would like to be your friends as well."

Hermione's smile brightened. "I'd love that."

"Great. Oh, by the way, we're planning on forming a study group amongst the four Houses," Harry told her. "Do you want to be our representative in Ravenclaw?"

Hermione's smile faltered slightly. "Is that the only reason you want to be my friend?"

Harry shook his head quickly. "No, not at all," he said. "We want you to be our friend because we like you, not because you're intelligent. I mean, we do like the fact that you're smart, but that's not the only reason. Sorry. I should've timed that better."

Hermione relaxed at that, her tight grip on her books loosening some. "It's fine. It's just..."

"Have people said they'd be your friends if you helped them do their homework before?" Harry asked, concerned.

"Yes, unfortunately," Hermione said with a sigh. "It's why I haven't made many friends here besides you, Neville, and Draco. I didn't want that happening again."

Harry was quiet for a moment, wondering if that was how she'd felt the first time around. He hoped like hell she hadn't, especially during the times when he and Ron had pretty much insisted she all but do their homework for them.

"Trust me, we're more than happy to do our own work," he assured her as they reached the Great Hall. He escorted her to the Ravenclaw table, making sure she was safely seated between Padma and Terry before leaving her there and heading to the Hufflepuff table. He, Draco, and Neville were due to meet up after dinner near the Room of Requirement, as they had free time until curfew that night. Not that they were particularly fussed about making or breaking curfew, to be honest, what with Hogwarts herself on their side. Harry forced himself not to eat too fast, instead focusing on the conversations around him and occasionally adding to them.

Once dinner was over, Harry headed out of the Great Hall and upstairs, passing through several hidden hallways and tapestries as he went. He was the first to get there, so he asked for an appropriate room where he, Neville, and Draco could meet and talk in private. A plain wooden door formed in the wall once Harry was finished pacing back and forth three times, making him smile.

Just like old times.

He entered the Room, finding that it had formed into a very comfortable room with squashy couches arranged near a large fireplace in one corner. There were bookshelves tucked into another corner with various volumes populating the shelves, something Harry knew Hermione would love to explore should she ever come there. The other two corners were free of obstruction, with tapestries covering the bare walls. A wooden table sat near the far wall, three chairs set around it. It looked perfect for either studying or planning.

.: Thank you, my Lady, :. Harry said to Hogwarts over the bond they shared. .: It looks wonderful. :.

.: You are more than welcome, young Heir. If you have need of anything else, simply ask and I will provide it for you. The house elves know to answer to your calls as well. The Head Elf is called Mirabelle, :. Hogwarts replied.

.: Alright. Could you make sure only Draco and Neville can get in right now? :. Harry requested. He paused, an idea coming to him. .: Can you also make the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets only accessible from here and close the one in Myrtle's bathroom so no one else can get in that way? :.

.: Certainly. Your bondmates are on their way. I'll seal the door from outside interference once they arrive. When you wish to go to the Chamber, just let me know and I will create a passage there, :. Hogwarts said.

.: Thank you, :. Harry said as the door opened, admitting Neville and Draco. Neville looked around the room, nodding in approval.

"It looks good," he said. He flopped down on one of the couches with a content sigh. Draco trailed after him with a much more dignified air, the door closing behind him and then fading away.

"It does," he agreed, sitting down next to Neville. "Good job."

"It wasn't up to me," Harry said as he took a seat on one of the couches. "All I did was ask for a place we could meet."

"Still, it's brilliant," Neville said. "How were your weeks?"

Harry shrugged. "Alright, I suppose," he said. "I had to keep reminding myself to keep my skills down to what a first year would be able to do. I suspect that'll keep happening for a long while."

"I know what you mean." Draco shook his head. "Something tells me we'll be bored if we don't keep ourselves busy."

Neville let out a harsh laugh. "I think we've got enough to go on right now," he said. "We've got to keep a madman from rising to power again by collecting all of his soul pieces, stop another from ruining the rest of the world by keeping the British Wizarding World complacent and behind the times, get through school and puberty again, and not to mention get the politics all sorted out, though thankfully we can leave that to our proxies for now."

Draco ran a hand through his hair, throwing the perfectly arranged strands into disarray. "True." He sighed and then looked over at Harry. "So, what's the plan for tonight?"

"Well, I want to go visit the Chamber," Harry said. "The Sorting Hat told me that the basilisk was Slytherin's familiar, and could most likely become mine. Apparently her name is Selina."

Neville pushed himself up onto his elbows. "But she's fifty feet long!"

"That's what I said," Harry said, "but she can change size, according to the Hat. It makes sense; I always wondered how she could've fit through all those pipes in the walls. Not all of them could be as big as the one leading down from the sink in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom."

"How are you going to get past her eyes?" Draco asked.

"The Hat said she can make them safe. I'm going to trust that it knows what it's talking about," Harry told him simply. "I'll keep my eyes shut while I'm talking with her, just in case."

"I'm not the biggest fan of that plan," Neville began, "but I suppose we can't stop you."

"No, but we are going to go with you," Draco added. "I want to see the Chamber. I never got to the last time around." He chuckled softly. "I guess you really were the Heir of Slytherin even then."

"The true one, sure, but not the confirmed one," Harry said with a wry smile. "Well, at least we won't have to worry about that this time around."

"Hopefully, but who the hell knows what's going to happen during second year this time around," Neville pointed out. "We've already changed so much that we can't predict what'll happen beyond general large events we had no affect on before."

Harry and Draco contemplated that, Harry leaning back briefly in his chair as he thought. "You're right," he said finally. "In that case, we've got to work as hard as we can to make sure we make the right choices at the right time."

"That's going to be a bitch to figure out," Draco said. "I mean, how do we know what's the right choice or the right time?"

There was silence at that at the three boys tried to figure out the question. Eventually Neville sighed and flopped back onto his couch, scrubbing his hands over his face. "Merlin. My brain hurts just thinking about it."

"We should take it one day at a time, then," Harry said. He got to his feet. "Let's go to the Chamber. Hogwarts said she'll be able to make a passage down from here. She already said she'd close the one leading from Myrtle's bathroom, so hopefully even if Riddle's diary somehow gets to Hogwarts, that entrance won't be available to whoever's given the diary."

"Assuming we're not able to get it beforehand," Neville said as he got up. He frowned thoughtfully. "Hey, would Dobby be able to get past those wards?"

"Maybe?" Draco didn't sound so sure. "I don't know. I suppose we could always ask Mother to have him try. If he can, then he'll be able to get the diary without Father knowing."

"True. Speaking of Horcruxes, I'm going to get Sirius to come after Halloween," Harry said. "If all goes the same and the troll is let in, he can come in and play the angry parent card, and we can give him the diadem at the same time. If several others come as well, Dumbledore won't be able to sweep it under the rug like he did last time. I'm honestly surprised no one told their parents or guardians about it."

"That's assuming Dumbledore wasn't- or rather, isn't –screening the outgoing mail," Neville said, pulling Draco to his feet and ignoring his grumbling. "Something to ask Hogwarts, I suppose."

"True. We still need to check on the ward stones as well," Harry mused. "We'll have to do that before the winter holidays."

"We've got plenty of time." Draco glanced up. "My Lady, would you provide us with a safe passage to the Chamber of Secrets, please?"

.: Of course, dear, :. Hogwarts replied. A passageway opened up in the wall, with a winding staircase leading downwards. Torches lined the walls in iron sconces, providing a warm yet flickering light. The three boys headed downstairs, though the trip didn't seem like it took as long as it logically should have given the distance between the Room and the Chamber. The Chamber of Secrets looked much like it had when Harry had first entered it so long ago and yet never before. There was water everywhere, keeping the chamber cold and damp.

"You know," Neville said as they moved through the echoing space, "this doesn't really seem like a place you'd keep a snake or reptile of any kind, especially not a basilisk. You'd think it'd be warm and dry."

"Well, it is under the Lake," Draco said, "not to mention that it's been well over a thousand years since Slytherin was here last. I doubt anyone's been doing maintenance here."

"That, or Voldemort redecorated it into something more 'appropriate'," Harry said. He focused on Slytherin's statue once they reached it, letting the unique feel of his Parselmagic fill him. §Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four,§ he hissed, glad he'd practiced being able to speak Parseltongue without having to look at a snake directly. As the mouth opened, he switched back to English.

"Close your eyes, both of you!"

He slammed his own eyes shut, trusting Neville and Draco to do the same. He didn't open them even as he heard the heavy body of Selina hitting the floor as she emerged from the statue's mouth.

§Who are you? Why have you called me from my slumber?§

Harry bit his lip at the sudden surge of amusement that ran through him. She had a thick Scottish brogue that rivaled McGonagall's when she was vexed.

§I did,§ he replied, giving her a short bow. §My name is Harry Potter-Black. I'm the confirmed Heir of Slytherin. It's an honor to meet you, Madam Selina.§

Selina hissed softly. §It's been quite a long time since anyone's called me that. The one who claimed to be Salazar's heir before you never knew my name. You can just call me Selina.§

§He was an heir, but never confirmed by the Family magics,§ Harry told her. §The Sorting Hat told me about your name, and that you might be willing to become my familiar, just as you were Salazar's. I would ask that you shield your eyes so that we might speak face to face.§

There was a pause. §Face to face? You want to treat me as an equal?§

§Of course,§ Harry said. §I'm not Tom Riddle- Voldemort. I don't want to subjugate you and force you to do my bidding. The bond between familiars is a sacred one.§

§Then you would be the first since the false Heir,§ Selina said. §There. I've shielded my eyes. You can open your eyes. Who are these others with you?§

§My mates,§ Harry replied as he cautiously opened his eyes. He slowly looked up to see Selina curled up in front of them, her long body gathered in a tight coil. He let out a startled laugh when he saw the color of her eyes.

"You two can open your eyes," he told Neville and Draco. "You've got to see this."

Neville opened his eyes first, grabbing at Draco's hand when he saw that Selina was right in front of them. "Merlin," he breathed, eyes wide. Draco opened his eyes as well, blinking as he focused on the basilisk.

"Her eyes are Slytherin green," he said once he'd managed to get over his surprise. Harry grinned.

"I know," he said. "It's great. This is Selina, you two."

"Pleasure to meet you," Neville said automatically, still taking everything in.

§How polite,§ Selina said approvingly. §I like your mate already.§

§Thank you,§ Harry said with a smile. §I'm rather fond of him myself.§

Selina laughed, an odd sight on a snake. §Now,§ she began, §what would you have me do?§

§Well, like I said before, if you're willing, I'd like you to become my familiar. However, you'd have to change your size to something more mobile. Something I could carry easily, preferably,§ Harry requested.

§I can do that,§ Selina said. Between the space of a breath and the next, she'd gone from sixty feet long to about three feet. She was a dark green color still, her eyes still the same Slytherin green. However, she'd lost quite a bit of her sharp features as she changed size, looking less like a basilisk and more like a regular, albeit venomous, snake. She made her way over to Harry, waiting patiently for him to pick her up.

§So,§ Harry began, §how do you become my familiar?§

§Pick me up and you'll see,§ Selina said. Harry shrugged and then did so, being careful as he lifted her. A golden glow surrounded her and his hands, making him take in a sharp breath. "Oh. That's... Wow."

"What?" Neville asked. "What's happening?"

"It feels almost like when we first bonded," Harry said. "Her magic is beautiful. Very warm and wild."

Before anyone could stop her, Selina sank her fangs into Harry's wrist, completing the bond. Harry yelped at the sudden sharp pain, with Neville and Draco lurching forward to separate the two of them.

§What did you do that for?!§ Harry asked as Neville carefully pulled Selina away.

§I was completing the bond. Besides, you'd yet to have your immunity bite,§ Selina told him.

Harry frowned. §Immunity bite?§

§Of course. Every Parselmouth eventually gets one.§ She sounded smug. §With a bite from a basilisk, you're immune to any lesser venom. The false Heir didn't have that advantage. He had to get his immunity from a common adder's venom.§

§But I can still die from yours!§

§Oh, hush. No, you won't,§ Selina huffed. §Honestly. I was the familiar of one of the greatest Parselmouths of all time. Trust me when I say that you won't be dying from my venom. Tell your mates to calm down. The one holding me has too tight of a grip.§

"Neville," Harry began, "ease up on Selina, would you?"

"She bit you!" Neville protested.

"She says I won't be dying from her venom," Harry said shakily, taking a seat on the damp floor. "I guess we'll find out soon enough. Apparently I needed an immunity bite. She says it'll keep me from being hurt by any other 'lesser' venoms."

"How long did it take before?" Draco asked softly.

"Uh... It was pretty quick. A minute at most." Harry frowned. "The effects were almost instantaneous. I'm feeling fine. More than fine, actually, though that could be an after-effect of the familiar bond settling."

They waited for several more minutes before Draco sighed and then helped Harry to his feet. "Well," he said, "you're not dead."

"Thanks for pointing out the obvious." Harry took Selina back from Neville, who seemed greatly relieved that everything had turned out alright. §Selina, warn me next time if you're going to do something like that.§

§If you insist,§ Selina replied before she wound her way up Harry's arm and then settled herself loosely around his neck like a living necklace. She was hidden by the collar of his robes and shirt, with her head resting in the hollow of his throat. Harry found that her weight was a pleasant one that thrummed with the comforting warmth of the familiar bond.

§I'm going to go back to sleep now,§ she told him. §Do try not to wake me.§

§I'll do my best,§ Harry promised. §Before you go to sleep, though, I do have a question for you. Was the Chamber always like this?§

§Of course not,§ Selina mumbled, sounding half-asleep already. §Time took its toll, but the false Heir changed quite a lot as well. It will take some time to restore this place to what Salazar had created, but I have faith you can do it. Now, may I sleep?§

§Yes, yes, go ahead,§ Harry said with a laugh. Selina settled down once more, her body relaxing against his skin.

"That's not fair," Neville grumbled. Harry gave him a curious look.

"What isn't?"

"You speaking Parseltongue," Draco told him with a slight groan. "It's always been sexy, but we're eleven. This is going to be more frustrating than I thought."

Harry laughed. "Yes, well, unfortunately we're going to have to deal with it for now," he said. "We were right, by the way. This wasn't how the Chamber originally was when Slytherin built it. Selina says that Voldemort changed a lot of things. I doubt that Slytherin would've made all of this only to house a basilisk. We'll have to explore more as time goes on."

"Agreed, but we don't have to do it tonight," Neville said. "I'm dead tired. Let's get back to the Room and then go to bed."

"Alright, alright." Harry made a thoughtful noise. "You know, I can't just appear with Selina randomly overnight."

"I take it you have a plan?" Draco asked. Harry nodded as they headed to the passageway back to the Room of Requirements.

"Yeah. Here's what I was thinking..."

~/~

The next morning at breakfast, Harry was eagerly awaiting the mail. Just as the meal wound to a close, the owls streamed in through the enchanted windows. The familiar stark white form of Hedwig glimmered in the morning sunshine. She bore a small box with air holes punched in the top, the thick twine keeping it closed clasped in her beak. She landed in front of Harry, carefully setting the box down in front of him. Harry smiled at her, scratching her gently on the head before handing her a piece of crispy bacon. Hedwig hooted softly at him in thanks before chowing down on the bacon.

"What's that?" Susan asked. Harry unfolded the small note that was attached to the package and read it over with a smile.

"My dad," he said as he tucked the note into an inner pocket and then undid the twine. A warm, dry puff of air escaped as the top of the box was opened. Harry grinned and then reached in to retrieve Selina from the box. As he lifted her up, he used his magical skills to replicate the golden glow that signaled a familiar bond forming.

"Oh my!" Susan breathed, eyes wide. "That was a familiar bond forming!"

"Really?" Harry asked. Susan nodded.

"Yes. Does it have a name? What kind of snake is it?" Hannah asked, looking excited. It wasn't every day that a familiar bond formed right in front of one's eyes, after all.

"Let me see." Harry stroked his fingers lightly over Selina's dark green scales before switching to Parseltongue. §Are you alright, sweetheart? Was your trip okay?§

§Aye, it was,§ Selina said. §Your house elf gave me a rat before he put me in the box. It was delicious.§

§Good,§ Harry said. §I'm glad you're well, Selina.§

"Her name is Selina. I'm not sure what kind of snake she is, though," Harry told the others as Selina wound her way up his arm and settled around his neck once more. Ernie nodded, eyes wide.

"So... That was Parseltongue."

"Yeah. See? Nothing but a different language," Harry said.

"Congratulations, Harry."

Harry glanced over at Cedric, who was watching from his nearby seat. "Thanks, Cedric," he replied, giving the older boy a smile. He was bound and determined not to let him die this time around, and if everything went well with the Horcruxes, then Cedric would hopefully live a full and happy life.

"If you need help getting supplies for her, just ask," Cedric continued on. "The first Hogsmeade weekend is coming up soon. We can transfigure a tank for her in the meantime."

"That'll help a lot, thanks," Harry said. "Professor Kettleburn might have something as well since he's the Care of Magical Creatures professor."

"That could work as well," Cedric agreed. "I'll talk to him as soon as I can."

Harry nodded before turning his attention back to his breakfast. Professor Sprout wandered over as the meal ended, coming to investigate everything that had happened and to congratulate Harry on his bond. Once he'd finished, Harry went to go meet up with Draco, Neville, and Hermione. They congregated in the Great Hall, with Hermione congratulating Harry on his bond.

"It's ever so exciting," she said, looking curiously at Selina, who was poking her head out from under Harry's collar to investigate the young Ravenclaw. "Do you think I'll get a familiar one day as well?"

"It's possible," Harry said, automatically thinking of Crookshanks. "I-"

"Oi, Harry!"

Harry sighed as he turned to look at Ron, who was standing a few feet away with Seamus and Dean.

"Yes, Weasley?" Harry replied, forcing himself to remain calm. The instantaneous urge to punch Ron was rather strong, but he squashed it down for the time being. "Can I help you?"

"What're you doing hanging out with a slimy Snake?" Ron asked, glaring at Draco. "You're the Boy Who Lived! You shouldn't be talking to someone who has a Death Eater for a dad."

Harry's expression closed off immediately. "Mr. Weasley," he said, his voice taking on a clipped and cool tone that rivaled the autumn air outside, "who I spend my time with is not your concern, nor will it ever be. As it is, Draco is one of my betrotheds, so if I wasn't spending time with him, I would be greatly worried, as would he."

"You're betrothed to him?" Ron spluttered. "But he's evil!"

"He's eleven," Hermione retorted with a frustrated flourish of her hands. "How in the world could he be evil? He's barely been trained to do a Lumos spell!"

"He's in Slytherin!" Ron insisted. "They're all evil. It's just how it is."

"Oh, come on!" Hermione huffed. "You're being ridiculous, not to mention letting your prejudices get in the way."

"You're a Muggleborn. You wouldn't understand," Ron said dismissively. "Honestly, Harry's the hero of the Light. He needs to be around people who understand that and can stop the Dark from winning."

Harry blinked and then began laughing hard, Draco and Neville joining in shortly afterward. Ron glared at them. "Stop laughing," he said. "It's not funny."

"Of course it is," Neville said, wiping away an escaped tear from his eye. "He doesn't even have an affinity for Light magic. He's a Gray affinity. I'm the one who's the Light affinity."

Ron huffed at that. "It doesn't matter. It-" He stopped short when he saw Selina poking her head out of Harry's collar. "A snake! You've got a bloody snake!"

"Well, yes, she's my familiar," Harry said, his laughter trailing away. "Her name is Selina."

"I don't care what she's called, she's dangerous!" Ron pulled his wand out and aimed it at Selina. Harry backpedaled immediately and shielded Selina from attack, even though he doubted Ron would be able to do much, especially with such a poorly matched wand and his limited spell repertoire.

"Mister Weasley! Lower your wand right now!"

Harry breathed a sigh of relief as Professor Sprout came hurrying up, her normally jovial air absent at the moment. Ron wavered before lowering his wand with a huff. "What's all this about, then?" Sprout asked, hands on her hips.

"Ronald was pointing his wand at Harry because he doesn't like Harry's new familiar, ma'am," Hermione replied. "He was also accusing Draco of being evil simply because he's in Slytherin, not to mention insulting him because the two of them are part of a betrothed triad."

Sprout let out an annoyed sound as there were concurring murmurs from the other students around the area . "I see. Mister Weasley, for blatant disregard of your fellow students' safety, not to mention insulting two of your peers, you've earned yourself a detention with me this evening. Bring your dragonhide gloves and meet me at Greenhouse One after dinner. We'll be repotting quite a few feisty plants today, so be prepared for hard work."

"But Professor!" Ron tried to protest, but Sprout shook her head sharply.

"There'll be no arguing, Mister Weasley," she said firmly. "Go on, shoo. Back to your common room. I'll be letting Professor McGonagall know about what's happened here."

Ron's shoulders slumped as he pocketed his wand and then shuffled off up the stairs. Dean and Seamus followed after him, and, once they saw that the excitement had ended, the other students in the Hall began drifting away as well. Once Professor Sprout was satisfied that Harry and the others were alright, she bustled off, leaving them behind. Harry breathed a sigh of relief, one hand coming up to brush over Selina's scales.

"That was too close," he told the others. "I wasn't expecting him to be like that."

Neville shook his head. "He's been like that the whole time we've been here," he said. "I don't think he's going to change very soon."

"He seems rather petty and prone to anger," Hermione noted. "Not someone I'd want to associate with too much, I think."

"Good idea," Draco said. "Come on, let's get out of here."

The four of them headed upstairs, chatting happily amongst themselves, all thoughts of Ronald Weasley pushed out of their minds.

~/~

Pomona Sprout was not quick to anger, something she prided herself on. She was well known for her level-headedness in most situations, and her ability to defuse what might otherwise be torrid arguments. Her fabled calm was, however, quite tested by the recent actions of Ronald Weasley. Honestly, she had no idea how the boy had managed to get into Gryffindor with how he acted. The House of the brave and courageous indeed. Hah! He was more suited to Slytherin, to be honest, though only by the barest margins. He was hardly cunning and rather quick to anger, and he barely exemplified any of the traits the other Houses favored. Pomona shuddered. At least he hadn't managed to get into Hufflepuff, even with her House's reputation for taking those society deemed unsuitable for any of the others.

She shook her head as she entered the staff room. She'd have to talk to Minerva about Ronald's behavior. Pointing a wand at someone was not a light matter, doubly so when that wand was pointed at one's familiar. It didn't matter that Ronald only knew a few basic spells; the fact that he'd so readily drawn his wand was worrying. Pomona sighed softly before taking her seat at the table. The other members of the staff were gathering as well, all prepared to sit through the first staff meeting of the new school year.

Once everyone was settled around the table, Dumbledore clapped his hands to start things off. "Welcome, everyone, to our first staff meeting of the year," he said. "It's wonderful to see all of you looking so hale and hearty."

Pomona bit back a snort at that. Quirinus hardly looked hale and hearty. The poor man looked so ill at ease that it was laughable. Albus was blind if he thought that everyone was doing well.

"Now that our first week has passed, I'm sure you have all made notes of how our students are faring," Dumbledore continued on. "I'd like to hear your thoughts. We'll start with our eldest pupils and then go from there."

The staff did as asked, giving their reports for each year. Pomona noticed that Dumbledore seemed almost impatient to get to the reports about the new first years, though he hid it behind his usual genial smiles and twinkling gazes. He leaned forward once they got around to the first years, listening in intently.

"Tell me," Dumbledore said, "what of Harry Potter? How is he settling in? Pomona?"

"He seems to be doing wonderfully," Pomona said. "He's settling in as a true Hufflepuff. He is very loyal to his House mates and, as I just found out earlier, his friends and betrotheds as well."

"Betrotheds?" Dumbledore's eyebrows rose. "What do you mean?"

Pomona then launched into the story of the confrontation she'd come across in the Great Hall, detailing what she'd seen and who had been involved. She also spoke of what Hermione had told her. "I gathered that Mister Malfoy is one of Mister Potter-Black's betrothed, though I'm not sure who the third is. I have no doubt that we'll find out soon enough." She waved an idle hand. "He's doing well in Herbology, though not as well as Mister Longbottom, who seems to have a natural grasp of the subject. Then again, his father was much the same, so it's little surprise."

"Mm. And the other subjects? How is Mister Potter doing elsewhere?" Dumbledore asked.

"He's progressing well in Transfiguration," Minerva reported. "He seems to have inherited both of his fathers' talent in it."

"He's talented in Charms," Filius said. "He consistently gains an understanding of the material as quickly as quite a few of the Ravenclaws his age. Miss Granger, Mister Longbottom, and Mister Malfoy are much the same way. I suspect those four will be quite the magical powerhouses as they mature. It'll definitely be something to keep an eye on over the coming years."

"A-agreed," Quirinus stammered. "I h-have no d-d-doubt they will b-be s-something to watch."

"They seem to be close friends as well," Irma Pince commented, surprising almost everyone there. Madam Pince rarely spoke up in staff meetings, preferring to keep quiet and observe. "I've noticed that they've already formed a study group. They keep quiet and treat the books well, unlike some of our first years." She scowled. "I've already found chocolate stains on some of the first year books."

"Interesting," Minerva mused. "They don't seem to be divided along House lines. That's rare for first years, especially so soon."

"I'm all for it," Pomona said, garnering nods and sounds of agreement from quite a few of the others around the table, including Hagrid.

"I think it's a good thing," the half-giant said. " 'Specially if it's 'Arry. Maybe the others in his year'll do the same if they see he's doin' it."

"Perhaps," Dumbledore agreed. "Very well. What about any problems?"

"You mean besides Mister Weasley's near-attack?"

"Yes, of course."

"I have something I wish to speak to you about, Headmaster," Severus said. "I have become aware that certain books I have requested for the past decade to be put on the supply list for the first year curriculum have failed to appear." He drew out a folded piece of parchment from an inner pocket of his robes and set it on the table. "I borrowed this from Mister Boot of Ravenclaw. You wouldn't happen to know anything about this, would you?"

"I'm afraid not, Severus," Dumbledore said cheerily. "I'll be sure to look into it, I promise."

Severus didn't look to sure about that, but nodded sharply anyways. Out of curiosity, Pomona picked up the folded list and read it over, a frown forming. There were books missing from this list that she'd assigned as well. Not many, as often Potions and Herbology overlapped, but still, it was something to consider. Perhaps the four House Heads should get together in private to speak about this.

She handed the list back to Severus, only half-listening to Dumbledore as he wrapped up the meeting. Once it was over, she got the attention of her fellow Heads, inviting them to her private chambers near Hufflepuff House for a spot of tea. They agreed readily, even Severus. Getting him to agree to anything social was always a tricky business. The four of them left the staff room together, heading to Pomona's quarters. She'd long since made sure to remove any portraits from her quarters, not wanting them to report to Dumbledore just in case. It wasn't that she didn't trust the Headmaster, but he seemed to be playing a long game that only he knew the rules of, and she wasn't keen on being a pawn in it.

As soon as they were all settled in the squashy chairs in front of Pomona's fire with tea and jam scones, Pomona cleared her throat.

"Severus, you brought up something I must admit I haven't considered might be a problem," she began, figuring that the best approach was a blunt and straightforward one. "I usually assign two books for first year studies. I only saw One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi there; A Beginner's Guide to Herbology was nowhere to be seen."

"May I see that list?" Filius requested. Severus handed it over before sipping at his tea. "Hm. Everything seems fine for me, but then again, The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1 is usually the only one I assign since Magical Theory is used for more than one subject. Minerva, wouldn't you know if there have been any changes to the supply list?"

"Not particularly," Minerva began. "I mean, I don't write it. I just submit what books I need the same as you do. The only thing I do is sign the acceptance letters. The house elves deal with everything else. They put the letters in the envelopes, put them on the Book of Names to address them, and then send them off."

"Hm." Severus stared at the fire thoughtfully. "It appears that someone has decided that Potions and Herbology are not worthy subjects. Curious, given how closely linked they are. After all, a thorough grounding in Herbology will help immensely in Potions. I always thought my students were ill-suited for my subject, but if they aren't getting all the information they need to be successful, I might have to revise my opinion." He sipped his tea. "Might. We'll have to see."

Minerva let out a sharp huff of laughter. "You know I've always said you'd be better suited to having an apothecary or creating your own potions, Severus," she said. "I understand that Albus has done well by you, but you seem... frustrated ...by being stuck as a teacher."

Severus smiled bitterly. "I have my reasons, as annoying as they are. I doubt they will change any time soon."

"If you say so," Minerva said. She drained her tea and then set her cup down before getting up. "I'd best be going. Pomona, thank you for the tea and scones. I suspect we'll have more talks like this over the coming months."

Pomona nodded. "Maybe we should make it a weekly meeting," she proposed. "Albus seems rather invested in Harry Potter-Black's life. Perhaps a little too invested. He can't even keep the boy's last name straight."

"He's the Boy Who Lived," Severus said with a sneer. "Of course Dumbledore would be interested. Controlling that fame has always been one of his primary goals. He's the one who authorized those insipid books, after all. He said they would boost morale, especially in the early years after the war ended."

Filius wrinkled his nose at that. "I've never been fond of those books. From what I've seen, they promote the idea that Mister Potter-Black is able to best anything that's thrown at him, regardless of its true lethality. I certainly hope his peers don't actually believe that."

"Merlin only knows," Pomona said. She shook her head in disgust. "We'll have our hands full finding out, I suspect. Making money off the tragedy of the Potters' deaths. What a horrible thing."

"Agreed."

Severus, Filius, and Minerva left after a while, each heading their separate ways. Pomona stayed where she was, finishing off the last of the scones as she stared into the fire, her thoughts consuming her. This was going to be a very interesting school year indeed.

Chapter Text

It was a chilly yet sunny day in late October when Lord Sirius Black, Earl of Blackmoor, returned to the shores of his homeland in the early hours of the morning. He'd been away for far too long, and it felt good to be back. His first order of business was to head to Blackmoor Hall, the Black Family's ancestral seat. He hadn't been there since he was young and his grandfather the ruling Lord, but it was imposing as he remembered. Blackmoor Hall was located near Keswick in Cumbria, one of the northern regions of England. It was Unplottable and had strong Muggle-Repelling Charms interwoven with the other wards protecting it. There was even a Fidelius on it, the secret of which was transferred to each sitting Lord once they placed the Lord's ring on their finger.

The ring also transferred control of all of the house elves bound to the House of Black, or at least, those that had not been bound as personal elves to individual members of the family. Much to Sirius' annoyance, this bound Kreacher to him, as the elf was no longer individually bound to Sirius' mother given her death. As much as he wanted to kick the little elf off the nearest cliff, Sirius knew it wouldn't help. Besides, Harry had told him that Kreacher could help with the problem of retrieving one of the Horcruxes, and that trumped Sirius' more destructive urges.

Once Sirius was settled at Blackmoor Hall and the wards anchored to his blood and magic, he settled in the Lord's study and then called Kreacher. The elderly house elf appeared on the rug in front of the desk Sirius sat behind, his head bowed sullenly.

“Kreacher,” Sirius said, forcing himself to keep his voice even, “I've been told that my brother Regulus left you with a task that you've been so far unable to complete.”

Kreacher's head snapped up at that, his eyes boring into Sirius'. “The traitorous Lord Black knows of Kreacher's task that Master Regulus charged him with?” he rasped. Sirius nodded, gritting his teeth against Kreacher's insults.

“I do, and I have a way for it to be completed. I will need you to get the object Regulus bade you to destroy. Put it in a sealed metal box, making sure not to touch it. I will take it to the goblins at Gringotts, where they will destroy it.” He paused when he remembered a suggestion of Harry's. “You may stay with me and watch while it's destroyed. After that, you will go back to Grimmauld Place and make it fit for habitation again. I want everything ready within the month. Place Mother's portrait with the rest in the portrait hall here. Remove any curses, charms, and so on that may be on that portrait. Place all of the heads of the former house elves in the attic for now. I will be using Grimmauld Place on occasion when I'm in London, so I need it cleansed completely. I will claim the wards there soon enough, but not before its ready. If you need help with your task, then call upon any of the other Black elves. Do you understand?”

Kreacher nodded vigorously, his sullen attitude seeming to melt away like snow in the face of the sun. “Kreacher understands,” he said. “Kreacher will go now.” He paused. “When will Lord Black be seeing the goblins?”

“As soon as you bring the object in its box,” Sirius said. “I've claimed the wards here. This will be my primary residence for the time being.” He leaned back in his chair. “I will be bringing the Lady Narcissa and her son, Draco, back into the House; they will be living here for now, though Draco is currently at Hogwarts. I have named Draco my heir, but my son, Harry Potter-Black, is to be accorded an equal ranking in the House as my heir. You will respect them and Lady Narcissa just as much as you would respect me as your Lord. If you do not, I will punish you greatly. Do you understand?”

“Kreacher understands entirely,” Kreacher said. “May Kreacher go now?”

“Yes,” Sirius replied. Kreacher popped away, leaving him alone. Sirius sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face before retrieving a piece of parchment and a quill. He sent a message through his secure post box to Tirak via Wirefang, informing him that he would be arriving within the hour with another piece of their treasure hunt. Hufflepuff's Cup had been destroyed already, with the gold being melted down entirely by the Fiendfyre furnace. There had been an unsettling scream as the Horcrux was released, with the piece of soul fading away into the æther. The goblins had warded the room the furnace was in to make sure the Horcrux wouldn't attempt to possess any of the watchers and instead pass the Veil.

The black ooze that had emerged from Harry's scar had been thrown into the furnace as well as a precaution, the goblins not wanting to leave anything to chance. Sirius hadn't cared either way, to be honest; as long as it wasn't in Harry any more, it was fine by him. His thoughts were broken when Kreacher returned, a sealed metal box in his hands. Sirius got to his feet and rounded the desk. He took the box from Kreacher and tucked it under his arm.

“Can you pop directly into Gringotts?”

Kreacher shook his head. “No. The wards are too powerful. Kreacher can walk inside if Lord Black takes him.”

“Alright. Meet me outside Gringotts. I doubt you'll want me to Side-along Apparate you,” Sirius said. “Can you do that?”

“Yes. Kreacher will see you there.”

“Good.” Sirius Apparated away, leaving Kreacher standing momentarily alone in the Lord's study. Kreacher looked around the study, memorizing its layout, and then headed across time and space to join his new master at the front steps of Gringotts. The two of them headed inside, with Kreacher's presence garnering odd looks. Usually house elves stayed unseen until called, and very rarely were they seen in Gringotts. Sirius strode over to the nearest open teller, his elegantly tailored dark red robes flaring gently around his legs as he walked. He stopped in front of the tall counter and then gave a short bow to the teller, Kreacher coming to rest behind him and to his right, as was considered proper.

“Greetings. I have a meeting with Senior Teller Tirak,” Sirius said. “I would be honored if you tell him that Lord Black is here and that I am waiting at his leisure.”

The teller gave Sirius a faintly surprised look at his manners. Sirius just waited as the teller pressed a rune on his desk and spoke into it. There was a faintly garbled reply after a few moments, and then the teller was hopping down from his stool and leading Sirius and Kreacher through a nearby door. Several torch-lit passageways later and they were in Tirak's small office, the junior teller leaving them to return to the main part of the bank.

“I've got another piece of our treasure hunt in here,” Sirius said, showing Tirak the box “We'll likely have one more within the next few weeks.”

Tirak got up and rounded his desk. “Good. We'd best get rid of this piece now. Are you attached to that box?”

Sirius shook his head. “Not a bit. All I ask is that my house elf is allowed to watch its destruction.”

Tirak shrugged. “Whatever you want.” Wizards certainly were strange, but he wasn't about to complain, especially not when such hated Black objects were being destroyed. He led Sirius and Kreacher to the room where the Fiendfyre furnace was kept. The three males watched the magical flames consume the box with the Horcrux within it, the tortured scream of the soul shard filling the small room when the Horcrux was destroyed. Kreacher sighed softly once everything was over, a weight seeming to drop from his thin shoulders.

Tirak led the way out, leaving Sirius and Kreacher in the main part of the bank. Sirius didn't speak until he and Kreacher were outside. He pulled the house elf aside to a quiet corner of the Alley and then knelt down in front of him.

“Kreacher, I want you to clean yourself up,” he ordered. “You and the other elves of the House are to come up with a uniform for both males and females and then wear them. These are not clothes. They are your way to best represent the House of Black in public, understand?”

Kreacher nodded cautiously. “Yes.”

“Good. Take the funds for the fabric from the general household vault,” Sirius told him as he rose to his feet. “Do this before you start working on the London townhouse. Go.”

Kreacher vanished with a crack of displaced air, leaving Sirius alone. Sirius shook his head and then headed off down the Alley, off to his next appointment. He was meeting Lucius and Narcissa at Doornehaven, Masters, and Wimbley, the law firm that he'd hired on retainer after much discussion with Amelia. It had a good reputation for being neutral in regards to their views on magic and blood status, which was rather rare amongst Wizarding lawyers. The firm was located in Historic Alley, several buildings down from the Solarium.

The office was well-decorated without being overly lavish, something Sirius approved of. He was led to a meeting room where David Masters, the lawyer dealing with the issue of the House of Malfoy and ending that association entirely, was waiting for him. Narcissa and Lucius had yet to arrive, which didn't bother Sirius. He was more than content to be the first one there; it gave him even more power in the situation. Masters already had the marriage contract, both the original and a copy, laid out on the table in front of him.

Lucius and Narcissa arrived five minutes before the appointed time, with Lucius looking as imperious as ever in stark black robes. Narcissa wore elegant robes in a pale blue that highlighted her fair features. Sirius got to his feet, giving the two of them a nod in greeting. “Lord Malfoy. Lady Malfoy. Thank you for coming.”

“I'm curious as to why we're here,” Lucius said, taking a seat without waiting for Sirius to do so first, a subtle slight that spoke of his disdain for the newly minted Black Lord. Sirius ignored the slight, taking his seat at the end of the table, but not before pulling Narcissa's chair out for her, as Lucius should've done.

“We're here because you've broken faith with the House of Black, Lucius,” Sirius began, not bothering to waste any time beating around the bush. “More importantly, you've broken faith with your wife, which means your marriage contract has been broken.”

Lucius stiffened. “I have done no such thing!” he protested.

Sirius arched an eyebrow. “Oh, trust me, you have.” He turned to Masters. “I trust you have the proper section prepared?”

Masters nodded and then handed Lucius the copy of the marriage contract. “As per Section Two, subsection D, you have broken faith with the House of Black, and as such, your marriage and all assets associated with it are forfeit and to be returned to the House of Black.” He cleared his throat before reading out the appropriate section of the contract “'I, Lucius Abraxas Malfoy, do hereby swear to honor the marriage bond with Narcissa Calliope Black and cleave to no other. Should I do so, I will have broken faith with the House of Black and its Daughter, and will duly agree to and undergo the consequences immediately.'”

“Those consequences,” Sirius said grimly, “are immediate dissolution of the marriage bond, retrieval of the dowry monies and objects, and, most importantly, the return of Narcissa to the House of Black. She has also requested that Draco be welcomed into the House of Black as well, which is well within her rights as a Daughter of the House of Black.”

“I disagree,” Lucius said sharply. “Draco is my heir and son, and he will remain as such, regardless of Narcissa's marital status.”

Masters shook his head. “Lord Black is correct,” he said. “As a Daughter of the House of Black, she is able to claim any children of her own as Sons or Daughters of her birth House, regardless of their statuses within the House she marries into. Given that the House of Black has primacy, you cannot fight this decision. Draco will no longer be a Malfoy, but a Black, and accorded all the privileges and honors that comes with being a member of that Ancient and Noble House.”

“You still haven't told me exactly how I've broken faith with the House of Black,” Lucius said, “and I don't care about primacy. I'll fight Draco's removal with all that I have.”

“It won't go well for you,” Sirius warned as he got to his feet. “As for how you've broken faith, you bound yourself to the Dark Lord known as Voldemort. You bear his Mark and pledged your loyalty to him. The motto of House Black is Toujours Pur, always pure. It does not, much, I'm sure, to the annoyance of many of my ancestors and other various family members, mean that we should keep our blood pure and never intermarry with non-Purebloods. In fact, it means that Blacks are to be loyal to the ideals and interests of the family and only the family. We are not to bind ourselves to those who wish to subjugate us, nor allow others to pledge us to those who wish to subjugate us. The fact that you put Narcissa in harm's way by binding yourself to Voldemort violated that, and therefore violated your marriage contract. All the paperwork has gone through at Gringotts and the Ministry; this was just a notification meeting. Narcissa and Draco are now members of the House of Black, and all penalties due have been levied against the House of Malfoy.”

Sirius placed his wand against the original copy of the contract. “I, Lord Sirius Black, Earl of Blackmoor and Head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black, do hereby declare the marriage bond between Narcissa Calliope Black and Lucius Abraxas Malfoy to be dissolved. Narcissa Calliope Black is once more a Daughter of the House of Black, and her son, Draco Lucius Malfoy, a Son of the House of the Black. He is to be renamed Draco Ares Black, breaking all ties with the House of Malfoy and its Family Magics. May the Family Magics of the House of Black embrace him in their entirety, as they have his mother. So say I, so mote it be!”

The contract burst into flames, the wax seals and parchment crumbling to ash quickly on the polished surface of the table before Sirius Vanished it with a flick of his wand. Lucius rose to his feet with a snarl as he drew his wand. He tried to curse Sirius, but nothing happened. He tried three more times before launching himself bodily at Sirius. Sirius dodged the attack, letting Lucius crash to the hardwood floor in an undignified heap. He shook his head in disgust. “Idiot. You didn't think I would have us meet somewhere you could curse me? Please, I'm not that stupid,” he said. “You, apparently, are. Kingsley?”

Kingsley Shacklebolt removed an invisibility cloak as he stepped away from the corner he'd been standing guard in. Sirius had asked Amelia to provide an Auror for the meeting just in case, highly doubting that Lucius would take losing both his wife and heir calmly. Kingsley quickly bound Lucius in magic-suppressing cuffs and took his wand, not wanting to leave the former Death Eater any chance of escape. After several choice insults from Lucius, Kingsley also cast a Silencing Charm on him, not wanting to hear the vitriol spewing from the blonde man's mouth. He took Lucius out of the meeting room and then Side-along Apparated him directly to the holding cells at the Ministry, something only Senior Aurors could do.

Sirius watched the two of them go before turning back to Narcissa. He held out his hands to her, palms up. She took his hands as she rose to her feet. “Welcome back to the Family, Narcissa,” Sirius told her, gently squeezing her hands before letting go.

“Thank you. Your time abroad has worked wonders for you, my Lord, both in appearance and manner,” Narcissa said, bowing her head momentarily to him. Sirius nodded.

“They do good work there,” he agreed. “Our friends there are doing better as well. The Healers say they'll be ready for a few outside visitors come Yule.”

“That's wonderful,” Narcissa said with a true smile. “I look forward to speaking with them once more.”

“As do I.” Sirius offered his arm to her before looking over at Masters. “Thank you for your services today, David. Your accounts will be credited within the day.”

Masters nodded. “Thank you. If you need any more aid, we're here to help.”

“Of course. Hopefully, we won't see you soon, but if we do, then so be it. Have a good day.” Sirius led Narcissa out of the law offices into the crisp morning daylight.

“So,” Narcissa said, “what now?”

“Now we get your and Draco's belongings from Malfoy Manor,” Sirius replied. “And since Lucius is currently unable to stop us, we see if we can't get into that warded room of his.”

Narcissa smirked. “Perfect.”

 

~/~

 

Over five hundred miles away, Draco, Neville, and Harry were meeting up for breakfast before classes started. Just as they headed into the Great Hall, Draco began trembling violently. Harry and Neville quickly pulled him to one side, getting him out of the way of the other students coming into the Hall. The tremors kept building even as Harry and Neville guided him to a nearby bench. Susan Bones, who was nearby, went and fetched both Professor Snape and Madam Pomfrey. Before the two adults could ask what was going on, a bright blue glow enveloped Draco, forcing Harry and Neville back.

The glow coalesced into a miniature dragon that roared its defiance against leaving Draco. The croaking cries of a flock of ravens sounded seconds before the golden forms of twenty or so glowing birds darted into the Hall through the great stained glass windows, making their swift way towards Draco. They darted around the blue dragon, driving it away with harsh cries and sharp beaks. Once the dragon had disappeared, the leader of the flock hopped up onto the now-sobbing Draco's knee, giving him a reassuring croaky warble. Draco reached out with a shaking hand and ran his fingers over the golden raven. The bird nudged him gently with its head before it and the others dissolved into a golden light that sank into Draco's body.

The shaking slowed and then stopped, but not before Draco slumped into unconsciousness. When Neville went to touch him, Madam Pomfrey stopped him. “No! Don't touch him! We don't know what that was!”

Neville shot her a quick, terse look. “He's my bondmate,” he said, even as he defied the Mediwitch's orders. He gently took Draco's hand, thumb running lightly over its back. Harry took Draco's other hand, a lopsided smile on his face.

“Besides,” he said, “we do know what it was. That, however, isn't something to be discussed in the Great Hall. Professor Snape, I doubt Draco will be up for attending classes today, and I know Neville and I will be wanting to stay close to him as he recovers. Will you help him up to the Infirmary?”

“Just what is he recovering from, Mister Potter-Black?” Severus asked as he carefully scooped Draco up into his arms.

“We'll tell you in the Infirmary,” Neville assured him as he and Harry got to their feet. Professor Dumbledore came hurrying up at that moment, his star-strewn robes twinkling as he moved.

“Is everything alright, Severus?” he asked. “Poppy?”

Severus gave him a disbelieving look. There he was, holding an unconscious Draco, and Dumbledore was asking if everything was okay. What an idiot.

“We're not sure,” Poppy said distractedly as Severus strode out of the hall, Neville and Harry following quickly after him. “I'll let you know as soon as I can, Headmaster. Excuse me.”

She bustled off, leaving Dumbledore standing in the doorway of the Great Hall. Severus, Harry, and Neville had made it to the Infirmary first. Draco was laid on one of the beds, Harry and Neville sitting on either side of him in chairs Severus had conjured for them. Severus was scanning Draco with various diagnostic charms, having been trained as a junior healer as part of his Potions Mastery. One had to know how to treat possible accidents and poisonings, after all. He was surprised by the short piece of parchment that emerged from his wand when he cast the last diagnostic charm.

Apart from being a little hungry, Draco seemed remarkably healthy for having undergone a recent magical trauma. His trichromatic bond with Harry and Neville was strong and vibrant, far stronger than Severus had expected given the short time the three boys had known one another. Not that that really mattered; trichromatic bonds were notoriously tricky things, and were one of the least understood aspects of soul magics. Draco's magical signature was fluctuating mildly, but seemed to be settling down as he rested.

“Severus? How is he?” Poppy asked.

“Surprisingly well,” Severus replied, handing over the parchment. Poppy read it over and then handed it back.

“Intriguing.” She looked at Neville and Harry. “Now then, boys, you said you knew what this was?”

“An exchanging of one Family Magics for another,” Neville said softly. “The reason is personal, Madam Pomfrey. To be honest, of all the adults in the castle, only Professor Snape can know that reason since he's Draco's godfather.”

That, and Severus was the least likely person to tell Dumbledore about what was going on. Poppy huffed. “I can't treat him if I don't know entirely what's going on.”

“He just needs rest,” Harry told her. He eyed the bed and then got up onto it next to Draco, snuggling close to him. Neville did the same on the other side, knowing that physical contact would help speed up Draco's recovery. They certainly weren't going to be going to class that day. The notes could always be gotten from various House-mates, after all, and taking care of their bondmate trumped lessons they already knew.

Poppy didn't look too sure about it, but she couldn't do or say anything about it. Di- and trichromatic bonds were protected by some of the most ancient laws in the Magical world. Not even Dumbledore could circumvent them, and the penalties for interfering with those bonds were severe. She sighed and then left to go to her office after placing a passive monitoring charm on the bed.

Severus watched the three boys for a moment and then turned to leave. Before he could go, however, Harry stopped him.

“Professor Snape, could you put up a ward around the bed that only you and Madam Pomfrey can pass?”

Severus paused, a frown pulling the corners of his mouth as he sat down on one of the conjured chairs. “Oh? And why should I do that?”

“Because there are very few adults in this castle that we actually trust,” Neville said. He smiled grimly. “There are those who are obsessed with 'redeeming' those with an affinity for Dark Magics. The temptation to take advantage of Draco's inability to fight back might be too strong to resist.”

Severus' eyebrows rose sharply at that. He had a very strong suspicion of who the two boys were talking about. “Are you certain?”

Harry nodded. “We have quite a few reasons to be wary of our current Headmaster. We'd be willing to talk to you about it in...” He trailed off, tipping his head back as he thought. “Two days.”

“All Hallow's Eve? What's so special about that particular day?”

“Many things,” Harry said, “but mainly it's to give Draco some time to recover.”

“Care to give me the reason for why Draco's laying there unconscious? You mentioned an exchange of Family Magics?”

“As soon as you put up a privacy ward, yes,” Neville said. Severus did so when it was apparent that the story wouldn't continue without it. “Anyways, the exchange was the Malfoy Family Magics for the Black Family Magics,” he said softly. “His mother claimed him as a Son of the House of Black. We didn't know that this was going to happen today, or we would've been more prepared.”

“Speaking of...” Harry retrieved his communication mirror from his wrist holster and snapped it open. “Sirius.”

The mirror's glass fogged over for several long seconds before Sirius answered. “Harry! What's going on?”

“A little prior notice would've been nice,” Harry replied dryly. “We're in the Hospital Wing under a privacy ward with Professor Snape, so fair warning. He's the one who brought Draco here from the Great Hall.”

“Sorry about that,” Sirius said sheepishly. “About not giving you a warning, anyways. Turn the mirror towards Snape for me, would you?”

Harry did so, turning the mirror so Severus could see Sirius' face. Severus was surprised to see how healthy Sirius looked, even with all the healing he'd undergone. There was still a slightly haunted look around his eyes, but his face was filling out nicely and his skin had started to lose its waxy appearance.

“Black,” Severus said, lip curling in automatic annoyance. To Severus' surprise, Sirius merely gave him a polite nod in greeting, forgoing any insults entirely. It left Severus feeling rather wrong-footed, to say the least

“Snape,” Sirius replied calmly. “First, I wanted to say thank you for looking after Draco. It means a lot to both me and his mother. Second, I have quite a lot I need to speak with you about, but that's better said in person than over a mirror or via the Floo. Narcissa and I will likely be visiting the castle soon to check up on Draco in order to make sure he's adjusting well to the change in Family Magics.” He smiled wryly. “Lucius didn't take the fact that he'd managed to violate his marriage contract with Narcissa well.”

“How did he manage to do that?”

“There was a clause in the contract that he couldn't pledge himself to another while married to Narcissa,” Sirius said. “He became a Death Eater, after all, and took the Dark Mark. Narcissa never did, so she never violated the contract.”

Severus leaned back in his chair, running a hand thoughtfully over his face. “Intriguing. And I suppose this only happened now because there hasn't been a Lord of your House for over a decade?”

“Exactly,” Sirius confirmed. “No one's been able to audit the various contracts since my father's death. It's caused my account managers more than a little amount of trouble.”

“I'm sure,” Severus said. “What are you going to do now?”

Sirius shrugged faintly. “Finish moving Narcissa and Draco's belongings to Blackmoor Hall,” he said. “Lucius is in the tender loving care of the Aurors at the moment given that he tried to attack me after the contract was dissolved, so he can't exactly complain.”

Harry laughed. Draco was going to love that. Draco? Love, you need to wake up, he said over the bond, gently nudging at Draco's mental presence. Draco groaned softly, eyelids fluttering as he slowly regained consciousness. Neville squeezed Draco's hand encouragingly, urging him to wake as well.

“Sirius, if you're anywhere near Narcissa, I'd get her,” Harry called out. “Draco's waking up.”

There was a soft curse from Sirius and then Severus had to look away as the image on the mirror jolted and then began to move quickly, the faint beginnings of nausea starting to make themselves known the longer he watched the bouncing images. Only when he saw Narcissa's face on the mirror did Severus gesture for Harry to turn it around again.

Harry did as told, turning the mirror towards Draco so Narcissa could see her son's face. Draco slowly opened his eyes, a soft groan leaving him. He squeezed Neville and Harry's hands before focusing on the mirror.

“Mum?” he said, sounding faintly confused. “What happened?”

“The Family Magics changed,” Narcissa said. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” Draco replied as he carefully sat up. Narcissa nodded.

“We apologize for not warning you beforehand,” she said. “Your eyes are more blue than they were before. You seem to be taking after my side of the Family now.”

“I don't think that's a bad thing,” Draco muttered. “I'd rather not be considered as an exact copy of my father. That rarely turns out well.”

“Agreed,” Harry said, glancing briefly at Severus before focusing on the mirror once more. “How's everything going there?”

“Surprisingly well,” Sirius said, poking his head into view. “We're close to getting that book you wanted. We just need to get through some barriers, but Dobby is helping us with that.”

“Oh, good,” Harry said, relieved. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Are you three going to be okay for now?”

“I think so. We-” Harry broke off when the doors of the Infirmary opened, admitting Dumbledore. The Headmaster swept over to the bed, a genial smile on his face. He was stopped, however, by the proximity and privacy wards.

“Hang on a moment, Sirius,” Neville said. “Our esteemed Headmaster has arrived.”

Sirius huffed in annoyance. “Interfering old goat,” he muttered. “Call us back later when you've got more privacy. Snape, keep an eye on them for us, would you?”

“I'll do my best,” Severus promised as Dumbledore motioned for him to remove the wards. Harry shut the mirror after he and the other two boys said their goodbyes. He let the mirror return to its dimensional store, not wanting Dumbledore to take it from him. “Go ahead and take the privacy ward down, but leave the proximity one,” he told Severus. “Id rather he not be able to get within casting distance.”

“He's pretty talented at casting long-distance,” Draco murmured, placing his hand on Harry's wrist and squeezing gently. “Keep your wits about you.”

Harry nodded before gesturing for Severus to drop the privacy ward. Dumbledore's smile brightened at that.

“Ah, good. Severus, may I move closer? There seems to be a problem with the proximity ward.”

“There's no problem, sir. The ward's set up correctly,” Harry said. Dumbledore looked surprised at that.

“Oh? Come now, I'm not going to hurt you,” Dumbledore said reassuringly. “I just wanted to make sure that young Mister Malfoy is doing well.”

“Do you have Healing training?” Neville asked. “Professor Snape is allowed past the ward because he has Healing training as part of his Potions Mastery, and of course Madam Pomfrey is allowed past the ward because she's a Mediwitch.”

“Well, no, I don't have any Healing training, but I'm not going to hurt him,” Dumbledore protested.

“Unless you have permission from my mother, Headmaster, then no, you're not allowed to cast any spells on me,” Draco said firmly. “It's part of the school rules and the laws protecting House Heirs.”

A flash of frustration passed across Dumbledore's face, but he quickly buried it behind a nod and a smile. “Very well. I hope you recover soon. Mister Potter, Mister Longbottom, you'll need to go to class. Professor Snape will escort you.”

“Sorry, sir, but we're staying with Draco,” Harry said. “His magic is in upheaval. He needs all the support we can give him, and our bond works the best when we're in close physical contact with him.”

Dumbledore's beard twitched faintly in annoyance but he couldn't argue. He instead turned his attention to Severus. “Severus, you have ten minutes until your first class,” he said. “You'd best be heading out.”

Severus nodded and then got to his feet, letting the conjured chairs vanish back into the æther they'd come from. He smoothed out the front of his robes and then said his goodbyes before heading out of the Hospital Wing with Dumbledore trailing behind him. The three boys watched them go before relaxing.

“Go to sleep,” Neville said to Draco, running his fingers through Draco's hair now that they were alone. “We'll be here when you wake.”

Draco grumbled at that, but lay back down . “I don't want to sleep. I've been unconscious for... How long?”

“Mm, less than ten minutes,” Harry told him. “Professor Snape moved pretty quickly to get you up here.”

“Oh. That's good.” Draco yawned. “He left the proximity ward up, right?”

“Right,” Neville confirmed. “Rest.”

“Fussy Lion,” Draco muttered as his eyes closed again.

“Stubborn Snake,” Neville retorted with a fond smile. Draco soon dropped off into a healing sleep, his bondmates staying close on either side of him as they watched over him.

Chapter Text

Halloween morning saw Draco back amongst the general student population, his magic mostly settled once more. His features had changed slightly, taking on more of Narcissa's elegant lines than Lucius' sharp angles. His eyes had settled into a dark slate blue-gray and his hair had shifted to a blond a few shades darker than it had been originally as well. Harry and Neville sat at the Slytherin table with him that morning, ignoring the weird looks they were getting from the others around them. Pansy Parkinson in particular had a pinched expression on her face that looked as if she had smelled something foul, but the three boys ignored her and the other disapproving looks. There were no rules against sitting at different tables during regular meals; according to Hogwarts, A History, only during the Welcoming and Leaving Feasts were the four Houses required to sit solely at their separate tables.

During the day, the three boys kept as close an eye on Hermione as they could, not wanting her to be trapped in the girls' bathroom like she had in the previous timeline. Hogwarts herself was keeping a watch out for any trolls and for Professor Quirrell to try to go after the Sorcerer's Stone. They recruited Padma Patil and a few of the other girls in their study group- which had by then grown to almost all of the first years besides some of the more die-hard believers in the separation between the Houses, necessitating them to find a bigger space than the library –to watch over her when they couldn't. Harry had been pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of the people he hadn't really spent time with in the previous timeline were pretty awesome.

Morag MacDougal of Ravenclaw, for example, had a sharp mind and an even sharper sense of humor that laid in wait and then sprang out at the least expected of times. Alisa Runcorn of Slytherin was a Transfiguration prodigy who loved to share stories of her four younger siblings and the trouble they got up to when their parents weren't looking. Wayne Hopkins of Hufflepuff was a Quidditch enthusiast but also had a deep interest in all things related to magical creatures and beings and was intending to follow in his father's footsteps in Magizoology. Even Crabbe and Goyle were starting to blossom outside of the thug-like roles they'd taken on in the previous timeline; Crabbe was a surprisingly good artist, and Goyle showed great promise in music, though his voice was far outstripped by his instrumental talents.

Harry found that he quite enjoyed spending time with those in the study group, even outside of their structured study times. The gaining of new friends far outweighed the loss of the fickle friendship of Ron in Harry's mind, and he didn't dwell much on the issue. Besides, Neville could keep a close eye on Ron within the confines of Gryffindor Tower if need be.

As the day waned, Harry's mood dipped greatly. Over the years, he'd grown to loathe Halloween, as usually horrible things happened during that day, not to mention it was the anniversary of his parents' death. He stayed unusually quiet during classes, only answering when called upon. Draco and Neville sat with him at the Hufflepuff table at lunch and dinner, bracketing him on either side in a show of silent support. They were used to his melancholy mood during Halloween, and had long since learned how to handle it- plenty of reassuring physical contact and contemplative silences.

The Halloween Feast was loud and rambunctious as only a feast fueled by thousands of calories of sugar and protein could be. Harry, Draco, and Neville only got a moment's warning from Lady Hogwarts that the troll had crossed the wards via a gap that Professor Quirrell had exploited before Quirrell himself was bursting into the Great Hall. He sprinted to the staff table, slumped against it, and then gasped, "Troll – in the dungeons – thought you ought to know," before fainting in a rather showy manner that had Harry fighting to keep from rolling his eyes.

What. An. Idiot.

As Dumbledore fought to regain some semblance of order, Lady Hogwarts contacted the three boys.

.: Beloveds, the troll has managed to make it to the Entrance Hall. I can trap it in a side chamber, but you need to contact those outside who are able to take care of it, :. she told them, her normally mellow voice tense with worry. .: Be quick. I cannot hold it for too long. :.

.: Yes, my Lady, :. Harry said, getting his communications mirror out of his bracer as all of the doors to the Hall slammed shut, including the one near the staff table. A golden shield sprang to life over them, sealing the Hall completely. Harry noted that Quirrell was groggily sitting up with Madam Pomfrey's help, his long-fingered hands quickly adjusting his turban. Dumbledore seemed faintly perplexed at the sealing of the doors but quickly rallied.

"Everyone, please, calm yourselves!" he called out. "As long as we stay here, we will be safe. Please go back to the feast. We will handle this situation as soon as possible."

There were looks of disbelief from students and staff alike. Harry, Neville, and Draco took advantage of the grumblings and moderate chaos to find a somewhat quiet corner to huddle in and call Sirius.

"Sirius," Harry murmured, his breath fogging the glass as Neville put up a low-key privacy ward. Sirius answered quickly, making Harry suspect he'd been waiting with the mirror on-hand. "Sirius, it's time. You need to move quick; Hogwarts can't hold the troll back forever."

"Got it. I'll gather the others. Narcissa and Augusta are already here. Any suggestions as to who I should get?"

"As much as I'd prefer to keep far, far away from her, Molly Weasley would be good to involve," Draco said, wincing at the thought of dealing with the Weasley matriarch. "Let me see... Gerald Greengrass. Amelia Bones, naturally..."

"Aurors first, angry parents later," Neville said, wincing at the sound of a booming crash on the other side of the wall. "They need to get rid of the troll. The angry parents should come tomorrow morning at breakfast."

"Agreed," Harry said. "It'll give you more time to gather people and let the news spread."

"Got it. I'll Floo-call Amelia immediately. Get back to looking innocent," Sirius ordered and then ended the call. Draco shook his head in amusement and then stepped away from the corner he and the other two had found themselves in. Neville dropped his privacy ward, glad that no one had noticed the advanced magic. The three of them returned to the Hufflepuff table, quietly sliding into place at the end of the table. While they'd been talking, Dumbledore had gathered his strongest fighters- McGonagall, Snape, and Flitwick –and taken them to the main doors.

"Hogwarts, if you would lower the shields on the doors?" Dumbledore requested. "We'll deal with this problem."

Lady Hogwarts did as asked, letting the three teachers out of the Hall before reestablishing the shields. Harry took advantage of Dumbledore's absence to lean in to talk to Susan Bones.

"Hey, Sue, do you have a way to contact your aunt? Shouldn't the Aurors know about something like this?" he said. Susan, who had looked rather panicked at what was going on, calmed down a little at that.

"Yeah, I do," she said. She pulled out a gold chain from under her shirt. There was a pendant hanging from the chain in the form of a circular shield that had a dark blue gem in the center. Susan clutched the pendant in her hand and murmured something that Harry couldn't make out. The gem flashed three times before Susan tucked the pendant away. "The Aurors should come within five minutes or so," she told the others. Those around her told the others, and the news rippled out through the Great Hall, much to the relief of those within it.

Out in the Entrance Hall, Severus, Filius, and Minerva were following Dumbledore's lead, doing their best to subdue the troll without causing much more damage to the structure of Hogwarts. They'd managed to herd it back out to the Entrance Hall from the small side room it'd gotten stuck in, using many Stinging Hexes to accomplish that. Severus noticed that Dumbledore seemed to be simply feigning fighting the troll, using very mild spells that were just irritating the beast rather than controlling or subduing it.

With a huff of irritation, Severus sent one of his more lethal spells towards the troll. Just as the front doors opened, revealing a panting Amelia Bones and a small squad of rather exhausted-looking Aurors, two foot-long metal spikes hit the troll, one in its throat and the other in its left eye. The troll roared in pain, stumbling towards its attacker. It took the troll a full ten seconds to realize that, yes, in fact, it was dead, and fell forward, driving the spikes further into its body as it collapsed with a ground-shaking thud onto the flagstones.

"Dumbledore, what the hell is going on here?" Amelia spat out, her wand slowly lowering from where it had been pointed at the troll. "I got an alert from my niece saying that a troll of all things had managed to get into the castle. How in the world did it manage to get past the wards? Hogwarts' wards are supposed to be nigh-on impenetrable!"

"Rest assured, Amelia, I will be investigating this myself," Dumbledore said. "I apologize that you were summoned so needlessly; as you can see, the matter of the troll has been taken care of, and thankfully no one has been hurt."

"So you say," Amelia said. "What's going to happen to the troll?"

"As the one who slayed it, I'm claiming its remains," Severus said before Dumbledore could do anything to stop him. "A fully grown mountain troll has many rare Potions ingredients that I can harvest. Its fat, for example, is a very useful stabilizer in many salves and creams."

"I've got to admit," Amelia said, giving the troll's corpse a faintly disgusted look, "I never considered that a mountain troll would have any usable Potions ingredients."

"You'd be surprised," Severus said dryly before summoning a house elf. "Roxlin, I am giving you temporary permission to take these remains to my personal preparations laboratory and put them on the largest table there. Do what you need to in order to keep the table from collapsing, and then activate the preservation charms before leaving. Touch nothing else in that room. Go."

Roxlin eyed the troll's corpse before snapping his fingers, making both himself and the troll vanish and leaving its club behind. The blood that had escaped the troll was quickly cleaned up with a simple flick of Severus' wand before he turned to Dumbledore. "Headmaster, I suggest we go reassure the students and the rest of the staff. Having Madam Bones and her Aurors there will likely make that task easier."

"There's no need," Dumbledore said, waving off Severus' comments with an idle gesture. "Amelia, thank you for coming so promptly, but we have no need for your continued presence."

Amelia just shot him a look. "I'm going to see if my niece is alright," she said firmly. "Now, if you'll excuse me."

She swept towards the doors of the Great Hall and then pushed them open, the shield having dropped the moment the troll was dead. Susan quickly got up from her seat at the Hufflepuff table and hurried over to her aunt, throwing her arms around Amelia's waist in a tight hug. Amelia returned the embrace, some of the tension flowing out of her as she reassured herself that Susan was safe.

"Is it gone?" Susan asked, moving back enough to look up at Amelia's face. "Are we safe?"

"Yes, it's gone," Amelia assured her. "Your professors took care of it. I just wanted to make sure you were alright."

"Thank you, Auntie," Susan said, giving her a bright smile. Amelia returned the smile before stepping away. "Are you going to be staying long?"

"Not for too long," Amelia told her. "Just for a few more minutes."

"Oh. Do you want anything to eat before you go?"

Amelia shook her head. "No, thank you," she said with a small smile. "I appreciate the offer. It's been quite some time since I've been here." She glanced over at Harry, who gave her a small nod in greeting. Amelia winked at him subtly before she kissed the top of Susan's head and then stepped away. She looked around, noting that the tension was starting to ease amongst the student body. Good. Now that she was reassured that Susan and the other children were alright, Amelia gathered her fellow Aurors and left, heading back out into the night.

~/~

Dinner the next night was a far more peaceful affair, though that peace was broken just as dessert was served. Harry was just reaching for a piece of treacle tart when the doors to the Great Hall were pushed open. Molly Weasley led the party of adults, a highly perturbed expression on her face. Sirius, Narcissa, and Augusta followed after her (though far more serenely), accompanied by Lord Gerald Greengrass, Lady Adeline Bulstrode, and several other parents. There was a wide range of magical affinities, blood statuses, and political leanings represented in the group, which Harry thought was a shrewd move. After all, children, and particularly heirs, were considered precious in the magical world, so a threat to one was often a threat to all, especially since so many had been lost in the war not ten years before.

Dumbledore rose from his chair, quickly hiding his surprise at seeing the contingent before him. "Welcome," he said. "I must admit, I'm not sure why you're here."

"Not sure why we're here?" Molly repeated as she came to a halt in front of the staff table. "Albus Dumbledore, don't you dare say that! You know exactly why we're here. There was a troll here yesterday! Why weren't we told? Why did we have to hear from Madam Bones that our children were in danger? You're the headmaster here; you're supposed to be the one telling us these kinds of things!"

She propped her fists on her hips, glaring disapprovingly at Dumbledore as if he were one of her own children. Harry quickly put some of his dessert into his mouth in an attempt to stifle his laughter. Dumbledore seemed taken aback by the glaring, as Molly was usually one of his best supporters and listened to everything that he had to say. Sirius stepped forward and placed a calming hand briefly on Molly's shoulder.

"Mrs. Weasley, this might not be the best place to discuss this," he said soothingly. He glanced over at Dumbledore before continuing on. "Maybe we can meet somewhere more private?"

"A wonderful idea," Dumbledore said, quickly grasping onto the opportunity to get the conversation out of the public eye. "Why don't we go up to my office?"

"We'd like to see to our children first," Lord Greengrass said, his smooth baritone sounding out throughout the hall. "And to thank those who fought against the troll. Who was it that killed the beast?"

Dumbledore coughed softly. "That would be Professor Snape. Professors Flitwick and McGonagall helped corral the beast, as did I," he said, albeit reluctantly. Harry had the sneaking suspicion that Dumbledore had wanted to take full credit for the events, but given the public nature of the confrontation, he couldn't. Sirius stepped forward and gave Severus a formal bow of thanks, leading the way for the others to do the same. Severus' expression was carefully blank as he returned the bows with a slight inclination of his head.

"Thank you for protecting our children and heirs," Augusta said formally. "Both to you, Professor Snape, and to those who assisted you."

"We were only doing our duties," Minerva replied. Augusta nodded before turning to go to Neville, who was sitting at the Gryffindor table. The other parents followed her lead, dispersing to speak with their children. Sirius headed over to Harry, who quickly got up and hugged him.

"Hey, dad," Harry murmured, relishing the ability to speak those words. Sirius smiled as he returned the embrace.

"Harry," Sirius replied before kneeling down in front of him. "Everything okay?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah. The troll never made it into the Hall. They kept it in the Entrance Hall," he said before lowering his voice. "Think you can get Snape and yourself to the Room once you're done with Dumbledore?"

"Should be able to," Sirius said just as quietly. "Time for the crowning achievement?"

Harry rolled his eyes at the pun but decided to play Sirius' word game. "Yes. We'll have to ring in the holidays with style and care. Any word on the book?"

"Almost there. Dobby's had to dismantle the barriers one by one. He's down to the last few."

"Good. I'd prefer to take care of everything before the end of the school year if possible." Harry hugged Sirius once more before moving back. "Just ask for 'the boys' room' once you arrive. The Lady will know what you mean. We'll meet you there."

"Got it." Sirius rose to his feet, gently brushing off his robes before going to join the others. Severus, Minerva, and Filius had gathered near the main doors, Dumbledore waiting with them. Once the various parents had joined the teachers, they were led out of the Hall and up to Dumbledore's office. The remaining teachers oversaw the rest of the meal, and soon the students were heading back to their individual Houses- all except Harry, Draco, and Neville, of course. Using several hidden passageways, they made their way to the Room of Requirement, relaxing once they were back in the version of the Room they'd encountered their very first week.

There was a difference, however, in that a large portrait of a woman was hanging over the fireplace. She stood in an elegantly appointed room that had filled bookcases lining the walls. She wore an elegant white gown that just brushed the luxurious carpet beneath her. A braided belt with all of the House colors interwoven into its strands was wrapped around her waist, and a crown with the four House mascots worked into the metal was perched on top of her free-flowing silvery hair. She smiled at the three of them, the corners of her golden eyes crinkling in pleasure.

"Hello, beloveds," she said. The three boys stared at her in surprise, with Neville being the first to recover.

"My Lady?" he asked tentatively. The woman nodded.

"Oh, yes," she said happily. "I'd almost forgotten about this portrait. It's been ever so long since I've needed it. I haven't been able to recover the portraits of the Founders, but I'm sure they still exist."

"Is there anything in particular you'd like us to call you? It seems a little strange to simply call you 'Hogwarts'," Neville said, taking a seat on the couch next to Harry.

"Oh, you can call me that, or 'my Lady'," she said. "Godric used to call my portrait form 'Acalia', but I don't mind what you call me."

"Acalia is a lovely name," Draco told her as he took a seat on a nearby chair. "It's wonderful to be able to talk to you face to face, my Lady."

"Thank you," Acalia said before taking a seat on the chair she was standing in front of, arranging her skirts neatly as she sat. "Now, how can I help you three today?"

"Is it possible to bring a specific object from the Room of Hidden Things into this one?" Harry asked. Acalia considered the question with a thoughtful expression.

"I have never tried doing that, but I can always see if it's possible," she said finally. "What is it that you need?"

"A diadem that Voldemort put there," Harry said. "It once belonged to Lady Rowena. It is likely one of the only Black Magic objects in that Room, or at least, I hope so."

Acalia narrowed her eyes. "Yes," she murmured, her gaze becoming distant. "I can feel it. Let me just..."

She trailed off, going silent for a long moment. "There!" A wave of her hand and then the diadem popped into being on top of a table. Harry quickly transfigured a piece of paper from one of his pockets into a secure metal box that could lock tightly. He carefully levitated the diadem into the box and then locked it, only relaxing once it was entirely secured.

"Merlin," he murmured. "I'd forgotten how unsettling that thing is. I swear I could feel it even without the soul piece in my scar."

"Echoes, maybe," Draco mused. "I don't know. We'll give it to Sirius and he can take care of it. How are we going to take care of the ring?"

"Throw it through the Veil," Neville said firmly. "We don't need that stone hanging around. Give back to Death what is his."

Harry smiled wryly. "A fitting end to that story," he said, "and I'd rather not have to deal with the burden of being the Master of Death again, even if it was just a metaphorical one."

"That mantle needs to be lost to the ages," Draco agreed. "I-"

He paused when the door opened, admitting Sirius and Severus. Both men looked around the Room curiously, their eyes wide. Harry laughed softly.

"We were the same way when we first found this place," he said, getting to his feet. He waited until the door was closed before stepping forward, his wand sliding into his hand with a flex of his wrist. "Professor Snape, we need to talk to you. However, what we need to tell you is difficult to believe. So, before we start, let me do something for you."

He lifted his wand and cleared his throat. "I, Harry James Potter-Black, do solemnly swear upon my magic that what is about to be revealed is wholly and entirely true. So say I, so mote it be!" His wand flashed three times as the Oath took hold. Severus' eyebrows rose sharply in surprise.

"A binding Oath," he said flatly. "Well then. I suspect this will be interesting." He took a seat in an empty chair, propping one ankle up on the other knee. "Go on."

As the three boys' story unfolded, Severus found himself leaning forward, enraptured by the tale. "Dare I ask what happened to me?" he inquired once the story was over. He'd noticed that Harry had glossed over his role in the battle against Voldemort. Harry winced.

"You died," he said, "killed by Voldemort's familiar. He thought you were the master of the Elder Wand, though he was wrong. You died needlessly. We're doing our best to prevent as much death as possible."

"The Elder Wand?" Severus repeated. "That's just a myth!"

Harry shook his head. "No, it isn't," he said. "Unfortunately. At the moment, it's in Albus Dumbledore's hands. I don't know if it still considers me its true master or not, but to be honest, I don't really care. It's just a wand. I have a perfectly serviceable one. He can keep using it."

"If the Wand is real, does that mean-?" Sirius asked, trailing off when he saw Harry nod.

"Yes. The Stone and Cloak are real as well. We know exactly where they are, but we're not telling anyone," Neville said. "No one needs all of the Hallows. That's just too much temptation."

"Agreed," Harry said grimly. "Sirius, we've got another piece of the puzzle for you. It's in that box." He gestured at the metal box. "Don't open it."

"Got it." Sirius eyed the box. "Anything else?"

"Yes. We want to go through with our plan in regards to Professor Snape," Harry said, letting his Oath go free, his wand flashing three times to signify the release of the geas. Sirius nodded.

"Go ahead."

"Excuse me?" Severus said sharply. "What plans?"

"We want to remove you from the playing field entirely," Draco explained. "So that you can't be used as a pawn by Dumbledore any more or by those still allied to Voldemort."

"How do you plan on doing that?" Snape asked.

"Dumbledore holds your loyalty because of your role as a spy," Harry said. "We want to remove your Dark Mark. We also want to offer you a job away from Hogwarts. Your talents as a potioneer are being wasted here. However, there is a caveat to this."

"Of course," Severus said dryly. "What is it?"

"Your neutrality, as well as doing your best to refine the Wolfsbane potion," Neville said. "We'd be willing to finance your research." He waved a hand between himself, Draco, and Harry. "Our families have access to resources that you don't have here."

"That's it?"

"Mm, we might also ask you to work as the lead potions researcher for a philanthropic organization that we're planning on forming," Draco said. "You'd be able to work as you like in a custom lab, with apprentices if you want."

"Apprentices?" Severus looked thoughtful. "I've never had an apprentice before. How big would this lab be?"

"Reasonably sized. Better than what you've got at Hogwarts, that's for sure," Neville said. "So, will you let Harry look at your Dark Mark?"

Severus rolled back his left sleeve, baring his forearm. Harry got up from his seat, intrigued. He'd only been able to examine Draco's Dark Mark after Voldemort had perished fully, so getting to examine one that was dormant yet still technically active. He took Severus' hand and then let his magic, both regular and Parsel, flow forward, testing the Mark's makeup. Harry frowned, surprised when he realized the magic that made up the Mark was holding something back. He set out a querying nudge, his eyes widening when he realized just what was going on.

§Son of a bitch,§ he snarled in Parseltongue. §That snake-faced, lizard-dicked, rat fucker!§

§Harry! Language!§

Harry blinked and then looked at Neville. "Nev," he said carefully, "that was in Parseltongue."

"Huh. Looks like the bond bleed has started," Draco said. "I understood both of you. Also: Harry, language!"

"Wait, you can speak Parseltongue now?" Sirius asked. "Does that mean you can do Parselmagic?"

Neville shook his head. "No. Just understand and speak the language," he said. "It's a side-effect of the trichromatic bond. It happened before."

"Right," Sirius said. "So, what's wrong?"

"That..." Harry growled. "How old were you when you were Marked, Professor?"

"What?"

"Were you seventeen yet?"

Severus shook his head. "No. I was sixteen."

"I've seen this before," Harry said, gritting his teeth briefly. "It happened with Draco. The Mark blocks your Family Magic from fully settling. Any inheritances tied to your Family Magic would be rendered null. Voldemort Marked underage wizards to make sure their loyalty was only to him rather than their Families." He ran his hands through his hair before turning to Acalia's portrait. "My Lady, is there a ritual space in the castle or on the grounds?"

"Yes," Acalia replied. "You and Neville will have to claim it, as you're Heirs. Here." A moment later and a lit passageway opened in the wall.

"Wait, why do we need a ritual space?" Severus asked sharply. Harry sighed.

"You've been Marked for over fifteen years," he explained as he headed down the passageway. "Draco was Marked when he was sixteen. Voldemort died a little over a year later. Draco got his magical inheritance a few months after that. It nearly tore apart the wards at Malfoy Manor. Of course, that was before we were bonded. I suspect your release will be much, much more violent. Thus the need for the ritual space. I just hope it'll be enough."

They followed the passageway, finding that it led deep beneath the dungeons. Eventually, the passageway opened out into a broad room that was lit with flickering torches. A ritual circle was carved into the floor, with the personal seals of the four Founders set at each point of the compass on the edges of the seal. When Harry stepped onto Slytherin's seal, it lit up in an emerald green flame that didn't burn when touched. The Gryffindor seal flared crimson red once Neville stepped onto it. They pushed their magic into it, the circle glowing as it recognized their claim. The circle would be at its strongest should the other Heirs- once they were recognized, of course –claim it as well.

Once the glow faded, Harry and Neville stepped away. Harry turned to Sirius and Severus. "Professor Snape, you'll need to cleanse yourself," he said, gesturing at the cistern set into the floor in a far corner of the room. Water glimmered there, a white mist hanging over it. Severus winced.

"I don't expect I'll be able to keep my clothes on?"

"Unfortunately not, sir," Harry told him. "You need to be entirely free of outside influences. Sirius, go back upstairs. We don't want your magic interfering. No offense."

"None taken. I'd rather not see him naked, thanks," Sirius said dryly. "Try not to blow things up, Snape."

"I'll do my best," Snape said just as dryly, starting to unbutton his outer robes. "Go, Black."

"Considering the situation, and the fact that we're practically in-laws, you can call me Sirius," Sirius said. "If you want."

"I'll stick with 'Black' for now," Severus replied. "Go."

"Going." Sirius headed back up the staircase, soon disappearing out of sight. As soon as he was gone, the entrance to the staircase sealed up, making sure no one could interrupt. Severus shed his clothes before stepping into the shallow cistern, placing his wand on top of the pile of cloth. The mist rose up around his body, removing any contaminants, including the protective salve in his hair that kept it from catching on fire. Severus scowled, brushing his now-clean hair out of his eyes as the mist sank down into the cistern again.

Harry and Neville were in place at the ritual circle again, both sitting cross-legged in the center of their seals, their eyes closed. Draco had taken a seat in a corner, writing busily in a notebook.

"Into the center of the circle, please," Harry murmured, not opening his eyes. Severus stepped into the circle, shivering at the tingle of the combined magics. He stopped in the middle of the circle, unsure of what to do next.

"Try not to move too much," Neville warned. "This is going to be... uncomfortable."

Light swelled up around him, the red and green fires of the Gryffindor and Slytherin magics surrounding him and then wrapping around his body but not burning him. They focused on his Dark Mark as Harry began to chant in Parseltongue, guiding the magics to unravel the web of binding curses, hexes, and spells that made up the Mark. It didn't hurt, not at first, but as time went on, Severus sank to his knees, unable to hold up under the pain.

It was worse than any Cruciatus he'd undergone. His very magical core was being attacked as the Dark Mark resisted letting go, digging in with tendrils of Black Magic. Severus let out a pain-filled yell as the combined Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Parsel magics broke through all the bindings on his magical core. The Dark Mark vanished from his arm, leaving the skin unblemished for the first time in over fifteen years. The pain slowly ebbed away as Severus panted on his hands and knees. He groaned as he opened his eyes. He hadn't even realized he'd closed them.

"It's... It's gone," he said in amazement as he stared down at his arm. "The Mark..."

"We're only halfway done," Harry warned. Severus looked up.

"What?"

"You need to claim your Family Magics. You may be half-Snape, but you're also half-Prince. You can claim those Magics, and likely the accompanying title," Draco explained, not bothering to look up from his notebook. "Your grandparents died several years ago, after all, and while they disowned your mother, they never cast her entirely out of the Family. The Prince title runs through the patriarchal line, and you're the last remaining male of the direct line."

Severus stared at him, carefully sitting back on his haunches, his hands covering his lap. "Are you sure?"

"We wouldn't suggest it if we weren't," Neville said. "Focus on your magic and reach out. Claim your heritage."

Severus wasn't entirely sure if it was going to work, to be honest, but he figured it couldn't hurt to try. He closed his eyes and then reached out with his magic. "I, Severus Alexander Snape, son of Eileen Snape, Daughter of the Noble House of Prince, do hereby claim my right to the Family Magics of that House. As the last male of the primary line of the Noble House of Prince, I also claim my right to the title of Lord and Head of that House. So say I, so mote it be!"

He waited, and just when he thought it hadn't worked, he heard the rumble of a large cat's purr. Severus opened his eyes to find a leopard that glowed a deep lapis lazuli blue slowly padding toward him. It paused, judging him with a calculating gaze and then letting out a soft chuff of air. It moved forward once more, butting its head against Severus' chest before dissolving into a shower of glowing sparks that sank into his bare skin.

Severus gasped as the Family Magic settled into his core, wrapping him in its warmth. A cool weight on his right ring finger had him looking down in distraction. A heavy gold ring sat there, the Prince crest etched into the gray stone set into the top. The crest was inlaid with a highly contrasting black stone, making it stand out starkly.

"Can I move?" he asked, looking up.

"Yes," Harry replied as he and Neville let the magic fade away. "Go ahead and get dressed again."

Severus gratefully did as told, glad to be clothed once more. He cleared his throat as soon as he was fully dressed. "You can open your eyes," he said. Draco looked up from his notebook, focusing instantly on his godfather.

"Can we see your arm?" he asked, getting to his feet. Severus pushed back his sleeve, showing off his bare forearm. Draco grinned.

"Awesome. Harry, maybe a glamour?"

"Good idea." Harry got up, murmuring something softly that Severus couldn't make out before he left his spot on the Slytherin seal. He went over to Severus and took hold of his arm. A soft murmured spell in Parseltongue later and there was a replica of the faded Dark Mark on Severus' arm.

"There. It's just a glamour, but it should hold up against casual magical examination," he said. "That way, if Dumbledore asks to see it, the surprise won't be given away. I'll remove it at the end of the year. After that, you can give Dumbledore your immediate resignation. I'd suggest sending the owl from somewhere that's Unplottable and that has a very stringent ward scheme against both owls and phoenixes."

"Blackmoor Hall, maybe?" Neville said.

"That, or Prince Manor once the wards are updated. I'm sure the goblins can help do that," Draco added. "You should hide your ring as well. If it works like our heir rings, you can just will it to be invisible and immaterial."

Severus nodded before doing so, watching the ring vanish. He could still vaguely feel it against his skin, but when he ran his fingers over the area, that sensation wasn't replicated. Nice. Now there wouldn't be any questions.

"We'd best go back upstairs," he said. "I'm sure Black is worrying."

"Maybe." Harry shrugged. "Let's go find out."

They trudged back upstairs once the passageway opened once more. Sirius was dozing in one of the overstuffed armchairs, Acalia watching over him with an indulgent smile. Sirius awoke when Harry cleared his throat, clutching at the arms of his chair.

"Wha- How'd it go?" he asked, blinking sleepily at them.

"It went perfectly," Harry said. He looked up at Acalia. "Did you pick up any magical feedback?"

"Some, but I absorbed it into the wards. The Headmaster didn't notice a thing." She scowled slightly. "You'll need to cleanse and claim your ward stones soon."

"We will, my Lady," Neville replied, giving her a small bow. "We'll do it once we get back from the Yule holidays. We have an important task to do during that time, and before then, we need to make sure that Dumbledore doesn't suspect anything."

Acalia sighed. "Very well," she said. "Boys, you'd best be getting back to your Common Rooms. Lord Black, I'll connect you to the Floo network from here long enough to get you back to Blackmoor Hall."

"Thank you, my Lady," Sirius said as he got to his feet. "It's been an honor to meet you."

"It's been wonderful to see you again," Acalia said. "Your son and his bonded mates have already begun a wave of changes in the short time they've been here. I look forward to seeing what happens as the years pass."

Sirius watched Severus shepherd Neville, Draco, and Harry out of the Room before nodding and picking up the box containing one of the last pieces of Voldemort's soul.

"So do I, my Lady, so do I."

Chapter Text

The Hogwarts Express came to a stop at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, signaling the start of the winter holidays. The students streamed off the train, their chattering voices filling the echoing space as they searched for and then reunited with their parents and guardians. Augusta, Sirius, and Narcissa were waiting for their three charges to find them, talking quietly amongst themselves. Narcissa was the first to spot the boys, and was surprised to see an annoyed expression on all three of their faces as they dragged their trunks behind them.

"Boys? What's wrong?" she asked as the three of them drew to a halt in front of her and the other adults.

"Quite a few things, Mother, but this is not the place to discuss them," Draco said stiffly. Narcissa had noticed that all three of them tended to lapse into more formalized and adult-level speech patterns when annoyed or truly angry, something that both amused and intrigued her.

"Very well," she replied as Sirius and Augusta Disapparated, Harry and Neville at their sides. "We'll meet the Longbottoms at the International Portkey departure point once we drop off your trunk at the Hall." She placed her hand on Draco's shoulder, squeezing it gently. "Ready?"

Draco nodded, grasping the handle of his trunk tightly so it didn't get lost in transit. One stomach-turning journey later and they were standing in the main foyer of Blackmoor Hall. A house elf was waiting for them on the bottom step of the large, sweeping staircase that led up to the second floor. She wore a smart little jumpsuit for her uniform, with plenty of useful pockets scattered over it that didn't detract from the overall design. There were small boots on her feet, shined to a near-mirror gloss.

"Mistress Cissa!" she said, jumping carefully off the step. "Master Draco! Welcome home. Lord Sirius and Master Harry are upstairs in the library. They told Mitzy to wait for you here and then take Master Draco's trunk to his room."

"Thank you, Mitzy," Draco said, giving her a faint smile as he and Narcissa made their way up the stairs. "We'll go meet up with them. I like your uniform. It looks very nice."

Mitzy blushed a faint green at the compliment before focusing on her job, snapping her fingers to transport Draco's trunk up to his rooms. Any dirty laundry within the trunk would be then transferred to the laundry room to be cleaned, dried, and folded, while everything else would stay undisturbed inside the trunk. It was a point of pride for house elves to be able to get their jobs done as efficiently and quickly as possible. The fact that the new Black Lord and his family took good care of their elves had soon won the elves' complete and utter loyalty, as well as the drive to do the utmost best work they could manage.

Draco and Narcissa made their way up to the library, with Narcissa in the lead since she knew the way. Harry was sitting in a window-seat that overlooked the expansive manicured grounds outside, knees drawn up against his chest and forehead resting on his knees. Sirius sat nearby with a worried expression. Draco hurried over to Harry, joining him on the window-seat and then wrapping his arms around him from behind.

"You okay?" Sirius asked Harry softly. Harry shook his head, leaning back against Draco with his eyes closed.

"Not really," he replied.

"Are you going to tell us what happened?" Narcissa asked. "We can't help if you don't let us know what we can do for you."

Harry sighed and then launched into the story of the hours before they'd arrived at Platform Nine and Three Quarters.

~/~

Harry had just finished dragging his trunk into the Hufflepuff Common Room when Professor Sprout, who was watching over the process of arranging for her students to get to the Hogsmeade station safely, spoke to him.

"Mr. Potter-Black? What are you doing with your trunk? I have you down on the list for staying here for the holidays."

Harry's head snapped up, his eyes wide. "Ma'am? I'm sorry, but you're wrong," he said, coming to a halt with his hand on his trunk. "I'm going home. My dad and I are going abroad for the holidays. Who told you I was staying?"

"The Headmaster," Pomona replied. "He informed me that your father would be very busy over the holidays, what with the Winter Meet of the Wizengamot and other political duties, so you were staying here."

"Hardly," Harry said, doing his best not to get mad at the Head of Hufflepuff, especially since she didn't deserve it. "My dad will be attending the Winter Meet of the Wizengamot once we return from our travels. We'll be heading to Switzerland for a week."

"That sounds wonderful," Pomona said. Harry nodded.

"I can bring you back something if you like," he offered. "Maybe some chocolate?"

Pomona laughed. "A plant would be more acceptable, but thank you for the offer. I'll be sure to make the correction on the roll list."

"Thank you," Harry said. "I appreciate it."

He dragged his trunk out with the others to the Entrance Hall, glad for the minor Levitation Charm that he'd had one of the older students put on one end. He could've easily done it himself, naturally, but he thought it better to act like the first year he was supposed to be and ask someone else. Harry met up with Draco, Neville, and Hermione there, glad to see his bond-mates and friend.

"You will not believe what Dumbledore just tried to do," Harry grumbled to Neville and Draco as the crowd began to move forward and enter the thestral-drawn carriages that were waiting for them. As each carriage filled, the thestrals moved down the long, winding road towards the castle gates. The four of them got into a carriage, their trunks easily fitting in alongside them. Harry absolutely loved magic when it was used for a legitimately useful purpose.

He relaxed back in his seat with a sigh. He couldn't wait to get home. Home. What a wonderful thought. He'd never considered the Dursleys' house his home, but Blackmoor Hall? He was sure it was going to be far better than Privet Drive had ever been, especially since he'd have family that cared about and loved him. He couldn't wait to see it decorated for the holidays. It was likely going to be just as wonderful as Hogwarts was during that time.

Harry's thoughts were disturbed when the carriage came to a halt at the station in Hogsmeade. He jumped out of the carriage, getting his trunk out before helping Hermione with hers. She smiled at him in thanks and then headed to the nearest open door on the train. Once Draco and Neville were ready, they and Harry followed Hermione's lead and boarded the train. They found Hermione waiting for them in a compartment halfway down the train, already nose-deep in a book.

The three boys were far too used to this sight to be offended by Hermione's slightly anti-social behavior. They merely settled in, stowing their trunks in the luggage rack and under the seats. Harry lightly stroked Selina on the head, his fingertips grazing over the sensitive scale-covered ridges there. She hissed nonsense words in her pleasure, all but falling asleep under his gentle touch. Harry laughed softly, a fond smile curving his lips.

"Enjoying yourself?" Draco asked quietly, amused by Selina's reactions.

"Mmhm," Harry replied, glancing up at him. "She seems to like this. Watch."

He stopped petting her, lifting his hand away. Selina hissed her displeasure before nudging at his fingers insistently.

§Don't stop,§ she complained. §I was almost asleep.§

§Sorry,§ Harry apologized before starting up his petting once more. Selina settled down once more, her tail wrapping tightly around Harry's wrist. She soon fell asleep, her body going lax. Harry gently moved her to her preferred sleeping spot around his neck, draping her carefully there. She snuggled in close with a sleepy noise before settling down once more.

The compartment fell into a comfortable silence about halfway through the ride, with Neville dozing off against Draco, who was reading that morning's Daily Prophet. Harry contented himself with going over what they needed to do during the two week long break, writing a list down in his journal that had been charmed to store whatever he wrote in it and then be able to retrieve it later.

It had originally been something the Weasley Twins had come up after the end of the war. Harry didn't really feel shame about using the idea, as he planned on hiring the twins for the company he, Sirius, and hopefully Remus (once they finally contacted him) would be forming. It would be different from the philanthropic organization they were in the process of creating that Severus would be working for, as the former company would be called Maurauders, Inc, and was going to be a direct competitor to Zonko's if all went according to plan.

The philanthropic organization, on the other hand, was going to be called the Wyvern Foundation. It would have several different branches and properties, including one that would act as a heavily warded safehouse and home for those who were being abused or abandoned by their kin, or who had lost their families entirely, regardless of blood status or magical affinity. Harry was determined never to let someone be treated the way he'd been treated at the Dursleys, nor to allow the circumstances that had created Voldemort's damaged psyche occur again, and Sirius, Augusta, and Narcissa were more than happy to help with those goals.

Another branch of the Foundation- the one Severus would mostly be in charge of doing the research for –would be researching the issue of lycanthropy and what could be done to help manage the magical affliction, and maybe even eradicate it entirely if possible. Harry had suggested hiring Muggleborns with interests and training in genetics, biochemistry, and clinical pathology, as having viewpoints that weren't entirely coming from a Wizarding background might help find a solution that hadn't been tried before. That, and it would give Muggleborns who had left the Wizarding World due to lack of available jobs somewhere to work after finishing university and medical school that used all of their talents rather than just half.

Then of course there were the multitudes of political issues to deal with in regards to the outdated laws and practices in Wizarding Britain. Much to the boys' relief, Sirius reassured them that they wouldn't have to do anything until they came of age. The only problem they had was that they didn't know if the fact that they had claimed their titles as two of the Hogwarts Heirs would affect anything. Only time would tell, and the adults promised to see if anything had changed when they went to the Winter Meet of the Wizengamot.

Harry sighed softly, putting his quill down for a moment to rub at his eyes when they were almost to Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Even though he now had glasses that had the correct prescription lenses, he still got headaches if he stared at small print for too long. He couldn't wait until he was able to get his eyes magically corrected.

"Are you okay?" Hermione asked. Harry looked up, surprised. He hadn't even heard her put her book away.

"Hmm? Oh, yeah, I'm fine," he said. "Just need to focus on something else for a while. So, what are you doing during the holidays?"

"Spending time with my parents, mostly," Hermione replied. "We're going to go to Gringotts before the holidays are over and take that Line Test you told me about. I've been doing some more research about the Dagworth-Grangers, and if I am really related to them, I want to reopen those vaults and invest in both the Wizarding and Muggle World." She smiled a little. "I also want to help pay off the debt that my parents still owe for their dentistry office."

"Good idea," Draco said approvingly. "Far too many people in the Wizarding World ignore the fact that the Muggle World is a vast untapped source of wealth."

Hermione shrugged. "My uncle is a stock broker, and he's always said that diversity is the key to keeping your money growing."

Harry opened his mouth to add his opinion, but before he could say anything, the compartment door slid open, revealing Pansy Parkinson. Neville started awake, staring blearily at her.

"Draco, I've decided to forgive you," Pansy announced.

"Forgive me?" Draco repeated. "What for?"

"For breaking our betrothal, of course," Pansy said, giving him a simpering smile. "Daddy says he'll be speaking with your father to see if they can't reinstate it, and perhaps make it permanent through a contract."

Draco stared at her. "Pansy," he said in disbelief, "there're so many things wrong with that sentence that I'm not quite sure where to start."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, for one thing, I'm in a trichromatic bond," Draco said. "That negates any betrothal, bound by a contract or not. Second, my father-" And Draco spat out the word with great venom. "-has no say over what happens to me and has no power regarding my marital status, or lack thereof. Thirdly, I'm quite happy with my bondmates and have no desire to be betrothed to you. To be honest, I'd rather die."

"Oh, don't be so dramatic," Pansy said. "This so-called 'bond' you three have isn't real. Everyone knows that. Potter here didn't even know about the Magical World until he came to Hogwarts. He probably just went along with it because you were likely the first magical person he met."

Harry let out a soft snort. "Oh dear," he said dryly. "I guess the fact that we've been verified by both the goblin healers and those of the ICW means nothing. Draco, Neville, I'm afraid we're going to have to break off the betrothal."

"Wh- Wait, you've been verified by the goblins and the ICW?" Pansy spluttered. Neville rolled his eyes.

"Of course. We're on the official register of trichromatic bonds," he said. "You can't get on that without extensive testing and verification by five different Master-level Mind Healers and three regular Master-level Healers. There've only been four other verified bonds like ours in the past fifty years. I'm sure there are others that haven't been verified, though. The war took a lot of people."

Pansy huffed. "I don't care. I'm going to be Lady Malfoy one day, just like we've always planned."

"You're going to marry my father?" Draco asked with an amused smirk.

"What? No, of course not! I'll be marrying you!"

Hermione shook her head. "He's not a Malfoy any more, so that's impossible."

"Oh, shut up, Mudblood. No one cares about what you have to say," Pansy snapped. "This is a conversation for real witches and wizards. Stay out of it."

"Get. Out," Harry growled, rising to his feet. "We've been polite to you, Heiress Parkinson, but your time in our presence is at an end. Hermione, will you open that parcel I gave you before we got into the carriage?"

Hermione did so, a look of confusion on her face as to what was going on. She gasped when she saw the delicate chain held within the small box inside the wrapping. There was a plain silver pendant attached to the chain that was about the size of a Galleon.

"Put it on," Neville whispered to her. Hermione did so, slipping the chain over her head. The amulet came to rest at the hollow of her throat as the chain resized itself to fit her comfortably.

"We were going to do this when we came back, but..." Harry shot her a crooked smile before he turned to look at Pansy. He drew his wand and then placed the tip over his heart. "I, Harry James Potter-Black, do hereby declare Hermione Jean Granger to be a Friend of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Potter for as long as she so wishes to be one." He flicked his wand downwards, summoning the glittering golden griffin of the Potter Family Magics to form in front of him. It hissed at Pansy before going to sit protectively in front of Hermione, who stared at it with wide eyes.

Draco got to his feet next, wand already in hand. "I, Draco Ares Black, do hereby declare Hermione Jean Granger to be a Friend of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black for as long as she so wishes to be one."

One large raven emerged from his wand, soaring around the compartment before landing on the griffin's back with a harsh croak at Pansy. When Neville finished his own oath, the Longbottom Family Magic formed into a copper-colored grizzly bear that, in deference to the small size of the compartment, was two-thirds its usual size. The three magical totems then shattered into a whirling mass of gold and copper lights that swirled around Hermione before sinking into the pendant she wore. Once the light show was over, the pendant bore the images of the three totems. They were in three distinct sections, with the griffin in the top third, the raven in the left, and the bear in the right.

"If you ever call her that foul name again, Parkinson, you'll bring the wrath of three senior Houses on your head," Harry said tersely. "Get out of here. Now."

Pansy stared at him and then turned on her heel and left, leaving the door open. Harry sighed before moving over and shutting it, putting a mild privacy ward on it so they wouldn't be interrupted again.

"Um... Can someone explain what just happened?" Hermione asked. "I know that what she said was something bad, given your reactions, but everything else... What does it mean that I'm a Friend of your Houses?"

Harry let his wand slip back into his holster before he turned around. "Think of it like the alliances between the countries in the Second World War," he said. "If you're attacked in any way, we'll come to your aid. It's mainly political, to be honest, but the purebloods will recognize it and hopefully leave you alone. If you are the heir to Hector Dagworth-Granger, then that'll help even more. You'll be considered a half-blood like myself rather than a mundane-born since your father is technically considered a Squib, and therefore has magical blood."

"Really? Huh." Hermione looked thoughtful. "Well, thank you. I just wish I could return the favor."

"It's alright," Neville assured her. "Honestly, we know you're our friend. We don't need the reassurance."

"Exactly." Harry grinned. "And that's not the only present you're getting from us this holiday season. It was just the biggest one."

"You don't have to do that," Hermione said. "I don't need any more presents."

"You're still going to get them," Draco told her, "so there. Don't worry, we won't send too much chocolate."

"You'd better not. My parents would get pretty mad if I had too much sweets," Hermione said with a laugh. "They're rather picky about that kind of thing."

"I don't think I'll ever get over the fact that your parents are Healers that only treat teeth," Draco said, wrinkling his nose. "That's just so strange."

"Well, Muggles can't use a Tooth-Cleaning Charm," Hermione replied. "They need specialists like that."

The train began to slow as it approached the station. The four of them gathered their belongings, making sure they didn't leave anything behind. The boys' relatively good moods were soured when they had to pass by Pansy as they left, but they made sure to hide their annoyance as they saw Hermione off to her parents before going to join their own guardians. Only when she was out of sight did they let the falsely happy masks fade away.

~/~

"And that's when we met up with you," Harry finished. He'd slumped against Draco's body, his chin tucked against his chest as he stroked his fingers over Selina's warm scales. "Why do some people have to be so idiotic?"

"Because she doesn't know any better," Narcissa replied. She rose to her feet. "Come along, boys, we need to meet the Longbottoms at the Portkey point. Your luggage has been packed and is waiting downstairs."

Draco sighed before pressing a light kiss against the top of Harry's head. "C'mon, you," he said, nudging Harry to get up. "Let's go. We'd better not make Neville and Gran wait for much longer."

Harry nodded and then got to his feet. He grabbed hold of Draco's hand, pulling him up as well. Before the four of them could leave Blackmoor Hall, however, Dobby appeared in the main foyer, all but vibrating with excitement.

"Dobby has done it!" he announced, bouncing on the balls of his feet. He held a conjured metal box in his hands. It had multiple chains wrapped around it, but their number was nothing compared to the plethora of pockets scattered over the uniform. Harry bit back his laughter as he knelt down in front of Dobby.

"Calm down, Dobby," he said. "Now, we're just about to leave for Switzerland, so we can't personally take that diary to the goblins. You, however, can."

Dobby's eyes grew wide. "Y-you want Dobby to take this to the goblins?" he asked.

"Of course," Harry said. "We trust you. All you have to do is take it to the bank and ask for Senior Teller Tirak." He tapped the small medallion that hung around Dobby's neck, and indeed, all of the elves of the House of Black. It had the House's official seal engraved on it. "He'll recognize that and know you're to be trusted. Tell him that we're sorry we can't be there to take care of this one, but we'll be taking care of the last piece of the puzzle personally."

Dobby nodded, memorizing the message. "Got it."

"Good. Go on, you," Harry said. "And thank you, Dobby."

Dobby popped away, box in hand. Harry got to his feet with a sigh. "Well, that's one less piece of Voldemort's soul to deal with," he said as he dusted himself off. "Not the best time for it to happen, but I trust Dobby and Tirak will take care of it."

"I'm sure they will," Sirius said. He put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Let's go."

"Yeah, okay."

The four of them left the Hall, Apparating to the International Portkey point located in a supposedly abandoned warehouse in Dover. Neville and Augusta were waiting for them, luggage sitting at their feet. Neville looked both anxious and nervous at the same time.

"We've got five minutes," Augusta informed the others. "I've got the Portkey." She held up a cracked wooden bowl that was just big enough for all of them to touch. "We'd best get ready."

They found a quiet corner of the warehouse, all of them touching at least a finger to the bowl. The Portkey activated, whirling them away from the shores of England. They landed in a secure room in a building deep in the magical district of Bern some ten minutes later. Harry staggered away from the group before sinking to the floor, head spinning.

"I think I hate international Portkeys more than regular ones," he said with a groan. "That was horrible."

"Agreed," Neville said, leaning heavily against Augusta as he regained his composure. Draco looked paler than usual, but was still upright. Once everyone had recovered from the disorienting mode of travel, they left the arrival point, with Augusta turning in the now-inactive Portkey into one of the people overseeing the arrival point. They were met out in the lobby by a nurse acting as a representative from the clinic who was holding a sign with the words 'Longbottom/Black' on it. One much shorter Portkey ride later and they had landed in the main foyer of the clinic. The clinic was comfortably lit and very open-plan, a stark difference from the more hospital-like decor of St. Mungo's.

"Frank and Alice should be in their room right about now," the nurse told them as she made the sign disappear with a flick of her wand. "I'll show you up."

"Thank you," Augusta said. They followed the nurse up three flights of stairs and through several winding hallways before they stopped in front of a door with an engraved sign reading 'Longbottom' on it. The nurse knocked on the door before popping her head into the room beyond. A moment later and she was pushing the door open.

"Go on in," she said. "I'll be just down the hall if you need me."

"Thank you," Sirius said, giving her a brief smile. He turned to Augusta and Neville as the nurse left.

"You two go on in first. We'll follow behind."

Augusta smiled thankfully at him before leading Neville into the room beyond. It was a cozy little suite, with a small sitting room straight ahead from the door and a kitchenette tucked to one side. A closed door was to the left. Neville took in a small breath when he saw the familiar form of his mother standing at the window. She was staring out at the snowy grounds beyond, though Neville couldn't see what held her attention out there.

"Mum?" he called out hesitantly. Sure, the Healers had said that Alice and Frank had been recovering in leaps and bounds, but the memories he had of them in St. Mungo's, both in this timeline and the prior one, were still strong. Alice turned sharply, her hair, which was bound back in a simple braid, whisking across her back. Her eyes grew wide when she saw Neville and Augusta standing there.

"Neville?" she breathed in disbelief. Neville nodded, his chest tightening. He'd never expected to hear her speak his name.

"Yeah, mum," he said softly, "it's me."

Alice let out a quiet gasp and then knelt down in front of him, arms open wide. Neville gladly stepped into her embrace, pressing his face against her neck. Alice hugged him tightly, not caring about the tears soaking into her shirt. Neville eventually pulled away, wiping the tears off his cheeks.

"Where's Dad?" he asked. Alice laughed, a smile illuminating her face, which had lost its gaunt appearance and returned to a healthy fullness.

"Oh, he's taking a nap," she replied as she got to her feet. "I'll go get him. Wait here."

She went over to the door set into the wall and headed through it into the bedroom beyond. "Frank? Frank, get up," she said urgently as she went inside. There was a brief moment of silence before Alice came back out. A minute or so later, Frank followed after her, a cane aiding his movements. He paused when he saw Neville, his grip tightening on the polished wood in his hand.

"Neville," he breathed. "Oh sweet M-Merlin. Look at you. S-so grown up. Can I h-have a hug?"

Neville bit his lower lip before nodding. "Of course." He stepped forward and hugged Frank, who rested his free hand against Neville's back, keeping him close. Augusta watched all of this with a fond smile, tears of joy shimmering in her eyes. She had never expected to see something like that happen ever again. The Healers at St. Mungo's had said that Frank and Alice would never be able to hold a conversation, let alone be fully cognizant again.

After almost seven full months of treatment at the clinic, however, the two former Aurors had been returned to a state of health Augusta had never expected. Admittedly, not all the remnants of their time under the Cruciatus had been healed. Frank had been left with a semi-severe stutter when he didn't focus on speaking clearly and a limp that necessitated the use of a cane, while Alice had fine tremors in her hands that made it hard to write properly and hold a wand for too long. She hadn't been under the curse as long as Frank had been, as the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Jr. had focused on the perceived greater threat of her husband.

Frank let Neville go before focusing on the others. "Mum. Sirius Black. And... Narcissa Malfoy?"

"It's Narcissa Black once more," Narcissa corrected gently. "My apologies for what my sister and brother in law did to you and your wife. Bellatrix was... well, insane. She'd always been mentally unstable. She's dead now, as are the others who were involved."

"She, Rodolphus, and Rabastan died in Azkaban after I took the Black Lord's ring and cast her from the Family," Sirius explained. "That faint connection to the Black Family Magic was the only thing keeping them alive."

"And Barty Crouch Junior?"

"He was Kissed after being brought to justice," Sirius said. That was mostly true; he just neglected to mention that Crouch Junior had been Kissed after quietly being brought back into Ministry custody back in August, while his father had retired after a heavy suggestion from Amelia and a generous pension in light of his years of service for the Ministry. Crouch Senior had passed on his duties to his second in command before retiring to the countryside, and by all accounts, Daniel Weatherby was doing a very good job. Amelia had assigned a house elf to keep a discrete eye on Crouch Senior to make sure nothing happened to him just in case.

Frank took a seat on a nearby loveseat, running a hand over his face. "I c-can't say that I'm sorry they're d-dead," he said. "I know th-that sounds c-callous, but they tore apart my f-family for so l-long. It's a m-miracle that we've been able to r-recover so well."

Alice placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently. "We've been very lucky," she said.

Neville let out a soft breath before speaking up. "We've kind of helped that luck along," he admitted. "Mum, you should probably sit down as well. This is going to be hard to believe."

Alice sat down next to Frank while the others took seats nearby. Sirius conjured a set of comfortable chairs for Harry, Draco, and Neville to use that he then lined up opposite Frank and Alice. Neville took the center chair, while Draco sat on his left and Harry his right. Augusta put up a privacy ward that would keep any outside listening charms or people from overhearing them before she sat down as well.

"First and foremost," Neville began, "Harry, Draco, and I are in a trichromatic bond."

"Really?" Alice smiled brightly. "Congratulations!"

"Thank you," Harry replied, returning the smile with one of his own. He held up his left hand to show off the betrothal ring there. "We've already made sure to get the Potter triad betrothal rings, as well as had the bond verified by Gringotts and the ICW."

"G-good," Frank said approvingly. "Th-that will k-keep people f-from complaining."

"Hopefully," Neville agreed. He smiled wryly. "Not everyone's been happy about our bond, of course."

"They'll get over it," Draco said with a roll of his eyes. Neville poked him in the arm before turning back to his parents.

"So, you're going to have to wait until we're done talking before you ask any questions," he told them. "I can give you a Truth Oath if you want-"

"No, no, it's alright," Alice said quickly. "We'll listen."

"If it helps any, they've told all of us this story under a Truth Oath, and they still have their magics," Narcissa explained. Alice and Frank exchanged looks before Frank gestured for Neville to start talking. Neville did so, laying out the story of what had happened to him, Harry, and Draco, both in the previous timeline and the current one.

"What happened to your father and me in that timeline?" Alice asked as she took Frank's hand in her own. Neville sighed.

"You died before the plague hit," he said. "Dad first, and then you. No one could ever figure out why, but I have my suspicions."

"Wh-what are th-they?" Frank asked.

"Well, we don't know for sure, but I highly suspect that it had to do with Dumbledore," Neville said. "He was constantly interfering with things he shouldn't have. In that timeline, he convinced Gran to keep you at Saint Mungo's. The Healers there..." He shook his head in disgust. "The state of education in Wizarding Britain is appalling. Honestly, if we weren't required to go to Hogwarts, we wouldn't. We would've gone elsewhere. Australia's got an amazing schooling system. They're one of the top rated systems in the ICW. That rating includes the larger boarding schools and day schools. Britain is seventeenth, no matter what the propaganda says. It's part of why we brought you and Sirius here. This clinic is one of the best in the world that focuses solely on mind healing."

"And Saint Mungo's?"

"They kept you in a locked ward for long-term spell damage," Neville said bitterly. "They barely did anything to help you."

"So... D-Dumbledore k-kept you fr-from moving us?" Frank asked. Neville nodded.

"Yes. Gran and I trusted his judgement. After all, he was supposed to be so knowledgeable that we didn't question him. Not a lot of people do for just that reason. That, and he's made himself indispensable to the British Wizarding World. He's got three major roles: Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the ICW, and Headmaster of Hogwarts. The first two give him massive political power, while the last gives him power to control the education of future members of the populace."

"With that much power, he can do pretty much anything he wants and no one will question him," Sirius said. "I've always wondered, why did you leave the safety of Longbottom Manor? There are war wards there that are almost as powerful as the ones on Blackmoor Hall."

"Dumbledore," Alice said with a bitter tone to her voice. "He convinced us that it would be better to move to a lesser known place than the Manor. We shouldn't have listened to him." She turned to Harry. "Have you claimed the wards at the Pottery?"

Harry shook his head. "No, not yet. As much as I would like to, I'm not old or powerful enough, even with the magical boost from the soul transfer. Sirius could, since he's related to me by blood and magic. I wouldn't mind him holding onto the wards until I come of age. I'd be able to support the house elves, though, assuming there are any left."

"Try calling them," Augusta suggested. "Maybe once we're somewhere with plenty of room. There were quite a few elves bound to House Potter from what I remember."

"I'll keep it in mind," Harry said. "For now, though, I'd rather focus on the holidays. We'll have enough work as it is once we return to England. The Winter Meet of the Wizengamot, for example."

A mischievous grin formed on Frank's face. "Sirius, y-you still l-like playing p-pranks?"

"Within reason," Sirius replied, looking intrigued. "Why do you ask?"

"H-how would y-you like to p-play a prank on the wh-whole of the W-Wizengamot?"

Sirius grinned. "I'd tell you that I'd love to hear what you have to say."

~/~

The hum of chatter filled the opulently appointed chambers of the Wizengamot, echoing with plans for the future, both political and otherwise. Albus Dumbledore sat in the Chief Warlock's seat, feeling quite pleased with how everything was going. Admittedly, there had been some hiccups, what with the whole business with the trichromatic bond between Misters Potter, Longbottom, and Malfoy, not to mention the early release of Sirius Black. Albus had been planning on 'finding' evidence to overturn Black's conviction somewhere around Harry's third or fourth year, thereby securing Harry's loyalty even more.

His initial plans had gone south before Harry had even arrived at Hogwarts. The boy was supposed to be meek and downtrodden thanks to the verbal, physical, and mental abuse heaped upon him by his relatives, and therefore easily malleable. Sending Hagrid to pick him up on his eleventh birthday was supposed to be the crowning piece of the puzzle. Hagrid was devastatingly loyal to Albus, and would surely have guided Harry away from any Slytherin influences. He would've talked up all the values of Gryffindor House and how Harry's parents had been there. Harry was certainly not supposed to have gone to Hufflepuff of all places.

Harry was also never supposed to have learned of the trichromatic bond between James, Lily, and Sirius, and especially not of the fact that Sirius could just have as easily provided the blood protection needed for the admittedly flimsy wards Albus had set up as Petunia. Albus was now having to scramble to adapt to the changes in circumstances, much to his great annoyance. It seemed like at every turn, he was being blocked by some sort of machination that led back to Sirius, Augusta, Narcissa, or even, Merlin be damned, Amelia Bones.

The troll had been meant as a test to see whether or not the borderline-Dark curse Albus had laid upon Harry when he was three was working. The curse would drive Harry to act impetuously, thinking first with his heart rather than his head, and therefore test the boy's mettle and willingness to go into danger. The fact that Hogwarts had sealed off the Great Hall and trapped the troll in a side chamber had been unexpected, even more so that Amelia and her Aurors had arrived. Albus figured that he'd best keep an eye on Susan Bones, especially now that he knew that she had a way to contact her aunt almost instantaneously.

Albus sighed and leaned back in his chair. Said chair was one of the most ornate in the chamber, with only five outstripping it in design. The one that held the highest distinction was the gilded throne in the private box at the top of the chamber meant to represent the current ruler of Great Britain and its territories, but no ruling monarch had sat in it since Queen Elizabeth the First, who had been a Squib. None of her successors had had any sort of Magical blood, and after Elizabeth had died, the then Minister for Magic John Dee changed his title to Minister of Magic, leading the way for the British Magical world to separate itself almost entirely from the Muggle one.

The other four chairs were located in boxes right below the royal one. The front of each box was decorated with the crests of the four Founders that would light up when those seats were claimed by their heirs. The last time that had happened had been in 1204, back when the heirs of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had been around. Those bloodlines had been lost not long after, as far as Albus knew. Slytherin and Gryffindor's bloodlines had been lost far before that, with only rumors as to who might be an heir of the four Founders.

A check of his pocket-watch had Albus pulling himself out of his thoughts and picking up a gavel that lay on the table in front of him. He rapped the gavel against the hard surface of the table in an attempt to gather everyone's attention and begin the Meet. The gathered Lords and Ladies ended their conversations and then returned to their private boxes. Once everyone had settled down, Albus got to his feet and cleared his throat.

"Welcome, Lords and Ladies, to the three hundred and eighty-eighth Winter Meet of the Wizengamot," he intoned, arms spread wide for a short moment in welcome. "It's wonderful to see all of you today. I hope your holidays have been going well. I'll do my best not to keep you here for too long, as I'm sure you all want to return to your families and the undoubtedly wonderful food waiting for you."

There was a ripple of laughter at that, which made Albus smile to himself. Now that they were in a good mood, Albus turned to Tiberius Ogden, the current Speaker for the Wizengamot. "Tiberius, do we have any announcements for this Meet?"

Tiberius cleared his throat before unrolling the scroll in front of him. He read it over briefly to prepare himself. He drew in a sharp breath but soon recovered his composure. His momentary lapse in decorum caught Albus' attention, given that Tiberius wasn't known for such things.

"Tiberius?" Albus said kindly as he sat down. "Is everything alright?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes," Tiberius said, shaking off his surprise. He cleared his throat once more and then started reading. "We have several announcements for today, including the confirmation of a rising Lord, a noble returning to this most august body, a confirmation of an heir, and the naming of a proxy for a Most Ancient and Noble House. No business from the previous Meet is outstanding."

Albus leaned forward, intrigued. "Well, then, we'd best get started. Who is it that is being confirmed?"

"Lord Sirius Black, Earl of Blackmoor and Head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black," Tiberius announced. He turned to the guards standing in front of the grand doors that led into the chamber. "Allow the Lord to enter these hallowed chambers and take his place amongst us!"

The guards solemnly pulled open the heavy doors to let Sirius in. Sirius stepped forward, dressed in fine dark red battle robes that buttoned close around the torso and then flared out slightly from the hips, the open front showing off the black pants he was wearing. His hair was bound back with a leather tie, and he moved with the feline grace of a warrior in his prime. He stopped in the middle of the chamber and bowed to the empty royal and the Founders' boxes, completely ignoring Albus, who sat opposite those self-same boxes. Whispers broke out at both his appearance and his actions, most of them seeming to be approving, especially amongst the women in the audience.

Albus hid his annoyance at that. Usually the incoming nobles bowed to the Chief Warlock first and then the empty boxes. No matter. He'd deal with Sirius soon enough.

"Welcome, Lord Black, to the ranks of the Wizengamot," Albus called out. "Please take your place in your hereditary seat."

Sirius bowed shortly to him and then ascended the stairs to the Black box. When he settled into his seat, the seal on the front lit up gold as the chamber's magic recognized Sirius' legitimate claim to his seat. Once Sirius was settled in, Albus motioned for Tiberius to move on to the next item on the agenda. Tiberius took in a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then began speaking.

"We now have a noble returning to our ranks," he said, the parchment in his hand rattling slightly before he quelled his movements. "Due to incapacitation at the end of the war a decade ago, the Lord of this House was deemed unfit to vote and his proxy bestowed upon a senior member of his House until his heir came of age. However, in light of recent events and certifications from no less than three Master-rank Mind Healers, it has been determined that Lord Frank Longbottom, Viscount Willowsmere and Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Longbottom, is once more fit to hold his seat in this august body. As such, his mother, the Dowager Lady Augusta Longbottom, will be stepping down as proxy for House Longbottom."

A clamor of speech broke out at the news, only tapering away when Albus quieted them with several loud bangs from his wand.

"Enough!" he called out sternly. "Everyone calm down! Act like the adults you are!"

Silence fell over the chamber after a while. Albus sighed sharply and then gestured at Tiberius. "Please continue, Tiberius," he said, just barely resisting the urge to rub at his temples in weariness. Yet another plan ruined. He'd kept the Longbottoms' care sub-standard for a reason. After all, if Harry fell in battle against Voldemort, then technically the prophecy would apply to Neville. He certainly fit the criteria. After all, given that Voldemort had Marked his followers, they were an extension of him, and whatever they did, they did in his name. By that logic, Neville had been just as marked by Voldemort as his equal as Harry had been, albeit indirectly.

Keeping the Longbottoms insensate had been a useful advantage. If Neville did turn out to be the one spoken of by the prophecy, then controlling his parents was paramount. Keeping Neville meek and mild was important. After all, if he was too headstrong, then Albus couldn't mold him to the hero he needed to be. At least Neville went into the appropriate House.

Tiberius nodded and then looked at the guards. "Open the doors so that our lost member may be returned to our ranks!"

The guards opened the doors once more. As they did so, the entire Wizengamot seemed to hold their breath, an expectant hush falling over the room. The soft tapping of Frank's cane against the wooden floor echoed faintly as he moved. He bowed to the empty high boxes before turning and bowing to Albus.

"Welcome back, Lord Longbottom," Albus said, disguising his annoyance the best he could. "It's wonderful to see you looking so well after such a long time away."

"Thank you," Frank replied, doing his best to speak slow and clear. "It's g-good to be back."

"Please assume your seat, Lord Longbottom," Albus told him, noting the slight stutter. Hm. That might be useful. If only he had access to the Longbottoms' health records still. Frank nodded and then made his way up to his box, settling in his rightful seat, his cane leaning against his chair for easy access. Once Frank was seated, Tiberius continued on with his duties.

"We have the confirmation of an heir to settle next," he announced. "Lord Black?"

Sirius rose to his feet, "Ah, yes. Thank you, Speaker Ogden. It's merely a change within my House. At his request, I have transferred the title of heir from my son, Harry James Potter-Black, to his bond-mate, Draco Ares Black."

"Oh? And why did your son ask you to do that?" Lady Bulstrode asked, intrigued. Sirius inclined his head in acknowledgement of the question.

"Harry said that since he was already going to be a Lord of his own House, he didn't need a second one. Also, he didn't want the power to be unbalanced within their bond. Therefore, when he comes of age and when Lord Longbottom and I decide to step down from our roles, Draco will become Lord Black, Harry will be Lord Potter, and Neville will be Lord Longbottom."

Lady Bulstrode leaned back in her chair with a thoughtful look. "And they won't be taking any Consorts?"

"The trichromatic bond d-doesn't allow for that," Frank replied. "Any and all prior contracts are n-null and void." He smiled wryly. "Sorry for anyone h-hoping to marry off their d-daughters. I doubt the boys would be interested anyways."

Laughter followed that comment; even some of the more conservative members of the Wizengamot joined in. Tiberius ticked the item off his list before moving on to the last point.

"Very well. Now, last but not least, we have the naming of a proxy for a Most Ancient and Noble House. Lady Narcissa Black, please come forward and take your seat in the box of the House for which you have been chosen to stand proxy."

Narcissa did so, coming down from the viewing seats where she'd been sitting with Augusta and Alice. She sat down in the box belonging to the House of Potter, the seal lighting up silver in recognition of her role as proxy. Dumbledore grit his teeth at that. He'd been standing proxy for the Potter and Black seats ever since the first Meet after James had died and Sirius imprisoned, using the votes they afforded him to further his own goals. Their loss would make his goals even harder to achieve.

"Welcome to the Wizengamot, Lady Black," Tiberius said. He set down his list. "The floor is now open for any new business."

As Delores Umbridge rose to her feet, ready to try yet again to get her legislation on registering and limiting werewolves in the jobs they could do passed, Albus leaned back in his chair, contemplating his next move. Whatever it was, it was going to have to be both subtle and drastic if he was to regain his political power. What to do, what to do.

Hm. Werewolves. Albus smiled to himself as the beginnings of a plan began to form. Yes, that might just work...

~/~

The New Year's Eve snow lay thick on the road leading to the once well-kept Riddle House, the fine white powder hiding just how decrepit the building truly was. Steely gray clouds overhead warned of the possibility of more snow falling soon. Sirius and Harry ignored the clouds as they trudged along the country lane, searching for the gap in the hedges that signaled the entrance to the Gaunt shack. Once they found it, Sirius carefully Vanished the overgrown plants and then led the way past.

Harry stopped Sirius before he reached for the door, shaking his head. "Wait. I can sense some echoes of Parselmagic. Don't touch anything until I clear it."

"You sure?"

"Yes. What I'm not sure about is how Dumbledore managed to get rid of it before. Honestly, I'd advocate burning the whole thing down if it wouldn't attract unwanted attention."

Sirius eyed the dilapidated shack. "It looks like it'd blow apart in a strong wind," he said as Harry set to work. Harry shrugged.

"It was like that when the Gaunts still lived here," he said, letting his magic flow over the shack in an attempt to discern what spells might be lingering there. He hissed softly to himself as he dismantled what few hexes and curses remained, the soft sibilant noises akin to someone whistling or humming as they worked. Sirius watched him, keeping half an eye on the gap in the hedge in case someone should come to investigate or simply pass by.

It took Harry a good half-hour to dispel everything, and only then did he allow Sirius to head into the shack. Once they were inside, it was the work of a moment to find the floorboard that Voldemort had hidden his Horcrux under; there was a snake crudely carved into the rotting wood that was just barely visible under the thick coat of dust.

"Don't open the box," Harry warned as Sirius carefully levitated the board out of the floor.

"I know, I know," Sirius grumbled, setting the board aside and then retrieving the gold box the ring was in. Harry quickly took out a larger box from the bag he was carrying and set it on the floor, the lid open so Sirius could place the ring box in it. Sirius wavered when the ring box was fully out of the floor, the siren call of the compulsion hex starting to weave its magic around him.

"Sirius, no!" Harry shouted at him, dousing him with an ice-cold jet of water from his wand. Sirius shook his head like the dog he could turn into, sending droplets of water flying. With a grunt, he put the ring box into the second box and then shut it.

"Damn," he said as the outer box locked and then sealed itself. "That spell on that thing's ridiculous. Thank you for snapping me out of it."

"You're welcome," Harry said as he picked up the box and then put it in his bag. "Let's get out of here. I want to get this taken care of before midnight."

"I'd rather not spend any more time here," Sirius agreed. He led Harry outside and then Apparated them away. As they left, the snow began to fall, erasing any sign that they had been there.

~/~

Harry crept through the Department of Mysteries, his invisibility cloak hiding him from view. He'd also had Sirius layer several spells on him that masked his scent and magical aura, and muffled any sound he made. It was probably overkill, but Harry preferred to be safe than caught, or worse. He had a Portkey on him that would take him to an isolated area of the Scottish moors where Sirius was waiting for him. They'd Apparate to several different places in quick succession before returning to Blackmoor Hall to celebrate the new year with the rest of the family.

Harry found it surprisingly easy to get through the DoM. He wasn't sure if that was because he'd been there before, or if Magic Herself was guiding his path. Either way, he didn't care. The sooner he got to the Death Chamber and threw the box into the Veil, the better. The Death Chamber was just as he remembered it. Harry ignored the whispers that started up the closer he got to the Veil, taking the box from under his cloak and then tossing it through the Veil as soon as he could safely do so. The fabric of the Veil fluttered as if in a high wind and then settled once more.

It was done.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief and then turned to leave, doubting that it would be wise to Portkey from the Death Chamber itself. He stopped when a voice sounded behind him, the lead-weighted words thundering into place inside his brain without any input from his ears.

YOU HAVE BEEN VERY BUSY, HARRY JAMES POTTER-BLACK. THANK YOU FOR COLLECTING THESE FOR ME. I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THEM FOR A LONG TIME. THE FINAL PIECE WILL JOIN THEM SOON. There was a pause and then, THE STONE IS AN ADDED BONUS. I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD SEE IT AGAIN. FUNNY HOW THINGS WORK LIKE THAT.

Harry slowly turned around, morbid curiosity getting the better of him. A tall, thin figure stood in front of the Veil, clothed in black hooded robes. Harry bit back a soft whimper when he saw the bone-white skull staring out of the hood. The only bits of color Harry could see were the flickers of blue in the skull's eye sockets, looking like distant stars.

"Y-yeah, no problem," he said, hoping and praying that Death- because that was the only being this could be -didn't focus too much on his location. "Keep it. No one needs to be the supposed Master of Death. I'd much rather accept death. Someone once told me that, for the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

THE HOLLOWS WERE ALWAYS JUST A STORY, BUT STORIES HAVE A WAY OF TAKING ON A LIFE OF THEIR OWN, AS I'M SURE YOU'RE AWARE, Death said. AS FOR THE NEXT GREAT ADVENTURE, PERHAPS. I WOULDN'T KNOW. I ONLY SHEPHERD SOULS ON. WHERE THEY GO AFTER THAT IS NOT UP TO ME. YOUR ANCESTOR IGNOTUS PEVERELL THOUGHT MUCH THE SAME. HE CAME WILLINGLY, UNLIKE SOME UNLIKE THE ONE YOU CALL VOLDEMORT AND OTHERS BEFORE HIM WHO THOUGHT THAT THEY COULD CHEAT ME.

"So I've heard," Harry said. "So... What now?'

NOW? NOW YOU RETURN TO YOUR FAMILY. Death pulled out what looked like an hourglass from the pocket of his robes and eyed it. I MUST ATTEND TO MY DUTY. YOU HAVE QUITE SOME TIME UNTIL OUR FINAL MEETING.

"Any chance I can know when-"

NO. WE WILL WALK TOGETHER WHEN IT IS ORDAINED, HARRY JAMES POTTER-BLACK, AND NOT BEFORE. DO TRY TO BE ON TIME.

Harry let out a strangled laugh. "I'll do my best."

SEE THAT YOU DO.

With that, Death vanished, leaving Harry alone under the Cloak. He shuddered and then left the Chamber, activating the Portkey once it was safe. When he arrived at the designated meet-up point, Harry drew the Cloak off and then carefully folded it up. Sirius stepped forward from his resting place against the trunk of a bare-limbed tree, worry furrowing his brow.

"Harry, you okay? You look like you just saw a ghost."

Harry laughed sharply before shaking his head. "Sirius, you wouldn't believe me if I told you. Let's go."

A moment later and they were gone, leaving only a watching raven knowing that they'd ever been there.

Chapter Text

The return ride to Hogwarts was far more relaxing than the previous one, much to the relief of the three boys and Hermione, who joined them in their compartment once more. Hermione had quite happily shown them the heir's ring on her right hand. The goblins at Gringotts had been more than willing to reopen the Dagworth-Granger vaults. The Dagworth-Granger name had a minor title, making Hermione a Baroness when she came of age, as well as giving her a seat in the Wizengamot, as the House was a Noble one. She'd quickly contacted Harry when she'd found out, asking him to help with finding a voting proxy until she was able to take over once she graduated Hogwarts.

Harry had owled back as soon as he could, suggesting that she name Augusta as her proxy, given how well the elder woman had governed the Longbottom seat and accounts. Augusta had agreed when Harry had asked, saying that she wasn't about to let the stodgy old blowhards in the Wizengamot relax now that she'd stepped down from the Longbottom seat. Sirius had suggested several trustworthy accountants to help go over the long-languishing vaults, as well as saying it would likely be a good idea to have the law firm of Doornehaven, Masters, and Wimbley on retainer as well just in case anyone tried to wrest away control of the seat or accounts from the so-called 'upstart Muggleborn', or worse. Augusta had immediately contracted the firm to look over any and all contracts, marriage and otherwise, associated with the House, as she didn't want Hermione trapped in something she didn't understand or could avoid.

Hermione's parents had been very grateful for that, and had sent a thank you gift via one of the three house elves that had come along with the House and who had quite happily bonded with Hermione. Augusta had been rather surprised at the large fresh fruit basket, but had quite enjoyed it, sharing the unexpected bounty with the others in the house. Harry suspected that Augusta and the elder Grangers would soon be as thick as thieves at the rate they were going.

It took two weeks after they got back to Hogwarts for Harry and Neville to be able to make good on their promise to Lady Hogwarts to cleanse the wardstones for Slytherin and Gryffindor. The ward stones were located under the Headmaster's Tower, with the entrance accessible behind a discrete gargoyle tucked away in a warded hallway. The gargoyle moved swiftly aside when they approached, urged aside both by Lady Hogwarts and their Family Magics. A moving spiral staircase, much like the one that led up to Dumbledore's office, led the way down to the path to the chamber where the wardstones were housed.

The staircase stopped when they were just about the same level as the kitchens, though the path leading away from the stairs sloped gently downwards on a broad spiral. Harry and Neville kept close to one another, wands lit with twin Lumos charms, as the torches had either burnt out long ago and were unable to be relit or had gone missing. Draco had wanted to come along with them, but Lady Hogwarts had advised against it, saying that only the Founders' Heirs or the current Headmaster could access the wardstones and the chamber they were located in.

The path opened up onto a massive chamber that looked to be a natural formation, given the stalactites and stalagmites growing from the ceiling high above and floor deep below. The path continued on over the chamber floor, arching slightly before ending at a free-floating central platform that had four massive statues at each main point of the compass and an even bigger central stone in the middle. Harry and Neville held hands as they passed over the broad bridge, wands clutched in their free hands just in case. When they reached the central platform, the bridge disappeared and a golden shield surrounded the island, encasing it entirely.

Runes covered the statues and stone, seeming to shift and flow as Harry and Neville watched. The four statues were that of the House mascots, each with the element they were associated with at their base. The roaring Gryffindor Lion had Gubraithian fire burning away in a trench around it, while the digging Hufflepuff Badger was surrounded by rich earth that had vibrant plants still thriving around it. Harry wondered if Professor Sprout had ever seen them, or indeed, if any of the Heads of the Houses had. The tightly coiled Slytherin Serpent had a stream of cool and fresh water constantly flowing through the trench around it, while the Ravenclaw Eagle floated freely over its plinth, wings stretched out wide.

"Ready to do this?" Neville asked Harry. Harry nodded, drawing out the ceremonial dagger that Lady Hogwarts had given him. It had once been Salazar Slytherin's; its pommel was shaped like a snake's head with a small emerald grasped in its mouth. Neville had Gryffindor's dagger; its pommel was shaped like a lion's head, a tiny ruby held tight in its jaws. Lady Hogwarts had told them that all the Founders had weapons, ceremonial and practical specially made for them with their House mascots as decoration on them, with each entailed to their various estates. Gryffindor's sword was one such entailed artifact, and, according to Lady Hogwarts, the other Founders also had their preferred weapons stashed around the castle. Harry suspected Slytherin's weapons were somewhere in the Chamber of Secrets, though he hadn't had time to explore it thoroughly with everything that had happened over the first half of the school year.

As he drew closer to the Serpent, Harry frowned when he saw dark gray tendrils covering the stone. It almost reminded him of how mold grew. "Hey, Nev?" he said as he came to a halt.

"Yeah?" Neville replied.

"Is there anything weird on your stone?"

There was a pause before Neville spoke again. "Yeah. There's... I don't know. A fine gray netting over the surface? What is this stuff?"

"No clue, but scan it with your magic," Harry said, who had done just that while Neville was looking over the Lion. "Tell me how it feels."

"What the-" Neville let out a huff. "It feels sticky, and... sweet?"

"Dumbledore," Harry said grimly. "I felt the same magic when I woke up. I think he'd laid magic on me when I was younger. I burned it away, but still."

"Wonderful," Neville said. "I wonder what it does."

"I don't know, but it probably has something to do with the hatred between the two Houses," Harry mused. "Let's get these things cleansed."

He sliced his palm and then pressed his hand against the Serpent's scales, letting the blood soak into it before taking his hand away. The Serpent's eyes, which were made of a deep green stone Harry didn't recognize, flashed as it recognized his rightful claim as Heir of Slytherin. "I, Harry James Potter-Black, do claim and cleanse the wardstone set down by Salazar Slytherin as is my right by conquest. I give this gift of my blood to aid in the cleansing. May Magic see my gift and bless my purpose. So say I, so may it be!"

The blood soaked into the stone, with all the runes turning a deep crimson. The gray tendrils writhed in protest before being burned away and crumbling into ash that floated away into the depths of the chasm below. The runes, which had been moving sluggishly before, now flowed over the stone freely. Harry healed his hand before turning to see how Neville was doing. Neville had just stepped away from the Lion and was healing his hand with his wand.

"Everything alright?" Harry asked as he cleaned off the dagger before storing it once more in his wrist bracer. Neville nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said. "You?"

"Good. The Slytherin Magics feel more... I don't know, settled? Content?"

"I know what you mean. The Gryffindor Magics feel the same," Neville said, cleaning his dagger before putting it away. "Let's get out of here."

"How? There isn't a bridge any more," Harry pointed out. Neville just shrugged.

"I can't imagine the Founders would make it a one-way trip. That's just foolish."

"That, or they had brooms," Harry said dryly. Neville rolled his eyes.

"Let's just see what we can find." He headed towards the edge of the platform where the bridge had once been. As he approached the edge, the golden shield around the island vanished and the bridge reappeared. Neville gave Harry a pointed look before heading across the bridge. Harry sighed softly and then followed after his bondmate.

"You're going to be smug about this for the rest of the day, aren't you?" he asked as they walked up the path to the stairs.

"Mm, probably," Neville said with a grin. "Maybe even the rest of the weekend."

"Ugh. Draco's going to love this," Harry groaned. "Can we not tell him?"

"Nope!" Neville said cheerfully. He took hold of Harry's hand and squeezed it as they reached the stairs "It's alright. We won't tease you. Much."

"Wonderful." Harry shook his head in resignation. He honestly didn't mind the teasing, so long as it didn't go on for too long. Neither Draco or Neville were that cruel, unlike some people in the castle. It was lunch when Harry and Neville reached the Great Hall, so they joined Draco at the Slytherin table.

"So, how'd it go?" Draco asked as he handed Neville a jug of water. Neville took the jug with a small smile.

"Good. We got everything taken care of," he said, pouring himself some water before setting the jug down. "We'll see how things go from now on."

"Mm." Draco cut into the fish he was eating, the white meat flaking away perfectly as he did so. "Good to hear it."

Harry smiled and then turned to his own plate, loading it with a variety of foods including some of the same baked fish Draco was eating. Life was good for the time being, and he was reveling in the peacefulness.

~/~

Charlie Weasley trudged up the muddy road to the main gates of Hogwarts, a small smile forming when he saw the familiar winged boars standing guard on either side of the gates. It was the Easter break for the Hogwarts students, with quite a few off visiting their families, and the perfect time to see about this supposed dragon egg that Hagrid was caring for. Charlie had a specialized carrying case for the egg, able to fit even the largest of the known breeds. It had heating charms on the padded interior to keep the egg viable during transport, as well as weight-canceling charms to make it easy to carry.

Severus Snape was waiting for him at the gates, looking slightly less dour than he had when Charlie had had him for Potions class. Severus gave Charlie a short nod before opening the gates.

"Mister Weasley," Severus said, stepping back to let Charlie through. "Welcome back to Hogwarts."

"It's good to be back, Professor," Charlie replied. "So, the letters I got weren't very specific about the breed of the dragon egg or when Hagrid acquired it."

"A Hungarian Horntail, as far as I know, and about a week ago," Severus said as they walked, the gates closing behind them. Charlie nodded, grateful that the carrying case would be big enough for the egg.

"Did he say where he got it?"

Severus shook his head. "No, save for the fact that it was won off of a stranger down at the Hog's Head in the village."

"And does the Headmaster know about this?"

Severus smiled wryly. "If he does, he hasn't said one word about it. I suspect he does know but wants to see what might happen. As it stands, I'd much prefer to not let a baby dragon be anywhere on the grounds, even if it still is just an egg."

"Agreed." Charlie fell silent for a while as they picked their way up the muddy road, only speaking up again when the castle itself was in sight. "Who was it that discovered the egg?"

"A group of three first years," Severus said with a sigh. "They'd seen Hagrid looking at books in the library. They were about raising dragons, so their curiosity was piqued. One trip for tea later and they discovered the egg. They told me about it once they were finished with the tea. One of them is a Gryffindor, and so had heard your brothers talking about you and your work, which is why you were contacted."

"I see." Charlie rubbed his chin thoughtfully, the faint rasp of stubble against his palm reminding him that he hadn't had much time to shave recently. "Well, I'm glad we'll be able to take care of it before it hatches. I can't imagine what Hagrid thought he would do after that happened. Dragons grow wickedly fast, and they can produce fire almost from the moment they hatch. Given that his house is wooden, I wouldn't think it'd go unnoticed for too long."

"Undoubtedly not," Severus agreed. "I dread to think what might have happened had those three not noticed Hagrid when they did."

"Definitely." Charlie fell silent until they reached Hagrid's hut. Severus knocked on the door, prompting Fang to let out booming barks from inside. Hagrid opened the door a few moments later, pushing Fang back.

"Professor Snape! And..." Hagrid grinned broadly. "Charlie Weasley! What're yeh doin' here?"

"May we come in, Hagrid?" Charlie asked. Hagrid stepped back and waved them in.

"C'mon in," he said. As the two visitors stepped inside, they immediately noticed that the interior of the cabin was blisteringly hot. Charlie immediately focused on the fireplace, where he expected the dragon egg to be. There, nestled in the heart of the fire under the kettle, was a huge black egg.

"Oh, Hagrid," Charlie said with a sigh. "Where on Earth did you get that?"

"Huh? Oh, I won it in a game o' cards at the Hog's Head," Hagrid said, tugging on his beard nervously, glancing at Severus as he answered. "The chap I won it from seemed ter be glad t' get rid o' it, t'be honest."

"And did you see who it was?" Charlie asked, setting the carry case down in front of the hearth. "Hagrid, you can't keep this egg. This is a Hungarian Horntail. It'll burn down your hut within a week of hatching."

"I dunno who it was," Hagrid admitted. "Didn't see his face. He kept his hood up."

"Who carries around a dragon egg in their pocket?" Severus muttered as Charlie carefully levitated the egg into the carrier. "Why did he even trust you with it? How did he know you'd be alright with it?"

Hagrid just shrugged. "Well, firs' he asked me what I did, an' I told him I worked 'ere as gamekeeper. He asked about what kinda creatures I looked after, so I told him. I said that after Fluffy, a dragon would be easy."

Severus stared at him. "You told him about- Wait, that thing's name is Fluffy? Did he seem interested in it?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, how many three-headed dogs d'you meet, even around Hogwarts?" Hagrid said. "So I tol' him that Fluffy's a piece of cake if y'know how ter calm him down. Play a bit of music an' he's off ter sleep."

Severus bit back a groan. "Wonderful," he said dryly as Charlie closed the carry case, the heating charms activating as soon as the the clasps snapped shut.

"Hagrid, we'll make sure this dragon is well taken care of," Charlie promised. "We'll see about arranging a visit for you if you like."

"Y-yeah," Hagrid said. He shifted nervously. "Yer not gonna tell Dumbledore about this, are yeh?"

"I have no doubt that he already knows, but no, we won't," Severus said. "Nor will we inform the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, even though technically we should."

Hagrid's shoulders slumped in relief. "Thanks," he said, taking a heavy seat on a nearby chair, which creaked under his weight. Charlie slung the carry case's strap over his shoulder, grateful for the weight lightening charms on it, and then headed for the door, Severus right behind him.

"What a way to start the Easter holidays, huh?" Charlie said as they left the hut. Severus just sighed.

"If you say so, Mr. Weasley, if you say so."

~/~

Harry stepped through the gates of the Pottery, the Family Magics allowing him and Sirius entry, though he'd had to hold onto Sirius' hand just in case. He needn't have worried, though, as the trichromatic bond that Sirius had once shared with James and Lily automatically made him part of the Potter family. The Pottery was the oldest property owned by the Potters, with ancient war wards that made Harry wonder why his family hadn't stayed there. He suspected that Dumbledore likely had something to do with it, which made his mood turn sour momentarily.

"Everything okay?" Sirius asked, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder and squeezing it gently. Harry nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "Just wondering why the Pottery wasn't used during the war."

Sirius sighed. "I don't know, kiddo," he said. "Probably because of Dumbledore."

"Just what I thought," Harry said as they reached the front doors of the grand manor. He opened the doors and stepped inside, leaving the doors open to let the fresh air in. The entrance hall inside was surprisingly clean, which Harry put down to the house elves taking good care of the place. The moment Harry stepped onto the cool, clean tiles covering the floor, the lead house elf popped into being at the top of the staircase wearing a neatly pressed black pillowcase like a toga, with the Potter crest embroidered in one of the corners.

"M-Master Harry?" the elderly elf squeaked, its brown eyes wide. "Mister Sirius?"

Sirius let out a soft noise of surprise. "Domie," he replied. "Huh. I wasn't expecting you to still be alive, to be honest. How're you doing?"

"Very well, Mister Sirius," Domie said. "Thank you. Are yous going to live here now?"

"We're living at Blackmoor Hall right now," Harry said, "but it's likely my bondmates and I will be living here, at least part time, once we're of age. I will be able to support the bonds of all the house elves here. Sirius will be handling the wards until I'm of age."

"Understood." Domie made his way down the stairs before reaching out and taking hold of Harry's hand. The moment contact was made, the bond snapped into place. Harry suddenly knew that there were eight house elves belonging to the House of Potter, with five females and three males. He let out a hum before focusing on Domie.

"Domie, I'm giving all elves bonded to the House of Potter permission to find mates and have children if they so choose," he said, much to the obvious surprise of the house elf before him. "Let me know if there are any problems with any of our properties. If you feel like you don't have enough work for your tastes, let me know and we'll see what we can do for you. Do you like the uniforms you're wearing? Oh, and just call me either sir or Harry. I'd rather not be called 'master', if you don't mind."

Domie nodded hesitantly. "Yes, sir," he said, showing why he was the head elf as he quickly adapted to the new orders. "The uniforms are fine. We replace them when they wears out."

"Good. I want you all to represent our House the best you can. If you need help with that, let me know," Harry said. Domie nodded before summoning the rest of the house elves to his side so they could formally meet Harry. Harry didn't feel taxed by the eight elves he was now supporting, but then again he hadn't expected to. In the previous timeline, he been able to easily support three times that number in theory, and that was without having claimed the Slytherin Family Magics. He figured he'd likely be able to support fifty or so elves without straining his magic. Not that he was planning on doing so, but it was nice to know he could do it regardless. Sirius could likely handle the same number of elves; at the moment, there were thirty elves bound to the House of Black.

Once the introductions were done, the elves took Harry and Sirius on a tour around the Pottery. The manor was entirely self-sufficient, with greenhouses, an orchard, and even livestock. Sirius claimed the wards before they left, making sure the manor was fully secure once more.

~/~

The last few weeks before the end of the year seemed to fly by, and then suddenly the time to take the end-of-year exams had arrived. Thanks to the study group, most of the first years found the exams to be rather easy. Harry, Draco, and a few others were lounging around under one of the trees near the Black Lake. They were waiting for their fellow Gryffindors to finish their History of Magic exam, which was the last of the day. The Weasley twins and Lee Jordan were nearby, tickling the tentacles of the giant squid, which was sunning itself in the shallows.

Harry was stretched out with his head on Draco's lap as his bondmate idly ran his fingers through Harry's hair. Selina was basking on a rock nearby, soaking up the early summer sun and hissing softly in her pleasure. It seemed a perfect day.

A sudden surge of panic over the bond was followed several minutes later by Neville's shouts as he pelted across the lawn at full speed, book-bag banging against his hip as he went. Harry and Draco were all but ready to draw their wands and attack whatever it was that was threatening their bondmate. Harry scooped up Selina as Neville skidded to a halt nearby, nearly tripping over Su Li's legs.

"Nev?" Draco asked as he got up, Harry following after him. "What's going on?"

"No time," Neville panted. He grabbed Harry and Draco's hands and began pulling them away from the group.

"I'll watch your book-bags for you!" Hermione called after them. Harry managed to tug his hand out of Neville's grasp when they were halfway back to the castle.

"Neville, what the hell is going on?" he insisted, coming to a halt. Neville groaned and then turned to look at him.

"It's Weasley," Neville scowled. "He, Seamus, and Dean are planning on going through the gauntlet. They were on their way after our exam let out, probably thinking that they couldn't get thrown out now that the exams are done."

Harry groaned and then scrubbed his hands over his face. "Right. First things first, we need to find out where they are." He turned and then jogged back towards the lake, heading directly to where Fred and George were. Lee had wandered off, going to flirt with Katie Bell several hundred feet away. "Fred, George, I need to talk to you."

"What can we do-"

"-for you -"

"-little Badger?"

Harry patiently waited out the verbal ping-pong match between the two Gryffindors before answering. "I need the Map."

George gave him an innocent look. "Map? What Map?"

"The Marauders' Map," Harry said simply. He held up a hand to stop the barrage of questions. "Get it out and I'll tell you how I know about it."

Fred and George exchanged a glance before Fred shrugged and pulled the Map out of an inner pocket of his robes and held it out to Harry. Harry took it, bit his thumb until he drew blood, and then let a drop fall onto the center of the parchment, much to the twins' dismay. The blood soaked into the Map before disappearing entirely. Harry idly healed his minor wound before placing his wand against the Map.

"I solemnly swear I am up to no good," he intoned softly. Thin lines of ink spidered out across the parchment, forming into words that had Fred and George gasping.

Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, with help from the Lady Flora, welcome the blood heir of the latter three to the Marauder's Map. We hope that you will be furthering the undoubtedly glorious heritage left to you, and continue to shake things up at Hogwarts.

"I will," Harry murmured with a small smile. He tapped the Map once more. "Map Mode, please."

The words shimmered out of existence, only to be replaced by the familiar sprawling map of Hogwarts and its grounds. "Locate Ronald Weasley," Harry said before lifting his wand away. The Map shifted views until it focused on Ron's dot, which was moving around occasionally near the dungeons, next to Seamus and Dean's.

"Whoa. I didn't know it could do that," George said, eyes wide. Harry smiled a little.

"That's not all it does, but I'll show you later," he promised.

"Hold on, how do you know about all of this?" Fred asked. "I saw what the Map said, but I want to know more."

"My father was James Potter, also known as Prongs," Harry told him. "My dad, Sirius Black, was Padfoot. Lady Flora was my mum, Lily Potter. She helped them with some of the more complex pranks in their later years here, though she refused to have anything to do with any that would humiliate people. I can introduce you to Sirius if you want, but it's going to have to be over the summer."

"That would be wicked!" George and Fred replied with matching grins. Harry wiped the map and then handed it back to them, but Fred shook his head.

"We don't need it any more," he said. "We've memorized all the secret passages there. You keep it. It's yours, anyways. Out of curiosity, why did you need to find little Ronnikins anyways? I thought you hated him?"

"I dislike him strongly because of how he acts towards me and mine," Harry corrected, "but he's gone and gotten himself and his friends in trouble. Thanks, guys. I'll owl you as soon as I can to set up a meeting with Padfoot."

With that, he pocketed the Map and headed back to Draco and Neville, who were waiting nearby.

"Let's go," he said, making his way towards the castle. He ducked into an empty side chamber before drawing his wand. He took a deep breath, conjured up the memory of reuniting with Sirius after his dad had been released from Azkaban, and then flicked his wand. He paused when he saw what had coalesced from the white mist his wand had produced.

"I thought your Patronus was a stag," Draco said as he and Neville stared at the silvery coatl that was currently soaring around the room, looking for any danger.

"It was," Harry said softly as the coatl came to a stop in front of him, wings beating to keep it aloft. He sighed. "Now's not the time to worry about it. I can guess why it changed, though. After all, we did go through a major change in our lives. I'd be surprised if yours haven't changed as well." He focused on the Patronus, making sure to speak in English rather than Parseltongue. "Take this message to Severus Snape: 'The youngest red-maned Lion has decided to go through the gauntlet set up beyond the forbidden corridor. Bring any and all supplies with you that you think will help. Draco will aid you with bringing them along.' Go."

~/~

Severus looked up from the exam he was grading when he heard the rush of air through feathers. He stared at the ghost-like coatl floating in front of him, not quite sure what to make of it. The coatl opened its mouth and then repeated the message Harry had given it before fading into nothingness. Not long after, there was a quick series of raps on Severus' office door.

"Professor Snape?" Draco called through the thick wood. "May I come in?"

"Enter," Severus replied. Draco did so, not bothering to hide his worried expression, which surprised Severus, given how most of his Slytherins worked hard to keep up their blank masks no matter what.

"Did you get the message?" Draco asked. Severus nodded.

"I did. I take it that was referring to the youngest Weasley and his compatriots?" he asked as he abandoned his grading to collect the nearest emergency kit. He had several stashed around the office and his potions labs just in case. They held antidotes to the most common poisons and potions, as well as bezoars of various sizes.

"Yes, sir," Draco replied. "Harry and Neville are already on their way to stop them."

Severus groaned. "Merlin save me from noble Potters," he muttered as he slung the bag's strap over his shoulder. "Let's go."

He led the way, with Draco following closely behind him. Lady Hogwarts helped clear their path to the third floor corridor, making sure they weren't waylaid by anyone, student, teacher, or otherwise. Harry and Neville had already headed down the long drop under the open trapdoor. Fluffy was snoring away, the harp in the corner serenading him as he slept. Severus dropped down through the trapdoor first, catching Draco before he hit the burned remains of the Devil's Snare that littered the floor.

The two of them headed down the pathway to the key room, moving along at a fast clip. Severus blasted open the door across from them, not bothering to find the correct key. He led Draco around the narrow edge of the giant chessboard, entirely avoiding activating the enchantments on it. They paused when they came across the crumpled form of Seamus, with Dean sitting next to him, tears streaking his face. The young Irish Gryffindor was unconscious but stable, though with a good amount of blood coming from a shallow head wound near his hairline.

Severus checked him over and put a monitoring charm on him before moving on to the next room. He and Draco held their breaths as they hurried through the troll's chamber, with Severus making a note to see if he could harvest its ingredients later. He still had quite a lot of ingredients from the harvest of the previous troll, but it never hurt to have more in storage or to sell. That would have to be dealt with later, however.

When Severus and Draco reached the potions chamber (with Severus performing a Flame-Freezing Charm on the both of them to get through the flames blocking the entrance), they found Harry and Neville crouching next to Ron, who was laying on the floor, several bottles scattered around him. Severus waved Harry and Neville away before kneeling down next to Ron, retrieving a bezoar from the emergency kit and forcing it down Ron's throat. While Severus was busy making sure Ron didn't die from his own idiocy, Harry, Neville, and Draco turned to look at the black flames that blocked the way forward.

"Should we go through?" Neville asked quietly. Harry sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face.

"I'm going to have to go through," he replied just as softly. "No matter how much we change things, some things likely have to remain almost the same. I've got the Cloak, so it should be interesting to see how that affects things."

"You'd best keep under it while you're in there," Draco said firmly. "I don't want you dealing with him for any longer than you have to."

"I will." Harry hugged his two bondmates before casting a Flame-Freezing Charm on himself and the Cloak before wrapping the latter around himself and stepping through the black flames. Quirrell was standing in front of the Mirror of Erised, muttering to himself. Harry moved as quietly as he could, very glad that the Horcrux he'd borne had been purged from his body. He suspected that Voldemort's shade had sensed it in the previous timeline, but he didn't have any solid proof.

Harry watched Quirrell for a long while before sighing softly and ducking behind a pillar near the chamber's entrance. He quietly slipped the Cloak off, folded it up, and put it in his pocket before stepping out from the shelter of the pillar. It took a few seconds for Quirrell to realize Harry was there, but when he did, he quickly bound Harry in tight cords all around his body and then levitated him over to near the Mirror.

"Ah, Mister Potter-Black," Quirrell said as he leaned Harry's bound form against the nearest step. "I was wondering if I would see you here."

"Why?" Harry asked. "I haven't even been near the third-floor corridor the whole year. What sort of idiot would go somewhere that's been labeled as deadly?"

"A Gryffindor," Quirrell said dryly. "You surprised a lot of people when you Sorted into Hufflepuff, you know."

Harry did his best to shrug, even with the cords around him. "Maybe I just don't fit in Gryffindor. I'm happy where I'm at. Hufflepuff is pretty cool."

"If you say so," Quirrell said. He turned to look at the Mirror, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Now, be quiet. Let me examine this interesting mirror."

Harry rolled his eyes when Quirrell looked away. He'd forgotten how self-centered and dull Quirrell was. Of all the DADA teachers he'd had, Quirrell had been one of the most useless. Even Lockhart had been somewhat of a better teacher than Quirrell was, and most of his classes had involved simply reading from his fiction-filled books.

"I don't understand," Quirrell muttered. "How do I get the Stone? Is it inside the mirror? Should I break it?"

"If you do, you'll probably ruin any enchantments on it, or maybe seven years' bad luck," Harry said, figuring he might as well have some fun with the situation. "Then you won't get the... Stone? What Stone?" He pulled a confused look.

Quirrell ignored him, however, and was still talking to himself. "What does this mirror do? How does it work? Help me, Master!"

There was a moment of silence before Voldemort's high-pitched voice curled out from behind Quirrell's turban. "Use the boy... Use the boy..."

Quirrell turned, a manic smile on his face. "Yes, of course." He clapped his hands, making the cords fall away. "Come here, Potter-Black. Stand in front of the mirror and tell me what you see."

Harry got to his feet, casually brushing off his robes before approaching the Mirror. He wasn't sure what he'd see when he looked into it, however, so he was prepared to lie his head off. He took in a soft breath when he finally focused on the Mirror. There, surrounding him, was his family. Not just those who were living, but James and Lily as well, looking alive and well with their arms around Sirius in a dual side-embrace, wedding rings glinting on all three of their left hands.

Harry bit his bottom lip, heart clenching. His reflection smiled sadly at him before putting its hand in an inner pocket of its robes and pulling out the blood-red Stone. The reflection winked before putting the Stone back in its pocket, and as it did, Harry felt the real Stone drop into his own pocket. Harry breathed out and closed his eyes, blocking out the tempting image still showing in the Mirror before him.

"Well?" Quirrell said impatiently. "What do you see?"

"I... I see myself shaking hands with Dumbledore," Harry lied, quickly regaining his composure and forcing himself to open his eyes. "I- I've won the house cup for Hufflepuff."

Quirrell cursed softly before shoving Harry aside. "Get out of the way," he snapped. Harry quickly took advantage of Quirrell's distraction to duck under the Invisibility Cloak, hiding himself from view. He sneaked away, wandlessly performing a Silencing Charm on his feet and clothing so Quirrell couldn't hear him moving. Hopefully it meant that Voldemort wouldn't be able to detect him as well.

Harry settled into a corner, running his fingers over Selina's scales as he calmed both her and himself. He could feel both Neville and Draco nearby due to the bond, and that they were doing alright. He sent reassurance to them that he was fine as well, not taking his eyes off Quirrell all the while.

"Where did he go?" Voldemort asked after several long minutes. "Where did Potter-Black go?"

Quirrell whirled around, turban going askew as he turned. He absently readjusted his headwear as he looked around. With a mischievous grin, Harry drew his wand and quietly caused the turban to come undone, making it unravel as Quirrell hunted around the chamber. Harry stayed still and silent, knowing that while he could be detected via the Homenum Revelio spell, Quirrell didn't know of the Invisibility Cloak, so he doubted the elder wizard would use the spell. Or at least, so he hoped.

As Quirrell moved around the chamber, his turban fell away, revealing Voldemort's snake-like face on the back of his head. Harry wrinkled his nose. Fuck. Voldemort's shade was uglier than he'd remembered, especially while it was embedded in Quirrell's skull. Bored with having to watch Quirrell prowl ineffectually around the chamber, Harry flicked his wand, muttering "Petrificus Totalus!" under his breath. Quirrell's legs snapped together and his arms jammed themselves straight against his sides as he toppled to the ground, stiff as a board.

He landed awkwardly on his face, leaving Voldemort facing upwards. Harry took the Cloak off, folding it up methodically before stowing it in his pocket. He flicked his wand, levitating Quirrell so he was propped up against one of the pillars, Voldemort's face glaring out at him. Harry just grinned at him.

"Hiya," he said, giving Voldemort a bright grin. "It's funny what you can do with first year spells, huh?"

Voldemort just glared at him. "What do you want, Potter-Black?" he snarled.

"Me? Oh, nothing," Harry said, idly tapping his wand against his open palm. "I mean, you've been hanging out on the back of Quirrell's head for the whole year. Can't imagine it was too interesting, being stuck under that stuffy turban for so long."

"You wouldn't understand," Voldemort sneered. "Now, give me that Stone."

"Stone? What Stone?" Harry asked, putting on an innocent expression and ramping his Occulemency shields up to full. "I don't have any Stones. Sorry, snake-face."

Voldemort scowled at him, which was all he could do given the situation. Harry pressed the tip of his wand against his mouth, contemplating what he should do next. He half-suspected Dumbledore was watching the situation, likely from under a strong Disillusionment Charm or invisibility cloak of his own. The urge to cast the Homenum Revelio spell was strong, but if Dumbledore was watching, Harry knew he had to keep the spells he cast to the appropriate age level.

What to do, what to do...

Harry supposed he could just touch Voldemort's forehead and start the chain reaction that would send the shade fleeing, but he half-wanted to see if he couldn't trap the shade. Though to be fair, Death had promised that the shade would join the rest of the Horcruxes beyond the Veil. Harry returned his wand to its holster before reaching out and placing his hand against Voldemort's cheek. Almost immediately, the skin where Harry had touched started to flake away.

Harry stepped away with a soft sigh. §Goodbye, Tom Marvolo Riddle,§ he hissed softly. §May you find peace beyond the Veil.§

He drew the Invisibility Cloak over his body, lingering long enough to see Voldemort's shade stream off through the nearest wall before he cast another Flame-Freezing Charm on himself and went back through the black flames, leaving Quirrell to crumble to ash.

~/~

The remaining few days of the term went by quietly, though the announcement from Dumbledore that Professor Quirrell had decided to take an early retirement and wouldn't be returning the next year sparked a wave of rumors running through the student body as to what had happened. None of them came close to the truth, but Harry wasn't about to tell anyone save his bondmates what had really happened.

Draco had taken Harry to task about playing with Voldemort, giving him the cold shoulder for the whole of breakfast and lunch the next day. Neville hadn't been much better, but at least he had talked to Harry. Ron Weasley had been taken to St. Mungo's, as the medical wing hadn't been well equipped enough to handle the mixture of potions and poisons he'd ingested, even with the bezoar Snape had shoved down his throat. Word was that he would recover, but it was unlikely he'd be back before the end of the year.

Harry had asked Neville to hold onto the Sorcerer's Stone, keeping it in his wrist holster so it couldn't be taken away by anyone who might think to search their trunks or other personal belongings. None of the three boys would put it past Dumbledore to have the Hogwarts elves do his dirty work for him, though Lady Hogwarts had assured them that wouldn't be happening. Still, it never hurt to be extra safe, especially when dealing with Dumbledore.

Ravenclaw beat Gryffindor in the last Quidditch match of the year, absolutely steamrollering them on the pitch due to their superior team and playing skills. Slytherin won the house cup, with the end-of-year feast decorated in green and silver banners. Harry and Neville were quite happily celebrating with Draco and their other Slytherin friends when Dumbledore stood up to make his speech. He held up his hands and waited for the conversations to die away.

"Another year gone!" he said cheerfully. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffling before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully all your heads are a little fuller than they were... You have the whole summer to empty them before the next year starts.

"Now, as I understand it, the house cup here needs awarding, and then points stand as thus: In fourth place, Gryffindor, with three hundred and twelve points; in third, Hufflepuff, with three hundred and fifty-two, Ravenclaw has four hundred and twenty-six; and Slytherin, four hundred and seventy-two."

Harry and Neville joined in with the cheers and clapping coming from all around them. Dumbledore held up his hands again to quiet everyone again.

"Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin; well done, Slytherin," he said. "However, recent events must be taken into account."

Harry's stomach dropped at that. "He's not going to-" he began, turning to Neville and Draco as the room went silent.

"Oh, Merlin, I think he is," Draco breathed.

"Ahem. I have a few last-minute points to dish out," Dumbledore continued on. "Let me see... Yes... First... To Mister Ronald Weasley, for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in a great many years, I award Gryffindor House sixty points."

There was a surprised storm of applause and cheers from the Gryffindor table after that, with whispers going up and down the seats. When the applause and cheers died down, Dumbledore began speaking again.

"Second, to Dean Thomas, for showing bravery in the face of darkness and the unknown, I award Gryffindor House sixty points."

There were even greater cheers at that, with whispers around the hall breaking out when the realization that Gryffindor was now a hundred and twenty points up,

"And finally, to Seamus Finnegan, for pure nerve and unselfish sacrifice in the face of danger, I award Gryffindor House forty points. Which means," Dumbledore said over the storm of applause and cheers coming from the Gryffindor table, "a change of decoration is in order."

He clapped his hands, making the banners change to red and gold, the Gryffindor Lion rearing proudly on the banner behind the head table. Harry, Neville, and Draco were exchanging baffled looks.

"Seriously?" Neville spluttered. "How is that fair? Why is he awarding points for a chess game? That's not an accomplishment at all!"

"I would've thought you'd be happy, Longbottom," Pansy sneered from across the table. "Your House has won, after all."

Neville shook his head. "Not if it's unfairly like this," he retorted. "When has Dumbledore ever given out points like this before?" He looked around at the older students for an answer, but all he got was shaking heads and negative mutterings. "See? Why would I be happy about that?"

The general mood at the Slytherin table for the rest of the feast was rather downtrodden, and that mood continued on for the last few days of the term. Not even the warm sun and the promise of imminent freedom for the summer could break the gloomy mood in the Snakes' Den. The train ride back to London was a little better, though, with the younger students chatting away about what they would be doing for the summer and the newly graduated soaking in the last ride they would take on the Hogwarts Express.

Harry, Draco, and Neville were met at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters by their parents, with the three boys formally introducing Hermione to the adults. Hermione seemed slightly overwhelmed by the whole thing, but she promised to try and visit over the summer. They escorted her out to her parents in the Muggle side of the station, making sure she was off safe before heading off to find a safe place from which to Disapparate. Life seemed good for the moment, and the three boys could only hope that it continued on like that for as long as possible.

If only, if only...

Chapter Text

Remus Lupin was exhausted. Not just physically, though that was definitely part of it. The full moon was barely two days past and he was still recovering from it. No, he was also in low spirits as well. He'd holed up in a rundown cottage in a remote corner of Yorkshire, well away from anyone he might hurt during his monthly transformations. The slowly building summer's heat didn't help matters much, leaving him even further drained.

He had his hands curled around a lukewarm cup of tea, his forehead resting against the rough surface of the rickety table in front of him. He'd repairo'd as many of the few pieces of the furniture in the cottage as he could, but even a repairing spell could only do so much if the original states of the objects being repaired was poor to begin with. The bed was in just as bad shape as the table, with a dogeared tome shoved under one of the cockeyed legs to keep it mostly steady.

It wasn't the worst place Remus had lived in over the years, but it was one of the most lonely. Most of that was his doing, to be fair, as he rarely ventured out to either the Muggle or Wizarding worlds, but the fact that no one wanted to associate with a known werewolf out of fear of possibly contracting the affliction themselves. It wasn't like Remus was going to go mad and bite people left, right, and center, unlike Fenrir Greyback. He purposely removed himself from even the temptation of letting his inner wolf go free.

{It would be so easy, you know,} the soft, velvety voice that Remus had long associated with Moony whispered in the recesses of his mind. {All I want to do is find those who ruined our pack and make them pay. Surely you can't deny that. Just let me lead the way for a little while and then, once it's done, I'll never speak of it again.}

Remus snorted softly. Right. Like that would ever work. He'd seen what happened when the inner wolf was embraced; it never turned out well. That only led to those like Greyback running around. He wasn't about to let himself go down that dangerous route.

Remus' thoughts were broken by a series of bright raps at the door. His head snapped up, surprise getting the better of him. He was usually far better at being able to tell if someone was coming, but then again, he hadn't really been paying attention. He slowly got up, joints creaking, and then went to open the door. He stared in surprise when he saw who was on the other side.

“Ah, Remus, my boy,” Albus Dumbledore said, a warm smile on his face. “May I come in?”

Remus blinked and then stepped back to allow Albus in before closing the door. “Headmaster,” he replied, gesturing for Albus to take the lone chair. He took a seat on the edge of the bed, hands folded loosely in his lap. “How can I help you?”

{More importantly, } Moony grumbled in his corner of Remus' mind, { how did he find us?} Remus ignored the grumblings, focusing instead on the aged Headmaster.

“Actually, I was hoping you could help me,” Albus said, taking a seat on the rickety chair with all the gravitas and grace of a king settling on his throne.

Remus did his best to hide his surprise. “Oh? How can I do that?”

“How up to date are you with the news of our world?” Albus asked. Remus sighed.

“I haven't really stepped foot in Diagon or anywhere else in about five years,” he said. “The Prophet doesn't deliver out here, and this place isn't connected to the Floo except for the Werewolf Registration Board.”

Albus leaned back in his chair, expression inscrutable behind his beard. “I see. Well, I have quite a lot to tell you, and then perhaps you can see if you're willing to help me afterwards.”

“Go right ahead.”

Albus paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts, before speaking. “Several important events have occurred,” he said. “First, Sirius Black has been released from Azkaban.”

What?” Remus growled. Albus held up a calming hand.

“Peace. He was deemed innocent, though I personally believe the evidence given was rather weak,” he said. “Regardless of my personal thoughts, the Wizengamot voted to release him. He has claimed the Black Lordship and his seat on the Wizengamot.”

“How did he manage that? Azkaban drives men mad,” Remus said, confused.

“He received intensive Mind Healing,” Albus admitted. “Both his Family Magics and the magics of the Wizengamot have accepted him, and the latter don't recognize those deemed insane or mentally unstable.”

“Alright. And the other events?”

“Harry Potter has returned to the Wizarding World,” Albus told him. Remus drew in a sharp breath, his eyes flashing a momentary amber before he was able to wrest control back from Moony, who had surged forward at the very mention of the child he'd celebrated as their makeshift pack's sole cub.

Children were important to most werewolves (Greyback not withstanding) and often a 'wolf would informally adopt those born into their packs so they weren't left without adult guidance should something happen to the child's parents. Moony had been just as devastated to be separated from Harry after James and Lily's deaths as Remus had been.

“He has?” he breathed. “How is he? What is he like?”

Albus pursed his lips. “He grew up isolated from the Wizarding World,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “As such, I fear that his fame and money might have gone to his head. His naivete has also led him to be entered into a chromatic bond with young Draco Malfoy. I suspect he was tricked into that somehow, but I have yet to figure out a way to prove it.”

“And what does Sirius have to say about this?” Remus asked, astounded. “He's his godfather, after all. I assume he's taking care of Harry now.”

“That he is. Sirius seems to be quite willing in indulging Harry,” Albus said. “I fear that indulgence has compounded the more unfortunate sides of Harry's personality. He is an admitted Parselmouth and has bragged about it via an interview with the Quibbler. He also has a snake for a familiar.”

“Is he...” Remus began, but Albus shook his head.

“No, no. Much like his mother, he has a Gray-aligned magical affinity,” Albus reassured him. “That, I suppose, is something we can be thankful for. He is well versed in most of his studies, including Potions and Charms.”

Remus smiled at that. “Like Lily,” he murmured. “At least there's that.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I'm sorry, sir, but what does this have to do with me? What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to come back to the Wizarding World,” Albus said. “I would offer you the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, but alas, I have already filled it for this year. As it stands, I have to find someone to fill the position of Potions Master as Severus Snape has rather unexpectedly left Hogwarts for greener pastures.”

Remus' eyebrows rose at that. “Really? I would've expected him to stay there for as long as he could,” he said. The announcement of Severus' appointment as Hogwarts' Potions Master had been one of the last few bits of news Remus had seen before he went into his self-imposed exile.

“So did I, but he sent me his letter of resignation two days after the end of this last term,” Albus said. “I'm afraid I've been unable to get back in contact with him, even with Fawkes' aid. It's rather unfortunate. I have interviews with several candidates within the next few days.”

“I wish you the best of luck with that,” Remus said.

“Thank you. As to what you can do, for now, I would like you to simply keep an eye on Sirius and Harry for me,” Albus told him. “Unfortunately, they seem to be keeping their distance, which is highly disappointing. I had hoped to help them with their reintegration into our world. Perhaps you'll be able to do a better job than I can in that regard.”

“So... You want me to be your spy?” Remus asked suspiciously.

“Hardly, dear boy,” Albus replied. “I merely want you to resume the friendship you once had with Sirius. I worry that he will lead Harry towards the Dark, given the continued allowance of the young Malfoy's presence in Harry's life. If your presence will guide Sirius and Harry back towards the Light, then all the better.”

Remus ran a hand over his face thoughtfully. “I suppose I could do that,” he mused. “It would be good to see Sirius again. Out of curiosity, where did Harry Sort?”

“Why don't you ask him yourself?” Albus suggested as he rose to his feet, neatly avoiding the question. “I'm sure he'll love to tell you all about it. As it is, my time here is at an end. I must be off, I'm afraid; I have an interview within the half-hour for the Potions position. I do hope to see you in London soon.”

“We'll see,” Remus said, rising to his feet as well. “It's been wonderful to see you again, Headmaster.”

“Please, just call me Albus,” Albus said with an idle wave of his hand. “After all, it's been quite some time since I've been your Headmaster. You needn't stand on ceremony with me.” He paused just as he was about to open the door. “Oh, I nearly forgot. I would like to invite you to a gathering of like-minded people sometime soon. It's mostly old Order members, though there will hopefully be several newcomers as well.”

“Oh? Are you reinstating the Order, then?” Remus asked.

“Hardly. The Order was a war-time organization, and we are hardly at war at the moment,” Albus replied. “No, this is more of a socially minded group.” He pulled a small unicorn figurine carved out of crystal from his pocket and handed it to Remus. “This is a Portkey as well as a signaling device. It will warm up when the meeting is about to happen. Merely speak the activation phrase and it will take you there. I would keep it in your pocket just in case.”

“And what's the activation phrase?”

“Hm? Oh, of course.” Albus smiled as he pulled open the door, letting the summer sunshine stream in and temporarily blind Remus. “Fiat lux.

Albus Disapparated before Remus' vision had adjusted, leaving the door wide open. Remus blinked against the light before closing the door, the figurine clutched in his hand. If he was to return to civilization as he knew it, he'd have to get ready right away. He ignored the mutterings from Moony's corner of his mind, not wanting to dwell on the fact that his inner wolf was growling one word over and over again:

{Trickster!}

 

~/~

 

Draco ran through the dark halls, panting as he tried to escape his pursuers. He could hear high-pitched cackling and garbled shouts from behind him. His breath came in sharp bursts as he raced around a corner, searching for any way out. Ahead, a ceiling-to-floor length window offered salvation.

Draco sprinted for it, his left forearm burning sharply with the Dark Lord's displeasure. The only way out was death, and Draco was at the stage where that was a very attractive option indeed. He slammed through the window with one shoulder, the glass shattering around him. As he fell, he closed his eyes, ready for the end.

 

Draco woke with a start, chest heaving and tears streaming down his face. He scrubbed roughly at the tears, trying to force himself to stop crying. Fuck. He hadn't had a nightmare like that in ages. The bond helped with suppressing the bad dreams, and the comforting connection to Hogwarts had aided in it as well. He'd put one-way Silencing Charms on his curtains in his dorm just in case, making sure no sound could get out while still being able to hear sounds coming from outside. He'd done the same with his bed at Blackmoor Hall, placing the charms on his head- and foot-board since he didn't have any curtains.

He drew his legs to his chest, resting his forehead on his knees. Draco took several deep breaths, waiting until the tears dried out before he got out of bed. A quick Tempus later had him groaning. 4:30 AM. It wasn't even light outside yet. With a sigh, Draco got dressed, grabbing a lightweight cloak. He figured he might as well get some flying in before they left to get their school supplies.

The first month and a half of summer had passed easily enough, with surprisingly little fuss from Dumbledore. The announcement in the Daily Prophet of the appointment of a new Potions Master had appeared a few days before the supply lists had arrived. The appointee-- an Australian wizard by the name of Brody Daniels –was unknown to any of the family, adults and time travelers alike, and precious little public information was available on him. However, Dumbledore seemed to have stopped messing with the book list, as there were two new Potions books on the list, as well as an extra Herbology text.

Unfortunately, all of Lockhart's books were there as well, something none of the three boys were pleased about. They couldn't do much about it, and neither could the adults, given Lockhart's popularity. Of course, that didn't mean that Draco, Neville, and Harry were going to give Lockhart an easy time of it during his time at Hogwarts; plans to recruit the Weasley twins into the whole thing were in place, and perhaps a few others as well.

Neville had commented that he felt bad for those taking their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s that year, as they had to deal with Lockhart's gross misinformation on those tests. Hopefully they'd be alright given their previous teachers. The three boys planned on asking their study group to help the incoming first years find the correct information, wanting to help continue the inclusive trend they'd started. It might not be successful, but they could always try.

Draco grabbed his broom from the mudroom before going outside. It was the work of a few seconds before he was rising into the air, cloak tucked tightly around him. The sky was slowly lightening from its pre-dawn gray, streaks of color starting to appear near the horizon. Draco quietly watched the sunrise from about twenty feet up or so, hovering level with the tops of the trees so his view was unimpeded. The sky was emblazoned with pinks and golds when he heard Neville's voice calling up to him from the ground.

“Draco? Draco, come on down, will you?”

Draco stubbornly stayed where he was, doing his best to ignore Neville, who had spent the night (along with his parents) at Blackmoor Hall so they could all go to Diagon Alley together. It wasn't the most mature of moves, but he wasn't particularly wanting to be bothered at the moment, his stomach still knotted and heavy with the fear and guilt that he'd carried with him ever since he'd taken the Dark Mark in the former timeline. He'd been so desperate with the need to impress his father and, consequently, the Dark Lord, that he'd been willing to do anything if it meant he was looked upon in a favorable light.

Draco unconsciously rubbed his left forearm as his thoughts roiled and churned. He knew that he'd never have to take the Mark ever again, but the echoes of his experiences still rang loudly in his mind and heart. He wasn't sure he'd ever be entirely free of them, even with all the changes that had taken place and the support he had. It wasn't like he could ever tell a Mind Healer about his problems; they'd have him committed to a long-term mental care ward at Saint Mungo's if he told them that he was a former Death Eater who'd traveled back in time.

Soft swearing and mutterings broke Draco's train of thought. He broke his gaze away from the sky to see Neville slowly but surely rising up to his level on a broom of his own. Neville had a tight grip on his broom, his knuckles near-white. Draco's eyebrows rose at that. While not a bad flyer, Neville hardly cared for the activity, preferring to stay on the ground whenever possible.

“Neville,” Draco said with a soft sigh. “What are you doing?”

“Joining you,” Neville replied, carefully turning his broom so he was sitting alongside Draco. He glanced up at the sky, a quiet hum leaving him at the brilliant and colorful display above them. The two of them stayed there for a while, enjoying the last remnants of the sunrise. Only when the sun was seated fully above the horizon did Neville turn to look at Draco.

“So,” he said casually, “what was it this time? Harry thinks the dreams are about what happened with the plague, but I think it's more likely due to the war and what happened before and during it. Which is it?”

Draco closed his eyes. He should've known he couldn't get away with keeping his nightmares a secret from his bondmates. He hadn't been able to do so in the previous timeline, so why would he be able to now? He opened his eyes and then smiled bitterly, not looking at Neville.

“You were right,” he said, his words quiet. “It was about the Dark Mark.” He let out a shaky breath. “I know it's long past and will never happen again, but I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of these nightmares.”

Neville quietly reached out and took hold of Draco's hand, squeezing it gently. “Harry and I will be here to help you,” he promised. “If you ever need to talk to us, then do so. Sirius, your mum, and the others are more than likely willing to hear you out as well.”

“I know,” Draco said. “It's just...” He let out a sharp breath. “The habit of keeping all of this to myself is a strong one, and it's going to be hard to break it. I can't say that it'll happen overnight, but I'll do my best.”

“We're not expecting you to change overnight,” Neville assured him. “That's hardly reasonable.” He squeezed Draco's hand again. “Come on, let's go inside and eat before we head out. If we stay out here any longer, one of the others are likely to come look for us.”

“I suppose.” Draco smiled faintly at Neville. “Thanks.”

Neville returned the smile. “No problem,” he said before letting go of Draco's hand. He slowly descended, breathing out a sigh of relief when he touched down. Draco followed after him, landing lightly on the neatly manicured lawn. The two boys went inside, leaving their brooms, cloaks, and shoes in the mudroom before going to find the others.

Harry met them before they entered the dining room. He took one look at Draco before drawing him into a tight hug, holding the embrace for several long seconds and then pressing a kiss against his cheek. “You okay?” he asked as he let Draco go. Draco nodded.

“For now,” he replied truthfully. “Thank you. Let's go eat.” Draco headed into the dining room, giving a small nod of greeting to the adults already gathered there. He took a seat at the table, with Neville and Harry sitting on either side of him. The house elves served them breakfast, placing fresh fruit, oatmeal, and several other healthy dishes at Narcissa's request. Draco stayed quiet during the meal, eating his food methodically until his plate was clean.

By the time everyone was ready to go, Draco's mood had lightened enough that he was joking and chatting with Harry and Neville. Sirius, Narcissa, and Frank Side-Along Apparated the boys to the common Apparition point in Diagon Alley, with Alice following not long after. Augusta had declined to go along, wanting to give Alice and Frank the chance to take Neville themselves, as they had missed the opportunity to do so before his first year.

They decided to leave the bookstore for last, knowing that the crowds would be the greatest there given the book signing Lockhart was holding. Harry had put up the idea that they skip the signing entirely and just owl-order their books, but Neville and Draco had nixed that, saying that just because the man was a self-involved narcissistic fiction writer didn't mean that they were going to overtax owls just to get his books. Leaving him for last was the compromise they reached. Once they stepped out into the Alley, the group dispersed, with Sirius and Harry going to the Magical Menagerie, Narcissa and Draco heading to the apothecary, and Neville, Alice, and Frank going to Madam Malkin's, as Neville had hit a small growth spurt over the summer and needed new robes.

Harry led Sirius into the Magical Menagerie, intent on getting owl treats and to see if Crookshanks was there. He wanted to give the part-Kneazle to Hermione as an early birthday present, hoping that his theory that Crookshanks was Hermione's familiar was valid. The witch behind the counter gave Harry and Sirius a bright smile when she realized just who had walked into her store.

“Lord Black. Mr. Potter-Black,” she said, setting her magazine down. “How can I help you today?”

“Well, I need owl treats, to start out with,” Harry said as he looked around the shop. “Also, I heard you had a half-Kneazle here. Can I see it?”

The shopkeeper's smile faltered. “You... you want to see Crookshanks?” she said, sounding quite unsure. “Are you certain?”

“Very much so,” Harry assured her. “Is this Crookshanks here?”

“Yes,” the shopkeeper said hesitantly. “I'll just go get him, shall I?”

“Yes, please.” Harry picked up two packets of owl treats from the shelf they sat on and placed them on the counter so he could pay for them. The shopkeeper left to go fetch Crookshanks from the high shelf he was hiding on, grabbing a stepladder in order to do so. Harry and Sirius watched her first Stun Crookshanks and then quickly put him in a wicker carrier once she was on solid ground, closing the front door firmly before awakening Crookshanks.

Crookshanks hissed when he woke, a paw poking out of the gaps in the carrier's door in an attempt to get out. Sirius eyed the paw curiously. “Are you sure about this?” he asked Harry, who had pulled out his coin-purse to pay for everything.

“Yes,” Harry said firmly. “How much for Crookshanks?”

“Well, since you're the only one who's wanted him for years, three Galleons. I'll throw in the owl treats and some basic supplies for two more Galleons,” the shopkeeper said. Harry gladly payed the fee, placing the coins on the counter before picking up Crookshanks' carrier. Sirius grabbed the two bags- one holding the owl treats and the other the shrunken supplies for Crookshanks.

The two of them met up with Narcissa and Draco outside of the apothecary, with Draco laughing when he saw Crookshanks' carrier. “Really, Harry?” he asked, amused. Harry shrugged.

“Well, why not?” Harry retorted. “I'm not going to let him be there for another year. That'd be cruel. Besides, Hermione won't have a reason to go into the Menagerie next year after everything that happened last summer.”

“Alright, but I'm not going to be taking care of that thing if she can't take it,” Draco warned. “I--”

“Moony!” Sirius called out, interrupting Draco entirely. Draco and Harry turned to see Remus Lupin standing near one of the storefronts across the Alley, his gaze fixed firmly on Sirius. Sirius hurried over to him, a bright grin on his face. He drew Remus into a tight hug, though the boys noticed that Remus was rather stiff in Sirius' embrace. Sirius stepped back, hands coming up to rest on Remus' shoulders.

“What's wrong, Remus?” he asked with a furrowed brow. “Aren't you happy to see me?”

“Of course,” Remus replied. “I was just surprised, that's all. How're you doing, Sirius?”

“A lot better now that I'm out of Azkaban,” Sirius said with a wry smile. “You're looking... good.”

Remus snorted softly. “I look horrible,” he corrected. “You don't need to lie to me, Sirius.”

“What, no compliments allowed?” Sirius joked. “C'mon, Moony, don't be a sourpuss.” He brightened up. “Come here. There's someone you need to meet.”

He dragged Remus over to where the others were watching, dodging around other patrons of the Alley. Harry stayed where he was, taking hold of Draco's hand with his free one.

Are you alright? Draco asked over their bond as he watched the two men come towards them.

The last time I saw him, he'd died in the Battle of Hogwarts, so no, not quite, Harry replied, his grip tightening briefly when Sirius and Remus came to a halt in front of them.

“Harry, you'll never guess who this is,” Sirius said, his smile relaxed and happy.

“Well, you'd better introduce us, then,” Harry replied, pleased to see Sirius so happy. He focused on Remus, giving him a polite smile.

“Right, right,” Sirius said. “Harry, this is Remus Lupin. Remus is one of my oldest friends. He went to school with your father, mother, and me.”

“It's a pleasure to meet you,” Harry said politely, holding out his hand for Remus to shake.

Remus took Harry's hand, shaking it gently. “It's good to see you again,” he said, ignoring Moony's exuberant yips and whines at seeing Harry once more. He smiled slightly. “The last time I saw you, you were cuddling with a stuffed cat in your crib.”

Harry laughed. “Well, I certainly don't do that any more,” he said. “Sirius has told me a lot about you and your time at Hogwarts.”

“Don't worry, I only told him the good parts,” Sirius assured Remus. Remus shot him a look.

“Oh? And just what did you classify as the 'good' parts?” he asked.

“Why don't we get lunch together and I'll tell you,” Sirius said. “We just need to get Neville, Frank, and Alice from Madame Malkin's and we'll be good.”

“Wait, wait, what?” Remus said, brow furrowing. “Who?”

“The Longbottoms,” Narcissa said, speaking up. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Mister Lupin. I'm Narcissa Black.” She placed a hand on Draco's shoulder. “My son, Draco Black.”

“Nice to meet you,” Remus said distractedly. “What do you mean, the Longbottoms? They're in Saint Mungo's, aren't they?”

“Not any more,” Sirius replied. “They're a lot better now.”

“I can go get them,” Harry offered.

“Nah, we'll just swing by Madam Malkin's and pick them up,” Sirius said. “Thanks for the offer, though. C'mon, let's go.”

He led the way to Madam Malkin's, with Remus following along behind the group. Sirius poked his head into the shop, looking around for the Longbottoms. Alice was sitting with Frank while one of the shop workers was finishing up with Neville's measurements.

“Alice, Frank, look who we found,” Sirius said cheerfully, grabbing Remus' wrist and then pulling him forward. Alice looked up from the newspaper she was reading and then gave Remus a fond smile.

“Remus Lupin!” she said, getting to her feet. “It's wonderful to see you again.”

“Same here,” Remus replied. “You look fantastic.”

While the adults were catching up, Draco and Harry went over to see how Neville was doing. He was holding as still as he could so he didn't get pricked by a pin, arms held out a little to each side. Draco smirked in amusement at him, prompting Neville to poke his tongue out in retaliation.

“Very eloquent,” Draco drawled. “Very befitting of the heir to an Ancient and Noble House.”

“Shut up,” Neville retorted, though his voice was muffled as the seamstress carefully pulled his robes up over his head, revealing his jeans and t-shirt. Neville smoothed out his clothes and hair once he was dressed in the robes he'd worn to the shop, using a nearby mirror to help with the process.

“You look wonderful, darling,” the mirror told him cheerily before he stepped away. Draco snickered at that, earning himself a short glare from Neville.

“Okay, you two, play nice,” Harry said in amusement. “No fighting for right now. We're going to lunch after this, and I don't want to have to sit between you when you're grumpy.”

“We're not grumpy,” Neville replied, and then spotted the carrier in Harry's hand. “Is that--?”

“Crookshanks? Yes, it is,” Harry replied. “Sirius has the supplies in his pocket for him. I figure we'll probably see Hermione and her parents at Flourish and Blotts, so I'll give him to her then.”

“You might want to wait until after we're done with the bookstore,” Draco suggested as they rejoined the adults. “It's going to be a madhouse in there with Lockhart and all his groupies.”

“Hmm. In that case, I could wait outside with Crookshanks while you lot go in,” Harry mused.

Harry, you can't avoid him forever, you know, Draco said, letting his voice be heard by both of his bond-mates.

Draco's right, Neville added. Besides, the quicker you show you're not on his side, the better.

I suppose, Harry said with a sigh. Fine, but I'm giving Crookshanks to Frank, Nev. I don't think adding a cat to the mix would be helpful.

Probably not, Neville agreed. Best to ask Dad first.

Harry nodded and then, noticing that Remus was watching them, took hold of Neville's hand and led him over. “Neville, this is Remus Lupin, one of Sirius' oldest friends. Mr. Lupin, this is Neville Longbottom.”

“It's nice to meet you,” Remus said. “I knew your parents well when we were younger.”

“We c-can tell those st-stories at l-lunch,” Frank suggested. “Everything's p-paid for here, s-so we can g-go.”

“Wonderful,” Narcissa said. “Why don't we go outside and decide where we want to go from there?”

“Not the Leaky Cauldron,” Alice said firmly as they left the shop, her hand in Frank's free one. “There's too many people there today.”

“I suppose we could always head down Historic Alley,” Narcissa mused. “Though not to the Solarium. I've been there far too much recently.”

“Well, how about one of the cafes?” Sirius offered. “It's nice enough to sit outside, after all, and we can push two tables together.”

“P-Perfect,” Frank said. The eight of them found a cafe in Historic Alley that had enough space for all of them at two joined tables. Remus took a seat between Sirius and Frank, still quite astonished that the latter was there, as the last he'd heard, Frank and Alice had been condemned to the long term care ward in Saint Mungo's. It was amazing to see the two of them hale and healthy again.

The waiter brought them menus and waters, promising to return a few minutes later to check if they were ready to order. As the party was looking over the menu, Draco took the opportunity to talk privately with his bondmates.

Any word from Lord Flamel yet?

I got a letter from him this morning but I haven't read it yet, Harry said. I've got it with me.

Why haven't you read it yet? Neville asked. Don't you want to know what it says?

Harry drew the thick parchment envelope from a pocket from within his robes and opened it under the table so he didn't draw much attention to it. He scanned over the words written on the letter within, quickly having to bite his bottom lip to hold back his laughter.

What? Draco asked, poking him. What does it say?

Well, Lord Flamel is pissed off at Dumbledore, to put it lightly, Harry said as he continued to read. He's agreed to meet us at Gringotts later today to get the Stone from us. He checked his watch. The meeting's at three. We're to ask for Mireclaw. We've got about two hours. Good. That'll give us time to finish lunch and get our books.

Something to look forward to while we're dealing with Lockhart, Neville said. What else does he say?

Harry finished reading the letter, a thoughtful hum leaving him. He's offered us a boon, he said, brow furrowed.

What?! Are you serious? Draco asked, eyes wide with shock.

Yes. What does that mean, exactly?

It's a reward for our services, Neville replied softly. The last person to get a boon from the Flamels was Albus Dumbledore, who chose an apprenticeship with Nicolas as his reward. Dumbledore saved Lady Flamel from an attacker when the Flamels were visiting London in the early 1920s.

Harry sat back, running a hand over his face. What should we ask for, then? Do we have to have an answer right away?

No, but we're going to have to be careful with how we talk with him, Draco warned. The House of Flamel is Most Ancient and Most Noble. He outranks everyone except for... He paused, making Harry poke him when he stopped for too long.

Except for?

The Founders' Houses, and traditionally the Houses of Pendragon and Emrys, though those Houses have been lost to legend, Draco said. You and Neville hold the same rank as Flamel, even though you're just the Heirs currently. After all, you will be Lords Slytherin and Gryffindor when you come of age, and that carries a deep magical legacy.

True, Neville said. We can always ask the others for advice about what we should ask for the boon.

Well, if we don't have to answer right away, then let's leave it be for now, Harry said, tucking the letter away in his pocket after folding it up. Food first. I'm starving.

Sounds like Neville isn't the only one going through a growth spurt, Draco teased gently.

If I am, then all the better, Harry said. I certainly wouldn't mind a few extra inches of height this time around. He picked up his menu and looked it over, contemplating the choices available to him. Neville and Draco did the same, only setting the menus down when the waiter returned to take the group's orders.

Remus watched the others say what they wanted before placing his own, indulging for once and ordering something with plenty of meat, something he usually avoided because it was expensive. However, Sirius had insisted that he was going to pay for lunch and not to worry about what was ordered. Remus had reluctantly agreed, though as usual, he felt bad about not having the funds for such a simple thing as lunch.

Moony was over the moon to be back amongst the remnants of his pack and to be sharing a meal with them. He was even fine with having Narcissa and Draco there, easily adopting them into the ranks of his pack given their close ties to Harry and Sirius. This was the happiest the wolf had been in over a decade, and he wasn't shy about letting Remus know about it. Remus was ignoring him, as usual, which Moony was starting to get tired about.

Yes, being a werewolf was hard, but Remus was unusually resistant to embracing his inner wolf. Moony knew it would help with the monthly transformations, making them easier on both of them, but Remus stoutly refused to listen. Moony also knew it had to do with how Remus had been bit as a child and the general view the Wizarding World currently had about werewolves in general. It was frustrating, and Moony wished that Remus would just listen to him for once.

Remus ate his food slowly but steadily, listening to the chatter from the others at the table. He noticed that Harry had sat in between Draco and Neville so he was able to give each an equal amount of attention. Harry also occasionally added a comment here and there to the various conversations around him. Remus hardly paid attention to what was being said, more intent on his food than the talking; that is, until he heard something that made him look up sharply.

“No, Dad, we're not going to just prank Lockhart,” Harry was saying in response to Sirius' comment about what they were going to do about the lying idiot posing as a hero. “We're going to prank him and ruin his career. He doesn't deserve to be called a teacher.” He waved his fork in the general direction of Flourish and Blotts. “Hogwarts teachers have to have at least an 'Outstanding' in the N.E.W.T of the subject they're teaching. Most of them have a Mastery. Lockhart sat one N.E.W.T-- Charms –and got an 'Exceeds Expectations'. He's barely qualified to teach at a primary school, let alone Hogwarts.”

Harry paused and then made a thoughtful noise. “I wonder...” He turned to Narcissa. “Are there primary schools in Britain for magical children?”

Narcissa shook her head. “No, not really,” she replied, setting down her water glass. “Most just learn the basics from their parents. Why do you ask?”

“Because if magical children were taught control earlier, then there would be less cases of accidental magic, and therefore reduce the risk of exposure to the Muggle world,” Draco said, catching on to what Harry was thinking.

“Exactly,” Harry replied with a grin. “If there were primary schools that Mundane-borns could access, it would give them and their families more time to acclimate to the idea of having a witch or wizard in the family. That, and we'd be able to keep an eye out for any signs of abuse. People try to fight against and eradicate what they fear and don't understand. If the Wizarding World is able to detect accidental magic already, why not use that ability to forward a good cause?”

“Something to add to the Wyvern Foundation, perhaps,” Alice mused. “We would have to have several schools around the Isles, though if they were day schools, there could be Portkeys or Floo connections.”

“Portkeys would likely be the best,” Narcissa said.

“Hire Squibs and Mundane-borns who are interested in teaching,” Neville suggested. “That would be a good way to create more jobs for half of our population, not to mention provide a somewhat familiar environment for the newly identified magicals.”

“Sorry to interrupt, but what's going on?” Remus asked. “And why did Harry call Sirius his Dad?”

“Because he is?” Harry said, slightly confused. He looked at Sirius. “Didn't you tell him after I was born?”

“We were keeping the whole thing on the down-low,” Sirius admitted. “We just went with the 'godfather' idea because it was easier.” He jabbed his thumb at Frank. “Frank's actually your godfather.”

“M-more like 'f-father-in-l-law' now,” Frank joked with a grin.

“I like both,” Harry told him, returning the smile with a fond one of his own. Remus' frown deepened at that.

“Father-in-law?”

“Yes.” Sirius sighed. “Okay, so, James, Lily, and I were in a trichromatic bond. We didn't tell anyone because... well, the war. Harry, Draco, and Neville are in a trichromatic bond as well. I adopted Harry by blood and magic a few hours after he was born, which is why he's calling me Dad. He refers to James as his father.”

Remus sat back in his chair, astounded by the information he was being given, especially given what Dumbledore had already told him. “And the-- what was it, Wyvern Foundation?”

“A philanthropic organization meant to help better the Wizarding World,” Narcissa said. “At the moment, Alice, Frank, and I are handling the public side of the Foundation. There's a research branch as well, though that's firmly in the private sector. Severus Snape is head of that branch. We've all put funds into the coffers to get it going, but I suspect that once more word spreads about it, we'll get like-minded donators.”

“Severus Snape?” Remus stared at Sirius. “Really?”

Sirius held up a hand. “I know, I know, but it's a long story,” he said. “Not something to talk about in public. Look, why don't you come over to Blackmoor Hall once we're done with our shopping? We'll have plenty of time and privacy there.”

Remus pursed his lips at that and then nodded. “Fine, but you've got to promise to tell me everything.

“As much as we can,” Sirius promised. “Why don't we finish our food and then head to Flourish and Blotts?”

“If we have to,” Harry grumbled, poking at the remnants of his food. Once everyone was done and the meal paid for, the nine of them headed back to Diagon Alley. Draco was the first one to spot Hermione and her parents coming from Gringotts, tapping Neville and Harry on their shoulders to get their attention.

“Hermione! Doctors Granger!” Harry called out, waving his free hand to get their attention. Hermione beamed when she spotted them, quickly leading the way over. Harry handed Sirius Crookshanks' carrier so he could receive the hug Hermione was about to give him. Hermione also hugged Neville and Draco, before giving a neat curtsy to the adults.

“You don't need to curtsy, Hermione,” Narcissa told her, “but thank you anyways.” She smiled at Hermione's parents. “Hello. I'm Narcissa Black. It's a pleasure to finally meet you. We've heard quite a lot about your daughter from our boys. You must be very proud of her.”

Hermione went pink at the compliment, looking down at the ground with a small smile. “We are,” Mr. Granger replied, placing a hand on his daughter's shoulder. It was obvious to see where Hermione got her thick, messy hair when looking at the two of them together. “We've heard a lot about your boys from her as well. Is Madam Longbottom not with you?”

“No, she decided to stay home,” Alice replied. “She wanted to let Frank and me take Neville to get his shopping done since we weren't able to do it last year.”

“You've already got everything?” Hermione asked.

“Everything except our books,” Draco replied. “Someone isn't too happy about it.” He looked pointedly at Harry.

“Lockhart is a grandstanding narcissistic fiction writer who's somehow managed to get the role as Defense teacher,” Harry grumbled. “I don't know why Dumbledore hired him, to be honest.”

“Surely he's not that bad,” Hermione said. Harry just rolled his eyes.

“Just wait until you see him,” he said. Sirius cleared his throat before gently nudging Harry, who perked up. “Oh, right!” Harry took the carrier from Sirius and then held it out to Hermione.

“What's this?”

“An early birthday present,” Harry said. “It's not everyday you turn thirteen, and I figured it'd be better to give you this before we went to Hogwarts. If we hadn't bumped into you today, I would've sent it along with a house elf.”

Hermione peered into the carrier, her eyes widening. “A... cat?”

“Well, half-Kneazle, but yes,” Harry said. “Go on, take him out. He won't hurt you.”

Hermione bit her bottom lip before opening the carrier. The second Hermione lifted Crookshanks out of the carrier, a golden glow surrounded her hands and the half-Kneazle, making Hermione gasp.

Hah. You two owe me a Galleon apiece, Harry said to Neville and Draco with a small smirk. I bet no one noticed last time because of all the drama with Scabbers.

That, or she just figured it was normal for that to happen, Draco countered. “Congratulations, Hermione!”

“Thank you,” Hermione breathed, holding Crookshanks close to her chest. Crookshanks was purring madly, rubbing his cheek against Hermione's shoulder. “I can...” Her eyes were wide. “I can hear him talking in my head. Is that normal?”

“If you don't have a gift like Harry's, yes,” Sirius said. He caught sight of the confused and slightly worried looks on Hermione's parents' faces and hurried to explain. “She's alright, I promise. As for Harry's gift, he can talk to snakes, and his familiar is one, so the mental bond isn't needed. In Hermione's case, she can't speak to cats-- or at least, I don't think she can.”

“Not that we know of,” Hermione's mother said. She absently held out her hand. “I'm Miranda Granger, by the way. This is my husband, Warren.”

“Sirius Black,” Sirius replied, shaking her hand. “It's a pleasure to finally meet you face to face. These are Neville's parents, Alice and Frank. Finally, my best friend, Remus Lupin.”

He gestured at each in turn as he introduced them, with Alice and Frank giving small waves and Remus nodding. “Do you want to come along and get Hermione's books with us? We'll keep the cat--”

“Crookshanks,” Hermione provided helpfully.

“--right, Crookshanks –outside with us. We don't all have to go in; it's going to be a madhouse in there with the signing,” Sirius continued on. “Why don't you stay outside with Remus, Frank, and Alice, and Narcissa and I can take the kids to get what they need?”

“I'm n-not the b-best with cl-close crowds,” Frank said, wiggling his cane with a crooked grin. “We'll t-take care of y-you.”

“Thank you,” Warren said, sounding grateful. “That'll be wonderful.”

“No problem. C'mon, kids, let's get going.” Sirius led the four children towards Flourish and Blotts once Hermione secured Crookshanks in his carrier.once more, Narcissa bringing up the rear. The inside of the shop was as crowded and insane as Harry, Neville, and Draco remembered. The instantly recognizable red hair of the Weasleys stood out amongst the jostling crowd, as did Molly's strident voice when she complained about being pushed and shoved.

Fred and George were standing near the edges of the crowd, trying to keep away from the large group of middle-aged women. Harry grinned when he saw them. Well, at least that would be a promise he'd be able to keep. “Fred, George!”

Fred turned at the sound of Harry's voice, a grin forming on his face. “Harrykins!” he said, pulling George away from the crowd and towards Harry. “We've been waiting for your owl. Having a busy summer?”

“Something like that,” Harry said. “Fred, George, this is my dad, Lord Sirius Black, also known as Padfoot. Sirius, Fred and George Weasley, the current heirs to your pranking legacy at Hogwarts.”

“Oh?” Sirius gave the two of them an intrigued look. “Good to meet you.”

“It's amazing to meet you,” George told him sincerely. “It's... We never thought we'd get to ever even see any of the Marauders, let alone meet one.”

“There's another one outside if you want to meet him,” Sirius told them.

“Are you serious?” Fred asked, eyes wide.

“Always,” Sirius said with a grin. Harry groaned.

“Stop that right now,” he said, poking his dad in the side. “You know better.”

“I hadn't used my name-related pun up for the day yet,” Sirius retorted. “Now I have.”

“You have a limit on that?” Hermione asked, giggling.

“Of course we do. Otherwise, he'd be making them every time someone even mentioned the word 'serious' or 'black',” Draco said with a roll of his eyes. “He's horrible about it.”

“He really is,” Neville confirmed. “I-- Hey, be careful!” He stumbled back when the photographer for the Daily Prophet pushed him aside to get a better angle of Lockhart, who was smiling away at the crowd in front of him.

“Out of the way there,” the photographer snarled at Neville. “This is for the Daily Prophet.

“So what? That doesn't mean you should be rude,” Neville snapped back.

Lockhart looked up at that, curious to see what was going on. His eyes widened when he saw Harry, who groaned. “It can't be Harry Potter?!” Lockhart yelled out. The crowd parted as Lockhart dove forward and grabbed at Harry, pulling him close so the photographer could take pictures of the two of them. Harry stamped hard on Lockhart's foot, making him yelp and let him go. Harry moved away as Sirius stepped forward, wand trained on Lockhart.

“Mister Lockhart, explain to me what gives you the right to manhandle my son?” Sirius growled, eyes narrowed. Lockhart gave him a winning smile, or at least, attempted to do so given the wand in his face.

“Mister Black--”

Lord Black,” Sirius corrected. “I'm waiting.”

“I just wanted to get a picture with him,” Lockhart said, eyes fixed on the faintly glowing tip of Sirius' wand. The photographer, sensing a far more interesting story than the one he'd be sent to cover, began snapping as many pictures as he could-- or at least, until Narcissa subtly prodded him in the small of his back with her wand.

“I would suggest that you stop taking pictures immediately,” she said quietly. “For your own health and continued ability to work, of course.” The photographer made a choked noise of agreement before lowering his camera.

“If you wanted a picture,” Sirius told Lockhart, “then you should've asked, not grabbed him like that. Step away and go back to your books.”

“Right. Of course....” Lockhart quickly recovered his composure once he saw that Sirius had lowered his wand, his megawatt smile flashing out again. “I have a little announcement I've been waiting to make. It is with great pleasure that I will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts this September at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!”

There was a burst of applause and cheers from the gathered witches and wizards, save for Harry's group and the Weasley twins. Once the clapping died down, Narcissa cleared her throat. “Pardon me for asking, but what are your academic qualifications? Do you have a Mastery or, at the very least, an 'Outstanding' N.E.W.T in Defense Against the Dark Arts?”

“Of course I do,” Lockhart said, though his smile went a little strained.

“Oh? So if we went to the Hall of Public Records at the Ministry, we'd be able to see that? Interesting; I've never seen you promote your academic records in any of your works,” Narcissa said, arching an eyebrow.

“Just trying to be modest, ma'am,” Lockhart said as he took his seat behind the table filled with books. “Now, who wants an autograph?”

The crowd surged forward, all clamoring to get their books signed. With everyone distracted, Harry and the others collected what books they would need and took them to the front counter to pay for them, with Fred and George letting their parents deal with the crowd and joining the small group outside. Once there, the twins focused on Sirius.

“So, who's the other Marauder?” Fred asked. Sirius grinned and then gestured at Remus with a grand flourish.

“Meet Moony, gentlemen, also known as Remus Lupin,” he said. Remus sighed.

“Sirius, please don't tell me you've been telling stories.”

“Aw, c'mon, Moony, why are you being such a grump today?” Sirius asked. “It's fine. I'm sure the boys here haven't been as big of idiots as we were.”

“They aren't,” Harry assured them.

“Wonderful. How did you find out about the Marauders?” Remus asked.

“We found the Map our first year,” George said. “Took us a while to figure it out, but it's been fantastic.”

“Definitely,” Fred agreed. “ 'Course, Harry's got it now, but that's fine. We've got it memorized anyways. We want to open up our own joke shop one day.”

“There's more to pranking than just map-making, you know,” Sirius said. “If you're set on the joke shop thing, I'd be happy to help fund it. However, I have a better offer for you. Harry tells me you make up a lot of the stuff you use in your pranks-- potions, charms, and so on.”

“Yeah, we do. So?”

“So,” Sirius said in response to George's question, “pretty soon a new company will be opening up-- Mauraders, Inc. If all goes well, it'll be a direct competitor to Gambol and Japes' and Zonko's. How would you two like jobs in our Research and Development department after you're done with Hogwarts?” He held up a hand to stave off the excited comments coming from Fred and George. “There's a caveat, though. You're in fourth year, right?”

“Yes. Why?” Fred asked.

“What elective classes are you taking right now?”

“Well, I'm taking Ancient Runes, George is taking Arithmancy, and we're both taking Care of Magical Creatures,” Fred said, which surprised Harry. He hadn't known that, but he supposed it made sense, given how complex some of the twins' pranks were.

“Good,” Sirius said. “Keep it up. If you two get at least Exceeds Expectations in Transfiguration, Potions, Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and your electives for both your O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s, then those jobs are yours. Think you can manage that? The offer's only good if you get those grades.”

“We can definitely--”

“--do that,” Fred and George said, speaking in turn. Sirius smiled.

“Good.” He held out his hand to Fred and George, who eagerly shook it one after the other. “I'll send out official legal contracts before school starts, but I'll want to talk to your parents first.”

“Sure thing. Mum'll have Kneazles when she hears about this,” George said. “She's always gone on about how we'd never make money doing this.”

“Well, I'm glad to be able to help,” Sirius said, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Speaking of your parents...” He nodded towards the door of Flourish and Blotts, where the rest of the Weasley family was emerging from the bookstore. Fred waved at his parents with a grin, all but bouncing on the spot in his excitement. Harry saw that Ron had been released from Saint Mungo's, though he looked pale and drawn. He was walking slowly by his mother's side, all but shuffling along.

“He's getting better,” George murmured when he saw where Harry's gaze was. “Mum's talking about home-schooling him for this year; all those potions did a number on him.”

“Really?” Harry asked just as quietly. “I'm sorry. No one deserves what happened to him.”

“It was mostly his fault,” George said with a sigh. “He's the one who decided to go through that gauntlet of tests, even after Dumbledore warned us away from the corridor, not to mention that he should've known better not to drink any unlabeled potions.”

“If there's anything we can do...” Harry said, but George shook his head.

“Mum and Dad would never accept it, but thanks,” George replied with a lopsided smile. Fred nodded.

“Yeah, thanks,” he said quietly as the rest of the Weasleys reached them. Arthur stepped forward, giving Sirius a small nod.

“Lord Black. Thank you for watching over Fred and George for us,” he said. “It's crazy in there.”

“That it is,” Sirius agreed. “We were just talking about something that might interest you. Do you have time to talk some time soon over the next few days?”

“We're open tomorrow,” Arthur said after glancing at Molly, who nodded. “Why don't you come over around one in the afternoon?”

“That'll work,” Sirius said. Harry checked his watch before tapping Sirius on the shoulder.

“Sirius, we've got to go,” he said. “We've got an appointment at Gringotts in five minutes.”

“Hmm? Oh.” Sirius gave the Weasleys a nod. “I'll Floo-call you tomorrow before I come over.”

“We'll see you then,” Molly said, looking intrigued. Harry glanced over to see Ginny watching him avidly, though she looked away with a deep blush and a soft squeak when she saw him notice her. Apparently her crush hadn't gone away yet, even with the news of his bond. Wonderful.

Sirius didn't speak until the Weasleys and Grangers had left, with Hermione giving each of the three boys a hug before saying her goodbyes. “So... What appointment do we have at Gringotts?” he asked as he and the others headed down the Alley.

“We'll tell you when we get there,” Harry promised. “It's not something I'd want to talk about in the street.”

He didn't speak again until they reached the bank. A short conversation with the nearest open teller and a discreet showing of the letter found them being shown into a private meeting room. The Flamels were already waiting there. They looked to be in their late forties. Both were dressed in elegantly tailored clothes, though they weren't ostentatious. Perenelle had her dark auburn hair swept up in a neat chignon, while Nicolas' hair was kept short and tidy.

“Lord Flamel. Lady Flamel,” Harry said, bowing deeply. The others followed suit, with various noises of surprise from the adults. “It's an honor to meet you.”

“Just as it's an honor to meet those who've kept our life's work safe from harm,” Nicolas replied, his voice a soft bass rumble. “I must admit, we weren't expecting to get a letter like that. For all we knew, the Stone was still safe in the vault it had been stored in for centuries.”

“Unfortunately not, sir,” Harry said with a terse smile. “May we sit?”

“By all means,” Perenelle replied, gesturing to the open seats with a delicate hand. Once everyone had sat down and had been introduced, Draco produced the Stone from his wrist holster and set it on the table in front of him.

“Your Stone, sir,” he said. “I'd suggest putting it under a Fidelius if possible. It would serve as a far better hiding method than a simple vault.”

“I'd also suggest revoking any access Albus Dumbledore has to any of your vaults here at Gringotts or abroad,” Harry added on. “As far as we can tell, he set this whole thing up as both a trap and a test; the trap for the spirit of Lord Voldemort, and a test for me.”

“For you?” Perenelle echoed as Nicolas retrieved the Stone and began examining it. “Why?”

Harry smiled bitterly. “Because I didn't die when I was supposed to, my lady. Because of a stupid prophecy that, hopefully, has been fulfilled by now.”

“A prophecy? James never mentioned a prophecy,” Remus said. Alice and Frank exchanged looks before Alice spoke up.

“Dumbledore insisted that we didn't tell anyone,” she said. “It could've applied to either Harry or Neville, so we were told as well. We should check the Hall of Prophecies to see if it's truly been fulfilled.”

“It'll be one of our errands before school starts again,” Sirius assured her.

“Good. Bring Draco and Neville along with you. I'd like to see if there are any other prophecies that might be in play,” Narcissa said. “Just in case.”

“Agreed.”

Once Nicolas was finished with his examination of the Stone, he put it in his own wrist holster and then folded his hands on the table in front of him. “Have you decided what you would like your boon to be, gentlemen?”

“No, sir,” Draco replied. “Such an honor is a wonderful gift, but also a dangerous one. We'll need more time to consider our request. Is that alright?”

“More than,” Perenelle said with a pleased smile. “Most would just immediately ask for money or something like that. After all, the Stone can make gold with barely a thought. The only request we wouldn't grant would be for the Elixir of Life.”

“Trust me when we say we don't want it,” Harry said. “We're only twelve. We don't have any need or want to live extended lives.” He paused. “We wouldn't say no to more friends, however, outside of the constraints of the boon. To us, true friends and allies are more precious than gold or the Elixir.”

Nicolas laughed at that. “You've taught them well,” he said to the other adults. “Good work.”

“Thank you,” Narcissa replied. “They've applied what we've taught them very well.”

A half-truth, perhaps, but one that the Flamels would have to believe. The rest of the meeting went just as well, with Nicolas promising to add their names to the owl mail ward around Flamel Keep so they wouldn't have to use Gringotts as an intermediary, which was how the three boys had gotten in touch with the Flamels in the first place.

Once the meeting was over, Alice and Frank left with Neville to go pick up his robes from Madam Malkins', while the others returned to Blackmoor Hall. Sirius went first to add Remus to the guest list on the wards, coming back to let him in on the secret of the Hall's location. Narcissa took Harry and Draco home while all this was going on, bringing their shopping with them.

Remus had never been in Blackmoor Hall before, and found it surprisingly less dark and gloomy than he'd expected. It was possible that that it was Narcissa's influence, but then again, Sirius had never liked the dark environs of Grimmauld Place, that much Remus knew, and his time in Azkaban likely contributed to the desire to have open, well-lit spaces to live in. Sirius had immediately offered Remus a room at the Hall if he wanted it, saying that he was more than welcome to stay whenever and for how long he wanted, no matter what time of the month it was.

Moony had been all for accepting the offer, though Remus wasn't entirely sure about it. Even with the offer of a heavily reinforced and warded room to be in during full moons, Remus didn't want to be a burden on his friends.

{Oh, come on,} Moony grumbled, {stop being such an idiot. They are pack and they care for us. Don't throw that away, not again.}

Remus huffed softly. Fine. Whatever. He'd see how things would go. “Alright,” he told Sirius, “I'll stay. I'll have to get my belongings, though.”

“Sure, no problem,” Sirius said. He cocked his head, gaze going a little distant. “Huh. Do you have anything with Dumbledore's magical signature on you? The wards are pinging like crazy.”

Remus gave him a confused look. “Why would they be set to detect that?”

“Because I don't trust Dumbledore further than I can Banish him,” Sirius said firmly. “Come with me; I'll tell you more in a bit.”

Remus followed Sirius through the halls until they reached the Lord's Study. A copy of the Black Family Tapestry hung on one of the walls; two others had bookshelves, while the final was comprised of windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, heavy blue curtains held back by golden braided ropes on either side of them. A dark oak desk was set in the center of the study, a Muggle-style desk chair set behind it. Two comfortable armchairs were set kitty-corner in front of the desk, allowing Sirius to have two guests if he liked.

Sirius dropped into the desk chair with a sigh before gesturing for Remus to take a seat as well. “So, do you have anything of Dumbledore's on you?” he asked. Remus paused before withdrawing the unicorn figurine from his pocket and set it on the desk in front of him. He'd kept it on him just in case, not wanting to miss the summons from his former Headmaster.

Sirius cast several diagnostic charms on the figurine, his expression darkening as he worked. “A Portkey,” he said. “It won't work here; I've got anti-Portkey wards here that won't let any Portkeys through that I haven't made myself or by a very limited amount of people.”

“Oh. Well, I'm not sure where it goes,” Remus admitted. “All I know is that it'll warm up when it's time to be used.”

“Hmph. And why did he give it to you?” Sirius asked, nudging the figurine with the tip of his wand.

“I don't know, to be honest,” Remus said. “He came by the, uh, cottage I've been staying in.” He frowned. “I'm not sure how he found me, to be honest. I never told anyone where I was. The Werewolf Registration Board only requires that I personally go in every three months and Floo-call after each full moon.”

“He probably used Fawkes to find you,” Sirius guessed. “We've got anti-phoenix wards here, so he can't get in, and he's on the ban-list for the Apparition, Floo, and Portkey wards.”

“Merlin. What did he do to you to make you hate him so much?” Remus asked. Before Sirius could answer, however, there was a knock on the door. Sirius glanced at a small mirror held up by a figurine of a griffin before smiling fondly.

“Come in, Harry!” he called out. The door opened, revealing Harry. He was barefoot and had Selina draped loosely around his neck.

“Hey, Dad. Everything okay?” he asked.

“Mmhm. We were just having a lovely discussion about Dumbledore,” Sirius replied. Harry scowled at the mention of the name as he took a seat in the free armchair. Selina slithered down to rest on Harry's lap, nudging his fingers until he began to stroke her.

“Wonderful. What's he up to now?”

“Not sure,” Sirius said. “He gave Remus a Portkey but didn't tell him what it was for.”

“That's not ominous at all,” Harry said dryly. “Have you told him yet?”

Sirius shook his head. “No.”

Harry focused on Remus. “How're your Occlumency skills?”

“I don't need them,” Remus said. “I'm a werewolf. The wolf guards my mind from intrusion. I can't be Imperiused, either.”

“Wonderful. One less thing to worry about,” Harry said. “I've got a story to tell you, but you've got to promise not to talk until I'm done.”

“Alright, I'm game,” Remus said. “Go ahead.”

Harry launched into the now-familiar story, doing his best to keep his amusement at Remus' reactions to the tale hidden. The amusement faded when he reached the part of the story about Remus' last days.

“You...” He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before continuing. “You fell in battle during the last fight at Hogwarts. It was... Hard. Professor Flitwick avenged your death.” He closed his eyes, the strong echoes of grief getting the better of him. It took a few moments before he opened his eyes again and went on. “In that timeline, you'd married and had a son. He was only a few months old when you died. Your wife died in the same battle. The fact that the both of you were fighting was beyond stupid given how young your son was. I'm not going to tell you who your wife was because I don't want you to think that just because it happened in the prior timeline means it has to happen in this one. We've done a hell of a lot to make sure that those battles, and consequently, those deaths, never happen again.”

“That's... That's a lot to take in,” Remus said. “I almost want to say you're lying, but...” He let out a soft breath of air. “You're not. Every word you spoke rings of truth. It's more than a little eerie.”

“Try living through it,” Harry said with a wry and bitter twist to his mouth. “At least this time around I'm not being led by the nose like a calf to the slaughter.”

“Which brings us neatly back to why we don't trust Dumbledore,” Sirius said. He'd been sipping on a tumbler of firewhiskey as he listened, but was now just idly swirling the amber-colored liquid around in his glass, watching the faint trail of smoke spiral from the surface of the drink as he did so. “He plays puppet-master with far too many lives simply to fit his idea of the so-called 'Greater Good'.”

“He did a lot for me,” Remus protested.

“Did he?” Harry said softly. “Yes, he got you into Hogwarts, but then what? After you graduated, did he fight for you? For other werewolves to be allowed into Hogwarts? For them to stop being discriminated against for something they can't control? Not at all. If he was so good, then why did he drop you like a hot cauldron the second you couldn't legally be under his control? Sure, he invited you into the Order, but what did he have you do for them that someone else could've done?”

“He's a great man!” Remus said. Harry just snorted.

“Maybe, but he's only that-- a man.” He smirked and then chose his next words carefully. “A man who used you as little more than a pretty prize lapdog to show that a wolf can be tamed if given enough treats and pats on the head, and sees little problem in continuing to do the same now, even after the war's been over for eleven years.”

“I am not Dumbledore's lapdog!” Remus growled, his temper getting the better of him. His eyes flared amber and his voice went rough as Moony forced his way to the fore, wresting control from Remus. Not enough to shift into wolf form-- after all, it was the new moon –but enough that it was obvious Remus wasn't in the wheelhouse any more.

Sirius went to draw his wand, but Harry held up a hand, a satisfied smile on his face. “Ah. I was wondering if I'd ever get to meet you properly. Do you mind if I call you Moony, or is there another name you'd prefer?”

Moony cocked his head, curiosity overruling his anger for the moment. “You... wanted to meet me?” he asked. “Why?”

“For many reasons, but I never really got to in the prior timeline. The Remus I knew was always fearful about his wolf side. Then again, given the appalling attitude in much of the Wizarding World towards lycanthropes, he likely had reason.” Harry crossed his legs at the knee, interest brightening his eyes. “Did you know that there are tribes of indigenous peoples in both North and South America that see those with the moon-wrought changes as blessed? They work to blend entirely with their more animalistic sides so that there's complete harmony between the two. In the former timeline, back when magic was still prevalent, Draco, Neville, and I went to Peru on vacation. This was right after we graduated Hogwarts, and we wanted to get as far away from the remnants of the war as we could.”

Harry smiled wistfully, remembering the healing, both spiritual and physical, that had taken place then. “We saw were-jaguars walking the streets of the Magical Quarter of Lima during the full moon, some in their animal forms and others merely with cat-eyes of gold. They were mingling with the wizards and witches there like nothing was wrong-- and it wasn't. You see, the difference between here and there is that those afflicted with what is considered a curse here often reject and fight against their instincts. That, or they allow those instincts to fully take over, which is what I suspect happened with Fenrir Greyback. He's... twisted. Corrupt.”

He leaned back in his chair, giving Moony a contemplative look. “You, however, are not. Werewolves are considered Dark creatures, true, but I know for a fact that before Greyback had his little egotistical snit and bit Remus, Remus had a Light-based affinity. If he tested now, I have little doubt it'd be Gray. Perhaps a darker shade of Gray, but Gray nonetheless. Dumbledore, on the other hand, pretends he's Light but is so deeply entrenched in the Gray that he's almost in the Dark.” His mouth twisted in annoyance. “Of course, classifying someone by their magical affinity alone is problematic and faulty at the least. Look at Sirius. He's got an affinity for Dark magic but he's one of the best people I know, bad jokes and poor taste in pranks as a kid aside.”

“Hey!”

“Oh, hush. You know it's true,” Harry said with an unmistakably fond tone to his voice. Moony stared at Harry and then let out a rough growl of a laugh.

“I like you,” he said with a sharp-toothed grin. “I don't know if Remus will ever want to merge with me like that, but I can only hope.”

“Go to Peru,” Harry suggested. “Talk to the weres there. I'm sure they'd be happy to help. If nothing else, you'll be able to see how others outside of Europe deal with the issue.”

“We'll think about it,” Moony promised. He paused. “Remus is getting... impatient. I would like to speak to you again soon, though.”

Harry nodded. “I'll do my best not to insult you next time.”

Moony laughed again. “You play with fire, little cub, but I'll see that you don't get burned.” He closed his eyes and settled back in the chair. When his eyes opened next, Remus was back in control and staring at Harry incredulously.

“You're insane,” he breathed. Harry just shrugged.

“So I've heard,” he said nonchalantly. “It doesn't really bother me any more.”

Harry checked his watch and then sighed before getting up, transferring Selina to his neck as he did so. “It's been awesome talking with you two, but I've got to go. Draco wanted to see if the house elves would be willing to throw together a picnic for dinner. You two and Cissa are welcome to join if you want. It'd be a crime to waste this nice weather.”

With that, he walked out of the study, leaving two rather bemused elder wizards in his wake. Remus shook his head before turning to Sirius.

“Do you ever get the feeling that he's just humoring you?”

Sirius dragged a hand over his face before leaning back in his chair. “Sometimes, and then sometimes he scares the shit out of me. He's twelve going on twenty-two, and it's a hell of a combination.”

He downed the rest of his drink, coughing a little at the burn. “You know, I think a picnic sounds wonderful,” Sirius said as he rose to his feet. “Want to join in on the fun?”

Remus considered the offer and then nodded. A picnic did sound rather fun. As for Harry's other suggestion...

~So...~ he thought awkwardly in Moony's general direction. ~ Peru?~

Moony growled in satisfaction and gave Remus the mental equivalent of a slow tail wag.

{Peru.}

Chapter Text

 The morning of September First, the Potter-Black-Longbottom clan arrived at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at ten o'clock sharp, wanting to avoid most of the crowds. Remus was absent, as he was currently in Peru. Severus was with him, as a registered werewolf, Remus had to have an escort if he left Europe and the British Isles. Sirius had managed to get around the more restrictive elements of the current werewolf regulations by hiring Remus as part of the R&D department for Marauders, Inc and then saying that he was going to Peru for research purposes. Severus was going along as both an escort and for potion ingredients so he would have something to do while Remus was speaking with the local weres.

Due to the fact that werewolves weren't really built for International Portkeys (though regular ones were fine), Sirius had arranged with Gringotts to facilitate the travel. All of the bank's branches were connected and able to be traveled to and from, though the goblins weren't about to tell anyone how. For a hefty fee, however, they would allow wizards to travel between the branches. Sirius gladly paid the fee, not wanting to keep Remus from missing out on the opportunity to learn more about what he could do or be.

The three boys said their goodbyes and then boarded the train, keeping an eye out for Luna as they went down the narrow corridor. This time around they'd just shrunk their trunks and put them in their pockets, figuring that was an easier method of dealing with said luggage than dragging them around. The search for Luna proved fruitless, unfortunately, so Harry, Neville, and Draco found an open compartment about two-thirds of the way down the train and settled in. Draco immediately sprawled out on the bench, his head resting on Harry's lap. Harry rolled his eyes indulgently and then started running his fingers through Draco's hair.

“You are such a cat,” he teased. “Are you going to grow your hair out again?”

“I've been thinking about it,” Draco replied, eyes half-closed in pleasure. “What about you?”

“Maybe. It did help with the messiness,” Harry mused. “Nev?”

“Are you kidding? Both of you should totally do it, but I'm keeping mine somewhat short,” Neville said. “Long hair and Herbology do not mix, trust me on this. Remember Sally-Anne Perks in fifth year? That Fanged Geranium tore out a good amount of her hair before she could get away.”

Harry winced at that. “Yeah, I remember,” he said. “Merlin. She had to go around half-bald for a week because the Hair Growth potion took forever to work. We might want to warn her to wear her hair in a braid from now on.”

“Or just keep it short,” Draco said. “It'd alleviate the problem altogether.”

Neville was about to add to the conversation when his Gryffindor heir ring warmed on his hand. At the same time, the Gryffindor Family Magics stirred in his core, though not in a bad way. Rather, they felt joyful and eager, as if they were readying to greet someone. Judging by Harry's startled expression, the Slytherin Family Magics were doing the same.

“Harry?” Draco asked, opening his eyes fully when he noticed how Harry had gone still. “What's wrong?”

“Not sure,” Harry said with a frown. “It's weird. I--”

The compartment door slid open, revealing Luna Lovegood with her trunk following along behind her. She wore sky-blue robes and her customary butterbeer-cork necklace and radish earrings. A serene smile was curving her lips as she looked around the compartment.

“Hello again,” she said as she stepped inside. “It's wonderful to see you again, Harry Potter-Black.”

“Same here, Luna,” Harry replied, nudging Draco to sit up before he got to his feet. “May I introduce my bond-mates to you?”

“Certainly.”

“This is Neville Longbottom,” Harry began, gesturing at Neville, who rose to his feet, “and this is Draco Black.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Draco said as he stood up. He gave her a short bow, which she responded to with a neat curtsy and a laugh.

“You three have traveled a long way to get here, though the chronomites are starting to fade from your auras,” she said as she straightened up. She held out her hands to Harry and Neville. “The Heiress to the Lady of the Eagles welcomes her brothers in Magic.”

Harry took Luna's right hand while Neville took her left. The moment the three of them were in contact, cords of magic wrapped around their wrists. A dark green cord and a sapphire blue cord linked Luna and Harry's wrists, while a scarlet red one snaked around Neville and Luna's next to the blue one.

“The Heir to the Lord of the Serpents welcomes his sister in Magic,” Harry said, unable to keep a smile off his face.

“As does the Heir to the Lord of the Lions,” Neville concluded. The moment he stopped speaking, the cords of magic faded into the æther. Luna smiled bright before turning to look at Draco, her hands held out to him. Draco took them carefully, curious to see what she was going to do.

“The Heiress to the Lady of the Eagles welcomes the Consort of her brothers in Magic, and hopes that Mother Magic will bless you and yours in the years to come.”

“Thank you, Heiress. I hope the same for you and yours,” Draco said, bowing his head in thanks. “Would you like to join us for the trip to school, Luna?”

“I'd love to,” Luna replied. “Thank you.” She pulled her trunk into the compartment, initially setting it on the floor before Draco and Neville helped her put it in the luggage rack. She took a seat, tucking herself in a corner near one of the windows. “Has the fourth Heir been confirmed yet?”

Harry shook his head. “No, though we know who it is,” he said. “A Hufflepuff in our year. Why; should she be confirmed soon?”

Luna hummed softly. “It wouldn't hurt,” she said, idly fiddling with her necklace. “Before your fourth year, preferably. The Snarklumps are starting to whisper about rumors of things that might come if that doesn't occur.”

“We'll keep it in mind,” Neville promised. “Thank you for the warning.”

“No problem.” Luna retrieved a folded-up copy of the most recent printing of the Quibbler from a pocket of her robes and started reading, occasionally turning the paper sideways or upside down. The three boys settled in again, with Draco bracketed comfortably between Harry and Neville. Over the next half hour, several of their classmates stopped by the compartment, saying hello.

“Hey, are we still doing the study group?” Anthony Goldstein asked as he and Terry Boot poked their heads in on the way to a free compartment.

“Definitely,” Draco replied. “Tell any first year you see as well. We'll get the weekly meetings up again once we see where we can meet.”

“Brilliant!” Anthony grinned at him. “It definitely helped with the exams. My mum and dad were very happy with my end-of-year marks.”

“Mine too,” Terry admitted. “I was worried at the start of the year, but the study group did help, and not just with exams. I wasn't expecting to make friends with Slytherins of all people. No offense, Draco.”

Draco shrugged. “None taken. At least this way you can see that not all Slytherins are evil gits.”

“Draco, language!” Harry chided, though his laughter ruined the moment.

“What, it's true!” Draco retorted. “Don't deny it.”

“Alright, alright,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Calm down, you.”

“Yes, mother.”

Anthony and Terry left them while they were still gently bickering, both far too used to the event thanks to the study group. Harry and Draco tended to get into what they called friendly debates, while the others tended to label the 'discussions' as the precursor to what would most likely be flirting and makeout sessions when they were old enough to indulge in such things. Neville would occasionally get sucked into the debates, if nothing else than to act as a mediator between his two bond-mates.

Hermione joined them in their compartment five minutes before the train was due to leave, panting a little at having to carry Crookshanks' wicker carrier and drag her trunk behind her.

“You okay, Hermione?” Harry asked, getting to his feet so he could help her with her luggage.

“Fine. Just not used to dealing with all of this,” she replied as Harry took her trunk for her. “Thank you.”

“No problem. You should look into having someone shrink your trunk for you next time,” Harry suggested as he and Draco wrestled the trunk up into the luggage rack. “That, or see about getting a rune set carved on it to do the same for you. I'm sure a prefect or upperclassman can help with that.”

“I'll definitely think about it,” Hermione said. “It would help with hauling everything around.”

“It certainly does,” Neville agreed. “Feel free to join us for the trip.”

“Well, you've already got my luggage, I can't exactly go anywhere else,” Hermione said with a laugh as she sat down.

“Wonderful. This is Luna Lovegood, by the way,” Harry told her, gesturing towards Luna, who peered over the top of her paper at Hermione. “She's starting this year.”

Hermione smiled at Luna in welcome. “It's a pleasure to meet you,” she said. “I'm Hermione Granger. Do you know what House you want to go into?”

“Ravenclaw,” Luna replied with a small smile. “I have no doubt I'll be Sorted there.”

“That's great! I'm in Ravenclaw as well. I can show you around Hogwarts if you like,” Hermione offered. “The main library is wonderful, though rather biased, unfortunately.” Her mouth pursed in a small moue of distaste. “It skews heavily towards Light-based magics and history, which is fine for some, I suppose, but annoying if you want to get the full history behind an event or the creation of a spell or potion. Thankfully, the student library in Ravenclaw Tower is much less biased, and far easier to use. We're encouraged to add books to it, and there are copies of useful notes for various classes as well, like for History of Magic. We can make copies of the books, but we can't hoard the originals. You'll like Professor Flitwick; he's very fair but stern if he needs to be, and always willing to help his Eagles.”

“Wonderful,” Luna said, lowering her paper and setting it aside. “It's nice to have friends who are willing to help when needed.”

“That we are, Luna, that we are,” Harry agreed firmly, with Neville and Draco chiming in soon after. The train began to move after that, heading out of King's Cross and on towards Hogwarts with a bellow of steam.

 

~/~

 

Severus and Remus left the Lima branch of Gringotts and stepped out into Callejón Encantamiento, the local equivalent of Diagon Alley. The crowds bustled around them, chattering in various languages. The two British wizards had a translation spell on them cast by Harry who assured them that, while whatever they heard would be in English, anything they said would be properly translated into the language their listeners spoke. Harry had said that the spell was called the Babelfish Charm, having been named as such by the science-fiction loving American Mundane-born who had created it some five years prior. Regardless of what it was called, Remus and Severus were glad for it, as neither spoke Spanish or Quechua. The spell also translated the written word, which proved to be a boon, as the signage around the Magical District was a mix of English and Spanish.

Their contact with the local werejaguars was waiting for them at the Blue Llama, a tavern that was far less cramped and dank than the Leaky Cauldron. Most of the tables were outside, the patrons taking advantage of the sun that was peeking out from behind the clouds. Soon it would be the rainy season, and the tables would be taken inside to avoid the wet.

Remus was the one to spot their contact waiting outside at one of the tables, with Moony perking up at the scent of fur-under-skin wafting on the breeze. The woman surprisingly reminded Remus of Molly Weasley in general faintly plump build and warm demeanor. The resemblance ended there, especially when she got to her feet. She moved with a predator's grace that Molly Weasley could never pull off.

“Welcome to Peru,” she said, giving the two of them a nod. “My name is Kila Quispe. You must be Remus Lupin.”

“Yes, I am. It's a pleasure to meet you, Kila. This is my companion, Potions Master Severus Snape,” Remus replied, gesturing at Severus, who inclined his head faintly at Kila in response. Kila gestured at the nearby table.

“Have you two eaten yet?” she asked. “They make a wonderful ceviche here.”

“Thank you, but we ate before we traveled,” Remus told her. “Maybe later?”

“Of course.” Kila took a seat, with the two wizards following her lead. “So, how can I help you?”

“We were told by a friend that the weres here were able to retain their human forms and right minds during the full moon,” Remus said, figuring he might as well get straight to the point. “To be honest, it's the first time I've ever heard of such a thing. In Britain and the rest of Europe, those with lycanthropy are treated like lepers and can barely get work. We're considered little more than intelligent animals. Anything that would help change that would be greatly appreciated.”

Kila leaned back in her chair, two fingers pressed against her lips as she thought. “Well, I'm not sure who you heard it from, but your source has their information correct. However, in order to learn of our methods, you will need to come with me.” She looked at Severus. “And you? You're not one of the Moon-blessed.”

“No, I'm not,” Severus admitted. “However, I certainly wouldn't mind if I was able to procure some ingredients for my Potions stores.”

Kila nodded. “We'll have to see, but I'm sure that could be arranged,” she said. “The two of you will have to undergo a cleansing ritual before you meet with our clan's elders. They're the ones who will be giving you permission.”

“A cleansing ritual?” Remus echoed. “What kind of cleansing ritual?”

“In order to meet our elders, you need to be made pure of mind and body. The cleansing ritual involves two potions taken in sequence over a period of three hours,” Kila told him. “The physical cleansing will be painful but bearable. I can't say what will happen during the cleansing of your minds, however. It's been known to shake loose memories that have been purposefully blocked, so if you want to back out now, I wouldn't hold it against you. Not everyone likes the shadows of their pasts.”

“I am a master Occlumens. My mind is already well-organized,” Severus informed her. Kila smiled in amusement.

“That won't matter,” she said. “That's just the way it is. So, are you sure you want to do this?”

Remus considered the matter and then nodded. “I am,” he said. “Severus?”

“Very well. I suppose I won't be able to get the formulas for those potions?”

Kila laughed. “I should think not. Come along, gentlemen; we have quite a ways to go.”

She got to her feet, skirts swishing around her ankles, and then led the way down the street, Remus and Severus following after her.

Severus and Remus were separated when they reached the small village that the local werejaguars lived in, being put in different rooms in the same building, both of which had beds, as well as toilets that were charmed to immediately Vanish anything that entered them. The first potions meant to cleanse their bodies were vile tasting, and the reason for the toilets being located in the same rooms as the beds made a lot of sense, given the potions' almost immediate effects on the two wizards.

Severus gratefully laid down on the bed once the first potion had run its course, feeling weary. He was doubly glad that the offer of food when they'd first arrived had been turned down, as he'd thrown up a rather unidentifiable black sludge along with what he'd eaten for breakfast. Kila came in to check on him, holding a vial of Anti-Nausea potion in her hand, as well as an unknown one in the other.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

Severus shot her a dark look as he propped himself up on his elbows. “How do you think?”

Kila merely smiled. “Just be glad you didn't eat the ceviche,” she said, handing him the Anti-Nausea potion. “It's not nearly as delicious going the opposite way. Once your stomach has settled, you'll take the mind cleansing potion.”

“And Lupin? How's he doing?” Severus asked after sniffing at the potion and then downing it once he'd judged it acceptable.

“He's already taken it and is undergoing his cleansing,” Kila reported. “The Moon-blessed heal faster, though given how long he's fought against his inner spirit, it will take longer than it would for those who have not. Over time, the scars will fade with each shift as the body is made anew.”

Severus' eyebrows rose at that. “Really? I'm sure he'll welcome that.”

Kila conjured a chair with a flick of her wand before she sat down. “Undoubtedly. How're you feeling now?”

Severus took stock of himself, a small frown forming when he realized that there was an odd ache lodged right behind his breastbone. He absently rubbed his chest, frown deepening. “Strange. That's... that's new.”

“How does your magic feel?”

Severus closed his eyes and focused on his magic. Much to his surprise, he found a ghostly tendril attached to his magical core. He gently nudged it, only to gasp when he felt a deep longing shoot through him. “What the hell?”

He opened his eyes, staring at Kila, whose eyes were glowing a vibrant gold. “What is this? And why do your eyes look like that?”

Kila smiled. “I am gifted with a version of the Sight that lets me see things most cannot, including connections between others. You would call it a dichromatic bond, I believe. Congratulations.”

Severus stared at her. “I think I would remember having a dichromatic bond,” he said faintly after several long moments of silence.

“There are potions that can block them,” Kila told him. “They are rare, and take a talented hand to brew, but they exist.”

Severus sighed and then scrubbed his hands over his face. “I don't know who my mate is. Or was. They're probably dead, given my abysmal luck.”

“Unlikely,” Kila said. “Your mate is not dead. The bond cannot reach for what is not there. The very fact that you fell the ache means that the mate of your heart and soul is alive. Take the mind cleansing potion. Maybe that will help find the answers you seek. However, I would lay down again if I were you.”

Severus took the potion from her, weighed his choices, and then uncorked the vial before downing it. The taste was surprisingly better than the physical cleansing one, though not the best he'd tasted. Severus lay down, blinking as he felt his eyelids grow heavy.

“I'll be nearby when you wake,” Kila promised, her voice sounding as if it was coming through water. Severus managed a grunt before darkness overtook him, his body sinking down on the mattress beneath him.

 

~/~

 

Memories flowed through Severus' mind like water, some floating by in a flicker and some stopped long enough for him to relive them. He found himself standing by a window streaked with rain, his reflection in the chilled glass showing that he was somewhere around the end of his second year or so. He hated how he looked at this age: starting to grow up but still with the dregs of baby fat lingering on his cheeks and stomach. A scowl curled his lips. This didn't seem to be useful to be remembering at all, no matter what Kila had said. At least he was able to know that it was a memory and not actually happening, which was a blessing in and of itself.

Movement outside the window caught his attention. It was Madam Pomfrey, who was leading the much younger form of Remus Lupin towards the Whomping Willow under the protection of an umbrella. Severus blinked. Oh. Of course. This was... Severus closed his eyes. That night. That horrible, horrible night.

“Hey, Snape! What're you doing lurking out here?”

Severus grit his teeth before turning to look at Sirius Black. “Why do you care, Black?”

Sirius threw him the devilish grin that would only get worse with time, hands stuck in his pockets. “I've been hearing that you've been asking around about where Remus Lupin goes every month.”

“Well, yes. I mean, he's constantly gone every month, sometimes twice, and to be blunt, I doubt his mother is calling him home that often because she's sick,” Severus replied. “Besides, I just saw him and Madam Pomfrey outside, though what they were doing and where they were going, I don't know.”

“What if I could show you?”

Severus just stared flatly at him. “And why would you do that? You hate me. You hate all Slytherins.”

“If it'll stop you from asking, I'll overlook the fact that you're a Snake-- for now,” Sirius said, “and I don't hate all Slytherins. I still like my brother. Well, mostly.”

“Glad to hear it. What is this great secret you need to tell me?”

“You know the Whomping Willow?” Sirius asked.

“It's rather hard to miss.”

“Push the knot on the trunk and then go through the tunnel underneath. You'll find out what's going on soon enough,” Sirius told him, grinning once more. “See you later.” He turned on his heel and then wandered off, whistling to himself in satisfaction of a job well done.

The memory shifted and blurred, rather like a dream would, and soon Severus found himself creeping down the tunnel leading towards the Shrieking Shack. He could hear growls and howls coming from up ahead, but they didn't deter him. He was intent on finally solving the mystery that was Remus Lupin. Just as he reached the locked and sturdy trapdoor that led into the Shack, the noises ahead of him stopped abruptly. There was a shuffling sound and then quiet, plaintive whines coming from the other side of the trapdoor.

Before Severus could unlock the trapdoor, he was hit by an Immobulus from behind, followed by a Wingardium Leviosa that made his clothing (and incidentally, Severus) float, dragging him along with them.

“I don't know what Sirius was thinking, sending you down here,” Severus' attacker was muttering to himself, and if Severus was able to make a noise, he would've groaned. James Potter. Wonderful. “You could've been hurt, or worse, killed! I don't like you, Snape, but no one deserves that. Besides, he didn't even think about how Remus would feel if he'd hurt you. Merlin's beard...”

As James' diatribe against Sirius went on, Severus could've sworn that the howl that followed them down the long and winding tunnel was filled with pain and longing.

The memory blurred once more, resolving itself to the Potions classroom. Slughorn was at the front of the class, and, judging from the instructions on the board, it was somewhere just before the Christmas holidays during Third Year. If Severus remembered right, Slughorn had announced that they would be doing a partner project after the holidays were over that would last for the rest of the year. He would be assigning the partners, which meant that the mixed Gryffindor/Slytherin class couldn't complain.

Given the equal amount of Gryffindors and Slytherins, Slughorn announced that the pairs would be comprised of a member of each House. Severus just hoped that he wouldn't be paired with Potter or Black. Preferably Lily, of course, as they worked well together, or one of the more neutral Gryffindors. His hopes were dashed, however, when Lily was paired with Evan Rosier; neither of them looked particularly pleased about the arrangement, but there wasn't much of anything they could do about it.

“Remus Lupin, you'll be paired with Severus Snape,” Slughorn told them. Severus bit back a sigh. Well, at least that was better than Potter or Black. Slughorn continued on with his matchmaking, ending with Wilkes and Pettigrew before clapping his hands. “Alright, now that that's done, I'll hand out your assignments.”

Severus listened with half an ear, dutifully noting down the four long-term potions that he and Remus would be brewing over the rest of the school year. As soon as the class was over, Severus gathered his things and made for the door, gladly escaping from the crowd.

“Snape! Hey, wait up!”

Severus grimaced before putting on the blank expression that all Slytherins quickly learned to adopt and then turned to look at Remus, stepping into a nearby alcove so they wouldn't be blocking the hallway.

“Yes, Lupin?”

“Look, if we're going to be working on this together for the rest of the year, we might as well start using each other's first names,” Remus said. “I know we're not supposed to get along given our Houses and whatnot, but it'll be easier to get through this if we're not constantly at each other's throats.” He held out his hand. “What do you say?”

“As long as you can keep Black and Potter from sabotaging our work, then fine, I'll agree to the truce,” Severus said, briskly shaking Remus' hand and trying to ignore the warmth of the other boy's touch against his own usually cool skin. “What are you doing for the holidays? Are you going home?”

Remus shook his head. “No. My parents are going abroad for the holidays, so I'll be staying here.”

“Good. So will I. We can plan ahead and make sure we have enough ingredients. If we don't, we'll have to make a trip to the apothecary in Hogsmeade,” Severus said. Remus nodded.

“Alright. James and the others will be gone over the holidays anyways, so I'll need something to keep me busy.” He paused. “I... Look, James told me what Sirius did in Second Year. That... If I'd managed to...”

Severus held up a hand. “Stop blathering on. You weren't the one at fault; Black was. He's the one I dislike the most right now, not you, regardless of your... affliction. At least you don't constantly hex and belittle me, unlike Black and Potter.”

“I pranked Sirius for two weeks straight after that,” Remus admitted in a rush of words. That startled a laugh out of Severus, much to both his and Remus' surprise.

“That was you? I thought he'd run afoul of some of the more vindictive Ravenclaws,” Severus said with a smirk. “That Hair Loss Jinx was masterful.”

Remus grinned. “Thanks. As much as I like Sirius, he can be a right prat sometimes. So, why don't we go see what ingredients we'll be needing and then compare our kits?”

“Lead the way.”

As the two left the dungeons, Severus felt like maybe the rest of the year wouldn't be so bad after all.

The memories became more disjointed after that, though several stood out in stark relief. A snowball thrown during the Christmas holidays that year that was supposed to hit the tree behind him hitting Severus instead, and when he saw that it was Remus who had thrown it, Severus had, instead of yelling at him and drawing his wand, merely gave as good as he got, surprising the werewolf. Before long, the two of them were laughing and yelling good-naturedly at one another as the snowballs flew fast and thick.

Another blur and--

Severus' heartbeat was pounding in his ears and he was sure that he was going to go insane from the noise. He couldn't imagine how Remus was feeling at the moment. The two of them had run away from some of the older Slytherins who didn't like the two supposedly rival Fourth Years talking with one another, let alone actually being friendly.

Severus dodged around a corner on the seventh floor, grimacing when he saw the same damn tapestry of that insane wizard trying to teach trolls how to tap-dance for the third time. He swore viciously, needing a place for him and Remus to escape. Somehow, miraculously, a door appeared in the nearby wall, and, not one to bother with wondering how it had happened, Severus pushed it open and then pulled Remus in behind him. The door slammed shut behind the two of them before melting away back into stone.

“Thank fuck that door was there,” Severus muttered. “I thought for a minute there that we wouldn't make it.”

“Same here,” Remus panted, head tipping back against the stone wall behind them. Severus suddenly realized that the two of them were still holding hands, but curiously, he found that he didn't really mind. Remus' hand was warm, albeit somewhat sweaty, but it was grounding and not altogether unpleasant. In an effort to distract himself, Severus looked around the room they'd escaped into.

It was simply decorated, with a few chairs and couches scattered here and there, though a thin layer of dust covered everything. He frowned as he straightened up. A lost study room of some sort, perhaps? It wasn't anywhere near any of the various Houses, though, so perhaps not.

“You okay?” Remus asked, tearing Severus away from his thoughts. Severus turned to look at Remus and then nodded.

“Yes. You?”

“Getting my breath back,” Remus said. He took a deep breath in before letting it out slowly. “I wonder if they're gone.”

“Maybe. They could be waiting for us outside the door, wherever that might be,” Severus mused. “Let's wait for a little while longer.”

“Good idea.” Remus pushed away from the wall and then looked down at their joined hands, seemingly fascinated by the contrast between Severus' long, thin fingers and his own thicker and scarred ones. He glanced up at Severus, who merely arched an eyebrow at him.

“Yes?”

“You're still holding my hand.”

“It could be argued that you're the one holding my hand,” Severus countered. “It just depends on your point of view.”

Remus didn't seem to know how to process that, as his brow furrowed faintly in confusion. Severus sighed internally.

“I can let go if you want,” he offered dryly.

“No!” The vehemence with which Remus spoke surprised the both of them once more. Remus blushed at Severus' amused look. “I mean... Merlin. I'm sorry. I'll just...”

“Go? Where? The door's nowhere to be seen, and I doubt our pursuers have gone very far,” Severus pointed out. “Look, Remus...” He lifted their joined hands until they were visible to the both of them. “This? Does this bother you? I... I may not be particularly fond of your choice of friends, but you... You're different from them.” He smiled wryly. “You've managed to wriggle your way into my life and mind. It's strange; I used to detest you, but now I can't think of my life without you. I noticed it first over the summer. I would be doing something and wonder if you would enjoy it, or what you were doing at the moment. I would watch the moon cycles and hope that, when the full moon was overhead, you were safe and sound. It's been quite frustrating to be a Slytherin and thinking so fondly of a Gryffindor.”

Remus stared at him and then laughed softly. “Trust me, it's the same coming from the opposite direction,” he said. “You know, I think that's the most I've heard you speak about your feelings. Or any Slytherin, for that matter.”

“Yes, well, not all of us can be bleeding-heart Hufflepuffs,” Severus drawled. Remus just shook his head, an amused smile curving his lips. The urge to feel that smile against his mouth suddenly sprang up in Severus' mind, startling him greatly. When had that happened? Perhaps around the time Remus had wished him a good summer during their last Potions class before summer? Severus didn't know, to be honest, but, much to his surprise, it wasn't an unwelcome feeling.

“Severus?”

Severus blinked before returning his attention to Remus. “Yes?”

“You've been staring off into space for the past little bit. Everything alright?” Remus asked.

Severus let their joined hands lower as he considered his answer. “Just some thoughts.”

“Would a Knut be too little for them?” Remus inquired, a faintly teasing tone in his voice. “Do I have to raise it to a Sickle?”

“Perhaps,” Severus murmured. “I'm not sure these thoughts would be welcomed.” He gently released Remus' hand and then stepped away, heading over to a window that looked out on the grounds below. He could see the Forest in the distance, some of the leaves burnished with the coppers, golds, and reds of autumn. Beautiful, though the churning nervousness that had erupted in the pit of his stomach wasn't helping him appreciate it as fully as he could.

Remus stepped up behind him, pausing before reaching out and taking Severus' hand once more. “If your thoughts are running the same path as mine,” he began hesitantly, “then maybe it would be better to keep them free. At least, between the two of us.”

Severus turned, startling slightly to see that Remus was only a few inches away from him. Remus had a faintly hopeful look in his eyes that made Severus feel both giddy and like he was going to throw up. Severus took in a deep breath before letting it out slowly.

“Are you sure you want to be that close to me?” he murmured, dark eyes flicking down to Remus' mouth and then back up to the Gyffindor's pale brown eyes (how had he not noticed the flecks of gold in them before this?).

“Well,” Remus replied, his voice just as soft as Severus', “I can't exactly ask you for a kiss when I'm across the room, now can I?”

Severus hesitated before carefully closing the distance between the two of them, adjusting the tilt of his head as their lips neared one another. It wasn't perfect-- first kisses rarely are, after all –but Severus knew he'd never forget it. It was gentle, awkward, and altogether wonderful.

The memory shifted again, time melting like ice in the summer's sun. Stolen kisses in the shadows, restorative potions slipped into Remus' bag after the full moons, little trinkets exchanged here and there-- they all flashed by as fourth year melded into fifth and OWLs reared their ugly heads. Severus was looking forward to the summer, though whispers of the Dark Lord's growth in power were circulating around Hogwarts, but especially through the House of the Serpents. Severus did his best to keep his head down, not wanting to attract too much attention.

Oh, sure, he pretended to be interested in what the older students were saying, but to be honest, all he wanted to do was get through school and maybe see about getting his Mastery in Potions. It would be another two years of intense schooling, but he was determined to get it done. His thoughts were turned towards the freedom of summer, as well as the possibility of going to Gringotts and seeing if he couldn't claim the Heir ring of the House of Prince. It was his by birthright, after all, even if his mother had been disowned. All he had to do was try the ring on. If it didn't resize itself, then the disownment had extended to him. If it did, however, then maybe, just maybe, he could see about offering Remus a betrothal ring.

That... That would be glorious. Hell, even if the Heir ring didn't fit, he could always go to a jeweler's and get a betrothal set of his own with the money he'd saved up. Severus highly doubted his mother would care, and his father... Well, the less said about him the better, to be honest. Admittedly, Remus' status as a werewolf would be tricky to work around, but Severus didn't care. There were rumors of a new potion being developed that would aid werewolves in keeping their minds during their monthly transformations, from what Severus' most recent subscription of the monthly Potions Journal had reported, and if he could get his hands on the recipe, then all the better. He'd be able to brew it for Remus himself and no one could complain.

He was jerked out of his thoughts (having just stowed away the question sheet for the OWL in Defense that he'd been idly staring at in his bag, though why they'd been allowed to keep it, he couldn't say) when he heard James Potter's voice coming loudly from nearby.

“Alright there, Snivellus?”

Severus immediately went for his wand, knowing that nothing good was going to come after those words. James had gotten worse and worse over the years, a far cry from the mostly alright Second Year who had saved Severus' life. Before he could get a spell off, offensive or otherwise, he'd been disarmed and hit with the Impedimentia jinx as he dove for his wand. Severus glared at James and Sirius, struggling to escape his bonds.

The two Gryffindors mocked him, with James using Scourgify on Severus after the dark-haired Slytherin cursed and swore at him. For one bright moment, it looked as if Lily (dear, sweet Lily) had come to save the day, but then, much to Severus' dismay, the distraction she'd posed hadn't proven great enough to keep James at bay. Severus found himself hanging upside down, his robes falling down over his face. It was just his luck that all of his pants were in the wash; he'd been hoping that his long robes would hide the fact that all he had on underneath them was his underpants, and not the best pair of them, either.

His shame continued when he let his anger get the best of him and he grievously insulted one of his oldest friends, calling her something that made him wish James would wash out his mouth with soap again the second it left his mouth. The hurt look on Lily's face made Severus' stomach drop, but before he could do anything to rectify the situation, Lily had stormed off after arguing with James, who had turned his anger once more towards Severus. Thankfully, Professor Sprout had passed by before James or Sirius could Vanish or otherwise remove Severus' underpants, and had stopped the whole thing, giving the two Gryffindors three weeks' detention, two to be served right away and one at the beginning of the new school year. She also took twenty-five points each from them while Severus hurried off, wanting to be free of the stares and laughter.

Remus found Severus curled up on one of the broad window ledges that ran along the Charms corridor far after curfew, forehead resting against his knees and his arms wrapped protectively around his legs. Severus had his wand out and pointing at Remus before he realized who it was. It took several seemingly infinite seconds before Severus let his wand drop.

“What do you want?” he asked, his voice rough from the tears he would never admit to letting loose.

“A million Galleons and a pony,” Remus joked before his expression turned serious. “More realistically, however, I came to apologize. I shouldn't have... I'm sorry. I should've stopped them.”

“Why didn't you?”

“Because I was scared,” Remus admitted, hauling himself up onto the other end of the ledge. While it was broad, it wasn't all that long, so their feet were nudging one another once Remus was settled. He flicked his wand, setting up as strong a privacy ward as he could manage. Severus muttered one of his own invention, relaxing only when both their wands had been put away.

“I was an idiot and a coward,” Remus continued on. “I should've done something. Fuck, I should've done something about them a long time ago.” He ran his hands through his hair, leaving parts of it sticking up at odd angles. “I also came because I want you to talk to Lily. I know you already tried to apologize to her, but you know how stubborn she can be.”

“What, and you thought you could help her be less stubborn?”

“I don't know, but maybe having a mediator would help?” Remus said. “I mean, you two have been friends for years. Are you going to let something like this get between you? Yes, harsh words were said in anger, but that's the thing-- anger makes fools out of the best of us. Just... At least let me try, okay?”

Severus stared out the window for a long while before nodding tersely. “Fine. And... I forgive you. For not stepping in earlier.” He smiled bitterly. “We all have our roles to play, after all.”

“I wish it wasn't like that.”

“Me too, Remus, me too.”

The memory shifted, leaving Severus pacing in the room he and Remus had discovered what seemed like a lifetime ago. He was relatively sure Remus had never told his friends about the room; Severus certainly hadn't breathed a word to the other Slytherins. It was beyond relaxing to have a sanctuary away from the pressures of the school body, somewhere that only he and Remus knew about and could simply be themselves.

Severus' head snapped up from his examination of the floor when the door to the room opened, admitting Remus and Lily, who was wearing her outer robes over her nightgown. “Lily,” Severus began, but stopped at her glare.

“I'm only here because Remus insisted,” Lily said shortly. “Say what you have to so I can go.”

Severus debated with himself before drawing his wand. He held it up, the tip well away from either Gryffindor in front of him. “I, Severus Alexander Snape, do so swear on my magic that I am truly sorry for calling Lily Marie Evans a mudblood, and do hereby promise never to utter that foul epithet towards her or any other Mundane-born again. So say I, so may it be!” He closed his eyes before lighting his wand with a silent Lumos, breathing out a sigh of relief when the golden light pierced his eyelids. Severus opened his eyes again to see Lily staring at him, though he couldn't tell if it was in amazement or incredulity.

“Oh, Sev,” she breathed as he extinguished his wand. “I'm sorry, I should've--”

“Someone I trust and respect immensely told me that anger makes fools out of all of us,” Severus said gently, gaze flicking over to Remus, a half-smile quirking his lips. “He was right. I let my anger get the better of me, and for that, I can never say I'm sorry enough. However, I would like to try to move past this, if you think we can.”

“Only if you give me a hug,” Lily said, voice wobbling with unshed tears. Severus gladly moved forward and wrapped her up in a hug, relishing the feeling of her slender arms around his waist. “James Potter is an idiot,” Lily continued on as Severus dutifully ignored the wet patch that was forming on his shoulder. “No offense, Remus.”

“I agree with you wholeheartedly, so none taken,” Remus drawled as the hug ended. “He's changed a lot over the years; I can only hope that some day he'll get some maturity knocked into him.”

“By a Bludger, no doubt,” Severus said. That sparked laughter from the other two, which lightened the mood in the room considerably.

“So,” Lily said with a mischievous grin once the laughter died away, “you respect and trust Remus immensely, huh?”

Severus couldn't help the blush that colored his cheeks but nodded anyways. “It's kind of hard not to, once you get to know him,” he said. Lily's grin grew wider.

“Judging by that blush, you know him pretty well,” she teased, eyes sparkling with mirth. “Good. I'm happy for you two.”

“Really?” Remus asked.

“Really. And I promise, I won't tell a soul,” Lily said. “I'm not a blabbermouth, unlike some mouthy Hufflepuffs.”

“Ah, good old Bertha Jorkins.” Remus rolled his eyes. “Good thing she's graduating this year.”

“Decidedly so,” Severus said with a faint scowl. “I for one won't miss her inane prattle.”

“You sound like Professor McGonagall,” Remus said, laughing. Severus gave him a half-hearted glare.

“I do not.

“Do too.”

“You're ridiculous.”

“Boys! Enough,” Lily chastised, though her laughter, bright and warm, belied her words. “It's late. Let's get to bed before we get detentions.”

“We're prefects,” Remus pointed out. “Well, two of us are, anyways. We'll be fine.”

“She's right, though,” Severus said. “It is rather late.”

Lily gave them each a hug before leaving the room, saying she'd scout ahead for Filch just in case. Severus turned to Remus as they left, a fond smile on his face.

“Thank you,” he said quietly. “I shudder to think of what it would've been like for the next two years if Lily and I were still at odds.”

“No problem,” Remus replied just as softly. “Consider it my own apology for my inaction earlier, as well as me fulfilling my boyfriend duties.”

Severus hesitated before saying, “I was thinking... Over the summer, I was going to go to Gringotts and see if I couldn't claim the Heir ring to my mother's House. It's a minor Noble family, but one with a vote on the Wizengamot. Even if I can't claim it... Would you-- I mean--” Severus paused, hating that the words weren't coming to him right. “I would be greatly honored if you would allow me to present you with a betrothal ring come the fall.”

“Are you serious?”

“As much as I have ever been,” Severus replied. “I don't care about your affliction, you know that. Besides, there's this new potion that's just about to come onto the market that would help with that and--”

He was cut off by Remus' fervent kiss, almost cracking his head on the wall behind him. Severus quickly regained his balance and returned the kiss, clutching at Remus' robes.

“Yes, you great idiot, I would love that,” Remus said after a while, barely moving the scant inch or so it took for him to speak clearly. “You have no idea how much I would want your ring. Just as long as it's not silver.”

“Never silver,” Severus promised, feeling like his fortunes had doubled-- no, tripled –since that disastrous afternoon. “The only silver we'll have in the house will be the knives in my Potions lab, I swear.”

Remus smiled at him, the expression bright and full of love. Severus returned it, not caring who saw it.

He should have. After all, in Hogwarts, the walls had many eyes, and not all were friendly.

The next morning after breakfast, Professor Slughorn stopped Severus with a companionable hand on his shoulder. “Severus, m'lad, the Headmaster would like to see you in his office,” Slughorn told him. “The password's 'Caramel Chew'. You haven't been in any trouble beyond that nasty incident with Potter and Black, have you?”

“No, sir,” Severus replied. “Maybe that's what he wants to talk about?”

“Maybe,” Slughorn agreed. “Well, off you go!”

Feeling rather confused, Severus headed up to the Headmaster's office, giving the annoyingly saccharine password to the gargoyle guarding the entrance. His confusion deepened even further when he saw that Lily and Remus were there already, with Dumbledore behind his desk.

“Ah, Mister Snape. Wonderful. Please, take a seat,” Dumbledore said, rising to his feet. He flicked his wand, removing the cozy from a teapot sitting on a side table. He poured each of them a cup of tea, though curiously he didn't provide any milk or sugar, nor take a cup of himself.

“Madam Pomfrey's been after me to cut back on my tea, the lovely woman,” he explained with a wistful sigh, “and my sweets.” He winked. “I've still got my lemon drops, though I'd appreciate if you don't tell her that.”

“We won't breathe a word, sir,” Remus promised before taking a sip of his tea. Severus did the same- though really only to be polite, as he was more than full from breakfast -noting the sweet earthiness of the blend. Not too bad, though he usually preferred something lighter. Dumbledore settled behind his desk once more, only speaking once the three of them had drunk a good portion of their tea.

“Now, I'm sure you're all wondering why you're here,” he began. “I must admit, I've never seen such a shameless display of bullying as yesterday. Misters Potter and Black will have their punishments upheld, though they will be serving them with Professor Slughorn. I believe he has quite the backstock of dirty cauldrons that need to be scrubbed out by hand.”

Severus wanted to smirk at that, he really did, but he found himself experiencing a curious sort of lassitude, as if he'd been given a Sapping Solution. Strange, that. He found that he really only had the strength to breathe and sit there, and, from looking at the lax postures of the other two, so did they.

“However, that's not what this little meeting is all about,” Dumbledore continued on. “You see, certain customs and ways must be observed, especially in these troubled times.” He tapped his wand against his open palm as he spoke, the rhythm smooth and regular. “To deviate from those customs and ways will throw everything into chaos, and I cannot have that. No, I'm afraid that I must... redirect the course you three are on.”

Before Severus could stop him-- or really, do anything but wheeze in protest –Dumbledore had leveled his wand at Lily, who was staring at the Headmaster with wide eyes. “You, Miss Evans, never made up with Mister Snape here,” he said as he wove his wand in a complicated pattern, a rope of silvery light wrapping around Lily's head. “You will eventually find James Potter attractive, though not all at once. You are quite powerful, after all, and you deserve a powerful husband. I can sense the potential for a bond between the two of you; it's always been there, after all. This will just give it a little nudge along. You will not remember this meeting beyond the fact that I called you up here to congratulate you on your excellent OWL results. Somnus!”

The silvery light sank into Lily's head before she slumped in her chair, the sleep spell ensnaring her fast. Dumbledore then turned to Remus, who seemed to be fighting more effectively against whatever had been in the tea than Severus. “Now for you, Mister Lupin.” Dumbledore began weaving his wand once more, the same silvery light wrapping around Remus' head. “You have never gotten along with Severus Snape, and certainly don't wish to be betrothed to him. You have a general dislike for Slytherins, though not as much as your friends. You will forget any relationship you had with Severus Snape, and will not seek him out again, be it romantically or as a friend, only working with him if necessary. You will not remember this meeting beyond the fact that I called you up here to congratulate you on your OWL results. Somnus!”

Remus' eyes flashed a weak amber before he succumbed to the sleep spell. Dumbledore waited for several seconds before turning to Severus, who struggled weakly to avoid the incoming spell. It was fruitless, however, as he too gained a mockery of a halo around his head. “Severus Snape, you will forget any relationship you had with Remus Lupin beyond that of antagonism, and you certainly will not seek him out again, be it romantically or as a friend, only working with him if necessary. You will not seek out your Heir ring to the Prince House You never made up with Lily Evans, and...” Here Dumbledore paused before a small, satisfied smile curved his lips, his beard twitching in response. “Whatever love you felt for Remus Lupin, you in fact feel for Lily Evans, even though it will never be returned. You will seek out the supporters of the Dark Lord here at Hogwarts and do your best to bind yourself to his cause. You will serve as my spy within his ranks. You will not remember this meeting beyond the fact that I called you up here to speak about personal matters in regards to your mother's sudden poor health and your accommodations for the summer. Somnus!”

The sleep spell overtook him, sending Severus deep into the Stygian abyss of slumber, his heart shattering into a thousand pieces before going numb.

 

~/~

 

Severus jolted upright on his bed, one hand clutching at his aching chest. He remembered everything. Whatever had been in the mind cleansing potion had broken past the spell and potion Dumbledore had ensnared him with, shattering the barrier completely. Severus had little doubt that his Occlumency shields and mental organization was an absolute mess, but he didn't care. He had a werewolf to find.

Kila wasn't in her chair when he looked over, and after a quick Tempore Dies, Severus understood why. It was four AM on the Third of September, which meant that he'd been out for at least eighteen hours. Severus licked his lips, wetting the cracked and dry surfaces, and then murmured a spell he hadn't used outside of ingredient collecting in years.

Luna Statu.” A ghostly image of the moon appeared in the air at eye-level, and Severus breathed out a soft sigh of relief. A waxing crescent, even if it was as thin as a Cheshire Cat's smile. That would make things easier. So, he supposed, would a reasonable time to discuss things. Four in the morning was never a reasonable time except in emergencies, and while this certainly felt like one, Severus knew better.

He turned his attention inward, intent on getting his mind back together. Severus fell into a trance-like state as he sat cross-legged on his bed, organizing and strengthening his mental defenses until he was happy with them once more. He only stirred when there was a knock some time later at the door.

“Enter,” he said as he opened his eyes. Kila was there, dressed in tan robes.

“Master Snape,” she said, giving him a nod. “Good morning. How're you doing?”

“Far better than I was before, Madam Quispe,” Severus said, not bothering to correct her on his true status. He rarely used the title of Lord Prince, though perhaps that would have to change. “Is Lu-- Is Remus up?”

Kila gave him an intrigued look at the change in name before nodding. “He is. Breakfast is on the table if you're hungry.”

Severus rose to his feet, hissing softly at the change in blood pressure in his legs. He was getting too old to sit like that for hours on end any more. “I wouldn't mind eating, thank you.”

He followed her out to the kitchen. A rough wooden table sat in the center of the large space, dinged and nicked with many years of use. It still looked very solid, however, as did the chairs around it. Most of the furniture in the building seemed to be that way, and, Severus supposed, it made sense. If the werejaguars followed the same strength levels as werewolves did, it was an absolute necessity to have such robust furnishings.

Remus was sitting at the end of the table, working his way through a rather large plate of bacon, eggs, and fresh fruit. He looked up when the two of them entered the room, immediately focusing on Severus. Severus had the horrible feeling that maybe Remus didn't remember, that the potion and spell had affected him differently given that he was a werewolf, but his worries were soon banished to the far ends of the Earth when Remus quickly got up and hurried over to him, though he paused with a few steps between them.

Severus swallowed softly, feeling all of fourteen again, and then said, “Are you sure you want to be that close to me?”

Remus' smile lit up the whole room. “Well,” he said as he leaned in, “I can't exactly ask you for a kiss when I'm across the room, now can I?”

Severus didn't bother answering, too busy closing the scant few inches between them to worry about it. He didn't need to; his actions spoke for themselves, after all.

 

~/~

 

They returned to Britain via Gringotts a few days before the boys were due back from Hogwarts for Christmas break, both feeling refreshed and rejuvenated by their time away and everything that had happened during it. Before they left Gringotts, however, Severus had gone to the Prince vault to retrieve something very special while Remus paid to use the communications-only Floo to call Sirius. It took a while to find it, but when Severus did, he slipped the small box into his pocket before heading back to the cart to rejoin Remus in the bank lobby.

“They're at Blackmoor Hall,” Remus reported, idly dusting off some ashes from his shoulders. “We can Apparate over; Sirius said he's added your name to the ward list.”

“Perfect.” Severus took Remus' hand, not caring who saw it, and led him out of the bank and to the common Apparition point. A wildly disorienting few seconds later and they were standing in the receiving room of Blackmoor Hall, still hand-in-hand. A house elf greeted them and then led the two of them to the living room, where Narcissa and Sirius were waiting.

Sirius' eyebrows rose sharply at the sight of Remus and Severus' entwined hands, but a sharp look from Narcissa had him quickly subsiding. “Remus, Severus,” Narcissa said, giving the two of them a warm smile. “Welcome home. How was Peru?”

Remus and Severus exchanged a look before Remus replied to Narcissa's question. “You might want to take Sirius' wand away from him first,” he said.

Sirius' eyes narrowed. “What did you do, Snape?”

“I didn't do anything, Black,” Severus said as he took a seat, Remus sitting next to him. “Trust me, I am not the one at fault here. Narcissa, his wand?”

“Sirius?” Narcissa prompted. “I doubt we'll get the story out of them if you don't hand over your wand.”

Sirius grumbled but handed his wand over to Narcissa, who tucked it away in a pocket before turning to Severus and Remus. “Now, your story, please?”

Remus took a deep breath and started. “Well, it all began when we met the representative of the local werejaguar clan in Lima...”

Chapter Text

 

There was a marked difference between the manner that Harry, Neville, and Draco disembarked from the Hogwarts Express at the start of the Christmas break than that of the prior year, from what Narcissa saw. They were laughing and joking with one another, with Neville gesturing with his hands as he appeared to be retelling a story that had the other two laughing heartily. Narcissa smiled at that, pleased to see that things seemed to be going well.

“Hello, boys,” Narcissa said as the three of them came to a halt in front of her and Alice, with Neville's story trailing off. “How was the ride?”

“Pleasantly boring, Mother,” Draco replied. “Is it just you two?”

“Yes,” Alice said. “The others are at Blackmoor Hall. We have some guests waiting for us there.”

“Oh?” Draco gave her an intrigued look. “Anyone we know?”

Alice smiled. “I'd say so.” She held out her hands to Harry and Neville, while Draco let Narcissa place a hand on his shoulder before they Apparated away. Their owls had already been let free before the Express had left Hogsmeade so they could stretch their wings and have a leisurely flight home. That was a good thing, as Apparition and owls didn't mix very well at all.

Once they arrived at Blackmoor Hall, Narcissa called for a house elf to take the luggage and to find out where the others were. As soon as that was taken care of, they trekked off to the dining room, where Sirius, Augusta, Frank, Severus, and Remus were sitting around the table, with the former four focused on various pieces of parchment and files in front of them. Remus was reading as well, though his choice of reading matter seemed far more palatable than everyone else's, given his relaxed expression.

It looked like their time in Peru had treated Severus and Remus well. Both men had more color tinging their skin, which, while not unusual for Remus, who liked to work out in the sun if he could, was definitely a change for Severus, who tended towards pale and sallow given his habit of staying indoors in his potions lab, though some of that was genetic as well. Remus looked up from his book, a smile forming when he saw the boys.

“Welcome home, boys,” he said, marking his place in his book with a finger. “Did you have a good trip?”

“We could ask you the same thing,” Harry said, returning the smile with one of his own. “You look great. I take it Peru proved helpful?”

“It did,” Remus said, “in more ways than one.”

Severus snorted softly as he lifted his gaze from paperwork. “I'd say so.”

“Okay, there's obviously a story here,” Neville said. “Care to take a break from your paperwork and tell us?”

“We have been at this for a while,” Augusta said, setting her quill down and then rubbing at her hands to ease the cramping. “I certainly wouldn't mind taking a break for a cup of tea and some food.”

“S-same here.” Frank grimaced as he shook out his own hands. He straightened up his paperwork and then put it away, using his wand to shrink the pile to a manageable size once it was in its folder. The other adults followed his lead, packing away their work. Being the Head of a House or a proxy for one was not the easy ride most assumed it was; it involved a lot of work and not all of it easy.

They reconvened in the living room with tea and snacks, with Severus and Remus settling in on one of the loveseats and the three boys on the one across from them. The others took seats around the room, enjoying their snacks and drinks. As Remus and Severus told the story of their time in Peru, Harry's anger grew as he heard what Dumbledore had done to them. By the time the story ended, Harry's magic was drifting over his skin in a shimmering glow.

“Right. I'm going to go kill Albus Dumbledore,” Harry growled as he got to his feet. “He's messed with my family and those I care about for fucking far too long.”

“Harry, sit down!” Sirius snapped. “I can't believe I'm saying this, but stop acting like a Gryffindor and start thinking like a Slytherin. No offense, Cissa, Draco.”

“No problem,” Draco said as he pulled Harry back down onto the loveseat, wrapping his arm around Harry's waist to keep him close, with Neville doing the same on the other side. Harry stared at Sirius in disbelief

“He let my mother die believing that her best friend hated her!” he protested. “How am I just supposed to let him go after everything he's done?”

Sirius sighed. “Look, Dumbledore is a manipulative bastard, we all know that,” he began. “He's affected all of us in one way or another. However, going out and killing him is just going to make people see him as a martyr, no matter how you do it. If you just up and cast the Killing Curse on him in Diagon Alley, even without anyone knowing it was you, the public would be baying for the blood of the murderer of one of the greatest wizards in history. If you poisoned him somehow, be it through magical or mundane means, the same thing would happen. Even if you made it look like he'd merely died of old age, the public would want to memorialize him in some grandiose way.”

“That's right,” Draco added on. “Remember his funeral back in the other timeline? No other Hogwarts Headmaster had ever been buried on the school grounds, and especially not with all that pomp and circumstance.” He scowled. “His tomb was tacky and overly grandiose. Not even my father would've wanted something like that.”

“No, he'd much prefer being in the family crypt, though I doubt any of your ancestors are very happy with him at the moment,” Neville joked.

“No, they probably all sat up in the crypt and started screaming when Lucius started acting so rashly,” Narcissa said dryly. “I managed to get several hundred thousand Galleons out of the vault before we divorced. I doubt they were particularly happy about that.”

“Undoubtedly not,” Augusta agreed. “Good for you.”

“Yes, well, I wasn't about to leave him the funds to create a war chest,” Narcissa said. “He still has plenty of funds, though I suspect his supporters have dried up considerably now that he can't pay them off.”

“H-he has been r-rather quiet at the Wizengamot M-meets over the past year,” Frank said.

“That's all well and good, but what are we going to do about Dumbledore?” Harry asked with a scowl. “Since I'm not allowed to kill him and all.”

“We ruin him,” Sirius said firmly. “He prides himself on being the Leader of the Light and one of the most important people in Wizarding Europe. If that's taken away somehow, then he'll be defanged.”

“Maybe, but it could also make him go for revenge,” Harry said. “We'd have to be careful about it. It'd have to be gradual, not all at once.”

“True.” Sirius leaned back in his chair. “Tell us what's been happening at Hogwarts.”

“Well, to start off with,” Draco said, “we got Luna to claim and cleanse the Ravenclaw wardstone. She mentioned on the train that it'd likely be a good idea to have Hannah claim the Hufflepuff heirship before our fourth year. Given that Luna has Ravenclaw's Gift of the Sight, we trust her advice, even if she gives it in odd ways.”

“We could invite the Abbotts over for dinner during the break and talk to them about it,” Alice suggested. “The Lovegoods as well. It'd be easier to explain everything if all the affected are here. Well, everything pertaining to the heirships, anyways.”

“True. Enough people know about our other secrets that spreading them further won't help,” Neville said.

“Agreed. So, who's the new Potions Master and Head of Slytherin? What are they like?” Severus asked.

“Well, the new Head of Slytherin is Professor Babbling,” Draco said. “She's fair but strict, rather like Professor McGonagall. She doesn't favor the House over the others, though, which has some of the older students annoyed. However, the younger years seem to be alright with it.”

“Hm. Not someone I would've picked to be my successor, but she'll do,” Severus said. “And the new Potions Master?”

“Professor Daniels?” Harry hummed. “He's a good teacher. He tends to explain the theory behind a potion and what it does before we brew it. I've talked to the first years in Hufflepuff, and they seem to like him as well.”

“You're still doing the study groups?”

“Yes, especially with Lockhart in the castle.” Harry scowled. “He's a menace. We've already had to deal with several crying first years after he set Cornish Pixies free in the classroom. He doesn't teach anything worthwhile, and we've already had some of the upper years ask if they can join our study group because of how well it went last year.”

“And? Did you let them?” Sirius asked.

“Are you kidding? Of course we did,” Neville said. “We're not stupid enough to turn down that kind of help and experience. We had to move the study group to the Great Hall after dinner. We thought about using the Room of Requirement, but we didn't want to give away that advantage.”

“Good plan.” Sirius rubbed his hand along his jaw. “What else has Lockhart been doing? Anything particularly interesting, or is he just a piss-poor teacher?”

“Well, there was the dueling club,” Draco said with a grin. “That was hilarious.”

“Oh?” Augusta said. “Do tell.”

Neville laughed. “Well, it all started when we saw an announcement on the notice board in the entrance hall...”

~/~

Harry groaned when he saw the announcement on the notice board in the entrance hall. Cedric, who was nearby, gave him a curious look.

“What's wrong?”

“There's a Dueling Club,” Harry replied. “Ten guesses as to who's running it, and the first nine don't count.”

“What, you really think Lockhart's running it?” Cedric asked.

“Who else? Professor Flitwick might, but he's really busy with his classes,” Harry pointed out. “And what better way for Lockhart to show off if not to host something like this? It fits him perfectly.”

“Well, maybe he'll be a good teacher,” Cedric said with a shrug. “It can't hurt to check it out, right? And if he's not, then we've learned something anyways-- how not to duel.”

“Maybe,” Harry said with a small smile. He didn't mention it again until the night of the club, meeting up with Neville, Draco, and Hermione in the entrance hall before heading into the Great Hall to find it set up with a long golden dueling stage in the center of the room. Easy two-thirds of the student body was there, with a few professors stationed around the edges of the room to keep an eye on things. Luna found the four of them after a few minutes, drifting up with a small smile on her face.

“Hey, Luna,” Draco said, returning her smile with one of his own. “How're you doing?”

“Very well, thank you,” Luna replied. “Do you know who's teaching this?”

“Not really, but--” Draco began, but was cut off when Lockhart walked onto the stage, with Professor Daniels trailing behind him. Lockhart wore garishly purple robes that nearly outshone the ones Dumbledore preferred.

Lockhart waved for silence as he called out, “Hello! Can everyone see me? Can everyone hear me? Wonderful. Now, the Headmaster has given me permission to set up this little club with the caveat that everyone promises not to use the skills they may learn here against one another in the halls. Professor Daniels here has told me he knows a little about dueling, and has gladly agreed to be my assistant.” He flashed a bright grin. “It should be interesting to see what our compatriot from Down Under knows! Now, I'd like to start out with a little demonstration of what you might learn here, so pay attention.”

He took off his cloak and tossed it into the crowd with a flourish. It landed at the feet of a group of fifth-year Ravenclaw girls, none of whom took it. The 'Claws especially had taken Lockhart's stupidity hard, particularly those in their OWL and NEWT years. Lockhart didn't seem to notice, as he was too busy getting into position at one end of the dueling stage, with Daniels at the other.

“Now, as you can see, we're holding our wands in the accepted international combative positions,” Lockhart told the now-silent crowd as he and Daniels bowed to one another and then raised their wands like swords. “Of course, in a real battle, you won't be able to observe the niceties of traditional dueling, but that's perfectly fine. You're just here to learn the basics. On the count of three, we'll cast our first spells. They'll be defensive ones only; neither of us will be aiming to kill, naturally.”

Daniels looked like he was barely keeping from rolling his eyes at Lockhart's speech. “Ready when you are,” he called out. Lockhart grinned.

“One-- two –three!”

Both of them swung their wands above their heads before Daniels brougth his down with a quick movement. A flash of scarlet light later and Lockhart was flying back, his wand spiraling into the air and away into the crowd. Lockhart slammed into the wall and then slid down it into a crumpled heap. He recovered quickly, though his once-perfectly coiffed hair was in disarray.

“Well, there you have it! A Disarming Charm-- as you can see, I've lost my wand. Ah, thank you, Miss Brown,” he said, retrieving his wand from Lavender before getting back up on the stage. “However, I think that's enough demonstrating for now. Professor Daniels and I will be moving amongst you and putting you into pairs. Now, I want you to practice the Disarming Charm and only the Disarming Charm.”

He and Daniels moved through the crowd, matching up partners. Harry got matched up with Neville, while Hermione got paired with Luna and Draco with Pansy Parkinson, who was standing nearby. Pansy gave him a simpering smile, something that Draco ignored completely.

“Face your partners!” Lockhart called out from the platform. “And-- bow!”

Harry bowed to Neville, who returned the motion. They usually skipped the formalities when they dueled, preferring to just count off and then start casting. They waited for Lockhart to count off before letting their spells fly. However, not everyone had listened to Lockhart when he spoke of disarming only, and soon things were getting messy. Lockhart was useless in stopping things, so it fell to the other teachers to end the mayhem. A haze of greenish smoke hung over the hall, with a few people only halting when the teachers forced them to do so. These were mostly older students who still believed in House rivalries, though a few were first years who were eager to show off what they had learned so far.

“Maybe we should teach them how to block spells?” Daniels suggested dryly. “Simple shields, perhaps?”

“A capital idea!” Lockhart said. “Let's have a volunteer pair!” He looked around and then spotted Draco. “Aha! Mister Black. Miss Parkinson. Come on up here, please. Miss Parkinson, go with Professor Daniels. Mister Black, with me.”

Draco headed over to Lockhart, getting up on the stage near him. He adjusted his grip on his wand, flexing his fingers to ease the tension there. Pansy was watching him with a smirk and a self-satisfied expression. That put Draco on his guard immediately. He watched her, ignoring what Lockhart was saying and doing with his wand.

“Are you two ready?” Daniels called out. “Bow to your opponent!”

Draco sketched a short bow, not taking his eyes off Pansy. She bowed back, rising as quickly as she could without it being improper.

“Ready positions!”

Draco swung his wand high, settling into a stance that would let him move easily out of Pansy's way. He had to remind himself that he wasn't facing the far more experienced duelist Pansy had been in the prior timeline. Second-year spells only, he thought as Daniels counted them off.

Pansy immediately shot a dark blue spell at Draco that he dodged, fluidly rolling to one side before firing off two spells of his own in rapid succession: an Augamenti and a Glacius that had the floor under Pansy freezing and becoming very slippery. She shrieked as her feet skidded underneath her and she fell to the floor with a thump, the cold ice a shock against her legs.

Draco watched her wand skitter away, only relaxing when it was well out of her reach. He let his wand return to its holster before bowing to her, a sarcastic smile curving his lips.

“Fantastic job, Mr. Black!” Professor Daniels said. “An excellent use of two very simple spells to defeat your opponent. Everyone, pay attention. Dueling doesn't have to be all about flash and drawing things out. The best duelists know how to be quick and precise with their spells. Just ask Professor Flitwick. He's a world-class dueling champion, and likely has many stories he can tell you about various methodologies used in competitive dueling. I think that'll be it for today. We'll meet again after the winter holidays are over.”

~/~

“Pansy didn't bother us the rest of the time,” Draco said with a smirk. “I think she still believes that I'll 'see reason' and abandon Neville and Harry to marry her one day.”

“Well, that's a delusion she'll just have to get over,” Neville said firmly. “You're not getting away from us after everything we've been through.”

“Like I would want to. Anyways, we rode back on the Express with Hermione and Luna,” Draco continued on. “It was a pretty uneventful journey.”

“Glad to hear it,” Narcissa said. “Dinner will be soon. We can figure out when we'll invite the Abbotts and Lovegoods over for our discussion then.”

Said discussion took place several days later at Longbottom Manor, which had been decorated for the holidays by the house elves. A stately conifer sat in a corner of the drawing room, its branches festooned with silver and gold tinsel and glittering glass ornaments. Neatly wrapped presents were nestled under it, each carefully labeled with their recipient's name. Harry and the others were waiting there for the Lovegoods and the Abbotts, with the adults sitting on the various chairs and loveseats, while the three boys were settled near the fireplace, where a fire was merrily crackling away.

House elves guided the guests into the drawing room. Luna and her father, Xenophilius, were dressed in matching pine green robes; Luna had a sprig of holly pinned in her hair. Hannah and her parents were dressed far more conservatively, with Hannah in light blue robes and her parents in black ones, though her mother had accented hers with silver jewelry.

“Lord Abbott. Lady Abbott. Mr. Lovegood,” Alice said as she rose to her feet. “Welcome to Longbottom Manor.”

“Thank you for having us,” Hannah's mother said. “Please, just call us Sarah and Marcus. We don't really stand on ceremony.”

“Neither do I,” Xenophilius said. “You can just call me Xeno. Now, my lovely little moonbeam says that there's something we need to talk about?”

“Yes, there is.” Alice looked over at Harry and Neville, who had gotten to their feet along with Draco. “Boys?”

Harry glanced at Neville before speaking. “You might want to sit down, Hannah. This is going to be kind of unbelievable.”

Hannah gave him a confused look but sat down anyways, her parents on either side of her. “Go on, Harry.”

“Well, to put it plainly, you're the heir of Helga Hufflepuff by blood,” Harry said. “I'm the heir to Salazar Slytherin by conquest, while Luna and Neville are the heirs to Rowena Ravenclaw and Godric Gryffindor by blood. A simple Line Test will prove what we're saying is true.”

“And why are you telling us this?” Sarah asked.

“More importantly, why should we believe you and why should we care?” Marcus asked, getting straight to the point.

“Dad!” Hannah protested. “Harry wouldn't lie about something like this. He's not like that!”

“No, no, it's alright,” Harry said. “We can prove it. As for why you should care, you'd be denying Hannah a rich magical legacy if she didn't take up the title of Lady Hufflepuff. The Abbott title is patriarchal, after all, and will be going to her older brother Sean, as you well know. We'll also need her help in the future. We can't take up our seats until we're of age; as far as we can tell, it's a fail-safe built into the magics of the Wizengamot.” He drew his wand. “Now, the Potter Family Magics take the form of a griffin, which I'm sure you're aware of. The Slytherin Family Magics, however... Slytherin Magicae Familia!”

He flicked his wand, and a large glittering white serpent emerged, coiling up neatly on the rug in front of him. It was the work of a few seconds for Luna and Neville to summon the eagle and lion of the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor Family Magics as well.

“We've got the heir ring for Hufflepuff here,” Neville said as the magical representations faded away after a few seconds. “There's a representative from Gringotts in the next room who's looking after it. All that Hannah would need to do is try the ring on. If it doesn't accept her, then that's it. We would ask that you swear not to tell anyone else of what you learned about our statuses until we give you permission, though. There are those who would try to use that for their own gain.”

Sirius nodded. “We'd also like you to stay for a little ceremony we're going to have today,” he said with a grin. “A bonding ceremony, as a matter of fact.”

“Oh?” Sarah asked, looking intrigued. “Between whom?”

“Severus Snape, the Lord Prince, and his Lord-Consort-to-be, Remus Lupin,” Narcissa said with a smile. “They wanted a small ceremony, and since a Ministry official has to be present at a noble's bonding ceremony...”

“You figured it wouldn't hurt to invite us over anyways since I work at the Ministry,” Marcus finished. “Well, I can't say that a member of the Department of Magical Transportation would be the first department one would think of in regards to that requirement, but I would be honored to fill the role. I take it they're off getting ready?”

“Y-Yes,” Frank said. “My m-mother is helping R-Remus, while Severus h-has decided t-to lock himself in a g-guest room until the ceremony st-starts.”

“What? Why?” Xeno asked, surprised.

“Because he's freaking out and not letting anyone calm him down,” Draco said with a roll of his eyes. “We figure he'll be fine once the ceremony actually begins. Tirak, the Gringotts representative, will be performing the ceremony.”

“Why not someone from the Ministry?”

“Because Severus and Remus would rather the Ministry not be involved right now,” Sirius explained. “We agreed. Besides, they'll find out at the Winter Meet in a week anyways. Severus will be taking up his ancestral seat, and the announcement will be made then.”

“And that way no one can seek to overturn the marriage because of Remus' condition,” Sarah said, catching on. “Very clever.” She laughed. “And very Slytherin as well. Marcus, why don't we let Hannah try on the ring? If it doesn't accept her, no harm done. If it does, then our daughter will be one of the most listened to voices in our world when she comes of age, and she won't be alone in her duties. I for one don't see any problem with that.”

Marcus ran a hand over his face and then nodded. “Oh, alright. Go get this... Tirak, was it?”

Sirius did so, soon returning with Tirak, who was dressed in his best tailored suit in deference to the bonding ceremony. Tirak nodded to the others before focusing on Hannah. “You're the heiress to Helga Hufflepuff?”

“So I'm told,” she said. “How do we do this?”

“First the Line Test, and then you try the ring on,” Tirak told her. “I've got the treated parchment with me for the Line Test.”

It only took a few minutes for the Line Test to verify the legitimacy of Hannah's claim to the heirship, and soon after she was trying on the ring. It flashed gold as the Hufflepuff Family Magics settled easily on Hannah. Her eyes were wide as she came to terms with how her magic had shifted and changed. Neville stepped forward, reaching out with both hands to her.

“The Heir to the Lord of the Lions welcomes his sister in Magic,” he said as she took his hands. Gold and scarlet cords of magic wrapped around their wrists before fading away once Hannah responded. Luna and Harry did the same, and for the first time in over a thousand years, the magics of the four Founders were entwined with one another once more.

“Well, then,” Marcus said faintly, “congratulations, Hannah.”

Hannah beamed at him. “Thanks, Dad.” She looked back at the other Heirs. “Is there anything else I need to do?”

“Not right now,” Luna said. “When we return to Hogwarts, yes. We'll explain more later.”

“Well, alright,” Hannah said. “I--”

She stopped when Augusta came in, with Remus following after her. He was wearing a set of white dress robes that had runes embroidered in gold thread around the sleeve cuffs and bottom hem. The runes called for health, wealth, and prosperity in the marriage. Remus smiled at the others, smoothing his hands over his robes.

“Hello, everyone. How is everything going?”

“Perfect,” Sirius said. “How're you feeling, Moony? Ready to do this?”

“I've been waiting for this ever since the end of fifth year,” Remus said firmly. “I think this counts as the longest betrothal that wasn't arranged at birth.”

Sirius chuckled. “Maybe,” he agreed, “but you're finally getting it over with. And hey, you'll look good doing it.”

Remus laughed. “Thank you. Now, where's Severus?”

“Still upstairs, as far as we know,” Sirius said. Augusta sighed.

“I'll go get him,” she said, shaking her head. “I won't take long.”

She bustled off, returning a few minutes later with Severus, who was dressed in robes that matched Remus', though his runes were made with silver thread. Traditionally it was the Consort who wore the silver threaded robes, but given his lycanthropy, they'd switched it around. Even with the balancing between Remus and Moony, there were some things that couldn't be fixed, and the silver allergy was one of them.

“Severus. Glad to see you could make it to your own bonding ceremony,” Sirius joked. Severus just glared at him before turning his attention to Remus. His expression immediately softened when he saw his fiance in his wedding robes.

“Remus.”

“Severus,” Remus replied, smiling fondly at him. “You look wonderful.”

“As do you.” Severus turned to Tirak. “Master Tirak. Thank you for overseeing our bonding ceremony.”

“You're welcome,” Tirak said. “You have your rings?”

Severus nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Then take one another's hands and stand in the center of the room,” Tirak instructed. Severus and Remus did as told, clasping their hands together. “Good. Today is a day of celebration, for two souls are to be entwined forever more. Will you, Severus Snape, the Lord Prince, take this man to be your Lord-Consort, to know him and love him, to merge your souls and magics into a new and long-lasting blend that will further enrich the world that the Great Lady of Magic has set out before us?”

“I will,” Severus vowed.

“Then place the ring that signifies the outward expression of your vows on his left hand, where all may see it.”

Severus retrieved the ring from his pocket and then slipped it carefully onto Remus' left ring finger. It was the ancestral Prince Consort ring, which thankfully was made of white gold rather than the silver it resembled. It had runes engraved on the inner surface that called for love and fidelity, while there was a small piece of moonstone set into the top of the ring. It magically resized itself as it came to rest on Remus' hand, providing a snug yet comfortable fit.

Tirak nodded before turning to Remus. “Will you, Remus Lupin, take this man to be your Lord-husband, to know him and love him, to merge your souls and magics into a new and long-lasting blend that will further enrich the world that the Great Lady of Magic has set out before us?”

“I will,” Remus replied, not taking his eyes off Severus' face.

“Then place the ring that signifies the outward expression of your vows on his left hand, where all may see it.”

Remus placed the ring on Severus' finger, watching the gold band resize itself with a soft flash of magic. Severus' ring was set with a fire opal that shimmered in the light, with runes engraved on its inner surface that matched those on Remus' ring. Tirak made an approving noise at the sight of the ring resizing.

“As you have the required Ministry official and the other needed witnesses,” he said, unable to keep the dry tone out of his voice, “then I declare this marriage to be entirely and completely legal. Your records at Gringotts will be updated once I return to the bank. As for the records at the Ministry... I'm sure you can deal with that on your own.”

Severus nodded. “I'll be heading to the Winter Meet of the Wizengamot in a week. The announcement will be made then.”

“Thus letting the time for any complaints to be registered to lapse,” Tirak mused. “Interesting.”

“It's preferable, and unfortunately unavoidable,” Remus said with a sharp-toothed smile. “Such a pity.”

“Indeed,” Sirius added. “Congratulations, you two!”

“Make sure to kiss to keep the Nargles away!” Luna called out, much to the amusement of those gathered. Severus and Remus shared their first kiss as a married couple, luxuriating in the feel of family, friends, and love that surrounded them.

~/~

Severus waited rather impatiently at the heavy oak doors that led into the Wizengamot chambers, barely resisting the urge to tap his foot against the polished wooden floor. Thankfully, before he could get too annoyed, the doors swung open, allowing him entrance. Severus swept into the chambers, his robes swirling along behind him. He bowed first to the high boxes, looking forward to the day that they would be filled (though he'd never expected it to half be by a Potter and a Longbottom), and then to Albus Dumbledore as the Chief Warlock.

“Welcome, Lord Prince, to the ranks of the Wizengamot,” Albus called out. “Please take your hereditary seat.”

Severus nodded curtly to him before heading up to the Prince Family box. He settled in, feeling his Family Magics flare and then settle as the magics inherent in the Wizengamot recognized his claim as valid. Dumbledore cleared his throat to get the attention of the others.

“Is there any other outstanding business for this Meet?” he asked Tiberius.

“Just one thing,” Tiberius replied. “Lord Prince?”

Severus rose to his feet. “Thank you, Speaker Ogden. I have just one announcement, and it regards an addition to my House,” he said. “This is the formal announcement of my marriage to my Lord-Consort, Remus Lupin, who will be taking the name Remus Lupin-Snape, Consort Prince. All of the needed documentation has been filed with Gringotts, and with this announcement, my duties to the Ministry have been fulfilled as well.”

“You've taken a werewolf as your Consort?” Dumbledore blurted out. “Are you sure?”

Severus merely arched an eyebrow. “Quite,” he said. “As I am a master potioneer, I certainly won't have any trouble brewing the Wolfsbane he'll need on a monthly basis.” Not that Remus needed it; he hadn't taken the Wolfsbane potion ever since he and Moony had come to a balance, and was doing all the better for it.

“Right, of course.” Albus was panicking, though he did his best to hide it. How the hell had Severus and Remus broken the enchantment on them? The potion he'd used oh so long ago was of alchemical origin and nigh-on undetectable, let alone able to be combated. Its effects should've held until the two of them were dead, so what had happened? “Well, congratulations then, Lord Prince, on your marriage.”

“Thank you, Chief Warlock,” Severus said before taking his seat once more. Tiberius checked over his list and then set it down.

“The floor is now open for any new business,” he announced before taking his seat. Severus kept his eyes on Dumbledore, noting with some satisfaction that there was a note of panic in his eyes.

Perfect.

Chapter Text

EDIT (4/8/2016) : Apparently I'm as bad at math as JK Rowling. I managed to put Percy as being only three years older than the boys and Ron rather than four. My bad. The mistake has been fixed.


Hannah joined Neville, Draco, Harry, Hermione, and Luna in their carriage on the way back to Hogwarts. She usually rode with Susan and some of the other Hufflepuff girls, but she'd had the feeling that sticking with the other Founders' Heirs and their friends would be a good idea for this ride. She'd meet up with Susan and the others at the feast, of course, but for now, she was happy to be where she was.

She was startled when she felt the wards slide over her magical core and then wrap around it.

.: Ah, good, :. Lady Hogwarts murmured to her. .: Welcome, Helga's Heir. I've been hoping you would take up your legacy soon. I am Lady Hogwarts, though you can call me Acalia if you like. Please have one of the others bring you to the Hufflepuff wardstone soon to clean and cleanse it, preferably tonight. I believe Harry has a very useful tool to help you avoid the caretaker and his cat. :.

.: Of course, my Lady, :. Hannah said. .: Thank you. I'll make sure to talk to Harry during the feast :.

.: Wonderful. Enjoy the meal. I'll speak to you again once the wardstone is claimed and cleansed, :. Lady Hogwarts replied before her presence faded from Hannah's mind. Hannah smiled to herself as the carriage drew to a halt in front of the castle. She joined Harry at the Hufflepuff table, with Susan on her other side. Hannah knew she couldn't speak of her heirship to Susan, but there certainly weren't any barriers against her talking about the bonding ceremony she'd witnessed, nor the celebratory meal afterwards.

"It was wonderful," Hannah told Susan as they ate. "I never really expected to see Professor Snape- well, I guess it's Lord Prince now -to marry anyone, but they seemed very well suited for one another. Their bonding robes were gorgeous as well."

"I'm jealous," Susan said. "I've never really gotten to see a bonding ceremony. Well, not yet. My second cousin is going to be bonded this summer. That should be interesting."

"Definitely," Hannah agreed. "You'll need some good dress robes."

"Oh, Mum's going to be taking me shopping once school's over," Susan said. "My cousin's colors are blue and white, both of which will work with my coloring. I'm just thankful she didn't choose pink or something like that."

"Mmhm." Hannah finished off her food, waiting until they were back in the Hufflepuff Common Room to pull Harry aside to quietly talk to him. "Harry, the Lady said you'd be able to bring me to the wardstone?"

"Yeah, hang on. We'll have to wait until the common room empties out some before we can slip out," Harry murmured back. "I've got several things that'll help us do that. Why don't we go get our Charms books and study for a little bit until we can head out."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Hannah said. "I just need to get my book from my trunk."

"Same here. Meet you back out here?"

Hannah nodded and then headed to get her book from her trunk. She and Harry read quietly until the common room started to empty. Only when the last person had gone did Harry get out the Marauder's Map and the Invisibility Cloak from his pocket. Hannah stared at him in surprise.

"Is that an..."

"Invisibility cloak? Yep," Harry said with a grin. "It's a family heirloom. Got it from my father, who got it from his, and so on."

"The charms on that must be very strong," Hannah breathed. Harry's smile went lopsided.

"Something like that." He quickly checked the Map, nodded as he cleared and then returned it to his pocket. "Alright, let's go. The hallway's clear."

"I take it that's the useful tool the Lady mentioned?" Hannah asked, amused.

"Yep." Harry stepped close and drew the Cloak around the two of them before heading out of the entrance barrel and into the castle proper. They had to dodge Peeves and Mrs. Norris a few times before they were able to get to the corridor that led to the ward stones. Hannah's eyes went wide when she saw the Hufflepuff Badger across the chasm. Her awe only grew when she and Harry crossed the bridge and reached the massive platform in the center of the cavern.

"This is amazing," Hannah said, coming to a halt in front of the Badger. Harry nodded and then drew Hufflepuff's ceremonial dagger out of his bracer.

"Here. This is yours," he said, handing it over hilt first. "It's Helga Hufflepuff's ceremonial dagger. Cut your palm and then press it against the Badger before taking it away. Then you have to say, 'I-" and then you say your full name here, "-do claim and cleanse the wardstone set down by Helga Hufflepuff as is my right by blood. I give this gift of my blood to aid in the cleansing. May Magic see my gift and bless my purpose. So say I, so may it be!"

Hannah took the dagger, examining the badger's head on the pommel that had a yellow diamond between its teeth. She took a deep breath and then cut her palm before placing it against the Badger's head. Once she was sure she'd left a good imprint, she lifted her hand away.

"I, Hannah Catherine Abbott, do claim and cleanse the wardstone set down by Helga Hufflepuff as is my right by blood. I give this gift of my blood to aid in the cleansing. May Magic see my gift and bless my purpose. So say I, so may it be!"

The yellow diamonds set into the Badger's eyes flashed in recognition of her rightful claim to the Hufflepuff Family Magics, and the runes moving over the Badger turned crimson as the blood soaked in. Harry gently took her hand and healed it with his wand before Vanishing all the blood there. Hannah nearly missed what happened next. The runes on the central stone glowed red, green, blue, and gold in turn before turning the shimmering silver-white that reminded Harry of a Patronus.

"Oh, my," Hannah said. "Do you feel that?"

"The wards feel like they're singing," Harry replied, his eyes just as wide as hers. "Hang on."

.: My Lady, did the Headmaster notice anything? :. he asked.

There was a sad sigh from Lady Hogwarts. .: No, beloved. The Headmaster only keeps the most tenuous of connections to the wards these days. He more than likely thinks that their growing good health is his doing somehow, even though it's been well over thirty years since he's been down to the Great Stones. :.

.: What, really? :. Harry asked. .: That's horrible. And really irresponsible. What are the wards capable of now that all the Heirs have claimed and cleansed the Stones? :.

.: Well, for one thing, I can now protect fully against Dark creatures and beings, :. Lady Hogwarts said. .: I can also fully ensure that students cannot cross the boundaries of the Forbidden Forest. It used to be a beautiful place where students and staff alike could wander freely, but then the Acromantulas came. Hagrid is a wonderful groundskeeper, but the Headmaster indulges him too much in his love for dangerous creatures. The Cerberus was returned to Greece, thankfully, or else I suspect he'd be roaming the Forest as well. For now, I'll only let Hagrid and the Potions Master into the Forest. :.

.: We'll see about cleansing the Forest as soon as we can, :. Harry promised. .: After all, Cedric Diggory's father is part of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. We could mention it to Cedric and see what he says his dad can do. :.

.: Thank you beloved, :. Lady Hogwarts said. .: If your Remus comes to teach here like he did in your other life, then I'll allow him in, as according to you he was one of the best Defense teachers Hogwarts has ever seen. :.

.: He was, :. Harry said simply. .: Thank you, my Lady. Hannah and I best be getting to bed now. :.

.: Of course. Sleep well. I'll keep the hallways clear for you. Peeves, for all his destructive tendencies, has his uses. He'll serve as a fine distraction for Mister Filch, :. Lady Hogwarts told him with a laugh. Harry grinned.

.: That he will, :. he agreed. He draped the Cloak around him and Hannah once more as they made their way back to the Hufflepuff common room. They parted ways once they were safe and sound, leaving the common room empty once more.

~/~

Fred watched the staff table at dinner halfway through May, doing his best not to look too eager about what was supposed to happen. Operation Lose Lockhart, as it had been dubbed by Harry (who had admitted he wasn't the best at thinking up names for things like that, but it was the goal that mattered, not the name) was starting to reach its conclusion. There were only three rules for the whole thing: One, Lockhart couldn't be permanently harmed by any of the pranks. Two, no one else could be hurt or affected by the pranks. Three, they had to somehow get Lockhart to admit that he was indeed a fraud.

Over the various breaks, they'd set up pranks to target Lockhart while they were gone, so they couldn't be blamed for it. Most of the stuff was minor- changing the color of his hair, messing with the portraits he had in his classroom and office, and so on –but their grand finale was a mild potion that lowered Lockhart's ability to lie. They'd given it to him in small doses over the months to introduce, but the largest one was due to be delivered tonight in Lockhart's drink. The house elves had more than readily agreed to play along with it as they weren't particularly fond of Lockhart's pompous attitude either. Harry and Neville hadn't even had to use their influence as Founders' Heirs to get them to go along with it.

They'd compiled a list of all the inconsistencies in Lockhart's books, making sure to organize them neatly by year and place. They'd also copied it several times just in case the original somehow went missing. The plan was to submit the copies to the Board of Governors and the DMLE to make sure Lockhart's incompetence was well-documented with the appropriate authorities, as well as to expose his lies in front of the whole school. Hermione was the one chosen to approach Lockhart with the list, as she was the one who would be the most believable to have made it.

She made her move just before dessert, approaching the staff table with list in hand. It was a scroll of parchment at least three feet long in length, and filled with the neat printing that an Auto-Scribing Quill provided. Said Quill was the more accepted version of a Quick-Quotes Quill, and had a deep orange plume rather than the poisonous green of its cousin.

"Excuse me, Professor Lockhart?" Hermione said, coming to a halt in front of the staff table. Lockhart set down his fork and gave her a winning smile.

"Yes, Miss Granger?"

"Well, I was doing some revision, and I noticed a few things in your books that I was hoping you might be able to explain to me," she said with a shy smile.

"Why, certainly. What questions did you have?"

Hermione's expression quickly turned into something that a traditional Slytherin Pureblood would be proud of, going sharp and calculating in the blink of an eye. She unrolled the scroll, letting it fall to its full length. "This is a comprehensive list of all the inconsistencies in your books, organized by date and time. I would like to know how you expect us to pass any of our end-of-year exams in your class with all of these fallacies and falsehoods, especially those who have to take their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s."

Lockhart's smile faltered at her words, especially when the upper years at the nearby tables chimed in as well. One of his eyes twitched as he tried to fight the potion's compulsion, but the increased dosage was too hard to counter.

"I suppose I don't," he choked out. "I mean, none of the material in my books is really worth anything, and it certainly won't be useful on any of the standardized tests. Then again, given how behind the times the British Wizarding O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s are, it doesn't really matter."

"What do you mean?" Percy Weasley called out, rising to his feet. "Of course it matters! And why are they so behind the times?"

"I have no idea. All I know is that the International-level O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s are much more comprehensive and rigorous in their testing. That much I learned on my travels," Lockhart said before he was able to stop himself. Percy looked lost for words, unsure of how to take this academic betrayal. He sank down in his seat before burying his face in his hands.

Fred felt rather bad for Percy, knowing just how much stock his brother had put into his studying for the O.W.L.s. To be told that they were worthless had to have hit him hard. Dumbledore didn't look very happy with Lockhart; his eyes were narrowed and his beard was twitching.

"Is there any chance to take the International-level tests this late in the year?" Penelope Clearwater called out.

"Of course. They just don't advertise them at the Ministry here," Lockhart said. "All you have to do is apply to the ICW to take them and-"

"I think that's enough, Professor Lockhart," Dumbledore said tersely as he put a Silencing Charm on Lockhart. "I suspect someone's slipped you something. Poppy, perhaps you'd be willing to test him for any potions?"

"I will once I'm finished eating, Headmaster," Poppy replied calmly. "He'll be fine."

Professor Flitwick quickly hid a smile behind his goblet, while McGonagall merely pursed her lips together in faint disapproval, though it it was about Lockhart's actions, Dumbledore's Silencing Charm, or Poppy's comment, Fred wasn't sure. Either way, the prank was a success. The fifth and seventh years- at least, those that cared about such things –were likely to inquire about the ICW's versions of their career-critical tests, and the rest of the school now knew about Lockhart's idiocy and lies.

Fred had no doubt that the castle would be near-devoid of owls by curfew. He grinned. Mischief managed indeed.

~/~

The furor when the British Wizarding Community learned of Lockhart's misdeeds was intense. All awards that he'd earned were stripped from him, and he was swiftly ousted from the castle by the school board. The end-of-year exams for Defense Against the Dark Arts were canceled, though the rest of the exams were still carried out. Quite a few fifth and seventh years had applied to the ICW to take their versions of the tests; some sixth years, including Percy Weasley and Penelope Clearwater, had applied to see if they could retake their O.W.L.s at the same time.

Much to Percy's delight, he passed the International O.W.L.s with flying colors, though he was rather annoyed that the EE he got on DADA hadn't changed. Thankfully, that could be put down to the slipshod and random style of teaching he'd had over the years, so he wasn't too broken up over it, or so he said. His grades were more than good enough to keep him in his N.E.W.T. classes, and Dumbledore could hardly say that they weren't valid. The thought that the Ministry had been part of the lack of quality in the educational standards had taken some shine off working for them, and Percy could see why Bill and Charlie had chosen to avoid it. That made the young wizard think that perhaps he should start thinking about quietly researching alternate methods of employment as well.

Percy knew his mother wouldn't be too fond of the idea of yet another son not following in Arthur's footsteps, but he also knew that he didn't want to have any part in an organization that stifled the knowledge and learning opportunities of the people it was supposed to govern. Besides, even if you had connections at the Ministry, the starting wages were never very high and it would likely take years to move up to even a mid-ranking position. Hell, the twins already had jobs lined up for them after Hogwarts, assuming they got the grades for it, and if Percy knew anything about the twins, it was that when they wanted something, they worked hard for it, even if it didn't really seem like it.

He sighed, looking out the window of the Hogwarts Express as it steamed south towards London. Maybe they could put a good word in for him with Lord Black or Lady Longbottom. They seemed to be making waves that were reaching far places and affecting the world for the better. That was definitely something Percy could get behind.

Percy nodded to himself. No, even better, he'd write letters to Lord Black and Lady Longbottom himself. He couldn't rely on family connections forever, after all, and it was time he started doing things for himself, even if he was only sixteen. He owed that much to himself and, if he was lucky, his future family.

Percy leaned back against his seat, slipping off his glasses and tucking them safely in his pocket before closing his eyes, daydreaming about what was to come. Life suddenly looked far better than it had just a few short weeks ago.

~/~

Angus McLeod had been the Azkaban boatman for thirty years, taking over after his father passed away. The money was decent, even if the work was relatively sparse these days, which, he supposed, was a good thing. Less trips meant less dangerous criminals out and about, in Angus' mind. The biggest event that usually happened was the Minister's yearly examination, and that was coming up in a few days.

Angus had pulled the boat up onto the shore to make sure it was seaworthy. He was in the middle of carefully Banishing any of the barnacles with his wand when suddenly he felt a wave of bliss wash over him.

Stop what you're doing and listen to me, a voice murmured in his cotton-wrapped mind. It sounded vaguely familiar to him, but Angus couldn't quite place it. He did as told, feeling like it was the best thing to do. Good. Put the boat back in the water and then get in. I have an errand that needs to be done before the Minister visits, and you're just the man to do it.

Angus preened at that, soaking up the praise. He got precious little of it as it was. No one really cared about what he did, after all. He listened to what the voice had to say, nodding along to the honeyed words with a preternaturally calm smile on his face. With a careful flick of his wand, the boat was set aright and bobbing about in the water. He wrapped his cloak around himself, climbed in, and started sailing, disappearing into the fog that started just a few meters from the shore.

The man that came back several hours later was a far cry from the one that had left. His long hair was matted and dull, his robes torn and faded. The only things that were relatively well-kept were the cloak slung around his thin shoulders and the wand clutched in his trembling hand. He stumbled out of the boat when it reached the shore, falling to his knees on the rocky beach. Soft mutterings could be heard on the still night air as he rocked back and forth on the spot. Wreathed in shadows and charms, an unseen watcher smiled as the words issued forth:

"Black will be mine! Black must die!"

~/~

Angus McLeod's body was found three days later by a Muggle fishing boat. The official autopsy revealed that he'd broken nearly every bone in his body by dropping from a great height into the water, but nothing the medical examiner tested for could explain the eerily calm smile on Angus' face.

Chapter Text

 

“Lord Sirius? Lord Sirius, you have a Floo call. It's Madam Bones. She says it's urgent, sir.”

Sirius groaned as he opened his eyes. “Wha-- Mitzy?” He sat up and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Give me a moment. Who did you say was calling again? What time is it?”

“Five in the morning, sir, and Madam Bones.” Mitzy rocked back and forth on her heels, looking rather concerned. “She seemed tense.”

“Mmph. Thank you, Mitzy. Go down and tell her I'll be there in a minute. If she wants to come through, she has my permission to do so,” Sirius said groggily. “Coffee would be very much appreciated when I get there.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mitzy popped out of Sirius' bedroom, leaving him alone in the dark. Sirius groaned again as he dragged himself out of bed. He got dressed, pulling on a set of clean robes and doing a quick series of charms that fixed his bedhead somewhat and freshened his breath. Amelia was pacing in the sitting room, ignoring the coffee that was steaming in mugs on a sideboard. Sirius picked up one of the mugs, blowing across its surface before taking a sip.

Ah. Much better.

“Alright, Amelia, what's going on?” Sirius asked once he felt a little more awake.

Amelia stopped her pacing and turned to look at Sirius. “We've had an escape from Azkaban. It was discovered during the Minister's yearly inspection.”

Sirius' expression went grim as he set down his coffee. He didn't need it any more; he was unfortunately fully awake now, though he wished he was anything but. “Who is it, and how?”

“We're not sure how it happened, but as for who...” Amelia ran a weary hand over her face. “Lucius Malfoy.”

Sirius froze. “What?”

“I know, I know,” Amelia said, sinking down into a nearby chair. “He was kept in a medium-security level cell since the crimes he was charged for weren't exactly, well...”

“Murder?” Sirius said dryly as he took a seat across from her. Amelia let out a humorless laugh.

“Exactly. Since we weren't able to try him again for the crime of being a Death Eater thanks to that damn double jeopardy clause Dumbledore pushed through right after the war's end, we had to go with the attempted assault of a Lord of a Most Ancient and Noble House and possession and trafficking of black arts artifacts.” Amelia shook her head. “I swear, Dumbledore has made it harder to prosecute those who deserve it than he has protecting those who are innocent.”

“I'm well aware,” Sirius said. “So, what's the plan?”

“The Minister is panicking, of course,” Amelia said, idly reaching for the mug of coffee closest to her and then drinking from it. “He wants to send Dementors out looking for Malfoy. He thinks that Malfoy will either go for you or for Draco, but most likely you.”

“I've had enough of Dementors guarding me to last more than ten lifetimes,” Sirius said firmly. “I don't want them anywhere near me or--” He stopped, eyes widening. “Shit. Shit, shit, shit!

He got up, bolting down the halls in a manner that would've had his mother screeching at him to cease and desist immediately. Sirius only stopped when he reached the family wing, where Amelia couldn't follow him due to the wards protecting the staircase leading up to it. He skidded to a halt in front of Harry's door and then knocked on it rapidly. It took a few minutes for Harry to answer the door.

He wore sleep pants and a worn purple t-shirt with a greyhound on it. “Dad? What's goin' on?” he mumbled sleepily, trying to rub the slumber away from his eyes.

“What happened in your third year when I escaped from Azkaban?” Sirius asked urgently. “At the beginning, I mean.”

“I don't know,” Harry admitted. “I mean, Draco would probably know more than me. I only came back to the Wizarding World two weeks before school started that year.” He frowned. “Why? What's happened?”

“Lucius Malfoy's escaped from Azkaban,” Sirius said grimly, “and they don't know how or why. Amelia thinks he's likely coming after me or Draco, but most likely me since I was the one who pissed him off and got him caught.”

Harry glanced over at the door to Draco's room with a soft sigh. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he muttered. “Fuck. We might as well wake Draco and Cissa. They'll need to hear this too, and we probably shouldn't wait until morning.”

“Agreed. I'll go wake them.” Sirius paused and then grimaced. “I, uh, I left Amelia Bones downstairs in the sitting room. Would you go down and stay with her until the others and I join you.”

“Y-yeah, sure,” Harry said, belatedly covering his mouth as he yawned. “Lemme just grab my robe.”

He ducked back into his room, grabbing his soft bathrobe before heading downstairs to keep Amelia company.

“Madam Bones,” he said, giving her a small nod. “I would say it's a pleasure to see you, but given the news...”

Amelia shook her head. “No need to apologize. It's a dreadful time to bring this kind of news.”

“There's never a good time for this kind of news,” Harry pointed out, taking a seat on a couch. They were soon joined by Draco, Narcissa, and Sirius. Draco sat next to Harry, who wrapped an arm around his bond-mate's waist and pulled him close. Draco buried his face against Harry's shoulder with a yawn.

“ 'S way too early to be up during the summer,” Draco grumbled.

“I know, love, I know,” Harry replied, pressing a kiss against Draco's hair. “Madam Bones wouldn't come visiting if she didn't have a reason.”

“Still doesn't make it any better,” Draco muttered. “What's going on?”

Amelia set aside her coffee before leaning back in her chair. “I won't beat around the bush,” she said. “As I told Sirius earlier, there was a breakout from Azkaban a few days ago. It was only discovered when the Minister made his yearly inspection, as the prisoners' food is sent to their cells magically, and during the last weekly inspection, all the prisoners were accounted for. The prisoner who escaped was Lucius Malfoy. We're not sure how he escaped.”

“Given that he doesn't have the advantage of being an Animagus, he probably had help,” Harry said. “That was how Sirius escaped in the other timeline.”

“The boatman, Angus McLeod, is missing,” Amelia told them. “He might have been the one to help, but I don't think so. Angus usually kept to himself, and I doubt Lucius ever had anything to do with him before his imprisonment.” She shook her head. “Regardless, we think he'll probably go after Sirius, since that's who caused him to be imprisoned in the first place.”

“No,” Narcissa said, “Lucius is who caused himself to be put in Azkaban. He has always blamed others for his misfortunes. What is Fudge doing about this?”

“Well, there's a Kiss on sight order out for Lucius,” Amelia explained, “and--”

“Please tell me Fudge isn't planning on putting Dementors around Hogwarts,” Draco interrupted. “They were bad enough the last time.”

“We didn't have the improved wards last time,” Harry pointed out. “The Lady says that she can fully protect against Dark creatures, which should include Dementors. The wards now extend entirely around the castle properly, and all gaps have been sealed. The Quidditch pitch and Black Lake are fully protected as well. They can't come anywhere near the castle or on its grounds. They'll have to stay at the border or in the Forest.”

“I'm not entirely sure what Fudge is planning on that front,” Amelia admitted. “Hopefully he'll let me know soon.”

“If things go as they did last time, we'll have the means to defend ourselves,” Draco told her, “and others. Harry, Nev, and I can all produce corporeal Patronuses, though Harry's has changed. It used to be a stag, but...”

“We've been through a lot, and have been touched by death,” Harry muttered. He drew his wand from its ever present holster and then summoned his Patronus, quietly murmuring the spell. The silvery white coatl was soon joined by a large dog, a tall crane, and a stout beaver. Draco smiled faintly before adding his own Patronus to the mix, curious to see what it would be. A raven emerged from his wand, flying around the room before perching on the back of the dog.

“It used to be a peacock,” he admitted. “Like the ones at Malfoy Manor.”

“Those things always ate my plants,” Narcissa said with a note of disapproval as the Patronuses faded away. “Lucius liked them because he thought they made us look important. They were nuisances, the lot of them, even if they were pretty to look at.”

“Rather like Lucius himself?” Sirius said dryly. Narcissa smirked.

“Something like that,” she said. She shook her head. “I'm not going to live in fear of Lucius. If he tries to attack us, we'll put him down firmly.”

“Agreed.” Draco let his wand go back into its holster. “He won't ruin my life, and I refuse to let him do the same for my family.”

Harry hummed, a thought coming to him. “If the train ride goes the same way as it did last year, we might want to gather all the first years in one place to protect them.”

“What? Why?” Amelia asked.

“Because a Dementor came on the train to look for Sirius,” Draco said. He winced. “I was... well, let's just say I was more of Lucius' son back then than my mother's.”

“We were rivals until after seventh year,” Harry explained. “To be honest, I think it was the bond trying to draw us together, but other circumstances got in the way.”

“You mean me being an idiot and trying to get my father's approval?” Draco said dryly. “I was a prat to you right from the start.”

“To be fair, I wasn't exactly in the best frame of mind to make friends with you then,” Harry said with a sigh. “Dumbledore had already started molding my thinking, not to mention all the blocks and limiting nets he had on me and my magic. I mean, sending Hagrid to get me from the Dursleys? Hagrid is a great guy, but he's definitely one of the people firmly in Dumbledore's pocket. Hagrid was one of the first magical people I met back then, so I trusted what he said was true. He extolled the virtues of being in Gryffindor and of Dumbledore's greatness. He also said that there wasn't a witch or wizard who didn't go bad that wasn't in Slytherin. The Sorting Hat originally wanted to put me in Slytherin, actually. I wonder if it recognized the claim I had to the heirship even then.”

“Maybe,” Draco mused. “I suppose we'll never know. It doesn't matter now anyways.”

“True. So, the thing about the first years,” Harry continued on, getting back to the topic at hand, “I want to make sure they're safe and in one place. They looked terrified when they came off the train-- more terrified than usual, I mean. Hogwarts is supposed to be a place of magic and wonder, not fear. I'd prefer they start their journeys with at least some sense of protection. I think a contingent of people from all houses would be best. Would you ask Susan to ride with us? We'll see if we can't find a few prefects to be there as well. Maybe Cedric Diggory and Jemma Farley. I would ask Percy Weasley and Penelope Clearwater, but they'll have Head Boy and Girl duties to attend to all throughout the ride.”

“Jemma graduated last year,” Draco said. “Alistair Moresby and Vivienne Cooper are the new fifth year Slytherin prefects. At least, they were back then. Moresby's a snob, but Cooper's a half-blood and is very protective of the younger Serpents. We'll see about asking her. And there's always the chance that Remus will be offered the DADA position again. The curse has been lifted, after all now that the Slytherin wards have been cleansed.”

“You should probably ask Professor McGonagall first,” Sirius advised. “She is the Deputy Headmistress after all. Other than that, I think it's a great idea.”

“As do I,” Amelia said. “Floo-call her later.” She checked her watch. “I'd advise you to wait a few hours first. She doesn't appreciate early morning calls. I'd better be going. I'm sorry I don't have any more information for you.”

“It's alright,” Narcissa told her as Amelia got to her feet. “Thank you for coming, Amelia. It means a lot to hear it from you personally rather than the newspaper.”

“No problem,” Amelia replied. She headed for the fireplace, gathering a small handful of glittering Floo powder from the pot on the mantle before tossing it into the fire. She waved goodbye and then stepped into the emerald colored flames, calling out “The Ministry of Magic!” before disappearing in a rush of wind and flames.

Sirius scrubbed his hands over his face. “Ugh. This is... Fuck. Really shitty.”

“At least we got to hear about the escape before the Prophet mangled the story and hyped up the fear,” Harry said with an annoyed twist to his mouth. “Honestly, we should just buy the damn thing and force them to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.”

Narcissa made a thoughtful noise. “That would be useful,” she agreed. “Maybe we could have them take an oath. If they don't tell the truth in their stories, they'd lose their jobs.”

“Better than losing their magic,” Draco said. He tipped his head back as he thought. “We'd have to go through a proxy company so no one can accuse us outright of trying to manipulate the news, especially given Lucius' escape.”

“Should we rename it?” Harry asked. Draco shook his head.

“No, the Prophet is a well-known name in Great Britain,” Sirius said. “Most people trust it. We can use that built-in audience. No, an oath would likely be the best way. As for this company...” He tapped his fingers against his mouth thoughtfully. “Did you guys have Animagus forms in the other timeline? We could name it after them.”

“We never gained them, though we did do the mediation to search them out,” Draco said. “If we'd completed the transformations, I would've been a peregrine falcon, Neville would've been a wolf, and Harry...”

“I would've been a king cobra,” Harry finished with a lopsided smile. “I'm not sure if our forms will be the same this time around, assuming we search them out again.”

“We might as well,” Draco said. “It'll be something to do in our spare time this year, along with Hogsmeade weekends and whatnot.”

Harry laughed. “I'll have proper permission this time 'round,” he said. “Last time, I had to sneak in until Dumbledore...” He frowned. “That's odd.”

“What?”

“Well, only parents or guardians are supposed to be able to give permission for students to go to Hogsmeade, right?” Harry said in response to Draco's question.

“Yes,” Narcissa said. “It's for the safety of the students.”

“Then why in the world did Dumbledore let me go to Hogsmeade if the Dursleys were supposed to be my guardians, not Sirius?” Harry asked. “You--” he pointed at Sirius “--sent a note at the end of third year giving me permission to go to Hogsmeade. Dumbledore accepted it, which means he accepted you as my guardian, but he never told me. I never really thought about that whole issue until now.”

Draco let out a huff. “He must've been legally named your guardian in your parents' wills, in that case.”

“It'd make sense. I mean, as the third member of a trichromatic bond, he'd be legally able to take you as his ward,” Narcissa said. “Did you ever see your parents' wills?”

Harry shook his head. “No. I didn't even--” He looked down at his hands in frustration. “No one ever mentioned that they might even have wills. Then again, people didn't mention a lot of things to me back then. Would it be worth it to go look at them?”

“Maybe, but not right now,” Sirius said. “Wills are...” He blew out a slow breath. “To make a will, you have to use a recording orb. The recording is a visual and auditory one. Maybe it would be best to wait until this mess with Lucius is over before we go looking into the past.”

“Yeah,” Harry said softly. “ 'S probably for the best.” He yawned widely. “Sorry.”

Sirius waved off the apology. “You two go back to bed. I'll be up for a while thanks to that coffee.”

“I'm going to go back to bed as well,” Narcissa said, “but Sirius, if you need anything, don't hesitate to wake me.”

“Sure, thanks,” Sirius said. Narcissa rose gracefully to her feet and then left, but not before brushing a goodnight kiss against Draco and Harry's foreheads. The two young men said their good nights before leaving Sirius to his thoughts.

~/~

The rest of the summer was spent relaxing as much as possible, even with the threat of Lucius out there. As they'd told Amelia, the Potter-Black family was not going to hide behind their wards and wait it out, so they made sure to go to Diagon Alley as often as they liked. Harry, Neville, and Draco started the meditations needed to search out their Animagus forms. It took several weeks, but eventually they confirmed that at least those hadn't changed with their trip back in time. They had to promise their parents that they wouldn't try for their forms without adult supervision, though the boys thought this was a reasonable restriction. At least they weren't being told not to do it at all.

As expected, Remus did get invited to be the DADA teacher that year by Dumbledore. Remus had been hesitant to accept the position at first. Severus was the one to convince him to take it.

“Look, we don't really have any true adult allies within the castle that know about everything the boys went through. If they have a problem, they can go to you,” he said. “Besides, according to them, you were an excellent teacher and quite highly liked. I wouldn't want you to deny yourself that simply because of one man.”

“And now that the curse on the position is gone,” Harry added, “the only way you'll get sacked is if someone does something stupid. I'd suggest accepting the position and then putting an announcement in the Daily Prophet about your condition and the fact that your Potions Master of a husband will be brewing the Wolfsbane needed for your monthly transformations. I hear the new owners of the Prophet really value honesty.”

After some debate, they'd named the company they'd used to buy out the major shares in the Prophet 'Torchlight Publications', not wanting to give away the game entirely. The name didn't tie directly to any of them, but still held meaning to them, representing the light of truth. All of the staff were required to take an oath to report true and fair in their stories, even if it looked bad for the Blacks, Potters, Longbottoms, or the Ministry. For those unwilling to take the oath, they were released with a respectable severance package.

Rita Skeeter, seeing how the wind was blowing, was the first one who took the oath, not wanting to lose her job. Besides, she'd gotten a taste for how the unvarnished truth could be used to make the high and mighty fall from their perches thanks to Gilderoy Lockhart's confession, and she wanted more. There were only three who didn't take the oath; the rest followed Rita's lead and kept their jobs. They were handed a torch-shaped pendant that had bluebell flames flickering on its top to show that they'd taken their oath. The flames wouldn't harm the reporters or their clothing; said reporters were told that the pins represented the Light of Truth they would be carrying with them as they did their jobs.

The pendants were also emergency Portkeys that could be activated if the reporters got into life-threatening trouble; they only had to whisper the activation word of 'Veritas' to be immediately taken to the Prophet's home office. The staff seemed far happier with their new situation, as those who took the oath got a significant pay rise with the acquisition of the paper. All in all, it was a much better situation for all those involved. The public seemed happy with the Prophet's new take on things as well.

Remus followed Severus' advice and put a small notice in the paper two weeks before the school term was due to start. It would give any complaints time to be registered with the school board. Much to his surprise, there weren't any, so he gladly made his way to Hogwarts on August 31st to make his classroom and private quarters ready. Severus would be granted access to Remus' private quarters under the pretense of giving him his monthly potions; the fact that they were married meant that his access was granted the rest of the time as well. It was an old rule and often went unused, as Hogwarts Professors tended to stay unmarried.

Professor McGonagall had given Harry and the others permission to gather the first years at the train station, provided they ask at least two prefects to help. Cedric was more than happy to do so, and after Draco had sent her a letter, so was Vivienne Cooper. They met on the platform an hour early with signs that would guide the first years to them. The group consisted of the four Heirs, Draco, Hermione, Susan Bones, and the two prefects.

They figured they'd probably have to split into three compartments at the very least to manage it all, but as long as there was someone in each compartment that could produce a Patronus or a Patronus shield, the three boys weren't worried. Cedric and Vivienne could each produce a Patronus shield, which was better than nothing.

A few first years drifted over once they saw the signs floating over the group's heads, and by 10:45, there were forty or so new students gathered around them. Each compartment could hold up to ten students comfortably, though a few Space Extension Charms here and there would make the fit better. The older students shepherded the first years onto the train, helping with trunks and cages until everyone was situated in four adjoining compartments, two on each side of the train. Hannah, Luna, and Hermione stayed with Vivienne and Cedric, while Susan went to ride with some of her friends, as she'd only promised to meet the first years, not ride with them.

Once everyone was settled, the first years began asking questions and introducing themselves to one another. Purebloods mingled with half-bloods and mundane-born with little problem, though a few arguments had to be broken up with firm words. The train started off precisely at eleven, the driving rain outside chilling and fogging the windows almost immediately. The older students kept the first years occupied as the train chugged north, with Harry, Draco, and Neville moving between the various compartments. They got sucked into a discussion with some of the first years about wands and how to care for them about two-thirds of the way into the trip.

“Your wand is a tool that you need to take care of,” Neville began, taking a seat on one of the few empty spots available. Draco and Harry leaned against the window, ready to pitch in when needed. “A wand is one of the most important things you can buy in the Wizarding World. If you take care of your wand, it will take care of you. If you have a well-matched wand, your spellwork will be unfettered. However, if your wand is not a good match for you, your magic will be harder to control. Does anyone have a legacy wand with them?”

A few of the purebloods raised their hands. Neville sighed. “While using a legacy wand can work, it's far better to have a wand suited solely for yourself.” He smiled lopsidedly. “Trust me, I know. My grandmother wanted me to use my father's wand, but it didn't work for me.”

“You'll learn more about the importance of having a properly suited wand in Charms and Transfiguration,” Harry said. “Alright, let's play a little guessing game. Where do you think my wand is?”

“Up your sleeve!” one of the bolder first years called out.

“No way, it's in his pocket!” another said.

Harry chuckled softly. “Nev, want to try to summon my wand?”

Neville arched an eyebrow but drew his wand anyways, sliding his hand into his sleeve to hide the fact that his wand was in his holster. He winked at the first years before saying, “Accio Harry's wand!”

Nothing happened, not that he expected it to. There was a general air of disappointment from the first years at that.

“Don't worry about it,” Draco said, pushing away from the window. “There's a reason why Harry's wand didn't come. Here, look.” He pushed up his right sleeve to show off his holster. “All three of us have wand holsters. They're dimensional stores. They keep our wands from being summoned or stolen from us. You can buy them via owl order. I'd suggest sending an owl to Moorehaven's Wands in Historic Alley. That's where we got ours. They can also store a few small things in them as well besides your wands. I keep a--”

The train started slowing, which made the three boys tense up.

Go, Draco said. I'll stay here. Warn Cedric and Vivienne.

Be safe , Neville told him before heading out into the hallway with Harry. They each took a compartment, warning Cedric and Vivienne to be on guard for Dementors. The train came to a juddering halt with a squeal of brakes, the lights flickering as the train stopped before fading entirely. Harry drew his wand, hushing the first years in the compartment. He sent up a few softly glowing orbs of light that illuminated the compartment.

Stay away from the door,” he ordered. “No matter what happens, don't go near the door.”

Those near the door scrambled away, huddling near the window. Harry stayed on guard, watching the door intently. He saw it slide open, the dead, clammy hand of the Dementor pulling it back.

Lucius Malfoy isn't here!” he said as some of the first years screamed. “Go away!”

The Dementor drew in a rattling breath, and it felt like the temperature in the compartment dropped to near freezing. Harry didn't waste any time; he sent his Patronus at it, the coatl striking at the Dementor and trying to herd it away. The Dementor reared back before leaving, Harry following after it. He saw Neville and Draco out in the hall as well; Draco's raven was darting around a second Dementor's head and pecking at it, while a silvery vulture that Harry figured had to belong to Neville was helping drive the foul beasts away.

The two Dementors got off the train, hounded by the three Patronuses until they were well clear of the Express. Only then did the train start moving again and the boys return to their compartments.

What were those things?” one of the first years (a mundane-born by the name of Alexa Oldfield, if Harry remembered right) asked when he came back, tears streaking her face. She was one of the smallest of all the first years, and her distress caused Harry to go over and wrap her up in a comforting hug. She held onto him tightly, face pressed against his shoulder.

Those were Dementors,” he said, gently stroking his hand over her hair. “They guard the Wizarding prison of Azkaban. I've got something that'll help with the effects if you like.”

Alexa nodded and reluctantly let go of him so he could fetch the bag of Chocolate Frogs from his trunk. He passed the candy out, urging them to eat the chocolate. He had one himself, sighing with relief at the warmth that passed through him as he sat down.

Do you guys want to see something beautiful?” he asked. At the various nods, he summoned his Patronus one last time. “This is my Patronus. It's the only thing that Dementors don't like. You have to think of the happiest memory you can, let it fill you up, and then cast. However, it takes a lot of power to do it, more power than most first years would have. However, you don't need to worry about the Dementors while you're on the grounds of Hogwarts. They'll only be patrolling the border and be guarding the gates.”

He watched the younger students look at the Patronus with wide eyes. “Do you want to name it?”

We can do that?” Astoria Greengrass asked. Harry nodded.

If you like. I certainly wouldn't mind.”

After a fierce debate, they eventually came up with Scalewings, though Salazar was a close second. Harry was more than willing to go with that, and Scalewings seemed quite pleased with the choice of names, preening its feathers before fading away.

Will you stay with us?” William Tomlinson (who Harry vaguely remembered as a Ravenclaw in the previous timeline) asked. “When we leave the train?”

Well,” Harry began, “I'll see what I can do, but you'll be with Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper. He can protect you.”

Can he cast a Paronus?”

Patronus,” Harry corrected gently, “and no, he can't.”

Then we want you to stay with us,” William said firmly. There was a clamor of agreement from the others that made Harry hold up his hands.

I'll see what I can do,” he said, “but I can't promise anything.”

Alexa hugged him again, cuddling in close.

Loves, how's it going with your groups? Mine wants me to stay with them until they get to the castle.

Only you, Draco said with a laugh. Though admittedly, mine look like they wouldn't mind the company either.

Well, maybe we could use Engorgio on the boats; at least, a temporary one, so we can ride with them, Neville suggested.

Hm. That could work. We'd have to convince Hagrid, Harry said. Then again, we could always just say that Professor McGonagall gave us permission. She did, after all, tell us to keep an eye on them.

Stretching our instructions to the max? Draco chuckled. You're getting more Slytherin by the day, my love. I love it.

I'm just as much Slytherin as I am any of the other four houses, Harry said. He cleared his throat. “Alright, Draco, Neville, and I will stay with you until we reach Hogwarts. We'll have to talk to Hagrid, but the Deputy Headmistress, Professor McGonagall, has given us permission to keep an eye on you. She's head of Gryffindor House and is the Transfiguration professor. She's fair but strict, and is very protective of her Lions. Professor Sprout is the head of Hufflepuff House and is the Herbology professor. She's very fair and just as protective of her Badgers as Professor McGonagall is of the Gryffindors. Slytherin House is headed by Professor Babbling. She teaches Ancient Runes. Ravenclaw House is headed by Professor Flitwick. He's the Charms Master. Your house at Hogwarts doesn't define you. Just because you're Sorted into Slytherin doesn't mean you're automatically going to become a Dark wizard or witch, and just because you're Sorted into Hufflepuff doesn't mean you're going to fail in life, unlike what some people say. I'm in Hufflepuff and I seem to be doing alright, after all. Don't try to force your way into a House. Let the Sorting come naturally.”

Harry smiled. “Also, a little tip for you all: you only have to sit at your House tables during the Welcoming and Leaving Feasts. All other times, you can sit wherever you like. Don't let the House differences dissuade you from making friends. We've got an all-House study group that meets weekly in the Great Hall, usually on Sundays. You're more than welcome to join us. There'll be fliers put up in the Common Rooms once it gets started up again.”

Daphne-- she's my sister –was talking about that!” Astoria said. “She said it helped a lot with getting good grades on her homework and tests. I'm definitely going to go, no matter what House I'm in.”

We'll be glad to see you there,” Harry told her. “That goes for all of you.”

 

~/~



When the train reached Hogsmeade Station, Harry, Neville, and Draco led the first years to where Hagrid was waiting, using modified Shield Charms to keep the rain off of them and the younger students. It took some convincing, but eventually Hagrid agreed to let them come along for the ride. Harry had to convince Alexa to let go so they could all fit in the boat. She stayed close by his side, however, even as they made their way up the soggy lawn, taking hold of his hand in her desire for comfort.

They met Professor McGonagall at the front steps. She gave them an amused look but didn't say anything as they trooped inside. The three boys said their goodbyes, promising the first years that everything would be alright and that they were in good hands. Alexa looked rather worried but went with Professor McGonagall anyways.

How much d'you want to bet that she's going to end up in Hufflepuff so she can be close to her hero?” Draco teased gently.

Oh, hush you,” Harry retorted. “Hey, Nev, your Patronus: very nice.”

Neville laughed. “Thank you. I wasn't expecting a vulture, but it makes sense. I'm sure Gran will find it funny.”

It did resemble the one on her hat,” Harry agreed. “I think she'll like it.”

Definitely,” Draco said with a grin. “See you in the morning?”

Mmhm. Enjoy the Feast.” Neville kissed the two of them on their cheeks before heading to the Gryffindor table. Harry and Draco said their own goodbyes to one another and then went to their own tables, eager to see the Sorting. Harry listened to the Hat's song after the first years were brought in, clapping once it was done.

Sure enough, Alexa got Sorted into Hufflepuff, finding a spot near Harry. She waved at him, a bright smile on her face. Harry waved back, feeling highly amused. He enjoyed the feast, occasionally glancing up at the staff table. Remus was in an animated discussion with Professor Daniels, looking far happier and healthier than he had back in the prior timeline. He was definitely better dressed as well now that he didn't have to worry about having a job or his monthly transformations.

The feast ended with Dumbledore's traditional warning about the Forbidden Forest and banned items, as well as one about the Dementors before they were sent off to bed. The school song, thankfully, hadn't been sung since Harry's first year, and according to Lady Hogwarts, had been banned by a staff vote that same year.

Harry headed down to the Hufflepuff Common Room with the others, Alexa grabbing onto his hand as they went. He suspected he'd just gained a little sister in her, which he didn't mind. He could always use more family. They parted ways in the common room, heading to their separate dorms.

Night, Ernie,” Harry said as he got into his pajamas.”

Night, Harry,” Ernie replied with a yawn. “Sleep well.”

You too.”

Harry got into bed and closed his eyes, eager to see what the morning would bring.

Chapter Text

Classes started the next day. None of the boys had taken Divination this time around, as one really needed to have some form of the Sight to get any sort of usefulness out of the class. Instead, they'd gone for Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, and Care of Magical Creatures, as those would be useful for their future endeavors. Hermione, thankfully, had not gone as work-mad as she had in the previous timeline and was taking a reasonable class-load as well, taking Arithmancy and Ancient Runes alongside her core classes.

She'd wanted to take as many electives as she could, but she'd soon been dissuaded by her friends and the upper years in their study group. Muggle Studies was woefully out of date, with the material being stuck at least seventy years in the past. She didn't have the Sight, so Divination was out of the question. She'd contemplated taking Care of Magical Creatures as well, but had decided against it in the end, figuring that Arithmancy and Ancient Runes would be enough new material to go on with for the time being. Besides, she'd be starting to deal with minor paperwork and decisions associated with the Dagworth-Granger House, as was traditional for Wizarding heirs starting their third years. Harry, Neville, Draco, and several others in their year would be doing the same.

Draco and Harry were surprised to see how exhausted Neville looked when he came down for breakfast. He sat down across from them at the Hufflepuff table, pushing his plate aside before resting his head on his folded arms with a groan.

“Nev?” Draco asked, worry furrowing his brow. “What's wrong? Did you sleep at all last night?”

There was a muffled sigh from Neville before he lifted his head from its impromptu pillow. “Ron Weasley's back. I didn't see him before bedtime last night because I was busy with the first years,” he said. “I don't know if it's because of the potions mishap or if I'm just not remembering right, but he snores like a freight train. I had to put up several Silencing Charms on my curtains, and even those didn't block all the noise. I'll have to see what I can do to fix it tonight.”

“Merlin. I'd forgotten about that,” Harry said with a wince. “Maybe you should ask Professor Flitwick for some stronger charms. That, or Acalia might be able to help.”

Neville laughed weakly. “I hope so.” He scrubbed a hand over his face, making a soft noise of surprise when Draco handed him a small vial of Pepper-up Potion. He unsealed it, sniffed at it, and then nodded before tipping it back. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Draco shook his right wrist a little, showing off his holster-bracelet. “I keep a few on me just in case, among other things.”

“You've got chocolate in there, right?” Harry checked, handing Neville the jug of freshly-squeezed orange juice.

“Of course.” Draco grinned. “A few Chocolate Frogs, as well as some good dark chocolate Mother gave me before we left.”

“Lucky,” Neville said as he put some food on his plate, the potion that he'd taken helping give him the energy he'd so sorely needed.

“Don't worry, I'll share some,” Draco assured him. “Or I'll just get some more sent to us.”

Or we could just go to Honeyduke's,” Harry pointed out in between bites of his scrambled eggs. “I mean, we do have Hogsmeade trips this year. That, and we can owl order if needed.”

“True.” Neville buttered a piece of toast with an idle hum before biting into it. He chewed and swallowed before continuing on. “Today's going to be interesting with classes starting. You two have your schedules yet?”

Draco shook his head. “Not yet,” he said. “We'll get them after breakfast. Why?”

“DADA. Remember the first lesson?” Neville said quietly. “The boggart?”

Harry leaned back, running a hand over his face. “Well, fuck,” he muttered. “Gryffindor had it first, followed by Slytherin and Ravenclaw, if I remember right, which leaves Hufflepuff for last.”

“Maybe that's a good thing,” Draco said. “It'll give us time to prepare. The problem is, we don't know if it's going to be the same.”

“I know it won't be the same for me,” Neville said. “I'm hardly afraid of Severus any more.”

“I suppose we'll find out soon enough.” Harry sighed before turning back to his food. “I suppose we can't really worry too much about it. What happens, happens. We'll just have to hope it's nothing too... revealing.”

There wasn't much to be said after that, so they concentrated on their food, hoping things would go well.

~/~

Harry's memory was correct. The Gryffindors had the first third year DADA class of the new school year that Monday. Neville stayed quiet through Remus' explanation of what a boggart was and how to defend against it. Neville drew his wand as Remus arranged the class to his satisfaction. Neville stayed near the back of the crowd, not wanting the boggart to focus on him. He figured it'd be best for him to be the last to face it so people would be less interested in what the boggart turned into.

It was with some interest and faint amusement that Neville saw that Ron's boggart had turned into a giant potion bottle with a tag attached reading 'Drink Me'. He doubted that Ron had ever read any of Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll had been a Mundane-born who'd used the stories as a covert way to share how it felt to be new to the Wizarding World and magic in general), but there were enough Mundane-born in the audience that the boggart had probably pulled the image from their minds. Ron had to cast the Riddikulus charm twice before the bottle turned into a brown vase, but eventually he moved out of the way to let Seamus have a go.

As each student took their turn facing their fears, Remus had them move to the side so the boggart would focus entirely on the person in front of it rather than get confused. When it came to his turn, Neville took a deep breath and then stepped forward to face the boggart. It flickered from the voiceless banshee Seamus had defeated to the dead forms of Harry and Draco. They lay on their backs, looking almost peaceful, save for the fact that they were gaunt and pale. Neville let out a hiss of air at the sight; he'd seen far too many like that when the plague had taken them.

Riddikulus!” he all but growled. The two bodies changed, becoming healthy and warm again. They let out huge, over-the-top snores before Remus stepped in. Much to Neville's surprise-- though to be fair, it made sense, given the changes they'd made –his boggart wasn't the moon, but rather Severus sneering in disgust at him. Remus flicked his wand almost lazily as he spoke the correct spell. The boggart's sneer evaporated as it stuck its tongue out childishly at Remus, who banished the boggart back into the cupboard so his other classes could have a turn.

“Very good everyone!” Remus announced as he locked the cupboard and then put up a sign that said to leave the boggart within alone. “You all did wonderfully. Now, I would ask that you don't tell your year-mates about this class until everyone's gone through it. I wouldn't want the surprise to be ruined, after all.” He checked his watch. “You've got enough time to get back to the classroom and get your bags. Class dismissed. Mr. Longbottom, could you hold on for a minute, please?”

Neville held back as the rest of the Gryffindors left the staff room, chatting animatedly with one another. Remus waited until they were gone before turning to Neville.

“Are you alright?” he asked Neville softly. Neville nodded, running a hand over his face.

“Yeah, I'm fine,” he said. He smiled wryly. “We knew this was coming, but we didn't know how the boggart would react. I'm glad it didn't do anything too revealing.”

“As am I. I'll keep an eye out for Draco and Harry,” Remus promised. “You'd best get going.”

“Right. Thanks,” Neville said, giving him a faint smile. He hurried out, doing his best to banish the image of his dead bond-mates from his mind.

~/~

Draco was the next to have DADA of the group on Wednesday. The fears of his fellow Slytherins were less childish than some of the Gryffindors', as they often had darker upbringings than their Lion counterparts. Draco grasped his wand and then caught the boggart's attention as Pansy stepped out of the way. The boggart shifted shapes, becoming what at first Draco thought was his father. The cold gaze and haughty sneer were part of Lucius' trademark persona, but after a moment, Draco realized it wasn't him. The eyes were the wrong shade of blue and the hair too dark. It was with a sinking stomach that Draco watched the boggart version of his older self smirk before he rolled up his left sleeve to show the Dark Mark proudly emblazoned there.

Draco glared at the image before flicking his wand imperiously. “Riddikulus!” he intoned, forcing the boggart's tattoo to change into a cartoonish looking bluebird. The boggart stared at it with a look of comical horror as Draco stepped aside to let Goyle take his turn. Draco quietly vowed that he would never be like his father again.

~/~

Finally, it was Harry's turn to face the boggart that Friday. He hoped that he'd get a dementor again; it would be for the best. The boggart focused on Harry as he stepped forward and then shifted shape. It didn't become a dementor like he'd hope, but the older, thinner, and far more scarred version of himself he'd once been in the previous timeline. The image was all but unrecognizable when compared to what Harry looked liked now. All that remained similar were their eyes: vibrantly emerald green and far too old for their ages, though the boggart-Harry's were sunken and dark.

“You didn't escape, you know,” the boggart said simply. “You've changed nothing. It's all a dream, and what are dreams but lies that we tell ourselves when we sleep? It's time to wake up and face reality, Harry.”

Harry glared at the boggart. “You're wrong,” he said softly before casting the spell. “Riddikulus!”

The boggart flickered and then turned into a giant plush badger, complete with a canary yellow and black striped bow around its neck. Harry was very glad that he was the last one to go and that dinner was next, as he sure as hell wanted to be with his bond-mates right then. He grabbed his bag from the DADA classroom and then headed to the Great Hall, searching out Draco and Neville. They were sitting at the Ravenclaw table with Luna and Hermione, chatting away as they waited for dinner to begin.

Harry sat down next to Luna with a heavy sigh. Hermione took one look at him and then shook her head. “DADA?” she asked. Harry nodded.

“Yeah,” he replied. “It was... difficult. Pretty unexpected, to be honest. It definitely lived up to its reputation of bringing out your worst fear.”

What did you see? Neville asked as the food appeared on the dishes in front of them. Harry put some roast beef and steamed green beans on his plate before answering.

Myself as I once was, Harry replied with a sigh. It told me that nothing had changed, that it was all a dream. I turned the damn thing into a plush badger. What about you two?

I saw myself as a proud Death Eater, Draco said. I looked like fucking Lucius . I made its Dark Mark turn into a cartoon bluebird. It felt good, even if it did look ridiculous

Good for you, Neville said. I saw the two of you dead from the magic plague. It was... way too close to what could've been. No one really commented on it, thank Merlin.

Well, at least it's over. Draco picked up his fork and began eating. We'll be moving on to different topics soon enough in that class, and I don't think anyone's crass enough to comment on the fears of their Housemates, not unless they want to invite ridicule on themselves.

Some of the Gryffindors might, but they'll get over it soon enough, Harry said. I--

“Hey, Malfoy!”

Draco groaned but turned to look at Ron, who'd come over from the Gryffindor table. “It's Black. It has been Black for three years now. What do you want, Weasley?”

Ron smirked at him. “I heard your boggart turned into your dad,” he taunted. “Are you really that scared of him?”

“I'm not scared of him,” Draco said tersely. “Please go back to your seat, Weasley. I don't want to talk to you about this.”

“Oh, come on, the boggart wouldn't have turned into him if you weren't scared of him,” Ron scoffed.

“Yours turned into a potions bottle,” Neville pointed out, a faintly snide tone to his voice. “Are you that scared of taking your medicine, Ron? Go away.”

“Sh-shut up,” Ron spluttered. “You don't know anything.”

“Is everything alright here, gentlemen?” Professor Flitwick asked, coming down the aisle between the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables.

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, giving Ron a faint glare. “Everything's fine. Thank you for asking.”

“Mr. Weasley, have you come to join your year-mates for dinner?”

“No, Professor,” Ron mumbled before slinking off back to the Gryffindor table. Flitwick watched him go before turning back to look at the others.

“Will you be resuming your study group this year, Misters Potter, Black, and Longbottom?”

“Of course, sir,” Draco said with a smile. “We'll be starting it up again tomorrow, though we might have to move it to Sundays once more when Quidditch begins for the year.”

“Wonderful! If you have fliers you want to have put up in the various common rooms, let a prefect know.”

“We will,” Draco promised. Flitwick beamed at him and then headed back up to the staff table, returning to his seat next to Remus. Neville shook his head with a sigh.

“Sorry about Ron,” he said with a helpless shrug.

“It's alright,” Draco replied, waving off the apology. “It's not your fault he's an insensitive idiot, nor was it unexpected.”

“I guess,” Neville, said, “but I'd kind of hoped he'd get better over time.”

“Maybe he will,” Harry said. “It's only the end of the first week of third year. We've got four more years.”

Personally, Harry wasn't holding out much hope for the youngest Weasley son, but given how different things were already, it was entirely possible that Ron could change for the better.

Maybe.

~/~

Albus Dumbledore was, to put it lightly, angry beyond all belief. The less genteel would likely classify him as 'pissed beyond all reason and barely hiding it'. The first week of Harry Potter's third year had, for the young man, anyways, gone well. For Albus, however, it was frustrating as hell. Initially, he'd rejoiced when he'd managed to secure Remus Lupin as the DADA professor, especially after the debacle that had followed with the unceremonious ousting of Gilderoy Lockhart by the school board. Admittedly, Albus had known that the man was a liar and a fraud before he'd hired him, so he supposed he should've expected him to come to an inglorious end, but still, he'd been hoping that Lockhart would at least last until the end of the year and then go quietly.

That wasn't what had stuck in Albus' craw. Not even the fact that the wolf had managed to somehow break free of the anima impedimentum vinculi potion, which was supposed to be impossible unless the antidote was given, was what was bothering him. No, Lupin barely registered on his radar in that case.

The source of Albus' great annoyance was currently sitting at the Hufflepuff table, surrounded by several first years of various Houses. They seemed to have taken to Mr. Potter as easily as breathing, and the same loyalty had been extended to Messrs. Longbottom and Malfoy, as well as Mr. Diggory of Hufflepuff and Miss Cooper of Slytherin. Albus refused to recognize the so-called changes in names of Potter, Malfoy, and Lupin, even if Magic and Ministry did. Names, while important things in magic, weren't as vital as people liked to think. Albus had changed his own name, for example, as the one he'd been given at birth-- Albus Percival – had been boring and pedestrian. The added names gave him more weight and gravitas, or at least, it did in the eyes of the general Wizarding public. Honestly, it was quite silly, but Albus wasn't above using it to his advantage.

Albus looked up at the sound of many wings coming from overhead. Ah, the morning post. The first Saturday of each new school year was always heavy on the post, as parents sent things students had forgotten at home or letters of congratulations on their Sortings. Albus watched as a quintet of owls split off from the larger flock. Two headed to the Slytherin table to alight in front of Messrs. Longbottom and Malfoy; another headed to the Ravenclaw table and Miss Granger; the fourth to Mr. Potter at the Hufflepuff table; and the final to the staff table to drop a letter off for Lupin.

The four students' owls all had similarly-sized packages that they were carrying. The packages were roughly the size of shoe-boxes, though size was deceptive, especially in the Wizarding World when it came to packages. Albus cast a subtle Listening Charm on Harry to see what it was the young man had received, keeping his wand under the table so no one would see him cast.

--at's that, Harry?” one of the first years (Alexa Oldfield, Muggleborn, if Albus remembered correctly) asked, her voice sounding as clear to Albus as if he were sitting right next to her, though none of the other staff members could hear her speak.

This? I'm not sure. It's from Lady Black, who's the Proxy for Potter House until I come of age at seventeen,” Harry said as he unwrapped the parcel, revealing a dark wooden box with a silver crest on the lid. “Oh. It's a secure letter box. See the crest on the top? That's the one for Potter House.”

It has a griffin? Cool!” Alexa enthused. “What do you do with the box, then?”

Well, I can put letters and papers in it and Lady Black-- Draco's mum –will be able to get them instantly, since she has its paired mate. It's a lot faster and safer than owl post,” Harry explained. He used his wand to carefully cut his thumb and then let three drops of blood fall onto the Potter crest before healing his thumb. The blood soaked into the varnished wood before vanishing entirely. “There. Now no one can open this box but me.”

So why'd she send it to you?” Alexa asked, curious.

It's traditional for heirs of some Wizarding families to start to be given more responsibilities starting in their third year,” Harry explained. “It's so we can begin learning how to manage our Houses and our future financial duties.”

Wow. How d'you know there's a letter or something in there?”

The crest will turn gold,” Harry said. “It's pretty awesome.”

Definitely. So, when is the study group again?”

Albus ended the Listening Charm as the two Hufflepuffs turned their conversation to more mundane topics, hiding his annoyance with a careful sip from his goblet. He needed to fix the whole Potter problem, and soon. Having Harry too firmly invested in his own future was not part of the plan. What Albus really wanted was for Harry to marry a respectable Pureblood girl, get her pregnant with his heir, and then have him die in the name of fulfilling the prophecy and defeating Voldemort, preferably all by eighteen. Of course, working around the trichromatic bond would be tricky, but Albus figured he'd be able to do it.

Albus knew Voldemort wasn't gone from the world; a wizard so deeply steeped in the Dark Arts would've ensured his survival even after death. The wraith in Harry's first year put paid to that idea. That had clearly been Voldemort, after all; Albus had been hiding behind a Disillusionment Charm cast by the Elder Wand so he could see how Harry did facing the Dark wizard who had led a reign of terror that had all but destroyed the House of Potter. Harry seemed to do well, though Albus dearly wished he'd known what Harry had said in Parseltongue to Voldemort before Quirrell had died.

Albus supposed he'd never know, as Parseltongue was, sadly, untranslatable by any normal spells, even if they were cast by the Elder Wand. He'd have to find a Parselmouth to translate the words, but he didn't want to expose the fact that he'd done nothing but watch as an eleven year old and one of the world's Darkest wizards face off without interfering. No matter. He'd probably be able to weasel the answer out of Harry before he died.

He leaned back in his chair, projecting his usual air of a kindly grandfather as he looked out over the multitude of students sitting before him. His plans would have to adapt, which was fine. As a master alchemist, Albus was used to change. He just needed the right catalyst.

Chapter Text

Hermione knew she was a smart girl. She'd gotten into Ravenclaw, after all, and one didn't get into the House of the Eagles without having some form of intelligence, book-learned or otherwise. She also knew that while she was one of the top students in her year, she wasn't the smartest or most talented in the year. That honor seemed to belong to the three young men who had become her first friends and guides in the Wizarding World. They had taken her under their wings and had made her feel welcome without making her feel stupid about not knowing things that most Wizarding children learned growing up. They were also well within her level of intelligence and could hold mature conversations on many topics, something Hermione had struggled with finding in her schoolmates in the Mundane world.

It had helped that Harry had been Mundane-raised as well and familiar with the non-Magical world. Hermione enjoyed talking to him about science, literature, and pretty much anything that came up that wasn't magic-related. It helped her feel like she hadn't entirely abandoned the world she'd been born into, something she'd worried about after she'd first started at Hogwarts. The Magical world was wonderful, but also horribly frustrating at the same time. It was stuck in the late eighteen-hundreds in many ways and didn't seem to be moving forward any time soon.

Well, mostly.

The Wyvern Foundation had already started to create waves in the British Magical world, creating a fair paying and stable working haven for Mundane-born and Squibs alike, which had never existed in Britain before. It also was searching for a true cure for lycanthropy, according to Potions Today, the premiere potions periodical in the United Kingdom. Third, they had created the Wyvern House, a home for children of any and all blood statuses and backgrounds, including those afflicted with lycanthropy. Hermione thought that it was very admirable what they were doing, and it gave her hope for her own future in the Magical world.

Hermione sighed and then shook her head, dragging herself from her thoughts. Now was not the time to wool-gather. She needed to finish her homework before dinner began (even though it was technically due in a week) and then send a letter to the Dowager Lady Longbottom via her secure letter box. Hermione rather liked Augusta. She was no-nonsense and had a keen eye for the often shifting political landscape of the British Magical world, but also got along very well with Hermione's parents, which was more important in Hermione's eyes. Augusta had helped the entire Granger family get used to the Magical world, unlike Professor McGonagall, who had all but ignored Miranda and Warren in favor of Hermione. It was all but expected that the parents of Mundane-borns were to simply allow their young children to be taken away and indoctrinated into the ways of the British Magical world and to let them completely forget the world they'd come from.

It was stupid beyond belief, especially when a good portion of the British Magical world was so biased against the Mundane-born that they would rather force them out of their world after training them to use magic for seven years than to have them be an active and contributing part of the society they'd all but been forced into. The double-standards were astonishing.

Hermione set about writing her letter, losing herself in the familiar gentle scratch of pen nib against parchment. Harry, Neville, and Draco had given her an exquisite rosewood and brass fountain pen set for her fourteenth birthday, citing that it would be easier to use than a quill and yet still produce similar results. Hermione had fallen in love with it the moment she'd tried it out, highly enjoying the fact that she wasn't getting ink all over her hands. The pen was charmed to never run out of ink and to always write smoothly, something Hermione appreciated as well. She'd used it for a few assignments just to test it out, and no one had said anything about the change, which led her to believe that the British Magical world was so entrenched in tradition that it didn't bother to recognize simple innovations that would make the lives of its people easier.

Tradition was all well and good, but innovation was necessary for a society to grow and evolve as time went on. History was littered with civilizations that died because they failed to adapt when necessary. The British Magical world wasn't dying quite yet, especially with the new breath of life the Blacks and Longbottoms were injecting into it. Hermione just hoped it would continue that way.

~/~

Daniel Weatherby rubbed at his temples, trying to ease the headache that was starting to build. He'd been going over the massive amounts of paperwork needed to successfully realize the Triwizard Tournament, but some of the requests that had been made were ridiculous, to say the least. Honestly, three nesting dragons? Who thought that was a good idea? Dragons were dangerous enough, but nesting mothers? That was just asking for someone to die a fiery death or be mutilated beyond all reason.

Daniel checked the signature on the request form and then sighed sharply. Right. Ludo Bagman. How the man got to be in a position of power, Daniel would never know. No, wait, actually, he did. Admittedly, Bagman had been a passable Beater back in the day, but it was more than likely his pureblood status that had gotten him his position. Daniel knew he was lucky to have the position he did, especially as a half-blood. In the Ministry of Magic, it was blood status that usually paved the way for promotions, not actual talent and skill.

Rising to his feet, Daniel collected the various request forms, put them in a folder, and then headed out of his tiny office. Barty Crouch Senior's former and much larger office had been stolen by Delores Umbridge before Daniel could do anything about it. He wasn't about to go against her; the woman was hard enough to deal with on the rare occasion she wasn't either drafting her next anti-creature and/or -being initiative or toadying up to the Minister of Magic. If keeping his job and his sanity meant having to put a few space extension charms on his office, then so be it.

Daniel made his way to Ludo's office, giving the people he passed a polite smile or a nod as he went. There were only nine other people in the entirety of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, making it one of the smaller departments in the Ministry, even though it was arguably one of the more important ones. Daniel knocked on Ludo's door, hoping the ex-Beater was in.

“Come in!”

Daniel pushed open the door, steeling himself to deal with the rather overbearing joviality that Ludo tended to project.

“Ah, Daniel!” Ludo called out, giving him a bright smile. “What can I do for you today?”

Daniel took a seat across from Ludo at the desk. “You can explain why you want to request three nesting mother dragons for the Triwizard Tournament. Do you want the champions to die? Besides, it contravenes about five different treaties and agreements we have with the various dragon sanctuaries around the world. Taking three nesting mothers from their sanctuaries would have to involve far more security measures than you've outlines here, not to mention ensuring that neither they nor the eggs-- which, again, are nigh-on illegal to transport into Great Britain –are harmed during the first task. No, I don't think I'll be able to swing this.”

“What? But Barty said he'd be able to get it done,” Ludo protested. Daniel arched an eyebrow.

“I'm not Barty Crouch. I don't have the same connections he did, and I sure as hell am not going to go against the laws the ICW has put down in order to pander to the egos of men who don't care if seventeen year olds live or die,” he said. “We're not using dragons, plain and simple. I'm going to talk to Hagrid. He likely has a good selection of animals on hand that we can use that are sufficiently challenging without being endangered.”

“But--- dragons,” Ludo said, the faint hint of a whine to his voice. “They would be amazing to have.”

“And also ridiculous to boot,” Daniel said firmly. “We're not doing dragons, end of story. Besides, what if one got loose and decided to rampage all over northern Scotland? Even with all the protections Hogwarts has on it, a bloody great dragon's going to be pretty hard to hide from Muggles if it decides to roast their farms or towns.”

He shuffled his papers and then pulled one of of the folder. “Let's talk about this second task. Swimming in the Black Lake in the middle of February? Really? Come on, no one's going to want to watch the surface of a lake for an hour and miss all the action. I've got a better idea...”

~/~

Pansy couldn't believe it. She'd actually been invited to the Black Yule Ball. Well, alright, the whole Parkinson family had been invited, but still. Maybe... Maybe she would still have a chance with Draco. Alright, fine, he was still in a trichromatic bond, but it was entirely possible that she still might have a chance as a Consort or a Bearer. Both held honor for women in Pureblood society, particularly a Bearer, as it proved to potential future husbands that the woman was healthy and powerful enough to have a child. Of course, she was assuming that the three boys didn't have enough combined magical power to go through the Magicae Infantem ritual or that Draco and Lord Black would even agree to her being a Bearer for House Black...

Well, she could always hope.

Pansy made sure to wear her best winter dress robes in pine green, with her hair carefully arranged in an intricate style and held back with silver hair pins. The Ball was being held at Muse Hall in Hogsmeade, an upscale dance hall that was able to be rented out for events. Most of the time it was used by purebloods who didn't want to open their ancestral homes to possible enemies or political rivals. It was neutral ground and well-regarded for its food and service.

Pansy and her family arrived via Floo, with Pansy's mother quickly charming away the faint amount of soot that had gathered on their robes. Lord Parkinson led the way into the main dance hall, giving a terse nod to the herald at the door. The herald checked them off the list of attendees before turning to announce them, a Sonorous charm projecting his voice throughout the grand room.

“Lord Archibald Parkinson, Lady Rosalina Parkinson, Heir Apparent Raphael Parkinson and Heiress Pansy Parkinson,” he called out as Pansy, her brother, and her parents entered the room. Lord Black was standing near the edge of the room, holding court with people that Pansy knew were his allies. Lord Prince and his Consort were there, as well as Lady Bones and Lord and Lady Longbottom. A few other adults were there as well, though Pansy didn't really recognize them. The children of the gathered Lords and Ladies were scattered around the hall, though they tended to mingle regardless of age or Hogwarts house affiliation, for the most part, something that had rarely happened at the balls Pansy had been to before.

Pansy was faintly surprised to see all the Weasleys there, as it was well-known that Ron and Ginny weren't particular favorites of Harry, Neville, and Draco. Arthur was talking with Frank Longbottom, while Molly was quite happily chatting with Remus. Percy was deep in conversation with Augusta; both of them had particularly intense expressions on their faces. The twins were nowhere to be seen, though Pansy suspected they were off planning their next bout of mischief. Ron was sitting moodily at a table, with Ginny staring at Harry with a moonstruck expression, as per usual.

Harry was across the room, his friends gathered around a table with him as they talked and laughed together. Draco and Neville were on either side of him, with Draco's arm draped around Harry's shoulders. Pansy gritted her teeth automatically and then forced herself to calm down. No. If her plan was to work, she needed to get over her jealousy.

Pansy waited until her parents and Raphael had gone off to mingle before heading over to the table. The conversation died away when she approached the three boys. She curtsied, head bowed in demure respect.

“Heir Potter. Heir Longbottom. Heir Black,” she murmured as she rose from her curtsy. “I was hoping if we might speak in private. I have a request I would like to make, if you're willing to hear me out.”

The three boys exchanged looks before Harry got to his feet, his betrothed standing as well. “Here, follow me,” Harry said, leading the way to a private room just off the main hall. A few strong privacy wards later and the three boys were waiting expectantly for Pansy to speak. She took a deep breath before sinking to her knees, skirts flaring around her legs as she bowed her head.

“My request is as follows,” she said. “As a Daughter of House Parkinson, I will never be able to ascend to the title since it's always passed to the firstborn male in the family. That would be my younger brother, Raphael. He's the heir apparent to the title. My only choice is to marry into a good family, and I'll likely not have a chance to choose what kind of family that will be.”

She looked down at her clasped hands, twisting the fabric of her skirts in her fingers. “My father... He's always been proud of his status as a Death Eater. I suspect that if the Dark Lord ever returned, he'd want Raphael and me to follow in his steps. Even if the Dark Lord doesn't return, I have little doubt that my father will try to marry me off into a family that holds the same ideals. I'd rather not be bound by life and magic to a madman. My father is Dark-aligned, bordering on Black. I'm Gray-aligned myself, though I'd never tell him. Only my mother knows, and she's sworn never to say anything.”

“So, what do you want, exactly?” Draco asked, a faint frown on his face. He'd vaguely known that Pansy was Gray-aligned, but by the time it had come up in the previous timeline, both of them had been Marked and tainted with Voldemort's twisted magic, so it had been more Dark than Gray.

“I humbly request that you allow me to pledge myself as either a future Bearer or Consort of House Black, Potter, or Longbottom,” Pansy said. “As the old laws and customs state, I can make this pledge before I come of age without the permission of my Head of House. It will give me some choice in my future, which is rare for young women of my station, as you well know.”

Pansy fell silent after her short speech, keeping her eyes down. She didn't want to see the expressions of the three young men in front of her, especially not Draco. There was a long silence before it was broken, and not by the person Pansy had been expecting.

“Heiress Parkinson... Pansy...”

Pansy winced slightly at the surprisingly kind tone in Harry's voice, something she hadn't expected. “Yes, Heir Potter?”

Harry sighed and then held out a hand to help her up. “Look, our trichromatic bond doesn't allow for Consorts,” he said as Pansy stood. “As for Bearers... We won't be ready for kids until after we're done with Hogwarts. I'm not even sure how we're going to have kids. It might be by ritual, by potion, or by Bearer. We'll have more than enough magic to spare for the ritual once we reach our full potential. However, if you're sincere about not wanting to follow in your father's footsteps, we'd be willing to entertain a provisional Bearer's contract with you. It would last indefinitely until such a time as either we choose to have children outside of a ritual or a potion, you want out of the contract entirely, or you find someone you want to marry. If the latter two happen after you have a child for one of our Houses, then the child would naturally revert to its birth House. We would provide a dowry for you, of course, equivalent to the one you would have as a Daughter of House Parkinson, if not more. We'd have to speak to our parents about this, though, as they'd become your guardians once the contract was made, rather than your parents. Do you know which House you would want to have the contract with?”

“Preferably House Black, though House Longbottom wouldn't be too bad,” Pansy replied. Harry smiled wryly.

“What, not House Potter?”

Pansy laughed a little. “Let's just call it Slytherin pride and leave it at that.”

“More like her dad wouldn't approve as much as with House Black or Longbottom,” Neville said with a half-smile. Harry shrugged.

“I don't really care,” he said honestly. “Whichever makes you feel the most comfortable, Pansy. Now, let's go talk to our parents. I doubt they're going to expect this, but they're pretty flexible.”

Pansy nodded, brushing off her skirts. “Thank you. I know my father has been talking about trying to arrange a marriage contract with some of his allies at this ball, and I'd rather not give him the chance.”

“Agreed.” Draco held out his arm for her to take. Pansy smiled before placing her hand in the crook of his elbow.

“Such good manners, Heir Black,” she teased.

“I was taught by the best, Heiress Parkinson,” Draco retorted as Neville dismantled the privacy wards and Harry opened the door. The four of them went back to the main hall and headed over to where Sirius and the others were. Draco cleared his throat as they came to a stop in front of them.

“Excuse me, Lord Black? May we speak with you?” he asked. Sirius broke off his conversation, noting Draco's formal tone and posture, as well as Pansy's presence on his heir's arm.

“Of course. Is it something that needs to be done in private?”

“A privacy ward wouldn't go amiss,” Draco agreed. Sirius flicked his wand, almost lazily erecting a strong privacy ward that encompassed himself, Draco, and Pansy. As Pansy explained the situation, Sirius listened with a carefully blank expression, not wanting to give his thoughts away to anyone who was watching. Once Pansy was finished, Sirius rubbed at his mouth thoughtfully.

“I'd like to speak to your mother,” he said finally. “If we're going by tradition here, she's the one who can make the final choice since you're still under age.”

Pansy nodded, smoothing her hands over her robes in an unconscious show of nervousness. “Alright. I'll go get her.”

She left the protection of the privacy ward to fetch her mother. Rosalina followed her daughter back over, a curious expression on her face forming when she felt the privacy ward slide over her. She curtsied briefly to Sirius before speaking.

“How can I help you, Lord Black?”

“Your daughter came to me with an interesting proposition, Lady Parkinson, which I think you might like to hear,” Sirius told her. He laid out the situation for Rosalina, who listened attentively. She smirked a little when Sirius finished, glancing over at Pansy.

“I see. Well, who am I to deny my daughter a chance at a good future of her choice?” she said. “Alright, I agree.” She held out one hand to Pansy and the other to Sirius. They took her hands, Pansy grinning brightly as ropes of magic slid around their wrists, binding them together.

“I, Rosalina Kathleen Parkinson, Lady of House Parkinson, do hereby declare Pansy Hope Parkinson, Blood Daughter of House Parkinson, to be in a provisional Bearer's contract with House Black until such as time as she is released from it, either by her own choice or by the Lord Black. Do you agree, Lord Black?”

“Yes, I do,” Sirius said. “She will be treated as a Ward of House Black until such a time as she is released from the contract.”

The magic faded as the contract took hold. Sirius cleared his throat. “Kreacher!”

Kreacher popped into the room next to Sirius. “My Lord?”

“Fetch a Bearer's cuff from the Black heirloom vault,” Sirius said. “One of the ones with Slytherin-appropriate colored gems.”

Kreacher nodded before disappearing again. A few minutes later and he was back, holding a flat jewelry case. Kreacher opened it, showing off the slender silver wrist cuff that lay nestled on the velvet within. The Black crest was engraved on its top; small chips of emerald were set flush all the way around the silver band. Sirius removed the cuff from the box before turning to Pansy; Kreacher popped away with the box in hand.

“Hold out your left arm, please,” he told her. Pansy did so, letting out a soft breath of wonder when the cuff snapped shut around her wrist and then resized itself in a shimmer of magic to fit near-flush against her skin.

“Welcome to House Black,” Sirius said with a faint smile, dismissing the privacy ward. “I hope that you'll be a credit to our House.”

“I'll do my best, Lord Black,” Pansy promised, curtsying to him. She turned to the three boys. “And thank you three. It means a lot to me that I can control my own future in this way. I'll promise I'll do my best to stay in the Gray, in word, deed, and magic.”

Draco nodded. “Good. That's all we ask.” He bowed to Pansy, with Harry and Neville following suit. Pansy curtsied to them, skirts flaring as she did so. Lord Parkinson came over, curious to see what his wife and daughter were doing with one of the political enemies of the house-- at least, according to him.

“Rosalina? Pansy? What's going on?” Archibald asked, keeping his voice level for the time being.

“You'll be quite pleased, Archibald,” Rosalina told him. “Our daughter has made a very savvy choice for her future.”

“Oh? Do tell.”

Rosalina placed an elegant hand on Pansy's shoulder. “She has bound herself to House Black as a future Bearer,” she said. Archibald huffed.

“Not as good as being Lady or Consort Black, but I suppose it'll do,” Archibald said dismissively. “If she wants to be a broodmare in the future, then so be it.”

He turned and headed off, disappearing into the crowd once more. Pansy let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. Broodmare. Well, that was better than she'd expected, to be honest. Rosalina shook her head.

“Don't worry about him,” she said. “He'll come around. Now, let's go get something to eat. I feel like celebrating.”

Pansy nodded to the others in farewell and then followed her mother away, feeling greatly relieved that her plan had worked. She could breath easy now that her future was secure at last.

Thank Merlin for that.

 

Chapter Text

Lucius Malfoy had kept a very low profile over the long months he'd been on the run. He lurked in the Forbidden Forest outside of Hogwarts, having found an old shack to shelter in. It was run down, leaked heavily when it rained, and smelled of rot and animals, but it was enough. A few basic shield and temperature charms helped with the leaking, animal, and temperature control, and some transfiguration made for a comfortable bed. Of course, Lucius would far rather prefer to be safe and sound at Malfoy Manor, but the Ministry was watching it like a hawk its prey. He'd made one brief stop at the property's edge before Apparating away when he realized that there were monitoring wards blanketing his ancestral home.

The branch of the Malfoy family that Lucius belonged to had held a title in Great Britain for the past four hundred years. Lucius' ancestors had intermarried into the ranks of the British Purebloods for long enough to not be connected to the Magic of the French side of the family, so at the moment, Lucius was the only one bearing the brunt of his Familial Magic. He felt the void where his heir should be, a deep ache in his magic that made him feel as if he had a deep bruise over his breastbone that would never heal.

True, he could find a pureblooded witch and get her with child to ease the ache, or ritually adopt someone, but both would take more time and energy than he actually had. No, his best bet was to get Draco back. Expelling the Black Family Magic and replacing it with the Malfoy Family Magic would be a long and arduous process, but it would be worth it. He'd have his son back, and Draco would definitely not be returning to Hogwarts. No, he'd be enrolled at Durmstrang as Lucius had initially wanted and would have a proper education. The trichromatic bond would be tricky to suppress, and Lucius knew he'd have to resort to exceedingly Dark or even Black magics to do so, but it'd be worth it.

He growled softly to himself as he made his way towards Hogsmeade, keeping a weather eye out for any dementors. Lucius knew two things: one, it was the last Hogsmeade weekend of the year, and two, Draco was going to be there. Lucius had watched the students leaving the castle, both by foot and by carriage, and had seen that Draco, Potter, and Longbottom were in a carriage with that mudblood bitch masquerading as a halfblood. Lucius scoffed. What a waste of magical talent. If the Granger chit was pureblood Lucius would be fine with her, but she was pretending to be something she was not, and that rankled.

Lucius Disillusioned himself, as he didn't have an invisibility cloak handy, and crept into the village, wand at the ready. The wand didn't really fit him very well, but it worked well enough for his purposes. He watched Draco get out of the carriage at the edge of the village before helping his betrothed and Granger out as well, tucked safely in the shadows between two buildings just in case. Lucius tracked the four of them throughout the day, waiting patiently for the best time to strike.

That came just as the sun began to set, tinting the sky a bloody red. Lucius bared his teeth in a feral smile as Draco wandered into a bookshop with Longbottom while Potter and Granger went into the Three Broomsticks. Lucius settled in to wait. He wasn't too concerned about Longbottom, because as far as Lucius knew, the young man wasn't much of a magical powerhouse. There had been rumors circulating before the boy turned eleven that he was a Squib, and therefore a disgrace to Longbottom House, but the arrival of his Hogwarts letter and his bonding with Potter and Draco had belied that. Still, such a bond didn't always speak to actual power levels.

Lucius' plan was to take out Longbottom first, Stun Draco, and then Apparate away with him to Malfoy Manor, raising the war wards and hunkering down until everything was complete and Draco his heir once more. Sure, the Ministry would be alerted, but the Manor's war wards were very strong and would last far beyond the time needed to finish his task. Lucius huffed in annoyance when he saw Potter and Granger come out of the Three Broomsticks at the same time that Longbottom and Draco emerged from the bookstore.

Fine. Whatever. A few quick Avada Kedavras could take care of that problem if Draco didn't come with him right away. Lucius considered it as the four teens met up in the middle of the road. He wasn't sure how losing Longbottom and Potter would affect Draco, but Lucius supposed he'd just have to take the chance. He stepped out from his cover, ending the Disillusionment charm as he went.

“Draco, it's time for you to come back home,” Lucius called out, voice low and raspy from disuse. “You need to stop this absolute foolishness and return to your proper place as my heir. Step away from the blood traitors and mudblood.”

Draco whipped his wand out, the tip glowing with magic. The others did the same, leveling their wands at the escaped prisoner. Lucius scoffed.

“You really think you're going to win against me? You're third years. You're not that powerful, even when combined,” he said. “Stand down before you get killed.”

“No. Incarcerous!” Draco snapped out. Lucius batted the spell aside with a wave of his own wand before sending a dark blue spell towards Hermione. Neville blocked it with a shield, the magical energy splashing across the translucent barrier. Hermione let out an annoyed huff and then flicked her wand almost daintily at Lucius, sending a Tripping Hex his way. Lucius stumbled, leaving Draco the opening to Disarm his father, sending his wand skittering away.

“Enough!” Lucius snarled, pushing to his feet. “I won't take no for an answer. Draco, get over here now! We're going home.”

Draco opened his mouth to toss back his retort when a sudden chill descended on the area. Lucius stiffened, eyes widening.

“No,” he breathed. “Not--”

“Dementors,” Harry said grimly. “Fuck! Now is not the time for this.” He summoned his Patronus as the dementors glided into view, sweeping down the main street. The others did the same, with Hermione managing a silvery shield. She'd always had problems with casting the spell in the presence of dementors in the prior timeline, and even now it seemed the same.

Lucius took advantage of the confusion to retrieve his wand from where it had fallen. He focused on Draco, wanting to get his hands on his son to spirit him away before the dementors could reach them both. Lucius was just able to put his hand on Draco's shoulder before his son ducked, spun away, and then sent a Banishing Charm at him. Lucius was blasted back, robes and hair flying in the wind. He skidded to a halt outside the protective perimeter the Patronuses had created.

Lucius had just enough time to dazedly wonder at the amount of power Draco had available to him-- his raven Patronus hadn't even wavered with the addition of the Banisher –before a dementor swooped down on him and Kissed him, ending the House of Malfoy unceremoniously with a rattling intake of air and soul. Lucius' body slumped to the ground, eyes staring blankly up at the rapidly darkening sky. The Head of House ring on his right hand crumbled to dust, marking the loss of the Malfoy Family Magic. It was highly unlikely he'd survive the month, let alone the week, without it and his soul.

By that time, several of the shopkeepers had joined the fray with their Patronuses, and the calls of “AURORS! DEMENTORS, STAND DOWN!” The dementors milled around, corralled by the silvery Patronuses into a dead-end alleyway. The four third years huddled together near Scrivenshaft's, the three boys including Hermione in their group embrace. Ambrosius Flume, the owner of Honeydukes, came over and bustled them into the candy shop, handing each a bar of Honeydukes' Best Chocolate on the house.

“Eat up,” he advised. “You lot were far too close to those things.” He shook his head. “Don't know what the Ministry was thinking, putting those things so close to the school and village.” He kept mumbling to himself as he shepherded the four of them to a quiet corner of the shop. “You stay put until the Aurors or your teachers or parents get here.”

After he left, Draco slowly sank to the floor, trembles starting in his legs before spreading to the rest of his body as the enormity of what had just happened sunk in. His bondmates sat down on either side of him, holding him close with each wrapping an arm around his waist. Hermione knelt down in front of him, blocking Draco from immediate view should anyone come down the nearby aisle.

Draco felt like the world had tilted sharply sideways, and his mind was filled with white static while his vision went fuzzy around the edges. He barely heard what his bondmates were saying as they drew him close. The warm, dry weight of Selina poured into his lap as the basilisk emerged from the expanded pocket in Harry's robes. All of Harry's robes had one, as well as all of his cloaks. They kept her warm and dry while being close at hand. Draco absently ran his fingers over her scales as she wrapped some of her coils around his forearm and wrist in a sort of soothing hug.

§Oh, hatchling, I'm sorry that you had to do and see such a thing,§ Selina hissed softly. §Your sire was not a good man, but he was your father nonetheless.§

§He taught me how to ride a broom. He held me when I fell off it and dried my tears. He loved me at one time, I think, before I went to Hogwarts. Recently, I think it was more of an obsession rather than love,§ Draco said, roughly brushing the tears from his eyes. Selina squeezed his arm gently, her scales rasping lightly against the fabric of his sleeve.

§Hold onto that image and honor him with it,§ she advised. §Don't remember him as what he became; remember him for what he was. Lay him to rest, and with him, your worries about ever becoming him. Take the good and leave the bad.§

Draco nodded, the white noise in his mind starting to fade some. He could feel Harry and Neville pushing feelings of love and calmness through the bond, which helped even more. Draco took several deep breaths before opening his eyes, giving the others a weak smile.

“Thanks,” he said softly.

“Here,” Hermione said, handing him a piece of chocolate. “Eat. It really does help.”

Draco chuckled weakly as he took the chocolate and then ate it. He leaned in against Neville's shoulder, closing his eyes as the chocolate slowly worked its magic. He didn't open them again until he heard his mother's voice floating through the shop, accompanied by Sirius' low rumbling baritone and Frank's higher tenor. The three adults hurried over, passing through the aisles of brightly colored candies and sweets until they reached the four children.

Narcissa didn't even bother with keeping up the so-called Slytherin pureblood public facade. She took one look at Draco's pale and drawn face before holding out a hand to him. He got to his feet and gladly let her pull him into a tight embrace. He clenched the soft fabric of her robes in between his fingers, breathing in the delicate blend of lemon and lavender oils that she favored. His father might be as good as dead, but at least his mother was still with him, and that made all the difference in the world.

~/~

They interred Lucius' ashes in the Malfoy Family crypt a week after his vacant body died, which was thankfully after the end of the school year. The ashes were mixed with rock salt, clay, and dried rosemary to keep anyone from using them in a necromantic ritual, as was traditional; that mixture was put into a silver urn with Lucius' full name, birth, and death date engraved under the Malfoy coat of arms. Once the urn was interred, the crypt was closed for the last time, the crest on the marble doors glowing a deep indigo for a brief moment before fading. Had the Family Magic still been intact and an heir named, the crest would have merely glowed blue, signaling the passing of another Head of the Malfoy Family.

What little Lucius had in Gringotts passed surprisingly to Draco and Narcissa, as Lucius hadn't had any time to change the stipulations of his will before he'd gone into Azkaban. It wasn't much-- a few thousand Galleons at most –but it was put into their vaults regardless.

Lucius' title and land also passed to Draco because of the unchanged will; he'd be adding the title of Duke of DeLeon to his name when he came of age, the official title that belonged to the British Malfoy family. It was a relic of their French roots, though he'd still be called Lord Black when his full title wasn't needed. If Sirius ever married and had kids of his own to be his heirs, Draco would simply go by Lord Black-Potter to differentiate between the two of them in the Wizengamot and other official bodies, as well as at social functions.

The end of the school year had gone well, albeit with the Ministry getting quite a few angry Howlers from parents, students, and shopkeepers about the dementors roaming the streets well before the time they were supposed to do so. The Minister finally had to have the Daily Prophet print an official apology before the Howlers stopped coming in.

The mood was somber for several days after the funeral-- that was, until Sirius, deciding that there was far too much moping going on, instigated a family-wide prank war, though he made sure to avoid Narcissa, as she was very vindictive if messed with, and often paid back treble what she'd received in chaos. Sirius might have still had some lingering mental problems thanks to Azkaban, but he wasn't that insane. The prank war only ended when the three boys and Frank banded together, with Sirius' hair being turned a cotton candy pink for four days and turning into a fluffy poodle of the same color every time his name was said. Eventually the prank war tapered off, however, and life for the family returned to a semblance of normality.

Neville was the first to fully gain his Animagus form, succeeding a month after the summer break began. He pranced about in delight, yipping and barking his joy to the world. His defining features, besides his reddish-brown fur, were the white blazes on his forehead and chest. Sirius, who had been overseeing the meditation session the boys had been doing, immediately changed to Padfoot and started roughhousing with him. Thankfully, they were outside at Longbottom Manor, so nothing was broken in their enthusiastic tussle.

Harry was the next to gain his full form several days later. He had managed to relax enough to let his inner cobra come to the fore as he meditated, and, with a rush of magic, shifted shapes, his clothes changing along with him. Both Sirius and Neville had warned him about how he would need to dominate the animal mind that came with his new form, though neither knew how hard it would be with a serpent's mind rather than a canine's. Harry found himself loosely coiled up in the warm grass, a rush of instincts flowing over him. The warm sun felt lovely on his dark scales, making him hiss softly in pleasure. The cobra's mind was surprisingly intelligent, something Harry was thankful for. He wasn't sure if it'd be simplistic or not, though most snakes he'd met had some moderate level of intelligence.

A sudden movement nearby had Harry raising himself into a defensive position, hood flaring as he let out the characteristic near-growl of a hiss of his species.

§Easy, Harry. We're not here to hurt you. Focus on mastering your instincts,§ Selina said. She'd been watching over them, basking in the sun on a rock nearby; Sirius was watching as well from under the shade of a broad-leafed oak tree, a grin on his face when he saw that Harry had changed. Harry focused on her, immediately recognizing her as the greater predator.

§Queen of Serpents,you are correct. One moment,§ he replied, dipping his head briefly. With that declaration he felt the cobra's instincts subside, leaving him with full control of himself once more. §Thanks, Selina. How do I look?§

§Very dashing,§ Selina said with a laugh. §You have two dark bands of scales just below your hood; one a dark gold and the other a green that's almost black. I suspect they represent the rings you wear.§

§Nothing in regards to my scar?§

§Not that I can see,§ Selina said, circling around him to see him from all angles. Harry breathed out a sigh of relief at that. His scar had all but faded into nothingness by then, but that didn't mean it wouldn't show up on his snake form.

§Can I pick you up?§ Draco asked, crouching down nearby. §You're gorgeous, by the way.§

§Why thank you,§ Harry said with a laugh. §Go ahead. Just be careful.§

§Always.§ Draco picked Harry up, keeping his grip loose. Harry wrapped his body around Draco's bare arm (all three were wearing short-sleeved shirts and jeans with cooling and sun protection charms liberally applied), enjoying the warmth his bond-mate exuded. Neville came over to see him as well, having been working in the nearby flower bed.

§Look at you,§ he said with a grin as he dusted his hands free of dirt. §I should've known you'd be mostly black, considering your hair. At least you don't have to worry about it being messy in this form.§

Harry huffed. §Oh, hush,§ he said. §It's gotten a lot better since I've grown it out.§

§He's got a point,§ Draco pointed out. §It is less messy now.§

§Less, but not entirely neat, either,§ Neville said as he ran his fingers gently over Harry's head. §Alright, put him down. He should change back now.§

Draco did as told, setting Harry down and then stepping back to give him enough room to shift. Harry focused on his human self, letting his magic flow over him once more. Soon enough he was standing on two feet, blinking at the change in height.

“Wow. That's... Huh. That was weird. Good, but weird,” he said. “We'll have to take pictures once Draco gets his form down as well, and then we'll need to register with the ICW. Privately, mind; I don't think the general Wizarding public would like the fact that their so-called 'Golden Boy' can change into a deadly snake.”

Neville rolled his eyes. “They've gotten used to you being a Parselmouth; I think they could handle you being an Animagus as well. Besides, we don't get to pick what our animal forms are. They've been there all along, buried in our magic. We're born with them, or so the theory goes.”

Harry hummed thoughtfully. “Maybe so. I like that idea, and it'd explain why our forms didn't change even though our Patronuses did when we came back.”

Draco's mouth twisted in a frown. “What if I don't settle enough to get my form down? I mean, we know what it is, but I can't seem to reach it.”

“Don't force it,” Neville said as he picked up Selina, letting her drape loosely over his shoulders, which had broadened out considerably over the past year, a sure sign of the man he was once again becoming. “It'll come to you. You just need to relax. It's not a competition; it'll happen when it happens.”

Draco considered that while they headed inside. He supposed Neville was right. Maybe he was still just too shaken up about his father's death and all that it entailed to emotionally calm down sufficiently to allow the change to take over. It was a credible theory, and the only one he currently had to work with. He advanced his theory to Sirius later that night when he and the older wizard were puttering around in the library back at Blackmoor Hall.

Sirius paused, the book he'd been looking for held loosely in his hand as he considered the thought. “It's possible,” he said finally, fingers idly tapping against the book's cover. “You'd have to ask Minerva more about it since she's the expert. I haven't found many problems in shifting to Padfoot even when my emotions are awry-- sometimes it even helps settle them out since being a dog is easier than a human in that way. Keep in mind that I became an Animagus back when I didn't have much to worry about; certainly not as much as you do right now. I think the best thing for you right now would be to let yourself get used to the idea that your father's dead and gone for real. Our magic reacts to our emotions, after all. Just look at the fact that you need a powerfully happy memory or thought to cast a Patronus to prove it. You don't need to rush it.”

Draco gave him a lopsided smile. “That's pretty much what Selina said.”

Sirius chuckled. “Well, she is over a thousand years old. If there's someone you could go to for life advice, she'd definitely be it.”

Draco let out a soft huff of laughter at that and then went to scour the shelves of the library, hoping he'd be able to find an answer amongst the time-worn pages of the books collected there.

It took until the second week of August before Draco's emotions and magic truly settled enough for him to complete the transformation. He took to being a falcon with aplomb, though his first few attempts at flight were dismal until he got the hang of things. He complained to Harry and Neville about how they'd gotten off easy on the movement front, Harry especially. The two just listened sympathetically while rolling their eyes behind Draco's back. Draco's defining features were the tips of his wings, which were a bleached white color rather than the usual black.

The three of them immediately registered privately with the ICW, storing their licenses in their wand holsters to have them at hand at all times. A small party was thrown in celebration of their achievements, though it was only the family that attended, as the boys wanted to keep the knowledge of their Animagus status quiet for the time being. They'd reveal it if necessary, but otherwise wouldn't speak of it to outsiders. It was easier that way, and left them with an advantage that might prove useful one day.

~/~

The Quidditch World Cup approached swiftly, bringing with it excitement in Diagon Alley and the greater Magical community in general. Sirius got them all seats in a large private box beneath the one the Minister was sitting in. They'd Apparate to and from the match, not wanting to bother with a Portkey. Percy joined them in their box after arriving in the stadium with his family, George and Fred tagging along to say hello before the match began. Remus and Severus were there as well, as were the Lovegoods, Abbotts, and Boneses (though Amelia had to oversee the aurors who were patrolling the camp and stadium, and therefore wasn't present).

Percy, much to his satisfaction, had managed to garner a place in the Legal department of the Wyvern Foundation and was happier than a Niffler in a big pile of gold. He'd always loved the often labyrinthine and convoluted depths of Magical law, and this gave him a way to pursue that without being called stuffy or a prat about it, not to mention it was considerably more respectable than being some low-level Ministry flunky riding on the successes of others. No, he was carving a path for himself and enjoying every second of it. Penelope seemed to be quite happy about it as well, and Percy thought that perhaps that once he was truly settled in and ready-- a year or so, tops –he'd propose to her.

Fred and George had garnered six OWLs apiece, earning a mixture of Exceeds Expectations and Outstandings on their exams. They'd proudly sent copies of their results to Sirius once they'd gotten them, though they'd been unable to resist setting not one but three pranks on the letters. Sirius had laughed long and hard, loving their ingenuity even as the combined pranks had given him a pink and purple polka-dotted elephant's trunk and matching ears. He'd had Harry take a picture of him before sending it off to the twins with a short congratulatory note and a prank of his own. The ears and trunk had faded before the day's end, and Sirius had had far too much fun using his ears as fans and picking things up with his trunk.

Much to the boys' surprise, the Tonks family joined them in the box as well. Even though they'd been welcomed back into the Black Family with open arms, Andromeda and Ted had kept their distance. Tonks had only recently graduated from the Auror Academy, and therefore hadn't had much contact with her newly reintroduced relatives. Harry had to stop himself from pulling the young woman into a tight hug when he first saw her, a surge of emotions welling up sharply in his chest at the sight of her trademark bubblegum pink hair.

When Sirius introduced him to them, Harry gave the Tonkses a warm smile in reply, not trusting his voice. He'd barely had any time with them in the prior timeline, with Andromeda spiriting little Teddy away from England right after the war had ended. The news that the two of them had died-- not because of the magical plague, but because of a bombing in the city they'd moved to in Australia – had hit Harry hard. He'd barely managed to comfort himself with the fact that they hadn't suffered through the plague, but had died relatively peacefully in comparison.

It hadn't healed the hurt, but it had helped him pretend and move on as much as was possible.

It appeared that the restoration of full access to the Black Family Magics had eased some of Tonks' inherent clumsiness, as her center of gravity wasn't constantly shifting when her body made minute changes in response to various stimuli, be it internal or external. The Metamorphmagus gift had once run strong in the Family Magics, but with the constant inbreeding of the various Pureblood Houses, it had gone dormant until Andromeda had defied her parents' wishes and married Ted, thus refreshing the line. Enough of the Black Family Magics had been present when Tonks had been conceived to pass on the gift, though not enough to keep her from being affected by the constant internal changes her body naturally made.

Tonks immediately hit it off with Harry, Neville, Draco, Hannah, Luna, and Susan, plonking herself down near them as her parents sat with the other adults. The Weasleys said their goodbyes before going to rejoin their family just before the game started, heading out into the madness of the stadium beyond. Harry noticed with some interest that Sirius didn't react to the Veela mascots when they did their introductory performance, even though by all rights he should have. It was touching that Sirius' love for his lost bondmates was still so strong as to overpower the natural allure of the Veela.

The trichromatic bond protected the three boys, and, much to Harry's surprise, none of the other men in the box were affected by it. He'd half-expected Xenophilius to react at the very least, as the marriage bonds of the others would've protected them, but the man was quite happily humming away to himself, seemingly more interested in the program he was reading than the display of unearthly beauty and charm down on the field. Harry chuckled to himself. Given Luna's own natural mental protections (he'd practiced his Legilimency on her with her full permission once -- and only once), he wouldn't be surprised if it was a family thing.

The game passed much as it had in the prior timeline, with Ireland steamrollering Bulgaria but Krum catching the Snitch. Given their knowledge of the future (though that was getting more and more tenuous as time went on), the boys had felt it unsporting to bet anything more than a few Galleons on the outcome. With the promise of future jobs and therefore no need to fund their own joke shop, Fred and George hadn't bothered to bet their whole savings on the outcome of the game, but rather instead kept most of the money back to save up for an apartment of their own when they came of age.

Those gathered in the Black box all headed back to Longbottom Manor once the game was over, with the Tonkses, Remus, and Severus joining them for a post-game dinner and drinks. The Wizarding Wireless played softly in the background as laughter and excited conversation filled the air, creating a much more pleasant soundtrack to the night than the screams that had dominated it in a previous timeline.

Harry kept a close ear on the wireless, not relaxing until the time of the attacks had passed with nary a break in the music. He breathed a sigh of relief before exchanging significant looks with Neville and Draco. Times were definitely changing, and seemingly for the better.

Here's to hoping it would last.

Chapter Text

 The hum of conversation filled Hogwarts as the time for the delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang neared. The announcement that the Triwizard Tournament would be taking place that year had been met with surprise and excitement by all but three of the student body. Harry had made sure to pointedly send a letter to Sirius for information about the Tournament, requesting any books he might be able to procure on the subject. He wanted to make sure that he had information available just in case, and two, he wanted to firmly embed the idea that he didn't want to participate in the Tournament in the minds of his Housemates and the general student body.

One day after dinner had finished, Harry was in the Hufflepuff common room, reading one of the books Sirius had sent him. He was sprawled upside down in one of the squashy armchairs, legs draped over the back of the chair. His Housemates were more than used to seeing him doing weird things like that, so no one complained. Selina was curled up by the fire, enjoying both the warmth and the curious yet gentle fingers of the first years that were stroking over her scales. They'd been wary of her at first, but after seeing how the other 'Puffs acted around her, they'd soon warmed up to her.

A group of sixth and seventh years who were of age were sitting nearby, talking about how they wanted to enter the Tournament. Harry looked up from his book, an idea coming to him.

“Hey, guys?”

Cedric, who was part of the group, focused on him. “Yeah?”

Harry gestured at his book as he turned in his chair so he was sitting sideways in it with his legs over one of the armrests rather than the back. “This book has some of the perks of a champion listed in it,” he said, blinking a little at the rush of blood before shaking it off. “It says that champions get to miss end of year exams, among other things. It doesn't say if that includes NEWTs, though. You might want to check to see if it does. I mean, yeah, a thousand Galleons sounds great and all, but I don't know if I'd want to have to take something like the NEWTs after having to deal with the craziness of the Tournament. Hell, I know I wouldn't want to be entered into it at all, at least not willingly. There's no guarantee I'd come out alive. Almost all the previous contestants died during the Tournament, after all.”

There was a contemplative silence amongst the group after that as they digested the information. One of the seventh years, a tall girl by the name of Melinda Fairweather, got to her feet after a moment. “I'll go ask Professor Sprout,” she decided. “If it will affect the NEWTs, then I'm not sure if I'd want to put my name in. Can I borrow that book so I can show her where I got the information?”

Harry marked the page with a small piece of parchment before handing it over. “Sure. Here you go. Hopefully she'll have an answer for you. If not, maybe Professor McGonagall or Dumbledore will, since they're the ones running everything.”

Melinda nodded and then headed out, book held tightly in her hands. Harry watched her go before settling back in his chair, eyes closing in satisfaction.

“You don't want to enter the Tournament? I thought you must want even more fame, Potter.”

Harry sighed softly and then opened his eyes again. “Why on Earth would I want that?” he asked sharply, turning to to look at Zacharias Smith, who was standing nearby. “Look, even if I was of age-- and I'm not, obviously –I still wouldn't want to enter the Tournament. I'm the last of my House. I'm very, very lucky that I have my bondmates and my father to help spread the load of my familial magic. If I didn't, I'd likely have gone insane by now. One person isn't meant to handle the entire load of their familial magic at one time. As it is, it'd be insane if I entered a potentially deadly contest without securing my legacy by an heir, and since I'm fourteen and my dad would be very disappointed with me if I had a kid this young, I'm not going to enter. Also, I have absolutely no idea how a magical contract would affect my bond with Neville and Draco, and I definitely don't want to find out. If my name somehow comes out of that Goblet, it won't be because I put it there, and I sure as hell will be looking for the one that did.”

He let out a sharp noise of annoyance. “Besides, I have more than enough fame. I didn't want it in the first place. I'm only famous for not dying when my parents and the rest of my family did. Who would want that kind of obscene fame? Does that answer your question, Smith, or do I need to continue?”

“I think he got the message, Harry,” Cedric said softly, glancing over at the first years, most of whom were watching the confrontation with wide eyes. Harry looked over as well and then nodded. He got to his feet, ignoring Zacharias entirely, and then collected Selina before heading to his dorm for the night. Harry got into his pajamas and then, once he was in bed, closed the curtains. He didn't want to deal with the Tournament until it actually came to be. At least some people respected that.

Some time later, the door opened and Ernie came in. Harry heard him clear his throat softly.

“Harry?”

Harry stayed quiet, hoping Ernie thought him asleep. The other boy sighed. “Look, if you're awake, Zacharias is an arse and an idiot. Cedric tore him a new one once the first years went to bed. No one thinks you'd want even more fame. You've made yourself abundantly clear over the years that you don't like it, and never have. Good night, Harry. I'll see you in the morning.”

Harry waited until Ernie got into bed and turned out his light before whispering into the darkness.

“Thanks, Ernie.”

 

~/~

 

Fleur stared out of a window of the flying carriage, watching the night-covered wilds of Scotland passing far below. The carriage and the Abraxans drawing it were Disillusioned, and would remain so until they neared Hogwarts. The interior of the carriage was far bigger than its exterior, using the most of the various Expansion Charms existing. It served the dual purpose of accommodating the Headmistress' larger-than-normal size as well as the dozen or so students making up the delegation from Beauxbatons. There were separate rooms for each student, though Fleur was sharing her room with her sister, Gabrielle.

Fleur was used to sharing a sleeping space with Gabrielle. Even though nine years separated them, they were still very close. It was part of their Veela nature. There was no such thing as only a partial Veela; either one was a Veela or not, though most of the Magical world wasn't aware of that. Veela tended to gather together in large groups of several families in protected enclaves, usually deep in the mountains, well away from both Muggle and Magical eyes.

Gabrielle was currently napping on her bed, her soft breathing a soothing sound. Fleur was worried that something might befall her sister during the Tournament, especially since their parents had signed a permission slip that allowed her to to participate in the tasks if Fleur was selected as the Beauxbatons champion. Given that traditionally a hostage was taken for one of the tasks, Fleur wasn't sure if she wanted to put her name in for consideration if it meant her sister would be in danger.

All of that was in the future, however, and there were, after all, quite a few others who would be putting their name into the Goblet of Fire, so Fleur knew her worries could be entirely baseless. She certainly hoped so. She sighed, pushing her hair away from her face, and then got to her feet. They'd be arriving at Hogwarts soon, and it would be a good idea to be ready. It would be far colder in Scotland than in France, and Fleur doubted their silk robes would be adequate protection against the environment.

Gabi? Time to wake up,” she called out in French, turning to look at her sister. “We need to get ready, sweetheart.

Gabrielle grumbled in annoyance, her eyes opening in a sleepy glare. “I'm warm and comfortable,” she retorted in the same language. “Leave me alone. It won't take long to get ready.

Fleur laughed. “Are you sure?” she teased. “You know how long it takes you to get ready in the morning. Come on, little sparrow. Time to leave your nest and face the day.

It's night,” Gabrielle pointed out grumpily. “Sparrows sleep at night. Therefore, I should be sleeping.

We're almost there,” Fleur said, going over to Gabrielle's bed and drawing back the covers, much to her sister's protests. Fleur ignored her, drawing her wand from its dimensional store on her wrist and then flicking it to remove the blankets entirely, sending them to the chest at the end of Gabrielle's bed. Gabrielle sat up in protest, her glare sharpening.

Just because you have a wand doesn't mean you can do things like that!” she snapped.

Oh, but Mama told me to make sure you represented our Family as well as you could, so making sure you're ready in time for us to arrive at Hogwarts is doing just that,” Fleur told her. “Up you get. I'll get our winter cloaks. It'll be far colder in northern Scotland than in France. We don't want to get too cold.

Gabrielle sighed sharply and then got out of bed, going to change out of her nightgown and into proper clothing. Fleur did the same, pulling on her thick winter cloak as the carriage began to descend. The sisters left their room once the carriage had landed, heading to the main entrance area to meet up with the rest of the delegation. Some, like them, wore winter cloaks, while others had foregone the protection and simply wore their thin blue silk robes.

Samuel, the eldest of the male half of the delegation, leapt out of the carriage to put the stairs down and then help Madame Maxime out, just as a proper gentleman should. Fleur helped Gabrielle put her fur-trimmed hood up and then did the same with her own, following their parents' advice that their Veela heritage should be hidden until absolutely necessary. There were far too many tales of people trying to take advantage of a Veela's innate sexuality, particularly of those who were just coming into their powers around the start of puberty. Gabrielle, thankfully, had a few more years before that time in her life, but Fleur was planning on being on guard at Hogwarts nonetheless.

They stepped out of the carriage, Fleur keeping hold of Gabrielle's hand as they went. Fleur glanced over at the Hogwarts students gathered on the stairs, her attention piqued. Veela were able to sense magically powerful beings naturally; it was used as both a defensive mechanism and a way to find a powerful life partner. After all, the more powerful a life partner of a Veela, the more powerful any children they might have would be.

Fleur could sense quite a few powerful people amongst the crowd, though several of them were soul bound to others. Her inner Veela automatically marked them as off-limits even without thinking about it, as soul bonds were a treasured thing, and Fleur wasn't about to even try to disrupt one. She wasn't at Hogwarts to find a life partner anyways. If she did, then that was great. If not, then that was fine as well.

Fleur guided Gabrielle into the warmth of the castle, following after Madame Maxime and the others. The inside of the castle was pleasant, though Fleur much preferred the flowing lines of the Palace of Beauxbatons than the sold geometry of Hogwarts' walls. They were led into the hall by a dour-faced man in a tailcoat that looked like it had seen better days. Madame Maxime looked around and then gestured towards the table that had a blue banner with a bronze eagle at its center hanging over it. Her students headed over to the indicated table, taking seats near its center. Madame Maxime nodded before leaving the hall to go meet up with the other heads of the schools.

Can I take my cloak off? I'm too warm now,” Gabrielle asked Fleur, tugging at her sleeve.

Wait until Madame Maxime returns,” Fleur replied, watching as the Hogwarts and Durmstrang students filtered in. Gabrielle let out an annoyed huff but did as requested, gratefully freeing herself of her cloak once Madame Maxime had reentered with Dumbledore and another man Fleur assumed was the new Durmstrang headmaster. Rumor had it that the former headmaster, Igor Karkaroff, had abruptly quit his job three years prior and had promptly disappeared into thin air at the end of the school year, leaving the school to scramble to find a replacement.

They'd found it in Vasiliy Lysenko, a gruff but surprisingly fair man who had taken one look at Karkaroff's organization of the school and then promptly revised as much as he could in the short time he had before the next school term started. Karkaroff had favored those with Dark magical affinities, often ignoring those with Gray or Light ones, especially in the classes the school offered. Lysenko had restructured the curriculum, firing several teachers and hiring others that suited the revised curriculum better. There had been some complaints at first, particularly from the Dark-aligned students, but after a while, the students found that the changes were decidedly for the better.

Lysenko was relatively young as well, being in his late twenties rather than someone closer to Karkaroff's age. His youth worked for him in regards to relating to his students and for knowing what they needed academically. Lysenko took his seat to Dumbledore's right-hand side, while Madame Maxime sat on Dumbledore's left. Filch had set out three extra chairs at one end of the high table, though who they were for, Fleur didn't know. Perhaps officials from the British Ministry of Magic, as they were technically in charge of the Tournament.

Once Dumbledore made a welcoming speech and then sat down, food appeared on the tables. Much to Fleur's relief, she recognized quite a few dishes amongst the heavier British standards. She served herself some bouillabaisse before giving some to Gabrielle. The dinner passed well, though near the end of the main course, the empty chairs up at the head table were filled by three men. One Fleur recognized as Ludo Bagman, the former Quidditch player, while the other seemed to be a Ministry official of some sort, judging by the embroidered insignia on his otherwise plain black robes.

The final man was easily recognizable as Lord Sirius Black. Fleur's father, Jean-Pierre, had been quite incensed when it came out that the young Lord had not been given a proper trial after his arrest, and had celebrated the capture of Pettigrew with a toast to Sirius' freedom. They'd worked together when Jean-Pierre was a Hit Wizard for the ICW and Sirius a newly-minted Auror, tracking down Death Eaters who attempted to escape via the English Channel and disappear into Europe.

The question of the unknown man's identity was cleared up when, after dessert, Dumbledore announced that he was Daniel Weatherby, the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation. Fleur watched as the Goblet of Fire was brought out and then set up at the front of the Hall, its blue-white flames flickering and sending eerie shadows across Dumbledore's lined face. Once the speech was over and they were dismissed, the Beauxbatons students followed their headmistress back out to the carriage, ready to turn in for the night.

So, are you going to put your name in?” Gabrielle asked as she and Fleur got ready for bed. Fleur considered the question and then nodded slowly.

I believe so. Madame says that, should you need to participate in any of the tasks, you won't be in any danger,” she replied. “I trust that she's right.

Or at least, Fleur thought as she got into her bed and then turned off the light, she greatly hoped so.

~/~

 

Luna knew a lot of things. Things she'd read, things she'd learned about in class, but most importantly, things she'd Seen. Having the Sight wasn't simply being able to see things that had happened or that would happen, but also things that were and things that could be. Things that were weren't always visible to those without the Sight (like many of the smaller varieties of Fae-kin), and things that could be changed with every choice made.

At the moment, Luna could See quite a few things that could be, as well as a curious situation that was and had been. The former were paths that may or may not happen depending on the outcome of who the Goblet of Fire chose as its Champions (with one fixed constant, no matter how much change had gone before), but the latter... That was something that was mostly shrouded in shadows and mist.

Luna hated it when her Sight was clouded.

Sure, she could See tendrils of what could be in regards to the situation that was and had been, but they flittered around like dandelion seeds in a breeze, going this way and that with hardly a care in the world. It was beyond frustrating.

Luna huffed, poking at the rapidly melting double scoop of ice cream she'd put onto her dessert plate, her spoon leaving divots in the chilly confection. Her House-mates were used to her odd habits by now and simply carried on eating their own desserts, eager to get to the end of the meal and the subsequent revealing of the three Champions.

“Four,” Luna muttered to herself. Hermione, who was sitting across from her, gave her a curious look.

“Sorry?”

“Hmm? Oh, nothing,” Luna replied with a short shake of her head. Hermione frowned slightly before turning her attention back to the fresh fruit she was enjoying as her dessert. Luna ate half of her ice cream before the meal finally ended, her stomach twisting. The paths were rapidly being pruned, leaving very few things that could be left behind.

.: Be ready, my Lady, :. Luna grimly warned Lady Hogwarts, a strong sense of foreboding rising up as Dumbledore stood to make his speech. .: I can See many things. They'll need all your strength to get through these next few days. :.

.: I'm ready and waiting, little Eagle, :. Lady Hogwarts replied just as seriously. .: They won't lack for care. :.

Dumbledore cleared his throat before looking around the expectant hall. “Well, the Goblet is almost ready to make its decision,” he told them. “I estimate that it requires one more minute. Now, when the champions' names are called, I would ask them to come up to the top of the Hall and then stand near their Head of school. Once all three of the champions are selected, they will walk along the staff table and then go through that door” --he gestured towards the door behind the staff table -- “where they will be receiving their first instructions.”

With a grand gesture from his wand, all the candles save for those inside the pumpkins floating overhead (one of the few reminders that it was, indeed, Halloween) were snuffed out, leaving the Goblet of Fire to shine brightly in the darkness. After several long, tense moments, the blue-white flames turned a shimmering red before expelling a slightly singed piece of parchment. Dumbledore deftly snatched it out of the air before holding it up to the light to read it.

“The champion for Durmstrang is-- VIKTOR KRUM!” he announced. There was much applause as Viktor rose to his feet and approached the staff table, though Luna barely heard it.

“One,” she breathed.

A few seconds later and the Goblet released another piece of parchment, this one fluttering a little before Dumbledore was able to grab it. “The champion for Beauxbatons is-- FLEUR DELACOUR!”

Fleur got up a few places down from Luna, exchanging a nervous smile with a younger girl Luna knew to be her sister before tossing her hair back and then heading up to meet with Madame Maxime amidst a storm of applause.

“Two.”

The anticipation seemed to rise as the Hogwarts students waited eagerly to find out who would be representing them in the Tournament. The Goblet issued forth a third parchment piece after a short pause.

“The champion for Hogwarts is-- CEDRIC DIGGORY!” Dumbledore pronounced, much to the general glee of the Hufflepuffs, who were clapping the hardest, whistling, and stomping their feet in their joy at one of their own being chosen. Luna closed her eyes, bile threatening to rise in her throat.

“Three.”

There was a pause as Cedric joined the others at the staff table, and the applause died down.

“Congratulations to our three champions!” Dumbledore said with a broad smile. “I'm sure we're all looking forward to the feats of daring, magical ability, and wonder that will occur throughout the Tournament. Now that our champions have been selected, they will--”

He cut off when the Goblet flared red again, spitting out a fourth piece of parchment. As Dumbledore plucked it out of the air, almost out of pure reflex, Luna Saw that the paths of what could have been were now just one path of what was. And what was was not going to be an easy one. Luna opened her eyes.

"Four," she breathed, just as Dumbledore read out the name on the scrap.

“Harry Potter-Black.”

There was a general murmur of confusion, especially at the Hufflepuff table, before Dumbledore cleared his throat and read out the name again, this time with a faint hint of anger to his voice.

“Harry Potter-Black! Harry, come up here.”

Luna was moving before she even thought about it, her attention focused on the nearest of the three bond-mates, which proved to be Harry, who was looking dangerously pale. He swayed in his seat, hands clutching at the table, and then fainted, only being saved from a cracked head by the quick actions of his House-mates on either side of him. Neville and Draco dropped soon after, with Pansy and Blaise Zabini catching Draco and Fred and George, Neville.

Sirius didn't waste any time and vaulted the staff table, with Remus close behind. They made it to Harry just behind Luna. Harry was trembling violently, low, whimpering moans leaving him.

“What's going on?” Ernie asked fearfully as Sirius carefully scooped Harry into his arms, cradling him as if he were still a small child before racing out of the hall and to the nearest Floo, Lady Hogwarts guiding his every step. The Infirmary wouldn't be enough; they needed Saint Mungo's. Remus easily gathered up Draco, while Fred and George took care of Neville, sharing the load of his weight as they went.

“The Goblet of Fire has bound Harry to itself,” Luna said as Madam Pomfrey and the three female Heads of Houses rushed to follow Sirius and the others to the hospital. “I suspect it's interfered somehow with their trichromatic bond. We'll find out soon enough.”

She turned her attention to Dumbledore, who had remained at the front of the Hall, an oddly calculating look on his face visible for just a moment before it vanished and he turned to speak to the other Heads of the schools. So, that was how it was going to be. Very well. Taking advantage of the chaos that was quickly spreading throughout the hall, Luna slipped out and into the depths of the castle, heading to the owlery. A quick time with a quill and a transfigured piece of paper and she'd sent her message off, warning those who needed the time to set things in motion.

Luna smiled to herself in the dark coolness of the owlery. She might not be able to help Harry now, but this path, this what could be? It would certainly help him-- and others --in the future. Sometimes it was good to be a Seer.

Chapter Text

Sirius paced the small waiting room he and the others had been shunted off into while Madam Pomfrey and the other healers took care of the three boys in a nearby room. As he paced, he rubbed at his breastbone with the heel of his hand, the dull ache that had set up there after James and Lily's deaths intensifying greatly in response to the plight Harry was in. Or at least, that's what Sirius assumed, as the ache had increased the moment Harry had passed out. It felt like the main burden of the Potter Family Magics had settled more heavily on Sirius' magical core for the time being, which was odd given he was technically part of the Potter Family by spirit only since he'd never married James and Lily properly. It was one of the many regrets he had weighing on his heart and soul.

“Black, what's wrong with you? Why do you keep doing that? You look like you're going to wear a hole in your chest.”

Severus' voice brought him out of his self-imposed stupor. Sirius had hardly noticed his old enemy's arrival; Remus must have called him via Floo when Sirius wasn't paying attention.

“Fuck off, Snape,” Sirius snapped, more out of habit than anything else. “Now's not the time.”

“Sirius, he has a valid point,” Remus said. Even without looking, Sirius could tell the werewolf was frowning. Remus had a particular tone he used when adopting that expression. “He's not attacking you.”

Sirius scrubbed his hands through his hair, messing it up thoroughly. “Sorry,” he replied, not looking at Remus or Severus as he apologized. “I... The broken bond aches occasionally. It's nothing. Don't worry about it.”

Sirius didn't see Severus and Remus exchange startled and meaningful looks behind him, as his attention was more focused on the sudden opening of the door to the boys' room. Madam Pomfrey emerged, looking exhausted, stray strands of hair escaping her normally tidy bun. Given that it had already been relatively late when they'd left Hogwarts, and it had been at least four hours since then, her tiredness wasn't much of a surprise.

“We've managed to stabilize them,” she announced, and a goodly amount of tension drained from the room. “The Goblet of Fire is suppressing their bond to almost non-existence. Harry still has a connection to his Family Magics, but not as strongly as he usually does.” She glanced over at Sirius. “I suspect you've already realized that, Lord Black.”

Sirius nodded, his face pale and drawn. “Yes. I felt the weight of the magical burden shift dramatically after he passed out. Are Neville and Draco the same?”

Madam Pomfrey shook her head. “No. We suspect it's because they still have their parents shouldering the greater burden of the Family Magics, and in Draco's case, the Black Family Magics are spread out amongst multiple people. Harry and you are the only ones bearing the weight of the Potter Family Magics at the moment since the trichromatic bond is so muted.”

“Can we reverse the binding to the Goblet?” Alice asked shakily. She, Frank, and Narcissa had arrived soon after the main party, having been called by Minerva herself. The Deputy Headmistress had had to return to Hogwarts to give an update to those they'd left behind; Professors Sprout and Babbling had gone some time later, needing to go back to soothe their Houses' fears about their affected members. Fred and George hadn't come through the Floo, instead remaining at Hogwarts since they weren't family and couldn't do much at the hospital besides wait.

“We don't know,” Madam Pomfrey admitted. “They're going to call in a cursebreaking team from Gringotts.”

“Request William Weasley's team,” Narcissa suggested. “They're one of the best, and we've worked with them before, so they're aware of the boys' magical circumstances.”

“I'll keep it in mind,” Madam Pomfrey said. She sighed. “As I said, they're settled for now, though I'm not sure when they'll be able to return to Hogwarts. Not within the next day, I know that.”

“They'll have to return for the first task,” Severus murmured. “If Harry doesn't at least participate...”

“Right. That's, what, in a little less than a month? Fuck.” Sirius sank down in a chair, burying his face in his hands. Narcissa moved over next to him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, squeezing softly.

“We'll figure something out,” she said soothingly. “I'm sure--”

A brisk knock at the door leading to the main hall caught the attention of those in the waiting room. The door opened a moment later to reveal two goblins and four humans, one of which was Bill Weasley. Most stared at the goblins in surprise. It was rare for goblins to leave Gringotts, and even more so to come to Saint Mungo's, as they had their own healers and often ignored human medicines and potions, considering them inelegant when compared to the ones they made themselves.

“I-- Oh. I hadn't realized they'd sent the message so soon,” Madam Pomfrey said, regaining her composure as quickly as she could. “We were just talking about you, Mister Weasley.”

“We got several messages regarding the incident, but none from Saint Mungo's-- at least, not yet,” Bill replied. “One was from a trusted Seer, while the other was from Fred and George. Both were very urgent in saying that we needed to be here. We came as quickly as we could, though the international Portkey took some time.”

“You came all the way from Egypt?” Sirius asked, greatly surprised. “You didn't have to do that. I'm sure there were other teams that could've come.”

“We were informed by the Seer that it was necessary that Cursebreaker Weasley's team be the ones to come, and none other,” Tirak, who was one of the two goblins, replied. “The missive from his younger brothers only reinforced the fact. Lord Black, my associate Kilnlathe and I will need to speak with you in private about an irregular matter we discovered when researching ways to aid your son and his mates. Cursebreaker Weasley and his team will go with Healer Pomfrey to see if they can, if not negate, then lessen the intensity of the binding on your son.”

Sirius rose to his feet, taking in a steadying breath before following Tirak and Kilnlathe out of the room, while Madam Pomfrey took Bill and the other cursebreakers into the boys' room. The goblins led Sirius into a nearby empty room, Tirak closing the door before throwing up some of the heaviest and most complex privacy wards Sirius had ever seen. He gestured for Sirius to take a seat on the bed while he and Kilnlathe conjured up two goblin-sized chairs for themselves.

“So, what's this irregular matter you came across?” Sirius asked wearily, not entirely sure that he wanted to hear the answer after everything that had already happened over the past few hours.

Kilnlathe cleared his throat, folding his long-fingered hands over his slightly rotund stomach. “We figured that having your son take up the Lordships due to to him would help stabilize his magics, as his entrance into the Triwizard Tournament, however illegal, has shifted his legal status to that of an adult wizard given the requirement that all contestants must be of age to enter said tournament. However, we were only able to retrieve the proper ring for one of those titles: that of Lord Slytherin. We have it with us.”

Sirius was very glad he was sitting down at the moment, because that news was earth-shattering. He stared at the two goblins, mouth slightly agape. “Wh- I'm sorry, I must've misheard you,” he managed. “How could there not be two Lordship rings? James is...” His throat tightened, and he had to clear his throat to banish the prickling heat that threatened to steal away his voice. “The previous Lord Potter is dead, and has been for thirteen years.”

“Our records indicate otherwise,” Tirak said, his tone surprisingly gentle for a goblin. “As the Lordship ring has not returned to the Potter Family Vault, we can only presume that James Potter is indeed still alive. We checked his lifestone, as well as the Lady Potter's; both are still active, though greatly muted. They resemble a firefly's glow as if seen from a hundred feet away when not shrouded in the traditional black velvet cloths. The former vaultkeeper for the Potter Family was questioned thoroughly in our time dilation chamber for quite some time as to why he didn't inform anyone of the matter, but unfortunately a curse that had been laying dormant activated and killed him before he could give us any information. We were unable to gather any information on the magical signature of the caster, though we were able to determine that it had been over a decade since the curse had been cast.”

Sirius scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to jump-start his shaken thoughts into something resembling order. “Can you find them?” he asked finally, his voice low and rough.

“We're doing our best,” Tirak assured him. “We fear they might be held under a Fidelius Charm, though there are some ways around that. If they are under that Charm, we will be able to find a general area to search, but not the exact one.”

Sirius went still, his sluggish brain throwing up a crazy idea. “What about house elves?”

“Pardon?”

“House elves. They can go through most wards and charms. Shouldn't the Potter elves be able to find them?” Sirius asked, lifting his head to give the two goblins a hopeful look.

“It's possible,” Kilnlathe mused, scratching his chin thoughtfully, the sound of his nails on his skin sounding like coarse sandpaper against wood. “Send them looking. They can move faster than our search teams can, and far more discreetly as well. Since they're not let in on the Secret, they won't be able to go directly to Lord and Lady Potter, but they'll be able to map out a general area of where they could be. Send them in teams of two: one to search and one to keep watch on the other to see where they get confused and turn back from their task.”

Sirus nodded and then closed his eyes, doing his best to settle his mind before calling all of the Potter elves. Over the past few years they'd all found mates, so there were now sixteen elves that cared for the various Potter properties. They popped into the room, Domie stepping forward.

“Master Sirius. How can we help you?” he asked, looking curiously around the room before focusing intently on Sirius once more. Sirius hesitated before speaking.

“Domie, I have a bit of an odd question for all of you,” he said. “Can any of you feel James or Lily in your familial bonds?”

Domie's eyes widened. “We...” He bit his bottom lip, his large ears turning downwards in an expression of shame. “We always thought it was an echo in the Family Magics, Master Sirius. It happens sometimes to elves if our masters die suddenly. Voices of the past, we calls them. We are taught not to speak of them to the families we serve.”

“Do you think you can track these... echoes?” Tirak prompted. Domie frowned.

“It might be possible,” he said. “We will try.”

“Do it in pairs,” Sirius instructed. “We think they might be hidden behind a Fidelius. Map out the area as best you can, and once you're sure you've got a good feel for it, come to me immediately.”

“Yes, Master Sirius,” Domie said. The other elves echoed their agreement a few seconds later. Sirius dismissed them with a brief word of thanks and watched them go before turning back to Tirak and Kilnlathe.

“So, you think the Slytherin Lordship ring will help Harry?”

Kilnlathe nodded. “Yes. At the very least, it will entrench him fully in magics that are older than the Goblet itself. The Slytherin Family Magics predate even those of the lost Houses of Avalon, though only by about a hundred years or so.”

“If you think it'll help, then by all means, go ahead,” Sirius told them, and then paused. “It's not going to make him eligible for the Wizengamot, is it? We don't need that kind of mess right now, not with everything that's already happening.”

Tirak shook his head. “No. The inherent magic of the Wizengamot considers a witch or wizard eligible to hold a hereditary seat when they meet the six standards of a reasoning magical adult: magical maturity, physical maturity, legal maturity, mental maturity, and mental and magical stability. As your son only meets two, or maybe three, of those requirements at the moment, his seat remains inactive until he swears the oath and meets the judgement of the seat's magic. He'll bear the ring but not the responsibilities, not until he meets those conditions, at least.”

Sirius blew out a sigh of relief and then slowly got to his feet, feeling far older than his actual age of thirty-four, before heading out of the room. The goblins followed him, dismantling the privacy wards as they went. Tirak, who had possession of the ring, led Sirius into the boys' room, while Kilnlathe left to go use the Floo to update their superiors back at the bank.

The healers were all gathered in a corner, discussing what could be done to help the three boys. They'd placed their patients on one enlarged bed, not wanting to separate them at such a dire time. The cursebreakers were huddled in another corner, looking over a sheaf of parchments that they had spread out over a hastily Transfigured table. Sirius couldn't see what all was on them, but then again, Arithmancy and Ancient Runes had never been his best classes, and judging from the looks of the parchments, whatever they were talking about dealt heavily with those subjects.

Harry was in the center of the bed, with Neville on his left and Draco his right. Tirak flicked his fingers to erect a privacy ward around the bed that kept anyone from noticing what they were doing before drawing out a wooden ring box from his pocket. The Slytherin crest was inlaid on the lid in deep silver. Tirak ran one long finger over the crest, magic sparking as his finger moved. The Slytherin heir ring appeared on Harry's right ring finger, a shimmering green glow surrounding and then covering Harry entirely. Once the glow faded, the heir ring had disappeared, and in its place the Slytherin Lordship ring rested. A wave of Tirak's hand later and the ring was hidden from sight once more.

Harry, who had been tossing and turning, calmed down greatly, his body relaxing into true sleep. Neville and Draco were able to curl closer to him before they settled into sleep as well. Tirak dispelled his privacy ward, a satisfied look on his face. Sirius sank down into a chair next to the bed, not intending to move until either a healer released the boys or he was forced to leave. He wasn't about to leave them alone, not after everything that had happened that day. He stayed there even after the healers, cursebreakers, and Tirak had left, his eyes never leaving the bed and its inhabitants.

He wasn't going to fail Harry, not this time.

 

Chapter Text

Five days after the ill-fated selection of the four Triwizard champions, there was a hubbub at the beginning of dinner that night as the three missing Hogwarts students returned from the hospital. All three looked rather pale, though not deathly ill and shaking as they had been when they left. Cedric watched as almost all of the younger students of the Hogwarts student body gathered around the three fourth years, chattering happily and sneaking small, innocent touches on the young men where they could. Eventually Cedric gently shooed them away, and, once he was able to, reached out and placed a hand on Harry's shoulder, though he looked at all three of them as he spoke.

“How're you three doing? We've all been worried sick, even if most of the Slytherins won't show it outright.”

Draco let out a short huff of laughter. “Of course they wouldn't,” he said as Cedric let his hand drop away. “We're trained to keep our emotions inside-- well, at least the ones in our year and above have. The younger ones seem to have ignored that, and for the better.”

“Definitely,” Cedric agreed. “I'm glad you're back. How're you doing?”

“Better,” Harry replied. “Have they said anything about the first task?”

Cedric shook his head. “No. Apparently they're testing our bravery and ability to think under pressure, so they haven't told us anything except when it will be, which is mid-November.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “That's not exactly helpful. Look, this competition is supposed to be about fostering international relationships and all that, right?”

“Right,” Cedric said. “Why?”

“Well, why don't we cooperate with our fellow champions and help one another brush up on things we're not the best at?” Harry suggested. “Besides, I'm only fourteen. I don't exactly have the same advantages as you three do.”

Cedric considered this for a moment and then nodded. “We can always ask,” he said. “If nothing else, you and I can help one another since it'd be a win for Hogwarts and Hufflepuff either way.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, giving him a tired smile. “How about tomorrow? I think we're just going to settle in tonight and try to get back into the swing of things over the weekend.”

“Sure thing. I'll talk to them and then get back to you later,” Cedric said. “It really is good to see all three of you again.”

“It's good to be back.” Neville gave him a smile before he and his bondmates headed over to the Ravenclaw table, sitting near Luna. She smiled brilliantly at them.

“Welcome back.”

“Thank you,” Harry replied. “For the greeting and the letter.”

Luna nodded. “I could help, so I did,” she said simply. With that, she started eating her dinner, humming happily to herself. Harry shrugged and then started serving himself food. Neville and Draco did the same, though none of them had a large appetite.

After dinner was over, they were shown to a suite of rooms on the third floor. The healers at Saint Mungo's had discovered that the three boys were unable to sleep in separate rooms, let alone separate beds, so they'd recommended for them to be given a private room where they could sleep peacefully. Dumbledore hadn't been particularly happy about it, but he'd given in eventually once Professors Sprout, Babbling, and McGonagall had pressed the matter, with Madam Pomfrey chiming in as well. That particular suite of rooms was usually used for important guests, especially around OWL and NEWT testing time, but as that was well in the future (and there was much more space in the castle to accommodate the testers than just that one suite), there wasn't much of a reason for Dumbledore to refuse them the use of it.

The suite was located behind a large painting of a regal-looking sphinx. They set the password to 'Queen of Serpents' in Parseltongue for their own use and instructed the sphinx not to otherwise let anyone in who wasn't approved, even if they could answer a riddle she posed them. At the top of that list, was, naturally, Albus Dumbledore and any of his sycophants. Sirius, Remus, Dobby, and Domie scanned the room to find any charms or spells that might be used to spy on the three boys. They also removed any and all paintings that might report back to Dumbledore, even if Lady Hogwarts said that she'd be able to keep them from doing so. The paintings were stored in the Room of Requirement's 'Room of Hidden Things' version, making all they could see be piles of useless garbage.

Anything valuable in there had long since been removed by the house elves under Lady Hogwarts' command, with the various books (save for those dealing with Black Arts) going to their appropriate places in either the classrooms or the library; the clothes going to the charity bin run by Professor Sprout for those who couldn't afford them or who had lost something; the gems and other precious items going into the vaults set aside for the running of Hogwarts that Dumbledore had yet to figure out how to use for his own gain; and the few complete suits of armor fixed and placed back in the halls. All that was left was broken junk that had absolutely no use whatsoever, making it a very dull place indeed. As such, the portraits' inhabitants were often found elsewhere, no doubt frustrating Dumbledore to no end.

Time passed until the day of the Weighing of the Wands was upon the four contestants. They were pulled from their classes (the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang contingents held their classes in their respective conveyances to Hogwarts) and taken to a classroom to have their wands examined by Garrick Ollivander. Harry wasn't particularly happy about the whole thing, as he'd been in the middle of a complex potion in class, but he couldn't exactly get out of it. It went better than in the previous timeline, as Rita wasn't looking for a tell-all scoop, though Ollivander spent quite a bit of time examining Harry's wand before he used it to conjure a delicate glass ornament in the shape of a badger. Harry took it and his wand from Ollivander, putting both in his dimensional store to keep them safe.

By the time the twenty-fourth had rolled around, the four contestants had met several times, mostly during meals, and had gotten to know one another some. Harry was pleased to find that Fleur and Viktor were far more friendly once they'd gotten over the shock of him being forced into the Tournament, and the two of them had agreed wholeheartedly to working with him and Cedric in between tasks.

“After all,” Viktor mused two nights before the first task as they all sat together at the Hufflepuff table eating dessert, “we are meant to be having fun and promoting international cooperation, yes? The prize money...” He shrugged carelessly. “Eh. I don't care. I earn that much for playing one Quidditch match. It will be going to charity if I win anyways.”

“Oh? What charity would you donate it to?” Fleur asked.

“A local magical charity from my hometown. It is called New Sun,” Viktor replied. “It helps those...” He searched for the right words in English, “...those unable to help themselves, especially children, elderly, and Squibs.”

“A worthy cause,” Cedric said. “We have something like that here.” He nodded at Harry. “Harry's family helped found the Wyvern Foundation. They do a lot of philanthropic work, including working to help those afflicted with lycanthropy. One of our professors is actually a werewolf, and his husband is the lead potions master for the Foundation.”

“Which one?”

“Professor Lupin-Snape,” Harry replied, gesturing at the head table in response to Fleur's question. “He's the one currently speaking with your headmaster. If, for some unknown reason, I win against you three, I'll be donating the winnings to the orphanage the Foundation runs. They need it more than I do.”

Fleur laughed. “That's one way to make us all look bad,” she joked. “Look, why don't we make a deal with one another? Regardless of who wins, we get together and portion the money out into four parts. We then donate that money to the charities of our choice. Harry's Foundation, Viktor's New Sun, and so on. Perhaps we can add a little more to each so it comes out to five hundred Galleons per donation. Would that work?”

“Maybe,” Cedric said, looking thoughtful. “Or... Hm. You know, the Daily Prophet did an okay job with our photos, but what if we got together and had some printed up ourselves? We could offer them for sale in the paper, with the proceeds going to the four charities we want to support. Whoever wins can then do with their winnings as they like.”

“I like it!” Viktor said, one hand coming down against the table with a sharp thump. “We will be living up to the spirit of the Tournament, as well as helping others.” He grinned, looking very pleased. “I doubt our Ministries will be happy, but they are the ones who put this together, no? They can deal with it.”

“It's free publicity for them, technically,” Harry pointed out, and then smirked. “Assuming they get in on it at the right time. We just won't tell them when that is.”

The laughter from the four contestants rang out through the hall, drawing attention briefly until it faded away.

~/~

The day of the first task was crisp and bright, with more than a hint of autumn chill to the air. The four contestants were taken to a tent located on the edge of a large clearing at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. The clearing itself was surrounded by tall viewing stands that resembled those surrounding the Quidditch pitch, blocking any sight of the interior of the clearing itself. Ludo Bagman was waiting for them in the tent, as well as Daniel Weatherby. Bagman gave the quartet a brilliant smile when he spotted them. He was wearing his old Wimbourne Wasps robes, the fabric stretched taut over his portly frame. A purple silk sack was in his hand, but it seemed far flatter than Harry remembered it being in the previous timeline. Perhaps they didn't have to fight dragons this time around.

“Ah, welcome, welcome!” he said brightly. “When the audience has finished assembling, I'll be offering each of you this bag, and my associate here will be offering you one of his own. You'll draw out the order you're going in from mine and the variety of the trial from his. The goal of your trials today is to get to the prize in the fastest time. There'll be obstacles along the way, so don't think you'll have an easy go of it! It will take a little time to reset between each trial, so don't worry about the time spent then. It won't count towards your scores. Speaking of, those will be given once everyone's gone through the trials.”

Definitely not dragons, then, Harry thought. Interesting.

The sound of the crowd pouring into the stands resembled a dull roar flowing around them. Harry took a seat, figuring it would be some time until the crowd had finished sitting down. The others followed his example, clustering their chairs in close in an unconscious need for mutual support. Harry gave them a wan smile, one that Fleur returned, though she looked rather pale. Harry reached out for the comfort of his bondmates over the bond, but all he got was a distant echo of the usual warmth and love they shared.

It made Harry's heart and soul hurt.

At least he knew where Neville and Draco were; Sirius didn't have the same luxury. The house elves were working in rotating shifts to find James and Lily, but it was slow going even with their near-instant traveling abilities. Sirius had already come up with a detailed plan to absolutely (and mostly legally) ruin whoever had stolen his bondmates from him. Remus and Severus had promised to help, as had Narcissa and the three adult Longbottoms.

Remus had forwarded the opinion that it may have been Dumbledore who was behind it, as he'd already meddled with his and Severus' bond, and Harry agreed. It made the most sense, but they couldn't prove anything until they found the missing Potters. Harry was drawn out of his thoughts by Daniel Weatherby clearing his throat softly.

“Alright,” he said as he stepped forward. “Let's get this started.” He presented his bag to them. “Ladies first, please.”

Fleur stood and then put her hand in the green silk bag. She drew out a token that had a light blue snowflake on it from within it, a small frown forming as she looked down at it.

“Now me!” Ludo said eagerly, shaking his bag at Fleur. She repeated her actions, drawing out a token with the number two on it from the bag.

“Mister Krum?”

Viktor got to his feet, drawing out a token with a brown leaf and the number one from the two bags. Cedric drew the number three and a token with a picture of an orange campfire on it. Harry stepped forward to take his turn, taking the number four and a token with a blue water drop on it.

“Now that you've all drawn your tokens, we'll explain them,” Daniel said. “The numbers are the order in which you'll complete the task, and the other tokens represent the element you'll be dealing with during your task. You will be judged on how long the task takes you, the creativity with which you use to solve the task, and if you can retrieve the object of the task.”

“That object,” Ludo broke in, “can be found at the end of the task. It'll be the same for all of you.” He grinned. “I can't wait to see how you do it. Mr. Krum, please come with us. The rest of you will go in order each time the bell signaling the next round sounds.”

“Good luck, Viktor,” Cedric said as Viktor followed Ludo and Daniel out of the tent. Harry and Fleur echoed the sentiment, watching them go. Time passed oddly for Harry after that. It seemed to speed up double-time as Viktor and then Cedric and Fleur went to undergo their tasks, and then it slowed to where it felt like it was being stretched like warm taffy. Harry startled when the bell rang out one last time and slowly got to his feet, adrenaline starting to course through his veins.

“And now, our fourth and final contestant: Harry Potter for Hogwarts!” Ludo announced cheerfully as Harry emerged from the tent. Daniel was waiting at the entrance of the tent and guided him to where he needed to be, which turned out to be a platform at one end of the clearing. There was a deep trench in the middle of the clearing that looked to be about fifty feet wide and spanned the entire width of the clearing itself. It was filled with water, and on the other side was the twin of the platform Harry was standing on; there was a wooden post with what looked like a box on top of it.

“Alright,” Ludo said happily, “the challenge is as same as the others, but for Mister Potter's benefit, I'll explain it again. All he has to do is get from one side of the clearing to the other. Points are awarded for style, creativity, and how long it takes him to complete his task. The only tool he'll have available to him is his wand. Mister Potter, when you're ready, begin!”

Harry frowned before drawing his wand from its dimensional store. A simple Glacius would allow him to freeze the water and cross it, but he doubted that it would be that easy, nor would it get him a lot of points. Then again, he'd much rather be watching the tasks than participating in them, so the amount of points didn't really matter. With a shrug, Harry began casting at the water, freezing it carefully so he could move across it. As soon as one section was frozen to his satisfaction, he put a charm on his shoes to keep them from slipping and stepped out, freezing the still-open water ahead of him.

When he was halfway across, Harry paused to gauge just how much farther he had to go. That nearly proved to be his undoing, as several whip-thin red tendrils emerged from the water and tried to grab for him. Harry quickly backpedaled and shot a Stunner at the tendrils as he struggled to keep his footing, even with the charms on his shoes. It looked like this wasn't going to be as easy as he thought. He grinned, the expression almost feral. Alright, fine. If they wanted a performance, then they'd get it.

He cast several Severing Charms at the water in an attempt to drive off whatever was producing the tendrils before throwing an overpowered Glacius at the nearest patch of open water, forming a solid patch of ice. It wouldn't last very long, but it would be long enough.

Hopefully.

Harry couldn't help but laugh a little manically as he kept moving from hastily conjured ice platform to ice platform, avoiding the grasping tendrils as much as he could. He felt like he was playing the world's most dangerous game of leapfrog. He doubted the judges would let him die, but grievous bodily harm unfortunately wasn't out of the question. Harry barely made it to the wooden surface of the platform ahead of the tendrils. There were at least fifty of the blood-red things that slapped against the platform as Harry rolled away, panting heavily. There was a disappointed harsh cry that bubbled up from under the water as the tendrils slid back and then disappeared.

Harry took a moment to catch his breath before he heaved himself to his feet. His legs felt like rubber as he staggered to the wooden post and retrieved the wooden box from its top. The box turned out to be more a decorated cube than an actual box, as it didn't have a visible lid. Harry shrugged and then tucked it under his arm. Fuck it. He'd figure it out later. Right now all he wanted was to go lay down and sleep for at least twelve hours straight.

A wall of sound suddenly hit his ears as the crowd went wild. Harry winced and then subtly gestured with his wand, applying a mild Silencing Charm to his ears. The roar of the crowd went down to a tolerable rumble as Harry made his way to where Madam Pomfrey was waiting for him at the exit of the clearing. She led him to a tent where Fleur, Cedric, and Viktor were sitting; the latter two had minor injuries that were being treated by potion-soaked bandages. Fleur had several heavy blankets wrapped around her, but was shivering greatly nonetheless. There were three cubes identical to Harry's on a side table. Harry put his next to the others and then sank down onto an open bed near Fleur's.

Madam Pomfrey cast several diagnostic spells on Harry, her mouth pulled in a tight line. “Well, besides a mild case of magical exhaustion, you're doing alright,” she said finally. “Better than I expected, given your circumstances.”

Harry shrugged. “That's fine. Can I go now?”

Madam Pomfrey looked like she was about to refuse, but was interrupted by Ludo coming into the tent, beaming brightly.

“Alright, everyone ready to get their scores?” he asked, clapping his hands together sharply. He just barely stopped from rubbing them together like a cartoonish miser eager to count his wealth. Madam Pomfrey glared at him.

“Their scores can wait until they're healed,” she told him, sparks coming from her wand in her annoyance. Ludo eyed the wand warily before stepping back.

“Alright, alright,” he said, holding up a hand. “I'm sure we can wait... Uh, how long?”

“Ten minutes at the least,” Madam Pomfrey replied firmly. “Now go.”

Ludo's shoulders and face fell a little as he turned and went, making him look like a golden retriever denied a treat after performing a simple trick. Harry bit his lip in a bid to hold back his laughter while Ludo was still in the tent, but let it out once Ludo was gone. The others joined in not long after, the adrenaline rush of the first task starting to drain away now that the need for it was gone.

~/~

Once they were all healed and able to move, the four contestants headed back out to the clearing, which had by then been returned to its normal state. The judges were seated on a raised platform in the middle of the clearing, with Dumbledore at the center in his golden seat. The Ministry officials were to either side of him, with the remaining two Heads of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons at either end of the platform. Ludo bounced to his feet when he saw the four of them, his megawatt grin back on his face.

“And here are our four champions!” he announced, his Sonorus-enhanced voice ringing around the clearing. “We'll go in order of performance, so first up is Viktor Krum of Durmstrang!”

Viktor stepped forward, his sharp gaze focused on the judges. Madame Maxime went first, firing a ribbon into the air that twisted into a seven. Lysenko paused before sending up an eight, with Dumbledore echoing him a few seconds later. Ludo sent up a nine, while Daniel put up a seven.

“Thirty-nine out of fifty,” Harry muttered to the others. “Not too bad.”

“His injury wasn't too bad,” Fleur replied as she clapped politely along with the crowd. “He took a half hour to get through his task, which is likely why the Madame and Monsieur Weatherby scored him so low. He got tangled in a Devil's Snare and tried to fight his way out before remembering himself.”

Harry winced at that. He knew how badly Devil's Snare could harm someone if they struggled. Next up was Fleur, who got a thirty-five out of fifty, and then Cedric, who received forty points in total. Harry stepped forward, wishing he could make out his family amongst the crowd, and focused on the judges. Four out of the five gave him eights; it was Dumbledore who changed it up in the end. The Hogwarts Headmaster paused for a long moment before sending up his score.

“A ten?” Harry spluttered amidst the raucous cheering from the Hogwarts supporters in the crowd. “The hell is he playing at?”

“Don't ask me,” Cedric replied as the four of them headed back to the tent to retrieve their cubes, which Madam Pomfrey had been guarding. “Still, you did finish the fastest out of all of us. You barely took ten minutes to get across.”

“I had sufficient impetus. To be honest, I just want to get through these tasks without dying. I don't care if I win,” Harry said.

“Maybe not,” Viktor replied, holding the tent flap back for the others as they went inside, “but you still did a good job. I believe you got your score fairly. Besides, you were the only one who was not injured.”

“Fleur wasn't.”

“I don't do well with the cold,” Fleur told him. “As part Veela, it affects me more greatly. We are creatures of fire and air, not cold and wet.”

Harry nodded, absently wondering if that was why she'd had such trouble with the second task in the prior timeline. The grindylows were certainly a part of it, but the fact that she'd been submerged in freezing cold water couldn't have helped matters any.

“Do you guys want to come back to my quarters for a little while?” Harry asked before they left the tent. “It'll be far quieter than the parties that are undoubtedly going to be raging by the time we get back.”

“Merlin, that sounds amazing,” Cedric said almost instantly, with Fleur and Viktor agreeing as well.

“I just want some peace and quiet,” Viktor said. “The noise of the crowd-- I'm used to it because of Quidditch, but I could use some rest before I face the others.” He hefted his cube in one hand. “And perhaps we can start figuring these out together?”

“Then let's get out of here before someone stops us.” Harry led the way out of the tent and back up to the school, relying on sending a message via his communications mirror to let Sirius (and by extension, the rest of the Potter-Black-Longbottom family and close friends, as well as Gabrielle Delacour, who had been almost instantly adopted into the group by Luna) know what was going on and to not worry if they couldn't find him immediately.

The castle was quiet for the moment as the four of them headed to their destination, which was a merciful break indeed. They made it into the living room beyond the sphinx's portrait just in time, as Lady Hogwarts reported to Harry. Thankfully, that was one thing the Goblet of Fire hadn't managed to touch, as the bond with the castle was so intertwined with the wards and the other Founders' magics that it couldn't be muted as much as the trichromatic bond. That, and as the hosting school, Hogwarts was given a little more leeway in being able to maintain its protective magics, which meant that Lady Hogwarts was able to give Harry and Neville (and, by extension, Draco) some relief from the ache of the incomplete ache of the muted bond.

Harry directed Fleur to the armchair closest to the fire before he took a seat on the loveseat opposite her. Cedric and Viktor sprawling out on various other seats nearby. The four contestants reveled in the peace and quiet, the puzzling cubes laying forgotten on the low coffee table in the middle of the seating area. They could figure them out later. For the time being, none of them cared about the Tournament. They didn't need to, after all. They'd gotten through the first task and had lived to tell the tale.

Chapter Text

Viktor was the first who figured out how to unlock the puzzle cubes the four contestants had been given, a week after the first task. There were symbols on each face of the cube that echoed those that had been on the tokens they'd drawn from the two velvet bags. He'd been staring at his cube on the Durmstrang ship during a late fall thunderstorm when a particularly rough wave rocked the ship and knocked over a glass of water that was on his desk next to the cube. Viktor swore softly as he scrambled to get his belongings out of the way of the quickly spreading liquid. He didn't get the cube out of the way fast enough, though, soaking one of the faces of the wooden object.

He lifted the cube out of the way, using his wand to remove the water from the desk. Once that was done, he examined the cube to make sure it wasn't damaged. A surprised noise left him when he saw that one of the symbols was illuminated: that of the water droplet, which was now glowing blue. Interesting. Out of curiosity, Viktor sent a small jet of flame at the matching symbol on the cube. It lit up red, much to his pleasure.

Viktor grinned. He couldn't wait to tell the others.

~/~

The next morning at breakfast, Viktor found the others sitting at the Gryffindor table. After he put up a quick privacy ward, Viktor told the others about what he'd discovered. Given that it was a Saturday-- and therefore no classes were scheduled for that day –the four of them agreed to meet to see if they could work out the rest of the panels on their cubes. After breakfast was over and the cubes were fetched, the contestants met in an unused classroom with Remus acting as an impromptu supervisor just in case. No one really thought anything would go wrong, but it never hurt to be safe.

It took barely ten minutes for them to get all but two of the panels on their cubes lit up. One had a sun on it, while the other had a crescent moon. Harry frowned as he stared at his cube, wracking his brain in an attempt to puzzle it out.

“Do you think we should take them outside?” Cedric asked. “Maybe we have to expose them to sun and moonlight?”

“I don't know,” Fleur said, absently tapping her wand against her open palm. “I mean, they've already been exposed to sunlight during the First Task and they didn't activate.”

“True.” Cedric let out a frustrated huff of air. “I feel like an idiot.”

“You're hardly the dimmest Lumos in the castle. Don't call yourself an idiot,” Viktor told him. Harry blinked.

“Wait, say that again.”

“Sorry?”

“You said something about a Lumos,” Harry said, straightening up in his seat. “What if it's not sunlight, but just light?”

Remus arched an eyebrow at that train of thought. “It could work. After all, the sun is traditionally seen as a symbol of Light in the Magical world, and the moon that of the Dark. A half-sun, half-moon is often used as the symbol of the Gray or twilight, especially in Ancient Runes or Arithmancy.”

“It can't hurt to try.” Fleur aimed her wand at her cube, focusing on the sun symbol. “Lumos!”

Almost as soon as the light from the spell hit the cube, the sun symbol lit up gold, shining brightly against the pale wood of the cube. Fleur grinned happily when it happened.

“Hah! Fantastique!”

“Great job,” Harry told her. “If it responds to Lumos, then maybe the moon will respond to its counter.”

He turned his cube to the moon after activating the sun symbol, keeping his wand lit. He moved his wandtip close to the moon before pronouncing “Nox!” The moon lit up in a near-black glow before the top of the cube popped open, a delicate hinge appearing on the left-hand side. Harry barely realized that he was holding his breath as he opened the lid fully and then looked inside.

A small scroll of parchment rested inside, a golden ribbon tied around the middle keeping it closed. Harry carefully pulled out the scroll from the cube, setting his wand aside in order to slide the ribbon off. He unrolled the scroll and then laid it on the table in front of him, smoothing it out flat so that the others could see it as well.

A short poem was written there, the black ink standing out starkly on the parchment's surface. Harry cleared his throat and then began to read.



Four champions fighting Fate

Four precious companions shall we take.



To regain them, up must you climb

to the lowest vaults of the winter's sky.



Yet wings or broom shall you lack

for you to take what has been borrowed back.



Just one hour may you take

to retrieve those who above the ground do wait.



If more time than that should you spend

alas, alack, it shall be the end.



There was silence for a long while as they digested the information. Harry leaned back in his chair, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Well, at least they didn't have to swim in a freezing cold lake in the middle of February, so that was something to be grateful for.

“So, someone close to us is going to be taken and we have to get them back from...” Cedric trailed off. “The sky?”

“Probably somewhere high up,” Viktor corrected. “It says the 'lowest vaults of the sky'. I don't think they'll be too high up, especially if we have to climb.”

“It is a pity we cannot just fly, but I suppose it would be too easy,” Fleur said, moving her hair away from her face. “Still, at least we know what the next task will deal with. Now we can relax some until February.”

“Well, except for the Yule Ball,” Harry said with a wry smile. “Professor Sprout told me about it yesterday. My problem is, I doubt they'll let me bring two dates.”

“They're your betrothed and bonded,” Cedric said, frowning. “You can't choose one over the other. That wouldn't be fair.”

“I know, but I doubt Dumbledore will see it the same way.” Harry sighed as he slumped back in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair. Remus considered the problem, turning it over in his head. He glanced over at Fleur, who was speaking quietly with Viktor, an idea coming to him.

“You just need to open the dance with your date, right?” he said. Harry frowned but then nodded.

“As far as I know. Why?”

“If he's going to complain about you taking both Draco and Neville, then don't,” Remus said. “Or at least, don't look like it.” He gestured to Fleur. “Take someone who otherwise wouldn't be able to go, like her sister, and then open the Ball with them. After that, you can dance as much as you like with Draco and Neville. Just make sure that your date knows what's going on.”

“Hm. I suppose it could work,” Harry said. He looked at Fleur. “Do you think Gabrielle would like to go to the Ball?”

Oui , I believe she would,” Fleur replied with a smile. “I will have to owl our mère to send some of Gabrielle's dress robes.”

“Well, first we'll have to talk to everyone to make sure it's alright with them,” Harry said. He looked at the others. “Do you know who you're going to take?”

“Cho Chang,” Cedric said immediately. “She's my girlfriend.”

“I have been asked by Radek Vesely,” Fleur said with a small smile. “He seems nice, though he was rather nervous when he asked me.”

“I can guess why,” Harry teased gently. “What about you, Viktor?”

Viktor frowned. “I don't know. Perhaps I could take one of the lower years as well so they could enjoy the Ball. Could you suggest someone I could ask?”

“Does it matter if they're male or female?” Harry asked.

Viktor shook his head. “No, though I would prefer someone who can hold an interesting conversation and not just focus on the fact that I play Quidditch professionally and ignore everything else.”

Harry hummed and then took out a notepad from his dimensional store. He wrote down several names as well as what year and House they were in and then showed the list to Cedric, who added a few more before handing the paper to Viktor. Viktor looked over the list and then nodded.

“Thank you. I'll be sure to ask one of them soon,” he said, tucking the list away in a pocket of his robes. He rose to his feet, but not before activating the rest of his cube just in case it counted towards the completion of the task. The others did the same before dispersing, with Harry going to find Neville and Draco, and Remus heading back to his quarters to Floo Sirius and see how the search for James and Lily was progressing. The house elves had narrowed the general search area down to the West Country in England, but that was still a rather large place to comb through, particularly with all the Wizarding settlements and open land there.

Harry found his bondmates tucked away in a quiet corner of the library, with Neville working on Potions homework and Draco the essay for Ancient Runes that was due within the next few days. Harry took a seat at the table, giving Draco a small smile when he looked up from his work.

“Hey. Everything go alright?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. We got the cubes solved.” He lowered his voice so only Neville and Draco could hear him. “Doesn't look like the lake's going to be used this time, but someone we care for is. We're going to have to climb something to get to them. The trouble is, I don't know which of you they're going to use.”

“We'll be fine,” Neville assured him as he set his fountain pen aside in its holder, having gotten into the habit of using one rather than a quill, as had Draco and Harry. “Given that they've changed the tasks so much, I don't think we'll be in as much danger as the others were before.”

“No chance of drowning, at the very least,” Draco pointed out. “So, climbing?”

“Exactly. We can't use anything to help us fly; at least, that's if we deciphered the clue correctly,” Harry said. He sat back in his chair, running a hand idly through his hair. “Merlin, I hope we did.”

Selina chose that moment to poke her head out of her pocket of Harry's robe, tongue flicking at the air as she tasted it. §Hatchlings, there is someone else here,§ she hissed, turning her head as she tried to figure out where the intruder was by scent and warmth alone. §Perhaps it would be better to return to your quarters to finish this discussion.§

§Really? Thanks, Selina. We'll do just that,§ Harry murmured. He got to his feet, letting Selina climb up his arm and then drape herself over his shoulders. He cleared his throat before purposefully switching to English. “Let's get going. I need to start on that essay for Transfiguration.”

“Good idea. We won't get interrupted by Viktor's fan-club again,” Draco said with an amused smile. Harry laughed.

“Something tells me they'll be pretty disappointed when he doesn't pick any of them for the Ball.”

Neville groaned. “The Ball. Merlin, I'd almost forgotten about that.”

“Don't worry, I've got a plan. Well, Remus mainly came up with it. I'll tell you when we get back to our rooms,” Harry said as Draco and Neville quickly but carefully packed their things up before the three of them headed out of the library.

Behind a nearby bookshelf, Albus Dumbledore scowled. He'd forgotten his Disillusionment Charm wouldn't hide his scent or thermal signature. Damn snake. He couldn't make Potter get rid of it, either, since it was his familiar. He'd certainly tried, but the Board of Governors had been firm about it. Familiars helped a magic user better control their inherent powers, and for someone as talented as Harry, there was no way the Board was going to make him leave Selina at home.

Albus shook his head. No matter; the snake could be worked around. He was curious, however, about what Neville had meant about the tasks being changed. Albus was relatively sure that no one had told the young man about the fact that the preliminary plans for the Tournament had been vastly different than what they'd eventually turned out to be, but then again, it could've been a lucky guess. After all, the lake was a rather obvious spot for a task to be set in.

It was something to puzzle over later. For now, he had plans to set into motion and wheels to turn.

~/~

Upon hearing the suggestion Remus had come up with to solve their problem for the Ball, Draco and Neville had agreed that it was a good one and that they should go through with it. Gabrielle had been overjoyed about being invited to the Ball, especially with a promise from all three boys that they'd each dance with her in thanks. Fleur had sent an owl to their mother that evening with the request for her to send the best set of Gabrielle's dress robes as soon as possible; she informed Harry that they were a dark gold color so he could match his own robes to them or have them be in an appropriate contrasting color.

Viktor, meanwhile, had asked Luna to the Ball. Hermione was going with Blaise Zabini, while Pansy had been asked by Alexandra Dupas, one of the younger witches from Beauxbatons. Alexandra had asked Pansy with a carefully conjured pink rose in the middle of the Great Hall, which had made Pansy blush a deep red even as she'd accepted the rose and the invitation.

The Hogsmeade visit the weekend before the Ball was a busy one, filled with quite a few people trying to find the perfect accessory for their dress robes, or, for the true procrastinators, their actual dress robes. Harry bought a small corsage for Gabrielle that was enchanted to keep fresh for a month and then automatically transfigure itself into glass after that so it could be used as a keepsake. He figured she'd like something like that, though he wasn't entirely sure. He didn't exactly have much experience with what eight year old girls liked, after all.

He met Fleur and Gabrielle at the Beauxbatons carriage, bowing in greeting when he saw the two of them coming out. Fleur's date was waiting for her as well, wearing black dress robes with silver accents to compliment Fleur's silvery dress robes. Harry had similar ones, though his had dark gold accents that mirrored Gabrielle's dress robes. He presented Gabrielle with her corsage, slipping it on over her left wrist when she held out her hand to him.

“ 'Ello, 'Arry,” Gabrielle said, giving him a bright smile. “Zank you for taking me to ze Ball.” She wasn't too happy that her English wasn't as polished as her sister's, but she was doing her best to work on it. Several of the older students were helping to tutor her in it during the time she was with them.

“Thank you for agreeing to being my date,” Harry replied, smiling back at her. “Shall we?” He cast a warming charm on the both of them before offering her his hand. She took it with a laugh and then followed him to the castle, going along the path he'd melted through the snow on his way to the carriage. He dried the two of them off when they reached the entrance hall with a quick flick of his wand, waiting for Fleur and Radek to arrive before going to join the other contestants and their dates in the small anteroom that was usually used to house the first years before they were Sorted.

Minerva was waiting there for them, dressed in pine green robes with a small sprig of holly attached to her hat. “You all look wonderful,” she told them. “You'll be opening the Ball in about five minutes or so. The first dance will take place, and then we'll be sitting down for dinner. I'm sure you'll represent your schools to the highest level as you open the festivities.”

“We will do our best, ma'am,” Viktor replied. Minerva nodded briskly before turning and leaving the antechamber. Luna smiled brightly at Harry, looking resplendent in a set of deep turquoise-colored dress robes and delicate silver earrings that were in the shapes of hippogriffs in flight. Harry returned the smile, pleased to see that she looked so happy. He barely got time to say hello and compliment the others on how they looked before Minerva was back to escort them into the Great Hall.

The Great Hall was just as beautifully decorated as Harry remembered it. He guided Gabrielle to the dance floor amid the polite clapping from the other attendees sitting at the tables around the room. The others joined them on the dance floor, waiting until the music started before beginning to dance. He kept his and Gabrielle's height difference in mind, making sure to adjust his stance and step width accordingly. She laughed as they whirled across the polished floor, her hair splaying out in a silvery sheet much like her sister's when Harry turned her. He bowed to her once the dance was over; she curtsied back before taking his hand and letting him lead her to the table where the contestants, their dates, and the judges were to sit. Harry helped her to her seat and then sat next to her once she was settled.

Harry absently checked the pork chops and steamed vegetables on his plate as well as his drink for any sort of potions with a flick of his wand under the table where it couldn't be seen. While his heir and lordship rings would help guard him against most potions and poisons, as well as almost all mental interference, they weren't completely foolproof against everything. Nothing showed, thankfully, so Harry gladly tucked into his food and drink, occasionally adding to the conversation in between bites. He made sure to include Gabrielle in the conversation, not wanting her to feel left out.

Once dinner was over, Dumbledore announced that the dancing would be open for those who wished to partake in it. Harry had another dance with Gabrielle before Draco and Neville took their turns dancing with her as they'd promised. Harry and Neville also danced with their fellow Founders' Heirs, switching partners halfway through in a slightly uncoordinated move that had Luna and Hannah laughing at the boys' missteps. Hannah had come with Terry Boot, and looked rather fetching in a set of pale rose dress robes in a floaty material quite similar to the periwinkle ones Hermione was wearing.

Ron, much to his great annoyance, had been forced to go to the Ball with Ginny by their mother, as neither Weasley had managed to secure a date by the night of the dance. Ginny had tried to go with Dean Thomas, but Seamus had already asked him by the time Ginny had started dropping Hagrid-sized hints that she wanted him to take her. Ron had asked both Lavender Brown and Pavarti Patil (but not at the same time, thankfully), but they'd both turned him down flat-out. Neither Weasley was particularly popular in Gryffindor at the moment, unlike their elder brothers. Fred and George's popularity had gone up over the past few years, especially after they'd stopped focusing so much on indiscriminately pranking everyone they could and instead started going after the grades they needed to get their jobs at Marauders, Inc.

The two Weasleys were sitting at a table in a corner, with Ron working on his third butterbeer and Ginny staring moodily at Harry, Draco, and Neville doing a modified slow dance between the three of them. She hated how happy they looked grouped together; all three wore soft smiles that spoke of the love that they shared, even with their strained circumstances. She should be the only one dancing in Harry's arms. Draco and Neville could have one another. Ginny didn't care about them. She only cared about Harry.

Ron, on the other hand, didn't care one bit about the three boys. Neville was at most an annoyance he had to deal with during classes now that they didn't sleep in the same dorm together, and as for Draco and Harry... Well, they ranked somewhere between garden gnomes and flobberworms on his internal scale of importance. No, he was more worried about the fact that all the girls had decided that he wasn't worthy of their time. He was a Weasley! He should have girls falling all over him. Sure, his family wasn't the richest, but it was an Ancient one, even if it wasn't titled. His mother had always said that any of the Weasley children, particularly the boys, were great catches, and any witch or wizard would be lucky to have them.

Neither Bill or Charlie had gotten married or were in serious relationships with anyone, to Ron's knowledge. Percy was still in a committed relationship with Penelope Clearwater, and Fred and George were casually dating Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell. Ron huffed. He didn't know why he wasn't having the same luck as his brothers with relationships. After all, fourth year was traditionally the time when magical teenagers started to seriously think about their romantic futures and try to find compatible partners. The fact that no one was interested in him annoyed Ron fiercely. Not even Lavender, who was well known to be one of the least intelligent girls in the whole fourth year, had deigned to look his way.

There was a polite smattering of applause when the current song ended. Ron watched the three young men head outside to enjoy the enchanted gardens and then let out a sharp huff as he leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest.

This Ball sucked.

~/~

The time of the Second Task approached faster than Harry had remembered it doing previously. He'd tried to thoroughly investigate what could and couldn't be brought into the task, asking everyone involved in the Tournament save for Dumbledore. The only firm response he'd gotten was that they weren't allowed to use brooms or any other kind of flight, natural or assisted, and that they could only bring their wands with them into the space where the Task was to take place. He let the others know about that and then set to work trying to figure out what to do.

It wouldn't be easy, but he figured the quickest way would be to transfigure a ladder or something similar out of a stick and then use that to climb up. It wouldn't be flashy or particularly clever, but Harry didn't care; he was more focused on getting the task over and done with so he didn't have to worry about either of his bondmates being in danger, even if it was only a temporary state of being. To that end, Harry worked on being able to transfigure several different kinds of ladders from as many different materials as he could find, starting with the obvious wooden stick and expanding from there. It eventually got to the point where he was able to transfigure a surprisingly solid rope ladder out of a length of string taken from his robes.

Feeling far more prepared than he had the first time around, Harry joined the others at the Hufflepuff table for breakfast on the morning of February the Twenty-Fourth, engaging in light conversation and food as he looked around to see who was missing. He frowned when he saw both Neville and Draco coming his way.

“Wait a minute,” he muttered as the others moved aside to let Neville and Draco bracket Harry on either side. “If you're both here, who am I supposed to rescue?”

“No idea,” Neville replied as he reached for an apple scone. “I guess we'll find out at the task.”

“Your plan should still work,” Draco pointed out. “It was going to be the same regardless of who was taken.”

“I suppose,” Harry agreed. “Who else is missing?” He looked at the others. “Have you noticed anyone?”

“My sister is nowhere to be seen,” Fleur said with a huff, “but the Madame has sworn that she would not be hurt if she were to be part of the tasks. That, and my parents signed a waiver for her to join us, and if needed, participate. Viktor, Cedric?”

“Cho's not here,” Cedric said as he looked over at the Ravenclaw table.

“Neither is Luna,” Viktor added. “It seems they have taken our dates to the Ball.” He paused. “Well, save for yours, Harry, and your sister, Fleur”

Fleur scoffed. “How unoriginal. Though they are right, I would miss my sister the most. My date was nice, but I hardly know him, so I could not exactly miss him terribly.”

Harry checked his watch. “Well, we've got about a half-hour before the task starts. We'd best finish our meals and then go meet up with Bagman and Weatherby. At least we'll be able to see one another this time around.”

“True.” Cedric grinned. “How about a friendly wager? Three Galleons to the first person to get to the top and retrieve their missing person? Loser gets to do one non-humiliating task of the winner's choice.”

“Make it five and you've got a deal,” Viktor said. Cedric held out his hand and Viktor shook it to seal the deal.

“I'm staying out of this one,” Harry said with a laugh. “I just want to make it to the end of the year with some of my spending money intact.” He went back to his breakfast, making sure to eat a light yet nourishing meal. He didn't want to weigh himself down too much with a heavy breakfast, after all.

Once the breakfast was over, the four of them went to meet up with Bagman and Weatherby, while Draco and Neville joined up with their friends and family in the stands. The clearing from the first task had been repurposed and rid of snow, as the four contestants soon found out. Standing about ten feet apart from one another were four poles with a flat railed platform at the top. Each pole was exactly twenty feet high and was completely smooth all around. The platforms had a shield that protected each hostage from the elements, as well as heavy-duty warming charms just in case. There was also a comfortable looking chair for each of the hostages on their platforms to wait in while they were being rescued.

Much to Harry's surprise, he saw Remus sitting in the squashy plaid armchair at the top of his assigned pole. Harry laughed when he spotted that the 'wolf was nonchalantly reading a book as he waited, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was far from the ground and surrounded by a stadium full of people. Well, that explained it, then. Dumbledore likely couldn't get permission to get either Neville or Draco as a hostage, so he'd used the next best person he could.

Gabrielle was at the top of Fleur's pole, and she waved at her sister when she spotted her. Fleur waved back, glad to see Gabrielle was in such fine spirits. Cho blew a kiss at Cedric, while Luna merely smiled to see Viktor down below.

Once the four contestants were in place, Ludo amplified his voice with a Sonorus and then began to speak. “Welcome, everyone, to the second task of the Triwizard Tournament! As you can see, each champion has a tough job ahead of them. They must retrieve the person at the top of their pole within an hour. However, they're not allowed to use anything that would allow them to fly, be that by natural means or with the aid of something man-made, so no brooms or flying carpets, sorry! The first to retrieve their hostage and then return safely to the ground within the time limit will win the most points, and then it goes from there. Viewers and listeners- for those tuning in over the Wireless -are you ready?”

The crowd burst out into wild cheers and applause at that. Ludo chuckled.

“Champions, are you ready?”

“Of course!” Viktor replied as the others nodded their agreement.

“Then let the task begin!”

The four contestants bolted towards their poles, their wands out. Harry spotted several broad sticks that had him thinking. Maybe ladders weren't the best idea. It would likely be a bit of a bold move and rather cheeky, but fuck it, he was the son and heir of the Marauders, not to mention Lord Slytherin. If he was going to be forced to participate in this damn Tournament, then he was going to have some fun with it while still technically staying within the rules of the task.

He transfigured two of the sticks into pulleys that he set up to attach themselves to the side of the platform with hardy Sticking Charms that would more than support both his and Remus' weight. Two threads tugged from his robes became sturdy ropes, while the last stick was transfigured into a broad platform. Harry attached the ropes to the platform first before guiding the other ends through the pulleys. He stepped onto the platform and then, with a flick of his wand, began to rise smoothly into the air.

Harry didn't bother to see what the others were doing, more interested in getting the task over and done with. He could always watch a memory of it later if he wanted to, after all. He grinned at Remus when he reached the top of the platform.

“Hey, Moony. Need a lift?”

Remus marked his place in his book and got up, an amused smile on his face at Harry's wordplay. “Well, it is a bit nippy up here,” he said as he walked over. “Let's get out of here and then go warm up.”

He stepped onto the platform, taking hold of one of the ropes to steady himself as Harry carefully lowered them back to the ground. Remus slung his arm around Harry's shoulders once they were safely at a stop and walking away. The crowd broke out in cheers as the two of them went to the tent where Madam Pomfrey was waiting. She looked up when they entered, relaxing when she saw that neither of them were in need of her care.

“Mister Potter-Black. Professor Lupin-Snape. Glad to see you're doing alright,” she said, handing them both a gently steaming mug of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows floating in it. Harry wrapped his hands around his mug, breathing in the rich scent of the drink before taking a sip. It warmed him right down to his toes. Remus looked quite pleased with the drink as well, but then again, he was deeply fond of anything chocolate; the marshmallows were just an added bonus.

They took seats on some chairs that Remus conjured for them and waited for the others, drinking their hot chocolate as they did so. Cedric came in next with Cho, followed a few minutes later by Viktor and Luna. Fleur came in last with Gabrielle in tow. Madam Pomfrey passed out the rest of the hot chocolate; it had been kept warm by house elf magics all that time.

Once everyone was properly warmed up, the contestants went to receive their scores. Harry came in third with thirty points, as while he'd been the first to retrieve his hostage, neither Lysenko nor Bagman thought he'd done it creatively enough. Like the previous task, Dumbledore gave him a ten, commenting that while flair did make things fun, sometimes the simplest way was the best.

Fleur got twenty-five points, as she'd come in last; she'd used a conjured rope to get up to Gabrielle, but it had taken her almost the entire hour to get up, as she'd neglected to put any knots in it. Viktor had gone with the idea Harry had come up with and used transfigured rope ladders to get Luna back, carrying her down in piggyback-style. This earned him forty points. Cedric won with forty-seven points, as he'd rescued Cho using a clever bit of charm work which had him applying temporary Sticking Charms to his hands and feet and climbing up the pole, earning him both points for creativity and the speed he needed to rescue his hostage second.

Harry met up with his family and friends in the Great Hall for lunch, the other champions doing the same. They all sat at the Gryffindor table, happy chatter filling the Hall as everyone ate and discussed what they'd just seen. Harry leaned against Sirius, feeling tired but victorious.

Two tasks down, one task left. He couldn't wait until the Tournament was over. He was going to sleep for a month.

 

Chapter Text

Arthur Weasley had been feeling off all day. He put it down to the stress of his work lately. He scrubbed his hands over his face as he made his way to the Floo. He was due to have dinner with Lord Prince and his husband and was almost late. Arthur rather liked Severus and Remus, and they'd set up a weekly time to meet up and chat after Yule, occasionally having supper but mostly tea. Molly had taken advantage of her husband's meetings to go visit some of her friends, or so she'd told Arthur. He wasn't about to begrudge her the visits; after all, she rarely had enough time to do so while the children were out of school, and while they were in school, she was busy with other things and often complained about not being able to go out when she liked.

Arthur threw some of the glittering Floo powder into the fire, waited until the flames turned green, and then stepped into the fireplace, clearly announcing his destination. He stepped out of the fireplace at Prince Manor, idly banishing the ash from his clothes with a sweep of his wand. A house elf dressed in a smart uniform was waiting for him in the receiving room; one click of its fingers and the lone door leading out was unlocked.

"The masters are waiting for you in the informal dining room, Mister Weasley sir," the elf informed him.

"Thank you, Cooper," Arthur said, briefly smiling down at the shorter being. Cooper nodded and then guided him to the correct room before popping away, presumably to do whatever it was he'd been doing before watching for Arthur's arrival. Arthur entered the dining room, giving Remus and Severus a warm smile in greeting.

"Arthur," Remus said, rising to his feet. "It's good to see you again. How've things been?"

"Not too bad," Arthur replied as he and Remus shook hands. "Molly's taken Ginny off to visit some of her friends to celebrate her birthday, and the rest of the boys are around the house, so it's been pretty quiet." He smiled lopsidedly. "Fred and George have been trying to do their best to keep spirits up after... Well. After what happened. Any news on that front?"

Remus shook his head, shoulders slumping. "Nothing yet. I'm pretty sure the only reason Sirius hasn't checked himself into Saint Mungo's is because he's trying to stay strong for Narcissa and the boys. Augusta has been helping a lot, as have Frank and Alice."

"We were there just this afternoon," Severus chimed in, placing a comforting hand on Remus' shoulder. "Black looked almost as bad as he did when he was released from Azkaban." He shook his head. "I left potions with him to help, but I doubt he'll take them. I think he might consider going without sleep or food some sort of penance for not being able to act sooner."

"There's no way he could've known what would happen that night," Arthur said, the uneasy feeling from before starting to slowly but surely ramp up within him; unbeknownst to him, his cheeks started to flush as if he was in the midst of a feverish episode, while fine beads of sweat broke out onto his forehead. "None of us could've predicted what would happen."

"No, we couldn't have, but Sirius won't listen to reason," Remus said. He frowned. "Are you feeling alright, Arthur? You look terrible all of a sudden."

"I don't-" Arthur swayed on the spot, feeling rather lightheaded. "Maybe I should sit down." He went to go to the nearest chair, but barely was able to take one step before he sunk to the ground, a dazed groan leaving him. Red streamers of magic surrounded him, forming briefly into the image of a half-grown horse filly before snapping out of existence.

Arthur whined low and plaintive, his hands scrabbling against the floor. "No, no, no!" he gasped, blue eyes wide with pain and wet with loss.

"Arthur?" Remus asked. Arthur looked over at him, having barely realized that his hosts had knelt on either side of him. "Talk to us, tell us what's going on."

"I... I can't feel her any more," Arthur said weakly.

"Who?" Severus prompted, his voice surprisingly soft and gentle.

"Ginny. I can't... She's not in the Family Magics any more. I don't understand. What happened? She was with Molly. She should've been safe."

"We'll find out what happened," Remus promised. "Come on, let's get you comfortable somewhere. We'll Floo the Burrow and see if anyone knows what's going on. Molly still has that clock of hers, right? We'll have one of the boys check it for us just in case."

Arthur nodded weakly and allowed himself to be hauled to his feet. He was guided to the nearest living room and laid down on a comfortable couch. He accepted a Calming Draught from Severus, downing the bitter tasting brew with barely a thought. The potion set to work almost instantly, though it didn't help soothe his grief entirely.

Severus stayed by his side while Remus left the room. Hopefully they'd be able to figure this out soon. Seeing someone like Arthur weak and shaking was horrible. It was like Sirius all over again, and seeing that once was more than enough. While Severus took care of Arthur, Remus went to Floo the Burrow, using the fireplace that was across the room. He threw the Floo powder into the fire, waited until it turned green, and then stuck his head in, closing his eyes after announcing his destination.

He only opened them once he felt the movement stop. "Hello the house!" Remus called out, glad that the magic of the Floo powder would magnify his voice so it could be heard throughout the Burrow. It took a few minutes until Fred came clattering down the staircase, a look of curiosity on his face.

"Professor Lupin-Snape," he said, kneeling down in front of the fireplace. "How can I help you?"

"First off, it's the summer; you can call me Remus or Moony for now," Remus said. "More importantly, I need you to check your mother's clock. Your father's worried about your sister. He says the Family Magics are acting up."

"One sec." Fred got up and went to check the clock. He returned shortly afterwards, his face pale under his freckles. He held up a small golden clock-hand as he knelt down. Remus could see the name inscribed on it: Ginny. "I don't... Is she dead?"

"We don't know," Remus replied grimly. "Do you know where your mother and sister were going?"

Fred shook his head. "No idea."

"Damn." Remus sighed softly. "Right. Get your brothers and come here. Your father needs you. One of you should stay there, however, to keep an eye out for your mother and sister."

"Percy's here for Gin's birthday," Fred said instantly, "and he can Apparate. Where are you?"

"Prince Manor. The current password is 'Asphodel'," Remus told him.

"Got it. Should we bring Ron?"

"Of course. Your father needs all the support he can get," Remus said firmly. "We'll see you shortly."

He backed out of the Floo, wincing slightly as he got to his feet. Werewolf healing powers or not, kneeling on a hard wood floor was never pleasant, especially not two days after a full moon. He stepped back, letting the Weasley boys come through safely. The three boys came through barely five minutes later, all immediately searching out their father. Fred still had Ginny's clock-hand clutched in his fist as he went over to where Arthur was resting.

"Dad, what's going on?" Ron asked, immediately picking up on the rather tense mood. "All they said was that something was going on with Ginny. Where's Mum? Isn't she with her?"

"We don't know," Arthur replied, carefully taking the clock-hand from Fred and holding it close to his chest. "We'll have to call the Aurors." He closed his eyes, slowly taking in a deep breath before letting it out. "I can't feel Ginny in the Family Magics any more. I don't know what happened to her. I don't think she's dead, though. If she was, there'd be a sort of hole where she should be, but there isn't one. She's just... gone."

"What could cause that?" George asked, sinking down onto the floor in front of his father in order to see him better.

"I don't know," Arthur said wearily. "I just don't know."

~/~

He ran as fast as he could with the burden he carried, a grim expression on his face. He knew he could move faster without his burden, but he couldn't leave it behind, not when it was part of the proof of what had been done to him. Besides, if he'd left it behind, he had no doubt the proof would've been somehow altered or erased. As he ran, he repeated chanted one word softly under his breath, the mantra serving as a sort of cadence as he sought to escape the coverage of the wards that were suppressing his magic and keeping him hidden from any who might be trying to find him, and Merlin did he want to be found.

A ragged cry of relief left him when he felt the boundaries of the wards slide over him. He was free. Thank Merlin. He kept chanting, a soft sob escaping him when he saw the familiar albeit shocked and then relieved face of the house elf he'd been trying to summon. The sounds of his pursuers were growing louder as the house elf took hold of one of his wrists and popped them away, leaving nothing behind but a dark meadow and lingering footprints that vanished mid-step.

Chaos erupted the minute they landed in their destination. Perhaps it wasn't the best to have landed in the middle of the dining room of Blackmoor Hall during dinner, but Domie didn't care. His Master Harry was back and he was safe. Sirius and the others immediately leapt to their feet and abandoned their food, rounding the table as Harry carefully laid his burden down on an empty part of the the table.

"Harry!" Draco and Neville slammed into either side of him as soon as his hands were free, wrapping themselves around him as best they could without smothering him.

"Fuck, what happened to you?" Draco asked, a plaintive, wobbly note to his voice. "Where have you been? And why do you have her?"

"It's a long story," Harry replied, seeking out bare skin on both Neville and Draco's arms and making direct contact with them. He let out a shuddering sigh when he felt the bond surge back to full strength between the three of them, his knees nearly giving out at the absolute relief that filled him.

"We should sit down and get the whole story," Narcissa said. "Sirius, raise the war wards and close the Floos. Whoever had him could come looking for him. We need to contact the DMLE and the Weasleys."

"Arthur only," Harry said firmly. "Not Molly." He took in a deep breath, trying to settle himself now that he was safe. "Does he still take dinner with Remus and Severus on Saturdays? I'm not even sure what the date is, to be honest."

"The Twelfth of August," Sirius replied, looking grim. "And yes, it's a Saturday."

Harry grimaced.

"Merlin. A month and... Fuck. Nineteen days?"

"Just about," Neville said, his voice rough. He gave a hiccuping sob. "You've missed a lot."

"I didn't mean to, love," Harry replied, pressing a kiss against Neville's temple. "Let's go sit down. I only want to tell this once, so you'll have to wait until the others and the Aurors get here."

"And what should we do with her?" Draco asked, glaring at the unconscious girl on the table.

Harry sighed. "Bring her along. She's part of the whole thing. I'm pretty sure she'll stay out for a while; I was only able to stay awake and aware because they didn't need to give me the same potions they needed to give her."

The reunited family adjourned to the largest sitting room, the house elves bringing their food and their unexpected guest. The former was set on the coffee table, while the latter was placed on a loveseat in a corner of the room. Domie set two of the other house elves to guard over the girl; Dobby and Mitzy stood at either end of the loveseat, keeping a sharp eye on her. If she showed signs of waking, they'd keep her asleep by their own special brand of magic until she was needed. Harry, Draco, and Neville curled up on the largest couch together, needing the close physical contact as their bond reestablished itself fully.

Sirius Floo-called Remus and Severus, casting a Cushioning Charm on the floor in front of the fireplace before he knelt down. He was surprised to see most of the Weasley family there minus Molly and Percy, as well as Remus and Severus. Well, that made things easier.

"All of you need to get to Blackmoor Hall now," he said firmly. "Especially Arthur."

"I don't think Arthur's going to be able to travel via Floo," Severus told him. "He's pretty disoriented at the moment, and I doubt he'd be able to get out at the correct stop."

Sirius frowned momentarily as he thought and then perked up. "I know! House elves. Just a minute."

He pulled his head out of the fire and then summoned a house elf. He told her what he needed her to do and where she needed to go to get it done. The house elf left for Prince Manor, appearing at the edge of the wards as was polite. Sure, she could've popped through them with barely a thought, as most wards didn't exclude her kind, but Lord Prince and his Consort were close allies to her masters, and therefore accorded the due courtesy. One of the Prince elves met her at the ward borders and let her in, showing her the way to the sitting room before going back to their duties.

While the others used the Floo to get to Blackmoor Hall, the Potter elf (who went by the name of Sadie) carefully transported Arthur to his destination. Before he left, Severus set the wards of Prince Manor to their highest, barring any save for those who were approved. Anyone else who tried to get through the Floo or the wards would find themselves transported rather ungracefully to the wilds of Siberia. He stepped into the Floo, letting the flames whisk him away to his destination.

To say that the mood was calm when Severus stepped out of the fireplace would be a bald-faced lie. He couldn't quite figure out what to focus on: the fact that Harry was sitting alive and well on a couch across the way, his limbs tangled up with his bondmates', or the fact that the unconscious form of Ginevra Weasley was being guarded by a pair of uncharacteristically serious looking house elves on a loveseat nearby. The three Weasley boys were helping their father into a wing-backed armchair as Narcissa, who had passed her tests to reinstate her Healing license the year prior (a vocation she'd been denied practicing by Lucius for the duration of their marriage), started to check him over with several different diagnostic charms, having already done so for Harry.

Severus focused on Sirius, who was instructing Sadie, Domie, and a few other elves to go fetch Amelia, Augusta, and Frank and Alice before he raised the war wards. "Black- Sirius –what's going on? How did this happen?" He gestured at Harry, who looked half-awake as he snuggled on the couch with Draco and Neville, occasionally eating some food Narcissa had pushed upon him.

"I don't know," Sirius said simply. "Harry hasn't told us. He wants to wait until Amelia gets here so he only has to say it once."

"If you can get a copy of my memories, that'd probably be easier," Harry piped up. "Dad's got a Pensieve somewhere, I think." He glanced at the assembled Weasleys thoughtfully. "They should be safe for everyone to view, though not exactly pleasant given the situation."

"What, think we're going to spill your secrets to the world?" Ron snapped. Dobby glared at him.

"You is a bad Wheezy. Stop it or you will leave."

"You can't make me leave," Ron retorted, but before he got any further, his father spoke up, his voice tired but firm.

"Ronald. Enough."

Ron stared at his father. It wasn't very often Arthur took a tone like that, particularly not to his boys. He usually left the disciplining to Molly, after all, so it was odd to hear him so stern. Ron subsided, taking a seat on the floor next to his father's chair. It was a tense ten minutes before the others arrived. Severus watched from his position leaning against a wall as more surprised comments were made when the newcomers saw the scene before them for the first time. And yet, Severus noted curiously, the youngest Weasley didn't wake.

Intriguing.

Once everyone who'd been called was there, Sirius activated the war wards, making those who were sensitive to magic shudder as the heavy protections snapped into place, sealing the Hall off from the outside world. Severus noted with some amusement that Ron seemed to not realize what had happened, nor why everyone else had reacted to something he hadn't. Not much of a surprise there, to be honest. Even in the one year he'd taught the youngest male Weasley, Severus hadn't noted much of a sensitivity to the magic around him, not even the more blatant uses required in everyday wards and charms. It was little wonder Ron hadn't been one of the top performers in his classes; even Potions, while not requiring much wand waving, did need some ability to sense the minute changes in the magics of the interacting ingredients in a cauldron.

Kreacher retrieved the Black Family Pensieve as ordered. It was an heirloom that had been in the Black family for several generations, and had both charms and runes on it for veracity and clarity that made it almost as good, if not better, than those used by the Ministry itself. Harry carefully disentangled himself from Draco's hold enough that he could draw his wand from its holster, a soft sigh leaving him as his magical core reconnected with the elegantly crafted focus.

"Madam Bones, if you could tell me how to make a copy of my memories, I'd appreciate it. I'd also appreciate you testing them for their veracity so they can be used in court later on," Harry said, his tone formal yet not overbearing.

"Of course, Heir Potter," Amelia replied. "Simply focus on the memories you want to share with us while you press the tip of your wand against your temple. You must want to create a copy of the memories rather than remove the originals. When you have the memories you want to share in mind, draw your wand away from your temple. The memories should flow with it, and then you can drop them in the Pensieve. If there are multiple memories you want to share, then it's better if we view them one at a time." She turned to Severus. "Would you happen to have any clean vials on you?"

"Naturally." Severus produced five from his dimensional store and then placed them on the table in front of Harry, taking their caps off as he did so. "We'll label them properly as we view them. For now, merely arrange them in chronological order from left to right, with the leftmost being the earliest and the rightmost being the latest. If you need more vials, I have them."

Harry nodded and then focused on extracting the copies of the memories. He already knew how to do it, naturally, but the Weasleys didn't know that, and he sure as hell wasn't about to let that news get back to Dumbledore or the Ministry somehow. He let the copies pour into the vials, being careful not to spill them. In total, he only needed three vials to contain his memories. He sat back, feeling exhausted from doing even that much magic after over a month and a half of not being able to use it, not to mention over nine months of being unable to tap the pool of shared magic that was slowly but surely refilling fully now that he, Draco, and Neville were reunited and out from under the Goblet's influence.

"Sleep," Narcissa said. "The rest of us will watch the memories."

Harry shook his head. "No. I need to go in with you to explain things," he said. Draco huffed.

"And I thought Neville was supposed to be the stubborn one."

Harry laughed weakly. "Trust me, it's necessary." He poured the first memory into the bowl and then sat back to let Amelia make sure it hadn't been altered in any way, as well as the others. She nodded once she was done testing them, pleased in the quality of the copies.

"They've been unaltered," she said. "Who will be joining you?"

"Everyone," Harry said firmly. "All of the Weasleys need to see this, need to understand what's happened." He looked over at Ron, who seemed rather startled that he was being included in the ongoing events. "I might not particularly like you, Ron, but you're affected by this just as much as the rest of your family. However, if you so much as put one toe out of line, I'll personally see to it that you regret it. Understood?"

Ron nodded, a shiver running down his spine. He might not be Harry's biggest fan either, but something about the other teen's voice and demeanor made him feel like he shouldn't disobey. Harry hadn't spoken like the half-child, half-man Ronald still was. No, he'd spoken as a true adult, a Lord coming into his prime. Ron didn't dare go against him in that moment.

"The elves can watch over Ginny and us while we're in there," Neville said, not even bothering to look her way.

"Very well." Amelia looked around the room. "Thank Merlin we won't truly all be physically there. It'd be rather crowded if we were."

"A-agreed." Frank nodded. "Harry, if y-you want to g-go first, we'll follow."

Harry sighed and then touched a finger to the silvery liquid. His body went still as his mind fell into the memory. Draco and Neville followed suit, and soon only the crackling of the fire and the soft breathing of its inhabitants sounded in the room.

~/~

The first memory began just as Harry reached the clearing where the Triwizard Cup was being kept in the enchanted maze. That had been one of the few things that hadn't changed from the prior timeline, and he was oddly grateful for it. He was also rather grateful that Hagrid hadn't been given the Care of Magical Creatures teaching post, which mean no Blast-Ended Skrewts. Facing one of those was enough for one lifetime, let alone two.

The only way the third task had been modified was the addition of cleverly charmed glass orbs that followed each contestant on their journey through the maze, capturing and then sending a live feed of each to a large screen high over the maze. It was separated into four quarters, one for each contestant, and relayed back their images in a third-person view. A further expansion of that saw each spectator being given a charmed mirror that showed what the screen overhead did, though the spectators could pick and choose which contestant they were watching by simply tapping on their square at any time, sending the other 'windows' into a minimized view. The mirrors also allowed sounds to be heard, unlike the larger viewing screen.

The whole setup was an invention by a Mundaneborn who'd been frustrated by not being able to properly see what was going on in Quidditch matches, especially in professional bouts, and the system was being tested to see if it worked before being deployed to any sporting events. So far, it seemed to be a rousing success, especially since the mirrors would automatically return to the organizers once the task was over. It meant less time having to retrieve them manually, not to mention it helped to protect the patent on the complex array of runes and charms that allowed the system to work properly.

Harry was on his guard, keeping an eye out for any of the others. He'd seen red sparks go up about halfway through his time in the maze, though he wasn't sure who it'd been for. He just hoped that none of his friends were hurt. The Cup glinted gold ahead of him, the light from the torches surrounding it shining off it and making it a welcome beacon. Only a few more feet and this damn Tournament would be over.

He ran towards the Cup, and just as his fingers close around the handle, he saw Cedric and Fleur run into the clearing. Harry grinned at them and went to hoist the Cup over his head in victory, but his elation at the Tournament finally ending was short-lived. His grin turned to an expression of shock as he felt a tug behind his navel and he was whisked away from the grounds of Hogwarts.

After a dizzying whirl of light, sound, and color, Harry landed flat on his back, a groan leaving him as he made contact with the rough stone of a floor. He let the Cup go, the metal clanking against the stone, and then slowly sat up. Where was he? It was dark, and the only thing he could think of to do was to light his wand.

The only problem was, it didn't work.

Harry swore softly and then tried twice more before figuring that finding out where he was wasn't as important as getting back to where he was supposed to be. He braced himself before taking hold of the Cup, expecting it to be a return Portkey like it had been once before. Nothing happened. The room around him stayed resolutely in place.

Harry returned his wand back to its holster and then took out his communications mirror, having taken to carrying with him at all time just in case. It remained blank no matter how many people he tried contacting with it, which just made the heavy feeling in the pit of Harry's stomach grow. Whoever had taken him had gone through great lengths to make sure he couldn't use magic, active or passive. Well, fine. If he couldn't use magic, then maybe someone else could.

"Potter and Black elves, to me!" he called out, his voice echoing in the chilly confines of the room. No one responded. Harry groaned. Of course it would be warded against house elves as well. Wonderful. Just peachy. He found a corner and settled into it, hoping to at least protect his back from any attackers. Now all he could do was wait. Whoever had taken him would eventually show themselves. Eventually.

~/~

The Pensieve ejected them once the memory ended, leaving most to groan softly as Harry removed the memory and put it back in its vial. While not particularly informative, the memory had been necessary to set the stage. He labeled the vial with a tap of his wand, marking it as '1' and then setting it aside. He poured the next memory into the Pensieve and then looked up at the others.

"Everyone doing alright?"

After he got affirmations from all around, Harry smiled tersely. "Good. This next one will shed some more light on the situation."

Once everyone was resettled (and, in some cases, had applied Cushioning Charms to the floor), they entered the Pensieve once more, ready to bear witness to what had happened to Harry.

~/~

Harry woke with a start, automatically drawing his wand and pointing it at the noise that had disturbed him. A door had opened on the far side of the room, letting in some light. A house elf was carefully coming down a set of rickety wooden stairs, a tray held in its spindly fingers. It set the tray down on the floor near Harry, revealing a simple cup that had water in it, a bowl of thick beef and vegetable soup, and a chunk of crusty bread. There wasn't any silverware, and the cup, bowl, and tray were all made of wood.

"Where am I?" Harry asked the elf. The elf just stared at him, blinked, and then turned to go. Harry growled before scrambling to his feet and chasing after the elf. The elf, however, was faster and smaller than him, and before Harry could reach the stairs leading up, the door slammed in his face, leaving him in darkness once more.

"What, no lights?" he shouted at the door in frustration. A lone ball of light popped into existence overhead, floating to the center of the ceiling and then stopping there. It provided just enough illumination for Harry to return to his corner and not step in the provided food. He figured it was likely laced with potions of some sort, even if it smelled delicious. Harry passed his hand over it, hoping his heir and lordship rings would give him some sort of warning.

Nothing. Even their passive magics were being nullified. Harry groaned and then slumped back against the wall. Great. He knew he'd have to eat the food at some point, even if it did have potions in it. He'd starve otherwise, and he had no desire to ever experience that again if he had the choice. He looked around, trying to gauge the size of the room. It looked to have once been a root cellar of some sort, if the unfinished walls and floors were any indication. There was a cot in the opposite corner that had a pillow and a blanket on it, as well as a bucket underneath.

Harry frowned at that. It looked like he'd be stuck here for a while, then, if they weren't going to let him use a proper toilet. He sighed and then started to eat, not knowing when he'd get the chance to do so again. As soon as he was done, the tray and its contents popped out of sight, making him think that his theory of other beings having the ability to use magic in the room was correct.

A sudden wave of exhaustion rolled over him, though whether it was from his activities in the maze or from potions, Harry didn't know. He looked over at the cot contemplatively and then over at the door. The corner the cot was in seemed far enough away from the door so as to provide some sense of security. Harry dragged himself to his feet, stumbled over to the cot, and then sank down on it, passing out almost the second his head hit the pillow.

Time flowed oddly for him after that, coming in fits and starts. Harry found himself falling into a cycle of sleeping, waking for several hours, eating, and then sleeping once more, occasionally using the bucket when necessary. It turned out to have a charm on it that automatically Vanished any waste that went into it, something Harry was very grateful for. He didn't relish spending however long with the smell of his own waste filling the small room. The air was stale enough as it was, though there was enough flow from a tiny vent set high up in the wall that it wasn't entirely unbearable.

He never saw the elf again, though his food seemed to come at regular intervals nonetheless. Harry suspected that the elf brought it in just before he woke, and since it didn't have to retrieve the tray and its contents every time, didn't have to risk him escaping. Harry took to marking one of the walls with a count of every time he got a meal, figuring that two meals likely equaled one day. It was rough, but it was better than nothing.

He'd gotten to ninety-seven meals when the door opened again. Harry was, thankfully, wide awake at that time, though he was laying on his cot and staring up at the ceiling. He sat up sharply when the door opened, wrapping one hand around the Cup. It hadn't been taken from him, and he figured he could use it as a weapon if nothing else. It was certainly heavy enough. His eyes widened when he saw who was coming down the stairs, and he didn't have to fake his shock when he spoke, the Cup falling from his grasp to land on the cot once more.

"Professor Dumbledore? Mrs. Weasley?"

~/~

There was a stunned silence when the viewers returned to reality. Arthur looked like he was about to faint, and his sons weren't much better. Even Ron looked thunderstruck. Alice was the first to break the silence, her voice soft.

"But... Why?"

"It's in the final memory," Harry said just as quietly. He looked at Arthur. "Mr. Weasley-"

"Arthur. You can call me Arthur."

"Right. Thank you. Arthur, I don't blame any of you for what happened next," Harry said firmly. "I want you to know that, so don't you dare take any guilt on from this. From what I can tell, it was all Molly and Dumbledore." He glanced over at Ginny. "I'm not sure if Ginny really..." He sighed softly and idly wished he could have a drink or three right then. "I don't know if she knew what she was getting into. I suppose we'll have to ask her when we wake her up."

He cleared his throat, filled and labeled the second memory vial, and then picked up the last one. "This won't be easy to watch." Harry looked around the room. "Nothing explicit happened, but still, it's not pretty." He poured the memory into the Pensieve, taking a deep breath before entering the memory, the others following shortly after.

~/~

"Ah, Mister Potter-"

"Potter-Black," Harry snapped. Dumbledore just smiled beatifically.

"Yes, yes, so you insist," he said with a wave of a hand as he stepped off the stairs, the hem of his robes (a surprisingly subdued set of plum purple with silver shooting stars that actually moved) sweeping along the ground. "It's good to see you're awake. You're needed to participate in something that, rather unfortunately, requires you to be aware." He drew his wand and then pointed it at Harry. "However, it does not require you to be able to move much."

One flick of his wand and Harry was bound with ropes, his arms pressed against his side. "What are you doing? Let me go!"

"I think not, my boy. Do come along." Dumbledore flicked his wand again, levitating the ropes- and therefore Harry –up the stairs and out of the room. He guided Harry through dusty halls until they reached what looked to have been a kitchen at one point, though the cabinetry was half-rotten and the floors thick with dust. Dumbledore set Harry to one side before banishing the dust, leaving the floor clean.

"Molly, do be a dear and fetch Ginevra, will you? I believe she's likely to have gotten rather impatient by now," Dumbledore said as he focused on using his wand to carve an impromptu ritual circle into the floor. Molly nodded and then left. Harry tried to take advantage of Dumbledore's distraction and wandlessly banish the ropes around him, but he found that his magic was still restrained. Wards, then, and not runes as he'd first thought, unless the runic array encompassed the entire building. Damn, damn, damn.

Dumbledore finished his carving just as Molly returned to the room, Ginny in tow. Ginny's eyes widened when she saw Harry bound on the floor.

"Mum? Professor? What's going on?" she asked.

"You're finally going to get your wish, dear," Molly replied, sounding far too cheery for Harry's liking. "You'll be Lady Potter once all is said and done, and it won't take but a few minutes. Just follow what the Headmaster tells you to the letter, alright?"

Harry groaned when he saw a near-unholy light kindle in Ginny's eyes. "Do you mean it? I'll really be Lady Potter?"

"Fuck you all," Harry snapped. "The only woman who deserves that title is my mother. You're thirteen."

"For your information, yesterday was my birthday. I'm fourteen now," Ginny told him.

"Yes, and since Ginevra's mother has so kindly given her permission for her daughter to wed you, Harry, it's all legal."

"You're forgetting one thing," Harry retorted, glaring coldly at Dumbledore. "I'm in a trichromatic bond. You can't break that."

"Well, not without your death, true, but there are ways around it." Dumbledore produced several vials of potions from a pocket and handed them to Ginny. "Take the red one first and then the yellow one, my dear. You'll feel a little tired and may fall asleep, which is why you'll need to lay down in the circle first, alright? You won't be harmed, I promise. By the time you wake, you'll be Ginevra Potter, I promise."

Ginny glanced at her mother, who nodded encouragingly, and then stepped into the circle. She sat down, drank the potions, and then lay down after handing the vials back to Dumbledore. Molly, meanwhile, pointed her wand at Harry, cutting the ropes and letting him up

"Into the circle with you, mister, and don't even think about running. You won't get too far, I promise," she said. Harry didn't like the dangerous glint in her eyes; the last time he'd seen that, Bellatrix Lestrange had died a rather messy death. He stepped into the circle, eyeing the two adults warily.

"What now? Do I have to have potions as well?"

"Fortunately, no. I would suggest laying down as well, however," Dumbledore replied. Harry did as told, figuring it was safer that way. "Wonderful!"

Dumbledore beamed at him, and Harry couldn't help but wonder just when the man had gone insane. It had to have been some time around Grindelwald, or had it been earlier after his father had been thrown into Azkaban? There was no way to be certain, and Harry wasn't sure he really wanted to find out.

Once Harry and Ginny (who had indeed passed out from the potions) were arranged to Dumbledore's specifications, the Headmaster began chanting, though Harry had no idea what he was saying. It wasn't in any language he recognized, and certainly not in Latin, the preferred tongue for magic users in most of Europe. A dark red glow centered itself over Ginny's heart, rising up until it formed into a ball of light. The light shifted and morphed until it turned into a half-grown horse filly, its forelegs kicking up in a rearing gesture before it dove at Harry, who tried to scramble out of the way.

A sharp shock raced through him when he hit the border of the ritual circle, making him cry out in pain. The filly was met halfway by the golden griffin that represented the Potter Family Magics. Harry noticed that there were hints of green sparkling here and there, hidden amongst the feathers and mane of the griffin, and half wondered if it represented the Slytherin Family Magics. Whatever it meant, he didn't care; he was just relieved to see the emblem of his Family. The griffin knocked the filly aside with a harsh cry and then dove at it, overwhelming it with its greater size. Harry tried to see what happened next, but he never got the chance, as there was a sudden blast of pure white magic before everything went dark.

When Harry woke a few minutes later to a pounding head, he saw that both Dumbledore and Molly were laid out cold on the floor. Ginny was still out of it as well, which meant that this could be his only chance to escape. Harry went to leave the circle, groaned when a thought came to him, and then scooped up Ginny bridal-style into his arms. He couldn't leave her behind. Whatever had happened, he didn't want Dumbledore or Molly trying to erase the proof.

Harry ran as fast as he could, bursting into the cool night air just as he heard the scrambling of feet and angry shouts behind him. He pushed his sore and weary body into the darkness, starting to chant Domie's name under his breath as he ran through the meadow surrounding the small house he'd been held captive in for nearly a month and a half. Home. He wanted to go home.

~/~

Arthur was in tears when he came out of the Pensieve. Great shuddering sobs wracked his thin frame as he buried his face in his hands. How could his wife have done something like this? They'd clearly lost their daughter, but how? She was still alive, but it was possible that she was a Squib now thanks to her mother's foolish actions. Arthur barely felt Fred and George wrap their arms around him, trying to give him comfort the best they could.

"Arthur, maybe you should lie down," Remus said kindly. "We can get you set up in a bed here. I don't think you're in any state to travel for the rest of the night."

"I c-can't... What did they do to her?" Arthur forced out, absently taking the handkerchief Narcissa handed him and blowing his nose. Sirius looked to Severus.

"Did you recognize that ritual?"

Severus shook his head. "No, but there's an easy way to tell what sort of... relationship ...she has now with Harry." He drew his wand and then pointed it at Ginny. "Cogniatone Harry Potter-Black!"

A piece of parchment appeared at the tip of Severus' wand, hanging there for a moment before falling away. Severus caught it, read the results, and then laughed, the sound harsh in its amusement. "Well, she got her wish," he said, a sardonic smile twisting his lips.

"What do you mean?" Neville asked. Severus smirked and then gestured at Ginny.

"May I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, Ginevra Molly Potter, Daughter of House Potter."

"So... She's not married to Harry?" Ron asked after a long moment.

"Hardly." Severus handed the parchment over to Amelia, who sealed it in an evidence envelope she retrieved from her dimensional store. "She's just considered a member of the House, but decidedly not the next Lady Potter." He waved an idle hand. "Think of her as a ward of the Potter Family if you must. Once he takes up his lordship, Harry can decide what to do with her, be that leaving her as is or banishing her from the House entirely. Of course, that could make her a Squib, so it's likely not the best idea. I have little doubt she's being punished by Magic as it is."

Amelia focused on Arthur, who had devolved to messy hiccups by then, her stern expression softening some. "Arthur, we'll have to send some Aurors to collect Molly. You know that, right?"

Arthur nodded weakly. "I know," he said, every line of him heavy with defeat. "I won't stop you, and neither will any of the boys. I'll... I'll call a Family Meeting to explain what happened. Maybe Bill can tell us more about that ritual Dumbledore used."

"We certainly wouldn't mind having his help at the trial, and believe me, there will be one," Sirius replied as Harry quietly bottled up the last memory, labeled it, and then handed it and its brothers to Amelia, who put them in another evidence bag. "Dumbledore's not getting away with this. It's entirely possible that he strung Molly along. She might be able to get a reduced sentence."

"Don't count your Snitches before they're caught, Sirius," Amelia said. She shook her head. "We won't know until we have the preliminary hearing, and that could take a while. We have to catch them first. Where's that house elf who rescued Harry?"

"Here, ma'am," Domie said, stepping forward. "How can Domie help you?"

"I'll need you to take myself and some of my Aurors to where you found Harry. Can you do that?"

"Yes, ma'am," Domie replied. "Domie would be happy to help."

"Good. Thank you." Amelia turned to Sirius. "I'll need you to open a Floo connection so I can get a team going. You can close it after I'm through. I'll need to borrow- Domie, was it? – for a little while, if that's alright."

"Of course, though I'm not sure how you'll get him to the Ministry."

"If Madam Bones allows it, Domie can ride the Floo with her," Domie said. "She will have to carry him, though."

"I can do that. I promise not to drop you."

"Thank you very much." Domie joined Amelia at the fireplace as Sirius lowered the wards back to normal. Amelia carefully picked the house elf up, settling him in her arms while Sirius threw a small handful of Floo powder into the flames. One whoosh of green flames later and the odd pair were gone. With that done, Sirius set the Floo to calls-only for the time being and then turned to look at the others.

"Right. Let's get everyone settled. Fred, George, one of you call the Burrow and let Percy know what's happening. Tell him not to worry, but to keep watching for Molly," he instructed. "Have him Stun or otherwise incapacitate her if he gets the chance. If Dumbledore is with her, have him do nothing and wait it out before Flooing us. Got it?"

George nodded firmly. "Got it."

While he called the Burrow, the others went to get the rest of the Weasleys situated in bedrooms for the night. Remus carried Ginny to her room, laying her carefully on the bed before leaving her there. The house elves promised to stand guard over her throughout the night, lifting their sleep spells so she could wake naturally. She wouldn't get out of the room she was in until Sirius or one of the other adults gave permission for her to be released.

Harry collapsed into his bed after taking a long shower and changing into sleep pants, feeling utterly exhausted. He barely noticed when Draco drew back the covers or when Neville turned off the light. He was almost entirely asleep when he felt their arms drape over his back, their warm weights comforting presences on either side of him. Sweet slumber took him swiftly as he relaxed, feeling safe and whole for the first time in far too long.

Chapter Text

The Wizengamot chamber slowly filled as the Lords and Ladies filtered in. It was a week before the start of the fall term at Hogwarts, and given that quite a few of the members had children or relatives attending the school, they would rather be enjoying the last few days with them rather than being called in for an emergency session. No one knew who had called the session, but no doubt they'd soon find out. There was a dense privacy shield on the Black and Potter boxes, which had been moved next to one another and then combined through the inherent magics of the chamber itself. That caused surprised murmurs to break out as the members took their seats; not the combining, as that was to be expected given the close familial ties between Harry and Sirius, but rather the privacy shield. The interiors of the boxes were entirely blocked from sight, with only a pearly white shimmer to indicate that the shield was there. The Longbottom box was on the other side of the Black one, though for the moment it was empty.

Once everyone had sat down, the chamber was sealed, with heavy wards going up that prevented any and all form of travel or communication with the outside world. They were ancient wards and were only used when a session had to be kept absolutely secret. The last time they'd been used was during the Second World War to discuss whether or not the magical world should join in on the fight or let the Muggles deal with it on their own given the threat Grindelwald was posing in Europe at the time. The Wizengamot had voted to focus more on Grindelwald than Hitler and the Nazis, as Hitler had no magical ancestry and thus wasn't a credible threat to their world.

Albus settled into his chair, just as curious as the rest of the Wizengamot to find out the reason for the emergency session, as he certainly hadn't called one. He watched Tiberius Ogden rise to his feet, a somber expression on his face.

“Lords and ladies of the Wizengamot,” Tiberius began, his rich voice ringing out through the near-silent chamber, “we have been called here to deal with a very grave matter. Amelia Bones, in her role Director of the DMLE, is here to speak with us about it. Madam Bones has the floor. I would ask that no one speaks until she is finished. Violators will be silenced via ward or wand.”

Tiberius sat down as Amelia stepped out onto the main floor, the hems of her carefully pressed Auror's robes brushing the wood as she went. She stopped in the center of the room, adjusted her monocle, and then took in a deep breath before beginning to speak. “Lords and ladies of the Wizengamot, I stand before you today to address a serious topic. A matter has recently come to light that has affected two Most Ancient and Noble Houses. As you all know, Harry Potter-Black went missing almost two months ago at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. Four days ago, the head Potter house elf heard a call from his lost master and rescued him from a location just over the border of Scotland. A team of Aurors was dispatched to the general area and found an abandoned Muggle farmhouse with the remnants of a makeshift ritual circle there.”

She cleared her throat before idly conjuring a glass and then using her wand to fill it with an Augamenti spell. A few sips later and she had it floating in the air next to her with a handy wandless levitation charm before she continued on. “I have with me copies of three memories from Heir Potter. They have been verified pure and untainted by several sources, myself included. They explain what happened to him and who was behind it. The only thing they don't explain is why. For that, I'm afraid, we will need to turn to one of our own. We will view the memories first before we do so, however.”

Amelia gestured to the still-shielded Potter-Black boxes. “Lord Black will drop the privacy shield once the memories are over. Again, we ask that you hold all questions and comments until the end. The memories will play one after another. We will be using a projection Pensieve so that everyone can see it all at once. Please stay in your seats for the duration of the memories. Thank you.”

Kingsley brought the projection Pensieve out and set it on a plinth Amelia conjured. He set the three vials in specialized niches, making sure they were in the correct order. The projection Pensieve would draw the memories from the vials and then show them in order without needing to stop to change them out. Amelia drew her wand and then tapped the Pensieve.

Magna pompa Pensieve!” she recited. Four silvery screens rose from the surface of the Pensieve, one for each side of the room and then the lights in the room dimmed for better viewing. Amelia stepped back as the first memory began to play, quietly signaling for two of her Aurors to move into place near Dumbledore. The wards would keep out Fawkes (though rumor was that the phoenix hadn't been seen in Dumbledore's presence for quite some time) in case Dumbledore tried to call him to escape, as well as any Portkeys Dumbledore might have on him, but Amelia didn't want him dead from angry spellfire before he could be put on trial, thus the Aurors. She kept her eyes on Dumbledore, ignoring the memories playing out overhead.

~/~

Silence reigned once the memories ended playing. The Aurors standing near Dumbledore quickly cast a shield around him just in time, as the silence was harshly broken by a cacophony of angry shouts and curses, both mundane and magical. Amelia let it go on for a few seconds before raising her wand and setting off a loud blast of noise like a firecracker.

Enough!” she roared, nearly dislodging her monocle from her eye. “We are not animals, do not act like it! He will face justice, don't worry. Molly Weasley will as well. Her trial will be happening soon, I promise. However, we need to know the why behind what's happened.” She turned to the Potter-Black box. “Lord Black, lower the privacy wards, please.”

The privacy wards fell, revealing the assembled Potter-Black-Longbottom family. Ginny was sitting at the back of the box, looking rather sullen. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and she was dressed in plain black robes with the Potter Family crest embroidered in bronze thread over the right breast. The others were dressed in similar robes, though theirs were cut of finer fabric than Ginny's, making them look like prime examples of Pureblood Lords, Ladies, and Heirs. Each had their respective Family crests on the left breasts of their robes, though the boys' were in silver whereas the adults' were in gold, denoting their statuses in their Families.

“Madam Bones.” Sirius nodded at her tersely. “We would ask that Veritaserum be used to thoroughly interrogate Albus Dumbledore.” He flicked his wand, sending a folded sheet of parchment to her. “We've come up with these questions we'd like to be put to him under its influence. There aren't that many, but they are the ones we want the explanations to the most.”

Amelia plucked the parchment from the air, unfolded it, and then read over the questions. She went still when she read the last two questions on the list, but that was the only outward sign of her surprise. Sirius had told her that Harry had been legally declared as an adult and therefore had been able to take up his one of his titles to help alleviate some of the stress from the muted bond, but not the one of Lord Potter. When she'd asked what title Harry had taken up, Sirius had just smiled tersely and said that she'd find out soon enough.

“These questions will be put to him,” Amelia agreed. “An Auror will stand by with a Silencing charm at the ready in case of emergency.” She turned on the spot, looking around at the Wizengamot. “I would ask that you remain quiet. We do not need extra questions overloading the questioning. Bring him down here, please.”

She flicked her wand, conjuring a hard-backed chair for Dumbledore to sit in. “Lord Prince, would you happen to have Veritaserum on you?”

Severus rose to his feet and made his way down to the main floor, Remus staying behind in the Prince box. “I do,” he said, producing a vial of Veritaserum from his dimensional store. As a registered Potions Master, he was required to attend any and all legal sessions and trials involving the Wizengamot with some of the truth potion on him just in case. He waited with an impassive expression as the two Aurors escorted Dumbledore down from his seat and to the main floor. Dumbledore resisted all the while, even with the firm grips the Aurors had on his arms.

“I refuse to take Veritaserum,” Dumbledore announced as he was forced into the chair and then bound with ropes that held him fast to the chair. “Everything I did, I did for the Greater Good of the Magical world.”

“Given what we've just seen, your refusal to take the Veritaserum is noted but must be declined,” Amelia informed him. “Your continual and willing interference with a trichromatic bond negates any rights you have save for the right to a fair trial by your peers and the right to legal representation. However, as this is just a preliminary hearing, we won't be asking too many questions. You'll be answering four questions. Do not try to fight the Veritaserum. Lord Prince, administer the approved dosage please.”

Severus did so, pinching Dumbledore's nose shut when he refused to open his mouth. It wasn't long before the older wizard had to open his mouth in order to breathe. Severus quickly placed the requisite three drops into Dumbledore's mouth before stepping back. He cleared his throat.

“May I ask the test questions?”

“By all means.”

Severus nodded and then focused on Dumbledore, noting that the familiar glazed look had taken over, regardless of Dumbledore's Occlumency skills. Such was the beauty of Veritaserum.

“What is your birth name?”

“Albus Brian Dumbledore.”

“What color are your eyes?”

“Blue.”

Severus gave Amelia a short bow. “He's ready.”

“Thank you, Lord Prince. You may return to your seat,” Amelia told him, plucking the glass of water from where it was still floating in the air, drained it, and then Banished the glass back to where it had come from. With that done, she glanced at the list of questions she'd been given before speaking once more.

“First question: Explain, in detail, why you have been so focused on interfering and/or breaking the trichromatic bond between Harry Potter-Black, Draco Black, and Neville Longbottom.”

Dumbledore tried to fight the Veritaserum but eventually he had to answer. “They don't deserve it. Such a sacred bond should not be shared between the son of a Death Eater, a half-blood, and someone who would rather play with plants than learn real magic. They are too young to truly appreciate and harness the power of their bond. If I can't have a chromatic bond, no one should.” He smirked, his expression highly pleased even if his voice was still monotone. “If the ritual hadn't worked, then I would've dosed them with a specialized alchemical potion that would've muted the bond entirely, leaving them open to marrying and bonding with others. I've done it before to ensure the proper order of things, and I'd gladly do it again.”

Amelia held up a quelling hand to keep the viewers from shouting out questions in their outrage; Kingsley, who was standing guard next to Dumbledore, put up a hasty Silencing ward just in case.

“Enough!” she snapped. “The only way we can get through this in any amount of reasonable time is if you allow me to ask the questions!”

The audience quieted down eventually, though there were still the isolated mutterings. Kingsley lowered the Silencing ward once everything was quiet. Amelia checked the list again, making sure she had the wording of the next question down before she asked it.

“Explain, in detail, the ritual you used in an attempt to force Harry Potter-Black and Ginevra Potter (formerly Weasley) into a magical marriage.”

The ritual was the magicis nucleum nuptias ritual,” Dumbledore said. “It was originally used for captured brides by the early Britons and Romans. It eventually gained more use in arranged marriages. It was supposed to tie their magical cores together, but something stopped it from doing so. I'm not exactly sure what, as the trichromatic bond was still greatly suppressed, so it should've worked.”

Do you know what could have blocked it?”

Dumbledore shrugged the best he could given the bindings. “It's possible that Family Magics could, though the House would likely to be Most Ancient and Most Noble at the very least, but since neither the Potter, Black, nor Longbottom Families qualify, I couldn't say why for certain.”

“Very well. Your third question is this: explain, in detail, everything you know about the events of October 31st, 1981-- specifically, the true fates of Lord James Potter and Lady Lily Potter and the reason why the Dark Lord known as Voldemort chose to go after them.”

There was a low, surprised murmuring from the crowd at that. Amelia waited for it to die away before she gestured for Dumbledore to answer. He didn't look particularly happy about having to do so, but as he was unable to fight the Veritaserum, he started speaking.

“Sybil Trelawney gave a prophecy that the boy who would be the downfall of Voldemort would be born at the end of July in 1980 to parents who had defied him three times. The only magical couples I knew of who fit that description were the Longbottoms and the Potters. I suggested they go into hiding using the Fidelius. Augusta Longbottom was the Secret Keeper for the Longbottoms and Peter Pettigrew the one for the Potters, though they led everyone to believe it was Sirius Black. Part of the prophecy was overheard by one of Voldemort's Death Eaters. The Death Eater reported back to Voldemort.

“Two days before Voldemort attacked, James Potter sent a message to me. He was worried that they might be found because All Hallow's Eve is one of the best days for Dark and Black magic to be performed since the Veil between Life and Death is so thin then. I visited them in Godric's Hollow. They moved there into a house I owned as I believed that Voldemort would go after them in the Potter ancestral manor, even with the war wards raised. He had done that to other families before, so they agreed with me.

“When I reached Godric's Hollow, James and Lily asked if there was anything they could do to ensure that at least one of them would live to take care of their son. As they had not officially made Sirius Black-- the third in their trichromatic bond –Consort Potter due to going into hiding, he was unable to be given full custody of young Harry. Lily was the one who suggested using alchemical golems. Those were far better than regular golems because they could be given a permanent dose of Polyjuice Potion and therefore would stay in those forms even after death-- or rather, deactivation. The golems were infused with a small portion of the Potters' magic and were able to be controlled mentally by them, which meant that they couldn't be distinguished from an actual human.”

Dumbledore paused, taking in a deep breath and clearing his throat before continuing on. “I convinced them to start using the golems the night before the Thirty-first so they could get used to them. Using an alchemical golem is a very disconcerting, especially initially. When the wards fell, I knew that Voldemort had made his move. I sent Rubeus Hagrid to collect young Harry and then take him to Hogwarts so Poppy Pomfrey could look over him. When Hagrid informed me that he had Harry, I went to check on Lily and James. Both were still in shock about what had happened, which made it easier to spell an alchemical variation of the Draught of Living Death into them.”

“What is that variation called, and what are its effects?” Amelia asked, fighting down the bile that threatened to creep up her throat.

Somno Servavit, or the Preserved Sleep Draught,” Dumbledore replied. “It's a very complex brew. It puts the drinker in a semi-stasis-like state, eliminating the need for food, water, or waste production and elimination. However, it does not stop hair or fingernails growing. A person will still age appropriately outwardly, so James and Lily look thirty-six rather than twenty-one. The Draught was often used in medieval times when serious famines swept the land and food supplies were scarce. The antidote is far beyond even a Potion Master's ken. James and Lily will stay that way until either they die or I remove them entirely from the picture. I was planning on doing that this year as they've outlived their usefulness, but circumstances have obviously changed, which is a pity.”

Kingsley had to ward Dumbledore against spells and answering more questions when the crowd erupted into angry shouts once more. To everyone's surprise, it was Harry who managed to get control back. He set off several large blasts of noise from his wand, as well as some flashes of light.

“All of you, be quiet!” he called out, his voice harsh with unshed tears. “I want to know where my parents are as much as you do, perhaps even more. However, we cannot learn where they are and bring them home when you're acting like children. Shut up and let Madam Bones ask the final question so we can get them back!”

The shouts and spells died away, though there was still an undercurrent of mutterings and venomous glares being directed at Dumbledore. If looks could kill, he'd be six feet under several times over. Amelia nodded her thanks to Harry before reading out the final question.

“In regards to the answer to the previous question, explain, in detail, the exact locations of Lord and Lady Potter and how they have been cared for all this time. If you are unable to specify the location(s) due to a Fidelius, then explain, in detail, a viable alternate method of bringing Lord and Lady Potter home that does not include your aid or freedom as a condition for telling us.”

Dumbledore's left eye twitched as he fought against answering the question. He clenched his fingers against the arms of his chair before finally speaking, the words pouring out of him. “They never left Godric's Hollow. The exact location is under a Fidelius. They're being cared for by my personal house elf, Bombus. He's mute but takes good care of them. He can get people in and out past the Fidelius, as can Fawkes.”

“Thank you. That's all we need,” Amelia said. “Shacklebolt, Rumsey, put magic suppressing cuffs on him and then take him to a secure holding cell. Make sure that cell is warded against house elves, Animagi, Apparition, Portkeys, and phoenixes.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Kingsley said as the ropes binding Dumbledore to the chair fell away. He hauled the headmaster up and put the suppressing cuffs on him while Rumsey made sure that Dumbledore didn't have any Portkeys or extra wands on him. He also removed Dumbledore's dimensional store from his right wrist, as he was a licensed Healer along with being an Auror and therefore had the authority to do so. They removed Dumbledore from the chamber, Apparating away with him back to the Ministry holding cells.

Once Dumbledore was out of the room, there was a quick but intense conversation that ended up with Sirius joining Amelia and Remus on the main floor. Harry wanted to go with them, but Sirius had refused him, saying that the less people to crowd James and Lily when they were rescued, the better.

“Besides,” Draco murmured as Sirius left the box, “we need to speak to Lord Flamel. It might be time to use the boon if the potion's of alchemical origin.”

“Do... Do you think he'll help?” Harry asked. “After all, Dumbledore was his apprentice.”

“Yes, but he squandered the teachings I imparted to him. He's not worthy of being called an alchemist any more.”

The three boys turned to see Lord Flamel standing in the aisle that ran along the outside of the box, a serious expression on his face.

“As for your boon, I won't accept it. I'll do this for free. He used what I taught him for his own gain and brought pain and suffering to others, going against all oaths I had him swear when I took him as my apprentice,” Nicolas said grimly. “I know the potion he was talking about. The antidote will take almost a full day to brew. The sooner I get to it, the better.”

“Whatever ingredients you need, we'll get them for you,” Neville told him. “Cost isn't really a problem.”

Nicolas held up a quelling hand. “Don't worry. I've got what I need in my potions laboratory at home. I'll Floo you at Blackmoor Hall when it's finished.”

“Thank you,” Harry said sincerely. “Really, it means the world to me.”

“You're more than welcome, Heir Potter.” Nicolas smiled a little. “Or should I say Lord Potter-Black?”

“Not until I'm seventeen,” Harry replied, returning the smile with a crooked one of his own. “That's when I'll be truly taking up my title. For now, it's just Harry or Heir Potter.”

Nicolas bowed his head in amusement. “Very well. I'll speak to you soon.”

He left them then, joining Perenelle in their box before leaving the Wizengamot chambers. They were unlocked now that the wards had been lifted. Fawkes' arrival was heralded by the soothing strains of phoenix song mere seconds before he flamed into the chambers. Sirius smiled up at him, letting the song settle his wildly beating heart some.

“Fawkes, we need your help. Would you take us to where James and Lily are?”

Fawkes let out a fluting cry of assent before waving his tail feathers at them. Sirius exchanged glances with Amelia and Remus before reaching out and carefully taking hold, being sure not to pull. Amelia and Remus held on tight to Sirius before Fawkes flashed away with all three of them.

“Come on, boys,” Alice said. “We'd best get home. We don't know how long it'll take for them to get done.”

“Coming, Mum,” Neville replied, taking hold of one of Draco's hands, which left the blond to take Harry's hand with his free one. They left the Wizengamot chambers and headed home to Blackmoor Hall to await word from Sirius and the rest of the rescue party.

That word came three hours later via an owl message Sirius sent them. They were on the way to Saint Mungo's with James and Lily. However, Sirius told them to stay at Blackmoor Hall until the Healers said that they could visit. Sirius was going to stay at Saint Mungo's for the time being, while Remus and Amelia returned to their separate homes. Narcissa and the other adults did their best to keep the boys busy, as none of them wanted any of the three young men to worry themselves sick over the situation, particularly not Harry. Draco and Neville worked together to keep Harry's spirits up; Neville even went flying with his bondmates, even though he still hated it.

They managed to convince Harry that, no, waiting in front of the Floo fire for Nicolas' call was not a good idea, especially since it would be quite some time before he contacted them. Harry had been all set to camp out there, but Draco had distracted him with the promise of cuddles and kisses if he went to bed. They were still sharing a bed to sleep in, and often woke in a tangle of limbs come morning. That night, however, Harry found it hard to sleep, his mind racing with everything they'd learned.

His parents were alive. Dumbledore must've killed them during or prior to his sixth year in the previous timeline; otherwise, the Resurrection Stone wouldn't have called their spirits through the Veil. Harry sighed quietly and then tried to get comfortable. Draco was using his chest as a pillow, while Neville had draped an arm over his waist. A yawn escaped Harry. Before he knew it, he was asleep, his dreams filled with jumbled images and sounds of laughter.

 

~/~

 

Nicolas contacted them in the early afternoon the next day, telling them that the antidote to the Preserved Sleep Draught was ready. They met him at Saint Mungo's, where Remus was waiting to escort them to the private room James and Lily had been put in. Harry and the others stayed outside while Nicolas went to administer the antidote, congregating in a small waiting room nearby. Harry paced the small room until Neville tired of his movements and pulled him onto the chair next to him, one arm tight around Harry's waist to keep him in place.

“Calm yourself, love,” he said. “Pacing won't make time go faster.”

“It feels like it should,” Harry said quietly, looking down at his hands. Draco took the seat on Harry's other side, laying a comforting hand on his thigh.

“Talk to me,” Neville said after a moment. “What's going through your head?”

“It's just... What if they don't like who I am? What if they were expecting me to be like the kid they remembered, but instead I'm just... Well, me,” Harry said, gesturing at himself sharply. “I doubt they were expecting me to be as, as...”

“As?” Draco prompted when Harry trailed off into a frustrated silence.

“Broken,” Harry muttered. “Abused. That's what the Dursleys did to me, and I'll carry those scars for as long as I live, no matter how many potions I take or glamors I wear. That's not even touching the mental scars. How do I explain why I wake screaming at nights because of things that haven't happened yet?”

“You don't,” Neville said gently. “At least, not if you don't want to. They'll understand that you've been through a lot. I don't think they'll be disappointed in you. Yes, you're not the baby they remember, but it'd be fucking weird if you were. You're almost a man. In two years' time, you'll be sitting on the Wizengamot in your own right and making decisions that will shape the Wizarding World here in Britain, and hopefully for the better. Just look at all the good we've managed to accomplish since we returned. If they don't see that for what it's worth-- which I highly doubt, mind you –then we'll send them to the mind healers. To be honest, they'll likely need that sort of help anyways. They went to sleep having just experienced a part of them die. That sort of thing isn't likely to produce dreams of sunshine and unicorns.”

Draco squeezed Harry's thigh reassuringly. “Besides, you've proven time and again that you're strong, courageous, and clever. You're more than the man you once were, and while you do have experiences that are hard to fathom, they don't make up the entirety of who you are. You're good, kind, courageous, friendly, a great kisser--”

“Alright, alright, I get it,” Harry said, cutting him off with a huff of laughter. “Though I don't think they'll really care about that last point.”

“Probably not,” Draco agreed, “but at least it made you laugh.”

“There is that.” Harry smiled at him in thanks before giving him a quick kiss.

“Don't leave me out,” Neville insisted. Harry rolled his eyes fondly before placing a loud kiss on Neville's cheek, complete with a childish 'MWAH!' sound effect. Neville retaliated by starting to tickle Harry along the ribs, making him let out a startled laugh before he tried to scoot away. Draco hampered the efforts, however, gleefully joining in on the tickle fest. They were stopped by the appearance of Sirius in the doorway to the waiting room, who looked tired but ridiculously happy nonetheless.

“Harry, they're asking for you,” he said, his voice rough as if he'd been crying. Given the circumstances, Harry thought as he got to his feet, it was entirely possible. He joined Sirius out in the hall, glancing back at his bondmates before following his dad to the correct room.

Harry took a deep breath in, let it out slowly, and then opened the door before stepping into the room beyond.

Chapter Text

Lily and James were laying side by side in two beds that had been pushed together. James had dozed off in the short time Sirius had left the room, while Lily had managed to stay awake. The fact that James had gone to sleep wasn't surprising; both the healer and Nicolas had warned the two elder Potters that they would likely be sleeping on and off as they recovered from being under the influence of the Preserved Sleep Draught. Lily nudged James in the ribs until he woke with a snort.

“Hnuh? What's goin' on?” he mumbled, sitting up next to Lily.

“James, it's Harry,” Lily breathed, her eyes fixed on Harry as he approached the beds. He smiled at her, the expression a little nervous, and then stopped at the foot of the beds.

“Hi, Mum, Da,” Harry said, his voice rough with unshed tears. “I... Merlin. I never thought I'd get to see your faces with my own eyes and hear your voices. I figured that the only time that would happen would be when we had your wills read.”

“Oh, baby,” Lily said, a sad smile on her face. She patted the space between her and James. “Come here.”

Harry took off his shoes, set them aside, and then carefully settled in between his parents. Sirius sat down on the edge of the bed, a fond smile on his face. Lily took hold of one of Harry's hands, while James took the other.

“So,” James said, gently squeezing Harry's hand, “tell us about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?”

Lily laughed. “Let's start with something simple. What House are you in at school?”

“Hufflepuff,” Harry replied with a small smile. “It's actually pretty awesome. A lot of things have changed since my first year.”

“Most of that was your fault, though,” Sirius said, laughing.

“Oh?” James gave them an intrigued look. “How so?”

“Well, it all started when I joined an inter-House study group that started out just with people in my year,” Harry said. “It sort of ballooned from there; we've got people from all Houses and years in it now. We've also started a bit of a tradition to gather all the first years together on the train ride in September and talk to them about what they can expect.”

“We?”

Harry nodded and then held up his left hand. “I've a trichromatic bond with Neville Longbottom and Draco Black. We met at a zoo a month before Hogwarts started first year; our magic drew us together.”

“Draco... Black? I thought he was a Malfoy.” Lily frowned, confused.

“I took Narcissa and her son back into the Black family,” Sirius explained. “Lucius Malfoy had broken faith with her by taking the Dark Mark, which in turn broke their marriage contract.”

“She's wonderful, Mum,” Harry assured her. “So is Draco.”

“Think you might be a little biased there?” James teased lightly. Harry just shrugged, though he couldn't help the faint blush that colored his cheeks. “So, Neville and Draco, huh? That must be interesting.”

“Yeah. Nev's the Light third of our bond, I'm the Gray, and Draco's the Dark,” Harry said, and then laughed. “Everyone at school assumed that I'd be the Champion of the Light or whatever after what happened with Voldemort that night. They certainly weren't expecting me to be a Gray alignment, even with Mum being one as well.” His good mood vanished some. “Most people just saw that I looked a lot like you, except with Mum's eyes. That was... Well, it was more than a little annoying that they seemed to all but forget her.”

“You know how the Magical World is,” Lily said, patting his thigh in reassurance. “I'm a Mundane-born. Even though I'm the Lady Potter, the Countess of Griffin's Bridge and Blackmoor, they still see my blood status as a hindrance.”

Harry hummed. “I suppose. I forgot that you'd be the Countess Blackmoor as well simply by the virtue of the fact that you and Dad are in a trichromatic bond. You'd think they'd want you to be properly married first. Weird.”

“Wizarding politics are odd,” Lily agreed, “but I'm not complaining.”

“Enough about politics,” James said, hiding a yawn behind a hand. “Tell us more about yourself. Do you play Quidditch?”

Harry shook his head. “No, but I do love to fly. I wanted to focus more on my schoolwork than sports. Nev, Draco, and I are among the top in our year, though some of our friends are up there as well, like Hermione Granger, a Mundane-born Ravenclaw.”

“What Houses are Draco and Neville in?”

“Slytherin and Gryffindor, though there's considerably less in-fighting amongst the Houses now that a lot of the old rivalries have started to die out,” Sirius said. “Remus keeps us updated on things, as do the boys.”

James perked up. “Remus? How's he doing?”

“A lot better now that he and Moony are actually working together,” Harry said. “Long story short, there're werejaguars in Peru that peacefully coexist with their animalistic sides. He and Severus went there together; Remus to see what he could learn from the werejaguars, and Severus to see if he could collect rare ingredients. They had to take a few purification potions before they were allowed to go on the tribe's lands and meet the elders, which revealed manipulations set up by Dumbledore. Remus and Severus have a dichromatic bond, but Dumbledore stopped them from fully bonding after that incident in your fifth year. They're married now, and Severus has taken up the title of Lord Prince, something else Dumbledore stopped him from doing back then.”

He shook his head. “He also changed your memories of that time, Mum. You and Severus actually made up the night of the incident, but Dumbledore blocked that memory. When you're healthy enough, I want to see if we can get some of those cleansing potions. If they worked for Severus and Remus, I'm sure they'll work for you.”

Lily's eyes widened. She'd always regretted the falling out she and Severus had had. Yes, words had been exchanged in anger that should've never been said, but the fact that they'd never made up had always weighed on her heart and mind. They'd ended up on opposite sides of the war with Voldemort, though thankfully they'd never met one another on the field of battle. To hear that everything she'd thought was wrong was both relieving and alarming.

“Dumbledore messed with her memories?” James growled. “Please tell me he's been taken care of.”

“We're working on it,” Sirius assured him. “We only managed to find you two because he told us where you were under Veritaserum at an emergency session of the Wizengamot.”

“How'd that happen?”

Harry smiled grimly. “He messed up. It's another long story, but due to some incriminating memories, Madam Bones called the session and showed them to the Wizengamot a day or so ago. Dumbledore's being kept in a very secure holding cell. Not even his phoenix can get in. Professor McGonagall has taken over as Headmistress and handed off her duties as Head of Gryffindor to Remus-- he teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts --and Deputy Head to Professor Daniels, the Potions Master who took over from Severus when he left after our first year. As far as I know, she's still looking for a Transfiguration professor, but will probably find someone before school starts.”

“Oh. Well, that makes a lot more sense than having one person have three major positions,” Lily said, and then yawned. “Sorry.”

“Don't worry about it,” Harry said. He pressed a light kiss against her cheek before carefully getting out of the bed once more. “We'll let you sleep. Once you're able to be moved, we've got a suite at a very reputable private mind healing clinic in Switzerland waiting for you.”

“We don't need that,” James said, brushing off the suggestion dismissively. Sirius just gave him a look.

“Yes, you do,” he replied, his tone brooking no argument. “You've spent the last fourteen years under the thrall of a potion, not to mention the last thing you saw before you woke up was Voldemort killing you, even if it was technically the golem he killed. If that doesn't need mind healing, I don't know what does, and I spent ten years in Azkaban.”

What?!

“Pettigrew escaped before I could bring him to justice. I was blamed for your deaths because everyone thought I was your Secret Keeper. That, and I didn't get a trial thanks to the incompetence of several Ministry officials,” Sirius told them. “I went to that clinic after I got out. They helped a lot, trust me, and now that our bond has reasserted itself, we won't be in pain from thinking it's broken. Please don't be stubborn about this, James. It's not worth it.”

James huffed in annoyance as he crossed his arms over his chest. “I don't suppose we have any choice, do we?”

“No, you don't,” Sirius confirmed with a half-smile. “We love you too much to let you suffer needlessly.”

“Thank you, Sirius,” Lily said, placing a quelling hand on James' arm. “We appreciate you taking care of us, and also of Harry. Though out of curiosity, who had him while you were in Azkaban? Frank and Alice?”

“Uh, no. Dumbledore took him to Petunia.” Sirius rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

Lily's eyes narrowed in suspicion at that. “Just how bad was it?”

“Enough that it can stay in the past where it belongs until you get better,” Harry said lightly. “I don't want the healers coming after me because I've made them mad by making you mad. I'll bet they've got monitoring spells on you that track your vitals, and if dealing with Madam Pomfrey has taught me anything, it's don't annoy the healers.”

“We'll be back tomorrow,” Sirius promised. “We'll bring some of the others along if you're up to it.”

“We'll see.” Lily smiled at the two of them. “Love you two.”

Harry returned the smile, looking almost amazed that he was hearing those words. James echoed Lily's sentiments, though he yawned halfway through, making the others laugh a little. Sirius and Harry left them in their room, nodding at the Aurors standing guard outside the door. They'd requested Tonks and Kingsley, and Amelia had only been too happy to oblige. It felt very reassuring to have close allies guarding two of the most precious people in their lives.

Lily watched the two of them go, her smile fading as the door closed. “We've missed so much,” she breathed as she cuddled close to James. Her husband nodded, gathering her in his arms. “He's grown up. He's betrothed and everything.”

“He also seems like a very intelligent and well-balanced young man,” James said, pressing a kiss against Lily's hair. “I wish we had a hand in that, but we didn't. We'll have a hand in his future, though, and that's worth something.”

“I suppose.” Lily snuggled closer and then closed her eyes, doing her best to relax. She slowly went still in James' arms, a true and healing sleep taking over her and then her husband in turn.

Lily and James got to meet Draco and Neville the day before the three young men were to return to Hogwarts for the start of their fifth year. Remus, Severus, Narcissa, Frank, and Alice visited as well, even if the healers weren't particularly happy about having so many visitors in the room at one time. The two elder Potters loved having their family, both blood and otherwise, around them, especially since they wouldn't be seeing most of them until Yule at the very earliest. They would be heading to the mind healing clinic in three days, with only Sirius coming with them as he was their bonded partner and would aid in their healing. Thankfully, the Winter Session of the Wizengamot would be taking place after Yule, so Sirius wasn't too worried about naming a proxy for the Black vote save for emergencies. That was already taken care of thanks to Narcissa, who had been named the emergency proxy ever since Sirius had taken up his seat.

It was with great reluctance that the visitors left later that day, citing the need to finish getting ready for the next day, as it wasn't just the boys who were returning to Hogwarts. Remus needed to finalize the last bits of his lesson plans for the year, after all, as well as make sure his classroom and quarters were clean and ready to go. There were hugs and some teary goodbyes all around, even though they knew they'd see one another relatively soon. It was hard, but everyone knew it was necessary for James and Lily to heal to the fullest, and that trumped all discomfort and reticence at leaving.

~/~

The journey to Hogwarts was pleasant, though a late summer thunderstorm rolled in halfway through the ride, seeming to follow them until the train arrived at Hogsmeade. The older students dodged the last remnants of the rain, only feeling half-bad for the first years because a few enterprising souls had made sure to put water-repelling charms on them before they left the train so they wouldn't look so much like drowned rats when they arrived in the Great Hall after crossing the lake. There was a nasty surprise waiting for the students when they reached Hogwarts. Not that a lot of them knew the full significance of the pink-clad witch sitting at the far end of the head table, but those who had family working at the Ministry or who had seats on the Wizengamot at least recognized Delores Umbridge.

Remus was sitting at the other end of the table, doing his best to keep his annoyance in check about Umbridge's presence. His hands were hidden under the table, but the tense lines of his shoulders spoke volumes of how uncomfortable he was. He did his best to focus on the warmth of the bond he and Severus shared, drawing strength from the soul-deep connection.

[Everything alright?] Severus asked, a soothing tone to his mental voice.

~Umbridge is here,~ Remus replied tersely. ~She showed up at the gates about a half hour before the Express arrived. She had an official decree from the Minister that said she's something called a High Inquisitor.~

[Meaning?]

~As far as I can tell, it's a way for the Ministry to make sure everything's going alright at Hogwarts after everything Dumbledore did,~ Remus said, ~even though historically the only oversight the Ministry has had over the school is the Wizarding Examination Authority. The school budget is taken care of by the Founders' Trust, the collected tuitions, and the various bequeathments by former alumni, so they can't complain about that.~

[The Board of Governors is in charge of dispersing that budget. I wish they would've allocated more towards potions supplies and a better laboratory when I was there,] Severus grumbled.

~Yes, well, you've a much better laboratory now,~ Remus pointed out, watching as the new first years were led in by Filius, who had taken over the duty now that Minerva was Headmistress. Quite a few other things had changed in the time since Minerva had taken up the role. Argus Filch had requested and then been granted retirement, something Dumbledore had refused him for many a year. However, as the house elves were capable of doing far more than just cooking the food and occasionally cleaning the House dormitories and common rooms, Minerva found no problem in granting him release from his rather redundant job. She even managed to get a pension from the Board for him for his years of service, something Filch hadn't expected at all but had gladly taken regardless.

There hadn't been many other drastic changes aside from that simply because there hadn't been enough time to make them. Minerva had plenty of plans to wrench Hogwarts back up to where it should be, however, and she was intent on seeing quite of few of those changes come to pass. One of the major ones was either removing Professor Binns entirely from the castle or keeping him from teaching class in some way. To be honest, she was contemplating just moving the classroom and having a new teacher come in who would actually teach more than just goblin rebellions. It certainly would mean better scores on History of Magic OWLs and NEWTs.

~The Sorting's about to start,~ Remus told Severus, a note of excitement in his voice. ~I wonder how many Gryffindors we're going to get this year.~

[No more than you can handle, I'm sure,] Severus replied with an amused laugh. [Focus on them rather than Umbridge if you can. They need your attention more than she does.]

~Yes, dear,~ Remus said, a small smile on his face. He watched the Sorting pass by, counting eleven new Gryffindors by the end of it. That was more than he'd expected, but the whole year was larger than the previous ones, as there had been a bit of a baby boom for several years after Voldemort had been first defeated in '81. Minerva rose to her feet once the Sorting was over, hands clasped loosely in front of her.

“Welcome to Hogwarts!” she called out, her voice carrying over the light chatter that had popped up as the new students settled themselves at their tables. Said chatter died away quickly as the students focused on her. “You'll be eating dinner momentarily, I promise. As the older students know, we've undergone some changes recently. I am Minerva McGonagall, your new Headmistress. I was formerly the Transfiguration professor; that role has been taken over by Professor Josephina Muñoz, who is a Transfiguration Mistress, much like myself. Please join me in welcoming her to the staff.”

Remus joined in with the applause, a pleasant smile on his face. The new professor lifted her goblet in response, giving the students a nod in thanks. Minerva waited until the applause dropped off before beginning to speak again.

“Now, we'll be undergoing some changes over the next few months. I hope that we--”

“Hem hem.”

Minerva paused, highly surprised at the unorthodox interruption. She turned to look at Umbridge, one eyebrow arching. “Can I help you, Madam Umbridge?” she asked. “Or do you need a cough drop? I believe Madam Pomfrey will be able to help you with that if you do.”

“No, that's alright. Thank you, Minerva. I'd like to speak to the students before we start dinner.”

“It can't wait until after?”

“It won't take long, I assure you.” Umbridge started to rise to her feet, but Minerva held up a quelling hand.

“Then it can wait until after dinner,” she said firmly. “Please sit down until that time.”

Umbridge sat back down with a small huff. Minerva turned back to the rest of the room, clearing her throat softly before continuing on. “As I was saying, I hope that the changes that are to come over our time together will bring us closer rather than further any rifts that may exist already. Thank you for listening to me. Let the Welcoming Feast begin!”

She sat down as the dishes filled with food, the savory aromas perfuming the air. Remus put some meat and vegetables on his plate and then poured himself some water. The beef was as rare as could be while still technically being cooked; the house elves knew exactly how to make his food after two years of serving him. They also made sure that only he got the extra-rare meat regardless of where he sat at the table. It was something he appreciated greatly.

He ate his food carefully, savoring each bite. It wasn't as good as the meals he shared with Severus, but it was still pretty amazing nonetheless. If he was fully honest with himself, Remus wanted to stretch out the dinner as long as he could so he could avoid listening to Umbridge speaking. He doubted he'd be able to get away with leaving early, unfortunately, especially as Umbridge was nearest to the door that led to a side chamber that would let him escape quietly. He'd just have to deal with it until he could properly leave and greet the Gryffindors as their new Head of House before sending them off to bed.

Once the last of the scraps of dessert faded away from the golden plates, Remus watched Umbridge get to her feet, though he did notice with some amusement that there was barely any difference between her sitting and standing. He discreetly checked his watch, hoping that she wouldn't take too long. Twenty minutes later, Umbridge was still going on about how the Ministry would be ensuring a 'proper' educational experience for the students. What that meant, exactly, she didn't say, hiding her true goals in meaningless platitudes and empty phrases. Eventually, though, she wound down and released the students and staff; there were more than a few first years who had fallen asleep in their seats, their Housemates keeping them from falling off the benches.

“Thank you, Madam Umbridge, for that... illuminating talk,” Minerva said with a terse smile. “We hope that the Ministry brings some great and useful changes to Hogwarts. Now, prefects, please guide your Housemates to their dormitories. Classes start on Monday; however, your timetables will be handed out at breakfast tomorrow. First years will also receive a basic map of the castle and grounds that will show you the best routes to take between your Common Rooms, the Great Hall, and your various classes that will react to your changing timetables. Make sure you're on time to the meal, please. Have a good night, and sleep well.”

Remus got to his feet along with the other members of staff, using the cover of the semi-organized chaos to escape from Umbridge's notice. He saw that quite a few of the other teachers were avoiding her as well, which only served to highlight just how unwelcome the squat woman was considered. Remus made his way through the familiar halls of the castle until he reached the Fat Lady. He gave the password before stepping into the Common Room, a slightly nostalgic smile forming as he looked around the familiar room. It hadn't changed a bit since he'd been a Gryffindor what seemed like ages ago.

He saw with approval that the prefects had ensured that the first years were gathered on the couches and armchairs near the fire rather than being forced to stand around like the other students. Remus spotted more than a few yawns, so he decided to make his speech brief.

“Welcome, everyone, to Gryffindor. To those returning to us, I'm glad to see your faces once again. For those just joining us, I'm thrilled to know that you were chosen for our House. I am Professor Remus Lupin-Snape, your head of House. While you might have been Sorted into Gryffindor, I expect you to keep an open mind and extend the hand of friendship to all throughout the school regardless of House affiliation. There are those that will tell you that Gryffindors are supposed to be brave and jump into danger headfirst. We are the house of the brave, but we don't hold a monopoly on that personality trait, much like Ravenclaws aren't always the smartest, Hufflepuffs the most loyal, or Slytherins the most cunning. Everyone has those traits and more within us all.

“Now, if you have questions or problems, I want you to feel comfortable with coming either to me, any of your other teachers, or to any of the prefects, regardless of House affiliation. We have inter-House and multi-year study groups that will start up within the first week. I highly suggest you try to find one that will fit your schedules best. My office is located next to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom; I can be reached by speaking to the painting of the potions master next to it after hours. I'll leave you to sleep now. I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast when I hand out your schedules. Sleep well, and good night.”

“Good night, Professor Lupin-Snape,” one of the first years said sleepily from her spot curled up on a couch. Remus smiled fondly at her before giving a short bow and then leaving the Common Room. He headed to his quarters, more than ready to relax before he went to bed. Remus was pleasantly surprised to find Severus waiting in his sitting room. His husband was wearing casual clothes that looked very comfortable, and was reading a book as he waited for Remus to return.

“Severus,” Remus said with a warm smile as he joined Severus on the couch. “I wasn't expecting to see you again for a few days.”

Severus marked his spot in his book with a piece of parchment before setting it aside. “I wanted to see how you were doing. Draco mirrored me to tell me that Umbridge was here,” he said, reaching out to pull Remus closer. Remus gladly leaned in against him, letting out a soft sigh as he relaxed.

“I'm fine. I haven't had to deal with her personally yet,” Remus said, nuzzling at Severus' neck as he breathed in his scent. “I'm sure that'll change soon, but I won't jinx it.”

“Well, perhaps the proposition I have for you will help you feel a little better.” Severus nudged Remus until he was sitting upright once more. He drew out a small wooden box that was heavily laden with protective charms and runes from an inner pocket of his robes and then handed it to Remus. Remus arched an eyebrow as he opened the lid. An emerald the size of a Snitch lay nestled within on a cushion of velvet, a soft glow coming from within the gem itself.

“What is this, Sev?” he asked, looking back up at Severus with a puzzled expression.

“It's a heart seed crystal,” Severus said, his voice low and soft. “It's one of the necessary components for the Magicae Infantem ritual.”

Remus' eyes widened. “You... You want to have a child with me?” he breathed, fingers trembling slightly. “I never thought...”

“That you'd have one?”

Remus nodded, dumbstruck. “I always assumed that I would pass my legacy of lycanthropy to any children I had, regardless of how they came to be, and I didn't want to inflict that on an innocent child,” he said.

“Well, if that does happen, then we can teach them how to come into balance with their inner wolf just like you've done,” Severus said simply.

“Is this what you've been up to these past few weeks? I thought you were working on an important potion.”

“I was. The ritual required the emerald to be soaked in a rather complex potion for two full weeks,” Severus explained. “All that's left to do is for us to put seven drops of blood on it each during the ritual. It would be best to do it in the circle at Prince Manor so the child will be bathed fully in the Family Magics. That, and the other components of the ritual are already there.”

“When would you want to do this?”

“We could do the ritual tonight if you wanted,” Severus said. “It will take just under a year to come to fruition, but it'll be well worth it if it works right.”

Remus looked down at the seed crystal, thumbs running over the runes engraved into the wood of the box. “Let's go,” he said, looking up at Severus again. “I'll have a house elf keep an eye on my notification portrait until I return.” He paused. “Unless you'd like to stay the night afterwards?”

Severus smirked at that. “I'd love to, so long as we can have breakfast in the Great Hall tomorrow.”

Remus chuckled. “You just want to give Umbridge a heart attack, don't you?”

“It certainly wouldn't be an unwelcome turn of events.”

~/~

The Prince Manor ritual space was located deep under the manor itself and only accessible to the Lord and those he allowed into it. Naturally, Severus had given Remus free access to the space after they'd married, so he didn't need to grant it just for the ritual. After cleansing themselves in the shallow cistern set in a corner of the room, the two of them entered the ritual circle, kneeling on either side of the center with just a Cushioning Charm between their knees and the hard stone floor. The only things that had been brought into the circle with them was a ceremonial athame, the heart seed crystal in its box, and several other gems in a velvet bag, as well as their wands in their dimensional stores. Severus had the first two items while Remus had the gem bag.

Severus opened the box and then placed the heart seed crystal in the exact center of the circle. “Lady Magic, we call upon you to grant our request for a child of our own, as we cannot have one naturally together. We give you these gifts in supplication for you to grant our request.”

He took a deep breath and then cut his palm deep enough to draw blood. He turned his hand so the blood dripped onto the heart seed for exactly seven drops before performing a wandless healing charm and then handed the athame to Remus. “Blood of my blood, given freely, to bring life to my heir.”

Remus copied his actions, letting his blood drip onto the heart seed. “Blood of my blood, given freely, to bring life to my heir,” he recited, his natural healing kicking in and stopping the flow of blood once he was finished. He set the athame down next to him before picking up the velvet bag and opening it. There were six semi-precious and precious gems within, nestled together in the depths of the bag. Remus plucked out an amethyst and placed it where the top of the head would be if there was actually a baby laying there.

“Magic of my magic, freely given, to bring the Blessing of the Lady to my heir,” he said, conjuring a wandless tongue of fire and letting it flow freely over the gem. Severus echoed him, the two flames merging together seamlessly. Remus held out the bag, allowing Severus to choose the next gem. He removed a piece of violet sodalite and placed it an inch or so below the amethyst.

“Knowledge of my knowledge, freely given, to bring free thought and intelligence to my heir.” Severus drew his wand and then retrieved a copy of a memory of his joy of learning from his mind and let it drop onto the sodalite. The silvery wisp curled around the gem like a snake, and was soon joined by Remus' contribution to the ritual.

The next gem was a sapphire, its facets gleaming in the light of the memories next to it. “Voice of my voice, freely given, to bring free speech and eloquence to my heir,” Remus said before pressing his wand tip against his throat and humming softly. A small ball of light coalesced at the end of his wand, vibrating gently in the same pitch and frequency as the noise Remus had made. He flicked his wand, watching as the light drifted over to settle onto the sapphire. Severus' ball of light was slightly darker and of a lower pitch, but they complemented one another nonetheless.

The fifth gem was a yellow tourmaline that looked rather cheerful compared to the other gems and stones already used. Severus steadied himself before placing his wand-tip over his heart. “Spirit of my spirit, freely given, to bring individuality and confidence to my heir.” When he drew his wand away from his chest, a silver-white thread followed it, looking as if it were a bit of hair from a horse Patronus' mane. He let the thread curl around the tourmaline and resisted the urge to rub at the place he'd drawn it from.

Once Remus had added his own soul-thread, he placed a fire opal below the tourmaline. This one would determine the gender of the baby, or it would have, had they chosen a carnelian for a boy or an orange Hessonite garnet for a girl. The fire opal left it up to chance, as would have happened naturally had they gone with a surrogate. That choice of gem meant that the usual recitation went unspoken, so instead Severus added the seventh and final gem below it: a ruby.

“Might of my might, given freely, to bring strength and the knowledge of when to use it properly to my heir.” Severus ran his wand along his arm, collecting the sweat that had gathered there with a simple spell, and then let it drop onto the ruby. Once Remus did the same, the two of them put their wands away and then clasped hands.

“We ask that you judge our request, Lady Magic, and grant us the gift of a child should you deem us worthy,” they intoned together. “So say we, so may it be!”

They released hands and then sat back, waiting to see if anything would happen. After about ten minutes, the sweet scents of jasmine and lavender swept through the room, borne on a warm breeze that ruffled Severus and Remus' hair, as if a fond hand had passed over them. The gems rose from the floor until they were high over the heads of the two men. Once there, they formed a circle around a ball of pure white magic and then started to spin rapidly around it. The ball of magic expanded until the gems were lost from sight. With a flash of light, the ball shrank and then started to lower itself back to the ground, slowly changing from white light to an opaque crystal orb the size of a watermelon with an iridescent surface that shifted between all the colors of the gems that had been used in the ritual, looking as if the Aurora Borealis had been trapped in the crystal. It came to rest in between the two of them, settling gently on the floor.

Remus and Severus could feel a shift in the Family Magics they shared, a faint presence making itself known within their magical cores as a new familial tether formed. Remus reached out and placed a shaking hand on the orb.

“It's warm,” he said, voice full of awe and wonder. “This is amazing.”

Severus reached out as well, covering Remus' hand with his own. “That it is, my love,” he agreed, eyes bright with tears of joy that were starting to escape and make trails down his face. “That it is.”

~/~

They returned to Hogwarts after Severus sealed the ritual chamber and locked down the wards of Prince Manor, eager to celebrate the successful completion of the ritual. Said celebration left both of them with visible marks afterwards, though by morning, Remus' had healed quite a bit, making his look far older than Severus'. There was a particularly dark bruise over the left-side pulse point behind Severus' jaw that Remus was especially proud of, and he refused to let his husband cover it with a glamor before they headed to breakfast. They were early to the table, arriving just after Minerva but well before most of the other staff, as well as many of the students save for some early morning risers.

The public announcement about their heir would wait until the third month, as was traditional, but neither man was capable of holding it back from one of their oldest friends. Minerva smiled warmly at them when she heard the news, gathering them in quick hugs of congratulations before retaking her seat.

“I'm so happy for both of you,” she told them as they sat down, with Severus sitting to Remus' left, his hair held back by a leather tie to keep it out of his face as well as to show off the mark to whomever sat next to him.

“Thank you, Minerva,” Remus replied, taking Severus' hand in his own. “We're excited as well. We would ask that you not tell anyone outside of the family, of course.”

“I'll let you be the bearers of that piece of good news, trust me,” Minerva assured him. “I won't tell a soul without your permission.”

“We appreciate it. I--” Severus paused when he saw Umbridge enter the Great Hall, her customary pink ensemble standing out amongst the more somber black of the students' robes. His eyes narrowed in distaste before he put on a neutral expression, hiding his true emotions behind a mask and his well-honed Legilimency shields. Umbridge's eyes widened when she saw him sitting next to Remus. Severus had to hold back a smirk. Considering how often he'd blocked her attempts to introduce anti-werewolf legislation in the Wizengamot, he wasn't surprised to see how startled she was to see him.

“Lord Prince. I wasn't expecting to see you here,” she said warily as she approached the staff table. “It's unusual for the spouses of professors to come visit, if at all.”

“I was simply making sure my husband was settled in,” Severus replied, pouring himself a cup of coffee. He added a little bit of cream before mixing it with his spoon. “After all, the full moon is just a week away. I need to ensure he is ready for it.”

Umbridge's face went rather pinched as she rounded the end of the staff table and spotted the love bite on Severus' neck. “Of course,” she said, taking a seat as far away from Remus and Severus as she could while still being within polite speaking distance. “I suppose you've been doing that regularly for the past two years.”

“Ever since we married, yes, so the last three years, actually.” Severus sipped at his coffee, watching as more students filtered in. He laughed softly when he saw the double-takes he got from the fifth years and up, particularly the Slytherins. He tipped his mug in their direction, a small smile curving his lips. He turned his attention to the food when it appeared on the plates in front of him, absently passing Remus the orange marmalade after his husband chose a few slices of toast from the nearby toast rack. Remus thanked him with a warm smile before spreading some of the marmalade on his toast.

“I see.” Umbridge went quiet after that, focusing on the food as well. Severus could sense Remus' amusement filtering over their bond, which made the Potions Master happy as well. The new tether in the Family Magics responded in kind, filling Severus with a kind of replete warmth that he never thought he'd ever feel. Life was good, even with certain toads croaking in the background.

Chapter Text

Dolores walked through the halls of Hogwarts, gritting her teeth and doing her best to ignore the chattering of the students around her. Children. How she loathed them. She'd loathed them when she was a child herself and she loathed them now. The reasons she'd taken the position in the first place were simple: one, she'd be able to discredit Albus Dumbledore even further by attacking his choices in employees and therefore the education of the dear, sweet children, and second, it gave her power in a place that only remembered her as a Slytherin who had done nothing particularly special whilst enrolled there. Dolores was intent on finally leaving her mark on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

She had plans for this school, and they were glorious. The only fly in the potion at the moment was Minerva McGonagall. The elderly Headmistress would simply have to go, what with her being a long time and well known supporter of Dumbledore. The fact that she kept a disgusting werewolf on staff, not to mention a barbarous half-giant and a Mudblood Spaniard...

Dolores shuddered a little as she reached the classroom where she was supposed to be auditing a fifth-year Hufflepuff Transfiguration class. Oh, yes, McGonagall would have to go, as would her... unfortunate ...staffing choices. Getting rid of Remus Lupin-Snape might be an issue, especially given his Lord-husband's strong voice and presence in the Wizengamot, but Dolores was sure she'd find a way. Not everyone could be happy about the dangerous and infectious beast teaching their children and heirs.

Stepping into the classroom, Dolores looked around with a faint moue of distaste before making her way to the back of the room and sitting down in her appointed chair, casting a Cushioning Charm on the seat before sitting. She'd been forced by McGonagall to wait until just before the Yule holidays before she could start her true audits, as the Headmistress had been firmly against her starting right away.

“How in the world can you get a proper measure of our teachers if you start at the beginning of the year?” Minerva had asked. “No, wait until some time has passed to let the students and teachers settle in before you start your... job.”

Dolores had been made to act as if she was going to do a 'proper' investigation and just watch the classes for the first few months, taking notes on the professors' teaching styles. Some seemed actually competent, some abysmal, and some in the middle of the road. Dolores hardly cared about all of that; she just wanted to cleanse the school of what she-- and therefore, by proxy of her position, the Ministry –deemed unsuitable staff members, and possibly a few of the students as well, should she be so lucky.

She had her eye on Potter-Black, Malfoy, and Longbottom, among others, but the three young men seemed nigh-on untouchable. Dolores firmly believed that everyone had their breaking points and dirty little secrets, something she'd come to learn over her years in the Ministry, and she would do her damnedest to figure out what lurked in the dark corners of their lives and expose it for the world to see. She was sure that the Wizarding World would eventually thank her for showing their supposed heroes for the wrongdoers and liars they actually were.

The Hufflepuffs neatly filed into the classroom, chattering softly as they took their seats. A few glanced back at Dolores but other than that didn't pay her any mind. The students had gotten used to her presence in the backs of their classes, and had relaxed when they realized she wasn't going to be interfering with their learning. Dolores smirked to herself as Professor Muñoz closed the door once the last seat was taken. Little did they know their comfortable little worlds would be turned upside down soon enough.

Professor Muñoz started the class, reviewing the theory they'd gone over in the last lesson before starting in on the practical application of the spells they had learned. Soon enough the students were practicing turning their variously colored roses into rosaries, with points given on how intricate the rosaries were and if the color of the petals translated naturally to the hue of the woods. Inanimate to inanimate transfiguration wasn't usually too hard, but it was the complexity of transforming different textures and details that usually caught people off guard. The roses were relatively simple in their overall details, and the soft and pliable nature of the petals meant that the students had to focus on creating the complex whirls of the wood grain and the hard surfaces of the beads and crucifix.

Dolores absolutely despised that the new professor was bringing in her Mudblood religious influences to the classroom. Sure, it worked to prove the theory, but honestly, there could've been other things Muñoz could've chosen, like a glass paperweight in the shape of a rose. That's what McGonagall had done, and it had worked perfectly fine to prove the point. Dolores made a note of it in her files, making sure to write it in her own personal shorthand to keep anyone from snooping just in case. Muggle religions-- especially one that had persecuted their kind for centuries --had no place in the magical world, and she was sure that the Wizengamot would be horrified to hear that their children were being forced to use something from them in their schooling.

Professor Muñoz walked through the rows of desks, giving encouragement or gentle corrections as needed. She paused at Potter-Black's desk, observing him quietly for a moment as he worked.

“May I see that please?”

Dolores gritted her teeth at the woman's soft but noticeable accent, but controlled herself in time as she watched Muñoz lift the transfigured rosary up and examine it.

“Hmm. A very good effort, Mister Potter-Black. You will need to work on the wood grain more, however. I believe you were trying for cedar or redwood?”

“Cedar, Professor,” Harry confirmed, “like my wand.”

Muñoz nodded before setting the rosary down on the desk. “I would advise you to study the grain of your wand, in that case. Transfiguration requires such an intimate knowledge of a material so as to be almost instinctual. Unless all you need is a rough slab of marble or other type of stone in a quick time, that knowledge will be instrumental in properly transfiguring something. This is why Animagi take so long to achieve their first shifts. They must study every aspect of their inner animal form once they have done the necessary meditation to meet it. They must study how it moves, how its fur, scales, or hide feels, how it hunts, swims, or flies, and so on. Only then can a successful transformation be completed.”

Several of the students dutifully noted down what Muñoz was saying before returning to their tasks with new vigor. Dolores had to grudgingly admit that Muñoz was a good teacher, but that didn't mean she was going to get a free ride. Indeed not. She would be subject to the same (no, even more) stringent criteria as the other professors. Dolores doubted that she'd last beyond the Easter holidays.

By the end of the class, the students had all managed at least a partial transfiguration of their roses, with Muñoz congratulating them on the feat and then assigning them a foot and a half essay on why knowledge of the materials one was trying to transfigure something into was so important, using at least two examples from books other than the assigned text. There was good-natured grumbling at that, but the assignment was far less than what most assigned for OWL classes. Dolores watched the students leave and then approached Muñoz with a sickly sweet smile.

“Ah, Madam Umbridge,” Muñoz said as she used her want to collect the roses-turned-rosaries so she could use them for her next OWL class. “What did you think?”

“I'm not allowed to discuss anything until the reviews are all finished,” Dolores demurred. “Do you have time to answer a few questions before your next class?”

“Of course.” Muñoz directed the rosaries onto her desk into a neat pile and then reverted them back to their natural forms with an elegant sweep of her wand. “Go ahead.”

“How long have you been a Transfiguration Mistress, and who did you study under to obtain your Mastery?” Dolores asked, setting her quill against her notepad.

“I apprenticed under Master Renaldo Alvarez for seven years, from when I was seventeen to when I was twenty-four. I have held my Mastery for six years,” Muñoz replied. “I was honored that the Headmistress would choose me out of all the applicants for the position.”

“She had to choose quickly,” Dolores said dismissively. “Because of that, do you believe that you are truly able to meet the needs of the students here? After all, the Spanish educational system is vastly different from the British one.”

“Different in some aspects, but not entirely,” Muñoz replied, stowing her wand away in its dimensional store. “I believe I will be more than able to fulfill their needs in order for them to get the most out of their educations, especially for those in their OWL and NEWT years.”

“I should hope so-- for your sake and theirs.” Dolores made a few last notes, made the ink dry with a quick muttered spell, and then put her notes away before leaving the classroom, heading for her next destination, which was thankfully the staff room. She wanted to observe the teachers in an environment outside of a classroom and away from students. It would be her last stop before dinner that night, something she was very glad for. She settled in with a sugar-laced cup of tea and a plate of pink wafer cookies that the house elves-- disgusting things though they were, they were useful in some aspects and had learned her preferences quickly –had provided for her almost the instant she had sat down.

Dolores sipped at her tea before activating a series of runes on a slender bracelet she wore hidden under one of her cardigan's sleeves that activated a subtle privacy shield around her. It was better for her needs than a Disillusionment charm as it merely made her and the general area she was in rather unimportant to anyone looking that way rather than making her blend in with her surroundings. It had been a gift from her mother when she'd gotten a job in the Ministry, having been a family heirloom that had been passed down through the years.

She didn't use it when she sat in on classes because she wanted the professors and students to be aware of her presence and therefore on edge, but here she needed the former to feel comfortable and safe and therefore be more free with what they said and did. She waited eagerly for others to come in, grinning when she saw the four House Heads enter and then settle in near the fire, the house elves providing them with tea and light snacks since it was so close to dinner. This was going to be good.

“So, is everyone ready for the holidays?” Sprout asked as she poured herself a cup of tea. Lupin-Snape nodded.

“I am,” he said as he doctored his tea with a spoonful of sugar and then stirred it in. A small, pleased smile curved his lips, making Flitwick give him a curious look.

“You look like a Niffler who's just seen a big pile of gold,” he said. “What's got you so happy, Remus?”

“Yes, do share the good news,” Babbling urged as she picked up a small lemon-infused madeleine cake. “Don't leave us waiting.”

“I can't,” Lupin-Snape said with a soft laugh. “You'll find out soon enough, I promise. Just keep an eye on the Prophet over the break.”

“Some sort of announcement, then?” Sprout guessed. “Well, it'll certainly be interesting once we find out.”

Lupin-Snape nodded before sipping at his tea. “Definitely. Anyways, I'll be celebrating Yule with Severus and our friends. So, what about the rest of you?”

“I'll be staying here,” Sprout said. “I need to keep an eye on a few plants in Greenhouse Five. The Copper Thornberry has been acting up recently, not to mention the fact that the Barking Dogtree is going to flower soon and the petals need to be collected at a specific time for the most potent Potions ingredients.”

“Mm.” Babbling finished her mouthful of cake and then washed it down with a drink of tea. “Septima and I will be visiting her parents for a few days, but we'll be here for the rest of the holidays after that.”

“You don't look too happy about that, Bathsheda,” Flitwick said in a light teasing tone. “Not too fond of your in-laws?”

Babbling laughed. “It's more like they're not too fond of me, even though Septima and I have been married since just after we graduated Hogwarts.”

“That was almost twenty years ago,” Lupin-Snape pointed out. “You'd think they'd be used to you by now.”

“You'd think so, but I can't help being a half-blood, and they're rather stringent blood-purists, though not to the extreme,” Babbling said with a wry smile. “The only reason they even let Septima marry me was because I would be able to support myself and carry my own weight while we were going for our masteries, and even that took a while to get them to agree with.”

“Bring them a cake,” Sprout suggested. “Or whatever their favorite sweets are. It might help.”

“I doubt it, but it couldn't hurt,” Babbling mused. “If nothing else, it'll look good as a hostess gift. What about you, Filius?”

Flitwick shook his head. “No, I'll be staying here. I need to keep an eye on my Eagles.” He frowned a little. “I've been hearing some unsettling rumors recently and want to ensure that there isn't any merit in them.”

Dolores, who had been bored out of her mind at that point by listening to their holiday plans (she had plans to go to the Ministry's annual Yule Ball, of course, and already had what she considered a very flattering set of dress robes picked out for said event), shook herself out of her stupor at that. That sounded like a juicy bit of information.

Sprout frowned. “Oh? What are these rumors?”

“Mainly about extreme bullying,” Flitwick said, “done mostly by the sixth and seventh years.”

“The last of the old guard,” Lupin-Snape murmured. He sat back in his chair, a thoughtful look on his face. “What's your plan to deal with it?”

“I'm going to enlist the portraits in helping me with keeping an eye out,” Flitwick said, “among other methods. I figure the holidays would be a prime time for such things to happen, especially since quite a few older 'Claws are staying this year in order to study for their NEWTs.”

“Enlist the ghosts as well,” Babbling said. “After all, the students are so used to seeing them around that they barely notice them any more. I know I barely noticed any of them– or really anyone --while I was a NEWT student save for Peeves unless they spoke with me or accidentally floated through me.”

“You were always a Ravenclaw inside a Slytherin's scales,” Flitwick joked with a broad grin.

“Studious habits aren't the sole property of your House, Filius,” Babbling retorted lightly. She finished up her tea and then cast a quick Tempus. “We'd best get moving. We've less than twenty minutes before dinner begins.”

“To the Great Hall, then?” Sprout asked, setting her cup down on the tray the elves had provided. Lupin-Snape nodded, draining the last of his tea before getting up, his cup getting set neatly next to Sprout's. Flitwick's cup joined the others as the Charms Master stood, the china barely coming to rest before the house elves had taken the tray away.

Dolores waited until the professors had all safely gone before deactivating her bracelet. She finished off her wafer cookies-- no need to waste them, after all, even if dinner was so close –and then got up, leaving the staff room behind. She made it to the Great Hall just before the majority of the students did, settling in at her chair at the staff table. It was located at one of the far ends, with a small gap of chairs between her and the next nearest professor, who turned out to be Vector. The Arithmancy teacher paid her no mind, instead preferring to focus on her wife, who was sitting on her other side.

With a poorly concealed moue of distaste, Dolores watched the students start to filter in and then sit down, the entire room a healthily mixed dose of blue, green, red, and yellow, with only a few holdout pockets of staunchly solid colors here and there. She wondered if she could use those students, as well as those rebelling in Ravenclaw. After all, why let centuries of tradition be wasted just so little children could make friends and other annoying saccharine reasons?

As Dolores plotted, she smiled a little, the expression particularly self-satisfied. Oh, yes, she would enjoy getting this school bowing to her whims, just as it should have always been.

~/~

Lady Hogwarts observed Umbridge with great distaste, filled from the very tips of her towers to the depths of her foundations with loathing for the former Slytherin. Honestly, Umbridge barely deserved to have been in Salazar's noble house, but even as an eleven year old the woman had had enough ambition to technically fulfill the requirements to be Sorted there. She hadn't done anything spectacular during her scholastic career, barely scraping by in her NEWTs and OWLs. She'd only managed to get her job at the Ministry through bribery and blackmail, and had stayed there by making sure she rode the coattails of those more successful than herself.

Acalia scoffed. Such a waste of talent and magic. In another universe, Umbridge could have been a great witch and the epitome of what Salazar prized in those he taught, but unfortunately, this was not that universe. No, instead, Umbridge was the bottom of the barrel when it came to Slytherins, but like a lot of slimy things that lived in the dark and damp corners of the world, she was very annoying and even harder to get rid of.

The question was, what would be the easiest way to get rid of Umbridge without pissing off the Ministry too much or killing the woman outright? The Ministry wasn't honestly that much of a worry, especially given the limited oversight it had over the school itself, but it never hurt to be cautious nonetheless. Acalia pondered the problem for a while and then figured she needed some advice, and who better to give it to her than her parents?

She swept through the various portraits in her painted form, startling their inhabitants with her brief presence. It was rare that she left her frame in the Room of Requirement, instead preferring to speak with the Heirs mind-to-mind, but for some things the personal touch was needed, and this was definitely one of them. Acalia made her way to the quiet room that held the large group portrait of her parents. They had single portraits elsewhere, but two of them had been lost to time and the meddlings of prior Heads of the school. Only Rowena and Helga's portraits had survived, leaving this the sole place for Acalia's fathers to permanently rest. They could, of course, visit other portraits, but visitors weren't always welcome for long periods of time, even amongst portraits.

The four Founders resided in a large portrait that spanned nearly the entire width of the wall. It was of an ornate set of rooms that made up a luxurious set of apartments for the four of them. Their sleeping quarters were half-visible through partly open doors set into the far walls. The main room had elements of all four House common rooms to it: the airy ceilings and well-organized bookshelves of Ravenclaw; the warm fireplaces and squashy armchairs of Gryffindor; the inviting atmosphere and wealth of plant life of Hufflepuff; and the elegant architecture and understated power of Slytherin.

The view from the windows mimicked that of the real world, showing a wintry landscape beyond their frames. To the inhabitants of magical paintings, the physical world appeared as if it was behind a crystal-clear window that stretched from floor to ceiling; the interior of the paintings were just as three dimensional and solid as that of the world of the living witches and wizards around them. The spaces between different paintings looked like dark archways that connected paintings on either side of one another. If there weren't any other portraits in the same room, like in the Founders' chamber, then the arch would connect to the one that was physically nearest, and if a portrait had a matching one elsewhere, a secondary arch next to the primary one would lead there should the portrait's inhabitant wish it.

Acalia stepped through the arch and into her parents' apartment, glad that she hadn't walked in on any awkward situations as she had done in the past. Since their main portrait had been in seclusion for so long, the Founders had grown accustomed to the lack of constant visitors and viewers, and were far more relaxed and free in their actions. Godric and Salazar had been married in life, as had Helga and Rowena, though the latter two were the only ones of the four that had a chromatic soul bond. That didn't mean that Godric and Salazar loved one another any less, though. They absolutely adored one another, and had died within a few weeks of one another, with Salazar going first and then Godric dying in battle later when raiders tried to come and steal from Hogsmeade.

In fact, it had been one of their grandsons, Salazar the Younger, who had been the one to disagree with Godric a few years before the Founder's death and despise all Mundane and Mundane-born, but over time his actions and opinions had been conflated with his namesake. While it was true that Salazar the Elder was a Dark wizard in terms of his natural affinity, his talents with Parselmagic made him a formidable Healer both on and off the battlefield, where he could often be found fighting side-by-side with his husband.

“Acalia!” Helga called out brightly from her seat at the large table in the center of their dining area. She was wrist deep in potting soil as she replanted a large and vibrantly flowering poinsettia into a larger pot. Rowena was sitting nearby, a cup of tea cradled in her hands as she watched Helga work with a small smile on her face. Even after over a thousand years of existence, both living and as a painting, it never failed to both amuse and warm Rowena's heart to see her bondmate doing what made her so happy.

“Helga-mum!” Acalia replied, returning Helga's smile with a warm one of her own. “Mama Rowena. Where are Papa and Father?”

Rowena rolled her eyes. “Where else? Godric got it in his fool head to go duel that mad knight Cadogan again, and Sal went with him to make sure they didn't do anything stupid or annoy anyone too much this time. I know we're paintings now, but still.”

“I doubt he'll ever grow out of it, my heart,” Helga said with a laugh. “There's no changing that man, even after all this time. At least his heir isn't as foolhardy and prone to rushing into battle with nary a thought in his mind.”

“True,” Rowena conceded, “there is that. Now, Acalia, what can we help you with my dear?”

Acalia took a seat at the table between the other two women, gathering her skirts in close around her legs as she sat down. Helga cleaned the table off with a flick of her wand, sending the poinsettia off to an open space on a nearby side table and then banishing any fallen potting soil into the æther. Rowena summoned a teapot, tea leaves, and three cups. One Aguamenti and a perfectly controlled warming charm later and the tea was steeping, soon filling the room with its perfumed scent. Acalia only spoke when the tea had been poured and she was cradling a cup in her hands.

“It's Dolores Umbridge,” she said after taking a sip of her tea. Ah, perfect as always. “She's like poison. I don't want her lingering in my halls any longer than necessary. I understand the whys of her presence, but I don't like the unknowns.”

“Like what?” Helga asked.

“Like--” Acalia broke off when Salazar and Godric came in through the entrance arch, with Godric laughing heartily as Salazar helped him along, one arm slung around his husband's bulky torso. Godric's battle robes were torn and ripped, and he had a long gash on his left cheek. Salazar directed him to the nearest chair, sat him down in it with a firm hand, and then took out his wand in order to heal Godric's wound.

“You are such a fool sometimes,” he told Godric in between soft hisses of Parseltongue. He passed his wand over Godric's face, the wound sealing up in a rush of deep green magic. The blood vanished along with the wound, leaving nothing but healthy skin in its wake. Another flick of Salazar's wand and Godric's robes were mended.

“There,” Salazar said as he stepped back. “Now, what have you learned?”

“That Cadogan leads with his right foot and doesn't know how to duel properly?” Godric muttered. Salazar just arched an impatient eyebrow, make Godric sigh. “That I need to be more careful with how I fight?”

“Better,” Salazar said. He stowed his wand and then turned to look at the table and its occupants, giving them a short bow. “My apologies, ladies. I had to deal with my overzealous husband. Acalia, it's wonderful to see you.”

“Just as it's wonderful to see the both of you, Father, Papa,” Acalia replied. “I'm glad that you're here. I need your advice. Will you join us?”

“Of course.” Godric and Salazar joined them at the table, with Salazar conjuring a chair for himself before he took a seat next to Godric.

“Now, what do can we help you with?” Godric asked. Acalia explained her worries with Umbridge, sitting back and drinking her tea once she was done. Salazar rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he contemplated the problem, the neatly trimmed hairs of his beard rasping faintly against his palm.

“Hm. I can see why you wouldn't want her around the students,” he said. “She sounds like a vile woman.”

“She is,” Acalia confirmed. “She was never a particularly excellent student, and it seems like she's trying to take it out on the staff first and foremost. The house elves have heard her talking to the Minister over the Floo while they've been cleaning. Umbridge wants to get rid of almost half the staff just because they don't fit her idea of what's 'proper'.”

“My suggestion would be to go about it subtly,” Salazar said. “Make her want to leave of her own volition. That, or make her think she's going insane. Let her check herself into Saint Mungo's.”

Godric scoffed. “Why not just set Peeves on her?” he asked. “She'll be gone soon enough after a few rounds with him.”

“I think you two are limiting yourselves,” Helga said as she poured herself another cup of tea. “Why not do a bit of both? Give Peeves free reign and have the house elves use their magics to drive her over the edge. If she tries to detect any kind of regular magic, it won't come up with anything, and the very stones of the castle are so imbued with house elf magics from over the years that it'd be impossible to pin anything on a single one of them.”

Godric and Salazar stared at her in surprise, making Helga simply smirk in satisfaction. “All too often you forget that badgers have claws too, my friends, and we defend our families and homes fiercely.” She sipped at her tea, feeling rather satisfied with the reaction she'd gotten. Acalia finished her own tea and then nodded.

“I like it,” she announced, setting her cup down carefully on the table. “I might do some tweaking, but the general idea is a good one. It doesn't place the blame on any specific person, meaning no student or teacher would take the fall, and it might even have the added benefit of making Umbridge look bad to her superiors. After all, I doubt even Fudge would want to be associated with someone who seems to have lost all their faculties.”

Rowena chuckled. “Very nice,” she said. “Get the ghosts to help you as well. There's not much Umbridge would be able to do to them.” She paused, looking down at her teacup briefly. “Acalia... Would you ask the Baron and Helena to come here?” She gestured at the room beyond the painting's barrier. “I believe it is time that we finally settle once and for all what happened so long ago, especially now that there is no reason for her to continue to hold onto her guilt about stealing my diadem. It's been destroyed, and with it, the evil that it had been infected with.”

Acalia nodded as she rose from her chair. “I'll do that once I'm done here,” she promised. “I believe Helena will be glad to be able to speak to you and Mum again, if nothing else.”

“I hope so,” Rowena said with a soft sigh. Helga took her free hand and then kissed the back of it.

“Don't worry, my heart. We'll get through to her soon enough.”

Acalia said her goodbyes to the Founders, getting hugs and fond kisses on the cheek from all four of her parents before returning to her own portrait. She sank into the chair there and then let her consciousness return to the halls and flagstones of the castle, quickly finding the Gray Lady and the Bloody Baron and relaying both Rowena's message and the location of the Founders' portrait. The two ghosts were understandably surprised but departed for the room as quickly as they could, Helena seeming to be rather nervous about the reception she would get.

Her task done, Acalia relaxed and then began to plot the downfall of a certain toad-faced Ministry official.

~/~

Dolores returned from the Ministry's Yule Ball feeling quite pleased with herself. She stepped out of the Floo and into her chambers at Hogwarts, absently brushing off the ash from her dress robes as she went. She went to go get undressed, and then swore softly when she ran into the corner of the nearby coffee table. Strange. She could've sworn that the table wasn't that close to the fireplace...

No matter. The Ball had gone splendidly. She'd been able to give her fortnightly verbal report to Cornelius in person rather than over the Floo, and she'd gotten quite a few admiring looks from other attendees, probably thanks to the lovely shade of pink she'd chosen for her robes. She took off said robes and left them in a pile on the floor before heading into the shower. The house elves would take care of her dirty laundry and then return it to her closet once it was clean. Once she was washed, dried, and dressed in her pajamas, Dolores went to bed, falling asleep to thoughts of snatches of music and glittering dress robes swirling in dance.

Two days later, Dolores was still rather pleased with herself, though she couldn't shake an uneasy feeling that started at breakfast. That feeling was compounded when mail owls streamed in through the enchanted windows high overhead. A large tawny owl dropped a copy of the Daily Prophet in front of Dolores and then stuck out its leg to receive payment. Dolores put five Knuts into the small pouch tied to its leg before ignoring the owl and turning to her paper. She smiled when she saw that the photo on the front page was of Cornelius at the Ball, the Minister shaking hands with important and influential members of Wizarding society.

Her smile dropped sharply when she reached the Society page and saw a small but extremely discomfiting announcement. With barely a thought, she got up quickly, leaving her paper behind as she hurried out of the Great Hall. Poppy Pomfrey, who had been the unlucky one to sit nearest to her, glanced curiously at the paper to see what had set her off. She grinned widely when she saw the announcement under the Society headlines.

Prince Heir announced!

Severus Snape, the Lord Prince, and his Consort-husband, Remus Lupin-Snape, are overjoyed to announce the impending birth of their heir. Due to using the Magicae Infantem ritual, they will be welcoming their first child, a boy, into the world late this coming summer. They would not divulge the name they've chosen for their heir before his birth, citing Family tradition, but rest assured that we will be printing the birth announcement once the joyous event occurs. We wish them the best with the future and our congratulations.

A small picture of Severus and Remus had been printed above the announcement. Both men had content smiles on their faces; Remus had an arm slung around Severus' waist, keeping his husband close against his side. Severus hardly looked like he minded, as he would give Remus a small kiss on the side of the head before the picture looped back to its initial state. Poppy took the page from the paper and then showed it to the others, all of whom were excited about the announcement and wished Severus and Remus good luck and congratulations.

Dolores, meanwhile, was incensed. A werewolf breeding with a Lord of a Noble House! She'd been against the marriage from the start, but Cornelius hadn't wanted to do anything about it as there weren't any laws forbidding it, not to mention that it would've been political suicide given Lord Prince's strong ties to the Potter-Black-Longbottom family and the associated voting bloc. Still, this announcement...

Dolores huffed. Werewolves were dangerous enough as it was, but a werewolf who was protecting a their mate and a child they considered their 'cub', be it a child of their own blood or not, was doubly so. If Lupin-Snape was allowed to breed and have a proper job and place in society, then other werewolves would want the same, followed by even more nasty beasts and--

Her angry thoughts were interrupted when she heard Peeves' wild cackling just ahead. Dolores braced herself just as Peeves zoomed around the corner, his arms full of snowballs. He grinned brightly at her and then started pelting her with them, soaking her robes almost entirely all the way through. She shrieked at him, but Peeves only laughed and then dumped all of them onto her head before swooping away.

Dolores stood there in shock, the cold water soaking through the fabric of her robes. She shivered as a trickle of icy water slid down the back of her neck and then further down her spine. With a huff, she drew her wand and blasted herself with an overpowered warming charm, sending small puffs of steam up as she did so. She didn't care that her hair frizzed up when the over-hot jet of air passed over it, making her head look even more rotund, her focus solely on Peeves.

Forget Lupin-Snape and his horrible impending spawn, that poltergeist needed to be exorcised and now. Dolores made her way to her quarters, threw a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace, and then stuck her head in once the flames turned green. After speaking her destination, the associated password, and a few disorienting seconds later, she was looking out into the private office of the Minister.

“Minister! Minister! Cornelius!

Fudge hurried out of the small bathroom that was attached to the office, a startled expression affixed on his face. “Madam Umbridge,” he said once he caught sight of her, one hand held over his racing heart. “What's the matter?”

“It's that damned poltergeist!” Dolores snapped. “He's nothing but trouble and needs to be removed from the castle grounds immediately.”

Cornelius sighed. “People have tried to oust Peeves before,” he said, crouching down to look at her without entirely towering over her. “He's tied as much to the school as the ghosts and portraits are. The Unspeakables say he's a manifestation of all the wild magic that's given off by the children before they are fully trained.”

“He still needs to go,” Dolores insisted. “I don't care how you do it, but it needs to be done.”

“I'm not sure--” Cornelius began to say, but Dolores ran roughshod over him, not paying him any mind.

“And then there's my quarters.”

“Your quarters?” Cornelius ventured warily. “What's wrong with them?”

“I don't know, but everything's off somehow,” Dolores told him. “And that's not the worst of it. Have you read the Prophet today?”

“Of course,” Cornelius replied. “What about it? I rather liked the picture they used of me. Showed my good side.”

“Yes, yes, but I'm talking about the announcement in the Society section.”

“Oh. I'm afraid I don't really pay attention t-”

“Well, you should. If you had read it, you would've seen that Lord Prince and his monster of a Consort are expecting a child,” Dolores said with a sneer that Severus would've been proud of once upon a time. “A child, Cornelius, and supposedly by the Magicae Infantem ritual no less. I highly doubt that mangy beast has enough magic to support the ritual. They probably used a surrogate and just claimed it was done by a ritual.”

Cornelius sighed again as Dolores continued her ranting. Merlin, he hated the woman. She was an idiot and had often led him into political situations that had been tough to get out of. He'd tried distancing himself more and more from her, but she had barely noticed. This whole examination of the school, while necessary, had been a blessing in that Cornelius had actually managed to get some much-needed work done without her constant interference.

Hell, he'd even managed to repair relationships with some of the more contentious magical communities abroad in her absence, and that had been a feat in itself. Perhaps it was time to fully cut ties with her. After all, if he kept her by his side, her actions would reflect badly on him and his time as a Minister, and while Cornelius accepted that he'd never be a shining example of what Magical Britain needed, he didn't want to go down as one of the worst Ministers ever.

With that in mind, he held up a hand to silence her. “I want your complete and final report to me by no later than the fifth of January,” he said firmly. “I believe you have spent enough time and energy at Hogwarts to get a good picture of the mess Dumbledore has left in his wake.” He eyed her running makeup, which she hadn't bothered to fix before speaking to him, and then softened his voice. “Perhaps you should take a holiday after you return. I hear the Caribbean is a wonderful place this time of year. Think of it as a reward for all your hard work.”

Dolores' surprise morphed from indignant to pleasant, though there wasn't much difference between the two as far as Cornelius could tell. “Of course!” she said immediately. “I'll get that report finished for you and on your desk as soon as possible.”

With that, she ended the Floo call, pulling her head out of the fireplace with a pop. Cornelius sat back on his heels and groaned. Thank Merlin. He only had to deal with her craziness for a few more weeks. He got up and headed to his desk, flopping down in his chair. Being Minister was hard.

Perhaps it would be best to end his term on a high note and not bother going back for re-election. A vacation sounded wonderful. Somewhere far, far away from Dolores Umbridge and her unique brand of crazy. Cornelius sighed wistfully at the pleasant thought before setting to work, getting everything in order to quietly retire Dolores from the Ministry's employ after far too long.

It became one of the Ministry's worst-kept secrets over the next two weeks that something was going to happen to Umbridge, but no one was stupid enough to tip off the woman herself, no matter how much they wanted her gone. The day she came in to present her final report to the Minister, she was handed an envelope containing a one-way Portkey (though she was unaware of that) to Jamaica and the well wishes of Cornelius himself. The Minister for Magic of Jamaica had been warned of Umbridge's imminent arrival earlier that day, and Cornelius had given her blanket permission to keep Umbridge there as long as she could before allowing her to return to Britain, which would give him enough time to hire someone as his new Senior Undersecretary and ensure that she wouldn't be able to come back to that position.

Cornelius watched her go, relaxing when the Portkey swept her out of his office and away on her vacation. The minute she was gone, he signed the last document that terminated her job, with one copy going to the Archives and the other to the hiring department, while the original stayed in his desk. With that done, Cornelius cleaned out Umbridge's desk with a few flicks of his wand, depositing everything into magically expanded boxes and then shrinking them. The small boxes got given to the wand-checker at the front gate, to be given to Umbridge should she try to come back in to work. Cornelius made sure to get the password to his Floo changed, as well as all the other Floos and doors that led to the more secure parts of the Ministry.

He allowed himself a small drink of fire-whiskey in celebration once the day was done and everything had been accomplished. The Toad of the Ministry had been evicted, and damn did it ever feel good.

 

Chapter Text

The departure of Umbridge had barely garnered any notice from the students, though the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief. Cornelius delivered the final report to Minerva, having gone through Umbridge's work himself and editing it heavily to remove the annoying woman's deep bias as much as he could. He'd compared the exam grades for the OWLs and NEWTs in the subjects that had had the same teachers for the past few years against those of some of the more highly ranked international schools. Two years ago was really where things picked up in Hogwart's standings, with that crop of testing students performing surprisingly well when compared to their international compatriots that had taken the same tests.

He'd included the reviews of the teachers who had the worst results- namely, Binns and Trelawney –heavily suggesting that they be exorcised and let go respectively after the end of the school year. Divination had been a failing class for the past eighty years, and only the self-studiers had managed to pass their History OWLs or NEWTs with anything beyond an Acceptable. He'd also included some short synopses about the various teachers and their educational styles.

Minerva frowned when she saw the comments about the fifth year Transfiguration class Umbridge had overseen before the holidays. She would have to speak to Josephina about keeping to a proper syllabus in her classes. While she certainly didn't mind religion, it was something that she thought should be kept in private and out of the classroom. Minerva made a note of it in a small memo book, right under one to get more ginger snaps and tea leaves. She got up from her desk, stretching out her weary limbs before heading out of her office and into the school proper.

End of year exams, OWLs, and NEWTs were coming up fast, and the general atmosphere was starting to get tense. The staff was doing their best to ease some of that tension, but the efforts weren't entirely successful. Madam Pomfrey had already had to dose several older students with Calming Draughts to soothe their nerves. The majority were Ravenclaws, but there was still a healthy amount of representation from the other three Houses as well.

Minerva made her way through the halls, listening to the chatter of the portraits and students alike as she went. It soothed her, and made her feel like the school was recovering from being under Albus Dumbledore's rule. Just thinking about the man and what he'd done made her want to transfigure him into a mouse and let her feline side take over, but Minerva had to take a moment to remind herself that he was under the complete control of the DMLE and unable to cause any more trouble.

Albus' office and quarters had been thoroughly searched by both Aurors and cursebreakers for anything that was affecting either the students or the castle itself. Minerva had been relieved to find that the wards hadn't been tampered with; they had felt vibrant and strong when she took them on, full of the centuries-old protective magics she'd hoped would be there. There was also a warm undercurrent to the wards that didn't feel dangerous, but rather welcoming and almost maternal. Minerva wasn't quite sure what it was, but as it didn't seem harmful, she didn't mind.

She had yet to figure out where the ward stones actually were, as the wards themselves had automatically transferred to her once Albus had been removed from the Headmaster position, but she was had a feeling she'd figure it out soon. She made her way to the Transfiguration classroom, giving a few smart knocks on its half-open door before stepping in. The last class of the day had finished barely five minutes prior, leaving Minerva able to speak with Josephina privately without any interruptions.

Josephina was cleaning the chalkboard with a few flicks of her wand when Minerva came in, and paused when she saw the Headmistress. "Minerva, what can I do for you?" she asked, giving her fellow Transfiguration Mistress a warm smile.

"I'm glad I caught you," Minerva said. "I wanted to speak to you about a lesson you gave the fifth year Hufflepuffs a few weeks ago."

Josephina finished cleaning the board and then stowed her wand. "Of course. What about it?"

"The lesson was good, but I would request that in the future, you use something besides a rosary to teach that particular transfiguration method. Perhaps a wooden rose would serve for illustration purposes instead?" Minerva suggested. "I'm not against religion, but it would be better to keep that sort of thing outside of the classroom."

Josephina nodded slowly. "Of course. You have my apologies; that was simply the way I was taught how to do that lesson."

"I understand, but I would prefer it if you change the way you teach it," Minerva said. "As I said, I have nothing against religion, but most of the old families of British Wizarding World still remember the Dark Hunts the Muggles did in the Fifteenth through Seventeenth centuries and wouldn't take kindly to their heirs being taught something from a religion that persecuted our kind so heavily."

"I'll amend my lesson plans," Josephina assured her. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention."

"Of course. Shall we go to dinner?"

Josephina smiled. "That sounds wonderful."

The two women left the classroom, talking amicably as they walked down to the Great Hall side-by-side.

~/~

Molly Weasley was not having a good day at all. To be honest, she hadn't been having a good time since she'd been put under house arrest after that fateful Wizengamot meeting that had seen Albus be arrested and taken away. Arthur had cleaned the entire house of potions ingredients and any way to make them, and he'd restricted her methods of communications and travel greatly as well to be in line with the harsh guidelines the Ministry had set down. He'd been furious with her for her actions that not only resulted in the loss of any good reputation to their Family name, but also that of Ginny from their Family entirely.

There was no way to make Ginny a Weasley again, as the nature of the ritual Dumbledore had used permanently made the affected part of the same family for all time. Molly had been fine with that when Dumbledore had proposed using it, as she'd assumed that Ginny would become the next Lady Potter and therefore bring glory to both that House and the woefully impoverished House of Weasley once she'd married Harry. Now, though? Now Molly was cursing Albus Dumbledore with every ounce of her being for even suggesting the thrice-damned ritual.

She sighed, rubbing absently at one of her temples. Merlin's fucking balls. Molly jumped when she heard a knocking at the front door, and then slowly relaxed when she heard Arthur answer the door. Today was her hearing in front of the Wizengamot in regards to her actions. Molly smoothed her hands over her dress robes as she got up, doing her best to ignore the faint trembling in her fingers. She straightened her posture. She might be a Weasley now, but she'd once been a Daughter of the Most Ancient House of Prewitt, and she was going to act like it, no matter what Arthur said or thought.

Molly didn't regret marrying Arthur, but she did regret the fact that he didn't really seem to have any sort of upward ambition. He was content with his simple position and didn't feel like applying for anything that would pay more and provide properly for their family rather than having to scrape by from paycheck to paycheck. Molly wished that Arthur would buck up and let go of his foolish dreams of exploring everything he could about the Muggles through their inventions and gadgets.

There were two Aurors waiting for her with Arthur in the sitting room. They were wearing court-appropriate uniforms, the lines neatly tailored and the fabric wrinkle-free. Molly gave them a small nod before glancing over at Arthur, who would be accompanying them to the hearing. Arthur would be going just to watch, as he was not able to decide on Molly's fate given a conflict of interest and a lack of seat on the Wizengamot. He had a stoic expression on, one that Molly had rarely seen him wear. It made Molly worry that things wouldn't be returning to a semblance of normalcy after everything was said and done.

The Aurors carefully restrained her with magic-inhibiting cuffs and then made sure she didn't have anything on her that could cause trouble. She hadn't had any free access to her wand, as ordered by the Wizengamot, but she'd had a few vials of headache cure in her pockets that they'd taken away from her. One quick Side-along Apparition later and they were in the Ministry, only an elevator ride away from the small courtroom where the hearing was to be held.

The Aurors only removed the cuffs when Molly was safely secured in the defendant's chair, her wrists bound in simple rune-inscribed cuffs that kept her arms in place on the chair and dampened her magic to a level that kept her from Apparating but not so much that it was painful to bear. Molly shifted uncomfortably but didn't complain otherwise, instead watching as the Heads of the fourteen most powerful Families took their seats, though without those of the Black, Longbottom, and Potter Families of course, as they were part of the aggrieved parties and therefore not eligible to sit on the jury due to conflict of interest. The Longbottoms and Narcissa Black were, however, in the audience, and sitting surprisingly close to Arthur, something Molly was slightly confused by.

Lord and Lady Potter were, of course, still off in the private Healing clinic in Switzerland, and their consort with them as they rebuilt their health and once-blocked bond. Narcissa was sitting in for both the Potters and Sirius, having retained her position as proxy for both Lords while they were away. Once everyone was settled, the new Chief Witch of the Wizengamot, Isabel Greengrass, cleared her throat and then began to speak.

"Welcome esteemed members of the Wizengamot and public, to the judicial hearing of Molly Anne Weasley in regards to her involvement in the criminal case of Potter-Black v. Dumbledore," Isabel said, resting her folded hands on the small table in front of her. "The charges are as follows: aiding and abetting in the abduction of an heir of a Most Ancient and Noble House; aiding and abetting in a Class Four prohibited ritual; illegal use of Class Three potions on a minor heiress of an Ancient House; and deliberate and intentional attempted interference with a trichromatic bond." Isabel looked down at Molly. "We have verified memory proof and eyewitness testimony of your involvement. How do you plead?"

Molly knew there was no way to get out of being charged for the crimes she'd committed, especially with the preponderance of evidence against her, so she did the only thing she could think of. "Guilty, Chief Witch," she said quietly. "All I ask is that you don't punish Ginny for my foolishness."

"Heir Potter-Black has not brought any charges against his new Family member, saying that the inability to ever be Lady Potter in any fashion is punishment enough for him, as she was but a pawn in a greater game," Isabel informed her. She cleared her throat. "Before we come to a decision, I have a slightly unusual request from Heir Potter-Black that this court has agreed to grant."

She gestured to one of her aides, who hurried forward and then placed a dome-shaped crystal the size of a Bludger in the space between Molly's stand and Isabel's own seat. He tapped it three times with his wand before stepping back. A fully colored image of Harry Potter-Black appeared hovering over the crystal; he was dressed in sharply tailored robes of a deep green hue with subtle silver trim at the cuffs and hems. It faced Isabel for a moment before turning to look at the other members of the Wizengamot.

"Members of the Wizengamot, and all those in witness at this hearing," the image began, "let it be known that the Houses of Potter, Black, and Longbottom do not place the majority of blame for what has been trespassed against us onto Molly Anne Weasley. Like many others, she was deceived and led astray by Albus Dumbledore in his decades-long quest to be seen as the most powerful and premier wizard and so-called 'Leader of the Light' in the British Magical world.

"Neither do we find the House of Weasley as a whole at fault. Indeed, we have has outstanding relations with four of the House's sons and its Patriarch. Percival Weasley is one of our most valued employees in the legal department at the Wyvern Foundation. Fred and George Weasley are well on their way to becoming the newest members of the Research and Development department at Marauders Inc. after their graduation from Hogwarts, and William Weasley was an integral part of the team that assisted with stabilizing the bond I have after the Goblet of Fire bound itself to me at the beginning of the Triwizard Tournament. Finally, Arthur Weasley has proven time and time again to be a loyal ally to all three of our Houses, as well as that of two men who are my uncles in all but blood. He is a valued friend and ally, and we would request that no fines, sanctions, or other penalties be levied against him or the House of Weasley beyond its Matriarch.

"In regards to Molly, we would propose that she not be sentenced any time in Azkaban, as is the usual punishment for those who interfere with chromatic bonds. Instead, for repayment of her crimes against the Houses of Potter, Black, Longbottom, and Weasley, we humbly suggest the following penalties to be levied against her in light of Albus Dumbledore's involvement:

"First, that Molly Weasley be sentenced to employment at Wyvern House during the times that Hogwarts is in session for five days a week for the foreseeable future, acting as an apprentice potions brewer. She will be paid the current minimum wage rate of one Galleon an hour, or £4.93 Mundane Pounds, for those who prefer that rate. The accumulated wages will be put into a strictly controlled vault. Its overseers will be the Potter and Black account managers as well as Arthur Weasley. There will be limits on how much can be removed at any one time and a limited amount of withdrawals per month save for verified emergency situations.

"Second, that Molly Weasley be restricted to the British Isles for no less than a year unless accompanied by a member of the Weasley Family who has achieved graduation from Hogwarts and is of age in both the Wizarding and Mundane worlds, the latter of which is eighteen years of age.

"Third and finally, we would request that Molly Anne Weasley present a formal apology to all four affected Houses- Potter, Black, Longbottom, and Weasley –by no later than August First of this year, as per the Old Traditions of the Ancient and Noble Houses. Records of the apology will rest in the Family vaults of all parties involved, to not be removed for no less than ten years."

The image inclined its head respectfully to the Wizengamot. "I apologize that I am not delivering these requests in person, as is tradition, but I have found my focus being trained more and more towards successfully passing the International-level OWLs with as much success and as little stress as possible, though it seems like the rest of my year-mates have not followed that path."

A brief smile curved the image's lips before it continued on. "Anyways, the crystal projector that you see before you is essentially a modified Pensieve that the Wyvern Foundation has been developing. It records and stores a maximum of ten minutes of images and sounds, and there is no degradation of quality over time- as far as our researchers have found, so far. It's being refined constantly to be smaller, lighter, and able to store and record for longer. We're hoping to release personal versions within the next few years.

"I thank you for your indulgence and time, and now leave you to your deliberations. May justice be served here today!"

With that, the image snapped out of being, leaving just the crystal on the floor. A low rumble of excited conversation broke out around the room, both in regards to the requests and the surprising method by which they'd been delivered. For her part, Molly leaned back a little in her chair, astounded at how lenient the suggested penalties had been. Of course, there was no guarantee that the Wizengamot would go along with Harry's suggestions, but it was very likely considering how much influence the young Heir already had in their world.

She also marveled at how fondly Harry had spoken of four of her sons and her husband. She knew Fred and George had been offered a place at Marauders Inc after graduating Hogwarts with the necessary OWLs and NEWTs, but she'd never honestly believed they'd actually get there. She'd never worried about Percy's grades like she did theirs, as her third-oldest son had always been a studious person, but for the first two years of their scholastic careers, it had looked like the twins weren't going to emulate their older brother in that way.

Percy was absolutely thriving in his job at the Wyvern Foundation's Legal department, and had finally proposed to Penelope over the Yule holidays, with the former Ravenclaw happily accepting his ring. They'd set the date for the winter solstice of 1996, which would give them enough time to plan everything and save up for it. Molly had always assumed either Charlie or Bill (the latter of whom had been dating Fleur Delacour for a while now) would marry first, but she hardly cared either way. One of her babies was getting married!

Molly was snapped out of her thoughts by the sudden absence of noise. She looked up to see that there was now a privacy ward around the Wizengamot seats as they deliberated. Molly risked a glance over at Arthur but he was also behind a privacy ward, along with Narcissa and the Longbottoms. It took twenty minutes for the deliberations to end and by that time, Molly was anxious to hear the verdict.

Isabel cleared her throat gently to get everyone's attention and then spoke, her voice needing no magical enhancement to carry throughout the suddenly deathly quiet chamber.

"The Wizengamot has reach a decision in regards to the penalties that will be levied against Molly Anne Weasley. Heir Potter-Black's requests will be granted, though this court has decided that the formal apology will be made no later than the fifteenth of July of this year, and that the indefinite period of time of employment with the Wyvern Foundation will be set to ten years. If, after that period, Madam Weasley wishes to continue to stay employed, then that will be up to her superiors. The period of house arrest has been lifted, but the travel restrictions will stay in place for a period of three years. She will also be subject to random and on-the-spot inspections of her wand and magical spell history by a member of the Auror Corps no less than once a month."

She rapped her gavel on the surface of the desk, the restraints on Molly's wrists releasing at the sharp burst of sound. Molly slowly rose to her feet, staying there until she was escorted out of the courtroom by an Auror who took her to meet Arthur and the others. Narcissa gave her a terse nod before sweeping elegantly off and out of sight. Molly waited until the Longbottoms had left as well before she turned to look at Arthur, who looked equals parts tired and relieved.

"Let's go home," he said quietly. Molly nodded, cautiously taking hold of his hand as they walked. Arthur squeezed it softly, making a weight lift from Molly's shoulders and some of her stress and worry evaporate. It would be tough and take quite a bit of time and healing, but they'd be able to get through it.

~/~

Harry stepped out of his last practical OWL- Defense Against the Dark Arts -with a sigh of relief, glad to have the rigorous testing over and done with. He and his bondmates had decided not to hold back on their tests, putting all their knowledge to use to the best of their abilities. Some might consider it cheating, but none of the three time travelers cared. They were intent on doing their best no matter what.

He'd cast his Patronus in hopes of getting some extra credit again on the OWL, having casually mentioned to the exam proctor that he was able to cast a corporeal Patronus. He'd sent Scalewings soaring around the room, earning a delighted response from the proctor. Neville and Draco had done the same, though they'd had different test times and givers.

The three of them were to meet up with the rest of their friends of all years under the old oak tree near the lake once the testing was over, glad to finally rest and relax. Draco and Neville were waiting for him outside the main door to the Entrance Hall, along with Luna, Hermione, and Hannah.

The six of them headed down to the oak with Neville transfiguring a few leaves into several large picnic blankets for them to sit on when they reached the tree. They were joined by others as the rest of the tests ended and the students filtered outside, with a sizable crowd of almost all years and houses. Selina was stretched out in a large patch of sunshine, greatly enjoying the warmth and gentle pettings from the younger students.

"I don't know if I got everything right," Hermione said after everyone was settled in. "I think I mixed up several runes and their definitions in the test and-"

"Hermione, calm down, cara," Blaise said, making Hermione blush a little at the endearment. Harry had been highly amused when the two had started going on dates shortly after Hermione's sixteenth birthday, but hadn't done anything to dissuade his two friends. There was no telling if their relationship would last, but one never knew. Blaise treated Hermione like a queen, and Hermione was thriving under the positive attention and intellectual conversations she was able to have with the Slytherin.

"You'll do fine, Hermione," Neville added. "I'll bet you won't get anything less than an Exceeds Expectations on any one of your subjects."

"You think so?"

Neville laughed. "Hermione, you've been in the top ten ranks of our year from first year on. I highly doubt that's going to change this late into the game."

"He's not wrong" Luna said. "There's no need to worry."

"If you say so..." Hermione didn't look particularly convinced about that, but she left the topic alone, especially with Blaise's encouraging hugs and kisses. Harry sat tucked between Neville and Draco, drowsing happily in the warmth of the sun and feeling content with his lot in life. It was a marked difference from the end of his prior fifth year. He slipped off to sleep surrounded by friends and family and feeling loved and happy.

~/~

Narcissa, Alice, and Frank were waiting for the three boys and Ginny when the Hogwarts Express arrived at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters. Sirius, James, and Lily weren't due back from Switzerland until mid-August, but all the reports from the Healers were very positive. Harry couldn't wait to see all three of his parents again, especially at full health. He was happy to see the other adults, though, and gave them each hugs in greeting. As the seven of them turned to go, however, a voice called out over the crowd to get their attention.

"Heirs Potter-Black, Longbottom, and Black! Wait up, please!"

Molly Weasley came hurrying up to their group, her husband and sons half-running to keep up with her. She came to a halt in front of them and then dropped into a brief curtsy in greeting before straightening up once more.

"I've come to deliver my apology to you," she told them. "I figured that this was the easiest place and time to do it, as well as the place with the most witnesses."

"Go ahead," Narcissa said with a small wave of a hand. Molly took in a deep breath and then let it out slowly before beginning to speak once more.

"I, Molly Anne Weasley, Matriarch of the Ancient House of Weasley, do hereby offer you my most humble and sincere apologies for the transgressions I have committed against the Most Ancient and Noble Houses of Black and Potter and the Ancient and Noble House of Longbottom. I vow to do my utmost to repair the rifts between our Houses. May the Lady Magic witness this vow and hold me to it. So say I, so may it be!"

A golden glow surrounded their group, encompassing all four Houses in its light, even those members who were hundreds of miles away; at the same time, scrolls with the apology on it appeared in the Hall of Records in the Ministry as well as each of the ancestral vaults of the Families involved. There was a hubbub of conversation as the oath-light faded, with curious onlookers watching to see what would happen next. They were disappointed when nothing notable happened, and continued on their separate ways.

"We accept your apology, but forgiveness will be a long time coming," Alice told her. Molly bowed her head briefly.

"I understand. Thank you for at least giving me a chance," she said. She looked over at Ginny with a wistful expression. "Ginny..."

"It's alright, Mum," Ginny said softly. "I'm fine. They've been treating me well." She glanced over at the others before stepping forward and hugging her mother tightly. Molly returned the embrace, eyes closing as she breathed in her daughter's scent.

"I miss you," Molly murmured. "Come visit occasionally, okay?"

"Of course," Ginny replied as she let go. "I'll see you soon." She hugged Arthur as well, receiving a kiss on the forehead from her father before she stepped back. The two groups parted ways and headed in different directions, the crowd flowing between them like water and hiding them from each other's sight.

Chapter Text

The summer between fifth and sixth year rolled in sticky and hot, leaving those who were brave enough to venture outdoors hurrying to their destinations and the relatively cooler safety of the indoors. It was blissfully quiet for Harry, Neville, and Draco, though they were anxious to get their OWL results. Said results arrived at the beginning of August, a few days after Harry's birthday, with three regal tawny owls bearing the square envelopes in their talons.

Harry's scores were far better than in the prior timeline, mostly thanks to the fact that none of his tests had been interrupted by the Ministry or visions from Voldemort. He hadn't gotten anything below Exceeds Expectations, with an 'O' in DADA, Arithmancy, and Potions, something he was rather pleased with. Draco had taken an 'O' in Charms, DADA, and Transfiguration, and Neville had taken an 'O' in Herbology, Ancient Runes, and DADA. The fact that all three had produced corporeal Patronuses had helped in them securing the top spots in that subject in their year-group.

The excitement grew a few days later when Severus Floo-called them with a terse message before he ended the connection:

“It's time. Get over here and bring 'Cissa. The password is currently 'Corvus'. Hurry.”

There was a flurry of activity as everyone hurried to get ready and leave, with Narcissa heading through immediately to assist the two soon-to-be parents. It was a little early for the baby to be born, but much like natural-born children, this one was ready to join the world on its own timetable. Neville was one of the last to go, sending a quick Patronus through the Floo to his parents, who had been having tea with Augusta as was their weekly habit, to tell them what was going on.

The crystal that held the baby had been carefully moved from the ritual chamber to a small room off the nursery that had been set aside for this very purpose, though afterwards it would become a storage room or something similar when the baby grew older and the nursery was turned into a proper bedroom. Remus was watching the crystal like a hawk as Narcissa checked everything over, amber eyes showing just how close Moony was to the surface due to Remus' heightened emotions. Severus was pacing back and forth in the nursery in an effort to contain his own nerves, hands clasped tightly behind his back.

The others waited in the nearby sitting room, not wanting to crowd Remus and Severus. Arthur Weasley arrived a few minutes before the three older Longbottoms, giving all gathered a warm and joyous smile before he quickly conjured a chair and then sat down. One of the Prince house elves popped in with drinks and snacks, nearly sending the trays tipping over in her excitement at the pending birth of the new Young Master.

Narcissa carefully tapped the crystal with her wand before drawing the tip of it lengthwise along the orb's top. A thin line appeared in the crystal that slowly spread until the orb cracked neatly in half, the liquid magic that had filled it and supported the baby's growth dissipating into thin air and being absorbed by the ancient wards of the manor. A house elf popped in with warm towels and blankets as Narcissa cleared the baby's airways and throat with a softly murmured charm before she cut the umbilical cord that had been attached to the inside of the orb.

The baby started crying, weakly moving his arms and legs in protest as Narcissa began to dry him off. One diaper and a soft swaddling blanket later and Narcissa was turning to present Severus and Remus with their son.

“Your heir, Lord Prince, Consort Prince,” Narcissa said formally, bowing her head briefly before carefully placing the baby in Severus' waiting arms. Severus looked down at his son with unabashed awe in his eyes. The baby had a tiny tuft of dark hair on his head and the smallest fingers the Potions master had ever seen. It was hard to tell who the child would favor when he grew older, but Severus hardly cared. Their son was healthy and safely in his arms.

“Remus, look,” he breathed, only just able to tear his eyes away from the precious face to look at Remus, not caring about the awestruck tears coursing down his cheeks. Remus was in much the same state, absently wiping away his own tears of joy before he reached out and brushed a slightly shaking finger over a small, round cheek.

“He's perfect,” Remus murmured. Severus nodded, gently transferring their son to Remus' arms so he could hold him as well. Remus pressed a soft kiss against the baby's head, breathing in his son's scent and committing it to memory in an instant. Narcissa quietly left the two new parents to bond with their son, cleaning everything up with a few flicks of her wand. She went to the sitting room, a serene smile on her face.

“W-well?” Frank asked excitedly.

“Everything went perfectly,” Narcissa reported. “They'll be out when they're ready.”

There was a small cheer at that, and Augusta called for small glasses of champagne to be brought out to celebrate once Remus and Severus were ready to join them. The house elves brought them in, handing them out to everyone regardless of age. The adults were fine with letting Ginny, Harry, Neville, and Draco having just a small amount of the alcoholic drink, mainly because it was for a very special occasion. That, and the amount of champagne would in no way get them drunk, so there was little worry in that regard.

The joyous conversations died down when Severus and Remus came into the room, the baby cradled in Severus' arms once more. There was a moment of silence before Severus spoke, pride evident in every syllable that rolled off his tongue.

“I present to you our son and heir, Conall Octavius Snape.”

A quiet cheer rose up, with glasses being raised in a toast to Conall and his parents before everyone took a sip of champagne. Harry wrinkled his nose at the flavor. He'd never quite gotten the hang of champagne in the prior timeline, and it looked like the same could be said this time around as well. Neville laughed quietly before slinging an arm around Harry's waist and then kissing him on the cheek, ignoring Ginny's faintly annoyed expression.

Remus beamed. “Arthur, Narcissa, would you step forward?”

Arthur set his glass down and moved forward, Narcissa joining him after handing her glass to Draco. They stood in front of Severus and Remus, waiting patiently to see what would happen.

“We would like the two of you to be Conall's magically sworn godparents,” Remus continued on. “I doubt anything will happen to Severus and me any time soon, but it never hurts to be prepared.”

“You don't want to choose Lily, James, or Sirius?” Arthur asked curiously.

“It's a little hard to do a properly binding magical oath like this over the span of several hundred miles, but even if they were here, we'd still choose you,” Severus said. “You two have been at our sides through everything we've been dealing with after we rediscovered our bond. We also want to let James, Lily, and Sirius to continue to heal and to have their magics and bond be as strong as possible.”

“I would be honored to be Conall's sworn godmother,” Narcissa said with a quietly pleased smile.

“Just as I will be honored to be his sworn godfather,” Arthur added.

Severus smiled. “Thank you. Augusta, will you act as Binder?”

Augusta got to her feet with a laugh. “The last time I did this was just after Neville and Harry were born,” she said as she headed over to the others. “I don't think anyone would have guessed that the two of them would have a chromatic bond of their own.”

“I guess we like to be over-achievers,” Neville joked, eliciting a few laughs. “We even managed to convince Draco to join in on the fun somehow.”

“Well, you needed me to balance the two of you out,” Draco retorted. “Now hush so they can begin the ceremony.”

“Manners, Draco,” Narcissa chided gently before turning her attention back to Augusta.

“Narcissa, Arthur, if you would place a hand somewhere on Conall?” Augusta prompted. They did so, with Arthur placing a hand lightly on Conall's head while Narcissa laid a soft hand on Conall's chest below his heart. Augusta tapped the back of their wrists and then placed the tip of her wand just over Conall's heart.

“Do you, Narcissa Black and Arthur Weasley, swear to help guide Conall Octavius Snape through the trials and joys of his life?”

“This I swear,” Arthur said, with Narcissa echoing him a second later. A cord of golden light encircled their wrists before connecting to Conall's chest where Augusta's wand was resting.

“Do you, Narcissa Black and Arthur Weasley, swear to care for Conall Octavius Snape should his parents prove unfit or unable to do so?”

“This I swear.”

A second cord of light joined the first, its soft golden glow lending a warm cast to Conall's sleeping face.

“Do you, Narcissa Black and Arthur Weasley, swear to help Conall Octavius Snape become the best person he can be in life?”

“This I swear.”

“Then as Binder and acting representative of Lady Magic Herself, I pronounce the two of you the bonded godparents of Conall Octavius Snape. May he grow to be a credit to his Family and Magic Herself. So say I, so may it be!”

“So may it be!” echoed around the room as Narcissa and Arthur stepped back, causing Conall to fuss as he stirred. Severus gently hushed him, rocking him back and forth until he settled down once more.

“Is he going to be a werewolf?”

All eyes turned to Ginny, who looked entirely unapologetic about the question. Arthur frowned and then gave her a stern look.

“That's hardly an appropriate question right now,” he chided.

“No no, it's alright,” Remus said, holding up a quelling hand. “The answer is that we won't know until he's at least a year old. Born 'wolves don't start shifting with the moon until then, but even if he is, we will teach him how to handle it properly so as to not harm himself or others. By the time he reaches Hogwarts age, he'll be more than ready to interact with his peers. Of course, that assumes that he inherited that trait from me, but we'll simply have to wait and see.”

“Exactly. Now, I would suggest you put a small birth announcement in the Prophet within the next few days,” Alice said. “There's no need to mention the possibility of him being a werewolf so early, especially since it's impossible to tell. Let's not focus on that and continue to celebrate his birthday.”

“We can handle writing that announcement for you,” Narcissa added. “You focus on Conall.”

“Thank you,” Severus said gratefully. “Does anyone want to hold him?”

“Yeah, sure,” Harry said, getting up from his seat. He had fond memories of holding Teddy when he was a baby, and couldn't wait to hold Conall. Severus handed Conall to Harry, who carefully arranged him in his arms and held him close against his chest.

“Hello, little one,” he murmured, unaware of the way his expression had gone soft and fond almost immediately upon receiving Conall's weight in his arms. Draco and Neville exchanged knowing looks when they saw how Harry reacted to Conall's presence in his arms. They knew that he had always wanted a family of his own, and while things had greatly changed in that area since they'd come back in time, it had always been a dream of Harry's to have kids of his own, be that by blood or adoption. They'd teased him a little about continually adopting all the new first years as his 'kids', but Harry had merely laughed it off and then changed the subject.

None of the boys had been made prefects in fifth year due to their own requests, wanting to focus almost completely on their education in the last few years of their schooling. It hadn't stopped those in the lower years from coming to Harry (or, for that matter, Neville and Draco) with questions or concerns, however, and unless he was busy with something or someone else, he would do his best to listen and give advice if and when he could, or point them to those who would be able to tell them the correct answer. The lower years loved him for it, and for the fact that he didn't discriminate because of age, experience, or house.

Harry eventually handed Conall back to Remus, but not before brushing a soft kiss onto the baby's forehead. He returned to Neville and Draco, settling in between them once more. He watched the others take their turns to hold Conall and congratulate Remus and Severus, the content smile still lingering on his lips.

~/~

James, Lily, and Sirius returned from Switzerland a few days before the boys were due to return for their sixth year and Ginny her fifth. All three adults looked leagues better than they had when they'd left. There were still faint shadows under Sirius' eyes, but they were the last remnants of his time in Azkaban and would likely never go away fully. Other than that he looked as vibrant and as full of life as ever, and perhaps even more than he ever had in either timeline since that fateful Halloween. He finally wore the Potter Consort ring on his left hand, the warm gold band set with a ruby flush in its surface matching the rings that Lily and James wore.

Lily's hair, which had been dull and rather lifeless when she'd left, was now its usual vibrant auburn hue and was neatly trimmed and held back in a French braid. There was a bright happiness in her eyes that was reflected in the smile she wore. She was dressed in well-tailored robes that befit a Lady of her station, the deep blue fabric complementing her coloring very well.

The resemblance between James and Harry was even more apparent now that the elder Potter was back at peak health. James had grown out his hair to his shoulders much like Sirius and Harry had, the messy black locks having been tamed a little by the elegant yet masculine silver clasp that held it back at the nape of his neck. His face, where it had once been gaunt and sunken, was now full and healthy once more.

The Summer Wizengamot session had passed a week before their return, so the Potter and Black Lords would have to reclaim their seats during the Winter session that was slated for a few days after Percy's wedding. Narcissa was more than happy to return the seats to Sirius and James, though she would stay on as proxy just in case. She'd kept them up to date on everything that had occurred in the sessions they'd missed, using the communication mirrors they'd brought along with them to keep in touch. The Healers had reluctantly allowed it, not wanting to cut James and Lily completely off from their family while recovering, given their unique circumstances.

The major news had been the continual gathering of evidence against Dumbledore. His crimes had reached farther back than the war with Voldemort, starting right around when he'd been hired as Transfiguration professor at Hogwarts. His time with Grindelwald when they were young hadn't really counted, as he hadn't had access to any sort of power then, even though the idea of his Greater Good had started at that time. More and more people had gone to Gringotts to get themselves checked for any sort of potions, spells, or missed inheritances, with the goblins happily charging two Galleons apiece for the various tests.

There had been several old lines that had been thought to have died out long ago that were resurrected through Mundane-borns, with the goblins finding that each new heir had had Squibs in their lineage that had been cast out of those Houses. They had gone into the non-Magical world after that, marrying, having children, and dying there. The goblins had been ecstatic to get those closed vaults reopened and the gold within them back into circulation. It had boosted the local economy some as well, as more goods were being bought with the increased available gold.

There hadn't been as many people affected by potions, spells, and curses laid on them by Dumbledore as had been feared, though those that had been had either been some of Dumbledore's closest supporters or those who had been from prominently Dark families or of Dark magical alignments who had worked closely with Dumbledore at some point or another. The goblins had provided cleansing services for a fee, freeing them from Dumbledore's influences.

The trial wasn't expected to take place until the next year, with Dumbledore being kept under tight house arrest in a secluded Ministry location that was under the Fidelius. He'd been moved there from his holding cell after his initial hearing, Amelia not wanting to leave him in a known place for too long. One of the reasons that the trial was taking so long to come to fruition-- besides the gathering of the evidence –was the fact that the Wizengamot was having a huge problem in finding someone who would be willing to act as legal counsel for Dumbledore. The former Headmaster had been all for defending himself, but Amelia had refused, not wanting to give him any sort of power in the situation, small as such a thing might be.

Amelia had heard rumblings of holding a lottery for the available public defenders, with the 'winner' being chosen to be Dumbledore's legal counsel. She figured that would probably be the best way to do it so that way no one would be able to complain about it as it would be up to chance and not be seen either as favoritism or a punishment. True neutrality was quickly becoming a hard thing to come by in regards to the trial, as Dumbledore had been such a huge part of life in the British Wizarding World for so long, and not even those in the ICW were neutral in the matter, though if it came to it, a representative from the international body would be called in to act as a mediator and cast the tie-breaking vote if a stalemate happened.

September first came with an easing of the pervasive heat that had been blanketing the country, something everyone was thankful for. The Hogwarts Express was kept climate-controlled by liberal use of charms and runes, as having several hundred young people all stuck in stuffy and confined carriages for several hours was not ideal, making the remaining heat even more tolerable. The adults saw their children off, with James and Lily wishing they could've seen Harry off for his first time when he was eleven and not sixteen. The fact that they were able to do so at all was a blessing, even if it was five years too late.

Lily watched the train pull out of the station, proud of how well Harry had done for himself, even without her and James' influence growing up. She laid a hand on James' arm as the train disappeared from view, squeezing gently. “Let's go,” she said. “I do have somewhere to be, after all.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” James asked, worry furrowing his brow. Lily nodded, her expression set determinedly.

“Yes. I need to get it done and over with before too long. I need answers, if they're willing to be given.”

James sighed but nodded. He knew that when Lily set her mind to something, she couldn't be moved from it. She had been the one to convince him that they should court Sirius, as her magic had reacted to his much the same as it had to James'. Dumbledore hadn't counted on the three of them having a trichromatic bond when he'd laid his spell in their fifth year, having only seen the potential for a connection between James and Lily only.

“Do you want us to come with you?” Sirius asked. Lily shook her head.

“No, I'll be fine. I'll take one of the elves and have them disguise themselves with a glamor as the driver. The car's enchanted to drive itself, so all they'll need to do is pretend to control it. I doubt there'll be any trouble, but I need to do this myself.”

“If you need anything, we're only a mirror call away,” Sirius said. Lily smiled and then lifted up on her toes to kiss Sirius on his cheek and then James the same way.

“I know, and I love the two of you for it. Let's get back to the Hall so I can get ready.”

They'd stayed at Blackmoor Hall, with James declaring that the Pottery would go to Harry, Draco, and Neville as a wedding present. The Potter elves had rebonded to James as their primary master, though Lily as Lady Potter and Harry as the Potter heir were still able to command them as needed.

The three adults left the station via Apparition once they'd said their goodbyes to the Longbottoms, Narcissa having already left as she'd had an appointment with their lawyers to check on how things were going with the case. Lily changed clothes and said her goodbyes before heading out, leaving her husbands behind.

~/~

Stella Donaldson had lived in Number Seven, Privet Drive, for twenty years. She'd lived a comfortable upper-middle class life for as long as she could remember, as had the rest of the inhabitants of the quiet little street. She'd married a respectable man who worked as a mid-level architect for one of the larger firms in London, and had raised their two children as a stay-at-home mother. They were off at University now, with one studying law and the other marine biology. Stella was proud as punch of them and never missed an opportunity to brag about them when the topic came up.

The inhabitants of Privet Drive were used to a moderate amount of luxury in their lives, but the appearance of a Rolls-Royce Phantom VI on their street was far from usual. Stella watched from behind the curtains of her front window as the elegant black car passed by, its side windows tinted to keep the inhabitants protected from curious eyes. It stopped in front of Number Four, the smartly-dressed driver getting out to open the curb-side rear door.

The woman that stepped out of the car was elegantly dressed in a tailored skirt and silk blouse, her dark red hair twisted up in a sleek chignon at the back of her head. She had an ethereal air about her that reminded Stella of her grandfather, Marius. He'd always had the best stories when she was a kid, all of them filled with tales of magic users, fantastical beasts, and tales of good versus evil and light versus dark. He hadn't spoken much of his own family, merely saying that there was bad blood between them and that was why she hadn't met any of her many second cousins and great-aunt and -uncles. Stella missed him, even if he'd been more than a little odd. He'd been the one to suggest her name, saying that she was as bright as any star even when she was just a baby.

Stella shook herself from her thoughts just in time to see the other woman head up the front walk of Number Four, pause at the door, and then ring the doorbell. She wondered just who would be visiting the Dursleys in the middle of the day (a thoroughly unpleasant lot, particularly the father and son), especially one who looked like she belonged in the company of the rich, famous, or noble. Perhaps it was one of Petunia's so-called friends, or maybe (and here Stella had to admit that her thoughts were turning rather uncharitable, even for the Dursleys) a lawyer coming to serve them with an eviction notice.

She stepped back once the front door of Number Four opened, shaking her head. No matter. Petunia would likely either be telling the weekly book club all about it or hopefully never mention it. Either way, it wasn't Stella's business. She busied herself with her tidying up, thoughts turning to the dinner she would be making that night and away from the mystery woman at Number Four.

Petunia Dursley, on the other hand, had no chance to get away from the woman at her door. She'd answered the brisk ring of the bell, figuring it might be important (and if it was a salesperson, she could always shoo them away after seeing what they were selling), but had stopped mid-greeting when she saw who was standing on her front step. She almost didn't recognize her, but those eyes... Those vibrant green eyes (inherited from their maternal grandmother, much like the auburn hair that had mostly passed over Petunia, leaving her with a washed-out strawberry blonde) were unforgettable.

Petunia paled, her eyes widening as she stared at her sister. Her mind stuttered in fits and starts as she tried to process what was happening. But... Lily was dead. The letter said so and... And...

“May I come in?”

Petunia blinked owlishly before stepping back, long-ingrained manners and practiced societal niceties moving her feet almost automatically. Lily stepped into the house, eyes flicking briefly over at the door to the cupboard under the stairs before she headed into the sitting room, taking a seat on the loveseat there. Petunia dazedly followed after her, suddenly feeling woefully under-dressed in her simple cotton dress and plain shoes.

“You have a lovely house,” Lily said as Petunia entered the room. “So many pictures.”

“What... How... You're supposed to be dead!”

Lily sighed. “Believe me, I know.” She gestured at the couch across from her. “Sit, please. We have a lot to talk about, Petunia, and I'd rather do it before anyone else comes home.”

Petunia sat down, feeling decidedly off-center. “Explain.”

“What you were told about that night back in '81 was...” Lily paused, looking for the right words. “A carefully constructed truth by someone I thought I could trust. Voldemort-- the man who was trying to take over both the magical and mundane worlds –did attack us. He didn't, however, kill James and me. Instead, we were put under a spell and given a potion that put us in an enchanted sleep, much like Sleeping Beauty, though without the benefit of waking to a true love's kiss. Harry was brought here against our wishes and against the rules of our society.”

“Dumbledore said-- he left us a letter –he said that it was safest for him to be here because we were the only blood family he had,” Petunia managed.

“He said a lot of things,” Lily said lightly. “He was wrong. You weren't and aren't the only blood relatives Harry has.” She took in a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then looked directly at Petunia. “I understand that you don't like magic and what it does, not to mention the whole society built around it, but why did you treat Harry that way? You treated him like a slave, expecting him to cook and clean far before he was old enough to do so. You gave him a cupboard to sleep in and just enough food to survive. That was not kindness, that was not fulfilling the needs of the blood wards, that was abuse, plain and simple. You may have never laid a hand on him, but you still abused him, and you let others do the same. If it had been you and Vernon in our place and we had to take care of Dudley, we would have raised him to the best of our abilities and made sure he was able to live a productive and full life in whatever he chose to do. Instead, I've been told that you've allowed him to become little more than the neighborhood bully, using violence and anger to get his way. What happened to the girl I used to know who hated that kind of person, who always said that she would marry a prince and raise her children to be people the world would look up to?”

“She grew up,” Petunia said tersely. “Fantasy should stay in books and the foolish dreams of children. Dudley will settle down eventually; he's just a rambunctious teenager blowing off steam. I did what was necessary. I didn't want any of that, that freakishness to infect my child when we didn't have a choice to take yours in. He was dumped on our doorstep like a parcel with nothing but a letter for explanation. I found him when I went to get the newspaper before Vernon woke that morning. We fed him, clothed him, and made sure he got a suitable education.”

“And what did you tell people when he left and didn't come back five years ago?” Lily asked softly, heart hurting as old wounds opened again with Petunia's scornful words.

“That he was attending a year-round boarding school for criminal boys and would never be back,” Petunia said with a disdainful sniff. “No one questioned it, and I'd rather they didn't. We washed our hands of him then and want nothing to do with him again.” The or you went unspoken, but Lily heard it loud and clear. She nodded, getting to her feet. She hadn't really expected much more.

“Very well. I just wanted to let you know... Well. I'll see myself out. Goodbye, Petunia. I hope you have a good life.”

Lily headed out, head held high, and then got into the car, unwilling to let Petunia see her break.

“Where to, Lady Lily?” the driver-elf asked, dutifully ignoring the way Lily's shoulders were starting to shake and how tears were starting to mar her carefully done makeup.

“Home, Dobby,” Lily said softly, conjuring up a handkerchief with a small flick of her wand. “Thank you.”

Dobby nodded, pressing the button labeled 'home' before setting his glamored hands loosely on the wheel. Behind him, Lily quietly mourned the final death of her relationship with her sister as the world passed by around them.

~/~

Percy paced the small room he'd been assigned to change and wait in, his nerves getting the better of him. He wanted nothing more than to have the ceremony be over and to have Penny as his bonded wife, but he knew there was still some time before that could happen. He looked up when his father entered the room, looking dapper in his well-fitted black dress robes. There was a pale blue carnation magically attached to his lapel; Percy had a matching one on his own white robes. Arthur chuckled when he saw how Percy was doing.

“You look about as nervous as I was when I was about to marry your mother,” he said. “Do you know what your grandfather said to me when he saw me?”

Percy shook his head, though he was always eager to hear more about his grandfather Septimus, who had passed away when he was eight, leaving him with faint but fond memories of a man with a warm laugh and a rumbling, soothing voice. “No, what?”

Arthur smiled in fond remembrance. “He told me, 'Son, no matter how nervous you might be feeling right now, all of that will drop away when you see your lass coming down the aisle. Once she's at your side, that's where she'll stay unless you do something remarkably stupid, and we both know you're not that kind of wizard. We Weasleys may be prone to daftness at times, but we're not the unfaithful sort. Now, dig up your courage and go out to meet the woman who has decided that you are to be hers for the rest of time, though only the Lady Herself knows why. Us Weasley men are lucky bastards, one and all, in that area, and always have been.'”

Percy couldn't help but laugh, some of his nerves dropping away at his father's words. “I wish he could've been here.”

“So do I,” Arthur agreed. “Your grandmother is here, though. She's helping your mum with the last minute preparations.” He reached out and pulled Percy into a hug, glad that the carnations had been enchanted to be crush-proof. “We'd best be heading out. The wedding will be starting soon, and we need to be in place. Bill's got the rings, and Charlie's acting as one of the ushers along with the twins.”

“And Ron?”

Arthur sighed as he let go. “He's around, though I can't say as to what he's doing at the moment. Likely sulking or trying to get the food before everyone else.”

Percy frowned at that. Ron had been intolerable when he found out that the Potter-Blacks and the Longbottoms were amongst the invitees. Percy felt that he owed so much to them that it would've been impossible not to invite them, especially now that Lord and Lady Potter had returned from their healing. It would be the first social event that James and Lily would be seen at since that time, and Percy was honored that they'd agreed to come.

He was surprised at just how many of the Noble Houses and members of the Wizengamot and ICW would be represented at his wedding, making it one of the larger social events of the year, which was something the House of Weasley was decidedly not used to, and hadn't been for a long time. It was very humbling, to say the least. Percy had always had big dreams of making his mark on the Wizarding World, but he'd had no idea his wedding would have been part of that.

Percy sighed. Ron's personality had changed so drastically from the happy young wizard he'd been before his accident at the end of his first year. Ron was more focused on nurturing his hate for the Families that had done so much for their own that it was astounding he passed any of his classes. Ron had barely scraped two OWLs-- Care of Magical Creatures and Transfiguration, with an 'Acceptable' in both –something that was in direct contrast to Fred and George's NEWT scores.

They'd passed all of them with flying colors, receiving nothing less than 'Exceeds Expectations' on any of the International-level exams they'd taken. As soon as they'd gotten their results, copies had been sent to Blackmoor Hall. Narcissa had replied as Sirius hadn't returned at that point, saying she'd inform the Black Lord of the results and extending her congratulations to the twins. Percy was ridiculously proud of them, and had personally congratulated them with a gift of new dress robes for the occasion.

Their positions at Marauders, Inc had provided them with both financial security and a safe place to experiment that wouldn't cause harm to other people or threaten to accidentally burn the Burrow down. The job came with living quarters as well until they saved up enough money to either buy a place of their own or rent an apartment. The twins were acting as two of Percy's groomsmen, as were all of his brothers, with Bill being the best man. Penny's sister, three cousins, and one of her best friends were acting as her bridesmaids, her sister stepping into the role of maid of honor.

“Come on,” Arthur said, placing a brief hand on Percy's shoulder. “Let's get out there.”

Percy drew in a deep breath, let it out, and then followed his father out of the room and then outside the building entirely. The wedding was being held at Muse Hall in Hogsmeade, with the ceremony being outside in a carefully climate-charmed open-sided tent and the reception inside where it was nice and warm. The snow looked marvelous, as did the majestic backdrop of Hogwarts standing high over the village. The tent itself was an elegant white and fit a hundred and fifty people in folding seats easily under it. Most of those seats were already filled, with a last few late stragglers hurrying to get sat down before things kicked off.

Arthur led Percy to the front of the blue-carpeted aisle, guiding him to his place next to the officiant with a smile. Once Percy was settled in, Arthur went to get everyone else in the wedding party. The entrance music started up as the wedding party entered, each groomsman in black escorting a bridesmaid dressed in pale ice blue. Molly was on Arthur's arm at the front of the group, a beaming smile forming on her face when she caught sight of Percy standing at the front of the aisle. Arthur guided her to their seats, keeping hold of one of her hands.

Percy noticed that Ron looked bored already, the younger wizard hiding it badly as he escorted his assigned partner to their place and then took his own, settling in at the end of the line next to Fred. Percy shot him a quick look but his attention was drawn away from his brother when the traditional Wizarding wedding march-- Lady Magic's Promenade –began. His breath caught when he caught sight of Penelope, and Percy nearly forgot to continuing breathing after that, only starting again when Bill nudged him with an elbow.

Penelope was radiant in her white robes, the silver runes at her cuffs and hems glinting in the light of the enchanted light globes hanging from the ceiling. Her father escorted her to the front, lifted her veil, and then kissed her on the forehead before stepping back and then taking his seat next to his wife. Penelope smiled brightly at Percy and then turned her attention to the officiant, with Percy following her example a moment later after taking her hand in his.

The officiant graced the two of them with a warm smile. “Welcome, everyone, to this most joyous of occasions. Today is a day of celebration, for two souls are to be entwined forever more. Will you, Percival Ignatius Weasley, take this woman to be your wife, to know her and love her, to merge your souls and magics into a new and long-lasting blend that will further enrich the world that the Great Lady of Magic has set out before us?”

“I will,” Percy vowed, his voice only trembling slightly with his heightened emotions.

“Then place the ring that signifies the outward expression of your vows on her left hand, where all may see it.”

Bill handed Percy the ring with a smile. Percy took it and then carefully slid the golden band onto Penny's ring finger, the ring resizing itself perfectly with a small flash of magic. Penny took her vows as well before putting Percy's ring on his finger with a breathlessly happy smile on her face. They barely waited for the officiant to announce that they were officially bonded husband and wife before they were kissing, cheers and laughter accompanying the action.

They moved inside for the reception, leaving the house elves bound to the owners of Muse Hall to take care of the tent, carpet, and chairs. Penny and Percy were sat at the large head table, with the non-immediate family taking seats at small round tables spaced out over the hall. White and blue decorations festooned the hall, complimented by never-melting icicles and enchanted snow falling from the ceiling that faded away before reaching anyone beneath.

Percy noted with some amusement that Ron looked much happier now that there was the near-immediate prospect of food, something that hadn't changed at all through the years. As the guests of honor, Penny and Percy ordered their food and started eating first, the others following their example once they'd taken their first bites. Dinner passed without incident-- though Ron's table manners were lacking, as usual –and once they'd had the cake, it was time for dancing.

Percy wasn't sure how long he and Penny danced, only that he couldn't take his eyes off his new wife at any time. He felt like he could produce a thousand Patronuses with how happy he was feeling, and knew he would never forget this day for as long as he lived. His happy bubble was broken by a flash of light out of the corner of his eye. As the light had been a sickly yellow, Percy's first instinct was to pull Penny close with one hand and then draw his wand with the other, quickly conjuring a shield with a flick of the pearwood and dragon heartstring wand. There were startled cries as the crowd parted, revealing Harry, Neville, and Ginny behind a shield of their own, Neville holding Ginny close while Harry kept up the shield. Draco was crumpled and half-conscious at their feet, a rapidly darkening bruise rising on his jaw.

Ron stood a few feet away from them, his wand pointed at Harry as he swayed tipsily on his feet.

“Ronald!” Arthur shouted in shock. “What in Merlin's name are you doing?!”

“That Death Eater bastard was trying to hurt Ginny!” Ron slurred.

“He asked me to dance!” Ginny protested. “And he's not a Death Eater! You didn't need to punch him or try to curse the others, either.”

“They stole you!” Ron bellowed. “They stole you from us and they had no right to do that!”

“They didn't steal me!” Ginny snapped. “It was Dumbledore's fault. Don't blame them for something they didn't do.”

Ron responded by sending another curse splashing against Harry's shield, this time one of a deep red. Penny let out an annoyed huff and then sent a Stunner at Ron, making him fall to the ground in a heap when it connected.

“I love you, Percy, but your brother is an ass of the highest degree,” she said. Percy nodded faintly in agreement as Arthur went to go collect Ron, Charlie helping him while Narcissa went to check on Draco. She healed his bruise with a wave of her wand and then checked him for concussion or any other injuries.

“Well, at least you'll have an interesting story to tell when your kids ask you about your wedding day in the future,” James joked, earning a light hit on the arm from Lily. “What, it's true!”

James,” Lily chided. “Honestly.”

“And now he knows that his wife is quick on the draw as well,” Sirius added in with a grin. Lily sighed sharply.

“Both of you are ridiculous,” she announced as she got to her feet. “One of you dance with me.”

Sirius bowed deeply. “Of course, my Lady.”

He drew her out to the dance floor, sweeping her into an elegant dance as the enchanted instruments began to play a waltz. Some of the other guests followed their lead, and soon the dance floor was full once again. Percy looked at Penny and then released the shield, sheathing his wand shortly after. Penny smiled at him and stayed close to him, swaying along to the music in his hold. Even with Ron's ridiculousness, it was still a wonderful day, Percy thought as he started to dance with Penny once more.

Patronus-worthy indeed.

~/~

The rest of sixth year passed quietly for the three boys, with it reflecting their fourth year in that they were mainly doing a lot of studying for the upcoming NEWTs the next year. Dumbledore's trial had finally been decided to be held in August, something that made the boys rather pleased, as they'd be able to take their seats on the Wizengamot, with Harry and Neville sitting as Lords Slytherin and Gryffindor and Draco as Lord Black-Potter given the title and seat he'd inherited from his father. They wouldn't be able to cast any votes, as they were so directly affected by Dumbledore's actions, but they'd definitely be able to give their votes to a Proxy of their choosing.

Harry had already decided to ask Severus, while Neville was going to ask Minerva, as both either had been or were currently the Heads of their respective Houses at Hogwarts; Flitwick would be acting as Luna's proxy as she wouldn't be old enough to technically sit in her seat until she turned seventeen. Draco had chosen Andromeda for his proxy, as she was sufficiently removed from the trial and charges to be able to vote on Dumbledore's fate.

Dumbledore had finally been assigned a public defender, with the proposed lottery having taken place two weeks ago. The defender had been in practice for five years, so would be able to do her job correctly, albeit rather reluctantly. Things were moving quickly now, and the whole of the British Magical World was ready to get this period of history over and done with, and a few months in the whole scheme of things was nothing. Once it was all over, life could continue on just as it had been doing so for the past five years: filled with magic, wonder, and progress.

 

Chapter Text

Albus looked at himself in the mirror of his bathroom, intensely displeased with what he saw. No longer did he project the carefully considered and wrought image of a benevolent grandfatherly figure with slightly eccentric tastes in clothing, but rather just an old man dressed in plain formal black robes. His hair and beard had been cut and kept short, with his hair not even touching his shoulders and his beard trimmed to curl only an inch or so under his chin. He looked like his father had when he had been alive and Albus hated it.

It was finally the day for his full trial in front of the Wizengamot, thus why he had been given the formal robes. He'd been living in this simple little cottage in an isolated little village tucked deep in the Welsh countryside ever since his preliminary hearing had finished. There were maybe five other cottages, a pub, a three-room police station, and a grocer's in the village, and while all the residents were aware of magic, most of them were Squibs or the non-Magical families of Mundane-born witches and wizards, so if Albus had had any urge to escape, he wouldn't have been able to steal a wand from anyone. He still had magic limiting cuffs on his wrists, keeping him just above Squib-level and unable to Apparate anywhere.

The whole village had been put under a modified Fidelius Charm, with none of the inhabitants able to say anything about Albus living amongst them but not having to hide their homes entirely from the rest of the world. One of the Aurors that was escorting him to the Ministry placed a hand on his shoulder and then Side-along Apparated the two of them to the internal Ministry Apparition point. It was a highly controlled room, warded to the nth-degree against anyone with malicious intent from being able to leave the room.

One quick glamor later and the Aurors were escorting Albus through the halls of the Ministry without fuss, leading him to one of the holding rooms just off the Wizengamot chambers. They waited with him until the Wizengamot was ready for him, idly chit-chatting with one another as they did so. Apparently there were some new Lords and Ladies that had taken up their seats recently that were causing a stir amongst the older nobles, though Albus couldn't quite catch the names of those new additions. He tuned out the chatter, mentally reviewing his plans.

Merlin, his plans. They'd been elegant at first, and had worked for so long-- at least, until that damned prophecy had showed up and ruined all his plans. Admittedly, Albus had manipulated Tom Riddle into pursuing the Dark Arts more heavily than the lad had originally intended, using a few subtly compulsions here and there to help things along. After all, the fame and adulation from defeating Gellert wouldn't last forever, Albus knew, so to keep himself high in the rather malleable minds of the British Wizarding population, a new Dark Lord would have to be waiting in the wings for him to take down and refresh their memories of his greatness.

The prophecy had been Fate's spanner in the works, saying that the only person who could defeat Voldemort hadn't even been born yet. Albus had thought about how he could twist the prophecy's vague meaning to fit himself, but while he had indeed been born in the summer, he'd been born in late August. He'd researched several different calendars from various cultures to see if any of them described his birth date as been at the end of the seventh month, but he hadn't been able to find anything concrete, which was beyond frustrating.

Still, no matter. Once he'd figured out who the prophecy meant, Albus had started crafting more plans within plans to be able to control the chosen child, starting with his parents and then going from there. It had been surprisingly easy to persuade James and Lily to use the cottage in Godric's Hollow rather than the Pottery, playing on James' grief from having to recently entomb his parents at the Potter mausoleum on the Pottery's grounds and some more compulsions to get them to go along with it and not just hide behind the vaunted war wards of the Potter ancestral home until Voldemort either gave up or laid siege to the manor himself.

Albus was roused from his internal contemplation by one of the Aurors, who had placed a hand on his shoulder to get his attention.

“Come on. It's time to go.”

Albus nodded, drawing his posture up as straight as he could before following the two Aurors out of the room, intending to look as dignified as he could in front of those intent on judging him. He kept his eyes fixed ahead of him, looking nowhere but the accused's chair where he was being guided to by his escorts. His legal counsel was sitting next to the accused's chair at a small table, a depressingly thin file laying on the table in front of her. He took his seat, hiding the wince at the rattling chains that sprang up and wrapped loosely around his body.

“Are the chains really necessary?” he asked wearily. “I'm hardly going anywhere.”

Chief Witch Greengrass just gave him a mild look. “They only react if the magics of the Wizengamot deem it necessary, which I know you are well aware of, Mister Dumbledore.”

Albus did his best to push his irritation to the back of his mind at being addressed so casually after all his accomplishments over his lifetime, tucking it behind the very rudimentary Occlumency shields he'd been able to maintain given his lack of magical access. He sat back in the chair, the chains rattling as he did so. “Well? We might as well get on with this travesty.”

“Interesting. It's as if he believes he has any power here.”

Albus turned in his chair as much as he could to focus on the source of the dryly mocking voice, but froze when he saw who had made it, and where they were sitting. There, in the Slytherin Founder's seat, was Bathsheda Babbling, her dark green dress robes bearing the Slytherin crest on the left breast and the symbol for a voting proxy-- an ornate 'P' embroidered in silver –over her right. Seated next to her was Harry Potter-Black in the Heir's seat, though Albus could see the Slytherin Lord's ring on full display on his right hand.

Minerva sat as proxy in the Gryffindor seat, with Neville at her right, and Filius as Proxy for Ravenclaw, with Luna sitting serenely in next to him. Hannah was the only one who sat in her proper seat as Lady Hufflepuff, her dark gold dress robes glimmering faintly in the enchanted lights that illuminated the chamber.

“Now, now, Bathsheda, there's no need to taunt him,” Minerva chided gently. “We're not here to bait a wounded krup, after all. We're here to bring him to justice.”

“Quite right.” Isabel sighed before focusing on Albus, who turned around at her next words. “Albus Percival Dumbledore, you have been brought in front of this court in order to answer for your crimes against both the British Magical World and Magic itself. The problem we have today is that your influence has reached so far and has insidiously dug into the very fabric of our society that there are very few who have gone untouched by it. You helped to craft laws for us, educate us, and represented us to the other magical peoples of the world. That kind of influence is hard to shake off, particularly when it was presented so benignly that its true nature was hidden. The Muggles have a word for a disease like that: cancer. To that end, there is no one in this room who can truly say that they are untouched by your influence, be that directly or indirectly. We cannot be truly neutral. However, there is one who can. We only need to call Her.”

“Her?” Albus repeated. He could hear the murmurs rippling through the crowd, some as confused as he was, but mostly sounding intrigued.

“Lily, Hannah, Augusta? If you would come down to the floor?” Isabel requested.

The three women who were named made their way to the main floor, all of them looking elegant in their well-tailored dress robes. They settled into place around the chair, eventually ending up in a equilateral triangle.

“We're here to call on the Lady Magic Herself by the ritual of three powers of three,” Augusta told him. “The Arithmancy for this ritual is rather elegant, all told.”

“Agreed.” Lily smiled thinly. “Too bad you won't be around to appreciate it for very long.”

“What do you mean?” Albus asked as he started to struggle weakly against his bonds.

“We're going to call on Lady Magic to judge you. I doubt she's particularly happy with you,” Hannah said calmly as she drew her wand, holding the tip to her heart. “In the name of the Maiden, I call for Magic to judge you.”

“In the name of the Mother, I call for Magic to judge you,” Lily said next, eyes bright with barely held-back fury at having missed so much of her son's life because of Albus' machinations.

“In the name of the Matron, I call for Magic to judge you,” Augusta intoned. As one, they flicked their wands away from their bodies. Golden light appeared, linking the three of them in a glowing triangle.

“In the name of the Light, I call for Magic to judge you,” Hannah proclaimed, her wand resting against her heart once more.

“In the name of the Gray, I call for Magic to judge you,” Lily called out.

Augusta's voice rang out loud and clear as she finished the second triad. “In the name of the Dark, I call for Magic to judge you.”

A second thread of light joined the first, shifting randomly between black, gray, and white as it wrapped itself around its brother.

“In the name of the Halfbloods, I call for Magic to judge you.” Hannah looked grim as she spoke one last time.

“In the name of the Mundane-born, I call for Magic to judge you,” Lily spoke, her voice soft but steady.

“In the name of the Purebloods, I call for Magic to judge you,” Augusta snapped out. A third strand joined the others, interweaving itself between them so its red light peeked out here and there.

“So say we, so may it be!”

The three strands of magic shifted until they were in the form of a triple helix and then rose into the air. They moved over to the chair and then wrapped around Albus' body like a python its prey. The chains holding him to the chair fell away as the strands of magic flashed nine times before returning to their quiescent state. Magic grew heavy in the air. Albus felt like an elephant was standing on his chest from the p